Archives For I am the Church

dinnerWe’ve all heard the stats – that 60-90+ percent of our communication is non-verbal! Actual words are only a part of the message we send.  Certainly Jesus relied on more than the spoken message, as vital and powerful as his teaching was!

Jesus proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom’s arrival – in many ways. People were healed of disease; demons were cast out and defeated; he chose 12 to be his messengers. AND he did something else. He ate with tax collectors and “sinners.” His body talked.  In our series, “I am a Disciple,” Mark 2:13-17 tells the story of Jesus calling Levi (later ‘Matthew’) to follow Him. We called the sermon, “The Eating Habits of a Disciple.

We need to see ourselves in this story in two ways:
First, we are all radically INCLUDED SINNERS. Jesus came to save sinners – like you and me! (1 Timothy 1:12-17) The religious teachers of Jesus’ day excluded most of humanity and most of their fellow Jews with their heavy load of man-made laws smothering the heart of God’s Law. So they couldn’t handle Jesus consistent choice of dinner companions. But they got it all wrong! Jesus wasn’t being soft on sin – he was strong on true repentance and healing. Jesus was the holy physician, shouting with bold compassion that “holiness is not fragile – but powerful” to transform and change broken, sinful people into his very likeness and image.

Second, Like Levi throwing a party for his tax collector buddies, we are called to be radically INCLUSIVE DISCIPLES. “Imitate me,” Jesus says to us. Make a statement by who you hang out with. I agree with Larry Crabb that the Church should be “The Safest Place on Earth” – to meet Christ and spiritual friends who help us grow from where we are, to where we are meant to be.

There is room for every kind of background and past sinful experience among members of Christ’s flock as we learn the way of repentance and renewed lives, for “Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified (made whole), you were justified (made righteous) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (2 Corinthians 6:11)  This is true inclusivity.

Richard Bewes, All Souls Church, London (in Washed and Waiting p. 44)

Are there people Jesus would love to invite to dinner – who you would rather not? If so, who is in greater need of repentance?

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macro-microI don’t apologize for taking time in my preaching and teaching to give the larger story of God that we find ourselves in. The Big Picture of God’s Mission in the world (the “macro”) is essential if we are going to serve God in our local, everyday world (the “micro”). It’s not either-or, it’s both.

The July 2013 Issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research (IBMR) makes the point in the editorial cover story.

The longer I follow Jesus and study Christian mission, the more sense it makes to live in light of both the big picture of the missio Dei (Mission of God) and the small, daily opportunities right in front of me. The apostle Paul conducted his missionary service this way. For example, at a particular historical moment he encouraged Gentile Christians to contribute on behalf of famine-stricken Judean believers by appealing to God’s larger purposes for Israel and the world (Rom. 15:25–27). Perhaps even more pointed is the way Jesus was ever conscious of God’s macro plan of salvation, but was all the while responsive to micro-level needs and interruptions. Just prior to his crucifixion and resurrection, knowing that “the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,” Jesus served his disciples through the menial task of washing their feet (John 13:1–5).

Jesus’ disciples heard him teach about life and about God’s macro relation to Israel and the world for three years, all the while watching him serve, perform miracles, and otherwise relate to various specific people. At their final gathering with the risen Jesus, the disciples asked him perhaps the most macro question they could muster: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). These heirs of Israel’s heritage were articulating their national longing for the restoration of King Solomon’s splendor after a millennium of division, exile, and subjugation. The macro expectation that gripped the disciples both fueled their imagination about the larger meaning of Jesus’ life and filtered their expectations for who this Nazarene was in relation to their own particular lives. It seems that we human beings inevitably carry compelling visions of deity and the world that affect how we live our daily lives.

Jesus gave his disciples a combined macro/micro answer. He noted how, on a macro level, God alone knows when and how the historical developments about which they were asking will take place. On a micro level, Jesus’s followers, empowered by the outpouring of God’s Spirit, would serve him in all sorts of situations in Jerusalem and elsewhere, events of which we learn through Christian mission history.

The undertow of almost any Christian’s sense of the missio Dei is that God has acted decisively in Jesus Christ to re-create this world that went wrong. In light of the Christ event, God’s people participate with the Holy Spirit in his mission in a myriad of micro-level situations throughout the world. Our particular Christian traditions variously depict the contours and hues of the macro missio Dei and its particular components. But no matter how we might emphasize different aspects of the big picture, we all as Jesus’ followers—mission analysts included—must engage people in micro contexts of mission. Just as Jesus focused on the people right in front of him, we all must interact with the real, live people whose concrete situations we share in life. It does no good to contemplate the vastness of the ocean of life if we neglect the immediate conditions of our own rowboats, the surrounding waves and weather, and, most important, our fellow passengers in the boat, with whom we struggle to row forward in our particular locales.

Are you and I seeing and serving the world with both the macro and the micro clearly in view?

I just had the intense enjoyment of several days with a life-long friend and missionary. His endless stories of being available to the”Everywhere present Jesus” in-spired me! I’m again reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem ending:

Every day you have less reason
Not to give yourself away.

Mary Oliver versed it another way in a poem from Evidence, p. 39:

I have become older and, cherishing what I have learned,
I have become younger.

And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know?
Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.

And in prose words, Tim Keller has a wonderful small book with a much larger title. My favorite quote:

“…The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

Tim Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness: The Path to True Christian Joy. 

p.s. It’s 99 cents on Amazon in the Kindle ebook version. Buy it!

What’s our excuse?

November 28, 2012 — Leave a comment

Icon of John Chrysostom,
Community of Jesus, Orleans MA

Much has been said in recent years about Church worship attendance being less consistant among today’s Christians. It’s not an entirely new phenomenon. I came across these words from John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher among he church fathers, who pastored in the large city of Antioch in the 4th century:

“Still, such is the wretched disposition of the many, that after so much reading, they do not even know the names of the Books, and are not ashamed nor tremble at entering so carelessly into a place where they may hear God’s word. Yet if a harper, or dancer, or stage-player call at the city, they all run eagerly, and feel obliged to him for the call, and spend the half of an entire day attending to him alone; but when God speaks to us by the prophets and apostles, we yawn, we scratch ourselves, we are drowsy.

“And in summer, the heat seems too great, and we take ourselves to the marketplace; and again, in winter, the rain and the mire are a hindrance, and we sit at home; yet at the horse races, though there is no roof over them to keep off the wet, the greater number, while heavy rains are falling, and the wind is dashing the water into their faces, stand like madmen, caring not for the cold, and wet, and mud, and length of the way, and nothing keeps them at home, and prevents their going out.

“But here, where there are roofs over head, and where the warmth is admirable, they hold back instead of running together; and this, too, when the gain is that of their own souls. How is this tolerable, tell me?”

—John Chrysostom, On St. John, Homily LVIII, ca. A.D. 390

QUESTION: How seriously do you approach the privilege and priority of Christian worship?

Following Christ is not a part-time job! Being a disciple of Jesus is a seven-days-a-week calling that we take with us to work and play; to family and community.  Work (or school for all you students) is a primary medium through which we offer ourselves to God!

Easier said than done!  As with all the areas of our ‘Rule of Life,’ we need the power of the Spirit and the help of the Christian community.  Here are some on-line resources. Continue Reading…

How do you take seriously God’s heart for all peoples? How do I make prayer for the nations a part of my ‘Rule of Life,’ my Game Plan for being a disciple of Christ?

Many years ago, an ambitious project was started with the first edition of Operation World – A global digest of facts and prayer needs for the mission of God in each nation of the world.  It is now in its 7th edition.

There is a website of resources and links and available resources to download.  You can also connect to be part of this world wide movement of prayer.

I urge you to visit this website.  Buy the book or download the ebook version or start by receiving emails on each nation.  Let your heart be touched with Jesus’ heart for all peoples!  If you need more motivation, read this short article called Understanding Prayer in the Light of God’s Kingdom.

One other free resource, available on-line you should know about and read every other month.  It’s called Mission Frontiers, from the U.S. Center for World Mission.

We’ve talked for several years about trying to have Scot McKnight in Rhode Island.  Scot is not your celebrity type Christian rock star.  But he is making a very rock-solid  contribution to the Christian world. McKnight is New Testament prof at North Park University (connected to our Evangelical Covenant denom.) He is a prolific author of both scholarly and ‘popular’ books on NT studies and the Christian life.  His blog, Jesus Creed, is one of the best in the world at engaging important issues of faith and culture. It has a following of thoughtful and respectful commenters who work through books and questions guided by McKnight.  Scot is also a sought after speaker all over the world on subjects of Jesus, biblical interpretation, and the state of the church.  I believe he has been gifted for these times to be a uniter instead of a divider while not being afraid to challenge the evangelical status quo.

(My son, Stephen, got to know McKnight while at North Park and invited him to Providence for November 4th when learning that he was speaking at Gordon College the same week. The Lord, through the generosity of an anonymous donor, is making it happen!)

Scot’s latest book is called The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited.  In it, he challenges the church’s understanding of the Gospel and her all-too common method of sharing the faith.  Our Gospel is often a shrunken version that leads to settling for “decisions” instead of making disciples. There is a lot more!

So here are the details:
** Nov. 4th, Friday evening is The One Event.  (click here for the Facebook page) – a large gathering from churches in Providence and around the state led by Andrew Mook and Scott Axtmann with a team from Sanctuary, Renaissance Church, Christ Church and others.

**The location is Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, with parking in the Providence Place Mall. (Go to the north end mall parking garage nearest the State House and the entrance is directly across from the church.

**Scot McKnight will preach at this unified worship service  which begins at 7 pm.

**Scot has graciously agreed to meet from 4-5:30 pm with pastors and church leaders.  We have designed this session under the title: “The Original Gospel Revisited, Sharing the Good News in Today’s World” – A Discussion with Scot McKnight.  Stephen, Todd Murphy (Sacred Journey Church) and I are coordinating this event with the great help of Cassandra Chavez, staff at Gloria Dei.

**We have room for about 200 at 4 pm and 600-700 at the 7 pm service.  So come on time and be praying for the Holy Spirit to do a wonderful work of unifying and equipping us for greater Kingdom impact in our state and region!