Salvation come through and with union to Christ

In Christ. That phrase is all over Paul's letters. 
In Christ, in Christ, in Christ.

It shows up a ton in Ephesians and is central to Paul's theology of the Atonement.

Somehow, mysteriously, we are in Christ.

"Mysteriously?" you may ask.  Doesn't Paul say that we are united to Christ by grace through faith? Doesn't Paul say that Christ's sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the grave secure our union to him?  Why say "mysteriously"?

The Bible has other images of union.  The God of the Bible is presented as a God who experiences union constantly, the Father-Son-Spirit God.  The Trinity is a doctrine of union.  But we agree that this is mysterious.

The Bible also presents an image of union as relates to husband and wife.  Sex unites.  From Genesis, through the Gospels, through the Corinthian letters, straight to Ephesians, having sex creates a "one flesh" reality.  But even this is mysterious.  How are husband and wife "one flesh"?  I go to work.  Amy stays home and works like crazy.  We're not joined at the hip.  What does "one flesh" mean?  How does sex unite us?  And how is all of this in any way connected to the cross?

It's mysterious.

Ephesians says that Chirst is to us a a husband is to a bride, united.

And this union makes salvation happen, makes atonement happen.  How is our relationship with God restored?  We are united to him.  He isn't just our pet warrior or advocate or healer, as mentioned yesterday.  He's something mysteriously more.  He is united to us.

The implications of this are staggering...and for tomorrow.

Diagnosis

I love the show House. I only watch it sporadically, but it's always fun.

The character Gregory House is loosely based off of Sherlock Holmes, detecting disease instead of crime.

House is a diagnostician. People come to him with the most confusing cases and he figures out what's wrong with them, often in the craziest ways.

The diagnosis dictates the treatment.

In our atonement conversation, we spent some time thinking about the cause of our separation from God: sin.

But it's too easy to say that the problem is sin. How does sin separate us?

Working from Ephesians 2, we looked at three different answers to this question, each of which map onto a historical theory of the Atonement.

Sin separates us by empowering the devil, killing us spiritually and making us guilty before God.

The Reason for God by Tim Keller

How do we talk intelligently about Christianity to our skeptical friends?

This book will help. Keller built a flourishing church in the skeptical heart of New York City and writes out of that experience.

Keller begins by showing that “all doubts…are really a set of alternative beliefs.” Appealing to fairness, he asks skeptics to seek the same justification for their own beliefs that they demand from Christians.

The book has two main sections. The first contains Keller’s responses to seven big problems people have with Christianity. The second contains Keller’s case for Christianity. Defense. Offense. Easy to follow.

The first section is wildly helpful and an interesting read. Keller displays humor and humility, even when writing about hell, exclusivity and science. He shows real insight into reasons people doubt, real compassion for their hesitations, and real responses to our skeptical friends.

The second section stutters in several places. Keller reaches a bit for some illustrations and you can hear his preaching voice threatening to overwhelm his conversational voice. The section’s worth reading (we need Offense), but the pages don’t turn themselves.

As you search for clear words to talk about Christianity, check out this book and borrow some from Keller.


At-one-ment

So, we had a little fun with pictures last week.  See below if you're more visual.

We were talking about the Atonement, which, by itself, can be a very stale topic, stale and cerebral.

The Atonement, in Christian theology, is God's work of restoring relationship between himself and us.

The word probably derives from the Middle English, one of the few theological words to do so.  As such, we can make out the etymology without resorting to our Latin or French (which is good, because my Latin is horrible and my French needs to be pardoned).

Think of Atonement this way: [at][one][ment].  Two warring parties, put at one with each other, sitting at one table.

The Biblical story talks about a God who created the world and everything in it.  This is the God that we are separated from.  Something has come between us and Him, a dark cloud, a black rift has formed.  This same division also separates us from each other.  We are no longer on the same team.

God's work of Atonement blast holes between these divisions.

When we think of atonement, we often think of sacrifices: animals killed on altars, virgins thrown into the mouths of volcanos.  But atonement isn't sacrifice.  Sacrifice was a means of making atonement, an attempt at restoring relationship.

Our tendency in America is to resist atonement-via-sacrifice in the religious arena. 

We like to think that no atonement is necessary, so no sacrifice is necessary.  God loves us and is always there for us and will always be willing to help us as long as we have recent, unwrinkled moral currency to put into the cosmic vending machine.  Or God doesn't exist at all.  There's no division if there's only one side (the human).  We think no atonement is necessary.

In the realm of human division, we think that atonement can come through education (if you just get to know each other, you'll like each other).  Or maybe through public policy (if we just free people up to do their thing, they'll all just get along).  But we sacrifice people all the time: the soldier to bring peace, the voiceless immigrant to make a political point, the gay man to make a religious point, the pastor to make a headline.

The Biblical narrative tells of atonement coming through Jesus Christ: his arrival, his life, his sacrificial death, his resurrection and ascension and return. 

The Bible's strange answer to "How do we breach the separation between God and us?" is this:
through and with union to Jesus Christ.

Talking Theology

Last week, I was asked to speak at the Large Group meeting for InterVarsity at FIU-University Park.

These students love theology.

One of their Small Groups hosts theological discussions on eschatology (pre, post, and a-millenialism each getting a hearing).  They remind me a lot of the group that was at W&L when I first moved to Lexington.

They asked me to speak on one of the offices or works of Christ.  The previous Large Group featured a talk by one of the students on Christ's mediatorial office.

I had my work cut out for me. 

One challenge was to present a theologically engaging, deep and rich talk on some topic.

A second challenge was to practice a small bit of what Eugene Peterson calls "the subversive ministry."  Peterson paints the image of a pastor undermining the comfortable kingdoms of self set up by the people we serve.

There's a way to talk theology that doesn't honor theology.  Our theology, according to my friend Dean, spills over into doxology and, from there, into ethics and mission.  But it's easy for theology to get stuck, to never promote doxology and to never influence our ethics or engage us in mission.

Students often get stuck here.  Let's face it, we all get stuck here.  It's one thing to sit in a circle with your Christian friends and talk about God, it's another thing altogether to follow Him.

The students at FIU-UP are standing with a foot on the boat and a foot on the shore.  On the shore, they love insider conversations and details and weighty, theological words.  On the boat, they love people.  They're warm and welcoming and got pretty excited when I invited a student who didn't know Jesus to join us in our conversation.

Jesus is on the boat.  Whenever his disciples pushed him for theology for the sake of theology, he pushed back, pushing them deeper.

So, I decided to talk on the Atonement, but also to practice a little mild subversion.  Not serious subversion.  I'm not there often enough to pull that off.

What if our theology wasn't considered good theology until it lead to doxology, ethics and mission?

How do we move into the depths of doxology, ethics and mission with imperfect theological insight?

These were some of the questions I wrestled with last week as I prepared my talk on the Atonement.  As I share material from the talk over the course of this week, my direction will make more sense if you keep them in mind.

Good Grief (NOT!): 5 ways grief goes wrong

"Grief is always good" said the Liar.

There are pockets in our culture that affirm grief unconditionally, in every form, unthinkingly.  This is as bad as refusing to grieve at all, especially from a Christian perspective.

Here're 5 ways grief goes wrong:

5) Grief can become a means of getting attention
4) Grief can become an excuse for laziness
3) Grief can become a reason to abandon community
2) Grief can become a source of shame
1) Grief can become a point of judgement

ps. And you thought "NOT!" and "said the liar" were dead.

Ongoing Grief

Yesterday, I briefly wrote about some non-selfish reasons to cry at a Christian funeral.  And it's at funerals that grief is most readily accepted.

But what about after the funeral?

Have you ever known someone who seemed to grieve too long? Or have you ever been surprised by a late-hitting wave of grief?

I caught myself yesterday missing my Grandmother, my Dad's mom.  She passed away quite some time ago and the grief was stronger than I expected.

I was talking with Mariella, a student at FIU, about her Cuban grandmother and the way her grandmother interacts with her father.  She said "They argue, but you know they're playing and that they really love each other."  A flash of memory brought back a scene from my childhood of my Dad and my Grandmother play-arguing.  And there was a moment of sadness.

As much as you cry at a funeral, there will be more grief waiting for you down the road.  Why is that?

The best explanation of this phenomena I've read comes from Sheldon Vanauken.  It connects with the idea from Lewis from yesterday.

"Each memory calls forth warm living reality once: it is followed by another little death and the tears."

Vanauken and Lewis make sense of their experience of ongoing grief through a complex understanding of human personhood.  Everyone is multi-faceted. 
 
You don't just know Person A.  You know Person A being playful (A1).  You know Person A being serious (A2).  You know Person A engaged in sport or at rest or young or older or angry or in Switzerland (A3-8).  Each facet is like another person.  And each person is lost in death.  And each facet can be grieved.
 
At a funeral, you get a chance to think about and grieve a lot of these facets.  At a wake, even more.  That's why we share stories, deliver eulogies.  Those experiences bring to rememberance facets of the lives that were lost.  They allow us to grieve.
 
Don't be surprised if the uncovering of a buried facet of a lost friend brings fresh grief with it.  God has made us complex, full characters.
 
It takes time to grieve the loss of a good character.

No Man is an Island

"@yostevetamayo The root of my question is really, 'Is there any non-selfish reason for a Christian to cry at another Christian's funeral?'"

My Twitter friend, Skythrock dropped this note about 24 hours ago.  Sorry for not nailing your question on the head.

Yes.  My answer is "Yes."


Theology and Grief

I try to theologize my way out of my grief.

I think that if I have the right theology, I won't grieve.  Am I the only one who does this?

The Bible does teach that our theology impacts our grief.  In 1 Thessalonians Paul points out that we don't grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  Death is, for us, not a blank void, not an unknown.

We do have a hope.  We know someone who has been to the grave and returned.  Jesus rose from the grave.  He paved the way for our resurrection.

And this partially blunts the edge of grief.  But it doesn't remove it.

In John 11, Jesus grieves.  He weeps at Lazarus' tomb.  Twice the passage talks about him being deeply moved and troubled.  And he had, we assume, right theology.

Earlier in the passage, verse 11 to be exact, Jesus uses the same sleep imagery used in 1 Thessalonians to talk about death.  He knows Lazarus won't rest forever in death.

Martha knows this too.  You can hear her trying to comfort herself with theology in verse 24: "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day."  But the comfort of theology is just that, comfort.

We cannot anesthetize ourselves with theology.  Theology provides comfort, but doesn't free us from suffering.

Jesus still weeps.

When the time is right, we should too.

Pause

So, I'm in the middle of a series writing about Jesus' grief and his experience of sorrow when today happens.

One of our students from GCF passed away this morning.

I met Granvil through a Small Group during his freshman year.  He was a genius, but very quiet and humble about it. 

He and Luke were the only ones who were able to make it out to that Group, but we had a great time.  We wrestled with the book of James, applying it to our lives and thinking through the real, deep call to "be not merely hearers of the word, but doers also."

Granvil applied his faith to his life, his free time, his academics, his relationships.  Everything he did was infused with an awareness of God.

Even basketball.

Granvil loved racing up and down the basketball court.  He didn't have a lot of weight on him, but he always fought for the ball.  But he never threw tantrums, never committed an angry foul, never lost his cool.  If Jesus played basketball, he'd probably play like Granvil.

Can someone really be consistently a Christian?

What I mean to ask is "Can someone live the way Christ calls us to every minute?"  Granvil probably didn't.  He probably messed up, probably stumbled.  Everyone does.  I don't mean to overinflate him.  But few people pursue holiness the way Granvil did.  And I really admire that.

More than his musical or athletic or linguistic or physicistical prowess, I admire Granvil for his dedication to living and loving like Jesus.

So what do we do when our lives (and theological, strategic musings) are interrupted by tragedy? 

We should ask questions.
We should grieve.
We should doubt.
We should reach out, to people and to God.
We should comfort.
We should pray.
We should console.
We should examine our own lives.
We should pause.

Crocodile Tears...what's worse than being a faker?

One option that people have used to try to explain away Jesus' sorrow is that he was faking.

Commentators in this camp claim that he just played along at Lazarus' tomb, cried for dramatic effect over Jerusalem and that whole Gethsemane thing was just an illustration.

Can you tell I don't buy this explanation?

I can't stand the thought of Jesus pretending to cry.  That's the kind of thing that makes it tough for people to trust you.  And Jesus is trustworthy.  Right?

What could be worse than being a faker?  Why would anyone claim Jesus was faking? 

They're defending Jesus' divinity (on false terms)

If you run the wrong way around the circle, you end up doing things like this.  This idea probably deserves a whole post, but in short here it is...

If you start with a definition of God (independent of Jesus) and try to fit Jesus into that definition, Jesus won't fit.  You'll have to keep cutting bits and pieces of him off.  Eventually, you'll probably get so frustrated with the project that you'll put Jesus on a shelf (or a cross).

Jesus' sorrow doesn't fit a philosophical definition of god (impassivity and immutability being cheif traits of this mythical primum movens).  But then again, neither does his exhaustion, his hunger, or his bowel movements (and references to said movements).  "Gods don't have bodies," the philosophers say.

But the incarnation of Jesus is essential to our salvation and to our knowing God at all.

They're defending the gospel (on false hopes)

The consumer gospel has become so widespread nowadays, people will shift their theologies to protect it.

Imagine me telling you: "You have problems in your life, emptiness, burdens and Jesus is the answer to your problems because he is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-awesome and for 52 weekly installments of an hour of your time and 10% of your income (plus a little extra when missionaries like those great InterVarsity people come to town), He can solve all your problems."

If I tell you that and then you see Jesus broken, weeping, what are you going to think? 

You should think that I can't deliver on my promise to connect you with someone who can make your life smooth sailing from here on out.  If the Mighty One we worship wept, well, a servant is not greater than his master.

This gospel falters at the point of Jesus weeping.  It breaks completely when Jesus goes to the cross.  Which, I think, is a good thing.  Because this gospel isn't a gospel at all.  Good news isn't that good if it's not true.

Why do bloggers feel the need to have three bold-lines?

As a student of stand-up comedy, I know that there's a great rhythm to three's.  Two men walk into a bar and the third one ducks.  A priest, a pastor and a rabbi walk into a bar and say "What is this, some kind of joke?" 

You know the schtick.

But a third reason to make Jesus a faker doesn't come to mind, so there won't be one tonight, at least, not for me.

What do you think?  Why might people want to believe that Jesus' tears were fake tears?

Boy, why are you crying?

Wendy Moira Angela Darling worried about the boy in her room.  Do you remember the scene?

Peter Pan chasing his shadow.  A strange, crying boy talking nonsense.  Until you get to Neverland.

"Why are you crying?" sets up the relationship between Peter Pan and Wendy Darling.  It's a question I find myself asking more and more often, what with wife and 4 month-old son at home.

It's also a biblical question, or at least one that we find ourselves asking when we read the Bible, as a Twitter friend pointed out this week.

Why does Jesus experience sorrow?

We think that infinite wisdom precludes the experience of sorrow.  And God has infinite wisdom and Jesus is God, right?  So why the sorrow?

Why does Jesus weep over Jerusalem?
Why does Jesus weep at Lazarus' tomb?
Why does Jesus weep in Gethsemane?

So much sorrow for one so wise.

Maybe the first thing we need to do is question our assumption that wisdom and knowledge preclude sorrow.

More tomorrow.

Commitment to the Mission

I value loyalty.  And I like to think of myself as a loyal person.

But loyalty can only go so far.  (Godin wrote insightfully on this recently)

Loyalty, misplaced or misapplied, holds us back.  We need to help our people commit to the mission, not just to us. 

Moses and Joshua crossed this bridge together too.

In Numbers 11, God raises up a layer of leadership to support Moses, 70 elders.  These men gathered together and received God's Spirit.  Actually, 68 of them, gathered with Moses started prophesying.  The other two for whatever reason, never made it to the meeting.  But they get the Spirit anyways.

This concerns Joshua.  He rushes to Moses defence, trying to stop the unauthorized activity.  Loyalty.  But loyalty to the Moses, not to the mission.

God's people needed these extra leaders.  And the Spirit of God poured out more broadly was a good thing.  But Joshua couldn't see it.

Joshua need a loyalty shift.  He loved Moses, appreciated Moses, but Moses wanted him committed to something bigger.  Listen to how he responded to Joshua:
"Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!"

How would you feel if all your people became leaders?  How would you feel if, as you're on your way out, all of the sudden people start stepping up?

Real, Right and Roomy: Leaving them at the tent

Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Joshua went with Moses up to the mountain to meet with God and receive the 10 Commandments.  He's already established himself as an able warrior.  Why is he hanging out at a tent?

This wasn't just any tent, mind you.  This was The Tent of Meeting.  Moses went into this tent and talked to God as a man talks to a friend.  This tent meant something to the community.

So what was Joshua doing there?  There are three possible answers (all of which might be true).

Joshua guarded the tent: Real responsibility

In his great article, J. Alex Kirk suggests that Joshua guarded the tent, kept it safe from interference.

This theory fits with the image we've already been given of Joshua as a fighting man, the one who leads the Lord's army.  In later Scripture, Joshua proves himself a saavy fighter.  His hands are stained with blood.  With Joshua at the tent, no one would mess with the tent.

Maybe this was a case of Moses giving Joshua real responsibility, showing trust.  One of the ways we show trust as leaders is by walking away, at least for a time.  Moses trusted Joshua to keep an eye on things.  What a great step!  If Joshua can be trusted to watch the tent, he might be trusted to watch the people when Moses passes on.

Do you give out real responsibility?  Have you been given real responsibility?

Joshua loved God: Right heartedness

The tent-guarding explanation doesn't quite satisfy me.  Might there be more to the reason the author of Exodus included Joshua's behavior at the tent?

Maybe the scenario went like this...
Moses: Dude, you want to come with me back to the camp?
Joshua: No, dude.  I'd like to chillax here with Jehova a little longer.
Moses: Dude, that's totally kosher.  Want me to bring you anything back?
Joshua: For certain.  Some manna would totally recharge me, dude.
Moses: Dude.

As a leader, I love to see a longing to be with the Lord.  Lingering.  You can't really teach that.  Or at least, I don't know how to.  Maybe Joshua had that.

Do you have that?  Do you know someone who does?

Moses gave space: Room to connect

Earlier in the passage in Exodus 33, the Bible says that The Tent of Meeting was a place people could go to inquire of the Lord.  Maybe that's what Joshua was doing, learning from God how to lead God's people.

The folks who come after us can only learn so much from us.  We have to give them space to engage with God.

In my transition, this looked like praying with Kevin and talking about Jesus with him.  We weren't all business all the time.  We didn't talk strategy at every turn.  That stuff's important, but not enough.

Never crowd out your successor's opportunity to meet with God with your own talking.  Give them space.

Were you given space to connect with God as you stepped into your current role?  How are you giving space to others?

No Such Thing as a Sidekick Substitute

Have you ever had a mentor bring you with them somewhere?

I remember my Dad bringing me to the warehouse.  As a boy, I loved to drive the forklift and run along the tops of the piles of shingles.  The smell of tar and asphalt, cigars and coffee all remind me of the business world.  I remember watching my Dad interact with his employees, banter and build.  Being with him was an experience.

I've had lots of experiences like that along the way: helping Bill load a moving truck, speed-walking with Robert and God in the pre-dawn, leading a retreat with Bill Robinson, a missions trip with Jose Barreda, a conference with Sherrie Leatherwood, a Small Group with Carrie Ngongo.  These experiences pile up, mold and shape. 

There is no substitute for being a sidekick.

In Exodus 24, Moses takes Joshua with him up the mountain to meet with the Lord.  We don't hear about Joshua's experience.  What did he think?  What did he learn?  What impact did this have on him?

When Joshua led the people of God, you didn't see a lot of going up the mountain to meet with the Lord.  This wasn't a practice that he imitated or carried on.  So, was it important?

I think it was.

The specific practice doesn't matter as much as the experience of being a sidekick, of being invited to be with someone.  Moses' investment in Joshua didn't consist of a lot of "Do this" and "Do that" but with a lot of "Come with me here" and "Let's go there."  For decades, Joshua was with Moses.

This model of mentoring - the With You Model or the Sidekick Model - is powerful.  If wisdom is more easily caught than taught, we as leaders need to set our people up to catch from us.  We need to invite them to be with us.

I knew a pastor once who preached fine, prayed fine, led worship just fine, but never wanted to be with his people.  Huge leadership vacuums emerged and the church shrank as leader after leader got sucked in unprepared and spit out burnt out.

One of my regrets - and this has a lot to do with the financial realities of campus ministry - is that I didn't get to sidekick it with the guy who followed me at W&L.  He's doing great and he will do great, but I wonder what I failed to pass on in the swift transition.  Time will tell and he'll pick it up on his own, I'm sure.

But what if we could do it differently?  What if we could bring people along with us in our ministry?

Imagine Redwood ministries, Everest ministries, Cathedrals --- things that take multiple ministry lifetimes to build.  We can't hit the reset button every generation.  We need to include some sidekicks.  We need to be sidekicks.

Have you ever been a sidekick?

You Can't Fight Forever

When he was in his 40s, Moses killed a man.
When he was in his 40s, Joshua killed a lot of men.

I haven't killed anybody (yet)(that I know of).

In Exodus 17, Moses had just led God's people out of Egypt.  It was a high point in his life.  God had come through for him in a big way, rescuing the people from Egypt and leading them through the Red Sea.

We know a little bit about the rest of the story, 40 years wandering through a desert.  But Moses didn't know that.  For all he knew, after a short hike the Israelites would enter the land of promise.

So, Moses' interaction with Joshua in Exodus 17 looks really interesting.  It looks like the start of a succession plan.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.  Moses, their leader, didn't lead the fight.  He handed that responsibility on to Joshua.

Moses knew that he couldn't fight forever.  I can't fight forever.  Neither can you.

One of the hardest things about ministry is facing the reality that you can't do it forever.  We put so much of our lives into the work, even more if we do the work well.  It's hard to think about building something and handing it over.

Moses started the transition while he was still around, could still provide guidance, could still help.

While Joshua leads the army in battle against the Amalekites, Moses prays.  He lifts his hands to the Lord.  He raises the staff of God.

What do we do when transition looms near? 
Do we accept its inevitability and prepare well? 
Do we look to bless the leader coming behind us? 
Do we raise up godly Staff?

You can't fight forever.


Naming a Successor (or Would a successor by any other name smell as sweet?)

Moses does something quirky to Joshua.

He changes his name.  Like Simon to Peter or Saul to Paul or Ochocinco to Ochostinko.

As leaders, we probably won't get to change the names of the people who come after us.

But we can name them.

Moses takes a guy named Hoshea and changes his name to Joshua.  This doesn't seem like a big deal to those of us who don't speak Hebrew (those of you who speak Hebrew are probably so excited right now).

Hoshea means "salvation."  Joshua means "God saves."  Such a small difference.  But a significant one.

Just a few short chapters after this event in Numbers 13, God's people are losing heart, fearing that they'll never enter the land of promise.  But not Joshua.  He doesn't just look for salvation, conquest.  He knows to expect salvation to come from God.  So even if the odds are against the people of God, there's hope.

Joshua's hope comes to define him throughout his career as a leader.

What words and names do we speak over our successors?  "God is salvation" or "You're second best"? "God is salvation" or "You're not qualified"? "God is salvation" or "You're on your own"?

I want to bless the people who step in after me, to encourage them, to name them well.

God is salvation.  I hope Kevin hears that from me.

Changing Horses in Midstream

"Now" is always the worst time to transition out of a specific ministry.  "Hang in there a little bit longer" we're always told.  One more year.  One more semester.  One more month.

Oh won’t you stay just a little bit longer

Please, please, please say you will
Say you will

It's hard on ministries when leaders step away.  It's hard on leaders to step away. 

Leaving W&L has left me moping for a lot of the summer, even though I'm leaving it in good hands. And I've got to tell you, I couldn't be more thrilled about the reports that are coming out of W&L.  This leadership team is the best they've ever had and the new Staff - Kevin - is immensely gifted in all of the areas where I struggled.  Our leadership transition could hardly have gone more smoothly.

But this is making me think.

Along with the change in my own work-life, I'm also surrounded by a ton of ministry transition.  The pastor of my old church moved away.  One of my best friends left his InterVarsity job to go to seminary.  Two of the campuses down here in Florida lost staff last year.  My boss is moving on to a new job.  And not all of these transitions will go smoothly.

All this transition has me wondering how to do transition well.

Leadership transition can be immensely costly. 
- People feel abandoned. 
- The clarity of vision is lost. 
- Strategy gets muddled. 
- Team dynamics shift.
- Fringe members leave to seek stability. 

It's important to transition well.

Over the next week, I'll be looking at the leadership transition between Moses and Joshua and thinking about how to transition leadership well.

Why Moses and Joshua? 
- The Bible talks a lot about the transition
- The transition went well
- I've been reading in the NT a ton and need an OT break
- I feel like Joshua, in way over my head, filling big shoes
- Why not?

If you have any thoughts along the way, feel free to post a comment or send me an e-mail at tamayosteven [at] yahoo [dot] com.

When Less is More

Yesterday, I blogged a little bit about unity movements on campus.

I realize that this may be a bit of a reach for some of the folks who read the blog.  You're not all on campus, are you?  So, why does this matter?

We live in a country full of churches.  Even in South Florida, which is supposedly underchurched, there are churches all over the place.  Denominations abound.

But churches are closing their doors all over the place.  Some estimates have seven churches closing for every one that opens.

When is less more?

This is the question unity movements on campus have to deal with and one that needs to be carefully considered as churches grow and plant new communities.

I spoke this week with several students who have created a unity movement on their campus, closing the doors on a couple of other, smaller ministries along the way.  If this sounds familiar to you, that's because it's a really similar situation to the one at W&L in the late 90's that created GCF, where I served for the last five years.

For a season, fewer ministries means better ministry.

If there's a small Christian community, merging can allow a group to build up momentum.  It can allow for focus.  It can serve as a witness to the campus.

One of the things that keeps the Christian community from growing is a sense of competition between ministries.  We can spend so much time fighting each other that we ignore the rest of campus.  Fighting over freshmen, we ignore the upperclassmen.  Fighting over the Christian leaders, we ignore the rest of campus.  Merging can minimize fighting.

Fewer ministries can mean more funding, fewer administrative costs, less overhead, less waste.

For a season, merged ministries can even mean better outreach.

For a season.

Our Differences Make Us Stronger

Campus ministry staff almost always dislike unity movements. 

Almost every campus has one: a group of students and faculty who think "Wouldn't it be great if the Christian community on campus was united?"

You know, that would be great.  What do we have against unity movements?

Well...unity movements often hinge on a faulty understanding of unity.  That's a start.

There's a huge difference between unity and uniformity.  You have to have differences in order to have unity.  Different organizations can each bring something unique and beautiful to the table.  Real unity means us working together, looks like cooperation and partnership.

Over the last several years, I've been blessed to experience deep unity with Jon at RUF, Steve with Young Life and Burr with CCM.  Our campus and God's kingdom benefitted big-time from our unity.  And that's real unity.

Unity isn't all the Christians gathered in one room.
Unity isn't a campus-wide worship service.
Unity doesn't mean ignoring our differences.

Unity is a posture, an attitude.
Unity advances the mission.
Unity is rare.

Our differences make us stronger if the gospel unites us.

***Now, lest you think I totally hate on unity movements, there are some situations where they are called for (for a season at least).  Ablaze, GCF in the 90s, I'm thinking about you.  I'll write about this tomorrow.

I love you. Now stay away from me.

"Is it possible to love someone with Christ's love and still want nothing to do with them?"

I had this question posed to me by a fellow-Twitterer this week.  This guy's a deep digger.  He doesn't play around. Questions like this from a guy like this are worth paying attention to.

So, here're some question angles we can use to approach the question...

Would Christ avoid someone he loves?

This seems like an easy one, at first.  Christ has promised to be with us, no matter what.  If we love someone with the love of Christ, we won't want nothing to do with them.

The answer's "No" then?  Not exactly.

Jesus did avoid his family at one point ("Who are my mother and brothers?").  He did avoid crowds at points.  He wasn't constantly at other people's beck and call.

Nuance.

What does it mean to love someone with the love of Christ?

Christ loves us with a perfect love, infinitely patient, infinitely kind.  He loves self-sacrificially.  He loves us despite our faults.  And he actually knows all of our faults, even better than we do ourselves.

I love lots of people.  Family, friends, wife, son.  I love Will so much, I can't wrap words around this love.  But I don't love perfectly.  Not Will.  Not Amy.  Not anyone else. 

My loves echo the love of Christ.  It's a shadow.  Something real, but not exact.

We are growing in love, but not there yet.  We need to acknowledge the imperfections in our own love.

How does the love of Christ transform our relationships?

In the big picture, the love of Christ makes it possible for us to not only love the hard to love, but to actually be with them.  Reconciliation, forgiveness and - to use that big theological term - incarnation are possible. 

The love of Christ shows itself through a community of people who, apart from him, would want nothing to do with each other.  The gospel reverses Babel, reverses the Fall and all the division called by our fallenness.

What do we do while we grow?

If our love's still imperfect, in some ways it doesn't matter what the target is.  Maybe there are some people we aren't ready to be around, some people who aren't healthy for us to be around.  For now.

That "now" is a very important word.

If there are people in your life you're avoiding, you've got some growing to do.  And that's okay.  For now.  But let's not sit passively in a world of broken relationships.  Growing in the love of Christ propels you toward people, ultimately.  You should see yourself taking steps in that direction (in the big picture).

Some loose ends

Asking "Yes or No" questions can get you into trouble.  Or frustration.  We live in a world of nuance.  Yes and no often fail us.

The same goes with hypotheticals.  Some things that are, in theory, possible aren't probable.  And just because something is possible and common doesn't mean it's happening.

Better to ask "What do my actions reveal about my love?" or "Why do I want nothing to do with these people, even though I care about them?"

I don't know if this helped anyone else, but reflecting on this question really opened some stuff up for me.  I've had some folks I've been avoiding: out of fear, frustration, insecurity.  Without this wise question, I would have chalked my avoidance up to busyness, my favorite excuse.

I want to be moving in the direction of being with the people I'm called to care about.  I think that's one thing God wants from all of us.

Involvement, Responsibility and Wildness

Buying a house has me thinking about the future a lot.

Will this be a good place for my son to play?
Will this roof hold on a few more years?
Will I be able to raise the funds we need to serve down here?
Stuff like that.

In the midst of all this, an interesting train of Scripture popped into my mind:

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)  Our paths might take some wild turns.

Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." (James 4:13-15)  God, not we, controls our future.

I will go to Spain and visit you on the way. (Romans 15:28b)  We can still make big plans.

Trains like this try my patience.  I struggle to see how all three of these truths can be true at the same time.

If our paths take wild turns and God controls our futures, we should go with the flow and abandon planning.  But Paul plans these crazy missionary journeys.  And Nehemiah builds a wall.  And David gathers material for a temple.  And Esther calls a fast.  And Joseph stores grain.  And on and on.  God's people plan for the future all the time. 

And this throw-out-one-piece-in-an-attempt-to-remove-the-tension doesn't work in the other two cases either. 

Joseph ends up in jail.  Moses doesn't enter the Land of Promise until thousands of years after his death.  Ruth's son turns out to be Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, who never does build that temple.  Wild turns.

And God claims involvement.  In the prophets, he overthrows nations.  In the psalms, he knits us together in the wombs of our mothers.  In the gospels, he enters history in bodily form.  At the end, he will end the exile, roll the sky up like a scroll and dissolve the stars.  He is deeply involved.

Why is it that so many of our days fail to reflect these three tense realities?  Watch me and you'll have days when you wonder if I really believe God's involved.  Other days, you might have cause to question my belief in the inevitability of wild twists in the story God's writing through my life.  Yet still, and most fatally, you might wonder if I really feel free to make big plans.

Planning to buy a house.  Planning to live a life.

Can we live lives that reflect the reality of God's involvement, our responsibility and the wildness of the future?

That is the question I'm wrestling with today.

Trusted Fans

A year or so ago I read this great blog post by Seth Godin, encouraging his readers to ignore both our critics and our fans. 

I have no problem ignoring my fans.  I don't know why, but a large part of me refuses to believe anyone who starts to sound like a fan.  This gave me energy for years, "fueling my drive."  Not just never good enough, never good.  Surely, I'm not the only one who does this.

But this strategy doesn't work. 

As time goes by, this constant denial of my gifting exhausts me.  It's hard work to sustain this much self-hatred / self-deprecation.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.  I've gotta do something right every now and then.

So, slowly, I'm starting to see the value of trusted fans.  That part of me that never believed praise always mistook it for flattery.  We flatter so much in the Christian community.  Flattery demolishes trust.  How can I believe I'm good at something if I can't trust the voices that tells I'm good at it?

Trusted fans don't flatter.  They don't give their praise lightly or to everyone.  They're specific.  They tell other people.  You can tell they see something special in you, even if you don't see it yourself.

And this is the last corner in my circuitous thoughts about gratitude (only one more post, I promise).  Ignoring our gifting drains us of a huge pool of gratitude.  If God has given us the ability to do something special, ignoring that something amounts to ignoring him.

Many reasons exist to take stock of our gifting, our mission in the church among them.  This is different.  More personal. 

Our fans, that one's that we trust, point us toward God.  They do this as fans.  They aren't constantly invoking God's name or saying awkward things like "God included you in an amazing baking session today."  They're fans.  And if we trust them and if we've trained ourselves to listen rightly, they provoke us toward gratitude.

I'm a fan.  I'm a fan of April's baking, of Lee's art, of Joe's teaching, of Bill's discipling, of Amy's Small Group leading.  I'm a fan of Seth Godin and CS Lewis and Athanasius and Andy Stanley and RadioLab and Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me (that's the name of a podcast, not a request for assistance).  I'm not a fan of everything or everyone or everything anyone does.  But I'm a fan.

And I've seen how my honest fandom can bless and enrich.

Let's be honest fans.  Let's learn who we can trust.  And let's trust gratefully.

Who Takes Care of the Hardest Part?

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul exhorts the church in Corinth, challenging their desire to exalt their ministers to god-like status.  God calls us to honor, not worship the pastors who serve us.

Paul wanted them to see that God took care of the hardest parts, the most significant parts of their journey toward Christ.  Sure, these ministers played a role.  But they're not the main characters.  We're not the main characters.

Paul wanted to keep the church from relying on their leaders, but his words might just keep us from relying on ourselves.

I easily get to a place in my service to God where my faith rests in my own wisdom, rather than the power of God.  The echoes of 1 Cor 2:5 rebound around my heart.  How can I build into people a faith that rests on the power of God if I'm relying on my own wise and persuasive words?  Why should they believe if I don't?

You see, ungrateful ministry is bad ministry.  The same self-reliant disconnection from the power of God that produces ingratitude also enslaves us to ministry strategies that just don't work.

We forget that God takes care of the hardest part at our peril.  We will end up trying to do the hardest parts ourselves.  But can we bring dead people to life?  Maybe you can, but I can't.

I need God to save people.  I can't do it myself.  I need God to heal people.  I can't do it myself.  I need God to change the world and I need God to reconcile divided people and I need God to comfort those who mourn most deeply because I can't do any of this myself.

How can we give God thanks if we don't give him credit?

God takes care of the hardest part.  Remember this.