Category Archives: The Missional Church

Jonah and the Surprising Grace of God

Jonah logo - IMG_0588Jonah is a parable-like story referenced by Jesus to dramatically illustrate the Gospel. You can read this “minor prophet” in 10 minutes, but it challenges us to do the hard work of living the Good News everyday with everyone we meet, especially those (who perhaps like ourselves) seem unlikely to respond to the gift of grace. Listen to the first sermon in this 4 part series here.


Also, here is a poem I read by a favorite writer and poet, Scott Cairns, called The Imprisonment of Jonah that cleverly captures the essence of the story. Listen to the author reading it here. (It is from his collected poems, Slow Pilgrim.)

Live with the End in Mind – reading the Bible’s last book

16-11-20-ccbe-rev-live-w-the-end-in-mind-028The week before I was scheduled to preach on the book of Revelation in our 40 day blitz through the New Testament, Neil our Executive Pastor quipped that I’d be answering everyone’s questions about the Apocalypse in one sermon. I didn’t! Rather, I took one core idea behind what the Biblical authors wrote about the End Times, namely: to “Live with the End in Mind.” You can listen here. It includes the wonderful stories of a mother and daughter’s experiences serving in a school and hospital in Mali. I’m also including some resources for understanding the book of Revelation better.


As Jay Phelan points out in his book on Eschatology (the study of the end times), “There is probably no book so beloved and so despised, so carefully studied and so terribly abused, so routinely obsessed over and so generally ignored. G.K. Chesterton famously observed, ‘Though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators!'”  (Essential Eschatology: Our Present and Future Hope, p. 7)  The prophets, including John, are not primarily about prediction and speculation, but becoming aware that the future is breaking into the here and now!

One easy to understand and substantive commentary on Revelation is N. T. Wright’s The New Testament for Everyone – Revelation.

Eugene Peterson’s Reversed Thunder; The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination, is a beautiful look at the unique poetic and apocalyptic genre of the book that helps make it exciting and accessible.

I included this diagram in the sermon that helps explain how the Bible sees the end times as beginning at Christ’s resurrection and completed at his coming again. We live in the tension between “The Already and the Not Yet.” We are to live now with the end in mind!

16-11-20-ccbe-rev-live-w-the-end-in-mind-012

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so Paul, the Apostle, ends his magisterial chapter on the Resurrection and the New Creation with these words:

And so dear brothers and sisters of mine, stand firm! Let nothing move you as you busy yourselves in the Lord’s work. Be assured that nothing you do for God is ever lost or ever wasted!  (1 Corinthians 15:58)

 

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

A Prayer to Begin Your Day

In the previous post, I shared the story that challenged me to be more tuned into the everyday, ordinary opportunities for ministry to people. I closed the sermon Sunday with a suggested prayer to put in your own words. Here are variations you might use:

A SUGGESTED PRAYER TO BEGIN EACH DAY:

Lord I want to be available, to be your hands and feet today;
How are you speaking to me
Where are you at work?
How do you want me to join you?

OR in the words of one of our ‘senior saints:’

“Good morning, Lord!
What are you up to today?
How can I be involved?

OR like the child Samuel (and Mary, mother of Jesus)

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

 

The Church is outside the walls!

15-08-23 PRAXIS - Church Unleashed.006A necessary practice that will move us beyond theory, is to take time to process how God is speaking to us (and God IS constantly speaking!) With permission, I’m sharing a story, a not unusual day in my life or the life of a pastor, but a day when God “spoke to me.” I was reminded how the church is at work “under the radar” of our usual church-growth metrics. Here is the sermon audio and the written story is below:

[Church Outside the Walls]

I walked into the wake
knowing I couldn’t stay too long
and I didn’t know the family too well.
“Thanks so much for coming, Pastor.”

This new-acquainted sister of mine is a grieving daughter today;
mourning her mother after the heavy weight of caring well;
after the all too short wait for the expected end.
“Pastor, meet my dad.”

Her father looked up with sorrowful eyes.
“Thank you for coming, Pastor,” he said
not knowing me, but so sincere.
I told her, “I can’t stay for the service, but I wanted to stop by.”

I extend hands and hugs to the row of exhausted family.
I’m a welcomed stranger touching the tender nerves of loss.
I turned to leave, 6 radiant smiles of other women from our church.
“Oh, Pastor, so glad to see you!” as though surprised.

____________

I was deeply touched by this moment.
These women have not just “stopped by.”
They’ve been here – for the duration.
They’ve been here – from the start:

Comforting;
weeping;
listening and laughing;
serving and sistering.

They meet each week – or more
Praying and learning
listening and laughing; serving and sistering.
That’s just what they do.

_______________

Now, if the grieving sister were asked later,
“Has your church been there for you?”
I’m guessing she’d say, “Oh yes! My whole band of sisters
has walked beside me every step!”

“And, by the way, a pastor called and prayed and stopped by.”
But I wonder how many scores of people felt Jesus’ touch
through these women, that day and beyond?
Precious-to-God people who may not be entering a church building any time soon?

Come to think of it, only half of these women from our church were able to be “in church” the next Sunday.
I was having a grand Epiphany! A moment of beautiful clarity.
Known well in theory; but again now in Praxis:

The Church is outside the walls – going at full speed – unleashed!
This day’s liturgy is truly “the work of the people.”
A long vigil; a Holy Day of caring.
Spontaneous worship; teaching on the run; prayer without ceasing. 

______________

Ever since the widow gave her tiny, extravagant coins;
and Lydia’s thriving purple business, financed an infant church;
and Priscilla and Aquilla, tent-makers and disciple-makers
taught young triple A Apollos more complete doctrine in their home…

The Ordinary Ministry – has been notoriously underrated;
The Body’s work – often undocumented;
at least by the “experts;”
but NOT unnoticed by Jesus, the Head.

The One who measures true “success.” 


A SUGGESTED PRAYER TO BEGIN EACH DAY:

Lord I want to be available, to be your hands and feet today;
How are you speaking to me
Where are you at work?
How do you want me to join you?

OR in the words of one of our ‘senior saints:’

“Good morning, Lord!
What are you up to today?
How can I be involved?

OR like the child Samuel (and Mary, mother of Jesus)

“Speak, Lord; your servant is listening.”

Christ is Risen AND Ascended!

Icon of the Ascension
Icon of the Ascension

This is Ascension Day! It is the most neglected yet essential day in the church calendar. We should greet one another today (or this Sunday) with “Christ is Ascended!” Our response could be, “Yes, He is Lord of all!”

We experience Jesus now without seeing him! (Just like all disciples since the resurrection) Jesus was not resuscitated only to die later. Jesus rose in power, ascended after 40 days, and is enthroned at the right hand of the Father! (Luke 24, Acts 1) We woefully under-emphasize what Jesus is doing right now!

An ancient hymn for the Ascension says:
O Christ our God, upon fulfilling Your appointed work for our sake, You ascended in Glory, uniting the earthly with the heavenly….and cried out to those who love You, “I am with you and no one is against you.”

Why is it so significant that Jesus is our ascended Lord?  Jesus said it in commissioning his disciples; “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me; go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”  (Mat. 28) As N. T. Wright reminds us, this isn’t a ‘beam me up’ science fiction story.  Rather, it conveys Jesus’ Lordship and freedom from space-time limitations.  “Up and down” language is metaphorical in the Bible.  “God’s space” (heaven) and “our space” (earth) are not far away, but near.  Jesus, the embodied man is already Lord of all  (yes, he did not cease being a man!) He is also divine; he is present in one way by the Holy Spirit, but is also absent from this world.  And the ascension has the guarantee that he will appear again when the end comes!  “Jesus is in heaven, ruling the world, and he will one day return to make that rule complete.”  ( Surprised by Hope, p. 117)

Wright has a wonderful way of explaining this.  Jesus is like “a new CEO taking charge of a company that is a mess.”  (sound familiar?)  and we are his messengers, called to work for our Lord’s new way of doing things.  We take orders from him.  He is interceding for us (Heb. 7:25) and has equipped us with His Spirit and  gifts for service, backed by his preeminent authority.  We are therefore both humble and confident as we get busy at our calling; as we work for restoration in this time between his ascension and his appearing, when ALL things will be made right!  2 Corinthians 4:6ff. captures the tension and the hope that is ours.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

The Good News changes Everything – starting Now!

The Abraham Conspiracy – Grasping God’s Mission in the world

abraham_conspiracy2-01Every generation; every church community; every serious Christ-follower must come to grips with God’s mission. God invites us into the greatest privilege and adventure possible. I’ve dubbed it the Abraham Conspiracy.

In this post I want to share a link to the sermon that lays out the Big Picture of the mission of God that is threaded through the entire Bible. It’s where God wonderfully invites us to join Him!  The sermon is called,  “Jesus, the Nations, and You.”

Here is a quote from Christopher Wright’s who has written two great books on this subject: The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, and The Mission of God’s People.

“God calls the Church (the community of believing Jews and Gentiles)
who are the extension of the Abraham covenant,
to be the AGENT of God’s blessing to the nations –
in the name – and for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

 

 

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?

The Holy Spirit – THE wind beneath our wings

pentecost

Last Sunday marked the coming of the Holy Spirit to the new community of Jesus called the Church! Nothing would remain the same!

Malcolm Guite, poet, Anglican priest, and song-writer has written a whole book of sonnets for the Christian Year. I want to share his beautiful rendering of Pentecost.

Today we feel the wind beneath our wings,
Today the hidden fountain flows and plays,
Today the church draws breath at last and sings,
As every flame becomes a tongue of praise.
This is the feast of Fire, Air, and Water,
Poured out and breathed and kindled into Earth.
The Earth herself awakens to her maker,
Translated out of death and into birth.
The right words come today in their right order
And every word spells freedom and release.
Today the Gospel crosses every border,
All tongues are loosened by the Prince of Peace.
Today the lost are found in his translation,
Whose mother-tongue is love, in every nation.

I love the implications of Pentecost for the world-wide spread of the Gospel. Note the play on words in the last two lines.  We speak of something being “lost in translation.” With the coming of the Spirit and the Church charged with making disciples of all peoples, NO ONE need be “lost in translation.” Every nation knows the language of love that comes from God!

Thinking of myself less

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!