Up in the Air on a Monday Morning – A Confessional Moment

23-confess-winter2009Up in the Air on a Monday morning – A Confessional Moment  

"Be still and know that I am God" The Psalms 

One of the songs that I have played innumerable times on my guitar and led faithful people in its singing is the song, "Lord I lift Your name on high." Right this very moment, I'm winging my way to a conference in Houston, Texas. I can peak out the window of the 737 (on which seat 19D is mine and mine alone) and see the skies, clouds and appropriately be prompted to think through issues that are more "elevated" than what typical, day to day living surfaces. I don't know what it is but it seems like every time I set foot on an airplane, I find myself not only reflecting more on life's schedule but I discover that I enter solo deliberations on the purpose and meaning of my life at the moment. Sometimes, I'm tempted to blame the elevation for this very infrequent pastime but today, I'm simply entering the time of contemplation with a welcoming and anticipatory spirit. 

You see, an airplane is like an isolation booth for me…it is the only time I really HAVE TO slow down, sit down, and stay down. I sometimes think that God is like a prizefighter that has taken me down to the mat for specific purposes only to see me NOT stay down but jump up at the expense of moments of revelation. I wonder at the exasperation of my Lord when He sees me, time and again, bobbing and weaving as He attempts to get His hands on me. My wife Vicky and I often comment on one of our grandkids constant and effervescent energy with the words, "does she ever slow down?" I wonder, in that great mystery of what theologians call, "perichoresis" (the relational interplay between the "persons" of the Trinity), if my living and loving God wonders the same about me. 

Speed is not something I cherish in many aspects of life…I don't like to be in a car that is driving beyond my comfort zone…I don't like the same for boats, bike rides or even skiing but I am MORE THAN WILLING AND ABLE to embrace the breakneck speed of what life for many of us has become. Not too long ago, I read a book entitled,Speed (by Stephanie Brown). It was a volume dedicated to the analysis of speed in almost every aspect of life. One of the take aways that I had from the book is the "law" of assimilation and adaption that goes along with speed. It appears that the faster we go, the faster we have to go next time to get the same adrenaline rush. In other words, a high speed only leads to a higher speed. When I read that I realized that was the story of my life. I have been on the go for years…a busy schedule only bringing me some distress when the people around me are telling me to slow down. My angst about life's pace has nothing to do with some internal sense of restricting my speed. It is only a reality that the speed of my life affects those closest to me. It really is true that my life's story has been, "keep up or be left in the dust." I'm not one to stay any one place for a long time…I've moved more than I care to admit. I'm always looking for the next moment, the new experience, the things and activities I can encounter "out there" than being present in the moment. And that is a tragedy because, what I've learned the hard way, I've missed a lot of precious moments. 

Another great book that I cherish in my life is:

The Sacrament of the Present Moment

by Jean-Pierre de Caussade by HarperSanFrancisco
Paperback ~ Release Date: 2009-12-08

List Price: $13.99
Our Price: $6.59

Buy Now

Believe it or not, I've read it three or four times. Do I apply it? Very infrequently. Yet the thesis of the book is not far from my mind when I bother to slow down enough to think about it. The "sacrament," (the tangible, salvific, power injected, comfort filled, transformational moments) that are occurring RIGHT NOW are often just out of reach mostly because I can't grasp something that flies by at the speed of my life. As another milestone birthday is on the horizon for me this year I'm starting not only to wonder but am, for the first time in my life, actually contemplating what it will mean for me to slow down. The moments are passing and I'm missing them…my children and grandkids are growing and I'm still looking at my iPhone calendar program or worrying about what I've got to accomplish today because I'm already behind….my wife and I often miss moments because I left my mind and heart back in the car because a time warp hit me that allowed my body to walk in the door but has allowed my mind and heart to stay up to speed with internal demands…my desire for more joy, more music, more friends, more love, just MORE of the moments that promise to deliver meaning and purpose in life. 

So, how about you? I've had the time and taken the opportunity to reflect on my pace of life…now it's your turn. Did you know that the Apostle Paul once wrote that we should have a keen eye on the use of our time (Ephesians 5:16)? Did you know that Jesus took off and spent time alone in reflection almost as many times as he spoke to large crowds? You see, with Jesus every moment was a sacramental moment…I wonder what it will take to get our lives to the point where that is true for us? 

Basic Training in being “Mission” driven

Basic-trainingBasic Training – Revisiting Missional DNA

I like using the heading of this study primarily because it captures the essence of its purpose. This document is meant to give the reader an essential exposure to the “Basics” of the Missional mindset. As we begin, let’s get a couple of things EXTREMELY clear:

1. Being Missional (or “mission driven” OR having embedded/incarnated missional DNA) is NOT being involved, or adding, or even strategizing a PROGRAM for your faith community (aka “local church”). Rather being Missional (the word I will use and define further below) is a MINDSET or, if you prefer, a WORLDVIEW. What is a worldview? It is a framework of reference or “lens” through which everything in life is interpreted. In other words, don’t start off thinking you are going to do something new in your congregation as if you were adding a program. Being Missional messes with the core of your identity.

2. Being Missional is an “infection.” CS Lewis referred to a “good infection” in Mere Christianity as that process of transformation that is enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit in a Christ follower’s life. Living a “mission driven” lifestyle IS best equated with an infection. Again, it is not something to add to your life…it isn’t something like a spiritual discipline or something for which you should set aside 5 or 10 minutes a day. It is something that BECOMES your life. Once you get a taste of joining Jesus on His mission, that thrill and that outlook should never be anything but HOW you live your life. It infects how you see relationships and your life’s rhythm.

3. Being Missional is intended to do something in you – to move you from being an “absorber” to a “giver.” I don’t know if you have ever thought about this before but most church people grow up expecting to absorb or consume religious goods and services. We are trained to “receive.” Now, that’s not all bad because we all know how much we need to receive and thank God for His incredibly powerful grace and gifts. Even so, as one grows in the faith, there needs to be an essential shift in paradigms of a person’s life – we move from absorbing all the time to giving as a partner of what Jesus is doing everyday. Remember John 3:16? “God so loved that HE GAVE…” My point, do you love people as Jesus loves you? Then, how are you giving of that love? Missional living is GIVING LIVING.

4. Being Missional is something you can’t buy. You can’t find it in a book, a manual or a conference you attend. It is something you really can’t even LEARN until you UNLEARN other stuff. Friend, being Missional is a NEW WAY OF BEING A CHRIST FOLLOWER. It is a NEW WAY of being a Church. It is a NEW WAY of viewing what we do together as congregations in ministry. You wouldn’t believe how many assumptions we have made about what it means to be a Christian and a local congregation. Two thousand years of paradigms, definitions, teachings, and modeling have burned into our brain and heart ONE way of living and seeing what the Church is all about. I call it our “default.” We all have them in many areas of life. Our “default” position in terms of what it means to be a faith community is to “do church” as has been done for centuries. I mean, what’s wrong with that? Unfortunately, the world has changed. Some of the following study will cover some of the changes that have occurred within our context. The issue is this – we need to experience “fresh wine in new wineskins” (Jesus’ words, not mine) for a new age and a new population. Gone is the favored status of the Church in most of our communities. Gone is what most of us grew up with in terms of what it “means” to be a Christian in our world. The former assumptions aren’t serving us well in a post-modern, post-Christendom, pluralistic, and secularistic world. So, we need to look critically at how we have perpetuated our “default” and learn in new ways what the Bible and the Spirit is “saying to the churches” (again, the words of Jesus, not mine).

5. Being Missional isn’t something new. It is not novelty that we are striving after. In other words, this isn’t something we are talking about just because we are bored or have a short-attention span. I really don’t believe that we need anything NEW as followers of Jesus. In other words, God’s been pretty consistent with His love and grace. In fact, in the scriptures, we see example after example of what Jesus was actually talking about when He gave His followers the “Great commandment” (Mark 12:30) and the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18ff). It’s all there…we have simply FORGOTTEN how to live as Jesus taught us, His disciples, to live. That’s why I LOVE what my online friend Alan Hirsch says about thinking in this manner – these are “Forgotten Ways.” Think of it like this – we’ve taken the eye off the ball. We have been so busy keeping our institutions and religious practices afloat that our ship has sunk and we don’t even know it. It’s time for some clarity friends. Being and living Missional is biblical, theologically sound, missiologically consistent with Christian history, ecclesiastically efficient, and purposely faithful to the call of Jesus. It is essentially joining God is WHAT GOD IS ALREADY DOING. It’s looking in the right places, listening and watching for what the Spirit is doing. So, don’t think of being Missional as another “thing” your church has to do. I think I’ve read most every book on the subject and I still believe that being Missional isn’t so much about what you do…it is rather WHO YOU ARE!

6. Lastly, being Missional means that you are in for a journey. In other words, if you are looking for a quick answer to your congregation’s problems with decreased attendance or apathetic existence or “stuckness”, this conversation is not for you. In fact, if you “try” being Missional as if it were a quick fix, let me tell you plainly – IT WILL FAIL. In fact, you might end up causing MORE problems than you anticipate because MOST people won’t get it. It will take patience, loving conversation, an atmosphere of risk-taking, and a radical dependence on the Holy Spirit for this new DNA to emerge and thrive. Now, I like the word DNA for this reason – it demonstrates clearly how substantial and complete a shift or transformation needs to occur in order for Missional living and identity to be part of your congregation’s life. Think of it this way – a shift in DNA is that which changes a human being’s design into another life form. DNA is the rubric for existence. Any change has HUGE implications. That’s why Missional DNA is “subversive” DNA. As my new friend Greg Finke says, “God’s messing with you.” In other words, you will be playing with fire. Yet remember what “fire” does scripturally – it purifies and renews. That’s what this journey could and should do. 

Icktank Weekend – October 3-5 @ Peace in Monroe

Icktank logo

Icktank Weekend – October 3-5, 2014
Peace @ Monroe

For the weekend of October 3-5, Peace is hosting a "learning and growing experience" led by Heather and Leann, "Icktank" ministry. We will have sessions on Friday night (7-8:30am), Saturday morning (9am to noon) and Sunday morning.

Icktank is short for "ichthus think tank." The ichthus is the classic fish symbol used in early Christianity -a "password" drawn in the sand to identify believers in the culture. Think tanks are a modern creation for the development of ideas that solve real world problems, often of a societal nature. This blend of the ancient and the visionary is a recurring theme in the icktank approach. Icktank is led by two wonderful Christ following women, Heather Davis and Leann Luchinger. This weekend will focus on communicating the truth of God in a complex and pluralistic world. We will investigate "loaded" Christian words (like sin, church, salvation, etc.) and learn more on how to reclaim these words and utilize them in redemptive ways in our daily lives. Don't miss it! Here's a short video from our presenters and teachers…your personal invitation to join in!

Contact me, rdugall@apu.edu if you would like some more information!  

Some “churchy” thoughts to consider!

1header_short_takesSome thoughts for consideration:

Many of you know me…I've had a rich experience living in and with the Body of Jesus over a majority of my life. For most of us, that "living Body" is called, "church." Unfortunately, when I read the bible, I don't see much of what I've experienced in organized church over the course of my life. For many, the church has become an infomercial and dispenser of goods and services. It is a promoter of its own internal programs to sustain its existence and it creates "goods and services" to keep people, not connected to Jesus and His mission but connected to the institution. Don't get me wrong, there is a place for spiritual community…we do gather together to worship, learn, encourage, exhort, challenge and grow. We do live together to apply God's Word to our lives and to experience the transformational power of the Spirit through the many "means of grace" that our God provides. But there is so much more to spiritual community. Our hedonistic and narcissistic culture has "inspired" a transformation of belief in seeing God and the gathering of God's people as just one more self-contained, irrelevant to real life "experience." "Church" has become that which primarily provides us with a means to improve private lives, enhance self-esteem, and give US a sense of purpose. In fact, sometimes you wonder if the whole idea of "god" is an add-on and not the primary focus of a local church's ministry. Worship gets reduced to a form of therapy to improve people's emotional state and energize them for the week ahead. "God" has become that which we have formed in "our own image"…wise but soft-spoken, someone to cheer us up when people are sad, and someone who lackadaisically laughs at people's quirks. This type of "God" people choose like they choose a best friend who has an endless supply of time to meet needs no matter how trivial. Is the church supposed to be different? I believe so.

Here are some issues to consider:

Church is a community – "church" exists to participate in God's redemptive work in the world. The Gospel is not just a message to be proclaimed; it is the form of our participation in which God is doing in and for the world. Remember that there is a an active dichotomy between proclaim and immersion. Followers of Jesus are NOT passive bystanders to what the mission of God accomplishes for the redemption of the world. God calls us to be immersed in His passions and His mission with each other.

Church is a place where the story of God is experienced. The bible is the story of God (i.e. HIS-story) narrated and incarnated in the lives of people/community that reaches its zenith in the work of Jesus for the salvation of the world.

Church is a place one of the many places where the work of the Holy Spirit is tangible. The Holy Spirit is that which energizes and illumines the path of the contemporary community of God to extend the work of redemption and reconciliation to the world. If the Spirit is doing just that which makes us as individuals feel good about ourselves, we are missing the boat. The Spirit's goal in our gatherings is to connect us to Jesus and to energize us and our gifts to His purposes.

Church is a place where the Gospel is dynamic in ways that not only bring us personal assurance but give us "marching orders." The Gospel has less to do with the alleged benefits that might come with believing in God and more with what God plans to do with those who answer Jesus' call to give up all and follow him. It is more than a belief system and more like a lifestyle.

Church breaks the molds into which the culture attempts to squeeze us. Culture is commodity based and steeped in all pervasive consumerism. Most of us no longer consumer to live; we live to consume. This is not just a belief or observation…there is no other way of living…there is no alternative to a vast majority of people. The gathering of God's people needs to orient us to a new way of living. We don't find meaning in taking but in giving. In fact, we experience more of the reality of the living Jesus as we understand and imitate the fact, "God so loved as He gave…" that is not only a bible passage but a life that we are called to live.

Church is one place where we grow to understand that we are to look for God's Kingdom active in our lives. We pray regularly, "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done." Our task is to hook up with the mission of God and join His work in bringing witness to the all-encompassing reign of God. The Kingdom is not just waiting for us…it is here, now! We are living it. The gatherings of God's people should not only be a "taste" of the Kingdom but that which ignites an appetite for more and more of God's Kingdom in more and more moments of our lives.

Here's one more thing to consider –

"According to the early Christians, the church doesn't exist in order to provide a place where people can pursue their private spiritual agendas and develop their own spiritual potential. Nor does it exist in order to provide a safe haven in which people can hide from the wicked world and ensure that they themselves arrive safely at an otherworldly destination. Private spiritual growth and ultimate salvation come rather as the byproducts of the main, central, overarching purpose for which God has called and is calling us. The purpose is clearly stated in various places in the New Testament: that through the church God will announce to the wider world that he is indeed its wise, loving, and just creator: that through Jesus he has defeated the powers that corrupt and enslave it; and that by his Spirit he is at work to heal and renew it." NT Wright

May we be bold enough to join what God is doing and look to each other and our "church" to not coddle but release us to do God's mission and be the Jesus followers and lovers God created us to be!