Monday, August 02, 2010

butt overdraft

Everything--especially everything crass--seems funnier when you're 12. That was probably about the age I was when I first heard someone say, "Don't let your mouth write a check your butt can't cash." Taken literally it's nonsense. But most people in the U.S. can quickly infer the meaning given enough context. And those of us with juvenile senses of humor no doubt still find it a witty way to say don't talk bigger than you can act. But isn't that, in some sense, one part of the call for those who follow Christ? My faith (and therefore the entirety of my life) is based on assertions that are more than I can accomplish. Impossibly more than I can a accomplish. "I will overcome." In what universe can I make that happen? Not this one. "I'm going to be the kind of person who can say, 'imitate me. look at my life and do what I do.'" Are you on crack? There's no way I can live up to that. But, as the late Walter Hawkins said, "That's the kind of life we ought to live."

Well, my mouth has no problem writing checks, and fat ones at that. Sometimes they're right, and sometimes they're wrong, but they're almost always more than I feel like paying once they've left my mouth. A number of years ago, a good friend of mine was on pastoral staff at a church I had previously been very active in. I had resigned my ministry position partly because I was disillusioned with the direction of the church. Without going in to details, I can summarize by saying they were like a company that makes decision based on (speculative) market reaction rather than on product quality. In other words, it seemed to me they were more interested in, and measured their success by the number of people--"cool people" specifically--that came in the door. I was working my way through a Watchman Nee book at the time; so, I was all keyed up about some stuff, and I pointedly asked him, "What do you do with your time all day? How much of your day is spent in the ministry of the word and in prayer over the people that God has already sent? Is it the majority of your time, or is most of it spent figuring out clever marketing campaigns?" Yeah, ouch. "How do you measure success? If you were doing what you believed God told you to do as far as strategy, presentation, etc., and no growth happened for 3 years, would you think something's wrong?" Yeah, this is where the music gets creepy and there's a close up of the unusually attractive starlet putting her hand on the door knob as everyone in the theater screams, "Don't do it!" You can almost hear the divine paddle swooshing through the universe to make contact with my rear end.

Fast-forward a couple of years and I had not only conceded the ministry call (something I said I'd never do), but I had accepted a position to lead an alternative ministry that met on Saturday nights (beta ministries) in our church. We had great leadership--the best, actually. Some are now in Mexico as missionaries. Some are with us at True Vine. Some I'm praying will be with us soon ;) Great people that I assured when no one showed up for first service that we're just getting started, etc. "People will come.", they didn't. After the years of conversations about what church was supposed to be, late-night sessions discussing stripping away all the junk so we could focus on what's really important, etc., almost nobody came. We were in that ministry for several years, but the attendance didn't change. People told us they loved us, loved our ministry, etc. They told us we were doing great, but they apparently didn't think it was great enough to come. As time continued, their supposed desire for change contrasted increasingly to their continued declination to the invitation for change, and it polarized our relationships. We were "them" and they were "us". The check my mouth had written in conversation with my pastor friend years earlier slammed into an insufficient fund and my butt was overdrawn. Were we doing what God told us to? The answer was yes. Where we doing vain or wrong things? While executed by imperfect people and therefore imperfect, the answer still came down to no, we weren't doing vain things--in fact, we had weekly opportunities for painful soul searching about our motives and execution. Why weren't people coming? Why wasn't it taking off? What's wrong (yes, I'd like to make a withdrawal on the check my mouth wrote years earlier). NSF--insufficient funds.

Psalm 105:19 says that the word of the Lord tested Joseph until it came to pass. That's where we were. God had told us to say yes to ministry. We could see great things happening through it. Probably, there were even greater things accomplished that we couldn't see. But it hurt. Letting your mouth write a check that your butt can't cash in the natural is just plain stupid and usually hurts. For example, if you were to walk up to Brock Lesnar and say, "hey, 'roid boy, MMA is for wimps and I can mop the street with you any day", it's going to be the kind of hurt that involves a hospital co-payment. However, letting your mouth write a check that your butt can't cash in faith is different. Oh, it will probably hurt (definitely if you're brash like I am), and an overdraft is likely--it's called the discipline through which God teaches you that it isn't about you. --but the end result is that He develops in You that which He desires so that you are ready for His work. He allows you seasons of soul-searching so that when it comes time to do something even crazier...say start a church or maybe take up that interpretive mime ministry that's been on your have the seasons of Him covering the overdraft witnessing that however imperfect you may be, it's about Him--not you. As a perquisite for opening an account, there's also a huge toaster full of motives that have been vetted, purified, and solidified. You don't to worry about what you'll do if people talk negatively because they already have. You don't have to worry about what you'll do if it isn't popular because you've been there, done that. You can say, "I died once. It was very liberating." No sir, I have no idea how I'll cover that who do I make it out to?

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