Ministry

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!

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.

 

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.

Opening to The Valley of Vision

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The Valley of Vision is a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions. I recently purchased a copy of this collection and was struck by the simplicity and profundity of the opening prayer:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,
Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision,
where I live int he depths but see thee in the heights;
hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
That to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in thy daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
And the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find thy light in my darkness,
thy life in my death,
thy joy in my sorrow,
thy grace in my sin,
thy riches in my poverty,
thy glory in my valley.

Befriending Weakness

Are you befuddled by the title of this blog? That’s appropriate. I know that in the world we live in this sounds rather counterintuitive, but doesn’t the term weak aptly depict us humans? Aren’t we fragile people who are naturally dependent beings? We do not like to think that we are, but perhaps it is a more accurate description of our true state. I can presume that not all of you who read this will agree with that statement but hopefully by the end of reading this you will understand what I mean.

Vulnerability is not something we like all that much, even when the circumstance consists of vulnerability or honesty with ourselves. Weakness is a horror to some and not able to be tolerated. It is hard to tolerate the weakness and fragility in ourselves because people have told us that 1) we are not allowed to weak/we won’t make it in this world if we are found to be fragile or 2) that we must compensate for our weaknesses by becoming strong and powerful in order for society to accept and make use of us. Above all of this is the haunting reality that many of us have not been shown love when we have openly borne our weaknesses (instead we have been rejected when we have shown our true selves). When we realize that we cannot tolerate our own weakness we will also soon find that it is impossible to rekon with the weakness in others (be it our friends, family, spouse etc…). Sadly, we see this only when we first recognize that we judge others by the same hoops that we force ourselves to jump through. The aim of our culture is to ignore or relieve ourselves of all weaknesses we experience so that we are left with nothing but strengths. But again, fragility is not something that can be turned on or off but rather something that exemplifies our humanity.

I love this article by N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today. In it he states that the world we live in is “at odds with human self-importance”. Wilson takes a look at the intellectuals of today and uses them to show our delusional attempts to make the world about us. He uses intellectuals as an example to show that humans are desperately afraid to find out that they are far more weak and fragile than they ever dared to realize. Wilson proposes this because intellectuals often partake in the work of intellectualizing in order to tame, not the world (for it cannot be tamed), but rather “their perception of the world”. We philosophize and fixate over the smallest of matters to feel in control and escape to fantasy of reality. This is Wilson’s point. The fact that fantasy is reality scares us and contributes to our feelings of smallness and helplessness. Those feelings torment, but those feelings point the reality that we are often to afraid to face: we are far more weak than we ever dared imagined. In essence, Wilson states that our world is one where humans live out of control and it is our attempts to tame the world that point to our inability to stare into the face of our fragility.

We are afraid to find out how weak, fragile, and dependent we are but it is only logical when you begin to think about it. Maybe words from the Apostle Paul will help, “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” Paul is right, I think. We did not choose to be born, nor the parents or siblings who surrounded us. We didn’t get the choice to exist not will we get the choice of death. It is going to happen and we have no choice in the matter. We flaunt our accomplishments and accolades as if that makes us safe from the inevitable reality of our fragility, but it doesn’t. We will never escape the fact that everything we have has been given to us and thus by nature we are dependent/weak beings. We aren’t as autonomous as we’d like to hope we are.

It is strange, but Jesus and Paul (and other New Testament writers) both seem to explain that Life comes from the realization that we are indeed weak and fragile beings. It is a realization that the delusional regimes of being in control and being strong are not actually true even though they may be attractive. True life and true humanity come from surrender and a recognition that we need help. It is interesting when we truly begin to see Christianity in this light. It changes how we interact with our weakness and with the weaknesses of those around us.

If we begin to see that weakness is actually a way unto life then it is no longer a horror but something through which we can meet God. We no longer have to live under the presumption that we are our own creator nor that we are strong when we know that within the deeper recesses of our heart we actually aren’t. Human weakness and fragility is the way unto the cross of Christ and it is where we meet Jesus. Like Wilson says, our attempts to run from this reality are many. Why not sit and allow yourself to know that you are weak and simultaneously loved by God. That reality should trump all false illusions about who we in age that tempts us to act as our own god and flee from our own fragility.

For further thoughts on this, check out this video.