Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Vol1:36 Sailing with the Spirit of God

Over the next two weeks I will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these last weeks has been on following the winds of the Spirit.

Roxburgh and Boren challenge us to develop a new imagination for understanding the Spirit in being the people of God. I have discovered that there is a theological resurgence in interest about the Spirit – all across the theological spectrum. The Spirit is not an “it,” or just an abstract reality – a way of thinking and talking ambiguously about God. Instead, the Spirit of God is being, is the real and present presence of God, the real and present presence of Jesus Christ in the ordinariness of human life.

In John 3 we read about the Jewish leader Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the night to get some questions answered that confused him in his observing Jesus in action. Jesus said to him that he must be “born again.” But before you assume you know where I am headed with this “evangelical” statement, Roxburgh and Boren express that “another way to say this is, ‘You need a new imagination.’” (p. 121).

They state: “Jesus was saying that the rules had to change and, therefore, Nicodemus’ understanding (imagination) was missing what God was actually up to through the presence of Jesus” (p. 121).

To become missional people is to have our thinking, our actions, our discovering reframed – in fact it involves such a radical reframing that being “born again” may be the only appropriate metaphor to describe our embracing a new way of thinking about the real and present presence of God in the world.

The image of sailing with Spirit, that Roxburgh and Boren, present is a vital one for us living as the missional people of God. Too often, they argue, we as the North American church have puttered about in a motor boat being in control of direction, destination, and how fast we get where we want to get going. We want to manage and control the things of God, rather than yield ourselves to be directed and led by the Spirit of God. When we are in control, we know where we are headed, it’s dependent on our abilities – we actually only need God as a figurehead at the forefront of our boats. But to be the missional people of God, we come to recognize that the Spirit of God is the one who is in control directing the purposes of God in the world in making all things news.

So, if the Spirit is in control, blowing where the Spirit wishes or pleases, then we need to learn how to sail – to raise our sails to move us where the Spirit seeks to lead us, to use us – for accomplishing God’s redemptive purpose in the world. We only learn to sail by sailing – by putting ourselves into the wind, into the Spirit.

I remember the first time I sailed by myself – it was on a twin hull Hobie Cat. I put my sail up and the wind grabbed me and took me out into the lake. It was a frightening experience because I was fearful of the wind and I did not know how to sail with the wind – instead I fought the wind and I capsized my boat.

We can do that with the Spirit as well – trying to control the Spirit, fighting the Spirit and we end up grieving the Spirit – and we wonder why then that ministry gets so hard and we burn out. Rather, as Roxburgh and Boren express – “the experience of sailing, on the other hand, involves learning to trust the winds of the Spirit . . . . In sailing God teaches us to attend to the ways of the Spirit” (p. 121). In learning how to sail, we need to learn to trust the wind. In learning how to be the missional people of God, we need to learn how to sail the winds of the Spirit – we will be the ones who are shaped and transformed by the Spirit as we learn to flow with the wind, with what God is doing to make all things right in the world.

This involves trust, trust involves risk, because we open ourselves to be taken wherever the Spirit seeks to take us. To open ourselves in such a way to God is to be “born again!”

Perhaps an experience that ought to be requisite in learning to live as the people of God is for each one of us to take up sailing.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vol 1:35 The Ways of the Spirit of God

Over the next three weeks I will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these last weeks is following the winds of the Spirit.

The authors state that “our missional journey calls us to learn habits of listening and discernment” (p. 119). They states that as Moses asked God to teach him his ways (cf. Exodus 33:13), so we too must be open to learning the ways, the habits and practices of the Spirit – to learn a new way of life made up of habits and practices that shape us as being the people of God in the world (cf. pp. 118-119).

I would add that learning the habits of listening and discernment involve our developing the discipline of listening and discerning what the Spirit of God is listening to and discerning in the places in which we find ourselves. The reason we need to develop this sensitivity to the Spirit is that we do not merely want to listen and discern what we notice, but as God’s missional people, we want to notice what God sees, what God hears, what captures the heart of God – otherwise we will engage in ministry as to what we think is best.

We are very aware that our ways are not God’s ways, and God’s ways not our ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8) at least not without our submitting ourselves to God. Yet to open ourselves to God’s ways and thoughts in our lives, we need to learn to be open to God, to be open to the Spirit of God. Likewise, if we are to develop habits of listening and discerning to what the Spirit of God is listening to and discerning, then we need to first of all be a people who open ourselves to the Spirit and to be shaped by the Spirit.

This is more than discovering our spiritual gifts or engaging in spiritual disciplines – often in our self-focused approaches, the Spirit becomes a tool for our spiritual agenda. Rather, in being open to the Spirit, we need to open ourselves to the Spirit’s agenda in us – to be shaped by the Spirit, to notice what the Spirit notices, and to engage in ministry which the Spirit leads us into.

It is not about getting the Spirit to do what we want to do; it is not about our using the Spirit. It is about yielding to the Spirit so that “the Spirit shapes the church for a missional life” (p. 120). And so we are being called “to attend to the ways the Spirit is seeking to form us as mission-shaped people in our neighborhoods and communities” (p. 120).

Being open and led by the Spirit is to be in a posture of receiving whatever the Spirit desires to pour out into our lives for the purpose of accomplishing God’s purposes – we become available to the Spirit of God to demonstrate and bring about God’s redemptive mission in the world. Being open and led by the Spirit involves surrendering our inhibitions, our barriers, our worldviews, our rationality, our fears, our strengths so that we might be yielded vessels for God to do the work of God through us – a people surrendered to God and living in the ways of God in a broken world.

As we are open to the Spirit of God in this way – we will begin to listen and discern what God is doing all around us – and because we are open to being led by the Spirit, we participate in what matters to God, and what matters to God becomes what matters to us. This is what it means to be a Spirit-led missional people of God. May we as the people of God lay ourselves open to be Spirit-open, Spirit-directed, Spirit-infused people.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vol 1:34 In Journey with the Spirit of God

These next four weeks will conclude my reflections on Roxburgh’s and Boren’s Introducing the Missional Church, at least for the time being – there are still other chapters in their book. The focus of these four weeks is following the winds of the Spirit.

The authors state that in becoming a missional church, “we are on a journey we can’t control . . . . This is a journey through a new country, a place we have never been before . . . . What we have to do is stop for a bit, gather ourselves, and become attentive to our surroundings. This stopping and suspending the need for answers will help us hear what the Spirit is saying in this new place. . . . It’s not a journey toward some ideal or vision of the church but one of encountering God in the ordinariness and messiness of local churches in this new place” (pp. 115-116).

What this entails is a stopping and waiting on the Spirit of God. When the people of God wandered in the desert during the Exodus, they stopped and moved when the glory of God stopped and when the glory of God got up and moved – their movement was completely dependent upon the moving of God who was with them. Their life was so dependent upon the presence of God – though they often complained, grumbled, and rebelled, that they could not fathom life in any other way – especially in the place of the wilderness for which they had no maps, nor a timeline for reaching the Promised Land. They were now wandering in the desert; this was no longer Egypt where they knew how to live, what they needed to do – though they were enslaved. This freedom they were experiencing in the desert was beyond their ability to grasp without being guided by the presence of the Lord.

Likewise, though we have tried to orchestrate and do church in many ways in our culture, we have to come to a place where we are being called to no longer rely upon our ingenuity and our timelines, rather we need to rediscover what it is to rely on the presence of the Spirit of God who is moving among us.

“We are asked to discern what God is seeking to shape even though all our instincts are to turn back to our default settings to make things work and control the outcomes. . . . [W]e have to let go of our need for manageability, predictability, and control in order to listen to the God from whom new things emerge. This is how the missional life develops. Our choices are between discerning God’s presence or defaulting to predetermined goals, vision statements, and strategies. We need to follow Moses’ example – he had confidence that God was present in the journey even though he had no maps of this strange territory” (p. 118).

I know this is not easy – because it requires a posture of surrendering ourselves to the Spirit of God. Many of us find it difficult to surrender ourselves to something or someone we do not understand or cannot control. It involves surrendering our trust in ourselves, to trusting the presence of God – it indeed involves a metanoia, a change of paradigm, a change of direction, a change of center in our lives, a change of our being in control of what we control – it is a learning to walk in a whole new way – a walking by the Spirit of God.

Do we dare open ourselves up to surrender ourselves to God’s presence, to God’s Spirit – for the Spirit to lead us where the Spirit desires to lead us?

I have discovered, through my own experience, that even in my inability to surrender, as I confess this inability and confess my desire to surrender, that God gives me the ability to surrender to the presence of God’s Spirit. I have discovered that in yielding all that I seek to control in my life to God’s Spirit that I am free to walk in the ways of God like I have never experienced before. Though I am still discovering how to open myself to God’s Spirit, I know there is no turning back for me where I seek to control the direction and outcome of my own life.

May we as the people of God lay ourselves open to be led by God’s Spirit.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Vol 1:33 Called to do Life Together

Roxburgh and Boren state that the second practice in the church demonstrating that they are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign is the practice of love (p. 110).
They state that this practice “speaks to the ways a group of people commit to do life together” (p. 110).

As I reflect on this practice of love, I realize that this is one of the more difficult things for us to do in the contemporary church – most of what we do is committing to spend some time together on Sunday mornings or some other evening – be it a small group or ministry setting. But, for us to commit ourselves to one another to do life together – that seems outside of our realm of what is possible.

Years ago I minored in sociology during my university days and I remember the sociologist Weber talking about the differences between Gesellschaft and Gemeinschaft. Gesellschaft, if I remember correctly, has do with gathering, while Gemeinschaft has to do with community. The first is just a gathering of people for some purpose, but it does not involve a strong commitment. Gemeinschaft, on the other hand, is the kind of gathering of people in which there is a strong commitment to one another over a period of time.

In the USA and Canada we have become comfortable in church life with Gesellschaft – merely gathering together with others for worship, ministry, etc., but when we are done after an hour or two, we are free to head home. We may share prayer needs, even what is going on in our lives, but we do not need to engage one another deeply. But Gemeinschaft requires a whole different paradigm of how we are engaged and connected to one another.

Roxburgh and Boren express, “the life of the missional church cannot be done by a conglomeration of individualists who see each other only at formal meetings [Gesellschaft]. Being missional means that we do life together in a way that marks us as distinct from the surrounding culture [Gemeinschaft]” (p. 110). This commitment to life together is something we need to commit to just as we commit our lives to Jesus Christ. It requires the same kind of repentance, the same kind of discipleship, in order for us to live missionally as the people of God in the world. It is a committing of ourselves to one another in community, for “in community we learn to love one another, and through the journey of learning to love we are formed and shaped by God through the others in a group” (p. 110).

There are those who are seeking to practice such a life of committed community, often described as the new monasticism, along with their Rules of Life (not so much rules, but a set of practices which name how they seek to do life together). It is probably worth looking at such communities and Rules of Life in order to discover the depth of the commitment required to practice love for one another.

I believe this is probably a huge stumbling block in our becoming missional communities – are we willing to give up our individualism, our comforts, our privacy, in order to share life together with others? Are we willing to share our possessions, share meals and home together, sharing in responsibilities? It is not something we can do on our own – for that would put us on the road to becoming coercive communities – no, it, like our following after Jesus, requires the Holy Spirit to take hold of our lives and lead us. Are we willing to consider being the missional people of God, but exploring how we might live in community, in Gemeinschaft together. I know I need to struggle with this.