Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Vol 1:20 Being a Missional People: Living as "Living Stones"

Being connected to Jesus Christ as his disciples, as ones who worship him, we are in danger of others identifying us with their images of him. Many of go about trying to change the image of Christ in the world so that we in the wake of such renewed imagining of Jesus, we may become more accepted as well.

Yet, too many do not know who Jesus is. That is not a new problem – Jesus has always been misunderstood – even by us. Too many have an emaciated view of Christ – Jesus was merely a religious teacher, having religious things to say, trying to bring spirituality into the real world. But such an emaciated image of Jesus would have little impact upon society – and perhaps some indeed do believe he was unable to pass muster in the “real world.”

Peter in his first epistle writes: “As you come to him, the living stone – rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 2-3).

How does this define us as missional people? How are we to be in a world that misunderstands Jesus?

Jesus is the stone the builders rejected. When Jesus was asked to explain the parable of the tenants in Luke 20 – the parable in which those who were minding the vineyard thought they could inherit the vineyard by killing the owner’s son – he asked them the meaning of Psalm 118:22 “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Jesus who is rejected by all – because Jesus does not fit preconceived categories of who Jesus ought to be, is the one through whom God builds a whole new kind of building in the world – not made with stones and mortar, but with Jesus as the cornerstone and recreated human beings as living stones who identify with Christ Jesus – signified by the act of baptism. In identifying with the Rejected One, we too are rejected ones – but it is in this particularity that we are the missional people of God in the world, whom God uses as building blocks to create a whole new world (cf. Paul Stookey’s song Building Block.)

God engages, not those who are the greatest or most gifted, nor the most politically astute, nor the most powerfully situated to bring about God’s redemptive mission of creating a whole new world. God seeks out those who are marginalized, those who are rejected, to identify with the Son of God who has been rejected – for through him – the cornerstone, God connects living stones in order to build a new spiritual building, a whole new community of people, a living community of people who through their lives and their living bring about God’s will on earth, just as it is in heaven.

As we read through the rest of Peter’s epistle, we discover that living missionally, doing good, involves suffering, suffering that comes through identifying with Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are a people born into a living hope (1 Peter 1:3) and are called to live as foreigners, as aliens (1 Peter 1:17), and are the ones through whom God is building a new community, a community of living stones who are filled with a living hope in order to be a sign, foretaste, and instrument of God always breaking in reign in order to make the world new.

Whether we see ourselves as rejected or accepted all depends upon whom we focus our attention – if we try to follow after Jesus Christ but our attention is on the world – we will be ever battling being rejected, but if we live focused on God who has chosen and called us to be “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9), then no matter how rejected we are as the missional people of God, we know we are accepted to participate with God in being a new community in an unfolding whole new world.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Vol 2:19 Missional Stories: Being Aware of God

Another way in which we weave God awareness into our lives is through the telling of missional stories. Now I do not mean telling stories of missionary efforts or exploits in fields overseas – what I am talking about is telling stories of our encountering God in the midst of our everyday lives, moments when we become aware that we are participating in something that God is doing.

This coming Sunday, the congregation I serve is focusing upon the passage in 1 Peter 2 that talks about our being living stones – a metaphor that we are a living people of God because we are intimately connected with Jesus Christ the Living Stone. Peter talks about Christ being the cornerstone of the building God is building. This building, however, is not made with brick and mortar; it is a building made with “living stones” – a building that takes shape as the people of God come together, as communities of the Resurrection express their radical attachment to Christ and their stubborn loyalty to one another.

And as living stones, we have stories to tell. The stories we witness – of God working in our lives, of God working through our lives – become “living stones stories” – stories in which we not only give expression to what we notice, but at a much deeper level, stories which declare what we are noticing about God and God’s activity in the world. In essence, these living stone stories are not mere declarations, but become declarative stories, praise stories which express the wonders of God, the wonders of what God is doing in the world to make all things new.

Telling such stories which give praise to God are deeply missional stories. In the telling of these stories we grow to understand more comprehensively what God is up to in the world. In the telling of these stories we develop our theologies of missional praxis – of our participating with God in God’s redemptive mission.

We need to develop the practice of such story telling – we need to experiment with it in our gathering times, we need to help each other be aware of God, of interpreting for one another where we see God at work in us and through us, through one another. As we learn to tell such missional stories – we will become more intentional in our living as missional communities.

Lord, give us voices to express what we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and experience with our lives.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Vol 2:18 Missional Awakenings: Being Aware of God

Years ago I watched the 1990 film Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. The film tells the true story of British neurologist Oliver Sacks, fictionalized as American Malcolm Sayer, who, in 1969, discovers beneficial effects of the then-new drug L-Dopa. In administering it to catatonic patients who survived the 1917–28 epidemic of encephalitis lethargica, they awakened after decades of being catatonic and begin to encounter a strange new world (cf. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awakenings)

I have discovered people in churches being awakened as well when they finally discover what it means to be involved with God in God’s mission. A student in one of my courses I teach on being missional, interrupted me one day in class half way through the semester and asked, “So, it’s not about me, it’s about God?” To which I responded, “Yes!” She asked the question two or three more times to which I responded with a resounding, “Yes!” It sunk in. She understood. She got it. She began to understand that mission is about what God is doing in the world and not about what we are up to in the world – that being saved or elected by God is more than getting a ticket to heaven – it is about being invited by God to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission – being co-laborers with God.

Recently, I have heard stories shared with me from people with whom I have been sharing what it means to be missional, for them to finally come to a place of discovery about what God is doing in them and in the world. They come to a realization that God has done and continues to do something for them, but that our response is not merely to do something for God, but rather it is about opening ourselves to see where God is active all around us and beginning to participate with God in God’s redemptive mission. It is great to witness the missional awakening that happens as persons express with excitement their seeing God in real and different ways and the freedom that following the Spirit of God brings.

Missional awakening helps set people free from being anxiety-ridden in trying to do the right thing for God. It brings about a real-time encountering of God as we go about living out our lives. Rather than God being relegated to mere cognitive belief, God becomes real and personal and it becomes pretty evident that those who have been awakened see the world in whole new ways – through God’s eyes.

My missional awakening came about five years ago. I was reading the missional literature and I was getting my understanding around it – but I came to discover, not just with my head, but my heart, that God indeed was the initiator and catalyst behind God’s mission. That deep realization began to enable me to be free to be who God made me to be as one who finds joy in freely participating with what God is unfolding everywhere I look. God is indeed active in every human life in the world and actually beginning to see that gives me a whole new perspective as I engage those God brings into my life each and every day.

Rather, than my rushing around keeping my own agenda, I am growing to take the time to be sensitive to what the Spirit of God is saying to me, to what the Spirit of God prompts me, whom the Spirit of God causes me to notice. Rather than these persons and situations being distractions, these are the re-orienting of my daily life so that my living becomes more and more a participation in what God is up to in the world – it truly is an awakening.

Whereas in the film Awakenings, the L-Dopa only had temporary effects, the patients began to revert back to their catatonic state, those of us who come to a place in our lives where we yield ourselves to Christ’s Spirit, we come to discover that the missional awakening we encounter transforms our lives in such a way that we never can go back to the way we once were – and we are eager for others to experience the same reality.

Dare we surrender our need to control our lives and submit ourselves to the Spirit’s moving in us so that we all can experience a missional awakening as well? It is my prayer that we are open enough for God to enable us to be led by God and engaged with God in God’s mission. To God be the glory!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Vol 2:17 Missional Rhythms During the Week

If being missional is all about being attentive to God and God’s activity in the world, then being missional is not merely a Sunday activity, in which we give attention to God in our worship of God, but is also a weekday activity in which we develop the practice or rhythm of living missionally focused on God.

We often separate Sundays from our Mondays through Saturdays. Sunday is an intentional day for focusing upon God, worshiping God, engaging Scriptures, praying for one another and praying to God together – all our listening, hearing, speaking centered in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The rest of the week is filled with normal days, average days, ordinary days – weekday days in which we do weekday work. These days can and are often days filled with “disconnected acts” (cf. Peterson, The Pastor, p. 156). These are days for driving the kids to school and after school events, taking care of the family, earning a living, paying the bills, walking the dog, taking care of the yard, filling the car with gas – the stuff of life that we do week in and week out in order to make a life.

We may have time for God in our weekday days – perhaps it is through morning devotions, or a quick prayer before an event or presentation. But where are the missional rhythms that shape us in being the people of God who are sign, foretaste, and instrument of God’s present and coming reign?

It’s true we can get so caught up in life that we miss life. What did Jesus say in Matthew 6? “Why do you worry about life – what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear?” So many things crowd into our lives that we try to organize that we miss the whole point of living life.

In response Jesus reminds us: “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

This is the essence of living missionally during the week. Before we get caught up in all the doing what we need to do, begin with seeking God, becoming attentive to God as you begin to engage the weekday world. This need not become another item on our “to do” lists, rather it is bringing our Sunday rhythm of focusing on God to the start of our weekday days. This is a relational practice, a missional practice – for attuning our hurried and hectic selves to a different pace, a different rhythm.

I believe we will be amazed as to how we become attuned to God and God’s activity throughout the day in the midst of our ordinary weekday world. We will begin to develop new eyes and new ears to see and hear what God is up to in the most ordinary of places. It is discovering that Sundays are not the only days that are about God, the rest of the week are also days in which God takes center place as we seek to live as God’s people participating with God in God’s redemptive mission. This does not mean we do not do all the day to day things we need to do, but what it will mean is that we will do them in a very different rhythm – one that embraces a way of being missional in the midst of the everdayness of life.

So, let’s live!