Maranatha

The following post was written two weeks ago:

I am writing this blog in an airport in Baltimore.  In an hour I will be boarding a plane to Buffalo. I’m heading to Canada to make some connections with folks in Hamilton, Ontario as well as preach in my home town of Drayton.  I have been anticipating this trip as it is always exciting visiting my hometown with friends and family here in Ontario.  However, as I make this trip and continue to develop ministry partners, I arrive during a very difficult time for the Christian Reformed community.  We have received word that the search for a fellow Christian Reformed member named Tim Bosma is over.  He was last seen alive driving away with two men whom he assumed were interested in purchasing his 3500 Dodge Ram truck.   A week after he went into that truck for a test drive, this loving husband, father and disciple of Christ has been confirmed dead.  He was a brother in Christ and a contributing member of the Ancaster Christian Reformed Church.  For those of you who know anything about the CRC, that means that Tim is connected to a tight church community/family.  Although I have never met him, he feels very much like a brother.  As I read Facebook messages and read the endless articles online, it is amazing how many people who did know him personally feel this instant connection and intimacy to this tragedy.  I am the same age as Tim, a husband, a father, and a life before me.  This anxious knot in my stomach is there not only because he is a fellow CRC brother, but also because what happened to Tim could have happened to anyone.  The injustice, evil, cruelty, and pain the family and so many others feel right now isn’t fair.  God, it isn’t fair!

So as I travel and enter into a grieving community, I do so with a heavy heart.  I do pray, ‘ Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus, come!’ We continue to pray for the Bosma family.  May the Lord give them a transcendent peace at this time that cannot be humanly explained. May the witness of your people be seen by the world and in so doing, may this world come to know a God who came to live in our context of suffering.  May our world see Jesus who experienced the same unjust death as Tim.  Jesus is the one who we turn to because His act on the Cross is the only thing that can make any sense during these dark times.  We do not put our trust in a distant deity, we believe He experienced death Himself in Jesus Christ so that death will not be the final word.  Until then, we point to Jesus and Him crucified.

Awed to Heaven AND Rooted in Earth

royal oakOn Monday evenings the BREW discussion group at the University of Ottawa often reflects on quotes from different sources.  Last Monday we discussed three quotes that were not unrelated and led the group to land on a central thought.

The first quote we discussed came fromRichard Rohr a Franciscan Friar who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation.  He wrote:

richard rohr“I sincerely hate to say it, but I fear that Platonic philosophy has had more influence in Christian history than Jesus. The Jesus and Christ event says that matter and spirit, divine and human are not enemies, but are two sides of the same coin. They, in fact, reveal one another. For Plato, the body and the soul are mortal enemies and largely incompatible. Our poor sexual theology and our lackluster history of care for the earth and its resources, our disrespect for animals and all growing things, show that Christians have not seen matter and spirit as natural friends. Much of our history, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, has created Platonists much more than Incarnationalists or Christians.”[i]

Does the Christian church in North America promote a platonic worldview? It can certainly be argued that we have often had an escapist view of the earth.  Our theology of salvation has often led us to focus on “saving souls” or being “heavenly minded” and neglected the fact that our souls are not disembodied realities.  Our physical presence is not something to be despised but a gift from God.  The resurrection was not just a spiritual event but a physical event leading us to an understanding that through Jesus “all things” are a part of God’s redemptive work.  In our discussion we agreed that we need a “heaven and earth” not “heaven or earth” mindset.

Our next quote came from Chiheb Esseghaier, one of the men arrested because of his plans to derail a VIA train.  After being arrested he said the following about the Criminal Code of Canada,

chiheb“All of us we know that this Criminal Code is not holy book, it’s just written by set of creations and the creations – they’re not perfect because only the Creator is perfect so if we are basing our judgment … we cannot rely on the conclusions taken out from these judgments.[ii]

What is the relationship between a Holy Text and a nation’s criminal code of conduct?  Esseghaier inferred that the Koran gave him permission to ignore the rule of law in the nation he resided.  History has shown that Christians have often fallen into this sort of thinking with regards to the Bible.  Although we’ll talk about Jesus words to render unto Caesar what is Caesar, we still often posture a position of “separateness” from the society we live in.  Far too often people who follow a Holy Text view their position within a society as though they stand outside of it.  But if we believe in a sovereign God, then we must not simply view ourselves as being outside of the context we are in, but importantly positioned (ordained) where we are as God’s image bearers called to serve the society we live in.  At times our interpretation of the Holy Text may come in conflict with the law of the land, but that does not give us permission to  “write it off,” it means we have a job to do.  There will be a tension involved in this work, but not a tension that can ever be solved by simple dismissal of the culture we live in.

Finally we discussed the following quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

mlkA man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.”[iii]

Why is it that the same commitment exhibited in the heroes of justice also appears in terrorists and religious fanatics?  The Bible tells us that to follow Jesus is to take up the cross and follow him.  The Bible tells us that if we find the kingdom of God we should be ready to sell everything to own it.  There’s no denial that some of the people we admire the most in history as having had some of the greatest  faith impact are those who sacrificed greatly.  But there must be great care involved in our commitment.   We can easily become like the disciple Peter who was ready to cut off ears to protect Jesus; willing to sacrifice innocent bystanders with little thought or care.  We may note well that Peter’s denial of Jesus later that same evening shows how zealousness can be selfishly motivated and shallow in nature.  We must be ready to die for what is right, but what is right must be entrenched in a love of God AND a love of neighbour.

All three of the quotes we looked at led to a final conclusion of the importance of a theology and worldview that is, to borrow from Walter Brueggemann’s book of prayers, “Awed to Heaven, (AND) Rooted in Earth.

May it be so for all of us.

awed to heavenPrayer – Yes – by Walter Brueggemann (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth)

You are the God who is simple, direct, clear with us and for us.
You have comitted yourself to us.
You have said yes to us in creation
yes to us in our birth,
yes to us in our baptism,
yes to us in our awakening this day.

But we are of another kind,
more accoustomed to ”perhaps, maybe, we’ll see,”
left in wonderment and ambiguity.

We live our lives not back to your yes ,
but out of our endless ”perhaps.”

So we pray for your mercy this day that we may live yes back to you,
yes with our time,
yes with our money,
yes with our sexuality,
yes with our strength and with our weakness,
yes to our neighbor,
yes and no longer ”perhaps.”

In the name of your enfleshed yes to us,
even Jesus who is our yes into your future. Amen


[ii] Taken from Globe and Mail Article written by TIMOTHY APPLEBY AND ANN HUI April 24, 2013

[iii] The Moral Centre – MLK

The Pharisee Plan

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In today’s sermon we talked about the concept called missio Dei (the Mission of God). We see God on the move through the Bible.  This comes into clearest focus in Jesus of Nazareth.  John tells us his gospel in the opening of his gospel tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Message paraphrase puts it in vivid terms, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  John uses Word to communicate the radical reality that the Word is Jesus and the Word came to earth and showed us who God is.  It is profound. The eternal God, beyond space and time is embodied in a local setting.

One of those ways Jesus goes to people in their places was simply eating with people.  The gospel of Luke really picks up on this theme showing Jesus who eats with outsiders, outcasts, sick people, sinner and tax collectors.  He talked about the Kingdom of God, it was enacted by stories and healings.  The central message of Jesus: the Kingdom of God/heaven is here (at hand), the reign of God has begun.

Jesus got resistance to this when he moved in the neighborhood. He went to people where they were and as they were.  Not everyone appreciated this.  Often the disciples didn’t get it.  You see, the disciples had grown up under the influence of Pharisaic Judaism. I was reminded recently in a book on the reality the church is facing called Present Future about the Pharisee’s evangelism strategy. Author Reggie McNeal puts it this way:

Their approach to God was “come and get it!”  In addition, they had tweaked God’s message to moralism; “You people ‘out there’ need to straighten up!”  The Pharisees had developed a very insular culture.  They did business as much as possible only with other Pharisees (lest they become contaminated). When they traveled they stayed with other Pharisees.  They lived in the Pharisee bubble .They had little Pharisee insignias on their burro bumper and they listened only to Pharisee radio stations.  The message that they sent to those outside the bubble was: “Become like us—dress like us, act like us, think like us, like what we like and don’t like what we don’t like.”  Resistance is futile. If you become like us (jump through our cultural hoops and adopt ours) we will consider you for club membership.  Does any of this sound familiar?”

Jesus who is God on the move, God’s mission in action called a people to be on the move with him.  Instead of come to us—come and get it, the message is go out there and get them.  Instead of withdrawing for fear of contamination Jesus moves into the neighborhood and eats with sinners.  This was horrifying to the Pharisees.  Instead telling people to clean their act up, Jesus makes people clean with forgiveness and healing. The Kingdom is here.

Circling The Wagons

If you surrender to the fear of uncertainty, life can become a set of insurance policies.  Your short time on this earth becomes small and self-protective, a kind of circling of the wagons around what you can be sure of and what you think you can control—even God.  It provides you with the illusion that you are in the driver’s seat, navigating on safe small roads, and usually in a single, predetermined direction that can take you only where you have already been.                                     

+Richard Rohr The Naked Now

*The following comes from my sermon “Joining God’s Mission” from May 5, 2013

Jesus who is God on the move, God’s mission in action called a people to be on the move with him.  Instead of come to us—come and get it, the message is go out there and get them.   In the same way Jesus tells the fear filled disciples of his; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Being sent means we are called to be on the move along with God.  This doesn’t come easy for most churches.

A friend of mine who grew up in the CRC said a while back, “Nobody circles the wagons like the CRC.”  I’ve heard this phrase used before. It is both a familiar and foreign idiom at the same time. If you see a picture of circled wagons, it immediately clicks. At least it did for me.

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The concept refers to a group becoming cohesive and united against outsiders. It often involves presenting a united front against adversity. The phrase is derived from a practice of the early pioneers of the Western U.S. The pioneers traveled from the East in covered wagons, packed with all their belongings, and pulled by oxen or horses. They formed a caravan and traveled in small groups in a long line. At night, when they stopped to rest, the pioneers would draw up the wagons in a circle. Inside the circle was a fire, companionship, and safety. Outside the circle were wild animals, unfriendly strangers, and the unknown enemy.

This circle the wagons picture is a mixed/loaded metaphor.  It could represent a local church and the wagons being the families.  The wagons could also be depicted as some of the Christian places we work and go to school. The metaphor could represent a classis (like the insular one I came from before this). It could represent the denomination and either churches or other agencies.  A metaphor is never perfect.  With that said, my intent is not to criticize the wagons (however they be interpreted), but the general posture of staying put in the circle.

Imagine if these wagons stay put in the desert.  What would happen?  They would exhaust their resources and die.  Take a good look at this picture.  It is the default of the CRC.  God is certainly at work inside the wagons and within the circle.  But there is a lot on the frontier beyond. Is God on the move there?  This circle the wagon approach worked in the 20thcentury.  So many ask and often what is wrong with church today??  Many lament the days of when the church was full of people. What is wrong with us?  What is wrong with the world?

In the past there were three reasons the church grew this way.  One people were having a lot of babies.  This still happens, but not as many as that era known as the “baby boom.” Unless God does an Abraham and Sarah for a good number of elderly in our congregations.  The second reason was that people were loyal to institutions (most to all including church).  They were loyal and stuck with institutions through thick and thin.  Those days are gone.  Third, there was a day when the rhythms and demands on people lives were much less than they are today.  They had the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time volunteering in church. These days also gone.

Can we change the conversation now?  Instead of asking what has gone wrong?  Can we please start asking “How is God on the move?  How is the Holy Spirit falling on us? How is the Spirit breaking boundaries (again) and taking us to the turf of other people?”

God is on the Move. Are We?

“The Biblical God is by nature a sending God, a missionary God. The Father sends the Son; the Son sends the Spirit and his disciples into the world. Therefore the whole church is in mission; every Christian is in mission. God never calls you in to bless you without also sending you out to be a blessing… So a Christian is not a spiritual consumer, coming to get his or her emotional needs met and then going home. A missional church, then is one that trains and equips its people to be in mission as individuals and as a body.”

+Tim Keller Center Church 

CHCRC sky

God in the story of scripture is never an absent God who stays away.  God is not a passive God who sits back and lets the world destroy itself.  This God who so loves the world is actively present. God enters into the mess and darkness of the world to bring new life.  God is on the move. That might be a phrase worth noting as you read the Bible.  It might be a hidden reality worth remember in your daily life. God is on the move.  That is missio Dei, the mission of God.

We see God on the move through the Bible.  This comes into clearest focus in Jesus of Nazareth.  John tells us his gospel in the opening of his gospel tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”  The Message paraphrase puts it in vivid terms, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  John uses Word to communicate the radical reality that the Word is Jesus and the Word came to earth and showed us who God is.  It is profound. The eternal God, beyond space and time is embodied in a local setting.

God is on the move. In this case he doesn’t show up in some big booming take up the entire kind of sky way. God doesn’t wait to show up in this way to the days of CNN, smartphones and Twitter so literally the whole world would know that very day—God is on the move. In many ways it is a less than ideal way, time, and plan.  God comes in a very particular way to a particular people at a particular time in history.  He moved into the neighborhood of Galilee and demonstrates there who God is.

God sent himself.  He is his own missionary.  This is how God is on the move when Jesus shows up on the scene.  When we read the New Testament we see that almost all of the stories occurred in the neighborhood.  Jesus came where people lived in their daily, ordinary stuff Jesus didn’t preach to stadiums like Billy Graham. His work and words weren’t captured and put on YouTube.  Jesus didn’t wait for the ideal religious time or setting and then ask people to come to him.  He went to them.

One of those ways Jesus goes to people in their places was simply eating with people.  The gospel of Luke really picks up on this theme showing Jesus who eats with outsiders, outcasts, sick people, sinner and tax collectors.  He talked about the Kingdom of God, it was enacted by stories and healings.  The central message of Jesus: the Kingdom of God/heaven is here (at hand), the reign of God has begun.

What Jesus is saying is that the long awaited (promised) time is here now—God has return to save his world.  The kingdom is here. God’s world has broken into our world.  The climax of this mission comes at the cross.  Three days later when Jesus God defeats the powers of sin and death once and for all.  The cross a public symbol of shame and defeat in the first century are made into an instrument that overcomes the powers of darkness.  The missionary God bursts out of the grave and moves, victorious into the world.  The world will never be the same.

This is the mission of God (Missio Dei) in a concise terms.   But this Missio Dei conversation doesn’t end there.  God isn’t on the move by himself.  To be a disciple of Jesus means that we are also on the move!  Disciples follow Jesus. And where does Jesus lead us?  Into the world to join with God in the mission—that is where.    

We see this very clearly in John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Our World Belongs to God 41 captures this well” Joining the mission of God the church is sent with the gospel of the Kingdom…the Spirit calls all member to embrace God’s mission in their neighborhood.”  There is a saying that is helpful “It is not that the church has a mission.  It is that God’s mission has a church” God is on a mission, God is on the move the question is are we moving with him?  Are we cooperating with his Spirit’s work?  The mission is more than a program, committee or wing of the church.  It is more than the work of trained professionals.  It is not just another item on our to do list. It is at the heart of who we are.

At some point most of us learned the saying “here is the church, here is the steeple, open the doors and here is the people.”  We tend to think of church as a place, the building we go to. We’ve all been taught that the #1 definition of “church” is a people.  Still we tend to think of church as a building, a place we go, a think we do especially on Sunday morning as in “I went to church this morning.”  The quote on our bulletin is a reminder that our consumer culture encourages us to view church as a place that meets our needs. If this is the case then the church becomes a vendor of spiritual goods and services.

If you are happy with your service you’ll continue to do business, if not you can always switch in the same way you can with cable/internet/phone services. In this scenario church pours its energy and resources into customer service and marketing—keeping customers happy and trying to get new ones.  Basically the church as a country club—you pay your dues and you get the perks that you signed up for.

The question, “How do we grow this church?” is answered by the church trying to sell membership packages (institutional wrappings: membership, fellowship and member benefits).  Much of the work and finding from Barna over the last decade show a North American culture is not buying what the things we are selling.

Here is the latest: http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/613-how-post-christian-is-us-society

In a post-Christian culture stock in the institutional church is down.  From a very practical sense, people are not just going to show up to our church.  And besides that is not how God wants it to be in the first place.  That is not joining God in mission