Tag Archives: WayWard

PED XING.

12 Sep

“Wake up, Azariah,” the Beggar said.  “It’s time to go down to The Pool.”

His name seemed like a mean joke being played on him by Yahweh.  It literally meant, “God…YAHWEH God, has helped.”  Yet it wasn’t God who helped him every morning.  It was the Beggar and his friends.

God never helped him.

The Beggar and his three friends were a mixed bunch, made up of different ages and ailments.  The young one was missing an ear; another was partially blind; the oldest had been caught stealing at a young age and paid the price–his hand.

Each of them had encountered their troubles in life, and therefore spent their days by The Pool of Mercy on its five porches.  It was a prime location for begging.  It was nicely settled near the Sheep Gate–the only northern entrance to the Temple’s outer courts, which meant lots of people walking by.

Lots of guilty people, seeking to appease God.  What better way to get on God’s “good side” then to give money to a beggar?  They were still beggars, but they usually fared alright.

Azariah always made more than the rest.  There were literally hundreds of sick people–the blind, crippled, paralyzed–that gathered here for begging.  Yet Azariah wasn’t here for money.  He, like all those who gathered around The Pool of Mercy, believed that if they waited long enough by The Pool, its waters would mysteriously and miraculously stir; and when they did, the first-one-in would be healed.

That’s why the Beggar and his friends spent each and every morning moving Azariah to “his spot.”  He had the best spot in the area; a great location for begging as it was right near the main road through the gate, and it was also close to the pool.  Azariah was closer than anyone.  He paid the beggars to move him each morning, and it worked out–everyone got what they wanted.  Azariah got his spot, and the beggars got their money.

So Azariah spent his days there, lying on his bedroll, waiting for the water to stir.  The beggars often talked about him, and wondered how he’d ever manage to be the first-one-in when he couldn’t walk.  Azariah would have to be carried by someone else.  They’d tried it a few times, but another was always faster.

But Azariah still had the best spot.  And it was his spot.

He didn’t get the spot because he had the worst ailment, although it could be argued that he did.  Everyone at The Pool knew Azariah couldn’t walk; in fact, he couldn’t move.  He was paralyzed.  But even that wasn’t why he had the spot.

It was his because he’d been there longer than anyone else–he’d been there for thirty-eight years.  Waiting.  Thirty-eight years.  And God never helped him.

But today was different.  Because of the upcoming religious festival, multitudes were in town, heading to the Temple.  It happened each year.  There was a buzz and excitement in the air.  Everyone around The Pool felt it; even Azariah.

One of the many coming through the gate was Jesus.  He’d walked through it before.  Many times.  Every year, in fact.  Since Jesus could remember he walked through the gate with his mother Mary, his father Joseph, his sister Salome and their brothers…and every year they would walk through the line of beggars.

They never had a lot of money; but they always set aside some bread and a little extra money from the woodwork that Joseph had done that year, and gave it to the beggars.  There was one in particular that Jesus was looking for.
Jesus remembered him.  Always in the same spot.  Every single year.  Ever since he  could remember.

But this year–this day–was different.  God was going to help. Jesus walked up to the man on the mat, in his spot; the same spot he always was.

“Do you want to get well?”  The question pierced Azariah’s soul.  Of course he wanted to walk!  But the way Jesus was looking at him, he knew this Rabbi meant meant more than just walking.  Right?  “Do you want to get well?”

“I can’t, sir…whenever the water is stirred, I don’t get in there in time.  By the time I’m in the water, somebody else has already beat me there.”  Jesus knew this was all a smoke screen, an excuse to stay stuck in the life he knew instead of embarking on the adventure of the unknown. “Get up, take your bedroll.  Start walking, and be on your way.”

Azariah shuddered at the thought of putting the hard words into action.  With a gulp, he raised himself with his arms, put weight on his feeble legs and for the first time in thirty-eight years, took his first step.

He left his spot.

Jesus knew it wasn’t just his body that was paralyzed.  Constantly missing out on the first-one-in healing, even the hope to be healed gave way to a blase acceptance of the status quo.  The years of discouragement had paralyzed his will and desire.  So he’d lay there, in his spot, waiting for someone else to assist him.

Then Jesus asked him to do the impossible; to stand on his feet, pick up his bedroll and to go on his way.  He’d been there so long (thirty-eight years!) I doubt he even knew where “his way” was.

what things do you feel stuck in?  what are you waiting for?

what is Jesus asking you to move from?

what is Jesus asking you to move toward?

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interdependence Day.

4 Jul

Yet again, I find myself re-posting the work of a friend.  Though I hope to not make a habit of it, I couldn’t help but want to pass this excerpt along.

The following post was written by Shane Claiborne, and can also be viewed here.  Serving the purpose of creating dialogue surrounding loving God and loving others in the Way of Jesus Christ, feel free to add your own ideas on how we can celebrate “interdependence Day” today and everyday.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of us all being bound up in an “inescapable web of mutuality.” He talked of how we have encountered half the world by the time we have put on our clothes, brushed our teeth, drunk our coffee and eaten our breakfast, as there are invisible faces that make our lives possible every day. That’s why I’ve always struggled with “Independence Day.”

Patriotism can be a dangerous thing if it leads to amnesia about the dark patches of our nation’s history. And it can leave us shortsighted if our nationalism prevents us from seeing pain or hope beyond our borders. As an American, and especially as a Christian, I am convinced that a love for our own people is not a bad thing, but love doesn’t stop at borders. Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.

We are taught to celebrate independence. But independence and individualism have come at a great price. In the wealthy and industrialized countries we have become the richest people in the world, but we also have some of the highest rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide. We are rich, sad, and lonely. We are living into patterns that not only leave much of the world hungry for bread and starved for justice but also leave us longing for the good life and for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves.

The good news is that we are not alone in the world.

This year, let’s celebrate interdependence Day — recognizing the fact that we are part of a global neighborhood. Let’s appreciate all the invisible people in our lives, and let’s lament the fact that the human family is terribly dysfunctional.

It’s not about being anti-American but about being pro-world. It’s a beautiful thing to realize that we need each other and that we are not alone in the world. So, I’ve worked with some friends to brainstorm great ways to celebrate “interdependence Day” this Fourth of July. Here’s what we came up with:

1. Track down old teachers and mentors. Let them know the influence they have had in your life.

2. Babysit for someone for free, especially someone that might really need a night off and not be able to afford a sitter.

3. Try to go a whole week without spending any money. If you have to, barter or beg a little to make it through.

4. Hold a baby goods exchange where parents can bring toys and clothing their kids have outgrown and trade them.

5. Attempt to repair something that is broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you on a regular basis.

6. Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they are manufactured. Do some research to discover the working conditions and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of people who live there.

7. Look for everything you have two of, and give one away.

8. Dig up a bucket of soil and look through it to see the elements and organisms that make our daily meals possible.

9. Spend the Fourth of July baking cookies or bread. Give them away to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see him or her.

10. Host a rain-barrel party and teach neighbors how to make and use rain-barrels to recycle water.

11. Spend a day hiking in the woods. Consider how God cares for the lilies and sparrows — and you.

12. Gather some neighbors, and plant a tree in your neighborhood together.

13. Hold a knowledge exchange where you gather friends or neighbors to share skills or something they are learning.

14. Track to its source one item of food you eat regularly. Then, each time you eat that food, remember the folks who made it possible for you to it it.

15. Become a pen-pal with someone in prison.

16. Try recycling water from the washer or sink to flush your toilet. Remember the 1.2 billion folks who don’t have clean water.

17. Leave a random tip for someone cleaning the streets or the public restroom.

18. Write one CEO every month this year. Affirm or critique the ethics of their companies. (You may need to do a little research first.) Consider starting with BP.

19. Wash your clothes by hand and dry them on a line. Remember the 1.6 billion people who do not have electricity.

20. Learn to sew. Try making your own clothes for a year.

21. Eat only a bowl of rice a day for a week (take a multi-vitamin). And remember the 25,000 people who die of malnutrition and starvation each day.

22. Begin a scholarship fund so that for every one of your own children you send to college, you can create a scholarship for an at-risk youth. Get to know his or her family and learn from each other.

23. Visit a worship service where you will be a minority. Invite someone to dinner at your house, or have dinner with someone there if they invite you.

24. Confess something you have done wrong to someone and ask forgiveness.

25. Serve in a homeless shelter. For extra credit, go back to that shelter and eat or sleep there and allow yourself to be served.

26. Go through a local thrift store and drop $1 bills in random pockets of clothing being sold.

27. Experiment in creation-care by going fuel-free for a week — bike, carpool or walk.

28. Go to an elderly home and get a list of folks who don’t get any visitors. Visit them each week and tell stories, read together, or play board games.

29. Laugh at advertisements, especially ones that teach you that you can buy happiness.

30. Go down a line of parked cars and pay for the meters that are expired. Leave a little note of niceness.

31. Connect with a group of migrant workers or farmers who grow your food. Visit their farm. Maybe even pick some veggies with them. Ask what they get paid.

32. Mow your neighbor’s grass.

33. Ask the next person who asks you for change to join you for dinner.

34. Invest money in a micro-lending bank.

35. Start setting aside 10 percent of your income to give away to folks in need.

36. Write paper letters (by hand) for a month. Try writing someone who needs encouragement or whom you should say “I’m sorry” to.

37. Contact your local crisis pregnancy center and invite a pregnant woman to live with your family.

38. Go without food for one day to remember the two billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

Add yours to the list.

May we celebrate interdependence Day today and everyday. It is a gift to be part of this inescapable web of mutuality.

questions.

6 Jun

The following post may also be viewed at In A Spacious Place, written by Christopher Page, and is a response from Brian McLaren’s presentation in Victoria, BC.  May it serve the purpose of generating healthy discussion as we seek to follow The Way of Jesus.

As I think about the weekend with Brian McLaren, I am struck by a problem common to many presentations given by visiting experts who fly in from another context and present their insights relating to church or almost any area of human endeavour – it is easier to deconstruct than to construct, to criticize than to create.

Brian offers a brilliant and insightful critique of a style of Christian presentation that is based upon an unwarranted self-confidence. He rejects a tone in Christian evangelism that is arrogant, belligerent, argumentative, and fear-based. He critiques the narrow-minded literalism that declares if you don’t agree with me, you are going to burn in hell.

Instead, Brian pleads for a Christian presentation that is respectful, open, spacious, and rooted in love and compassion. Brian is not primarily interested in a rescue mission focused on securing the promise of heaven for those who sign on to the church’s designated dogmas. He is more interested in inviting all people to share in God’s healing transforming work for all of creation in the present.

The problem of course is that Brian is short on specifics. To be fair, “specifics” are only possible when they emerge from the context in which they need to be embodied. And Brian does not live on the West Coast of Canada, so should not be expected to be able to tell us exactly how to embody the principles he presents. There is a great danger when people or communities take a vision from one time or location and attempt to impose it directly upon their own situation without seriously considering the uniqueness of their own context.

It is the job of those of us who do live here and who find ourselves encouraged by the general direction of Brian’s vision to seek the guidance of God’s Spirit in finding out how we are called to embody this vision in our own time and place.

So here are some of the questions to which I need to listen after hearing Brian McLaren speak:

What are the deep questions of the heart to which people around me are genuinely seeking answers? How can I hear the real questions people have rather than imposing the questions upon them that I think they should be asking?

What makes me defensive in conversation? What do I need to do to deal with my defensiveness so that I might be able to provide a safe listening space for people who might want to enter into real conversation?

How am I being called to serve people outside the church without agenda, without demand, and without conditions?

What keeps me from being honest with people outside the church and allowing them to be as honest with me as they might like to be? How might I be placing barriers in the way of people being really honest with me about their deepest experiences of life?

What might be the differences between argument and dialogue/conversation? If there are differences between argument and dialogue/conversation, which might be the more effective approach to entering into communication with people outside the church? How do I recognize when I have moved from dialogue/conversation to argument?

What might people see in my life that might lead them to conclude that they might become worse people than they already are if they join me in the church?

“Is there a way to have faith without becoming close-minded, bigoted, anti-something?” What might this look like? Do I have to abandon all my passionately held convictions in order to avoid becoming “close-minded, bigoted, anti-something”?

What might the church look like if we put belonging before believing and viewed belonging as the way into faith rather than faith as the prerequisite to membership? How do we communicate that we are interested in making it easier for people to belong without demanding that they sign on the dotted line of every Christian doctrine first?

What behaviour in my church community might make the church an unsafe place for a person to find a sense of belonging?

“What do spiritual seekers need from us?”

How do we crate an open spacious place where people are invited to enter a conversation rather than join an institution that has something to defend and needs volunteers to keep its life going?

What quadrant does my faith community most naturally fit into: Liturgical, Social Action, Evangelical, Charismatic? How might my community be encouraged to draw in a more balanced way on the quadrants that are less instinctively comfortable?

Which of these qualities need to be developed in my community in order for us to be a more hospitable space?

1. it has a sense of humility
2. it is an integrating place
3. there is an openness to and a hunger for change
4. there is a focus on mission and spiritual formation
5. there is serious theological reflection
6. there is a growing sense of crisis, emergence and opportunity

What do I need in order to be able to “hold a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”? What would a community look like that is characterized by “a high level of identity and yet maintain a high level of welcome”?

How do clergy as “priests to and for the church,” enable disciples to become “priests from and of the church”? How am I as a disciple called to be a priest “from and of the church” in the world?

What might we be doing in the church that causes people to feel that the gospel we present is aimed at saving them from God, rather than drawing them into a life of compassion and wisdom in which they are empowered to share with God in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?

How can the church embody God’s call to share in saving all creation from “the evil inflicted upon it by the world”?

Continue to reexamine our faith by exploring Brian McLaren’s new book, A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming The Faith. It is quite possibly the most influential book to come out in a long time, both practically and theologically.

daydreamers.

12 Apr
All men dream but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds awake to find that it was vanity; But the dreamers of day are dangerous men, that they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.
–T. E. Lawrence 

Our world needs daydreamers daring to dream dangerously.

The table of history is seasoned with men and women who have dared to dream of a world better than this; who have been emboldened by their visions to live life defiantly in the face of the status quo and have courage enough to ask an Almighty God to change His creation through them.  Adding much needed and exquisite God-flavor to their surroundings, they have brought vivid color to a world of dull and dingy black and white and stirred the imaginations of those audacious enough to follow in their footsteps– encouraging those who come afterwards to take a hold of hope and visualize a world better than the one we live in. 

I’m inspired by each of them.  I want to dare to dream dangerously. 

Dreamers, from Walt Disney to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from Rev. Billy Graham to Mother Teresa, have quite literally changed the world by envisioning a state of affairs better than before.  The impression they have left on countless millions–their global emotional and spiritual  footprint, if you will–is immeasurable.  Yet each of them set out not to stroll onto the stage of international superstardom or sainthood, but simply to right what was wrong in the world in which they lived.  We need today such men and women who have not just familiar vision and foresight but that possess a courage, conviction, and passion to engage the injustices of our present society. 

This generation longs for a sense of belonging; it values authenticity, transparency and humility; it emphasises praxis over dogma, it values deeds over creeds; it admires kingdom thinkers rather than empire builders; it finds meaning in the uncertain valleys of ambiguity, paradox, metaphor, mystery, and artistic creativity; it expects and even demands meaningful engagement with those who strive to lead them; it views the Bible as the story of God’s redemptive purpose rather than the repository of propositional truth. 

That’s this generation.  And it’s waiting for you to lead. 

It’s waiting for you to dream.

I’ve committed myself to daring to dream dangerously.  I am convinced that as I do so, not only will my life change, but the lives of those around me will as well. As I influence the relationships in the arena of my existence, I am convinced that we can collectively change the world.  I might be crazy.  I might be idealistic.  I might be a radical.  I might even be a bit of a biblical heretic

But I’m daring to dream dangerously. 

I dream that God can and will move in, through, and around us.  I dream that He can and will reform His Church.  I dream that He can and will redeem all of creation unto Himself. 

I dream of Heaven.  On Earth. 

I dream that a community of WayWard Followers can and will usher in the Kingdom of God by running hard after Jesus Christ.  I dream of a day when those who claim to follow Him are defined not by their religious codes and creeds but by their conduct and love one for each other and Others.  I dream of a day when the chief purpose of our being is to meet the needs of those around us, thus honoring the One who created life.  I dream of a day when the Church has been restored to comfortably and confidently fulfill her role as the Bride of Jesus Christ.  I dream of Christ followers living in a supernatural, divine unity that transcends our human understanding and tendency toward division, that we would be one just as the Father and the Son are One–that in this unity we might be found complete and made whole as Jesus prayed in John 17.  I dream that we may live out the principles of Kingdom Living found in Jesus’s sermon on the mount and in the end of Acts chapter 2

I dream that this will happen in my world. In my day.

In this generation.

I dream that we can and will live out the abundant life Christ has in store for us–to love God and love Others above all else, and that in every decision we make and every action we take; in every conversation we have, this divine love would shine forth.  I dream that we can and will fulfill our calling to bring hope to the afflicted; to mend the brokenhearted; to proclaim freedom to the captives and liberty to those who are held in chains; to comfort those who are in mourning; to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked; to be a beacon of hope and light in a world afflicted with darkness and despair. 

In the words of a magnificent man who dared to dream dangerously whom I regretfully never had the opportunity to meet, 

We are not here for ourselves alone, but as necessary fragments of divine love, working together to rebuild lives and communities.  I am convinced that we are here to do something, to extend ourselves for the Kingdom.
–J. Andrew Cole, RISE Founder 

Heaven. On Earth. You must think I’m idealistic.  Radical.  Crazy.  A dreamer. 

I’m proudly all of those things.  Many others are as well.  To borrow a few words from a well-known book entitled, The Irresistible Revolution authored by a fellow radically idealistic dreamer, Shane Claiborne: 

I used to think that those of us who hope for things we cannot see and who believe that the world can be different than it is were the crazy ones.  We are usually called that by people who spend their lives trying to convince everyone that the crazy things they do actually make sense.  Now more and more people are starting to imagine that maybe another world is possible and necessary and actually quite imaginable.  I’m starting to wonder if, actually, we have gone sane in a mad world.  In a world of smart bombs and military intelligence, we need more fools, holy fools who insist that the folly of the cross is wiser than any human power.  And the world may call us crazy.

The good humored teacher and street-corner prophet Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement, put it this way: “If we are crazy, then it is because we refuse to be crazy in the same way that the world has gone crazy.”  What’s crazy is a matter of perspective.  After all, what’s crazier: one person owning the same amount of money as the combined economies of twenty-three countries, or suggesting that if we shared, there would be enough for everyone?  What is crazier: spending billions of dollars on a defense shield, or suggesting that we share our billions of dollars so that we don’t need a defense shield?  What is crazier: maintaining arms contracts with 154 countries while asking the world to disarm its weapons of mass destruction, or suggesting that we lead the world in disarmament by refusing to deal weapons with over half of the world and by emptying the world’s largest stockpile here at home?  What’s crazy is that the US, less than 6 percent of the world’s population, consumes nearly half of the world’s resources, and that the average American consumes as much as 520 Ethiopians do, while obesity is declared a “national health crisis.”  Someday war and poverty will be crazy, and we will wonder how the world allowed such things to exist.  Some of us have just caught a glimpse of the beauty of the promised land, and it is so dazzling that our eyes are forever fixed on it, never to look back at the ways of the old empire again.

…It seems to me that God could surround us with elders as we bring new energy into an aging body, but it will take tremendous courage from old folks to dream new dreams and allow a new generation to make their own mistakes.  And it will take great humility from the new generation of the church to listen to the wisdom of our elders and know that we can learn from others’ mistakes.

If you have the gift of frustration and the deep sense that the world is a mess, thank God for that; not everyone has that gift of vision.  It also means that you have a responsibility to lead us in new ways.  Recognizing that something is wrong is the first step toward changing the world.  So for those of us who have nearly given up on the church, may we take comfort in the words of St. Augustine: “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”

Maybe we are a little crazy.  After all, we believe in things we don’t see.  The Scriptures say that faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).  We believe poverty can end even though it is all around us.  We believe in peace even though we hear only rumors of wars.  And since we are people of expectation, we are so convinced that another world is coming that we start living as if it were already here.  As prominent evangelical activist Jim Wallis says, “We believe despite the evidence…and watch the evidence change.”  So may we begin living as if poverty were over, and we will see it come to pass.  May we begin beating our swords into plowshares now, and the kindgom will begin to be not simply something we hope for when we die but something we see on earth as it is in heaven, the kingdom that is among us and within us.

I pray that we will have the integrity of the early church, which, in the same breath that it denounced their empire in Rome, was able to invite people into the Way–little communities scattered throughout the empire…may we spend our lives making the Jesus way of life accessible to people.  The world is thirsty.  All creation is groaning.  Christianity as it is has not satisfied the souls of those who hunger for another way of life.

One friend was asked by a skeptic, “You are all just a little group of radical idealists.  What makes you actually think you can change the world?”  And she said, “Sir, if you will take a closer look at history you will see…that’s the only way it has ever been done.”

Our world needs daydreamers daring to dream dangerously.

And it’s waiting for you to dream.

move.

24 Feb
Move.

I want God to move in my life, in my relationships, in my community and in my world.

I want Him to move.  And I want to be a part of it.  As I have prayed for this expectantly, I’ve realized that in order to allow Him room to move in my world–in my life and in my relationships–in order to join Him, I need to move first.

We all do.

We’re getting in the way.  And we need to move.  We need to move from manipulation to intentionality; from talking to listening; from apologetics to apologies; from debate to dialogue; from exclusion to inclusion; from learning about Christ to being like Christ.

Let’s move. You, and I.  Together.

Let’s move.

From manipulation to intentionality
Most of us have seen it–the churched community puts on a big outreach event and we’re encouraged to bring our un-churched friends…something fun, something trendy, something crazy–something they’d never expect a church to do.  They’ll have a great time, hear a big name band, be befriended and engaged, be entertained somehow and then, right before we let them leave…we’ll ambush them with a gospel message and a call to repentance.


All too often our churches are geared towards a “bigger is better” gimmick-type outreach–rather than following the example of Jesus and relying on relationships to influence our friends through loving them well towards faith in Christ.  Instead of concerning ourselves with and allowing ourselves the freedom to love the people God has put in our lives–ultimately showing them His love and grace through the context of relationships and conversation–we throw an event.

We’ll put on a show; a concert; a movie; even a circus–some big draw to trick those nasty pagans into getting inside the four walls of our church building to rub shoulders with the holy saints.  Once we’ve bamboozled them into our territory, we smack them upside the head with the gospel message.  They never even see it coming. “AHA!  Now you recognize your need for Christ!”

Unfortunately, we are frequently afraid to follow Christ’s example and invest the time, effort and energy necessary to earn credibility through practicing the art of relationships and instead settle on a professional presentation of the gospel message by our pastoral staff or an outside self-proclaimed “expert.”

Intentionality means we are deeply involved and investing intensely into our relationships–meeting people where they are at in their journey and joining them along the way.  Intentional relationships are missional and have purpose–but they are not designed or manufactured to manipulate individuals into a certain mindset, behavior, or system of beliefs.  To be intentional means that we are willing to enter into the messiness of authentic relationships with those who are like-minded as well as those who think differently.  It means that we are not only willing but are committed to doing so, and that we’re determined to stick it out with them as their friend even if their mindset doesn’t ever change. Jesus was accused not of simply being friendly to sinners and tax collectors, but of being a friend of them.  We should be accused of the same…and it should be true.

From talking to listening
For some reason, many Christians persistently believe that we can talk people into following Jesus.  We are habitually taught that individuals can be persuaded to do just about anything with the right sales pitch, and we then practice ours as we seek to sell Christ–that is often why we think we need to memorize the right words to say when asked about our faith or even the right way to tell the tale of our own life-story, practicing, polishing and labeling it as our “testimony” (as if we can’t even remember own story without both rehearsing and re-packaging it).  Part of moving in our relationships and intentionally deepening our investment in others requires us to stop talking so much, and to start listening more.

We all know the impact it has on us when someone listens to us.  The simple act of listening is sadly so rare that whoever practices it (even if they practice it poorly) is immediately set apart in our minds as someone we’d like to spend more time with.  Lovers list being listened to and heard as chief among reasons for compatibility with their chosen partner.  If we are called to love others–to really, truly love them–perhaps it would behoove us to stop trying to convince them of our point of view, to stop talking–and just listen.

From apologetics to apologies
The status quo of evangelistic conversation is to “prove” Christianity is the only “real” religion; yet, it cannot be proven.  At Richwoods, we will soon be embarking on a sermon series entitled Valid Reasons Not to Follow Jesus.  Instead of denying the valid doubts, concerns and questions that many have when faced with the choice of whether or not to follow Christ, we ought to validate their apprehensions and fears.  They are legitimate.  When we attempt to “defend” the faith against all comers, we position ourselves in a battle against the very people we have been called to love and minister to.  We have done this for centuries–and it has never ended well.  It never will–until we stop viewing it as “us” versus “them.”

Telling someone, “I’m sorry for the way we Christians have misrepresented Christ” almost always surprises them.  Frankly, most non-Christians have learned to see Christians as arrogant and unconcerned about their opinions, feelings, or concerns.  In his 2003 book, The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg of Oregon State University describes how his university students have a uniformly negative image of Christianity.  “When I ask them to write a short essay on their impression of Christianity,“ says Borg, “they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted.“  Offering an apology may in fact be the most effective way to get a conversation rolling.  The old adage here applies: people don’t care how much you know until they first know how much you care.

Simply saying something like, “I’m sorry that we’ve failed in representing Christ; that really doesn’t look much like Jesus, does it?” can open the door to some unbelievably beneficial and relationally rich conversation.

From debate to dialogue
Consistently, our conversations concerning spiritual things turn out to be nothing more than debates on dogma and doctrine.  Debate is about humiliating your opponent.  That is what we’ve done for years, and it hasn’t worked.  Coming from a standpoint of apologetics and defending the (or better, “our version of the”) faith, further perpetuates a dangerous and erroneous way of thinking: that we are in opposition to the very people we are called to love in the way of Christ.

“us” versus “them” not only doesn’t work very well;  it really isn’t even biblical.

Dialogue is about inviting our friends into the Conversation.  If we listen to what he/she has to say, we may even learn something.  Jesus was an expert in dialogue, and invited many people into conversation.  He asked lots of questions.  He engaged.  He met people whereever they were at and seasoned His conversation with grace.  He didn’t use power to overcome, but instead used kindness to overwhelm.

From exclusion to inclusion
A shift in focus needs to take place to allow God the room to move in our world.  We must corporately progress from a place of exclusion to inclusion–from a focus that is searching for differences (e.g., whether in doctrine or in practice) and in so doing, participating in a means that eventually excludes the very “others” we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to love.  Even with the most noble of intent (spiritual conversion to our version of the faith) at some point these differences emerge and a barrier to authentic relationship is created.  When we begin to define people by what they believe instead of who they are created to be, these natural barriers instinctively create an exclusive mentality and we lose our ability to genuinely love, to be intentional, to listen, to sincerely apologize, and to invite others in dialogue.

So let’s move. Let’s get out of the way and watch God do amazing things as He moves in our lives, in our relationships, in our communities and in our world.

Let’s be part of it.
Let’s move from manipulation to intentionality; from talking to listening; from apologetics to apologies; from debate to dialogue; from exclusion to inclusion; from learning about Christ to being like Christ.

Let’s move.  You, and I.  Together.  And let’s join with God where He‘s going.

Move.

heretical. but biblical.

26 Jan

heretical.  but biblical.

Bear with me here.

Too often our definition of the Christian faith and spiritual maturity is defined by doctrine, and not by how we relate to the people in our life.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

Not doctrine.

Here, many will state that doctrine is indeed a priority, that it’s in fact the priority; that it’s the primary source for knowledge of living out and growing in our faith.  They’ll argue that in order to love God you have to know God; and that in order to know God you have to study God; and in order to study God, you’ve got to have the right doctrine.  I see how many arrive at this conclusion.

I simply fundamentally disagree.

Proper “ologies” come into play in intellectually stimulating, academic conversations surrounding this discussion.  Proper christology.  Proper soteriology.  Proper pneumatology.  Proper eschatology.  Proper ecclesiology.  Proper epistemology.  Proper bibliology.  And the list goes on.  But here’s a question: which of these are essential?  What matters the most?

What did Jesus say mattered?

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

Not doctrine.

I’m not saying that doctrine isn’t fascinating; that it cannot enrich our lives and deepen our understanding of God.  Doctrine is certainly beneficial.  There is a place for proper doctrine.  It can help us grow, it can stretch us, it can encourage us, supplement and assist us on our journey as we seek to find and follow Christ.  But it is not the preeminent and essential part of our faith.  The preeminent and essential part of our faith is by its very nature relational.  How we relate to God.  How we relate to people.

Doctrine is nice.  But it’s not the point.  It’s not what matters.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

I am convinced that our Western obsession with studying of doctrine has caused more problems than good.  The focus on who’s right and who’s wrong over any number of potentially divisive subjects in the church has pulled us further away from Jesus and community rather than drawing us closer to Him and each other.  We’ve missed the point and need to refocus.  Having “right” or “proper” doctrine (whatever that may be) doesn’t mean that our hearts are in the right place.  It doesn’t mean that we’re loving God or Others.

Right doctrine does not mean right living.

Right doctrine does not mean you’re a Christ follower.

It isn’t that doctrine isn’t important or that it doesn’t matter, but it can’t be the focus or priority of our faith lest it be rendered useless.  Christ’s focus was loving God and loving people.  That’s what He told His followers to focus on.  The danger in our obsession with doctrine is that we miss the point and lose focus of loving God and loving others.  Followers of the Way want unity of community, not uniformity of doctrine. There are varied backgrounds, unique opinions and diverse worldviews and abilities that make up our community of faith.  Many of those in that community will not share the same opinion about a great many doctrines as I do.  We may even disagree.  But it’s not the point.

I have an opinion on a lot of doctrines.  I’ve been fortunate to spend years in churches and schools where I learned about doctrine:  its implications; its history; its answers to the questions of life.  Yet though I’m certain there are indeed answers to the mountain of theological questions that tug at our heartstrings as part of God’s creation longing to be reconciled to Him, I willingly admit that I don’t always know the answer.

My life–the pain of my past, my present restoration and the joy of the prospect of my future–has pushed me further into the camp of asking more questions than giving answers; of being tolerant versus shunning those of different viewpoints or experiences (whether in one’s beliefs or religious practices or their doctrines); of appreciating and celebrating community instead of seeking to “convert” everyone around me to my held views under the presupposition that I couldn’t be wrong and if they disagree with me they couldn’t be right; of seeking to help our society with the conscience of Christ rather than spending the majority of our time and effort on the minute details of a particular doctrine; a focus on community over institutional values; of asking questions of God and each other rather than assuming that the Christian story and all its related questions are known in their entirety by (even the brightest) finite minds of our day; of living the gospel daily in community rather than spending hours telling my brothers and sisters that they don’t believe the “right” version of that same gospel; of rethinking what it means to be a Christian, rethinking what it means to evangelize and rethinking what exactly the “good news” of Jesus is.

God.  People.  That’s what matters.

I believe that the good news of Jesus is that God desires to reconcile the world unto Himself (Romans 5:9-11; Ephesians 2:1-16; Colossians 1:18-20).  This is done in the context of relationship.  It isn’t enough to simply claim Him as Savior.  We are called to follow Him as Lord.  And following Jesus is relational. We can’t journey alone.  Following the Way is done in community.

This week I read Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis, and stumbled upon the following appropriate commentary:

The Bible is a communal book.  It came from people writing in communities, and it was often written to communities.  Remember that the printing press wasn’t invented until the 1400s.  Prior to that, very few if any people had their own copies of the Bible.  In Jesus’ day, an entire village could probably afford only one copy of the Scriptures, if that.  Reading the Bible alone was unheard of, if people could even read.  For most of church history, people heard the Bible read aloud in a room full of people.  You heard it, discussed it, studied it, argued about it, and made decisions about it as a group, a community.  Most of the “yous” in the Bible are plural.  Groups of people receiving these words.  So if one person went off the deep end with an interpretation or opinion, the others were right there to keep that person in check.  In a synagogue, most of the people knew the text by heart.  When someone got up to teach or share insight, chances are everybody knew the text that person was talking on and already had their own opinions about it.  You saw yourself and those around you as taking part in a huge discussion that has gone on for thousands of years.

Because God has spoken, and everything else is just commentary.

Contrast this communal way of reading and discussing and learning with our Western, highly individualized culture.  In many Christian settings, people are even encouraged to read the Bible alone, which is a new idea in church history.  A great idea and a life-changing discipline, but a new idea.  And think of pastors.  Many pastors study alone all week, stand alone in front of the church and talk about the Bible, and then receive mail and phone calls from individuals who agree or don’t agree with what they said.  This works for a lot of communities, but it isn’t the only way.

In Jesus’ world, it was assumed that you had as much to learn from the discussion of the text as you did from the text itself.  One person could never get too far in a twisted interpretation because the others were right there giving her insight and perspectives she didn’t have on her own.  Jesus said when he was talking about binding and loosing that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

Community, community, community.  Together, with others, wrestling and searching and engaging the Bible as a group of people hungry to know God in order to follow God.

In Matthew’s gospel we read the story of the protectors of doctrine coming to Jesus and “testing” Him with a question:

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

These are the pegs.  Loving God and loving Others.

All the Law.  All the Prophets.  All doctrine.  Everything.  Love God.  Love Others. The rest hangs on this.  When we don’t have that right, I would argue that right doctrine doesn’t matter–at all.

I am convinced that Christ is calling His church back to the basics of the faith–to follow Him in community together, making a difference in our world by loving those we encounter with an unconditional love that comes from God the Father in the Way of Jesus of Nazareth.

If that’s what Jesus was focused on, then perhaps we should focus on it too.

heretical. but biblical indeed.

rescue and redemption

12 Jan
This past Sunday at Richwoods, our Lead Pastor Jim Powell left us with this final thought

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe…

A trustworthy saying.  One we can depend on.  Something to hang our hat on.  A truth we can stand firm on.

Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue sinners.

You are one.  So am I.

In fact, I’m the worst.

But Jesus came.  He came to rescue.

God rescues us, and more than that–He shows us His mercy and grace.  He displays us like a work of art–He shows us off–in His unlimited patience as an example for those who are right on the edge of forever trusting in Him.  The light of His truth and love shines through the brokenness of our hearts and our redeemed lives, drawing Others closer to Himself.

He restores and redeems that which has been lost.

I’ve lived this redemption.  I’ve experienced this grace.  I’ve been rescued.
It’s my story.

Until just recently and over the last long several years, I have been running. I’ve been running from my faith and my God. I have sinned repeatedly and defiantly against Him and His will for my life; in fact, I was against His will for anyone’s life. My incessant infidelity, immorality, carelessness and arrogance led me to a place where I had literally no hope. I had purposely run so far from God that there was nothing redeeming about any of my thoughts, words or deeds.  Entirely engrossed in self-pity, I blamed Him and others for my circumstances and accepted no level of responsibility for my actions.  The hardships in my life–some of which were due to amplified injustices that we each face everyday, and many of which were a direct result of my own selfishness, pride and stubbornness–were twisted and mangled like an undergrowth of my soul to further fuel the fire that burned in my heart against my Creator God. The roots of bitterness that had been planted in my youth had received just enough sunlight of circumstance and water of despair to grow into strong vines that entangled and eventually choked the very desire to live out of me.

My behavior was that of a narcissistic, codependent, angry, compulsive, and bitter coward. In short, my actions were that of a sinner fallen far from grace. My heart was so dark, so angry and so destroyed by the chronic disobedience to what I knew in my heart to be true, that literally everything I did was far from honoring to God, and therefore damaging to me and to everyone around me.  There is no excuse that I can offer nor any defense of the content of my character within the context of my rebellion.  My pride and insecurities were in the way of allowing me to respond to God’s grace–a result of my open and methodical defiance to my Maker.

Rather than simply face the truth and admit my frailty to those around me who cared, I consistently wove a web of deception and self-preservation around my world and sabotaged any relationship that threatened my rebellious and self-centered  lifestyle.  I entrenched myself in lies in an effort to keep the truth of my condition at bay to myself and to others. The twisted and wicked nature of my thinking allowed me to actually believe that my actions were “saving” my identity, when in reality I was sentencing and executing myself to a spiritual and literal death.

As many of you know from conversations as you‘ve joined with me on my journey, instead of following Jesus or living my life according to the truths and principles of Following the Way, I had rejected them entirely and lived my life My Way. It is from that dark place–a heart wounded by my past and turned inward on my own needs and desires–that my wrongdoings came.

Yet it was in that state–when I was as far from God as I’ve ever been, with no chance of making it back to Him on my own–that He met me.  He rescued me.

Jesus Christ came into this world to rescue sinners.

I am one…In fact, I’m the worst.

But Jesus came.  He came to rescue.

He rescued me.

And in His mercy and grace, He has found it fit to provide me platforms to share my story with Others who are lost along the Way; to encourage them, to display me.  I’ve only just begun the long and painful journey of getting back where I need to be–not only spiritually, but emotionally and psychologically as well. Running from God takes its toll on mind, body and soul. In humility, sorrow and sincerity I’ve limped back into the arms of my Father; back into authentic community; back into transparent relationships in my journey.  In doing so, I’ve serendipitously and unwittingly given God permission to use  me–a broken vessel, allowing His light to shine through the cracks of an exposed and wounded life.  His love, by His grace, is revealed to Others in the midst of my shattered world.  The process of my own healing and restoration is being used by Him to help Others who seek to (re)engage as Followers of the Way.  That He would choose to rescue me; to work in and through me; to display me, of all people–the worst sinner–is evidence of His mercy and grace.

I’ve lived this redemption.  I’ve experienced this grace.  I’ve been rescued.
It’s my story.

And as I continue along the path, as I follow the Way, this is my prayer:

Investigate my life, O God; search me; examine me; test me, and see if there is anything out of whack.  Check my priorities and my hidden thoughts; my fears and underlying motives; seek out the source behind my ambition and my drive, and remove from me anything You see as wrong.  Cut out any cancer that lurks in the corners of my heart, no matter how much it hurts.  Make me pure before You, O God, as only You can.  Leave me only with the priority of following You.

Lead me in Your Way.

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