Archive for February, 2010

Bondage to “Disciplines”

In the process of living out Jesus’ life, there are things we need to do. Notice, I said need.

Looking at shoes

I am convinced that Christians have created a shame-based culture when it comes to growth and discipleship. I see it all the time. We are constantly criticizing our performance. Sometimes I have heard questions in discussion groups which do this.  Without fail in Bible studies or discussion groups, the first question out the gate is something like “How do you/we fail at this.?” Everybody ends up looking down at their shoes, of course.

How can we expect to unpack these vital, powerful and beautiful things when the discussion begins with “Tell everyone how much you suck.” No wonder I see silence and shoe gazing. I think this approach is wrong headed, and it focuses far too much on us and not on God.

When Paul says in one of his letters “follow me as I follow Christ,” our first question should be,  “what was Paul’s example and how do we emulate it in our time?” This results in meaningful study and action. Not looking at your shoes.

The scripture was not given to us to shame us. It was given to equip and inform us. There is no reason to fashion God’s word into a paddle to spank ourselves with. Too much of that makes Bible study feel like punishment, don’t you think?

A different take on the disciplines

We have often described things like prayer, meditation, study and other things we do as disciplines. But in a culture of shame it just becomes another thing to fail at. This is not good, because the disciplines are good. Perhaps we can look at this a different way.

Think of the disciplines as your practices. These are things that you get to do. You don’t have to think in terms of shame. You can think in terms of working on your skills. Think of it terms of a craftsman, or athlete doing his or her thing and getting better and better at it. What craftsman, athlete, or artist hates what he or she is doing? Don’t they work at it passionately because it’s good and fulfiling and, dare I say, fun?

Paul uses that very image of an athlete himself in one of his letters to Timothy. So think of yourselves as working on your skills. Think of this as your practice. This is you transforming into the image of Jesus in the context of your life and circumstances. In other words, this is you being a disciple.

If this is what you want, you can’t fail at it. The only thing you can do to fail is quit trying. Shame is the main thing that can cause this.

Keep striving. Make your course corrections and personal adjustments in hope and anticipation, not shame. The only thing that can hold you back is what you choose to cling to. God is working in you and with you. Shame is not on the menu.

Php 2:12  Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
Php 2:13  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Coming Home to Ordinary

After nearly four and a half years of living and serving at a para-church ministry, we returned to “ordinary” life. We signed papers and took possession of home in a new town in a new state. Now, I am seeing “ordinary” in a brand new light.

When this oddball cult of Jesus-imitators first took off two thousand years ago, they had no organizations, para-church ministries, hierarchies, or, for that matter, churches as we know them. And yet, without all the trappings of power and organization, they went from a small local “cult” of Judaism, to about 25 million in 300 years. Everything they did, they did with their neighbors in their neighborhoods. They did it all in the ordinary context of ordinary life. They lived there and served there.

Today, with all the power and clout of massive organizations, billions of dollars of support, global media resources, powerful political lobbying, “Evangelical Christianity” is shrinking. Even in recent history, the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60′s exploded across this nation, then became organized, institutionalized, commercialized, and died before 10 years had passed. Building a “Christian” empire was never the point. This is why it never works.

Our mission, as Christ followers, is to care for each other and those around us. We do what He does. In doing this, we make disciples. You don’t need an organization for that. You just need others working together with you. You also need to be engaged in “ordinary” life.

One thing I noticed while living at this “para-church” community is how visitors tended to see the place as “true ministry,” and their own lives as marginal and “ordinary.” They seemed think of us who lived and served here as “true missionaries,” while thinking of themselves as uninvolved. They often used to express how they would love to live and do as we do.

Even this morning I heard a glowing report about men who raised their hands or came forward or something. These men had decided to go into “full time ministry.” The fact of the matter is that every follower of Jesus is in full time ministry already.

Professional clergy and Christian organizations are not the point. Every disciple plays a full and complete part in the mission. Discipleship is all about this.

Having lived in that para-church community for over four years, I have to say that it was not “true ministry.” It was necessary and, in some cases, vital, but it was not, in any way, the front line. It was more of a necessary evil and a compromise.

Formal ministries, by nature, tend to be isolated from “real” life and everyday people and issues. I suggest that “ordinary” life is the front line. It is where we all need to be engaged. Though we left this “para-church” formal ministry. I think we are finally getting into the real and substantial ministry. This is the kind of powerless movement which outlasts empires, and rescues millions.

I believe that ministry is best conducted in the events and context of everyday life. Even in the para-church ministry we served with, those we served had to “reenter” and exist in everyday life. I am convinced now, more than ever, that if we all served well in the “everyday world,” para-church ministries would not be so necessary.

Unfortunately, the popular idea is that rather than creating thriving communities of serving disciples we have to attach ourselves to a suitable local church to secure a “safe haven” for “Christian” living.

The point is that we are the missionaries; every one of us. So, what do we do?

Here are some suggestions:

Look closely at the practice of discipleship. Become a student of Jesus. Learn how He acts and thinks from the Gospels. Pay careful attention to what He tells us to do and how He does things.

Get together with other believers to work out these things. Study and talk over what you are learning and encourage each other. Spend time together. Take meals together

Look out for each other and take care of each other. Pray together and for others often. As you begin to get good at this, begin to offer help and kindness to those outside your group.

As you move forward with this, you may find God directing your “opportunities.” It is not complicated. It is also not always easy, but the reward is transformation.

You get to grow as a fully invested follower of Jesus, living out his life and work right here and right now.

From Alan and Deb Hirsch’s New Book “Untamed”

This is a pre-release passage from Alan and Deb Hirsch’s new book, Untamed. In it, Alan and Deb explore the meaning and practice of following Jesus. Each chapter ends with a suggested practice from the principle it proposes. They not only give you the idea, but a way to work it out in real life. Untamed is due to be released Monday, Feb 22  by Baker. Check out the book review page for more info and endorsements.

One Love—Shema Spirituality

The Shema is a major theme throughout the book, hence a small explanation of why this is the case. (Alan and Deb)

…how can we ensure we have a true understanding of God? Or even better, how can we know God? We believe Jesus is the answer and points us in the right direction when he says,
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” [and] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31)

The power of Shema spirituality, or what Scot McKnight creatively calls “the Jesus Creed,” sums up the central revelation of God in Scripture and provides us with a worldview in a sentence. In other words, it is not just a simple description of what true worship means (and it is that), but also a description of a disciple’s basic orientation to the world.

• The Shema contains the revelation that God is one.

• The Shema shows us that God wants to be loved and worshiped in every aspect of life and with all of our being. The clear implication is that nothing in life, culture, and the human experience lies outside of this all-encompassing claim. No false dualisms, no sacred- secular splits—all of our lives, including our sexuality, work, play, home, politics, and economics, can, and indeed must, become aspects of our worship to the One True God.

• The Shema is expanded by Jesus to explicitly include the love of people, for it has always been a temptation of “religious” people to see religion as purely devotion toward God. Jesus will not allow this. Discipleship in the way of Jesus must include the love of people.

Furthermore, we suggest that Shema-spirituality helps us do the following:

• Rediscover the true nature of worship (we must love one God, not many—no idols and images, please)

• Learn what it means to love God in and through the whole of life (with intellect, passion, family, culture, money, sexuality, and so on)

• Understand our relationship to the world and our obligation to “the other” (we can never come to a true discipleship in isolation from the love of people)

• Recover an authentically monotheistic worldview, out of which we can rightly interpret our world (operating with a unified worldview around the kingship of God)

The Ten Commandments show us this truth. The first three of the ten have to do with one God and the prohibition of idolatry. The fourth has to do with the sanctification of time, thereby safeguarding the God-relationship. The rest of the commandments move straight into what it means to live together without killing each other—straight into ethics, or lifestyle! No grand philosophies, no eloquent speeches . . . just holy living in the whole of life-under-God.

In contrast, the Western spiritual tradition has tended to limit discipleship to issues relating to our personal morality, thereby neglecting our missional involvement in the world. But discipleship must include both and everything in between. We would argue that if we truly understood Shema spirituality, we wouldn’t even have to talk about mission because it is all contained in the primal confession—loving God and loving others as ourselves! To worship God involves loving God in all and every arena of life. Mission is implicit throughout the creed. And discipleship in the way of Jesus is all about living out the Shema. It is missional to the core! Hence, no mission, no discipleship.

Excerpts taken from, Alan and Debra Hirsch, Untamed, p.28-9 and 63-4

What If We Had a Mission?

You see it in nearly every church at least once a year. A missionary comes around to talk about his work somewhere in the third world. This missionary always invokes the “Great Commission” and talks about the perils and rewards of oversees missionary work.

What I want to ask is this: What is a missionary? Is it some sort of different class of Christian? What, or who did Jesus have in mind when he gave this thing we call “The Great Commission? Lets take a look at what he said:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Mat 28:18-20 ESV

The disciples are sent out to make more disciples. Those new disciples are to be “apprenticed” in the ways of Jesus. What did those disciples do? Well, if you read the accounts in Acts, they expanded all over the Roman empire and beyond. They “went” into “all nations” making disciples and teaching them…then those disciples went…and then their disciples went…and so it goes.

Do you see the progression? The numbers went from the initial handful of disciples to an estimated 25 million in less than 400 years. All of this was done person to person without mass communication. There were no printing presses. Personal ownership of books, let alone bibles was virtually unknown. What’s more interesting is that there were no churches as we know them today: no Sunday church services, no evangelistic crusades, no seminaries, no professional clergy. And during this period of great expansion, this Jesus Movement was outlawed. many thousands of people were jailed and tortured and publicly executed.

In spite of all this, this ancient Jesus movement spread like wildfire. Why?

Now, we send “missionaries” to third world countries, and see them once a year of two. But what are we doing here? I don’t mean in the country in general, I mean in our neighborhoods. If we send missionaries and they do this work, then what are we doing?

What are we doing today that looks anything like what that ancient Jesus movement? What do we see that comes anywhere near that in our culture?

Throughout history, when the Christians had persecution, they lost their institutional practices. They were cut down to the bare essentials of following Jesus. The result was almost always explosive expansion, solid uncompromising faithfulness to Christ and compassion and good will to the world…especially their persecutors. It is happening right now in China, and many other places in the world.  It’s happening and it has always been happening.

Do we need a persecution to get back to these “bare essentials?” What if we could get to this place on our own?

What if we had a mission? If  the task of disciples (followers of Jesus) is to make more disciples and teach them to follow Jesus then you would think we get to do this too. Is Christianity just a matter of  being a member of a local church? What if that local church re calibrated itself to operate more like the persecuted church? What if our mission dictated the priorities and values of our churches (rather than the other way around).

What if we looked at Acts 2 and did as they did? Take a look at that passage sometime. It’s interesting to think of how that would look in our time. What if we devoted ourselves to learning as much as we could about Jesus? What if we prayed and ate together? What if we took care of each other and those around us, acting as Jesus said? What if we took every opportunity, even conspired together to do acts of kindness and restoration in our communities. What if it went something like this:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,  praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

We can do this. We need to become what we were always meant to be. We are a community, not a semi-private social religious club with a pointy roofed club house. We don’t go to church, we ARE the church. And we get to do all these things. We are not selling theology, we are living like the Son of God. Just like the people in Jerusalem so long ago. Just like those who went before us.

We all serve Christ. We all have this mission. We are all “missionaries.”