The Church In Exile

The Church In Exile Graphic

I recently saw NT Wright speak at a local Bible College.  It was obviously thought provoking and filled the typical challenges you would come to expect from a theologian such as NT Wright. Oddly, the part that stuck with me wasn’t Wright but the man who introduced him to the stage.  He was a representative from Fuller Seminary and this is what he said:

“The church is no longer at the center of influence in our culture…we must be preparing the church for exile.

This thought isn’t new and physical exile isn’t necessarily what he was referring to.  In fact Judeo-Christianity has had plenty of historic moments in exile.  The most well known is, of course, found in Exodus as God’s people roamed around in a desert for 40 years as well as their life under the Roman regime during most of the New Testament accounts.  I believe he was referring to a time soon-to-come that places Christianity as oddities culturally, politically, and socially to the extent that we will be exiles on our own soil.  Neil Cole mentions his speculations on this in a recent blog series he posted.

One reason the statement caught my attention was the matter-of-factness with which he stated it.  He ASSUMED a tipping point had occurred and most of us listening had an understanding of what he was referring.  It would be foolish to ignore the fact that the christian influence in America has waned and will, most likely, continue over the next few years.  Maybe God has revival in our future but I too sense the church is heading into a time of cultural exile in America.  I believe, as a church leader, that I am responsible to prepare God’s people for it.  Not simply for the purpose of survival but for thriving within the pressure of this exile.  This preperation involves:

  • how we are to live in loving, gospel community together
  • how we are to present an alternative lifestyle contrary to the dominant culture we are immersed in
  • how we are to adhere to and protect God’s word
  • and how we are to be on mission in a new context where christian values are not embraced or even tolerated.

The questions to ask:

  • Are we adequately preparing the church?
  • Is the church actually as aware as this man supposed?
  • If he is correct, what should we do to prepare?
  • Are we willing to let go of old paradigms [traditions] to channel the gospel in new ways?
  • Are there aspects of our current expression of church that can’t survive without government help?

Again, it wouldn’t be the first time God’s people walked in exile. In fact the church often moves into a stage of spontaneous, unstoppable expansion when put under pressure.  I believe we can learn a lot from the scriptures and how God guided His people during those times [the book of Acts would be a great starting place] and that we should prayerfully consider how God might want us to live in the exile to come.

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In Phil Wickham’s Silence God Speaks.

 

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“I THINK I’M LEARNING SOMETHING ABOUT IDENTITY, WHICH WEAVES INTO CALLING WHICH THEN BECOMES OUR LEGACY.” -Phil Wickham

Phil Wickham, a leading voice in the modern worship music scene, began to struggle with his vocals while on tour in New England. It eventually led to the doctor’s telling him he had to remain silent for an undetermined amount of time.  Given the opportunity to listen more intently, Phil recieved some understanding about his IDENTITY, how his gifting wrapped into that identity, and the legacy it was leaving.

Due to the loss of his voice, Phil had to cancel a few dates including the conference Catalyst.  He decided to write a letter to share at the conference what had happened and what God was teaching him through it which he posted on his site. I resonated with Phil’s letter because identity has been a major theme in my life which has been reflected in the ministry that I lead at Faith Bible Church.  I would encourage you to read Phil’s letter here and reflect on it!

*The College ministry that I lead put together an EP based on the theme of identity.  Check it out here.

Oh Restless Heart | Mrs. Cowman

Oh, restless heart, that beat against your prison bars of circumstances, yearning for a wider sphere of usefulness, leave God to order all your days. Patience and trust, in the dullness of the routine of life, will be the best preparation for a courageous bearing of the tug and strain of the larger opportunity which God may sometime send you.
– Mrs. Cowman

A New Reformation | Mike Breen

ARE WE ON THE BRINK OF A NEW REFORMATION?

Written by Mike Breen [Original post at www.3dm.com]

If you could have a big tree with only a little fruit or a small tree with lots of fruit, which would you choose? It’s about a choice, right?

But we’ll get back to that in a second.

I’ve noticed there seem to be two things I can do with Jesus. Either I can increasingly look like Jesus, or I can make him look like me.

I can look like Jesus or I can try to make him look like me.

The funny thing about Jesus is that I’m never sure we give him quite enough credit. Sure. He came to earth, left the throne of heaven, took on the nature of a servant and died on the cross in our place, rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. Yes. All that happened.

But we really don’t give his three years of ministry much reference.

Here’s what I mean: We think Jesus was the Son of God, but when we read the Gospels, do you think he was the smartest person who ever lived? Most accomplished? Best fisherman? Best evangelist? Best church planter? Best movement leader? Best discipler? Most successful leader?

For instance, in Luke 9 and again in Luke 10, Jesus gave the most detailed strategy you will ever find in the scriptures for how to evangelize, and then we see the exact same strategy used in the early church. Shouldn’t we be using that same strategy? I’m guessing we’re not arrogant enough to think we’ve come up with a better strategy than Jesus. (Example: for most churches, the evangelism strategy is “invite your friends to church and then let the professionals take over. We’ll do the heavy lifting if you get them here.” Not exactly Jesus’ strategy!)

We acknowledge what Jesus did on the cross, but what about what was started before the cross? What about the movement he began that changed the course of human history when it was released and catalyzed after the Resurrection and Pentecost? If being a disciple is “who Jesus would be if he were me” (Dallas Willard), shouldn’t we be learning the patterns and practices of the best whom ever lived if we too want to change the world for the Kingdom?

Yet often when we look at the Western church, I’m not sure we see many of the practices of Jesus among the way we lead. Though…that’s starting to change!

Back to the original question: Big tree/little fruit or little tree/lots of fruit?

It feels that at some point, we might have lost our way. Perhaps we became more concerned with success than fruitfulness. Jesus says we evaluate things in the Kingdom on their fruitfulness…but somewhere along the way it became about the size of your tree. Now having a big tree is a fine thing. Just know you’re only successful in evaluating yourself against the size of other trees, and God has never been terribly concerned about tree size. Just fruitfulness. That’s it. The point of a tree isn’t how big your tree is but how much fruit you have. It’s about fruit! And in the Kingdom, fruitfulness is always about reproduction. (Specifically, reproducing disciples…multiplying Jesus’ life into the life of others who can then go and do the same.) Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 8.53.46 AM

My experience tells me having a big tree doesn’t mean you have a lot of fruit. In fact, what I’ve seen happen a lot more often is people going after the big tree and hoping to get fruit, rather than going after fruit and knowing you get the tree along the way.

Choose the best, and you always get the good. Choose the good, you very rarely get the best.

Are we trying to start or lead churches, create Kingdom movements and aspire to all the breakthrough Jesus saw apart from the way Jesus did those things? Am I trying to make Jesus like me or do I honestly believe he was the best in the Kingdom business?

The Reformation was a significant moment because among other things, it put the Bible back in the hands of the people. But when we look at the church of the last 100 years, I have to wonder if we have been more influenced by the Enlightenment than the Reformation.

This is the gut check questionIf you had to choose between being known as a movement leader but not really having one, or actually being a movement leader but no one knowing it…which would you choose?

Tree or fruit?

Here’s the good news: I believe we are on the cusp of a new Reformation, one that sees the kind of fruit we saw from Jesus’ ministry, because we, once again, embrace not simply what Jesus did on the cross but the way he led and made disciples. Yes. I think we are on the tipping point of a new Reformation and it is about putting discipleship and mission back into the hands of ordinary people. Because when we equip the people of Jesus with the patterns, practices and way of Jesus, it will once again be ordinary people equipped to do extraordinary things.

The key is to embrace the mission of Jesus AND the way of Jesus. He’s just the best there ever was!

Hopefully you hear what I’m trying to convey clearly. I’m not suggesting we should go after a new Reformation. I’m suggesting it’s already happening. And maybe we don’t see it on every street corner yet, but I see it happening all around. A small group of communities, ready to be bloodied in going through the wall first, who are getting the beachhead of breakthrough for the rest of the church.

It’s already happening!

Screen Shot 2013-03-03 at 8.54.14 AMAt the end of the day, I don’t want a big tree. But I don’t want a small tree either. I want an orchard. I want a Kingdom movement where reproduction of Jesus’ life within individuals and communities is happening on every level. I’ve seen this happen before. I know it because I’ve seen it. And I think we are starting to see glimmers of this reality again.

Lord, may it be so! May we see a Kingdom movement wash upon these shores.

Maps & Guides

FloraCafe

A map by definition is a diagrammatic representation, usually in 2 dimensions, of an area showing it’s physical features.  In short, it’s a summary of the real thing and, due to it’s “broad-stroke” representations and the exclusion of minute details, it becomes compact and manageable.

I have guided many prayer walks in the Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans while I lived there and handed maps to all those who came along. If I could walk with you down the streets now, you might come across:

  • huge junk shops/flea markets that are filled from floor to ceiling with wacky treasures that are waiting to be discovered
  • Cafe Flora and wonder when you took a wrong turn into an exotic foreign country.
  • You might meet Bill and his dog as he weaves together handmade necklaces on the porch of a vacant, abandoned house that he has lived in for over 3 years.
  • You may see a park filled with young, homeless travelers who’ve organized incredibly competitive kickball tournaments.
  • It’s possible you’ll find a voodoo priestess down Rosalie Alley who actively practices rituals for public observation.

However, none of these things could have been seen by simply looking at the map!

The neighborhood is dynamic, moving, and alive!  Some of it is shocking and other parts are beautiful but you will not fully understand it until you walk the streets for yourself. While there are many uses for a map, you must put it down and actually walk the streets to get to know a neighborhood and see how she lives!  A guide can tell you many stories and even show pictures of notable place, people, and happenings but you have to go there for yourself to experience the sights, sounds, and smells and to feel the environment as it envelopes you!

It is quite common for us in the American Christian culture to reduce our interactions with the scriptures to manageable bites by listening to a weekly sermon or catching a daily devotional thought from a coffee table book.  Many would object, “what’s wrong with devotions or sermons?!”  Nothing is wrong with these components themselves but the problem is found when they become an end in and of themselves instead of a means to an end.  Psalm 12 verse 6 says, ‘The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.”  How quick we are to satisfy our spiritual cravings with mere summaries and circumvent the scriptures almost completely.  It’s an ancient and clever trick by the enemy: distract with what is good to avoid what is perfect and pure.

  1. Maps: Books, creeds, devotions, commentaries, bible study notes, and systematic theologies.
  2. Guides: pastors giving sermons [both local and far], teachers, parents, and friends.

This is a call to put down the maps and start walking through the streets of the biblical text for yourself. Stop living vicariously through the spiritual lives of others and dig into the scriptures on your own.   As you walk the streets of the biblical text getting to know the God who wrote them be changed by them.  As you are changed, take them into your neighborhoods where they can, by your representation, change the community surrounding you.  When others begin to ask about the difference in you, guide them to the pure scriptures, the source, the voice of God so they walk the streets for themselves.

O Come O Come Emanuel

Here’s a quick scratch track of my favorite Christmas song.  I created it for our team to learn the arrangement and thought I would share it. Maybe I’ll create a serious Christmas album next year!

Merry Christmas and download or share on Facebook/Twitter if you get a chance.

For A Leader | Aaron Keyes

[Re-blogged from Aaron Keyes.  Check out the original here.]

For the last several months, I’ve been learning about the power of Blessing. There’s been no more helpful aid than a book by the late Irish priest, John O’Donohue. I discovered his book To Bless the Space Between Us a few years ago, and it’s been simmering in my soul ever since.

My all-time favorite Irish worship leader, Eoghan Heaslip, was teaching for our worship school a couple years ago, and he ended his lesson with the following blessing, from O’Donohue. I’ve been meditating on these words ever since. May they take root in you, as they have in me.

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For a Leader
May you have the grace and wisdom
To act kindly, learning
To distinguish between what is
Personal and what is not.

May you be hospitable to criticism.
May you never put yourself at the center of things.

May you act not from arrogance but out of service.

May you work on yourself
Building up and refining the ways of your mind.

May you learn to cultivate the art of presence
In order to engage with those who meet you.

When someone fails or disappoints you
May the graciousness with which you engage
Be their stairway to renewal and refinement.

May you treasure the gifts of the mind
Through reading and creative thinking
So that you continue to be a servant of the frontier
Where the new will draw its enrichment from the old,
And you never become a functionary.

May you know the wisdom of deep listening,
The healing of wholesome words,
The encouragement of the appreciative gaze,
The decorum of held dignity,
The springtime of the bleak question.

May you have a mind that loves frontiers
So that you can evoke the bright fields
That lie beyond the view of the regular eye.

May you have good friends
To mirror your blind spots.

May leadership be for you
A true adventure of growth.

-John O’Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)