Posts Tagged ‘Free Methodist’

He “lives”?

“..songs affect what we think because of repetition – singing the same songs over a period of years embeds the message; and when music is added to the text, an emotional element is introduced that causes greater attachment to the message of the song.” (Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect, 2010)helives

The above statement carries all sorts of implications for the music we listen to, the music we encourage our kids to listen to, etc.  But here we are asking about the words that shape our theology and faith over time.  Modern songs get a pretty hefty (and often deserved) criticism at times for their vague or shallow theology.  But there are plenty of songs (I’m looking at you, “I’ll Fly Away”) that we love to sing, that we should also be careful to examine/balance with Biblical teaching/awareness.

Today I’m asking us to re-examine the words of a song most of us probably sang over the weekend.  “He Lives” (#220 if you’d rather not use the screen), is a classic hymn with some great reminders in it.  “I serve a risen Savior, He’s in the world today.”  What a hope-filled offer for us to live toward!  But on further review of the entire song, there’s something significant missing from it: a resurrected Jesus.

Let’s pretend you don’t have it memorized for a moment, and examine the chorus:

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today,
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives?
He lives within my heart.

Yes! Amen.  I love it.  I sing it loudly, and I even hold out the final “LIIIIIIIIVES” until the lack of breath begins to turn my lungs inside out.  Yet the Jesus in this song is not the physically resurrected Jesus we celebrate visiting His disciples and revealing His scars.  I’m not saying Jesus couldn’t visit us physically, either recognizably or hiding his identity (both are seen in post-resurrection accounts).  But I’m saying when most of us sing this chorus (and the rest of the song), we’re probably actually referring to the SPIRIT of Jesus at best…and the idea of Jesus at worst.

Yes, I believe the “presence” of Jesus we have been given through the Holy Spirit, and a God who is omnipresent/immanuel is “God With Us”.   That means so much of the song still rings true.  But if we lift this song up as our primary “Easter Song”, we can miss something vital to our faith:

We believe Jesus was physically resurrected ahead of all things.  That all humanity who have died or will die, continue to wait for a full and coming revealing of God’s fullness at which point we will all share in the same physical and bodily resurrection.

He does not “walk with me and talk with me” the same way He walked and talked with the disciples who saw him after the resurrection. Why? Because he has physically gone to be with the Father, to a location many simply refer to as “Paradise” (using Luke 23:43).  A place where it seems both non-resurrected beings (like the thief), and resurrected beings (only Jesus, for now) can be together in God’s presence as we await the final return of Jesus.

The promise and hope of the resurrection isn’t that Jesus has returned spiritually to “be in our hearts”, and help us not feel lonely along the paths we walk.  That’s one of the blessings of the encourager He has given us (Holy Spirit).  But the promise and hope we receive as we celebrate the resurrected Jesus are found in 1 Corinthians 15 (take a moment to read it!).  In Jesus we see the “first fruits” of all New Creation, and an example of what God has in store for all of us – our loved ones, and creation itself!

This is a foundational truth, and one of the greatest things we can clarify to a world that assumes we all think Jesus is a spiritual being hiding in our hearts that helps us to be “good behaving people”.  The Holy Spirit can help transform our hearts and minds, and the grace of God is actively moving to heal/restore the image of our Loving God He intended in creation.   But we believe there is much more to celebrate in Jesus, and much more hope for the embodied lives we live today.  These physical bodies (and this physical world) are tied deeply to the New Creation we believe will exist fully someday.  So caring for others, for creation, and for ourselves happens in fully embodied ways.  There are so many things still to say here, but plenty have already said them.  I just wanted to throw out a quick reminder.

For more on this, check out: Surprised by Hope by NT Wright, Salvation Means Creation Healed by Howard Snyder, and Earthen Vessels Matthew Anderson

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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…

 

FMYC 2017

FMYC

Relentless

Improbable, unstoppable, and unable to be contained

Not looking to be explained away by simple answers, the chance for

Us to escape is not that great, because our fate has been decided no matter how hard we may fight it.

We are His, Beloved.

 

And I don’t mean to rub it in but some things are urgent to understand.

Like when a man lights a fire to a chair,

when life isn’t fair and all the things that could go wrong seem they do,

When you have spent your last dollar, last moment, last emotional drop of what you could summon,

And nothing’s coming to prove it was all worth while, so you try to smile because the world tells you

That’s what we mean by strength.

 

But the length that you’ve been stretched to, a wretch too focused on exterior to really notice.

You’re imprisoned, and the risen Savior wants to set you free.  Relentlessly.

The

Spirit of Adoption – not an option for identity crisis, so receive this in a way that forms your soul – you don’t need to have control.  Salvation comes as release and freedom, crashing through

The false boundaries of before, when we were too poor and unsure the pure grace of God we find as Jesus comes near, because fear doesn’t deserve to tell your story – the more you and I realize the glory so close at hand, set free from all demands – we’re empowered to take a stand.

In a land of those who feel unworthy, for only thirty bucks a month you change a life for generations

And nations are transformed by love of God – revealed in those who’ve made a new decision to join His mission.  One that envisions the Kingdom coming near, and not all of us getting out of here.

Because our eyes have seen a great light, reflected in smaller sources – courses not yet set in stone – still time to own as we’ve shone bright – no matter how dark the night, we know that death has no power over New Creation Life.

For this, some good advice is: to shut off our devices, as they flood us with news, refuse to get stuck buffering – too many are losing a sensitivity to the causes of suffering.  So take action, be filled with compassion, cause love is not Rationed out for grand moments of global mission – but also for those currently in your daily vision. We realize that getting “into the Kingdom” is less about Jesus as a key that unlocks a gate, and more like Jesus is a Love who has already conquered hate

And when you Love like this, you’re not holding a ticket punched for heaven, but leavening dough here and now, from the west out to the east, a bread of life for a table set to feast.  Proclaiming and partaking, by simply taking time to sit by those who are lonely, because if you only want to be close to Jesus – you draw near to those His heart breaks for – and aches for them to know they are dear.

It’s clear we’re sometimes too focused on all the ways He Frees US – but when you don’t see those who are suffering – you don’t see Jesus.

But Mercy is Multiplied as the gospel arrives and thrives in the lives of those wearing masks – not another task on a stack piled high but a child of God unable to deny He’s a good Father – He did not cause your pain, but holds you through it.  And if you want it redeemed only he can do it.

But be prepared beyond the shouts, because doubts will begin to assail, asking what about when we fail?  What about when rooster crows, and Jesus knows every time but never excuses Himself from the table.  He’s able to forgive, and give new invitation, a declaration of value, of Beloved.  And asking – Do you Love me?

Then do not abandon your calling.  Stop stalling and falling through the cracks, when temptation slaps the chord, you cannot afford to fear, but hear it clear – Will you follow me?

Not only follow but set an example – be a sample – of how it looks when Kingdom takes

over,

As YOU lead, and intercede in what it looks like to bleed for the cause of loving others.

The sisters and brothers you once overlooked, recipes of a kingdom feast now cooked and set to table.

Cause you’re able and empowered for more, the curtain tore so we could explore all the gifts of Spirit – so come near it – and while you’re at it, bring a friend, ensure His transforming Love will not just be a trend but flow without end – by prayer and the Word – no longer blurred as you serve in ways only you’ve been wired.  And rewired as Creation is made New, that means you – all the way through.

We find you’ve done more than just joined the movement as apprentice.

You’ve been transformed and called Beloved by a God who remains Relentless…

inter-generational…

In so many areas of life/culture, groups of people are divided and set against each other.  By race, understandings, generations, cultures, experiences, etc.  The Church is always to be the place that no matter what your defining characteristics – we are ONE in Christ.  No matter what definitions the world gives you, the foundational characteristic of “Beloved by God, in need of His Grace” is enough to build on for the Kingdom.

Even in the midst of this, there are understandings that improve our ability to serve and work and celebrate life together as one body.  Overloading our accounts and pockets with grace, love, humility, and inviting the Holy Spirit to enable us to live/love like Christ are great places to start.

For years now, our culture seems to LOVE age-specific ministries. It’s great developmentally to focus on Jesus and life experiences in ways that are appropriate and easily assimilated into knowledge & life.  The problem is when we make these the primary focus of doing church well.  We have great kids’ programs for earning important badges.  Next, we have a youth group experience with mountain tops and focusing this highly emotional season of life on Jesus.  Next, we have students who enjoyed youth group so much – they want a similar experience with their peers as “College Age Ministry”.  When that goes well, it seems successful and natural to provide a “Young Adult Ministry”.  At some nebulous point after significant life events like owning a home, moving, getting married, etc…a person might simply quietly acquiesce into a “Regular Adult Class”, but not without first attempting a “(age range) Group”.

Like I said – some of this desire is good, and should be harnessed toward life transformation.  But some of this simply provides a false experience of a Biblically diverse community made from several generations contributing to life together in the name of Jesus.  Church is meant to be inter-generational, not just multi-generational.  It’s not enough to say, “Wow, our church has a lot of (desirable age group here)!”  Is that group integrated & connected with the other generations, self-identifying as a contributing and valued part of the whole?

Thankfully, many have been realizing this – and some never forgot it.  The warning I’ve heard in their writings have been – don’t assume the Love of Jesus will simply wash away the varied (and beautifully important) differences each generation brings to the table.  So in closing, I’ll include a chart here that I created after reading some articles/books on the topic.  I found it an interesting study, as an artist might appreciate the palate of colors available before beginning a new painting technique… (although I’m more of the artists’ admirer, as Jesus holds the brush) ( (Side note: The authors often indicated that any discussion on generational descriptions is an exercise in Fiction. Of course, we cannot say that all (generation) are like this. But as they’ve studied, certain characteristics seemed common, and worth noting.)

Chart1Chart2

sunrise

Sunlight breaks through hotel window.
A building crescendo toward a week to come.IMG_0807

Youth & beyond, a pond teeming
With life, some life anew.
So few moments
but filled with
Something esoteric to this umwelt.
As felt need meets prayers from home
That intercede
For transformation.

For some, simply vacation
But even this offers to displace
The patterns and anxieties normally served
God uses such a swerve
Even as they work up the nerve to speak.

And peek through clasped hands
A glance at a future yet undecided
Confided only in quietest of moments,
After noises fade, we find He has made

New Creation.

And I get to watch them take
first wobbly steps.
Get to speak Hope.

Someday they will run and dance.

And I will too.

 

Flight Check…

When I was in High School, I was able to attend “NYC 99” with the Nazarene Church in Toronto, Canada. It was pretty awesome. There were humbling times where a young deaf girl taught me how to play “Simon Says”, & blessed times where I met the woman I would eventually marry (even gave her a rose, only to realize it was her way after we began dating in college!).

In 2003 I was able to join with the worship team of NYC 03 in Texas, to lead over 10,000 teens in worship with Bob Diehm & team. I was just beginning married life after college, and I remember how awesome it was to help lead so many young people into moments of worship and surrender.

Fast forward a few more years, over a decade of youth ministry in the Free Methodist FMYC2017_logo_cChurch and this week I’m flying to Colorado to meet with other FM leaders to plan our next national youth gathering (FMYC) later this July. Teens from all over the US will gather at CSU in Fort Collins, and participate in a short term community life of young worshipers.

I know it can be done wrong. Neuro-chemistry tells me that experiences during our time together will raise levels of dopamine & oxytocin to trigger feelings of addiction and relational bonding. That can be unhealthy, if we’re not pointing such experiences to the realities and Spirit of God.

But if we release all our preparation and direct our desires into the powerful use of the Kingdom – all the neuro-chemistry research could never endeavor to explain or comprehend the ways these moments can be used by God. To build friendships and a familial bond that stretches far beyond superficial topics our young people may stick to on a regular basis. To connect students with a God who wants not only to Love them – but wants to love their family/friends/neighborhood/enemies through them.

As I look at my own experience of having gone through a youth ministry, I’m reminded these things are not finding their “end” in the teens who attend. Our goal is not to build successful events for teens to attend and enjoy. Our “end goal” is seen decades later, as these moments have simply become milestones on a much larger journey of God’s children growing and serving God in their context. As they are transformed, to continue becoming those through whom transformational love of Jesus arrives and is shared/proclaimed.

May we become as relentless as our God’s Love, when we hope, pray, and work toward the changes that can come as we offer who we are to His mission of redemption for all humanity and creation…

 

Shell or Rock?

Moana was a fantastic movie for so many reasons. The chicken made us laugh. The grandma was one we all wish we had. The usual motif about “someone realizing there was something mystically special about themselves all along” – is something many of us hope to discover.

There are roots in there story with amazing truths, if we will notice.

There is a girl who is taught her entire life, that her value comes from her ability to maintain what has always happened. She is expected to make wise decisions, to rule well, and to navigate the difficulties of island life. That someday she will place her stone on the highest mountain, atop the stones of previous leaders, making her contribution the highest point on their island.  But within her stirs a discontent. A “holy” stirring that not only she, but her people, were created to do more than what they’d done yesterday.  That perhaps even, looking far back in their history, they might find stories of a completely different existence altogether.  They were not a people meant to thrive on how well they could perpetuate status quo. They were wired to thrive on creative discovery, and to craft stories of stepping out into the unknowns, in faith that something greater than themselves held their fate and future. That actually, their fate depended on complete change in what was being done. They were facing struggles no resources could be found to solve. The status quo way of maintaining routine was slowly losing its ability to provide life.

So she set out to discover what else could be done. Sacrificially, she launched a new initiative toward becoming vulnerable – not just for her own sake but for a people who were temporarily without any idea of what might happen next.  Collectively, they looked toward tomorrow with hesitancy, but hopeful faith for what could be. Enlight16

It turned out to be exactly what was needed. As she returned to share this new way of life she’d discovered, it was immediately embraced by the people as being their actual story. No longer were they island people, who valued being able to efficiently stay as they were. Connecting to their ancient roots, they were a people “on the move”. Entrusting themselves to something larger, they collectively were reidentified as New Creations.  There is a brief scene where we simply see a shell placed on a stack of rocks. No longer would success be measured by the highest point on an island that was ultimately no source of life.

From now on – they’d become a people who’s measurement for Life had been altogether transformed.

The wisdom here offers us a moment to contemplate as leaders and servants in the Kindgom of God. Are we willing to let go of our chance to place a stone, if it enables others to actually be transformed toward a New Life altogether? Can we trust God to guide us as we launch out together toward a New Land?

There is, after all, a world out there already placing stones upon stones – waiting for followers of Jesus to show them a better way…

 

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