Sunday, April 29, 2012

Missional Studies: Cultural Investment

Investment in the daily life of the community. – It’s not enough to be involved and work with people, a missionary (and anyone invested in community really) must be willing to interact on a personal level. In most cultures this is centered on mealtime, but it can play out in a variety of situations and venues. Intentional use of coffee shops, tea houses, and markets will greatly increase the opportunity to be a part of the culture and not simply an outside agent implanted in the culture.

Investment in developing relationships. – People matter. Individual relationships not only help us grow in our understanding of the world around us, they also give us insight into avenues to offer Christ  as well as illuminate the gospel within us. Growing closer to people in their lives, in their businesses, and in their own spiritual experiences isn’t just an exercise in evangelism it’s a direct pattern emulating Jesus’ ministry.

Open and Honest lifestyles and interactions. – To show others what Christianity is all about we must be committed to the truth, not only when it agrees with us but also when it chastises and rebukes us. (Daniel 9:6) This life is meant to be lived outward toward God for the sake of others. To live this way our conversations and actions must be open to ridicule and in the open not hidden or separated from inspection.

Investment in adaptation and growing with others. – A missionary needs to be flexible. Political climates, cultural norms, and levels of devotion cannot be predicted; therefore reaction and adaptability can be integral to the evangelistic efforts in any region or group. Assessment of the culture requires the integration of all these separate principles. Community, relationships, openness and sacrifice play into the fluidity of any response to culture. Growing with others involves separating from the pride of “having the truth” and being willing to grow in the context of the people surrounding you. (anti-pride?) A large hindrance to progress in relationships between where people live and where revelation of Christ can bring them is our inability to grow with them. Condescension and self-righteousness is hard to find internally but easily pointed out from the outside. Being willing to simply “be” with people instead of constantly teaching or presenting is vital to integrating into the surroundings.

An embrace of humility and sacrifice. – Finally, a commitment to engage and redeem those far from God is ultimately a commitment to the cross. The Cross in this instance isn’t a symbol of hope or religion but a literal symbol of the level of sacrifice we are called to. If we share in his suffering we will also share in his comfort. (Rom. 8:17) The life of people exposing their beliefs in such a raw and dependant way invites a high level of ridicule and sacrifice. This embrace is beneficial in two ways: (1) it portrays a realistic and honest picture of the Christian life presented in the New Testament so that converts are not tempted into a Christless Gospel full of blessing and far from any obligation or the clear call of Jesus to abandon this life and embrace the life offered by God, and (2) it prepares the way for others who follow into the work of evangelism, so hopefully they won’t have to be distracted by the weight of sacrifice and can focus more on the actual work of pouring into ministry and others.

Monday, April 16, 2012

In Response: Holy Scripture

In response to a question about Holy Scripture's authority:
I questioned this very thing early in my faith, I felt that, while the truth could be extracted from the text, the text itself was not authoritative or reliable. Over the course of time and much study I've developed an awed reverence for the sheer  magnitude and scope of scripture. A few others alluded to it in their posts but it must be mentioned that the councils were not as concerned with traditional preservation as they were with "rightly dividing the word of truth." Scholars and leaders were aware of the level of intellect and scrutiny that abounded in their time and the growing tide of apostasy that constantly stood at the door of the church. They wanted no hint of partiality or question of authenticity, that's why some books with questionable content still made it in regardless of the theological implications (Revelations, Hebrews) while others with complementary statements of faith couldn't pass the litany of authenticity. The protection of scripture throughout the ages along with the steady stream of christian study has literally elevated the conscience and the soul of humanity.

I am not one of those that proclaim that the bible is innerrant in translation, instead I proudly state that it is innerant in intent. There is always room for a more well rounded concept or idea but the heart of God from the Holy Spirit to the individual is found in those pages regardless of language and scholarship.

There is room to believe that the bible is intended for a specific audience at a specific time with a specific purpose as long as that doesn't get in the way of seeking personal truth within the text. The problem isn't what we get out of the bible, most of the time, it is what we attempt to put in that creates problems and hinders the gospel from impacting and changing lives. There is also room for the belief that divine revelation is on par with scripture (a belief that several of my closest friends have adopted) however, i would contend that this is usually a reasonable objection to alleviate the burden of holiness or "lower" the standards rather than drawing closer to the will of God. Think about it realistically, many people want "freedom" in worship and "freedom" in giving so they say the tithe is a Jewish commandment that doesn't necessarily translate into the dynamic church founded in the New Testament. However, how many of these believers go to the text to prove that they are correct in their assumption and even further how many use this principle to guide their giving beyond the tithe? To the contrary most people just want a lower and baser standard so that the requirements of a faith filled life can be comparable to a sin filled, unregenerate, unengaged, and powerless existence.

let's be honest...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Insight's from Paul's Ministry

Paul's Light and Direction from Christ

There are many unique and noteworthy aspects of Paul’s missionary work. Paul stands out among the New Testament leaders and church fathers, not necessarily from his specific task but more for his single-minded focus on promoting the gospel and building committed communities. The following are five brief aspects that I believe are integral to the start of a movement: 

First is his concern for his countrymen and their acceptance of the risen Christ as Messiah. This focus integrated perfectly with Paul’s already astute study and breadth of knowledge founded in Hebrew scripture. As a Pharisee among Pharisees, Paul’s tie to the temple and the history of his people drove him to develop some of the most formative connections between Judaism and Christianity. His special care for theology and revelation of grace altered the core of the early church in Jerusalem and formed the majority of the non-Jewish traditions separated from temple and synagogue life. In the same way if we do not adhere to a commitment to "our" people (the socio/political/economic/classes), i automatically question the founding purpose and intent of the service.Not that I condemn it outright, I simply believe our motives need to be questioned if our outward vision is not noticeably in step with love.

Secondly, Paul’s deep reliance on the Holy Spirit and submission to the call of God uniquely setup an unorthodox method of evangelism. Relying on God’s direction instead of some elaborate point-by-point program helped the “church planter” to point to God always as the originator and sustainer of His ministry. Instead of homesteading and overseeing the overarching ministry Paul seems to prefer to proclaim the Gospel message, prepare the new converts for devoted lives to Christ, build leaders, and then move on to the next mission. This allows the most use of Paul’s time as itinerate preacher and “planter of the word”, while remaining true to the initial sending out he experienced from the church in Jerusalem as apostle to the gentiles.(Galatians 2) How can we embrace a "I won't move until the Spirit leads" ministry?

Third, is an unabashed embrace of hardship and sacrifice that seems to be a landmark throughout Paul’s missionary work. Paul teaches one of the most valuable lessons anyone can learn when embarking on a mission that encompasses a lifetime, namely being content in the worst and best of circumstances. From the outside looking in Paul’s ministry appears wrought with catastrophe, abandonments, and let down. However the apostle’s letters are beaming with a hope and brightness that can’t be overcome by outer turmoil. This example of steadfast focus on the work God calls us to is one of the most valuable legacies Paul hoped to achieve, indeed it is the driving force behind countless sermons and convictions among congregations embracing a missional stance in today’s less than engaged world.

The fourth aspect I feel must be addressed is Paul’s concern for the already accomplished work among churches he had left. Even though the desired road to Rome became a passion in Paul’s imprisoned years, his deep connection with church leaders, servants, and even entire households were Paul’s greatest interest. He holds the various congregations up as the crowning achievement of his work, even getting involved in the spiritual derision among the churches. He never pushes aside one ministry for the next, instead he remains connected through emissaries and servants; giving council, relaying messages, and encouraging along the way. This only affirms my belief that we don't leave anyone, we move apart and closer.

Finally Paul lays out one of the hardest pictures to relay to today’s missions based mindset. The Apostle attempts to make no financial demands for His ministry, and instead appealed to the reasonable charity of helping the “struggling church in Jerusalem." While he received support in a variety of ways from the congregations his appeal is never to sustain His own journey. He worked with his hands, providing for himself and was joyed to do so. Paul relates his own work to a runner who doesn’t run for the sake of himself or even glory but for a prize that is only received upon completion of the race. And that prize isn’t financial or physical comfort, but the reception of Christ alone. This mindset would destroy the "industry" of modern church.

From his initial conversion and subsequent outreach to the larger missionary journeys with Luke and Barnabas, Paul stands out among his peers and the generations of missionaries throughout the centuries. I love the section that says, “Four major trips occupy the rest of [Paul’s] life, including hardships everywhere he goes, care and concern for the fledgling congregations planted at almost every stop along the way, and a burning desire to preach Christ where he was not known.”[1] I hope everyone can glean some passion for purpose in the Gospel through studying Paul’s example. While his method is not noticeably formulaic it is, nonetheless, marked by traits that can be applied to our own call and election within the body of Christ.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Confession Confetti

The reward of gospel-centered community isn’t affirmation or praise, or honor. It is a hellbore brokenness before the people (in the open). We are free from condemnation, not the judgment of others but the self imposed darkness of keeping up the lie that we know what we’re doing and that we are doing it all so well.

We must come to terms with the fact that though relief from the pain comes from dogged honesty with our selves; our true restoration comes from honesty with others. It is not our place to hold back and live secretly. 

A good friend of mine says “fail publicly, restored publicly” that way God gets the glory or a life changed and a heart renewed.

I just want the church (God’s people) to be honest and stop hiding behind religiosity. 

Our religious practice is worthless – not because we haven’t learned how to practice correctly but because we’ve substituted practicing it for the genuine, heart-wrenching, glory-producing power of God through obedience. We have traded the brokering and proclamation of freedom for gate-keeping our own bondage and holding others in the same snare. Release yourself from the cycle of secret sin, confess them to each other, believe for each other, and restore the weaker brother. God is good.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

I rarely testify...

i know this guy who pushes people, for no apparent reason other than to watch them react in a way that he can later make fun of, most people don't like this guy (secretly he doesn't want them to) but i like him. He asks hard questions, last night he asked me why i got saved.
i didn't answer him, because it's not my job. However i am obligated to others to say these things and these things are not nice.
I was never strung out on heroin or crack, never into gangs, and had a fairly virginal existence apart from a few stupid indiscretions. So what did i need saving from. Why did he save me?

I'm going to start at this from the angle that makes the most sense to me.
I didn't get saved to (or Christ didn't die for me to):

  • __ live like everybody else
  • __ be better than anyone else
  • __ one day remember what god used to do in me
  • __ complain
  • __ have ministry fall through my fingers because i couldn't build up something lasting in myself
  • __ condemn others
  • __ secretly wish i had no accountability
  • __ one day remember what god used to do with me
  • __ bring dissension and division
  • __ one day remember what god used to do for me
  • __ have my marriage fall apart
  • __ lust
  • __ cry myself to sleep wondering what happened
  • __ want after this world
  • __ serve a man

i guess i could go on but that list could get pretty drawn out and offensive. Some would say, "well duh, but get to the point.", and i would say to them, "you don't tell me..."

i remember when i first got saved it seemed unreal that God wanted to have anything to do with me, i didn't have anything to offer or bring to table and I'm not saying that to sound humble, i truly had nothing--no charisma, dim intellect, shameful heart, really, nothing. And then somebody shared with me the rumor that God was infatuated with me, that he wanted to turn what i never had into what he always wanted. I didn't really believe it at first but i thought how could it hurt (yeah i know dim intellect, it hurts). I didn't start counting the cost till a little later, and that's another story altogether.

So here i am with nothing and he promises something, so i wait and i start to see little grumblings of something on the horizon, and i start living like it. You know, "don't talk about it, be about it". And i read and i can't stop reading, i fill myself up and i didn't even know i was that empty but i keep on shoving it down-chapter by chapter, verse by verse, word by word, and then i start regurgitating it (go smith cotton bible study) and then i start getting compliments and the other christians are all into me now so i have a base to build on, and in the midst of that i get a little cocky with my "hardcore" self, and start abusing my relationship with Christ, I start using it to get something. --do you see what happened there; i went from a place where i knew i had nothing to give so he started giving, to thinking i had something and taking away from Christ. It's crazy that God works like this but bear with me.

He is passionate, He's wild, Untamable, Immutable, God Most High.

He loved me when i had nothing and gave me something and continues to give long after, but even if I give him everything, my dreams, my hopes, my wife, my kids, my career, all i have, i would still be giving him nothing, and yet he gives. That's love, that's communion, that's acceptance. And i love Him for it. As long as i'm in that mindset where that he loves me, not my ability or my mark on this world, but truly me, i know he's close. I've lost sight of it several times; life gets in the way you know? But even then he's there.

Now on to the show. . . i read what paul said, and i have nightmares without sleeping. Paul states that he accomplished everything in his society to receive status and success, and then he turned and did everything pleasing to christians to achieve status in ministry (he single handedly saved a quarter of the known world), and then he says he counts it all as nothing (NOTHING?), to the comparison of knowing Him who called him from the darkness. And that's what i wanted, it's why i still do it, I've had plenty of let downs, a myriad of people stop pursuing this passion to give up and tell me, "good luck, you won't find it in that direction", I've seen people get saved, delivered, healed, and set free, only to drag the name of Christ back down to a cave deeper than the one He called them out of to begin with, and you know what, He's still waiting for them all with open arms, with bigger ministry opportunities, with a new vision and a new heart, if they would just reach out and take it. I have "reason" enough to afford me a fairly comfortable life away from His calling and I'm only just now seeing that he's still calling me higher than i thought i could go. but i don't want reason, i want to know him like paul knew him, not so i can save a quarter of the known world or so people will tremble when they hear my name, but so i can love him. He made me to serve him and he saved me to love me. I couldn't receive his love apart from Christ, it was his good pleasure to crush Christ to get to me, God traded heaven's brightest for earth's dimwit. And that's what i love, that it's so unexpected, so unwarranted and yet so perfectly simple, His loving-kindness is a gift, his priority has always been you and me. I'm feeling sick now writing about it, my worth is wrapped up in Christ's work but what a shame if my "work" is wrapped up in Christ's worth. Because my work is nothing.

Who knows what makes us special, not me, not los, not james, not moses, not paul, not billy graham, only he knows, and he's not telling. I will serve, i will press on, I will find his will for me, i'm just now getting the steam for this. . .

a short word to the haters, :pbbbbt

Simpler Phrases...

So there is this little thing that bothers me. I usually don’t mind convention or quaint cliché (btw Microsoft inserts the umlaut automatically, awesome) but the implications of ideas are usually more far reaching than people realize. It starts with a famous phrase that goes to the effect of:
“There’s a God shaped hole in our hearts that only God can fill.”
While I get the sentiment the idea is expressing it gives a false view of the reality of our situation. Some Christians are under the impression that people can’t do anything fulfilling or meaningful apart from Christ. This is simply untrue. Egyptians built the pyramids without Christ, (although they used a lot of other Jews strangely enough), scientists construct theories without Christ; today a mother will give birth to her daughter “without Christ”. People will find a multitude of things to fill up their hearts with and assuage the biting truth of mortality and many if not most will be comforted outside of the reality of Christian truth. The more pressing issue is our devotion to comfort and our devotion to truth. The truth is that though we may find solace and affirmation in the things we put in our hearts (i.e. work, family, charity, friendships, learning, religion, etc.) our purpose and value as individuals is not tied to those things (unless you are a Marxist). A more accurate picture that actually represents the Gospel more honestly is:
“There is a ‘you’ shaped hole in the heart of God that only you can fill”
Our innate value and purpose is tied to this. His love for us is attractional and without condition. He makes room in holiness, in perfection; in Himself (some could say that he has ‘carved us out’). He draws us in and those who see Him as this God of love and redemption are completely reliant on this perspective. The first sentiment is wishful thinking geared at trying to convince people that they need God, the second is a life-changing truth revealing that God wants us. The Christian or the Jew is not special, the individual is special, you, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, however you have come to ‘be’, YOU have a specific place in the heart of God, don’t let anyone tell you different.

-these and other truths brought to you by the Bible, now in Technicolor!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Deconstruction: arts and crafts

-We craft for ourselves a God we want to serve then we strive to appease and impress this false image.
-We incorporate religious exercise into our schedules to prove devotion
-We judge others on an imbalanced and sliding scale while judging ourselves in absolutes
-We fight with our faith family and offend our real family all the while rarely ever going out of our way to connect with others who are in “real” need.
“We trade intimacy for busyness and relationship for ritual.”
In all this we set ourselves up to feel and be disappointed. This god we’ve attempted to construct is never like the God that is; he cannot be satisfied, he always expects more and will guilt you into a lonely, secluded, intellectually pompous and barren grave.

It starts with us being too prideful to admit that “we” honestly have no idea who He is or what He wants. So we start to “do” things in hopes to make up for our lack of knowledge – then we guilt others by our seeming scholarship and devotion.

Performance is and always will be a poor substitute for living in the will of the Father. Our expectations should give way to our desire. Our expectation is reward and punishment but our desire is Love; overpowering, unabashed, everlasting Love. And that’s exactly what we find when we stop striving and allow Him to reveal Himself without our instinctive preconceptions and limited ideas.

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