Saturday, December 29, 2012

With a Year of Waiting in the Past, Next Up is France

As I've shared in a few posts like this one , this one and this one 2012 has been a year of waiting.  While those blog posts hint at that fact, I never actually declared on this blog that 2012 was my year of waiting, but that's what it has been.  While praying sometime early in this year, I had a clear sense that 2012 was to be a year of waiting; that God was teaching me patience, to trust him to guide my future (rather than trying to force things to happen) and to seek my significance in who I am as his child rather than what I do for him.  I've had to remind myself that 2012 is a year of waiting as I've spent the past year working an incredibly unfulfilling job and have been wrestling through thoughts and experiments for how to best use my ministry gifts.  All of 2012 has been a year of waiting.  In the exact middle of 2012, I was very close to landing a great job in a university setting.  In fact, I already had one foot out of the door of my current job and was thinking that I'd gotten off easy in this year of waiting; I would only have to wait 6 months for the next major step in my journey.  Then, in a way that was both humorous and painful, I found myself on the wrong side of nepotism and didn't get the job.  Again, God reminded me (I wish He could do it more gently sometimes) that ALL of 2012 is about waiting.  So I kept waiting and seeking and praying and waiting some more.
In late summer of this year, as we were sitting in our living room folding clothes, Erin announces "you know, if we're really going to consider serving a year with Nazarene Mission Corps , the next academic year would be the time to do it, since it will be Dawson's last year before kindergarten.  Erin's statement was completely out of the blue; I never expected to hear her say that.  I'd been talking with her about this idea for a few years but she had been a bit hesitant.  Honestly, I was hesitant, too.  While it sounded like a good idea, I wasn't sure we'd ever really decided to pursue it.  I had tried to get Erin to attend the Cross Cultural Orientation required for those considering Mission Corps, but she remained hesitant.  In fact, I tried pushing it pretty hard last spring but she told me, in no uncertain terms, that she wasn't ready to consider that major of a life change as we were not yet far enough removed from the previous painful life changes.  Last summer, however when she announced that it was time to think about it, I knew two things: 1) We'd both fully recovered from our season of loss and transition and 2) God was clearly speaking to my wife.

Even after that conversation, we wrestled with our doubts.  After one difficult conversation on a Saturday night, God immediately addressed Erin's fears.  The very next morning, God spoke to Erin through our pastor's morning message and a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that she heard on PBS, "Faith is taking the first step, even when you can't see the whole staircase."  As I'm tempted to interpret challenges as a sign from God that we need to stop pursuing this, I heard my mom's admonition, "now that you've committed to this because you know God is leading you, don't let the inevitable challenges stop you from doing it."  So despite the numerous challenges we face in moving overseas to spend a year volunteering for our Denomination, we're determined to do our best not to back down from the challenges.

After committing to spend a year with Mission Corps, our next big challenge was to decide where to spend that year.  My first two thoughts were: 1) I'd love to go to France and 2) No way we could consider a year in France as mission work.  So we started exploring all the other options.  We talked with
Dave and Betsy Scott in Croatia , the Sunbergs  about Budapest and a coffee shop in Krakow, Poland   CaribbeanNazarene College  and some teaching opportunities in the AfricaSouth region .  We knew all along, though that our hearts were with the Eurasia region. 
While all of those opportunities seemed exciting, they also all had obstacles that didn't exist with the opportunity in Versailles, France.  So after all those opportunities faded away, we were left with our original hope, a year in France. 
Our decision to choose France was the result of two factors.  First of all, we're intrigued by the culture.  Several years ago, we spent some time in France and really liked the culture.  I realize that a week touring a country doesn't give one a true sense of the culture, but just like we felt in 2003 when feeling drawn to Gardner, something seems to be drawing us to France.  When talking with the Missionary in France, Brian Ketchum , he told me that if I were talking about Hungary the way I was talking about France, he'd tell me to get off the phone with him and immediately call the Sunbergs, but since we seem to have a draw toward France, we need to trust that God has a reason for planting that desire in us.  Randy and Lorie Beckum, mentors of our from college and who also served as missionaries in France, told us to not assume that mission work means we go somewhere we'd rather not be but rather pick a place where we would enjoy living and to know that God will use us anywhere.  For us, that's France.  Really, could you choose a better place to spend a year of one's life than Paris? 

Secondly, and this was the main factor, we already have a solid base in the language.  At the end of a year in Budapest, we might have finally mastered the basics of the difficult Hungarian language.  We're going to France with a basis in the language and with the possibility of being close to fluent by the end of the year.  While English is the international business language (meaning people across Europe speak English) and we can serve despite language barriers, we're excited about both serving in a place where we can have simple conversations and where we can become fluent in a second language (a language spoken in many other parts of the world, too). 

I started my French studies in the fall of 2008 on a bit of a whim.  While working on French homework one day, I had a congregation member,
Joe Kumor ask me why I was doing all this work.  I told him I wasn't quite sure but that maybe God was preparing me for some future mission work and that I've found that God has always turned my hobbies into service opportunities.  As I look back through some blog entries like this one here ,  I see that four years ago, I was already thinking about the possibility of serving in France.  In this entry, I explain the possibility of serving and teaching in Versailles, which is exactly what I'll be doing next year.  Finally, this blog entry makes me laugh.  I was writing about starting my semester at KU and I finish the blog entry wondering how God will use this intense language study.  Well, now I know. 
I became convinced that France is the place for us about two weeks before Erin came to the same conclusion.  Her decision was made on the fact that we can fill a ministry need in France.  Our year in France will be spent doing three things: 1) Serving the Versailles Community Church of the Nazarene, helping them during a pastoral transition and helping them think through ways to serve their surrounding community.  2) Helping train future pastors for the France District.  Currently, there are no trained pastors to take the place of current pastors (should they leave) nor to start new churches.  There are people on the District who have answered the call to ministry but now need the training.  I'm pumped to have the chance to teach and spend time with future pastors.  3) Learn how to build partnerships between US churches and French churches.  There are already some partnerships growing but we'll have the chance to deepen and expand those partnerships.  French pastors can be a great resource to American pastors since American pasors will eventually face the same cultural challenges pastors in France are already facing.  The possibility of a long-term relationship with the France District helps us know that our ministry in France will extend past this one year. 
After Brian explained all the ways we could serve and help the France District, Erin became convinced that we really would be doing mission work, not just going on a long vacation.  I have to admit though, we will be doing mission work in the country visited by more tourists each year than any other country.  I guess that's called, "suffering for Jesus."

As I shared with my home church in Burlington, IA last Sunday, I believe that my experience planting/ pastoring Trinity Family has brought us to a place where we are open to and possibly even partly prepared for the ministry context of France.  As this post is already too long, however I won't go into all of those details.  Maybe later.  For now, we have two big challenges to overcome before we leave sometime in July.  1) Raise the $30K necessary for a year serving in France and 2) Find someone to rent our house.  Prayer and donations (a website will be set up soon) will be appreciate.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Global Debt and Global Terrorism

It may come as a shock to some people to realize that terrorism does not happen in a vacuum. The "bad guys" don't wake up one day with hatred in their heart and decide to attack the "good guys."  The reality is much more complex and the categories of "good guys" and "bad guys" has much more overlap and is much less clearly defined than the rhetoric our nation's leaders would have us believe. 

For example, check out this quote from a great book, Everyday Justice: TheGlobal Impact of our Daily Choices.
"Debt cancellation has a role to play when it comes to national security.  Nations where the government and economy are not stable enough to provide basic necessities for the people (medical systems, access to food, education) often face higher levels of civil unrest.  Unstable countries pose threats to more prosperous countries around the world.  Sometimes this takes the form of direct invasion as one country seeks to overtake the resources of another.  More often, though, this unrest provides the breeding ground for terrorist activity.  For example, as Pakistan's economy crumbled and they took loans from the IMF, education suffered.  Children didn't have access to schools or to education that would teach them how to think critically about their world. Then the Taliban stepped in.  Amidst poverty and a generation of children looking for guidance, the Taliban set up thousands of 'madrasses' (religious schools), which offered not only education but free room and board.  What the government was unable to provide to desperate families, the Taliban was more than willing to provide in ways that assured them well-trained disciples.  It is far easier for extreme ideologies to take root when there are no alternatives to choose from.  Removing the conditions that foster terrorism seems like a logical step toward our own national security.  Relieving the debt of countries so they can care for their own is part of improving those conditions."

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Gospel Sermon

Indian Creek is currenty in a season  which we've been challenging people to live as missionaries.  Part of that missional challenge includes leading groups through the Tangible Kingdom Primer.  I got to share during that series a couple weeks ago and here is a copy of that message.

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away.... At least, on a different continent in a different hemisphere - things were not going so well for the Republic.  Which was really too bad, because things had started out so well for this fairly young nation.  But since the assassination of the nation's leader, the country had been in the throes of civil war. Years of bloody civil war.  Eventually, one man was able to unite several armies and gain control over the Republic.  Finally bringing peace back to a nation that had been torn apart by bloodshed.

This leader turned out to be more powerful than anyone had originally imagined.  He took this national Republic and turned it into a global empire - an empire that dominated the known world.  Every Empire needs an Emperor - and he was that Emperor.  This Empire promised perpetual peace and financial wealth.  And the Empire delivered on that promise.  At least to its citizens.  The Empire crushed anyone crazy enough to threaten its peace, prosperity or strict obedience to law.  And the Empire continued to expand its wealth and dominance by conquering more and more of its surrounding neighbors. 

The Emperor crushed rebellions.  Took more and more territory. Won battle after battle.  And after each  battle, representatives of the Emperor would run from city to city, from town to town and all the way to the far away villages - announcing the good news of the Emperor's victories.  The good news was that the Emperor and his Kingdom was unmatched and undefeated. 

The citizens of this Empire spoke Greek.  And the greek word we often translate as good news could also be translated another way - gospel.  The biblical word "gospel" actually came from the Roman Empire.  To a first century Roman citizen, the news of the Emperor's conquests was "gospel" or "good news."  The "gospel" of Caesar.  The good news of Rome's Kingdom.  Although, this wasn't such good news if you were one of the ones who were conquered.  Or a non-citizen.  But to learn more about that, read the book of Revelation. 

Rome's "gospel" started with their "son of God, Prince of Peace" - their first Emperor - Augustus.  Caesar Augustus had united Rome from its civil wars and had conquered all of Rome's enemies, making life pretty sweet for Rome's citizens. And that gospel continued, through the victories of Augustus' successors - Tiberius, Caliqula, Claudis, Nero and on and on.  To a first or second century Roman, their Kingdom seemed unrivaled.  It seemed like a Kingdom with no end.

Imagine then, the gall, the audacity, the stupidity even, of a small group of Jews - Jewish outcasts - who began to refer to the life of their crucified Rabbi as "gospel."  They called it the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In fact, one writer, Luke, even started his retelling of the Christian "gospel" by declaring that it was a peasant born Jew, not Caesar Augustus, who was the Son of God/ Prince of Peace/ Ruler of a Kingdom that would know no end.  Feel free to break out into some Handel's Messiah right here...

First century Christ-followers took the word "gospel" from the Roman Empire and redefined it to mean "the Kingdom of Jesus." 

There's a reason Christians were thrown to the lions, crucified and set on fire; it's because they boldly declared that Jesus was Lord.  They broke their nation's laws. They refused to add to "Jesus is Lord" the good patriotic belief, "Caesar is Lord."

And the gospel for which they were dying was not the watered-down, neutered version of "gospel" that has been prominent in most Evangelical churches since the revivalist movements of the 19th century.  If you were to ask most American Christians to define the gospel, they would say something like this; "the gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, so that if I put my faith in Christ, I can be forgiven of my sins and have eternal life with Jesus."   Right?  That's probably how you would define
"Gospel."  That's what I had thought for most of my life.  Whenever I preached and gave people the chance to make an individual decision for Jesus, I was say that I had "presented the gospel."  But what I had actually done, what most of us have done, is to mistake the biblical idea of person salvation (Jesus dying for my sins) with the larger idea of Gospel.  pause - think

Let me say that again.  This is the part of the message where you have to be open to reconsidering strongly held opinions.  Jesus dying on the cross for my sins - that's not the gospel, at least not the entire gospel.  Rather, that's the plan of personal salvation.  Personal salvation is one part of the larger biblical idea of Gospel.  We aren't the main idea of the good news.  It's so much bigger.  Which is good news.

The Biblical idea of gospel is almost exactly the same as the Roman idea of Gospel.  But instead of the hero being Caesar and his Kingdom, the hero is Jesus and his Kingdom.  Ever since the tragedy in the Garden of Eden, the universe has been in a civil war of sorts, God's creation has been in rebellion against its creator.  But the good news is that Jesus has started the process of setting everything right again.  And one day, Jesus' Kingdom will have permanent residence in this world.  God's original intentions for his creation will eventually replace the present, sinful reality.  That process is not yet complete, but it has started.  The Gospel message is that Jesus is setting everything right again.  And anyone connected to Jesus gets saved.

With that working understanding of the Gospel - the entire Gospel - let's look at a passage that outlines for us this story of Jesus.  The passage is from 1 Corinthians 15 pass out bibles.  Before any of the words of our New Testament were actually written down, Christ-followers had been telling and retelling the Gospel of Jesus.  So when Paul writes this letter to the church in Corinth, he is simply writing down what Christians had been repeating to each other for decades.

1 Corinthians 15:1-7 After this part, Paul starts to go on a bit of a tangent, but the retelling of the Gospel tradition picks back up again in verse 20.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28  The bad news is that the creation has rebelled against its creator.  The good news is that King Jesus is setting everything right again.  All things are being redeemed and renewed.  Even us sinful humans. 

I want to make a few observations about this passage:

The Gospel is the completion of Israel's story  Jesus didn't show up out of nowhere.  Jesus' story is rooted in the story of Israel - the stories of our Old Testament.  Day one of the Tangible Kingdom Primer talks about God's calling of Abraham.  That's really where the story of God remaking the world began - with God calling a people to be his representatives in the world.  God first chose to reveal himself through Abraham and his descendants. Then through Jesus.  And now - through the church.  In Romans, Paul says that we are grafted into Israel's family tree.  Ultimately, Jesus is the completion of what God started with Abraham and the people of Israel.

Personal salvation flows from the Gospel  Jesus dying to forgive my sins is not the entire gospel story - but it is a part of the gospel story.  Through Jesus, God is rescuing the entire world and that includes individuals.  Through Jesus, we have been reconciled to God.

The Gospel is the entire life of Jesus  So often, we focus only on Christmas and Good Friday, skipping everything in between and even everything afterwards.  But Jesus did so much more than just die for our sins.  He taught, he was resurrected, he appeared after his resurrection.  And one day - that day really is coming - he will return to earth and set everything right again.  Jesus isn't going to snatch us away from this earth and then blow the whole thing up. While you might find that in the Christian bookstore, you won't find it in Scripture.  Rather, Jesus is returning to this earth and will restore this earth.  In Revelation, the New Jerusalem comes down to earth. Culmination of the story.  But we don't have to wait until the end.  We get to be a part of restoring creation right now.  The Gospel story is not yet complete, but it has started.  And we get to be a part of it. 
Here's another way to summarize the gospel message:

Jesus lived, died, was buried, was raised, was exalted and is the ruling King who is coming back again.  The Gospel is the story of Jesus and we get to be a part of that story.

Geoff and Sherry Maddock are two people who are living out the gospel story.  About 15 years ago, they moved into the poorest part of Lexington, KY.  A part of the city that is ravaged by the effect of sin - both personal sin and systemic sin.  No grocery stores in their part of the city, making it hard for families to find nutritional food.  Just corner convenience stores full of cigarettes, lottery tickets and junk food.  Simple things, like trees - are hard to find in their neighborhood.  No parks for the kids.  Things we often take for granted but are essential for healthy living in a city.  The ascetics of the neighborhood are terrible, too.  A bunch of abandoned and neglected buildings.  It's an ugly place to live.  The destruction of sin is evident everywhere.  The bad news seems to be the dominant story. 

So when Goeff and Sherry moved to this part of Lexington, their intention was simple - to live out the gospel - the entire gospel. I had the privilege of hearing them speak last week and they kept repeating one phrase over and over, "God is making all things new and everything is included."  So their plan of sharing the gospel with their neighborhood did not involve knocking on doors and telling people the four spiritual laws.  No, their plan to share the gospel was to start cleaning up the neighborhood.  Knowing that as they changed the ascetics of the neighborhood, they would be living out God's redemptive, re-creative plan for their city.  In other words - the gospel.

They started working with the corner convenience stores to get healthy food into the stores, so the kids could have more options than just cheetos.  They painted buildings and fences.  They helped plant trees in empty lots.  Eventually got the city to let them plant an orchard that takes up several city blocks.  Where there were just weeds, there are now trees from which kids can pick fruit off the branches when heading to school.  Think about that.  And in a lot where there used to be just a burned out building, they have now planted a community garden.  People from all over the neighborhood get to contribute to and take from the garden. 

One neighbor helped them grow a watermelon plant.  As the watermelons ripened, Sherry began to get more and more excited about enjoying that watermelon.  She didn't mind giving them away, because there was still one she was keeping for herself. Sherry was keeping her eye on one ripening watermelon.  Just as she was about to go out into the garden to pick that watermelon, another neighbor who had been helping her garden came over and asked for that watermelon.  Just as she was getting ready to pick it.  Sherry knew she couldn't say no. But she was kicking herself for not going out to the garden just 5 minutes earlier.  Sherry even let some self-pity overtake her. "I give so much to others, why couldn't I just have the one watermelon that I wanted?" 

The next morning, the neighbor came by to thank her again for the watermelon.  He told Sherry, I've got it sitting in my fridge cause my entire family is coming over today to enjoy that watermelon."  He then told Sherry that even his two sisters, sisters he hasn't talked with in 5 years, were coming over to his house that afternoon.

That's the gospel.  The recreating of this fallen world.  The bringing of the Kingdom of God into sinful corners of the world.  Bringing healthy food to kids who don't normally get balanced meals.  Making an ugly neighborhood beautiful.  Turning abandoned city lots into thriving community gardens.  And helping estranged family members reconcile over a big, ripe watermelon.  The gospel is that the King is fixing his universe. And we get to be a part of it. 

When Geoff and Sherry's neighbors ask them questions - guess what? They get to tell them why they're doing this.  They get to tell them about the love of Jesus and God's plan to make everything right again.  What Geoff and Sherry have done in their neighborhood is a perfect picture of how we proclaim the gospel.  There is a quote often attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words." 

The Gospel requires a response.  No one will force us to join in Jesus' story of salvation.  It's up to us to choose how will we respond.  Part of the response to the Gospel is to choose Jesus as Savior.  To allow Jesus to begin to cleanse all of the junk in our lives and to remake us into the person he created us to be.  But the Gospel requires that we not only choose to make Jesus our Savior, but to also choose to make him our Lord - our Leader - the one who calls the shots in our lives.  Which means that we join him in helping to restore his creation.  That may mean we help clean up our neighborhood or maybe it's some other area.  But we get to be a part of God's story of redemption.  That's good news.  That's Gospel. 

As we move toward communion, I want to share a quote from the Tangible Kingdom Primer. 

A Kingdom life lived on mission is really about living ordinary, everyday life in community, with great gospel intentionality. 

Almost every time we gather for worship, we get to physically re-enact the Gospel.  We get to feel and taste Jesus' story of redemption.  We do this when we celebrate communion together. 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 

When we choose "Gospel" we are saved.  And we join Jesus in bringing salvation to the world around us, too.

So when you take the bread and juice this morning, let this be an act of choosing the Gospel. Maybe you're making the choice for the first time ever or the 700th time.  But don't take the elements without choosing to join in Jesus' story of Gospel. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 3: The 3 Habits of an Incarnational Community

1) Sharing Friends
"Adjust your routine to include meeting friends, both saint and Sojourner, in public places that are comfortable for everyone.  I think you'll find that community begins to take shape, naturally."

2) Sharing Food
"God uses the banquet table analogy to speak about heaven, salvation, and evangelism... In Adullam, every eight weeks or so, we have what we call 'Big Table.'"

3) Sharing Life
"The key to this is the word 'spontaneous.'  This isn't rocket science, but we've come to realize that the compartmentalized approach to life, coupled with Americans' radical individualism, does make it hard for some people to live incarnationally."

"Most of us learned to view communing with God as primarily happening in either a church worship service or in our own personal devotional time.  A good majority of the transfer growth dilemma surrounds a systemic belief that corporate worship is the primary place God communes with us and we with him. 
We think it's shortsighted and historically ignorant to assume that every time Christians met throughout history, they had a stage, trained singers, overheads and well-choreographed vocal worship to help them connect with God... In Adullum we share scripture, Sabbath gathering and soulace space." 

1) Scripture
"Ager you read the scripture, ask these five questions and let people answer as they feel led:
1. What did you like about what we just read?
2. What didn't you like?
3. Was there anything you didn't understand?
4. What did you learn about God?
5. Regardless of where your faith is at right now, if you were to apply what we learned about God to something in your life this week, what would it look like?
Keeping this simple grid around scripture allows you and your community to function without any preparation and will never create a sense of 'in or out.'"

2) Sabbath Gathering
"The problem with church has been that we communicate that God is up in heaven, monitoring his cosmic seating chart, and he really wants our church buildings full. 
That's just not true.
Church gatherings were never the intended goal; they were the natural result of people finding others who were living their alternative Kingdom story.  The goal of the missional life is not to grow churches,  The goal of the gospel is not to get people to church.  The result of the gospel is that people will find each other and gather because of the deep meaning of a common experience.
People were naturally dispersed because of mission and the gathering was their way to hear the faithful stories of others."

3) Soulace
" The last habit we move people into is what we call 'soulace' spaces.  These are simple gatherings throughout the week where people can be together for a more communal experience in scripture, silence, prayer and reflection.
Whereas the Gathering provides the largest intersection for relational connection, celebration and vision, and villages provide the most integrated opportunity for a group to be intentional with incarnational mission, soulace space creates a web of spontaneous connections that provide for more soul growth."

"Christians often come into a church for communion; Sojourners more easily come in through community and mission."

1) Benevolent Action
"In Adullam, each village chooses where they will live out their benevolence together."

2) Sacrificial Giving
"It is within the context of mission that we ask people to give of their resources."

3) Spontaneous Blessing
"We've learned that everything gets taken care of if you give people vision and permission to spend their money wisely on real people... What if every church was able to get every person to commit 5 percent of their income to the general church fund, but mobilized the other 5 percent to all the needs of their communities?"

4) Sending of Leaders
"In a given month, each village commits one evening to a party at which they can share their friends, food and fun.  We ask them to commit one time to experiencing some aspect of mission, service or benevolent action, and we suggest that a couple of times they gather as a community to open the scriptures, pray and do anything that would help them commune with God."

In closing...
"People will always be drawn to people who look, smell and behave like Jesus and if you're committed to caring for people who move toward Christ through you, church will become a labor of love for you as well.  Fresh faces, new stories and a web of relationships will witness to the tangible world Jesus called his Kingdom."

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 2: Barriers to Incarnational Community

This is the 2nd part of a summary of Matt Smay and Hugh Halter's book, "The Tangible Kingdom."  As a side note, Hugh Halter spoke some much needed truth to me today, which I might blog on later.  The 2nd part of this book describe the three interconnected circles that constitute the life of their church; communion, mission and community.  "Communion represents 'oneness' - those things that make up our communal connection and worship of God.  Community represents aspects of 'togetherness' - those things we share as we form our lives together.  And mission represents 'otherness' - the aspects of our life together that focus on people outside our community.  We believe that whenever you see a group of people who find a rhythm or balance among communion, community and mission, you will always find the Kingdom.  It will be tangible."

There are three barriers to this type of church life:
INDIVIDUALISM - "a deep-seated Western-Modern bias that fights against commitment to anything that doesn't directly serve our individual interests.  Most specifically, this relates to our interaction with people."  This individualism is expressed in everything from watching too much tv to having your kids in too many activities; any over-indulgence that keeps a person from having enough margin in their life to live on a mission.  "We win out over individualism by discipling togetherness, through gentle confrontation, and by eliminating spiritual services that allow people to remain autonomous or invisible."

This barrier keeps us from moving from communion to community. 

CONSUMERISM - "the belief that I can't help others until I help myself, that my own wants and needs trump the needs of others... Church can be a huge consumer trap.  We provide large, comfortable worship centers, encourage pastoral staff to give us everything we need spiritually, and, at the end of the day, we don't have any money or time left to extend blessing and resources toward 'mission.'"

This barrier keeps us from moving from communion to mission.


MATERIALISM - "this is not all that different to consumerism, but it is more closely related to the struggle of Sojourners to tangible be a blessing in the world.  For example, often, when Sojourners enter into our Tangible Kingdom vortex through community, they've found friends and are moving toward faith, but they still haven't adjusted their lives toward God's blessing in the world.  Because they have had little focus on God or personal stewardship, they are weighed down in debt and the extra work that is required to keep up.  Whereas consumerism holds some aspect of entitlement ('this church should provide... this leader should provide...') materialism is simply about wanting stuff."

This barrier keeps us from moving from community to mission. 

"The more we do 'together,' the less INDIVIDUALISTIC we'll be.

The more we become 'one' with Christ, the less CONSUMER ORIENTED we'll be.

The more we do for 'others,' the less MATERIALISTIC we'll be." 

In his workshop today, Hugh Halter said that at their church, they define discipleship as primarily being a"non-individualistic person," a "non-consumer," a "non-materialistic person" and a "non-religious (pharisaical) person." 

When asked whether they define discipleship in positive terms, Hugh said that they sometimes refer to discipleship as taking on the fruit of the spirit or being on a mission for God.  Usually, however they stick to these "un" definitions because they are so effective at confronting the pharisaical self-centeredness of most Christians.  Hugh defined a Pharisee as someone who knows a lot of stuff but doesn't care for people and can't interact with the world.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tangible Kingdom Part 1: An Introduction to Missional Communities

I recently finished one of the best books I've read in a long time, "The Tangible Kingdom." I'll start my two part summary with the book's definition of what it means to be missional.  "'Missional at its essence means 'sent.'  The idea is the exact opposite of waiting for [people] to come to use us.  It's the antithesis of trying to "attract" them to us, our programs, our buildings, or our gatherings... 'Missional' has an inseparable twin. It's called 'incarnational....' Said another way, 'missional' sentness is focused on leaving and everything related to going, but 'incarnational' represents how we go and what we do as we go."

This type of living can happen in what the authors / pastors call "Incarnational Communities."  In order to live as a community on mission, however these Incarnational Communities need to commit to three practices.  The authors are pastors of the Incarnational Community, Adullum Community.

1)  LEAVING:  "intentionally giving up what is comfy, easy, and familiar and going somewhere else, doing something different, and giving up time so that we can connect with people.  Leaving isn't just about going overseas.  It's about replacing personal or Christian activities with time spent building relationships with people in the surrounding culture."  The authors recommend having or doing dinners out with Sojourners, "Leaving is committing at least one night a week or one meal a week to Sojourners." 

2) LISTENING: "Listening is watching and sensitively responding to the unspoken and spoken needs of Sojourners in ways that demonstrate sincere interest." 

3) LIVING AMONG:  "Living among means participating in the natural activities of the culture around you, with whimsical holiness... [being whimsy], therefore allows you to be with people regardless of their angle of life without casting any judgment their way...  Whimsy may be the missing element of Christlike love in today's world.  It's the essence of missional posture that helps gain someone's heart so that, someday, their behavior may also change... Whimsy implies that you can seamlessly interact in the culture with ease, humor, love and holiness without being swayed from clear biblical boundaries."

"[The biblical idea of blessing] wasn't just nice things you said to make people forget about their problems.  It was actally doing something about their problems... The real essence of biblical blesing is that it's done with NO STRINGS ATTACHED.... Learning to receive God's free, no strings-attached offer and then graciously living a life to extend blessing to others without charge and without exception is different.  When we become comfortable with unconditional love, I think we will find that it does witness correctly to who God is.  And it's a power that naturally draws people in."

"Living out habits are not steps to evangelism.  They are habits of a Christ-follower who wants to live faithfully like Jesus lived.  The rest is up to him.  We suggest that if you focus on these habits, you won't have to worry about the rest.  People will begin to love you, respect you, and take your life and the life of your community seriously.  You will also find that your spiritual life finally makes sense, because each habit breaks down your human selfishness. Each of the four habits of living out has a correspondin internal resistance.  It's a good place to center your prayers.

Selfishness is the enemy of LEAVING.
Fear is the enemy of LIVING AMONG.
Expectations are the enemy of LOVING.

Let developing these habits be your prayer and your commitment to God."

Saturday, September 15, 2012

3 Varsity Players

Five years later, I can finally say I've made a tiny contribution to the GEHS Varsity Football team.  Three of the kids I coached on that 2007 team are now seniors and playing on the varsity team.  They've put in the work, avoided the attrition that took most of their former teammates, spent years on the scout team and they're now finally getting to play in Friday night primetime. 

The fastest kid from that 2007 team, a burner who was unstoppable once he hit the corner, is playing corner.  My favorite kid from that team, our hot-headed and good-hearted fullback, is playing fullback.  The hardest working kid from that team, the son of a good friend of mine with whom I often watch the games, is playing special teams. 

GEHS lost a heart-breaker last night.  After the game, I told one of my former players to keep his head up, though I don't think he heard me.  When I caught the eye of the fullback, his face lit up and he asked, "did you see me playing out there?" 

There are a lot of things I'd like to do in my life over the next twenty years.  Getting a shot to coach football for a few more seasons is definitely on that list.  Whether or not that ever actually happens, I'm glad to have had gatorade dumped on the back of my legs (those kids were short) and to know that I helped with the development of some of the kids playing on Friday nights. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

How God Became King

I recently finished NT Wright's fascinating book, How God Became King: The Untold Story of the Gospels.  And as I'm prone to do, I took some notes on some of the more interesting parts.

But I suspect that the Wesleyan emphasis on Christian experience, both the “spiritual” experience of knowing the love of God in one’s own heart and life and the “practical” experience of living a holy life for oneself and of working for God’s justice in the world, might well be cited as evidence of a movement in which parts of the church did actually integrate several elements in the gospels, a synthesis that the majority of Western Christians have allowed to fall apart.

The problem as arisen principally because for many centuries, Christians in the Western churches at least have assumed that the whole point of Christian faith is to “go to heaven,” so they have read everything in that light… The “kingdom of heaven” is not about people going to heaven.  It is about the rule of heaven coming to earth.

For [the gospel writers], God’s great future purpose was not to rescue people out of the world, but to rescue the world itself, people included, from its present state of corruption and decay.

We have allowed “atonement” to be narrowed down to “forgiving sins so people can go to heaven,” leaving unaddressed the (to us quite different) problem of “evil” as an abstract thing.  That was a dangerous mistake.  What then happened was that when something unmistakably “evil” happened in our comfortable Western world – I’m thinking of course of September 11, 2011 – our politicians reacted as though they could “solve” the new (political) “problem of evil” by dropping bombs on it.
That kind of dangerous niavete could only have arisen when theology, philosophy, and politics had become detached from one another.  We should know by now that this simply  won’t do, but because we haven’t got an alternative framework to offer, we seem unable to break out of the trap.  We still seem to think that bombs and bullets can deal with “evil,” liberating people who, once the “evil” has been thus obliterated, will turn out to be nice liberal Western democrats after all.  This is just one of the many traps into which Western culture has allowed itself to sleepwalk.  I believe the gospels can help us break out of all such traps and to see the world and its multilayered continuing “problem of evil” through new eyes.

[Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:9-10] This vision, of a community rescued by the cross and transformed into kingdom-bringers, follows directly from the story the four evangelists are telling.  It is, once more, a measure of how far the Western church has drifted from those moorings that it has been possible for Christians in our own day to think of bringing “justice and peace” into the world by the normal, disastrous means of bombs and bullets.  Not so.  The implicit ecclesiology of all four gospels is a picture of a community sharing the complex vocation of Jesus himself:  to be kingdom-bringers, yes, but to do this first because of Jesus’ owns suffering and second by means of their own.  The slaughtered and enthroned lamb of Revelation 5 is not only the shepherd of his people; he is also their template.  Sharing his suffering is the way in which they are to extend his kingdom in the world. 

[Colossians 2:15] That is to say, when Jesus died on the cross he was winning the victory over the “rulers and authorizes” who have carved up this world in their own violent and destructive way.  The establishment of God’s kingdom means the dethroning of the world’s kingdoms, not in order to replace them with another one of basically the same sort (one that makes its way through superior force of arms), but in order to replace it with one whose power is the power of the servant and whose strength is the strength of love.

Paul’s meaning of the cross, then, is that it is not only what happens, purely pragmatically, when God’s kingdom challenges Caesar’s kingdom.  It is also what has to happen if God’s kingdom, which makes its way (as Jesus insists) by nonviolence rather than by violence, is to win the day.  This is the whole “truth” to which Jesus has come to bear witness, the “truth” for which Pilate’s worldview has no possible space (John 18:38).  It is at once exemplified, dramatically, by Jesus taking the place of Barabbas the brigand (John 18:38-40).  This is the “truth” to which Jesus bears witness – the truth of a Kingdom accomplished by the innocent dying in place of the guilty.

If the cross is to be interpreted as the coming of the kingdom of earth as in heaven, centering on some kind of messianic victory, with some kind of substation at its heart, making sense through some kind of representation, then the four gospels leave us with the primary application of the cross not in abstract preaching about “how to have your sins forgiven” or “how to go to heaven,” but in an agenda in which the forgiven people are put to work, addressing the evils of the world in the light of the victory of Calvary.  Those who are put right with God through the cross are to be putting-right people for the world.  Justification is God’s advance putting right of men and women, against the day when he will put all things right, and thereby constituting the justified people as the key missiology, including an integrated political theology, and the new ecclesiology that will be needed to support it, a community whose very heart is forgiveness.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

When Presidents Lie

I've been working on a review of a fascinating book by Eric Alterman, "When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and its Consequences" for another blog that is not yet public.  I had so much info however, I couldn't fit it all into those two blog posts.  Since I'd already done so much writing, I didn't want to let that work go to waste.  So below you will read the summary of Alterman's book.  It's a great read that is well worth the time and effort. 


We now live in a post-truth Presidency.  It is simply expected that Presidents will lie about matters of war and foreign policy.  “The George W Bush Department of Justice argued before the US Supreme Court that his administration required the right ‘to give out false information… incomplete information and even misinformation’ whenever it deemed necessary.  This claim went even further beyond even then Department of Defense official Arthur Sylvester’s famous formulation offered on behalf of President Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when he claimed, ‘It’s inherent in the government’s right, if necessary, to lie to save itself.’”
Ben Bradlee once ruminated, “Just think for a minute how history might have changed if Americans had known then that their leaders felt the [Vietnam] war was going to hell in a handbasket?  In the next seven years, thousands of American lives and more thousands of Asian lives would have been saved.  The country might never have lost faith in its leaders.”
John Quincy Adams once stated, “Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.  But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator of only her own… She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom… She might become the dictatress of the world; she would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit.” 
Alterman argues that part of the problem is that most US citizens already have opinions about other world areas, opinions that are not rooted in fact, and those opinions are reinforced by a news media that rarely explains the complexities of foreign affairs.  “To complicate matters, this pseudo-environment is further corrupted by the manner in which it is perceived.  Citizens have only limited time and attention to devote to issues of public concern.  News is designed for mass consumption, and, hence, the media must employ a relatively simple vocabulary and linear story line to discuss highly complex and decidedly nonlinear situations.  The competition for readership (and advertising dollars) drives the press to present news reports in ways that sensationalize and oversimplify, while more significant information goes unreported and unremarked upon.  Given both the economic and professional limitations of the practice of journalism, Lippman argued, news ‘comes [to us] helter-skelter.’  This is fine for a baseball box score, a transatlantic flight, or the death of a monarch.  But where the picture is more nuanced, ‘as for example in the matter of a success of a policy or the social conditions among a foreign people – where the real answer is neither yes or no, but subtle and a matter of balanced evidence,’ then journalism ‘causes no end of derangement, misunderstanding and even misinterpretation.’  And here, it must be added, Lippman was identifying a problem that has since increased in both time and scope, as media sensationalism and public apathy have increased manyfold since the publication of his prophetic work.

Lippmann’s pseudo-environment is not composed only of the information we receive; it consists, in equal measure, of what Lippman terms, ‘the pictures in our heads.’  Voters react to the news through the lens of personal history containing certain stereotypes, predispositions, and emotional associations that determing their interpretations.  We emphasize that which confirms our original beliefs and disregard or denigrate what might contradict them….On the one hand, Americans carry an unrealistic picture of the world ‘in their heads’ – one based on their faith in their own divine direction, disinterested altruism, and democratic bone fides, rather than the realities of politics, force, and diplomacy.  But they remain immune to education regarding these realities, in part because of the power these myths continue to enjoy in our education system, media and larger social discourse, as well as the failures inherent in the practice of democracy.  These faileurs, moreover, are exaggerated in the American case by a particular distaste for the practice of power politics and a media that has insufficient commercial incentive to provide the basics of civil literacy to its audience.  Even those presidents with the best of intentions come to view deception as an unavoidable consequence of a system that simply cannot integrate the unpleasant realities of international diplomacy.  However preferable it might be to tell the truth, the short term costs of lying, given that the culture seems to expect them, are negligible.  And as Friedrich Nietzsche instructed, these temptations are virtually impossible to resist.  While people may desire ‘the agreeable life-preserving consequences of truth [they are] indifferent to pure knowledge, which has no consequences, [and are] even hostile to possibly damaging and destructive truths.’  The long-term costs of lying – at least at the moment the lie is being told – are almost always invisible.  The ultimate costs for this easy calculation, however, are considerable, not only to the nation, and to the cause of democracy, but also to the aspirations and legacies of the presidents themselves.

Whether this situation is remediable depends on one of two possibilities: either future presidents become convinced that the long-term cost of deception outweighs its short-term benefits, or the public matures to the point of seeking to educate itself about the need for complicated arrangements in international politics that do not comport with the nation’s caricatured notion of itself as a force for innocence and benevolence the world over.  The obvious solution would be to convince US presidents the value of substituting a long-term strategic vision in place of their present-minded, short-term tactical view.  But ‘Nothing in politics is more difficult than taking the long view, ‘notes the reporter Ronald Brownstein.  ‘For politicians, distant gain is rarely a persuasive reason to endure immediate pain.  Political scientists would say the system has a bias toward the present over the future.  Parents might say politicians behave like perpetual teenagers.  The problem, for politicians as much as teenagers, is that the future has a pesky habit of arriving.’”

“If the accounts in this book teach us anything, it is that presidents cannot lie about major political events that have potentially serious ramifications- particularly those relating to war and peace – with impunity.  These lies inevitably turn into monsters that strangle their creators.  Had FDR told the truth about Yalta to the country, it is far more likely that the US would have participated in the creation of the kind of world community he envisioned when he made his ultimately counterproductive secret arrangements.  John Kennedy’s deception about the nature of the deal to which he agreed to ensure the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba also proved enormously detrimental to his hope to create a lasting, stable peace in the context of Cold War competition.  Lyndon Johnson destroyed not only his ambitious hopes to create a ‘Great Society,’ but also his own presidency and most of his political reason for being.  And Ronald Reagan, through is lies about Central America, created a dynamic through which his advisers believe they had a right to initiate a secret, illegal foreign and military policy whose aims were almost perfectly contradictory to the president’s stated aims in such crucial areas as dealing with governments deemed to be terrorist.  When it was finally revealed, this disjunction paralyzed US diplomacy and nearly caused the downfall of the Reagan administration as well.  In 1992, it had the effect of undermining George Bush’s second presidential candidacy.

In a better world, future US Presidents would learn the obvious lessons from the experience of their predecessors: Protect geunuine secrets by refusing to answer certain questions, certainly.  Put the best face on your own actions and those of the politicians you support, of course.  Create a zone of privacy for yourself and your family that is declared off-limits to all public inquiry.  But do not, under any circumstances, lie."