Words that Become Flesh and Dwells Among Others

Leaning_Trees_-_geograph.org.uk_-_707031I think Christians need to remember this important truth: we do not have to agree with others to love them and treat them with gracious hospitality and kindness. When you forget or doubt that, read the gospels and look at Jesus. If the example of Jesus teaches us anything about our responsibility to the world it is that we must lean toward reconciliation, treating others the way we would like to be treated.  To do anything less is not gospel–good news–to a world in desperate need for some.

Society will not be persuaded by words or argumentation, but by self-giving love and gracious hospitality. Things change when we move in close to others in kindness and friendship, not away in disgust or disagreement. We need to learn how to live in that tension, to obey Jesus and trust Him with the consequences.

So where do we begin. I have two suggestions.

storm_trooper_small_talk-713x5341. Start with the person closest to you right now.

I don’t meant the person closest  to you on an emotional level. I’m talking about the one literally closest to you–the one in close proximity to your everyday rhythms of life. Your next door neighbor. Your co-worker. Your Beautician. The person serving your food at your favorite restaurant. Or the person you avoid every Sunday at a church gathering. Introduce (or reintroduce) yourself. Ask them to share a part of their story (Where are you from? What brings you here? What compelled you to work here?). If they ask, share yours. And before you think this is too intrusive or that they want this, I would suggest that most people want to be known, though usually on their own terms. Do not nurture the fragmented culture that forces people to the margins of quiet desperation. Take a risk and move in by choosing presence. Listen. Learn who they are. Then as God’s Spirit works in you, you just might begin to love them in a way that reflects the love God has for them. Who knows, you develop a surprising friendship. You might even discover ways you can be more deeply present with them as God leads and forms the both of you in His own redemptive way. One thing is for certain, you will never know until you begin.

2. Ask yourself these two questions (and do so often):

Who might God be calling me to love?
Who might God be calling to love me?

Invite others into discerning these questions with you. In our missional community gatherings, we ask these two questions almost weekly. We share what we’re thinking and the challenges keeping us from moving in. This helps us live more present with others. We slowly awaken to what God may be up to in their lives and ours. We are reoriented to move in closer by embracing them and making room in our lives for their presence. We start with small steps. But we at least start. For us it is what it means to follow Christ and to love with a self-giving love. We choose to posture our lives in gracious hospitality and live as gracious hosts.

Choose what works for you and your personality, but do something.

Either way, no matter what we do or how we go about it, the Incarnation reminds us that our words must become flesh where, as witnesses of God’s kingdom, we make our dwelling among others. As God is present with us we must learn to become present with others. When we do, we’re able to join God in what He is doing in our lives and theirs.

And remember, we don’t go at it alone. Do it in along side others committed to doing the same.

I hope you will.

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Integrity and Preaching, Writing or Posting Only What Your Practice

I hear it all the time.

“I have a heart for the poor.”

That is beautiful. Can you name one?

“I think the Church should should get out of the building and love their neighbors.”

I agree. Do you know the names of neighbors living beside you?

“I wished the Church would stop brushing off mental illness and intellectual disabilities and create an environment where it is talked about and embraced.”

Absolutely. Are you in a personal relationship with someone (outside of your family) living with a mental illness or intellectual disability?

Preaching Only What You Practice

Everyone has an opinion. I have a few myself. It’s just now we live in a culture where anyone who can type can share them with anyone who can read (like I am doing right now–ironic, eh?). Don’t get me wrong, I am for sharing and airing opinions (obviously). But I am for sharing and airing opinions that stem from personal experience rather than theoretical conviction.

I am in the blessed position to work with men and women, those some would deem “conservative” and others “liberal,” who have determined to give a significant portion of their lives away to serve the last, least, lonely and left-out in our society. These people are putting boots to the ground to serve the poor, the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, the homeless, and are reaching out to their neighbors living next door and across the street. They know their names. They know their stories. They have integrity when they “preach” and when they do, I listen.

Yet I find myself surrounded by other men and women, “conservative” and “liberal” who have determined to preach at or to the last, least, lonely and left-out. These are the people who do not know the names of the poor, the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, the homeless, or even their next door neighbors. Instead they know the names of commentators of MSNBC, Fox News, and other media pundits. So when they speak, I shake my head at the profundity of ignorance that flows from their mouths and am saddened that they are unable to see their hypocrisy and short-sightedness.


Opinions As White Noise

I want to hear from people giving their lives away for their convictions, not just sitting in a tower or behind a laptop or in their car or on their couch letting everyone else know what we (by which they usually mean someone other than themselves) should do. I need to hear from people like Alison, Tammy, Bill, Carl, Danny, David, Tim, Erin, Lisa, Blake, John, Ray, Jason, David (not a typo, I know a lot of Davids), Jon (again, not a typo, I know a lot of Johns), Carolyn, Pete, Barbara, Anita, Amy, and I could go and on. These are the folks living in the trenches with their neighbors living in motels, back in the woods, in group homes, and one house down from their own. These are the ones who preach only what they practice and in turn, practice what they preach. At this stage in my life anything less is white noise. And I am learning that the best thing to do with white noise is to tune it out, or better yet shut it off.

If there is one thing bloggers, pundits, writers, pastors and conference speakers demonstrate is that anyone can theorize, politicize, dramatize or criticize, but true witnesses practice before they preach; true witnesses walk in relationship with those living in the trenches of loneliness or difficulty before they dare speak words of solutions or possibility.

Perhaps the time has come where we should stop reading bloggers and listening to pundits with endless opinions not rooted in personal practice. Instead, lets just obey God and trust Him with the consequences, and lets commit to preaching only what we practice.

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WCC: Who We Are and Are Becoming

As I spent time Sunday afternoon with 11 men living with mental illness and intellectual disabilities, I listened with joy and excitement. They were expressing their gratitude and excitement for feeling loved, welcomed and accepted by Williamsburg Christian Church. I knew this time of sharing was important for them because they’ve been asked to leave a couple of other Churches before. They were considered, well, too difficult. Then as I listened to the dear woman who cares for them tell me how excited they are each week to gather with us, experience shared meals with us, and sit with us each week at the Lord’s Table, my heart became full. We are becoming their family.

I’ve been thinking about how this is what we call gracious hospitality, where we make room in our lives for the other, especially “the stranger,” and we choose to welcome all with radical embrace. This, I think, is central to the Gospel.

There is no doubt that we, Williamsburg Christian Church, have a long way to go in becoming who God longs for us to become. We are not perfect. We won’t be. There will continue to be times where we fail to live graciously as a people called to self-giving love. There will be times where, no matter how hard we try, we will fail to please every person or love them according to their standards and expectations (I confess to you that this troubles me and makes my heart ache, yearning for grace and greater faithfulness).

Taking Jesus seriously and pursuing hospitality is hard. There will be times when we allow our fears to turn our hearts back to living in accordance with the Old Age that is passing way–a world bent on nurturing fear through violence and self-assertion. But we will repent. We will reconcile and forgive. Then we can set our hearts toward re-orienting our lives toward the New Age that has come through Jesus as Lord, and we do so together. By God’s grace and the power of His Spirit working within us, we begin to look a little more like His beloved community; we begin to look like the people of the Cross who live in light of the Resurrected Lord.

So how do I describe Williamsburg Christian Church to those who ask as we live in a society fragmented, and driven by consumerism and self-interest? I have found myself saying something like this:

We are the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, the homeless, the formerly homeless, the addicted, the recovering, the wealthy, the poor, the widows, the married, the never-been-married and the divorced; we are the working, the unemployed, the young and the old; we are private citizens, public servants, the “from-here’s” and the “come-here’s”; we are the wandering, the confused, the certain, the abused, the abandoned, and the hopeful; we are the struggling, the privileged, the prideful, the humble, the entitled, and the forgotten. But above all we are learning how to be loved by the God of heaven and earth and are discovering that our identity is in something greater than these categories most often ascribed to us. We know that we have been broken and bruised by sin, but we also know that in Jesus we have been given new life by the holy Breathe of God. So we’ve decided to live as a committed family of witnesses to God’s grace and love, and together we proclaim with our lips and lives that Jesus is Lord and that we are citizens of a kingdom that will never be trouble. This is what we call “Williamsburg Christian Church.”

WCC, I am grateful beyond words to know that whether we say it like this or not, this is who we are. May God give us humility and courage to live as people of gracious hospitality and witnesses of His in-breaking kingdom of grace, and may we, with our lips and lives, proclaim that Jesus is Lord.


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Missional Renewal and Congregational Change: Listening, Piloting and Celebrating

Below is an article I was privileged to write for Wineskins Magazine, a great publication for those associated with the Restoration Movement.

Missional renewal and congregational change is something I deeply believe in. My hope is that this little story of listening, piloting and celebrating will encourage others to take a similar posture. By no means is the only shift a community of faith must make to open herself up to renewal, but I do believe it is a necessary one.

Please share your responses on Wineskins’ comments thread. If you are experiencing renewal in your local congregation, please share how God is moving. Perhaps it will open the eyes of the rest of us to see what God is doing in our context. Thanks for reading.

Missional Renewal and Congregational Change: Listening, Piloting and Celebrating  http://wineskins.org/2014/07/24/missional-renewal-and-congregational-change-listening-piloting-and-celebrating/

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Pop Culture Missiology and the Romanticism of Missional Living (Part 2 of 2)

As to what I meant in the first post concerning the “gritty, ancient ordinariness of missional living.” I will tackle this with two answers, a “bible-answer” and some reflections from my personal journey. “Bible answer” first.

V&A_-_Raphael,_The_Death_of_Ananias_(1515)_thumb[6]I think you could go back to Luke-Acts and catch a glimpse of the ancient ordinariness of missional living. Jesus taught daily in gatherings, specifically the Temple (Luke 4:15; 19:47; 21:37) and so did the disciples (Acts 4:42-44; 5:42). Jesus fellowshipped with the poor (Luke 7:21-23; 12:33) and so did the disciples (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 6:1; 9:36). Jesus embraced table fellowship (Luke 7:34-50; 9:16; 22:19; 24:30) and so did the disciples (Luke 10:7; Acts 2:46; 20:7). Jesus proclaimed the kingdom and went about doing good (Luke 4:41-43; Acts 10:38) and so did the disciples (Acts 8:12-13).

This brief sketch highlights the practice of presence through word and deed; proclamation and demonstration. Consequently, missional living is a way of being in the world that necessarily translates into a different way of doing life in the world. Central to this particular way of being and doing is gracious hospitality. After all, our church fathers and mothers seemed to choose gracious hospitality as their way of being in the world. They were faithful to the pursuit of hospitality and welcoming one another as Christ had welcomed them.

226438_1652925454789_1586631795_31219270_7154124_nNow for some examples from my own journey. I believe that practicing the ancient ordinariness of missional living begins by learning to see one’s self as a gracious host in all relationships at all times. More practically speaking, it is about offering your undivided presence with anyone at anytime in any way to listen and serve. It can look like meals, coffee breaks, grill outs, parties, helping the old lady across the street, cutting her grass–serving folks right where they are because you’re an ambassador of a different new age breaking-in. If you are me, it looks like asking your introverted wife to bake her scrumptious chocolate chess pies for your neighbors (she is an introvert) while you deliver them (I am less introverted). It looks like visiting your neighbor’s father in the hospital after hearing he fell. It looks something like getting others in your faith community involved in preparing meals for your pregnant co-worker so you can take them to her the next day. It looks like finding out what your co-worker’s favorite snacks are and surprising them anonymously at their cubicle. It might look like you and your missional community getting together to replant a neighbor’s garden that died with her husband. Either way, the ordinariness of missional living is both gritty and simple. It is hard, but not complicated.

The ancient ordinariness of missional living also looks like maintaining a posture of listening and less talking. It looks like coming together in your faith community to ask and discern questions like, “who might God be calling me/us to love” and “who might God be calling to love me/us?” It looks like believing that no one is lost on God and that He is faithfully at work in His world.

I would suggest that the ancient ordinariness of missional living can be described most succinctly by rooting one’s self in a beloved community committed to do the hard work of living into the “one another” texts of Scripture. Self-giving love, gracious hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, humble confession, honesty, encouragement and hope become the guiding values of a life lived together in Jesus’ name. Even when the days are long you still choose to show up wherever your community gathers. Even when everyone’s kiddos are buck-freaking wild, including your own, you press on together. When your brother in Christ believes something completely off the kingdom wall, you learn to love him in honest humility and fix your eyes on the common life you share, not the differences you bear. Yes, the gritty ancient ordinariness of missional living will often look like wrestling together, sometimes with one another, about what it means to be citizens of a kingdom that is breaking-in while living among other competing kingdoms and doing so in such a way that God’s kingdom becomes tangible to all in, through and among you.

imageThen who knows, the ancient ordinariness of missional living might grow into looking like a group of you stepping down into the woods, befriending a homeless man and together walking with him from homelessness to self-sustainability. It might grow to look like 20 intellectually disabled men and women recently asked by a few other churches to not come back finally finding a home with your church family.

None of this is sexy. It is all messy. It is gritty. It is real. It is hard, but not complicated. It is simple. Because of God’s grace it is possible. It aligns with the missional impulses of the ancient faith from which we were born. After all, we did not invent the mission of God nor can we manufacture it. We are only participants who have discovered life with a holy trinitarian God and it changes how we live. No longer are we focused on self-assertive independence, rather we embrace self-giving love in and through beloved community in the gritty ordinariness of every day life.

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Pop Culture Missiology and the Romanticism of Missional Living (Part 1 of 2)

There is no doubt that complacency runs rampant in the North American Church. This has spurred on a call to missional renewal and greater faithfulness to rediscover the way of Jesus. However, I wonder how much of the current rhetoric of what it means to follow Jesus and live the missional life is steeped in a romanticism that ultimately frustrates those seeking to follow Jesus in everyday context and ordinary ways.

Sure, Jesus performed miracles and confronted the religious elite. We like that Jesus. He is like a radical rabbi gone rogue. He also walked with God in the ordinary. Sharing ordinary meals with ordinary folks in ordinary places. His disciples were a band of ordinary men and women (though we like to romanticizing them too). Perhaps some good ole’ fashion historical study would help us see that Jesus walked with the common folk and the common folk were “common” because they were, well, common. Then Jesus told us to do the most common thing possible, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

6a00d8341cae3d53ef011278faec7328a4It seems that isn’t sexy enough for us North American missional thinkers and theorists. We have to lift up provocative terms like “radical” and “maverick” and so on to get our point across. Don’t get me wrong, I get it. Many Christ-followers in North America have grown complacent and complicit to a dressed-down version of Christianity. You might even say this dressed-down version is the new “ordinary” and we must push against it to cast a clearer vision of the gospel of God’s kingdom. I get it. When necessary I do it. But I think there is an inherent danger present in this rhetoric that we must be aware of and I hear it in the frustrated voices of many that drink deeply from the wells of missional living.

The danger is that our reaction to the complacent and complicit can tempt us to set the bar so high that the everyday Christ-follower can’t reach it and experience what some describe as missional living.

They walk right passed their next door neighbor and into the woods to find the homeless woman (which I believe deeply in by the way, I just encourage both). They want their gatherings filled with the utter most marginalized (as so do I) and miss the banker sitting next to them who feels isolated and alone as his life quietly falls apart. Most often we rail against certain forms of church, namely the “institutional Church” with all her seductive entrapments, and persuade people to a more missional expression, like missional communities or house churches. But we fail to emphasize the raw essentiality of the “one another” texts of Scripture which when embraced, makes community more Christ-like and missional, regardless of form.¹ Instead, those living in these “more faithful” expressions of a missional faith grow frustrated because they cannot figure out how to include their children, or they feel a lack of generational diversity. Soon these expressions look less like everyday relationships–a mixture of old and young with ethnic and socio-economic diversity–and more like themselves. In a book or blog it sounds great, but in the living room or at the coffee shop where they meet it looks less glamorous. Their frustrations show it and they are apathetic or worse, wounded and cynical.

The ThinkerBut the thinkers and theorists write on and conference after conference speak on of our need for a radical and untamed Christian faith pushing far beyond the ancient ordinariness of missional living so that the everyday Christian is unable to experience the missional life unless they perform the grandiose gesture for the radical and maverick Jesus. Consequently, the gritty ordinariness of the missional life is being trumped by the romanticized versions of missional Christianity most often perpetuated by the thinkers and theorists often not living as daily practitioners of a faith easier to write and speak of than live in the gritty ordinariness of everyday life in the rhythms of stable community.

Does God expect us to offer only grand sacrifices or the daily sacrifice of a worshipful life lived in a community of worshippers attentive to His work in, among and through them? Has God’s presence and mission become so illusive that He is no longer concerned with your co-worker, next door neighbor, or second cousin?

The unintended result of romanticized missional speech is at best we miss the gritty ancient ordinariness of our faith, or at worst we promote a works-based gospel of fundamentalism dressed in new language.

I miss the royal Son of God who became the Nazarene son of a carpenter that recruited ordinary folk to proclaim and demonstrate a shared ordinary life, rooted in His kingdom for the good of all–the common and the uncommon folk.

My hope is that we will remember that it was in the gritty ordinariness of life that the extraordinary happened–God put skin on and made His dwelling among us, as one of us, alongside of us. And it still happens like that today, anywhere His everyday people are participating in His life in the most ordinary of ways.

Someone recently asked me what I mean by the “ancient ordinariness of missional living.” I’ll offer some thoughts and examples based on personal experience in a follow up post soon. In the meantime feel free to push back.

1. I do believe some forms/expressions of the Church are healthier than others. Where I am we are what some call a “mixed economy” as we gather in large gatherings in what some might say looks like an “institutional” church and embrace what some call a parish church expressions, or what some call “house churches.” My suggestion is that in our deconstruction of the Church we must offer guidance toward a faithful reconstruction, and do so with the Christian in mind who did not and may not ever read the likes of Barth, Bosch, or Guder.


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One Another, For the Other

Much is said about what the Church should look like and how she should be formed. Though we need to look to none other than Jesus, we yearn for words to adequately describe what we see in Him. Books, blogs (such as this), sermons, conferences–all noble and needed efforts to articulate a kingdom-shaped community of disciples living on mission. Yet in the following simple yet often disorienting statements written by the apostles we see how they sought to describe the kind of new community–church–that King Jesus lived, died and has risen to empower. Perhaps these texts can serve as a summation of all books, writings, and conversations.

“Be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50).
 “Wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
 “Love one another” (John 13:34). 
”Love one another” (John 13:35).
 “Love each other” (John 15:12).
 “Love each other” (John 15:17). 
”Be devoted to one another in brotherly love” (Romans 12:10). 
”Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10). 
”Live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16).

“Love one another” (Romans 13:8).
 “Stop passing judgment on one another” (Romans 14:13).
 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7).
 “Instruct one another” (Romans 15:14). 
”Greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16).
 “When you come together to eat, wait for each other” (1 Corinthians 11:33).
 “Have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
 “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (1 Corinthians 16:20).
  “Greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Corinthians 13:12).
 “Serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).

“If you keep on biting and devouring each other you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5:15). “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (Galatians 5:26).

“Carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).
 “Be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2). 
”Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32).
 “Forgiving each other” (Ephesians 4:32).
 “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19).
 “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
 “In humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
 “Do not lie to each other” (Colossians 3:9). 
”Bear with each other” (Colossians 3:13). “Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another” (Colossians 3:13).  “Teach [one another]” (Colossians 3:16). 
”Admonish one another” (Colossians 3:16).
 “Make your love increase and overflow for each other” (1 Thessalonians 3:12).

“Love each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:9). 
”Encourage each other” (1 Thessalonians 4:18) .
”Encourage one another” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).  “Build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
 “Encourage one another daily” (Hebrews 3:13).
 “Spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24).
 “Encourage one another” (Hebrews10:25).
 “Do not slander one another” (James 4:11).
 “Don’t grumble against each other” (James 5:9). 
”Confess your sins to each other” (James 5:16).
 “Pray for each other” (James 5:16).

“Love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22).
 “Live in harmony with one another” (1 Peter 3:8).
”Love each other deeply” (1 Peter 4:8). 
”Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9). “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another (1 Peter 5:5).
”Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).

“Love one another” (1 John 3:11).
”Love one another” (1 John 3:23). 
”Love one another” (1 John 4:7).
 “Love one another” (1 John 4:11).
 “Love one another” (1 John 4:12).
 “Love one another” (2 John 5).

???????????Imagine a community living into these words. Imagine how a community of self-giving love, gracious hospitality, forgiveness, reconciliation, humble confession, honesty, encouragement and hope could re-orient any social order? Imagine what would happen to our neighborhoods and relational networks if the Church became a community by which and through which we were formed and equipped to love one another so we could live our lives as a sent people for the other? 

May God’s missionary Holy Spirit teach and empower us to embody these words so we might make His in-breaking kingdom tangible to all.

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