Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Vol 1:28 Gossiping About the Gospel

Reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

Often Jesus’ kingdom-talk involved table talk. There is a rich theology of table in the New Testament. At table not only was food shared, but life was shared as well. When Jesus ate at with Matthew and his friends in his home, or at Zacchaeus’ home, or the numerous other times Jesus ate a meal with others, this was more than the intaking of nourishment, these became places in which life was shared, good news was shared. At table, when we really sit down at table enjoying the company of others over food, stories are shared, prayers are shared, fears and hopes are expressed – life is shared. In our fast-food world, we don’t take much time at table, sometimes we even eat in our cars as we rush from one place to the next.

As Roxburgh and Boren express:
“We think the New Testament has a whole lot to do with how people were trying to work out the meaning of God’s big story in the midst of all the local issues, tastes, and sounds of their neighborhoods and communities rather than principles and absolute propositions for all times and places. They understood themselves as sent to ‘gossip’ and communicate the Good News of Jesus in the midst of their neighborhoods and communities” (p. 97).

They go on:
“The New Testament is about ordinary men and women waking up to their neighborhoods and figuring out how to be the kind of cooks who set the gospel table using local ingredients” (p. 97).

There is a movement going on that is opposite to fast-food, its slow food – and I believe slow food gives us the opportunity to sit down with friends in local places over food, drinks, and conversation and begin to gossip about the Gospel. Sharing Jesus is not about sharing our religious points of view, entering into religious debate, rather it is sharing the life that we all crave, life that is a gift given by God to all those created in God’s image, life that is offered by God who has pitched his tent among us. Such conversations are not rehearsed, do not follow a script, but grow out of the stories of life shared around table.

I like to hang out in what Ray Oldenburg calls third places. These are places in local settings (caf├ęs, pubs, coffee shops) where people hang out to connect, to unwind, to engage with and be enriched by others in their community (there are less and less of such places around). As I hang out in such places – primarily coffee shops for me – I begin to engage others in conversations, conversations where we talk about what is going on in our lives, conversations in which we share our days, our dreams, our struggles, our joys, our needs – and in the midst of such conversations I discover that my sharing is not just about me – but because the Gospel of the kingdom has taken hold of me – I also gossip about the kingdom, about life, about Jesus. All this happens at table, mixing gospel with local ingredients in order to share the life that God desires for all of us to embrace.

In our hectic-paced world, I invite you to slow down enough to be at table with others in your community – and as you do, you will discover that you will gossip about the Gospel as well.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vol 1:27 Listening for the Spirit - part 2 (being incarnational)

[Continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).]

Stopping to listen is an incarnational activity. This past week I was asked by a person in the church I serve what I meant by “incarnational” stating that many in the congregation are not quite sure what I mean by that term when I use it. Though I thought I explained what I mean by this term, apparently it has not been clear enough.

When Jesus as God became a human being, God was incarnated or enfleshed in human flesh – God became a human being! God did not just “seem” human, but God actually became human.

John expresses this in John 1:14 – “the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Actually the phrase that John uses is the Word who became flesh pitched his tent among us. Pitching his tent among us is to say that God in Jesus came to live among us in the same way that we live with one another. God did not come and establish a mansion in our midst (to segregate himself from us), he came and pitched his tent, built a bungalow in our midst – to live like us, among us, to feel what we feel, to experience what we experience – God became one of us. And as one of us, God in Jesus living among us, spoke our language, embraced our customs and culture, and in the midst of embracing all that makes us human, engaged us in such a way so as to set us free – giving hope, healing, salvation (shalom and wholeness) to all who would open their lives to Christ.

Therefore, when we are incarnational, we are to be like Jesus Christ in the world – pitching our tents among those God has sent us to live among. We are not to be aloof, not to be superior, but we are called and sent to live among them like them. For us to become incarnational is to live in the same manner to those to whom we have been sent to represent the present and coming reign of God.

And as we began to focus on last week – this involves listening for the Spirit. Roxburgh and Boren relate that such listening has two parts (we’ll focus on the second part next week). “First, the church becomes attentive to what is happening through direct involvement with people in [their] location. The best way to do this is by entering the neighborhood and hanging out with people, joining community organizations, connecting with people across the street or at the local coffee shop, and taking walks and initiating conversations – doing a thousand little human things that make life rich” (p. 88).

This is the essence of being incarnational in which we are open to listen for the Spirit. The church in being incarnational is more than being able to confess the right doctrine, or offering a meaningful worship service; the church in being incarnational is evidenced by how we live within our communities where we pay our mortgages or our rent. We are the incarnational church of Jesus Christ when we engage the people all around us – and in developing relationships, real relationships with them, we are able through our living, our speech, our acts of kindness and compassion to represent the presence of Jesus Christ – who is the hope of the world, who alone can set humanity free from all that binds and enslaves us.

Being incarnational is more than holding to a theology of incarnation, it is living the way Jesus lived in the world – “pitching [our] tent in the community, gathering friends, praying with people, and asking what God wanted to do” (p. 88). It is about being present to those we connect with in our lives and neighborhoods demonstrating, in our connecting with them, a different way of being human that comes only through being in relationship with God through Jesus Christ and being wide open to God’s rule and reign in our lives.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Vol 1:26 Listening for the Spirit: Continuing Reflections on Introducing the Missional Church

These are continuing reflections on Roxburgh and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church (Baker, 2009).

In focusing on moving back into the neighborhood (MBiN), one of the key insights that the authors share is that we need to “stop to listen” (p. 86). Unless we “stop to listen” our ears, eyes and hearts will be filled with our own agendas and we will miss out what is going on around us and noticing what the Spirit is up to in peoples’ lives.

Roxburgh and Boren express the importance of “stop to listen” as follows:

“One of the first things a missionary to our own culture does is stop to listen to and enter into the stories of the people in order to understand how the culture actually functions. He or she reads books, listens to and watches the local media, as well as looks at trends, priorities, and so forth. But to be perfectly honest, the real work involves sitting with people, listening to their stories, and entering their world with an open mind and heart – not bringing predetermined decisions and goals to the table. If we come to sit with them in this way, we replicate what John describes in his Gospel: Jesus came to pitch his tent beside ours (John 1:14). When we do this, we will be able to hear what is happening and discern what the Spirit is up to; we will read people through God’s lenses and see what he want to turn these people into” (p. 86).

This addresses how we are to be in the world as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ – in reality it is not about us. In one of the courses I teach, after a number of weeks, a student raised her hand and asked, “let me see if I got this right – it’s not about us – is that right?” She got it – and so must we if we are to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission.

If we make it about us, our focus is upon ourselves, our needs, “what am I to get out of this?” – our ears and eyes are attuned to our agendas and needs. Yes, we are people who have needs, but I have discovered that the best way to be the people of God caring for one another is not through focusing upon ourselves, but by attuning ourselves to what the Spirit is saying and doing amongst us and all around us. It is in living our lives in partnership with God and God’s mission that we begin to sense how the power of God flows into us and through us as we are incarnational amongst those with whom God is seeking to connect. It is amazing how such an outward , stopping to listen outlook refocuses how I think about my needs and my agenda.

We are a people called and set apart to participate with Christ Jesus in being incarnational in the world – to pitch our tent besides others in order to discover not only what the Spirit is up to, but how we can be a part of what the Spirit is up to. In this way, the creativity is the Spirit’s as we discover new ministry opportunities and possibilities because as we stop to listen to the stories and lives of people we will become more than aware of how the Spirit is leading us to respond. This is how true ministry develops.

I am discovering that this is the best way and only way for living out my discipleship. I wish I had learned to live in this way 20 or 30 years ago. I do not want to live in any other way but to be open to where the Spirit of God leads as I attune myself to what the Spirit is saying and doing by stopping to listen to the people I have been placed among. And as I attune myself to the actions of the Spirit I am discovering that I am growing spiritually, becoming more and more like Christ. All I can say is Praise God!