Leading Yourself: Watch Your Life

LEADINGYOURSELF

We are living in a day and age where we don’t see many good examples of leadership. We need people to be leading like we’ve never needed it before. Certainly, in the life of the local church and with God’s people, we need strong, good, godly leadership.

One of the things I’m realizing more and more is the need to actually lead our own life first. Leadership starts with your life. If you can’t lead your own life you can never lead others. Therefore, I’ve become convinced that one of the most important leadership principles is self-leadership.

Longevity is essential for a testimony of the faithfulness of God, but we tend to underplay it. We see many start well, do great things, big things — but at the end of the day they bomb out, they somehow lose their way. Our character is assessed by the question of “how long” – how long you’ve been doing what you’re doing. It’s not just about whether we’ve started but whether we’ve also finished.

It amazes me that when you look at the life of Paul in the scriptures, he writes this when he comes to the end of his life, reflecting what he has given himself to:

2 Timothy 4:6-8
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

Notice how he doesn’t reflect on how many churches he has planted, how many regions he visited, how many nations he preached in, or even how many letters he wrote. You never find Paul reflecting on these things in any of his letters. That should make us realise that the things we often regard as the most important are things Paul doesn’t even bring into the equation. Rather, he goes back to this: I’ve fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

So while there is such a thing as godly ambition and we need to pursue the things God has called us to do, too often we reflect on the things that don’t even matter at the expense of what matters most. I want this said of me: “He finished the race.” Not “I survived”. Too many are “surviving”. Paul didn’t survive, he thrived. He was walking in all that God had for him. And then he finished, never losing his faith! Therefore, it can be done.

Are you settled in your call?

The question we’ve got to keep asking ourselves in leadership is this: are we settled in our call? This is vital for us to finish our race. If we have settled in the call that God has given us we are going to be able to really help others and not be intimidated, bringing them through and never losing our way, burning out, trying to be someone that God hasn’t called us to be.

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Am I doing what I should be doing?
2. Am who I should be?
3. Am I not trying to be someone else?
4. Am I rather trying to be who God has made me to be?
5. Am I where I should be?

Self-leadership determines everything about our longevity. I’m convinced that our ministry follows our lives – it flows from our lives – and our lives don’t follow or flow from our ministry. Too many leaders are trying to make their ministry great, but if your life is in the right place and you are living it correctly, your ministry will flow out of your life and you will stay the course.

Watch your life

In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul tells Timothy this:

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

You must watch your life and doctrine. Don’t just be good at watching everyone else and their life and doctrine. Don’t just watch your doctrine either, but also watch your life. Both. Not enough of us are putting correct emphasis on watching our lives. Note Paul’s departing words to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28:

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

As leaders and overseers, we are very good at watching over everyone else, but actually we must first watch ourselves. This is because it’s from your life where your ministry flows out from.

Proverbs 4:20-27
My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.

This provides us some insight into how we watch our lives. Here we see that we ought to guard our heart, watch our words, watch our eyes, watch our feet, and be careful where we go and what we’re moving in.

In this short book I’ll expound on several keys of self-leadership that help us to watch our life. Briefly, they are:

1. Leading your relationships
2. Leading your spiritual life
3. Taking care of your physical body
4. Taking care of your mental health
5. The subtle destroyers

We will expound on these in more detail. You can also watch the video versions of these at Youtube.


Tyrone Daniel leads New Covenant Ministries International (NCMI) and is part of Redemption City Church, Denver, Colorado, U.S.A.

The ‘Great Commission’ Is An Aspect Not The Whole: When God’s World Is Expunged From The Story Of Redemption

harvest

harvest

by Anthony Bradley
Originally published at whatisyoursalvationfor.com

After reading across the Christian traditions, it becomes readily apparent the irreparable damage the combination of Revivalism + Dispensationalism + Arminianism (RDA) rendered to evangelical Christianity in North America. The unfortunate cocktail expunged the end and goal of redemption as God’s communion with his entire creation and replaced with a new proof-texted “Great Commission” reduction of redemption as the salvation of individual souls–which is an aspect of the overall mission of God. Protestant evangelicals, especially those not tied to a particular confession of faith, have been vulnerable to following the fads and personal emphases of popular and well-known leaders. For example, the phrase “the Great Commission” did not exist until the 17th-century, thanks to Enlightenment rationalism’s fusion with Christianity, and, as demonstrated below, was popularized by the good intentions of one person as essentially an ad campaign. As we arrive in the 21-st century, one could argue that RDA overtime inadvertently disconnected American Protestant evangelicals from nearly 1,700 years of Christian teaching about the eschatological role of love (Luke 10:27) and why love is the greatest thing Christians are called to do here and now (and in the world to come).

Even the revived emphasis on God’s sovereignty in the economy of salvation maintains the reduction of redemption as the story of the destination of individual souls when it is void of a theocentric eschatological cosmology. As a result, there has emerged an emphasis on “being right” (thanks, again, to the Enlightenment) about how souls “get saved,” which are important clarifications that need to be made, and, in recent decades, there has emerged a church-growth/church planting movement calling Christians into action on the basis of the “Great Commission.” Where is the call to love?

Some could argue that what was neglected was the emphasis on discovering eschatologically what it means to love properly here and now (and, by the way, save your “false dichotomy” comments). The love discourse was given over to the “liberals” while the evangelicals focused on being “Biblical” and being “right” about the gospel. We have also seen successive generations, post-WW II, increasingly walk away from evangelicalism in North America as the redemptive story was divorced from the destiny of the entire cosmos. Here’s the point: if kids don’t know what their salvation is for, if the destination of the entire cosmos is unclear, and don’t know why their day-to-day activities in the home and society matter eschatologically, here and now, should we be too surprised when each generation slowly walks away?

The Context of Good Intentions

The focus on limiting redemption to the salvation of individuals emphasized in recent years follows those who have strong interests in missions, revivalism, the Great Awakenings, and the like. These were admirable movements by faithful men and women in past who contributed greatly to the spread of Christianity throughout the world. While well-intentioned, it may explain why evangelical Christians often seem to treat those outside the church as evangelistic projects rather than people placed in the lives of Jesus followers for the purpose of loving well in deep communion in accordance with all of their needs as human persons–spiritual (their eternal state), emotional, social, material, and so on. Love became subordinate to fulfilling “The Great Commission” and the historical result is that evangelicals turned a blind-eye to the injustices of European colonialism, the African-slave trade in the Americas, slavery in the US, lynching in the Southeast during Reconstruction, the terrorism of African-Americans during Jim Crow, and sitting on the sidelines during the Civil-Rights Movement, and so on. William Wilberforce is often offered as counter-narrative but the fact his activities came in the late 18th-century should be an embarrassing indictment on British Christianity since Christians in Briton had been involved in the enslavement of Africans in 1520. There are some in the revivalist tradition today who tend to believe that the church as no role, as an institution or community, in participating in the establishment of the conditions that bring about change in local communities for the sake of their neighbors’ humanity, save a few issues like abortion and marriage.

Although the phrase, “The Great Commission” is found no where in the Bible, it has been defended by some as the core imperative of the Christian life. The problem exegetically, however, is that the word “go” in Matthew 28:16-20 is not an imperative. It’s a participle. The Greek grammar simply does not support “go” as an imperative command unless you are reading an agenda into the exegesis (i.e., D. Wallace draws the wrong conclusions). Properly translated, the verse should read, “Having gone,” or “As you go.” The aorist participle is not functioning as an imperative in this text and, therefore, the call to “go” is not a particular action by individuals although the church’s work in disciple-making is such a distinct call and an exegetical imperative.

The dominance of the “The Great Commission” as clarion call for the work of the church in the world is a product of Baptist missionary, William Carey. As Robbie Castleman observes:

It turns out that this passage may have got its summary label from a Dutch missionary Justinian von Welz (1621-88), but it was Hudson Taylor, nearly 200 years later, who popularized the use of “The Great Commission”. So, it seems like Welz or some other Post-Reformation missionary probably coined the term “The Great Commission”

While the intentions were good, the attempt to make “the last thing Jesus said” an imperative is neither in the Bible nor in the history of the church across the traditions and has been misused unfortunately to shame and manipulate Christians into much legalism–not to mention the aphorism presents a truncated view of the Christian life and a truncated view of the progress of redemption. I have always wondered why I never really heard Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists and so on, preaching to people about the need for individuals to “go” and participate in evangelistic activities or call people to live a life of disciple-making outside of the normal work of the church in order to fulfill the “Great Commission.” Now I know why.

Susan Smith reiterates the origin,

The foundational importance of Matthew’s Great Commission for modern mission cannot be under-estimated, although as Johannes Nissen points out, “it has been demonstrated that it [Matthew’s ending] was not used as a basis for mission until the end of the seventeenth century.”1 Even though the Reformers did not consider the “Great Commission as binding, no biblical texts appear more frequently in the Anabaptist confessions of faith and court testimonies than the Matthean and Markan versions of the Great Commission … They were the first to make the commission mandatory for all believers.”

Bosch identifies the Great Commission as the most important biblical motif for understanding the Enlightenment paradigm. He claims that William Carey must be credited “with putting it on the map so to speak,”3 and that it assumed significance for Protestant, especially Anglo Saxon, missionaries from the late 18th century onwards. In particular, it encouraged an expansionist approach to mission, and given that “civilisation” or socialisation into Western culture was an important missionary task, meant that imperial powers recognised that missionary activity often complemented imperial policies.

So What?

The use of the phrase “Great Commission” is complex and needs to be studied further but we can say that for American evangelicals the Great Commission has inadvertently drowned out perhaps the greatest imperative and command in the entirety of God’s special revelation in the whole of redemptive history: to orient the Christian life toward loving God and loving neighbor. The gospel is a means to freeing people so that they can be people of proper love. The pursuit of holiness is purging one’s life of anything that prevents someone from properly loving God and neighbor as the church goes about her regular work in the world in word, deed, and in offering the sacraments. This includes evangelism. Christians should desire that every person be in union with Christ so that they can be set free to properly love. As David Jones explains, the goal of the Christian life is the glory God and the motive of everything that God’s people are to do in this world is summarized in one word: love.

The call to love (Luke 10:27) includes concerns about personal atonement and how the church functions but points us to much more. The call to love cannot be reduced to God being in communion with individual souls. The story of redemption, the eschatological purpose of love, is a story of God being in communion with his people and his entire creation. The entire cosmos. “It’s comprehensive,” writes William Edgar. The thriving and flourishing of God’s world now and in the world to come is proportionate to the degree that God’s people learn how to love, hence the centrality Jesus’ command that is initiated first and foremost by God’s unmerited act of love. That love, as commanded, will be perfect some day but not yet. However, love is the direction of the Christian life with the Triune God as the end for which love was created.

God’s communion with his creation and his people is the end history and will be finally consummated when Christ returns. Now we understand better why “all things” are being reconciled to Christ (Col 1:15-20). That is, the story of redemptive culminates in the eschatological unity of every dimension of cosmos–all of it. Excluding the cosmos from the plan of redemption is neither found in the Bible nor in the Christian tradition save a few rationalistic Enlightenment, revivalist evangelicals who have no theocentric cosmology. Perhaps, them, it is time for American evangelicals to re-align themselves with nearly 1700 years of Christian teaching rather than a missionary ad campaign inspired by the Enlightenment.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13:13).

***

Anthony Bradley is an author, professor, and public intellectual. He is Associate Professor of Theology and Ethics at The King’s College in New York City and Research Fellow at renowned think tank Acton Institute. He is also the author of several books, including Black and Tired, Liberating Black Theology, and most recently, Aliens in the Promised Land. See more at http://www.dranthonybradley.com. Follow him on Twitter – @drantbradley.

 

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For more:

Biblical Christian Ethics by David Jones.

Truth In All It’s Glory by William Edgar,

New Testament and Mission: Historical and Hermeneutical Perspectives by Johannes Nissen

Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (American Society of Missiology) by David J. Bosch.

Far as the Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael D. Williams

Social Justice and an Appetite for Beautiful Stories

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Jan_Wijnants_-_Parable_of_the_Good_Samaritan

by Anru Liebenberg
Originally published at An African’s Reflections

We don’t need to look too far to spot some kind of injustice in society. Just the other day, I spoke to a man working for the government in Mpumalanga (South Africa). Their health department is currently under administration. Instead of the R 120 per person allowed for departmental catering, one catering company asked R 500 per person…and they got paid!

I have started thinking about the way I (and other people) react to injustice, and whether I am really contributing by turning social injustice into social justice. In the social media culture that we live in, it’s so easy to comment on an injustice, go on with our own lives, and eventually forget about the issue altogether.

There are a few things I think we might consider if we really want to make an effective contribution:

  • Look for the plank in your own eye It’s easy to curse the deeds of a criminal, but not always so easy to spot our own blind spots. The first step to becoming a voice against injustice, is remembering that we are all broken people and in need of a ton of grace. If we forget this, we are in danger of becoming self-righteous fault finders.
  • Choose whether you want to curse the fruits, or find the root of a problem. It’s quite straightforward to spot an injustice. That is the fruit. To spot the root of the problem (and even trying to do something about the root) is a different story. We can have something to say about violence against women and children, but to find a platform where we can influence the boys who might carry out what they have been exposed to in their families and communities, will take some more time, effort, intention and prayer.
  • Raise your prophetic voice wisely When Jesus turned over the tables in the temple, the reason behind his anger was the greed of people, and the fact that some people were excluded. But according to John’s account, Jesus put together a whip out of strips of leather before he responded. Making a whip takes time. While Jesus was working with the leather, he had enough time to think. I believe that by the time Jesus reacted, he had a clear idea of what he was going to do, and the words that would accompany his deeds. I regularly get convicted by the fact that my words should actually lead to change. Sometimes, words weigh much heavier when accompanied with intentional deeds.
  • Put your money and your body where your mouth is Money talks. We all know the saying. When it comes to social injustice, as much as we need people to call a spade a spade, we also need people who will be able to use the spade; and some to buy the spades! In the community where I stay, a 25-year old chose to stand for councilor, because he had a vision to (amongst other things) invest in the lives of young people. Always be on the lookout for places where your time and/or your money will make a tangible difference. That’s being a proactive prophet.
  • Don’t forget to look out for beauty We hear many stories daily. The rhetoric of the majority of stories that we hear (especially in the media) is that the world is falling apart. But there are many beautiful and hopeful stories out there. We have to decide how hungry we are for these stories. They might be a bit more difficult to find, but when we develop a healthy appetite for hopeful stories, our view of the world, and of our calling as followers of Jesus will change dramatically.

***

Anru Liebenberg is proudly South African. He calls himself a lover of Africa and a follower of Jesus. Follow him on Twitter – @anruliebenberg.

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I Will Give To My Children The Privilege Of Work

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by Olivia Langeveldt
Originally published at easyupstream.wordpress.com

The dishwasher has been on the blink for a while now. It’s served us well these last three or four years, but we seem to be past needing it now. The kids are ten, nearly eight, nearly six, four, two and 9 months old. Most are big enough to pitch in and, when we work together, we can clean the kitchen in no time.

Last week, a few things I read seemed to be having a conversation with each other. All had to do with work.

“We live in a culture of instant happiness and comfort seeking… no-one is telling us to “buck up” get on with it.” When you are struggling with something we are taught to back away from the problem, find a quick fix, an appliance can do that job for you… or pay someone else to do the dirty work… “remember you really need a break.” –se7en :: Sunday Snippet: Life Lessons Learnt on the Mountains

So, you see, we really are not in despair about the dishwasher. The value of learning how to get on without it and just do the work is too precious.

“We’re raising future men who know how to work and future women who know how to dig deep and kids who know that you’ve got to have dirt under your fingernails to plant good things and procrastination can be a sin that sends you only a lot of sorrow.

It’s worth living a life so you’re kids can see it: there’s a lot of happiness in this world that depends on being brave enough to keep working when it’d be easier to quit.

Nothing good gets started without getting to work. And nothing great gets finished without staying at the work.” – A Holy Experience :: What We & Our Kids Need To Know About Their Work – Life Balance & How To Thrive

Dishes is not just dishes. It is loyalty, self-discipline, perseverance. Too many good things to pass up.

“Understanding the concept of “process” is difficult for children because they don’t get to “see” it anymore. Older generations were in contact with agriculture and trades and could easily understand that everything had a beginning, a process divided in phases and an end result. Nowadays, urban kids can’t appreciate the effort that goes into growing a carrot or the time that it’s needed to make a pullover.” –The Adventures Archive :: Teach your kinds that it’s the process that counts (With Teach a Talent and Perfect Days)

A simple thing, it may seem, to grow a carrot. But adults (not just kids) need to know and feel and see these processes.

“Good work takes many different forms. Farmers, carpenters, teachers, and tax attorneys can achieve rational mastery in their own distinctive ways in their own specific fields. In common parlance, we might call this “expertise.” In Aristotelian terms, it could be seen as a rarified form of the virtue of prudence. This explains why being good at our jobs is not just necessary, but also enjoyable. Prudence, as Aristotle tells us, is pleasant. The exercise of rational mastery is fulfilling in a way that few other things are.

“Alienation theory examines how workplace conditions can artificially separate workers from those elements of the job that are naturally fulfilling. Marx worried especially about unskilled, assembly-line jobs, wherein workers perform repetitive tasks as part of a larger operation. In this environment, workers’ relationships to the final products of their labor are distant and heavily mediated. They are unable to take pride in what they produce, and they feel distanced from those rational, human powers that should be developed through work. Pushing a button over and over is work that could be done by a machine; thus, when humans do it, they feel “dehumanized,” as if they were only cogs in an industrial machine. Their humanity is subordinated to the company’s pursuit of profit.” –The Public Discourse :: The Pleasures of Prudence: How Over-Regulation Hurts Doctors, Teachers, and All Workers

All these ideas seem to me like common sense. Otherwise I wouldn’t do what I do. May be it’s not so common any more. I often see parents shielding their children from real life and work.

Some may feel sorry for my children doing dishes. I would feel sorry for them if they grew up and didn’t know how to conquer their own laziness or tiredness; be a teamplayer, not a grumbler; and feel that pride at being part of a job and knowing what it takes to get it done.

***

Olivia is a Capetonian who blogs at easyupstream.wordpress.com where she looks at the world and its ways, society and the culture, and how strong a pull these have on how we live. Follow Olivia on Twitter – @OliviaLang.

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My God Conspiracy Theory

ShadowPlay
ShadowPlay

Shadow Puppetry

by Felicity Harrison | 576 words
Originally published at the Grace-Phil Blog

I love conspiracy theories, especially those that I make up: there is no need for evidence and facts are largely irrelevant. They are oddly comforting and always confirm the point I am trying to make. And then reality intrudes, usually rather more rudely that I would like, shattering any illusion (or delusion) I may be harbouring. This often necessitates a slight adjustment in the theory rather than a shift in thinking and life continues as normal.

I think that quite often in the past I co-opted God into my conspiracies … ‘this is God’s will’, ‘this is God’s plan’, ‘this is where God wants me to be’. Its a conspiracy theory of a particular type: God is seen to be behind everything in a way that is not helpful. Somehow the image of God is that of a master-puppeteer in control of a universe; it leaves little space for free-will and creates an illusion of safety and stability.

But in the last few years it has become more difficult to hold all of these theories in a way that allows me to be authentic. My experience is that life does not work like that, nor God for that matter. Authenticity requires an acceptance and an acknowledgement of the information available to me; blaming unknown, unseen forces is greatly at odds with what I know to be true and real.

I can’t blame God when things go wrong and think that somehow He is allowing all of the suffering to happen – as if He is in control of the amount of suffering I face. In the past I thought that God only gave me what I could handle – but this theory doesn’t make sense (on many levels). It means that people who have ‘charmed lives’ do so because God knows that they cannot handle great hardships; and that somehow people who suffer great hardships are much more able than others to cope with the circumstances they find themselves in. Really? Is that really true?

It means that a God of love and mercy and tenderness and compassion metes out suffering because He knows ‘I can handle it’. This doesn’t square with the experience I have with a loving God.

And yet, lately, when things have been coming thick and fast; and every day brings new challenges I have found myself think: “Really God? Are You going to give me more to handle?”

And then I need to breathe. And remember that life happens. And it is not God who is directing the traffic. That with free-will comes a life that is messy and complicated. Where God comes in is the source of unlimited love and compassion and graces. God has faith in me to handle whatever comes my way; and I can handle anything if I am open to Divine Grace. That doesn’t mean that things come easily or smoothly – it just means that I know that the source of my strength has faith in me. And that the God of my conspiracy theory is not the God who holds me in love and grace.

***

Felicity has worked at the Amnesty International SA board, the Catholic Parliamentary Office, and the Goedgedacht Forum. She also sits on the boards of Gunfree South Africa and Catholic Welfare and Development. She blogs to find resonance with others or generate interesting discussion.

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Taboo Topics: Living with Disability – meet Lachlan Nicholson | Spastic Cerebral Palsy

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By Lachlan Nicholson
Originally published at brettfish.wordpress.com

Fresh off of my twenty-fourth birthday and living with a condition known as spastic cerebral palsy, I consider most things in my life to be causes for joy and gratitude. After all, I have a full-time job, several good friends and though severe, my disability is not in any way degenerative.

However, one thing which has become a major annoyance, particularly since entering adulthood is constantly being labelled “courageous” or “inspirational”. Considering that I’ve been disabled from birth (brain-damage due to complications during labour), you might think I’d be used to it by now. The fact is that I’m not. You see, calling someone courageous tends to imply that they had a choice in their situation, like a fireman running into a burning building or a police officer taking a bullet to save a civilian.

Well, I hate to break it to you (no, not really) but had I actually been given the choice, I doubt very much that I would willingly have confined myself to a wheelchair for my entire sojourn on this little blue planet.

As for being an inspiration, people who say this to the disabled – usually with a quiver of sentimental reverence in their voices – are undeniably well-meaning, but none of them seem to realise the pressure such a statement carries.

If I were to attempt to live up to this classification, I would be unable to admit that there are days when I’m painfully reminded of my limitations and trust me, at times like those, my attitude is anything but “inspirational”.

This may seem stupidly obvious, but the most important thing to remember about people with disabilities is that even though some of us may look like human-vehicle hybrids, we are human and our personalities comprise far more than the challenges we face.

As a simple example, think about the following scenario; you head to a restaurant one night to enjoy a meal with some friends. Among those gathered is the new girlfriend of one of your mates. This is your first time meeting her; she’s smart, bubbly and attractive, except for a large, unsightly mole on her cheek. Now, unless you’re a complete social cave-dweller, it’s highly unlikely that the first words from your mouth would be, “Hey, nice to meet you. I’m really sorry about that awful thing on your face.”

So, what’s the point of this little rant? I guess it is my humble effort to remind anyone who happens to read it that disabled people are ordinary folks just trying to get by like our bipedal counterparts, perhaps just a little more slowly.

This is part of Brett ‘Fish’ Anderson’s taboo topics series.

[To meet Uel Maree who had an unfortunate diving accident, click here]

[Click here for details of this series]

***

This was written by Lachlan and published at Brett “Fish” Anderson’s blog as part of his “taboo topics” series. Follow Brett on Twitter – @BrettFishA.

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Living on the inside edge

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by Nigel Branken
Originally published at http://transforming.org.za/2014/07/21/living-on-the-inside-edge/
431 words


“To take your position on the spiritual edge of things is to learn how to move safely in and out, back and forth, across and return. It is a prophetic position, not a rebellious or antisocial one. When you live on the edge of anything with respect and honor, you are in a very auspicious position. You are free from its central seductions, but also free to hear its core message in very new and creative ways.” – Richard Rohr

Throughout history, Christians have too often developed theology to support and sustain the oppression of people and to stand on the side of the powerful. I confess that I sometimes really struggle with embarrassment at Christianity because so many of us, including me, allow our twisted “theology” to put us on the wrong side of the issues of our day. Even if theologically we disagree with the dominant theological position, we sometimes are too fearful to speak out for fear of exclusion, more concerned with our belonging than with the transformation of the world. Slavery, colonialism, women’s suffrage, the holocaust, apartheid… are all issues which have been upheld and sustained (and later dismantled) by Christian theology. I fear currently there are several issues in which the church stands on the side of the oppressor and even participates in oppression. The Israel/ Palestine conflict is in my view one of these issues. We have allowed one eschatological view of Israel to excuse their brutal, violent and illegal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people.

Yet there is hope!

As I look at Jesus, I find hope. Jesus is always on the side of the oppressed and marginalized and even in the face of tradition and law, he sides with them.

As I look at church history, I too find hope there. Within the church there seem to be voices on the inside edge as Richard Rohr says (above). These prophetic voices begin to dream of a different world and then begin to imagine what it could be like. It captivates their thoughts and soon their lives and they begin to pull the vision towards them by demonstrating that this new world is not only preferable, but also possible.

I want to be a person living on the inside edge of the church pulling the new world I dream of towards me.

***

Nigel Branken calls himself a practitioner of Love. He is passionate about becoming the change he wants to see in the world. Follow him on Twitter – @Nigel_Branken

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Liturgy: The Work of the People (3)

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by John van de Laar | 677 words
Originally published at sacredise.com

This post is a follow up on posts here, here and here.

As I’ve discussed in the previous posts, religion is about making meaning of the world and our place in it, and liturgy is the work we do to find this meaning and put it into practice in our lives (more to come about the specifics of liturgy and how it works in future posts).

There are three primary ways that meaning is sought in our world – and they have been around for as long as human beings have lived. They are also the three primary temptations that compete in us with the call of God’s Reign. Jesus faced each of these “liturgies” in his temptation in the wilderness, and there is no question that we will all face all of them in our lives at some point. We’ve already seen how Jesus rejected the liturgies of lust (or immediate gratification of bodily desires) and power. The third liturgy is easy to identify, and it’s become something of an obsession in our world – the Liturgy of Wealth.

In the Gospel narrative, Jesus is offered “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” if he will only bow down and worship the tempter. It’s a classic temptation – one that has appeared in all sorts of movies and folk tales. Wealth, of course, is not just about the accumulation of material things. Wealth brings freedom, choice, and the ability to satisfy the other two temptations (lust and power) pretty much at will – which is why it’s such a basic human temptation. Yet, here again, Jesus rejects the liturgy and clings to the simplicity and generosity of God’s Reign.

You may notice that none of these temptations were inherently wrong. Bodily desires and needs can and must be legitimately fulfilled, and Jesus multiplied food when the time required it. Every human being exercises power over others at some point and in some way, whether through parenting, becoming an influencer of opinions or holding office, and Jesus certainly exercised power over the crowds when it was needed, and ultimately claimed that “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18). Money is simply an easy way to exchange value which we all must do in order to survive as human communities, and Jesus, when he needed it, was able to find or receive money (Judas was the keeper of his purse, which must imply that there was money in the purse). So, it wasn’t so much the acts that were the problem, but the motives and timing.

This reveals something significant about liturgy. The acts of liturgy are often very normal – the same objects and actions that we use every day. But they are placed in a context that gives them new meaning. This means that as we return to those actions and objects in our daily routines, we engage them with the new meaning that we have received from our liturgies. Whatever liturgy we may embrace, one thing is sure – it will filter the meaning of the religion it teaches us into every aspect of our lives.

How do you respond to this perspective on Jesus’ temptations? In what ways do you see money, power and lust as ways of making meaning in our world (religions) each with its own liturgy? In what ways do you find yourself participating in these liturgies?

If this is all a bit confusing to you at the moment, stay tuned – all will become clearer as we explore what liturgy is and how it works in the future. In the meantime, feel free to add questions and comments in the comments section below.

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John holds a Masters degree in Theology and is the author of The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship forms us into the people God wants us to be. John is married to Debbie (also a Methodist minister) and they have two young adult sons. Connect with John on Twitter – @Sacredise.

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Do you Remember Where you Were that Day?

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by Stephan Joubert | 567 words
Originally published at ekerk.com

If you are a rugby fan, then you’ll never forget that drop kick by Joel Stransky that clinched the 1995 World Cup for the Springboks. Or the photo of Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar jubilantly celebrating at Ellis Park. Everyone that was in attendance that day at the old Ellis Park will immediately share this fact in rugby conversations.

I still have childhood memories of how we looked at the moon when Neil Armstrong became the first person to place his footprints there on 21 July 1969. The excitement was tangible. Also when 9/11 happened, or when the Berlin Wall came down on 9 November 1989, or when Nelson Mandela was released on 11 February 1990. In each instance, I can remember exactly where I was as these events took place.

They say you remember where you are or what’s going on in your life when famous people pass away, or when life-changing things happen in the world. Yet, I realized that very few people have ever told me about such experiences in their faith–life… except for a small group of followers of Jesus that make world turn the other way around. They know exactly where they were when Jesus encountered them!

No one remembers where they were when more head–knowledge was distributed.

We feel life, rather than understanding it. We prefer living from our hearts, rather than from our heads. For too long even I was the honorary chairman of the head–first brigade. I learned that faith was about knowledge… Oh, and also sometimes about trust. But knowledge was always the litmus test in my arena, not trust. No one has ever asked me about my trust, only my knowledge. That’s why I blindly believed the right knowledge in large doses would convince others of the truth. This would move them to believe and to live with more commitment. Unfortunately, it didn’t.

Today, more knowledge is available in the church than ever before. There are countless books and masses research on anything from church creeds, doctrines, religious questions and spiritual formation. Still, more of the right kind of knowledge is not helping the church to expand at a healthy pace. It doesn’t matter how many sermons, Bible studies or theology courses we have in place — more knowledge doesn’t “reach” people in any significant way. Also, it does not overly excite the new generation to join, or remain part of the church. Soon after completing the knowledge gathering phase of their church journey, called catechism, the young ones run off! They get more excited about new apps to download onto their cellphones.

No one remembers where they were on that day when even more information was distributed in the church. However, believers do remember the times when they are in the presence of people or who live out their faith. In Walter Isaac son’s biography of Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple until shortly before his death, the latter is quoted: “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it.” Religion is first tasted and drank. There’s no juice left in any form of faith that has lost the heart connection. That’s why Paul’s words in Philippians 1 are my daily sustenance. He wrote: “For me to live is Christ!” I want to follow by feeling and living this every single day.

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Stephan Joubert has served for more than a decade as a professor in New Testament studies at the University of Pretoria. Stephan has written, to date, forty-seven books and is also a co-translator of a modern Afrikaans translation of the Bible. 

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Into Great Silence

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by Timothy Willard | 1586 words
Originally published at timothywillard.com


He tells me to wait. He tells me to listen. He tells me to spend more time with my daughters and my wife. And I do; all of it. My shoulders relax. I sleep, much deeper. And isn’t that what we’re after? A good night’s sleep?

“Should we buy a car?” I ask in between sips of tea.

“I don’t know. Don’t we need a car?” she asks.

“Do we? What do we really do with a car, anyway?”

“I get it, but what about the freedom, going for drives—just getting in and going?”

“Yeah, I know. But what if do things differently this time?”

I’m waiting for my heart to slow down, to not beat out of my chest like it normally does. They say anxiety will do that to you. I feel like a chain smoker. I sit and wait; my heart thumps in my ears because I can’t let go of the worry. Am I in control of this? After all, I don’t own a car.

Maybe tonight I’ll head down to the pub. It’s only about a half-mile walk. It’s dark, but there are some lights. After that it’s just open fields and a highway. I mean, the pub is the thing here. Maybe I’ll read.

“You sound like you’re a long way from home? Where ‘ya from?”

“Pennsylvania, well, Atlanta I guess. I lived there for seven years before coming here. But my family, we’re originally from Pennsylvania.”

“Welcome to Oxford, Mr. Pennsylvania. The next question is, Why are you here?”

“Good question.”

And what do I say. He told me to come?

“ You here for university?”

“I am.”

“What are you studying?”

“Theology.”

“Theology? You believe that sh**?”

“Um … actually, yes. I do.”

It’s England, so the cussing sounds better than in America at least—probably because I can’t understand it. Most everyone is pleasant; some don’t care for the university and many care even less about “the church.” But that’s okay.

And here we are. My family of five.

The girls know we live in a different house and they talk “London” here. Daddy’s “getting more books” and getting his “doc-trate.” But there is something else here.

A hush.

I remember it from when I was a boy. I remember it from when I was on the road, touring the country in a band. I also remember it from other times in life. It’s a sound, but not really. More like what a sound feels like when you live it. More like what a sound looks like when you remember it. That’s what I remember.

It was there that morning when me and Jessie, Bobby, Jon and I camped in the pine grove. Eight inches of snow on the ground, six more on the way. We hiked back in after dark because you’re not supposed to camp in the Game Lands. We reached the pine grove my brother, Jon, and I found the day before. We dug out the snow, collected wood, built a fire, and ate Chunky Soup. It was cold; about 18 degrees.

I woke early, just before dawn. The night’s raging fire still smoked. We’d all slid into a bunch; crammed together—asleep and warm.

I poked the fire and got it going. Each sound, something you could feel. The sun rose, but I couldn’t see it. It just lit up the low hanging clouds with a soft glow. It was so quiet. The guys didn’t move. I sat, in the quiet, watching the coals kindle and grow.

Then, a flake.

And another.

More.

An even fall tumbled through the pines. The smoke rose, the snow fell, and I held my breath.

Then, quiet footsteps? Hoof steps? What was coming?

Through the pines a lone deer walked towards the campsite. It stopped and looked at me. Was it inspecting the fire? Me?

Then, it continued on and out of sight. The careful crunch of the deer’s gate, the nothing sound of falling snow, the inaudible dance of the morning fire, and my own breathing. No heartbeat in my ears, no tense shoulders. Only the moment.

A hush.

That’s what I remember. A moment bottled up and stored in my memory, private and wonderful.

I wasn’t simply accumulating more books and working for a credential. In truth, I had stumbled into my own memory, and it wasn’t only a moment. It was a living reality. I had not moved to Oxford, really. I had, in fact, moved into the feeling of the sound, a memory painted in the real and now—a hush.

This must be what I want. Isn’t it? Yes, of course, a good night sleep. And, indeed, my shoulders relaxed. But this, yes this! Have I finally found it? That thing I’ve been searching for all these years?

It’s what I chased after in the Florida sun as a boy. It’s what I hunted while on the road with the band, touring from city to city. It’s what I thought I was stepping into when I said, “I do,”—I thought I had become not only the hunter, but also the adventurer of love and family and the next frontier daddyhood.

“Yes, you are always everywhere. But I, hunting in such immeasurable forests”[i] could never capture the fox—the great prize of the hunt. And for a time the hunt ended. The adventure turned into the mundane. No longer a chasing little boy, the man and husband and father in me fell into the coffin of the grown-up world.

My Holy Phantom

“Why do you think we’re here?” I asked as I turned on the kettle. “I mean, the degree, of course. But why, really?” It’s now months past the car discussion.

“I don’t know.”

“It feels like we’re so far away … from everything and everyone.”

Before, the car discussion felt like it occurred in a rowboat just as we pushed from the dock. But now, it was just open waters. No dock, no land.

“But I feel like we’ve never been closer,” said my wife, Chris, drinking her coffee so I didn’t see her eyes tearing up. “I feel like you and I are closer, the girls are better than ever. I feel like we’ve gone far, but grown close.”

She was right.

What little possession we kept we stored in a small unit in Georgia. We sold the rest, and there was a lot. We sold the first house we ever owned, the house each of three girls returned to after being born.

In a rush, on a scalding hot Atlanta day, we drove away—far from all we knew.

We spent two weeks and told our families we loved them, boarded a flight with one-way tickets and flew to England—far from all we knew.

We let go of so much. And yet, there we stood in our English kitchen sharing a moment before I started on my work. We both sensed it, but Chris described it perfectly. We endured harsh fights before we left. We felt the pang of disappointment as three different contracts fell through on our house; one, just three weeks before we were scheduled to leave. It all seemed so huge 10 months ago.

Doubt has a way of magnifying reality into the insurmountable. But faith, well, faith doesn’t magnify anything. Rather, it reveals. It turns the invisible into sheep—like the ones behind our English house. It shapes the unknown into a vision of action—like boarding a one-way plane. It quiets the rush and paints it with the sounds of a hush.

He tells me to wait. He tells me to listen. And I do. But God’s way of telling sounds less like a voice from heaven and more like a stirring within my heart—a restlessness I can’t shake, a sentence I can’t quite finish. I know, though, that if I wait and listen long enough it will come—the hush.

I am in it now and it feels like a vision within a dream; like a message I need to write down or else I’ll forget it altogether. God tells me to wait, and I do. I’ve sold my stuff, I’ve quieted my phone, I’ve limited my work and here I sit in the pine grove of my youth. The snow is falling while I stir last night’s coals. The flame kindles and I hear footsteps.

But this time, it is no deer that walks through my camp. It is a phantom who moves in through the trees and materializes just long enough for the snow to outline his form. He motions with his hand for me to follow, then he turns towards the pine grove.

He moves swiftly and I scramble to pick up my things, but don’t want to lose him. I drop it all and head for the trees. My feet pad the earth with a muted step as the snowy form weaves in and out of the trees.

Finally, I clear the grove and stop. Before me the quarry opens up into a snowy gulf, treacherous and beautiful. The phantom turns and speaks.

“Aren’t you coming?” he asks.

“I can’t. I’ll fall into the quarry.”

“What quarry?” he asks. Then he turns and walks on.

But I have been here before, and remember the way. The snow continues to fall, heavier than before, but the phantom has vanished. My shoulders relax, I breathe deep, and step into great silence.

***

Timothy Willard is a writer and speaker and a PhD candidate at King’s College London. He lives in Oxford, England, with his wife and three pixie daughters. Check out his latest book Home Behind the Sun, which he co-authored with Jason Locy. You can see the book trailer here and read more about the authors here. Follow Timothy on Twitter – @TimothyWillard.

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[i] C. S. Lewis, Poems, A Harvest/HBJ Book (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977), “No Beauty We Could Desire,” 124.