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!

Friday, December 2, 2016

It's Gonna Be Alright

I'm a "words" person. I write. I consult. I talk and laugh and argue over inordinate amounts of coffee. I've finally settled into a place where I even get paid occasionally to ask the kinds of questions and engage in the kinds of conversations that used to get me fired. Words and the relationships that spring from them are my platform and my stock in trade. Ideas and strategies and direction and vision and hope. Sometimes though, the things we really want to say can't really be said.  Words alone can't adequately express them. That's why we have art.

Art lives in that other side of our brains. It scratches at our neatly addressed envelopes howling to get out. It longs to take on giants, with nothing but a sling shot and a handful of rocks. It rises up in defense of unrecognized truth and beauty, riding out like an eccentric knight into the countryside to scatter sheep and tilt at blind windmills of fear and control.

Art sees what others don't, and lives and speaks with the heart.

So today I want to share a little of my own heart and hope it speaks some of what mere words fail to express. Things aren't always as they seem.

"It's Gonna Be Alright..."

Monday, November 21, 2016

"THERE'S AN ALGERIAN MEDDLING WITH MY DISCONTENT" or "Why We Need To Ask Different Questions If We Really Want Different Answers"

I had breakfast with an old friend this morning.  Never mind that I was only five years old on the day he died in 1960.  Or that the conclusions I’ve ultimately drawn over the many years have been significantly different from those he held out those many years ago.  I still consider him a friend, and in many ways an example.

Sometime after my son left for school but before my morning regimen of pacing and caffeine really kicked in, drifting in the nether regions between The Drudge Report and The Daily Beast, Camus showed up uninvited.  I have a strange collection of friends. He didn’t seem to mind the mess so I invited him to hang around for coffee and a bagel.  It was the polite thing to do, and it didn’t take long to recall why I liked him. 

Albert Camus was a French Algerian philosopher, author, journalist and winner of the 1957 Nobel Prize for Literature.  He was also a self-described unbeliever, although he shied away from labeling himself an atheist.  He didn’t like the stridency or finality that accompanied the title.  For him, every life, every mind and every conversation was a work in progress. He was a master at the art of dialogue.  He had deep passions and deep convictions and yet remained carefully open to a respectful pursuit of mutual understanding, even in the midst of profound and animated disagreement.

A recent article in the Huffington Post had caught my attention, discussing the fact that a growing number of people are “unfriending” longtime friends on social media platforms or are taking a hiatus from social media altogether due to their weariness with the tone and conflict that continues to embroil online communities over the outcome of the presidential election.  In case you hadn’t noticed, most of the current experts have failed to notice that this has been about more than an election.

I’ve written about this open and often blind hostility several times lately.  I’ve attempted to listen to voices from outside my own alleged echo-chamber and I’ve diligently tried to avoid feeding into the “bigots” versus “snowflakes” genre of non-discourse that persists in masquerading as communication in so many venues.

Frankly, for the purposes of this post it matters little how I personally voted.   I did my duty and voted.  Thoughtfully.  Prayerfully.  I realize that some of my readers will find this last point to be irrelevant, but so be it.  As a Christian, that’s how I roll and I own it without shame. My faith and my God are not private matters. They refuse to stay safely tucked away in their socially acceptable boxes simply because someone insists that to be the socially acceptable thing to do. They persist in breaking out and meddling in everything.  I have crappy boundaries.

That said, it may come as a surprise to some that I understand the uncertainty that many are feeling in our nation right now.  And I share their sense of disquiet, though not necessarily for all the same reasons
Still, having seen so many friends agitated into such an uproar over the past months, it occurs to me that the worst possible conclusion in all this would be to simply calm down now and go back business as usual. We may be tempted to cave in fatigue and withdraw in hopes of a return to some semblance of normal, but as Bruce Cockburn warned over thirty years ago, “The trouble with normal is it always gets worse.”
So I am not, as a Christian, praying for God to quiet the disquiet.  On the contrary, I am thankful for it.  I welcome it and pray that it might be stirred into a holy disquiet and a longing for something beyond what can be accomplished by governments duly elected and then left to run on autopilot until the next scheduled exercise in political theater and national tantrum.  I pray that we would have eyes to see the truth that is staring us in the face. And hearts to accept the weight of personal responsibility we each have moving forward.  And the courage to start the kinds of discussions we should be having instead of the ones we’ve been told to have.

If we’re truly dissatisfied with the answers we’ve been offered, maybe it’s because we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along.  If we don’t like the narrative we’ve been hearing, perhaps we need to change the talking points and frame a different conversation. If we don’t like the choices, it might be that we’re finally tiring of the national insanity of doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different outcome.

November 8 is behind us, and yet the national and international news feeds are still dominated by heated political discussion and stories of protest, accusation, bewilderment and recrimination.

We have just completed one of the most contentious election cycles in our history.  Christian and otherwise, people from all across the political spectrum have been engaged in a process driven by passionate and often radically different beliefs about how to address legitimate concerns and critical problems and pursue change for the better.  Voting is an important activity in the rhythm of our political life, but a deeply divided America went to the polls on election day and a deeply divided America awoke the following morning.  Casting a vote and declaring a winner did not magically solve the key issues or erase the often acrimonious disagreements. 

In the end it was virtually inevitable that half the country would emerge deeply disappointed, disillusioned, and even fearful.  Whatever the reason or ultimate legitimacy, the pain being felt and expressed by many is real and profound.  It needs to be taken seriously.

And yet, it is possible that something else can be found if we are willing to look past the divisions that trouble our national soul.  Something deeper and more revealing.  Something even potentially redemptive.  An actual answer to prayer perhaps…or at least the first steps toward an answer to prayer.

Over the years, many have pointed to what they’ve seen as a deep spiritual apathy in America, America’s churches and America’s Christians. Moderation and civility and decorum have been the order of the day for most churches and social interactions for generations. Even now, in our cultural vocabulary, the word “extreme” is associated with an irrational fanaticism.  Passion is somehow something to be embraced in small measured doses and reserved for appropriate times and places like football stadiums and playoffs. 
But in recent months we have seen people speaking from places of increasingly deep passion.  Many in our country are no longer willing to wait for permission to express what has been a quietly growing sense of desperation over the state of their own lives, their loved ones’ lives, and their nation.

We evangelical Christians acknowledge that real social change ultimately begins with individual lives. We say we want to see a spiritual awakening in our churches and our land.  We may even pray for it occasionally. Is it possible that our Lord is already answering that prayer?  By sending discontent and desperation?  

If we are honest with ourselves, we’re often startled by the manner in which God responds to our prayers.  At times we don’t even recognize the answer as an answer when we see it.  Christians say they want revival and renewal, but real revival and renewal are messy business, full of rowdy desperate people willing to climb trees or rip off a roof to get at healing and answers.

People throughout our country and others around the world are hungry for real answers. Real solutions.  Real transformation.  Real action. Not just words, but something powerful and practical that changes lives, lifts burdens, and shifts the course of cities and nations and peoples. The people of God know better than anyone that real and lasting transformation of lives and cultures begins with hearts and minds. If we’re willing to listen to the Spirit of God, He will enable us to hear the hearts of those around us.  He will enable us to hear His heart and draw us into prayer and action.  Life by life and community by community. 

We have an incredible opportunity in this moment.  An opportunity to be the hands and feet and heart and voice of our Lord to the people around us.  To pray and listen to the Spirit.  To love courageously and fall on our faces before God for real healing and transformation in our families, our friends, our nation and our world. And to speak and live the truth of the Kingdom of God breaking into every expression of human life one heart at a time.

We want to be effective representatives of God’s heart and God’s Kingdom as we go about life in our little parts of the world.   We want to recognize the needs of those around us and speak and live the truth in loving and practical ways.  We want to be like King David’s wise advisors, understanding the times and knowing what to do…right where we are.

Recently, my online co-host Dave Huizenga and I have had the unique privilege of discussing just such issues with our guests on the Marketplace Kingdom podcast.  We talked with our friend Ron Jimmerson about really listening to God and listening to the hearts of the people “at the bottom”, then developing strategies that really work…“Leading Change from the Ground Up.”  We spent time with Randy Hekman as he shared his heart for bringing real healing and transformation to lives and communities by crying out together in united prayer and creating a landing strip for God’s presence and power right where we are. “HOPE AND AFUTURE: Awakening and Healing the Soul of a Nation” is a moving time of conversation and prayer about prayer…for the revival of Christians and the awakening of a country. You’ll definitely want to listen to these episodes again and again.  And pass them on to your friends.

We’ve talked a lot about the fact that intimacy with God is the starting point for understanding how to live as Christians.  And we understand that it is more than that. God’s presence and transforming power needs to permeate everything we do and every part of who we are. But while we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, and believe that He wants to extend his lordship in practical ways into all the various areas of our lives and activities, we still wonder what that looks like in the details of 2016. 
How do we listen for His voice and direction as it pertains to our particular situations?  Our passions.  Our vocations.  Our finances.  Our relationships and conversations with friends, family members, and even casual aquaintances.  The stranger on the street.  The cashier at the gas station.  The teller at the bank.

How do we recognize His voice and receive His word for our day to day lives?

How do we lift burdens and shift the direction and atmosphere of our families, communities and nations?

With these questions in mind, we’ve put together a special podcast… “HEARING FROM GOD TODAY: Receiving Your Word”. This bonus episode of Street Faith has been produced as a supplement to our Marketplace Kingdom series, and its message builds on the one entitled “Seeing and Hearing from God” which we released last March.  It was recorded live at a regional training conference involving prayer leaders and participants from over nineteen different denominations and streams.  We hope you find it encouraging.  In the true sense of the word.  Filled with the courage to become who you are called and created to be. To do what you’re called and created to do.  Speaking and living truth because you’re “Hearing from God Today!” and listening for His voice even in the voices of unbelievers.

In the end, my friend Camus the Unbeliever left me with this thought and challenge:

“The world expects of Christians that they will raise their voices so loudly and clearly and so formulate their protest that not even the simplest man can have the slightest doubt about what they are saying. Further, the world expects of Christians that they will eschew all fuzzy abstractions and plant themselves squarely in front of the bloody face of history. We stand in need of folk who have determined to speak directly and unmistakably and come what may, to stand by what they have said…The world of today needs Christians who remain Christians.” 

–Albert Camus, 1948

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Geeks and Nerds Are Taking Over the World and You May Be One of Them

I was ruminating over the weekend…privately, mind you, so as to not offend or annoy anyone nearby…and it occurred to me that none of the supposedly world class pundits out there are talking about the oncoming wave of nerds and geeks that seem to be taking over in almost every sector of our society. Granted, they've been around for years, but until recently they were easily dealt with…discretely relegated to a quiet out of the way IT department where passing normal people could avoid eye contact and occasionally shove donuts at them with a stick.  But now? Many of the most wealthy and influential people on the planet today are actually nerds and geeks (NG’s). And others are coming out of the closet hourly and rising up. Speaking up. Acting up.

I’m sure you’ve noticed. They think of computer code as poetry. They have an innate contempt for experts and leadership models that look even vaguely like military battalions. They move from job to job based on strange criteria like transformational impact and creativity and fulfillment and challenge. They want to work virtually from home and set their own hours or collaborate on projects…in converted warehouses with couches and pool tables and kitchens featuring espresso machines and sushi. Truth be told. They probably harbor other dangerous and disruptive attitudes and proclivities as well. And they’re everywhere. It’s insidious. They might be your co-worker. They might be your neighbor. They might be you. Or me. How would you know? Really?
  • If you’ve ever used the term “Schroedinger’s Cat” while talking with friends over a beer, you might be an NG.
  • If you not only recognize the name Malcolm Reynolds, but also privately wish you could swear fluently in Chinese, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever used “game theory” or “the Butterfly Effect” to explain a personal relationship, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever shown a co-worker how to “tweak the algorithm” to speed things up, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever used the word “algorithm” in polite conversation, you might be an NG.
  • If you have more than one WordPress password, you might be an NG.
  • If you’re an adult and you’ve ever argued about a comic book story arc, you might be an NG.
  • If you continue to refer to actors by their character names from Chuck, Psych, Monk, X-files, Warehouse 13, Eureka, or the Walking Dead, you might be an NG.
  • If you meet a new person and get a gamer tag before a phone number, you might be an NG.
  • If you've ever referred to Game of Thrones during a business presentation, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever been asked the meaning of something and your answer was “42”, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever paid your barista with Bitcoin, you might be an NG.
  • If your work computer is a PC and you feel like you’ve crossed over to the Dark Side, you might be an NG.
  • If you know what “open source” is, you might be an NG.
  • If you open YouTube and the first videos offered are from WikiLeaks or Anonymous, you might be an NG.
  • If you have an actual photograph or poster of Bill Nye, Steve Wozniak, Albert Einstein, Sheldon Cooper, any version of the Starship Enterprise or the Tardis anywhere in your house, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve ever binge watched Stargate and TedTalks in the same weekend, you might be an NG.
  • If you know Leonard’s last name from Big Bang Theory, you might be an NG.
  • If you’ve bookmarked a website with photos from the Hubble Space Telescope, you might be an NG.
  • If you had (or have) a crush on Neil Degrasse Tyson, you might be an NG.
  • If your smartphone speaks to announce calls and uses the voice of JARVIS, you might be an NG.
  • If your seven year old argues with your eight year old about inter-dimensional portals or disruptions in the spatial-temporal continuum, you might be an NG.
I could go on. For a long time. Feel free to add your own in the comments section if you have nothing better to do. But you might be an NG
Why am I pointing this out? Well,  I’ve been productive enough for one day and I’ve been thinking about anything at all that doesn’t involve car repairs or monetary policy or elections or emails or Mexican walls or the Cleveland Browns and this is what it looks like when random neurons have been firing on too much caffeine.   So let me tell you a quick story.

I never thought of myself as an odd child. But then odd children seldom do. They’re simply too busy being odd. The majority of my schoolmates lived for recess and the bell at the end of the day. They were passionate about sports. I was passionate about rockets and space and mixing chemicals just to see what kind of reaction would occur. I didn’t understand their conversations about the games I hadn’t watched or their dreams of the World Series or the Superbowl. If football and baseball were the dominant religions in the region where I lived, I was the token community agnostic.

Physically awkward and profoundly unathletic, I played to my strengths. I watched National Geographic specials and dreamed of living in a habitat on the ocean floor or a colony on Ganymede. I read the encyclopedia and Roget’s Thesaurus and comic books and the science fiction of Robert Heinlein. I even smiled a little inside when no one wanted to set up next to me at the seventh grade science fair because I had secretly constructed a working laser. (The adult monitors “had a talk” with my parents and were only marginally placated after I demonstrated its intentionally limited range and targeting capabilities. I couldn’t afford the parts for something more powerful.)

OK. Yes. I admit it proudly, in spite of aspersions that were sometimes cast in my direction during my early years (when we still had rotary telephones and were actually required to walk across the room to choose one of the four available television channels). I'm a geek. Or a nerd. Detailed self-reflection notwithstanding, I've never been clear on which, as both terms seem to represent more of a spectrum than a discreet and easily isolated reality. But it is a reality nonetheless. And given an apparently tectonic cultural shift that has occurred somewhere during the last four decades, it is a reality that I am now free to happily and openly embrace.

To Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Ben Stein, Stan Lee, Richie Cunningham, Joss Wedon, Sheldon Cooper and countless others…thank you.

This past weekend I was able to indulge in three days of joyously open and unbridled geekdom/nerddom along with my children, grandchildren and hordes of others at the Grand Rapids Comic Con. Countless formerly oppressed and disdainfully under-appreciated lovers of science and science fiction and fantasy television, live action and animated film, anime, literature, art, music, comic books, graphic novels, cosplay, robotics, and Legos. Actors, authors, creators, makers, cosplayers, dreamers and fans, all happily swimming in a collective sea of unabashed  geeknerdity.

So, life coach and incurable agitator that I am, I’ve been wondering in retrospect if there might actually be some tool that could help this recently liberated social subset along their personal paths toward self-discovery and global domination. I mean, thinking and living and innovating and dreaming outside the box has to begin somewhere beyond a closet full of Pop-Vinyls and Steam Punk gear. Right? Even the success gurus will insist that any truly realistic critical path needs to begin at a beginning, and what better starting point than a clear and unashamed self-awareness with an honest acceptance of one’s own root nature. After a brief but fervent ninety second search I unearthed just such a tool, specifically designed to help answer once and for all the burning question. Am I a geek or am I a nerd?

I'm sharing it HERE to help you along. Have fun. As for me, I already know so I’m done for now. Plus I have an innate ambivalence toward success gurus and experts with bar charts.  And I’m getting hungry. And the caffeine is starting to wear off so my neurons are firing even more randomly. Ooooo. Shiny Object.

I will be back to Comic Con though. I think maybe next year I’ll go dressed in my robe and pajamas. With a large towel. And an iPad incessantly flashing the message “Don’t Panic!” That’s always good advice. I only hope it doesn’t start on a Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.