Mission

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.

Ever Been to Grand Rapids??

I – along with a few dear friends – am traveling to Grand Rapids tomorrow evening until Thursday evening for a conference that is entitled A Missional Reading of Scripture. I am particularly excited for this conference and hoping for encouragement, refreshment, and a greater and deeper engagement in regard to how I understand and interpret Scripture in light of the Missio Dei (perhaps I should lower my expectations a bit?… nah :)).

Missional-Header

One of the speakers is a Pastor/Theologian named N.T. Wright. Wright is one of three or four writers who has remained a consistent conversation partner for me in matters of Scripture, Theology, and simply learning how to follow Jesus. Wright has helped me along in the tumultuous task of engaging in Scripture in ways that I could have never attempted alone. He has helped me to honor the book that Christians deem to be “the Word of God” and I am deeply grateful to him. I will look forward to hearing him speak (and hopefully meeting him)  especially now that I have heavily engaged with six or seven of his books in the past three or four years. There are three other main speakers that are brilliant in their own right, but I have not engaged with any of their writings at the level I have with Wright’s works. But still, I look forward to hearing helpful and challenging perspectives from Darrell Guder, Christopher J.H. Wright, and Michael Goheen.  In between these four (actually five because Wright will be having another lecture the night before his main lecture at a church about 15 minutes from the conference space) lectures there will also be workshop tracks to engage in after each lecture. This is the structure of the events that will unfold during the conference and if you can’t tell, I am very excited to hear from these scholars!

Alright, that is the conference, and I will look forward to writing about it when I return, but here is where you can participate: If you have ever been to Grand Rapids, what are places that you would recommend (to eat, to drink coffee, to visit etc…)? Our group has a couple of places that we wanted to check out (granted we don’t have a ton of free-time to explore), but I wanted to here if anyone out there had any worthwhile suggestions for us to consider! Comment on my blog to let me know your ideas so that we might pack our stay in Michigan with some local-to-Grand Rapids experiences. Thanks in advance for your input!

The Mission of God=Evangelism?

There is a great book out there by a guy named Graham Tomlin called The Provocative Church. My friend Matthew McClure recommended it to me a couple of years back. It is a wonderful book on evangelism and the mission of God. I especially like it because it has this chapter called “evangelism makes me feel guilty”. Sounds risqué, I know. I like the title because I sometimes feel that way about evangelism. In fact, I have come across many young people in the church who feel similarly. Some feel burdened and guilty because they know they (or at least they are told) should be sharing the gospel with their friends (this might be an appropriate time to remind my readers that this blog is not a place where I write about polished arguments or propose ideas that I am fully certain about, so be sure to keep that in mind). I think there is something very wrong with this. I don’t think conviction is wrong about these things is wrong, but guilt is something quite different. It is not a sign of health when churches contain people who feel guilty and burdened by the admonishment that they receive from leaders and peers to share the gospel as the only way to partake in the mission of God.

I think the reason that many of the students that I know are disenchanted and burdened with guilt by evangelism is because it is often framed as the only way to live a missional and intentional life. Therefore, if it is the only way to do be apart of God’s mission and they are not doing it, then it makes sense that guilt would be a proper response. Perhaps you’d disagree, but it makes sense to me. The problem with this though is that God’s mission is broader than just evangelism. Much broader.

There is another book out there called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson and in it he puts forth the idea that God’s mission is not merely sharing or proclaiming the gospel, but something much more of which proclaiming the gospel is part. He draws from biblical theology and history to describe the different ways in which the church partakes in the mission of God. As a preface to this argument, Dickson says that sharing the gospel is kind of like the “icing on the cake” of God’s mission (which I agree with). He also states that evangelism is indeed for everyone, but at the same time it may not be everyone’s primary activity within the church and the mission of God. Essentially, he proposes that not everyone is primarily an evangelist. My issue (which Dickson addresses aptly) is that living missionally is often assumed to be synonymous with evangelism and sharing the gospel, which can contradict a proper ecclesiology on the body of Christ being made up of many members. This argument is not that complicated. When I look at Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12 I see a description of a community that is made up of a diverse group of people in personality, gifting, and strengths/weaknesses. I am not sure that I give students that I meet with a vision for the breadth of God’s mission and the variety of ways that they can partake in it according to their giftings, personality, and whatever else. More often I treat God’s mission like a “one size fits all” pair of pants– unfortunately, there is no such thing! If being an evangelist worked for that person, then it should work for this other person too, right? Sounds silly, but I think God’s mission gets narrowed when we do not aptly cast vision for people to be part of it in ways that makes sense for them. This is not to say that we should not challenge people in our churches to get our of their comfort zone and do what they are not good at when appropriate, but it is to say that we need to cast vision for variety of ways to partake in God’s mission as the body. If we do approach mission with a “one size fits all” mentality then I fear that we will end up with people who are burdened and guilt ridden.

I appreciate what Dickson proposes in his book. Dickson uses the word promote (rather than proclaim or something like that) to describe the different ways in which the church is able to “promote” the gospel or partake in God’s mission. He says that we can promote the gospel with our prayers, our public praise, our beautiful works, our money, our words, and a couple others that I cannot recall right now. In any case, he broadens the practical ways in which people in the church can actually promote the gospel, and I think it is an important thing to think about for the health of our churches.

The Netherlands and back again…

It has been three days since I arrived home from my trip to Amsterdam and I am still feeling the effects of jet-lag and time change that somehow mess with your biological clock (although I’m not all too sure how that works). Even in light of my current state though, I can positively say that my first trip to Amsterdam is an adventure that I will never forget.

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We had an awesome team of people for this trip. I think some of my favorite moments with this group of people was when we went through times of difficulty together. Whether it was the frustration (and laughter) that from trying to accomplish a simple task like recycling or being discouraged by our attempts at ministry, I think that in any and all of these moments God was able to show his strength. For me, my best friends are people that I have gone through difficult times with and they remain the good friends that they are because they have seen our relationship through even in the midst of challenges. I’m thankful for the triumphs that this team had, but in some ways, I cherish the difficulties even more because in some paradoxical way, I feel that God’s strength was shown in those moments.

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Besides the difficult moments that our team had in seeking to understand a new culture and a new city, we had plenty moments of celebration too. One of my favorite moments during the week was when we went to a city in the north called Groningen. It is a University city and personally, it was my highlight. Here we got into conversations with a number of students, got connected with local ministries and churches, and even got to meet a member of parliament in the building above. It was a wonderful city and our time there was quite rich for only being there for an overnight. Attheend of our stay there’s felt affirmation from God in my plans to continue in university ministry. I felt just as connected with those Groningen students as I did with students here in Kent. It was surprising but consoling.

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The main intent for our trip to Groningen was to discover another city in the Netherlands and the possibilities and/or need for a church plant there someday. What we found through all of our conversations and connections was incredibly encouraging.

Our team did great work, and I was so glad to witness what God did in our hearts and to have had the opportunity to plant more seeds in both cities and fervently pray for growth. While our team did some great things in that city, I think some of my greatest encouragement last week came from our sister church, Amsterdam50.

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The first day that we arrived in the city, our team took a walk with some of the staff of Amsterdam50 through memorable places in the ten year history of this churches existence. It was great to hear the stories of this church and all that God has done in and through it. I remember taking that walk and thanking God for the ecumenical church. It is evident oto me that while what our team did was valuable, in the end it was only one week. I’m thankful for the world-wide church and their love for Jesus and this world. Among many other things, God opened my eyes to this reality over the course of this trip. Thanks Amsterdam50!

On to Amsterdam

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Yes, I along with 10 others are leaving for Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in just a few hours. How do I feel? Excited yet tranquil, and expectant yet completely uncertain. This is my first time in Europe, and I am unashamedly excited simply for that reality. I hardly know Dutch, but I have attempted to learn some about the history and culture of Amsterdam (although that attempt has not been as fruitful as I had hoped). I have since grown a respect and appreciation for the city, but I am sure that will evolve and morph once I begin to actually experience the people and the city as opposed to merely reading about it.

I’m excited for our team (FYI it’s a stellar group of people who I feel blessed to call friends) to experience this together. I hope for unforgettable stories and continued learning. I love the bond that is created on mission trips in a foreign area. For me, there is nothing that compares to that type of shared experience. In past experiences on mission trips I have found that as I move myself into uncomfortable territory God awakens me to his His presence and his movement among his people. In my everyday life it is not that he is not moving, but sometimes I need to be rejuvenated from experiences that revive the heart to see and be aware of Gods movement. Maybe that doesn’t make sense, but I hope this for my team.

I was reading Romans this morning and in the beginning Paul writes that through Christ we have been given grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all nations. He has given us grace. So thankful for that, and I need that! Even now as I await this plane ride to Amsterdam. And he has given us apostleship, which is this idea of being sent. He has given us a sent-ness. This to I am thankful for and pray that it would arise out of the grace that is given. I need to know that these two ideas are not separate entities. Pray for us!