Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vol 2: 43 The Soul of God: A Christmas Gift - Resurrection and Missional Participation

As we come to the end of the year, this will be my last reflection on Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.
Anderson notes that in Christianity that we rightfully make much of the cross – the cross is essential to the mission of God, but then he remarks that the cross is the end, it is not the beginning – Resurrection is the beginning.

As we celebrate Christmas this week and focus on Christ and his incarnation, we realize that his participating with God in God’s mission put him on a trajectory that leads him to the cross.  Yet, the good news of the Gospel, of God’s reign, of the outworking of God’s mission, is that it does not end at the cross, God’s mission through Jesus is fully manifested through the Resurrection.

Hear Anderson’s reframing of our understanding of the cross:

“The cross is the end of our life as mere sinner, not the beginning.  The cross put an end to the law which condemns, says Paul.  The cross is not a place to revisit time and time again in morbid fascination with the things that weigh us down and destroy our worth as God’s children. ‘I died to the law so that I might live to God,’ wrote Paul. ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ (Galatians 2:19).  What Paul says of himself is true of every human being.  In the cross all of humanity died when Christ died.  That is, through Christ God brought the consequence of sin upon himself, so that death no longer has power to determine human destiny. ‘It is no longer I who live,’ added Paul, ‘but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life that I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).  Not every person can say that, but only those in whom the spirit of the resurrected Christ dwells (Romans 8:9).
            ‘The world behind me, the cross before me,’ we assert when singing the familiar song, I Have Decided to Follow Jesus. That is so wrong!!  I would rewrite it to say, ‘The cross behind me, the world before me!’  No one should think that following Jesus leads back to the cross.  That is finished! Once and for all. . . . The Lost Lane-end Into Heaven, as the novelist, Thomas Wolfe, wrote, is not found at the foot of the cross but in the pathway marked by the light shining out of the empty tomb.  There is indeed a cross in my past, but not in my future.  I want to walk in the light and be singing of a Risen Savior when Jesus walks in the door!” (pp. 115, 116).

Yes, those of us who have been set free through Christ have a cross in our past, but now as we live, identifying with Christ, continuing the ministry of Christ in the world, we live participating with God in God’s mission in the light of the Resurrection.  We are a resurrection people, a people who still have stuff in our lives that needs to be crucified, but the trajectory of our lives now is beyond the cross, living in light of the resurrection of Christ – which in being identified with him through our baptisms, we are living as ones who have been resurrected into the life that is God (I say this because in Exodus 3 we discover that God’s name is not a noun, but a verb meaning Being, Life, Is – God is Life, because God is the Living One from whom all living emanates!)

And in being resurrected, we are living participants with God in God’s mission of bringing life, peace, hope, joy – life to all of humanity and to all of creation.  Mission is not something we do, but rather how we now live because we are a resurrection people connected to God, in relationship with God, through Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit of God.  The mission of God is about transforming all of creation.  And as we live as transformed ones, being infused with resurrection life, we participate with God in God’s mission, because we now share in the life that is God.  The resurrection has re-created us and prepared us, so that our living as human beings is all about what God is accomplishing in this world to make all new. 

What a Christmas gift – a gift of God that began in the incarnation of God in Jesus, that led to the cross – Jesus taking on all the violence thrust against humanity, and culminated in the victory over sin and death through Jesus’ resurrection.  Because of this gift in Jesus, we now are empowered and filled with the Spirit of God to participate with God in God’s mission of making all creation new.  Merry Christmas!

[I will be taking a break next week, so my next posting will be during the week of January 6, 2012 – see you next year.]

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vol 2:42 The Soul of God: Offering God our Brokenness - God’s Grace in Broken Places

In this Advent season, a time of grace and hope, we often misunderstand grace – grace, however is a gift, not for how good we have been – ala God checking a list to see who is naughty and whose nice, but a gift of grace in the midst of brokenness, barrenness.  If this is the case, then grace is indeed an act of hope, especially in our difficulties we face in these days.  Ray Anderson, in his theological memoir, The Soul of God, states that indeed this is the case.        

Anderson begins with some hard to receive words:  “The grace of God must first kill before it can make alive” (p. 101).  He continues: “The grace of God requires barrenness not our belief as a precondition.  True faith and true obedience come as a gift of God’s grace, and the inner logic of that gift requires that where we have inserted a human possibility the grace of God must remove it.  This was true for Moses, as he experienced his own failure and futility, only to witness God’s power and grace through his weakness” (p. 101).
Anderson also reminds us of Abraham and Sarah – Abraham believed he could fulfill God’s promise to him through Ishmael, rather than through the impossibility of Sarah bearing a son.  But it is precisely in the midst of Sarah’s barrenness that God’s grace is manifest. 
And this is what we need to embrace as well if we are to be a people who are transformed by God’s re-creative work in us as God makes all things new.  We not only participate with God in God’s mission, but we are also transformed through God’s mission taking hold of us.  When we think we have something to offer God as a precondition to our being involved with God in God’s mission – the mission becomes about us, rather than about what God is accomplishing.  But the mission is not about us – because God’s grace presupposes barrenness, not fertility (as in the case with Sarah).
It is in our weakness – read through the narrative of God’s encounter with his people throughout Scripture, it is always in our weakness that God’s presence, God’s activity is manifested.  It is when we say to God, “I’ve got this, take a break,” that we no longer are in need of God’s grace, nor of God’s hope, love, nor mercy – and as a result, we fail.  Such failure is indeed a grace, because it realizes that we have nothing to offer to God except our brokenness, our barrenness – so that all God does in us, and all God does through us is indeed the active outworking of God’s mission. 
And so Anderson concludes: “We must understand that the grace of God presupposes barrenness, not fertility; that impossibility from the human side is the condition which demonstrates most clearly the inner logic of grace.  We must also learn that humans have a share in the grace of God; that human obedience and faith are not set aside by grace, but are drawn into the grace of God as an indispensable aspect of God’s ministry, [God’s mission].  After all, Isaac did not drop down from heaven on a supernatural parachute! Rather, his birth resulted from a human act as much as did the birth of Ishmael.  Grace is not a supernatural addition to a natural life, but the empowering of natural life to realize and produce a divine potential.  The miracle of God’s grace is not that Abraham could disseminate his seed, but that a barren woman could conceive from it!” (p. 102).
This Advent and this Christmas, as we think of what gift we can give God – we realize that what we give are things that the world discards – our failures, our barrenness, our brokenness. In offering such “gifts” or “non-gifts” to God – these are indeed acts of faith, acts of obedience, recognizing that the nothing we have to offer is exactly what God needs to carry out God’s mission, and graciously to work through us to transform the world.  May we give God all of our nothingness and be open to receive the gift of God’s grace – that, as the Gospel reveals, is fully manifested in Jesus Christ – the content of God’s grace.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Vol 2:41 The Soul of God: Advent as the Incarnation of God’s Mercy

In this Advent season, many wonder why God became a human being to dwell among us.  The simple answer is that God loves us and is merciful to us.  What does this mercy entail?  Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God, has an insight.        

When humanity abandoned God to try to do life on their own, we were like teenagers who know their parents know nothing.  But we did not do well on our own – we ended up betraying one another, stealing from one another, accusing one another, killing one another.  But God does not abandon us, God is merciful!

Anderson expresses:

“The soul of God is intrinsically a relational soul.  The soul of moral theology must possess the moral instincts of love rather than the insensible letter of the law. ‘The letter kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2 Cor. 3:6).  As suggested earlier, the intention of mercy is the creation of a new moral being.  Mercy is not an abstract virtue, but a means for maintaining a relationship damaged by moral failure.  Mercy is what keeps sin from being fatal” (p. 90).

He continues:

“Mercy is the motive behind God’s love for the world.  This mercy is extended toward ‘all the families of the earth’ through the seed of Abraham, which extends through the generations to Jesus, according to Paul (Gen. 12; Gal. 3:16).  Divine mercy guarantees forgiveness and makes reconciliation possible.  Forgiveness is offered to all through Christ, and reconciliation is the intended goal.  God does not want any to perish, ‘but all to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9).  Mercy must be received in order for forgiveness to be realized as a gift of grace.  The goal of grace is not merely the granting of amnesty, which often leaves the one who is estranged free of guilt, but a mercifully restoration with life in community.  ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy’ (1 Peter 2:9-10).  Receiving mercy, experiencing forgiveness, and being reconciled to God within the people of God is to know the salvation of God” (p. 91).

Anderson shares a story that expresses how the merciful and forgiving redemptive mission of God recreates us to be merciful and forgiving as well – as a new humanity demonstrating a different reality in a world in need of mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation.

“In 1993, Amy Biehl, a 26 year old Fulbright Scholar, was murdered by 4 blacks in South Africa while registering voters for the nation’s first free election. Her murderers were apprehended and imprisoned.  Her parents, Peter and Linda Biehl, went to Cape Town to establish a foundation with the goal of violence prevention.  This foundation, named for Amy, continues to maintain a presence for peace.  Under the government’s newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to grant amnesty for political crimes to those persons who confess and give the whole truth about their actions, the four men who murdered Amy were given full a pardon and released from prison on July 29, 1998.
            Commenting on this action which they supported, Amy’s parents said, ‘It is this vision of forgiveness and reconciliation that we have honored.’  They believed that this is what their daughter would have wanted.  Peter Biehl then added, ‘We’re not dispensing forgiveness.  We’re not God.  But we support the decision.’  Releasing the men from further punishment in no way mitigated the crime, to which they confessed.  Forgiveness in this case, however, was an act of mercy which the Biehls saw as an important steo in the journey toward peace and reconciliation” (pp. 91-92).

Advent, God’s coming to be among us in Jesus Christ, was not about establishing a religion in order to create further division amongst humanity, it was all about showing to us that God’s mercy is not merely an idea – God’s mercy has hands and feet that touches us deeply and personally.  Jesus reaches out to us to extend God’s mercy to us so that we might experience forgiveness and reconciliation being recreated as a new humanity, restored to relationship with God, which restores us to relationship with one another. 

Advent is the most earthy act of God’s mission – in Jesus, God is brought into relationship with us and we into relationship with God.  May we always be open to the embodiment of God’s merciful presence in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vol 2:40 The Soul of God: So this is Christmas - Jesus, the Embodiment of God’s Mission

In this Advent season, many wonder who this Jesus, whom we celebrate at Christmas, really is.  Jesus is the active participation of God in humanity in order to reconcile humanity to God.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        
There is something completely unique and completely human about Jesus that embodies and fulfills the mission of God in restoring all of creation.  In the fifth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson relates that “Jesus did not become the Son of God by being anointed with the Spirit of God and by doing the works of God; rather because Jesus is the Son of God, the works which he does testifies to that inner relationship” (p. 69). 

It is not only that Jesus is completely unique as God and as human; it is also that God is unique as God and our creation is unique as an act of God. 

I recently found a copy of Georg Vicedom’s The Mission of God, which gave expression to the initial understandings of what missio Dei entails, which helps us understand the uniqueness of God. 

Vicedom stated:

“Christianity, in contrast to other religions, emphasizes the fact that God created the world and [humankind].  . . .  The world is not an effusion of the Deity and thus a part of [God].  Nor did it come into existence through birth.  Above all, the world did not originate alongside of [God] or against [God], so that it would thus be a force antagonistic to [God].  There is no dualism or emanationism involved.  These types of explanation, familiar to us in other religions are completely out of the picture.  With [humanity], the world is the creation of God brought into existence by [God’s] Almighty Word in accordance with [God’s] will.  In other words, God has created . . . a ‘Thou,’ and thus a place for activity on [God’s] part.  This was already the case before the Fall.  The imago Dei can certainly only mean that God created a being which could have fellowship with [God] and therein found life satisfying” (Vicedom, The Mission of God, 15).

Creation is, therefore, a unique act of God, because only God creates – no other gods have created as God creates.  And, therefore, since creation is unique to God, incarnation or God coming to participate in our humanity through Jesus Christ is an act that is unique to God in the fulfillment of God’s redemptive mission, so that humanity might be reconciled to God and restored in communion with God.  It is because we are unable to understand the uniqueness of God’s creation that we are also unable to fully grasp the unique act of God in becoming a human being, in participating in our humanity – for our benefit.  But that is the creative act of Christmas – which we are invited to receive as a gift from God.

As Anderson expresses, “the Apostle Paul proclaimed as a sacrament of salvation, ‘In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things . . .’ (Col. 1:19-20). In the person of Jesus Christ, this double movement took place simultaneously, not sequentially.  At every moment during the life of Jesus, the inner being of God was being revealed through the words and actions of Jesus.  . . . At the same time, every word and action of Jesus was a movement from below to above, reconciling humanity to God” (p. 71).

And so as John Lennon sings, Happy Christmas (War is Over), with these words:

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear
And so this is Christmas
For weak and for strong
For rich and the poor ones
The world is so wrong
And so happy Christmas
For black and for white
For yellow and red ones
Let's stop all the fight   . . .                  

I pray that we are open to experience the God who creates by receiving God’s participation in our humanity in Jesus, and that we may have eyes that see Jesus and hearts and lives that respond to his words and actions that give life and restore us to live in community with God.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Vol 2:39 The Soul of God: Being in Christ and Christ Being in Us

God’s mission connects us with God through Jesus Christ.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        

In the fifth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson relates that “to know God is to be reconciled to God, and in being reconciled to God we come to know God” (p. 71).  He expands on this, lest we think that the act of reconciliation is something we do, “both revelation and reconciliation take place through our being in Christ and Christ being in us” (p. 72). 

Allow me to offer a length quotation by Anderson that helps us understand the necessity of Jesus in being reconciled to God. 

“It would not be wrong to say that Jesus is the true believer, whose own faith in the Father becomes the basis for our faith in such a way that we are freed from the ambivalence and inward uncertainty which always plague our own attempt to believe.  It would not be wrong to say that Jesus is also the true disciple, whose own obedience lived out in the face of temptation in such a way that we are freed from our own instability and unreliability of will.  . . .   Every day of his life, Jesus took that human will and bent it back in perfect obedience to his Father so that in being joined to Christ our will is graciously conformed to his own willingness, which exists to this very day in the humanity of Christ now glorified and existing within the very being of God.  This is the basis for our assurance in union with Christ through being made partakers of Christ through the Spirit.  There is part of God in us through the indwelling Spirit of Christ.  The Christ who in us, says Paul, is our ‘hope of glory’ (Col. 1:27).  At the same time, Paul says, our ‘life is hidden with Christ in God’ (Col. 3:3).  This means that there is something of us already abiding in the very presence of God through Christ!” (p. 72)

As I reflect on this statement, on this confession, my response, during this week of Thanksgiving – but also during any week – is one of giving thanks and praise to God.  God’s mission is not merely about effecting some grand recreation; God’s mission is indeed very personal in which in our being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, there is a part of God in us, and a part of us in God – meaning we are brought into community with God – participating and sharing in the life of God and God participating and sharing in our lives.  I am not talking about our becoming divine – we have been created human and that is our gift from God – but God always intended that we in our humanity would be in community with God.  The good news of Jesus Christ – of God with us as a human being – is that we have been restored to being in community with God through Jesus.  In God being human among us in Jesus – we are invited into community, into relationship with God through Jesus.  Indeed, this is a thanksgiving that my words are incapable of fully expressing – which can only adequately and minimally expressed in worship of God.

Join me this Thanksgiving in giving worship to God through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vol 2:38 The Soul of God: Living and Breathing the Mission of God – A Mission that is Personal

God’s mission is deeply personal.  This insight is expressed in Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God.        
In the fourth chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson shares a perspective from this theological mentor Thomas F. Torrance “that God confronts humans as subjects” (p. 61). 

Anderson states that Torrance expressed “that God confronts humans as subjects ‘by addressing them personally and claiming from them personal responses’” (p. 61).  The implications of such an understanding, as Anderson reveals, is that God’s revelation and communication with humanity is deeply personal and rooted in the communities in which humans reside.  To speak of God’s encounter apart from a personal and communal understanding is to, in my words, to misunderstand the personal and communal nature of God’s redemptive mission.

Anderson expresses, that Torrance concluded, “Knowledge of God takes place not only within the rational structures, but also within the personal and social structures of human life, where the Spirit is at work as personalizing Spirit.  As the living presence of God who confronts us with His (sic) Being, addresses us in [God’s] Word, opens us out toward Himself, and calls forth from us the response of faith and love, [God] rehabilitates the human subject, sustaining [them] in [their] personal relationship with God and with [their] fellow creatures” (pp. 61, 62).

Mission can sometimes be seen as an impersonal task – it is something we do or are called to do – with the focus being on the something.  But this understanding of God and God’s nature as One who addresses us personally and claims from us personal responses – either a yes or no to God, which involves our hearts as well as our minds, leads me to regard mission as not something that is impersonal, but as an activity, an engagement that always embraces someone.  God’s mission, God’s acts of salvation, therefore, are not somethings, they are always personal acts engaging and embracing someones.

How can I say this in another way? 

Just as Jesus is the embodiment of God’s reign, Jesus is also the embodiment of God’s mission.  Jesus in his person lived out the mission of God – by bringing the presence of God to encounter the sinful brokenness of humanity.  God’s mission has a heart, God’s mission has a circulatory system, God’s mission has a nervous, muscular, and skeletal system, God’s mission has organs.  That is to say – God’s mission is lived through the thoughts, actions, relationships, dreams, sufferings, struggles, and hopes of people – most fully in Jesus Christ, but also now through us – as the people of God, as we are identified and rooted in Christ Jesus.

God’s mission is not something that happens outside of us, as it did not happen outside of Jesus – God’s mission happens in us, through us and engages others in their lives and through their lives.  God’s mission is deeply personal and not at all impersonal, not at all about something – it is always about someones – bringing about liberation, setting us free from what binds us, what binds others, bringing healing and wholeness, conquering sin and death – not just out there, but in us and the power it has in us.  God’s mission is deeply personal, because God is personal, because humanity is personal.  The power of sin and death would have us see humanity impersonally, but the grace of God gives us eyes and ears to notice that God intends us as human beings to be deeply personal – with one another and with God.

So, may we help each other live and breathe the mission of God in our lives.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Vol 2:37 The Soul of God: A Missional Credo – Living as Jesus

As I further explore insights from Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, The Soul of God, I continue to be deeply influenced in being shaped in living missionally.      
In the second chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson shares regarding the humanity of Jesus as to what it meant that he was sent – as a way of shaping how we are sent.  I share his statement here without comment – it is for me a missional credo. 

As Jesus was: In the midst of a religious culture that prized appearance and cultivated form, Jesus appeared clothed simply in grace and truth.  He refused to recognize as spiritual that which was artificial and affected.  He valued the truth of being and doing over the righteousness of words and prayers.  Both in the street and in the temple, he uses one language for both the saint and the sinner.  He stated divine realities in terms of human experience.  His life-style was that of a human person living among humans.  Because he was the truth, he had no fear of exposure, nothing to defend.

            Because he was human, he had no fear of humanness, in himself or others.  Because he came in love, he had no fear of love – he was open to all who were open to him.

So we should be: A real Christian must also be a genuine human being.  Spiritual growth is manifested in those who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in relationship with others (Gal. 5:22-23).  The Christian is to be related to one’s own society in the same way that Christ was related to the world (John 17:18).  The test for truth in a Christian is what the world sees of Jesus Christ in us, not what other Christians see of themselves in us.

            We are committed to live a transparent life, willing to be known for who we really are, not only by who we say we are.

            We are committed to live in openness toward others, accepting them as Christ has accepted us, having a spirit of tolerance toward others who do not share our concepts or convictions.  Yet we know that openness is not permissiveness, and tolerance is not compromise.

            We are committed to the fact that a Christian has anxieties, temptations, moods, doubts, frustrations and problems.  This is what it means to be human.

            We are committed to have no ulterior motive or religious device in our love for God or our love for our neighbor: that is, we are committed to authenticity” (Anderson, The Soul of God, 25).

Well, maybe one comment:  To seek to be authentic in this way is to seek to live missionally. 

And also a prayer: This I know I do not have within me, unless the Spirit of God enables me. 

Spirit of God take hold of me,
shape me, transform me,
so that I might live as Jesus
– authentically and missionally.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Vol 2:36 The Soul of God: Deconstructing an Abstract God

I am further exploring insights I have gained from reading Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, entitled, The Soul of God.  Ray Anderson.  As mentioned in last week’s blog, he has had a tremendous influence in my life, shaping much of my understanding and engagement of pastoral ministry.    

In the second chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson expresses that “the abstract concepts of God which stirred my intellectual self now left my soul undernourished and unfulfilled.  I did not doubt that they were true, but they no longer satisfied my search for truth” (p. 23). 

He continues by saying that too many of us have abstract concepts of God, or we understand God as being distant from us, aloof from us.  Abstract concepts of God are “disconnected from people’s daily lives” (p, 23).

In response he presents Jesus as one who deconstructs God’s abstraction by being the very exegesis of God.  He states, “Jesus is not only one who touches our own human souls with grace and truth, he is the very soul of God in human form.  Theologians call it incarnation, which is the Latin translation of the Greek phrase, ‘became flesh’ (John 1:14).  John does not shrink from telling us that the one whom we call Jesus is identical in being with God and, in fact, the very exegesis of the Father.  When we use the term [exegesis], we refer to the discipline of expounding and explaining the exact meaning of a text of Scripture.  John uses the very Greek word when he says that God’s only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, ‘has made him known [exegeomai]’ (John 1:17)” (p. 23).

Anderson further expresses: “Jesus is literally the exegesis of the soul of God” (p. 23). 

The ministry of Jesus was connecting the heart and presence of God with the people whom God loves – which encompasses all humanity.  Jesus did this not merely as a representative, but as God in human flesh, exegeting the very soul of God, so that we might be in relationship with God up close and personal.  There is nothing aloof or distant about God’s encountering of us.

How is this significant in our being the missional people of God? 

In being the sign of God’s present and coming reign, we as God’s people are also to be about exegeting the presence of God – i.e., that we are so open to God’s life and presence within us that whomever we encounter and whomever encounters us can encounter God personally.  We are no mere representatives, carrying God as a name on our business cards; we are ones who are God-carriers, Christ-carriers, Spirit-carriers who bring the presence of God into every situation, every context, every encounter we find ourselves in.

Our being in mission – participating with God in God’s redemptive mission, is to make God known, not as ones who tell about God, but as ones who are indwellt by the presence of the Living God – indwellt by the Spirit of God.

We come to know the Living God through the Living Christ – and we share the Living Christ with others as we live our lives deeply rooted in Christ’s presence.

The way we live in Christ’s presence involves an intentionality in our living – we do not merely live for ourselves, but we come to the place of realizing that all our living is for the sake of God, every aspect of who we are is rooted in Christ, our identities find their fullest expression in being identified in Christ – so that we along with Paul, in Galatians 2:20, can express that “we have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us and through us.” 

I admit, more times than not, my life is a poor exegesis of Christ, but it is my prayer each and every day that my life indeed who be an exegesis of Jesus, who is the exegesis of the very soul of God.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Vol 2:35 The Soul of God: God Includes Us in God’s Missional Purpose

Over the next few weeks I will be exploring insights I have gained from reading Ray Anderson’s theological memoir, entitled, The Soul of God.  Ray Anderson, though I was never able to share it with him personally, had a tremendous influence in my life – he has shaped much of my understanding and engagement of pastoral ministry.  If you have not discovered his writing, I invite you to do so – particularly challenging is his, The Shape of Practical Theology – which is my estimation is a must read for every person desiring to serve in a pastoral role. 

In the first chapter of The Soul of God, Ray Anderson gives voice to his responding to God’s invitation to enter into pastoral ministry.  He draws on an example of how his father talked with him about involving him in ministry efforts while growing up – “Tomorrow, we will go to those who are like sheep without a shepherd and bring them to a safe place” (p. 17) – to describe how he sensed God’s call upon his life.

This “we” language of his dad’s, Anderson describes as “his language of love” (p. 14).  His dad was intensely relational and he would often speak in terms of “we” “when speaking of his life and tasks including [Ray] as a participant.  ‘We will plant corn in this field next year’” (p. 14).  Anderson expresses that this “we” enabled him to realize that in his father’s eyes he “was not just a boy who carried his [father’s] lunch, but a partner in the family enterprise” (p. 14). 

When Ray Anderson responded to God’s call upon his life, he came to realize that he was being included in the “we of God.”  The “‘we of God’ reached out and included me” (p. 17).  My notes in the margin express that this is what makes our callings intensely missional.

The “we of God” describes the perichoretic or relational understanding of Trinity.  God is in three persons, but not in a static hierarchical relationship – rather God is involved in a divine dance – which is what Eugene Peterson describes as what is being expressed by perichoresis (cf. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, pp. 44, 344 n15) in which “the divine modes of existence condition and permeate one another mutually with such perfection, that one is as invariably in the other two as the other two are in the one” (Peterson, p. 44, citing Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics 1/1, 425).

God is a “we” as much as God is “I AM.”  And when God calls us to participate with God in the mission and ministry of God, we are invited into the “we” of God, invited into the “dance” of God.  God reaches out and includes us in what God is doing in the world – we are integrally involved with God in God’s redemptive mission of reconciling humanity to God through Jesus Christ and restoring creation. 

Ministry or mission is not a solitary venture, but inherently a deep participation with God and the purposes of God in the world.  As Jesus promised his disciples, and us as well in Matthew 28, “I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  We are included in the “we of God” as we respond to God’s invitation to participate with God in God’s mission!  I cannot think of any better way of being human making a difference in our broken and alienated world.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Missional Matters Now Integrated with www.iMissional.org

Thanks to a friend of mine, all of my missional related online materials are now integrated into one web presence. My blog Missional Matters is now integrated with online resource material found on my web site - www.imissional.org - where one can also find numerous missional-focused articles under A Missional Reader.  

So to keep following this weekly blog, you can directly connect to the Missional Matters page by linking to:  http://imissional.org/blog/missional-matters/ 

Thanks for reading - feel free to comment as well.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Vol 2:33 Mission and Evangelism: Living Life through “Gospel Filters”

Ben Campbell Johnson in Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance expresses the process of discernment as listening through “gospel filters” (cf. p. 121). 

I would like to take that a step further by asking the question as to how we live our lives through “gospel filters.”  This is not a way of seeing through “rosy tinted glasses” which causes us to see what we want to see, but seeing and living life through “gospel filters” is about living and doing life, all of life, in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel of the Reign of God.

This is a way of engaging life, engaging whomever we meet, through the eyes of Jesus.  How does Jesus look at, respond to what is going on in our lives, the relationships we have, the encounters we make, if he were living our lives.  In fact, as we confess that our life is hidden in Christ, that we have been baptized not only into his death, but also his resurrection, we can confess that Jesus is living our lives – or we are living Jesus’ life.  I am the first to admit that my life looks more like my own, my agendas, my passions, etc., but as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I commit myself each day to live my life rooted and grounded in Jesus – so that he might live in me and through me.

And in light of that confession, I realize that it is my desire to live my life through the eyes of Christ – through “gospel filters.” 

Campbell-Johnson gives voice to this by alluding to the “I am” sayings of Jesus and seeing the life we live through the gospel filter of these “I am” declarations (cf. pp. 123-127).  These statements by Jesus are: I am the bread of life (John 6:35); I am the light of the world (John 8:12); I am the door of the sheep (John 10: 7); I am the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11); I am the vine (John 15: 5); I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6); and one he misses, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25).

So, for example, Campbell-Johnson states in relation to Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” that this “points to the nature of God as the one who nurtures and sustains us” (p. 123).  Or, in relation to Jesus’ “I am the light of the world” that this points to Christ as the one who “enables persons to understand the meaning of their lives and illumines the direction for them to take” (p. 124).

To live out lives with “gospel filters” means to immerse ourselves in Jesus Christ – to live into the way he sees the world, the way he regards people, the way he engages situations.  In essence, it is to continue the ministry of Jesus in the world, in the same way Jesus lived and ministered in light of God’s redemptive mission in the world.

This is not a mere adding of religion to our lives, it is rooting our whole being in the life of Jesus Christ – for us to more than become like him, for us to be shaped by him so that all our living grows (because we are developing into Christ-likeness) in being an expression of the gospel of God’s reign being lived out in the ordinary daily routines of our lives.

To live our lives with “gospel filters” means that we need to immerse ourselves in the Gospels, in God’s Story so that our minds and lives are transformed by the Spirit – so that we grow in seeing all of life through the Gospel – and more, living our lives through the Gospel.

May we encourage each other to live our lives through “Gospel filters.”

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vol 2: 32 Mission and Evangelism: Open to Seeing What God is Doing in Us

Ongoing reflections relating to Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance, which focuses on reframing evangelism within a missional perspective.
We have been exploring what it means to reframe evangelism as a conversation involving giving initial spiritual guidance or direction to people with whom the Spirit connects us.  Yet, I realize that I often am more quickly ready to provide spiritual guidance to others than receiving spiritual guidance in my own life.  To be missional in evangelism, we need to be ones who are also open to have others name the way God is active within our lives. 

A missional approach to evangelism involves learning to hear what God is doing in our lives.

Spiritual conversation is a two-way street – it is not only about our talking with others, or actively listening to what is going on in others (see last week’s post); it also involves being open to listen to what God is doing in us.

How do we expect to be aware and sensitive to how God is at work in others if we are not aware and sensitive to how God is active in us?  In sharing or naming where God is active in others, the conversation will inevitably turn to others asking how God is active in us.  Will we be able to respond?

Engaging in evangelism through a missional perspective is not only about “doing evangelism” as if it is a task in which we “do something” in the presence of others, no, it is about being open to the good news of God in our lives as well – or perhaps first and foremost: transforming us, shaping us, challenging us, empowering and equipping us, sending us to participate with God in God’s mission. 

Our lives are a laboratory for exploring how God is active in the world – we discover God active as God is active in us.  In naming or giving words to God’s activity in us, we begin to share our story that is being shaped by God’s Story.  God’s Story gives us a vocabulary, a framework for shaping our story.  We find the Exodus event describing desert wanderings in our own lives in which we discover God, disobey God, and rediscover God.  The parable of the Prodigal, gives words and meaning to the times we run from God in our lives.  Reading the psalms gives prayers and praises to times of despair and rejoicing in our lives.

As we learn to listen, see, hear what God is doing in us – as we learn to share this story of God’s Story in our lives, we become persons who become more adept to seeing, hearing, noticing how God is at work in the lives of others with whom we live among day to day.

Listening, being aware of God being active in us, is not an act of selfishness, but rather an act of awareness that equips and enables us to be aware and help others be aware of how God is active in them.

Missional evangelism then is a communal activity – requiring our being open to God’s activity in us, as we seek to be aware and lead others to be open to God’s activity in them.  This is how we walk together opening up our lives to the re-creating and re-storying activity of God in our lives and in the world.

May we develop our awareness of God working in us – to give us eyes to see and ears to hear God at work in the all of humanity.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vol 2:31 Mission and Evangelism: Learning to Listen

Today’s reflection continues with Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance focusing on reframing of evangelism within a missional perspective.

We have been taught that evangelism is about sharing the Gospel – and indeed it is, but too often, we misunderstand that sharing involves first and foremost the ability to listen.  To speak without listening is not to share the Gospel at all, but it is to perhaps pontificate, speaking not to the heart of a person, but merely putting the message of the good news out there.

A missional approach to evangelism involves learning to listen.

If we believe that God is at work in the world and that in being led by the Spirit of God to participate with what God is doing, then we can also believe that the Spirit leads us into conversations which have the possibility of developing into relationships. 

The first insight in learning to listen, according to Campbell Johnson, is realizing that the outcome of evangelism is not ours to worry about – “the power and outcome belong to God; we offer ourselves  as willing participants in God’s intention for the moment” (p. 71).  To be able to listen, requires us first to be listening to where God is leading us, with whom he is connecting us, so that we can be in a place with another to discover what God is doing in them and how we might name God’s activity in their lives.

Campbell Johnson, then describes three other characteristics of learning to listen.

First, one must learn to become an empathetic learner.  “To listen to another, [one] must lay aside their personal agenda” (p. 71).  This is to notice the person as God notices the person.  If our encounter is no accident, but a connection that the Spirit of God has led us into, then given attention to the other.  Hear what they are expressing; give attention to them; focus on their life experience.  Campbell Johnson states that this is the basis for genuine dialogue.

Second, one must learn to listen with one’s whole person – with eyes, ears, and heart.  Campbell Johnson states that with our eyes we observe the nonverbal cues of the person we are engaging in dialogue.  What does their posture, their facial expression say about what is being expressed in dialogue?  We are also to listen with our ears – not only the words, but their tone, their inflection, the context of the words – which enable us to gain an understanding of what the other is expressing. 

Finally, one must learn to listen through Gospel filters.  “These filters enable us to hear the narrative of another in the context of biblical truth” (p. 71).  In what ways does the person talk about their story with or apart from God?  We are seeking to become aware of how God is at work in this person’s life.  As we listen to them through a rubric of the Gospel, we will be able to name or address their longing for God, their longing for purpose, for direction; their struggle with alienation, brokenness, etc. 

In listening through Gospel filters we are being shaped by the Gospel in learning to listen for cues that God is trying to get us to see – cues which enable us to speak into a person’s life with the shalom presence of Jesus Christ – but not with a pre-rehearsed spiel, but rather to point out the touches of grace by which God is touching them.  In learning to listen, we discover how to express the Gospel in terms of the good news which is already being accomplished in their lives.  The Gospel, when it is more fully expressed in response for explanation – cf. the Ethiopian court official in Acts 8, finds a place of rootedness, finds a place in which the hearer is able to give assent because the Gospel is uncovering the brokenness in their lives and the healing that comes through Jesus Christ.

Francis Assisi’s observation, “Wherever you go preach the Gospel, and if necessary use words” is appropriate to developing the art of listening in being missional in evangelism.

May you have ears to hear what God is saying, and eyes to see what God is doing, as well as to see what God sees.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Vol 2: 30 Mission and Evangelism: Being Intentional and Deliberate

Today’s reflection continues with Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance focusing on reframing of evangelism within a missional perspective.

One of the issues we seem to have with the task of evangelism is the intentional manner in which we are asked to engage persons in conversation about the Gospel. Johnson, however, rather than avoiding intentionality, expresses that engaging in evangelism as initial spiritual guidance is in fact a conscious and deliberate act.  He cites Morton Kelsey on spiritual direction.

“Spiritual guidance is the conscious and deliberate attempt to accompany other people on their journeys to and in God” (p. 26).

Johnson continues expressing: “Kelsey picks up on three important elements relevant to our effort. He emphasizes that guidance is a conscious and deliberate effort; it does not occur accidentally. He suggests that we accompany persons; we do not speak from a distance, nor do we initiate persons into the faith and then leave them. And, he emphasizes that guidance begins before persons know God and continues after they have begun to know who God is.” Johnson continues stating, “All these requirements apply directly to the task of evangelism and suggest the kind of soft, sensitive approach appropriate for many [people]” (p. 26).

Over the next three weeks I would like to unpack these three elements – today I begin with evangelism as spiritual guidance being “a conscious and deliberate effort; it does not happen accidentally.”

What this does not mean is that it is an invasive effort, barging in on someone else’s space. Being conscious and deliberate do not have to mean that we are boorish and in people’s faces. Rather, what I believe it means is that we are always conscious and deliberate in our efforts to speak of God as the Spirit of God leads in conversations – it means not to miss the opportunities the Spirit opens in the midst of our conversation with others.

To be conscious is to be continually aware – aware of who we are, aware of what God is up to in the world, aware of noticing what God is noticing, etc. To be conscious is to go about our daily lives – working, playing, shopping, eating, resting, sleeping, loving – always aware of God being part of our daily lives and daily living.

Too often where spiritual malaise creeps into American Christianity is when we live our lives unaware of God’s presence, God’s activity going on all around us. We live, as someone once stated, as functional atheists. We may state that we believe in God, but we live in ways which seemingly are unaware of God being part of our daily lives – we live “on our own” without God.

Therefore to be conscious in evangelism has more to do with us – about our being conscious of God active all around us, in us, and in the lives of others. Do we live our lives aware of God? Do we live our lives seeking to see, to notice where God is active, to notice what God notices? This takes the focus of our own lives and centers our focus on God and what God is up to during our waking hours. To proclaim, “this is the day the Lord has made,” is more than starting off our day with a skip and a smile – it is an intentional, conscious, and deliberate focus on centering all of who we are and all that we seek to do in God.

And, this choosing to be conscious of God, of Christ, of the Spirit, is what makes our consciousness deliberate. We are intentional about beginning our days, each and every day seeking to be conscious of God and God’s missional activity in the world. God, then is no longer a mere happenstance in our lives – our calling upon God when life gets tough, rather intentionally, consciously and deliberately we attune ourselves to the presence of God.

When our lives are conscious of God and deliberately focused upon God, then we cannot help but be aware of God in every conversation, every activity in which we are involved – and as a result, we will find God coming up more in our conversations – i.e., finding ourselves engaging in evangelism, especially as it relates to naming the presence of God in people’s lives – providing initial and ongoing spiritual guidance.

The reason we struggle so much with evangelism, and why I also struggle with evangelism, is when we are not aware of God in our lives, and when we are not deliberate about being conscious of God and God’s activity in us and around us. But when we live with a deliberate consciousness of God, we will be present to God and to others just as breathing is present to us in every moment of our lives.

My challenge to us is that we develop practices – Scripture reading, prayer, spiritual conversations – that shape us to be deliberately conscious of God in all we are and do.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Vol 2:29 Mission and Evangelism: Helping People Discover God at Work in Them

This summer I read Ben Campbell Johnson’s Speaking of God: Evangelism as Initial Spiritual Guidance. I found his reframing of evangelism intriguing having missional ramifications.

Evangelism is always a task that would leave me in a cold sweat. How do I walk up to a stranger and share with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Or how do I go up to someone I know and find a way of weaving Jesus into the conversation. Both approaches I have to admit I have had very little “success” with.

I have always found it easier to be ready to share “the hope that is in me” when I am already in conversation with someone and in dialogue we find ourselves talking about God, about spiritual things, etc. It just seems more organic and incarnational – fitting the way God has wired me.

Yet, being missionally-focused requires, I think, an intentionality that seeks to be in constant awareness of what or who God is noticing, to what God is up to in the world. In recognizing that God is at work in the world, and that God is at work in every human life, seeking to re-create and restore all humanity and creation in relationship with God, Johnson’s insights on evangelism as providing initial spiritual guidance offers some incarnational ways of engaging in sharing the good news of God’s reign present in the world.

In recognizing that God is active somehow in every person’s life – though many, perhaps even the majority are unaware of the extent God is active in their lives and situations, giving the credit to luck or circumstance, enables me to approach relationships and conversations very differently.

In engaging people in conversation – as to what they are reading, or what is going in their lives, even chit-chat like how they are, with an awareness of God being active in their lives, enables me to converse with them prayerfully. It attunes me to listen more closely to what they are expressing, what experiences they are sharing, rather than finding a place to break into the conversation with my story, with my agenda. In listening, I am developing an awareness to notice how God is active in their lives. In noticing how God is active in them, I find that I have the freedom to name God’s presence in them – “it seems like you had a God-moment there” or “it seems that God was guiding you in that.” It’s a comment I am able to make noticing that God is doing something significant in their lives – yet I really don’t expect a response from them. However, invariably a response comes – “what do you mean?” Conversationally, then I am able to respond with how I notice God at work in them in a particular situation, helping them to see or discover God at work in them.

That is about it. I trust the Spirit of God to open up a growing awareness in their lives of what God is doing in them, through them. I do not have to cover all the bases in one conversation as if I will never see them again. Rather, in engaging in conversation a relationship with them develops in which the dialogue can move in directions wherever the Spirit of God leads. Because God is at work in every human life, because God is the one who carries out God’s mission and I am a participant with what God is doing, it is not my responsibility to make it all work out. Instead, in partnership with God, I relate, converse, respond, in accordance with the leading of the Spirit in situations that the Spirit has led me into in order to respond to the stories they share that are pregnant with the moving of God – though they do not necessarily see. I have the opportunity and privilege of helping them see God at work in them. In seeing, and being open to consider this reality, they are in a place where they can respond to God’s moving in them.

Unless we engage persons in conversations that name how God is moving in them – initial spiritual guidance, others may never discover and name for themselves what God is up to in them. This is the kind of evangelism that is filled with hospitality, with relationship, with conversation – and avoids my having “cold sweats.”

I’d be interested in your responsive comments.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Vol 2:28 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus – Loving God with all our mind

This is the last installment of six focusing on living centered in Jesus. As previously blogged, I stated that “to be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction (heart), to have Jesus as the center of our spirituality and meaning making in our lives (soul), to have Jesus as the center of all our living and in all what we do (strength), and to have Jesus as the center for our thinking and speaking (mind).”

To be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of all our thinking and speaking.

I relate this perspective to loving God with all our mind.

What does it mean to think and speak Jesus? One thing it does not mean is that we use Jesus’ name in every sentence or conversation – but rather that our thinking and speaking is centered in what Jesus would think and talk about, not so much content-wise, but the manner in which he addresses God’s desire for the wholeness of all humanity and creation.

A couple of years ago during Lent, the congregation I serve focused on Anabaptist spirituality using a resource by David Augsburger entitled, Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor. The first practice that Augsburger identified was the practice of Radical Attachment. He expressed that “radical attachment to Jesus is not believing something about Jesus (a pietistic experience), or believing in Jesus (a conversionist experience), but believing Jesus (in discipleship) and believing what Jesus believed (in imitation)” (p. 23).

To think and speak like Jesus has to do with believing Jesus and believing what Jesus believed. Jesus is more than the object of our faith – in which it could be argued that we set the tone of what or how we believe (in Jesus). To believe Jesus – to not only listen to him, but to be influenced by him, and to believe what Jesus believed – to be shaped by his belief in God, his mission, his love for humanity, his worldview, is to be transformed in all that we are and do – also transforming how we think and speak.

Do we think and speak in ways that place the agenda of our lives ahead of others, even ahead of God’s missional agenda for the world? If so, then we are thinking and speaking in ways which are not centered in Jesus. To think and speak centered in Christ is, in no matter what we do because all life is not wrapped up in Sunday worship, is to have the eyes of Christ – to grow noticing what Jesus noticed when Jesus took notice of people and situations all around him. It is also to have the ears of Christ – to grow hearing what Jesus heard and how Jesus heard as he gave attention to the people that he encountered. It is to have the mind of Christ – growing thinking about how God’s reign addresses and engages normal everyday events. It is to have the speech of Christ – speaking in ways that give voice to God’s passion for humanity, in ways that reveal the presence and concern of God in a broken and in need of healing world.

To think and speak centered in Jesus is to live being very conscious of the presence of God, through the Spirit of God, in every aspect of our living. Even though life is about caring for ourselves, our families, etc., it is not merely about us – we have been called out of the world to be a new human community demonstrating the purposes and mission of God in the world – living in such a way that we demonstrate God’s relationship with us and we with God, and living noticing and naming what God notices, expressing and extending the compassion, grace, and hospitality of God in every encounter we have.

To think and speak centered in Jesus is to realize that we are always on the lookout for where God is showing up. It is living an intensely God-aware life which shapes our worldview, our thinking, and our speaking.

I think this is what Paul was alluding to in his letter to the Church in Rome when he talked about “being transformed by the renewing of your mind,” a transforming that reframes us in ways that we no longer conform to the pattern of this world (cf. Romans 12: 2) – in everything, including our thinking and speaking

This Christ-centered way of thinking and speaking is also expressed in Paul’s letter to the Church in Colosse – “set you minds on things above, not earthly things. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:2).

Thinking and speaking centered in Christ changes the way we are and changes the way we are with others. May we be open to love the Lord with all our mind, being ones who are grasped by the Spirit of God to think and speak in such ways in the world that we express what and the way Jesus expressed hope and grace to a world in need of shalom.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Vol 2:27 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus – Loving God with all our strength

This is the fifth installment of six focusing on living centered in Jesus. As previously blogged, I stated that “to be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction (heart), to have Jesus as the center of our spirituality and meaning making in our lives (soul), to have Jesus as the center of all our living and in all what we do (strength), and to have Jesus as the center for our thinking and speaking (mind).”

To be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of all our living and in all we do.

I relate this perspective to loving God with all our strength.

It always amazes me that in North America, especially in the United States, that so many of us express belief in God, even Jesus Christ, but Jesus seems to have little impact on the way we live. In fact, it seems that we live in ways that expresses the notion that Jesus may serve American ideals more so than our ideals being brought under the lordship of Jesus Christ. Allegiance to the American empire seems to be the prioritizing allegiance. Loving God with all our strength challenges this state of affairs.

One thing that keeps me from becoming an American citizen – I live here as a permanent resident – is the oath of allegiance that every new citizen needs to take. I know that it relates to temporal matters, but I cannot in all good conscience express denouncing all other allegiances in order to give allegiance to the United States. All other allegiances, even my allegiance to Canada (I am a Canadian citizen), is secondary to my allegiance to Christ Jesus and his reign.

So in stating this, my confession is that all my desires, my choices, my living, my actions – my loving God with all my strength – grow out of centering my life in Jesus Christ and his Lordship. I confess I do not always get this right – at times I live in ways which displace my allegiance to Christ as the first and foremost allegiance in my life, but yet, as I grow as a follower, disciple, and worshiper of Jesus Christ, I actively seek to realign and reorient my life around living life centered in Jesus Christ.

Giving allegiance, rather than mere assent or belief to Christ, reframes every aspect of my life. It calls into question all that I do, all that I am, all that I hope for, plan for, seek to accomplish. It calls me to examine for what reason I do or for how I am all aspects of my life. I have to admit it is easy in our American lifestyle to relegate Jesus to Sundays, or to times of need – in order to pray for help. Yet, to have every aspect of my life shaped by giving allegiance and worship to him alone, is to find ways of keeping not only my life centered in him, but for him to be the primary focus in all I am and do.

Living in Christ, loving God with all my strength, calls for me to be intentional about my living, my actions; it provides a different perspective for living out my life. It is not primarily about my comfort, my success, my advancement – but rather it is about giving expression and giving presence – through acting and being – to the purposes of God in the world.

I guess what I am getting around to is asking myself the question as I begin my day everyday or examine my actions at the end of the day – is whether I am intent on living my life in such a way that it is not Roland that is magnified, but rather God’s purposes, God’s redemptive mission is being manifest – in fact God is being magnified.

What this requires of me – though I do not always do it well or with consistency – is to engage in a daily office of beginning my day centering myself in Jesus Christ and throughout my day seeking to realign myself to Jesus and his ways. This takes intentionality, this takes developing practices which keep my life focused on Christ, open to the Spirit of God, keeping myself attuned to God.

These practices include beginning my day reading Scripture, meditating and praying. I often use an online resource developed by Irish Jesuits entitled sacred space at www.sacredspace.ie . I engage in reading and spiritual conversation which keeps me attuned to God and God’s purposes. I also pray, read Scripture at times throughout the day – often linked with times of confession in order to realign myself to God’s purposes.

I find that not only does this centering myself in Christ transform my attitude and perspective during the day – but also shapes the way I am and the way I act – enabling me to love the Lord my God with all my strength.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Vol 2:26 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus – Loving God with all our soul

As previously blogged, I stated that “to be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction (heart), to have Jesus as the center of our spirituality and meaning making in our lives (soul), to have Jesus as the center for all our living and in all what we do (strength), and to have Jesus as the center for our thinking and speaking (mind).”

To be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our spirituality and meaning making in our lives

I relate this perspective to loving God with all our soul.

For me the crux of the question of “soul work,” as some persons have expressed it, is who or what is at the center of the spiritual work we are trying to do in our lives. In conversations over the years I have discovered that Jesus is often seen as merely a resource for the work of spirituality and meaning making we are doing in our lives – indicating that in fact we are at the center of the work we are doing in our lives. Spirituality then becomes our work, rather than what God is accomplishing in our lives. Such a spirituality is shaped by our interests, is more rooted in psychology, in which we make the determination of what we open ourselves to in shaping who we are as people. Therefore, rather than being a spirituality that is rooted in God, it is in fact more rooted in ourselves.

What does it look like then for Jesus to be the center of our spirituality, for Jesus to be the center of our meaning making in our lives?

For one, it means that we enter into a relationship with Jesus Christ where Jesus shapes the spirituality of our lives, where Jesus shapes us. In being a follower of Christ, we seek to be shaped and oriented around ways of living that exemplify the purposes of God. I.e., we seek for our lives to be shaped by what is important to Christ, rather than merely what is important to us.

Second, it involves us participating in this relationship with Christ as his disciples – ones who learn from him, ones who are open to Christ setting the agenda in our lives, ones who seek to live in obedience to him and his ways, recognizing that in doing so we ultimately discover who we are more than any agenda we may develop for ourselves. When we are in charge of our own spirituality, we seek to discern on our own the meaning and direction of our lives – and I have discovered that I am my own worst master. There are too many things in my life that distract me from living into that which Christ desires for me.

Third, it involves learning to see myself the way God sees me. It is through serving God in Christ, in worshiping God through Christ, that I begin to catch glimpses of the meaning and purpose that God has for me in loving me. Rather than thinking that I am enslaved and less human in serving God, I indeed have discovered that I am more enslaved and less humane when I seek to serve myself and be the sole director of the direction of my life. In serving God, in worshiping God, I am indeed liberated, more so than I can ever imagine.

I once conversed with a friend who was going off for a few weeks to do some soul work in his life, to sort through some inner child issues, to come to grips with some relational problems he was struggling with. He named the kind of work that he needed to do in his life as spiritual work. Now I recognize that we cannot compartmentalize our lives and all the work we do in our lives is indeed spiritual work, but the question I raise is who is doing the work in us – is it work God doing in us, or work we are doing relying on God as a mere resource along with other resources? I asked him a question as he was describing the work he was seeking to do in his life – I asked, “where is the ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ self or soul work he was seeking to do?” or “where is the ‘it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ self work that he was purposing to embark upon?” We need to do psychological work in our lives, but it is not spiritual work unless it is work that we yield to Christ to do in us – for sure in partnership with us, but it is work that we the direction of over to Jesus.

When Paul talks about in Philippians 2 that we are to work out our own salvation, it is not meant to work out our salvation on our own – but to be intentionally in relationship and in discipleship with Jesus who is accomplishing the work of God in us.

There are probably more things I could say on this, but the point I want to get at is that immersing ourselves in Christ is probably the best soul work we can engage in – it is work which yields ourselves to the transforming work of the Spirit of God in us, and equips us to be active participants with God in God’s redemptive mission in the world.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Vol 2:25 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus - Loving God with all our heart

I am back from my month-long reading sabbatical and grateful for the time granted me by my congregation for time for reading, reflection, and a little bit of relaxation as well. In future blogs I want to focus on how some of my reading is shaping my on-going missional engagement, but I realize that I was in the midst of a 4 or 5 part blog on living centered in Jesus – but I am sure some of my thoughts generated from this sabbatical will find their way into my comments.

I mentioned in a previous blog that “to be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction (heart), to have Jesus as the center for our spirituality and meaning making in our lives (soul), to have Jesus as the center for all our living and in all what we do (strength), and to have Jesus as the center for our thinking and speaking (mind).”

To be missional is to have Christ Jesus as the center of our purpose, focus, and direction

I relate this perspective to loving God with all our heart.

What or who we place at the center of our lives has a way of shaping everything else that we are and do. If Christ is compartmentalized in our life, then he serves whatever we have placed at the center. This language of loving God with all our heart is language of worship and it is in a worshipful attitude that we need to explore what it means for Jesus being the center of our purpose, our focus, our direction in life.

Another voice in this exploration comes from one of the books I read during my sabbatical – Walter Brueggemann’s Praying the Psalms. He talks about the Psalms as being disorienting and reorienting. The Psalms challenge our old orientations in which we rely upon ourselves, we trust in ourselves and as a result see the difficulties or vanity of life all around us. This challenging of our old orientations is mean to disorient us, to knock us off of what we hold as centers in our lives in order to see the inability for such centers to sustain us as human beings. In response, the Psalms reorient us to a new center – a center that is God, trust in God, reliance upon God – the One who alone is God (YHWH) – who alone can lead us in ways that shape us to be who we were created to be.

When something or someone else besides Jesus is the center of our lives, our lives will continue to be disoriented – we will come face to face with life’s struggles and not know how to get passed them in a healthy way. In centering our lives in Jesus our lives are reoriented to the things of God and around the things of God. Our lives are reoriented to notice what God notices, to see what God sees, to see what God is doing, to hear what God is saying. In our lives being centered in Jesus, all of who we are and what we do is reoriented around the purposes of God – which guides the living of our lives in radically different ways, than when something else has been the center.

Being missional is more than being about the task of engaging in mission, or being incarnational – it is first and foremost about loving God with all our heart. Such a loving is founded upon a reorientation of our lives that only happens as we are rooted and centered in Jesus Christ.

May we live in such a way that we are always open to the reorienting love in God shaping and directing our living.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Vol 2:24 Being in Mission: Living Centered in Jesus - Part 2

Before I reflect on what I was planning to reflect on this week – exploring living missionally centered in Jesus by examining Luke 10:27, I need to add a part 2 to last week’s thoughts on living centered in Jesus.

This week I am at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Pittsburgh and I am noticing how it seems in our speech that we often take Jesus for granted, merely assuming that Jesus is at the foundation of what we are discussing – yet never mentioning his name. However, I am developing the conviction that unless Jesus is explicit in our conversations, i.e., reflecting on issues with intentionally bringing Christ into the dialogue, we may discover that Jesus is less than implicit in our thinking about being missional.

For example, on Monday night during the first night of the Convention, Shane Hipps, who is now a teaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Grand Rapids, spoke on reconciliation and being ambassadors of reconciliation. I know he alluded to Jesus a few times in his talk, but in the reporting of it in the Convention newspaper, there is no mention of Jesus at all in connection with his exploration of reconciliation. In fact, in reporting on Shane’s talk, it was reported that we were being called to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” and though that is true enough, yet without being explicit about Jesus Christ – the text in 2 Corinthians actually says that we are called to be “ambassadors of Christ” – the question remains in what or in whom do we base what we mean by reconciliation – who sets the agenda for reconciliation, who accomplishes the possibility of reconciliation?

As Stanley Hauerwas once commented in an interview on the web site Jesus Radicals, there is a difference between Mennonites who foster peace and justice from a humanist perspective (i.e., adhering to concepts of peace and justice disassociated from any connection to Christ Jesus) and those who advocate for peace and justice as an expression of their rootedness, their discipleship in Jesus Christ (i.e., Christological Mennonites). He expressed that there is a need for more “Christological Mennonites.”

From my perspective, I do not know how we can be intentionally missional without being intentional about Jesus as well. As an aside: Before you get the impression that Mennonites do not engage Jesus intentionally, allow me to dispel that – there were many times in prayers and comments and even specific conversations, where specific explicit connections to Jesus are being made. However, I am noticing this can be the exception, rather than the norm.

However, what I would like to think is that we as Mennonites are merely making assumptions that Jesus is behind our language of peace and justice and reconciliation – but then that may be an assumption I am making as well. In talking with another delegate today, they expressed something similar that they have witnessed in their own congregation, that members hold to certain ideas of justice that are not ostensibly rooted in Jesus Christ.

Yesterday morning we spent some time in 1 Cor. 3:1-4 where Paul is addressing the Corinthians stating that they are “acting like mere human beings” (v. 3). Rather than our being content with “being mere human beings,” Paul is calling us to be a people who are rooted in Christ Jesus and open to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be spiritual, rather than “worldly.” Unless we are intentional about our being rooted in Christ, being led by the Holy Spirit, we will continue to major in missing the point – in neglecting to make Jesus explicit in pursuing justice, peace, reconciliation, and in being missional. Failing to make Jesus explicit in our conversations, in our dialoguing on faith issues, we will continue to act as “mere human beings” rather than being a people who live within the new creation and foster reconciliation through being ambassadors of Christ – who indeed is the one who has effected and continues to effect reconciliation through the Spirit empowering us who are Christ’s disciples (cf. 2 Cor. 5: 16ff).

I guess the key question for me is how we can be sure that Jesus is not a side thought, an afterthought, or an unexpressed thought in our exploring what it means for us to be the missional people of God.  In living as disciples of Jesus in the world, we need to find ways to include him in more of our language - it not only helps us, but helps others see Christ as well.