He doesn't even know it but my friend Kevin in NoCal posted some comments on Facebook earlier in the year that have played positive havoc on my heart and life. Fact is, they have become a "mantra" of sorts to the steps I am taking in life and in Kingdom work. All I can remember is that he mentioned something about "clarity and recalibration"…and ever since I read those two words, they have burrowed themselves deep within my soul. My new life's praxis is being shaped by them daily…the Spirit is constantly giving me an opportunity to find clarity on how to live. I'm attempting them to recalibrate myself to His story instead of living out the tired, worn out script that became my life. I have rediscovered that the Spirit of God loves new words…loves retelling the story of God in fresh ways in and through my life (only as I allow myself to be open to the critical "re-writes" that He pens spontaneously and effortlessly). So I pray for a new clarity…for eyes to see and ears to hear what the Spirit is saying and how He is encouraging new life within me. Then it is about setting a course to getting in the flow of that new life…getting caught up in the jet stream of the Spirit…being joyously cooperative with where, when and how the Kingdom is going to be expereinced in my midst. As a new year dawns, I'm keeping those words close at hand. Clarity and Recallibration. No need for worthless resolutions…just a clearer vision of where I am in God's story at this time in history and how to recallibrate my life to play the part He calls me to play! So, on to 2011!
I was thinking about what to say after all is said and done…so, I ripped off another blogger's post. Why? Nothing original to share? Not really…this just says what needs to be said. Enjoy the Celebration! Humble yourself before a Holy God born in a Newborn baby…for all to see and worship. Take your place in the midst of culture and proclaim from the highest hill, "Jesus is Lord". Jesus has moved into the neighborhood (The Message, John 1). Go tell it on the mountain…be a city set on a hill…live as a seed growing secretly for Kingdom purposes and with unlimited, Spirit-enabled potential. And have yourself a merry Christmas dear ones!
"So what is Christmas all about? Without giving a lecture or sermon.
Christmas is God opting into the messiness of the world and not exempting himself from it.
The former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, put it like this:
God is. God is as he is in Jesus. So, there is hope.
And the unsurpassed poet-songwriter-musician Bruce Cockburn writes:
Like a stone on the surface of a still river, driving the ripples on for ever, redemption rips through the surface of time in the cry of a tiny babe.
USA Today ran a lead article (on the front page and second page) about the following reality, "Christmas 2010 is a whole lotta jingle and not so much Jesus" (that's a quote from the article itself). You can look at both articles by clicking HERE and HERE. Now, this should not come as a HUGE surprise to anyone, especially those who have a passion for Jesus and for His Kingdom. Unless you find yourself hiding under a rock or in some sort of time warp where you have been missing for the last decades, many have (rightly so) given an analysis of our age with the phrase, "Post-Christian Culture" or "Post-Christendom". There are websites dedicated to this phenomenon as well as excellent books and articles written that provide the reader with a more comprehensive overview of the issue. I don't have time to get into this dynamic here…all we can say is the obvious, "the Church has lost its favored status in our culture". The dominant story in our culture is NOT the Christian story…people in the West will mention Jesus' name more in off-color language expressions than words of praise and adoration. NOW, some bemoan this growing reality…some harken back to days long past and pine for the "good ole days"…OTHERS see this as more of what it purely is – the reality we live with, the ground on which we find ourselves, the setting IN WHICH we have been called and gifted by God to be difference makers for the Kingdom. Actually, it is "easier" to have clarity on what it means to be a follower of Jesus in this type of setting than in a setting that is homogenized with a public spirituality where just about anything goes and is baptized as something "Christian". The lines aren't as blurred as they once were where people would attend services and consider themselves committed to the purposes of God. As Billy Sunday said back in the 20th century, "Going to church doesn't make you a Christian, any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile." So, where does that leave us? Exactly where we were before – God still loves people. Every person matters to Him. What doesn't matter is if we in Church circles are getting publicity or even "market share". Just because the culture has changed doesn't mean things have changed for a person (or faith community) that loves, obeys and follows Jesus. We are still in relationship with a loving, grace-filled, empowering God who commissions us to go and make disciples…the landscape may have changed a bit…but we're still on a mission…we still called to love God and love others…and we still have Christmas! Not bad or even shocking/bad news, if you think about it?
Some people have misunderstood my fascination with puppets. When Sesame Street comes on and Elmo is on screen, I've been known to stop what I'm doing and watch. I'm a huge fan of the Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock…seen all the Muppet Movies and count Kermit as a friend/mentor. Yep pretty warped. But hey, that's the way it is. I've done puppetry for years and am even now preparing for another Christmas Eve Children's service with puppets as the "sermon" piece for the night. Buddies and pals of mine in SoCal are doing the same thing…even in Idaho, there are rumblings of puppets telling the story. So, it shouldn't come as a suprise to you when I post this video – Phil Vischner of Veggie Tales fame is doing a new series of bible teachings using puppets. So, as a special highlight this year, he's doing the 12 Questions of Christmas. You can watch them all via the website or youtube…for now, here's our first taste:
This has been stuff that's been floating around in my mind for quite some time. It just so happens that Scot McKnight has written an article (published in Christianity Today and placed as a DOWNLOAD below for you to read) that begins to spell out a good theological, practical, biblical debate. Who do we follow? Who shapes what we believe and how we live our lives as followers of Jesus…Jesus or Paul? As a "child" of a Reformation era Church as a current leader in a denomination that traces its roots to that era in history, I understand how much of my thinking has been shaped by Paul. DON'T think for a moment that I have any desire, need or inclination to blast that part of the bible OR what God has done in history to shape how people who love and follow Jesus through Paul's writings (13 of them in scripture). As followers of Jesus, we are indebted to Paul and should thank God for the Spirit's revelations to him (through miraculous means, I should add given the fact that we have mostly one side of a conversation that Paul was having with people spread out through the ancient world). EVEN SO, there is a good reason to give pause to what Scot is trying to communicate in his article – is there a "different gospel" preached by Jesus and Paul? How do we understand and bring "into harmony" the obvious "uniquenesses" of each of their witnesses in the New Testament? Important questions…in fact, facinating questions that I've entertained in classes and in conversation for years. Actually, here's a bit of info you might enjoy – many of you know that I am an Adjunct Biblical Studies Professor @ Azusa Pacific University…I have the honor of teaching online courses. One of my courses in on Luke/Acts…the other is Romans/Galatians. It is interesting to me how students process the words of Jesus in relationship to their understanding of Paul. For many of the students who grew up in local churches, their journey is similar – they were steeped in Pauline theology at the expense of the teaching and challenge of a Kingdom perspective and discipleship (and disciple-making) lifestyle lived, spoken, and modeled by Jesus Himself. It is amazing to me to hear students in the Luke/Acts journey reflect on the words of Jesus and how it applies to their lives…in some instances I hear comments like, "I've never really heard this before." One other comment is common as well, "How come my pastor didn't share more of Jesus?" Interesting, huh? Anyway, I wanted to give you reason to download Scot's article…read it over. It would be fun to have you start processing what this means…how we follow Jesus and live Kingdom as well as embrace Pauline theologizing on what he regarded as the core of the faith journey. If you want to have some discussion, post your thoughts…email them to me if you want…otherwise, may the Spirit give you time to challenge yourself in a manner that will enable you to grow in your love of Christ and your deep appreciation for the depth and power of His Word.
I've just been asked to facilitate and officiate another funeral. The gentleman who died was 63 years old…sudden heart attack on a golf course while vacationing in Florida. You know, I've read posts, books, articles, columns, letters and napkin scratch of people's reflections regarding dying. Every one of them has provided input for a moment's pause to contemplate what is indiscrimantly awaiting. I was talking to the widow today…praying for her to find some comfort for the bombshell of reality that she was attempting to handle emotionally, relationally and spiritually. For a brief moment or two, I saw of glimmer of joy and peace even in the most devestating of circumstances. That vision brought me to my knees.
Now, every death has affected me…I still have a few folders in my office of the dozens upon dozens of funerals and services I've led. Just the other day, I was paging through a few of them…remembering dear friends, people who blessed me more than I could ever express, as well as people I only knew through their deaths. It doesn't take long to realize when you are 56 years old that the years ahead of you are fewer than the ones you have long time passed. The suddenness of death's call can be spoken to by the promise and hope of all that which awaits the follower and lover of the One who conquered death. Yet the reality of what each person faces when staring into the grave's face needs to be brought to focus in order to live life to its fullest. Being a follower of Jesus is about living life to its fullest…"life in abundance", were the words of Jesus. So, discovering a full life, squeaking out every moment's wonder, wringing the depth of love and passion from every relationship, and awakening to our partnership in God's mission daily can lift the impending pall. If not for that sure and certain hope, well, there isn't much more, is there? I have rediscovered that I can live each moment in anticipation of being given eyes to see and ears to hear the presence and miraculous movement of the Spirit. When I get to rise to the fact that God is working in and through me to sow seeds that will span eternity makes any fear or apprehension melt away. When I look into the eyes of those who are grieving, I pray that I am living one of those moments…sowing those types of seeds.
So, I'm a bit reflective today…not heavy-hearted but thinking about the heart of our lives. How I pray that we are living it meaningfully…taking advantage of the moments that we are given as gifts.
I've read alot of books. That might be an understatement in many respects. As I've told people who are doing life in my new sphere when they take a look at my library, it is not that I'm trying to show off or prove anything because I was a "late bloomer" when it comes to reading. I read books but not in a voracious manner prior to about 10 years ago. THEN, for some unknown reason, I got the "bug". Now, I can't read enough – and I'm not that picky when it comes to what to read for I enjoy many genres…but obviously, I love books that enhance my followership of Jesus and encourage me in how to utilize the gifts and passions God has given me in new and more dynamic manners.
So…with that out of the way, let me cut to the chase…this book is a good one. It is simple, easy to read, something you can "digest" in a matter of about 30 minutes but it has MUCH to be absorbed and lived. I usually am a bit skeptical about books that look like they are the type that promise "easy steps"…this one doesn't promise anything but to give each person who reads it an opportunity to "align themselves with the mission of Jesus". I haven't met the author but I look forward to one day doing so…I've read MANY books on the "missional paradigm" – most are good…many are extremely "deep" and rightfully complex…but this book makes many of the truths that have transformed my life approachable to just about anyone who is interested. So, here's to you Dave…good work…you did us all a favor with your book. In addition, I'm going to use many of these "word lessons" as teaching points that I can spread throughout my faith community. For example, Word Lesson #2 "Love others like Jesus loves you"…that's the point, isn't it? You can click on the image and be "driven" right to Amazon.
Bill Kinnon is a good guy…a bit "edgy" but that's why I like him. I haven't spent as much time with Bill as I would like…that might be a good thing because he's the type of guy that is an instigator of "trouble" (on second thought…). Bill's blog is worth taking a peek at…he's a video producer, author, thinker, ministry consultant, etc.
Today, Bill posted the photo below with the following comment:
"I confess that I have grown tired of those folk who want to tell us how the church has gotten just about everything wrong for the past seventeen hundred years – and somehow they are the ones who now see clearly. It's as if they think the Holy Spirit has been on an extended vacation."
Let me be clear…I believe in what the Holy Spirit is up to in our post-modernity soaked, post-Christendom, consumeristically-driven, and spiritually hungry culture. I love the fact that there are sincere and passionate followers of Jesus, some who have the mantle of leadership in local faith communities and some who are simply "voices crying in the wilderness", who are listening and being responsive to the Spirit's fresh "winds" in our time. So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that we are seeing renewed efforts by a wide variety of people to explore new paradigms of ministry (especially in the sphere of local church). Yet, and this is what I understand Bill's point to be, to be able to say unequivocally and unapologetically that we've (humanity) have been doing "church" wrong for hundreds of years and that for some reason what it happening NOW is really what faith and the Christian journey is meant to be is a bit wrong…in fact, it is a bit arrogant. Well, more than a bit arrogant…the Spirit has not been quiet, inactive, on vacation or whatever for the past centuries…the issue is that followers of Jesus attempted to do what they could do in their context to live responsively and faithfully under the leadership of the Spirit. Did they "get it right" all the time? No…just like we don't get it right all the time either. God's grace enables us to receive the "mystery of God's will" (Ephesians 1:9-10) and to attempt to do our best to actualize our passions for Kingdom living and Kingdom presence in our context…but to say in anyway that WE are doing it right NOW and that for 100's of years THEY got it wrong is a bit misguided. The point for all of us is this – we are responsible to listen to the Spirit and be faithful in our sphere of influence in our time with a keen ear to the Spirit's leadership and empowerment. We need to learn from the past but also be appreciative of what we have inherited from those "saints" who are preceeded us in serving and living the Kingdom of God. To "blast" the past is like saying to your mom and dad that they made a mistake in birthing and raising you with the traditions and values of your family. We all have things we want to change from what we inherited from our pasts…there are new paradigms or, better yet, Ancient-Future paradigms that we can explore and implement…but we have to have hearts of gratitude for the reality that we wouldn't be here if it weren't for those who passed on the baton of faith to us into our time and context. Bill's right, the Spirit hasn't been on extended vacation…let's praise God for the past (yes, just like families, warts and all) and then let's say "this is our time" and learn from the past and be responsive to the Spirit in the present as He leads us into the future. So, thanks Bill…now, let's get over ourselves and simply be faithful in our time with the gifts of God.