Dipping into the Donald Miller Discussion

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If you follow Donald Miller’s blog, entitled Storyline, you know that there has been quite a raucous concerning his two posts from a couple of weeks ago. I simply wanted to dip into some of Miller’s content and provide a couple of the responses that merely approach the main concern or question surrounding the ideas that Miller presented. I would also like to include some of my own affirmations and concerns with what Miller has put forth.

The first post was written sometime last week and was called I Don’t Worship God by Singing; I Connect with Him Elsewhere.  Perhaps this title is self-explanatory, but within this post Miller attempts to explain the alternatives to a “traditional” church model that he has begun to pursue. Miller elucidates these alternatives by sharing the ways in which he now seeks intimacy with God and how he learns about God. Miller explained that he rarely learns anything from hearing a sermon but rather from doing the teaching himself-he attributes this to the fact that he considers himself to be a  kinesthetic learner (learning by doing). In addition, Miller says that he experiences most intimacy with God through his work and building his company as apposed to singing in a worship service. Suffice it to say, this post created quite the domino affect.

The next response post he wrote a couple of days later and it was rather lengthy. The blog was entitled, Why I Don’t Go To Church Very Often-A Follow-Up Blog. This blog was primarily a response to some of the more concerning comments that he came across. I won’t take the time to surmise all of these here, but go ahead and give it a skim for reference and a deeper understanding of what Miller was referring to in his first blog.

Lastly, Miller wrote a blog yesterday as a third (and hopefully final) response to his original blog post. This blog post was entitled, Church Anywhere and Everywhere. I found this post to be the most clear in regard to where Miller’s heart resides. Although, I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked away from this post confused about where Miller stands. Here, Miller hones in on the doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers and attempts to uphold it in order to provide a platform to support what his original blog post was intended to mean. He wonders, in this post, whether or not God has given us more responsibility and more authority (each of us, individually) than we have allowed ourselves to accept-hence the focus on the Priesthood of all Believers.

If you have at least skimmed through Miller’s posts then here are a couple responses for you to munch on as well:

Well, if you are still with me and want something more to think about (which, I highly doubt), then here are some of my personal thoughts on the topic.

I totally believe that there are some nuggets of wisdom in what Miller is offering up in these blogs, and I think there a lot of Christians who actually agree with him, but I think we must realize what is actually at stake here. At the heart of Miller’s blogs the question that needs to be asked is “Who is the Church?”. This is about the church’s identity and much less about alternative forms of worship or whether or not we should gather on a Sunday.

My main issue with Miller in these posts is that he does not seem to grapple with the robust vision that the New Testament offers for what the church is to be. If anything, Miller seems to be buying into the common misconception that American Evangelicalism has provided in recent years and that is that the church is to be centered around a weekly Sunday gathering. If we see church through this lens, we will always be seeing a cheapened version of what the church was actually meant to be and we will always be left discontent.

We miss the point of not only a Sunday gathering but who the church is when we limit it to hearing sermons and singing songs. I resonate with Miller’s restlessness in his desire to see the church to transcend the bounds of its Sunday gatherings and I agree! I simply don’t understand why he stops there and retreats to the rhythms that work for him. If the church is truly Christ’s bride, then we ought to hold her more dear and have a vision and a hope for who she is and who she can become. When we see that the church is not aligning with her identity found in Scripture then why we do continue to sit passively in our pews as if we have no influence. The church is continually being re-formed and that is ok-let’s engage in that process rather than retreating from it!

The New Testament confronts us with an intense perception of the church as a community that gathers to encourage, equip, and remember God together and then scatters in order to partner with God in reaching out and restoring the world. We need to re-read books like Ephesians to gain an understanding of the church that is not limited to a mere Sunday gathering, but a community that lives life alongside one another.

I appreciated Miller’s thoughts and glad he began the discussion and also glad that the responses I read were respectful and helpful. Hopefully this stuff gets you thinking!

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BioLogos and the Ham/Nye Debate

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BioLogos wrote an article on the aftermath of the Bill Nye and Ken Ham debate two days ago and I thought they did a good job to capture some of the tensions that were presented in the debate. I really appreciate what BioLogos does and consider them to be an invaluable resource in regard to matters of science and Christianity. Here is a snippet from Jim Stump, who is the content manager for the BioLogos forum:

The question of the debate was whether creation is a viable model for explaining origins. Not surprisingly, they disagreed. Perhaps part of the reason for that was that the question was not specific enough: Viable for what? Viable for whom? Young Earth Creationism is certainly viable for millions of Christians. It’s not viable for millions of other Christians. From both sides we heard a lot about what is reasonable and what is unreasonable. But “reasonable” like “viable” is a relational term. Individual claims like the age of the earth or the reality of miracles seem reasonable or unreasonable only against a backdrop of other beliefs. If Ham’s interpretation of the Bible is accepted, then it isn’t reasonable to think the universe is billions of years old. So no amount of evidence about the age of the universe will convince him otherwise. The argument instead needs to focus on his interpretation of Scripture before he’ll even consider the science. If Nye’s naturalism is accepted, then it isn’t reasonable to think that God has any role in the world today. So no amount of quoting Bible verses to him will be effective. Perhaps his concerns about suffering and Christian exclusivism need to be addressed before he’ll even consider a Christian view of creation.

At BioLogos we are not just seeking to defend what seems reasonable to us, but we’re seeking truth from Scripture and from the natural world to form a coherent picture of God’s action in the world.

Selfies: A Handy Guide For Men

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My friend and roommate, Kyle sent this to me yesterday evening and I was quite amused. It is rather fascinating to witness the phenomena known as selfies and how they have become a mark of our modern culture. I suppose I could write a whole blog about how selfies are symptoms of a deeply narcissistic culture and potentially how they have had a minuscule part in creating that type of culture, but I will save that for later. For now, just enjoy a good, hearty laugh 🙂

Living Presently

Well 2014, here I am. Unfortunately, I have had some blog issues recently and I am seeking to get those resolved sometime soon, but in the meantime I thought I would continue writing. Also, there are some new additions to the site that are currently under construction but be sure to check those out in the near future! Ok, now to the topic at hand…

I have been finding that living in present moment has become increasingly arduous. Instead, I have become entranced by an elusive future that my imagination creates and sustains as if that were the antidote to the discontentedness that I am currently facing. Don’t get me wrong, it helps, but I am not convinced that it is always healthy.  I am consistently confronted with the temptation to simply escape my current life and swap it for something else. Thinking and praying about the future is not harmful in and of itself but I believe it is when we allow ourselves to live futuristically in such a way that all of our hopes for fulfillment and contentedness are wrapped up in an uncertain future that things can get unhealthy.

One of the most profoundly simple quotes I have ever come across was in The Journals of Jim Elliot, which reads this:

Wherever you are, be all there.

Talk about profoundly simple. I forget the context of Elliot’s writing here, but I think it is safe to say that context isn’t necessarily needed–that is, we get the general point without knowing the context. The point that Elliot is making is that there is no moment like the present moment. He admonishes his unknown readers (considering the fact that he had no idea that his journals would be published) to be all there so that our whole being is engaged in the present moment. 

Again, I do not think that allowing ourselves to dream or have hope that is placed in the future is a bad thing, but when we wish away time because of the difficulties and tensions that life presents instead of engaging wholly then we miss out on  all that the present moment has to offer us. The problem arises when we face a difficulty or a desire that leads us to discontentment and therefore creates the inability to live presently because of the pain that we feel. The same thing can happen in referring back to the past to a time when we felt perhaps more peace, love, and affirmation.

We must learn to be people who engage wholly in the present no matter how difficult or how painful the scenario.

Patience plays a large part in this as well, for we live in a age that tempts us to take what we want for ourselves now! Therefore, whatever we want that exists in the future becomes this commodity that we simply wish to purchase at a moment’s notice in hopes of bypassing all of the present circumstances.

By doing this, we miss the beauty of walking with God and friends on this journey! Yes, even a journey that leads through all the crap!

There is a letter in the New Testament that speaks to this tension rather candidly. James is said to be one of the first letters written in the NT and in chapter 5 James writes this:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James gets to heart of our failure to live in the present. We have all these lofty ideas about what the future will bring, but the only time that can be promised to us is the one we currently inhabit. This feels unsettling, as it should I suppose. A few verses later, James writes this:

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop front the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Indeed we call those blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

We certainly are to be future-oriented in our hope to which James refers to here, but it can be an unhealthy endeavor to place our hopes in moments that are not necessarily promised. Not only is the quantity of those moments not promised, but the quality is not promised either. My friend once told me that expectations are premeditated disappointments and it sounds rather cynical, but I think he is right. The expectations we hold in our hearts about the next few months or about the next year have the potential to never actually become a reality.

We must learn to make the most of the time that has been graciously given. As Sleeping at Last states in their song entitled Jupiter:

Make my messes matter; make this chaos count.

In that lyric resides the call to live engaged even amidst the mess and the chaos.

 

Holiday Ministry Update!

I hope that this letter finds you well as you recover from the Thanksgiving feast and look forward to the Advent season, Christmas, and the new year, which all seem to be appearing just above the horizon. It is a joyous time for sure, and I truly hope that you have the opportunity to give thanks, rejoice, and spend time with close friends and family during this season.

The premier thing that God has been revealing to me throughout my time spent support raising thus far is his faithfulness to his promises. I have learned patience and trust and am continuing to learn dependence and desperation for the Lord in prayer. Ultimately, I have learned how to trust him as the righteous, covenantal, and faithful God – and for this I am extremely thankful.

I think that God reveals to us similar aspects of his character as we reflect on the incarnation this advent. I have been reading Deuteronomy and Joshua lately and in Joshua 21:45 it reads “Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled”. God is the one who made the covenant with Abraham, chose Israel to be his people for the sake of the nations, rescued Israel from Egypt, and gave them the land that he had promised them. God was utterly faithful to Israel in these ways and ultimately we see God’s faithfulness in the face of Christ. Israel often waited waveringly for this promise to become a reality, but God was of course faithful to this promise and Paul says it best when he writes “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).  All the promises that we long to be fulfilled are met in the Christ who came in human form.

I am so thankful for the gift of Jesus. God has given generously in Jesus and we can only respond with thanksgiving and rejoicing. I hope and pray that joy and celebration of the incarnation are characteristic of your advent season this year.

I am thankful and captivated as I recall this reality, but also burdened when I contemplate all the false promises that our culture feeds young people. College students tend to gravitate towards all the counterfeit promises that our culture promotes . Our culture promises life through the mediums of sex, power, and greed, but these created things were never intended to be faithful to those promises. It is only when we lose our life that we find the abundant life hidden within the majesty of the Messiah and it is this trustworthy promise that I hope to promote as I respond to God’s call in my life to give my life away to college students.

ERIN’S STORY

I am consistently reminded of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people as I hear about God’s power in the lives of the students I know and care about. One of these students who our congregation recently heard from is a woman from New Zealand named Erin Hawe. Here is some of Erin’s story that reminds me why we do what we do:

Freshman year, one of my teammates encouraged me to attend H20 with her. I didn’t know anything about Jesus but out of love for my teammate Sarah, I started attending. It was a challenging time but by the end of Fall semester I was so compelled by the life & love of Jesus and the kindness extended to me by his people, I ‘gave my life’ to Christ. The next two years of my life here, despite having ‘given’ my life to Christ I wasn’t living in such a way that suggested what Jesus said was actually true. – I was deeply lonely, and so often led by my feelings – I thoroughly exhausted everything that presented immediate gratification; namely drugs and sex…I was made so aware of my impuissance, my brokenness and need for a Savior.  And so patiently in the midst of my wandering, God so gently asking me if I lacked anything. He placed an in-escapable truth at the forefront of my mind, which was the reality of the hurt and need and suffering of close to 30 million of my neighbor’s worldwide who are held as modern-day slaves. He lay on my heart the testimonies and stories of the oppressed, the brutal realities of their lives in brick factories, in rice mills, forced by the share power of violence to work on fishing boats or as slaves in the sex trade; with girls as young as five and six, who are sold and raped for profit. And this brought me to my knees both in repentance and prayer. I don’t think that God gives us an appetite in vain; I knew that He was calling me higher. I heard about the work of International Justice Mission, this group of Christians who with noble hearts follow Jesus into the darkest places of the world to shine His love – by seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan and pleading for the widow. I’ve been fortunate enough to secure an internship with International Justice Mission next year, serving for a year in their Bangalore field office in India. I believe I have been given this opportunity not because my heart is so awesome, but because I serve an awesome God of justice, who is ready to move in power, if I am willing to move in obedience.

These are the stories and the reasons that continually convince and captivate my heart for the ministry that God has called me into. I am convinced of God’s utter faithfulness in the Messiah and I am captivated by stories like Erin’s that exemplify God’s faithfulness to his people. Stories like Erin’s remind me that God truly is Immanuel even as we go out into the world to make disciples of all nations. This season I am utterly thankful that God has called me into ministry alongside you and I hope and pray that you are as captivated by this call as I am.

God has been providing for me in amazing ways as I am actively in the process of full-time fundraising. I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel! As the end of the year approaches, I am so thankful to God for providing people like you to support GCM on my behalf! However, I still have unmet needs that I wanted to ask you to prayerfully consider:

  • A special year-end gift. An additional gift of $500, $300, or $100 is a tremendous blessing at the close of the year to help cover some of the lacking funds from 2013.
  • Increasing your regular giving amount. I still need to raise an additional $1,500 in new monthly support to be fully funded.
  • Giving via LifeLink. If you give regularly by mail, would you consider a switch to this automatic and secure service? It saves on administrative costs, ensuring that more goes to gospel work.

Any of the above can be accomplished at www.gcmweb.org/anthony.giambroni or check out the enclosed slip for further instructions. As always (but even more so now during the holiday season), I am so thankful for your heart for our church and His Kingdom! Your prayers and financial support help make stories like Erin’s possible!

With Love, Anthony

The Dynamic of Deuteronomy

As I referenced in my last post, I was privileged with the opportunity to travel to Grand Rapids, Michigan in order to attend a tremendous conference entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am thrilled to report that this conference exceeded my expectations and I am confident in expressing such excitement because I am still (and will continue to do so in the coming weeks) processing through the all the insight, stories, and concepts that were presented throughout the course of the two-day conference.

The conference was a nice vacation for me (which sounds strange to some of you, I realize). Thankfully, I was able to travel with some dear friends with whom I laughed and maintained a consistent dialogue about all that we were learning/grappling with. It was a great conference because each speaker enfolded their hearers into different aspects of the biblical narrative – keying in on different moments, situations, and stories that all participate in this greater story, which they might call The Mission of God in History.

I was thankful to have the chance to meet some of these speakers and even talk to them ever-so-briefly. The main argument (perhaps the assumed argument) of the conference was that the mission of God is the main lens through which we look in order to understand and experience the entirety of the biblical narrative. All of the speakers are convinced that the mission of God is the premier narrative of the Bible and thus gives form and understanding to every story, situation, and crevice that the Bible puts forth. I have previously been slightly skeptical of a “one – main – narrative” reading of Scripture, but this conference has furthered my assurance about the mission of God being the main lens through which we read all of Scripture. If you have questions or comments about this, please let me know – I would love to discuss this with you (and it would be helpful to me)!

As I stated before, there were four main speaker sessions and there were three workshops and for each workshop slot there were three options from which we chose. I chose the following workshops: Church for the Thriving World: Preaching Deuteronomy Missionally, Missional Plurality: A Hermeneutic of Christian Witness, and Missional Spirituality. I enjoyed all of these workshops thoroughly and they were all equally challenging in different ways. I especially appreciated the workshops on Deuteronomy and Missional Spirituality mainly because I felt that they spoke specifically to the season I currently inhabit.

A guy named Mark Glanville  taught this workshop and I sincerely appreciated the combination of his tender personality and academic rigor that were apparent during the course of the workshop. He supplied all of the attendees with an outline for a sermon series on Deuteronomy and other notes for which I am very grateful. The main thrust of this workshop was about framing Deuteronomy in a particular manner. Glanville explained a three part dynamic that we see in Deuteronomy that, he argued, is evidenced throughout Scripture and directly applicable to the church at large today. The three part movement that he explained was as follows:

  1. God has given generously
  2. His people with respond with thanksgiving and rejoicing
  3. Thanksgiving results in generosity, justice and inclusion

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

    Famous painting of Moses by Rembrandt

This was the three part movement that Glanville proposed as the central theme to Deuteronomy and the rhythm that our churches need to recover. This dynamic is expressed in Deuteronomy through a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel concerning land, the flourishing of Israel, and ultimately that God would “bless Israel to be a blessing” to the surrounding nations. This is evident in Deuteronomy and in a lot of ways, evident in the rest of Scripture too! Deuteronomy is all about Israel being put on display for the sake of the nations. The law, the land, and God’s blessing were not an end in themselves, but instead were for the sake of the nations. God’s intention was that the nations might know God through Israel’s witness to him as the one, true God… Amazing stuff.

I am now reading through Deuteronomy once again (by the way, when I first became a Christian, I remember pronouncing this book as “Dutronomy” – things like that are funny to look back on) and I am continually finding the themes that Glanville proposed. Today I read this verse in Deuteronomy 12:

There in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families shall eat and rejoice in everything you have put your hand to, because the Lord your God has blessed you.

In verse 7 of chapter 12 we see God’s blessing, Israel’s rejoicing, and Israel “putting their hand” to justice and generosity. This verse is a timely message for our holiday season. As we approach the eve of Thanksgiving and draw near to the season of Advent, be sure to meditate on all that God has blessed you with so that you might respond with rejoicing and generosity.