Gospel of the Sent // 1

Last night, I preached at STCCC from the Gospel of John, and focused primarily on ch. 17. At the beginning of the week, I had a completely different sermon in mind, but as I spent time dwelling on select passages from John during the Daily Office, I was personally convicted.

Sometimes the sermons tagged “For myself” can connect best with the congregation, and this was one of those instances. My deliver wasn’t good. I stumbled, had awkward passes as I reached for my stashed-away emergency glass of water. I didn’t have dynamic illustrations are big stories. The sermon wasn’t in my usual narrative style. Still, it apparently connected with some people, and that’s all I can hope for.

As I’ve spent some time in John over the past weeks (it’s been part of the lectionary readings), something unique has jumped out to me about the nature of John’s story about Jesus. If Matthew is the gospel of the Jews, because of the way in which he uses the Hebrew Scripture, and if Mark is the gospel of A.D.D., and Luke is the gospel of logic, then John is the gospel of the sent.

The word send in its various forms occurs nearly 60 times in the gospel of John, usually referring to a key character in the story. The word send appears second most frequently in Luke, at around 45 times. To put that in proper perspective though, keep in mind the length of each of the gospels. In my bible, John is about 23 pages long, while Luke is about 32 pages long.

In John, Jesus is portrayed consistently as the One who is sent by God into the world, to do the work of his Father. But he is simultaneously portrayed as the One who sends on God’s behalf. I think this reveals something to us about God, about Jesus, and also about the believing community. (I’ll get to the last one in another post).

In John, we can clearly see one of the fundamental understandings in missional theology: God is a missionary God. God sends Jesus into the world, with a  task to accomplish—and that task isn’t just to die so God can vent his anger. Rather, God has a purpose—an end—in mind for the creation. Even through the mess of destruction brought into the creation through the Fall, God is working to bring about his purpose through the creation. This becomes what is know as the missio Dei (the mission/sending of God).

Jesus, as the One sent from God to do his mission, stands in continuity with God as a missionary God.

First God sends Adam & Eve into the garden with a task and a purpose. God then calls and sends Abraham to be part of God’s redemptive work. God sends Moses. God calls Israel to “be a light to the nations.” God sends the prophets to call Israel back to her mission. And God’s sending (& missionary) action reaches its climax in the sending of Jesus into the world—but it does not end there, because the church has a part to play in this story.

The fact that God sends into the world is incredibly important—because it is far to easy for us to fall into deism. One of the worst perversions of Scripture is the idea that God is unconcerned and uninvolved with the world, because Scripture always points to God investing himself in the world, often at great cost. Deism is more prevalent in the Christian church than what we often realize. It’s damaging, because if God is aloof the the struggle of this world, then we can be too. But the Gospel of John—the gospel of the Sent—shows us that the god of Scripture is a God who enters the mess.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but [he sent his Son into the world] in order that the world might be saved through him. —John 3.16-17 esv

More soon.

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Anabaptism, the Restoration Movement, and Post-Christendom

Sean Palmer is beginning what I’m sure will shape out to be a very interesting series on his blog. It collection of posts providing an overview of Anabaptism. I commend to your reading his first two posts in the series:

What’s an Anabaptist? Part 1—On Baptism

What’s an Anabaptist? Part 2—Church and State

As we beginning the transition into what Patrick Keifert has described as a “new missional era,” and as we witness the crumbling of the empire that has been Christendom, the Anabaptism witness will be increasingly important for the church—and I think it will be especially important for Restoration churches (like churches of Christ/Christian Church) in American to reclaim some of its early Anabaptism witness.

John Mark Hicks and Bobby Valentine have written a book called “Kingdom Come” in which they weave history and theology together in a way that helps churches of Christ to recapture some of what is best about the fellowship from our early years. They tell stories about the grandfathers of contemporary church of Christ praxis—namely David Lipscomb and James Harding—that help us embrace their spiritual legacy in meaningful ways. I don’t recall if Hicks & Valentine address Anabaptism or not, but the Anabaptist witness certainly flows through (as it does through much of Restoration Movement history).

I have recently encountered a work I would very much like to dig into. It’s by an Anabaptism writer named James McClendon. The title of the work is Witness, and I can’t help but think it could be useful in navigating the leadership waters of post-Christendom America.

Engraved Sin—Radical Restoration

I have a desk in my office that was built in the early 1940s by my grandpa, when he was a sophomore in high school. It’s pretty impressive, to say the least. But over the years, the top surface of the desk has seen its fair share of cuts and bruises. My dad, when he was just a child wrote his name in crayon all over the crayon drawer.

But as I was getting ready to move the desk into the office at my new apartment, we decided to refinish the top.

So we got out the electric sander, and started to sand away the surface. So of the cuts and scratches were engraved so deeply, that we had to cut into the surface just as deep. It was no light cosmetic work.

In Jeremiah 17.1, it says that “the sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; with a point of diamond it is engraved on the tablet of their heart. and on the horns of their altars…” (ESV)

In ancient times, scribes would use a pen of iron with a diamond tip in order to engrave a message or painted deeply into a rock, thus preserving it for ages. When we ignore the whispers from God in our lives, our hearts can become hardened as stone. And upon that stone, our sin is deeply engraved. There are times when our sin is so deeply engraved into our heart, that we need more than a docile prayer prayed from a pew while the Wednesday night invitation is being offered. Sometimes we need more than cosmetic surgery. When we find ourselves living the Romans 7 reality of constant struggle and inability to escape our sin, we need healing. We need to cry the prayer of Jeremiah

Heal me, O LORD, and I shall be healed; save me, and I shall be saved, for you are my praise. —Jeremiah 17.14 ESV

Don’t content yourself to the feeble prayer: “Lord help me to stop doing what I’ve been doing” said from a church pew. Embrace the radical restoration that drips from Jeremiah’s prayer. It’s what we need.

A Question: Heaven, the Age to Come, and Missional Praxis

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of a paper on eschatology, missional theology, and the practicing of the Kingdom of God:

The picture, drawn by a child in a vacation bible school, is starkly white. There are fluffy white clouds, harps, ethereal souls in flowing white robes—all surrounding a white-haired old man on a throne. There are smiles crayoned on the souls’ faces, but one is left to wonder, what is so enchanting about this kind of existence? This image of disembodied, colorless bliss is the heavenly image that captivates the imaginations of many young children—but also a fair number mature Christians when thought is given to the future reality of God’s people. It is an image of other-worldly disengagement that is the primary way in which the age to come is conceptualized in the popular imagination. And while the theologians who hold to a similar view of the eternal life promised by Jesus certainly have a more nuanced understanding than what is represented in a six-year old’s drawing, this imagine is the controlling metaphor for a great deal of Christians today.

The question that begs to be asked, then, is how does this controlling image of the age to come affect our ecclesiology and communal praxis?


Know Your City

As a junior and senior in High School, I had to great privilege of dating the wonderfully talented Amanda. And that meant that I had the not-so-great privilege of going to the high school’s “variety show,” and because of my affection for Amanda, I went every single show. I’m not exaggerating to say that she was absolutely incredible. Problem was though, that she was one of only a few people that were good. They didn’t call it a talent show for a reason.

I was recently struck by a verse from Jeremiah that’s found in chapter 29: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

For a long time, when I thought of leadership in the church, I thought primarily of leading the people who were part of the church. It was about feeding them, stirring up passion in them. I certainly believed in evangelism, but the only way I saw that affecting my leadership was that it would increase the number of people I lead on a weekly basis. I should spend all my time with the congregation—keep long office hours so that I would always be available to the people in my congregation. I seldom had any interaction with the city.

I’m on a journey that is causing me to rethink the role of the church in God’s world that has subsequently caused me to rethink the shaped of leadership. While I certainly have very few answers (and my graduate work is only stirring the pot for me), I’ve been convicted of a few things—the most fundamental of which is the sentiment expressed in Jeremiah 29. The people of God have always been connected to the world around them. Though we’ve tried to live in cultural vacuum, God’s people have always existed in the world. As obvious as it may be, that recognition should cause us the reconsider what the role of the church is. Without getting into all the theological/historical reasoning behind it, God’s chosen people (Israel and now the church) have always existed for the sake of the world.

When we retreat into our buildings, and are unconcerned about the rampant injustice, immorality, and environmental degradation that exists around us, is it any wonder that we struggle. We need to seek the welfare of our cities.

This probably isn’t new for you (it’s not for me), but it has lead me to a new conviction: if we are going to seek the welfare of our cities, it means we must know our city. I’m not talking about knowing where to get a good burger. But I mean knowing the people. As someone just getting into ministry, I know how time consuming our congregations’ needs are. There are pastoral needs we must meet from our churches—it’s part of the leadership role. But we also need to take that same kind of observation and listening that’s been honed in our pastoring and put it to use in our cities.

Go the the coffee shop, and instead of diving into a book or journal or conversation, listen to the people around you. What are they doing? What are they talking about. Pay attention to the way people are sitting in relation to one another, to the décor and to the interactions between the workers and the customers. Go the the local dinners, not for a good meal, but to listen and learn from the people there. Walk your streets. Go to games and community events. We ought to spend just as much time getting to know our religious texts as our cultural texts.

You can’t learn your city from your office. Go get in the mix, and listen. Observe. Learn.

Tonight, I’m going to the “variety show” at the high school. Not because I think it’ll be good or particularly enjoying, but because I want to learn my city. I grew up here, but its truly surprising what one can learn with eyes to see and ears to hear.

And now—off to get a cup of coffee. Out of my office.

Prayer for Life

Is this familiar?:

It’s Monday. The alarm goes off. Too early…. after hitting the snooze a few times (at least that’s the way it happens for me), you eventually get out of bed and dive into your morning routine. Barely awake, you do what you do everyday. Not much new or exciting. Perhaps you’ve been doing the same thing every morning, for as long as you can remember. Now, if you have kids to get out the door, it’s probably chaotic, with different surprises each day, but more or less the same similar chaos. Maybe you’ve had a few moments to sit, pray, reflect on the Scriptures, but other than that, not much to bring life.

The day starts, you are off to work or school or whatever else it is you do during the day. The day drudges on until you are able to go home for the night—probably to be met by another to-do list.

Then Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Same old, same old? It may not be true for you, but it’s certainly true for plenty of people, that life is more like a grueling cycle of drudgery than it is an exciting cycle of joy.

For some, Sunday morning (or Sunday night or Wednesday night) is the only time the cycle of drudgery is broken, if only for a moment. For others, it’s just another thing to get done, adding to the already-too-long list of places to be.

Too often, we go through life from task to task, fitting God and our Christian family in somewhere in that mix, hoping for a shot in the arm to energize us through the week. But that’s not the life that we’ve been called to live. We’ve been given life in Jesus—the very one who said he “came that [we] may have life and have it it abundantly” (Jn. 10.10)

As Dallas Willard puts it:

“[Jesus] matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weaknesses he gives us strength and and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.”

May Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1.17-19 (from The Message) be true for us:

“I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”

Justice & Jesus

I have a very conflicted political history. For my whole life, my parents associated with a particular political party, and by extension, I assumed that was the political party I belonged to as well. But then, as a freshman in high school I committed to follow Jesus, and was influenced to believe that if Jesus were an American today, he would definitely belong to certain political party, and that I should therefore belong to that party as well. So through my high school years, I shifted my ideology to match my convictions. But when I went to college, I started really grappling with some issues about faith, following Jesus and the like, and that caused me to once again reconsider my political stance, such that I chose to be decidedly a-political. I decided to not vote because I came to conclude that politics were not the way to influence people to embrace kingdom ethics (though I wouldn’t have used that terminology). That’s been about four years ago, and my convictions have changed once again, though I am still holding onto my a-political stance—but barely.

The key issue for me is that of justice. Now, one can mean a thousand different things when using the word justice, but there’s not denying that justice plays a very important but often neglected role in Scripture. The fact of the matter is, as people who follow Christ, the way we treat people matters. And that includes both the people we interact with directly, and the people who are influenced by our economic, political, and theological choices. I haven’t landed anywhere yet in terms of my political stance in terms of justice, but I just heard David Fitch share something that I think is important for people on all sides of the conversation and political spectrum to remember:

Justice without Jesus isn’t justice…..and Jesus without justice isn’t Jesus.



New NIV Update

The NIV 2011 update was just released, and it seems like it’s made some significant improvements. I’m sure a lot of this will be hashed out in the coming weeks, but my initial impressions are very positive. I love what they have done with 2 Corinthians 5.17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Compare with the NRSV:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

ESV (my translation of choice, though not in this passage):

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

The Greek (if you care):

ὥστε εἴ τις ἐν Χριστῷ, καινὴ κτίσις: τὰ ἀρχαῖα παρῆλθεν, ἰδοὺ γέγονεν καινά:

My translation would be something of a combination of these three, but I am really liking the new NIV.

What’s God Doing?

Here is something to stew over: What exactly is God trying to accomplish in this world? It’s a loaded question, and one that I think deserves some serious thought. That question has been bouncing around in my mind for a couple weeks now, and has even come up in several conversations independent of one another. I have been brewing over what it means for a Christian to be “missional.” In trying to articulate the disciples’ mission as followers of the Messiah in this world, the question of God’s mission has come to the surface as the necessary background to address what it means for us to be missional.

In a lot of ways, across the whole theological spectrum, we have either over-simplified it or made it into a murky, muddled mess. The two answers that come to mind most readily are that: (1) God wants humans to have a close, intimate, personal relationship with him (this is most frequently articulated in terms of a romantic relationship). My problem with this option is that this kind of language is seldom used in Scripture; (2) God is interested in establishing justice on earth (this is most often articulated in terms of whatever social issues seem to be most prevalent in the public sphere at the time). While this seems a little more desirable than the “close personal relationship” description (at least the language is used in Scripture), it still doesn’t cut it for me. The way it is often articulated ignores key theological themes like justification, righteousness, and reconciliation; (3) A third option is generally not one that is articulated in words, and no theologian would hold to this idea, but it gets lived out in the daily milieu of church life: that God wants to establish an isolated community of nice people that get a particular set of doctrines right.

I’m beginning to develop some thoughts, but I’ll save those for later. I will say that a natural place to turn (in my estimation) are the Prophets, and the Gospels. But even that assertion is heavy and loaded. I’ll unpack it later. But for now, the words of Jesus:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

A Prayer attributed to St. Francis:

Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Powerful Prayer

I try to spend time each morning in Scripture and prayer, and one habit I am developing is doing the liturgical daily office, and specifically the morning prayer. I may write more about that later, but in short it’s a combination of written prayers and Scripture.

This morning, the prayer of General Thanksgiving really stuck out to me. It essentially closed the service. I can’t help but wonder what the church would be like if we prayed this prayer, and lived it out in the strength and mercy of God.

“Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.”

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