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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Friday, May 23, 2008

which comes first - worship or mission?

For all I have been challenged by and agree with Michael Frost, I still stand by my original critique (before I listened to him) and written about HERE in a post called "worship or missions?" In a preview of this coming Sunday's sermon on Acts 2:42-47, I find myself back to the same point, that worship necessarily precedes (and leads to!) mission. Here's a snippet from the end of the sermon:

The key to being a church at her best is to focus on the God whose church this is. That is why, as interested as I am in being missional and outward focused, that worship is the necessary starting point. Without an awareness of who God is and what God is doing, all we have are some programs and expense items. Without an encounter with the God who has stepped among us in Christ, all we can do is try to ramp up our religious efforts. Without the power of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us and through us, we will wander off course. Church is at its best when God is at the center and we respond worshipfully, obediently and joyfully in running whole-heartedly wherever God leads us.

That’s why the very most important thing I could ever do for our life together is point to God through Jesus Christ and scripture and say to you, “This is your God.” Come, let’s serve Him together.

with hope and prayers for steven curtis chapman's family

With many others who grew up with his music or simply read the heart-wrenching story of the tragic death of Steven Curtis Chapman's daughter, I grieve for and pray for his family. With a daughter the same age, I can hardly process the sorrow of what has happened into my mind. Though I am a musician, I rarely turn to lyrics for comfort, but one of the few songs that expresses the hope that we have as believers was actually penned by Steven Curtis. I trust that the prayers of many and the arms of Christ through his church in Nashville will hold him and his family close.

"With Hope" - Steven Curtis Chapman

This is not at all how
We thought it was supposed to be
We had so many plans for you
We had so many dreams
And now you've gone away
And left us with the memories of your smile
And nothing we can say
And nothing we can do
Can take away the pain
The pain of losing you, but ...

We can cry with hope
We can say goodbye with hope
'Cause we know our goodbye is not the end, oh no
And we can grieve with hope
'Cause we believe with hope
(There's a place by God's grace)
There's a place where we'll see your face again
We'll see your face again

And never have I known
Anything so hard to understand
And never have I questioned more
The wisdom of God's plan
But through the cloud of tears
I see the Father's smile and say well done
And I imagine you
Where you wanted most to be
Seeing all your dreams come true
'Cause now you're home
And now you're free, and ...

We have this hope as an anchor
'Cause we believe that everything
God promised us is true, so ...

So we can cry with hope
And say goodbye with hope

We wait with hope
And we ache with hope
We hold on with hope
We let go with hope

Thursday, May 22, 2008

frost defines missional at pgf, pt. 3

At Wednesday night Bible studies this month, we have been watching the video of Michael Frost speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference in 2007 in Houston. He is from Australia and was tasked with defining what it means to be “missional.” This is a word that is very in vogue these days, and Frost directly challenges using it as any kind of “add-on” program. Rather, he insists, it is a revolutionary, vibrant, and fundamental shift in how Christians see things. In this particular presentation, Frost describes three shifts: 1) seeing God differently; 2) seeing the Church differently; and 3) seeing the world differently. Last Wednesday night, we watched the second segment, on seeing God differently.

What follows are some of the key statements (in my opinion) and some of the questions we discussed around those statements.

God has left a trace: Imago Dei

The essential argument in Frost’s discussion of the imago Dei is really an application of what it means that God created human beings in His image. And that is that “every person bears the image of God.” At the same time, Frost reminds us, “we share a common, broken humanity with all people.” We had a good discussion on Wednesday night about what it means to be created in the image of God, particularly focusing the implications of that image after the Fall. While Frost would use words like “submerged,” I have more often heard language of the image being “marred” or “tarnished” by sin. Nonetheless, Frost’s insistence is an important one, particularly if we note that the “trace” is not salvific, but is universal.

Myth: that Christians or those in the church are better than those who are not

This statement generated quite a bit of discussion in our study because of texts like the fruit/gifts of the Spirit and “becoming a new creation in Christ.” We reconciled these with what I think Frost was trying to say by noting that the radical changes (even improvements) that scripture seems to describe are not the result of human effort, but of God at work in a person’s life. God is better than no God, but knowing God should not result in any sense of moral (or other) superiority. We noted that scripture also says “the rain falls on the just and the unjust” – such that a Christian life should not be equated with a “charmed life.” There are no free passes. Rather, Christians are to continually submit ourselves to God’s sanctifying presence in our life.

We should “tease out” the image of God in others.

Frost told several stories to illustrate this point. The first, set in a bar in Pittsburgh, illustrated to us some qualities of the image of God, present in all people, whether believers or not. All human beings desire love, intimacy, fellowship, sharing, and blessing. These are godly characteristics (able to be warped by sin, to be sure, but also generously present in the non-believing world). Frost found all these present at a going away part for “Rhonda” in the bar in Pittsburgh.

He also told the story of visiting the streets of Montreal with a social worker friend and meeting a young punk panhandler. This story illustrates some of these same basic human-in-the-image-of-God desires and also segues into demonstrating some other examples of our common imago Dei. The young man, freezing to death, refuses to burn evangelists’ “brochures” because there was something inherently “un-burnable” about God’s Word. While I’ve met people who wouldn’t hesitate to disrespect God’s Word, Frost uses this story to highlight the inborn character of God that remains present, if horribly distorted by sin.

God is warmth, peace, safety, hope, and Jesus

We also talked about this statement for some time. It was Frost’s answer to the punk’s sudden question, “Who do you think God is?” I shared with the group that on first pass, I thought these were very wishy-washy (though I was thankful for “God is Jesus” at least). But, on further reflection, I realized that many of these descriptors were Biblical names for God (think of refuge, strong tower, Prince of Peace, etc…). And the young man was in such a world of need and hurt. Frost was saying, in effect, “God is the answer.” We also discussed the fact that Frost’s answer opened the door to further (more clarifying conversation)… it was what was needed to get through to the man.

The Truth is present, but hidden, in culture

Frost told the story of the Pima Indians, who had been wiped out by the Apache, but who had, through one family, preserved Christian religious artifacts through several generations. They didn’t know what they were for or what they symbolized, but they recognized the value placed on them and the “set apart” (holy) nature of them. The young missionary who found this hidden treasure was captured by the vision of carrying God’s explicit Word to them. He wrote his superior to say he was “covetous of that mission” and pursuing it would be the “greatest happiness of his life.”

This story illustrated to Frost that the imago Dei is “stuff of faith” that is “buried in the deep, dark, black rock canyon of the human soul… just waiting for a word, prayer, or act of service.” As he has done more than once, Frost made me nervous with this statement. But, in our study we turned to the biblical teaching on general revelation and special revelation, particularly the Romans teaching that God has provided enough of a witness to His existence through creation and conscience that all human beings are held accountable to answer to God. Yet it is the specific word of Christ that has the power to save. In the end, I think Frost was teaching this and making important application of it without using the jargon I’ve heard so often. [Indeed, this is one of Frost’s great strengths!]

My confession to the class was that I read of general revelation and think about an imaginary tribe in a remote jungle and wonder how it is fair that they might not hear about Jesus. What Frost reminds us of is that this teaching needs to hit us a lot closer to home. My neighbor may have witnessed God’s creation and be ripe for coming to faith, but lacks the specific word of Christ that I could easily share. Frost presses us to ask what the young priest declared: Am I covetous of that mission to my neighbor?

Re-negotiating everything

Frost asserts at the end of the clip that a fresh understanding of God as the missioning God, of the church as the community gathered to participate in the ongoing ministry of Christ, and the world as the temporary home of all God’s children should cause us to re-negotiate everything we’ve known about Christian religion.

I agree, which is what I have been praying for at Good Shepherd for almost two years now. The lighthouse/searchlight vision that this blog is based on is the re-negotiation that I believe needs to take place in our church. I press my congregation and leadership to ask the searchlight and lighthouse questions of every thing we do at church. Are we going to have a Christmas cantata this year? How can we make it a lighthouse event that draws people to Jesus Christ? How can we turn it into a searchlight event that gets us out of our building and into the field where our neighbors live?

That’s just one example. The pressing question is: how can we re-frame everything we do in terms of this gathered-to-be-sent vision?

Frost has been headed in the same direction, but has said things in ways that challenge and shake us up a bit. For his clarity and single-mindedness of purpose and for what god will do with this in the life of our congregation, I am thankful.

Monday, May 19, 2008

frost defines missional at pgf, pt. 2

At Wednesday night Bible studies this month, we have been watching the video of Michael Frost speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference in 2007 in Houston. He is from Australia and was tasked with defining what it means to be “missional.” This is a word that is very in vogue these days, and Frost directly challenges using it as any kind of “add-on” program. Rather, he insists, it is a revolutionary, vibrant, and fundamental shift in how Christians see things. In this particular presentation, Frost describes three shifts: 1) seeing God differently; 2) seeing the Church differently; and 3) seeing the world differently. Last Wednesday night, we watched the second segment, on seeing God differently.

What follows are some of the key statements (in my opinion) and some of the questions we discussed around those statements.

The Church is the participatio Christi - the gathering of the redeemed ones sent to participate in the work of Jesus in this world.

W
e had a good discussion around Frost's discussion of Church as those who participate in the work of Christ in the world. In fact, I had been using some of this language in the past year to challenge the congregation to "get up and get out." Remembering my concern about Frost's seeming disregard for God's holiness, I would want to make the same disclaimer about his definition of Church. Yes, we need to hear and be challenged to see ourselves as participants in God's work in the world. But, we are also the "holy ones" - those set apart. Perhaps the right balance is found in the wording of Ephesians: we are set apart for good works in Christ.

The original meaning of ecclesia was the "wise fathers" at the city gate who gathered to add value (wisdom, guidance, judgment, etc...) to the village of which they are a part.

Frost spent a significant portion of the twelve-minute segment on the church describing the original context of the Greek word ecclesia. D.A. Carson would, no doubt, warn us against the root fallacy which over-prioritizes the etymology of a word in determining present meaning. Nonetheless, Frost issues adequate disclaimers and goes on to share a fascinating look at the ancient practice of elders sitting at the city gate. His main point was that the wise fathers of a village didn't "retire," but placed themselves (and were given place!) to give back to their community in a vital way. We in the study could not help be experience sadness over the diminished role and value given to older adults in American culture, and often reflected in the church.

The Church shares this original meaning of ecclesia because the followers of Jesus are to be a gift to the community of which they are a part - giving geauty, honesty, help, and health - like SALT and LIGHT.

We then moved to Frost's logical next question - how does that community-nurturing practice of ecclesia in ancient times inform our understanding of the community of the Church? Noting that the New Testament adds new dimension to that ancient practice, Frost pointed us towards the need to impact those outside our walls. It is so easy to focus church programs on ourselves, but God invites us out into the hurting world around us. I would again note the absence of the holy/set apart nature of ecclesia in the church context, but Frost does an effective job of stretching us in a direction we are not used to going. Overall, it has the effect of skiing when one is not in the habit - you wake up sore, having used muscles you never knew existed.

If the "fathers at the gate" were stolen away, it would be disastrous. What if your church suddenly disappeared from your neighborhood. Would it make any difference?

This hypothetical "what if" was chilling to us, not because of the horrible thought that the church might suddenly disappear, but because of the realization that no one outside the walls of the church might notice at all! Perhaps I exaggerate, though. After the first lull of shocked silence, the study group actually came up with a number of ways we would be missed: our ballfield for the neighborhood baseball league; our facilities as meeting space; our neighborhood plays; and a biggie - our preschool! Plus, I never would have guessed how much our neighbors would miss our trees - but a number called or even stopped by to comment.
Frost shared that one of the questions fueling his vision for his own church is that of being a church that would be missed greatly.

Choice of friends: most of your friends are Christian and go to church... we have been "leeched out of our neighborhoods."

It was also convicting to grapple with this statement. Maybe it is more pointed for me as a pastor, but I do sometimes feel like all my friends are church-going Christians. I need to find some places to go and be where I am not surrounded by believers. I imagine I am not alone in this and that Frost is right - many Christians do have limited exposure to non-Christians, perhaps even as a well-cultivated and intentional choice! I don't think one has to look very far in scripture to see that is what Jesus would not do!

What is Christ doing in our city and neighborhood? How is wisdom, grace, beauty, mercy, peace, and love emerging in your neighborhood? Our job is to go fan it into flame... to "feed the wheat." "Go, go, go, where Jesus is!"

This is exactly where I am urging us to go as a "searchlight church." I sometimes feel like I'm beating that metaphor into the ground and that people are tired of it... but the Wednesday night group got pretty energized by this point in the discussion. [Sometimes, it helps to hear the same message from another person with different metaphors - and the cool Aussie accent doesn't hurt either!]

Only one or two have really caught the vision for "going where Jesus is" - but I am really excited about the one or two. I feel like the church ministry staff has the vision, but it needs to be embraced by the congregation. And, while slow, I do see this happening. That's really exciting! [Now, the timing of this is interesting, with giving at an all-time low... how shall I reconcile the surging interest in God's mission and the ebbing tide of financial support... and does one really need money to participate in Christ? (the obvious answer seems to be, "of course not" - but the accountants might beg to differ]

Frost tells the story of transformation an old Baptist church into an art gallery (among other things).

I found myself wanting a little more detail about the transformation his congregation brought to the old, traditional Baptist church building. Was it just an art gallery and coffeeshop? Was there regular worship there? But again... I don't see Frost laying out blueprints; rather, he just might get those stuck in the mud free by rocking the carriage enough.

We were running out of time on Wednesday night, but we had some fun beginning to think about transforming Good Shepherd. My favorite of the night - what if some of us volunteered to bag groceries one day a week at the grocery store on the corner - as a way to meet and engage our neighbors. That was in the same sentence as, "I'm ready for me and my children to join the church." Woo!

NEXT WEEK: seeing the world differently

Sunday, May 11, 2008

frost defines missional at pgf, pt. 1

At Wednesday night Bible study this past week, we started watching the video of Michael Frost speaking at the Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference in 2007 in Houston. He is from Australia and was tasked with defining what it means to be “missional.” This is a word that is very in vogue these days, and Frost directly challenges using it as any kind of “add-on” program. Rather, he insists, it is a revolutionary, vibrant, and fundamental shift in how Christians see things. In this particular presentation, Frost describes three shifts – 1) seeing God differently; 2) seeing the Church differently; and 3) seeing the world differently. Last Wednesday night, we watched the first 15 minutes or so, through his treatment of seeing God differently.

What follows are some of the key statements (in my opinion) and some of the questions we discussed around those statements.

God is not far and distant, but is a “missionary” and a “sent and sending God”

This is a very helpful observation, though Frost seemed to short the notion of God’s holiness in an effort to communicate God’s sentness. To my thinking, God’s utter holiness (being separate because of His nature and character) highlights God’s sentness because it makes that sentness all the more extraordinary. In my own explanation of this idea, I also found myself talking of God’s “self-sending” rather than “sentness” because the latter suggests that someone other than God sent God among us. With these qualification in place, I find this description of God’s character to be very helpful and challenging, and something relatively new to the thinking to which we have become accustomed. It prompted me to emphasize God’s character in this week’s sermon on Pentecost.

God is in Babylon

Frost said that the people of Israel didn’t really understand God’s self-sending character until they were in Exile. It was there, away from Zion, that they also encountered God and found that God was there in their lostness and separation. For us, the idea that God is found, not in holy places, but in our places of greatest need and lostness, is a marvelous declaration of the Gospel as what it means – good news. I’d like to explore that idea – that God is in Babylon – and explore what Babylon is in a modern context. I think it would surprise and challenge us, who are so wired to “come meet God at church.” We need to realize, for our own selves and for others, that God is in Babylon.

God is in search of man, in a Trinitarian kind of way – this is the “missioning God”

Frost summarized God’s character by saying that God is in search of man, out of love for His creation. This assertion became particular powerful when Frost explored the biblical description of the self-sending character of the Triune God. I looked up some of the references behind Frost’s summary: the Father sends the Son to redeem (John 3:16); the Father and Son send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26); and the Father, Son, and Spirit send us (John 15:27; 17:18). Our mission and God’s mission are not grounded, then, in an assignment from God, but in the very character of God. Accordingly, Frost defines the Latin phrase mission Dei not as the “mission of God” but as the “God of mission” or the “missioning God.”

How can we not be propelled into the world?

This is the question Frost asks us, rooted in the character of God, which is demonstrated throughout scripture. Frost specifically mentions the ripping of the curtain in the Temple, and we looked at Ephesians 2:19-22 as an example of how God has invited us to participate in the implications of Christ’s work. We are growing into a Holy Temple in the Lord, being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. Frost summarizes: the Temple of God is now us!

Where are we headed the next two Wednesdays?

Seeing the character of God differently will change the way we see the Church. And seeing God as a self-sending, missioning God will cause us to see the world differently.

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