Living Inside God’s Story or Your Life is Not About You

This coming Sunday I am starting an Adult Sunday School class on the story of the Bible.  Yes, you read that correctly–an adult class on the story of the Bible.  I didn’t say stories, rather the one story of the Bible that all the other stories fit into (some better than others!).  Usually we view the Bible as a depository of doctrines with some nice (and sometimes not so nice) stories mixed in.  We even view the stories as doctrines cloaked in narrative.  When we do think about the Bible as whole, we often think of it as one random event after another.  Kind of like this:

We need to learn how to see the Bible as the true, grand narrative that tells the story of the way the world was, is, and will and should be.

Learning to consider our lives as a part of this narrative is tricky.  This would mean that my life is not simply about me and what I want to do in my life.  Instead, our lives are governed by the much broader view of the entire scope of God’s purposes in history.  Viewing the Bible this way will revolutionize how we define the gospel, the purpose of our lives, and the values and the story they communicate.

I won’t say more because this is just a teaser for the first class session.  If you are a Foothillsian, make sure to attend this 12-week class and come ready to see the Bible and your life in a whole new way.  For those of you who read this and are not in Albuquerque, a very good intro to viewing the Bible in this way is The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story.

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My Long-Awaited Return to Blogging: Movies for the Kingdom of God

Due to the overwhelming response to my unannounced, four month hiatus from blogging……I have decided to return to this noblest of all practices for those impressed by their own knowledge, wit, or writing ability.

In all seriousness, I will be posting again from time to time on things I deem interesting or important.

Today I’ll just mention two movies that are worth seeing if you you are the move watching type and have a heart.  The first is “Brother Sun, Sister Moon,” which captures a period in the life of St. Francis of Assisi as he leaves the home and business of his wealthy parents for a life of poverty and charity.  The movie was made in 1972 and it has the requisite hippie themes that fit so well with the life of St. Francis: walking through flowers, talking to birds, always talking about love and peace.  From what I know about Francis from other sources, the movie captures the heart of his life and message: becoming an outcast of society and living in poverty with his committed brothers to minister to the poor and outcasts, rebuilding neglected churches, appreciating the beauty of God’s creation, and witnessing to the strength of God even in weakness and poverty.  I highly recommend this film provided you can get past the feel of the seventies in the music and style.  WARNING:  There is a scene of male rear nudity when Francis (literally) divests himself of his father’s belongings.  Even if the beauty of the male form makes you squeamish, I hope you can make it through this scene because it is one of the best scenes in the whole movie as it is a conversion experience for Francis.

The second movie I want to recommend shares a lot in the values of St. Francis, but portrays the life of a different saint: Vincent de Paul.  The title of the movie is “Monsieur Vincent,” made in France in 1947.  It follows Vincent, a Catholic priest, as his heart is broken by the poverty of the 16th-century French peasants to whom he ministers.  His life is soon overtaken by his love for God and neighbor as he devotes his whole existence to providing for their basic necessities–recruiting the rich to help, and sometimes fighting them when his methods go too far for their sensibilities.  Even if you don’t usually watch subtitled movies, you should see this one.

Both of these movies are very inspiring and powerfully portray the values of the kingdom of God.  If you are Netflix people, “Brother Sun, Sister Moon” can be watched online, and you can get the DVD of”Monsieur Vincent”  by mail. Enjoy!

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What does missional mean? My job title as an example of confusion and tautology

“Missional” is certainly a buzz word, code for…..something we know we should be for and not against. At least this is the way it can be used sometimes. It can be used similarly to the way “kingdom” can be attached to just about anything else: kingdom economics, kingdom evangelism, kingdom leadership, etc.  Many times when we speak this way we are simply attaching the word kingdom to some activity or concept without regard for the actual meaning of the word.  Its meaning becomes “good” or something like that; we are simply to feel better about doing these things because we have attached “kingdom” to them without changing the way we do them.  Now, everything we do should be “kingdom _______.”  But chances are if we are going to go about life in a manner truly shaped by the kingdom of God that Jesus preached, then the things we do are going to look much different than the way we do them by default.

“Missional” is similar.  These days it is cool to put “missional” on the beginning of everything: missional evangelism, missional living, missional leadership, etc.  Again, it can lose its meaning without clear definition.  So what is meant by “missional”?  It means that believers have been called into and sent out on the same mission that God is on: to bring redemption and healing to all of creation through Jesus.  We can only see what God’s mission is by mastering the story of the Bible.  God created the world good, peaceful, abundant, and loyal to him, but it was destroyed by sin.  God’s mission is to recover the world for himself, initially through Israel, climactically through Jesus, continually through his disciples, and ultimately through the second coming of Christ.  Jesus came preaching that God’s reign is once again about to become all-encompassing in the world.  Therefore, turn from your way of life and embrace God’s will and mission.  Sin is dealt with in his death and life is brought into the world through his resurrection.  Therefore, as his disciples we have been called to go into the world (1) to preach the same message, (2) to witness by our way of life to the coming reign of God, and (3) to bring new life to a world ravaged by sin.

“Missional” then is simply following God in his mission.  The term is important and mind-bending because most Christians don’t see how their personal redemption fits into God’s story from beginning to end and how it is tied up with all of creation.  There is a lot more that can be said about what it means to follow Jesus, but that will have to wait for another time.

Now, let me address my job title.  I am the Director of Adult Discipleship and Missional Living at my church.  The problem with this title is that it could imply that discipleship and missional living are two different things, or that mission is in some way a supplement to discipleship.  This is a misconception that many of us have adopted.  The reality is that being a disciple means reforming our whole lives according to God’s mission; being a disciple means being a missionary.  Discipleship is usually thought of as learning the Bible, practicing the spiritual disciplines, and being holy.  But we only do those things because the Bible tells us the story of God’s mission, the disciplines prepare us for mission, and holiness is a witness to God’s purpose for all creation.

Now, my title is formulated the way it is because “missional” is a new concept for many and this way it is identified with something that is familiar.   In this way it is good.  But it is a testimony to the emaciated view of discipleship that has for so long reigned in American Christianity.  I would love to hear your comments on what I have said–or even new job title proposals!

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The International Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment

In a number of his speeches throughout the mid 60s, Martin Luther King, Jr. included the following meditation on maladjustment in society:

“Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in psychology.  It is the word maladjusted.  And certainly we hear this word a great deal.  And I’m sure all of us want to live the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.  But I must honestly say to you, as I’ve said before, there are some things in our nation and in our world of which I’m proud to be maladjusted, which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized.

I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination.  I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry.  I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few and leave men by the thousands and millions smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society.  I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence.  For in a day when Sputniks and Geminis are dashing through outer space, and the guided ballistic missiles are causing highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can ultimately win a war.  It is no longer a choice between violence and non-violence.  It is either non-violence or non-existence.  And the alternative to disarmament, the alternative to a greater suspension of nuclear tests, the alternative to a negotiated settlement of the crisis in Vietnam, the alternative to strengthening the United Nations and bringing all of the nations of the world into the United Nations, and thereby disarming the whole world may well be a civilization plunged into the abyss of annihilation.  And our earthly habitat will be transformed into an inferno that even the mind of Dante could not imagine.

And so I say that maybe our world is in dire need of a new organization, the International Association for the Advancement for Creative Maladjustment.  Men and women who would be as maladjusted as the prophet Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day could cry out in words that echo across the centuries, ‘Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’  As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not survive half-slave and half-free.  As maladjusted as Thomas Jefferson when the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could scratch across the pages of history words lifted to cosmic proportions, ‘We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’  As maladjusted as Jesus Christ who could look into the eyes of men and women around Galilean hills and say, ‘He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,’ and, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you. Pray for them that spitefully use you.’  And through such maladjustment we would be able to emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man and to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”

This struck me as one way of expressing how Christians can articulate our difference from the world.  We are those called by God and filled with the Holy Spirit to remain maladjusted to the ways of the world that are antithetical to God’s way.  We are to be maladjusted to certain things in this world because we are to be well adjusted to the ways of God’s kingdom!  Every church, as an outpost of God’s kingdom in the present age ought to be an Association for the Advancement of Creative Maladjustment.  In other words, we ought to be analyzing what society says is normal and comparing it to the upside down normality of the kingdom of God.  And when we find the multiplicity of values and behaviors that do not match, we make a conscious decision to find creative ways to remain maladjusted in those areas.  Then we teach that maladjustment to our church members and children so that the contrast between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God remains as stark as it should be.

However, King thought that doing so would enable the society to “emerge from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man into the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”  Despite the power of his rhetoric and the hope conveyed in that sentence, true freedom and justice will only come about with the return of Christ and the consummation of the kingdom.  Until then, we are to be communities of creative maladjustment pointing toward that coming reality.

Below is a video clip of the speech.  There is no one I like to hear preach more than MLKJ!

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Mammon: The Acceptable Idol in Western Christianity

One of the key elements of developing a distinctively Christian lifestyle is analyzing what values and behaviors we take for granted in the culture around us.  Most of the time we adopt the values and follow in the behaviors without much critical thought.  One of the defining behaviors in the western world is consumerism, and most Christians have bought it hook, line, and sinker.  I know that it is my default setting.  And if you’re honest, it is probably yours as well.

I came across a sermon by a prominent evangelical pastor in Minnesota who is leading his church through thinking about a truly kingdom perspective on money and economics.  You can watch the first sermon in the series here.  I think he highlights some of the main points I would want to make about the Christian’s use of money and he does so in an honest and engaging way.  One of the major points is that the use of money is a moral and spiritual issue, as moral as sexuality or anything else we are fond of giving prominence to in our discussions of the Christian life.  In addition, Jesus presents Mammon as a power or principality that rivals God for allegiance.  Take a look at the sermon and let me know what you think in the comments.  You may also find helpful the .pdfs the church has produced to go along with the sermon series called “What I Spend” and “Ways to Cut Spending.”

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The Missional Church: Simple

I realize there may still be some confusion at Foothills and other churches using the term about exactly what is meant by “missional.”  We have defined it simply in the past  as each believer viewing themselves as missionary in their current context, or as seeing themselves as participating in God’s mission to bring the world into relationship with him.  Filling out these definitions and applying them to our context is what we hope to accomplish in the near future through studying the overarching story of the Bible together and discussing it in community.

Here is a short video that explains how a “missional” view of the church differs from views that have dominated evangelicalism in the recent past. Enjoy.

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Why Empire of God

filius divi coinI suppose all three of you who have looked at my blog so far may be asking why I chose to title it “Empire of God.”  The simple answer is that was already taken!  And whoever claimed that blog name is wasting it!  They haven’t posted anything!!

The slightly longer version of the story is that “Empire of God” struck me as a way to draw attention to one of the meanings Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God would have had in the ancient world.  Since much of the language he used to describe his mission (bringing salvation, peace, righteousness) would have been heard right along side of similar claims by Caesar, “the son of god”, and since we now apply the term “empire” to the Roman rule at that time, “Empire of God” seemed to me to set up that juxtaposition well.

We often don’t think of Jesus’ message in this way because as much as we like to shout our belief that context determined meaning, we often do not carry the mantra through to a truly contextual interpretation.  The coin shown at left was minted throughout the Roman Empire during Augustus Caesar’s reign (27 BC-14 AD) and reads “Imp. Caesar Divi Filius”, Emperor Caesar Son of God.  It is time we began to take Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom of God seriously as proclamation of an alternative kingdom that challenges all other kingdoms for our allegiance.

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