Thursday, April 29, 2010

Vol 1:13 Visioning and the Mission of God (Part 2: Noticing what God is doing)

The questions that were raised about visioning last week were: Since we are called to participate with God in God's mission, how do we go about discovering or discerning what God is doing so that we can join in? And, of all that God is doing, what part of that involves us? How do we know what we are to be doing as the people of God?

Last week we explored seeing what God sees so that we might develop a sensitivity to what touches the heart of God - rather than our living in such a way that is merely focused upon our accomplishing our own purposes. This week, our focus moves beyond what God sees to noticing what God is doing, what God is engaged in within our contexts.

Noticing what God is doing is developing eyes and ears for where God is engaged. Repeatedly in John's Gospel Jesus relates that he speaks what he hears his Father speaking and does what he sees his Father doing (cf. John 12: 49; 5: 19). How did Jesus hear what God the Father was saying and see what God the Father was doing?

I believe what we learn from Jesus is that noticing what God is doing involves living in a different rhythm than what has become "normal" in our world. Normal has come to mean living in ways which are frenetic in which we barely have time to notice anything except that which we are focused on doing - because it is demanded of us by an expectation of another or ourselves. And so we race around like rats, running helter skelter, here, there, seemingly accomplishing much, but sensing deep within ourselves it has little lasting value.

I don't get that sense from Jesus - from reading the Gospels, he seemed to walk with purpose, a way of living that was attuned to a different rhythm. He took time to be distracted by people, by questions, by situations, by conversations - and yet, these asides were not tangential to what he came to do or who he was among us. Mark 1: 35 presents us with a clue as to how Jesus lived attuned to a different rhythm.

When Jesus awoke in the morning, he took the time to breathe in the Spirit of God, he took time to align his life to the purposes of his Father in heaven, he took the time to pray, to yield up his agendas, his anxieties, his deadlines, his "to do" list, himself, in order to open himself to living in a rhythm directed by the Spirit of God.

And then he lived into his day. And as he went from here to there, he encountered people - and the impression he gave those he encountered was that their encountering was by divine appointment. And as he went, he was questioned - and the impression he gave those who questioned him, that this was an opportunity to speak a word of truth, of life. As he went he sensed his living was directed by the Spirit of God. And through this openness to the Spirit of God, he became aware of what God was speaking in a certain situation - and he spoke those words; and through this openness the Spirit of God, he became aware of what God was doing - and he joined in with God in touching a leper or healing one who was blind or setting a child free from demonic forces.

Likewise, when we take the time to live prayerfully - breathing in the Spirit of God, surrendering our agendas to the Spirit, yielding our purposes and goals to God, giving of ourselves to walk through our day yoked together with Christ (cf. Matthew 11:29), we not only begin to live attuned to a different rhythm - regarding distractions as divine encounters, whatever situations we encounter as our being led there by the Spirit, we also become more sensitive and aware of the words God is speaking in that encounter or situation, which we then have the opportunity to speak as well, or the actions God is doing in which we join in to bring life and healing into broken lives and places.

I believe as we live lives which are open to the Spirit of God, the Spirit will enable us to see more clearly what God is doing all around us and enable us to speak the words of God into the lives of others.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Vol 1:12 Visioning and the Mission of God (Part 1: Seeing what God sees)

Since we are called to participate with God in God’s mission, how do we go about discovering or discerning what God is doing so that we can join in? And, of all that God is doing, what part of that involves us? How do we know what we are to be doing as the people of God?

Over the next four weeks we will explore how we envision our participation with God in God’s mission.

Often we think about ministry as seeing a need and responding to it. We can exert our resources and energies in doing good and then we burnout. We wonder why we can’t sustain the effort to do all that is needed to be of help to people in need. Perhaps it has to do with the way we see needs, and/or, once we see them, how we respond to them. If partnering with God in God’s mission is participating with what God is doing, perhaps seeing what we see is not enough. It seems that a first step in being involved with God in God’s mission is to develop a sensitivity to see what God sees (and what God hears) in the ministry contexts in which we find ourselves.

You may be asking yourself, “what does that mean?” “What does it mean to see and hear what God sees and hears?” It means to begin looking at the world differently – to try to capture how God sees and hears us and others in the midst of our daily living. It means that as we develop a God-centered way of seeing and hearing, we become aware of what is going on all around us in a very different kind of way.

I became much more aware of this a few months ago as I was involved in a prayer experiment. I was reading through Richard Foster’s book, Streams of Living Water, and came across the story of Frank C. Laubach, a missionary to the Philippines, India, and Africa in the early part of the 20th century, who did significant work in bringing literacy to thousands. Frank would often engage himself in prayer experiments to become sensitive to the needs of others.

As I engaged in one of these experiments, of praying flash prayers for people I met, drove by, walked by, or noticed during the day – just a momentary prayer lifting them up, praying for the Spirit of God to be present with them, to help them, to touch their lives, I began to notice something. These people whom I just noticed for a mere second, I began to wonder more deeply about them – what is going on in their lives? What are they struggling with? What decisions or situations are they dealing with? What relational issues are in the forefront of their minds? Even though I did not have the opportunity to engage the majority of the people I passed by, I began to take notice of them as I was going about my business.

In noticing them in this new way – I came to sense again that life was not just about me accomplishing my purposes, but that I was living among hundreds of others who are going through life with their own sets of hopes, dreams, and struggles. And then I realized, God must be very aware of all that is going on in everyone’s life. It helped me understand much more deeply the opening words of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world . . .”

God’s gaze upon us as God’s creation is a gaze of love – God loves us and what God does in sending Jesus, the Son of God, is a sending that is motivated by love. What does God see as God gazes upon us? God sees our struggles, our hopes, our questions, our conflicts, our decisions, our relationships, our longings, our dreams. Because God loves us, God sees us. Because God loves us, God hears our cries, our conversations, our words of love, our words of anger. God sees! God hears!

And then it hit me – if ministry is to go beyond doing something for those in need and to go beyond seeing people as mere recipients of our “good” tasks, then we need not only change the pace and focus of our lives to see people as God sees people, to hear people as God hears people, but we need to be open to become sensitive to be shaped by God’s love for those we rub shoulders with each day.

It also changes the primary question of our missional involvement – it is not merely “what does God see?” instead it becomes, “Whom does God see?”

Without developing a sensitivity to seeing whom God sees and hearing whom God hears, and the way God sees and hears them, we will continue going about doing what seems best to what we see and hear, accomplishing our agendas, even if these agendas are named “ministry.”

Seeing people as God sees people and hearing people as God hears people, I believe is the beginning place for us to become aware of how we are to be involved participating with God in God’s mission. Since, it is God’s mission – we need to develop eyes and ears and hearts that are attuned to God’s eyes and ears and heart. To see and hear, we first need to become sensitive to what sensitizes the eyes, ears, and heart of God – otherwise what we see will only be what we see.

Vol 1: 11 God's Mission and the Ministry of the Resurrected Ones

So how are we to be the church in the mission of God? As the community of ones who are now resurrected with Christ, who now are called to live for God, as Jesus Christ lives for God (cf. Romans 6:10), how are we to live? What are we to do? What does God’s mission have to do with us?

In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, Jesus not only prays for himself and his disciples, he also prays for all those who come into relationship with God through Christ: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their [the disciples’] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17: 20-21).

The church, as it yields itself to be in Christ, as it finds its unity by being in Christ, just as Christ is in the Father, we discover that our reason for being and our reason for acting are rooted in being “in us” – in being united with God. This means we are called to live in ways which matter to God.

The church exists, as we read in John 17, to reveal through our actions and witness that “the world may believe that you have sent me.” The church is not to be about merely doing good in the world, being about our own ministry. Rather, because we are Christ’s, because we are in relationship with Christ, our calling is to participate in what matters to God in restoring humanity and creation – in making all things new.

This is a calling that can easily overwhelm us as the church; it is a calling that might even fill us with fear. We may find it far easier just to do what we think somehow contributes to God’s purposes. Our prayer might be, “Lord, just let us do some good, and may you use that in some way to advance your missional purpose.” It can be a fearful thing to be a resurrection people in this broken world of ours.

For us to live to God in the same way that Jesus lives to God, we need to hear the first word of Easter. The first word of Easter is not, “Christ is arisen,” rather, it is one spoken by the angel to the women in the empty tomb – “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5).

“Do not be afraid,” came before the announcement that “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matthew 28: 6).

We live in a world described by numerous observers as being a culture of fear – afraid of terrorists, afraid of losing our identities, afraid of someone breaking into our lives, our possessions – just being afraid.

But I do not believe the angel was addressing our tendency to be fearful in a fear-filled world. Perhaps we might rephrase what the angel said – like this:

“Now that Jesus is risen from the dead, do not be afraid to live out what matters to God in this world.”

Do not be afraid to live a resurrection-full life!

Do not be afraid to live as resurrection people. Do not be afraid to live out the mission of God. Do not be afraid to live saying and doing what we see God saying and doing. Do not be afraid being taken hold of the purpose and mission of God in our lives. Do not be afraid of coming across like Jesus came across when he lived out what he was sent to be and do by God the Father. Do not be afraid to live!

Indeed, it is far easier (and safer) to be involved in our own ministries in the world, rather than participating with God in fulfilling God’s mission for humanity and creation. It requires courage that we cannot muster by ourselves, a courage that comes only as we are filled by the Spirit of God in Christ. And as we open ourselves to the Spirit of God, as we open ourselves to being in Christ, we grow in learning, as a people, as communities of Christ, not to be afraid of living courageously in ways that bring resurrection life to a broken world.

I encourage all of us who yield ourselves to Jesus Christ as the people of God in the world to hear daily the first word of Easter in all we are and do – Do not be afraid!

Read the First 10 Issues of Missional Matters

To read the first 10 issues of Missional Matters connect to the website under the page Missional Matters.

The themes covered are as follows:

Vol 1:1 Whose Mission Is it?
Vol 1:2 Why Does the Church Exist?
Vol 1:3 Church as Sign of the Reign of God
Vol 1:4 Church as Instrument of the Reign of God
Vol 1:5 Church as Foretaste of the Reign of God
Vol 1:6 The Missionary Nature of God
Vol 1:7 The Calling and Sending by God in Scripture
Vol 1:8 Jesus' Missional Awareness - Sent by God
Vol 1:9 God's Mission and the Cross
Vol 1: 10 God's Mission and the Resurrection

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Welcome to Missional Matters

This blog is coordinated with a weekly subscriber emailing through Constant Contact entitled Missional Matters, as well as the web site, Missional Matters express various thoughts of mine, rooted in Scripture and theology of our engaging God's mission as the people of God.

Among other things, I serve as a Mennonite pastor of a small congregation in Northern Illinois, as well as being involved in community organizing around food justice issues.

The purpose of posting Missional Matters in a blog format is to provide a forum for followers of this column to engage in dialogue with one another and me.

Previous postings of Missional Matters can be found on the Missional Matters page of my website.

Looking forward to your engaging these blog thoughts.

In the peace of Christ,