Max Dillon, Elliot Rodger, and the Gospel

In honor of my tenth blog post, I initially planned to talk about bands playing ten-year anniversary tours, why they’re awkward, and why we should go anyway. But in light of this week’s past events, I feel the need to address something else instead.

This past Friday my wife and I saw The Amazing Spiderman 2. Though the film was visually and conceptually great, the thing that hit home for me was Jamie Foxx’s character, Max Dillon.

While Max is a geeky and slightly obsessive electrical engineer, at his core he just wants to be noticed. Most of his life he’s been a nobody people walk over and ignore. He is so starved for attention the instant anyone makes him feel like he has purpose or value, he pledges lifelong allegiance to them. All he wants is to be recognized and for some reason, this literally has never happened to me before, I wanted to tell this fictional character that God sees himYes, there were the issues of dependency, idolatry, and violence but God sees and loves those people just the same.

Then Isla Vista happened and it occurred to me that though Max Dillon is fictional, he is real. He is real in people like Elliot Rodger and God sees him too.

Now before people jump down my throat and accuse me of being on his side: I am not. The chief end of woman is not to acquiesce to a man’s whim nor is the measure of a man the amount of women he sleeps with. Women are people; not property for us to own, subdue, rule over, or dominate. Their love is not something we are entitled to. Being a perfect gentleman is not an act you put on with the hope of accomplishing something for your own personal gain. That’s manipulation and when you pull that stunt you are no better than the jerks you denounce. In fact, you are worse. You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I can say it because I’ve been guilty of it.

Furthermore in his entitlement Rodger deceived himself to believe he’s a god, worthy to be adored while deciding what is just in the world, completely overlooking the fact he’s also a human who, based on his own scathing judgment, deserves to be annihilated (someone undoubtedly will point out the irony in his death).

But once you get past the contempt and the disgust and sift through the sick behavior of Rodger, the real issue (after the cultural perceptions of masculinity – thanks Laci Green) that manifested itself in vitriol arises: he was a broken man who felt invisible his entire life. Like Max Dillon, Rodger wanted to matter to someone. He wanted it so badly it drove him to do whatever he could to feel important. And when I can get past my outrage, I’m saddened.

Because the truth is Elliot Rodger mattered. He mattered to God. Not Elliot Rodger god but the Creator of the heavens and the earth and everything in them who became a man to die on the cross so he (and not just him but the people he killed as well, whom he will have to answer to said God for) could be reconciled to Him once again.

Isla Vista taught me the Max Dillons of our world are real and, at the risk of oversimplifying the issue, they need to also be told their value is not based on what others feel about them nor is worth of other people contingent on how well they serve us. We are valuable because we are made in the image of God, because we were bought at a price. And as long as we chase after secondary things we will find ourselves empty and, in our brokenness, breaking everything we touch. Our hearts are always restless until they find rest in Him and when I get past my indignation, I can remember that.

Jesus is the only hope we have and it’s for that reason I’ve committed my life to spreading the word: God sees the Max Dillon and the Elliot Rodgers of our world and he desperately wants them to know his love.

Planting as a Process

If you asked me what I spend the majority of my time thinking about (after Jesus, of course), mission would be somewhere near the top of the list. Few things excite me more than dreaming of ways to advance God’s kingdom here on earth while loving my neighbor in the process; and between innovations like the Acts 29 Network, the Verge Network, Asbury Theological Seminary’s new degree in church planting, and the like, it would seem I’m not alone. An apostolic wave is rising within the church.

Even the ministry I work for recently put together a cohort dedicated to planting new witnessing communities on campuses where there are currently none present. It’s been absolutely remarkable to watch some of my closest friends/heroes birth missional groups on their campuses; and though I’m not a part of the cohort, I am proud be part of the movement by pioneering new student ministry in the Cayman Islands. 

Yet while this wave excites me, it also makes me insecure.

I saw a video not too long ago of students hopping on a bus to drive to a nearby campus to plant an InterVarsity chapter. They prayed, talked to students, and casted vision for what could exist in their institution. Of course, I thought it was amazing. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor” and these students embodied that philosophy. The hard part for me though is the fact I’ve never planted that fast.

For all the conversations being had about planting, it sounds instantaneous. I’ll hear stories about students who take a weeklong mission trip to another country, talk to some students, and say the ministry has been started. But is it really as simple as arriving on a campus, getting some folks to sign up for a bible study, and then leaving? I’m finding the answer for me is no. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in the past year and four months (aside from the importance of knowing your context) it’s that planting is not so much an event as much as it’s a process.

Yes there’s moment the seed gets placed in the soil but there’s also the instant the sprout breaks ground. Which constitutes as planting? Both. It’s the process of cultivating the soil, watering the seed, and watching it surface until it develops into something sustainable.

A friend of mine and I were talking this past week when he asked me what kind of timeline I was looking at for Cayman. I didn’t have one. I just figured I was going to be faithful to the time God has called me here and not think about moving until I had to renew my contract. While the need for a timeline is important (after all, every leader needs vision), things are always easier in theory than in praxis.

As nice as it sounds to entrust the work to people after you and move on to the next exciting venture, planting is a commitment. It sometimes means being willing to stick your flag in the ground and commit to a place longer than you intended. I believe any planter would agree. Sometimes it just needs to be said (namely, for me) Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your ministry. It’s okay if things take time. It’s part of the planting process. 

The Rung in the Wall, Part II: Hanging with Friends

After spending three-and-a-half years in the heat and humidity of Tampa, San Francisco felt particularly chilly that afternoon. Adjusting my beanie and buttoning up my sweater, I made my way through the Mission district to talk God with a friend over Chinese. Somewhere between the BART station and the restaurant it occurred to me I had never actually had a conversation with this person and suddenly I grew anxious. Though they seemed nice and sincere in their love for God, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of all the Christians I met only to be let down.

If I’m honest, I don’t really get along with Christians. Whenever I recount arguments I’ve had with people, more often than not, it’s been with Christians. It’s never an issue of denomination as much as it’s an issue of discipleship. I often feel like the odd man out and as much as I’d like to believe it means I’m Christ-like, I won’t lie to myself that way.

Around conservative Christians, I’m the liberal heretic. I don’t subscribe to right-wing politics, I’m not a young earth creationist, if I had to pick a favorite writer I’d probably say James Baldwin, and you can sometimes catch me at bars trying to love my non-Christian friends. Yet around more liberal circles, I’m the conservative tightwad. I don’t drink (though it’s okay if you do), I don’t watch rated-R movies (though it’s okay if you do), I do believe in the authority of Scripture and as much as I complain about the church and Christians, I am still part of the family.

Just the other day I was at lunch (apparently, I eat a lot) with a local pastor discussing life in Cayman when he said something interesting. Because locals make up less than half of the population, Cayman is a very transient country. Oftentimes folks move here with the intention of staying “for only a few years” and don’t want to invest in relationships. They never unpack. Conversely, most locals don’t want their friendship anyway because they figure it’s only a matter of time before these sojourners leave them like everyone else.

I mention this because I did retake the spiritual growth assessment I mentioned last week; and while it certainly wasn’t my weakest area, “fellowshipping with believers” was surprisingly low. When talking with the pastor I realized why. In the past year-and-a-half I’ve been in Cayman, already a good number of my friends have left or are considering leaving and because I don’t know how long I’ll be here I’ve been tempted to withdraw. Though the pastor didn’t direct this towards me, I felt the loving correction of the Lord as he spoke. As long as God has called me to be here, I am called to be here. Sitting on the sideline waiting to go isn’t an option, as painful as playing may be.

Last week I talked about my desire for growth. Part of that is relating to my brothers and sisters in the faith, especially as I live in Cayman. I’ve decided to take a chance attend a guy’s retreat with some friends in July. Perhaps if you’ve been struggling with the same thing you can step out in faith as well. Maybe we’ll find God’s goodness waiting on the other side.

The Rung in the Wall

I’ve never been much of a rock climber but as I stood before the artificial wall, a mere boy, watching all my friends scramble to top, it looked easy. Grabbing the first rung, I progressed at a moderate speed until I noticed the higher I went the more of a stretch it became. When I finally arrived at a grip just out of reach, I dawdled and eventually turned back defeated.

When we first say yes to Jesus our growth is exponential. Each day holds a new concept to learn, a new verse to read, a new truth to unlock. Somewhere along the way we seem to plateau. All of a sudden we’re learning the same truths just stated differently. Granted, repeated truths, no matter how elementary, have a way of challenging us in different seasons, it can still feel like our growth has somehow been stunted.

I can confidently say I’m a smarter Christian than I was a year ago, but the question I’m wrestling with is whether or not I’ve become a better one. God calls us to love him with all our mind, soul, heart, and strength. To merely grow intellectually is to become a lopsided Christian. My prayers should be more meaningful than they were a year ago. I should be able to hear God’s voice a bit clearer. My life should embody him more. Perhaps, and maybe I’m stretching it, I should even be a more loving person. As much as I love mulling over ideas, at the end of the day it’s about becoming more like Jesus and sometimes I wonder if I am or if I’m dawdling at the same rung in rock climbing wall of our relationship.

For the past few months the cry of my heart has been to go deeper with God. Richard Foster in his book, The Celebration of Discipline, writes, “Superficiality is the curse of this age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a great number of intellectual people, or gifted people, but for deep people. I couldn’t agree more. With our fast food, smart phones, and high speed Internet connections, we’ve become a generation so enamored with instantaneous satisfaction delayed gratification is an inconvenience if not an injustice. As much as I long for depth with God, part of me wishes it could happen instantly. But it doesn’t work like that. Like all relationships, depth takes time. The effort put forth in the beginning is not the same kind it takes to press forward. The rungs are higher now.

As unromantic as it sounds, after a certain point we must intentional about our growth with God. Of course it starts with prayer. Then comes the development of a plan. At the beginning of the year I was issued a spiritual growth assessment (http://www.lifeway.com/lwc/files/lwcF_PDF_DSC_Spiritual_Growth_Assessment.pdf) by some people in my church to help identify areas to improve. As usual, I didn’t think much of it at the time but this week I’m challenged to revisit both the assessment and the spiritual disciplines Richard Foster recommends in his book. Something has to change. 

I’ve never been much of a rock climber, but it would seem God is waiting for me at the top and dawdling in the middle is no longer satisfying.

Reflections of an Overseas Missionary

This past week I read Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev. in which he tells the story of how the church he started in one of the most unchurched cities in America grew to over 4,000 people in weekly attendance. Both humorous and honest, Driscoll shares nuggets of wisdom he’s learned in the church-planting journey. This book not only gave me a deeper appreciation for him, his work ethic, and his love for Jesus but it also challenged me to look deeper at the soil God has called me to cultivate.

Part of what makes Mars Hill so beautiful is the way Driscoll understands the culture of Seattle, Washington. Home to Tooth and Nail Records as well as famous bands such as Nirvana and Death Cab for Cutie, Seattle is a music haven. It’s also home to fundamentalist and liberal churches barely holding on. In the midst of it, he built a church true to the gospel while embracing the surrounding culture.

Naturally, this made me reflect on church here in Cayman.

Though I initially felt as if a number of them failed to engage the culture because I rarely saw it, as I thought deeper I realized the real reason behind my uncertainty was because even after a year of being in Cayman I still have difficulty discerning the culture.

With over 125 nationalities represented and a population where less than half of the people that live here are local, Cayman is an amalgamation of sorts. Whereas other countries with a more pronounced difference in culture force you to change, in Cayman you never have to. While it’s nice, and key factor in what makes Cayman one of the world’s friendliest countries, it’s made me lazy. How does one start grassroots ministry unique to the country if one can’t figure out the country’s culture?

Cayman is constantly shifting. As more countries take up residence here and subsequently influence younger generations societal expectations change. What was once a part of Cayman’s culture becomes extinct.

Reading Driscoll’s book helped me realize I may have come to Cayman with an idea of what I thought this culture needed. However, without taking the time to listen to the people I’m no better than churches that replicate themselves regardless of the context.

Cayman is beautiful and deserves to be celebrated; its culture preserved. I’m realizing I don’t want to change it as much as I want to be changed by God with it, for the church in Cayman to be the church that Jesus has called it to be and not the church according to me. I want to build a ministry that is true to the gospel, embraces culture, and loves the church but that means I must first learn the culture in all its fluidity.

One of my greatest pitfalls as a leader is sometimes I must learn things the hard way. On my shelf are books I’ve failed to read on Cayman history and how to cross cultures meaningfully. After finishing Confessions I’m challenged to go back to the drawing board: to repent of my arrogance and allow God to show me his vision for this country. This means reading, listening, observing, and asking questions. It means being the missionary Jesus has called me to be and letting go of my own cultural biases to better love the people. It means saying yes to call again.

I think I’m okay with that.