Thursday, October 25, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
LOVESIGN: love [the love of the brothers]
1.3, 3.6, 3.12, 4.9, 5.8, 5.13
I’ve often spoken of the love I experienced in college among my rugby teammates. Our sense of camaraderie was brotherly love in its truest form.
My favorite memory was of one of our guys being repeatedly punched in the head by an ugly, troglodyte grimlock with a neck like a stack of manhole covers behind the referee’s back. When I ran over to pull this monster off of my friend, he turned his cruel affections on me…at which point my friend went quickly from ‘turning the other cheek’ [as per the twin instructions of Christ and our Coach] to defending both of mine.
I’ve never felt loved and safe like when I was surrounded by a group of guys whom I knew had my best interests at heart no matter what.
This kind of love, brotherly love [or phileo love, as it’s outlined in the mindmaps] is the kind of love for which the church in Thessalonica had become renowned. Paul’s exhortation to the Thessalonian church is to ‘just keep loving.’ He claims they’re God-taught in these matters, which – of course – begs the question as to whether or not our contemporary western churches have been taught the same lessons.
The notion of loving one another as brothers and sisters probably had more significance in the ancient world than it does today. In that world, the family was the center of society – each member of each family holding high their obligation to one another. For Christians to have superseded the order of the family, welcoming one another into a new “family”, would have created quite a stir. It was odd to see people taking on responsibilities and commitments to people from different families. To have entire communities adopt one another and join themselves with other, similar, communities in other cities would have been unheard of.
But this is the result of being filled with the love of Christ. That love, the unconditional/agape love of God, takes over us and invades our base selves with nobility. It causes us to see people differently – it transforms us into lovers. Once we’ve been transformed by that unconditional love, we see our commonality with other people and recognize them as fellow image-bearers of God; as such, we recognize our true familial nature as being branches from the same vine, so to speak. Thus, in addition to the self-denying love of Christ, we can’t help but find ourselves nurturing the ‘love of the brothers.’
We take care of our relationships, recognizing them as the most spiritual thing about our earthly existence. Or, as Joe Myers has said, we recognize that ‘our true possessions are not our belongings, but our relationships.’
And, really, what does this look like? According to church growth expert Win Arn, “love is intentionally doing something caring or helpful for another person, in Jesus' name, regardless of the cost or consequence to oneself.”
What if we really began to practice loving one another in our churches? What would it be like for us to be so committed to loving our city and our world that we could not possibly stomach the fragmentation and hurt that lays upon our friends like wet carpets?
Paul’s instructions remind us to cultivate this ethic of love.
1.6, 2.19-20, 3.9
Some people make the mistake of confusing joy with happiness.
Happiness, after all, is fairly easy to achieve…and quick to fade.
Happiness is trendy. We have Happy Meals, and watch Happy Feet or Happy Gilmore. “Happy Birthday” is the most-sung chorus on the planet. These things make us feel light and exuberant for about 90 minutes. But after the Happy Meal comes the confused look on your child’s face that precedes an unpleasant season of digestion; after the fun singing and dancing of the first part of Happy Feet comes the guilt-ridden eco-ssault; after Happy Gilmore unfortunately came Bulletproof with Damon Wayans; and after Happy Birthday comes 364 ¼ days of waiting.
Perhaps that's why scripture never concerns itself with happiness as we know it. The scriptures do not have any interest in happiness because happiness CAN be bought. McDonald's got it right in its kid-oriented package called a Happy Meal. Happiness is a cheap, momentary, easily purchased and easily discarded feeling rooted in the fulfillment of selfish desires.
But joy is something more than happiness, something that is deep rooted within us – that is not subject to whims or moods, but is a spiritual quality intentionally cultivated by a person submitted to the Spirit. Joy refuses to be squelched, submersed, or sublimated. Joy isn't dependent upon personal strength, personal ability, or personal achievement. Joy is rooted in God, nourished by faith, sustained by grace.
Here is a great mission statement. It's the mission statement of The Ringling Brothers Circus, first penned in 1899 and called "Mission of Amusement”
"To be good, mankind must be happy. To wreathe the face of humanity in
smiles for a time, to loosen the chains that hold man captive to his
duties and return him to them better fitted for his obligations, is
the mission of amusement and the one great desire of moralists is, and
ought to be, that it be pure and wholesome.
"Amusement unfetters the mind from its environs and changes the dreary
monotony of the factory's spindles to the joyous song of the
meadowlark. It gives flight to the caged soul to treat in airy places.
It softens the wrinkles of sorrow, makes smiles of frowns.
"This is the mission of amusement – and the circus, with its innocent
sights of joy for the children and its power to make all men and women
children again for at least one day, comes the nearest of any form of
amusement to fulfilling its mission."
When Paul talks about the Thessalonian church being his joy, he’s referring to the spiritual quality and testimony of their resilience. Joy is a command he’s both obeying and repeating; it is not an emotion, but a spiritual project. Somehow, despite being robbed of their leaders and apostles, that church has thrived and grown in the grace of God. That they have done so is evidence of their obedience to God, which is a joy that outweighs his own crummy circumstances.
Happiness comes and goes, but joy holds on like a childhood star to his last ounce of celebrity.
Happiness comes from the flotsam and jetsam leftovers of the glitter of our world; joy comes from Christ.
“Our joy,” says Herbert McCabe, “is the joy that culminates in our thanksgiving, our Eucharist, is joy in the cross. Our Eucharist is 'the sign of the cross.' Sure, our joy is expressed in the ordinary symbols of human celebration: in a meal together, a party, a love-feast. But it's only an authentic love-feast if it expresses the love that wants to be one with, to suffer with, the suffering of all the world. It's an authentic love-feast only if it expresses our solidarity with the cross, our solidarity, not only with our companions and comrades, but with the victim who represents all the victims of the world. It's only
if we die with Christ on the cross that we can share his life, his Spirit, which is the Joy of God."
Thursday, October 18, 2007
ben sent me this link about the larger 'advent conspiracy' that churches are being involved in, and i thought it was so cool i'd pass it on.
What is the Advent Conspiracy?
The Advent Conspiracy is a catalyst to help churches and organizations equip their people to engage in the Christmas story in a way that will transform their people and as a result bring transformation to the world through their people as they worship Christ at Christmas.
The Five Themes:
The central theme of the Advent Conspiracy is that Jesus is worshipped in such a way that His followers experience the power of Christ coming into the world. This powerful story brings with it the promise of transformation in his followers as they celebrate His birth with faithfulness and integrity. People being led in this journey will not be competing with the consumerist impulses of our culture but instead be aligning themselves with Christ, thereby worshipping Him in a holistic way.
2. Resisting the Empire
When Christ was born the empire was threatened, and as a result Herod, who was one of the more powerful kings of the day, ordered the killing of all the children two years old and under who were in Bethlehem. The reason for this was that he hoped to take out the child-King that posed a threat to his kingdom.
While we are not living under Herod's reign, there is another empire of consumerism and materialism that threatens our faithfulness to Jesus. Jesus brought with him an extraordinary Kingdom that is counter-culture to the kingdoms of this world.
A part of saying "yes" to Jesus means that we say "no" to over-spending. We say "no" to over-consumption. We say "no" to these things so we can create space to say "yes" to Jesus and His reign in our lives. The National Retail Federation was forecasting that Americans would spend approximately $457.4 billion at Christmas in 2006.1 The American Research group estimated an average of $907.00 per family to be spent at Christmas in 2006.2 After the Holiday we work for months to get out of debt, only to find that the presents we bought in the name of Christ furthered a consumerist mentality in our children and us and took our focus off of the greatness of Jesus. As Christ-followers, the Advent Conspiracy starts with us resisting a culture that tells us what to buy, wear, and spend with no regard to bringing glory to Jesus.
3. Relational Giving
In saying "no" to over-spending we are then invited to say "yes" to give in relational ways. We do this because we worship a God who gave us a relational gift. God gave us His son. This is an incredible opportunity to reclaim the heart of what matters most as we learn together to give gifts of meaning instead of simple material gifts. Pictures, poems, pieces of art, a baseball bat and a trip with dad to the ballpark all become relational alternatives that foster what matters most in life. In thinking in a new way about what it means to give ourselves to each other, we are transformed by the story of Advent, knowing that we give relationally because God gave relationally.
Some organizations have done do-it-yourself workshops to help their people learn the art of relational giving. Whatever you decide to do, the key is that you spend less and give relationally of yourself.
Christ, though he was rich, became poor to make many rich. It was in the Advent that Jesus entered our poverty so we would no longer be poor. With the money we save by giving relationally and resisting the empire we, in turn, re-distribute the money we saved to the least of these in our communities and world.
We recommend that, before Christmas, each organization take an offering made up of the money that was saved through relational giving and resisting the empire. With these funds each church and organization decides how to re-distribute the money. It is an amazing picture when you see how much money is collected and how much good it can do in the world. In 2006 only five churches participated and they collected just under half of a million dollars. Through this kind of radical giving we are transformed by the Advent story as we worship Jesus more faithfully.
The Advent Conspiracy exists to be a catalyst for the church to help us worship Jesus more fully at Christmas and therefore be transformed by the God of Advent. We believe that we are better together than we are apart and that each year the Advent of Christ should be an opportunity to declare to the world that God has given us the greatest gift.
We are asking that each church and organization that participates designate at least 25% of the offering for clean water projects around the world. The vision is that in the next decade Christ-followers, acting as one people, can blot out the water crisis in the world. The estimated cost to solve the water problem is 10 billion dollars. This is doable given the number of churches and the amount of money that is spent on Christmas each year.
According to the World Water Council, 1.1 billion people live without clean drinking water; 2.6 billion people lack adequate sanitation. 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhea diseases, and 3,900 children die every day from water-borne diseases.3
It is truly a declaration to the world that Jesus cares and that is why He came and created the church to act on His behalf. How you go about spending the money for clean water is up to how God leads you. We will let him be in the CEO on this and just faithfully respond to him.
To Get Involved
We ask that you sign up at our website: AdventConspiracy.org. Through the site we will provide you with great stories, helpful resources, recommended agencies that you can work through, and all the facts you will need. You will be able to use our blog to meet other people participating in the event. We only ask that you come back after the holiday and share your story with the rest of us, including how much money was re-distributed, in what ways it was distributed, and what creative ways you discovered Christ's transformation in your community. We will send out a monthly e-mail newsletter called the Co-Conspirator, with helpful information that can inspire your group as Advent approaches. For more information, visit AdventConspiracy.org or email Jeanne McKinley, Director of The Advent Conspiracy, at Jeans@imagodeicommunity.com.
Taken from The Catalyst GroupZine Volume 3: Courageous in Calling
Sunday, October 14, 2007
1.7-9, 2.9, 3.13, 5.8
The Christians in Thessalonica were carving out new ground. In their world at that time it was unheard of to oppose worshipping idols – idols were, after all, commonplace in the ancient world, not the primitive oddity they are today. N.T. Wright described it this way:
At every turn in the road the gods were there – unpredictable, possible malevolent, sometimes at war among themselves, so that you could never do too much in the way of placating them
Furthermore, there was a new god in town – Caesar. After Augustine defeated his enemies and unified the Empire he declared his father, Julius Caesar, a god [for an intelligent narrative of these events, see the HBO series ROME, season 2; be careful, though, because the series is extremely violent, sexual and course]. When Augustine died, his successor declared him a god, and so-on and so-forth, until the Emperors were understood to have joined the pantheon after their deaths.
Paul gives props to the Thessalonians for forsaking god-worship, including the worship of Caesar, and instead being examples to other believers all over the Empire of what it means to find true identity as lovers and followers of Jesus Christ. He calls them God’s saints and reminds them that they are children of the daylight and should not ever be tempted into moral or spiritual darkness.
Sometimes we read these words and mistake them as bland admonishments to lead a good life; but this misses the context of the letter completely. Paul’s lovesign is a call to subvert the dominant power structures of the world. He is reminding the Thessalonians that the world is not as it should be, and that they – as Christ-followers – are mandated to turn the world right side up again with the life-changing gospel of God.
1.7, 1.10, 2.2, 2.15, 4.16,
As with any of the New Testament epistles, the notion of warring kingdoms comes into prominence early on in the letter. In each case, it is the idea that the Kingdoms of this world are ultimately inferior to the Kingdom of God/Heaven, which then infers that King Jesus is Lord over Caesar of Rome [a highly unpopular affirmation in the mind of the Roman Empire, akin to saying that the Ayatollah is a useless despot despite being the Supreme Leader of Iran].
Paul contrasts these two kingdoms by outlining the effects of being a citizen in the Roman Empire [and what little good that did him in Philippi] with the hope and joy that Christians can have via their citizenship in Heaven.
Caesar's kingdom required absolute loyalty from its subjects and Paul knew quite well that the proclamation of the gospel and the true Kingdom would sit poorly with the Empire. Just as Caesar’s authority stretched throughout the whole Empire, the authority of Jesus Christ must extend throughout our whole lives – not because God is sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, but because we are made in his image, designed to reflect his glory with every facet of our personhood. Properly understood, Christian Spirituality is not a matter of following rules made by a heavenly policeman – it is a matter of bearing out the imago dei more fully.
Every time we focus ourselves on God, on his increase within our spirits, we experience a little more of the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. See, we can experience snippets of the kingdom here and now [cf. Romans 14.17], but the full measure of the kingdom cannot be attained until the End of the Age [cf. 2 Thessalonians 1.5]. Every moment we welcome the spirit of God into our reality, every time we submit our own will to the will of God, every time we check our base desires we are making a choice to live in another kingdom by virtue of serving our True King.
Whenever we experience the Presence of God, we recognize our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
This is because the kingdom is essentially dynamic; it is something that happens, not a static reality. It is perhaps best understood as God’s righteous rule operating within and over people, such that – whenever we walk in the will of God, whenever we feel his pleasure – we get foreshocks of the kingdom.
Paul holds this kingdom future out as an incentive for the Thessalonians to live worthily here and now. They’ve been saved, they’ve been brought into the kingdom of God, and they face a glorious future – so they ought to live with that reality in mind despite the present unpleasant circumstances of persecution and isolation within the Empire.
The gospel message had an instant effect upon the Thessalonian people.
Perhaps it took hold because they were fed up with pagan debauchery, perhaps it was because many of them were Gentile god-fearers who felt isolated within the synagogues, or perhaps it was because it was new. According to Paul, though, the reason the gospel message had an instant effect was because of its power.
The gospel has power to change lives through divine connection.
The people in the city found that something happened to them when they listened to Paul’s message – a power gripped them, which Paul would later tell them was the Holy Spirit. When this happened, they’d suddenly understand what he was talking about; they’d get electrified by the possibilities of intersection with their creator. Their enthusiasm was contagious, spreading back to Paul and his companions and growing quickly through – and past! – the city, making sense to others, and continuously reshaping their lives.
This message – that the God of the universe was pursuing them with great affection, longing reconciliation with his people – had not come to them by accident, nor did these people stumble into faith. God wanted them as a kind of beachhead into that region of the world. Thessalonica was a strategic center – as was Jerusalem, Philippi, Collosse, Antioch, and many others – and the thrust of the gospel into Europe began with these early converts to the Way of following Jesus.
As a result of their newfound faith and exuberance, the Thessalonian church became famous everywhere – not just for their beliefs, but for the remarkable way in which the church had come into being [Paul’s persecution in Thessalonica, his departure from the city, the infant church struggling up into legitimacy, the abandonment of idol worship and the inclusion of both Jew and Gentile, rich and poor].
Faith, in Paul’s mind, was not merely trust in a personal savior, but alteration of every facet of life resulting in completely remade people. These Christians were peculiar – even expropriating common words such as ‘brother’ or ‘gathering’ and reallocating them spiritual significance. They called each other brothers and sisters, thereby elevating the status of the poor and disenfranchised to be equal with the wealthy and powerful who were themselves transformed from prominence to service and loving-kindness.
A powerful lovesign indeed!
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
the new postsecret book comes out today - and, i've gotta be honest - these things are terrifyingly fascinating.
what is wrong with the church that people can't come in and be open and honest with their confessions...conversely, what is it that is so right about postsecret.blogspot.com that gives people the freedom to do so.
but he also makes a lot of people laugh
and i think he's pretty genuinely invested in the healthy development of pastors
so check out the links [see above] for his 'death by ministry' posts
which i've found really quite helpful
Monday, October 08, 2007
- Erwin McManus
a: if you've never prayer so hard you threw up
or pleaded with god so long you thought he left his post
if you've never felt like a struck match
or like the best and only option was to just walk away
it's gonna get worse
the worse it gets
the more real he becomes
he is the fire in your belly that keeps you fed and lit
and most of us have to starve and go blind
before we're ready to know it
Sunday, October 07, 2007
Cf. 1.10, 2.16, 5.9
I can already hear some of you saying “Are you serious? In what world is ‘wrath’ a lovesign?” [p.s. "lovesigns" are the term we're using to reference major themes in the book]
It’s true that it is unpopular, even unwise, to speak openly about God’s wrath in our world culture today; but we must be very careful not to sanitize the scriptures and force them to fit our 21st century American molds. God’s wrath is a delicate and complicated subject – not easily understood well or grasped fully – and we must be cautious about assigning additional attributes and characteristics to this emotion if we are to better seize what the scriptures are saying about this lovesign [because, yes, I do maintain that his wrath is a manifestation of his love].
There are certain reasons I advocate wrath-as-love within the context of 1 Thessalonians. First, I think it must be clear that God’s emotions have none of the taint upon them that ours do – such that we must understand that his love is love in its truest form, unmingled with lust or possessiveness or selfish pursuit. The same is true of his wrath – it is wrath in its truest form, untouched by pettiness or base anger or the corruption of mood and temper. God’s wrath is reserved for evildoers [that is, those who choose evil over good], and that wrath is not swift – he always gives opportunity for repentance because he is unwilling that anyone should suffer his wrath, desiring instead that everyone returns into right relationship with their creator and his creation.
In short, God’s wrath is diminished by his mercy.
When we behave in ways that undermine his wise and generous designs for us and for the world, he doesn’t instantly punish us – he allows space for reconciliation. If we choose never to reconcile, our wickedness builds, sin accumulates, until the point where God must say enough is enough.
But, sometimes we question why that wrath is necessary at all – isn’t it enough for God to be displeased with evil? Why does he have to punish those who do it?
In other words, we want to know how a loving God can also be wrathful.
In response, we might ask how a loving God can NOT be wrathful. For example, look at all the horrors of the 20th century – holocaust, genocide, regicide, war, greed, ecological irresponsibility to the point of famine, starvation, and the extinction of species – and ask whether or not it is just for God to absolve himself of his responsibility for divine justice.
He must do something about evil precisely because he is Goodness and Love.
Now, sometimes people try and dismiss the very notion of God’s wrath from the scriptures altogether – claiming that we have misinterpreted the Ancient Near Eastern mindset or context; but this cannot be so, for the development of God’s wrath passes through space and time and crosses both testaments and more than a dozen authors from differing parts of the ancient world.
Others say that “wrath” is better understood as “karma”, but which they mean that any disastrous side-effect of sin [such as venereal disease or environmental damage] is only the natural result of poor judgments by the human species or selfishness affected upon one person by another.
But this is silly – wrath and karma are not synonyms in any culture, lexicon, or etymological reference on the planet. If I steal your car and am arrested, the karma is the jail term, but wrath is your reaction. The only way to believe these things are true is if we ignore a great many scriptures – the prophets, for example, certainly understood God’s wrath as personal, seeing the hand of God in both the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked; similarly, the apostles John and Paul write explicitly about God and his wrath being worked against the purposes of those who defy him [cf. John 3.36, Romans 1.18 + 9.22, Ephesians 5.6, Colossians 3.6, Revelation 11.18 + 14.10,19 + 19.15].
God’s wrath shows how actively opposed he is to evil – and, conversely, how committed he is to the good of those who love him and are his.
That’s why I think it’s a sign of his love – his twin decisions to stop evil and forestall judgment on the penitent are absolute demonstrations that he loves the world and is actively working towards the redemption of everyone on it.
Friday, October 05, 2007
if nothing else, these clips are a poignant window into the mind of the american agnostic.
- some amazing moments with my children
- new verve and fun with carmel
- a great visit from one of my great friends from van, ryan
- some cool stuff with navpress that may facilitate getting the message of christ out in meaningful ways to the church
but there are also some crummy things going on
and it seems like the crummy things are the things that - typically - give me the urge to blog
but i have a little problem
because most crummy things in life have to do with people
and the things that are really crummy have to do with people who are close to us
maybe even close people who hurt us, either purposefully or inadvertently
and i just don't feel right about airing my dirty laundry on those topics
which is weird, because that really does seem to be most of what the blogosphere is
it's a place where it's ok to publicly air your grievances
to talk bad about people you don't agree with
or to flame the ones you hate
loving jesus doesn't leave me open to the option of being publicly critical
even when others are critical of me
and this is hard for me - probably because i'm spiritually immature
but also because i tend to focus on the relational traps that these dynamics have laid for me in the past
at any rate
i thought if it's unethical for me to air my frustrations
maybe it'd at least be ok for me to air my frustrations about not being able to ethically air my frustrations
and i'm hoping this is an example to other christ-followers
to examine how they use this public venue
to be careful how we appraise one another's ministries
how we speak about other leaders and other followers
about the assumptions we make regarding the credibility of another's thoughts or passions
if we advocated for our beliefs as much as we deconstruct our opponents'
maybe we wouldn't have to be so embarrassed about our churches