O Community, O Community, wherefore art thou Community…

Community-712702 It began in a garden, the bible tells us.  God working to bring life into being…creating the sky, the flora and fauna, land, animals, creatures of all kind and finally, in a stroke of genius, the likes of human beings.  It was all brought into existence – life and limb, leaf and branch, root and fin, pulsing heartbeats, all with the breath of life.  Genesis says that life was surging through creatures of such variety that they defy definition.  It was “all good”, the narrator tells us.  It was “all good” until Yahweh strolls through his world one day and notices the first “not good” of the beginning of existence as we would come to know it…it was not good that Adam was alone.  So, as the narrative continues its sweeping overview of the beginnings of God’s relationship with humanity, God is said to bring into living reality human community. 

Please understand that there is a bold context in this statement that cannot be ignored – God had been enjoying eternal community in the context of the Trinity.  I would be lying to you if I had any clue exactly what that means…trust me, much better men and women than me have waded into Trinitarian waters only to drown in the ultimate quicksand, the “mystery” of God.  Yet, it stands outside of debate…it is proclaimed and revealed without a hint of a need for apology or explanation – the eternal mystery of the Community of the Godhead.  And it is that Community that becomes the foundation, the image if you will, of that which is built into the fabric of human beings.

Now, you know, to quote an American cultural icon, “the rest of the story”.   You know how that community came to be severely damaged with the onslaught of deception and the taste of a fruit that symbolized humanity’s detachment from everything God had created.  You know how once relationships of trust ruled the day only to be followed by a deterioration of soul and spirit that pitted man against woman, brother against brother, human against creation and, ultimately and most tragically, human against God.  Yet, even so, the seed of Community, the imago dei was placed within the hearts of people, that image of which drew them not only to relationship but also placed within them a hunger for community that could not be satisfied until enjoyed to its ultimate splendor. 

The Biblical story tells us how we were created for and how we long for that which God sowed within us…true, life-giving, meaningful, relational connection.  Yet for so long I’ve wondered, why is it that community is so infrequently experienced?  Why is it that experiencing community is so difficult and apparently unattainable especially among those who are counted among those enjoying the covenant of grace and love demonstrated in the life and passion of Jesus?  To rip off a little bit of Billy Shakespeare, “O Community, Community, wherefore art thou Community?”

Eugene Peterson, in his powerfully thorough overview of Christian spirituality makes the following comments on Community:
“We bypass the community of Jesus when we cobble together a group of people whom we judge to have far more potential for carrying out Jesus’ kingdom work than the merely baptized.  When they tell us that mere people, ordinary people, aren’t all that important – it’s big ideas and urgent causes and stirring visions that real Christians are concerned with…then it is time to re-submerge ourselves in the story of Jesus…we (also) avoid the community of Jesus when we slip into a spectator role…we (also) interfere with this Spirit-created community when we try to take over”.  Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, sum of points in the final section, “Christ plays in Community”

You see, human beings…you and me work overtime to tear down what God has created.  There is something within us that keeps crying out “me” every time God calls us to “others” and into relationship.  We know that community bestows true identity but we fight it tooth and nail all with the mindset that if we could only get our act together, then we would have time for relationships and acts of love.  So, we make a habit of exclusion.  We become professionals at incestuous relationships that only benefit our goals and directions in life.  We opt out for control and titles and one-upmanship roles in a selfish attempt to minimize obstacles that get in the way of me getting what I want.  We justify every end run on God’s design with platitudes based on efficiency, proof-texted sections of the bible, the latest business model of success, or simple “I can’t help myself” excuse.  We relegate those around us who long for a life in the “game” of the Kingdom to spectator roles as we abuse them with what we want in order to get what we feel is God’s will for their lives. 

I really believe that more Christ-followers need to be praying for more love and deeper love for people than they do for parking spaces, God’s will for their business, the latest new car, the church’s building project, or even for faithfulness and fruitfulness in their ministries.  With all the seminars, conferences, books, and classes that I have been exposed to in over 35 years of following Jesus, I have rarely, if ever, seen significant time and energy spent on simply what it means for us to explore love. Community is what we need.  Community is the place where reality of love and forgiveness is experienced.  I would venture to say that the more there is of us, the less there is of God AND the less there is of imago dei.  God’s image is community.  That’s why we all need to long for it, look for it, work for it, teach it, live it, model it, struggle to discover it, and ultimately enjoy it.  “O community, community, wherefore art thou community?” 

The wonder of friendship and the occassional “butt-kicking” that goes with the territory

Butt-kicking I don't even know where to begin this post…so I'll just jump in and see where it heads.  Over the last two days, I've been the recipient of some good ole fashioned butt-kickings…from two people that I love in my life.  Now, let me get this out of the way – I needed it.  I was heading down some old destructive "mental/spiritual" roads that were bound to net me nothing but emotinal grief.  Worse still – the path I was flirting with was going to mock the work God has been doing throughout my life.  So dummy me – I opened my mouth and shared what I was going through with two people who love me…so the butt kicking?  It was deserved!  And, by the way, I thank the Lord that I have people in my life that love me, that take a very serious stake in what I am and what I do, and that are courageous enough to "let 'er rip" when I am in desperate need.  Many of you know that I am a big Seth Godin fan…I get his daily emails and have read most of his writings…today's email underscored the need for all of us to have friends who are around in our lives who can roll up the pant legs occassionally and deliver one point blank to our behinds when we need it.

Real world friends are hard to find and hard to change by Seth Godin

But virtual friends?
If your online friends aren't egging you on…
If your online friends don't spread the word about the work you're doing…
If your online friends aren't respectfully challenging your deeply held beliefs…
If your online friends don't demand the best from you…Then perhaps you need new online friends.

Contextually, you might have a point of contention because the post is not simply about friends in our lives…but in a changing world where people who are close to us do not necessarily have proximity to us at all times, having friends who know us well and can do what Seth says are priceless gifts.  I know I need them in my life…and since my "behind" is still a bit sore from a few things that were said to me (in righteous love) by people who are demanding the best from me and challenging me on not only some of my beliefs but some of the "mis-beliefs" I have especially about my own life, they become more priceless as the moments pass.  I've said it for years – "accountability sucks"…on the one hand, we need to believe it is a good thing to have in life, because it is…accountability keeps us honest with ourselves…it provides the objectivity we need to get our heads and hearts in the place that has the potential of being the most God-honoring.  Every time accountability has raised its head in my life, in hindsight, I've been ultimately blessed.  On the other hand, when it comes at us (even in love) it is tough to handle and actually can lead us to wonder why we invited it in the first place.  That's the truth – accountability is a double-edged sword…but without a doubt, we couldn't be growing to be the people God intends us to be without it. 

Question – are you open enough with people in your life that they actually can see into your soul?  If so, then you know the truth of what I'm posting today…if not, yeah, you might be able to sit in a chair for a few hours without having a painful reminder of some issues in your life, but let me tell you, you are missing out!  Maybe you do need some new friends (virtual or otherwise)…hey, if you want to borrow a couple of mine…you know, the ones with the big feet who are not afraid to use them for some timely accoutability kicks, I might be willing to lend you mine!  Of course, I wouldn't do that unless I warned you ahead of time of the potential danger of allowing them into your life.  Yet, here's some truth – you might be needing a good ole fashioned butt-kicking even now.

Matthew 5 and “starting the process” of forgiveness and healing in a relationship


Matthew 5:23-24 "This is
how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your
place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember
a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave
immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only
then, come back and work things out with God."

I never would say that I am an expert at relationships…I am simply like many of you…I do my best to be a loving person…someone in whom people can trust but also sense the presence/person of Jesus.  I've struggled like most of you with conflict and issues of forgiveness.  It has been much easier for me to allow "issues" to blow over and not have to deal directly with conflict.  I grew up in a home where the baseline meaning in life was – "avoid conflict".  So, that dynamic has been something that I have intentionally had to grapple with over the years of life.  Conflict is a given in any relationship…in fact, the more potential for intimacy, the great the potentiality for conflict to raise its challenging head.  Scott Peck helped me though…years ago, I read one of his books where he states that we can never fulfill or enter into a vision of true "community" (oneness, intimacy, etc.) until we were willing to enter the "tunnel of chaos" which is paramount in moving us from pseudo-community to true community.  That challenged coupled with some painful relationships that I had to confront in a loving, persistent and intentional manner helped me to "grow up" in terms of conflict.  I'm not saying I do it well…I just navigate conflict with my eye and heart on the Lord and a prayer that a relationship can be healed.  Reconciliation comes at a high price (our pride, arrogance, etc.) but is rewarded with a desirable emotional/spiritual payoff – peace and joy and personal freedom! 

As Matthew 5 states, sometimes freedom and forgiveness starts with us…you and me.  I am not saying that each of us doesn't have "rights" when it comes to expecting the "other" to take the first step (especially if it is the "other" who wronged us)…but actually Jesus is saying something massively profound in this text…freedom and forgiveness is more important to the one who has been "wronged" than the one who perpetrated the hurt.  As the Lord says in other sections of scripture, we will always "reap what we sow"…if you are sowing hurt and pain, you'll reap it (sooner or later).  So the personal freedom that can fill our hearts even if we are the "wronged party" needs to start with us.  I know this to be true right now in my life…there are some relationships in which I need to take the first step.  To wait simply keeps me running the wrong doing/hurtful words/actions through my head and heart time and again…to take the first step is to take the initial step into the light.  That's where I want to live…in the light…even if the "other" isn't ready to come clean with their responsibility in the brokenness or wound in the relationship, at least it gives me some freedom and spurs my heart on to love.  You know, I've tried to do my best to honor God in all my relationships…how about you?  And if that is your heart's desire, like it is mine, doesn't it start with offering forgiveness and healing even when it seems like might be the furthest thing from what the "other" might be willing to admit?  I don't know…I don't have all the answers…but I praise God that the Spirit leads me through this part of the journey of Kingdom living.  All I know is that if I'm going to err, I would rather err on the side of love, freedom, healing and forgiveness than on any "other side".  What say you?

Working it! Unfolding the Napkin by Dan Roam

ImagesMany of you know that I've been fascinated with the changes that are occurring in communication and teaching.  We've moved from a text based world to an image based culture…words still mean a lot but when words are accompanied with images and pictures, ideas stick.  On my bookshelf above my desk is a proliferation of books that I have read, re-read and deciphered over the past two years…I am attempting to be as committed as possible to learning whatever I can in order to be the most effective communicator I can be.  Over the months, I've plowed through:

Slide:ology – Nancy Duarte

Presentation Zen – Garr Reynolds

Blunder – Zachary Shore

The Back of the Napkin – Dan Roam

Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath

Quantum Learning  and Instructional Leadershp in Practice – Le Tellier

A Teacher's Guide to Mind-Mapping – Gideon King

Shaped by the Story and Enter the Story – Mike Novelli

Brain Rules – John Medina

Just to name a few…now, after trying to get more encouragement on the same subject, I picked up Dan Roam's new book, Unfolding the Napkin.  Essentially, it is Dan's four-day workshop on communication, problem-solving and teaching all wrapped up in one handy package.  I've made my way through day one…now on to the remainder of the book over the next couple of days.  Of course, I'm also reading Eugene Peterson's new book on Practicing Resurrection…Phil Jenkins book on the fifth century Council of Chalcedon ("Jesus Wars") and Alan Hirsh's new book, Unleashed, literally just walked in the door!  Bless you Amazon!  Anyway, it is all good…hey, if you are anything like me with similar passions for communication, you could not go wrong looking at the books above.  We have a lot to learn!

A post that will get your interest! The “specialness” of the Male Brain!

Homer-simpson-wallpaper-brain-10242 I almost hesitate writing this today…once you read it, you will understand why.  I had read the book, The Female Brain when it was released a few years back…why?  Because I'm crazy!  Seriously, I really want to know what makes the female brain tick…there have been some women that have said that if men actually could crawl into their brains that they would go insane…so I had to see why.  It was a fascinating and enlightening read.  NOW, the same author released a new book on the Male Brain.  I haven't bought the book yet…but I have read a couple of articles that have been published summarizing the big ideas of the book.  CLICK HERE to read one that was written on the CNN website.  As you might imagine, although our brains are similar because we are from the same species, there are BIG differences between the male and female brain that demonstrate what John Gray said in his book, that we are from different planets.  Here is what the author states right out of the chute, "although women have been doing it for centuries, we can't really blame a guy for being a guy."  Well, hallelujah! 

Now, I don't want to go on and on about this – mainly because I know I will be treading upon sacred and dangerous territory…but here's what I will do – encourage you to read the article on your own.  You might even want to read a synopsis of both books that she has written so that you can have a "balanced" view of the differences between the male and female brains.  These "brain study" books are simply fun to read because they do reveal and underscore what we already know – that there are actual biological differences that God created within the genders that really do point to a divine intentionality in uniquenesses between male/female but also which debunks the cultural myths that want to blend the sexes together…the myths that say that there really aren't differences and that gender uniqueness has more to do with societal pressures, norms and conditioning.  I've never bought those myths…  

Well…I read the article and thought to myself, "what quote I could reference that would peak a person's curiosity?' Mmmmmm…oh I know!  Here it is:

"Perhaps the biggest difference between the male and female brain is
that men have a sexual pursuit area that is 2.5 times larger than the
one in the female brain. Not only that, but beginning in their teens,
they produce 200 to 250 percent more testosterone than they did during
pre-adolescence.  If testosterone were beer, a 9-year-old boy
would be getting the equivalent of a cup a day. But a 15-year-old would
be getting the equivalent of two gallons a day. This fuels their sexual
engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female
body parts and sex.  And so begins the 'Man Trance'…All that testosterone drives the "Man Trance"– that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts."  Louann Brizendine

If that doesn't get your attention, nothing will!  TWO IMPORTANT NOTES – Firstly, all comments are welcomed although most will be forwarded to my female consultant!  Secondly, pray for me…I'm sure I'm now walking on thin ice!

It’s time to get off the bench!

Waiting-on-the-bench-wallpapers_9630_1280x800 This is more of a personal journal entry than what I've come to anticipate as a general "blog" post.  It is what it is today primarily because for some who read this blog, they do so because "we" (the reader and myself) have some level of personal connectedness…a relationship that is meaningful to both of us.  I read their blog and emails prayerfully and lovingly and they do likewise.  So, it is in that spirit that today's post begins to take shape:

It's been a while since I've really felt "engaged" in Kingdom work.  There are many reasons for that…some of which have to do with the issue of "seasons" in life.  Since 2008, I've been knee-deep in a transitional season – moving in new ways, attempting to listen for new leadings, trying to be obedient in the moment without making assumptions.  In addition, over the past months, the Lord has led me into a sphere of influence where some of my gifts and passions are being utilized…that has been a good thing. Trust me…it really has been a good thing!  Why?  Because there is nothing more thrilling, humbling and fulfilling than knowing that you were created and gifted for a specific impact that God can make in and through you that He has entrusted to no one else.  So, some gifts and passions have been leveraged in the sphere of influence in which we find ourselves at this point in "our" lives (that would be Vicky and myself)…but…but some are not…in fact, some are pretty much lying dormant.  You see, it is that part of my life and heart that concerns me the most at this stage of my journey.  You see, something has been missing…I'm sure it isn't the "playing field" because all ministry settings have pretty much unlimited potentiality.  The issue for us has more to do with other realities that go along with the actual circumstances and settings of ministry.  I've seen it time and again in many other people's lives…they desire to utilize their gifts…to fully share the manner in which they were wired up by God…but there are walls…barriers…politics…"ownership" issues that actual prevent them for being fully engaged.  Now, I'm not going to succumb to the temptation to blame or point fingers at any one reality…I knew going in that this "season" was going to be a season of service in an arena that would have to be led and opened up by the Holy Spirit.  Praise God that He opened that door.  And I really feel that I've prayerfully and patiently attempted to be faithful to God's calling in this season.  But the times are changing – I've been sensing a growing "gnawing" and yearning in my soul…and after hours of thought and prayer and conversation, I think that gnawing in my heart has more to do with the fact that I feel like I'm more than ready to get on with fully using the gifts, abilities and passions that God has so graciously blessed me with…the time for sitting on the bench is over.  I'm game ready and itching to get back into it for the long haul at full velocity, intensity, and intentionality. Now the question is – where is that going to be able to happen?  What is the sphere where we will sense that God has "opened doors that no one can shut" (see Revelation 2 and 3)?  So, Vicky and I are listening and watching…we want to be about those works that are in alignment to what the Lord is already doing.  We want so much to have ears to hear and eyes to see what God wants for us at this season in our Kingdom journey.

So that is pretty much it!  That's what I'm praying for…and I know that the time is coming soon…does that make sense?

Wasting time…oh well…we all do it sometimes!

Wastingtime Vicky is out of town…she's hanging with gal-pal Claudia in the big "D"…that would be Dallas, Texas!  Yeehaw!  Anyway, like any other husband who's been dumped for a BFF visit, I turn to books, music and movies.  I think to myself first of all, "how loud can I play my guitar today without someone 'nicely asking' to have me turn it down?"  I did that for a while…freaked my little dog out..but hey, Lexy's been there before.  Then, I read for a bit…this time on the more "spiritual" side of things – the book of Ephesians…for lots of reasons.  Then, it was over to the big Red Box for a couple of flicks.  Now, I know I can get away with some rentals that I normally wouldn't want to bore Vicky with…so first up – "District 9".  Nothing like a bunch of Prawns and violence to brighten up an evening.  Ok movie…a bit of a morality "play" with "racial preachiness".  There were a couple of sick parts but generally, on OK movie.  Then on to "2012".  All I can say is "what a waste of time".  It was cool to see a contemporary take on the Noah story (actually complete with "ark" language and images).  But it was a bit hilarious to see China, the Dali Lama and other "eastern images" held up as the savior of mankind.  Woody H. was downright weird and funny…the rest was just a bit more over the edge than really was worth it…I turned it off for a bit…turned it on because I can't stand to waste a buck (I'll waste a few hours but not a lousy buck).  The movie was only satisfying when it was over.  Nothing like trying to restore your faith in humanity where essentially the only people who are "saved" are those who can buy, via cash or power, their way into a new world…hey, consumerism and worldly power rule.  All the religious people were the ones who went down with the planet.  So, I wasted my time…now, what am I going to do today?

Thanks to Seth Godin for pointing this out! The need for Truth!

The TruthGeorge Orwell: "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."

Don't you get tired of posers, liars, exaggerators, politicians, pollsters, even people you know and love who hide behind a smile, glance, a nod, a wink, a party, an ideal, a camera, an office, a position…all we want is the truth.

Didn't someone say once that the "truth would set us free?"  Yeah, I thought so!

Gathering Implications of The Tangible Kingdom…

Default Many of you know that I am a big fan of the book, The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay.  Fact is, I did a chapter by chapter overview on this blog a few months back…if you are interested, you can CLICK HERE and download the entire packet of posts (Chapter by Chapter pdf).  I've been curious though about what happens during the Sunday morning Gatherings of the Adullam community.  If you have read the book, remember…if you haven't, understand…the Gathering on Sunday morning is NOT the main "hub" of activity and focus for this faith community.  Even so, I was interested in hearing about what happens when the community gathers…you would think I would have my own personal observations to post…especially when I have children, grandchildren, a dad and sisters in Denver…I have been close to the community a number of times.  But, I haven't attended as of today.  I really am making some serious plans to visit with Adullam and its leaders soon.  So, here are some "observations" of someone who recently visited the Adullam gathering.  I think they are observations worthy of attention.  You can check out the Adullam ministry by clicking HERE.

Observations on Adullam Community Gathering by Bob Ewell

Adullam Community is a group of Christians in Denver who come together to serve the people of Denver. Their story is in Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, who are the leaders of the community. I read Tangible Kingdom and another church book at the same time. The other recommended a simple approach to church and touted as a main example something like, “You connect with God in worship; you connect with each other in small groups; you then go out to serve.” I remember the stark contrast to Tangible Kingdom which told stories of believers living with and around “sojourners”—people not yet believers. These sojourners would join the believers in some task, sometimes a short-term mission abroad. In the process of serving together, they would form deeper relationships with the believers. Then they would come to faith. It was the exact opposite order of the traditional approach. So the emphasis of Adullam is well-away from the Sunday gathering. In fact, when I told Hugh we might be coming up to visit, he said, “You can visit, but you won’t get the full flavor of Adullam that way.” Again, this is a stark contrast to what most churches would say—“Come on Sunday and check us out!”

So the question is, how does a community like Adullam do Sunday mornings?

Arrive and Mill-around (9:45 – 10:15)

The advertised start time was 9:45a. Hugh told me that if we arrived then, we would be among the first. We arrived at 9:55. Hugh was greeting people at the door, and folks were arriving. We came in and made our way to the coffee area, then just milled around with others. There were no official “greeters,” but we did not feel like outsiders. I don’t know why that was. The operation had the appearance of a large Sunday School class in a mega-church, but when one enters a Sunday School class, in the words of a pastor friend, it feels like a high school reunion—not yours. Again, at Adullam we did not feel like outsiders. There were 8-seat round tables and 4-seat round tables, and a few rows of chairs at the back. We selected a table with open seats and engaged in conversation with the couple seated there. Just before about 10:15, Hugh spoke into the stand-up mike and said we would start in a minute. At 10:15, he welcomed us and said a little something about the theme for the year—being part of the people of God. I did not see anyone come in after 10:15.

Singing/communion meditation/communion (10:15 – 10:45)

Singing was led by one man with a guitar, using the stand-up mike. Songs were singable, meaningful, and there was no attempt to be “edgy” or hype us up. I surveyed the equipment: one stand-up mike (Hugh later used a wireless), one soundboard, computer, projector, and screen. Very simple. Then Matt Smay (apparently—no one introduced himself) shared some observations from Hebrews 13 and invited people to the communion table. The table was set up off to one side with two loaves of bread with bowls of juice. People went by families and after they took the bread and juice (by intinction), most went off to one side to pray together. No big deal was made about the elements being “consecrated;” they were just there. The informal approach also solved the problem of what if someone doesn’t want to partake. If you want to partake, go. If not, stay at your table—no one will know the difference either way.

Lecture (10:45 – 11:15)

The sermon consisted of Hugh’s reading all of Ephesians 2 (handouts with complete text were at the tables) and making comments every few verses. All comments were in everyday language, theologically accurate without sounding so. Sensitive to “sojourners” while providing plenty of “meat” for the mature. Lots of specific application. Like “Sin is not just doing stuff you shouldn’t do. It’s not doing stuff you should do. For example, after this gathering, you could go serve someone in some way—or, you could go home and watch football.”

Group processing and benediction (11:15 – 11:45)

After the sermon, Hugh put up a white board on a table (held by a volunteer!) and led a discussion on what it meant that Jesus came “that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” People suggested concepts, and Hugh wrote them on the board. In most cases, he expounded on each one, usually tying it to some scripture. In a subtle way, he demonstrated that the scripture really is our guide for life and that he knew it well. He said he went a little long.

Mill-around and depart (11:45 – 12:15 or longer)

Few seemed in hurry to leave.

Other Observations

Folks were encouraged to come back over the next few weeks, and they would talk about some issues around the structure of their community. Hugh also referred to structure earlier. The impression I got was something like, “We have a structure and a way of doing business, and we want you to know what that is.” I don’t know if there are members of the leadership team other than Hugh and Matt. I got the impression, however, that there was less emphasis on supposedly “lay leadership” than on, “Your leaders have a plan. Here it is.” [I strongly agree with this approach. I don’t like pastors who talk about lay leadership while manipulating people to do what they’ve already decided. And if we let unqualified lay leaders set the direction for the church, it’s likely to go in the wrong direction.]

I’m reflecting now on the fact that I didn’t feel like an outsider even though there was no real overt accommodation to visitors. For example, there was no explanation of communion (that I recall) and no one at the mike introduced themselves. It’s like, “This is a gathering of our community, and you’re welcome to sit in on it.”

Overall, it’s hard to capture in words what we experienced at the Adullam gathering. It was certainly the best Sunday morning experience we’ve had recently, maybe ever. It felt real. There wasn’t an overt attempt to load up the time with too many “elements” of a “service.” The word “service” does not seem to be used. It’s a gathering that includes an informal time and a more formal time. The formal time was not a production, and that lack of “production” felt good. As I recall, in Tangible Kingdom, Hugh says he gives about two hours’ thought to the Sunday gathering. Why not? Why would it need more than that?

The Gospel as Relationship NOT cognition or statement or theological statement

Easing_relational A long time ago I did some thinking…novel, I know!  Anyway, I started to contemplate what I did to have my lovely and wonderful wife fall in love with me.  I started to wonder what I said, how I looked at the time, the types of things that came out of my mouth that convinced her…was it my cologne?  The fact that I had my hair cut in a certain way?  Maybe I was wearing just that right set of jeans?  Maybe it had to do with the cool frames that were sporting my eyeglasses?  Maybe it had to do with the fact that I had been eating some doublecheeseburgers at McDonalds on a regular basis?  Maybe it was because I had switched from drinking my diet coke out of cans to drinking it out of cups?  I thought, "if I could narrow down that experience to a sort list of action steps that maybe I could package and then make the available to other people…wow, because once I had it narrowed down, it would then be very easy to tell another person (especially some of my single friends) what to say and do that would guarentee a growing and great relationship."  Sounds logical enough, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, you know something that I know – you can't program love…you can't come up with suscinct list of what do say and do that will guarentee anything when it comes to love.  We all know that in our hearts…

Unfortunately, in our addiction to the formulaic and systematic and pragmatic, we have narrowed a relationship with God down to statements that must be adhered to instead of a person to relate to.  We've got it down, don't we?  Whether we call it the "four spiritual laws" or the "Kennedy questions" or "the roadmap to salvation", we actually believe that once a person can go through the steps, that they are guarenteed to be "in" and on their way to a life-long, fullfilling experience with God.  Again…unfortunately, the Gospel is not a message – the Gospel is a person and that person is Jesus.  You see, truth is inherently relational…and becoming a person who follows God has less to do with adhering to a series of statements than it does giving one's life in sacrifice to a mystery. 

Many people promote the presumption that Christianity is a series of ideas that a person must agree with…but I ask you, is that the Gospel?  The Gospel is a relationship, isn’t it?  The Gospel is about a Kingdom with a King (Jesus).  The Gospel is more about relationship than it is about ideas..it has to be.  In other words, if it were only about ideas and statements, then we have to ask a simple but profound question – would Jesus even be necessary?  The kingdom of God isn’t primarily a what…it is a who.  The gospels don’t teach us about Jesus as principle…but as Jesus the person.  When I look at Jesus it isn’t just truth I am seeing…it is God I am experiencing.  The question for every follower of Jesus is not what am I going to believe but whom am I going to love and follow?  "Being a Christian is more about being in love than it is about baking cookies", that's what Don Miller wrote in Blue like Jazz.  For Jesus – the unique place that God encounters humans is the human heart.  The first Christians didn’t proclaim and creed or statement of faith –
they didn’t demand an assent to a list of facts – they proclaimed Jesus.  I don't think that God ever intended the bible to be strip-mined for
propositions or dissected like a lab experiment – bible is a shoebox
full of relationships…love letters, family scrapbooks,
diaries…the Jesus following life is a sum of relationships with God stories not
an accumulation of verses or the checking off of biblical ordinances.  Have I ranted enough?  Oops, one more thing – great quote from Len Sweet and then I'll leave you to your day!

“But the church has embalmed Jesus in rules, codes, canonicities, and traditions that have everything to do with the church’s saving itself and nothing to do with the church’s saving the world…the reformation paradigm, which tempts us to replace relationship with reason, is captured in the word belief.  It is concerned with the right thinking and adherence to a particular way of articulating biblical teaching.  It involves systematizing and assenting…belief is inert.  It is intellectual, defensible and typically irrelevant…contrast that with a way of life…the life of faith.  This has to do with a quest for discovery…it is a pursuit of God, kinetic, transformational…belief is Plato, faith is Jesus….the difference between an object-based church and a relation-based church is the difference between the church that sells itself vs. a church that brings people into a lifelong relationship with Christ and one another.  A relation-based church is less a place where creeds are dispensed and adherents conscripted than a place where people connect with God and each other and where faith journeys can be encouraged and enabled.” Len Sweet