Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Can We Talk?

It was with no small sense of irony that I read the recently released 2017  Free Speech and Tolerance Survey report from the Cato Institute. Many, unfortunately, will probably dismiss it out of hand without bothering to read it. Because it comes from a decidedly libertarian think tank with ties to the Koch brothers and Ayn Rand's objectivism. Personally, I disagree with a number of Cato's policy positions, the Koch brothers scare me almost as much as George Soros, and on the whole, Ayn Rand gives me hives. Nevertheless, the data in the Free Speech and Tolerance Survey is telling. It provides an illuminating and disturbing look at the current state of discourse in our country. With graphs and charts. It's definitely worth a read. And a conversation.

Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey: 71 Percent of Americans Say Political Correctness Has Silenced Discussions Society Needs to Have

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Out of Our Seats and Into the Streets



I love my church. I love the people, the worship, the contagious sense of God’s presence and the abandoned crazy in love with Jesus atmosphere. And I love that my teenage son loves it too. We were talking over a truck stop lunch after church a couple weeks ago and I asked him why? He said, “It makes me want to worship. And it makes me want to listen to the sermons. They’re real. They remind me that God is real…But mostly it’s because when people come up and ask you how you’re doing, they really want to know. If you’re happy, they’re happy with you. And if something’s bothering you, they really listen. Then they want to stop and pray with you…right then and there.”

When it comes right down to it, isn’t that what being God’s people is really about?  Jesus spent most of his time talking about the Kingdom of God. And when his listeners asked what that meant, he told them stories…about real people living real lives doing real things just like them. Then he showed them what the Kingdom looked like by forgiving sins and healing and driving off devils.  And when they started asking about who the honored leaders were going to be, he turned the discussion upside down. “Anyone who wants to be great among you needs to be a servant to everybody around.”  This kind of love is what the heart of the church should look like, because it’s what the heart of God looks like. And the heart of His Kingdom.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of a conversation with our friend Tim Vink.  He was talking about all the different theories and programs for evangelism and discipleship and church building, and finally he paused and sighed and said, “If we just read the New Testament carefully, we quickly discover that 'the church' is not the model for the church. Jesus is the model for the church!"

So this past Sunday we had a guest speaker. I loved what he had to say, and I heard every word. I promise!  But as is often the case, there was that one brief point that caught in my spirit and summed it all up. “God doesn’t have a church to which He gives a mission. He has a mission to which He gives the church.”  And something inside me said YES!!! The church, the people of God, are His gift to the world. Out of the seats and into the streets. He doesn’t give His Kingdom to the church. He gives the church to His Kingdom! In Jesus, He pours out His love, His power, His glory…and Jesus sends the Holy Spirit to pour those things out through us. All of us. Every one. In every context. At home. At work. Wherever. Right where we are.


And this is the topic of our latest episode of Marketplace Kingdom: “Everywhere—A Kingdom Conversation.”  We hope you’re blessed!

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

To Colin Kaepernick and Anyone Else Who's Interested: Let's Have Coffee


Dear Mr. Kaepernick...or Colin. Can I call you Colin? Let's have coffee. Or, if you don't drink coffee because of being an athlete, I'd be just as happy meeting over juice or Chinese buffet or whatever. I'm easy. But I have no idea how else to reach you so I'm just posting an online open letter in hopes that one of my seventeen or so regular readers passes it on to you via the six degrees of Kevin Bacon network. (Kevin, if you're out there you can come too.)  

Why am I inviting you to coffee or whatever? Well...because this post is about you. Sort of. And because I sometimes I have crappy boundaries. Or maybe not. I guess it's up to you to decide. Or maybe not. Anyway,  I just shared what some would consider to be an overly long Facebook post and it's now become an even slightly longer blog post. Because the vast majority of people who read my blog are probably also Facebook users. And chances are they're not regularly looking at my Facebook feed. But maybe they should...so here it is.

Yes this is DJ Swanger. This is not a COPY AND PASTE and it is not a LIKE AND SHARE (although I can’t stop you from doing any of these things if you are so inclined…It is social media after all, and it’s still a nominally free country).

I usually don’t post when I’m upset. I’m not the type of person to put my feelings out there for all the online world to see. It may provide some small temporary catharsis, but for the most part it gets ignored anyway…or it gets one talked ugly about at the church or the bar.

And, as a rule, I tend to avoid posts that begin with an appeal to read the whole long post immediately. If people are truly interested in what you have to say, they’ll read…when they have time…if they remember…and can find it again in the brutally massive hodge-podge of emails, business offers, and cat videos that bombard them each day.

But consistency has never been one of my strong points and those  who know me well know that I’m not afraid to break a few of my own working rules if it suits my purposes. So PLEASE KEEP READING…but only if you have the time. (OK. Maybe too polite. No, I’m not Canadian. Oh great...now I just offended a Canadian somewhere.)

I try to post positive stuff. Things that educate, inform, bring a smile, defuse an argument, or poke fun at myself. In some venues I occasionally share pictures or comments that embarrass my children. They get over it…eventually. And it’s one of the perks of being a dad.

But today I’m upset. One of my favorite and most thoughtful friends has abandoned Facebook. He often shared his heart with compassion, wry wit, and a quiet articulate honesty. I miss him. But I understand his reasons. And his frustration.

I guess I’ve just seen one too many inflammatory fake news reports. One too many photo-shopped “news” memes. One too many alt-right, alt-left, pro-Trump, anti-Trump, echo chamber, my pet issue, you must be a moron if you don’t agree with me vitriolic cheap shots.

Earlier today I broke one of my own rules and replied to one such post. I’m not sharing the fake photo that accompanied it. I don’t want to give it more traffic than it’s already garnered. But I can’t get it off my mind, so I am sharing the reply, edited, as a stand-alone.

Unfortunately, there are liars, intentional and unintentional, on both ends of the spectrum and at all points between, uninterested in truth so long as they can further divide and inflame for their own purposes. I'm saddened that so many find it so difficult to look beyond the surface of tactics with which they disagree and see with discernment, compassion and grace the real wounds and heart issues that lie beneath...for all of us.

Because regardless of how you may feel about the protests that are getting so much coverage, there is another kneeling that actually demands our attention. I remember vividly a small unobtrusive sign I once saw in a friend’s office. It read, simply, “GET ON YOUR KNEES AND FIGHT.” And I was reminded that our ultimate reality lies in the fact that…one day…every knee will bow and every tongue will confess…

Like so many other "issues" that media, right left and center, use to evoke emotional rather than thoughtful response, this is not about anthems or flags or patriotism. It is about a spiritual reality in our country and a truth that lies outside the boundaries of most cultural discussions. A truth that refuses to be distracted or manipulated. A truth that frames a different discussion. A truth that says: "Yes, we see what is happening and it actually makes sense. It all points in one direction. The answers you think you have are not answers at all. You need to stop. It's time. Wake up. Shift direction and allow God to change your own hearts. Look around you. The axe is already laid to the root of the old tree. Something new and wonderful and powerful and radically other is breaking in on the scene and you can't turn it back. If you're not for it, you're against it. Receive it. Repent. The Kingdom of God is at hand."

If you’ve read this far, I’m not asking you to copy or paste or like or share or even comment. But I am asking you to think. And pray. And if you want to talk, give me a call or shoot me a private message or an email. I like coffee.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

When Disruptive is a Good Thing


People talk all the time about the need for change. Change in the way we do business. Change in politics. Change in the educational system. Change in the way media communicates. Change.

Yet all too often it's just talk. It's venting. Complaining. Pointing out problems without offering constructive solutions. Or...dare I say it...redemptive options.

And in the midst of all the talk, certain buzzwords have emerged. One of those is the term "disruptive". Something that demands or catalyzes radical change. Confronts the status quo and triggers a shift. Disruptive concepts. Disruptive behaviours. Disruptive technologies. Something that breaks in on the scene and alters the landscape in such a way that things will never be the same.

Many Christians, especially in the USA, have been content to live a brand of faith that shies away from disruption. The practical implications of being Christian boil down to being good neighbors, living tidy lives and doing their best to get along with people, at home and at work. They are diligent, conservative, charitable, and hopefully civil. And, probably owing to their largely western European cultural roots, they tend to value strict moderation over passion in pretty much everything that doesn't involve a sports team. They tell people about Jesus and the plan of salvation when an appropriate opportunity presents itself. But they do it as nicely as possible. They are, after all, nice people. Oh yes...and proud patriotic Romans 13-style Americans. Overall, they're probably almost as nice and non-disruptive as Canadians (but that's another article).

Francis Schaeffer, writing from Switzerland in the early 1970's, warned American evangelicals about the insidious danger of wrapping themselves in the American flag and baptizing wholesale the American dream with all its attendant illusions, agendas, priorities and idolatries. 

In his book The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, he wrote, 

“One of the greatest injustices we do to our young people is to ask them to be conservative. Christianity is not conservative, but revolutionary. To be conservative today is to miss the whole point, for conservatism means standing in the flow of the status quo, and the status quo no longer belongs to us...If we want to be fair, we must teach the young to be revolutionaries, revolutionaries against the status quo.” 
When Schaeffer talked about being revolutionary, he wasn’t talking about being revolutionary in the way the broader culture understood it. While he used terms like revolutionary and radically Christian, these were not vague terms that could be commandeered and filled out with whatever meaning served the purpose of the reader or hearer. These were terms that held specific and intentional content, rooted in a clear biblical understanding of what it means to be Christian and what it means when truth is spoken and lived lovingly but without equivocation in a culture that has lost its moral and spiritual anchorage. And in a church that has lost its biblical and prophetic edge in that culture. He was calling Christians to understand that the biblical gospel was at root disruptive! And yet now, almost fifty years later, much of American christianity has failed to hear that call.

The prophet Amos asked his hearers, "Do you really know what you're asking for when you call for the Day of the Lord? Do you understand the implications? Do you understand the impact that God's reign will have on how you live your own lives?"

We today could be asked the same questions. We talk about advancing God's Kingdom, and we pray...sometimes with little thought..."Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." But do we really know what we're asking? Do we really understand what the Kingdom of God is and the transformative, disruptive power we're asking God to release into our world and our lives?

This is the focus of our latest episode of Marketplace Kingdom. We hope it helps you as you seek to live and move in the name of Jesus and the power of His Spirit, disrupt the way things are, transform your world, and advance His Kingdom right where you are!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Truck Stop Coffee


Most folks have read or heard the story of Nicodemus. The respected religious leader who wanted to talk with Jesus but couldn't be seen doing so. He wanted to know more about what this Jesus was teaching, but his position and standing in the community required that he meet discreetly...privately...in a safe out of the way place. He didn't feel free to ask his questions out in the open where everyone could see. He didn't feel free to step out of who he was and into who God was calling him to be.

What would happen if people’s eyes were opened to who they really are in Christ? What would happen if we gave them permission to be who they are? Right where they are?

I got a phone call from the pastor of an almost mega-church with which I was vaguely familiar.  A mutual friend had given him my number and he asked if we could meet and talk…privately.  We agreed on a time and place where he was unlikely to be recognized.  The next morning as we sat drinking truck stop coffee in a neighboring county, he shared his heart.

He was lead pastor of a successful, growing church. They had all the right programs. Youth activities, women’s bible study, men’s group, home groups, prayer groups, adult education offerings. They had lively worship, relevant sermons, and a food-pantry to serve the poor. The local newspaper even interviewed him occasionally when they thought a national or regional issue merited an opinion from a local religious leader. By all indications, he had it made.

And he had felt hollow. Spiritually empty. He could go through the motions…do all the right things…and achieve all the expected results. But he wanted more. Privately, he longed for an experience of God’s presence and power that was REAL.  Like in the bible. Like in the books he was reading during his personal devotions. Over time, God answered his prayers and he began to sense the presence of the Holy Spirit deeply and daily. In prayer and personal ministry, he spoke less and listened more, and saw the Holy Spirit move in amazing and powerful ways for which he had no theological grid.
   
Much to the chagrin of some of his board members, this hunger for more of God’s presence, more power, more reality, began to show up in committee meetings and in sermons. He tried to heed their advice. Maintain “balance”. Avoid becoming too “radical”. But he couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that God wanted MORE for his church as well. That a church filled with God’s presence and power would actually start to look like the New Testament church…outside the walls and impacting whole regions! And while he tried to be reasonable, the still small voice grew louder and rowdier.

“So what do I do?” he asked. “Where do I start?”

We talked for a while, and prayed, and I agreed to visit his church the following week to quietly watch and pray. That Sunday he poured out his heart from the platform. He shared a vision for the transforming power of the presence of God moving through their congregation, healing lives and moving people out of the seats and into the streets. The Holy Spirit was palpably present and many were quietly moved to tears. But when he finished and invited people to come forward to pray with members of the ministry team, almost no one did. Many told him afterward how “touched” or “moved” they were by his words, but then quickly left. Others were silent, thoughtful, even struggling…but made their way to the doors and parking lot.

Two days later we met at the truck stop again.  When I asked for his thoughts on why so many were touched but so few responded, he was quiet for a long time. Finally said softly, “No one has ever given them permission to want more! No one has ever given them permission to be desperate.”

How often have you been given permission to be desperate? Different? Unique? To get the job done but to do it in your own way? To go after more when others seem satisfied? Does it seem that the “now” and the “how” of the calling you sense just doesn’t quite fit with the reasoned and orderly and dignified “when” and the “way things are done” of those around you?  You’re not alone!


This is the topic of today’s Marketplace Kingdom conversation. We hope you’ll join us and invite others to do so as well. It’s time! Listen. Be encouraged…and find “Permission to Be Who You Are!”

Listen Or Download Here



Wednesday, September 27, 2017

WE'RE BACK!!!


We hope you had a great summer.  We did!  But now we’re back and ready to bring you more great content from the Empowerment Institute, One Rock Strategix and the Marketplace Kingdom podcast.

We’ve had an amazing year so far, engaging with friends and listeners from nations around the world. We’ve been involved in both large and small conference settings, teleconferencing, and one-on-one conversations with folks who are moving beyond the walls of the church and bringing the message of God’s Kingdom to their cities and regions in Kenya, Ghana, the Gambia, Germany, India, and China, as well as here in North and Central America. And we’re excited about what we’ve learned from these discussions and how they are shaping our efforts going forward.

We invite you to join us as we continue our third season of Marketplace Kingdom. We’re changing our format just a bit, moving to shorter, weekly podcasts that will enable us to provide you with more encouragement, and make it easier for listeners on the go to make it through an episode in one sitting.  As always, we want to bring you biblical perspectives and practical strategies for advancing God’s Kingdom right where you are. We will continue to bring you guests who share their own stories and insights on being authentically Christian and demonstrating Christ’s love and lordship in their own professional and personal spheres of influence.  And we’ll share ideas that you can use to bring Christ’s redeeming and transforming power to your world in your day to day lives!

With all this in mind, we’re opening our fall series of podcasts with a prayer, that you would be released to be who you’re called to be and to do what you’re created to do. Here and now. It’s time!  Join us for this conversation: “Released Where You Are!”



Wednesday, December 14, 2016

We Didn't Intend to Go Global



Sometimes we lose touch with friends when they move to another city. But then sometimes we don’t. I have a small group of friends like that. We talk on the phone, or skype. We stay connected via email and visits. And conversations pick up right where they left off days or weeks earlier, as if one or the other had simply walked into another room briefly to warm up his coffee.

About a year ago I was talking with my friend Dave. Online. He’s a pastor in Minneapolis. I don’t visit Minneapolis in the winter. It’s colder than Dutton and I hate anything colder than Dutton. 

It started out as a conversation like many of our other conversations. We were all over the map and occasionally venturing into places that hadn’t been mapped yet. As usual, our discussion ranged from current events and politics to culture and business to church and faith and reaching people with a gospel that really is good news right where they are.  We talked about the transforming power of prayer and the Holy Spirit and the presence of God in the real world.  We talked about the insanely wide range of opinions and attitudes exhibited by people as they attempted to speak and act in the name of Christ; and the low-information high vitriol content that was becoming the norm in much of public discourse, regardless of whether the sources considered themselves conservative or progressive, Christian or not.

We discussed the redemptive power of the truth offered by authentic Christianity, and the need to take that truth and redemptive power into life outside the four walls of the church.  But how?
In the course of our conversations, the “Seven Mountains” came up repeatedly.  It’s a term coined by Lance Wallnau, a former pastor turned business consultant and speaker.  The “Seven Mountain” concept, most widely promoted by Wallnau and his friend Os Hillman, represents an understanding that there are seven critical social arenas or spheres of influence and activity which combine to capture, mold and direct the mind and heart of a culture.  Each of the seven plays a key role, and each of the seven has a distinct social function.  

This “Seven Mountain” idea has gained traction, particularly in charismatic circles, as a model for understanding culture and a map for bringing Christian influence to bear in what they call “the marketplace”—meant as any area of activity or influence outside the church proper.  Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations is understood to mean more than going into all the nations of the world and making individual disciples.  It means that God intends His redemptive and transformational power to influence people beyond just a narrow range of individual ‘spiritual’ concerns.  He intends to extend His redemption and transformation and Lordship into every area of individual life, corporate life, and social and cultural expression.

On that particular day, during that particular conversation, we decided to call a few other people we knew. Get them together online. Raise some questions. Float some ideas. Nothing huge or formal. Just some friends getting together for a virtual cup of coffee.

We didn’t intend to go global. But we didn’t not intend to either. We just talked and asked questions. And listened. And prayed. Beginning in February 2016, we started out with a simple conference call for a handful of people who were asking tough "church beyond the walls" kinds of questions and put the recording on the web for those who couldn't call in live. In very little time the “Marketplace Kingdom” call was an audio podcast, and before we really knew what was happening, it became apparent that we had backed into a global hunger for vision and strategy on taking the Kingdom to the streets.

We’ve done 22 podcast episodes in just over ten months, featuring biblical wisdom and practical ideas from guests who are advancing the Kingdom in real and unique ways in their own work and lives. People engaged in day to day interaction with students, families, churches, businesses, and government. People whose Kingdom influence plays out in a daily life on life with corporate leaders, the broken hearted, and the poorest of the poor.

Marketplace Kingdom has reached listeners in fifty seven countries that we know about…including fifteen Islamic and two Buddhist nations! Recordings have been downloaded for sharing over 8000 times in less than a year. We’ve heard from individuals who are accessing them through proxy servers in order to bypass the internet censorship in their own closed nations!

What started as two people, then three, then five, has touched almost 200,000 people around the world, and placed written and audio resources into the hands of over 27,000 influencers.  Even now, believers in one nation are translating our prayer guides for distribution and use in Pakistani communities around the world. And another friend has been invited to present a second seminar on biblical leadership principles to the members of parliament in his Islamic nation.  We have been seriously humbled and amazed at how the Lord is spreading His Kingdom!
  
More and more people are embracing a radical notion that most will never engage in a “ministry” or exercise any real transformational influence within the structure of the institutional church.  And even more radical is the idea that they are not intended to.  Their calling by God is to live and move and minister in the context of the marketplace.  Their home, their office, their 9 to 5.  The doctor, the cop, the stay-at-home-mom (or dad), the construction worker, the mail carrier, the bus driver, the janitor. Their ministry and area of influence is not something other than their job.  Their lives are not that cleanly compartmentalized.  Excellence and service and celebration and service and prayer and shepherding and mentoring and just being Christian is an integral part of the daily rhythm of life.  There is a rising awareness and expectation that we have an obligation to bring good news and transformation and godly excellence to our unique spheres of activity and influence, wherever those are.
  
Authentic biblical faith calls us to be in the coffee shop, in the street, in the marketplace, dilletante, meddling in simply everything. Called to prayer and ministry doing what we’re wired and gifted to do. Christianly.  Right where we are. There can be no disconnect here.  And there shouldn’t be.
In spite of the increasingly shrill demands that Christians keep their faith to themselves and out of public arenas, God has a different plan. The “church” doesn’t need to send people into “the marketplace”. We’re already there. We simply need to realize what we’re called to do and who we’re called to be.

Click here to read our full year end story and consider how you can give and get involved today!