Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Invention of lying.


Haven't seen this movie, but will go rent it soon. Another interesting mirror to the way people perceive God.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Encounters with Jesus IV - Martha (Mary & Lazarus)

We had another Encounters with Jesus night last night.  We did the story of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus from Martha's point of view.  You can find it here. Everyone was there, and it was a sweet time of fellowship.  It has been so amazing to watch God working through these stories and working to develop community.

We set out with the goal of introducing people to Jesus - to who he said he was.  I think we picked some really powerful stories.  Last night we really hit on spiritual life and death and how that compares to physical life and death.  There were some great questions from people about why Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.  We also had an interesting time imagining what it might have been like to be Lazarus.  We wondered if he had any memory of his time being dead.  But probably the most interesting conversation happened around Jesus weeping.  We talked about the possibility that he was weeping because he was sad for the loss of his friend.  We talked about how much he knew of the future--did he know he was going to raise Lazarus at that time or not?  And we talked about how the commentaries explained that he may have been weeping at the brokenness of the world and the fact that it's so far outside of what God designed life to be like.

From a practical point of view, we're struggling a little bit now with the mixture of some people of long-time faith and some of newer (ie, since the group has started meeting) faith.  We actually have at least one attender who is not post-modern/post-Christian and who sees the world in a very structured way.  This attender's certainty about how God interacts in life has caused at least one other attender to wonder whether he's able to hear God in his life at all.  Because he's not certain, he questions the reality of God's interaction in his life.  But I can tell you (and him) that I have seen an amazing shift since the time we've been meeting in his life and his orientation toward God.  There is a totally different spirit of question now.  At some point in this process, he moved from questioning whether God was real to questioning how to invite God into his life and how to hear from God.  So it's going to be really important for me, I think, to meet one-on-one with him to share a different, less structured approach to faith.

This, I think, is one of the most major struggles that a church that's reaching post-Christian people is going to face.  The language of the long-time Christians to describe their spiritual existence has worked for them.  It makes sense to them.  But that language actually has a tendency to either alienate the post-Christian person or to make them question whether they are able to have a relationship with God at all.

So that's where we're at right now.  We have just one more week of Encounters with Jesus.  But I think the group is kind of taking off, and I think that we'll keep meeting after that.  So watch for the final installment in a couple of weeks.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Reflections on a culture of noncommitment

One of the biggest challenges for me that I think is driven by our culture is the lack of commitment to anything - institutions or people - that people have.

I canceled another Encounters with Jesus storying group last night because at least half the group couldn't come.  In some ways, that's ok.  I like that we're a small enough group meeting together that it matters who is there.  I like that without you, the group is not the same and we're better off postponing until later.

The reality of our culture is that it's really rare for there to be a group or an institution that people identify enough with to make sacrifices to be a part of it.  I don't think we do it in marriage, because we're basically ready to get divorced when things don't work for us anymore, regardless of the fact that there is something beautiful and important about the family.  I don't think we do it in our jobs - our companies don't have loyalty to us, and we don't have loyalty to them.  We don't have this for our schools - we are only concerned about what they give to us as individuals.

I come from a collectivist culture - that's what it was for me to live in Singapore.  It was diametrically opposed to how we do life here.  In Singapore, the family is much more important than the person.  The nation is way more important than individuals within it.  You make sacrifices so that the group can be what it needs to be.

There are inherent positives and negatives about both cultures, and ultimately neither is probably better.  But one of the struggles I have right now in my context is to build momentum.  I want to the church to be inherently beautiful and engaging and something that's bigger than the individual.  I believe that Jesus calls us to participate in mission and ministry and life that is bigger than our individual needs or desires.  I think that together, if we can be the right kind of community, we can do much more than we do as individuals.

Maybe there's a way to change the approach - maybe we should only get together when everyone can come and maybe we need to change the time from week to week.  I don't know.  What I do know is that setting it up so that group is more important than the individuals in it isn't going to work right now.  Maybe someday, when people are willing to sacrifice for group.  But I don't think that we're there yet, in my particular group.

So, we're still trying to navigate what that looks like for us.  We've got to figure out how to build people into the kind of community that becomes important enough to the individuals that we're willing to sacrifice for it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Unversalism and evangelism

So if you do any reading of blogs at all, I'm sure you've heard about the Rob Bell/universalism controversy that's going on.  I understand that this conversation has to happen around something, though like others, I'm not sure that we need to be talking about a book that hasn't been released yet.  At any rate, the question of universalism is a theological one that the church probably has to address.

However, I fear that in the midst of this theological discussion, we're missing out on the opportunity and the urgency of inviting people into life with Jesus right now.  As I mentioned before, my study of John and people's encounters with Jesus has brought to the forefront of my mind the question of what eternal life is.  And I am convinced that it's life that's meant to be lived now, not just in the future.

We get so caught up in these ideas and these issues, and, while I think that conversation around them is necessary for the church, I actually don't think it's as important as helping people to see who Jesus is to them right now.  Whether I believe that everyone will be reconciled with God or not, I can walk with him now.  And because I do walk with him now, I am convinced that life with the Eternal One is worth living.  And I am convinced enough that it's worth living that I want others to know about it and see what it looks like.

So I guess what I'm saying is that my calling to walk with people in holistic friendship and spiritual conversation is not dependent at all on what I believe about what happens to people at the end of all time.  I am sure that it matters, but it doesn't affect the fact that we're invited into life with God now, not just in eternity.  And life with God now matters.  I am hoping that the church doesn't lose sight of this within the context of the universalism controversy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Encounters with Jesus III - The Man Born Blind

Last night was the third installment of Encounters with Jesus.  The leaders/participant's guide can be found here.

I thought the story of the blind man is remarkable.  As I was studying to write the narrative, I was struck by what a strong personality the man was.  He had no fear to tell things how he saw them, even to the people in power.  In this story, we also have a remarkable claim by Jesus that he is the Messiah.  And then the blind man worships Jesus and Jesus doesn't tell him not to.

It's amazing what having Jesus present and speaking for himself does in a person's life.  There was no surprise within the group that Jesus allowed the man to worship him - they basically felt that this was a natural extension of what's been happening in the stories up to this point.  In other words, Jesus's deity has become self-evident in the exploration of these stories.

We spent a lot of time discussing the tension of faith and doubt and fear that the man must have felt before he washed in the pool.  We questioned how he had the strength to hope that his sight had been restored and whether we would have been willing to risk that or not.  That led to some very interesting conversations about being able to hear what Jesus asks of us and how we have the strength to follow where he leads.  It is such a beautiful thing to see people seeking Jesus, particularly those who have never tried to do it before this time.  In all, this story lends itself to great conversation and discussion, and a great opportunity to invite Jesus to restore/redeem our own spiritual blindness.  We also had the opportunity to talk about what true worship is.

Now for some practical notes:  My group members requested the participant guides so that they had something to refer to during the re-telling of the story and the discussion times.  But last week I handed them out during the story time, and it seemed to take away from the imaginative listening.  So I think the default will be to hand them out during re-telling so that people can listen once and then refer to the guides later.

Second, we have been making sure to take time to respond and give some quiet time for reflection after the discussion.  For us, this has come in the form of drawing or writing in response to questions on a sheet of blank white paper.  I've been including those in the resources too.  After that time, we have everyone share their responses, and then we pray for each other.  I think that this has become the sweetest and most enjoyable part of the group time.  The response questions give people the opportunity to reflect, and they are sharing some really deep things about the way they perceive themselves and God.  Then we are able to pray for one another, inviting both those who are familiar with prayer and those who are not to pray for one another.  This allows us to keep forming deeper relational bonds, and it also allows people to see God moving and working in their own lives.  I don't want to get into a rut with the response times, but it seems to be working for us right now.

Friday, March 4, 2011

On culture and the assimilation of new believers into the church

I've been feeling the need to talk about culture again.  I think I've written about it before, but it's come to the forefront of my mind as I read through the church planting strategy of the denomination that I've affiliated with and as I think about what I'm doing and where I'm going from here.

I find myself outside of the church, sort of.  I'm loosely affiliated with a church planting group, but I'm way more committed to the people I know in the world than I am to a church group.  I think there are a lot of reasons for this, and I'm not sure that they're important.

I'm also a just-for-fun observer and analyzer of cultures.  I moved overseas with my family when I was 13, and I spent a lot of time trying to piece together what was different there and why it was different.  Along the way I found the freedom to adopt the values and beliefs that I want to rather than being stuck with what I grew up in because I could actually see the different cultures and the different options available to me.  I tried to allow the character and person of God to inform my choices about those things, but that was it.  I didn't really feel any particular affinity to the American or the Baptist or the Presbyterian ways of doing things or believing.  So anyway, I still love looking at culture, identifying cultural values, observing conflicts as cultural clashes, etc.

So I've been walking with these people for several years now who have been outside of the church.  When we started hanging out, some of them were hostile toward God.  Most of them were hostile to the church.  I have lived beside them, pursued them, invited them to give to my life and meet some of my needs, and we have developed true and deep friendships.  I have also seen many of them move from hostility toward God and the church to a true openness to God.  I have seen God working and moving, and I have seen several take a defining step into the kingdom of God.

Now I'm struggling with what to do with them.  I mean, I feel a responsibility as a follower of Christ to invest in the people around me at a spiritual level.  I guess you could say that I have a passion to pastor people and to encourage people to grow in their ability and desire to relate to God.  So at this point, there's a question... many of my friends are now choosing and trying to follow God.  They want to know him better, they want to follow him, they are beginning to love Jesus.

If I introduce them into a church culture, what's going to happen is that they're going to get caught up in adapting to the culture of the church.  They're going to learn (before the Spirit convicts them) of all the things that they're doing that don't conform to the way of Christ, and they're going to start adapting to the culture around them before they've truly internalized or had a chance to figure out what things are really biblical.  Some of them might make the transition well, and within 3 years they'll have left behind all their relationships outside of the church, and like most church members in the area, will have no relationships left with people who don't know Jesus.  Their ability to participate in the mission of God to draw all men and women to himself will then be truncated and will never reach its full potential.  If they make the transition poorly, they'll end up walking away from the church disillusioned.  Right now, those are the only two possibilities I see here on the ground.

So what do I do? 

I just had the chance to speak at a chapel seminary, and afterward, a professor asked me what the church could do for people like me.  And I don't know the answer to that.  I know that I can't be the only Christian in a person's life.  I know that I can't be the evangelist and pastor and theologian and minister.  I know that one of the costs for me of being bivocational and living in the world as a minister is that I have very little time.  And when I'm not working or ministering I'm so exhausted that I don't have the ability to find like-minded individuals or work to fight to get a church behind what I'm doing.  I just can't.  If I have to choose between the church and investing in my friends outside the church, I will choose my friends every time.

What I do know is that I am seeing God work and move among the people I live with each day.  I do know that he desires to see them cared for holistically - not just spiritually.  My question for the church is whether you are read and willing to let go of some of your culture so that there is a place for my friends.  My question is whether you're willing to set people like me free to do what we're doing, but still somehow being committed to supporting us.  We need the church.  Desperately.

What are we going to do?