Archive for August, 2008

The Heart of Missional

August 26, 2008

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. – 2 Cor 5:14-20

Over the last two or three years years our church has had more than it’s usual share of broken relationships. Personnel issues, musical styles, lack of communication, and the normal stupidity that accompany the petty consumer mentality so prominent in the evangelical wing of the Body, have all contributed their part to a number of folks being at odds with each other.

I’ve come to a conclusion about this.

The problem isn’t the broken relationships. 

Broken relationships are par for the course living in a world where everyone is the little lord of his own two foot square realm. That’s just the way it is, has been, and will be until Glory.  And (I shouldn’t have to say this, but…) of course we should do our best to live at peace with one another. That’s part of being a grown-up.

The problem is what happens after feelings are hurt and relationships broken. Or more truthfully, what doesn’t happen.

The real problem is that we aren’t willing to reconcile.

A large segment of christianity in the West has taken “being missional” as almost a mantra. And maybe I’ve just missed it, but I’ve yet to hear one of the proponents of missional talk about reconciliation as the center point of the ministry of the church. I hear “re-thinking the gospel”, “story”, “relevant”, and “post-modern”. But I don’t hear “If you’re at the altar and remember that a Brother has something against you, leave your offering there, first go and be reconciled to him.”, or “Why not rather be wronged, why not rather be cheated, than to act this way in front of unbelievers?” 

The ministry we have been given, the mission of God, in and through us, is a ministry of reconciliation.

We are ambassadors of reconciliation. We are called to show people that they can be reconciled to God. One of, if not the primary way we show that to a watching world (and make no mistake about it, they are watching) is by being reconciled to each other.

Why don’t we do it? Just a couple of reasons that come to mind. One, because it requires us to actually do something instead of just talk about it. And two, because what it requires us to do is practice the three most difficult virtues in Gospel living; self-sacrificing love, forgiveness, and true humility, toward those we feel inclined to treat like enemies. 

Is it hard to do? Yep.

Is it time consuming? Almost always.

Are things always better right away? Nope

Does it always work? Unfortunately, no.

What if I don’t want to? Tough.

Can I even do this? Not without Jesus. Not without knowing how much he loves me. Because it is the love of Christ that compels me to live this out.

I know this sounds like Christianity 101, and it is. 

But here’s the deal. If I don’t do this hard work of the kingdom, no one, and I mean no one, will believe that they can be reconciled to God. If I can’t even be reconciled to the guy next to me in the pew over some stupid, silly squabble over how many time a chorus is repeated, no one should believe it.

Water… and sin.

August 18, 2008

Bill Kinnon at achievable ends posted this video a while back. It’s a powerful reminder that many of the things we take for granted in the West (like clean water) aren’t the norm for much of the world. I would encourage every group to consider what they can do to help. Check out organizations like World Vision, who produced the video, or Blood:Water Mission to see what you can do. 

But the video has another message, for me at least. 

It’s a powerful picture of how vile and pervasive sin is, and how oblivious we are to it. How it infects everything and everyone it touches, and how much we need to be cleansed. How when we drink it in, we drink in death.

So watch the video with those two thoughts in mind.

Much Ado

August 10, 2008

I’m an introvert, so doing something in public that might call attention to myself causes me a to experience fairly high level of anxiety. 

Well, I went to the grocery store last week and saw a police cruiser in the parking lot with the officer sitting in the driver’s seat. I thought , “I ought to go tell him, ‘Thanks for doing what you do.’” But the little anxiety shot that comes with the thought of talking with “strangers” was enough to stop me. Besides, I was thinking thankful thoughts. Isn’t that enough?

I thought about why I didn’t say something for a while and scolded myself for letting this stupid personality quirk stop me from doing what I know is the right and good thing. And when I had scolded myself enough to make the guilt go away, I forgot about it.

Until this week.

Same grocery store, almost same parking place, maybe the same officer and cruiser.

I have the same thought, same anxiety, almost same reaction. Except this time I say to myself, before I walk past him, “Well, he looks busy. If he’s still here when I come out it means I’m supposed to say this to him, if he’s gone then….” 

I no sooner walk in and grab a cart when his partner walks right in front of me not ten feet away. But there’s people around and I freeze up. 

I walk on for about thirty seconds and decide I’ve got to do this. So I turn around go in the direction he was headed to find him. I find him, only he’s talking with a couple of people. Abort! Abort! 

I turn around.

Five minutes later, the first officer, the one that was in his cruiser, comes in and walks right past me.

This is getting ridiculous. 

I’ve got my groceries and I’m headed to the car. He’s back in the cruiser. I go up to him, say, “I just wanted to thank you for what you do.” He says, “You’re welcome.”.

I go on to the car.

No big deal. 

What a small thing. How hard I sometimes make small things.

“Kingdom” Pt 2

August 8, 2008

This is a series about the King and His Kingdom. For a quick intro to this series go read this.

In this second post I’m going to focus on What Jesus did and said in the gospels. 

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying,  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mt 4:17 And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. Mt 4:23,24

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Mk 1:14,15

Matthew Chapter 13

The Parable of the Sower

 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying:  “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

The Purpose of the Parables

 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them,  “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

    “‘You will indeed hear but never understand,
   and you will indeed see but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
   and with their ears they can barely hear,
   and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
   and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
   and turn, and I would heal them.’ But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

The Parable of the Sower Explained

 “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The Parable of the Weeds

He put another parable before them, saying,  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”He told them another parable. “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

Prophecy and Parables

All these things Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed, he said nothing to them without a parable. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet:

   “I will open my mouth in parables;
   I will utter what has been hidden since the foundation of the world.”

The Parable of the Weeds Explained

Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed is the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

The Parable of the Net

 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the close of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

New and Old Treasure

“Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Mt 25:34

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mk 10:15

Nothing Profound

August 5, 2008

It seems as though I’m without much of anything to say these days. At least nothing profound, clever or interesting.

Being a good Presbyterian, I do not believe it is without cause and reason. Being a good Presbyterian, I believe God is at least allowing, if not outright causing, this lack of words.

Over the last six months or so I’ve notice several different signs, or maybe clues is a better word, that I am just now putting together. I don’t know If you’re interested, but I’m going to put them down on paper digital electronic storage media anyway. Maybe this will make sense to someone else out there. 

  • I can’t read. I am literate. I know how to read, I just can’t sit and do it for any length of time or pages any more. For the last fifteen years or so I’ve been continuously reading something, often several books at a time. I’ve loved it. Almost always devotional/theological, almost always written by folks long dead, my reading has been enlightening, encouraging, spurred me on, shaped the way I think and confirmed that I’m not alone in this pilgrimage. So it’s been a little worrisome, and sad, to be without this discipline. 
  • Debate of ideas has become wearying to me. Certain corners of the God-blogosphere have had something to do with this, often making me want to vomit with their venomous, hateful tone. But even the collegial discussion of deep truth has, for the most part, left me feeling like I’m trying to make a meal out of cotton candy -initially sweet but dissolving into nothing almost immediately.
  • I’m a big advocate of prayer. In my thinking, all other spiritual disciplines are, in the final analysis, ways of praying. My definition of prayer is, “Learning to live all of life with God.” I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen of our great need of prayer. I’ll lament the fact of our prayerlessness and the obvious problems that come from lack of prayer. Yet I don’t pray very much.
  • Certain scriptures keep coming to mind. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.”, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’, and do not do what I say?”, “But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”.
  • A line from a Brennan Manning book keeps coming to mind as well. “You’ve had enough insights into the spiritual life, now you need to live them out.” (paraphrase)
  • I meet regularly with a friend, who has been helping folks in various stages of grief and suffering. He asked me the other day if I wanted to go with him to be with these people. My first reaction was to think of an excuse why I couldn’t go.

It’s time for me to move from the theoretical to the actual in my faith.

So I probably won’t have much profound, or clever, or even interesting to say for a while. What I’m going to try to do is report my attempts to actually live it out. The good, the bad, and the ugly. 

    Ryan Hall

    August 5, 2008

    This article is without doubt the most thorough reporting of an athlete’s faith I’ve ever read, maybe in all media, but most certainly in a secular publication. It’s well worth reading.

    I will watch at least one event in Beijing with more on my mind than who will win.