Category Archives: Fully Human

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

Ordination to Ordinary Life and Work

As our Faith at Work Series continues, we were blessed as a congregation to take a small step toward what we call the “ordination to ordinary life and work.”  Listen to the sermon here. The picture to the right is from the 9/11 Museum and story from John Felker of Chaplain Mychal Judge who died praying over a fallen comrade. The prayer is one that he prayed to prepare for his workday. (Click on the image to read it.)  Below, is the text of the Prayer and “Ordination” language with which we ended the service.


People of God, we have come to celebrate the ministry that Christ has given to the Church in calling men and women to serve in its mission. Christ alone is head of the Church, the source of all ministry. By the Holy Spirit this ministry belongs to all who believe and are baptized, to be salt for the earth and light to the world. Because we are created in God’s image, being fully human means to rule and serve well in God’s creation.

Hear God’s word of call and promise: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” With these words, Jesus sent his followers on a mission to the whole world. We are a part of that mission still, two thousand years later and half a world away. We know the joyful obligation and solemn privilege of being called to live out this commission. We are given opportunity to serve our world in Christ’s name, and work together to introduce people and nations to our Lord and Savior. From the beginning, Christians have been a sent people and churches have been sending communities. In the Book of Acts we read that the church named Paul and Barnabas to be a mission team. The Scripture reads, “Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.” This is what we do today.

Do you affirm today that you are made in the image of a God and redeemed by Christ. And that you therefore want your life to be fully immersed in what Jesus calls the Kingdom of God. That when you get up in the morning to go to your job, or be at school, or care for your family, or go about your daily tasks – you are fulfilling a holy calling from God?

PRAYER OF CONSECRATION: God, who calls people to go to the ends of the earth with the good news of Jesus Christ, we join together today in sending these people out for their important work as faithful witnesses of Your Kingdom wherever they find themselves. Through the touch of their hands and the labor of their backs, through the working of their minds and the words of their mouths, do your work of communicating good news and extending the kingdom. In this time, may they grow in grace and in their knowledge of you; may they effectively and faithfully serve others in your name; may they be used in introducing people to Jesus; may they give glory to you by their actions. We pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

“Lament” – A Call to Artists and Poets

“Cry” by Gill Phillips (Used by Permission) In correspondence she notes: “The painting was done in response to an image of a grieving woman during the floods in Pakistan in 2011…it could be anyone, anywhere lamenting for loss.
“Cry” by Gill Phillips
(Used by Permission) In correspondence she notes: “The painting was done in response to an image of a grieving woman during
the floods in Pakistan in 2011…it could be anyone, anywhere lamenting for loss.

I want to remind everyone of a powerful and deeply relevant event coming next month!

Lament – A Teaching Series and Artists Exhibition at Christ Church – November 1-22, 2015.

A large portion of the Bible is the poetry of lament, certainly in the Psalms, but also in the short second book from the time of the prophet Jeremiah called Lamentations. This book speaks out of the unspeakable pain of Israel’s heaviest national tragedy – the physical, emotional, and spiritual trauma of Jerusalem’s destruction in the 6th century B.C. It is “tear-soaked poetry of astonishing beauty and intricacy.” It is also the text from which the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness is derived! (Lam. 3:21-24)

Lament is important for our world today! There is much lament in the face of war, displacement, and injustice. But it must be seen in the context of the Bible’s whole story of redemption in Christ and New Creation to come. Poetry (as in the Psalms and the Prophets) is one way in which lament is expressed. But all of the arts can “give voice.”


So much of our worship can become cover-up: pretending to have emotions we don’t really feel, or smothering the emotions we do. That is not praise. It simply leaves us to pick up our suffering again on the way out—without bringing it into God’s presence or hurling it at him in questioning (but trusting) protest. Spending time in Lamentations helps us learn how to plumb the depths of lament as well as scale the heights of rejoicing. (Christopher Wright, The Message of Lamentations) 

We are calling the artist community of Christ Church, as well as others in our region, to engage our gifts for this pre-Advent exhibition. The art will be displayed November 1-22, 2015 at Christ Church, 1025 Main St. in East Greenwich. In addition to a four week sermon series Lament: Talking with God Through Pain and Suffering, there will also be events for the broader community:

// Opening and Gallery Nights (tbd)

// Cafe Night of music, poetry, and artist description of their work: Friday evening Nov. 13th, 7-9.

// Panel Forum with discussion on the place of lament in worship and its implications for compassion, mercy, and justice (tbd)


What’s Next?

// Contact Linda Anderson at Christ Church (lindaa@christchurchec.org) concerning your desire to contribute and which form(s) of art you anticipate submitting (painting, photography, poetry, music, fiber arts, etc.)

// Deadline for submission of all forms of art is Friday, October 23rd.

(The arts team of Christ Church reserves the right to select those pieces appropriate to our venue.)

// Here is a PDF version of the event description for downloading.


I’m so excited for this opportunity for the artists in our communities to use their gifts to express the truth and beauty of God’s Kingdom. Please pass this on to others. You do not need to be local to submit your work.

Lyle

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!

Idol Threats – Our real struggle with idolatry

dolatryIn our series, All IN! we are taking a long look at the Ten Commandments. You can listen to the sermon on the 2nd Commandment here. We have to actually spot and see our idols and then face the fact that we cannot grow as disciples of Christ if we do not also confront our idols.

Pastor and author Tim Keller offers a helpful definition of the sin of idolatry: “It is….fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God. Whatever we build our life on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.
In The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Keller describes the “particular kinds of brokenness and damage” caused by idolatry:
If you center your life and identity on your spouse or partner, you will be emotionally dependent, jealous, and controlling. The other person’s problems will be overwhelming to you.
If you center your life and identity on your family and children, you will try to live your life through your children until they resent you or have no self of their own. At worst, you may abuse them when they displease you.
If you center your life and identity on your work and career, you will be a driven workaholic and a boring, shallow person. At worst you will lose family and friends and, if your career goes poorly, develop deep depression.
If you center your life and identity on money and possessions, you’ll be eaten up by worry or jealousy about money. You’ll be willing to do unethical things to maintain your lifestyle, which will eventually blow up your life.
If you center your life and identity on pleasure, gratification, and comfort, you will find yourself getting addicted to something. You will become chained to the “escape strategies” by which you avoid the hardness of life.
If you center your life and identity on relationships and approval, you will be constantly overly hurt by criticism and thus always losing friends. You will fear confronting others and therefore will be a useless friend.
If you center your life and identity on a “noble cause,” you will divide the world into “good” and “bad” and demonize your opponents. Ironically, you will be controlled by your enemies. Without them, you have no purpose.
If you center your life and identity on religion and morality, you will, if you are living up to your moral standards, be proud, self-righteous, and cruel. If you don’t live up to your moral standards, your guilt will be utterly devastating.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            (pp. 275-276)
“Little children, keep yourself from idols!”  (1 John 5)

Are You “All In?”

all-in-logo_webWe’ve began our new teaching series called “All In.”  Listen to the intro sermon here. The biblical book of Deuteronomy reminds us that the choices we make – make all the difference!

Some resources for this ten week journey:

I highlighted an article from Yale University responding to the allegation that education has stopped asking questions of deepest human concern: What is a life worth living? What does a flourishing life look like? This newsletter frames the question and provides links to other great articles and videos.
You can also read a more detailed article by Miroslav Volf here.

Our series will expand on the Ten Commandments and the “ALL IN” passages of Deuteronomy as essential foundations for the Christian to live as an “Everyday Disciple.”

An excellent commentary for studying  Deuteronomy is by Christoper Wright. (It’s only $10 in ebook form.)

And now….what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? (Deut. 10:12-13)

 

‘Beauty will save the world’ ?

Gregory Wolfe, founder of Image Journal
Gregory Wolfe, founder of Image Journal

I had the opportunity recently to hear Gregory Wolfe, who is the founder of Image, a wonderful quarterly journal which has the byline: Art * Faith * Mystery. His book, Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age, makes a powerful case for the importance of beauty and imagination to engage the  culture.

“Beauty will save the world” originally was born from the pen of Russian novelist, Dostoevsky, through the lips of the main character of The Idiot. At first, it may sound like naive wishful thinking. But Alexander Solzhenitsyn came to embrace it, using it in his Nobel address. Many others have appealed to this statement in addressing the role of the artist in today’s world. (See here)

Czeslaw Milosz, in his poem One More Day, gives us illumination about the importance of Beauty:

And though the good is weak, beauty is very strong.
Nonbeing sprawls, everywhere it turns into ash whole expanses of being,
It masquerades in shapes and colors that imitate existence.
And no one would know it, if they did not know that it was ugly.
And when people cease to believe that there is good and evil.
Only beauty will call to them and save them.
So that they still know how to say: this is true and that is false.

As we care for and create culture as Christ-followers, we testify to the beauty of the creator – who is the Savior of his world!

 

 

Living ‘Under the Influence’

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.

Pentecost is celebrated 50 days after Easter. In our Flourish! series we re-visited the essential question of the Power behind a life of flourishing – the Holy Spirit. Jesus four times (in John, ch. 14-16) promises that he will send the Paraclete  (Greek for “Helper,” “Counselor,” “Comforter,” or “Advocate” – literally, “One who comes alongside to help!”) Paul uses the analogy of drunkenness: being under the influence of too much wine is the OPPOSITE of flourishing!
Listen to the sermon here.

There is joy and power when we live conscously under the influence of the Person of the Holy Spirit – depending on the Helper for every area of life and service!

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit… (Ephesians 5:18f. ESV)

Here’s my expanded translation:
Do not form the habit of getting your stimulous from misusing substances. This is wasting your life like pagan revelers letting themselves be contolled by false gods. Rather, be constantly influenced by, and submissive to, the Holy Spirit who is in you, and beside you, to personally fill you, and empower you to flourish for His glory and praise!

 

Why EVERY Human life is Sacred!

flourish_printOur series called Flourish! continues with part 2 – how the New Testament teaches the implications of The Sacredness of EVERY Human Life!  (You can access the sermon audio here.)

The four New Testament teachings:
1. The Incarnation of Christ (if God became human, then NO human can be seen as worthless! The incarnation elevates the status and worth of every human being.)
2. Jesus teachings (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount expanding the prohibition against Murder to include hatred and dehumanizing speech; love of enemies, etc.)
3. Jesus’ “Body Language” (e.g. having table fellowship with tax collectors and “sinners”)
4. Paul’s words of transformation and inclusion. (I used the ex. of Galatians 3:26-29 followed by a challenging statement from David Gushee, author of  The Sacredness of Human Life):

For now that you have faith in Christ you are all sons of God. All of you who were baptised “into” Christ have put on the family likeness of Christ. Gone is the distinction between Jew and Greek, slave and free man, male and female—you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are true descendants of Abraham, you are true heirs of his promise. (Gal. 3:26-29, JBP)

We do not have ‘Christian Community if human distinctions are maintained.’ (D. Gushee)

 

We will now begin to move into the practical questions like “Does my WORK really matter to God?” A teaser quote from Andy Crouch:

For many Christians, work is the place where they most directly experience the greatest potential for true image bearing. AND the greatest risk of idolatry!

Looking for Pleasure in the right place.

screwtapes-desktopMy son, Stephen, recently told me of a friend who is doing his doctorate on “The Happiness of God!” I thought of this as I was reading Psalm 16. It ends with a beautiful expression of the locus of true pleasure and happiness.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Psalm 16:11, ESV)

With this Psalm obviously in mind, C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, has the senior devil writing to his understudy, bemoaning the “unfair advantage” that God (his ‘Enemy’) has over the devils as they do their dark, inverted work:

He (God) is a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a façade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are ‘pleasures for evermore’. Ugh! I don’t think He has the least inkling of that high and austere mystery to which we rise in the ‘Miserific’ Vision. He’s vulgar, Wormwood… He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least—sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working, Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.

There’s no real pleasure on ‘the dark side!’

Q – Are you believing any devilish lies about pleasure?