From Van Gogh

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Van Gogh once remarked, “I prefer painting people’s eyes to cathedrals, for there is something in the eyes that is not in the cathedral, however solemn and imposing the latter may be – a human soul, be it that of a poor beggar or of a street walker, is more interesting to me.”

We shouldn’t be surprised by this. Even if we habitually “go to church” (or to a mountain, a monastery, or seminary) in order to find God and feel close to him, we should know better than to confuse what exactly the Spirit has promised to inhabit. Certainly God reveals himself through these instruments, but we’ve been told quite clearly that the only things created in God’s image are people. While the primary meaning of this phrase refers to our calling as humans to rule on God’s behalf, surely it includes the residual truth that it is through one another, among other means, that God encounters us.

Two Words Everyone and No One Understands

The gospel demands and creates a community, and we call this community “the church.” And in the church, community is paramount as is the mission from which it can’t be separated. But community and mission are two words that everyone and no one understands, which is why in these posts we’re taking so much time with definition. Because once again, what the church is should determine what it does, and how it organizes what it does. If we don’t work on that is, what we do will suffer in ways we’ll probably never see. So today we’re going to continue exploring the definition of church as gospel communities on mission. Continue reading

Without This There Is No Church

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In the last post we highlighted the importance of defining the church properly by exploring the claim that what we believe about the church determines how we coordinate its life together. Today we’re going to dig further into the definition of the church rooted in teachings by the fine folks at Missio: The church is a networked family of gospel communities on mission

This definition requires further definition if it’s going to be helpful. What is the gospel? What is community? What is mission? Today we start with the gospel. Continue reading

Legislating Morality? (from MLK)

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I didn’t want to lose this quote and it’s too long to micro-blog, so here you go…

From Martin Luther King, Jr:

“Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion.

“Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.

“So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government.”

The Church Is. Does. Organizes. But what is it?

I love the church, but sometimes I don’t know how to love it well. Part of the problem is my confusion over what the church actually is. I’m not proud to admit this, in large part because of the amount of time and money I’ve spent learning and doing things that should equip me with the clearest-answer-in-the-history-of-the-world to this one simple question: What is the church?

I do have answers. Dozens of them. But most of them are either user-friendly but so general they raise more questions than they answer, or technically accurate but so complex that only theo-geeks would understand. (And most theo-geeks have no idea how to take accurate definitions and turn them into actual functional communities, which for me defines the purpose of such a definition.)

Enter my recent experience at a Missio Intensive, where two insights raised and helped answer this question. The first was a formula that I believe originated with Craig Van Gelder: Continue reading

A Tangible Future for the Missional Church?

I recently traveled with a team to a short Missio Intensive conference led by Hugh Halter, Matt Smay, Brandon Hatmaker, Caesar Kalinowski, and Dr Bob Logan. Over the next couple weeks I’m going to blog about the conference, starting today with what I was hoping for before we even arrived. My expectations going into this conference were high, and to tell you why I’m going to bring back an old friend – my (always under construction) evangelical-missional family tree. (Click here for an older version.) I love history for it’s own sake, but this particular project is more personal in that I wanted to map out the story behind the church where I serve as well as the many different kinds I hear and read about. Here is the latest:

Evangelical-Missional Family Tree (click for PDF) Continue reading

Contours of Paul’s Ministry

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I’ll flesh this out further in a future post as part of an upcoming series on Colossians, but I wanted to share a few things from Colossians 1.24-29. In this passage Paul cracks a window and gives us a glimpse of how he understood his own calling and ministry. I see eight contours of Paul’s (co)mission. It is:

  • Thoroughly centered on Christ. In keeping with the rest of the letter, nothing derails Paul from his singular focus on Christ. Here he is the word of God in its fulness, the content of God’s now-revealed-mystery and therefore of Paul’s proclamation, the hope of glory, and both the context and definition of maturity.
  • Marked by a willingness to suffer for others. Whatever else we can say about Paul’s strange words about filling up what is lacking of Christ’s afflictions, this much is clear: Paul has no problem suffering on behalf of the people he’s serving. He may even believe that his suffering somehow lessens the chance that they’ll experience their own. This extreme selflessness puts me to shame!
  • Accomplished by teaching and admonishing. Teaching is clearly articulating the truth about Jesus, and admonishing is the followup task of straightening out fuzzy thinking and setting things in proper order. Both are crucial.
  • Oriented by apocalyptic imagination. This section drips with apocalyptic hints and clues, which (among other things) means that in Christ God has revealed the meaning of history and brought his story to its dramatic climactic moment. Speaking of which…
  • Grounded in the (hi)story of God. Paul never loses sight of the ways in which Christ is the one in whom God has brought all his past action and promises to fulfillment. Yes this story has entered its universal stage where all of us are invited to become a part, but this must be intentionally remembered for us to know what becoming a part actually means and looks like.
  • Aimed toward full maturity. Paul here shows no contentment for mere conversion, and while no one would doubt his “evangelistic passion,” here we see that Paul rises above our silly debates about evangelism vs discipleship. Paul wants everyone to come to maturity, and he won’t rest until he’s done everything he can to that end.
  • Attentive to every individual. Paul is communal to the core, but his passion for community does not hinder his commitment to the individual parts that make up the body. No person gets forgotten or let off the hook; all are intended and expected to grow into maturity.
  • Fueled by the energy of Christ. Paul works his tail off (that’s a loose translation), not by his own power but by the energy of Christ at work in him.

Does it need to be stated that these markers provide a wonderful grid for thinking about our own ministries? This may not be a definitive guide, but it’s a pretty good start!

Revise Us Again by Frank Viola (review)

Frank Viola is one of my favorite writers/bloggers/leaders in America today, and not just because he’s Italian. He blogs at Beyond Evangelical, has written over a dozen books, and is a leader in what’s often called the “organic church” movement. Today I’ll be offering a long-overdue review of his 2010 book Revise Us Again. In this book Frank tackles a collection of problems and misunderstandings he’s identified in the church today, such as how God speaks to us, how we talk about him, how the church becomes divided, the nature of the gospel, the ministry of the Holy Spirit, and many more. Continue reading

Everything I know I learned from Jesus.

Well friends, we’ve come to the final day of this series and I hope it’s been as enjoyable for you as it has for me. The emails you’ve sent and conversations we’ve had have encouraged me with the news that this series accomplished what I hoped, which included inspiring and encouraging whomever happened to stop by.

I want to end by saying thanks, not only to you but to the many people who made this series possible. Turning 30 has been as meaningful for me as I’d hoped. This series has memorialized many of the things I’ve learned in three decades, and if there’s one thing I’ve realized through the process it is how much I owe to the good people I’ve had the fortune to interact with, whether face-to-face or face-to-page.

I’m tempted to try to name all my influences but I won’t for two reasons: I’d forget too many of them, and I don’t want to pretend this series is some sort of great accomplishment. My corner of the blogosphere is tiny, so all I want to say is that this tiny corner wouldn’t be the same without my family, friends, and mentors. And most of all, I want to say thanks to Jesus for everything I’ve learned. I’ve not felt the need to say “Jesus” at every turn, but I have begun to see what Paul meant when he said “all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.”

I’ll close with one more encouragement. We are all teachers; other people will believe certain things because of our existence, most of the time in ways we can’t predict or plan for. So let’s be good teachers. And for what it’s worth, anything good I’ve said can be traced directly or indirectly to you know who.

. . .

NOTE: In light of my 30th birthday and in honor of the guys who have all the fun, I’ll be offering thirty reflections in thirty days starting December 19th. Today’s post is #30 (see all the topics here). The only rule is that I have 250 words to make my point. After that just stop reading. Thanks for making my blog part of your internet experience. 

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

I love when I don’t mind being laughed at, which isn’t often enough, because it means I am in the presence of people I know truly love me. I also love it because it means I’m not taking myself too seriously.

I’ve been honest about the fact that I take my life seriously, and that I have a relatively high opinion of myself. But I must be equally honest about the obvious: I am not a god. I am a man. I am weak. I am small. I am laugh-at-able. In the long arc of history, I am insignificant. If the odds hold, very few people will remember me one hundred years from now, and after another hundred no living person will know of my existence. I might be wrong, but probably not.

I suppose this can be a bit depressing, but for me it is also freeing. The pressure’s off. While our lives matter and everything we do or fail to do makes a difference, the success of history as a whole does not depend solely on you or me. We’re just not that important. This is good news, because it means we can fall asleep at night knowing our inactivity does not stall the world’s productivity. And we can laugh at ourselves.

The next time you act goofy or someone pokes fun or talks behind your back, laugh at yourself. Laugh and celebrate the fact that God never said not to take your name in vain.

. . .

NOTE: In light of my 30th birthday and in honor of the guys who have all the fun, I’ll be offering thirty reflections in thirty days starting December 19th. Today’s post is #29 (see the so-far list here). The only rule is that I have 250 words to make my point. After that just stop reading. Thanks for making my blog part of your internet experience.