Thursday, June 26, 2014

Vision of Genuine Love in a Community

One of the most obvious realities in the human experience is how deeply relational it is. We are born into and will live in a multitude of dynamic and complex circles of relationship that include but are not limited to: family of origin, ethnicity, extended family, gender, friends, religion, and government. The health of these relationships shapes the nature of how we experience life. If these are healthy and whole then we experience the world in one way yet if these relationships are unhealthy then we experience the world in a completely different way. 

With the advent of sin in the human experience through Adam and Eve we see brokenness in all our circles relationship. Our relational circles are so broken due to sin that we experience great pain in many of our relationships and perhaps have even lost the vision of healthy and whole circles of relationship.

The explosion of social media is a perfect example of our need to connect with others and it also highlights the brokenness of those circles with things like cyber bulling, sexting, and Facebook depression. I was told the other day that kids who heavily use social media are more depressed than kids who use less social media.

The New Testament is filled with the vision of circles of relationship being redeemed through both Jesus’ presence in those circles (where two or three are gathered in my name I am there Matthew 18:20) and the power of the Holy Spirit filling the disciples of Christ (Ephesians 1:13) who live in those circles. A well know text which gives us a vision of what it looks like to live with each other based on agape love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. You will notice that agape love isn’t a feeling but a way of treating each other.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

We need to stop and thinking only briefly about what it would be like if we actually lived this way, to realize how truly wonderful it would be. It would be so different than how most of the world experiences their circles of relationship. In short it would be truly revolutionary. Circles of relationship based on agape love is what our society is most desperately in need of. Renewed circles of relationship based on agape love is possible for disciples of Jesus because God has given the disciple of Jesus power to live a new way based not on their power but by his power. Living by Jesus power and grace is what gives us the boldness to sing “they will know we are Christians by our love”.

17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. (Ephesians 1:17-19 NRSV bold type mine)

The Church is to be a place where we experience and offer genuine love based on the grace and power of our Lord Jesus. It is hard, but not impossible to experience agape love in the large public gatherings of a congregation or during her task based gatherings. Rather it is something cultivated in smaller gatherings which are marked by trust, vulnerability, and availability. These smaller gatherings are where can be known and get to know others. If these gathering are to be transformative they must rooted in God’s Word. It is in these smaller gatherings where genuine love can be learned and can grow to be the norm. These groups provide support to the disciple and a witness to the world of what life in Christ looks like when lived with others. The biblical word for these gatherings is koinonia which means communion or fellowship.  Romans 12 provides a beautiful vision of koinonia or true community saturated with the Holy Spirit and yielded to Christ Jesus as Lord.

I am deeply thankful of Dallas Willard’s list (from Renovation of the Heart) of what living a life of grace and power looks like in our social relationships from Romans 12.
1.      Letting love be completely real.
2.      Abhorring what is evil.
3.      Clinging to what is good.
4.      Being devoted to one another in family like love.
5.      Out doing one another in giving each other honor.
6.      Serving the Lord with an ardent spirit and all diligence.
7.      Rejoicing in hope.
8.      Patient in troubles.
9.      Devoted to constant prayer.
10.  Contributing to the needs of the saints.
11.  Pursuing hospitality.
12.  Blessing those who persecute us.
13.  Being joyful with the joyous and sorrowful with those in sorrow.
14.  Living in harmony.
15.  Not being haughty.
16.  Not seeing yourself as wise.
17.  Not repaying evil for evil.
18.  Having due regard for what everyone takes to be right.
19.  Being at peace with everyone as far as it depends on you.
20.  Never taking revenge but leaving revenge to God.
21.  Providing for the needs of our enemies.

22.  Not being overwhelmed by evil but overwhelming evil with good. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Where is the love?

I am part of a national denomination that is broken down into smaller geographic regions called synods. The word synod is interesting because it came sometimes be rendered “together with”. The idea is that the congregations in our area are “together with” each other in a common ministry. Often it feels to me that we are together in name and heritage but not in reality. I think one of the reasons for this is shown in a recent newsletter article that our synod published.

In this article one of the pastors wrote an unintelligent attack on one of the fundamental doctrines or teachings of the Church. He attacked the notion that Jesus died to save us from the consequences (punishment) of our sin. He attacked one particular thinker (Anselm of Canterbury) and claimed the idea to be unbiblical. At first it would seem that this post should seek to defend his attack but it is so clear he is wrong that a defense is unnecessary. One simply has to read Hebrews 9 and 10, Romans 3:23-26 to know how mistaken he is. Those are only two passages among dozens that show his error. 

I was dismayed at his apparent lack of biblical understanding and his willingness to write something so clearly in error but I was even more struck by the tone and nature of his article. He basically said that to hold a position different than his was satanic. I am shocked that a pastor in my synod would condemn anyone who disagrees with him. His article was filled with anger, arrogance and judgment. This is the antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. We are to be a people who are humble, kind and who refrain from judgment and condemnation. This type of approach was distressing to say the least.

Some of my follow on conversation with our staff were similarly disheartening. Our youth director told me that when she goes to youth director meetings in our synod the youth directors are clear whose pastor hates whose pastor. I asked her if the word hate is accurate and she said that there is deep enmity between the various pastors and it feels like hate. I have to wonder what the heck is going on.

I did a little calculation to figure out how much time a pastor might spend in prayer and bible study in order to prepare for a sermon and or a bible study. I figure that ten hours a week is a good estimate. I know some spend more and others less but ten seems reasonable. I was taught to spend one hour of prayer and study for every minute I preach so ten seems to be a good conservative figure. I also estimate that a solo pastor will preach about 40 sermons a year. That gives us 400 hours a year in bible study and prayer. After a decade of ministry a pastor will likely have spent 4000 hours in prayer and study and after 25 years in ministry that would be 10,000 hours of study.

The result of thousands of hours of study by our synod’s pastors is that they are known for who they dislike (hate) and who they are against. Sometimes I wonder why we wonder at the decline in the vitality of our synod’s congregations. If after so much study and prayer our leaders don’t seem to be more loving it could make one wonder what the point or value is to reading the bible. Clearly something is wrong with this picture. The result of that kind of time spent in the bible study and prayer should be the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). We need to repent and seriously rethink who we are and where we are going. If enmity is the fruit we are bearing maybe it would be better to pack up, sleep in on Sunday or go somewhere where the gospel is being lived and changing lives.


It seems clear somewhere along the line we missed something and unless we can rediscover what it means to be saved, live by the Spirit, and experience resurrection power we have nothing left to offer the world anymore. My hope is that we will no longer be known by hate but be known by love as Christians once were. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Thoughts on Earth Day

Today is April 22nd, Earth Day. If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time you know that conservation is an important part of my thinking and there are always some links on this blog to inform and inspire creative thought about what it means to care for the planet. One of the essential parts of the conversation around environmental issues is the why. The reasons to care for the planet are numerous and varied. They range from economic to recreational to altruistic to just about everything in between. I would like to do today is to write an about why I care about environmental issues.

"He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:15-17). The reason I care for the planet is simply because it is was created by Jesus, for Jesus and is held together by him. The planet is not mine, it is his and my care for it is an outflow of my love for him. It seems to me to be incongruous to say that I love him and then trash what is his. Early on in the book of Genesis we see that God created humanity to cooperate with him in the care for all that he made.

When we stop caring for what God created we are living as less than human since we are living at odds with our basic crated purpose. It is no wonder that we are less than fulfilled as a race and that the earth is struggling under our demands. When we are alienated from God we become alienated from our very purpose and mission. On the other hand when we are reconciled to God through Jesus we are now renewed to care for all that God has created and we are going to see that creation in light of the one who redeemed us, Jesus our Lord.

I feel like it is a sacred responsibility to steward all that Christ has entrusted to us for his glory and for his benefit. We can't divorce loving Christ and caring for a planet that was created by him and is held together by him. This planet is a sign of the Lord's grace and mercy, he gives us so much and so freely and our response should be to care for it, not for the planet's sake, but for Christ's sake.

One of the practical ways to connect our life with Christ with the care for the planet is to think about the Lord when making a new choice relating to care for the planet. When we do this we are offering our choices to him in a new way and lifting up the reason for our actions as an outflow from our prayer and devotional life. This is actually how we are are called to live all of life. This practice really helps us to live an integrated and whole life. I encourage you to try it with something simple once a day and see how it changes your perspective.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Message Online

The congregation I serve (Peninsula Lutheran) now has the ability to post my Sunday messages online. You can them on the media page at www.plcplace.com




Saturday, April 6, 2013

Stillness


Psalm 46:10a “Be still and know that I am God”.

Stillness seems to be the antithesis of our current lifestyle. So much of life is about being busy and doing more. In some ways it is odd since several decades ago people thought ours would be an age of leisure. They thought that as “modern” conveniences such as dishwashers and microwaves became more available people would spend less time on chores and be free to pursue leisure. We now laugh a little at this notion since we feel anything if not hurried all the time. Our lives are so full that we move from activity to activity hardly knowing what day it is or where we are. By the end of the day we are exhausted from having been up early and pushing until late in evening. We might have less time washing dishes or cooking food but that time is now full with a host of other activities.

This state of hurry is expected, if not encouraged by our society. We often see this as a sign of success in business, medicine or even ministry. If a doctor isn’t busy we might assume that they aren’t busy because they aren’t good. We might even wonder if they are lazy since they haven’t been drumming up more business.

The problem with excessive hurry in one’s life is that it can impede our ability to get to know God. The Bible tells us to “be still” and in our stillness to know God. When Elijah fled from Mt. Carmel after his showdown with the prophets of Baal he wanted to spend time in the presence of God. He was told to go to Mt. Horeb where he was to have an encounter with God. While he was on the mountain there was wind, an earthquake and fire.  God was not in the wind, nor the earthquake or the fire. It was only in the gentle whisper that Elijah heard God’s voice and entered into his presence (1 Kings 19). He was still before the Lord and discovered both the voice and the presence of the Lord.

For us to hear the voice of the Lord and experience deeper times of his presence we need to have times of stillness in our lives so that we can grow deeper in our life with Christ. We must protect this time and see it as an essential part of our lives, not a luxury. We can think of stillness as times where we come before the Lord simply to sit in his presence with our only agenda to give him our loving attention. This is not a time of quick intercessions or speedy prayers. It is time to be still and simply get to know God, to wait on him and minister before him.

Often we feel like we aren't doing anything or achieving anything. While initially it might seem this way the deeper reality is that we are simply obeying the Lord’s command to be still and get to know him. We come to this time with simple trust that obeying him is time well spent and that this is fundamental to what it means to be human. Over time we will come to treasure our time with the Lord since getting to know him is wonderful and life giving. I encourage you to think about how you could carve out some stillness in your life so that you can get to know the Lord more fully. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

From Mike Breen

I've learned a lot from Mike Breen's work and I thought I would share his latest post.

Are we on the brink of a new Reformation?

If you could have a big tree with only a little fruit or a small tree with lots of fruit, which would you choose? It’s about a choice, right?
But we’ll get back to that in a second.

I’ve noticed there seem to be two things I can do with Jesus. Either I can increasingly look like Jesus, or I can make him look like me.
I can look like Jesus or I can try to make him look like me.

The funny thing about Jesus is that I’m never sure we give him quite enough credit. Sure. He came to earth, left the throne of heaven, took on the nature of a servant and died on the cross in our place, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. Yes. All that happened.
But we really don’t give his three years of ministry much reference.

Here’s what I mean: We think Jesus was the Son of God, but when we read the Gospels, do you think he was the smartest person who ever lived? Most accomplished? Best fisherman? Best evangelist? Best church planter? Best movement leader? Best discipler? Most successful leader?

For instance, in Luke 9 and again in Luke 10, Jesus gave the most detailed strategy you will ever find in the scriptures for how to evangelize, and then we see the exact same strategy used in the early church. Shouldn’t we be using that same strategy? I’m guessing we’re not arrogant enough to think we’ve come up with a better strategy than Jesus. (Example: for most churches, the evangelism strategy is “invite your friends to church and then let the professionals take over. We’ll do the heavy lifting if you get them here.” Not exactly Jesus’ strategy!)

We acknowledge what Jesus did on the cross, but what about what was started before the cross? What about the movement he began that changed the course of human history when it was released and catalyzed after the Resurrection and Pentecost? If being a disciple is “who Jesus would be if he were me” (Dallas Willard), shouldn’t we be learning the patterns and practices of the best whom ever lived if we too want to change the world for the Kingdom?

Yet often when we look at the Western church, I’m not sure we see many of the practices of Jesus among the way we lead. Though…that’s starting to change!

Back to the original question: Big tree/little fruit or little tree/lots of fruit?

It feels that at some point, we might have lost our way. Perhaps we became more concerned with success than fruitfulness. Jesus says we evaluate things in the Kingdom on their fruitfulness…but somewhere along the way it became about the size of your tree. Now having a big tree is a fine thing. Just know you’re only successful in evaluating yourself against the size of other trees, and God has never been terribly concerned about tree size. Just fruitfulness. That’s it. The point of a tree isn’t how big your tree is but how much fruit you have. It’s about fruit! And in the Kingdom, fruitfulness is always about reproduction. (Specifically, reproducing disciples…multiplying Jesus’ life into the life of others who can then go and do the same.) Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 8.53.46 AM
My experience tells me having a big tree doesn’t mean you have a lot of fruit. In fact, what I’ve seen happen a lot more often is people going after the big tree and hoping to get fruit, rather than going after fruit and knowing you get the tree along the way.

Choose the best, and you always get the good. Choose the good, you very rarely get the best.
Are we trying to start or lead churches, create Kingdom movements and aspire to all the breakthrough Jesus saw apart from the way Jesus did those things? Am I trying to make Jesus like me or do I honestly believe he was the best in the Kingdom business?

The Reformation was a significant moment because among other things, it put the Bible back in the hands of the people. But when we look at the church of the last 100 years, I have to wonder if we have been more influenced by the Enlightenment than the Reformation.

This is the gut check question: If you had to choose between being known as a movement leader but not really having one, or actually being a movement leader but no one knowing it…which would you choose?

Tree or fruit?

Here’s the good news: I believe we are on the cusp of a new Reformation, one that sees the kind of fruit we saw from Jesus’ ministry, because we, once again, embrace not simply what Jesus did on the cross but the way he led and made disciples. Yes. I think we are on the tipping point of a new Reformation and it is about putting discipleship and mission back into the hands of ordinary people. Because when we equip the people of Jesus with the patterns, practices and way of Jesus, it will once again be ordinary people equipped to do extraordinary things.

The key is to embrace the mission of Jesus AND the way of Jesus. He’s just the best there ever was!

Hopefully you hear what I’m trying to convey clearly. I’m not suggesting we should go after a new Reformation. I’m suggesting it’s already happening. And maybe we don’t see it on every street corner yet, but I see it happening all around. A small group of communities, ready to be bloodied in going through the wall first, who are getting the beachhead of breakthrough for the rest of the church.
It’s already happening!
Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 8.54.14 AMAt the end of the day, I don’t want a big tree. But I don’t want a small tree either. I want an orchard. I want a Kingdom movement where reproduction of Jesus’ life within individuals and communities is happening on every level. I’ve seen this happen before. I know it because I’ve seen it. And I think we are starting to see glimmers of this reality again. Lord, may it be so! May we see a Kingdom movement wash upon these shores.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Communion of Saints



Our recent move from Kwajalein has stirred a lot of things in my life and I have been so busy in the transition that I haven’t had much time to write or to share what has been stirred up by the move. One of the things that has been stirring has been a broader understanding of the classic Christian understanding of the communion of saints.  

I have most often thought of the communion of saints in regards to the dead and not the living. Perhaps this is because All Saints Sunday is the time of year when we remember those who have died in the faith; we hear the promise resurrection and honor both the people and the promise. It is a wonderful Sunday and one I am thankful for each year. The only downside, if there is one is that perhaps it has limited my thinking of what the communion of saints means. Truth be told that really isn’t the fault of the festival Sunday, just my own ignorance.

What the move has done is to show me how I have been and am in communion with the saints in each and every place I have served. I remember how when I moved to Kwajalein I ached for the people back in the States who I grew to know and love and wished they could have been with us on this new journey. The same has been true of this move. I have and still do ache for the communion of the people we grew to know and love while serving at Island Memorial Chapel. At the same time I have found my heart opening for the saints who are part of Peninsula Lutheran Church. They are all part of the communion of saints.
I am in fact in communion with both sets of people because we are all in Christ and have been reborn by the Spirit and call God our Father. My missing them doesn’t impact the fact that we are in communion and when I look it that way I realize that the communion of saints is broad, deep and eternal. It really highlights that communion with Christ and each other is central to the nature of what life is about and it is something we should be striving for. The realization of the communion of saints is why the early church called each other “brother” and “sister”. It is why they shared their time, prayer life and possessions. They realized that they had an eternal bond through Christ as a gift from the Spirit to the glory of the Father.

In a broken and fractured society where individuals and individualism reigns the recovery of communion and community is central to the healing of relationships and spiritual growth. I think this is why Jesus prayed “that they may all be one” (John 17:20).