Six years after taking the “red pill”… four points of advice from my future self

It’s been six years now since we started the journey into God’s organic nature. There is so much to say and so much that we’ve learned. For the purpose of squeezing these thoughts out,I’ve decided to write myself a letter that I would hand myself if a time travel machine was to be invented in the next year or so. Here’s what I would tell myself.

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Dear Newborn Self,

You have chosen wisely. All that you want and need [and what you don’t even know yet that you want and need] is ahead of you down this path. But as J.C. taught us, it will also cost you and the family a lot. More than the promise of comfort, stability, and financial security that the Christian American Dream offers, it’s going to cost you and Leslie a lot in terms of who you think you are and what you think God or people owe you. When your friends who’ve gone ahead of you have said, “get bigger by getting smaller” and “do more by doing less,” you don’t yet know how hard that is going to be to live out because you are part of a system that keeps you enslaved to a dull and uninteresting life. You WILL get smaller if you want to follow Jesus. Embrace it when it comes– despite how painful it’s going to be. It is part of your transformation into being “a disciple who is different enough to make a difference in a different world” as Dezi says or being “a disciple worth reproducing” as Curtis says.  In the process, some ugliness in you will be exposed — ugliness that is tolerated in programmatic Christianity but needs to die.  You will be exposed as a betrayer and a liar, but if you give in to the moving of the Holy Spirit, then you will begin the purge from that inauthentic christianity in which you are heavily immersed. Everything that can be shaken WILL be shaken — and that begins with your unnatural self that has been allowed to live and thrive for several decades now.

I wanted to also let you know that right now, you are thinking about questions like church structure, activities, and the logistics of what “church” is and isn’t.  These are valid questions, and you are not alone in thinking such questions; thousands upon thousands of people exiting traditional ministries and churches are asking the same questions.  Having said that, I want you to know that those questions are not ultimately that important.  They will help you engage in conversations with people exiting and detoxing from said ministries (especially ministry leaders), but these still remain questions OUT THERE: questions that don’t require you to be all-in, questions that can remain theory and be discussed endlessly with little application, and questions that, quite frankly, often function as smoke screens as for why people do not fully live by faith. The real object of your focus for the journey you are now on must be on personal transformation — not ecclesiology or any theology for that matter that takes your focus off radical and obedient living.  As a result, the ones who can help you are not the ones who are blogging, not the ones who are writing books, and not the ones who are speaking at conferences.  These folks can help you with the theology part, but you need flesh and blood GUIDES — people who have been there and know how to take you there.   THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR SUCCESS IN THIS JOURNEY.  Find these people who are living out the TRUE disciple life.  Get in community with them, and be on mission with them.  This will answer the questions you need to be asking.   If you stay in this arm-chair theologian mode or deconstruction theology mode (as opposed to reconstructionist living), don’t expect to grow much.   Being a disciple who follows God’s organic ways, does not work like this. I can’t put it any more simply than that.

Related to this, you need to know that the power is in the WINE, not the wineskins.  There is cachet — and, truth be told, money — in being an architect or a champion of a particular kind of wineskin.  God has always been about the wine — not the wineskin, but, for whatever reason, we artificially place the locus of life and power in the the shape and nature of the skin instead of its elixir-like content.  Six years in and with my limited vantage point, my best guess as to why this is the case is this: our desire to control an outcome.  We believe that if we can replicate the descriptive elements of structure or activities of past successful wineskins, that God is bound to mindlessly reproduce the same effects that came with them in that specific period of history (the descriptive-prescriptive mistake).  It amounts to reverse engineering of the Holy Spirit’s ways — which Jesus taught us is more like the wind than any kind of design plan or formula.  Revival people do this.  Charismatics do it.  Church Planting Movements people do this.  Missional people do this.  Organic/Simple Church people do it too.  And they don’t know that they don’t even know. Mike, be about the wine — not a certain brand of wineskin.  You will never grow outdated or passe this way; you will never become an alleged expert who will be tempted to spend more time consulting than doing; and, most importantly, you will always stay connected to the true source of life and power — which is what you really want.

Finally, know that hard work lies ahead.  As part of your journey out of a system or culture that stands against genuine discipleship movement, you will have to embrace a Genesis 2  and 3 lifestyle and theology: with creativity, fruitfulness, and multiplication comes HARD WORK — much of which will come off the sweat of your brow.  As Bryce and Dezi put it, it’s unrelieved, uninspiring, and hard work.  This hard work will touch the core of who you are as an image-bearer of a 3-in-1 God, touching your body, soul, and spirit.  This makes it three times as hard to transform into!  Expect then to have to become more rugged and resilient; you will have to if you want to be a rugged and resilient disciple who fathers rugged and resilient children, both physical and spiritual.   This will be harder than you think as you come out of a culture that likes to talk over coffee or dinner more than act in the world.  Your [and Western] Christianity now is soft and lazy [slothful actually]; it is part of a culture that outsources hard work and seeks a retirement lifestyle that is marked by leisure (e.g., golf) and decreased responsibility that is detached more and more from the problems and pain of the real world.   Kingdom life does not look like this.   There is an incarnational impulse that fully throws you in locally — whether it’s work, relationships, or community. It is intensely present.  It is gritty.  It is available, authentic, and vulnerable.  It is in the world — making you needed and necessary in others’ lives, becoming your brothers’ and sisters’ keepers in a world where people only look after themselves and their own tribe.  That 3-in-1 decision to enlarge your heart to others, to then be more available to them, and then to work longer, harder, and more on behalf of them, ALL ADDS UP.  This is a NECESSARY part of a Genesis 2-3 disciple’s lifestyle: the kind that is fruitful and multiplying the Kingdom of God everywhere in a world that needs good news.  But at the end of the year, you have become a Genesis 12 blessing to so many, God has set your reputation, and new doors are opening for you as a result of it.  In short, the miracle of multiplication will happen on the heels of your season[s] of hard work. It is nowhere near as clean or as rapid as we often want it to be.  But it is worth it because, in the end, you have discovered that, not only has the world around you changed, you, yourself, have in the process.

 

That’s all I got now.  Press on, and do not grow weary.

Your six years down the road self

10 comments to Six years after taking the “red pill”… four points of advice from my future self

  • Thanks, (future) Mike! I do crave the company and partnership of “flesh and blood guides” who are more concerned with taking action with what they have than constructing and analyzing the theory from a safe distance away from the trenches. I’m also intrigued by your reminder that it’s not about the wineskins, but the wine. It’s all too easy for me to lose sight of that, and to in fact have difficulty truly separating the wineskin from the wine!

  • Joshua Wilshusen

    This is a great “put it all in a nutshell” letter Mike!

  • As much as I’d like to take credit for these thoughts,I am afraid I simply cannot. We are a reflection of the spiritual family that has poured into our lives over these last six years. Family that has walked ahead of us, walked alongside us, and walked just behind us– these [you] have been been the ones who have instilled love, hope, strength, and beauty in us. If anything, we bear testimony of some of what i earlier shared; WHO we know is WHATwe know. And we know some pretty awesome people (you guys included!). Future Mike and Leslie have greatly benefitted from their past and present traveling companions.

  • How right you are that we have to dig in locally. We are continually amazed at how extra-ordinary is the impact of a very ordinary bunch with whom we share our lives. These past five months have been some of the busiest that I have experienced in years, with the Lord really forcing me actively back into the day to day running of and involvement in my company. And what a delight this has been.

    It will be fun to re-connect in person sometime soon – or in six years!

  • Hey Tony! That’s great news to hear. I especially like hearing what a delight it has been. I hope I’m able to say the same as things get busier for me personally starting in July. And as far as reconnecting, I sure hope it’s closer to six months than six years! And next time, I’m bringing swim trunks!

  • Dana Gamble

    The beauty of hard work is that it gives you opportunities to grow with the experience. When young, I got things done with my physical strength and for long periods of time. Now older, I get things done in segments and continually ask myself…can I do this smarter? That can preach…as has this piece of your writings. Well said, my friend.

  • Well-received, Dana — especially as my 40 year old body is more often protesting my 30 year old work ethic these days! That kind of “smarter” seems a different sort than what “smarter” meant in my teens and 20s. I hope to learn more of it in the days ahead. Thanks for the word, Dana!

  • KatieD

    Great words of truth, encouragement and reminders…..thanks Mike! I’m weary, lacking in the community and feeling a bit lonely…your words are healing to my spirit….

  • Thanks, Elton and Katie. It seems entirely too long since we last connected with each of you and your awesome other-halves. I look forward to when that next time may be.

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