Category Archives: Flourish

The Bible in a Word – an essay on ‘Flourishing’

Yesterday, on the final day of my Biblical Thought class for the semester, I read this brief essay and then gave it to them along with suggestions for further study. I said,  “Here’s another way to describe what I long for all of you and myself as we’ve explored the drama of Scripture. It centers around the word, Flourish. I’ve become convinced that flourishing is the best modern equivalent for the beautifully comprehensive Hebrew word, Shalom (Peace, wholeness, the way God designed his world and his people to live to the fullest.”) I found myself getting a bit choked up as I read it to them. It was more than a summary; it was pouring out my heart.


Flourishing Our Place in the Biblical Story

There is a universal longing, a desire transcending tribe, tongue, and nation that sits at the core of every human heart. It’s a desire for thriving. For fullness of life. For a life worth living. For flourishing. 

Creation as God intended it, was in a state of flourishing (Shalom). The picture of the Garden was where the man and the woman walked in right relationship with God. Everything was as it was supposed to be.

When evil entered into God’s good creation, humanity experienced the cancerous effect of sin and brokenness. We are cracked images (Eikons), made to look like God, but desperately in need of restoration.

Flourishing begins with the work of redemption that God undertakes in the history of Israel and fulfills in Jesus. God defeats death and evil through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. God makes the way for lost and broken people to be restored to right relationship with God, one another, and the cosmos. Repent and believe the Good News!

We are all in need of restoration. When we receive God’s grace, understand what God made us for, and how we fit into his big picture of restoration, that is when we begin to truly flourish. But it doesn’t end there.

Flourishing goes beyond our personal redemption and includes finding our calling. Knowing that God is glorified when his creation flourishes, we work for the flourishing of others out of gratitude and a desire to extend God’s glory. When we serve other people with our God-given gifts, talents, time and resources, we help them flourish.

What does flourishing look like, then? It’s when the wilderness becomes fruitful. It’s when justice reigns. It’s when righteousness dwells. It’s when people live peacefully. Flourishing is true happiness in God. It’s joy. It’s a fullness of life. It’s wholeness. It’s abundance. It’s Shalom!

Flourishing promotes the common good. It radiates God’s Kingdom on earth. Flourishing is a thriving farm. It’s a booming city. It’s a cure for disease. It’s a new technology for good. It’s a beautiful song. It’s a vibrant street mural. It’s a loving family. It’s a fun friendship. It’s a deep relationship with God. It’s living as an image bearer of our Creator. Flourishing means becoming everything we were created to be.

Finally, although we are called to bring about ever higher levels of flourishing, we know in the end we are giving only a foretaste of the restoration that is to come when God fully ushers in the New Creation. Flourishing in this life is inevitably incomplete because of God’s ongoing mission in the world.

This is what we hope for, what each of us longs for deep in our hearts. In the meantime, we’ve got work to do. God keeps calling us to live our part in bringing about flourishing for our communities and the world. Proclaim and live the Good News!

Lyle Mook – adapted and expanded from an article by Dr. Anne Bradley, The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics, 2015

If Jesus Came to Our Home

logoIMG_8474Our vision at Christ Church begins: “We will be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people…” A right view of diversity comes from the very heart of God. Neil Botts, our Executive Pastor, preached a wonderfully challenging sermon from Luke 5, linked here. A summary and further resources follow. 


The Bible is a story of God’s promise, through the descendants of Abraham, to create a new community of people called the Church, from every nation, tribe, and language who live under his loving and gracious rule. The Bible tracks this promise—from Genesis to Revelation—and its fulfillment through the person of Jesus Christ. Luke 5 shows us what this new community is supposed to look like. Jesus’ violates and breaks through social and religious boundaries and norms to demonstrate that God’s heart is for ALL people. And Jesus demonstrates this all the way to the cross to bring about these new norms.

Therefore, who am I to allow the things that are non-barriers in God’s eyes (things such as race, ethnicity, class, and gender) to be barriers in my own life and in the life of our community?! Jesus makes another point in a graphic way: this new wine—these new norms for relationships—cannot be poured into old wineskins. Therefore, the impossible must happen: I must recognize my brokenness and, through repentance and faith, embrace God’s love in Jesus Christ so that he can replace my heart of stone with a new heart, allowing him to pour the new wine of his love for all people into my heart. People will know that we are disciples of Jesus Christ and encounter his love not only by how we love, but by who we love!


Next steps and applications for our lives:

  1. In what ways have you encountered relational barriers because of race, ethnicity, class or gender?
  2. Where have you included people in your relational circle because they fit into your plans or because they were the “right kind” of people?
  3. Where have you excluded people from your relational circle because they did not fit into your plans or they were not the “right kind” of people?
  4. What do you sense God is saying to you about this? What will be your response?
  5. Participate in future discussions at Christ Church on race, ethnicity, class, and gender and related issues.
  6. Immigration Resources: Consider what God has to say before coming to your own conclusions on this topic. Check out these resources:
    Evangelical Immigration Table
    The Immigration Alliance
    Recommended Reading
  7. Join us for our upcoming series on Radical Hospitality beginning Sunday, January 24, 2016 as we continue in Luke, seeking to consider how these new norms Jesus is modeling impact the way we do life together as the church.
  8. Pray regularly for our vision:
    Christ Church will be a diverse community that lives the Good News of Jesus Christ for the flourishing of all people throughout our region and around the world.

           Our Mission Priorities:
           As a movement of people dependent upon God, we will:

             ~Become and make committed disciples of Christ who glorify God and embody
             our faith in every area of life.

             ~Bring compassion, mercy, and justice to our local community and the world in
             sustainable ways.

             ~Start new and strengthen existing Christ Church communities.

Sermon Audio

Living the Good News with Conviction, Civility, & Compassion

15-10-05 F:W Convictions-Civility.012How do we engage the culture in which we find ourselves in a Christ-honoring way? This is a crucial and sometimes complex question for Christians everywhere. There are three essential ingredients from the Scriptures that put ‘flesh’ on being ‘salt and light’ in the culture. God calls us to be people of CONVICTION, CIVILITY, and COMPASSION.  The sermon from Oct. 4th is linked here. I’ve added some additional notes that expand the discussion below.


Civility is becoming recognized as a public virtue far superior to an often mushy Tolerance – which does not even require love for the other as ‘neighbor!’

The central principle from the ever-relevant Scripture in Peter’s first letter:

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (Greek: apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect… (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

Let me take this a step further explaining why I believe God calls us to all three of these essentials… (you can ponder the question of, “what will be missing if all three are not part of our lives.”)

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.024Without CONVICTION, we can be aimless or even compromising, not pointing people to ‘the Good, the True, and the Beautiful’ which come from God.

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.025Without COMPASSION, we can be impractical and just ‘live in our head’; or worse – be people without embodied love in action, and ultimately become invisible or irrelevant to the culture in need around us!

 

 

 

 

 

14-06-01 Flourish5-civility-conviction-comp.026 Without CIVILITY, we can become a limited Christian ‘ghetto’ that doesn’t engage the culture. Or, we can be only a marginalized subculture – unpersuasive and the opposite of the Good News aroma of God!

[On the wider level of our culture and the world, the absence or imbalance of these three virtues leads to lack of any respectful dialogue on one hand – or even violence and terrorism on the extreme end.]

(Richard Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is a must read on the subject of civility with convictions.)

So, let’s continue grow in our biblical convictions of truth while embodying and proclaiming the Gospel of hope in Christ – all with a grace and respect among the sacred humans we live with every day!

The “Faith at Work” Series – part 1

faw_seriesWe’ve begun a 6 week sermon series at Christ Church called Faith at Work. Week 1, Your Work Matters to God (listen here) seeks to lay the foundation for a theology of work and culture. In this post I want to point to some practical resources to support and equip us as we seek to integrate faith and work, (whatever your ‘workplace’ looks like – business, home, school, etc.)


Our new Center for Faith at Work website has a great Support page. We have put together resources that consist of books, videos, blogs, articles and websites for you to explore. We also have a blog to encourage dialogue on specific topics covered in our monthly dinner meetings and in our small groups.

If you are local, we are having monthly dinner meetings called Thank God It’s Monday! You can sign up to attend here.

In addition there is a new Center for Faith at Work Small Group meeting every other Monday studying great topics essential to integrating faith and the workplace.


One of my favorite books on this subject is by Tim Keller called Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite as Keller lays out a variety of ways Christians approach Faith/Work integration:

So if you are a Christian who is trying to be faithful in your work, you might find yourself trying to weigh sentiments as varied as these: • The way to serve God at work is to further social justice in the world. • The way to serve God at work is to be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues. • The way to serve God at work is just to do skillful, excellent work. • The way to serve God at work is to create beauty. • The way to serve God at work is to work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end. • The way to serve God at work is to work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs. • The way to serve God at work is to do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion. • The way to serve God at work is to make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can. To what extent are these sentiments complementary or actually opposed to one another? That is a difficult question, for there is at least a measure of biblical warrant for every one of them…

(These don’t have to be mutually exclusive but can be) a kind of tool kit to be used to build a model for the integration of faith and work in your field, time, and place.

Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (p. 22) Kindle Edition.

 

 

 

Why we have to learn how to Ruminate!

15-07-19 PRAXIS- Ruminate! copy.005
When I started blogging several years ago, I chose the title Ruminations. It’s still in the subtitle. It’s not just a graphic term for bovine digestion. It was adopted early in the church as a metaphor for the essential discipline of meditation. It means internalizing and assimilating the truth of God (specifically from Holy Scripture) into our spiritual bloodstreams. It runs counter to our frenzied culture but it’s the only way we flourish and mature in Christ-likeness! You can listen to the sermon here and I’ll include more below on the WHY and HOW of biblical meditation.


What is Biblical Meditation and why is it so important?

::  It has a vocal component: “to talk; mutter; whisper; muse; ponder; moan; sigh. It’s talking with God about His Word and your life.

::  It’s getting God’s truth from the ‘head’ to the ‘heart.’

::  It’s “the sister of reading, the nurse of prayer, and the guide of action;”  “the beginning of all good!”

::  It’s internalization God’s Word so as to transform our way of life. It’s not about emptying the mind as in some religions and spiritualities. Biblical meditation opens us to the “mind of Christ” and to God’s presence in the world.

::  It’s listening to God; giving attention (someone has said, “Inattention is the greatest obstacle to the life of faith!”)

::  It’s tuning into God with all the “antennae of the soul” (mind, emotions, imagination, and will.)

::  It’s spiritual digestion – or rumination! “Words and truths of God “eaten, chewed, received in unhurried delight” (Eugene Peterson)


So HOW do we Practice Meditation? Some suggestions:

Choose a verse, chapter, or story in the Bible – perhaps from your overall reading or a sermon or Bible Study. (You can also meditate on an attribute of God, like God’s justice; or a name of Christ, like the Good Shepherd or the Bread of Life)

1. “a.e.i.o.u.” is a way of “chewing” on the passage you are reflecting on. The vowels stand for:
Ask questions (Kipling’s “6 honest serving men” who taught him all he knew: What and Why and When; and How and Where and Who!)
Emphasize different words
In your own words, or paraphrasing
Other verses that relate and inform
Use, i.e. “Lord, how do you want me to apply this truth?”

2. Martin Luther taught a simple and practical way to meditate and pray:
Luther took for example, The Lord’s Prayer and using each petition, he wove “a garland of four twisted strands. That is, I take each (petition) first as a teaching, which is what it actually is, and I reflect upon what our Lord God so earnestly requires of me here. Secondly, I make out of it a reason for thanksgiving. Thirdly, a confession and fourthly, a prayer petition.” You can read more about his practice here from a past blogpost.


However you and I come to “ingest” the Word of God, let our prayer be with the hymn writer: “Beyond the sacred page – I seek YOU Lord!” *

Let’s be people who Ruminate on God and His truth!

(*from “Break Now the Bread of Life” – Covenant Hymnal, A. Groves, alt.)

Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

praxis_encountering_godThis sermon in our Praxis series begins with a pastoral statement I made re: the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. You can listen to the entire sermon here. I also am including the written version of the statement as some have requested. It was helpful for many and I trust it will continue to set the tone for further gracious dialog and Christ-like ministry. Continue reading Same-Sex Marriage and the Church

Anointed! God’s hand on your life

Pentecost Icon. The King figure at the bottom represents the world waiting in darkness for the apostles to bring the power of the Spirit they have received to all the nations of the world.
Pentecost Icon. The King figure at the bottom represents the world waiting in darkness for the apostles to bring the power of the Spirit they have received to all the nations of the world.

Last Sunday, in our series on the ministry of the Holy Spirit called Fresh Air, we examined the meaning and experience of the Spirit’s anointing. It was a deeply moving time for us as a congregation.

Listen to the sermon here.

God used the touch of simple olive oil as a sign and reminder that His hand is on our lives to give new life, to empower us for service, to heal (more than cure), and to transform us into the character likeness of Christ!

As a reminder for those attending and as a visual aid for those who listen to the sermon, here is what we put up on the screen as men and women, boys and girls came to be marked on the forehead with oil. Many named what it was that God was speaking to them about – “patience,” “discernment,” “healing,” “I’m available for how God wants to use me,” etc.


“Receive this oil – as a sign of the Holy Spirit’s anointing…”

LORD, I believe. Thank You for renewing my life…

Empower me as you send me out to serve You…

Heal me – as You know all my needs…

Your hand is on my life; use me as you will…

Produce in me Christ’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…


 

You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows!  (Psalm 23)

It is God himself who makes us, together with you, sure of our life in union with Christ; it is God himself who has set us apart (anointed us), who has placed his mark of ownership upon us, and who has given us the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the guarantee of all that he has in store for us.  (2 Corinthians 1:21-22, GNT)

 

 

Restoration has begun!

hagia sophia
Hagia Sophia mosaic, Istanbul

In our series, Whole Gospel: The Bible’s Epic Drama, we come to Act 2: The Fall. In the sermon, I emphasize that we cannot be spiritually, emotionally, or relationally intelligent, if we don’t understand the fallenness of humanity!  But then we have to ask the question: “Is there any Good News in the fact that we are “fallen?”  Sin and evil have entered God’s good creation; Shalom has been vandalized; the image of God in us has been defaced. But Act 2 is not the end of the Story!  You can listen to the sermon here.


A poetic note: I try to always take some time on my “Monday Sabbath” to read some poetry. Today it was Czeslaw Milosz, from a late book of poems called Second Space. It includes a long poem called Treatise on Theology. Two excerpts:

Why theology? Because the first must be first.
And the first is a notion of truth…

Let reality return to our speech.
That is, meaning. Impossible without an absolute point of reference.

[and another line that reflects his frustrations with the tendency of theologians and the church to make God’s truth unintelligible!]

There must be a middle place between abstraction and childishness
where one can talk seriously about serious things.

[I wrote in the back of the book, “I think this states the quest of my adult life and ministry!” – i.e. to make the Bible’s rich truth understandable to anyone. ]

**A wonderful article about Milosz’s and his faith, written at the time he published this poem is found here in First Things!

God’s ‘Epic’ Good News!

wholegospelLOGOwholegospel_WEBHave you wanted to better understand what the Bible is all about?  We are being led this Lent and Easter season into an ambitious teaching series called Whole Gospel: The Bible’s Epic Drama. It comes with several exciting parts to it:

+ Sunday teachings will explore the “Six Act Drama” of the Bible’s really Good News – the whole Gospel for the whole world! I have been using this six act framework for several years in my Biblical Thought course at URI. It is essential for getting a grasp on the Big Picture, that in Christ, God is bringing restoration and reconciliation to His world. He wants us to truly Flourish!

Drama book+ I encourage you to read the The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story, the main text I’ve used in my URI course…it is in Kindle ebook form also. There is a chapter on each of the 6 Acts that you can read following each of the sermons: (Creation, the Fall, Covenants w. Israel, Jesus, Church, and New Creation.)

+ We will provide opportunities for more indepth study: reflections through the days of Lent; podcasts; questions for personal and small group study; Sunday morning class, and more.

+ During Holy Week (Palm Sunday through Easter) we will host a wonderful new experience we’re calling an Easter Celebration of the Arts! Check here for details about the events and how to submit art, poetry, music, photography, etc. Invite your world to come and see!


(My sermon, For the Sake of the Gospel from 2/8/15 gives some helpful background to the importance of better understanding the “Whole Gospel” in today’s culture.)

‘You’re killing me!’ – the many faces of destructive talk

Death and life are in the power of the tongue…!  Proverbs (18:21)

The 6th Commandment against murder guards the sacredness of human life. In our series, “All In” I called this teaching, “You’re Killing Me: The 6th Commandment and the Sacredness of Human Life,” which I encourage you to listen to here. 

I crafted what I called an Alphabet of Verbal Anger – OR – 26 Variations on the Theme of Murder. I’ve included some of the results of each here:

A – Abuse – yes, I said abuse that can’t be called anything less

B – Bullying that seeks to create fear

C – Constant Criticism that erodes respect

D – Dismissiveness that belittles 

E – Explosions that destroy any peace

F – Forcing compliance that takes away freedom

G – Gossip that ruins reputations

H – Humiliation that puts you down

I – Intimidation that controls and frightens

J – Judgment that criticizes and tears down

K – Killing the spirit that paralyzes

L – Lying – that kills trust

M – Minimizing that devalues

N – Name-calling that attacks your identity

O – Offensive, profane words that spoil

P – Put-downs that cover over weakness

Q – Quarreling that avoids the issues

R – Ridicule that erodes self-image

S – Sarcasm that reveals hatred

T – Threatening that manipulates

U – Undermining that can lower respect

V – Violating that creates insecurity

W – Wounding that weakens the spirit

X – eXasperation that urges you to give up

Y – Yelling that batters the senses

Z – Zeal that can include a false spirituality, covering over un-Christlike behaviors

NOTE: One husband suggested that he’d like to craft an Alphabet of Upbuilding Speech! You may want to work on that one too!

In the sermon, I seek to be sensitive also to those currently in abusive situations. There are levels of domestic violence, and physical violence is always preceded by verbal abuse. Our denomination has a ministry called Advocacy for Victims of Abuse with online resources here.

http://vimeo.com/72828129/download?t=1414461846&v=184757714&s=e0c26f94dea0db2b7ae84f2eee7e6d09