caught in the middle…

October 6, 2010 at 11:12 pm (Prayer, Search for Significance, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel)

In Mark chapter 6, a situation is described in verses 45-56.  The scene that starts in verse 45 shows a couple of guys getting into a boat to head to another town across a lake.  Nothing about the day seemed out of order, and so they sailed.  However, night came and darkness brought a storm.  Suddenly, the waves got larger, the wind got stronger, thunder louder, and lightening brighter.  The men were clinging on tight and straining against the oars doing everything they could to keep the boat under control.  They just knew they were about to lose it all, it all seemed impossible.  They were caught in the middle of the storm.  But across the lake, a man was watching.  At the time He knew was appropriate, He went out to them.  He didn’t take a boat, He walked out to them.  The waves were still large, the wind still strong, and the thunder still loud.  The only thing that changed was the man who was standing on water in front of the boat.  Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take heart!, It is I.  Do not be afraid.” He then climbed into the boat with them, and the storm was calm.

This man who walked on water, in the middle of the chaos of the storm, was Jesus.  Jesus, the Son of God..the only One who has any authority to say, “Do not be afraid.”  As soon as the men recognized Him, He climbed into the boat with them and everything was calm – the chaos went away.  Jesus was there the whole time, watching until the right time, and then, He came to them to save them.  This man had plans for them..to use them to spread His Gospel all over the world.  Life would not be easy for them; there would be many more times these men would be caught in the middle of a storm but He controls all of creation and He had a different plan in mind than the storm overtaking them.  And so, He waited for them to recognize Him, and then, he got into the boat with them and creation calmed.

I think of this story in my own life in the past month.  The last month has been full of increasing chaos.  A month ago I went to Mississippi full of expectations and hopes for a great weekend with SEC football and friends.  However, in the back of my mind, i rememebered that every time I go home, a layer of my heart that I once thought was sealed and closed gets exposed a little and I walk away with some hurt.  This weekend was no different.  Coupled with those “normal” feelings, this last time for me was my first home football game back at my beloved stadium.  I love this place, many many good memories there but also many memories of my years spent there where I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of things the hard way.  I relived a lot of things that day and a lot of buried memories were resurfaced.  Needless to say, I came back to Dallas that weekend not only with a loss of a very hopeful football game, but with a lot of hurt, shame, guilt and feelings of unworthiness for everything that occurred in the first 21 years of my life.  In that next week, as I tried to jump right into work and prepare a “sermon” for my middle schoolers, I was consumed by these feelings.  The waves and wind of the storm were picking up in my life.  I was doubting my Savior, completely forgetting grace, struggling with truths that I once accepted, letting lies overtake my thoughts and actions and cling on, tighting to my “oars” that were steering me in my life – my friends.  I was doing everything I could to keep my “boat” under control but everything I tried to do was nothing compared to the storm around me and it was doing nothing more but making the storm harder.

Since that weekend, I have given 2 “sermons” on my God, 2 “sermons” that I have had to labor through and struggle because I myself was not completely recognizing my God.  When I went into ministry, I promised myself that I would never give a talk about something I do not believe for myself and for the first time, I have had to work to live up to that standard.  I was struggling, pulling anything I could to try to balance the waves but they seemed to only get bigger.  I would try new things, try normal things more, try anything I could to either forget about the storm, or try to balance it.  I tried myself to calm the storm but it only got bigger.  Nothing I was doing was working, in fact, I myself was destroying all my oars and all my hopes of staying afloat.  I was about to lose it all, give up and be consumed by the storm.

But a friend stepped in.  This friend didn’t walk on water, but she pointed me to the one that was.  The One that told me to let go of my oars.  The only one would could calm my storm.  And ever since I recognized Him, the storm has calmed.  Not completely, but it is getting there.  I can’t believe that I let the storm go on this long and didn’t recognize Him myself but am very thankful for a friend that pointed Him out to me.  Thankful that I still have friends that care that much; and thankful that that friend speaks truth to me even when it hurts, despite the hurt I have brought in her life.

The storm has brought much hurt, the waves were not forgiving.  This storm has brought hurt in my heart and feelings from lies from my childhood that I thought I worked through years ago.  The storm brought hurt from mistakes I made that still effect my life today.  The storm brought destruction in relationships that I do not want to lose.  But, the storm has brought a recognition of my Savior and a redemption of grace that He gives.  So, as the waves calm and the wind dies down.  As the thunder quiets and the lightening goes dim, I cling, not to my oars, but to my Savior who is now in the boat with me and riding out the remainder of the storm alongside me.  May I always have an increased awareness of Him beside me and His timing in His moving.

As I ride out the rest of the storm, I pray, hard.  I pray He will steer my boat from now on, I pray He will control where my life goes.  I pray He will combat the lies that are constantly flowing through my head.  I pray He will give me wisdom and discernment to discover which thoughts are truth and which are lies.  I pray He will preserve the friendships that I potentially destroyed.  I pray He will bring my heart to a joyful state.  I pray He will remain beside me.  And I pray that my Savior has plans for me, to use me to spread His Gospel all over the world.  Life will not be easy; there will be many more times I will be caught in the middle of a storm but He controls all of creation and I pray that next time, I will recognize Him beside me, before the storm overtakes me.

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To be known…

May 19, 2010 at 11:16 am (God, Insufficiency of Man, Missional Living, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel)

Community is something I crave, and something all believers have been called to.  I absolutely agree with Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he says: “Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belaying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.”  And also when he says “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.  Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray.  You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.  If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.”  Without any reservations, I know this is the way the believer will find the most joy in the life and in their walk with the Lord.  However, a few months ago, I discovered that I was an introvert and that’s when things got confusing.

Up until September of 2009, I was living life as an extroverted person.  In September, when my world was shaken and everything that I thought I knew about myself and my walk with the Lord was questioned, I began to discover things about myself.  I discovered that 2 of my top 3 strengths were intellectualism and input, which basically means that I am a dork and I love to read and study.  From this discovery on, and still continuing today, I am discovering things about myself that I never realized before.  Not really new discoveries, but I am realizing that it is ok for me to be a certain way, that I don’t HAVE to make myself one way just because I think a person in youth ministry HAS to be a certain way.

In relation to community, up until September, I had been a part of a small group through my church for almost 4 years.  This group has changed, has grown, has divided, has grown again and in September, was up to almost 25 people and still growing.  Not really a small group by any means.  I never quite felt like I fit in with this group, I never felt really known and understood in the depths of my core, even though I had known these people for almost 4 years.  I just wanted to be known.  I wanted someone to ask how I was doing, I wanted to be authentic with someone, but no one ever asked.  I am a horribly depraved human being who puts on a wonderful facade of “everything being ok.”  I just wanted someone to notice my facade and call me out, but it never happened.  So, I continued living in the facade of “i am in ministry and have a degree from seminary so I am walking solidly with the Lord” and just the facade of mental and emotion well-being of “yes, i am all put together and loving life.”  When in fact none of that was true.  So, when my world shattered in September, I pulled back.  I lost trust in everyone and pulled back emotionally and socially.  I was alone and overwhelmed by the inner monologue running endlessly through my head.

So, in my discoveries of being an introvert, I realized that introverts rarely feel known and connected in large groups of people, and would rather be in a group of 3 or 4.  Less width, but more depth.  So I quickly shrank my circle of deep friends.  I pulled back emotionally from everyone in our group, besides 2 people.  I still love them, still want to hang out socially with them, but realized, trying to give myself to that group was more draining than beneficial, and I desperately needed help.

So today, I have 4 girls that I consider deep solid friendships – friends that the Lord has blessed me with and that I love so very much.  2  are in ministry themselves, 1 in school, 1 working..all different stages of life.  I love this, I love how the Lord uses them to teach me and show me new things about me and about Him.  But still….I find myself back to the same thoughts I had in our big “small” group – I want to be known. I often think of Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together and his caution above that I often remember – Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.  What is alone and what is real community?  Often, I am in a group of friends and having fun but still feel alone, because I am not really known.  The facades I put up hide too much.  Is my community of 4 real community.  We never all are together, these are 4 girls in different parts of my life.  So, is that real community, or not because I am not really known?

I want someone to know my struggles, know what I have been through, know my daily/sometimes hourly fights.  I don’t want to be fake, I want to lose the facade, I want the deep inner yearnings of my soul to come out.  I want to be authentic, but I don’t want to volunteer this information without someone wanting to hear it.  So, if your reading this, ask someone.  Ask a friend how they are doing, how they are really doing.  Ask like you truly care about them.  Ask how their soul feels.  Who Jesus is to them today?  And if you know me, ask me.  Ask me what is really going on under the facades I wear.  I want to be real.

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I want more…

November 30, 2009 at 10:51 am (Brokenness, God, Insufficiency of Man, Missional Living, Prayer, Search for Significance, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel) (, , , , , , )

Somewhere around 1987 I was old enough to venture out on my own and have some fun.  As a child, I had the perfect idealistic childhood.  I have great memories of riding my bike all around the small town we lived in, knowing everyone in town, even being able to “charge” my ice cream at a resturant to my dad with no questions at all.  I loved that part, I felt so grown up.  My dad was a farmer back in that day and I would go to work with him, riding the tractor, playing in the cotton trailer, hide n seek in the corn rows…I loved the small town; both of my sets of grandparents lived maybe 2 miles away, all my friends lived on my block, we played tons of sports together, had great summers, had tons of fun and our only rule was to be home by the time the streetlights came on.  Small town life was wonderful in 1987ish.

At a very very childlike faith, I asked Jesus into my heart at the age of 6.  At that time, I wasn’t really sure what was going on except I knew I was a sinner and needed a Savior to clean my heart.  I do not remember that exact moment, but I do remember times after that.  I remember sitting with my friend Monica and talking about how I wanted to go tell all the world about Jesus.  Even though I had never gone much farther than the banks of the Gulf of Mexico in Destin Florida at that point in my life, I knew there was a world out there that desperately needed to know the story that I heard at such a young age and I wanted to be the person that went and told them.

I loved to read even then.  I would read anything that I could get my hands on.  I loved to read, to learn, to imagine this world.  I loved to draw my imaginations and write stories about other people’s lives.  I feel as if I lived in a dream world a lot of the time…all of my life I knew there was more to life, more to this world than I knew and I wanted to know it, experience it, tell others about it.  More, I always wanted more.

Church at this time was nothing more than something you did on Sunday mornings.  In my mind, Church was a place you dressed up for, looked nice, put on the face of “Everything in my life is great”, and went every Sunday morning from 9:30 -12.  If the preacher preached longer than 12:00, people got mad.  That was church, the place you went and really I didn’t see “church” anywhere else.  I didn’t see much joy in “church.”  The older I grew, the more boring it got, boring and judgemental.  I saw the other poeple my age who were in church on Sundays but who were drunk the night before but then I heard that if you drank you went to Hell.  I didn’t know what to think about church.  It was something I knew I needed to go to, but something that was not interesting and I didn’t trust the people that were in the building with me.  They all seemed fake.  More..I knew there had to be more to the church thing..I believed the things I read in Scripture that said that Jesus is more than a place you went on Sunday morning..I knew there was more..i just didn’t know where to find it.

As I grew into my middle school years, life wasn’t as fun anymore and the small town didn’t have its same appeal that it once did.  I never really completely fit in.  I had friends at school, played every sport and had friends there, but most of my nights and weekends were spent alone, the older I got.  Living in a small town didn’t give you the different groups to choose between, we only had 1 group at my small private school – the party group.  I wasn’t allowed to hang out at the places they went and so, I was left alone a lot of the time.  In middle school, everyone is trying to figure out who they are but where I grew up, there was only 1 “type” of person you could be – rich, snobby, party type girl.  Maybe even a hunter or something like that.  I was not that.  I loved reading, music and art, sports and the outdoors.  I loved to travel and adventure.  I loved learning and trying new things and meeting new people.   I didn’t know who I was but I knew that no one else was like me and I knew I didn’t fit in where I was.  At this point of my life, I wanted to get out of small town, but for different reasons that I did as a child.  I wanted to get out to a bigger places where I could find friends, people that accepted me for who I was.

As the years passed,  this feeling intensified.  Then in 2000, it was time for college.  I wanted to go far.  I applied to Duke and to the University of Tennessee but was not allowed to go out of state for school.  So I picked Mississippi State University; the biggest university in Mississippi, 2.5 hours away from home, my dad’s alma matar, and also one of the best schools to go to for architecture and engineering (my interests at that time).  I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in life, my life wasn’t really focused on Jesus at that point in my life, but I knew I wanted to do something big.  I wanted to excel in whatever I did.  I wanted to be a Frank Lloyd Wright or Miles Van der Rohe, something to that effect.  I wanted to absorb as much knowledge as I could so my first year, I took as many classes as I could.  I took cal 1 and 2 in the same semester, computer programming language classes, Intro to Logic, crazy classes.  I don’t know why, but I just wanted to learn, wanted to study, wanted to know.  Jack of all trades in a way.  Little did I know that God was slowly shaping me during this time.  He was laying people in my path to point me back to Him – friends on the 5th floor of Rice Hall at MSU, RUF, Student Association and other friends in my classes.  I remember talking with my friend Josh Blades, just dreaming with him.  He wanted to be president of the United States (which I can still totally see him doing) and I just dreamed of being an architect in a big high rise building on like the 100th floor in NYC, looking down over the city.  My sophmore year, I switched my major to graphic design and my dream just changed to a big time designer in NYC but that year, God brought my cousin to MSU.  My cousin is 6 months younger than me but was a grade behind me in school.  She and her twin sister were some of my best friends in high school.  They lived in a town about an hour away but accepted me into their friends during those years.  They don’t know how much they did for me those years.  My cousin was a lot like me and we decided that we wanted to go work at a ranch in Montana or something that summer.  Well, Kanakuk came to campus that year for an event called After Dark.  Neither of us had ever heard of Kanakuk but we decided it sounded like fun and we would apply to work at that camp for the summer.  Little did I know what God had in store for me at Kanakuk…

I went to Kanakuk the summers of 2001-2004 and God slowly shaped and changed my heart during those years.  I came to Kanakuk as a very insecure baby Christian and was instantly welcomed by Will Cunningham, the camp director.  I worked at KKountry, the little kids Kanakuk kamp.  My first summer at Kanakuk, I met some amazing friends, was discipled for the first time in my life, learned about teaching others about Christ, and saw people on fire for Christ, a complete first in my life.  I had never seen anyone excited about Christ, and willing to give their life for Him.  That first summer in Branson Missouri, God started tugging on my heart and placing a burden there for kids.  Every summer I went to Kanakuk, God grew that burden.  The summer of 2004, I knew without a doubt I wanted to go into ministry and work with kids, teaching them about Christ, but I didn’t know what that looked like other than working at Kanakuk.  So that was my dream, to work at Kanakuk.  I went back to college in 2004-2005 with plans to graduate and go to the Kanakuk Institute, a seminary like program for a year that Kanakuk runs.  I had never seen a church that did ministry like I envisioned (middle school focused) and all I knew was Kanakuk and KLife.  I had been volunteering with Young Life during the school year but I didn’t know you could work with them.  I applied for the Kanakuk Institute, but didn’t get in.  There was no reason, it just wasn’t where God wanted me.  So that year of school, I graduated very confused.  I knew the burden God had placed on my heart, but I didn’t know how to fill it.  I needed more, I wanted more than what I was seeing there in Mississippi, I just didn’t know where to go.  I had only seen it in Missouri on the kampground of Kanakuk.

That summer I moved to North Carolina because some friends asked me to go with them to work.  It was a hard summer.  I lived in a beautiful place, on a tiny island called Hatteras Island, part of the North Carolina Outerbanks.  Me and God fought a lot that summer.  I did not know what to do, I had no idea where to go, what to do, and I wanted more.  I wanted to be big…I had dreams of being someone like Beth Moore, but for middle school girls.  I felt like the door to Kanakuk was closed, and that was all I had ever known.  I wanted more than I had ever had in my life, I wanted to learn more, fit in somewhere, teach others, help steer kids out of the chaos that I had to go through, teach them about the JOY of Christ that I had never known until I went to Kanakuk.  But how did I find that?  I was angry that God had left me here, completely lost and confused.  I felt like He was no where to be found in my life and no matter how much I tried to find him, He was silent.  After the summer, I had to move back to Mississippi with my parents but the dead feeling continued.  Hurricane Katrina hit, life turned upside down, then fell into a boring normalcy..I had a job as a graphic designer, and I went to church, but really?  is that life?  I had no one my age that lived in the town, church wasn’t anything to get involved in; i went to a bible study but it was only people my mom’s age.  MORE…I craved more..I desperately desired friends, to be known, joy in life, someone to talk to, to serve others, pour into others live’s especially kid’s lives, the excitement of life that I had briefly experienced in Missouri..MORE..but where was it?  My family was perfectly content in their small town life.  They loved it and would even get mad when I talked about not being happy.  They said there was something wrong with me, that life in a small town Mississippi was good and they loved it, there was something wrong with me if I didn’t either.  But I didn’t love it, I felt trapped..I wanted MORE than small town Mississippi.

And I ended up in Dallas.  It wasn’t me, it was God that put me here through a random train of events.  Dallas, not a city I had ever imagined I would go to.  Nashville, Charlotte and NYC were my cities, not Dallas.  But I got put here.  And I found it!  I found the more..I found friends, I found a church that was alive.  God took me to Japan, to California, Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands, Italy, and Austria.  He led me to seminary where I fell in love with books and theology, languages that are no longer spoken, topics that only nerds discuss and all the more.  I found and fell in love with Starbucks, not necessarily the coffee, even though I do love it, I love the atmosphere and people.  I found other theology loving friends here that I love to sit down and talk about some random deep theology talk till 3am, just for fun.  Right now, I sit beside my friend Tom and my friend Angel is working behind the desk; various other friends are scattered throughout the room.   I met them and many more about 4 years ago when I started coming here.  We have built friendships, discussed lives, and I have shared Christ with each one of them.  I have not pressed it on any of them, they have just asked, we have talked and we have built a friendship.  I saw my friend Robert pray for the first time in his life one night here, I see God working here, I love this city because of times like that moment at West Village Starbucks.  Besides my non-believing Starbucks friends that I love with all my heart, God also lead me to a church that believes wholeheartedly in community.  I found friends here, good, biblical, godly friends.  For the first time I have gotten to know and love godly men and women that walk beside me in my hard times and good times.  They hold me accountable, grow with me, point out sin in my life, encourage me and help me in this walk with Christ.  Through this, I have learned what it means to not live this life alone.  I can’t imagine living it without others like these friends I have here.  He then led me to Young Life, the job that I never imagined but exactly what I was looking for.  I work with just middle schoolers in North Dallas and it is the joy of my life.  More..I am here…..Yes, I still want more, but I feel like where I live now, it is open to me..I feel free to discover more..More..diving into Christ and finding more of Him, being willing to go wherever in this world where I can tell millions more about Him.  I desire to tell the millions about Him, write a book that millions read, speak to millions, something.  I do desire to be used in a big way for Him.  This world is my playground and I want to go wherever He leads me to be used in whatever way He wants me to.

As I think of this more, I question..am I wrong to want more?  As I write out my desires through the years, I see how I always wanted more and it seems completely ok to me.  However, when I was home this past weekend, my family got mad at me several times because they say I think where I live is better than where they live.  My first thought when my dad said that was, “Am I an elitest?”  Am I wrong to love the place I live more than the place they live?  Was it wrong for me to grow up there, be unsatisfied and always want more?  An elitest – The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources.  By that definition, I don’t at all think I belong in that group.  In fact, I feel like I am the complete opposite.  Mississippi – where racisim is high and people consider themselves better than others because of economic status or color, that is the exact opposite of what I want to be.  I do pride myself in the fact that I have friends of every color, nationality, and type.  I love where I live because of the freedom I have here, because of the dreams it has allowed me to find.  And in my life, it is better than where I grew up.  I do not want that life there, I was not happy there.  I needed more.

Mississippi – a wonderful place to have a childhood and the perfect place for some people to live, work, and raise their families.  But not me.  I needed more of this world.

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Zizek, and the danger of Obama for the American church

June 11, 2008 at 1:31 am (God, Missional Living, Politics, Prayer, The Gospel)

Upon browsing the web for discussions on politics and the missional church, I came across this article.  Read and let me know what you think…How does politics, specifically Obama, affect the missional church? 

One piece of Slavoj Zizek’s political theory in his foundational book “The Sublime Object” is his notion of “ideological cynicism.” Subjects of the first world, Zizek says, are too smart to become duped by the political ideologies of Western states. We know it’s all just more political spin. Instead, ideology for Zizek, takes on a different form in the so-called “first world.” Here, we are offered ideologies to appease us, to make us feel better about ourselves, so that those in privilege can keep on conserving what it is they really desire. So now, we look at the political ideologies spinning across the political process, and instead of politically observing “they do not know it, but they are doing it,” we observe “they know it, but they are doing it anyway.” In essence, we listen to all the new political speeches and new political options given the electorate and we know nothing will really change. Yet we participate in it anyway, because in essence subconsciously this is what we really want: we wish to protect our own specific pieces of the economic social pie yet feel good about doing it (there’s the classic Freudian split in the subjective consciousness).

 Zizek suggests that political ideology serves a cynical function now, giving us a Big Other to believe in, making us feel better about ourselves (morally), all the while we hope for keeping the status quo in place protecting our own personal pieces of the pie.

When it comes to Christians, I would suggest Zizek’s “ideological cynicism” could work another way. We participate in National politics, its political ideologies of a more just/moral society, even though we deeply suspect the corporate national machine insures nothing will change. We do this because it is much harder to think of the church itself as a legitimate social political force for God’s justice in the world. Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority did this for the evangelicals in the 80’s. He allowed us to think we were working for a better society thereby granting us a reprieve from examining our own churches’ life for moral vigor. Today, perhaps it is the same, as many of us jump onto the Obama bandwagon. It is simply a lot less work to support Barak Obama for president than it is to lead our churches into being living communities of righteousness, justice and God’s Mission in the world. 

I know Zizek might appear too skeptical for most of us. And there is always the cry “why can we not do both – vote for Obama and be missional communities for justice in our neighborhoods.” Yet I think the question is worth considering: “Are we supporting Obama because it’s easier than being God’s justice in the world ourselves?”

Senator Obama is putting out a pleasing message of “Change.” “I’m asking you to believe in Change,” “the Audacity of Hope,” and “A Unified America.”  Yet Zizek would call these ideas  “signifiers without the signified.” Words that in the end no one knows what they mean or refer to. Zizek would say it is these “words” which allow us to consent to what we know is a lie so that we can avoid the Real: that true justice of God demands fundamentally the way we live in relation to each other and the world. I fear these “words” take the place of pres. Bush’s words “Freedom” and “No child left behind,” words that few knew what they actually meant but morphed into a politics of multinational corporate politics the horror of which is hard to believe 8 years later. In a Zizekian way, I have often asked, did we consent to all this (vote for George Bush) as evangelical Christians 8 years ago (who by and large elected him) in order to assuage ourselves that we (through our country’s national politics) are contributing to a better world all the while staying comfortable within our protected enclaves.

Obama has shown signs of not caving in to the ideological production machine. He has dared come close to making particularist commitments. He did not shrink back from his infamous “they cling to guns or religion” guffaw.  He did not pander to the production of ideology (concerning gas prices) by proposing an end to the gas tax as Hillary did. Yet when it came time most recently to defend his pastor, Rev Jeremiah Wright, Obama backed off (after defending him other times). Wright’s particularist ethnic claims evidently came too close to puncturing the dominant ideology of race relations that allows us all to keep things going as they already are. Let me explain. In Detroit, on Apr 27, Wright made statements about differences among ethnic groupings in America. He detailed how the black culture is “different” but not “deficient.” He was continuing along his previous line of thought describing how American culture, politics and justice is really a white man’s system. It is was the kind of accusation which exposed the power structures of the existing system of which Barak seeks to become president of.  In so doing, Wright came too close to upsetting the ideology which enables us all to be comfortable with the status quo concerning race relations in America. I know Wright has been extreme. I know he has been incendiary. He has been inopportune and self aggrandizing. Nonetheless, isn’t his line of reasoning the very stuff of which the ideology of American democracy cannot handle for the reasons Zizek cites above? So Obama has to publicly disavow Wright. It is an irruption of the Real for those of us who think justice can somehow emerge from the current structures and signification systems of the American State. It’s a wake up call to the fact that Obama must cover over the realities of exclusion that occur within America’s system towards black culture in order to persist in the illusion of  “Change” and “Belief” that Obama is selling. Wright is too dangerous because he reveals that anyone who wishes to be insistent on his or her particular commitments culturally and religiously (after all Wright says he is “running for Jesus”) cannot fit in to the American system of justice.

I must confess my own proclivity was to vote for Obama this fall. Yet Zizek helps us see that if we seek a revolution of justice, we need counter movements that can reveal the lack in the System. To me this points to the church. And so I continue to want to press for the church to be the primary instrument of true justice in the world. The church must be FIRST as the initiator for social justice, from which we can then push for governmental cooperation. I am concerned that the new energy for justice on the local level by emerging and missional church movements might be dissipated by the Obama hope. I have always been concerned about the marginal status given the church as the foundational center for justice in society by my various spokesmen/women/friends of the Emerging Church. I know many fear fundamentalist sectarianism. I fear the democratic capitalist Symbolic Order shall subsume us all..  More and more however, people like Jim Wallis are seeing the insights of a tempered vision of what is possible in national politics (see The Great Awakening). More and more, people understand a new possibility for a Hauerwasian radical politics (see Shane Claiborne and his Jesus For President campaign). So, this is not to say not to vote for Obama, but this is to say, do not allow false ideology to sap our energy or distract us from the task of being God’s people, his embodied Kingdom in submission to His Lordship, birthing forth His justice made possible in His death and resurrection until He comes.    

What do you think? Is there a work of “ideological cynicism” at work in Christians supporting Obama? Is the Obama bandwagon a positive or a negative (or neutral) for the church’s role in bringing justice to the nations? Is energy by Christians spent on Obama politics misguided, too hopeful, and misdirected? Is it too easy to just say “you should be doing both, voting for Obama and working for social justice in your local church”?

 

www.churchandpomo.typepad.com

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progressive sanctification

June 10, 2008 at 2:04 am (Insufficiency of Man, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel)

Definitive and Progressive Sanctification

This past week at The Village, Matt spoke on progressive sanctification.  I know what progressive sanctification is, but I wanted to see what others said about it.  I was hanging out with some people after church that night and one did not know what the two words meant.  So, at work, I decided to take a break and study a little progressive sanctification.  Here I have posted some thoughts from others on the definition of progressive sanctification.  If you don’t really understand what these words mean, hopefully these definitions will give you a better idea of what it means..I think these definitions came from http://www.monergism.com.

Definitive sanctification, as defined by John Frame, is “a once-for-all event, simultaneous with effectual calling and regeneration, that transfers us from the sphere of sin to the sphere of God’s holiness, from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God.” Definitive sanctification marks us out (or separates us) as God’s chosen people – His treasured and covenantal possession (Acts 20:32; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; 6:11). So too, definitive sanctification redeems (or frees) us from the dominion (or slavery) of sin by uniting us to Christ, particularly in His death, resurrection and ascension. Sanctification, in this sense, refers to a decisive and radical break with the power and pleasures of sin.

Progressive sanctification, as defined by Wayne Grudem, is “a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.” According to John Frame, “We can think of sanctification as the outworking of the new life given in regeneration.” It involves the gradual, incremental and (S)piritual work of both putting to death the remains of “indwelling sin” as well as putting on the likeness of Christ.

Sinclair Ferguson says that union with Christ in his death and resurrection is the element of union which Paul most extensively expounds…if we are united to Christ, then we are united to him at all points of his activity on our behalf. We share in his death (we were baptized into his death), in his resurrection (we are resurrected with Christ), in his ascension (we have been raised with him), in his heavenly session (we sit with him in heavenly places, so that our life is hidden with Christ in God), and we will share in his promised return (when Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory) (Rom. 6:14; Col. 2:11-12; 3:1-3).

This, then, is the foundation of sanctification. It is rooted, not in humanity and their achievement of holiness or sanctification, but in what God has done in Christ, and for us in union with him. Rather than view Christians first and foremost in the microcosmic context of their own progress, the doctrine of sanctification first of all sets them in the macrocosm of God’s activity in redemptive history. It is seeing oneself in this context that enables the individual Christian to grow in true holiness.

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The Plan of God will prevail…

March 13, 2008 at 10:02 pm (Insufficiency of Man, Prayer, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel)

Whatever my God ordains is right
In His love I am abiding
I will be still in all He does
And follow where He is guiding
He is my God, though dark my road
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all
Whatever my God ordains is right
He never will deceive me
He leads me by the proper path
I know He will not leave me
I take content, what He has sent
His hand can turn my griefs away
And patiently I wait His day
Whatever my God ordains is right
Here shall my stand be taken
Though sorrow, or need, or death be mine
Yet I am not forsaken
My Father’s care, encircles me there
He holds me that I shall not fall
And so to Him I leave it all
Whatever my God ordains is right
Though now this cup I’m drinking
Bitter it seems to my faint heart
I take it all unshrinking
My God is true, each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart
And pain and sorrow shall depart
and as I encounter things, whether good or bad, let me be an example to the world so they can look at me and say, “if there IS a God, she has to know Him.”

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Urban Christianity

March 13, 2008 at 12:28 am (Insufficiency of Man, Missional Living, The Gospel, Tim Keller)

A New Kind of Urban Christian -As the city goes, so goes the culture.

 I have been thinking a lot recently about how important it is to live out the Gospel in our lives, everyday of our lives.  It must transform us to reach this world.  Tim Keller, one of my favorite pastors and authors wrote this article quite awhile ago on how theology and culture need to work together, what our responsibility is to reach this world.  I pray I live a life to show this world the Gospel…

Tim Keller’s speaking style is disarmingly low-key, almost professorial, but only the rarest professors make every word count the way he does. For 16 years, he has been preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, distilling biblical teaching into arrestingly simple phrases that convey the radical surprise and gracious truth of Christian faith. One such typically piquant phrase is the source of the Christian Vision Project’s big question for 2006: How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good? Keller’s vision of a church keenly committed to the welfare of its city attracts 4,000 worshipers each week to Redeemer’s four rented locations, sends them out into many forms of charitable service through the church’s ministry Hope for New York, and fuels a church-planting effort that embraces Baptists and Pentecostals as well as Presbyterians, immigrant neighborhoods as well as Manhattan. Fifty years from now, if evangelical Christians are widely known for their love of cities, their commitment to mercy and justice, and their love of their neighbors, Tim Keller will be remembered as a pioneer of the new urban Christians.

In the winter of 2006, two movies mirrored the fractured and confusing relationship between Christians and culture. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe struck fear in many secular hearts. Some journalists saw it as an ominous sign of growing right-wing power that a company like Disney would make a movie that had such profound evangelical appeal (and, arguably, content). And why did Disney pull the plug on the gay-friendly TV reality series Welcome to the Neighborhood? Isn’t this, the pundits asked, what happens when you let Christians influence culture?

At the same time, The End of the Spear, the account of five evangelical missionaries martyred in Ecuador, upset some Christians when it was discovered that an active gay man was playing Nate Saint, the lead role in the movie. Conservative cultural commentators were divided. Some, like Eugene Veith of World magazine, urged Christians to see the movie and judge it on its artistic merits, not on the morals of its actors off screen. Others urged a boycott. Major questions about Christianity and culture were raised on hundreds of websites. What makes a movie “Christian”? Do all the actors have to be Christians? If not, which kinds of sinners are allowed, and which are not? Is spiritual compromise inevitable when Christians try to enter mainstream cultural production?

The relationship of Christians to culture is the singular current crisis point for the church. Evangelicals are deeply divided over how to interact with a social order that is growing increasingly post-Christian. Some advise a reemphasis on tradition and on “letting the church be the church,” rejecting any direct attempt to influence society as a whole. Others are hostile to culture, but hopeful that they can change it through aggressive action, often of a political sort. Still others believe that “you change culture one heart at a time.” Finally, many are attracted to the new culture and want to reengineer the church to modify its adversarial relationship with culture. Many in the “one heart at a time” party play down doctrine and stress experience, while some in the reengineering group are changing distinctives of evangelical doctrine in the name of cultural engagement. That is fueling much theological controversy, but even people who agree on the need for change disagree over what to do to our doctrine to reach the culture.

None of the strategies listed above should be abandoned. We need Christian tradition, Christians in politics, and effective evangelism. And the church has always contextualized itself into its surrounding culture. There are harmful excesses in every approach, however. I think that is because many have turned their specialty into a single magic bullet that will solve the whole problem. I doubt such a magic bullet exists, but just bundling them all together is not sufficient either.

Instead, we need a new and different strategy.

City Within a City

My first strategic point is simple: More Christians should live long-term in cities. Historians point out that by A.D. 300, the urban populations of the Roman Empire were largely Christian, while the countryside was pagan. (Indeed, the word pagan originally meant someone from the countryside—its use as a synonym for a non-Christian dates from this era.) The same was true during the first millennium A.D. in Europe—the cities were Christian, but the broad population across the countryside was pagan. The lesson from both eras is that when cities are Christian, even if the majority of the population is pagan, society is headed on a Christian trajectory. Why? As the city goes, so goes the culture. Cultural trends tend to be generated in the city and flow outward to the rest of society.

People who live in large urban cultural centers, occupying jobs in the arts, business, academia, publishing, the helping professions, and the media, tend to have a disproportionate impact on how things are done in our culture. Having lived and ministered in New York City for 17 years, I am continually astonished at how the people I live with and know affect what everyone else in the country sees on the screen, in print, in art, and in business.

I am not talking about the “elite-elites”—the rich and famous—but about the “grassroots-elites.” It is not so much the top executives that make MTV what it is, but the scores of young, hip creatives just out of college who take jobs at all levels of the organization. The people who live in cities in the greatest numbers tend to see their values expressed in the culture.

Do I mean that all Christians must live in cities? No. We need Christians and churches everywhere there are people! But I have taken up the call of the late James Montgomery Boice, an urban pastor (at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church) who knew that evangelical Christians have been particularly unwilling to live in cities. In his book Two Cities: Two Loves, he argued that evangelicals should live in cities in at least the same percentage as the general population. If we do not, we should not expect much influence in society.

Once in cities, Christians should be a dynamic counterculture. It is not enough for Christians to simply live as individuals in the city. They must live as a particular kind of community. Jesus told his disciples that they were “a city on a hill” that showed God’s glory to the world (Matt. 5:14-16). Christians are called to be an alternate city within every earthly city, an alternate human culture within every human culture, to show how sex, money, and power can be used in nondestructive ways.

Regarding sex, the alternate city avoids secular society’s idolization of sex and traditional society’s fear of it. It is a community that so loves and cares for its members that chastity makes sense. It teaches its members to conform their bodily beings to the shape of the gospel—abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity within. Regarding money, the Christian counterculture encourages a radically generous commitment of time, money, relationships, and living space to social justice and the needs of the poor, the immigrant, and the economically and physically weak. Regarding power, Christian community is visibly committed to power-sharing and relationship-building between races and classes that are alienated outside of the body of Christ. The practical evidence of this will be churches that are increasingly multiethnic, both in the congregations at large and in their leadership.

It will not be enough for Christians to form a culture that runs counter to the values of the broader culture. Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. We must move out to sacrificially serve the good of the whole human community, especially the poor. Revelation 21-22 makes it clear that the ultimate purpose of redemption is not to escape the material world, but to renew it. God’s purpose is not only saving individuals, but also inaugurating a new world based on justice, peace, and love, not power, strife, and selfishness.

So Christians work for the peace, security, justice, and prosperity of their city and their neighbors, loving them in word and in deed, whether they believe what we do or not. In Jeremiah 29:7, Israel’s exiles were called not just to live in the city, but also to love it and work for its shalom—its economic, social, and spiritual flourishing. The citizens of God’s city are the best possible citizens of their earthly cities.

This is the only kind of cultural engagement that will not corrupt us and conform us to the world’s pattern of life. If Christians go to urban centers simply to acquire power, they will never achieve cultural influence and change that is deep, lasting, and embraced by the broader society. We must live in the city to serve all the peoples in it, not just our own tribe. We must lose our power to find our (true) power. Christianity will not be attractive enough to win influence except through sacrificial service to all people, regardless of their beliefs.

This strategy (if we must call it that) will work. In every culture, some Christian conduct will be offensive and attacked, but some will be moving and attractive to outsiders. “Though they accuse you … they may see your good deeds and glorify God” (1 Peter 2:12, see also Matt. 5:16). In the Middle East, a Christian sexual ethic makes sense, but not “turn the other cheek.” In secular New York City, the Christian teaching on forgiveness and reconciliation is welcome, but our sexual ethics seem horribly regressive. Every non-Christian culture has enough common grace to recognize some of the work of God in the world and to be attracted to it, even while Christianity in other ways will offend the prevailing culture.

So we must neither just denounce the culture nor adopt it. We must sacrificially serve the common good, expecting to be constantly misunderstood and sometimes attacked. We must walk in the steps of the one who laid down his life for his opponents.

The Worldview of Work

There is another important component to being a Christian counterculture for the common good. Christians should be a people who integrate their faith with their work. Culture is a set of shared practices, attitudes, values, and beliefs, which are rooted in common understandings of the “big questions”—where life comes from, what life means, who we are, and what is important enough to spend our time doing it in the years allotted to us. No one can live or do their work without some answers to such questions, and every set of answers shapes culture.

Most fields of work today are dominated by a very different set of answers from those of Christianity. But when many Christians enter a vocational field, they either seal off their faith and work like everyone else around them, or they spout Bible verses to their coworkers. We do not know very well how to persuade people of Christianity’s answers by showing them the faith-based, worldview roots of everyone’s work. We do not know how to equip our people to think out the implications of the gospel for art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Developing humane, creative, and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of this work. The embodiment of joy, hope, and truth in the arts is also part of this work. If Christians live in major cultural centers in great numbers, doing their work in an excellent but distinctive manner, that alone will produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now.

Jewish society sought spiritual power, while Greek society valued wisdom (1 Cor. 1:22-25). Each culture was dominated by a hope that Paul’s preaching revealed to be an idol. Yet only in Christ, the true “wisdom of God” for Greeks and the true “power of God” for Jews, could their cultural storylines find a happy ending. The church envisioned in this article attracts people to Christianity by showing how Christ resolves our society’s cultural problems and fulfills its cultural hopes. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.”

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philippians…

January 26, 2008 at 2:27 am (God, Insufficiency of Man, Prayer, Sovereignty of God, The Gospel)

Philippians – what a wonderful book!  Paul is writing to a church he previously helped start and is writing to encourage them even though he himself is in jail.  This letter is a joyful letter, in fact, that word structure (joy) is referenced 51 times in this small book.

Partnership/fellowship is the main theme of the book, something I struggle with.  Fellowship with other believers and God is a powerful thing.  The gospel and salvation are the great unifying elements, “he who began a good work in you will carry it on until completion until the day of Christ Jesus” – The stamp of justification and the ongoing process of sanctification.  We, as sinners, will culminate in complete sanctification of glorification when the redeemed sinner finally sees Jesus Christ and experiences transformation in His image.  This verse also gives us assurance that us getting to heaven does not depend on us.  Salvation is God’s work, not man’s.  He reached down to us, not the other way around.  As surely as He has already delievered us from the penalty of sin, He will one day deliever us from the presence of sin.

Paul ends this section of the letter with a prayer, a great example for us to follow.  In our days, prayers are usually about the physical ailments rather than spiritual needs.  We need to follow Paul’s example of putting spiritual needs first.  Paul is praying for His friends, a powerful vehicle that is not accessed enough.  Paul prays that unbounding love will increase for the church-love to ALL people.  The only way we will be able to stand before God sincere and blameless is if we allow the Holy Spirit to control us.  If we do, He will find our lives with the fruit that is the product of His righteousness.

So pray friends-talk to Christ about your friends more than you talk to your friends about Christ.  True Christian fellowship is when we have each other in our minds, in our hearts, and in our prayers.

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