Quickly

Quickly.

I remember hearing that the freshmen women's small group was studying Galatians. I was curious. Why Galatians?

Paul was amazed that the Galatians so quickly deserted Christ for another gospel (notice that they didn't desert Christ's gospel, they deserted Christ himself).

All around us we see people who are deserting Christ too quickly: some after a few months, some after a few years. Too quickly. So quickly. "Tacheos" in the language of Paul.

Some things should be done tacheos. Elsewhere in the NT, you see people welcoming the poor quickly (Luke 14:21) and quickly moving to take advantage of a business opportunity (Luke 16:6). Tacheos isn't a problem, in and of itself. (We're not Ents.)

But to desert Jesus quickly, that's surprising, astonishing, shocking. Here we glimpse the first hint of Paul's rising sarcasm. The word he uses to describe his emotion around their quick desertion of Christ is "thaumazo," a word which most often means "amazement" and frequently comes with a positive connotation. It's like the moment when your wife tells you she's overjoyed with what you did for mother's day (note to self: do something for mother's day). The juxtaposition between how you know they actually feel and the language they use creates a huge tension.

I'm amazed at how quickly you managed to desert Christ! I'm just so impressed. Loads of people have deserted Christ over the years, but of them all, I think you've done it the fastest. I'd like to give you a cookie. Would you like a cookie? How 'bout a pat on the head? Would you like that?

I imagine that Paul could replace the word "quickly" with loads of others in a sarcastic evaluation of my spiritual life.

I'm amazed at how easily...
I'm amazed at how unnecessarily...
I'm amazed at how self-servingly...
I'm amazed at how half-heartedly...
I'm amazed at how unthinkingly...
I'm amazed at how willingly...
I'm amazed at how frequently...
I'm amazed at how quickly.

Quickly.

What would happen if we never deserted Jesus, if we stayed true to him and to his cause? What would happen if we didn't desert quickly or frequently of at all? Would the whole campus change or just most of it?

Forever and forever

Waiting for the baby to come seems like it's taking forever. Even though the baby could come at any time, we're 5 weeks out from the due date. 5 weeks. 5 years.

Five weeks never seemed like so long a time.

In Galatians 1:5, Paul says that the glory is going to be to Jesus "forever and forever" (tous aionas ton aionon). There's no end in sight.

The Jesus Story contains a much longer time-horizon than we're used to. We're used to stories that go 5 weeks or 4 years or til death do us part. But stories that go on forever and forever are foreign to us, incomprehensible.

Our unfamiliarity with stories of an infinite length can lead to some confusion on our part.

Delayed gratification makes a lot more sense if the story is longer. Put in the time to get a degree and it will help your whole career. Lead a Small Group with IV and bless the church for the rest of your life. Treat her like you want to keep her around and you might just get to.

But an infinite story will look different. The plot will move much more slowly. The focus might not be just on one character, but on a whole family. The dénouement may take a long, long time.

And that's what we have. The Story stretched across the ages pulls in a small family and eventually the whole world. After the Hero's dramatic triumph over the Villain, generations pass. And the standing ovation goes on forever. And no one gets annoyed.

"Tous aionas ton aionon" is a special phrase for us. It reminds us that we're part of Jesus' Story, a story that goes on forever and forever and forever. Amen.

Wishing well and seeing well

If God the Father is the one who raised Jesus from the dead, we might wonder if he's the one who put him there in the first place. Was Jesus in on the plan?

Galatians 1:4 seems to indicate that the early church believed that he was. Christ is described as "tou (who) dontos (gave, offered up) eauton (himself)." Maybe this was a self-sacrifice. Maybe it was a stepping up as champion. Either way, Jesus the giver of grace and peace, tou dontos eauton uper (for the sake of) tou (these) amartion (sins, wanderings) emon (that belong to us).

Was Jesus in on the plan? Well, Paul calls him Kuriou Iesou Christou tou dontos eauton uper tou amartion emon (The Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself up for the sake of these sins that belong to us).

What a great way to be known!

For some folks, I'm Steve that guy who works for GCF. For others, I'm that white guy who lives in the black neighborhood of BV, but isn't Mormon. How great would it be to be known as someone who gave himself, fully, for the sake of someone else?

I'd love to be known as someone who poured out his life for his wife, as someone who gave all that he had to the privilege of parenting his son, as someone who used all that he had to bless God's church.

I wonder if Paul's willingness to wish "grace and peace" to people who exasperated him isn't connected with his understanding of Christ's identity as the One who gave himself up. If the God Paul loves is the God who gave himself up so that others (even annoying others) could experience grace and peace, Paul should wish them to receive what's on offer.

Can you imagine if Paul refused to wish "grace and peace"? Would he be able to long maintain the image of Jesus as the one who gave himself up for the sins we carried around with us? Would he struggle to see Jesus as he really is, full of grace and truth?

I think these things (being the sort of person who wishes "grace and peace" and being the sort of person who sees Jesus as our rescuer) go hand in hand. You can't long sustain one without the other.

Let's hope that we and those around us get to experience grace and peace.
Let's hope that we and those around us get to see Jesus as our rescuer.

Grace and peace to you, flesh-thorn

Paul is about to light up the Galatian church, to (as he says elsewhere) "come to you with a rod." He isn't playing around.

But he includes, at the beginning of his letter, this curious phrase: "charis umin kai eirene" which means "grace (charis) to you (umin) and (kai) peace (eirene)."

Grace to you and peace.

He begins by wishing them well. Later, we'll hear his hurt and frustration, his exasperation and his confusion. But at the start, he communicates "charis umin kai eirene."

How hard was it to write those words? When I feel frustration and exasperation, I struggle to wish people well. I become so selfish, so me-centered, that charis and eirene get lost in the shuffle.

Christ calls us to love our neighbors and our enemies and our brothers and sisters in him. Wishing "charis umin kai eirene" is a small, but very tangible part of that.

What would my life and ministry look like if I could wish even the most difficult people "grace and peace"? What would happen if, no matter how deeply they hurt me, I was able to wish everyone "charis umin kai eirene"? What if charis and eirene became the focus of my desire for people (not following orders or performance or not getting on my nerves)?

True "charis" and "eirene", the deepest stuff, has God as its source. It comes, as Paul mentions "apo Theou Patros emon kai kuriou Iesou Christou" or "from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Oh, that the people I serve would experience grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

One for all (speaking)

There is an interesting word that pops up three times in Galatians: "pantes" which means "all."

In chapter 1, verse 2, Paul sends greetings from πάντες who are with him. In chapter 3, Paul reminds the Galatians that they are πάντες God's children through faith in Christ Jesus and that they are πάντες One in Christ Jesus.

"All" can mean "every single one" or "some of all sorts." In these circumstances, it seems more like πάντες means every single one, all-inclusive.

The notion of "all" is a hard notion. I keep going back and forth with it. On one hand, I'd love for every single student at W&L to have a meaningful opportunity to connect with Jesus and with a Small Group. On the other hand, providing everyone with a meaningful opportunity doesn't necessarily entail connecting everyone to Jesus. It just means providing opportunities to some of all sorts who could pass those opportunities along. The mission here might be finished before our InterVarsity community has 1777 people in it.

"All" is a hard word. Paul is placing the force of the entire community behind him in his blistering assault. This is a letter from all of us. Was all of the community in agreement with him? Did they all back his words?

How can one of us really and truly speak for all of us?

Wake up!

In reading Galatians this evening, I came across a pretty cool word: "egeirantos." This word means "raised," as in verse one, "and God the Father, who raised him from the dead."

"εγειραντος" is a word that also has connotations of "Waking up." It's the same root word (egeire) used in Ephesians 5:14 where Paul says "Awake, Sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you."

Egeire!

God the Father egeirantos-ed Jesus from deadness. We are called to egeire into the life God calls us in the light of Christ.

This word "egeirantos" shows up later in church history in an epistle from Ignatius of Antioch (107 AD). He's working through a creedal list and is countering a Docetic heresy and pauses for a relational echo. He says that Christ was truly crucified and died and that he also truly was raised from the dead. He's about to say that he was received up to the Father, but he pauses. "Also was truly raised from the dead, his Father raising him up." Egeirantos is something one person does to another. It's not enough to know that Christ rose from the grave, Ignatius thought we needed to know that the Father raised him up, woke him up from the death-sleep.

When I walk around campus, sometimes I dream that God would wake us up. I wonder, if I listened more closely, if I could hear the voice of God whistling through the trees: "Egeire!"

What would happen if the voice that commanded the cosmos into existence called out: "Wake up!"? What would change? Is that already happening?

10 Real Reasons to Make Vows

Here're 10 real reasons vow-making might be helpful:

Invites God's work and help
Links us to our history
Provides action in the midst of mystery
Opens channels for accountability
Creates systems for countability and measurement
Steps back from danger
Symbolizes love and commitment
Removes gray area
Clarifies goals/targets
Sounds serious
Is serious
Why so serious?

Vows as entangling alliances

Entangling alliances: easily the coolest phrase in 20th century history. Someone's President gets capped and before you know it, the entire world is at war.

I wonder if this entanglement isn't the reason we're hesitant to make vows.

I know it can't be because we don't want to have short hair like Paul (Acts 18:18). And I really doubt we're much less committed to the cause.

Maybe we worry that we'll unintentionally make contrary vows. (I vow that my family will only eat organic food. My wife vows that our family will only eat inexpensive food. My son vows that our family will never grow our own food.).

Maybe we worry that we'll make foolish vows. (I'll sacrifice the first thing that comes through the door. Oh no! My daughter! Who would have thought a human would come walking through that door right now?)

Maybe we worry that we'll become legalists. (I've made a dozen vows and kept every single one of them, so I don't need to eat that stale wafer, Padre)

Maybe we worry that we'll fail. (I've made a dozen vows and failed to keep even a single one of them, so I can't eat that stale wafer, Padre)

None of these worries should stop us. We can pursue wisdom. We can fight against our tendency to justify ourselves. There are worse things than failure.

Opportunities for abuse abound when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. Fasting can fuel eating disorders. Giving can turn into magical thinking. Prayer can become apathy. Study can deaden.

The disciplines pursued by themselves or run off kilter can do a lot of damage. But God has given them to us for our good.

A quick glance reveals Jesus and Paul and much of the early church doing all sorts of things that we might consider arcane, odd, unnecessary or even dangerous: these disciplines.

Why?

Because of a vow he had taken

To raise money for Relay for Life, my friend Michael Anderson shaved his head. Watch if you want:


I noticed in reading Acts today that Paul shaved his noggin as well. In Acts 18:18, Luke records "Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken."

Paul didn't have his hair cut off to raise money. He didn't so in to show support. He did it "because of a vow he had taken."

Paul was someone who proclaimed salvation without lawkeeping. He ate with Gentiles, refused to require circumcision and even fought to lower the ethnic barriers created by elements of the law. Salvation came by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

So, why is Paul shaving his head? Why is he taking vows?

For some reason, vow-taking is an uncommon practice in my experience of the Christian community. Sure, people take marriage vows, but ask us to remember them and we'd be hard-pressed.

My friend, Robert Leatherwood, was an incredible youth pastor. (Insiders would say his work was "inconceivable!") One of the traditions in his youth group was his "Bible reading vow." He would ask us, with an unusual seriousness, to consider taking this vow: "to read the Bible every day for the rest of my life."

The way he described it, vow-taking was a way of shifting something from the Permissible category to the Sin category (for life or for a season) in order to assist your growth toward Christ-likeness.

Almost 15 years after taking that vow, I'm still reading the Bible every day (or trying to). Time in God's word has become non-optional for me. I know I don't need to read every day in order to be saved, that my reading doesn't make me more lovable to God, but I've committed to it. I miss days. I have nothing to brag about here.

But the vow has helped. As someone who loves reading, I could read all the time and never get to the Bible. The Tale of Two Cities can call to me more loudly than Acts of the Apostles some nights. But my vow helps. By my vow, I'm calling out to God to help me to listen to him as he speaks through his word.

The Bible doesn't tell us what Paul's vow was, whether it was ending or beginning or how the head-shaving fit into all of it. What that bit about cutting the hair does reveal is that Paul, free from the need to perform for God, still made vows.

Why is it that, for many of us, the only vows we'll ever take are our marriage vows? What are the risks associated with this practice? What, practically, could we gain by pursuing God through vow-taking?
What does a bishop do?

All over the place, people ask the same question about pastors. What do you do with your week? What does an average week look like? Do you really do this full-time?

Pastors ask the same question of bishops.

In my line of work, people ask this same question. What's a Staffworker do? What's an Area Director do?

We have options, actually. Our job descriptions are so big and our predecessors so diverse, we end up with multiple paths of faithfulness. What I mean by that, is that we can do the job faithfully, differently.

Despite our options, it is rare to find someone in a position of coordinating ministry who makes evangelism their focus. But it doesn't have to be this way. In fact, it might be best if it wasn't this way.

This was my last take-away from The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter. I'll move on after this, I promise.

Hunter claims that Celtic bishops saw themselves primarily as evangelists, not as administrators. Paul might have been in the same boat. I can't imagine the apostle seeing himself as an administrator. Even though quite a bit of his writing centers around the collection for the church in Jerusalem, Paul didn't seem to spend the bulk of his time administrating.

What would happen if people with jobs like mine shifted their focus?
What would happen if the people asking other people to "do evangelism" were evangelists themselves?

Recovery in the midst of mission

Sometimes the mission context serves not only as a theater for adapting the presentation of Christianity; it also serves as a catalyst for recovering something essential and precious within Christianity. (p. 84)
- George Hunter The Celtic Way of Evangelism

Much of Christian theology was developed because the mission context required further clarification. Would we have Athanasius without Arius? Would we enjoy Augustine without the Pelagians? Would we have heard of Luther without his conflict with Tetzel? Would we know much about Paul if the early church didn't struggle to maintain it's grip on the gospel?

All through Paul's writings, he is clarifying the gospel. I'm not saying that that's the only thing he does, but it seems to be one of the main things.

We are a multi-ethnic community because of the gospel.
We live by these ethics because of the gospel.
We pursue these disciplines because of the gospel.

The gospel informs and shapes our lives, deeply and richly.

But some of the depth and a lot of the richness has come about along the way. We overemphasize things (go shallow) and ignore things (turn poor) and if we are to experience the depth and richness of our union with Christ, we must constantly be recorrected: firstly, by God and secondly, by the people he sends.

Paul corrected people right and left, recovering for them the deep and rich gospel of Christ. He did it because he was on a mission. And to complete his mission, he needed people to know the complete gospel.

What might we be recovering in our particular mission?
How can we communicate our rediscoveries to the wider church?

"And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost." Anyone guess the quote?

How important is rapport?

How important is rapport in public speaking?

One of Patrick and the Celt's strengths, according to Hunter in The Celtic Way of Evangelism, was their capacity to build rapport with barbarian audiences. They didn't just communicate the gospel, the communicated it in a way that was flooded with trust.

I'm typically a high-rapport speaker. Rapport is a huge value in the Latino community and I've picked up on that from my family. I'm constantly building a bridge to my hearers.

But I've been in some low-rapport speaking situations recently. Doing stand-up at Scott's Roast was a low-rapport situation. I was so scripted, needing to be mean but not too mean, needing to be clean but also funny. I found it really difficult to build rapport. I ignored the connection and it went fine.

I heard a great sermon today. Same story. I didn't leave knowing the Pastor any better (although he is a great pastor), but I was deeply engaged by his sermon. Dr. Paul Bufford tackled Hebrews 6 with passion and clarity, but didn't take a lot of time to build rapport.

So, is rapport important or isn't it?

Maybe rapport in preaching is less important if you already have a connection with the people you're reaching out to. That's what I saw from Paul today. He loves the church, dives with enthusiasm into the meet and greet time, knows everyone's name. He can preach without telling cute stories or getting vulnerable about his own life because he has other places to do those things (and takes advantage of them).

Maybe rapport in public speaking is less important if the people you're speaking to are already comfortable, on their home turf. Part of the reason I might feel the need to build rapport so deeply is that I'm never speaking on my home turf and to groups where everyone already feels comfortable. If every Large Group and every church service was like Scott's Roast, I wouldn't need to build rapport.

This is instructive. Whether through our lives, our relationships or our words, we want to be calling people to join us on our journey with Jesus.

Maybe the best sermons are lived, lived out and preached. I think that's one of the things I'm learning as I immerse myself in the apostle Paul's letters. He was a man whose life testified to the gospel, whose community testified to the gospel and whose words testified to the gospel.

What happens when these three - life, community and words - are out of alignment?
What would happen if they all lined up?

Belonging and believing

How important is community really? Does it matter to our mission?

Tonight a hundred or more people gathered at Roanoke College for the Farewell Comedy Roast of Scott Yeager. Scott and I serve on Staff with IV together. He's a great guy and I really like him as a friend (that's what she said).

Scott made a difference in our lives. But is that all it takes, one person committed to God to make a difference in another person's life? Is that the best or only way? What about communal ministry?

One of George Hunter's big ideas in The Celtic Way of Evangelism has to do with this concept of community. Patrick and the Celts evangelized in teams. This wasn't just two dudes walking the street doing contact evangelism together. This was a community doing life together and intentionally engaging their neighbors.

I grew up thinking that evangelism was something you did by yourself. Someone stood up at a meeting and shared the gospel and that was evangelism. You talked through a tract with someone you cared about and that was evangelsim. Life together doesn't seem like evangelism.

For most Christian communities, our together-lives are designed in a way to escape the world. We only see each other once or twice a week, going into our secret building and using our coded language. We then go out, alone, into the world to love and serve and witness. Then we come back and report.

There was quite a bit of this in the early church. The disciples hid in locked rooms. They went out into the country. If you didn't believe what they believed, you couldn't belong to their community.

See the example of Peter. He gets up over and over again in the beginning of Acts and invites people to believe. And once they believe, he encourages them to get baptized and join the community. Believing precedes belonging. And, in a sense, it always will.

But there is another sense, one Hunter picks up on and one you also see modeled in the life of the early church, in which belonging comes before belief. In fact, some people end up believing because they already belong. Jesus' disciples would fit this model. They were his before they had any clue who he really was.

This is a complex idea and one that can easily lead us astray. In our rapidly postmodernizing world, one must be cautious saying anything that could give the notion that it's okay to minimize the importance of belief. Belief is vital. Belief is necessary, absolutely to our union with Christ.

But there is a sense in which people need an opportunity to experience the Christian community before they'll believe what we believe. They need to kick the tires, see if this is meaningful, drink our Kool-Aid before they "drink the Kool-Aid."

One of the things I'm most proud of and excited about about the ministry at W&L is that we welcome people who don't believe. We create environments for them to belong, even/especially if they don't believe. Our Small Groups and Large Group model this so well.

And in those environments, people are able to have meaningful, trust-filled conversations. And some who didn't believe, begin to believe.

How can Christian communities better create entry-spaces of belonging?
What would happen if we did?

Is centralized control the enemy of missionality?

Ministry can prove phenomenally difficult to control.

I've spent part of the day today scripting some of our strategic moves for next year. But "the wind blows wherever it pleases" and so does "everyone born of the Spirit." Ministry is unpredictable. People grow and change at variable rates. Ministry can prove phenomenally difficult to control.

I'm still reading The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George Hunter. In the current chapter, he observes this control-struggle spinning around the Celtic/Irish missional church.

Remember, we're pre-Reformation here. All of the church looks to Rome for guidance, leadership and counsel. And Rome controls.

The Roman Way is seen as the Right Way. Buildings should be of roman design. Music should be in the roman style. Even (and yes, even back then) hair should be cut in the roman fashion.

This was seen as a preventative against heresy and drift. If we standardize everything (even the things that we know probably aren't that important), we'll protect the Core. The Core is what is really important, what we cling to and hope to pass along. Standardize to protect.

That philosophy is true as long as the Core is actually protected by the standardization. But what if standardization threatens the Core? What if doing ministry the Roman Way stifles what's most important to us? What if control kills the ministry? What if control stifles missionality?

I think Paul must have really struggled with this. The more I read his epistles, the more I see this tension in him: on the one hand, I think he wanted to focus on the Core (to preach Christ crucified and to pass along as of first importance what he himself received: Christ died, was buried, was raised and appeared and all this according to Scripture and to free us from sin) and on the other, I see him getting pulled into the minute dealings of church life (precise theological spats, church discipline, structure and practice).

I feel this tension so deeply in my own ministry. We've been given a part to play in God's huge story and we testify to this, but someone has to deliver the Care Packages and fundraise and buy the ice cream and set leadership guidelines and equip leaders and deal with all the mess of ministry. I love both hands of this tension.

But I struggle with an overdeveloped and overfed desire for control.

According to Hunter, this struggle has been echoed and repeated throughout the life and history of God's church: "The Protestant Reformation left the Control-from-Rome paradigm essentially unchallenged. For Protestants, the locus of control merely shifted from Rome to Wittenberg or Geneva or Canterbury, and then to New York or Chicago or Nashville" (p. 45). I know this flies in the face of the Solas, but I think he might be on to something (in his observations of our practice).

Centralized control can provide stability and protection. But it moves the initiative away from the front lines, from the people who actually know the cultures that are currently being reached out to. And, in doing so, centralized control makes risk more difficult, change more infrequent and missionality much more rare. Our missionality comes from our connection to our missional God. And he refuses to submit to our contol.

What would it look like to develop truly indigenous ministries?
What would it look like to ride the tension between grandeur and minutiae?

Escape or extend?

Escape the world or extend the church?

Can monastic communities achieve either of these ends? When I think of monastic communities, I usually think of people locking themselves away, trying to escape the world. Whether that end can be reached, I don't know.

But what about the other? What about the attempt to extend the church?

This question is raised in Hunter's narrative in The Celtic Way of Evangelism. Hunter believes that Patrick's missional communities represented a new movement in the church.

Imagine monastary walls used to invite people into a new way of life. Imagine monastic rhythms used to show people the reality of God's presence in the world. Imagine missional communities as beachheads of God's kingdom of kindness.

I wouldn't expect campus ministry to often echo celtic monasticism. But we are passionate about missional communities, right? Small Groups exist to extend God's community. InterVarsity chapters exist to extend God's community.

Our missional communities can and should stand as witness-outposts for the watching and wandering world.

Hunter identifies two shifts Patrick's monasticism made in order move from escaping the world to extending the church:

1) A shift from individualistic religion to a more communal-oriented approach to Christianity. In a world where people run at full tilt all the time, disconnected and often alone, our missional communities present a different approach to life. Small Groups that love and care for each other are a powerful witness to a world that wonders if God is a caring God.

2) A shift from a segmented world to a world where the sacred and secular are integrated. Every week, I hear "I didn't have a lot of time for God". But prayer can be woven throughout all of life. And God is present in every element of life. Our communities show up on campus, do life on the Hill and, at times, point to God's presence and accessibility.

What if our communities witnessed to the watching world?
What if our communities helped people connect with God on campus?
What if our missional communities extend God's church?

Civilizing and Christianizing

I've finally picked up George Hunter's The Celtic Way of Evangelism. I've been hearing about the book for years and finally have both the time and a copy.

The book examines the Celtic practice of communal evangelism.

The story starts with Patrick, a young Briton who was kidnapped by Celtic pirates and enslaved for the better part of his youth. After escaping from slavery, a series of twist and turns lead Patrick into the priesthood and back to Ireland.

Patrick, more easily recognized as St. Patrick, was what Hunter calls "history's first missionary bishop." Patrick returned to Ireland with a small contingent of priests, seminarians and women to plant and build churches among "the barbarians."

This idea of "barbarians" is quite challenging. The barbarians were contrasted to the Romans. To be a barbarian is to be non-Roman. And since Christianity was the Roman religion, the church at the time of Patrick assumed that "Christianizing" and "civilizing" went hand in hand.

In fact, many assumed that a people group had to start becoming more civilized before God's gospel could make any progress with them. In other words, barbarians cannot become Christians until they become more Roman.

That's an easy idea to scoff at. It echoes the practices of the church in the 60's, where older Christians refused to let people come to their churches until the guys cut their hair, the girls grew their hair out and everyone dressed up. We would never do that, right?

I wonder who our community considers barbarians. Who would have to "clean up their act" before they could participate in our community? How much of the cleaning up of the act is an actual pursuit of Christian discipleship and how much of it is really just adjusting to fit into our "Christian" subculture?

I also wonder about the effect this dynamic has on our understanding of discipleship. When someone first becomes a Christian, what do we do? Do we help them develop a deeper relationship with God or do we start trying to "civilize" them?

I find it very challenging that, when Paul talks to new Christians and the churches he takes care of, he talks much more about multi-ethnicity, evangelism and the church than he does about anything approximating a daily Quiet Time. And sure, he talks about avoiding drunkenness and pursuing sexual purity, but those conversations take a back seat to his teaching on prayer, evangelism and remaining faithful in the face of suffering. Why don't my priorities match his?

I think that, while I resist the impulse to "civilize" people before I'll share the gospel with them, my instincts are to rapidly assimilate people into the "Christian" subculture.

[I put the quotes around the word 'Christian' because not everything in our subculture is essentially Christian. This thought clicked for me the first time I heard the FIF song "Oh Canada"]

I have a hunch that our communal witness would be more effective if we were able to separate "civilizing" and "Christianizing".

That's part of the Celtic Way of evangelism.

What do I have to offer now?

Mud and tape. Mud and tape. He hit a rhythm as he worked on the drywall in my kitchen. Mud and tape. Mud and tape.

"How do you convince people to use their gifts, you know, in the community?" Robert asked tonight. I wish I had a good answer.

All around us churches are filled with people who see the church as merely a refilling station. They come to church to get re-energized so that they can leave and go out into the world and serve God.

And there's an element of the good and beautiful there. It is good and beautiful for the people of God to present in the world God so loves. But why do we stand on the periphery of the church?

I'm currently standing on the periphery of the church.

I'm a Staffworker for InterVarsity, but I'm also an InterVarsity alumnus. I'm both the producer and the product. We want to raise up young people to bless the church. Four for fourty: serve with us, let us train you for four years and prepare you for a lifetime of service in the church. I want to be deeply involved in the life and ministry of a local church.

But I'm not.

Some of that has to do with our upcoming transition. Wisdom dictates that if you are having a baby and moving to Florida, you should step down from some of the places you're serving in the church. Better to do in now, planned and controlled than to get in over capacity and have to bail without notice.

But what do I do in the meantime, the time between now and when life reorients itself? If God has given me any gifts for the church, if I'm still a member of his body, what do I do during this season?

Pray? Train? Write? Nothing?

The body-of-Christ theology put forward by the Apostle Paul seems to assume that I will have something to offer even during this season. Every member of the body has something to offer. Even me. Even now.

I need to find out what that is.

Three how's we never learned about Sabbath rest

Here're three things I bet most people don't know about how to experience Sabbath rest:

1) To rest deeply you must be active.

Activity is usually seen as the enemy of rest. I rest because I'm tired, because I'm crashing. I just want to flop on the couch, open the laptop, and listen to Radiolab while playing Desktop Tower Defense. And this is restful (to a degree).

Sabbath rest is about ceasing our work-activity. We can't work all the time. We need breaks. That's true.

But Sabbath rest is also a space in the life-work rhythm for renewal, refreshment, recharging. When my phone battery is drained, it's not enough to just stop using it. I have to plug the thing in.

Sabbath rest requires us to be active. I often cook (Arroz con Pollo esta semana). The work of chopping and seasoning is a nice change of pace from the work of listening and counseling. There's an end to it! When you work with people, your work is rarely done. Active Sabbath rest allows me to finish something.

When I have passive, sit-on-the-couch Sabbaths, I may come back to the work-week physically rested, but there's rarely a dent in my emotional and spiritual exhaustion. Find a way to be active (take pictures, build something, fix something, master something).

2) We must adapt our rest over time.

I don't rest the same way I used to. Five years ago, rest looked like hanging out in Barnes and Noble, drinking a raspberry mocha and reading a good book.

Now, I live in a place that's far from Barnes and Nobles, I don't want to drop the money on a mocha and I'm married. Solo rest is much more rare.

So, I need to adapt. How do I rest with a wife? on an InterVarsity salary? in Buena Vista? There are answers to those questions, but I have to be creative.

My friend, Robert, commented on yesterday's post about the way having a child has changed his experience of Sabbath (I'm still thinking about your question, Robert). I can really empathize with him, because I had a similar experience after Amy and I married. What worked before wasn't working now. I was happy for the change, but struggled to regain the spiritual ground I'd taken before.

Often, I think, our restlessness is due to a failure to adjust to change.

Adjusting can prove difficult. It requires planning, strategy, introspection. It takes time and energy and even though you regain in the long-term what you lose in the short term, it often doesn't feel worth it. But it is.

This blog represents a small bit of this change in my life. Shifting to writing daily was a big shift and has been huge for my spiritual life, forcing me to go deeper with my thinking and to reflect of God and his word every day. It was a creative idea (thanks, Abby) and, without a lot of effort, I've been able to find a structure that allows me daily rest even in the rhythms of married life.

Will it continue to work after the baby is born? I don't know. If it doesn't, I'll have to adjust.

3) We need to rest in community.

The last how-to item on my list has to do with community. As an introvert, I usually think of community as an enemy to my rest. "Oh, what's that, Baby? Dinner tonight? With the _______?" usually spells an exhausted "me."

But our community can deeply impact our experience of Sabbath rest. If my co-workers know and accept that I won't answer my phone, I'm more likely to rest. If folks will cover for me, I'm more likely to rest. If my community is concerned and cares about if I'm rested, I'm more likely to rest.

Sam and Wendy both expressed concern for me in the last week about my restlessness. There wasn't any condemnation in their voices, no "You've been neglecting the Sabbath, sinner." Just, "You look tired" and "Are you okay?"

In a world that demands more and more, don't stop until the work's done and pay no attention to the fact that it will never be done, we need a community that will help us rest. We need people who will rest with us (play cards, vacation, hike) and who will help is with the creative work of resting.

We can't do it alone. In this, as in most things, we need community.

Rest increases productivity

Rest increases productivity.

I sped away from Barnes and Noble today. Broke the speed limit, would have broken the sound barrier if I was driving Clay's Z (okay, would have destroyed the transmission because I've yet to master driving stick, but you get the point). I was so full of life.

We went to church and then to Barnes and Noble. I spent 3 hours reading Switch by the Heath brothers. I'm a Learner, according to Strengthsfinder, so spending part of the day learning is hugely restful and reinvigorating for me.

I have a long "To Do" list. So long, in fact, that without rest, I'll get exhausted before I can finish it. This makes sense, is easy to see, so why do I often ignore it?

If God designed us to need regular, rhythmic rest in order to work at our optimum capacity, why do I throw rest out the window whenever the work piles us?

Imagine with me...my day of rest today (useless from a work-perspective) will send me into the work-week fully charged. I'll have high productivity tomorrow, blaze through my office day with all of it's easy-to-scratch-off, momentum-building tasks and race into the ministry week.

But what if I'd worked today? Wrote up those notes instead of reading Switch? Made those calls instead of spending time with Amy? Read that book for work instead of A Tale of Two Cities?

I'd be exhausted going into tomorrow: physically, emotionally, spiritually. And I don't have to be. God created this Sabbath rhythm for me. I should make use of it.

Too many of us in ministry can't rest. We're always working, we can't find anything active that's restorative (we just crash on the couch), we never unplug. At our best, we do this because we're so committed to the mission. The mission isn't a 40-hour-a-week mission. It's the sort of mission that inspires one to "beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to other, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize."

But here's the paradoxical thing: our lack of rest so drains us, so decreases our productivity that we gain less and less from our long hours. Now, there's an edge on the other side. We all know people in ministry who seem to do practically nothing. But folk like me really struggle with it from this angle.

What if I took one day off every week, several waking hours off every night? I think the boost in productivity would more than compensate for the loss of hours worked.

So the challenge, if you're struggling with the work-all-the-time angle, is simple: rest more. I'll give you two options: rest for 30 minutes more each day or rest for 4 hours on a specific day. Do it for a month. See what happens.

***Note: you'll probably find out quick that you don't really know how to rest. At least, I hope that's what you find. I don't want it to be just me. I'll post on this tomorrow***

Ministry as spiritual discipline

We often think of spiritual disciplines as things that we do on our own. I read my Bible or pray. I can fast or tithe. Even the more group oriented spiritual disciplines (service, celebration, etc...) are often pictured as things that I, as an individual, do in the context of community.

Spiritual disciplines work slowly and over time. It's easier to see the impact of a year's worth of daily prayer than this morning's.

I wonder if we can map this onto ministry.

The Gospels record Jesus engaging in various practices of spiritual disciplines (prayer especially). One assumes that these practices were vital for the God-pleasing life of the Son of God. Did his life need the slow shaping provided by the spiritual disciplines?

God's church clearly needs shaping, purifying, washing with water through the word; the sort of things that, were God's church a single person, she might seek through the practice of spiritual disciplines.

I wonder what those of us in ministry could learn about our work if we connected our work in the community to the spiritual disciplines God gives us individually. What if we expected our ministry to work slowly and over time?

To keep me from being conceited...

"To keep me from being conceited..." (2 Cor. 12:7)

Paul wrestled with something in his life, something he calls a "a thorn." Some people think that this "thorn" was some sort of persistent sin. Others think it was a physical ailment. Still others have theorized that that the "thorn" was a person or a group of people (ex-wife, legalists, etc...).

We don't have to figure out which of these it was. What I want to focus on is Paul's explanation for his experience of his thorn.

After years of experiencing this thorn, Paul sees it as a God-given defense against his own conceit. He receives revelation from God, has a powerful and meaningful ministry and sees himself as needing a little something to keep him from forgetting his place.

Our weakness keeps us dependent on God. Whether our weakness is physical, sin-related or relational, God can use it to help us remain in right relationship with him.

What would happen if we rejoiced in our weaknesses, rather than hiding or denying them?

Sometimes, my best just isn't good enough

I think everyone in ministry has seasons when every pastoral bone in your body gets broken. You ache and hurt. You become acutely aware that the beautiful lives God's given us are also "nasty, brutish and short." You feel like you've given your best, your best isn't working and you have nothing left to give.

I caught myself, looking with the vision doubling lens of transition, experiencing one of those seasons this week (can a week be a season?). My questions fell flat: instead of drawing attention to God's activity in their lives, the folk I disciple felt like I was checking up on their Quiet Times. My teaching fell flat: glazed eyes revealed that I failed to communicate the profundity of God's word. My serving fell flat: no one's life was noticeably better as a result of my ministry this week.

These seasons hurt. We wince to face them, become discouraged, question our calling.

But (even after only 6 years in ministry) I've become familiar with these seasons. God's work in the world and through us is, at times, a slow and hard to perceive work. Though I'm available, I'm not always pressed into service. Sometimes, when I am included, I miss the mark. Sometimes, rather than working through me, God is working in me.

I think back to that passage in Mark 9 where the disciples fail to cast out the demon. Jesus is up on the mountain with Peter and the Sons of Zebedee (the Big Three). Fourth place was up for grabs. Who would heal the boy? None of them.

Sometimes, I wonder if my best just isn't good enough. I wonder if God needs to expand my faith, to grow me before he does anything else through me. I think it would be a horrible thing to build too much on a shaky foundation. I think it would be a horrible experience to be in a place where my ministry exceeds my maturity.

When I bump into these seasons of ministry, it's easy to wonder if God can do anything about this, take pity on us and help us. I hear him say "Everything is possible for him who believes" and I respond "I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!" Some days the emphasis is on the "I do believe" (as in "But I really do believe"). Other days, more aware of my unbelief, the emphasis gets placed on the second sentence. This in one of those other days. Help me overcome my unbelief!

I don't know what to tell you to do when the people ministering to you are in the middle of a week like this week. Be patient with us. Try to understand. Encourage us to pray. Remind us that we are God's children, not just his servants. Resist the consumer temptation to cast us aside when we miss the mark.

Everyone in ministry, if they love the people they serve, wishes they had more to offer. Some weeks, we wish that more than others. May the God of grace expand our best so that the ones we love may experience more and more of Him!

Trying to keep emotions in check (inauthenticity?)

I've been thinking a lot about transitions lately, with our impending move and impending baby. Tomorrow night's the last Large Group of the year as well. Seniors will be sharing and I'll be trying to keep my emotions in check.

Why is that? Why will I be trying to keep my emotions in check?

I went back and read some of my old Xanga posts from around the time I left Duke and I was so visibly emotional. All over the place. Thankfully, nobody read Xanga.

Around that same time, GCF cut a worship CD. One track on that CD was a spoken-word, vision presentation. The student speaking shared his heart for everyone at W&L to hear the gospel and unpacked this vision for an Ephesus style ministry.

In GCF we've really tried to embrace this Acts 19 model of ministry. Paul set up shop in the lecture hall of Tyrannus and over the course of two years "all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord." Our dream for our ministry here is that all students at W&L would experience meaningful opportunities to connect to Jesus. And, by God's grace, this is happening. Through Large Group and Small Groups, the word is going out.

Paul did in Ephesus what he came there to do. He was faithful and so was God. In Acts 20, Paul says "Goodbye" to the elders he had raised up in the Ephesian church and prays for them. And then the emotions break loose. Weeping, embracing and whatnot.

Why am I afraid of letting my emotions break loose? Why do I hesitate to share that part of my life?

For years I've longed for GCF to be the sort of community in which we could claim, like Paul, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." Why am I holding back this part of my life?

It could be out of a desire to not burden people.
It could be out of a drive for self-protection.
It could be out of habit.
It could be out of a desire to appear manly.
It could be out of a drive to be cool.
It could be out of habit.
It could be out of a desire to not distract.
It could be out of a drive to appear professional.
It could be out of habit.

People in ministry deeply struggle to share their lives as well as their gospel. I don't exactly know why, but I know that it takes a lot of work to push against the privacy current. Senior sharing is a good time to be emotional. Transitions are good times to be emotional. These emotions are important parts of our lives. I want to share them, but don't know if I can.

Sharing life in ministry truly requires God's help. God help us all!

What would change if Jesus died and stayed dead?

Luke gave me something great to think about today during our discipling meeting. What would be different if Jesus died and stayed dead?

[Now, before I dive in, I want to mention 1 Cor. 15:17..."If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins." What follows is a thought experiment, not an attempt to contradict Paul.]

If Christ has not been raised, our faith would probably remain intact. We might not even notice the difference. If the gospel is really about Christ dying to pay the penalty for our sins, do we really need him to come back to life? "It is finished" he said. Do we need him anymore? Would anything change if he died and stayed dead?

Here're some thoughts about what might change:

We might approach the Gospels distrustfully. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, what do we do with the things he said about his coming resurrection? Was he mistaken? Lying? If that's the case, can we trust him with other things? Will he really rescue us from our sins? Can we really call God "Abba, Father"? Will we be punished for writing long chains of interrogative sentences?

We might feel enormous pressure to perform. Imagine that God the Father sacrificed his Son to rescue us from our bondage from sin. Free, now, we would face the grief of the Son-less Father. Our adoption into his family, while still filling us with joy (what an honor!), would come with pressure. Our seat at the table would be Jesus' old seat. We'd wear his old clothes. We'd have to live up to his legacy. Jesus died for us, after all. He would want to see us, as Dickens said, "winning [our] way up in that path of [ours] which once was [his]...winning it so well, that [his] name is made illustrious there by the light of [ours]."

We might fear the future. If Jesus died alone and rots alone in a borrowed grave, what destiny awaits us? Can a servant be greater than his master? We would be hard-pressed to expect a good outcome for ourselves, bad as we are, if the best among us meets a miserable end. If he was rejected by God, we might be rejected. If he was broken, we might be broken. If he was abandoned, we might be abandoned. If that is the last word for him, it might also be for us. Did God accept the sacrifice? Did he really accept us? Or is what we see more real than what we've been told?

Fear, pressure, distrust: we don't feel those, do we? If we do, might we look to the resurrection? Instead of distrust, could we find courage because the things he foretold came to pass? Instead of pressure, could we rejoice that the one who takes our place also takes us to his place and resides in joyful fellowship with us? Instead of fear, could we feel hope that the rising again of the Chosen One might foreshadow the rising again of all who are in Christ? Instead of interrogatives, we could rejoice in declaratives (and long sentences full of big words).

Christ is risen indeed. All is not perfect, yet all is well.

Was Jesus a zombie?

He dies and comes back from the dead. Was Jesus a zombie?

Let's consider the evidence:

Died and came back to life --- Zombie +1
Appeared to Mary Magdalene (and didn't attack) --- Zombie -1
Broke into a room of fearful men --- Zombie +1
Those men were overjoyed to see him --- Zombie -1
Entered another room even though doors were locked --- Zombie +1
Entered and exited without doing damage --- Zombie -1
Continued to carry wounds from his execution --- Zombie +1
Let Thomas touch them (at least, was willing to) --- Zombie -1
John 20 summary: Zombie = 0

Carried on a conversation with the disciples --- Zombie -1
Advised in the complex process of catching fish --- Zombie -1
Made Peter jump out of the boat and into the water --- Zombie +1
Peter was happy, not terrified --- Zombie -2
Jesus fed his disciples breakfast --- Zombie +1
The breakfast was brainfood (fish) not brains (brains) --- Zombie -2
Gently reinstates Peter --- Zombie -1
Sparked a rumor that Juan would never die --- Zombie +1
John 21 summary: Zombie = -4

From John's Gospel, we'd have to lean toward Jesus not being a Zombie.

Although there are accounts that he endorses eating flesh and drinking blood, it appears that it's his flesh and blood he wants us to experience, not the flesh and blood of our victims. And, although his followers have been know to eat brains (see the book by Mark Noll), he appears to do nothing of the sort. And, as if this wasn't enough, his apocalypse is much easier to plan for (although the Wal-Mart strategy won't work for it either).

No, his resurrection is something different, something unique, something worth understanding, something worth celebrating.

Seeing resurrection in baptism

We went to see some of our friends baptized today. First Katie, then Clay, then Joel (towering in the dunk tank): buried and raised in the waters. As Michael, the pastor, explained why they baptized, I realized that I had before me an ancient answer to the question from yesterday.

Baptism serves wonderfully as an resurrection-inclusive illustration of what has happened to us (and can happen to you) in the midst of this gospel story.

See how Paul unpacks it in this excerpt from Romans 6:
We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

Working backward, look at the word "united." United with him in his death and united with him in his resurrection. This concept of "union" is a key concept in Paul's theology. If we are united with him, then what happens to him happens to us. Death and new life. The whole she-bang.

Notice how Paul builds his ethics on the resurrection. Just as we are united with Christ and he was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we may live a new life. Do you think it's impossible for someone to live a new life? Do you think it's impossible for you to live a new life? Well, what's more impossible, living a new life or being raised from the dead? We are not, now, dealing with possible and impossible. What we had thought impossible happened. We are no longer authorities on the impossible.

Lastly, notice Paul's use of "buried" and "raised" in the baptism illustration. He uses a similar formula in Colossians. Watching my friends fall back under the water today, hands holding their pastor's strong arm and watching them grab that first new breath, blink their eyes, shake the water away from their faces, watching all of this I realized that Jesus did this. He submitted to baptism: the baptism of John in the Jordan and the baptism of Holy Week.

Now, I'm not trying to enter into the baptism debate (dunking, sprinkling, age, etc...). Baptism does not everywhere in Scripture have the "buried" and "raised" echoes. Peter speaks of it purifying. Ephesians unifying. In the Gospels, baptism is connected with repentance in some cases and with trial in others. It is a versatile illustration (if it is fair to call a sacrament an illustration).

And it hit me today, watching my friends be baptised, that the significance of the resurrection is easier shown than explained. How can anyone think the Resurrection of Christ is unimportant while watching Katie draw that first breath, or Clay blink his eyes, or Joel shake the water away?

Sure, that's subjective. But we believe Truth is a person (Jn. 14:6), not an object, so I don't feel a ton of pressure to pretend to be objective.

Does anyone know a Gospel Diagram that meaningfully includes the Resurrection?

I've been surfing around Google (aka Topeka) for a while now, trying to find a Gospel Diagram that meaningfully includes the resurrection of Jesus.

(By "Gospel Diagram" I mean something like The Bridge, The Romans Road, The Four Spiritual Laws, or James Choung's Big Story)

In most evangelical tellings of the gospel, the resurrection is an afterthought (so is Jesus, by the way, but that's another story). I catch this in myself. I find myself frustrated that I skipped over "the resurrection part" or "the Jesus part." And that's really odd.

If you asked me if Jesus was the core of the gospel story, I'd say something like "yes" or "totally" or "all-encompassingly." And if you asked me if the resurrection was important, necessary, vital, or any like synonym, I'd continue to affirm the affirmative. Why does it get left out then?

I don't know.

I hate saying that. I'm sure I could tease it out (and I will), but right now, I'm thinking about it, meditating on it, rolling it around in my mind and I don't have a good answer.

Maybe instead of starting with the "Why?," I should start with the "So what?" So what if you leave the resurrection out (or include it as an afterthought, a logically necessary extra cherry atop an already complete sundae)?

Three things (at least) start to go wrong (I totally wrote three things before I had three things...hmmm):

First, we disconnect sanctification/glorification from our our soteriology. The Cross and the death of the Savior work wonderfully as a point, moment breaking in of our justification. In that moment, the Sin Bearer stood in for us and paid our penalty. Done. Accomplished. It is finished. But we're not finished. We're still becoming like Christ. Without a meaningful doctrine or gospel-inclusion of the resurrection, we loosen our grip on the foundation for Christ's ongoing work in and through us and for Christ's future finishing of this work.

Second, we disconnect the second and third persons of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, sent by the Father to the people who belong to God. The resurrection theology protects us from leaning into modalism, particularly the idea that God took off his Jesus hat and is now wearing his Holy Spirit disguise. The fact that Jesus is alive and active (real resurrection) blasts apart any notion that we are living in the Holy Spirit age, an age where Jesus sits on the back burner.

Third, we disconnect ourselves from our God-given fountain of hope. Now, this isn't a weighty theological concept, but that doesn't make it any less significant. Christ's resurrection provides us with hope that we too will be raised to newness of life, that we will be brought back from death. If we are united to him, how could we not? The gospel doesn't tell us "Earn this" but rather "This is who you are and who you will become". And so we hope.

Why we don't include the resurrection in our telling of the gospel, I still don't know. I'm going to have to think about that. But this I know, I want to include that part of the story. I need that hope.

Angles on the resurrection

How does the Resurrection fit into Christian theology?

One way of looking at it is to say that the resurrection of Christ is evidence that his sacrifice was accepted by God: our sin placed us in moral debt to God and Christ has paid that debt in full. Instead of a receipt, we get a resurrection.

That's one angle on it.

Another angle is that the resurrection serves as a sign that Jesus is who he claimed he was. He claimed to be the Messiah, the One who would rescue us from sin and death and the devil. His death was to accomplish our rescue. How do we know he was who he claimed to be? Well, though he died a sinners death, he could do something to show us that death, sin and the devil had no claim over him. He could return to the place of the living and then we'd know who he is. Instead of showing his ID, he just comes back to life.

That's another angle on it.

But we rarely need our receipts. I usually throw mine away. And as far as IDs go, since Jesus can make his own wine...well, hmmm...let's just say my ID isn't the most important or frequently used thing in my wallet.

For most of us, for most of the year, the resurrection barely registers on our radar. Should it?

Where He is, there we may also be

The Resurrection means that where He is, there we may also be.

Mark 16 opens with a trio of women who wanted to be with Jesus. He had been crucified and buried and taken away from them. He lived a perfect life and they must have known they weren't perfect. They may have expected to never really be with him again. But they could take care of his corpse, honoring what was left of him before decay set in.

These women wanted to be with Jesus, but they didn't know who he was...yet. They expected to find him dead. We, who know who he is, know that they weren't going to find a body in that grave. How could the grave hold him?

His resurrection opened up new possibilities. We can be with Him now. Death doesn't have to separate us from him. Not now, while we stand in the place of life. Not in the future, when we move to the place of death. His resurrection makes it possible for us to be with him now and to be with him in the future. Praise God!

Check out the audio from tonight's talk: