Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Vol 1:41 Rhythms of Repentance and Bearing Fruit

Continuing Advent reflections - As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

I can hear John the Baptist crying out to the religious leaders who were coming to see what was happening out in the desert – “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Are we able to hear John crying out to those of us who are North American Christians – “You say you are Christian, you say you believe in God, you say you’re all about peace and justice, you say you are different, more privileged than those who do not have faith such as you – You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance?”

It is hard to hear those words from John – do we hear these words, when they are expressed by Jesus (in Matthew 4:17) as easier to hear because we think we have an “in” with Jesus – and repentance is for those who have not yet confessed Jesus as Savior and Lord in their lives? Perhaps, we still need to hear the call to repent with a fresh set of ears today as God’s missional people.

Too often, I find myself thinking I am getting God’s mission down, to the point where I think I have a corner on understanding what God’s mission is all about – even thinking that I have become somewhat of an expert in expressing what it means to be a missional community participating with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world. When I begin to think like that – I need to hear once again John’s word, Jesus’ word: “Repent, for the reign of God has come near.”

I need to be reminded everyday of what it means to live a missional life, a life that is continually being turned around from my agenda to participating with God in God’s missional agenda, a life that is growing in discovering more and more what it means for me to live missionally – where it has less to do with me and more to do with what the Spirit of Jesus is doing in the world. It has less to do with me and more to do with my being crucified with Christ – Christ living in me, rather than merely my living confessing Christ (cf. Galatians 2:20); more to do with Christ being exalted and me becoming less significant (cf. John 3:30); more to do with my life pointing to Jesus as Lord and less to do with Jesus pointing to me as a follower and disciple of his.

“Produce fruit in keeping with your repentance,” – produce fruit in keeping with your confessing Jesus Christ as Lord, produce fruit in keeping with your striving for peace and justice – may they not just be words in my life, may I indeed live out what I say I believe.

The call to daily repentance is a practice that reminds me that if I am to participate in what God is doing in the world, that reminds me if I am to help lead a community of people to live missionally, I’ve got to make straight a path for Jesus to enter into my life day after day; I’ve got to root my life in my baptism – that I have died with Christ and only what is resurrected in my life is that which is identified with his life; I’ve got to not think of myself as privileged, but one who has received the grace of God’s mercy; I’ve got to be open to being immersed in the Spirit, to breathe in the Spirit, to be corrected and shaped and molded by the Spirit so that my life and my desires, my ambitions are yielded to how God wants me to participate in what God is doing to make all things new.

Yet, I realize that I am incapable of doing all these things that I’ve got to do – and so repentance becomes an offering of myself in which I confess my inability to live missionally for God – I need God to do in me and with me what I am incapable of doing – and I discover that God does.

I find that the Spirit of God is renewing my mind, transforming my life, that I am receiving the gift of being able to live my life, mostly in small ways, by a different rhythm – a rhythm that is demonstrating a new kind of reality of being human in the world – fruit of a new kind of life – a life that is growing in Christ-centering harmony with God, in reconciling harmony with other human beings, and in restorative harmony with creation.

Indeed, I need to be reminded to repent each and every day because God’s reign has come near!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Vol 1:40 Rhythms of Being on the "Lookout for God"

As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. Throughout Advent, I will be exploring what it means for us to demonstrate a different rhythm of being the people of God in relation to rhythms of our culture.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ has everything to do with asking a missional question: how does my playing sports, my going to school, my working in the lab, my teaching students, my providing healthcare, my doing research, my serving customers and clients, my nurturing a family, my growing and harvesting food through farming have to do with what God is doing in the world?

This is the stuff of our daily living that we are engaged in and whatever we do shaped the rhythms of our day, the rhythms of our time. But how do we engage in what we do in light of the rhythms of God’s mission in the world?

Jesus expresses in Matthew 28:19, “as you go about living your life, doing what you do, be about making disciples of all nations . . . .” This points to our daily being and doing as being for a greater purpose than just our being and doing. In being disciples of Jesus Christ we are called to demonstrate by our actions, our words, our living, our producing and consuming, and through our relationships, a different rhythm of being human in the world.

I believe a first step in living our lives in light of God’s mission so as to be about making disciples means that we live in a rhythm of being on the lookout for God.

It is very easy for us to live our lives giving attention to what is beneficial for ourselves – living on the lookout for ourselves – taking care of our needs, our families, etc. This is the way of our culture, the rhythm of being who we are in relationship to others – we all take care of ourselves – sometimes with help from others when life gets overwhelming.

Yet, in identifying ourselves with Jesus Christ, we are no longer called to merely live for ourselves, but we live for God’s purposes, participating with God in what God is doing in the world – God’s mission reshapes the DNA of our existence in the world. And so, whatever we are engaged in throughout our Mondays to Fridays, we live and work with a different rhythm.

We live in the rhythm of being on the lookout for God. What I mean by this is that as a missional people, not only are we attuned to what our jobs or careers demand of us, but in the midst of them, we are also attuned to what God is up to, where God is working, whose lives God is touching. And not only do we develop this being attuned to God, as God’s missional people we also help interpret to others the moving of God in their lives – helping them become attuned to the rhythm of God actively engaging them.

My wife and I have a friend who has had very little room for God working in his life or in the world. But over the past couple of years, in our being on the lookout for God around him and interpreting God’s activity going on either around him or in him, he seems to becoming more open to the possibility that there may be a God active in the world – his language is shifting from statements of “No way!” to “if that’s what you need it to be” to “Maybe?”

As God’s missional people we have the privilege of being one’s who, in being on the lookout for God, have the ability to point out God and the rhythms of God’s activity to a world caught up in rhythms that take little notice of what has the power to shape them and make them whole.

I find that I do not readily notice God unless I begin by attuning my day to be aware of God’s rhythms – this aligning myself to God’s rhythms, to notice God’s activity, often involves praying – “Spirit of God, open my ears and eyes to see and hear you today, Lord. May the rhythm of my day be open to be shaped by your rhythms – help me notice where you are, in whom you are working – and may I somehow be part of what you are doing.” It’s amazing how God responds to that prayer by helping me see and giving me the courage to show the active presence of God in the midst of the ordinariness of my day.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Vol 1:39 The Rhythms of the People of God

As the people of God in the world, we are called to demonstrate a different way of being human as we participate with God in God's mission of redeeming humanity and creation. I wonder how this relates to our use of time?

I am preparing for Advent – throughout Advent the Mennonite community in which I serve as pastor will be focusing upon how we engage and make use of the time given as a gift to us by God. We do not often reflect on what kind of witness we express by how we make use of our time. How do we demonstrate the new reality of God’s reign as the missional people of God as it relates to reframing our understanding of the use of time?

Most of us, I am afraid, me included, do not offer much of an alternative to our frenetic use of time that we find in our North American culture. We run after time management gurus just as much as any other North American in hoping to get more out of the time available to us so that we can spend our time better or more effectively. We are, therefore, more apt to give witness to our culture, rather than what God desires to accomplish in God’s mission in redeeming our rhythms of time.

Of course, this is all connected with God’s Story and Vision, what God is purposing to accomplish in moving all history towards the completion of God’s mission, what God seeks to create in us as God’s people as we seek to be sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign .

Do we walk, live, by a different rhythm? In our actions, in our day to day doings do we display a rhythm of life that reflects more God and God’s purposes, or are we just mimicking the same rhythms of life all around us – the hurriedness, the frenetic pace of life that perpetuates the brokenness of our world, rather than the new reality, the new way of being human living life under the rule of God’s reign?

As I read the Scriptures of Advent, I am reminded that God demonstrates a different rhythm of life, a different way of engaging life – one that fosters righteousness and justice. In reading Isaiah 11: 1ff, I realize that God coming to be among us is for the sake of bearing fruit – a new reality, a new way of being with one another. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him . . . he will not judge by what he sees with his eyes or decide but what he hears with his ears, but with righteousness he will judge the needs, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”

If we think about the kind of fruit the time rhythms of our life portray – I wonder if we find ourselves identifying with Jesus Christ – one who redeems and recreates life rhythms and our rhythms of time, or do we find ourselves, perhaps even in the way we engage in ministry, fostering the rhythms of a society that never can find enough time?

These are some of the beginning questions I am contemplating. What questions do you have that might be added to these as we think about what it means for us to be the missional people of God in relation to a different rhythm of engaging time?  Our time is indeed a part of demonstrating a different rhythm of the kingdom of God.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vol 1:38 Who is the Main Character in our Stories?

Over the past few weeks I have been reflecting on how we tell our stories. This grew out of my serving as a reader of a D.Min. Thesis of a former student of mine. Her focus was upon helping people find new pathways into Scripture. In the dialogue that always ensues in orals, a comment was made about the telling of our stories – we need to learn to tell our stories with God being the main character.

Now that may seem like an odd comment, because we all know that we are the subjects of our own stories. Our stories are about life as it happens to us, even our experiences of God, and we tell our stories through our perspective. These are our stories; this is my story.

However, I am finding this is to be a myopic perspective. None of our stories are just centered in us. The life of the world is not centered around us – our stories involve events and experiences, our stories engage others in which we are not the only character. Life happens to us, not in isolation, but in relationship, in community with a world of others. Though we tell these stories from our perspectives, we are not always the main character.

This has relevance, especially for those of us who desire to live missionally – participating with God in God’s mission of making all things new. The first thing I realize in participating with God in God’s mission is that God has a Story and Vision of what God purposes to do in the world. God is the initiator of the Story and God moves this Story to its Vision – Scripture is this story (which is why I often refer to Scripture as God’s Story and Vision).

The second thing I realize is that our stories are not just about what we did last weekend, or what we are planning to do next weekend, rather our stories chronicle our journeys through life – what we encounter, the meanings of those encounters, new insights, transformations we undergo, the purpose or vision that drives our living – this is the real story of who and why we are.

The third thing I realize is that God invites us into the Story that God has enacted and is enacting. Scripture gives account of God’s Story and Vision. It is a Story that involves each one of us – it is a story of our brokenness, our alienation from God and from others, it is a story about God reaching out to us in order to heal us, to set us free, to liberate us from the power of sin and death, to reconcile us to God and to one another, to establish us as a new humanity. Scripture, in essence, becomes our family album – sharing the Story that has gone on long ago – that now provides the vocabulary and direction for our own stories.

The fourth thing I realize is that in and through Jesus we are caught up in God’s Story and Vision for the redemption of humanity and the renewing of creation. If we find the words to tell this story that is rooted in the Story, Life, and Vision of God, we come to discover that God is actually the main character in our stories because we have a story because God liberates us by including us into the story that God is enacting.

Perhaps, baptism is that act that changes who the main subject is in our stories – before our baptisms, we are content with being the main character in our stories, but in baptism, in making confession of belonging to Christ, in giving our allegiance to Christ Jesus, we are raised up out of the waters identifying a new main character in our lives. The central character in our life becomes God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit of God who are the shapers and sustainers of the ongoing Story and Vision of God through our lives. This is so because now we are no longer living for ourselves, but as a new creation, as a new community, we live our lives being a sign of God’s presence in the world, a foretaste of what human life is lived under God’s rule, as well as being instruments for living out the present reality of God’s will in the world.

In God becoming the main character in our stories, we do not lose ourselves, rather we find ourselves in ways we could never have imagined. It is only as God is the main character in my life, that my living is no longer limited by what I am able to do, but I am set free to accomplish the things that God chooses to do through me in my participating with God in making all things new.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Vol 1:37 The Ordinary Life of the Spirit of God

This concludes my ongoing 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 past weeks has been on following the winds of the Spirit.

I am continually amazed at the earthiness of God and God’s encounter of us, God’s creatures. What makes God of the Old and New Testaments unique is that God is involved in the ordinary daily lives of human beings – God is concerned with the messiness of our lives and somehow through our brokenness and through our incapabilities, God works out the missional redemptive purpose of making all creation new.

What Roxburgh and Boren express, is my conviction as well. “Our rock-bottom conviction is that the Spirit of God is among the people of God. . . . [W]e mean that the Spirit is actually at work in our ordinary, common lives. This means that God’s future – putting into action God’s dream for the whole world – is among God’s people” (p. 122).

Not only did God risk all in becoming human, God still continues to risk it all, risking the completion of God’s dream through a people who do not always get it right, who do not always yield themselves to God’s Spirit, even though we confess we are filled and empowered by the Spirit of God.

This is why we worship, why we make confession, why we seek forgiveness and to forgive, why we open ourselves to reconcile and be reconciled – to remind ourselves whose we are, to remind ourselves who is at work in us, to remind ourselves that it is not about us, to remind ourselves that God is making all things new through a people who are imperfect at best. In reminding ourselves we come to recognize that this work that God is doing through us is all the work of God, is all the work that the Spirit of God is accomplishing – and so day by day, we fitfully submit ourselves to Jesus Christ, to God’s purposes so that God accomplishes what we could never imagine to accomplish.

This truly amazes me that God is able to use a broken people who are submitted to Jesus and God’s purposes to accomplish what leaves us in awe.

And so, Roxburgh and Boren express: “Very practically, a missional church is formed by the Spirit of God at work in the ordinary people of God in a local context. A practical implication is that this imagination changes the focus of leadership. Rather than having plans, programs, strategies, and goals, they ask how they can call forth what the Spirit is doing among the people. When this happens, the potential for discovering the wind of the Spirit is exciting” (p. 122).

May we indeed be a people who daily practice opening ourselves to God’s Spirit – and then be open to see and hear how God involves us in God’s redemptive mission in making all creation new. Such Spirit-engulfed living leads us to live life in Spirit-imagined ways. I cannot imagine any other way I would rather live.