Monday, June 12, 2006

Sharing life in Christ - when living standards collide?

We're still a class society. Not like it was for Jane Austen, but it's still there in a big way in North America - and it's wrong. Life together in the Kingdom should obliterate class divisions.

As strong as North American class divisions are, what about in the international arena? What about when North Americans try to live in foreign (and non-Western European) nations? Missionaries supposedly go to "serve" and "share" the Gospel. They make "big sacrifices."

What's below and in the comments began as an e-mail conversation between a national Christian in South America (who received his M.A. from an American theology school - we'll call him "P"), a missionary on a missionary team in that same country ("C"), and myself ("SM," who wants to live overseas but with a "real job" - not as a missionary).

I've edited parts out to preserve anonymity. It started with an e-mail from "P":
Subject: a frank question

my dear missionary friends:

I was struck with a piece of information that left me appalled a couple days ago. I believe you will have no reservation to answer/confirm me this information. Let’s say an American church of Christ has two missionaries on the field: one is an American family and the other is native, indigenous family. The church will give a much higher salary to the American family, in order to keep their social, comfortable status tantamount to a living cost as in the States. Whereas to the natives the church will give a salary equivalent to the local families. Do you guys think these politics are true for all or most the churches? In sum: a differentiated salary approach.

Peace

9 Comments:

At 6/12/2006 10:32:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

Hey, "P". My personal take on it - as someone who is in the stage of life where we will soon start making decisions about our long-term living standards in a foreign country - is this:

The accepted level of living standards for Western missionaries in less-wealthy nations is embarrassing and wrong (and pathetic and unChristlike). What's even more embarrassing and wrong is all the talk of "sacrifice" and the pity-parties that sending churches will give to the missionaries. Now, with the last two or three generations of Western/American CoC missionaries, in some ways they were not taken care of enough and suffered for it - but in other ways they lived obscenely affluent lifestyles relative to the local context. There is a horrible double standard that is just plain wrong. Americans in general would be more moral to live at a lower standard of living in their own country, nevermind when they live elsewhere!

However, the solution is not as simple as saying, "So we should just pay everyone the same." Americans living elsewhere are not South Americans, or Africans, or Chinese. They live partly in two different economic contexts and have to relate to family that lives in their home context. I think cross-cultural missionaries do have some different, legitimate needs that locals don't have. I'm not justifying the obscene relatively affluent lifestyle that American CoC missionaries typically get away with. But I am saying that in certain instances it is warranted that a cross-cultural family have/receive some things that locals won't have. I'd say that for a South American missionary family to the States, or Americans going to S.A. Basically, we can't pretend that we're locals, because we're not. Identification/incarnation can only go so far before it becomes patronizing/disingenuous.

Besides, in cases where Westerns did go entirely native: where they lived/worked on the local economy and diet, they were not received well. People knew that they could live better if the wanted, and felt like they were hoarding their wealth.

For us - we eventually want to get jobs like normal people, and live a lifestyle that is culturally and economically understandable and within reach of the average urban local. Basically, we want to live life tangibly in ways that the average person in their economic and cultural context can understand and imitate. Life with Christ is a shared adenture, and we can't grow together with the local people unless our lives can be mutually shared.

In the midst of all that, there may be things we have that the average urban local does not. I don't know exactly what yet, because we'll have to consider each one separately. But things like internet access and a computer: our families are literally on the other side of the world, and we can't just pretend like they live in the next province. Or money saved for retirement: we don't come from a culture or economy where we can expect our kids to financially support us in our old age. Both of those examples are not firm decisions, but just examples of stuff we'll consider.

Anyway, this is probably more than you wanted! Please dont' hesitate to voice concerns about the way N.Americans are, and please don't hesitate to challenge our own plans and decision making. We would greatly value your critique and perspective! Especially regarding what is truly appropriate for Westerners planning to live and model Christ on 'foreign' soil.

 
At 6/12/2006 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous C said...

SM,
I can so totally relate to what you describe in the beginning to the excess, being from a team that has as its identity the pity parties and affluence that you describe. It is hard to see ourselves as teammates at heart with our team, when we have such a different perspective and standard of living in order to try to live at a level that is more consistent with the locals that we work with.

I mean the excess to me is just crazy, but the funny thing is that I have to guard my heart bec I see my teammates taking weekend trips to [resort city], and bragging about their new cars and such. It is hard for my physical man to not desire those things. So on this team it is my call to always keep my eyes of Christ who gave up everything.

At the same time I am thankful that I have enough to provide for my family, and that we are going to be able to put away some money for the future so that I won't have to be dependant on my kids for my wellbeing when I am older. I believe that it is important to see our resources as blessings from God, to care for your family at a level that allows the locals to see that you are not hoarding or greedy and that I hang on loosely to my bank account and am ready to share when I see needs.

"P",
I don't even know where to start. One thing that i have learned living in America is that even though they would never say this, they are very proud of the fact that they are the world's economic power. This worldview has entered the church so that the now middle to uppper class churches OF christ in the states have a mindset that Americans and especially Christians are the blessed ones of God and deserve to live a life at a standard of living that is the highest in the world. So any missionary that braves the big bad world by moving away from their home culture of safety and affluence, deserve to be poured upon with excess affluence bec they are making such a sacrifice in the name of Christianity and the c of c's.

Saying all that, the simple fact is that the national family no matter what their work ethic, sacrifice, education, prepararation, leadership abilities that are greater than the American missioanries families, because they minister in their home culture and in their native language: are not from the Unites States. Therefore the national workers are not as deserving of the affluent outpouring as the American families that have made the kind of sacrifices that the decision makers in the American churches can relate to more, being from the same socio-economic culture. Simply put, the national workers are not from the states and therefore should not expect to recieve the same compensation.

This happens in all 4 of the Latin American countries I have worked in. In every case there are hard feelings between the local national church leaders, who inevitably have a greater influence in the life of the church because the local members can relate to them more easily than the American families. Is this fair? No, but it is the reality in the c of c compensation of mission work around the world. It will not change until there is a reenvisioning and education of our mission sending decions makers in the states or any sending nation for that matter. It comes down to the fact that the WASP american churches treat other WASP american missionaries from a ethnocentric cultural perspective that has little room for being able to make informed jugements for how to deal with appropriate renumeration for the national workers that they choose to support for the good of the work.

In other words the guys in the churches in the states are full of people with good intentions that want to support missions around the world, but they are so grossly ill-informed. I'll be praying for this situation, and that the national family will have wisdom and a sense of contentment for the economic discrepancies that exist between American and national workers in the c of c's.

 
At 6/12/2006 10:47:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

to add to what "C" said, in order for stuff to get to the ears of the senders and the potential sent-ones, White-boys and their families are going to have to go live it in a foreign country before their critique has any chance of being considered.

There are too many hyper-critical grad student-aged white kids with no real ministry experience in CoC's. Their voice can't compete with the 'good ol' boys' who have 10 and 20 years on their resumes.

I'm paying extra special attention to Mr. & Mrs. "C" and Travis and Cara - as these couples are the most likely of all the ones I know to truly challenge the status quo through their lifestyle overseas.

 
At 6/12/2006 10:50:00 AM, Anonymous "P" said...

i just have ONE request: don't mention my name in any form. i fear that my sponsoring wealthy church may find it out that i have started this type of discussion, then i'll be in hot water!
but you guys had an excellent critique and, "C", i think you're not off the mark: down at the core it's still the same pervasive thinking: "american for the americans!" given they are now living abroad, take america there to them, poor ones!

ever since locals have noticed the disparate gap between them and us, but they never dare to speak about it, since missionaries have made the sacrifice to come down here and have given so much to/for us. i guess older generation of missionaries did not about the concept of mission incarnation. well...

i'll try to reply to your e-mails each at a time.

 
At 6/13/2006 09:44:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Hum, there's a lot to comment on here. I guess when I look at Biblical examples, wealth is not a problem in itself, but our view of wealth, our "rights", and how we view our wealth in relationship to those around us is key.

How do my standard and manner of living affect my neighbors and brothers? How does my lifestyle reflect my Lord? Do people around me see me as a blessing to the nations, or as a scrouge?

God from the beginning did seem to have a vision for blessing his people so that they could be a blessing to the nations. Jesus shows us how to strip down to simplicity of lifestyle to reach those whom God loves and desires.

Does our wealth rob us of compassion? Are we being good stewards of the resources God has given us?

I've a stinkin' big amount of questions to answer, don't I. Needless to say, I don't have all the answers yet.

What about couples where one is American, and the other is Mexican?

 
At 6/25/2006 10:19:00 AM, Anonymous "P" said...

dear SM and C,
let me start by giving you some details how all this started. sorry for the long delay.

i knew that the old school of missionaries shared a view that indigenous, locals if ever
supported by US churches should have a much lower salary, so that he wouldn´t stand out above his churchmen and countrymen. that by itself is already appalling! but what really surprised me was when i heard the same statement/conviction from the mouth of new american school of missionaries, who is sponsored by a progressive CoC! wow! so, as C put it, it goes beyond doctrine, it´s the american worldview into the church, regardless of its doctrinal position, whether liberal or fundamentalist. i think that C is quite correct. perhaps it´s the expansionist, yet colonial, american view in the very hearts and minds of the american elders and ministers and the parish. AMERICA FOR THE AMERICANS: so given i´m not american, my share/lot is must be lower.

SM's point that the social, comfortable status has to be maintained while living abroad,
regardless of where, is true. the incarnation is only at the level of coming down, not of becoming one like all the others. in this regard, i sense that the catholic missionaries have done a much better job. they have encoroparated a fuller incarnation in their mission works. they go beyond doctrinal concerns.

on the other hand, i think that the Spirit has put a word of caution in my heart.

first, i must not let a bitter heart grow within me "against" my american brothers. you're fully right, C. by the same token we can criticize them in respect to their use of the material blessings and their lack to disattachment; they can criticize us on other regards as well.

second, i cannot go against the fact and all odds that the Lord has used US to spread the word of His Kingdom, whether we like it or not. despite of general american arrogance, blatant generalized ignorance (specially their cosmology), enculturated self-indulgance and self-reliance, if it were not for their work in this part of the world, we would still be subjected to the pitiful way christianity is rendered to us by the roman catholic church. i would still be in ignorance of god's love, revelation, and living my "catholic" nominal life without any godly ethics. so, i must be very careful not to end up swinging to the extreme of ingratitute towards them. i am what i am today, thanks to the american work here. without them, i could only foresee it would be so much worse.

peace out,
P

PS: we’re not to be a michael moore of the CoC, guys!

 
At 7/11/2006 11:43:00 PM, Blogger SM said...

Thanks for your perspective, P. Two things in particular I wanted to comment on.

You said: SM's point that the social, comfortable status has to be maintained while living abroad, regardless of where, is true. the incarnation is only at the level of coming down, not of becoming one like all the others.

I hope it didn't sound like I was saying Americans ought to try and maintain American economic standards of living when they live in other countries. Foreigners (of any kind) have different legitimate needs (compared to locals) because they are stretched between two countries and two cultures. That translates into extra expenses. But I'm not saying this means they shouldn't live as close to the local living standards as possible.

Regarding Americans attempting to be incarnational, there has to be a synthesis of "becoming all things to all people" with "being authentic." In the process of identifying with the locals, we can't pretend that we aren't foreigners. We (foreigners) shouldn't attempt to be people we're not (nationals) - but we should attempt to be a certain kind of foreigner. I can sacrifice my living standard and still be true to who I am.

Rather than raise the pay of local US-supported ministers to American levels, I'd rather see the American's lower their living standards closer to national levels.

You also said, "we’re not to be a michael moore of the CoC, guys!"

Ouch - but you're right. An accurate and Christlike response to the situation won't be venomous. We should acknowledge how in debt we are to our predecessors because it's to a very substantial degree. And we should realize that we want the generations after us to improve on whatever legacies we hand down to them... hopefully they'll do it with more grace and maturity than much of our post-grad school generation.

 
At 7/19/2006 01:57:00 PM, Anonymous Tom said...

Missiologist Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen has some valuable insight at http://www.missiology.org/mmr/mmr13.htm regarding the dangers of paternalism in missions and finances.

He lists several questions including:

* Do supported national leaders expect to be supported by their own people in the near future?

* Are national leaders supported on a level consistent with the local economy or on the economic level of members of the supporting church?

 
At 7/21/2006 08:58:00 PM, Blogger SM said...

Thanks, Tom. The three of us all studied under Dr. Van Rheenen.

Along with your questions, I'd want to add these:

* Does the American-supported national family have special expectations (and thus expenses) placed on them that are created by the cross-cultural nature of the arrangement?

* What criteria should determine the degree to which foreign missionaries live above average local economic standards?

 

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Building a life... some questions

"If you live in My teachings, then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

"Everyone who hears these words of Mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the binds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock."

But what if the rain, floods, and winds of life aren't emotional and physical stresses, tragedies, and hardships, but rather aggressive and subversive competing philosophies, ethics, and theologies?

Did Jesus mean for His "if you just obey me you'll know truth; you'll get it; you'll prevail" statements to apply to intellectual challenges to the 'house' of life that must be built on something?

If this is Jesus' answer to intellectual objections, then He's not playing by the rules. He's refusing to argue and convince - the only option He gives us is to take Him at His word or not. It's "Do what I say and you'll see," not "Here's my superiorly coherent G.U.T. that will force those of you who hold 'intellectual honesty' as your highest value to conclude that I am in fact God." Either His words here aren't meant to apply to intellectual challenges, or He's refusing to respect our rules for the intellectual arena.

Are there assumptions here underlying His prescription for discovering truth and a solid life foundation?

Is there really a difference between intellectual challenges and personal challenges?

If our intellectual challenges came under Jesus' piercing gaze, would they - in each individual instance of each individual person - be reduced from respectable-sounding objecting philosophies and theologies to mere veneers of pride, rebellion, and enslavement to prideful, sinful, selfish desires?

Is it possible to have an intellectual problem that is not ultimately - if we could boil it down and see it for what it truly is - a 'heart' problem?

I don't know. Just thoughts from my reading this morning.

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Monday, March 06, 2006

Underneath the Cosmetics - McLaren article

Full article here: Underneath the Cosmetics - by Brian McLaren

excerpt below

[...]

I'm often asked by pastors, as I was recently, "Should our church adopt a more emergent approach?" Often the assumption is that adding certain forms (candles, incense, a particular style of music) will make a church "emergent." But I want to reply: "What would it profit to gain the cosmetics of an emerging church and lose the deeper opportunity?"

As churches seek reinvigoration, many are finding inspiration from emerging/missional approaches (the plural is important). But many focus on the forms and miss the foundational issues. The deeper opportunity is more than rethinking how church should "look" or be "done." It's the chance to ask what the church is for.

[...]

Thanks to Steve at HarvestBoston.net for digging this up.

2 Comments:

At 3/06/2006 10:53:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Dude the connection to MRNA on the side bar needs to be adapted so that your own sight stays up when I go over to MRNA. I hope this makes sense. Also some of your essays are only halfway on the page.

 
At 6/25/2006 10:35:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

thanks Sean. I think it's fixed now.

When is MRNA ever going to update their page?

For some reason Blogspot changed my comment settings on me, so I had all these comments waiting for moderation for over two weeks. That's fixed now, too. If you comment, it should publish right away.

 

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Fuller Lecture on Emerging Church - mp3 link

Lecture mp3 here and here - (20mb)

Emerging Church Discussion Draws Large Crowd
An audience of 150 filled Payton 101 for a presentation Thursday evening, March 2, by professors Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger on the topic of their new book Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures. [...]

A new type of church, popularly called the “emerging church,” is increasingly taking root across the U.S. and U.K., Gibbs and Bolger explained. “It’s a small movement, but it’s growing,” said Bolger. “We’re seeing its influence spread across the spectrum.”

“There’s a widespread conversation among church leaders who recognize that existing structures are not working well for all people,” said Gibbs. Traditional churches are experiencing challenges and declining numbers, he said, and the emerging church movement is a response to this across denominations and theological traditions.

Gibbs and Bolger described their field research that went into the writing of the book, which included years of visits and conversations with a variety of emerging churches. They discussed specific ways these churches are working to be relevant to contemporary cultures—through decentralized leadership, an emphasis on relationships over structure, and strong community service, for example.

“These are communities that are very organic, very simple—looking to follow Jesus’ way in this culture now,” said Bolger. And although the churches are seen predominantly among the under-35s, it is not solely a youth movement, Gibbs emphasized. The churches they have seen operate as extended families, with a strong desire for mentoring by older generations as well.

The emerging church is a church that’s turning itself inside out,” Gibbs said, “to bring those outside in.”

Eddie Gibbs is Fuller’s Donald A. McGavran Professor of Church Growth and the author of several other books as well, including the critically acclaimed ChurchNext, winner of a Christianity Today book award. Ryan K. Bolger is assistant professor of Church in Contemporary Culture.

3 Comments:

At 3/05/2006 10:03:00 PM, Blogger Andy Rowell said...

Thanks for the link. I just finished reading the book. I think Gibbs and Bolger in the book too often stress the small house church forms of the emergent church but I still the book articulates the ideals of the movement well.

 
At 5/24/2006 07:55:00 AM, Blogger ScottyB said...

hey my name is Scott I'm a random visitor look for some mp3's of Ryan Bolger--do you know what happened to the mp3 of this talk on the emereging church at Fuller--I've been searching on the net and I can't find it anywhere--any chance you can email the file to me or upload it again to the server?

Be Blessed
Scott

 
At 6/25/2006 10:23:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

Hi guys. The only links to the mp3 I know of are the ones in the post. Happy hunting.

 

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Thursday, March 02, 2006

Profaning the holy... in a good way

I remember being uncomfortable, at first, of mixing the holy with the everyday – of doing things like moving the communion ceremony to the middle of a real, full, sit-down dinner where we talk and act like we’re having a regular family meal. It was an interesting and rewarding struggle to try and bring the holy into the everyday world without completely displacing the things of everyday life, and without treating the holy like some casual thing of little consequence.

I learned that treating things of great importance with little importance (merely going casual in worship style) is one thing. Displacing the things of everyday life as if every moment all week should be lived seriously and contemplatively (trying to act all week as if one is 'in church' at every moment) is another. But bringing together everyday life with explicit acknowledgement of God and our identities in Him is still another, and more challenging. Letting God sit at the dinner table with us, or on the couch during the NHL playoffs, or at the hockey rink, feels strange: we start feeling uncomfortable, like God caught has us without our "church act" on. It was liberating to ditch the "church act" but still face the challenge of God’s explicitly acknowledged presence in the regular rhythms of everyday life. We could be real with ourselves and each other and God, but at the same time invite God to transform us, our relationships, and our lives. That's a far cry from wearing our Sunday Best all week!

2 Comments:

At 3/02/2006 08:57:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I think I found the address to your blog. Peace

 
At 3/02/2006 08:58:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

I think I found your address to this blog, but send me the address anyway. Be blesssed!

 

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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

for all the seminary students

Ill-pleased, I join a line of hard-to-please people
Who want to exchange their lumpy bourgeois souls
For a keen Greek mind and a strong Roman nose,
Then find ourselves, surprised, at the edge of a stable.


- excerpt from "The Carol" by Eugene Peterson, 1989. Pg.167 The Contemplative Pastor (1993).

This poem, quoted in full below, captures part of my life journey through seminary and church experiences (attempting to trade bourgeois souls for Greek minds and Roman noses), and expresses what I hope continues into the future: expanding joy at the increasing discovery of the realness of the Person of Christ.
_________________________________________

The Carol
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased.
Luke 2:14

Untuned, I'm flat on my feet, sharp with my tongue,
A walking talking dischord, out of sorts,
My heart murmurs are entered in lab reports.
The noise between my ears cannot be sung.

Ill-pleased, I join a line of hard-to-please people
Who want to exchange their lumpy bourgeois souls
For a keen Greek mind and a strong Roman nose,
Then find ourselves, surprised, at the edge of a stable.

Caroling angels and a well-pleased God
Join a choir of cow and sheep and dog

At this barnyard border between wish and gift.
I glimpse the just-formed flesh, now mine. They lift

Praie voices and sing twelve tones
Of pleasure into my muscles, into my bones.

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Sunday, February 26, 2006

Determining church structure

This is from a recent class discussion...

"I hear you when you say the process is a means to an end, and that you have no problem tweaking the formal structure according to how well it facilitates the church's purpose. We've taken the same approach, I think, though when talking about process we distinguish between the highly-negotiable specifics of the process and the virtually non-negotiable nature of the process. Meaning that whatever specific organizational model we employ, it must (a) facilitate the purpose (growing life together with God on His terms), and (b) reflect the nature of the God we live with and the nature of life to which He invites us. That means when determining the specifics of how a church community is going to be organized we start with questions about God and Kingdom rather than "what works" or "what do people want." It's a theological foundation rather than a pragmatic one. And the theology we begin with can potentially limit our options for the specifics."

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Christianity in Culture

SMSCs are "Scholars in Mainland China Studying Christianity."
CCs are "Culture Christians" - SMSCs who have had some sort of faith experience in Christ as a result of their academic studies. Culture Christians form a very small core of the SMSC population.

The whole CC phenomenon in China is complicated and doesn't parallel the N.American emergent Christianity phenomenon in any way that I can see. Opinions are mixed on whether their presence is a good thing or not. But I think that it has something to say to people in North America seeking Christian alternatives to the regular North American Christian experience, maybe by way of providing a picture of an undesirable extreme.

Typically, "Culture Christians":
- consider themselves connected to God through Christ; (real) Christians
- view the church as it stands as much less than ideal, with weak pastoral activity, irrelevant messages, and virtually nothing spiritually to offer CCs
- see the church, baptism, and the Lord's Supper as historical-social products that are unnecessary for true faith in Christ and in many instances detrimental to faith in Christ (especially the church)
- consider themselves to be "outside and above" the church
- do not associate with any particular church, denomination, or fellowship group
- usually have not been baptized

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Chinese Christian Intellectuals on America

"'O Christian, what witness have you borne for Christ in Western culture? Did you bring Christ into modern Western culture to Christianize culture? Or did you bring modern Western culture into Christianity to secularize your faith? Have you ever reflected on the reason why people see the witness of your lives and end up doubting the reality of your faith?'"

"'O Christian, don't carry this pseudonym 'Christian nation' on your lips any more — this doesn't help your religion at all! It is high time to stop chaining Christ and the powers of the state together. The noble name of Jesus Christ should no longer be insulted by the selfishness of a nation, people or institution.' Among this great host who call themselves Christians, how many of them truly put their trust in Jesus Christ? Look at their lives: who can believe that they believe in Jesus Christ? When individualism becomes the final authority for moral decisions, when consumerism takes hold of people's lives, isn't faith a mere decoration?"

I'm reading a couple books right now by Chinese intellectuals on faith, society, Christianity, and Western culture. Very fascinating stuff for me (and more motivation to really learn Mandarin). E-mail me for the references - of course the best stuff won't "fit" on the blog. Here's a smattering of quotes relating to the West, humanity, faith, or whatever...

"He was in China in the late 1940's, living on a small island along the southern Chinese coast. He would often take a little fishing boat across the water to preach. One evening, he could not find the boat. He saw a little girl and asked her for help. She asked him for a song, so he sang a Christian hymn and asked her to sing one for him as well. 'I have nothing to sing about,' she said, lowering her head."

"Those of us who came from mainland China believe that there is neither unconditional love nor unconditional hate in the world. Nothing comes without conditions."

"Another reason why Jesus' words stirred me so deeply and immediately was the simplicity and depth with which he spoke. I had studied philosophy and all those pretentious words which cause so much consternation. But Jesus' words penetrate the heart."

"For that person who lives without God, who has no new life, more freedom serves only to accelerate that person's degeneration. This is because one who is free in the realm of sin is driven by his or her own lust. Dostoevsky once said that if God did not exist, everything would be permissible. In the same vein, I believe that though "freedom" seems to be breaking out across the world, if faith in God is lost, "freedom" will soon face its final enemy: freedom itself."

6 Comments:

At 11/11/2005 10:26:00 AM, Blogger miller said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 11/11/2005 05:39:00 PM, Blogger miller said...

no, you're absolutely right... bashing is tempting but unproductive.

like you, i think the answers to the questions present some interesting visioning for us.

i think i don't want to be emergent or anything else... i just want to be faithful.

peace

 
At 11/13/2005 10:30:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not into all these deep thoughts tonight - just wanted to say hi and this was the latest post to say it on. We are loving life here but miss you guys and the rest of the Abilene gang. We will always have fond memories of late night cards, big screen playoff hockey and Sasquatch domination. Sorry to hear of your delay on the China front, but hoping the extra year will be a blessing.

For the Kingdom,
Malcolm

 
At 2/26/2006 01:04:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

I don't mean to use these guys just for more ammunition with which to take pot-shots at American Christianity. But it's quite, um, challenging to read their critique of us. Especially since all these guys do pretty much is study history, theology, philosophy, social sciences, and religion. They have a huge personal investment in it because as intellectuals with potential influence they consider it their 'responsibility' to find/create a foundation on which to base the future of Chinese culture and society. Christianity is one contender among many - again (we blew it last time, theological liberals and conservatives).

Their critique of Western Christianity goes much deeper than the usual things 'emergent Christians' are inclined to point out, because they critique us at the worldview level. I imagine that, if emergent Christianity as it's known in the West ever made it on to their radar, they'd just lump it in with everything else.

But I'm still reading. It's interesting to me not just because it's inline with our training, but also as someone trying to articulate life with God through Christ as He would have it in North America. In that sense, they offer an interesting perspective.

[Originally posted: 11/11/2005 12:22:34 PM]

 
At 2/26/2006 01:06:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

[11/14/2005 11:03:31 AM]

Malcolm! I was just thinking about you guys yesterday!

We saw Madalyn's pictures, too. What's the latest on you guys?

We'll be in Canada soon, too, and may be up for Phoebe's wedding.

Miller - yeah, they provide a helpful critique, whether I agree with all of it or not. And I share your feelings re: labels, but I don't know how to refer to what we've been up to the last few years in Abilene in a way that has potential to communicate without using them. So I do that cheesy grad school thing and but "everything" in quotations. =)

 
At 2/26/2006 01:11:00 AM, Anonymous Miller said...

[11/11/2005 10:26:14 AM]

wow, what do you say to something like that?

"Have you ever reflected on the reason why people see the witness of your lives and end up doubting the reality of your faith?"

as a matter of fact i have... i don't really like the answer. the truth is its time for something radical!

 

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Afraid of truth

"We're afraid to speak the truth because it means a part of us must die."
- Miller Talbot

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Dallas Willard articles

Found some interesting food for thought from Dallas Willard while preparing to facilitate the Chinese Life Group for the evening. Click the titles to read the full articles.

Rethinking Evangelism
(excerpt) "God’s intent was to have a kingdom in which we are significantly involved. That is the eternal as well as the temporal plan. Every human being, wherever they may be, is given the opportunity to enter into a companionship, a working relationship with God. The kingdom of God is what God is doing. And his plan was that he would be doing many things with us.

Churches that took seriously the kingdom of God would look a lot like training centers—training centers for life, a life interactive with God."

Being a Christian in a Pluralistic Society
(excerpt) "Our Mount Carmel may be our university, or our business or profession, and the floods of social discrimination may flow against us. This is only to make all the more obvious, to those with eyes to see, that God is with us, and that the life of His resurrected Son is effectual in every dimension of our existence. We welcome our life in a pluralistic society as the very condition most favorable to our own sure knowledge of God, as our aspirations and our accomplishments testify that He is the one at work in us to will as well as to do the good things He desires for His world."

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At 10/09/2005 11:53:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

Beyond Belief & the Holy Spirit

[Warning: ramble ahead.]

Beyond Belief
Hebrews 6:1a, Romans 1:17, Philippians 1:6
words/music by Bob Hartman, from the 1990 Petra album Beyond Belief
lyrics acquired from
www.PetraRocksMyWorld.com

We're content to pitch our tent
When the glory's evident
Seldom do we know the glory came and went

Moving can seem dangerous
In this stranger's pilgrimage
Knowing that you can't stand still, you cross the bridge

(Chorus)
There's a higher place to go, beyond belief, beyond belief
Where we reach the next plateau, beyond belief, beyond belief
And from faith to faith we grow
Towards the center of the flow
Where He beckons us to go, beyond belief, beyond belief


Leap of faith without a net
Makes us want to hedge our bet
Waters never part until our feet get wet

There's a deeper place to go
Where the road seems hard to hoe
He who has begun this work won't let it go

And it takes so long to see the change
But we look around and it seems so strange

We have come so far but the journey's long
And we once were weak but now we're strong

L.M. and I have been on a spiritual journey for the last several years - one where we are beginning to realize and experience the truth that if we want live and experience the life that Christ describes and invites us to, we must go beyond mere belief.

“God said, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’ – but we have turned it into a Bible ministry!”

Bible study is not an end in itself. Most churches would agree, but many function as if they don't. I just found this quote from some random blog I stumbled on. The author (I think) means it as an expression of humility, "Personally, I don't have the guts to follow Jesus, so I often settle for being a Christian." My problem is, I'm not willing to settle. We aren't called to be Christians, we're called to follow Jesus; to be "little Christ's." "Christian" no longer means those things.

I'm convinced that "Christianity" as we generally know it America – high church or low church – is not what Jesus had in mind when He talked about people living in the Kingdom of heaven on earth. I'm not blaming anyone for the situation, I'm just saying that we've more or less lost the Plot. That all sounds ridiculously arrogant, I know. Maybe it is, but either way it's not all that inconceivable that it's true. It seems to me that what He had in mind was us living together with God through Him in the power of His Spirit in such a way that we become transformed into the kind of people we are intended to be. Sounds rather dynamic and experiential and completely life-altering to me. That is a far cry from merely ironing the wrinkles out of our doctrinal panties every Sunday morning. The life Jesus invites us to is not one where we merely figure out how to behave properly by tweaking everyone's theology and philosophy and forming doctrinal and behavioural support communities. We should have learned by now that you can't have an effective "Ministry of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice" if you aren't willing to threaten people with imprisonment and/or death. To have a hope of controlling outward behaviour through outside influence - washing the outside of the cup first, rather being transformed from the inside out - we'd have to either employ Taliban-type tactics or control the entire entertainment/news media. No wonder our N. American churches are in general so ineffective at facilitating substantial life change of the kind Jesus spoke and displayed! To paraphrase Isaac from Ghana: if we rely on our education and effort we get what education and effort can do. If we rely on God, we get what God can do. Most of what we have in many (most?) church communities can be attributed to human effort - including the average person's personal growth. We've just gotten really good at 'giving God the credit' (and weaselling out of blame) for the results of what we do. I'm not saying God shouldn't ultimately get the credit for everything we have the ability to do. It just seems to me that more often then not 'giving God the credit' is really us attributing self-serving significance to our own actions and events.

There is a difference between controlling people so that they think and behave properly and transforming people so that their thoughts, feelings, and actions are the natural result of who they are becoming and the God they live with. Controlling or influencing people is something we do; transforming is something God does. The results of our attempts at transforming people are, well, the results of what we can do. Acts 2 was pretty significant is to the lives of the 12 Disciples, who become Apostles.

After three years of following Jesus around, seeing and hearing Him teach and work miracles, seeing Him killed, seeing and feeling Him bodily resurrected from the dead, they are still (understandably) thinking Mid-East politics: "Now are you going to kick the Romans' butts and make Israel into a great nation again?" Three years in the Jesus Theological Seminary and what do they do when Jesus gets arrested? They (understandably) run and hide. He gets killed, and they (understandably) lock themselves in a room. I say their actions are 'understandable' because we can hardly expect to do better in their place. It's not like we got three years hands-on training and lectures direct from God Incarnate. But Jesus comes back resurrected and appears before them and what does He say, "Go change the world"? No, He says, "I don't care if you got your three-year seminary degrees direct from the Sovereign Creator Himself. You aren't going anywhere – yet. Stay here and wait."

You'd think that three years of personal training from the Saviour of the world would make one well-equipped to get out there and kick some spiritual tail. But it wasn't enough – it wasn't even close to enough. Three years of experiencing Jesus’ own direct teaching from within their own cultural and historic context wasn’t good enough for Jesus to send them out. Where do we get off thinking that our education could do better? No offence, but as highly as I esteem most of my profs, they aren't exactly on par with Jesus. The Disciples' "before Acts 2" photos and the Apostles' "after Acts 2" photos should make this obvious. They go from abandoning Jesus and hiding behind locked doors to revolutionizing the known world and staying faithful through torture and death. The Holy Spirit is a nice fancy theological thing to posit but He doesn't factor in for squat in any functional way when it comes to how we are trained to live and operate post-college. I see a functional difference in the way the Disciples operated and who they were pre- and post-Acts 2.

At what point in the past did I unconsciously agree to buy into the fearful, spineless, snobbishly prideful, control-obsessed idea that it's perfectly acceptable to take a "no Holy Spirit" option on life with God through Christ? Merely thinking what we’re supposed to think and learning good people-management skills is not enough. Aren't we invited into a dynamic relationship that is not supposed to function as mere theory or sentimental re-interpretation of an otherwise ordinary human experience?

Just stuff we're chewing on...

12 Comments:

At 10/02/2005 01:38:00 AM, Anonymous Lorna said...

I'm chewing on it too

be blessed :)

 
At 10/03/2005 08:51:00 AM, Blogger miller said...

wow, PREEEEEEEEEECH!

buddy, i just want to add a thought here. it seems to me that not only is the Holy Spirit conveniently overlooked by our "teachers" (whoever that is) but we are being educated in a Holy Spirit vacuum... all the Holy Spirit has been removed!

what you said about getting "what we can do" kind of results... hits me where i live. God is, however, helping me to relax and see things a bit differently. he's helping me see that i'm a part of a tribe that he inhabits, a caravan that follows a pillar of fire. i'm a small part of what he is doing but he wants to use me. trouble is, i've been too busy trying to use myself! like a hammer trying to beat in a nail before it has been picked up by the carpenter! among other things, i can't even see the nail... but i just lay there and, like a little boy i know, demand that "i can do it!"

isn't that what Peter's betrayal was all about? wasn't he the only one of twelve that (probably) wore a sword in the courtyard that night? he didn't run away, by george he was gonna be where he could do the most good... i mean he had promised Jesus he would never leave him. Jesus had predicted his own execution and Peter said "not on my watch!"

like Peter, i need to lay down my sword and let the Sword of the Spirit work in me.

great post, thanks

 
At 10/03/2005 03:08:00 PM, Anonymous Lorna said...

this is good stuff :)

God uses all who are willing to obey. Trouble is so many stuff Him down because of FEAR that it might 'just' be then

Occasionally we will get egg on our face cos we step out in presumption but I also remember the talents . and I dont want to face God and say 'oh I didn't know it was you. I mean I thought it might have been .. but .. He'll correct us gently when we are wrong, and wants us to be brave and use the gifts he's given us for his kingdom

end of rant
have a good day :)

 
At 10/03/2005 09:39:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Without walking in constant communion with the Holy Spirit, what can we do, and what can we expect of all those on whom we have dumped tons of "great teaching" ?

I recently visited with Randy Boyd of Prepare International, and he has challenged me profoundly to walk in greater intimacy with the Spirit. When we are living a Spirit-empowered life, we will know the difference. Randy encouraged me to start practicing the gift of praying in tongues throughout every day as one essential way to deepen the intimacy.

He challenged me in another way. After we had been visiting for about half an hour, he told me that he had already been in communication with the Spirit asking him to guide our conversation and direct his words. His conversation with me didn't put his prayer life on halt. It just directed his constant prayers toward our conversation. AMAZING!!!!

 
At 10/03/2005 09:41:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

(Randy had prayed some 25 times in that half hour. I forgot to include that)

 
At 10/04/2005 10:50:00 PM, Blogger Glenn said...

As an elder in the church, I fear for my own soul because I am responsible for leading members of the congregation, and we are just not doing a very good job. While in China I watched a man "shepherd" a large "herd" of ducks. They were on the water and he was wading. Think about it!!! Sometimes I feel like that, people skimming around in their world doing what they want to do, while we the leaders splash about, stumbling over rocks and other issues. We recently issued a challenge to "walk with Jesus" everyday. What we do on Sunday is not nearly as important as our personal walk, and becoming like Him. Our focus has been on the church established on Pentacost, but we need to go back an additional 50 plus days to see Jesus. I was raised in the church without the Holy Spirit. He was in The Book [if you had the right version], but was not permitted anyplace else - not even in the heart. Thankfully that is changing. The search must go on as restoration is an ongoing process. Each generation must search and find Him. The pain is in the transition, however. Some of us hurt deeply when there is change, fearing loss of everything held dear. Others of us chomp at the bit, impatient with what is clearly seen as necessary change. The cynic sits off to the side sneering at both. Generally the cynic contributes nothing, but is well satisfied with himself, and his special insight. Just remember that Christ loves his bride and is patient with her. Oh, that we could be as patient, while at the same time we seek to please him.

 
At 10/05/2005 01:36:00 PM, Blogger 老熊 Lao Xiong said...

Sure appreciate where you're coming from, sounds familiar to me. In fact, precisely 10 years ago a few of us were actually singing those very lyrics, along with some others that suddenly and manifestly made sense!

Please let me suggest something, if I might: no matter what anyone else says or does, keep yourselves following the Lord's lead, no matter where it goes. Don't allow frustration with others' lack of interest or misunderstanding to daunt you and blunt your heart for His face and hand and voice. For me, one of the larger problems moving forward has been that I've tried either to accommodate or to resist peers and other people around me -- rather than keeping my eyes and heart toward Him. I spent too much time learning how to explicate Biblical truth about these things [a very worthwhile thing to do, BTW] to people who simply weren't/aren't interested! It's much better to continue following Him into the new places and things that He wants you to do, than to try to prove anything to anyone else. And it's a whole lot better to just "do the stuff" than to talk about it.

Walking in the Spirit helps us remember and rejoice in the Great Day coming, instead of becoming enamoured with or bitter & cynical about this age. Our supernatural, eschatological, apocalyptic community experience together on Sunday is our re-focusing for loving and serving and evangelizing and suffering and mundane living in an age that's passing away, during the rest of the week.

I really like 1 Cor 1.4-9 ... Jesus is doing something wonderful in our midst! I don't want to miss it!

James 4: "come near to God and He will come near to you." There are two questions that I like to ask about it: what does it look like for us to come near to God? what does it look like for Him to come near to us?

Sorry to say so much that's so obvious, back to lurking ... ;-)

 
At 10/11/2005 02:32:00 PM, Blogger 老熊 Lao Xiong said...

One other thing -- Glenn said: "We recently issued a challenge to "walk with Jesus" everyday. What we do on Sunday is not nearly as important as our personal walk, and becoming like Him."

Glenn probably means something other than what it sounded like from this distance ... I agree with what I think he meant, but disagree with what he said -- or at least, I'd nuance it differently ...

"What we do on Sunday mornings" is very, very important -- just not for the reasons we've often thought, that's all. If I'm reading my NT correctly [I know, that'd be a first ;-) ] it looks like the purpose of assembly is actually to meet the risen Lord Jesus "together" and to share His gifts with each other. "The Lord's Supper" isn't just a weekly memorial, it's taking a meal with the One who died for us and is raised -- re-living the event of the Lord's Supper before He died, but now in the present tense, with all of the community in our diversity united in the Spirit. Spiritual gifts are really "supernatural" [I know, not a Biblical word, but I hope you know what I mean] -- or at least, supernaturally-prompted -- events where Jesus Himself ministers to us through the Spirit in each other, and sometimes more directly than that. That's what makes our relationships with each other cross all kinds of cultural, generational, social, heritage, "past life" boundaries, why we can love each other and care about each other "larger than life." Every Sunday Jesus helps me care for people I'd "normally" have no earthly reason to care about! Curiously, He helps them care for me, too! That does wonders for our focus during the week!

It's a lot like how we've treated baptism, too -- forgiveness of sins clears the deck for the "huge gift" of the Holy Spirit to work in us to bring "the unseen" into here, and to bring the End into the present. Being "in Christ" isn't simply code language for "going to heaven when you die" or being "in the Lord's church" -- it's literally being in community with Him and each other via the Spirit, here and now, doing with Him what He wants, interacting with Him and each other, etc. To me, very exciting stuff!

To re-iterate what I said last time, maybe in different words: if the Lord assigns you a place where you must accommodate people who aren't quite on the same page, let me suggest that you get outside encouragement and support specifically for this one area. Serving in a faith-environment that resists the Spirit is like steady erosion: without care and support, you'll find yourself "still believing" but "too busy" to continue pursuing and growing, and eventually your heart will relegate the Spirit to the back burner, when in fact He's the Lord Himself. Once your heart does this, it's difficult (but not impossible) to recover the present-tense walking with God that we're all talking about. His heart is too good for it to ever be worthwhile to miss Him for the sake of something else.

 
At 11/01/2005 03:27:00 PM, Anonymous Tracy said...

okay - wow. how do we get there from here? Can some one show me the way... I feel a little lost.

 
At 2/26/2006 01:13:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

[10/03/2005 09:28:51 AM]

Holy Spirit vacuum is a good way to put it. The only teaching I remember on the Spirit was either poo-pooing on the "still, small voice who picks out my parking spot" kind of ideas, and stuff in Personal Spiritual Formation, which was good, but there was a very consicuous absence of the Spirit when it came to anything outside one's private meditative devotions, and even during personal prayer there wasn't much beyond profound awareness of conviction and love.

I dont' want it to sound like God doesn't use people who aren't "charismatics" or whatever - just that "we were meant to live for so much more" (to quote Switchfoot again).

 
At 2/26/2006 01:14:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

[10/05/2005 04:07:01 PM]

Thanks for sharing those insights. It sure is nice to see some people with life experience around here!

One thing we learned from our University Baptist and simple church experiences is that it's counterproductive and unChristlike to decide where and how to spend your time and energy according to what you don't want to be like. Defining ourselves or our community according to what we don't want to be is a waste of time, and aimless.

As I currently understand things, if I'm going to pursue something it shouldn't be because it's cutting edge, or because it lets me do what I want, meets my "felt needs," and/or sticks it to people and institutions I have issues with. The goal must be worth pursuing regardless of what other people think, say, or do. And I think the life Jesus invites us to is worth pursuing.

But along with all that comes our church context, where the goal we say we're pursuing is often not the goal our actions, structures, and community activities suggest that we are pursuing. I agree that the life to which Jesus invites us is one where we will grow in love for everyone regardless of how fast they move or how willing to sacrifice they are. But "love" according to Christ includes calling things what they are. If we're going to truly love the people in the church - especially people in the church - we can't minimize serious problems. And losing the Plot is a serious problem; the 'religious life' often doesn't closely resemble what Jesus talks about. Acknowledging the situation is a necessary step. Provoking high levels of anxiety in people is not necessarily sinful, though in our church experience it is often done in sinful ways or with sinful motivations. The pendulum needs to stop swinging between "truth" and "love" in our communities. So often we act as if those terms are mutually exclusive: "if you really love them then you'll be nice." As I understand it, truth and love are actually inseparable and interdependent. We need people with wisdom and backbone who can show the kids how to operate with both simultaneously in our spiritual communities.

 
At 2/26/2006 01:15:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

[10/11/2005 03:21:51 PM]

Being "in Christ" isn't simply code language for "going to heaven when you die" or being "in the Lord's church" -- it's literally being in community with Him and each other via the Spirit, here and now, doing with Him what He wants, interacting with Him and each other, etc. To me, very exciting stuff!

So then what we do intentially on Sunday mornings should be geared toward facilitating what you're describing above, right?

Maybe Glenn's comment is symptomatic of a larger problem: that we experience a disconnect between Sunday morning and our everyday walk with Jesus to such a degree that churches are issuing challenges like his on Sunday mornings.

Re: outside encouragement and support... setting that up is one of two or three top priorities for us, along with language. We're already aggressively working the networking webs so that we can find that kind of spiritual support and experience while we're there. We're scheduled to meet some potentials next week actually, in California.

 

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Sunday, September 25, 2005

Christianity vs. Life with God together

Two very different people bring messages regarding this painful but unavoidable truth: Christianity as it is known in North America has 'lost the Plot' and is dying fast, mostly because we are very good at replacing God with all kinds of other things.

The first is Isaac, a friend of our friends and a native Ghanaian who is visiting the U.S. right now. He speaks from his own experience regarding the relationship between a dynamic, prayerful relationship with God and God working in tangible, undeniable, manifest Spiritual power in one's life and relationships. The second is George Barna, American Christianity's foremost researcher and statistician.

Isaac shared these thoughts and many more in a talk tonight to students intersted in serving in Africa. He stressed the importance of prayer, fasting, and of relying on God rather than anything else.

"On most [servant's] records could be stamped two words: lacked power."

"God said, 'My house shall be a house of prayer' - but we have made it into a Bible ministry!'"

"Is the written word sufficient in itself? ... Bible study is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end. ... We must know the written word and the Living Word."

"If you rely on education you get what education can do. If you rely on money you get what money can do. If you rely on hard work and effort you get what hard work and effort can do. If you rely on God, you get what God can do."


George Barna and his Barna Group recently underwent a drastic shift in direction and purpose. His research data has led him to the conclusion that Christianity as we know it in North America is both impotent and doomed. He's now deliberately aiming his research to support leaders in emergent expressions of Christianity who are willing to address reality.

New Directions (April 4, 2005)
"To make a long story brief, I hit a point of crisis at the end of 2003. I did not want to stop ministering to the Church; I simply wanted to do something that mattered. Giving information to people whose sole interest seemed to be searching for facts that confirmed what they had already chosen to do, or seeking statistical evidence to support their teaching, was not something that seemed like good stewardship. My passion was to work with ministries to facilitate genuine life transformation. Frustrated, upon the completion of our 2003 seminar tour, I told the Lord I could not continue doing what we had been doing for the past 20 years. ... "

"... we have entered into a strategic partnership with Tyndale House Publishers to launch the BarnaBooks line of publications. Starting in 2005, these branded books will reveal what is happening in the emerging Church – not the postmodern, candles/coffee/couches types of anti-modern ministries, but the Revolutionary ministry that is percolating to the surface of American society through new forms of ministry such as the cyberchurch, house churches, marketplace ministries, and tribal faith experiences. While I will write a few books for the line – the first, Revolution, is scheduled to release in September 2005 – most of the books will be written by the new generation of spiritual leaders who are propelling the Church into the 21st century with an intense passion for God and a commitment to being the Church rather than worrying about protecting the forms and institutions that have been in place. ... "

"There is a major spiritual revolution brewing in our society. God has already begun to do some amazing and unprecedented things in our nation, and it appears that the next twenty years will introduce ministry approaches and spiritual outcomes that are radically different than that which we have been anticipating. It’s an exciting time to be alive and serving God. Stay tuned as we continue to share some of the insights we’re gleaning from our studies regarding the reformation of faith and culture in the U.S. And thanks for allowing my team and me to join with you in serving Jesus."


If you are a church person in North America, you may wish to read up on the following conversation. Barna's research confirms what Asian and African Christians have been telling us for a while now:
A Faith Revolution is Redefining "Church"
The Third Coming of George Barna
Barna's Beefs
Barna Responds to Christianity Today Article
Barna's Message to Baby Boomers

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Posting from TMB CENTRAL!

We had to leave Baton Rouge to interview with an organization in Tyler, TX and close up shop in Abilene. Then we'll head back to Baton Rouge in the blue van for about a month to continue helping with the shelter and get more involved with the Chinese students. We couldn't pass up the chance to stop by Austin and meet Paul and Lori Byerly "in real life" after knowing them through The Marriage Bed discussion forums.

So tonight we post from TMB Central! - the home of Paul & Lori Byerly and their son John, HQ of The Marriage Bed online ministry, our favourite place on the web. Paul and Lori began this ministry at least 8 years ago, and it now includes the TMB website, TMB discussion forums, The Generous Wife discussion forum, and The Generous Husband and The Generous Wife daily e-mails. We have been blessed by our participation in TMB, and it has been even better to meet the Byerly's in person...even if we did stay up way too late! (=

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Loving - and pretending to

Our readings, recent good 'growing pains' in our simple church experience, and new people recently brought into our lives have all combined to emphasize to me the prideless, selfless, and unconditional nature of love, and love's deep strength that is not intimidated by others' actions born of lesser motives. I am increasingly convinced that God as expressed most intimately through Christ, truly is the defining source of love in our universe. Of all the people who have ever walked this earth, none have understood and loved like Christ, not even close. His life and teaching speaks for itself. How can we hope to love like Him without giving unconditional allegiance to Him, obedience to His example and teaching, and therefore our willingness to accept His empowerment?

Questions: Do we 'love' people or projects? Do we treat people like projects, like they're a means to and end? What kind of love do the people we share life with experience? When we think we're loving, are we really just engaging in some kind of sick, selfish, covert, dehumanizing bartering system? Are our networks of relationships, in and out of church, really just massive emotional and psychological flea markets where we negotiate our felt-need-driven desire to manipulate and use others with the degree to which we are willing to be used and disrespected? How willing are we to deny our own immense value – as people created and loved by God – for the chance to devalue others? Isn't that ultimately disrespect of God? Do we accept and condone a degree of being used and disrespected because we feel we cannot live without doing the same to others? How many crutches are we addicted to that keep us from ever developing the strength to grow into the kind of people that could love like Christ?

I guarantee that the woman I'm quoting below writes with more authority than most who speak on her subject. You may have even heard of her before. It's a short book, easy read, powerful experience. I've bolded where I felt like it and edited some. Contact us if you want the reference info.

"Ah Ping could really talk when he got warmed up, and today he was going to tell me what most of them really felt. I respected his honesty, for few [people] will tell [ministers] what they really feel about them. 'You [people],' he continued, 'you come here and tell us about Jesus. You can stay for a year or two, and your conscience will feel good, and then you can go away. Your Jesus will call you to other work back home. It's true some of you can raise a lot of money on behalf of us underprivileged people. But you'll still be living in your nice houses with your refrigerators and servants and we'll still be living here. What you are doing really has nothing to do with us. You'll go home anyhow, sooner or later.

...we wouldn't mind believing in Jesus too if we could get on a plane and fly away round the world… they can sing about love very nicely, but what do they know about us? They don't touch us – they know nothing.'"

I Corinthians 13 - The Message - NLT - NIV
"If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn't want what it doesn't have.
Love doesn't strut,
Doesn't have a swelled head,
Doesn't force itself on others,
Isn't always "me first,"
Doesn't fly off the handle,
Doesn't keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn't revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Love never dies."


"It is fashionable nowadays to visit [places] and the poor and call it outreach. Over the years we have had hundreds of short-termers who want to get the picture immediately - if possible on video - so they can show it to their home church and have an inspired evening. I have begged them to love the people and stay, just like Sai Di did of me thirty years ago. The disadvantage of short term is a wrong perspective based on this generation's need for instant results. ... Sometimes everything goes well and there are real [changes in allegiance], healings and glorious glimpses of changed lives. The visitors leave and wonder why it does not work at home... At other times nothing goes right, even here... Then the visitors leave disillusioned. 'It is nothing like she wrote in her book, we had a hard time.'

... So the voyeurs leave. They have their video clips but they never saw. It was either all too good or all too bad and neither was accurate. We love our people whether they turn out well or not and the successes do not vindicate our ministry nor the disappointments nullify it. What is important is whether we have loved in a real way - not preached in an impassioned way from a pulpit.

And then there is time. If God meant a child to grow slowly and safely in a loving family for up to eighteen years why should we be angry at those who do not change at our pace for the sake of our statistics, furlough or, sadly for some, funding? All the unreasonable benefits came for me after nearly twenty years... we have been delighted, sobbing representatives of the Father whose prodigal son crawled or rushed home after all.

Our summer [volunteers] did not stay to see this though we hoped they might yearn for it somehow. Stay for the party.. The fleeting volunteer sometimes catches a course but no one savours the whole menu like me.

'Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink, but you have saved the best till now.'"

8 Comments:

At 8/12/2005 01:04:00 PM, Blogger One of us said...

I've tried a few times to write something profound here, but only wound up rambling on and on about stuff that was only marginally related. Probably because I don't really know what I'm trying to say. So much for my fancy book learnin'.

These are important questions. I touched something similar in a post on my blog asking whether people goo-goo at babies because they're sharing in the child's joy or because they want to be affirmed by a cute kid. I sentimentalised the ending (it was sincere at the time), but I still wonder about it when I play peek-a-boo with Benno.

I'll think about this one some more.

Darren

 
At 8/12/2005 04:13:00 PM, Blogger One of us said...

Je suis d'accord -- sharing in the mind of Christ means moving beyond one's own preferences and 'dropping the crutches,' so to speak, and making efforts to move out of one's comfort zone. Call it "being open to the Spirit," or "obedience," or whatever, we have to move beyond ourself. Life isn't about comfortable self-preservation.

But how do we know whether we're deluding ourselves or not? What if we genuinely believe what we're doing is loving other people? A lot of people at TWU went around the downtown eastside to give flowers to prostitutes. The sentiment is all well-and-good, and they felt they were treating the prostitutes as people, but were they doing something that affected lives beyond their own? Maybe, I don't know. It certainly didn't seem so in my uber-judgemental days as an undergrad (or in my still-judgemental days as a overgrad).

I'm still not sure what I'm trying to say. Keep responding and I'll get it one of these times.

 
At 8/14/2005 02:40:00 PM, Blogger One of us said...

Oh yes, I'm learning more and more about Eldest Child Syndrome each day that I live with Jen. Remember, too, that we third children can be a tad impetuous.

You're preaching to the choir about the need to move beyond rhetoric (hence my previous sneer quotes). I was at a Vineyard community for about a year, so heard more than my share of Spirit rhetoris, but also saw a few extremely faithfilled lives that helped me out of my spiritual stupour.

And it's not news to me that the majority of North America "doesn't get it." A pastor at our parish in Saskatoon was from Nigeria, and some who were on committees complained that "he just didn't understand North American culture." From what I knew of him, he most certainly did know about the North American mentality. He just happened to call things as he saw them.

And no, academics won't save us. Academic integrity demands an atheistic perspective, or at least a deistic one. I once mentioned in one of my grad seminars that their just might be a "metaphysical reality" that scholars don't recognise. It was received with awkward silence.

But then, how do we go about transcending our cultural limitations, let alone our mortal ones, to make manifest God's glory? And that's not a rhetorical question either. Maybe that's the wrong question since it's likely caught up in a historically situated discourse that reflects my own presuppositions about the issue. But I think it might be a fair one. Feel free to correct me where you see fit.

By the way, when exactly do you and Jess arrive? Are staying in Slurrey until your grad depature or are things still up in the air? It'd be far more enjoyable to talk about these things face-to-face.

 
At 8/15/2005 03:55:00 PM, Blogger Brian said...

How is Ed? I have been concerned and in prayer.

Did you make an anonymous post to my blog? What's the fun of that? haha

Brian

 
At 2/26/2006 01:17:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

[8/12/2005 02:44:49 PM]

Part of what Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy is bringing out for me is how Jesus' teaching aims squarly at this deepest part of our lives - I don't know yet whether to call it our 'true motivations' or 'attitude' or 'posture' or what... but Jesus unflinchingly deals with that in us that determines our behaviour, more than just the behaviours themselves. And because He sees and understands people as they really are, there's no squirming out of it with excuses. I see nowhere else to go where we could hope to begin addressing questions like we're asking here.

 
At 2/26/2006 01:18:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

8/13/2005 11:52:25 AM

(speaking of being uber-judgmental... first-borns do tend to have a serious perfectionist streak =)...

What I'm getting at re: becoming people/communities who love as Christ did is much more than merely putting out self-sacrifical effort and sincerity. It's more than going from giving roses to women in prostitution (conveying sentiment) to bringing them home to our families and providing them jobs (possibly loving them), though that'd be a great start. I'm talking about living life as Jesus Christ described it - actually accepting His invitation to live with God in the Kingdom - and that necessarily includes His manifest Spiritual empowerment, not merely dogged obedience to his ethical prescriptions. These things cannot be separated, really, and were basic assumptions for the earliest Christians and many current international ones. The Disciples are a great case in point.

I'm not a big fan of equating "obedience" with "being open to the Spirit" (though we certainly should!) given our North American context because the majority of our rhetoric re: the Spirit is merely that: rhetoric. We don't allow for the Spirit - it doesn't fit in our worldview and we're content for our churches to function pretty much on our own efforts. Our culture has told God to shove off, and our churches tell Him to keep a comfortable distance. If God decided to not show up Sunday morning to any given church, would there really be that much of a difference in what happened, what was said, what was done, what was experienced, what activities were planned for outside the church walls? Do our lives as individuals and communities really bear evidence to the existence and benevolence of a Living God or merely to the benefits of an ancient ethicist's teachings? We do a poor enough job of the latter, nevermind the former! I wonder what, aside from our rhetoric, really separates us from the Deists. Without romanticizing Asian and African Christianity, the same cannot be said of Christian communities everywhere.

The Spirit, in North America, is for the most part a label we apply in order to condone our own actions, decisions, and institutions - charismatics included. That's my unapologetic judgment call, though I currently stand with the condemned. The testimony of Scripture and much of the international Christian community is at odds with the West to an embarrassing degree over this. In the global picture, Western Christians and our exported religion has precious little Spiritual credibility. I realize I'm speaking this into a context where flaky charismatic Christianity routinely spews this kind of stuff, and I'm certainly not condoning that scene - though perhaps despite their faults they are saying some things we need to hear.

And academics will not save us - we can make excuses in the Academy at least as effectively as we can abuse evangelical fundamentalism. I'm increasingly convinced that God reserves the right to demand allegiance to Him over allegiance to what is often called 'intellectual honesty' or 'academic integrity.' God will not be subject to our terms, regardless of what they are. Being able to eke out a religious expression that is at relative peace with our academic standards and experience is a life far short of what Jesus invites us to. Such a life is merely Christianity on Western Enlightenment's terms. Who's on the Throne?

It's God entirely on His terms, or mediocrity and hypocrisy. History and experience indicate that He works with what we give Him but often that's not much for Him to work with, though we can sure blow it out of proportion with our rhetoric.

Negative and judgmental, I know, but for some (probably unhealthy) reason, it's easier to be brutally judgmental when I myself am condmened in the judgment. And I suppose that original post might have something to say here about being willing to be abused for the 'right' to abuse.

 
At 2/26/2006 01:19:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

8/15/2005 02:37:18 PM

... don't mean to preach... at least not to the choir, but I did enjoy the chance the lay out where I currently am on it all. That, I think, reflects a reaction to my current context - feeling the constant pressure/temptation to tell people what they want to hear, knowing that the 'average' potential financial partner might be uncomfortable with some of what we think. Stuff I couldn't cram into the original blog post, either, and you just provided the opportunity.

It was mostly the voice of the voice in my inner dialogue that is currently winning out against the others, and he always loves the chance to get some airtime, esp. these days.

"But then, how do we go about transcending our cultural limitations, let alone our mortal ones, to make manifest God's glory? And that's not a rhetorical question either."
Welcome to one of the biggest questions of mine and Jessica's life!
"Maybe that's the wrong question since it's likely caught up in a historically situated discourse that reflects my own presuppositions about the issue."
But you recognize that. Thank God for historians! (or whatever people in your discipline are calling themselves.)
"But I think it might be a fair one."
Fair and necessary, imo. I don't know the answers, but some things in our experience have pushed us in that direction. International experience and friendships - the real kind where you try to learn someone else's language and live with their family in their mud hut, not the bubbled tourist/voyeurist kind. Willingness to ask questions. Willingness to listen long enough to understand the view from someone else's perspective. Being highly selective of the influences we expose ourselves to (little popular media, relatively speaking – not to be elitist, just to avoid brainwashing through sheer repetition). Courses like Ethnotheology, Worldview & Worldview Change, history and philosophy. ... valuing truth over personal/emotional loyalties.

Ultimately though, and not equating the above with the following, I believe it has to do with allowing God to make us into the type of people He wants us to be. Willingness to allow the light of Christ to flood the darkness in our lives, willingness to allow our eyes to adjust to that brightness so we can see things more accurately, even though it hurts. Assuming that we 'see through a glass darkly.' Unconditional allegiance - where our values and fundamental worldview assumptions become negotiable ('rights,' for instance). Letting Christ set personal and communal standards and expectations, rather than common opinion.

(We'll be in Sorrey when we've exhausted our potential financial partnership leads in this region of the continent. Christmas at the very latesest.)

 
At 2/26/2006 01:20:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

8/16/2005 12:07:09 PM

Ed's alright - at least his chest pain wasn't caused by a heart condition. Doctor said his heart is fine. They took his blood a couple times, ran lots of tests and made him run on the treadmill. Looks like it was mostly stress-related, which is no big surprise. Ed's son-in-law was there, and he rang up a guy he knows in the office who processes the lab results, so we got out of there around 1:30am when it should have taken another hour or two.

Had a great time praying with Kent and Karen this morning. When decides to God provide for us - in this case we thought we needed a place to live - He really goes overboard!

 

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Blessings and prayers...

As SM promised, here is my post about the blessing and send-off from our Abilene network:

Two Wednesdays ago, at our monthly praise and potluck night, our simple church network spent time blessing us and praying for as we wrap up our time in Abilene. Several times now, I've been in the group of those that were remaining in Abilene, surrounding and praying for those that were leaving. Our friends Travis and Alicia, as they headed to Brazil. Our friends Brian and Holly, as they moved to Montana. With each of their departures, I would count the months to August and realize that our time in Abilene was drawing short. As they left, I felt an odd mixture of grief and joy – grief over their leaving, joy over their lives and the ways that they will share life with everyone they encounter.

This time, as we drew our chairs into the center of the circle to be surrounded, prayed for, and blessed by these people we have grown to love, I felt the same mixture of pain and peace. And I realized that even when you know that it is time to leave, it doesn't necessarily make the goodbyes easier. I cried, though not as much as I expected given that I've actually cried at the last three months worth of praise and potluck nights in anticipation of this particular night.

It was a special time for SM and I, though in many ways it was just one of the ordinary ways that this group of people lives life together in Christ. Perhaps that very ordinariness is part of what made it so special; in learning to share life in Christ together and with those around us, His love has been weaving through our little community and transforming the regular rhythms of everyday life. When we think of our times in Abilene, we won't recall an endless series of Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights but will be encouraged by the memories of the way this spiritual family has loved us during our time here, and by the knowledge that they will continue to love us and pray for us even as we are away. We are so thankful for and blessed by the love of these ordinary people who continue to learn to live in the extraordinary life of those that belong to Christ.

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At 8/10/2005 03:52:00 PM, Blogger Cara Fry said...

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Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Migrating

LM will write a deeply reflective and heartwarming post about our last blessing and send-off from the network later. Here's an update from the more day-to-day front...

Migrants
We moved out of the residence hall into our blue Dodge van ('77) on Thursday night. Thankfully, our friends love us and we had a blast staying with Miller, Deanna, Caleb, Micah, and Sarah for 4 nights. Now we're with K. & K. for a bit and like Miller and Deanna, their home and their presence is a great blessing for us.

Miller and Deanna have various framed quotes on the walls in their house, and this one (no idea where it comes from) happens to go well with what I'm currently reading and with my understanding of Life with God over the last little while:

"Command them not to fell timber and hew it into ships... spin for them yarns of the sea!"

Imagine how Life would be if we weren't so prone to losing the plot... kind of gets me a little excited thinking about it, actually =)

Good-bye Ducky
Nelson is now the proud owner of the yellow '77 Nova. We dropped it off yesterday (and amongst SM's sisters there was much rejoicing). It is a huge blessing to have more time to spend with people, and I realized at Nelson's that we've got a good opportunity to make up for some of the friendship time we lost to papers and exams over the last few years. We have plenty to do but no actual schedule, so we can spend the afternoon in Nelson's front yard or stay up talking with whoever happens to be around.

In Limbo
Now we spend most of the day following up contacts and trying to make more. Not very exciting, but I've got three full days of work coming up moving furniture into the almost-finished new residence hall. Sitting at a computer in an over-air conditoned room is gonna sound pretty good after three days of that, but it sure is nice to dig up some more gas money.

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At 8/02/2005 11:39:00 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

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At 8/03/2005 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Luke Hawkins said...

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Struggling to truly live with Christ together

These thoughts are coming after a conversation with Miller this morning. I originally posted this on his blog... it's a piece of a conversation between two simple-church leaders trying to figure stuff out - like why the frustrations often associated with traditional, institutional, American Christianity are easily manifested in less traditional models (organic, simple-church, etc), especially when those models were supposedly designed to counteract those very problems.

So now the organic/simple church people are starting to discover that our revolutionary new models are not the answer that is going to solve our real problems. Good!

After our conversation this morning I'm trying think about where the 'crux of the matter' is, or at least a helpful question to ask that will get us dealing more towards the heart of the issue. I'm just sort of thinking 'out loud' here.

From what I think I've seen, the people who tend to frustrate us most with their apparent satisfaction with mediocre spiritual life are often just as frustrated as their leaders. But since they don't know any different they keep on with what they know, hoping for a different result (which is the popular definition of insanity). I'm sure a significant amount of blame can be accurately placed on everyone involved (the leaders and the led), regardless of our intentions.

I wonder how close to the heart of the issue the question of allegiance is. If someone could watch us all week long and see us accurately, how would our lifestyle and actions indicate that we prioritize our allegiances? What things, in order to keep them, are we willing to sacrifice degrees of spiritual/relational authenticity for (authenticity with each other and with God)? And how unconsciously do we constantly make those trades? In America, the deck is stacked against authentic spiritual shared life with God - the blend of secular and religious culture that provides the very categories with which we think works directly against the kind of life Jesus invites us into. To steal Dallas Willard's analogy, we're flying our fighter planes upside down, and can't figure out why we keep crashing into the ground every time we try to fly 'up.'

I am not willing - and never will be, I think - to say that everyone has to be able to analyze their culture at the worldview level in order to undo the programming/brainwashing that hinders life with God. By that I mean I'm not willing to say "everyone has to get an M.A. or they're doomed to spiritual futility." It's not like a certain degree of education can be directly correlated with a high degree of spirituality! Worldview analysis cannot save us, the right church model cannot save us, a high degree of desire, passion, and determination cannot save us. To experience the salvation - life in God's Kingdom - that Jesus talked about, I think we have to take what He said seriously, and be willing to do whatever it takes to pursue life with Him on His terms. Our message ought not to be about emergent church, simple church models, missional theology, the [fillintheblank] Movement, etc. It may involve or employ those things, but those are not what the message is about. Those things can drastically hinder the pursuit of God, but they cannot produce it. They can only allow for it, facilitate it to better or worse degrees, encourage it. In other words, our stuff (theology, models, movements) can break (severely hinder) but not make life in the Kingdom. Whatever we actually end up doing should be determined by the goal: life together with God, through Christ, empowered by the Spirit, in the Kingdom of God. Isn't that what church is supposed to be for anyway?... facilitating and encouraging real life together with God? It's God's life and mission, not ours. Therefore, our 'stuff' (whatever it may be, theology, models, etc) is only a contributing factor, an influence. It cannot produce, it can only encourage. It cannot create, it can only facilitate. If we are the ones creating and producing, then our product is something other than God's Kingdom.

When people 'come to church' for reasons other than what Jesus talked about, what we're building is not the church - or at least it is not the church in a very full sense. Our message will play a big role in what we end up building and what people's expectations are. When our message is: "Don't waste your time with all those traditional, institutional church problems. Come do church our way and voila! - you'll find that spiritual something you're looking for (even though you don't really know what you're looking for and probably wouldn't recognize it if you saw it - and neither would we)"... we are setting ourselves and those we attract up for failure. That's not God's mission, it's ours. And that's the message that gets communicated when we constantly bring up the inadequacies of regular church and appeal to people who are fed up with regular American Christianity. Even when we use the right words, parroting Jesus in the NIV, the message those words communicate in our context is often pretty different than what He meant when He said them.

And I'd also wager that we - the leaders ourselves - don't really have that accurate an idea of what we're trying to talk about anyway re: life in the Kingdom. That's O.K. if our allegiances are in place because then we are positioned to grow and learn. Leadership then more truly becomes - in spirit, word, deed, and function - an invitation to simply join us on a journey of discovering life together with God in His Kingdom.

I'm just throwing out thoughts here.

4 Comments:

At 7/26/2005 09:15:00 AM, Blogger miller said...

great post.

you are correct concerning the question of our allegiance. i think i wrote something a while back about Peter's denial... i couldn't find it but it had to do with what i believe was really happening in the mind of Peter in that moment.

like most of us, i have always heard about Peter's cowardice and attempt to save his own neck by denying his relationship with Christ. however, i don't think Peter had a cowardly bone in his body. he walked brazenly past the teeth and right into the mouth of the dragon that night. he promised Jesus "Even if all fall away, I will not... Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."

Peter was convinced that his church model would work better than the one Jesus had in mind! his denial of Christ was more than one layer deep... he denied Christ by refusing to know him, but he denied him in a much deeper way by refusing to accept his plan for saving the world!

he had a problem of allegiance. as i said in my previous post today, i do too. i have not had in mind "the things of God, but the things of men."

it is about the model! i just haven't been thinking of the right one... Jesus. he is the model we should adopt... the model i will adopt.

 
At 7/26/2005 03:41:00 PM, Blogger miller said...

AAAAAAAAAAAMEN!

i love your vehicular metaphore!

another metaphore i have been thinking about (i wish i had been the one to think it up... but alas). at one time there was a lot of talk of mimicking the first century church, "we just have to be like the first century church... viva acts 2!" you know... that kind of thing.

have you ever used a photocopy machine? when making copies, what do you place on the glass, an original document, or a copy of that document?

when you copy a copy, you lose resolution and read-ability. trying to copy the first century church is like that... they were a copy of the original! Jesus is the "document" we want on the "glass"!

soooo. to carry this little metaphore out... getting focused on the model is really the same. low res and low read-ability. if we really are the fullness of him who fills all things in all ways, then what we look like in any given context will be slightly or not-so-slightly different. Jesus never responded to an individual exactly like he did another. i was just reading about the guy who got spit rubbed in his eyes to recieve his sight. Bartimaeus didn't get any spit!

the deal with models is that we are trying to, not be like Christ, but to be Christ to those around us. it follows that, like Christ, we will behave somewhat differently in each instance.

Therefore, as you have so eloquently said, we should not impose one model on anyone as the one true model.

can i get an amen? ;)

 
At 7/27/2005 10:58:00 AM, Blogger One of us said...

Speaking of church models, now you can take an online quiz to tell you which ecclesiology you really prefer. Who needs prayer and fasting when the internet can tell you all you need to know about Christ's Church?

http://quizfarm.com/test.php?q_id=49752

(Sorry, I'm to lazy to figure out the html)

Darren

 
At 2/26/2006 01:21:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

7/26/2005 12:06:53 PM

I think I agree with what you're saying.

When I wonder about how conditional my allegiance to Christ may be, I sometimes think back to the apostles question to Jesus after His resurrection, "Lord, are you going to free Israel now and restore our kingdom?" (Acts 1.6). All those years when they were with Jesus in the flesh, hearing and seeing him teach, they were thinking political kingdom, the glory days of Israel's national history. I like the NTL's rendering, "...and restore our kingdom?" (I know that's stretching the literalness a bit, but I think the point stands regardless.) I imagine many people refused Jesus because He would not deliver the salvation they wanted: political freedom and national dominance over the Romans. That expectation of Jesus is wrong on a few levels (like an un-Christlike desire and use of power, for example), though it is so easy to see why they would expect that, and if I was there, I imagine I'd probably be thinking politics when Jesus said "Kingdom" too.

So, what expectations do I have that may seem obvious, that I'll get very frustrated and disilliusioned if God doesn't come through on? Whose kingdom am I pursuing?

I think I understand what you're saying here...
"it is about the model! i just haven't been thinking of the right one... Jesus. he is the model we should adopt... the model i will adopt."
... that our focus should be Christ and nothing else - that Christ should take the place in our lives that is often occupied by a model, a theology, or a trendy movement. (I assume you aren't saying we should look at Christ, build a formal ministry model off of His activity, and declare that model to be the One True Model that will save the church and the world.)

This may be too simplistic, but I had this thought in the shower. If we take an Indy car and try to drive it on a dirt road in rural Africa during the rainy season, that car will soon disappear into a puddle or rain rut and never come out again. If we take a Hummer and try to race on an Indy 500 track, we'd be too slow to keep up and seriously inefficient with the fuel economy - a useless waste, though the African road might require a powerful, less-fuel-efficient vehicle. But even if we matched the right vehicle to the right road, if we drive like idiots and/or in the wrong direction, we'll be heading for the wrong place and people will have serious concerns about who it is that's teaching us to drive. We won't get to where we're supposed to go in the way we're supposed to get there.

The kind of road, and thus the best vehicle for the job, changes from place to place around the world and from time to time in history. In the Western world at this time, our road is undergoing drastic changes quickly, and we're finding out that our old vehicle is growing less appropriate for the conditions.

But the point is to (1) get down the right road (God's truth), (2) in an appropriate way (God's love). Our direction and driving-style must attempt to reflect God - Who God is, what God is up to, and consequently, who we are and where we fit in - if we want to be in God's Kingdom and not our own. Hence, the importance having a theological (rather than purely pragmatic) foundation, imperfect as our theology is doomed to be.

 

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Knowing Jesus Christ

A conversation with Ryan on his blog made me think about this Scripture from Paul, and ask questions about my allegiance to God like, "Where is it, exactly?" and "How conditional is it?"

Philippians 3:4-14
"...we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God's law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting Christians; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God's law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I'm tearing up and throwing out with the trash--along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant--dog dung. I've dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn't want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ--God's righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward--to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back."

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At 7/22/2005 12:46:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Emergent Christianity

"What are you guys doing?"
Had someone from my Canadian home church ask what was up with the "more decentralized ... church model stuff" we've been living in for the last several years. How should I articulate what we're about to people who would probably only see a methodology if they were to look at or visit us? It's simple, yet tricky, because although what we do is different, it's not "about" a method or a model. People learn about our organization, our methods, or our church model thinking that will tell them what we're about. But the number of planned meetings, the size, the deliberate networking, etc., is all very much peripheral to what we're about, even though those things are the most immediately apparent identifying characteristics.

We are trying to authentically and fully embrace, enter into, and share life with each other with God. We are trying to offer ourselves to God (as individuals and as sisters and brothers together) as malleable as possible so that we can grow more fully into the life that our Creator invites us into. We are trying to allow God to form us into the people we are created to become so that we may live more fully with our Creator in the most abundant life possible, for which we are created. This all boils down to one thing: pursuing God together.

Although we did not know it at the time, we've ended up in what can be identified as a missional community that is part of the Emergent church conversation and experience.

Websites with stuff re: Missional/Emergent church worth reading:
Allelon: Living the Story, Embodying the Kingdom
Emergent Village
Short Article: "Just Who Is Emergent, Anyway?"

There is a foundational shift in the way people are understanding what it means to be followers of Christ, to be people living with God through Christ together in the power of the Spirit. When those understandings change, what we do also begins to change to better express our understandings of who, what, why, and Whose we are. What we're doing is part of a growing phenomenon of Christians re-examining very basic understandings and assumptions of what it means to be and live as God’s people in the world - but think of it as "conversations" rather than a "movement."

Most recently, this happened in the UK about 30 years ago when Christians experienced the death of Christendom: churches became museums and Christians were left with a major identity crisis and few meaningful ways to express their faith. North America is now experiencing its own version of a similar phenomenon right on schedule, about one generation (Canada) or two (the U.S.) behind Western Europe. This is mostly old news to many Christians in Vancouver, Toronto, and the "blue states" of the USA. Many in the “Bible Belt” still don’t see what all the fuss is about, but they will.

Emergent Christianity: the Negative Reaction of Malcontents?
It is becoming embarrassingly obvious that much of Christianity as we know it, experience it, and express it, is fast becoming increasingly irrelevant to the world and the churched. It's one thing to appear irrelevant to the world: that might mean that as God's people need to better articulate ourselves (verbally and non-verbally). It's another thing when the sincere pursuit of God and Kingdom life becomes stymied by the very institutions, practices, and teachings that are intended to facilitate genuine life with God through Christ. Which group of people did Jesus reserve His harshest rebukes for? The acute disconnect many Christians are experiencing between "real life" and their church/religious/Christian experience is reaching an intolerable threshold and provoking a fundamental re-examining of our basic understandings regarding who we are and what our purpose is.

Some attempt to do this in a negative reaction to whatever church tradition they grew up in. Guys who grew up in pop Evangelical or fundamentalist/legalistic churches get disillusioned and see it all as shallow, compromised, flaky, fake, and fearful (esp. if they're in their first year of seminary). Sometimes they'll turn to more liturgical or historical Christian traditions (Anglican/Episcopal, Catholic, Orthodox, mainline churches) – I have peers pursing each one of these. (Let's not forget that people are flowing out of those traditions, too, and faster than Evangelical malcontents can replace them.) Some get bitter and judgemental and ditch church altogether – I have friends (ministry students!) doing this as well. Others look to forms of Christianity that are "on the edge," and when asked, "Why are you getting into Missional/Emergent/organic church stuff?" their answer is often, "Because traditional church sucks/is dead/is full of hypocrites," etc. Basically: our stuff is right because their stuff is wrong. That's a poor reason to pursue anything. If something is worth pursuing, it should be so because of its own merits, not the lack of merit in something else.

Personally, I think these malcontent scenarios are often (not always) caused by failure on the part of disillusioned 20-somethings to recognize a regular stage of personal growth. Rather than finding something on which to blame the discomfort we feel during transitional stages in life (like the ones where we learn to own our own faith), we should look first to our many "planks" (to commandeer one of Christ's metaphors for my own purposes). Judgemental condemnation, regardless of its degree of accuracy, is a poor response, in my opinion. To echo one popular ACU professor, when we bring critique of the church we must do so as "loyal opposition" with "tears in our eyes" - there must be no question that love is the motive delivering these hard truths.

Emergent Christianity as a Positive Pursuit of God
Given the times in which we live, our faith journeys will likely expand beyond the borders of whichever denominational heritage nurtured us in spiritual infancy. No one Christian tradition, no matter how old it claims to be, has cornered the market on facilitating life together with God. But that particular heritage in which we were re-born (whatever it may be) should not become the scape-goat we use to avoid owning up to our own spiritual immaturity and experiencing the spiritual crucible. Ditching one tradition simply to adopt another is ultimately futile. An equal-enough degree of frustration with the new heritage will only be avoided through ignorance. I tried it once. We ought not to cut ties with our denominational roots; rather we should expand the diversity of our personal Christian territory.

When we choose change, or rather, choose to grow, it should be for the goodness of that which we pursue, not primarily for the lack of badness that we are trying to leave behind. I believe I can honestly say that pursuit of God and genuine life with Him led me to re-ask basic questions about the nature and purpose of God’s people and God's Kingdom. My current pursuit and experience of life with God in His family can be categorized as emergent because what I have found to be the best means of facilitating the pursuit of God in community happens to fit what is being called emergent. I didn't choose the emergent bandwagon because I'm cheesed off at more traditional expressions of Christianity or because I think it's "better than" something else. Our approach to life with God can accurately be called emergent, but we pursue God in that way because it is the best way we know to pursue God – we would live this life at this time regardless of the state of traditional or emergent Christian practice.

We were looking for a community in which our allegiance to and pursuit of God through Christ together could take priority over our allegiance to pretty much anything else. We found the willing, and our journey continued.

What we do (methods, organization, etc.) is now determined according to what best facilitates our growth toward who we understand we are supposed to be in Christ and the purposes for which God redeems, grows, and interacts with us. The perceived failings of traditional Christianity don't really factor in. We are not promoting one “way” to do things – the specifics of what is best to do will change somewhat with the context. We are basically attempting to rediscover “the plot” of the Big Story into which God is inviting us, and in that rediscover our identity and role in that Story: redemption and life with God in His Kingdom, through Christ, empowered by the Spirit. The point is the pursuit of and life with God through Christ in the Spirit together. The nature, intentions, and activity of God determines the nature, activity, and intentions of the community.

For Church of Christ folks, MissionAlive.org and TheTruthTree.org/MetroSoul are good CoC examples of attempts to put this stuff in action in North America.

What we’re doing with our ‘simple/organic church networks’ in Abilene (oh how we long for decent terminology! =) is missional and unavoidably part of what is being described as the Emergent church (the wide variety of 'new' missional expressions of Christianity and Christian life) – or at least, we're travelling that path. I should note that most of the people in our network aren't aware of this, nor would they care to know. They are just sharing life together with God the way they most faithfully know how – and that’s how I think it should be. Those of us with seminary training don’t teach about ‘missional’ or ‘emergent’ explicitly in our churches. It’s about living with God together and engaging Life with Him... not perpetuating a ‘movement.’ You’ll see in emergent church discussion that it is often described as the emergent church “conversation” and rarely as a “movement” – there is a serious effort not to lose the Plot and get sidetracked from the original purpose of all this: authentically living into life together with God as His people.

Among the variety of missional, emergent church expressions, we are a form of “simple church” or “organic church” or “house church networks.” Emergent/missional attempts can manifest themselves very differently, from the more radical (varieties of communal living arrangements) to the less methodologically experimental (traditional church structures with a major change of heart). But the form or model is not what is most important here. Models are tools, subject to constant revision. It's the 'why' that is most important:
…because we are trying to give our allegiance to God through Christ above all other allegiances;
…because we are trying to enter more fully the life into which God invites us;
…because we desire to live together with God as we are intended to live;
…because we desire to become the people we are created and intended by God to become;
…because we desire to live with our Creator in His life and mission…

…ultimately, because God.

6 Comments:

At 7/07/2005 10:31:00 PM, Blogger One of us said...

This summary is actualy quite helpful for me. The previous explaination I was given made it sound like the Emergent Church was another denomination trying not to be a denomination -- I'm very pleased to know I was wrong. One of these days I'll check up on the links you gave so I can get a better idea of what all this means.

 
At 7/07/2005 10:32:00 PM, Blogger One of us said...

Oh, and that was from Darren -- I'm still learning how to use the blog effectively.

 
At 7/19/2005 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

Glad you wrote this. It helps me to focus on what's important about our expression of Church. Namely that it's not trying to be a movement, but more of an expression of obediance to God. Your church is simply one expression of obediance.

 
At 7/19/2005 03:15:00 PM, Blogger Sean said...

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At 7/22/2005 11:12:00 PM, Anonymous Miller Talbot said...

good words brother.

i just think about moses. he broke the stone tablets because he was pissed. he ground up the idol and made the people drink it. then he unleashed the levites on the people with swords!

i'm not proposing anything near as drastic as that.

however, i think we should apply the question you ask about love and anger to this situation... was Moses angry? did Moses still love the people?

he did convince God not to destroy them.

what about the flood? was God's love for the victims of that catastrophe dead?

did Jesus love the pharisees and teachers of the law less or indeed at all?

well he died for them.

was he pissed at them? i think there's a pretty strong argument that he felt that emotion toward them from time to time.

there is a time for love to be incensed. there is a time for truth to be expressed over the point of the sword.

but we always look for the opportunity to restore, heal, release, set free...

always!

 
At 2/26/2006 01:23:00 AM, Blogger SM said...

7/08/2005 09:51:52 PM

Glad it was helpful... it was a rush job (trying to get it out before we left for NH), so it ended up waaaay longer than it needed to be.

To be honest, I am not all that familiar with all of what is going on under the umbrella of emergent Christianity. Being part of the 'emergent church' is no interest of mine... it just happens that what we're interested in can be categorized that way. We've pursued life with God the way we have these last years pretty much totally unaware of the Emergent conversation. Part of writing this post was simply me trying to get an understanding of how what we're doing relates to what's happening in the broader Christian world. This understanding won't change anything. Some of the guys teaching and writing missional stuff (academics) have cautioned some of our networks' seminary students from using the term emergent - it's too new and nobody knows what's going to happen with it all. And it refers to a huge diversity of Christian expression, some of which many are not comfortable with. I just started reading Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy... the introduction to that book illustrates what we're about well, and i noticed he has some stuff on the Allelon site. That looked like the better site to me from first impessions.

 

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Friday, June 17, 2005

The Beginning of Lasts

Now that we're living out of cardboard boxes in a borrowed apartment, I'm constantly painfully aware that the clock is ticking on what's left of our time in Abilene. We've hit that part of a major life transition where you begin facing "last times." With some people and events there's a confident hope that we'll experience them again years down the road. With others I wonder at the possibly of this being our last time together, ever.

We moved apartments and got rid of all our furniture ---> including the dinner table! (f.y.i. all you non-simple church folks: dinner tables are a big deal.) Losing the table signifies to me that we've hosted our church family in the dorm for the last time.

Bio, a friend and classmate from Recife, finished defending his Master's thesis on Friday and left with his family for Brazil on Tuesday. That means we've spent an evening of endless easy-flowing conversation where time has no meaning with Bio & Dayse and their daughters Hannah and Jasmine for the last time. (If you don't know any Brazilians, you are missing out!)

We've worshiped on a 1st Sunday with our whole church network for the last time.

Last night was 3rd Wednesday, the one time a month when all the churches in our network get together for a meal and worship. After doing it for years, I have planned and led the worship for that spiritual family the last time.

Kelly and Houston, friends with whom we've shared prayer and mentoring groups, Africa internships, bachelor parties and a whole lot else, are leaving for Sudan on Monday with D. & B. So many memories... but standing stark-naked with Houston (when you're a naked white boy in rural Africa, stark is exactly what you are) on banana leaves, hanging our clothes on tree branches while trying to take a sponge bath in near-total darkness is one I won't forget any time soon. That village had never seen the night so bright! Naming our goats before we beheaded them is another one. We'll say goodbye to D., our weekly mentor and friend for something like two years along with his wife B., tomorrow over lunch. As far as the Abilene chapter of our life is concerned, we've hung out with them for the last time.

My apologies that this is so depressing (what do you expect, we're trying to close out 8 years of life here =)! Here's one "last" that I've been looking forward to for a while... Yesterday the Ducky (our mostly-yellow 1977 Chevy Nova) started making noises I have not heard before. But since we're getting rid of it in a few weeks and it's pushing 40 degrees (100'F) outside, I refuse to check it out... that means I've done repairs on that car in the Texas summer sunshine for the last time!

These are just some of our most recent "lasts" and we know there are many more to come. Even though I have learned to appreciate aspects of Texas over the years that I could not see before, I still don't think I'll miss this town (no offense, but this town is not my home and for 8 years I've been just a-passing through! =). But our extended Christ community has become home. The paths ahead of us to Canada and then China are as exciting as all get out (8 years and I still don't know what that means), but I think a part of us will be left behind - not in Abilene, but in the shared lives in Christ of Sean, Brian, Ed, Iris, Nelson, Josh, Ralph & Tracy, Kelley & James, Darryl & Suzy, Brian & Holly, Travis & Alicia, K. & K, Miller & Deanna, and a long list of other sisters and brothers. Leaving and losing like this is an unavoidable part of the life we've chosen, but if we have to leave a piece of us behind, I can't think of any other people I'd rather leave it with. Thank God for Christ's family!

1 Comments:

At 6/19/2005 06:42:00 PM, Blogger Tones said...

What's up Canuck!!! Steven Burgess said hello from you to us, and Zee and I both smiled at the thought of you guys. I think that its great that you are headed to China, I know that God will bless you adventure there. I look forward to hearing all about it.

Tony

 

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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Leaving...

This post is two weeks late…but honestly, this is the first time I’ve been able to put any words to my feelings about the beginning of the end of our time here in Abilene. Sunday night, two weeks ago, SM and I finished moving out of the Residence Director’s apartment in the dorm where we’ve lived for two years. It was a busy, long, dreadfully tiring weekend…as all “moving weekends” are. Never mind that we only moved about 10 feet away into the Assistant’s apartment at the dorm (our new temporary home until we leave Abilene at the end of July), it was still a loooong weekend.

Late Sunday night, while lying on the bed in the new apartment and resting for a few minutes before finishing up the last few details, I stopped thinking about all of the packing and moving and started to think about how empty and bare everything was. The tea-colored carpet and sand-dollar colored walls were a vast expanse of emptiness, and that odd echo that belongs to empty rooms had crept in throughout the day as we emptied things out. I realized that I’d been keeping myself busy so that I wouldn’t feel sad about what we were doing. I’d been trying to tell myself, “It’s just an apartment…just a place that we’ve been living for a few years.” But that Sunday night, the memories of the past two years ambushed me, and I was surprised and overwhelmed by my deep sense of loss. In reality, that place has been HOME to us, and I hope to a few others as well. So much of what we have been doing for the last two years as we’ve been learning how to live and share Life with others is linked to our experiences in that house…my staff meetings, our church family, mentoring group, prayer groups, Christ family meals, playoff hockey games watched with SM's hockey buddies, years two and three of our marriage…all of these things happened in that place. So much of who we are becoming has been formed within those walls, and shaped by the people that we’ve been blessed to share life with during our time here.

Here’s a smattering of the memories that came to mind as I laid there on the bed: Brian and Holly flirting with each other from across the room during church family meetings….Travis screaming and bouncing on the couch while watching hockey games…wonderful, amazing times of worship and prayer….me “pouncing” on Bonnie during one of our staff meetings… SM's honesty with me at a really challenging point in our marriage...an endless stream of dorm residents that came with roommate concerns, or to go to the ER, or to borrow a thermometer or a sewing machine, or to tell me that their toilet was exploding, or wouldn’t stop flushing…being gathered around our candle-lit table sharing meals and communion…the staff gathered around SM and I, laying hands on us to pray for and to bless us…decorating our Christmas tree with Anna and Jeff…”Muffin Nights” with Houston and Kelly…wrapping presents for my nephews with Alicia…drinking tea with anyone that ever came to visit us…playing “Scum” around the dining room table…Brian and Ron going a little wild when we busted out the cards... praying and snuggling on the couch with SM... Thanksgiving dinner with my family and anyone else that we could find to share it with…finding “Smoochy” after he jumped out of the bowl…too many all-nighters…lingerie showers, birthday parties, celebrations for no particular reason and too many other memories to list. A whole lot of laughter, prayer, songs, tears, hugs, and even a few bodily functions (the culprits shall go nameless…you know who you are!!!).

Even now, as I write this, the deep sense of loss has returned. I thought I was at a place where I could finally write about this without crying, but I was wrong. We won’t even leave Abilene for another month and a half, but my heart knows that we are leaving and I am sad. It is time for us to go and I’m looking forward to the next part of our adventures, but for tonight, I have to be honest.

I’m finding the parting much more difficult than I had imagined.

1 Comments:

At 6/08/2005 06:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

awww...that made me cry. abilene will not be the same without you two here!
you've made such an impact on our lives and marriage, and not only through muffin night.
we love you guy!

kelly shearon

 

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Worshiping with guys that write our textbooks

It's always an encouraging experience when professors and academic big wigs - like Paul Hiebert last summer and Sherwood L. this week - choose to worship in an intimate setting with the rest of us. The relationship changes - they become more brothers and fellow journey-ers than mere 'resource people.' It's encouraging to discover that the desires and passions of our hearts are located in a similar place, despite the lightyears separating our respective degrees of intellect =).

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Expressions of Support and Affirmation

I don't think I was really consciously looking for it or expecting it, so it has surprised me how meaningful and encouraging all these expressions of support, approval, and affirmation of our China plans and us personally have been over the last couple weeks.

It makes sense, I suppose, that approval from people whose opinions we value highly would be deeply meaningful to us. But I've read and heard too many stories of ministers, spouses, and people in general relying too much on the approval of other people (rather than God) for their self-worth and identity.

If it came down to it, we should be willing to believe or do whatever we truly believe God wants us to regardless of what anyone else thinks. Our first graduate class three years ago brought that up, Eddie Parish spends a lot of time on that general concept in his sexuality class (which we attended for the 5th? time in May), our parents and professors have modelled this in very big ways, and even Joyce Meyer's latest book Approval Addiction was plugged last week on CNN's Larry King Live. The approval-need idea has been so especially present in my mind during all our China preparations that I guess I was avoiding seeking personal affirmation from other people, telling myself that I shouldn't need it and if I ever starting feeling like I do then I'll need to grow up and get over it. Sure, we sought all kinds of opinions when formulating our China plans, but refining our project proposal and seeking others' approval of us as people are two different things! So it's a little strange for my independently-minded (and prideful) self to receive these kinds of blessings as I should. But it's also pleasantly surprising to find these expressions of affirmation so personally meaningful (and not necessarily threatening).

We've been blessed with continual encouragement and support in various ways from D. and Dr. E. throughout our entire committing-to-China journey. But S. & E.'s heartfelt acknowledgment of us along with the award at the grad school graduation dinner came as a surprise to me - in fact I don't even remember at the moment what the award is specifically for, but I certainly remember the passion and sincerity with which he delivered it. G. & B. making a point to spend time with us this week and then arranging with S. for us to get an undivided audience with Sherwood Lingenfelter. says a lot to me. L. never misses an opportunity to let us know how excited and encouraged he is with our dedication and intentions. (At one point during the oral section of our comprehensive exams, which dealt with China-related issues, L. brought up a certain passage of text. I was getting all geared up thinking he was about to challenge a point we'd just tried to make, but instead he said something like, "Oh I agree. I just brought that up because I thought it went along really nicely with what you said." Definitely the kind of guy you want on your Comps panel!) I don't have to think very hard before a substantial list begins to form of people in our school's intercultural studies community who have made a point to communicate their sincere, heartfelt support of us and our intentions. I've left many people unnamed, as well as the long-term efforts of those already mentioned.

All this to say, I guess, that I imagine growing to gratefully accept personal affirmation and approval as a gift rather than seeking it in an attempt to fulfill a need (or fearing it) will be a long process. But right now, the support of those we respect so highly is a huge, absolutely wonderful blessing.

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Experiencing the Love of Christ through Life in the Spirit

We found the messages in these passages to be particularly powerful in our network-wide worship this last Wednedsay, and last night with our church family. Mostly from the New Living Translation, emphasis mine.

John 8.31-2; 10.10
Jesus said, “If you live in My teachings, you are truly My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

“The thief comes only to kill and steal and destroy, but I have come to give life in all its fullness.”

Psalm 139.1-18, 23-24
O LORD, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.

You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away. You chart the path ahead of me and tell me where to stop and rest. Every moment you know where I am. You know what I am going to say even before I say it, LORD. You both precede and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to know!

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night – but even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother's womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – and how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up in the morning, you are still with me! Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Ephesians 5.1-2a, 8-9
Follow God's example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

Ephesians 3.14-21
When I think of the wisdom and scope of God's plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit.

And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God's marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now glory be to God! By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. May he be given glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever through endless ages.

2 Corinthians 3.3-6, 17-18
Clearly, you are a letter from Christ prepared by us. It is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on stone, but on human hearts.

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we can do anything of lasting value by ourselves. Our only power and success come from God. He is the one who has enabled us to represent his new covenant. This is a covenant, not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old way ends in death; in the new way, the Holy Spirit gives life. Now, the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, he gives freedom.

All of us have had the veil removed so that we can be mirrors that brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more.

Amen.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Life of Freedom

Our church family read and prayed through Galatians 5 today. In our time together we read in three different translations (The Complete Jewish Bible, NIV, The Message). Here's Galatians 5.1-6, 13-26 from The Message (I bolded some parts):

"Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.

I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ's hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.

I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out – in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God's Spirit. Then you won't feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don't you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence? It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn't the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God's kingdom.

But what happens when we live God's way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good – crucified.

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives."

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

The Marriage Bed

The Marriage Bed: Sex and Intimacy for Married Christians
Our favourite place on the web. Making up for the Church's 1800 years of neo-platonic sexual under-appreciation one blessed couple at a time!

On the TMB main page, you can also find the link to a TMB discussion forum for married Christians... responsibly (but not overly) moderated.

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Mission Alive

It's an uncommon couple that gives up a tenured university faculty position to go back into the Field fulltime. Click for the Mission Alive website.

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At 4/15/2005 02:10:00 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

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The Parish Hermitage

The Parish Hermitage
Homepage for the marriage/family/sex therapy spiritual retreat centre run by Dr. Eddie Parish and his family. Eddie also teaches a favourite undergrad class twice a year called, "Bringing Sexuality, Sensuality, and Eroticism Into the Light."

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