Monday, December 17, 2012

the problem of evil

One of the biggest questions we come up against, when we're talking with friends about faith, is the problem of evil in our world.  This is fresh in my mind, of course, because of all the violence that we've seen in the last week.  Only today there was another murder-suicide right down the road from me.  How on earth can we even hope to answer people's questions about this?

The first thing I think we have to understand is that there are different kinds of questions.  The first type is a more rational or intellectual question - can a good God allow evil?  Does God create evil?  If evil exists, does that logically mean that God must have intended for it to be here?  And these questions could use a logical response.  I could give someone information, point him to an apologist, talk for hours about the philosophical options we have to understand evil.

But there are other questions.  There are questions that come more from our emotional response to the evil and pain in the world.  How could such horrible things happen?  How could God let them happen?  How can I trust a God would would allow them to happen?  How could I love a God who would allow them to happen?  And these require entirely different responses.  An intellectual or logical response is never going to be enough.  But this is often how we handle it.  In the wake of the most recent school shooting, I've seen lots of theological responses.  I've seen people giving a whole history of sin and calling this evil a natural consequence.  But those responses don't go to the heart of the matter.  They don't really reach the heart at all.

And at the heart of the emotional question are 2 really important questions.  The first is who is this God you're talking about, really?  What kind of God is he?  What is his character?  What are his values?  Is he worth knowing?  The second is related to my own ability to trust that God.  Can I personally choose to trust him?  Would I even want to?  And Christians definitely have a role to play in helping people find answers to these questions.

Once I have taken the time to listen to someone's heart and their questions, then I have opportunities going forward.  I can share with them my struggle with those same questions about God, and how I made my way through them.  I can challenge their perceptions of God by sharing who I know God to be, and share lots of examples of why I think God is actually not that way.  I can introduce them to Jesus, and invite them (and model for them) how to take those questions to God.  I always want to be encouraging or inviting people into relationship with God.  Even if that relationship is based on questions and frustrations, that's better than leaving the questions in the abstract.  A question of trust or of character can only really be addressed within a relationship.

Have you or your friends had these types of questions this week?  Were they primarily intellectual questions, or emotional questions?  How did you dialogue about them?  If someone were to ask you a question about evil in the world, how would you respond?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Telling your story

Let's say you were sitting at a table with a sort of acquaintance after lunch.  As you're preparing yourself to leave, she says to you, "So you're a person of faith.  How did you get to be that way?"  What would you say?

This happened to me recently.  I was out to lunch with a person I know from work.  We'd get together for lunch maybe 3-4 times a year.  Our previous lunches consisted mostly of conversation about law and teaching and all the other things we have in common.  So the question about my faith caught me off guard.  I struggled to remember a specific time I'd said something about God or my beliefs to her, and I couldn't.  But somehow, she knew that it was important to me.  And I think I spent another 30-40 minutes sharing my story with her.  What an awesome opportunity!

This might happen to me only a couple of times a year--where I've got a specific invitation to share my life story as it relates to faith.  But I've given a lot of thought to how I would want to share it when the time comes.  I've taken the time, ahead of time, to think about the highs and lows of life and how to weave in God's actions and activity in to where my life has come from and where it's going.  Because I always want to be ready with an answer about the hope and faith I have inside.

Whenever we're living kingdom values in our everyday lives, truly allowing Jesus to lead us as we go,  questions like this come up.   So what about you?  Are you ready to share your story if and when you're asked?  What are the major ways that God has intervened in your life?  Why is faith important to you?  How does it affect your life?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Paul's unknown God

Some of you will remember the story about the Apostle Paul in Athens, having a conversation with people about the "unknown God" they were worshiping.  The story is in Acts 17, and I've always thought it was interesting.  Here Paul sees all of the worship of other gods in the city, and he gets upset.  So he's wandering around talking about Jesus to anyone who will listen.  Eventually, the people become curious enough to bring him to the place where things like this are discussed, and he's invited to speak.  And instead of criticizing their belief system, Paul looks for the truth in it.  He sees that they have an alter to an unknown God.  And Paul names Yahweh as this unknown God and speaks to them about Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.

Why didn't Paul tell them that the other gods weren't alive?  The Jewish belief system was strongly monotheistic, having no room for any God but Yahweh.  Why didn't he tell them that their worship of idols was worthless and that to have salvation they had to give up their own gods and follow his?  Why didn't he try to change their whole culture and belief system first?

Instead, Paul explained the resurrection and introduced the person of Jesus and Yahweh and invited people to follow.  And I think we can learn a lot from this.  I often feel the message that I get from churches or from the Christian community is that a person has to become culturally Christian before they can follow Jesus.  They have to believe everything I do about morality and theology in order to take that step into the kingdom.  But I don't think this is true.  Jesus took people where they were, invited them to follow, and then he gave them teaching so that they could grow into believing who he actually is.  Even the disciples believed that he was a political (rather than spiritual) savior when they first followed Christ.  But what was important was that they followed him--they learned to hear his voice and to obey and follow, and all the rest of it came later.  I would argue that morality and theology are a result of following Jesus not a prerequisite to it.

What do you think?  Is your invitation for others to follow Jesus normally cluttered with expectations about what they believe or how they behave?  What would happen if you just introduced people to Jesus and then let Jesus and his teachings challenge their morality and theology?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

what my clients have taught me

Sometimes I have really difficult clients.  This probably isn't a surprise, given that I do mostly court-appointed criminal defense.  The most difficult ones are the ones who are ruled entirely by emotion.

I've developed some strategies over the years I've been practicing law.  I've noticed that in order to reason with someone rationally, I have to let them express their emotions.  Usually I have to validate their feelings and frustrations.  Only then, after both of those things, can I begin to advise them on what the courts and rules of law say that we can do and what I think we should do.  It takes a significant amount of  relational investment and patience to work through these emotional barriers to the situation.  Mostly what it takes is a willingness to listen and an empathy about the emotions expressed.

I've noticed the same thing about spiritual things over the years.  Our culture is becoming increasingly more based in the emotions.  In order to help someone to meet Jesus, we've got to help them move through their emotions about God and the church and everything in between.  It takes a significant amount of relational investment and patience to listen as someone expresses their emotions about these things.  It takes an empathy and compassion so that our friends feel listened to and validated.  And it takes sensitivity to the Spirit to know when to take the next step and share from our hearts what God has done in us and what he is inviting them to.

I know that I talk a lot about emotional barriers to faith, and that's because this conversation is not really happening anywhere else.  But there is a time when it's appropriate to share rationally about who God is. There is a time for testimony and for information.  We just need to be really careful not to miss the other stuff as well.  All the information in the world is not going to get my client from point A to point B, at least not until he feels like I care about him and have listened to him.  I have to earn the right to be heard--I have to earn his trust.  And I have to do the same thing in the lives of my friends when I am hoping to share Christ with them.

Can you identify in your own life or someone else's how emotions are primary and rationality is secondary?  Can you reason them out of their feelings?  How do these same emotions affect a person's spirituality and relationship with God?

Monday, November 12, 2012

What would you say?

Imagine if you were a part of the following conversation with someone you know is not following Jesus:

Al:    Yeah, my friend and I went on this church retreat one time.  She’s seriously the nicest person in the whole world.  And they told her she was going to hell because she’s an atheist, can you believe that?

Bryten:    Well, the Bible does say that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you won’t be going to heaven when you die.

Al:    Yeah, but that doesn’t even make sense.  I mean, I know lots of Christians who are mean.  They hurt animals, they hurt people.  They want us to go to war.  They’re rude and horrible.  It doesn’t make sense that they would go to heaven, and people like my best friend and my dad would go to hell.  They honestly are the best people in the whole world.

What do you say? 

Do you say, "Here, let me show you in the Bible - it says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.  But if you confess that Jesus is Lord and believe in your hearts that God raised him from the dead, you’ll be saved."

Do you say, "Wow, I'm so sorry to hear that was your experience.  What did you do?"

Do you say, "Wow.  I'm so sorry that you had that experience.  That must have been really hard.  You know... I think Jesus might have told a story about something like that.  This really rich guy who did everything right on the outside came up to Jesus and said, "Teacher, what must I do to make sure that I have eternal life."  And Jesus said, "You know the things God commanded--do not murder, do not steal, etc."  And the guy said, "I've done all of these since I was young... is there anything I'm supposed to do?"  And Jesus said, "sell everything you have and follow me."  What do you think about that?

Each of these responses will have a different effect on your friend's thinking and even their experience of your relationship.  The first engages Al's intellect and comes from a authority-down approach.  Basically, here's the Bible's answer to your question.  But if you're coming from this perspective, Al has to share your assumption that Scripture has authority in your life.  If Al doesn't, then you're not going to get anywhere with your argument. And even if Al does share your assumptions, you still haven't answered the questions of Al's heart.

The second response invites further relationship and further information from Al.  But it doesn't really engage his intellect or the emotions.

The third response gives some information through a story that invites further reflection.  It could engage Al's emotions, and it invites him to look deeper than someone's outward actions to the heart, because that's what Jesus was looking at.  It might even open opportunities to talk about how hearts are transformed by Jesus and what that looks and feels like.  It could be followed up with personal examples of how Jesus has changed your heart.

I certainly don't think there's one right way to interact with every person.  But if you look closely at the original conversation, you can see how much emotion is tied up in the discussion.  It's not just the Al's best friend he's concerned about, it's also his father.  And an emotionally based question needs a response that engages a person at the heart level, not just at the intellect.

So what would you say?  Do you have a personal story about God transforming your heart that you could share after the story of the rich young ruler?

Monday, November 5, 2012


"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  Ephesians 6:18-20 (NIV).

Just before this exhortation to pray, the apostle Paul explained to the Ephesians that we do not struggle against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of the spiritual world. 

So much of the spiritual life is invisible.  We pray for God to transform people's hearts.  And sometimes we can see the fruit of that, in the transformation of a person's actions, but the primary work is done inside, where we can never go.  We experience spiritual oppression and resistance, but that too often shows up only in our hearts or our emotions or our minds.

I know that I've written to you before about spiritual darkness and times of absolute travail and how deeply I have sensed the spiritual warfare over the past five years, since I started talking about emotional barriers to faith and how to be an ambassador of Jesus in everyday life.  But this week I've been reminded again of the need for prayer.  And not just prayers of personal deliverance, but community prayers that God would break through into the lives of the others in our spiritual community.

These past weeks, since my near car accident, have been times of incredible spiritual oppression for me.  For me, this often looks like an emotional apathy, questions about what I am doing and what I am writing and where it's all going, if anywhere.  It's the inability to see God at work.  It's a complete exhaustion and a desire to withdraw from relationships and activities.

But at the same time, God has provided.  He's provided a community of people who will pray with me and for me.  He's provided good friends who will speak truth to me.  He's provided the encouragement of a random dear friend writing to tell me that she was praying for me this week as she was trying to go to sleep.  He's provided the encouragement of a glimmer of where things might be going and what God is longing to accomplish through my life and ministry.

I don't know how you live life in the kingdom, praying and laboring to see the Kingdom of God come and people re-made into true followers to Christ, without a community of believers who will pray for you and support you.  You have to expect that you will face spiritual resistance.  And you need to be meeting that resistance the spiritual weapon of prayer.  But you can't do it alone.  You need to find others who will walk alongside you.

Who do you have in your life who will pray with you and for you as you seek the Kingdom of God?  Who are you walking beside and praying for as they learn to follow Jesus?  Where can you go to find the spiritual support that you need to survive?

Monday, October 29, 2012

a miraculous deliverance

This week I had a traumatic car non-accident when the wheel of my car flew off while I was driving 70mph on the highway.  I spun around a couple of times, but I didn't hit anyone and no one hit me.  When my passenger explained what she saw during this non-accident, she said it seemed like the cars around us were just melting away.  I know I was mere inches away from a cement wall and almost slammed into it head on, but somehow the car shifted directions at the last minute and I ended up sliding parallel to it instead.

When I began to talk about my incident, I was quick to share with everyone that I'd been miraculously delivered from harm.  I shared that God had supernaturally intervened and kept me safe.  But even as I made the choice to say those things, I thought about how careful we have to be about what we claim to know about God.

Because even as I was saying that I was miraculously delivered, I wondered why my roommate's dad was not delivered from his fatal car accident a few years ago.  I wondered why my younger brother suffered from cancer or my own dad passed away after a pulminary embolism.  The minute I make claims about God's supernatural intervention in my life, that same minute I invite the question about why God didn't intervene in another time and another tragic situation.

Formal theologians have several different answers to this question, and each of us who lives with faith in God has to wrestle through those same questions.  Some claim the ultimate sovereignty of God and rest in his goodness.  Others speak about the already-but not yet aspects of the kingdom of God where sometimes it is breaking through and other times it is held back.  Some say that we simply can't know but they are content to rest in the mystery of it all because they trust that God is good.

Whatever your belief about that issue, I think this brings up a really important point, which is that what we say about God has a real affect on how others perceive him and relate to him.  If I walked into a funeral home where the guy had died in a car accident and I told my miraculous story of deliverance, I might unintentionally create an emotional barrier in the mourners' hearts to believing and trusting in God.  If I claim that I know God and he has this character trait or that one, I might cause people to react emotionally before they ever get to know God at a relational level.  What I say about God can profoundly impact another person's life and his ability to relate to God in the future.

So as I was sitting on the highway, waiting for the police car to arrive, I thought and prayed about the story I would tell about the accident.  Was it fair to attribute my deliverance to God?  Who should I tell this story to?  Should I declare that it was a miracle and give thanksgiving to God?  Of course.  But maybe not in every context.  And if I do, and when I do, I think it's important for me to acknowledge that I might be wrong.  That my perception of God and my relationship with him is based in part on my experience, and I'm an inherently limited being.  Yes, I want to praise God and thank God for his salvation, but I also want to respect where people are at.  More than that, I need to be prayerful and sensitive to God's leading about what will be helpful in a situation and what may harm those around me.

What things have others said about God that created an emotionally negative reaction in you?  Did that emotional reaction affect your ability to relate to God?  What things to you tell or claim about the character of God?  Might those things be appropriate to share in some situations and not appropriate in others?

Monday, October 22, 2012

unanswered prayers

About once a year, usually in December, I head off to a silent retreat place to pray about the coming year and try to get a sense of where God is leading and what he wants to do in and through me.  Last year was no different, and I sensed God leading me to pray faithfully for a few specific things.  Among them were prayers for six people that I'd been investing in.  Three of them do not know Christ, and I've been praying for God to break into their lives, that he would reveal himself to them, and that other Christians might come into their lives to demonstrate the kingdom.  Three of them are Christians, and I played a part in helping them to know Christ.  For them, I prayed that God would give them a vision for their lives that goes beyond just an interest in comfort and self, but that they would truly come to know what it means to follow Jesus and be inspired to give their lives to bring his kingdom.

Ten months in, five of the six have disappeared from my life.  They're gone.  Some I can't even find to get a hold of, and some have just moved on to new people and new experiences.  And for those I still talk to occasionally, I can't see any evidence that God has answered my year-long prayers for them.  As for the sixth, though we still hang out, I can't even remember the last time we had a conversation about faith or spiritual things.

So what went wrong?  Maybe God is still working in ways that I can't see.  If so, I don't want to give up too soon.  But maybe my influence in their lives has just come to a natural end so that I should focus on building relationships with and praying for others who've come into my life this year.  Or maybe there's something I didn't do and should have or did do that I shouldn't have.  I don't know.  If it wasn't true that God has been answering some of the other specific prayers for this year in miraculous ways, I would wonder if God was even hearing me...

So this is one of those challenging things about living with a kingdom mentality.  I have to stay sensitive to how the Spirit is leading and be willing to keep pursuing or to move on, as he leads.  And even when I follow him where I think he's leading, I don't always see what I expect to.  If you'd told me last December that I'd lose all these relationships, I don't think I would've believed that was even possible.

I should say that I think it's really important to build relationships with people that are real and genuine and not just based on me trying to get them to meet Jesus.  I mean, I really want to know them and care about them as whole people.  So even when I can't see the Spirit working, that's never a reason to abandon ship.  That said, where I'm trying to build mutual relationships, sometimes the right thing is to let someone walk away.

I should also say that we can't discount the power of evil in the world.  For all that God desires to do in peoples' lives, there is another who desires to prevent people from fully surrendering to God's reign in their lives.  Perhaps the answer to my dilemma is simply that the powers of darkness are holding back the work that God wants to do.  And if that's what's happening here, then I would want to dig my heels in and seek the prayers of my Christian community for my friends.

What about you?  Have you ever prayed for God to move and seen what seems to be the exact opposite happen?  What has that done to your faith?  How do you think God wants us to respond in these circumstances?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Book Review - This Beautiful Mess

McKinley, Rick. This Beautiful Mess: Practicing the Presence of the Kingdom of God.  Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2006.

This book was written for those whose experience in the orderly, predictable, and antiseptic Western church does not match what they experience in real life. The author acknowledges a conflict between religiosity and real life, and he argues that the conflict exists because the church in does not reflect the truth of the Kingdom of God. The primary message of his book is to invite us to experience the kingdom in our everyday lives. To do so, the author argues, we must acknowledge and live like we have a King, who is the Creator God. We must stop defining spirituality in terms of achievement and move toward a state of being—of being within the kingdom. Once we have done this, we can imagine what living in the Kingdom could look like in our everyday life, and he spends the last half of the book giving us examples of that from his own experiences.

Because the author is arguing that we need to go from an old way of thinking about the Kingdom to a new one, he gives us several steps to take. First, he encourages readers to discover the kingdom of God. He doesn’t want us to reduce the gospel of the kingdom to make it equivalent with the church; he doesn’t want us to spiritualize the kingdom by claiming that it’s already here in all its fullness now; and he doesn’t want us to postpone the gospel by believing that it will not be here until Jesus comes so we don’t have to find a way to live within it now. With a story of being seated next to a guy on a plane who was the king of a small nation, he invites us to consider that to experience God’s kingdom we have to stop trying to control God. He invites us to see the beauty of the Kingdom as it breaks through into the mess of this world.

Second, he argues that we need to re-envision the Kingdom. The author argues that we need to see this Kingdom as God’s Kingdom rather than ours. We need to see it not as a ladder of achievements but a garden that is growing: we can water and weed, but we really are just watching the kingdom grow through God’s efforts. We also need to see the Kingdom as an often-invisible dimension that permeates our world like yeast permeates bread. Finally, he cautions that our ability to see the Kingdom is sometimes hindered by the brokenness of the world. Though the Kingdom of God is made up of all good things, of life and healing and joy and contentment, the realities of this world are full of sickness, death, and suffering. He argues that the Kingdom is still there in the places of darkness when the people of God bring it there in simple ways, mostly by relationally reaching out to those around them.

Third, the author argues that the church can build “signposts” for the world that demonstrate the presence of the Kingdom through our actions of love and care for those around us. He then explores examples what building these signposts looks like in different areas of life. First, the author challenges how we view children and argues that we should spend time with children and learn from them about how they see the world. Second, he argues that the church is called to go into places where we aren’t right now, particularly to the marginalized, and live life alongside them, seeking to meet their needs. Third, he argues that we should treat money the way God does, as a valuable tool for the kingdom rather than as something to make our own lives better. Finally, he examines suffering and argues that we should both walk with people in suffering and choose to suffer for them. The author believes that this suffering must come from a place of relationship with those who are already suffering.

The author concludes with a message of hope. He points ahead to the future, to the parts of the Kingdom will come but that are not yet evident. He argues that we should be encouraged to live according to Kingdom values now, even to the point that we may suffer for them, because we know what the Kingdom will look like when it is finally realized.

Overall, this book is more devotional than theological. The author introduces many topics about the Kingdom, but instead of delving into them in an abstract way, he illustrates the topics with a story. For example, when he talks about how to bring a Kingdom perspective into how we deal with money, he tells the story of how he received a $100 bill from Shane Claiborne with the word “love” written on it. Shane had taken $20,000 to Wall Street in New York City and dumped it on the ground, and then he sent $100 bills to several pastors and community leaders. The author explained how he viewed that $100 bill differently from all the other money in his wallet because of where it came from. He then argued that we should view our money as something that has the stamp of Christ on it (rather than a picture of George Washington) and how, as such, it is meant to be used as a resource for the Kingdom.

As a devotional work, I thought there were several positive aspects. The cry of the Kingdom, that God’s will be done and his Kingdom come on earth, is evident here. The stories the author told made mysterious and abstract concepts tangible. However, because it is not a theological treatise, the author left many terms undefined and many questions unanswered. So the book’s very tangibility may have also led to a lack of concreteness. This lack of concreteness, in turn, might tend to lead to an oversimplification of ideas around the Kingdom and a possibility of miscommunication if the reader is from a different background or set of life experiences than the author is.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Practicing the Kingdom--living generously

After almost a year of writing these updates for my church, I'm sensing the need to move on to a discussion of some more of the practical aspects of missional, kingdom living that allows me to naturally share my faith with those around me.  For me, one of the hardest parts of living this way has been to figure out what it looks like at a practical level.  One of my goals for this blog has been to create a place where the practical issues can be discussed.

The challenging part is that there's no real formula to faith discussions or kingdom living.  I can't tell you in seven quick steps or five quick tips how to reach the people around you.  For every person, there is a unique set of barriers to faith in God.  For every relationship you have with someone, there are different relational dynamics.  And everyone's life is at a different point, so the questions that they have about God and faith come in no predictable order.

One more caveat and then we'll jump to a practical example:  The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to be a part of his Kingdom.  And his Kingdom is the rule and reign of Christ as people are transformed by him and begin to see their lives changed.  In addition, as Christ-like people engage in the tasks of everyday life, God is present with them and is working through them to restore and redeem all things.  So if we hope to be "evangelists," we have to be able to both explain this and demonstrate what it looks like.  For me, the demonstration usually comes before the explanation, and there are often thousands of little demonstrations as I practice the presence of God in my world before I ever get to share verbally about what my faith is and where it comes from.

So... let's go back to last week, where I explained I had some money that clients owed me that I sensed God leading me to waive.  It was quite a lot of money, so it was a big deal to tell them not to pay it.  So how did my following Jesus lead me to forgive this debt?

I was working on this particular case with another attorney.  He's actually one of the most generous attorneys I've ever met.  He routinely gives time and money away to people.  I can't see inside his head or his heart to know what motivates that generosity, but suffice it to say that this is not normally what I see in the attorneys around me.  So anyway, I agreed to do this case for a certain amount of money.  The other attorney was going to be making the same amount in legal fees--so we split it up 50/50.  A month or two ago, he sends me an email and says that he's going to give me his second half, so that I'd be making 75% and he'd just take the 25% that he already had.  He was impressed with the job I'd done, recognized that the amount and quality of work was much more than he was expecting, and wanted to see me compensated.

I wasn't sure how to respond at that time.  It made me uncomfortable to take his money, knowing he'd been working just as hard as I was.  It made me thankful for his generosity.  Eventually I just said to him that it was very generous and let it drop (I've been working hard on learning to receive gifts and blessings from other people).

But then we get to the end of the case, and it turns out that my client was innocent--really and truly innocent.  He'd been charged with a serious felony, and he'd had to mortgage his house and take money from his retirement to pay his bond and our legal fees.  And this other attorney and I had talked a lot about justice and our broken system and all the ways we try to hold back the injustice that we see.  And he knows I'm a Christian and that I do what I do (representing indigent clients) because of my beliefs.  And I just kept thinking about how justice is bigger than getting my client a dismissal.  It's unjust that the client had to go through 10 months of turmoil as the case meandered through the system.  It's unjust that a false accusation led to a huge financial burden of legal fees and court costs.  And I can't do anything about the first issue, but I don't have to take more money from the client than I need.  So I began to pray about the fee I was still owed - both the money I originally agreed to take and the money that I was going to get from the other attorney's share.

And then I thought about the other attorney's generosity.  Whatever his motivation, how could I not be as generous to other people as he was to me?  Hasn't God been generous with me by inviting me to share in Jesus's inheritance?  How could my actions related to this money best demonstrate the character and generosity of God?  How could I show what it means to live in God's kingdom and according to his values?  How could I show that my faith is real and affects every area of my life, not just what I do on Sundays?

And as I prayed over these questions, I really only had one option--taking no more than what I needed and forgiving the rest of the debt.

The challenging thing, going forward, is that the kingdom of God is invisible.  It's like yeast working through a whole batch of dough.  You can't really see what each grain of yeast is doing, but after a while, you see their combined effects.   Similarly, I may never be able to see exactly how my actions affect the Kingdom of God.  I think it gives a validity to my faith--I'm not just talking about Jesus, I'm living like he'd want me to.  But will that ultimately transform peoples' lives?  I don't know.  Maybe it will be one thing that makes my attorney friend interested in knowing more about Jesus.  Maybe it will be a huge blessing to my client so that he can bless other people.  Maybe it'll lay the groundwork so that other Christians will have the opportunity to share their faith.  Maybe someday soon I'll have the opportunity to tell more of my story to my attorney friend or my client.  It's not for me to know the end, only to follow Jesus wherever he leads.

Monday, October 8, 2012

the first step

"And he said to all, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'" Luke 9:23 (NIV).

There is nothing easy about taking that step across the line and following Jesus where he leads.  Because, before we go anywhere else, Jesus leads us to sacrifice.  We must sacrifice our dreams, our expectations, our desires.  We must sacrifice our time and our resources.  We must daily look at Jesus and choose his way instead of our own.

Tonight I sat with a friend who is struggling to follow Jesus into a sacrifice of unconditional love.  She knows that that is her calling, but those first steps are always the hardest.  There's so much risk that's involved.  If I sacrifice all those things, will I get anything in return?  Jesus promises reward and inheritance of the kingdom--but will those things be worth what they have cost me?  And what will it cost me in my deepest soul to give the things he is asking me?

This week I also had the opportunity to forgive the debt of some clients.  They owed me money and I really sensed God leading me to let it go so that the message that he is a God of justice and compassion would be experienced by them and another attorney.  And in those moments when I struggled to let that money go, I thought of the things I might like to do with the money--the home-repair projects and the comfort-inducing things I might buy.  Even the charities I might like to give a percentage to.

But in the end, it always goes back to this.  Do I love Jesus more than I love myself?  Do I want to see his kingdom carve new paths as the water of life flows out of these sacrifices?  Do I want people to meet the Jesus that I know and follow?  Do I really want to bring him to my place of work and my home?

Each of us will have to answer these questions in life time and time again.  This denial of self for the sake of Jesus--it happens daily.  But it really is an invitation rather than a command.  Because what comes after the sacrifice is amazing.  Nothing compares to seeing God transform your very heart as you walk in faith in the direction he leads.  And nothing compares to seeing other people coming to know Jesus.

As you walk with Jesus, how has he invited you to take up your cross and follow him?  What have you seen him do in response?  And what is he asking you to deny right now for the sake of the kingdom?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

an innocent man

Today I walked into court with an innocent man who was facing life in prison for something he didn't do.  By the time we got there, we had an offer from the prosecutor--if he'd just plead to this two-year misdemeanor, he'd walk away with no jail time and maybe 18 months of probation.

What's a guy going to do?  Risk trial and face a possible life sentence?  Cop a plea to something that he didn't really do, but that keeps him out of prison and without the horrible stigma of the other conviction?  I know that most of you would like to believe that innocent people never get arrested, and even if they do, never plead to something they didn't do.  But that's just not true.  So many times, I'm standing by a client who's pleading guilty to something, and I wonder if this is the just result.  I wonder if it's the right thing.  I wonder if they really did what they're claiming they did.

Many, many people who are arrested for crimes are guilty of those crimes.  I'd venture to guess that more than 95% of them are.  And most of my clients who are actually guilty are prepared to plead to something.  So mostly my job is just to figure out how to mitigate the damages that they've already caused to their own lives.

But the innocent ones who maintain their innocence all the way through, they have to have a lot of faith in the system.  They have to trust that a jury of their peers would see through the inconsistent testimony of the complaining witnesses and the shoddy investigation and find him not guilty.  They have to trust their attorneys have their best interests at heart and have been working night and day to prepare for their day of reckoning in court.  And maybe they even have to believe that there is a God who cares about justice and who cares about them.

The only reason I can do this job is because I believe that God cares about justice.  And I believe that when I pray that God's kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth, in part I'm praying that his justice would reign even in the midst of this very unjust world.  I hate that my client had to anguish about this case for the last year while the case plodded its way through the court system.  I hate that he had to pay me and my co-counsel to represent him.  I hate that his life will never be the same again because of what he was accused of.

But my client's case was dismissed today, just before the jury would be called in for trial.  This small measure of justice--not full justice, and very late--but this small measure of justice is an imperfect, incomplete picture of the kind of justice we can look forward to in the fullness of time when Christ finally reigns.  I look forward to a day when there will not be suffering but peace, when no one is victimized and no one is falsely accused, and when there is no more brokenness but everyone is healed.

Until then, I will continue to follow Jesus to this place of opportunity to serve the poor and the oppressed by seeking the kind of justice we can find through our broken system.  And all the while, I'll continue to pray that God will bring his kingdom and his true justice right now to the pain and brokenness that I see every day.

Monday, October 1, 2012

preparing to share

Preparation.  It makes all the difference between doing well in court and doing mediocre.  I've been preparing for a big trial for the last couple of months, and you wouldn't believe how many hours I've spent working on it.  I've spent even more time just thinking about it.  I simply can't hope to represent my clients even adequately if I'm not prepared.

I don't know why we don't give as much thought to the evangelism and other ministry that we do in our communities.  For example, I wouldn't consider putting someone on the stand if I hadn't had a personal conversation with him and talked through all the questions that might come up.  I need to know what they're going to say and how they're going to say it.  Similarly, if you're going to effectively minister to your friend, you've got to know where he's at or what he's thinking and feeling.  You've got to figure out what the things are that make faith easier for him and what might make faith more challenging.  You've got to know what sets him off and what makes him happy.  If you do, you'll be able to prayerfully consider how and what to speak about to challenge that friend to know and follow Christ more deeply.

Or what about research?  If I'm going to trial on a case, I've got to know the statutes and case law inside and out.  I have to know what issues might come up and how to direct the court to the rules it's supposed to follow.  Similarly, I think you have to prepare for conversations you might have with friends by thinking ahead of time about the relevant issues that might come up.  What are the things in her life that she's considering doing or has been doing that she might ask about?  What life questions is she trying to work through?  And what stories from Scripture might model how to work through that question?  How did the New Testament church work that issue out in their lives?

A lot of times we think about spiritual conversations with fear and trepidation.  We don't want to mess up or to say the wrong thing.  Or what if someone asks me a question I can't answer?  But I think we really can prepare for these conversations by praying and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal the important issues in our friends' lives and then by thinking and praying through what we might relevantly share.

How about you?  When was the last time you brought a friend to God in prayer and asked for wisdom about the issues they're facing?  Where might you be able to look for stories or ideas about how to walk through their questions with them?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Bringing justice the kingdom way

It's easy to talk about love and justice and peace in the abstract.  Everyone would probably agree that those are good things.  But how do we find them?  Do we find them by being loving and peaceful and trusting God to bring about justice?  Or do we chase after those ideas without giving thought to how our actions and attitudes affect other people?

The legal world is a veritable minefield of opportunities to act opposite to the principles of the Kingdom of God.  It's set up as an adversarial system--for whatever reason, someone decided a long time ago that the way we make justice happen is by having everyone fight tooth and nail for every inch of the dispute.  If you're getting a divorce, then of course the most fair outcome is going to happen when you fight your ex-spouse for every moment of parenting time and every dollar in alimony.  If you're a civil attorney, then you're definitely going to want to break the rules to give yourself an advantage but complain every time the opposing party does something wrong.

So every day, I have an opportunity (or maybe a challenge) about how I'm going to live.  Am I going to bring all of my choices to God in prayer and ask that God would give me wisdom and discernment in how to approach things?  Am I going to spend time seeking the best for everyone involved (including the victims of a crime as well as my client) rather than thinking of every way that I can make it hard for the other party?  Am I going to treat opposing counsel with grace and compassion in a system that is built to take advantage of those things?  Do I really believe that God is a God of justice and that the way he's chosen to bring that about is through love and compassion and sacrifice and humility and kindness?

In my heart, I do think that God's way is the best way.  I really do think that it's better for everyone if I treat the opposing party and their counsel with respect and kindness even if they've been terrible to me.  I do think that, in the end, my client wins when I play by God's value system.  I actually believe that fighting for my client includes seeing the bigger picture of how litigation affects the person's whole life.  But it's a constant struggle in this adversarial system to be a Christian.  It's a constant struggle to fight the urge to fight back just because I'm frustrated or annoyed rather than fighting for justice and for peace in the way and time that it's actually necessary and appropriate. 

So that's what bringing the Kingdom of God into my world looks like.  What about you?  What are the areas of your work or home life than conflict with God's values and purposes?  How are you challenged to choose his way?  What friends are helping you to figure out what it looks like in your life?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

an expression and extension of the Kingdom

"Jesus’ call to conversion involved turning around, accepting the reality of God’s rule, and then willingly becoming an expression and an extension of that rule in participation with a local congregation of his people.” Arthur F. Glasser, Announcing the Kingdom, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2003), 355.

What does it mean to be an expression and extension of God's rule?

Jesus constantly invited people into the kingdom of God.  As I mentioned here, being a part of the kingdom invites the kingdom rule and reign of God into your life and into the world.  But once you've done that, I think that we must go on to be a part of bringing God's kingdom to the world.

So we begin by asking, what does God want to restore and renew in the world around me?  And what can I do, given my life experience, the gifts God has given me, and the passions that I have?

God has so many passions--so many things that he cares about.  He cares about justice for the oppressed, stewardship of the earth's resources, concern for the poor and widows and orphans.  He cares about transforming individuals and communities into people and places that reflect his character.  He cares about the prisoners and setting people free from bondage to sin and to oppression.

What passions do you share with him?  If you don't share any, then begin to pray that God will give you his eyes and his heart to see the world.  But if there's something that jumps out at you, then what are some practical things you can do to join God's work in these areas?  What's one step you can take this week to be an expression and extension of God's rule?  How is your church already participating in these things, and how can you join them?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

trial and prayer

Well, I'm all immersed in preparing for a trial.  They come along so infrequently that they tend up to take up my whole life for a couple of weeks.  So all I've got floating around in my head right now are social-justice type issues...

Like the mentally ill guy who got sentenced to 40 years to life for murdering someone.  How can we treat someone who cannot choose between right and wrong or cannot control his actions the same way we treat criminals?  What will his life be like in prison, where he'll be with people who will not respect his human dignity and who will likely prey on his vulnerabilities?  Heartbreaking.

Or how in the world can I participate in a system that dehumanizes people the minute they're accused of a crime?  How can I watch another person being treated without dignity in a way that doesn't even begin to bring healing and restoration into the midst of everyone's pain?

Some days, it's really hard to figure out what being a believer, a person of faith, a person whose primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, looks like in this place.  What is my responsibility to the mentally ill criminals in my community?  Is what I'm doing as an attorney contributing to injustice or fighting it?  What would God have me do, right now, today?

Just taking it one day at a time and praying that God's Kingdom would come and his will would be done here.

Monday, September 3, 2012

a bigger picture

So I think I mentioned that I've started taking some classes, kind of just for fun.  We've been talking and reading some about evangelism, and I'm starting to be able to articulate where my thoughts and experiences are fitting into the whole.

When I was growing up (and in the books I'm reading for class now), evangelism is mostly talked about like it's a one-time conversation you have with someone, usually a stranger you go up to on the street.  Depending on your denomination and approach to faith, you might bring along a tract or just your Bible.  And that's when you have a conversation about salvation.  Maybe you start with a question like, "If you died tonight, and God asked why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?"  But usually you start the conversation somewhere around creation and try to fit in the whole story of redemption in about 2-3 minutes.

My sense is that evangelism is much deeper and much wider than that.  Because I think I see evangelism more like how you teach your kids about God--one day and one small moment at a time.  It doesn't happen overnight, and living a life of faith is something that you only learn by living it out in concrete ways.  You're confronted with an angry co-worker, and you have to decide in that moment how to respond.  What does God want you to do?  What does your heart tell you to do?  How can you invite God into that moment to change you and make you more like Jesus?  It's a million little decisions, day after day, to follow Christ.

I'm not saying that most people don't have a point of decision where they choose for the first time to follow Jesus, but I am saying that we usually don't expect to teach our kids about it all in one sitting.  It's a long, slow process of introducing concepts, ideas, and relationship with God over time.  It's just so much bigger than one conversation.

And I think this is an important distinction, because when we're thinking about evangelism, training for evangelism, or trying to imagine ourselves doing it, we think of it like a confrontation rather than a long relationship of mutual sharing.  And because we don't think of it as a long relationship, we don't really take advantage of all the different opportunities that pop up--just to love someone or to listen to them or to share a story of how God's impacted our own lives because it's relevant in that moment. 

In most of my relationships where I've seen someone come to faith, it hasn't been because I walked up to someone on the street and started talking about sin, judgment, and salvation.  It's been a 2 or 3 year process of listening, learning, and sharing.  Yes, I've had great opportunities to share the whole story of the gospel, but they've been buried in between mundane discussions about life and sprinkled out over a long period of time.

How do you define evangelism?  Is it a one-time conversation or a lifetime of sharing?  Who are you sharing your life with right now?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A new school year is just around the corner.  I always loved a new school year because of all the promise of the future.  I also loved learning, of course, but it was the excitement and adventure of a new situation, a new environment, new relationships that I was looking forward to.

In times like this, I think we also have a unique opportunities to look at a new situation and look for where God is working and where God wants to use is in those places.  Who are the new people that we are going to meet?  What things are happening in their lives?  How do they currently experience the love of God and the hope of eternal life with him?  How can we show love to them in small ways over the time we will have together?

The first step to knowing how to answer those questions is to be praying.  Praying that God will help us to see people with his eyes and his heart.  Praying that we will be sensitive to the Spirit about how he wants us to be involved in their lives.  Praying that he will show us who they are and what they need.

In the coming weeks, I'd encourage you to prayerfully consider your new or old environment.  Who is God laying on your heart?  How can you pray for them at a deep level?  How can you walk with them right where they are?  How can you teach your children to see the world in this way?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Your Kingdom Come

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, he taught them to pray that God's kingdom would come and God's will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

I always thought those were two separate things--that the kingdom of God was like the realm of God, so praying for his kingdom was praying for the future--that God would expand the boundaries of the people and places that are following him.  But I'm taking this class about kingdom worldview, and I think I was wrong.  The primary meaning of the word "kingdom" when it was used in the New Testament was that of God's rule and authority and sovereignty.  The realm over which the King rules is a secondary meaning. So I'm beginning to think that praying that God's Kingdom to come is really asking that his rule and reign would be top priority, and that I'm seeking the will of the King who has authority over my life.

As I've sat with this idea for the last couple of weeks, it's really changing the way I think about praying for those around me.  What am I asking for if I'm asking that God's kingdom would come in my own heart or the hearts of those around me?  I think I'm asking that God would be the rightful king and ruler.  And that necessarily means that as a result, I'll see my place in the world as one of service to the king.  If I am asking that God be King and ruler in my life, that means I see decisions that I make as decisions that must be offered to him.  In other words, if I believe I am subject to the King, then I give up the idea that I have the right to choose what's best for me.  I don't get to choose the best car for me--I have to ask what car is going to best serve the kingdom.  I don't get to choose the best way to spend money for me--I have to ask God to show me how my money can be used in his Kingdom.  I don't get to look at my time as something that exists just to make my life better--I have to ask God how to use my time to bring his Kingdom on earth.

In our American democratic, individualistic society, this idea is foreign.  We don't have a king.  We don't have anyone who has that kind of authority against us, except, perhaps, our parents when we are young.  And our culture encourages us to strain against those bonds of authority and get out from under it as quickly as possible so that we can be self-made, self-sufficient, and self-satisfied people.

What would it look like if we really invited God to bring his Kingdom in our lives and in the world around us?  How would it change our community if we used our resources like our time and money and emotional reserves to serve the Kingdom instead of ourselves?  How would the lives of those around us change if they began to recognize the authority and the rule of the King in their lives?  Are we willing to pray that God's Kingdom would come and to let his Spirit do the work that would be necessary to bring his Kingdom rule into our hearts and lives?

Monday, August 13, 2012

A person of influence

When I went away to the Lausanne consultation and talked with a group of other people about using business as mission, about 98% of our time was spent talking about how to reach the "people of influence" in business.  Our definition of that seemed to be something about a business owner or a business CEO or manager who exerted a ton of control and authority about how those businesses were run.

I struggled with that definition and with that focus.  Because I don't really believe that just because you have influence in a business setting you're going to have a spiritual influence on the world.  In fact, I think that business people are just like everyone else--they have their limited sphere of people they can truly relate to and influence on a personal level. In addition, I'm not sure the qualities and character that Jesus calls us into are always compatible with those positions of power.

So the last few days, I've been mulling over the question, "what does it take to be a person of spiritual influence?"  And I just keep going back to this--a life dedicated to Jesus Christ, following in his footsteps, listening for his leading, and dependent on the Spirit of God.

The life of the kingdom is a life of sacrifice, of loss and of self-denial.  Not in the ascetic form, but in the truly sacrificial way of choosing the interests of others above yourself.  It's often a life of suffering and discomfort.  It's a life lived by a different set of values.  It looks different and it feels different than a life where you're chasing after your own needs and desires all the time.

The truth is, anyone can be a person of spiritual influence.  You don't have to be charismatic.  You don't have to be powerful.  You don't have to be super-smart.  You just have to be willing to wake up each day, to offer what you have to Jesus, and to watch him work through you.  It was the lowly fisherman, it was the boy with 2 fish and 5 loaves, it was the widow giving all she had that Jesus commended.  They were the ones who were changing the world.

Are you offering each day to Jesus?  Are you inviting the Spirit to work in and through you to change the world?  Are you willing to obey when Jesus calls you to do something?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A dogged pursuit

What do you do when a person you've seen come to faith suddenly falls off the face of the earth?  Stops returning phone calls, will never meet you for lunch or coffee, seems to be done with your relationship altogether?

It happens more than you'd expect.  And it's always a challenge.  It's hard not to take it personally or to wonder what you did to drive the person away.  It's hard to know what to do next.  Are you bothering that person with your friendship?  Do they even need or want you around anymore?  Have they abandoned faith and God, or just you?

I think a lot of time in the church we think that the best thing to do is just to let them go.  For whatever reason, we have little staying power and we tend to leave at the first hint of rejection.

But what does it mean to love someone the way God loves me?  What does it mean to love unconditionally, without expecting return, out of the love that God continues to show me every morning?  What does it mean that God is a faithful God, keeping his covenant of love with a thousand generations of those who keep his commands?

For me, that translates to hard-core persistence.  I'm talking about stopping by a person's house at midnight, when I know they're finally going to be home.  I'm talking about calling or emailing or texting once a week, for maybe months, before ever hearing back.  I'm talking about digging in and walking forward and pursing someone because you love them and God loves them.  I'm talking about refusing to abandon someone who has seemingly abandoned you, and maybe even God.

Over time, I've begun to sense somewhat of a rhythm to how we relate to God and the people around us.  As much as we would like to be consistent, all of us have an ebb and flow to how we relate--sometimes we're closer to God than others.  Sometimes we can be vulnerable with others, and sometimes we need time to reflect personally.  So I think that this is a normal stage in the process of faith.  A person needs time to figure out how that faith has changed his life.  And he needs to know if it will still be there next week or next month.

The important thing is that we're still there for the people we've been walking with.  The important thing is that we're still bearing God's image and reflecting his character by pursuing and loving and even reaching out in our vulnerability to people who may or may not be there for us. 

Have you ever had someone walk away from a relationship with you?  Have you seen anyone walk away from a relationship with God?  How does the love of Christ motivate you to keep on pursuing in times like these?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saturday Book Review - Viral Jesus

Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

Mr. Rohde starts out with a basic question:  what made the faith of early Christians so viral?  What made their faith and practice spread so quickly from one person to another?  His book answers this question with two simple points:  First, as members of the "new covenant" Jesus spoke of just before his death, the law of God was written on their hearts.  Second, early Christians had only one allegiance, which was to Jesus Christ as Lord.

Mr. Rohde then challenges today's Western Church by saying that we're no longer doing those things.  He blames our Hellenistic dualism, which is our tendency to separate our beliefs from our actions.  He also strongly criticizes the institutionalization of the church and calls us to come back to the way of the new covenant--a radical allegiance to Jesus as Lord.  He argues that everything from discipleship to church-planting to evangelism would be better off if we could leave behind our man-made strategies and priorities to simply teach people to follow Jesus.  He calls this the true essence of disciple-making.

In describing what a viral Jesus movement looks like, Mr. Rohde gives us several key characteristics:  (1) Christians meet together in an authentic way and Jesus is there among them.  (2) Disciples are made, but they are not controlled by church leaders.  Instead, they are set free to follow Jesus wherever he leads them.  (3) Disciples are kingdom-focused rather than church-focused.  They are focused on Jesus as King, and they do more than just get together as church--they participate in other kingdom activities like feeding the hungry or caring for the sick.  (4) These movements have organic structures rather than instituional structures.  They look more like a farmer sowing a seed than a building or an organization.  (5) They are simple enough to be contagious, though that does not mean they are simplistic.

He also focuses on the fact that the supernatural is always involved in a viral Jesus movement.  In his own words, "Church, as God designed it, was meant to be a demonstration of His love and His power, not merely a declaration of His love divorced from His power.  When we return to our new covenant roots and allow Jesus to actually be Lord, we are leaving room for Him to act instead of trying to do everything in our ability and power.  The end result is that Jesus shows up, and Jesus is supernaturally powerful."  p. 30.

Mr. Rohde ends by sharing with us the pattern that he teaches for church planting and evangelism from Luke 10.  I have paraphrased his recommended pattern as follows:
 (1) The Lord of the harvest is the one who sends
 (2) Apostles tend to work in teams
 (3) The harvest is still plentiful
 (4) We must always know where the Shepherd is
 (5) We must trust God to provide the resources for the harvest
 (6) Don't spend a lot of time with people who aren't ready or interested to hear
 (7) Look for groups of people who are interested in spiritual conversations
 (8) Look specifically for a person of influence who can bring you back to his sphere
 (9) Hang out with that group of people and eat what's set before you (be responsive to their culture)
 (10) Hang out for a while with that group
 (11) Heal the sick in Jesus's name
 (12) Bless those who are responsive in Jesus's name

As for my response to the material, I have to say that I'm uncertain.  Although I have a really hard time with the institutional church myself, I found that at an emotional level I wanted to push back on some of his criticisms of the church.  Although I, too, struggle to find a way to integrate the new believers in my life with the "old wineskins" of the organized church, I have also struggled to see a way to help them become disciples over the long haul without integrating them into a church body. 

 Also, every bit of spiritual fruit I've seen has come as result of a lot of failure and a lot of struggle.  If I'm reading his book correctly, then the only thing that can mean is that I have been too focused on beliefs and not enough about authentic actions proceeding from those beliefs, and that I have not followed Jesus where he is leading me.  Because, according to the author, everywhere that Jesus leads is met with viral life transformation.

And although I'm sure that sometimes I've been attempting things on my own strength and based on my own ideas, I can honestly say that I've been trying to hear Jesus's leading in my life.  I've been trying to invite people to follow him, and I've been trying to teach them how to discern his voice in their own lives.  I haven't invited them to become an institutional church or to participate in an institutional church.  I haven't asked them to believe things intellectually that I haven't also encouraged them to live out.  So why is there no viral Jesus movement in my community?  Viral Jesus doesn't really answer that, and it doesn't really account for spiritual oppression or spiritual warfare.

I suppose that, according to the Luke 10 pattern, I may be spending my time with the "wrong" people.  Because I'm not always looking for the people who are super interested in spiritual things.  In fact, I've been spending a lot of time with those who are not interested or who are even hostile toward God or faith.  So I have to take issue with the impression that I'm left with--that somehow if there's no viral Jesus movement, we're definitely doing something wrong.  Isn't it possible that Jesus calls some of us to work in places and with people where such a movement is years, perhaps even generations, away?

The author takes this model from Luke 10, which is when the disciples were sent out to share the gospel with people who were primarily already religious--they were already following Yahweh and waiting for the Messiah.  But not everyone in our world is waiting in the same way.  Yet I absolutely believe that Jesus sends us out to those places too, to the places where his name has never been heard or where people have already hardened their hearts toward God.  It would be easier, I think, to go to the places where the ground has already been tilled and the soil has been prepared.  It's no wonder that in situations like that, disciples are growing at astronomical rates.  But I'm not sure that it's a fair comparison or a fair expectation that every time we sow the seed of the gospel it will result in a viral Jesus movement.

Ultimately then, I guess I'm left with a question:  If the author's goal is to get us to return to absolute allegiance to Christ, why does he focus on the outcome of a viral Jesus movement?  Because if some of us are following Jesus to a place that will never have that result, I'm not sure it's all that helpful to talk about all the great things that could happen in your spiritual community if all the things that are present in the Luke 10 pattern are present there.  The call to return to relationship and absolute faith in Jesus is welcome and needed.  But a viral Jesus movement will happen only when the Spirit moves in that way and Jesus happens to lead you to people who are ready to hear and respond to the message.  Where does that leave the rest of us?

That said, given the author's focus on listening to the voice of Jesus, the author would probably agree that if I followed Jesus to where I am, then I'm right where I'm supposed to be.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wanting God to exist

Here's an interesting article about how seeing people come to desire God's existence is going to be more important in the 21st Century than giving people a bunch of rational reasons to believe in God.

I have to say that I definitely agree with this argument.  I've seen a lot of people believe in God without regard to whether every single piece of their belief system matches up rationally.  For that matter, I've seen a lot of people believe a lot of other things without regard to rationality.  It seems that our culture is moving to an culture that is increasingly centered on emotion rather than rationality.  We can complain about this, we can argue that it's not a good move, but I don't think that there's much chance of changing a cultural shift like this.  The only way to change a whole culture is to change individuals who can then change the culture.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Work as Ministry - a broader perspective

Over the past 30 weeks or so, I've been writing to you once a week to encourage you to think about how you can be a minister in your world, wherever you may be on a regular basis.  We've talked a lot about how to pray for those around you, how to have natural conversations about faith, and how to share your story with your friends when the time is right.  We could probably throw most of these discussions in a category and call it personal evangelism.  If we were going to put it in the context of work, we might call it "ministry at work."

I spent last week hanging out with a bunch of evangelism leaders from North America, and my working group of 12 people explored how to use business as ministry or missions.  In my preparation and my discussions with them, I came upon 2 other categories of ministry at work that I want to share with you.  These really challenged me to expand the boundaries of my own thinking about how we can be doing ministry through our work each day.  Personal evangelism is important, but it's just one part of how our work can be used in God's great plan to reconcile and restore the world.

Another category might be called the "ministry of work."  This goes back to the idea that every thing we do can (and should) be done to the glory of God.  So whether I'm working on a factory line, working as a waitress, or working as a lawyer, what I'm doing when I'm working is helping to bring order, service, humanity, and God's presence through me to that space.  This is the idea that all work is God's work, and we can bring glory to the name of Jesus when we are doing it in his name. 

In my world, this is the perspective that legal work is a part of God's plan for reconciliation and restoration because I get to be a part of bringing justice to the oppressed and marginalized.  I get to be the human being on the front lines who treats the indigent criminal like a human being rather than a monster.  I get to show God's love in a million different ways to hundreds of people just by being someone who asks God to move through her on a daily basis through her work.

The third category might be called "ministry to work."  This is the idea that sometimes in our work we are called to bring a different attitude, atmosphere, and value system into our place of business.  If we have some sort of management authority, it might be to structure our management principles to value human beings and not just transactions.  If we are just a regular worker on the line, then it might be doing whatever it takes to stand up for justice and fairness and other godly values that are sometimes lacking where we are.

For me, this is probably the hardest and often most-discouraging category.  I see a lot of injustice caused by the system.  Our laws are written by the majority or by the powerful minority.  That means that entire cultures are devalued and their cultural values are often in conflict with our code of laws.  Many times they have to walk away from who they are in order to comply.  Even more often, I see people being put in a position where they have no good options and have to choose from 2 bad ones.  Many times they are unable to seek truth or justice in an effort to minimize potential consequences.  I have seen even innocent people plead guilty to things just to avoid the possibility of a horrible, undeserved punishment.  It is a constant struggle for me to figure out how to be a part of making the system better.

So my questions for this week are these:  Do you see your job as something you are doing to bring glory to God?  How would a change in your perspective change your approach to your work?  What are the structural and value issues that come up in the work you do?  Is there a way that you can seek justice and mercy within that framework?  Are there things that need to change to bring the structure of your work into line with Christ?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

BAM! Brief reflections on Business as Mission at Lausanne

At least 1/3 of Jesus's disciples were fisherman.  Not accountants (though there was at least one tax collector).  Not religious leaders.  Not the white-collar business leaders.  Maybe they were entrepreneurs, building their businesses by the sweat of the brow and calloused hands.  But they weren't really famous and they weren't really special.  They were just regular guys, hanging out on the water, trying to feed their families.  The kingdom is made of such as these.

I've spent the last 2 days with a group of young leaders in evangelism, talking about how business and mission interconnect.  And much of our discussion centered around connecting with leaders in the business world, ministering to the 1%, reaching out to those who are movers and shakers in their worlds, trying to build a bridge between the church and those in business.  These are important, essential things.

But this whole time I've had growing in my heart this sense of urgency about the regular people.  The people who are in the workplace because they have to put food on the table.  The people who may not have a ton of authority, but who have influence in their own place and in their own world.  I believe that these are people who are poised to make a great difference for the kingdom.  But they are largely ignored by the church, at least in reference to how faith is supposed to be affecting their life at work.  And the potential for their ministry to the world is almost completely untapped.

So this is my commitment:  The first thing I will do is listen--listen to the leadership at my church and listen to the people who are in the secular workplace who attend my church, and listen to the Spirit.  And then I will go wherever the Spirit leads me from there.

And I must admit that I'm thrilled to have met some super-awesome people who are just as committed to walking similar paths in their own worlds.

Monday, July 23, 2012

the armadillo evangelist

Have you ever seen an armadillo?  I don't think we have many of them in Michigan, but they're little mammals that have a hard, leathery exterior.  When attacked or in danger, they might roll up into a tiny ball, their hard exterior pointing outward for all the world to see.  You can't have any sort of relationship with an armadillo that's all rolled up.

I'm sorry to say that, when it comes to my recent relationships with my non-believing friends, I've been much more like an armadillo then, say, a furry little chinchilla.

I've been investing in some relationships for a long time now.  I've spent countless hours answering questions, challenging people, and just sharing life with them.  Recently, I've been noticing that for those relationships where I'm really emotionally invested, I'm taking there statements about faith or Christians personally and feeling like I have to explain or defend.  Instead of listening or asking them questions, I've been trying to share my side of the story.  It's important for me to be heard and understood.  It's important for me to share my point of view, especially when the other party is misinterpreting me or criticizing my beliefs.  It's even worse when I feel like they're criticizing my character.

But in this type of situation, I think that defensiveness is always a mistake.  I think that I need to be quick to apologize and quick to hear what the other person is saying.  I need to ask more questions and invite more information, not prove why the other person is wrong about me or about my faith.

Over the years that I've been sharing, I've never seen that my defensiveness (of myself or of God's character) lead to someone's salvation.  Not once.  What I have seen work is engaging others relationally and introducing them to Jesus over a long period of time.  I've seen my vulnerability and apologies invite further vulnerability and honest questions from others.  I've seen God use my brokenness to show his own power and grace and mercy to invite other people in.

What about you?  Are you an armadillo evangelist?  Do you spend more time defending yourself, your beliefs, and God than listening to others?  How might the dynamics of your relationships change if you open yourself up to hear the hearts of the people around you?  How might you better be able to pray for and care for them as people?

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Book Review - Church Outside the Walls

Church Outside the Walls by Raj Samuel

So this was an interesting (and quick!) read for me.  Partly it was interesting to me because Mr. Samuel is from Asia originally, but has also lived in the West, so his writing sort of feels like home to me.  Many of the things he analyzed and considered were things that would naturally arise from moving cross-culturally between Asia and the West.  So I identified with the things that he noticed and responded to, though my conclusions weren't always the same.

Given that context, one particularly interesting thing for me was Mr. Samuel's focus on the believer as an individual rather than part of a collective group.  I wonder if this is a response to his home culture in a similar way to how I began to question the West's individualism when confronted with the collectivist cultures of Asia.  Like any part of culture, I think that individualism vs. collectivism is a question where there's no real winner or loser.  All culture needs to be redeemed by God, and there are some ways that collectivist cultures reflect God's character better than our individualistic one.

Along that vein, I think I was most intrigued with Mr. Samuel's exploration of the meaning of the "body of Christ."  He emphasized that the church is primarily the corporeal expression of Jesus in the world rather than a collection of individuals.  In other words, from Mr. Samuel's perspective, each follower of Christ is the body of Christ in the world.  When we gather together, we are expressing the unity of the body of Christ, but we don't become the body of Christ any more than what we are individually.  He based this claim on the Hebraic understanding of the "body," and he highlighted that in Hebrew culture, the word for any part of the body could be used to represent the whole body.  That is very different from what I have been taught from Paul's exhortation about the body of Christ, and I think I'm going to have to sit with that for a while to process just how a shift in my thinking on this topic might necessitate a change in my behavior.  He seemed to make this line of thinking one of his foundations for arguing that each body of Christ (Christian) is called to the world to be the body through which Christ ministers here on earth.  That calling is certainly something I believe in strongly, though I didn't need to have his interpretation of "body" to get there.

Overall, the book focused primarily on correcting what Mr. Samuel believes are improper doctrines or beliefs based on how the church has expressed itself in the last few thousand years.  He strongly argues that the church is not an institution or an organization, and he calls each of us to follow Christ into the world.  He says some incredibly true things about how most of the members of our so-called-churches have become merely passive receivers of information than never transforms lives, and he points out how harmful this has been to the witness of Christ.  I appreciate his call to the church to equip and send out our people into the world to truly be ministers.  He also makes the point that every Christian is called to ministry full-time--wherever they are.  This really resonates with what I have believed since God clearly called me to ministry when I was a teenager.

In all, I suspect that many Western believers will not appreciate the author's direct style or the fact that Mr. Samuel lays a lot of groundwork in theology and in criticizing the church as it is now before giving any information about where to go from here.  Actually, I would have liked to see more of that--more information about how to accomplish the changes that Mr. Samuel would like to see within the Church.  For me, the abstract, philosophical, or even theological points can't truly be evaluated without a grounding in practical expression.  I don't think there was enough discussion of the practical expression here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR 255.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jesus at Work

In preparation for the Lausanne meeting next week, I've been doing some extra reading and research on ministry in the marketplace--just trying to get a feel for the conversation and learn where what I've been thinking and talking about fits into the mix.  Anyway, I stumbled upon this fantastic article from Biola University's magazine, called Jesus at Work.

I particularly appreciated that the author pointed us to Ken Eldred's framework for understanding three ways that work is ministry - ministry at work, ministry of work, and ministry to work.  He defines ministry at work as pointing those around us to God; ministry of work as doing an excellent job at the work we're doing; and ministry to work as being a part of changing practices, policies, and systems within the workplace to reflect the fruits of the spirit and the character of God.  I'm sure you'll be seeing that framework again as I process just what opportunities for ministry exist in each of those realms in my own life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Does God ever give up on anybody?

I went to listen to a well-respected Christian leader a couple of years ago.  He talked about "fools" who have basically rejected God's authority in their lives.  And he used that term on purpose, because, after all, Psalm 14:1 says that "a fool says in his heart there is no God."  As he discussed this category of people, he basically said that it wasn't worth his time to pursue them and try to bridge to them for the purpose of being light in their lives.  He reasoned that God sometimes gives people over to their desires and allows them to live without his presence because they've chosen to reject him. 

I hear other speakers on this topic encourage people to share their faith in whatever way they can, and then give them permission to “shake the dust off their feet” and walk away.  Maybe they’re not one of “the elect.”  And haven’t we done our part once we say the words?

And I see still others, lay people, struggling with this concept too.  I see them building a relationship which then culminates in just inviting someone to a church service or an outreach event.  And if the person invited says no, often they walk away from that relationship.  It’s too awkward to continue pursuit.  Or really, there’s nothing that can be done.

Like Abraham in the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, a part of my heart wants to cry out against giving up.  I want to appeal to God’s mercy and cry out to God to save them, even though they say in their hearts that there is no God, or they reject his authority in their lives.  Because I believe that there’s a part of conversion that comes from the work of the Holy Spirit.  And because we were all dead in our trespasses and sins until God saved us.  If he hadn’t reached out and pursued me when I was rejecting him and rebelling against him, I would be in the same boat.

At the end of the day, I think I generally go forward believing that God is a God of mercy and grace.  It is within his character to rescue and restore and redeem all people—even those who most stubbornly oppose him.  And I know that, if they really have chosen to reject God consciously, the only time they may sense his presence in the world is when they sense the Holy Spirit in me.  I’ve been commanded and invited to pursue others with love and grace and mercy in the name of Christ.  Who am I to decide that it’s time to give up on them?

And so I pray and I struggle and I cry tears of compassion and of heartbreak for the abundant life with the Eternal One that they are missing out on right now.  I invite Jesus to touch their lives through me and apart from me.  And I never stop hoping for the day when they will see the face of Jesus and surrender their hearts to him.

Are you being Jesus to anyone who has intentionally rejected him?  What are your struggles with this?  What are you praying that God will do?  How can the church help and support you in this endeavor?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

business as ministry?

I'm super excited that next week is the Lausanne Consultation for Younger North American Leaders.  120 of us are getting together to discuss the Lausanne Covenant and the Cape Town Commitment.  We'll be splitting up into smaller working groups and discussing some of the major ideas in the Commitment.  The working group I'm assigned to is all about ministry in the marketplace.

I'm pretty passionate about this idea as I have seen over the course of the last few years that people aren't falling all over themselves to enter the church doors.  And there seems to be a huge disconnect between the church and the rest of the world.  At the same time, there are tons of people who go to church and who love Jesus who are also planted in the rest of the world doing the regular work thing that most people do.  The percentage of pastors and "ministers" is small compared to the number of people out there.  And although pastors can have a really important place in society, there is nothing that compares to the potential that exists for lay ministers make the gospel accessible and relateable to the rest of the world.

So my primary thoughts these last years as I've accepted my own calling to be in the world as a criminal defense attorney has been how to take what I'm learning about approach and strategy and struggle to other lay people who have a heart to minister to their co-workers and friends.  I'd love to see so much more dialogue about what struggles we have and how we're seeing God work.  I've found a dearth of community out there to discuss my own experiences with, and I've been kind of blindly feeling my way along.  One of my visions for this blog has been to allow this to be a place where at least some of those questions can be asked about and discussed.

So as I was reading the Cape Town Commitment, I was drawn to the part where they talk about marketplace ministry.  I also read one of papers that was written in preparation for that meeting that was all about marketplace ministry.  And it challenged me to begin to think about marketplace ministry in a different way.  It challenged me to think about creating a business environment that reflects the values of the gospel so as to invite people--workers, clients, etc--into that environment to experience the fruit of the Spirit before ever inviting them to meet Jesus.

I've really been thinking about this and have begun to ask God if that's something that he wants of me.  Am I uniquely and strategically placed to create a law firm that would be a different kind of law firm?  Could I or should I start to plan on inviting other people in to join me in this strangely-valued practice that is bringing me such joy and fulfillment?  Is that a way that God could use me to bring blessing to the world?

I don't know.  But I'm looking forward to speaking with others next week about what they've experienced and how they've seen the power of the Gospel and the Spirit penetrating their work environment, and I'm excited to ask God to show me whether he's longing to use me in that way.

So my question for you today is, have you ever been a part of a business or work environment that, although not employing all Christ-followers still brings the Shalom and Spirit of Christ to the world?  What was that like?  What were some of the challenges?  I'd love to hear...

Monday, July 9, 2012

Alone, we cannot...

So I have the privilege of being a part of this awesome thing called the Lausanne Movement.  It started a long, long time ago when a bunch of world Christians got together and put together a commitment to world missions and evangelization.  Then, in 1989, another generation met together in Manila to build on that commitment for that generation.  In 2010, our generation of missions leaders from all over the world met together in South Africa to recommit to those principles and evaluate where the global church is at in fulfilling the mission and to put that mission in the language of today.

This summer, I get to join a group of 120 leaders from North American in Madison, Wisconsin to discuss just what that looks like in our lives.  So I spent this weekend reading over the Cape Town Commitment.  It is comprehensive in fleshing out just what the call to follow Christ and to share him with the world looks like.  And I could hear the voices from hundreds of cultures as they confessed the parts of the commitment that the global church has neglected and gave us vision on where to go from here.

But I was also overwhelmed.  The world is huge.  Its problems are huge.  It is almost impossible to even imagine being a part of transforming and reconciling the world to Christ.  At the same time, I was encouraged.  Because I saw how big the church is that we are a part of... it's truly a global church on this global mission, and we are not doing it in our own power.  We are doing it in the name of Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit.

It brings me back to something that God's been teaching me this year.  I started attending Berkly just over a year ago, after several years with a rather tenuous connection to church bodies.  I would attend off and on, I actually was part of a church planting team for a while, but mostly I've been following the call of Jesus on my life into the world, and I haven't always had a church community that values those things.  So I've spent a lot of time the last couple of years laboring alone.

What's been so beautiful about Berkley is that I've seen in my own life the power of the body.  It's a weekly encouragement to me to enter worship on a Sunday morning and remember that I'm not the only person who loves and follows Jesus (or even just believes that he exists).  I've seen how my experiences and my passions are contributing to the body something that no one else is.  At the same time, I get the benefit of all of the other people in the body who are bringing their gifts to share with the rest of us.  They are providing things in my life that I cannot provide or find for myself.

I felt a little bit like that when reading the Cape Town Commitment this weekend.  As I read the overwhelming call to action for the church, I also remembered that each church body and each individual in the body is gifted and called to be a part of it--to bring their personalities and resources and energy and weaknesses into that global mission--and that somehow Jesus can take each of our contributions and make it so much more than it is.  Truly, it's impossible for me as an individual to hope to live out all of those principles.  But I am a part of something bigger.  And my job is to bring what I have to offer, turn it over to Jesus, and listen humbly to the passions and callings of those around me.  I need to help them and support them and encourage them and pray for them.  And I need to receive help and prayer and support and encouragement from them.

So as we consider the way that our gospel has not truly reflected the whole gospel of Jesus--the spiritual, physical, and social aspects--I hope that you will remember this.  You are gifted and called to reach people and to do things that no one else can do.  Find those things.  Do those things.  And do everything you can to encourage the others in your church body around you to find those things and do those things in their lives to.

Together, with our hands and hearts joined together, we can absolutely fulfill the mission that God has given his church.   Alone, we cannot.