What could Philip have said besides "Come and see"?

In John 1, Philip tries to share his excitement about Jesus with his friend Nathanael, but Nathanael doesn't seem very interested.

Philip runs to Nathanael and says:
We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph
And Nathanael replies:
Can anything good come out of Nazareth?
I wonder what I would have done if I were standing in Philip's sandals. How would I respond? How would you?

The Argumentative Response

First, Jesus was from Nazareth, but was actually born in Bethlehem, the Town of David. And Jesus is of Davidic descent, on both sides (although Joseph is not his biological father).

Second, it makes sense that the Messiah would be from Nazareth in order to fulfill what was foretold by the prophets, that he would be a Nazarene. Now, I know the traditional reading would assume that "Nazarene" referred to an adherent to a particular form of monasticism, but it could also refer to a citizen of that particular township.

Thirdly, when you ask if anything "good" can come from Nazareth, you inappropriately set yourself up as the determiner of "good." My coming to you clearly demonstrates that I'm of the opinion that something good came from Nazareth. So, you're setting yourself up over me. But you're also inviting scrutiny of your own life. How can you know the "good" unless you yourself are in communion with the good? And how can you be the judge of the "good" unless you yourself are good? Are you willing to stand under that microscope?

How far do you think these would get us?

The Moralistic Response

First, don't be so prejudiced. Do you really want to be the sort of person who discriminates against an entire people group?

Second, you come from right down the road. The people of Nazareth are practically your neighbors. You really shouldn't look down your nose at them.

Thirdly, our situation is so bad, if you really loved your country you would accept help from wherever it appears. It shouldn't matter to you that he comes from Nazareth. He's the one we've been waiting for, hoping for, praying for. Your own mother has been waiting and hoping and praying for this. Don't you love your mother?

How far do you think these would get us?

"Come and See" in the Gospel of John

"Come and see" is my favorite evangelistic model.

By nature, I tend to argue.
By training, I tend to preach.
By culture, I tend to moralize.

But "come and see" is a different model. Witness.

That phrase - "Come and see" - shows up four times in the Gospel of John.

In John 1:39, Jesus invites two men to "come and see" where he was staying. This was an invitation to fellowship and to relationship. At least one of these men (Andrew), left this encounter really excited about Jesus.

In John 1:46, Philip tries to talk to his friend Nathanael about Jesus and begins to get some push-back. So he does what I wish I would do more often. He resists the urge to argue or moralize or preach. Instead, he invites Nathanael to "come and see."

In John 4:29, a Samaritan woman runs back to her town, fresh off of an encounter with Jesus. With breathless gasps, she tells everyone she can about her conversation with Jesus. "A man who told me everything I ever did" she exclaimed. "Come and see" makes sense here, so she invites.

Lastly, in John 11:34, Jesus has just lost a friend. Lazarus dies and his family mourns him. Jesus shows up during the funeral and meets with the family. He asks where the body is and they reply "Come and see." Jesus weeps. And then raises Lazarus from the grave.

"Come and see" is a deeply biblical model of evangelism, a model that flows from our trust in God, a model that relies on God's activity.

Have you ever invited someone to "come and see"?

Watching the Wrong Numbers

Once there was a driver on the side of the road. Smoke (or steam) poured out from under his hood. The driver told passers-by that he had been very careful to watch the gas gauge and that it was nowhere near empty. What was his mistake?

Once there was a student who turned in her math test way before everyone else. She was so excited to finish first. Imagine her surprise when she got a failing grade. What was her mistake?

Once there was a quarterback who threw and threw and threw. He accumulated more passing attempts than anyone else in the league, even though his team kept losing. When he was cut from the team, he didn't see it coming. What was his mistake?

There are so many numbers to pay attention to. In life and in ministry.

Focus on the wrong numbers and you'll be sadly surprised by what happens.

Cheering for the Top Dog

Do you remember the epic NCAA tournament game between Duke and super-underdog Butler?

In the final seconds of the game, a Butler player launched a potentially game-winning shot. The ball rolled around the inside of the rim, black seams staining for the bottom of the net. And it was over. The ball bounced out. Butler lost. Duke won. And I cheered.

What do you think of someone who roots against the underdog?

All throughout the Bible, God seems to be the God of the underdog. He chooses unlikely people to do spectacular things in surprising ways.

But what about the top dogs?

We forget that Abram was a wealthy man before God called him.
We forget the size of the Israeli nomad army that crossed the Red Sea.
We forget that God was still for David after he killed Goliath.
Kings, cupbearers, influencers, judges and generals.

God spends a lot of time in Scripture engaging the powerful.

For those of us excited about God's preferential option for the poor, the downtrodden, the forgotten and the vulnerable, this insight proves challenging.

I'm currently wrestling a lot with this in my ministry.

Where do I focus? Who do I serve? How do I prioritize my time?

Left to myself, I'll totally ignore the top dogs. I'll focus our ministry on campuses with no ministry presence. I'll serve the underserved. I'll prioritize those who are lost.

But I'll ignore people like me, people who cheer for their alma mater.

And what will come of that?

Enough Trust to Walk the Difficult Path

In Matthew 17 Jesus and Peter have this fascinating interaction.

Someone approaches Peter and asks him whether or not Jesus pays the temple tax. Jesus and Peter go back and forth about taxes. Then Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish (and there will be a coin sufficient to pay both Jesus' and Peter's tax in the fish's mouth). Peter goes and does what Jesus says and finds a coin.

We often find ourselves in Peter's place in the middle of the story.

We might agree with God's principle, but not his path.

God's paths often seem irrational.

A coin from the mouth of a fish.
A nation from an infertile couple.
A king from a shepherd.
A community of priests from a nation in exile.
A Savior from a cross.

We move forward along God's path, not because we can make sense of it, but because we trust the One who leads us. Trust creates in us the patience we need to follow when we don't understand.

What part of God's path currently looks difficult to you?
The Christian life has not been tried and found difficult. It has been found difficult and left untried. - GK Chesterton Orthodoxy

Why Do We Want Money?

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, one line from his prayer is the famous:
Give us this day our daily bread
The church has had a hard time through her history with the concept of "daily bread."

According to Eugene Peterson's fantastic Eat This Book, for a long time people treated "daily bread" as if it was special bread. Supersubstantial. Manna. Lembas. But "daily bread," it was later discovered, was a koine Greek phrase for fresh bread, bread baked today to be eaten today, enough bread for today, bread that hasn't gone stale yet.

But we don't pray for bread much today.

We pray for money. Well, I pray for money. More than bread at least.

Money represents freedom to me. Freedom and control.

With money, I can eat what I want, when I want.
With money, I can hire who I want, when I want.
With money, I can do what I want, when I want.

But what if God wanted to provide for us directly, without the medium of money? What if God provided food, but not money? What if God provided Staff for our ministry, great volunteers, but not money? What if God wanted more for me than freedom and control?

In ministry, beware the temptation to fixate on the money. This would probably be helpful in life as well.

The Bleak Side of Breaking Bad Habits

What happens after you break a bad habit?

It seems like you should get to enjoy your new-found freedom. I mean, imagine what life would look like without your bad habit. Wouldn't that be great?

But I've noticed something over the years:
Bad habits replace themselves
No sooner is one bad habit vanquished than another takes its place.

Adultery becomes porn.
Cussing becomes gossiping.
Greed becomes stinginess.
Bragging becomes judging.
Stealing becomes lying.

Habit X broken becomes Habit Y.

This reflects the reality of our hearts. When one enemy is vanquished, another takes its place. Always. Because the problem isn't with our habits. It's with our hearts.

As Michael Anderson says: "We aren't sinners because we sin. We sin because we're sinners."

And a second thought comes to mind on this theme:
Bad habits serve a purpose
We do all sorts of things as mechanisms to cope with the world, our relationships and ourselves. Some of those things get ingrained. Some of them are bad. Breaking them has consequences.

And the biggest consequences are relational. All around our lives, people have learned to live with us and love us bad habits and all. When we break those bad habits, sometimes people don't know how to respond. Just because they rejoice with you in your new-found freedom, don't assume they know what to do with the new you.

None of this is to say that you shouldn't break bad habits. Go for it. I am. But know that breaking bad habits is pretty complicated. Even if you manage to move into freedom, the story isn't over.

A Hard Prayer to Pray

Last week, I found a prayer I couldn't pray.

I started to pray for undocumented students on our campuses, working with the Lord's Prayer, allowing Jesus' structure to guide my conversation with God.

And I got to this part:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us
And that is a hard prayer to pray. It always is. But I've made a commitment to live a life of forgiveness and of love. And I've learned how to forgive. So, normally, I can pray this line with a clear conscience.

Working with the Lord's Prayer, however, I ran into a real difficulty:
Treat me the way I treat undocumented students
And I started to pray this line. But is this what I really want?

Do I want God to pay attention only when it's convenient?
Do I want God to help only when I have the boldness to ask?
Do I want God to love only from a distance?

Father, forgive me. Forgive us.

Love creates community

Last week, I heard Orlando Crespo say the following ...
I stayed here because I was loved here
The impact of love on community and leadership shines throughout the book of Acts. The passage Orlando preached on (Acts 20: Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders), challenges us to think about our community and leadership.

All over the church, pastors and leaders cast vision in order to build community. The idea is: "If you're on board with what we're doing here, you'll stay."

And if your vision is for a huge, mega-ministry, vision has to be what gets people to stick.

But if you're into micro-ministry, missional and invasive ministry, subversive and intimate ministry, you don't need to be a great corporate vision-caster in order to build a community.

You need to love.

If my students and my staff and my church learned to love, if I learned to love, I think amazing things would happen on campus, in the church and in the world.

Why, then, do I spend so little time learning to love?

A Friendly Audience

A woman stood up and preached a message that everyone agreed with, articulated beautifully, but with obvious discomfort.

A man stood up and preached a controversial message, filled with rebuke and challenge, but with great comfort.

Two different audiences. Two different speakers. Two very different experiences.

The woman gave what the hosting pastor called "the best talk I've ever heard." But although her message was one he endorsed and although he invited her to speak, she preached like she was preaching to a hostile crowd. And, though I detected no hostility in the crowd (quite the opposite, people really responded to her), I understood.

The man I mentioned above spoke at InterVarsity's Multi-Ethnic Staff Conference. He's a white man, speaking in a room where white folk were not in the majority. He challenged us on our discipling practice, on our hesitancy to innovate, on our lack of love for the marginalized. And he did this comfortably. Again, I understood.

Why the difference?

Both were competent and confident communicators, seasoned and experienced. Both had messages they passionately believed. Only one felt confident that who they were as a person would be welcomed.

It is a difficult thing for women with teaching gifts to find a place of welcome in the evangelical community, especially in the white evangelical community.

This is not an attack on complementarianism and those who believe that Scripture prohibits women from serving as elders or pastors. Not at all!

But we need to see the consequences of the culture we create.

Theologically and biblically, everyone in that complementarian crowd seemed fine to hear the woman who taught at the conference several weeks ago. She wasn't taking up a pastorate, she was clearly under the authority of the conference leadership, she didn't preach expositionally. All complementarian mile markers.

In the defense of gender roles, perhaps some have overstated their case. And gifted women have been undercut by culture despite the encouragement of doctrine. Though challenged by the Bible to put their talents to good use, some feel restricted by church culture, and so bury their talent in the sand.

Compare this to the experience of the man who taught at the ME Staff Conference. If anyone had the right to feel uncomfortable, it's the white guy speaking as a minority. It's the white guy who walks around every day and sees a country mostly filled with people who look just like him, but stands up to preach to an audience that doesn't.

Why did he feel comfortable?

I'm not sure. But I'd like to find out.

On Cultural Lenses

What cultural lenses do you bring to your engagement with the gospel?

We default to our comfortable narratives, to the ones we've inherited, to the ones that sound right to us.

Pastor Ken Fong talked about this at MESC last week.

He asked us to imagine a community where parents and grandparents left their jobs and homes and immigrated to another place, for the sake of their children. Their children are told all their life that they need to achieve, to live up to their parents, to live a life worthy of the sacrifice their ancestors endured.

Now, preach the gospel. (Pastor Fong is so insightful here)

God himself left his comforts of heaven and came to earth. Earth. For us. He sacrificed for us, for our good and our salvation. And we now it's our turn to live lives worthy of the gospel.

Is this the gospel? Not exactly.

Now, Pastor Fong made it easy for us to see his Confucian cultural lens and the distortion it caused. He did this by scratching the lens, taking the invisible and making it visible. And I'm sure he could create an appropriate response.

We might be tempted, in this case, to make it our ambition to remove all of our cultural lenses, expecting to see the gospel with perfect clarity.

But we cannot remove our cultural lenses entirely. There is no such thing as trans-cultural space (even heaven will be filled with culture, Rev 7:9). We actually need our cultural lenses to navigate the world. They are a gift from God, scratched and imperfect for a reason.

Alone, we can know God well enough to love him. Together, and only together, we will see him clearly.

For more on this concept, check out Santa Biblia by Justo Gonzalez

On sharing power

We gathered in diverse little huddles around tables and printed Bible passages to be challenged by God. Ram led us into Acts 6 and we talked about power.

We struggle to know what to do with passages like Acts 6. The apostles are leading a rapidly growing church. Widows from one particular ethnic community are being neglected when the church distributes resources. A complaint arises. The apostles solve the problem by sharing power.

It's tempting to end our study there. To say "Go and do likewise and you will have reconciled communities and ethnic justice." Sharing power ... that's the answer.

But power is a slippery thing to share. Whether in an organization or a ring forged in Mt. Doom, power resists sharing

And we see this in Acts 6.

The apostles share power, but do it in a way that creates hierarchy (or solidifies it). They will serve the word, representatives from that other community can serve the tables.

According to Hispanic theologian Justo Gonzalez, this theme is woven throughout the beginning of Acts. The apostles attempt to create hierarchy and bounded circles. God blows them up.

The apostles choose Matthias to replace Judas Iscariot. God chooses Paul and pours out his Spirit liberally at Pentecost.

The apostles stay in Jerusalem. God scatters the rest of the church to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth (eventually dragging the apostles with them).

And the apostles choose deacons. Men commissioned to serve tables. But these men rise above their commissioning. Stephen preaches one of the longest sermons in Acts. Philip becomes an evangelist.

Yes, power was shared in the early church, shared across ethnic lines and with great effect.

But let's remember who did the real sharing. It wasn't the management of the church. It wasn't liberally enlightened apostolic leaders. It wasn't the Twelve who shared. Power was shared beyond their efforts ... and despite their efforts.

The Spirit of God causes the sharing of power.

And if we would see power shared across ethnic lines in InterVarsity, we will need the Spirit to move.

Our structures are too set.
Our momentum is too strong.
Our hearts are too hard.

Oh, we will share power. And we do. But only as the Spirit wrests it from us.

May the Spirit continue to cause us to share power.

Beyond the upper room

InterVarsity's Multi-ethic Staff Conference kicked off tonight with musical worship led by the Urbana worship team, exhortations and orientations from black, white and Asian-American Staff and a brief exposition from Paula Fuller (our VP for ME).

Paula preached on Acts 2: the filling with the Spirit and the speaking in tongues.

One idea she mentioned really landed with me ...

The gift of the Spirit, given to the community gathered in the upper room, was meant for more than just the people in that room. The Spirit led them into the streets, where people from all over were gathered. And the Spirit gifted those as well, with repentance and faith and more.

What would it look like for us to hold our Spirit-given gift of multi-ethnicity as a gift meant for more than just InterVarsity? Tonight we gathered in an upper room, prayed and worshipped, felt the Spirit move. But it would be tempting to keep it for ourselves.

Our gift of multi-ethnicity could bless the whole campus, the whole world ... even the whole church. As we receive, let's also prepare to share.

Reading List: January and February

I've had a great time reading over the last two months (especially trying to read one old book for every three new books). Here's what I've been reading ...

Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger

A call for churches to pursue clarity, alignment, movement and focus. What would happen if churches did "less" but also did "better?"

The Apology, Crito and Phaedo of Socrates by Plato

Recounts the trial, temptation and noble death of Socrates. Reflects on metaphysics, citizenship and the afterlife. Fascinating read.

The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God by Stanley Hauerwas

"What is the university for?" Hauerwas' answer challenges how we think about society, economics, war, vocation and, of course, theology

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton describes the book well: "I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before." That is, orthodoxy

And Here's the Kicker by Mike Sacks

Great interviews with humor writes from across the spectrum. Real conversations, helpful ideas and great stories

The Didache

Written in the 1st century, this guided the practice and life rhythms of the early church (kind of like an early Book of Common Prayer)

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

The Inheritance Cycle comes to a satisfying end as Eragon and Saphira discover true truth and battle the evil king.

"As You Like It" by William Shakespeare

Conflict. Wrestling. Mistaken identity. Lost love. Flirtation. Reconciliation and a happy ending. If only all the world was this stage ...

In progress ...
Matthew by Stanley Hauerwas
The Shaping of Things to Come by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost
"All's Well the Ends Well" by William Shakespeare
On the Priesthood by John Chrysostom

What are you reading?

Apostolic Missional Movements

This post is the last post in a nine-part series reflecting on InterVarsity's Ambition conference. For more posts in this series, check out the series frontpage (Series: An Ambition for Mission

As usual, Brian Sanders managed to communicate a lot in his talk on the Sunday morning of the Ambition Conference. Brian is the former Divisional Director for InterVarsity in Florida and currently serves as the Executive Director for the Underground Network.

Brian talked about strategy and priorities.
Brian talked about risk-taking.
Brian talked about love.
Brian talked about God.

But woven throughout it all was the idea that for an apostolic missional movement to really take off, the God-given gifts of the entire community had to be put into play.

In Romans 15:14, the Apostle Paul displays a tremendous amount of trust in the readiness of the church to carry out the mission of God:
I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another. 
According to Brian, much of ministry and teaching is just reminding. God's people have been filled with God's Spirit and so are ready to engage God's mission.

Whenever we talk about our work on campus, people are always amazed at what our students can accomplish. A handful of 18 year olds, filled with God's Spirit, can impact an entire campus. Students can lead their friends to Christ. Students can get justice programs up and running. Students can serve. Students can lead.

And that's a secret.

InterVarsity's sweet secret is the sweet secret shared by all apostolic missional movements. We believe that all of our students can contribute to the mission. We believe that everyone can do something, everyone can start something, everyone can make an impact ... if they are filled with God's Spirit.

With Brian's encouragement, we need to maintain our trust in our students and in God's filling Spirit.

Planting is an endeavor that tempts us toward self-reliance. In the early stages of a plant, you can feel like you have to do everything. Someone has to talk to students, set up tables, pray, plan, fundraise and lead Small Groups and ... since there's no one else at the start ... you shoulder the responsibility.

In some contexts, Staff struggle to let students carry the load, waiting for a more convenient time to hand off responsibility. And, if we're not careful, we become chaplins for the chapter and our ministry only reaches the students we reach.

This, I think is why so many InterVarsity chapters get stuck at 40 (and why so many churches get stuck at 200). Reliance on paid Staff is a significant limiting factor to the growth of a movement.

And this is why Brian issued an apostolic calling. Folks who pursue apostolic ministry are in the business of trying the untried thing to reach the unreached person. Apostles are creative and ambitious. Apostles include other people in the mission.

What would happen if everyone was engaged? How would that change things on campus? How would that change the church?

Feel free to check out Brian's talk:

Thanks for being patient with me as I walked through the content from this conference. It was a great experience for me to slow down and really process what I heard. I'll be back to regular blogging starting tomorrow.