Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Vol1:32 Called to be Present in the World

Roxburgh and Boren state that the first practice in the church demonstrating that they are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign is the practice of presence (p. 108).

The gist of this practice is that it “highlights the specific things that mark God’s people as those who relate to him in a contrasting way” (p. 108).

As I reflect on presence, I believe that practicing presence is about how those of us who identify ourselves as followers and disciples of Jesus Christ are incarnational in the world – it is about how we live in the world. It is about how we go about in all we do making the presence of God visible in the world. These are not meant to be hidden practices, practices kept for the few behind closed doors; no these practices are meant to be lived out in the presence of those whom we want to reveal the presence of God active in the world, redeeming the world, making all things new.

The unique thing about the God who is I AM is that God desires to reveal himself through those whom God has called and sent. God uses people to reveal himself. God became a human being to reveal himself. God who cannot be fully comprehended by our finite minds, reveals himself through finite human beings.

And so, it is in our living, we either practice the presence of God, or we are practicing the presence of self.

We often make life about ourselves, making a name for ourselves, developing a reputation, a pedigree – I am guilty of this myself. We seek and strive to be somebody in this world – and many of us are indeed successful at this.

But if we confess that we are followers and disciples of Jesus Christ, who do people see when they look at us? Do they only see us, or is somehow Christ made visible in and through us, our actions? Is God made visible through the way we live life in relation to others? Are we revealing God who seeks to set humanity free, or are we revealing ourselves, where often we seek to set ourselves free at the cost of others?

Reflecting on the practice of presence, reminds me that my passion in life is not to make a name for Roland Kuhl, but to participate with others to make a name for God, to reveal God. This is what Jesus came to do – “those who believe in me do not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. When they look at me, they see the one who sent me” (John 12: 44-45). Paul also expressed, what expresses my desire as well: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In seeking to live a life that relates to the God of Creation, the God of the Universe, the one who is I AM, I need to be continually reminded that I am called to live my life in such a way, practicing the presence of God, through worship, through engaging God’s Story and Vision in Scripture, through connecting and listening to God, keeping my life open to God, being available to God for what God desires to do in and through me.

For me, this is not a diminishing of who I am, or what I will be, or the gifts and talents that are in my life – living in the presence of God enables me to discover fully who I was created to be – and only in the presence of God, magnifying God, revealing God, do I deeply discover who I am. I become fully human as I live practicing the presence of God – I do not wish to be marked in any other way, except to be known as a person who is known by God and is growing in knowing God – a God who is “mysterious, wild, [and] relational” (p. 109).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Vol 1:31 Walking in the Rhythms of the Kingdom

We become aware that in being God’s missional people participating in what God in doing in the world that we are called and sent to live out our lives as a contrast society – revealing a different reality, a different way of being human, one that is informed by being a follower and disciple of Jesus Christ. But how do we become such a society? Where are the maps, the directions, the steps to guide our steps? How are we to walk according to the rhythm of the kingdom of God?

Though many present-day sermons try to give detailed steps or directions about the way we are to live in contrast to the ways of the world, I have discovered that sermons are not the best way for shaping the way we walk and live as the people of God.

Rather, we are shaped by the stories to which we give attention. We become what we read, we become what we hear, we are shaped by stories. I am aware from numerous settings in which I find myself that quite a few of us approach the Bible as if it were unable to shape us – at least positively. We have predetermined notions that it is a book of principles and rules, do’s and don’t’s, moralisms that are outdated. Yet, if these same people would take a closer look, they would see that is very little of this, rather it as a book filled with stories – stories which can grab hold of our imaginations and lives and have the ability to transform us.

Roxburgh and Boren express that, “the gospel invites us to enter an alternative story shaped by the mystery, memory, and mission of God. Theologian Barry Harvey offers a way of seeing the Bible as God’s ‘travel narrative’: ‘The Bible provides nothing like a map that charts the precise path for us to follow into the future. What it does give us is the travel itinerary of God’s people, that is, the story of their pilgrimage as strangers and foreigners through this world toward the kingdom of God. . . . An itinerary, by contrast, consists of a series of performative descriptions designed to organize our movements through space: “to get to the shrine you go past the old fort and then turn right at the fork in the road’” (p. 105).

Further, Roxburgh and Boren state that we “can’t really understand a travel itinerary without actually getting out and walking the path, whereas a map can be comprehended without ever going anywhere” (p. 105). What that means is that we can only become a contrast society, walking in the rhythm of the kingdom, as we start journeying, as we live our lives by the rhythms of the biblical stories, as we engage the story of the Gospel with the story of our unfolding lives.

Living biblically is not so much living by the rules of the Bible, but being open to the stories of the Bible to shape our living, inform our stories, so that the rhythm of our lives imitates the rhythm of Scripture.

Walter Brueggemann describes the Psalms as an ongoing rhythm of being oriented, disoriented, and reoriented (cf. Spirituality of the Psalms). As we engage the story of the Gospel we are oriented to the rhythms of God, and when we, as we do, digress from these rhythms by living for ourselves, being uncompassionate to our neighbors, we experience disorientation – no longer in step with the rhythms of God, and so we are called to refocus, repent, reframe our lives in order to be reoriented to the rhythm of God’s reign once again in our lives.

Living in this way, we walk with a different cadence in society; we become a contrast society. It is living being mindful of God’s Story and Vision found in the biblical narrative, being shaped by its stories, its rhythms. When we see the Bible as something we only refer to on Sundays, we will never discover the rhythms and stories that are meant to shape our lives – the Bible will only remain a book filled with religious information, rather than becoming an itinerary to guide our journeying.

As the Bible, its stories, its people, the Gospel of Jesus, the letters of Paul, etc., begin to find their way into our imaginations, then we will find ourselves walking and living in the rhythms of God’s reign, and in so doing, we are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s passion for the wholeness of all humanity and creation.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Vol 1:30 What Are We Saved For?

I was talking with friends this past week about their son applying to different colleges. One of these happened to be a Christian college and in the application the question was asked, “Are you saved?” We talked about this for awhile regarding what kind of assumptions such a question was making; whether it was a question to alert the applicant to the environment at the college, or to alert the college as to the status of the potential enrollee?

But being missional involves the question of salvation, but maybe not in the way we are accustomed. Roxburgh and Boren express that, “we have lost the call to a salvation that not only saves us from sin but saves us for life the way God meant us to live in the first place” (p. 103). What are we saved for is indeed an important question and perhaps the kind of question that would make better sense on a Christian college application – because it says more about a person’s purpose and mission in life than merely asking if one is saved.

Lesslie Newbigin wrote that we often misunderstand the concept of election. Those who follow Jesus are the elect, but he notes, not in the way we think. We often tend to think of election and salvation as set us apart, perhaps even in a privileged way – but salvation and election in light of God’s mission is a call to participate with God in what God is accomplishing in making all things new. To be elect in this sense is a call, not to sit back and enjoy the privileges, but rather a call to minister as Christ Jesus did, often encountering hardship and opposition, in demonstrating the presence of God’s reign here on earth.

Roxburgh and Boren continue: “As a result, we don’t usually conceive of salvation as being a process of becoming God’s people who practice the way of life that he intended in the midst of the mess of the world” (p. 103). Indeed, being saved carries with it an onus, an onus of being part of what God is up to in the world, demonstrating a different reality, demonstrating a different way of being human, demonstrating a different way of dealing with institutions, with society, with culture – being saved in God’s mind is always being saved for God’s purposes, for participating with what God is bringing about and accomplishing.

A former pastor of one of the congregations I have served had the practice of asking those who were becoming members of the church, for what purpose they were becoming part of the community, what were they bringing into the community?. For him membership did not entail numerous benefits, but rather a call to serve, a call to act, a call to participate in what God was doing with the passions and gifts the Spirit of God bestowed upon them. He was asking, “what are you saved for?”

In being missional people, people set apart for God’s purposes, we need to get in the habit of asking ourselves and others, “what are we saved for?” As we try to answer that question, we will become more open to discovering what God is up to all around us, and how God has called and gifted us to participate in demonstrating what it means to be human in a very different way.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Vol 1:29 Aligning Ourselves to God's Dream

What is your vision of God? For many of us our vision of God is too small, or even too aloof. We live in ways which reveal that we are unaware that God has a dream for the world, that God has hope for the way the world can once again be. We live as if God is around, but not near – God is really not involved in the life of the world.

Roxburgh and Boren, in Introducing the Missional Church express that: “God’s dream for the world is about redemption of all creation, not just individuals getting into heaven; it is about the restoration of life as God intended it to be; it is about realigning life around God and God’s ways” (pp. 101-102).

God is involved in the life of the world. God is involved in the lives of each human being (cf. John 3: 16-17). God’s hope, God’s passion, God’s desire is for all humanity and for all creation to be made new, restored to a wholeness, a shalom that is rooted in the very heart of God.

And where do we see this dream of God’s being demonstrated?

In the most unexpected place!

God has called and continues to call a people to be the sign of God’s dream for the world. Indeed, we are a broken and imperfect people, all humanity is. We are a people who are “jars of clay” (cf. 2 Corinthians 4: 7ff), vessels in whom God chooses to be present. God chooses to use that which is weak to reveal what restored life can become. It would seem that if God had sat in any of the numerous leadership seminars offered over the past 25 years, that God would have come up with a better plan, but God chooses to enact God’s dream through a broken people, who are developing ears to hear, opening eyes to see, hearts that are open to discover and understand, lives that are willing to be shaped and transformed, in order to demonstrate how God intends human beings to relate to one another.

The question becomes whether we seek to continue living in ways we think are best or whether we are open to being realigned by the Spirit of God to be the sign of God’s dream for the world demonstrating a different reality in being human. Living life with God is all about reorientation.

When we arise each morning – do we seek to live our own lives, seeking our own purposes, seeking our own ends, or are we willing to be part of a larger dream for humanity – a dream that continually challenges us to become human in ways we have never perceived, becoming more humane, becoming more compassionate, becoming more loving, merciful, faithful, courageous, hopeful – becoming complete human beings.

If the latter, then our life will be one of continual reorientation – a continually orienting ourselves to Jesus Christ (who is the embodiment of God, God who came to dwell among us), a continually embracing of Jesus Christ, a continually openness to the Spirit of God, of Christ, because in so doing, in our becoming like Jesus, we become a people demonstrating what it is to be truly human. This involves a purposeful aligning ourselves to God and the ways of God as revealed in Jesus Christ – it involves an aligning of ourselves to the Story and Vision of God (which we will explore more in detail next week).

Dare we align ourselves with God’s dream for humanity by opening our lives to being a sign of God’s dream?