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.