If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Gal. 5:15)

We have devoured the Fundamentalists. We are consuming the Conservatives. If these are the sheep of our pasture, what does that make us?

Today is the last day of my twenties. Because I’m both obsessively self-absorbed and nostalgic, I thought I’d take a look back at all the things I’ve done in the past decade.

  • Moved into a house with 12 guys (Iuka!)
  • Got an editorial published in the OSU newspaper that angered a lot of my friends
  • Made a terrible relational mistake
  • Took a job with the OSU Athletic Department
  • Spoke briefly at GCM’s national conference
  • Dropped out of ministry with New Life Church
  • Graduated from OSU with a Theatre Degree
  • Turned down a full time position with the OSU AD to move back to Toledo and help lead Unbound, a ministry to college students 
  • Discovered my preaching gift
  • Fell in and out of love
  • Realized my call to ministry
  • Made lifelong friends
  • Took up photography
  • Traveled across the country with Scott
  • Received a vision to plant a church
  • Enrolled at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston
  • Nearly lost my mind the first semester
  • Worked out a lot and got into great shape (those were the days)
  • Spent a summer in Yosemite National Park
  • Fell in love with Breena
  • Asked Breena to marry me
  • Got mono
  • Married Breena
  • Impregnated Breena
  • Graduated from Gordon-Conwell with an M. Div and received an award for preaching excellence
  • Watched Cyrus come into the world
  • Failed at planting a church
  • Took a job at a megachurch and moved to Columbus
  • Impregnated Breena again
  • Watched Eisley come into the world
  • Quit my job
  • Accepted new position at same church
  • Impregnated Breena a third time
All that in ten years. It was a decade of becoming, and I’m grateful to God for his faithfulness to me. I look forward to the next ten years with hope and expectation.

Tonight, as I was driving home from work, it occurred to me that I’ve been at working at my present church longer than I was at Unbound. 

Mind. Blown.

Last Thursday we were driving from Columbus to Toledo and I was considering what it meant that Jesus is King of all creation. Mind you, not that he is becoming King, or will be King when he comes back, but that he is King right now. For two and a half hours the sun seemed to remain fixed in the glorious golden position of early evening. Hues didn’t change, but remained rich shades of gold and blue. Clouds were still. Shadows were long, yet translucent. Creation itself cried out, “He is risen! And he reigns!”

I considered what it meant that Jesus is King amidst the financial meltdown. Jesus is King, and our entire financial system is built on buying, selling, and betting on debt. Jesus is King, but our house is built on sand. What does this mean? How do you read this?

Some would say, “We ought to ask what Jesus would do if he were in charge of the markets.” But he is King! So that question doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. The real question is, “What is he going to do now that the markets are in ruins?” And, “How is he going to do this?” And, “Whom will he entrust with the task?”

The common human answer to solving large-scale problems (and even small-scale problems) is centralization and control. We tend to reduce decision-makers, centralize authority and power in one individual (or a small group of individuals), and try to bring everything under the control of a singular power structure. Exhibit A: The firing of GM’s CEO by the President of the United States.

But there already is a singular authority, and his name is Jesus the King. (Not my King, or our King, or could-be-your King, but the King.) And yet, from what I understand about Jesus (which is very limited), he doesn’t seem to care much for centralization or control. He pushes things back out to us. He entrusts us with the problems of the world. And not just to a select few, but to many of us–even to those who have not sworn their allegiance to him. 

But those who have sworn allegiance to Jesus have a special, mutually-acknowledged, relationship with him. It is as though we are the brothers and sisters of the King. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible says we are–sons of the living God (and because we are sons, we are also full heirs, which is true for both men and women), even as Jesus is the full and true Son of God.
So then, my question is for the Church. If Jesus is King (which he is), then what is your response (as confessors-of-allegiance to him) to the financial crisis? This financial house-of-cards has been built on greed and debt-dealing. What say you, Church? What say you, Evangelicals? Are you innocent? Have you pointed the way toward freedom and financial wholeness? Has yours been the voice that has spoken truth to the powerful forces of corrupted capitalism, greedy profiteers, and debt-dealers?
Woe is me, for I am a man with a maxed-out credit card, living among a people with maxed-out credit cards. I have bet on the future and lost. I have purchased non-essentials with money I don’t have. I have dined in the lap of luxury while claiming poverty. I have eaten and drank, only to wake up the next day to find myself still breathing, and repeat the revelry again and again. I have paid money for that which does not satisfy, pressed down the guilt, and filled the emptiness with more spending. I have done this. The financial crisis is my fault. I am to blame.
I should have joyfully pointed the way for others. But I cannot. I should have stood up, with the moral authority of a life-well-lived, and said “Enough!” But I did not, and I cannot. I have not given full allegiance to Jesus the King. I have held from him Money. I have given my allegiance to Credit (a god some might call Mammon). I have withheld from myself no good thing, to my own moral and financial poverty. God forgive me. This crisis is on my hands.

I can’t sleep tonight. At least not yet. I came downstairs to connect with God. Opening my mouth to pray, all I could say was, “Jesus, I want to be near you.” I say it again and again, but oh how the mind wanders. Thinking of work. Always work. Even when I open the Scriptures it’s to a portion I must read for work. My job has become my relationship with God.

So I write. I write my prayers because in speaking them I am so easily distracted. And tonight I pray for Ember, the unborn church.

The image that comes to my mind whenever I think about Ember now is of a man (probably me), yellow-checkered shirt and ratty blue jeans, walking down a street lined with old homes. I know the neighborhood. It’s Clintonville, just north of campus. But the image is far different than the one I used to have. The old image was also of a man (certainly me), but that man was preaching to a congregation of thousands. Illuminated by stage lights. Supported by rock and roll. Leading a mass movement with all humility and character, or so I hoped. Now it’s a man walking.

The funny thing is, my ecclesiology hasn’t changed all that much. What I think the church ought to be doing today is pretty much the same thing I thought the church ought to be doing five years ago. It’s me who’s changing. I don’t want to be Rob Bell anymore. (Sorry, Rob, nothing personal.) I don’t want to have a big church anymore. I don’t want to be the next evangelical rock star preacher. I don’t want to start a movement, I just want to move.

I want to go somewhere with people. I want to be a part of a community that honors God with their lips and their hearts and their deeds. I want to take the wealthy, introduce them to the poor, and speak the words of Christ to each. I want to be a part of a community where political liberals and conservatives can break bread together. I want to see young people listening to old people, and old people listening to young people. I want to be in a church where Jesus makes himself known to those who think they already know everything about him.

And yet it all seems so “yeah right.” It all seems so impossible. This isn’t the sort of thing that I know how to make happen. And even if I did, I wouldn’t want to. I don’t want this to be about me. I want this to be about God and I want this to be about us and I want this to be about a world in need of both Jesus and the Church.

So, God. It’s up to you. Too much has to happen that is beyond my control. I will walk, but you must lead. You must clear the path through the jungle. You must blaze the trail through the wilderness. You step, I step. Please, let’s move.

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