Posts Tagged ‘church’

May I have your attention, please?

I’ve been reading The Attention Merchants for fun between classes, & as everyone is posting “New Years’ Thoughts/Resolutions”, I thought this was an important time to share the surprising insight from the author…

“If we think of attention as a resource or even a kind of currency, we must allow that it is always, necessarily, being ‘spent’. There is no saving it for later.” (pg.20)wesley.apple

“(speaking of developments in political advertising) With its combination of moral injunctions as well as daily and weekly rituals, organized religion had long taken human attention as its essential substrate.  This is especially true of monotheisms, whose demands for a strict adherence to the one true God naturally promote an ideal of undivided attention.  Among early Christians, for example, total attention to God implied ceaseless prayer.  The early Church father Clement of Alexandria wrote of the “Perfect Christian” as one who “prays throughout his entire life, endeavoring by prayer to have fellowship with God.” Likewise the desert monastics of the fourth century took as their aim “to maintain there as near as possible a ceaseless vigil of prayer, punctuated only by the minimal interruption for food and sleep.”

“Such an aspiration to monopolize the attention of believers was hardly abandoned after Christianity’s early days.  Some 1700 years later, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, prescribed various means for keeping the mind attuned to God, such as the practice of thinking of him immediately upon waking, right before falling asleep, for at least an hour during the day, and before taking any important action.  (This discipline shares some similarity with the Jewish practice of offering brachot, or blessings, at various routine moments, such as before eating or drinking, or more exceptional ones, as when thunder is heard, among other practices codified in the Mishnah in the third century CE.)”

“To be sure, it isn’t as if before the twentieth century everyone was walking around thinking of God all the time.  Nevertheless, the Church was the one institution whose mission depended on galvanizing attention; and through its daily and weekly offices, as well as its sometimes central role in education, that is exactly what it managed to do.  At the dawn of the attention industries, then, religion was still, in a very real sense, the incumbent operation, the only large-scale human endeavor designed to capture attention and use it.  But over the twentieth century, organized religion, which had weathered the doubts raised by the Enlightenment, would prove vulnerable to other claims on and uses for attention.  Despite the promise of eternal life, faith in the West declined and has continued to do so, never faster than in the twenty-first century.  Offering new consolations and strange gods of their own, the commercial rivals for human attention must surely figure into this decline.  Attention, after all, is ultimately a zero-sum game.” (Pgs.26-27, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu)

Translation?  The things we purchase, and technology/apps we use may be affordable or even free, but there is always a cost involved.  When that cost involves our attention during moments previously available to contemplation, quiet, prayer, & offering ourselves to discover the needs/desires/joys/pains of God & others – we may benefit from asking if we can/should really afford the price.

Question for conversation: Is it more redemptive to abstain from creating/posting content – helping spread subversive critique on consumption of social media, or to sparingly & creatively post content that points those who consume toward the Love and Truths of God?   How have you seen either – done well?

In any case – may we be people who invite our children & young people to think about these things.  May this be a year where we realize there are always prices unlisted.  May we seek redemptive ways to interact, create, and live together.  May we not be defined purely as amused consumers, or anxious responders, but discover new ways to offer Faith, Hope & Love creatively as New Creations ourselves…

 

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Kingdom Trajectory of the Distanced

PSA: This is an oddly “nerdy” post. A paper I’ve recently written for class. Reading back over it, I thought “wow, I like that.” So I decided to share it with you.   This does not endeavor to explore all theological issues, or explain/cover all the breadth of topics involved in God’s activity.  It’s just another blip of a pixel on the moving picture of a church talking about God together. 🙂

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Ken Schenck has said that, within the Bible, you can find a kind of trajectory, a “flow of revelation.” There is throughout scripture a common direction, and unified revelation of the heart and mission of God’s loving activity. Because of this, it can be beneficial to examine a given specific pastoral issue not only in the light of a certain scripture; but illumined by the whole of scripture. By doing this, we can observe the connections between scriptures. We may also come to a fuller and enriched approach to our topic, given the broad scope of the library within the Bible.

The pastoral issue being examined here is: “What does effective Christian leadership from a distance entail?” Obviously the term “Christian” would not have existed in a pre-Jesus world, but we can apply the term broadly to describe the approach to leadership taken by God’s people. In modern contexts, we may have anything from local representation by video preaching, to a desired “virtual presence” by pastors on social media. Before we set expectations of ourselves, or those leading God’s people, it is important to examine how God’s people have led from a distance in scripture.

In this paper, we will examine briefly both Old and New Testament contributions to our understanding, as well as what both offer us moving forward. The history, present, and future of a God who personally embodies leadership both “among” and yet “from a distance” offers us both a hope and a shape for our lives as we join His redemptive activity for Kingdom coming.

OLD TESTAMENT

Shaped by Law

After the fall in Genesis, Adam and Eve are forced out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:23). This creates a problem of “distanced” relationships that must for the first time be overcome. Relationships with each other, creation itself, and most importantly God, experienced a distancing caused by sin. Because of this, sacrificial systems are put into place, humanity must work the ground, and relationships are obviously strained and require more purposeful work than before.

This pattern continues with Abram, where within the span of just a few verses God calls Abram away from the land of his father and family (Genesis 12:1), and later promises that through Abram all the families of earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) We can assume that “all” here encompasses his own family, and so we have a story of God’s people being drawn away for the purposes of being used to reach those they’re distanced from.

As the story of God’s people continued, distance continues to be a problematic result of a broken world. As a result, God’s people are enslaved by fellow humanity, but finally “set free” as God moves on their behalf, and begins to reveal himself as wanting to “re-place” the people closer to Him as he tabernacles among them. (Exodus 25:8) Doing so, God also offers words that are to shape His people as unique among all people. He gives His people the Law, by which they will be shaped uniquely as His chosen. Christian leadership from a distance begins here to take a unique shape of passing on, or declaring uniquely, the words given by a God who shapes His people by the Law. The same power found in God declaring “Let there be Light” (Genesis 1:3) is now seen in commands such as “Honor your Father and Mother”. (Exodus 20:12) God is conquering distance by shining uniquely through the light of His people into the darkness of a broken humanity.

The power of “word”, then, continues through the story of God’s people. When they listen and allow themselves to be shaped by His Words, they experience the blessings of a distance rendered powerless. When they forget or neglect these words, they find themselves struggling. Into such moments, God often sends someone to speak on His behalf. We see this happening in Jeremiah, as God speaks to His people living in exile. Even though they’re distanced once more from the “promised land”, God reminds them they needn’t be distanced from the careful ways He has shaped them as His own. Through the prophet Jeremiah, they are reminded of their identity and told that through the ways they honor God, the physical distance is rendered powerless. Even the distance of time itself is robbed of it’s power, as God promises that in 70 years He will restore His people.

Revelation of God

It’s important for us to remember in all of this, that even as God works to reconcile great distances, it is not only for those He is communicating with in that moment. As we saw in His words to Abram, through God’s people ALL families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3) Throughout the Old Testament we see God revealing Himself in unique ways through things like dreams (Numbers 12:6), visions (Isaiah 1:1), and the words of the prophets (2 Samuel 23:2). God wasn’t attempting to remain a mystery only to be unlocked by those who could decipher His ways. Gods’ desire was to be known, His Love experienced, and His people to join with Him, even and especially to those who still seemed most “distanced”. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

In practical terms, often physical distances were handled with words as well, in the forms of written word. In 2 Chronicles 30:1 we read, “Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (NIV) This is a great example and reminder that most often when someone is offering Christian Leadership from a distance, it comes in a form of invitation to counter that distance either by actual travel, or symbolically by responding to a specific call to respond toward God’s desire – as in Esther 9:30-31, “And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation.” As the festivals of God’s people were celebrated, His people were united across physical location and generations, thwarting any power of time and space to distance God’s people from each other, relating well to creation, or the joy of His loving desire for their lives.

NEW TESTAMENT DEVELOPMENTS

Shaped by the Law Fulfilled

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17, NIV) Jesus helps open the New Testament by providing continuity to a God who offered the law as a response to the brokenness of humanity and a people being called out for the sake of all others. Now these people would have a “living word” (John 1:14, NIV) through whom God was communicating a living version of that which the law, comparatively, had only begun to reveal.

The power and presence of the word continued to grow at this point, as Jesus invited humanity to “Follow me”, and transformed this group of people by removing the power of distance – both physical/literal, and figurative/spiritual. This continues even after his death and resurrection, as the Holy Spirit empowers and continues through all people what had begun in Christ. As Paul writes a letter to the early church in Ephesus, he shares a prayer that they would receive a “spirit of wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17) for the purposes of knowing God better. Such knowing is in direction of defeating any power of distance, and bringing invitation to receive the hope of that which Paul saw as the direction of God’s activities found earlier in that same chapter. “when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10, NIV)

With this new understanding of Jesus as the fulfillment of the law, the growing collection of writings seem to shift. Now centered on Jesus, the focus moves beyond understanding how to follow commands and measure requirements for cleanliness, toward communicating and proclaiming the Lordship, Love and New Creation Life found in this community shaped by following Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As the temple curtain is torn, we understand the distance between humanity and God has been transformed forever in important ways. No longer exiles, all were now invited and given place at the banqueting table of the Kingdom of Jesus (Matthew 22).

Revelation of God in Jesus

As the Kingdom trajectory of those formed by the living Word of God continued, it grew increasingly important for the word to be shared exponentially throughout a humanity that was now completely engulfed in invitation to New Creation. Especially in the beginning, the number of people who had heard or experienced Jesus first-hand was incredibly small. Still, the desire for God to be known and revealed is powerful, with all the resources of humanity and creation at God’s whim. Transforming lives such as Saul/Paul, God discovered and created unique ways to spread the knowledge and faith of Jesus Christ throughout the ancient world. This happened both through letter writing, experiences of lives transformed/made new, and simply population growth in areas where humanity flourished.

The letters of Paul make up about ¼ of the New Testament itself, and in them we have revelations of God and his heart for a creation made new. His focus on the good news of Jesus Christ was central to the development of the early church. As John MacArthur writes, “Virtually every one of Paul’s New Testament epistles defends and clarifies some crucial point of doctrine germane to the gospel message.” (MacArthur, 2017)

This pattern of Christian leadership from a distance continues throughout the New Testament, even through to the final book “Revelation” written by John from the island of Patmos. In a series of letters meant to traverse great distances of time/space/brokenness, he is instructed to write letters to seven churches. Each of those letters communicate important truths to the global church today, seeking to faithfully follow, proclaim, and embody the Love of a God who is omnipresent. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are connected and able to connect others to this New Creation. As scripture reminds us, “If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This “life of the age to come” is something mysteriously connected to and transforming the words we speak and write, in many of the same ways as those original words “Let there be light.” (Genesis 1:3)

CONCLUSION

“According to the book of Revelation, Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.” (Wright, 2017) This is not a “new idea”, but rather something God has been actively pursuing and bringing about for thousands of years already (Ephesians 1:5). Even from the beginnings of distance caused by sin, God was working to bring redemption and healing to the brokenness.

Of all the debatable elements found in specific types, styles, and methods of Christian leadership from a distance then, we have discovered at least this one thing: Christian leadership from a distance always seeks to bridge distance and separation, uniting that which has been impacted by sin, and bringing all things to respond to His invitation and declaration that Jesus is now Lord of all. By our words and actions we declare that distance retains no power in the realities defined by Jesus.

“Christian leaders guide from a distance by reminding recipients in letters that God overcomes distance by being near to us no matter where we are, and by uniting believers who are distant with the same hope, same word, same Holy Spirit, same stories of deliverance, and same celebrations of festivals.” (D. Freemyer, personal communication, December 3, 2017) We are drawn together, united across time and space, and beyond any power of sin to hold us back. By the Holy Spirit of Jesus we have access to the throne of God, the Life of the Age to come, and are set free from the constraints and futures determined by the brokenness of sin. In Jesus, we are invited and empowered to exist and communicate as living declarations of a fully revealed future – “undistanced” from each other, from New Creation, and from God.

RESOURCES:

MacArthur, John. (2017). The Gospel According to Paul. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Press, A. (2003). New Interpreter’s Study Bible-NRSV. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Wright, N.T. (2017). The Day the Revolution Began. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne.

Love & Belonging

I know most of us these days enjoy captivating, attractive speakers who entertain and inspire. Or perhaps we enjoy well-proven theologians/scholars with shelves of published achievements, or a blog with millions of followers. But there is a growing necessity for us to listen to those who quietly serve with the heart of Jesus, without seeking fame or notoriety. Here are some phrases I pulled out to whet your appetite – but I encourage you to watch…there’s much more within…

“Each person is precious. We’re in a world filled with communication, but frightened of presence. People don’t get lost, if there are enough people to hold their hands. Young people become lost in a world where the only objective is “normality”, success, economy, power, & control.

Community is not the place of security, community is necessarily the place where there can be divisiveness; cause community is about welcoming difference…Unity comes as we learn to live difference.”

For anyone who loves Jesus…church…community…Henri Nouwen…etc.

Or for anyone who really despises church or religion or even what they’ve heard of Jesus…

This is incredibly good to watch:

all saints

A few important words to stir something new this season…

This little light of ours…

IMG_1993The sun is big. Like, really big. Bigger than most of us can even fathom, given how huge our own planet seems.

For a quick example, the circumference of the sun (how far one continuous path would be around its surface) is over 2.7 Million miles. In perspective, the circumference of the earth is just under 25,000 miles.

In regards to the massive size, people who sit around figuring out such things have determined that it would take about 1.3 Million earths to fill the area of the sun.

All of this really makes the moon pale in comparison. At a mere circumference under 6,800 miles, it’s pretty small in comparison even to earth. Yet, on August 21, 2017, the moon will cover the sun for about 3 minutes (in the center of the viewing areas path), casting millions of people into freakish mid-day darkness. This happens even with the size differences, because of proximity. The moon is 400 times further from the sun, than it is from the earth. It’s the same as being able to hold a background national monument in your hand, using proximity to make it look real. IMG_1991

So how do we harness this occasion, to listen to what Gods’ creation might be whispering into our lives? What important message might this offer, especially in conversation with our kids/others?

Some small things can bring large amounts of darkness. Especially in regards to our consumption and/or creation of content in social media. Something that may seem tiny or insignificant, can actually make a larger impact than we first realized. Whether it’s movies, music, Apps, or other; we can easily inadvertently place these things in such a position in our lives that makes it very difficult for the light of Gods Love to shine on, or through us.

Thankfully, scripture reminds us: nothing has the power to separate us from the Love of God. But, we can choose to elevate other things into our field of vision, forgetting where our True Life comes from. This causes all sorts of expressing ourselves in the world – seeking the identity and peace that we’ve been created to receive from the Love of Jesus.

The question becomes – What might be “eclipsing” the Light & Love of Jesus from being the foundational light by which you see all things, yourself included? What small thing, if moved out of your focus even a small amount, or completely if necessary, could allow Love & the perspective of Gods Grace to illuminate your life in new ways?  The Love of God for you is strong and deep enough, no matter how long you’ve lived under an eclipse, to shine just as warm and brightly  as ever.  You might find yourself needing help to “move a moon” that has been in position for way too long. God has given us the power of His Spirit, always with us. Not to mention, the gift of living these lives together in Loving community.  Open yourself up to committed life together with others who desire the Light of New Creation to shine.

The beauty of it is, even as a small object like the moon can eclipse the light of the sun – a small candle can illuminate darkness. How will you shine your light this week? Where can the Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control be humbly lived out as the Fruit of His Spirit? May we be even more geeked out about discovering these opportunities. They are light that will shine well into the coming Kingdom from which they derive their lumens…

for the love of donuts.

Paul writes in his letter to the early church in Rome, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race” (9:3)  This was mentioned in class today, in example of just how important it was to expand and increase the knowledge of the Love of God in the communities we love.   “I donutsdon’t think I’ve ever loved a church I’ve served that much!”, was said with a smile to many nods in the crowd.  As much as I’ve loved the Church, and the church I’ve served at – I don’t think I would ever elevate them above my love for Jesus.  I don’t think Paul was either, but was rather making an emotional appeal to explain just how passionate he was to see his fellow countrymen knowing the Love of God.

But being in “Church History” lectures all of this week, I can’t help but think about the history of God’s people seeming to put other seemingly good things ahead of the Love of Jesus throughout thousands of years.

Each time I’ve driven between my hotel and seminary, I’ve noticed new things like a kid who is somewhere they’ve never been before.  I’ve driven past a large national cemetery, with it’s rows of white grave markers.  I’ve driven past a large Finnish paper products plant, that I should probably purchase stock in for the sake of my family’s use of paper plates.  But two places I’ve noticed on each drive seem to stand out in their contrast and commonality with one another:  A small local donut shop that closes when they sell out late each morning, and a large commercial bakery with loading docks and trucks lined up to a giant warehouse building.

Both of these endeavors could be labeled “successful”. It would seem silly for someone to approach the small local shop and prod them:  “Don’t you care about sharing donut goodness?”  “Don’t you want the masses to enjoy the same donuts you’ve enjoyed?”  “See the bakery down the street?  Surely they have a truer passion for donuts!”

Yet so often throughout history this same mentality has crept into the church.  We take the “Great Commission” not as a direction to live and love, but as a mandate to succeed at with all the resources and power we can amass.  So we divide and conquer.  We establish.  We claim.  We protect.  All in the name of a Jesus who came to die.  To give away.  To release.  To submit to the will of the Father.

Yes – I love Jesus. Yes, I want the people in the community I love to know the freedom and New Life offered in receiving His Love and Hope by Faith.  It has transformed my life, and continues to even as I don’t deserve it.  I’m sure the giant bakery I drive by is run by great people who truly love their baked goods.  But I suppose what I’m saying is – it’s really good for us to remember our love for Jesus above our love for everything – even the church.  That may lead to heresy.  But it might just lead to some amazing donuts as well…

..and what might happen if, the church continued to be filled with and sending out people of all ages and every background who were passionate in sharing their love of donuts?  We may not even need the trucks. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

an illustration…

churchhistory(asked to write a short essay on why one might study “Church history”)

            Imagine you discover a new Kingdom, and the King invites you in to spend some time together.  In your conversation you learn about His heart, and the amazing power He has over an infinite number of things, and continue to be drawn in.  You decide there could be nothing quite better than serving Him and enjoying being a part of His Kingdom forever.  As you become a citizen, you receive a book that has all the ways of this new land written within, but some of them seem beyond reach, and others seem beautiful woven into stories that should be dwelt on, and talked about with others. The King also seemed to hint that this book is growing, and you’re now a part of the grand story.

Excited about this new opportunity you head into the local village.  You can’t wait to learn more about the ways of life in this new land and meet the people who’ve lived here a long time already.  You know already – your life will never be the same.

On your way toward the town square, you get pulled aside by a small group of people.  In this group, everyone seems to be holding their Kingdom book tightly across their chest, as if proving their love for it visually.  Their leader explains he wanted to connect with you while you were still pure. Before you were “influenced” by wrong thoughts or practices.  They invite you to their community, where you’ll have your own room to study the pages of the Kingdom book in private.

Over time and conversation, your frustration with this small community grows.  They won’t tell you anything about others, how they arrived, or what life so far has been like.  They say it would make you impure.  There are some questions you have about one story in particular that doesn’t seem to make sense, but they won’t let you ask others about it – because here only private study is allowed.    This small group of people also seems to have issues that could be resolved by going into the village and talking with others, but they don’t seem interested.  You’re not sure this is the Kingdom you were so excited to be a part of.

One morning you wake, and find a note left by the King himself next to a book on the chair in your room.  He has written, “This may help.”  As you flip through the pages, you find story after story of how others have arrived here, and it begins to remind you of your own journey here.  The ways others discovered this amazing King make you smile as you remember when you first met him.  Some of them wondered about the same mysterious story as you, and here are the thoughts of several who have spent time dwelling on it.   Their insights make your heart beat faster, and you breathe deeply as you continue to turn pages.  All of a sudden, you realize a story from this book is exactly the insight this small community could use to solve a current problem.  Excitedly, you run to the leaders to share with them what you’ve found.  Gasping, they try to take this new book from you.  They explain that the people who wrote and lived those stories did not agree with them 100%, and if you did not hand it over immediately, you would not be able to stay.

As you walked away with both books tucked under your arms, you took a long slow breath of fresh air.  The village stretched out in front of you, and you were filled with a new hope for life together with these Kingdom people.

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