Why Is Peace So Hard? May 17, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Ecumenical & Interfaith Unity, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Unity, Values
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I am writing today from Atlanta (Georgia, in case you were wondering) at the conclusion of the three-day Ecumenical Korea Peace Conference. This has been an amazing — and deeply educational — few days. I know the basics on the post-WWII Korean history — told from the United States perspective. I have been to Korea twice — once in 1994 and again in 2012. The growth and change in that eighteen years was unbelievable. I’ve been aware of the past couple years of “news” coming out of North Korea, and like most Americans have been deeply troubled. The I came here and talked to a whole lot of people from both North and South Korea. Incredible how little I actually know about anything Korean…
I have been exposed to a steady stream of partial information, mis-information, skewed information, facts and factoids, and a boatload of filtered and fabricated mythology about a country torn apart, divided, dis-integrated, and living in distress. Families separated two generations ago that to this day cannot be reunited without unbelievable sacrifice and hardship. My ignorance of the situation is much greater than my perceived knowledge. I mean, I know the Koreas are still “at war” — armistice is a far cry from peace, and a peace accord has never materialized, ending the Korean War. The need for a peace treaty is critical. And our current sanctions against North Korea are hurting all the wrong people. The sanctions are the most unChristian acts of a supposedly Christian country. None of these opinions have been impacted by this conference — other than to pump up the sense of urgency. No what I take away from this time is a clearer understanding of all the ways it has not been in our interests to end this conflict — we are making WAY too much money to actually work for peace. The demonizing and vilification of North Korea as a media coup is even more sickening than I expected. “Axis of Evil” anyone? Bad judgment and ignorance gets painted as insanity and evil — a much more compelling vision that keeps the misinformed flock glued to the news channels.
Muddled Maturity May 10, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, spiritual practices, Stewardship
Every once in a while I strike a chord — I have received emails daily about the past couple posts on “mature” Christian spirituality. It seems everyone wants to use their own personal spiritual level as the definition of maturity — which is very normal and human. If we could conceive of something better, we would be doing it. If we are doing something a particular way, it is because we believe it is the best way to do it. Every eight year-old in the world thinks he or she is doing eight exactly right. It isn’t until he or she turns nine that eight isn’t all that much. Every person is as mature as they can be in the moment — when we see more mature ways to engage, we grow into them. Maturity is a process, not a destination. The terms “less mature” and “more mature” are actually better than simply “mature” and “immature.” And maturity is not an “it” but a complex weaving of “its.” Let me explain:
Growth Imperative May 8, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Congregational Life, Core Values.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Spiritual seekers, Values
The Christian faith is about growth and maturing. In recent posts, I’ve talked about “mature” faith, and the response has been interesting. Many frame the term “mature” as judgmental, exclusive, and unkind — when compared to “less mature” or “immature.” But developmental and qualitative growth — improvement, strengthening, seasoning, evolving — is best described in terms of maturing. Indeed, there is a value judgment in assessing one behavior as mature against another as immature. Yet, we are all aware of the differences between a mature and an immature response to disappointment, failure, pain, or loss. The more mature response is generally very clear. It doesn’t mean an immature response is bad, it is simply… less mature.
And spiritual maturity is essential for a healthy spiritual relationship — with God, in Christian community, and with those we seek to serve and love. I have yet to find a congregation torn apart by maturity. The most toxic and destructive behaviors come from the least mature spiritually. Where a process for maturing is not provided, the less mature rule. And when the less mature call all the shots, it is amazing how “the mature” often respond — more often than not, like the spiritually immature. It seems that immaturity exerts a greater influence on maturity than maturity exerts in reverse. But this actually make sense — there are way more less mature than mature.
Bursting the Bubble — The Lost Episodes #1 April 2, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian witness, Religion in the U.S., Spiritual Trends, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Religious Trends, Values
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When I wrote the book, Bursting the Bubble, five years ago, it was three chapters too long, so it was trimmed to fit page count. Going through some files, I discovered one of the chapters that hit the cutting room floor: Contrary Counter Culture. Though now five years out of date (who talks about The Passion of the Christ, Harry Potter or Jerry Springer anymore?) I thought I would offer it here (instead of taking the time to think up anything new…)
Watch about ten minutes of an evening news cast or scan the first few pages of any newspaper (well, maybe not USA Today…) and you will find overwhelming evidence that we live in a broken, violent, and frightening world. Wars, school shootings, tainted food, terrorist attacks, gang violence, global warming, bridge collapses, fires, earthquakes, floods, and who got booted off this week’s American Idol are proof positive that something is very wrong. Disaster – human-made and natural – lurks around every corner. We stand at the brink of absolute and total annihilation.
This is not news to Christians. Ever since Adam bit the apple/fig/pomegranate (scholars are unsure), the world has been going to hell in a hand basket. This is what our faith is all about: that despite what our eyes and brains tell us, our hearts know better. God is in charge, and all things work together for good for those who love God. We have been given the assurance of salvation and rescue. We know a deeper truth than that offered us by secular culture. Even in the face of severe persecution and the threat of bodily harm, we have reason to rejoice, right? It doesn’t matter if the mass media does everything in its power to scare the living daylights out of us. We’re not shaken by an elevated terrorist threat level (orange, no amber, no crimson, no BLOOD RED!), because we possess blessed assurance, amazing grace, and a friend named Jesus. The culture may tell us the world is a horrible, angry, awful place, but the Christian counter-culture has a more important story to share with the nations: our God is an AWESOME God. The rest of the world may go nuts with fear, but not us…
Fruititude March 18, 2013Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Congregational Life, Core Values, spiritual practices, Vision.
Tags: Christian Community, Christian discipleship, Values, Vision
U.S. Christians are a lazy, passive, well-intentioned bunch. I am not talking about the 11% who are engaged in some form of regular hands-on ministry. I am speaking of the 89% who define “active” faith as attending church when convenient, showing up at an occasional potluck supper, buying the doo-dad-du jour from the youth group, or who toss a few bucks in the offering plate so that somebody else can do ministry for them. This is the group for whom faith is about “feelings” more than behaviors. 69% of active church-goers have never been on a mission trip or even a one day mission project — yet most are very proud of the mission work of their congregation. Living the faith by a few degrees of separation. I know, whenever I bring this up, people tell me I am being unrealistic to think that people’s actions will reflect their core values and beliefs. Actually, I DO think our actions belie our true beliefs and values — this is the problem.
People who read me regularly know that I am all about spiritual gifts and fruit — how God equips us and what we produce with what we have been given. I don’t believe that there actually is such a thing as a passive Christianity. Oh, I know there are passive people plopped proudly in our pews, and I think they like the idea of God and Jesus, but I also don’t believe they have the first clue what it means to be a Christian (let alone a disciple). Confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is not the culmination of anything, merely the launch. And anyone who seeks a faith without hard work, commitment and sacrifice needs to look elsewhere. Christianity is, in essence, defined by five characteristics: 1) an intention to be in full relationship with God through Jesus Christ, 2) a devotion to deepen this relationship in learning, prayerful contemplation and corporate exploration, 3) the development of gifts, skills, knowledge, competency, and passion for serving God and neighbor, 4) the cultivation of synergistic community to seek, discern, understand, and carry out the will of God, and 5) regular employment to allow God to produce such fruit as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, mercy, compassion, humility, grace and respect. There is no room for spectators — in this game, everyone is expected to play, no excuses, no exceptions.
To Love As God Loves, Give As God Gives October 30, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Generosity & Giving, Money and the Church, Stewardship.
Tags: Christian discipleship, Giving & Generosity, Stewardship
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This was printed in our conference newspaper, Reflections, but I am receiving requests for an electronic copy and the right to reprint it. If anyone wants it, here it is:
It is easy to forget why we are here. There are so many demands on our time, so many deadlines to meet, so many bills to pay, and only so many hours in the day. We work hard to make a living, and the cost of living is measured not only in dollars and cents, but in time and energy as well. If we are not careful, life becomes little more than getting through the day in order to make ends meet. Is this REALLY what we believe God intends our life to be all about?
In our American culture, we do a pretty good job with the “getting” side of life – a good education, a decent job, a home, a car, a family, and a thousand and one necessities and luxuries that make life fun and enjoyable. We struggle a bit more with the “giving” side. Recent studies show that there is a slight decline in both charitable dollars and volunteer hours adults in the United States give to church and other good causes. The top two reasons that people give for this decrease is that they are too busy and that they lack adequate resources. These are interesting answers in light of the fact that Americans have never had a higher percentage of disposable income and that hourly demands are essentially unchanged over the past 70 years. If the amounts we have to work with are the same or greater than we have had before, what’s the explanation?
Disciple Dissipation August 20, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Integrity, The United Methodist Church.
Tags: Christian discipleship, hypocrisy, The United Methodist Church, Values
“Once we say ‘yes’ to Jesus, we are forever after his disciples.”
“Discipleship is a gift, a privilege — it comes at no cost.”
“We (The United Methodist Church) have committed to get more disciples in worship each Sunday.”
“We will have 648,626 new disciples worshiping weekly; 794,074 new disciples professing their faith; disciples growing through 443,952 small groups; 806,770 disciples serving God through mission in their communities, in their regions and all around the world; disciples giving $3.6 billion to missional ministries for God’s mission in this world.”
What definition of “disciple” is being used here? It certainly isn’t a Christian disciple, and it obviously does not come from our gospels. Our church is faced with two basic options:
- to lift up a challenging and rigorous vision of discipleship grounded in our scriptures that requires discipline, sacrifice, commitment, lifestyle change, values-based prioritization, and behaviors that reflect those of the Christ — and invite people to engage their faith at an entirely new level, or;
- reduce discipleship to a sham, debasing the gospels and cheapening the example and teaching of Jesus the Christ so that discipleship is meaningless — something that anyone can claim with no investment or price
So, hmmm, which one are we choosing? Well, just reflect on the unanimous parade of bishops at this year’s General Conference who espoused only #2 to the apparent exclusion of #1. We clearly know where the bishops fall. What about our General Boards and Agencies? Well, it is split — most opt for #2, but a couple like Church and Society and Global Ministries are still promoting #1. Our preachers? Well, at least the larger church pastors are primarily in the #2 camp — though there are a few exceptions. Whenever I write articles promoting a “vital” discipleship many people respond by saying I am expecting too much, that we will lose members if we take discipleship too seriously, that people don’t come to United Methodist churches wanting to be changed in any significant way. That’s too bad. We chose our mission “to make disciples,” but when we realized that discipleship was hard and took work we huddled together and decided it was much easier to make discipleship easy and insipid. What once demanded we take up a cross — an instrument of our own potential destruction — in order to follow Christ has now been downgraded by a couple of our bishops to mean “attending church when it is convenient.” Jesus wept.
Childish Church July 8, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Church Leadership, Critical Thinking, Evaluation and Assessment, The United Methodist Church, U.S. Culture.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Church growth, Church Leadership, The United Methodist Church
This is a rant, so take it with a grain of whatever. I met with a young pastor and asked him how his ministry was going. He replied, “We have eight new members and our attendance is up from 35 to over 50 a week.” I said, “That’s not what I asked. I asked how your ministry is going.” He simply stared back at me with a blank, slighty dazed look on his face. After a moment, he said, “It’s good. We’re growing.” I shook my head. “No,” I said, “I mean, how is the whole “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world-thing” going?” “Great,” he said, “we have eight new members and our worship attendance is up.”
OMG – what is our church producing in lieu of leadership these days? And we have NO ONE to blame but the last generation of dupes who forgot what a church is and assimilated the low values of American culture — making some of them bishops, some General Secretaries, and most of them pastors of big, consumeristic congregations. Now we fixate on size (yes, mostly male pastors — go figure…) and have no language to describe effective ministry besides numbers. This makes sense in a Sesame Street society.
Diss-cipleship February 13, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Christian discipleship, Christian witness, Core Values, Identity & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Vision.
Tags: Christian discipleship, church, Mission & Purpose, The United Methodist Church, Values
Then Jesus said, ’Think well and hard before you respond to the call to be my disciples, for many are called but few are truly prepared.’
Robert the follower, also called Bob, piped up, saying, ‘What’s that ‘disciple’ thing? Is that like believing you are God’s Son?’
‘It begins with belief,’ replied Jesus, ‘but it is much more than that…’
‘You mean we ought to listen to you and do what you tell us?’
‘Well, yeah, that’s also part of it, but…’
‘I know, I know, you want us to be sure to attend synagogue when the kids don’t have soccer or band on the Sabbath,’ continued Bob.
‘Uhm, well, actually I’d put the bar a bit higher…’ reflected Jesus.
‘Oh, sure, sure, we should also do like the poor widow and toss in a penny whenever the plate gets passed…’
‘No, Bob, I want much more than that…’ Jesus said.
‘Got it! You want us to volunteer to serve on committees and maybe even teach a class,’ Bob proudly concluded.
‘You’re missing the point completely, Bob. Unless you leave father and mother, sisters and brothers, spouses and children, and give up all your possessions, you can’t BE a disciple!’ said Jesus.
‘Whoa, whoa, that’s not gonna work! Who would want to do that?’ asked Bob.
‘The point isn’t about whether YOU want to or not. It is about what GOD might want!’
‘Yeah, well, there’s such a thing as going too far, is what I’m sayin’.’ commented Bob. ‘I am perfectly willing to be your disciple as long as it’s convenient and doesn’t cost me anything.’
‘Bob, unless you are willing to take up your cross daily and follow me, you cannot be my disciple,’ intoned Jesus.
‘Good luck with that. This disciple thing has to be attractive, you know? If you don’t work harder to make it sound fun, most people aren’t going to be interested. You need a logo and a catchy slogan. Maybe find a celebrity to endorse it…’
‘Bob, Bob you are distracted by many things. But there is only one truly important thing: put God first in all you do, and commit yourself to loving God and neighbor and self,’ instructed Jesus.
‘Okay, fine, I can do that. But lay off the leaving family and giving up my stuff. That’s probably not gonna happen.”
The Revised New Revised Standard Revised Version (RNRSRV)
Once again I received a barrage of emails and phone calls from kind people informing me that discipleship is an unreasonable and unattainable goal, the way I describe it in my posts. In a dozen different ways, people explain patiently to me that very few folks actually have any interest in discipleship and that if we insist that people take their faith so seriously, we will lose them in droves. Many tell me that the church is not set up to promote discipleship and that churches have never had true discipleship as a goal or objective. A few point out that discipleship as we talk about it today isn’t the same as discipleship in Jesus’ day. We need a more practical and achievable discipleship. The bottom line is, if you want to truly be a disciple, the last place on earth you will waste your time is in church. Most churches make discipleship a very low priority, and to try to say that our mission should be to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is to deny and insult the real reasons that people come to church. I hear all of this… and I continue to disagree.
Epiphantasy January 6, 2012Posted by Dan R. Dick in Devotional Reflection, Epiphany.
Tags: Christian discipleship, epiphany
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Lo, and behold, travelers from the east and parts southeast and newer developments more to the south actually than the east, were on a quest — some having traveled weeks, others months, others years — all hoping to discover the Messiah promised to the Jews, but with anticipated collateral benefits for various and sundry gentiles, Pagans, and an occasional Druid. Dozens of seers, prophets, magi, prognosticators, and visionaries milled together with camels, mules, donkeys, and one totally confused llama. A few straggled behind.
“Where are we bound this time?” one asked.
“We have heard a rumor that the Messiah may come from Nazareth,” answered a second.
“Nazareth??” exploded a third. “What possible good can come from Nazareth? That’s miles from here!”
“That’s what they are saying,” replied the first. “But the buzz is firstest-rate.”