Category Archives: Mission and Vision

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

If Jesus Came to Church

logoIMG_8474One thing is certain. Jesus’s Vision was crystal clear! It was embedded in the amazing prophecy of Isaiah (chpt 61 and 58) that Jesus read in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. This sermon explores what is behind the vision and its implications for us today. (Due to a technical difficulty, this is a ‘studio’ recording, not the original.)

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
   and recovering of sight to the blind,
   to set at liberty those who are oppressed, (from Isa. 58:6)
   to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

There are 4 aspects of Jesus’ vision that must drive what the church is about!

  1. Jesus’ vision is for the whole person – spiritual AND physical;
  2. Jesus’ vision is for the Jews AND all humanity;
  3. Jesus’ vision is to be both proclaimed AND demonstrated;
  4. Jesus’ vision is for the present AND the future.

And so our vision at Christ Church has been put this way. We pray for the grace to live it out!

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.

NOTE: I would recommend looking at the great little book by  A. J. Gordon that inspired the name of our Luke 3-5 series. It’s called How Christ Came to Church. (You can find it on the archive of his works here: under his books.) Gordon has wonderful insight into the presence and power of the Holy Spirit for our life with Christ. Here’s a sampling:

Just in front of the study window where I write is a street, above which it is said that a powerful electric current is constantly moving. I cannot see that current: it does not report itself to hearing, or sight, or taste, or smell, and so far as the testimony of the senses is to be taken, I might reasonably discredit its existence. But I see a slender arm, called the trolley, reaching up and touching it; and immediately the car with its heavy load of passengers moves along the track as though seized in the grasp of some mighty giant. The power had been there before, only now the car lays hold of it or is rather laid hold of by it, since it was a touch, not a grip, through which the motion was communicated. 

And would it be presumptuous for one to say that he had known something of a similar contact with not merely a divine force but a divine person? The change which ensued may be described thus: instead of praying constantly for the descent of a divine influence there was now a surrender, however imperfect, to a divine and ever-present Being: instead of a constant effort to make use of the Holy Spirit for doing my work there arose a clear and abiding conviction that the true secret of service lay in so yielding to the Holy Spirit that he might use me to do his work!

Three Ordinary Radicals

Carlson pic TimeIn our series, ALL IN! we come to the 8th Commandment against stealing. I called it, Who are you Robbing?  which you can access here. We highlighted three doctors – ordinary servants of Christ – who have freely given their lives out of love for God and their African neighbors. Their stories teach us the depth of what it means to not waste our lives and to live with radical generosity.

This month is the 50th anniversary of the death of Dr. Paul Carson, Evangelial Covenant missionary, in the Congo in November 1964. He became known as the “Congo Martyr” – killed by insurgent rebels. The story was featured on the covers of both Time and Life magazines. His tombstone, bears the inscription “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Shortly after Carlson’s death, his wife, Lois and others formed the Paul Carlson Medical Program with the goal of raising money to support the hospital and local economy. Since 2000, it now operates under the name Paul Carlson Partnership out of Chicago with a mission that focuses on investing in health care, economic development, and education in Central Africa. Read more here about this remarkable life and the on-going work in Congo.

FAST FORWARD to Afghanistan, April 2014.

umanos-follow-up-241x300Dr. Jerry Ulmanos was a pediatrician, a life-long member of a Covenant Church, who was one of three Americans slain by a member of the Afghan security  force in Kabul. His widow, Jan said, “Jerry always wanted to serve underserved populations. Afghanistan was just one of them. He always had a desire to be the hands and feet of Christ. He was always a light for Christ, and he had a love and commitment that he expressed for the Afghan people because of that love for Christ.”

She added, “We would really like for all of our friends and family and anybody else to please honor Jerry’s memory by opening up your heart to the Afghan people as well as any other populations around the world that need to see Christ’s love.

One of Jerry’s heroes was Dr. Paul Carlson. His story motivated Umanos to pursue a career in medicine and in missions. On his medical school application, Jerry wrote: “In conclusion, I want to underscore clearly that my desire to be a medical missionary is not some command of God against my wishes…On the contrary, I believe God wants me to serve him and has left the manner by which I do this up to me. And becoming a doctor and a missionary is what I truly desire. Dr. Umanos embodied what it means to be an unreserved disciple of Jesus Christ. You can read more of his story here.

Nancy WritebolFINALLY – on the front lines of the Ebola crisis in Liberia

Dr. Nancy Writebol was the first Westerner to contract the Ebola virus this July. She is a missionary doctor who was serving in Liberia. Read her story reflecting on why “Risk is Right,” in an interview from Nov. 8th. It is a powerful read! 

I ended the sermon that included these stories – with an excerpt from Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poem (1993 I)

Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes…

Every day you have less reason
not to give your life away.

Macro and Micro – why we need both

macro-microI don’t apologize for taking time in my preaching and teaching to give the larger story of God that we find ourselves in. The Big Picture of God’s Mission in the world (the “macro”) is essential if we are going to serve God in our local, everyday world (the “micro”). It’s not either-or, it’s both.

The July 2013 Issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR) makes the point in the editorial cover story.

The longer I follow Jesus and study Christian mission, the more sense it makes to live in light of both the big picture of the missio Dei (Mission of God) and the small, daily opportunities right in front of me. The apostle Paul conducted his missionary service this way. For example, at a particular historical moment he encouraged Gentile Christians to contribute on behalf of famine-stricken Judean believers by appealing to God’s larger purposes for Israel and the world (Rom. 15:25–27). Perhaps even more pointed is the way Jesus was ever conscious of God’s macro plan of salvation, but was all the while responsive to micro-level needs and interruptions. Just prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, knowing that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,” Jesus served his disciples through the menial task of washing their feet (John 13:1–5).

Jesus’ disciples heard him teach about life and about God’s macro relation to Israel and the world for three years, all the while watching him serve, perform miracles, and otherwise relate to various specific people. At their final gathering with the risen Jesus, the disciples asked him perhaps the most macro question they could muster: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). These heirs of Israel’s heritage were articulating their national longing for the restoration of King Solomon’s splendor after a millennium of division, exile, and subjugation. The macro expectation that gripped the disciples both fueled their imagination about the larger meaning of Jesus’ life and filtered their expectations for who this Nazarene was in relation to their own particular lives. It seems that we human beings inevitably carry compelling visions of deity and the world that affect how we live our daily lives.

Jesus gave his disciples a combined macro/micro answer. He noted how, on a macro level, God alone knows when and how the historical developments about which they were asking will take place. On a micro level, Jesus’s followers, empowered by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, would serve him in all sorts of situations in Jerusalem and elsewhere, events of which we learn through Christian mission history.

The undertow of almost any Christian’s sense of the missio Dei is that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to re-create this world that went wrong. In light of the Christ event, God’s people participate with the Holy Spirit in his mission in a myriad of micro-level situations throughout the world. Our particular Christian traditions variously depict the contours and hues of the macro missio Dei and its particular components. But no matter how we might emphasize different aspects of the big picture, we all as Jesus’ followers—mission analysts included—must engage people in micro contexts of mission. Just as Jesus focused on the people right in front of him, we all must interact with the real, live people whose concrete situations we share in life. It does no good to contemplate the vastness of the ocean of life if we neglect the immediate conditions of our own rowboats, the surrounding waves and weather, and, most important, our fellow passengers in the boat, with whom we struggle to row forward in our particular locales.

Are you and I seeing and serving the world with both the macro and the micro clearly in view?

‘Seeing’ the world

see the worldOn the eve of our church’s world mission weekend called “World Fest,” I want to weigh in on a question often raised in today’s Christian Mission discussions. Are short mission trips really worth the expenditure of money and energy?  Some cynically assert that they can even do more harm than good.

Last month, our staff attended our Evangelical Covenant pastors’ conference. Mark Labberton was teaching one morning from Psalm 8. He unwrapped a simple but profound summary of the Story of God’s plan we see throughout Scripture:

1. God pays attention to us! (“What is man that you are mindful of him…” v. 4) Are our eyes open to the astonishing fact that the God of the universe sees, attends, pays persistent attention to our lives as his image bearers!

2. We are called to pay attention to God: to open our eyes to see the Lord – in his Word and in his world.

3. Then God says, “Pay attention to the people of the world in My name!”  (“You have given him dominion – skilled mastery – over the created order…” v. 6)

God wants us to see the people that are invisible, people who need attention, people who we ignore and forget, who need the hope Jesus brings.  We are called to see the world as God sees – to let him give us NEW VISION!

I had an epiphany (a light went on!) about why we need to be sending Mission Teams from our churches. We know It’s not about what WE can do. We do not bring God to people; we go and join God in what he’s already doing! Rather, when we send our people – we are sending “SEERS” (or is it See-ers!) When they SEE more of their fellow image-bearers from all nations, their eyes begin to open. They come back and help more of the church community here to see and engage; to love and take action!

So Mission Trips are really VISION trips, to mobilize our church to fulfill our calling – to attend to the world God Loves, in his name!

Will we open our eyes and pay attention?
Will we volunteer to be See-ers; Visionaries in the Mission of God?


Poetry Monday – Preserving our experience

Poetry is the intensity of our experience;
a way of recognizing and preserving our experience.

Christian Wyman

I agree intently! I thought I would share one of the first poems I wrote that “intensified my experience”- in this case, a Mission Trip. I was in Czechoslovakia with an international assembly of Navigator teams helping to visit believers in then closed countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.  We could not take pictures or exchange addresses for security reasons. After 5 incredible weeks we re-assembled in Vienna and I desperately wanted a way to remember. I turned to simple poetry. Every time I read it, I am immediately  brought back to the events that these simple words helped preserve. Others who have been on trips such as this echo the feelings expressed.

Slavic Tears

The last day together;
bowed heads around a humble table;
hearts brimming with varied emotions;
sweet recollection, sad resignation.

Those first few days never allowed for this moment.
So hard to say the words:
“I may never see you on earth again!”

We prayed for one another
and our homelands;
understanding the language of every other prayer.
We needed no translation –

and I wept in Slavic tears.

[Czechoslovakia, 1980]

Are you ‘Plugged in?’

Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) We were created and redeemed to be connected to God, to God’s people, and to be fruitful in God’s mission in the world.

Jesus promised the gift of the Holy Spirit who would through his new community the Church, do “greater things!”

The beginning church in Jerusalem was not a set structure to be imitated, but it is a model of values and vision that continues to inspire the church of all times and places! It inspires us here and now.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers….And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.     (Acts 2:42,47, ESV)

In a recent teaching, linked at our website, I summarized the inspiring vision of the Church in this way.

We want to be a LEARNING Community
We want to be a SHARING (‘Koinonia’) Community
We want to be a WORSHIPING Community
We want to be an OUTREACHING Community

It means being taught the authoritative Word of God and being life-long learners;
It means knowing and being known, loving and being loved, serving and being served;
It means coming together for prayers and worship publicly and in our homes;
It means being a contagious people who live and speak the hope of Good News into our world.

It means being committed and connected – PLUGGED IN to Christ and his community.

Are you plugged in?
If not, what’s the one next step the Lord wants you to take?

Take care of the horse!

Robert Murray McCheyne, after graduating from Edinburgh University at age fourteen in 1827 and leading a Presbyterian congregation of over a thousand at age twenty-three, worked so hard that his health finally broke. Before dying at age twenty-nine he wrote, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse and now I cannot deliver the message.” An illustration of the recent sermon on having a Game Plan for our BODIES!

We have been exploring how to create a “Rule of Life” – an intentional “Game Plan” for our discipleship.  Another resource you may find helpful is from SSJE (Soc. of St. John the Evangelist). They have written a booklet you can download called Living Intentionally: A Workbook for Creating a Personal Rule of Life. It will walk you through the process with similar kinds of questions. As a monastic community they have a detailed formal Rule of Life that for the most part contains wonderful principles for any Christ-follower.

Right Motivations for Ministry

If you serve Christ in any kind of ministry, let me urge you to print this text and post it where you will see it often. Or better yet – memorize it! (Listen here to the sermon on this text from 10-2-11)

For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed— God is witness. 6 Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentleamong you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

 For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. 11 For you know how, like a father with his children,12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

 13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you receivedthe word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.  (1 Thessalonians 2:3-13, ESV)

There are so many ways that we can dishonor God by insecure, false, or selfish motives.  We need to do Christ’s work in Christ-like ways.  It means starting with the authority of God’s Word, seeking only His glory, not serving ourselves or making up for deficits in our own lives.  It means having a ‘spiritual parent’ and being a spiritual parent for others in ways that honor God in everything.  It’s a high calling.  It’s the only way to truly ‘make disciples’ modeled for us in Scripture!