Thursday, October 27, 2005

My Moment in the Academy

I got to talk about Africa yesterday to 23 Master of Divinity students at Beeson Divinity school. They are taking Introduction to Christian Missions and I was a guest lecturer on church planting in Africa.

I was amazed that no one raised their hands when I asked who was familiar with current discussions of the church needing to be missional. That's where I started in an attempt to show the relevancy of what I would be sharing - that it wasn't just how to live in the Kingdom somewhere else, but how to be participating in the Missio Dei here.

The rest was basically about how everything is God's, and our best work is to not screw up what He is doing. The Spirit of God will lead and work if we don't try and control everything out of our patronizing and ethnocentric tendencies.

All in all I enjoyed the experience. Without a context of knowing the students, or much about what they've already studied, I shared what I shared and have little idea of how it agreed/conflicted with what they've already heard. The damage may be irreparable.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Seeing . . .

Imparting vision. I know God does it . . . but is there anything we can do to help someone else see?

While I know that all spiritual insight is a divine gift, I do believe that God wills also to give such revelation to us through one another. I am reformed in my persistent desire to trace every impulse and good gift back to God - while affirming the role of willingness on our part to submit and accept God's working.

However, given our human nature of self-will, our culture which has enshrined that tendency in individualism and independence, and the protestant idea of sola scriptura that has sometimes been hijacked by individualism to make each one his or her own spiritual authority, little room remains for submitting to spiritual direction.

There is a difference in accepting spiritual instruction - a more educational situation - and spiritual direction. We will readily accept teaching in a classroom setting, but to accept individualized spiritual guidance which cuts to the root of our problems is foreign. And threatening to individualism.

When people approached Jesus as a Rabbi they expected spiritual wisdom more than intellectual information - due to their tradition of spiritual mentoring. We see people coming and asking for guidance. Obviously, many turned away from the personal prescription he gave when it didn't suit them . . . but at least they expected such. Were I to speak so boldly to identify spiritual maladies and point out the remedy to people individually, the resistance would not only be to the diagnosis but to my apparent audacity. I would be "overstepping" my role religiously.

Which is one spiritual vision I have - that of people seeking mentoring and wisdom. But how do I share that? Can I do anything to impart it? How can believers move from consumers who want to be served to seekers who want to be formed?

(Okay . . . that last sentence just popped out there, an insight from my writing process).

This is one of the core problems. As Christians we are consumers who believe we are the customers in the motto the customer is always right . . . and therefore our needs ought to set the agenda. How can we make a fundamental shift? The task is a revolution against the culture and human nature.

All I know to do is talk about it . . . and let those who have ears to hear, hear it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


This past Sunday we heard from several about how their creative pursuits are reflections of their spirituality. Kara posted about her experience and the text of what she wrote/read and you can read it here.

One of the passages we read was from Exodus 35:30-36:1 where Moses said that God had given his Spirit and skill in crafts and artistry to those who would build the tabernacle. Beauty and creativity have always been inherent to spirituality, but unfortunately not always to our practice of church-ianity (at least for some protestant churches).

I am thankful that God is helping us to rediscover how our creative impulses reflect the image of God, and can become pathways for nurturing our spirituality.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Confession about Idols

A personal observation: The favorite idols of natural man are his fleshly appetites; the idols of church-going man are his preferences. It is as difficult to wrest self-indulgence from a person in the world, as it is to tear personal religious preference from the grip of someone accustomed to living a religious life. Neither can imagine life without these, and therefore both resist every attempt to find God as one's sole sufficiency and comfort.

In fact, one might say that the problem is one and the same; the personal preference of the person of faith is a form of self-indulgence transferred from more fleshly pursuits to religious ones.

I can assert this with the confidence of having seen, and am now seeing, that I have idols of both kinds. I am in some ways still very much a natural man, and I cannot imagine living without my self-indulgent sins. How can I let go of the fleshly sins that give me comfort? My possessions, pride, and lusts all give me some pleasure and sense of self. Can God alone satisfy me?

Can I let go of my preferences concerning my faith, and let God do whatever, however, and wherever? Can I trust God enough to have no conditions about my faith? I don't want to go "back" to certain things - but does that make spiritual growth an idol?

Selfishness is at the heart of this - not wanting to let go of some level of control or my idea of what I need - whether in sinful indulgence or religious faith. It is all the same - dying to self is the answer, and it will erase both my sinful indulgence and religious preference.

Questions to Suggest Direction

What if . . .

worship was an expression of the whole of our lives of faith rather than a disconnected event where people try to correctly perform a checklist of activities to keep God happy?

we really stopped worrying about who is first and how to get others to see/do everything our way, and instead pursued servanthood and enjoyed the diversity of the Spirit within one another?

no one had ever taught us to concentrate on inconsequential matters and make those the bedrock of faith, and we simply enjoyed whatsoever is good, pure, lovely, noble . . . wherever it may be?

we followed Christ as if he is teaching and showing us how to live rather than how to be saved?

we understood the word church as refering to people who've received a different way of living rather than a place where we go and an organization in which we have membership?

we knew what Jesus meant when he said his Kingdom wasn't of this world, and we stopped trying to contradict him?

we lived by an ethic of love of God through faith instead pleasure through selfishness?

. . . how different would we be?

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ramblings . . .

Here I sit.

I feel like I should blog - basically because I want to do something, but don't feel like doing anything else. Blogging seems to be legitimate ministry, don't you think? I'm not being lazy if I'm blogging.

Bill got a job - and an offer to come fill out paperwork for another - so he's going to end up with a choice of jobs. Looks like Stanley got a job too! If everything comes through he will be helping take care of animals at a local veterinary clinic!

I am genuinely rejoicing for them . . . but selfishly I am glad for this progress because it takes a burden off me (see the last post). Self-interest is always in the back of my consciousness even if I don't want it to be.

When I think of Jesus being tempted in every way like us, I imagine that he knew what it was to think of everything from an economy of selfishness.

Oh, Father! Why did you give me these 12 losers?? Keeping James and John from destroying people with divine fire is a constant drain, and the in-fighting . . . ! 'I want to be first!' all the time. Maybe if I heal these people they'll go away and leave me alone!

No way . . . not Jesus! No person's need was too taxing, no request the last straw, no day too long.

Yeah, right!

But what am I talking about . . . today I am actually seeing progress! Just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Is that too pessimistic?

Okay, think about the good stuff.

I really am enjoying the Thursday morning group I've joined. We are focusing on prayer. Our biweekly meet-up of emergent-ish/ancient-future believers is rich. This faith community is a constant blessing as we share life instead of doing church. My lovely wife, Marsha, and two great kids are extraordinary blessings. Aaron was reading me his favorite lyrics from an Alter Bridge song last night - what a blessing to have a 16 year old that shares his own thoughts with me.

Enough rambling . . . got to spend some time thinking about worship this Sunday.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Where Selfishness Lives

We started housing some evacuees from the coast in our building- and in the process also began more intensely walking with others who are in recovery. This new challenge has highlighted some spiritual garbage in me that has always been there - but is now just more apparent.

My selfishness makes itself evident in the ways I minister to others when I try to find easier and quicker ways to help people - desperately wanting their problem or struggle to be resolved without too much personal cost to me. Secretly I don't want their struggle to be too big a burden for me.

I know . . . that attitude really sucks. But I think it is what is often lurking around backstage and subtly influencing me.

The reality is that I can neither be the savior for someone else, nor should I hope bandaids can be a substitute for discipleship in community. Being in community does impose itself on "personal" space - and may call into question whether there is anything really like "personal" space in Christ's way.

If I think about it, not only do I not want ministry to become inconvenient, I don't like it to be without obvious "progress." Sometimes what makes another person's burdern something I don't want to share is that it can't be "solved." So I end up treating persistent struggles as temporary ones - hoping in vain that without too much effort it will go away.

So I really do have a selfish attitude. Somehow, by God's grace, I also have a true desire for ministry - to see God's working and participate in it. I am a contradiction: wanting to administer God's grace into the lives of others (in my regenerate self) and being selfishly concerned with how much of me that process involves (in my sinful self).

A little more death comes creeping in.