BLOG 12/14/18. THE CHURCH IS THE “DWELLING PLACE OF GOD”?

BLOG 12/14/18. THE CHURCH IS “THE DWELLING PLACE OF GOD”?

For the apostle to state that the church is the dwelling place of God by the Spirit (Ephesians 2:22) …given our often-trivialized understanding of the church, sounds almost outrageous. But, putting aside our inability to comprehend such an awesome understanding, we need to zoom back and take a larger look at what is going on in the design of God, in which the church is so significant. We need to digest another of Paul’s insights, namely, that the church is to be where God’s glory resides (Ephesians 3:21). We’re not talking here about some ‘dink’ human religious institution—rather, we’re walking on holy ground. So, that as I have been trying to communicate in these recent blogs, that the church is to be the communal form of God’s new creation in Christ, of God’s new humanity, it is absolutely requisite that we get the whole picture.

Go back to the beginning of the Biblical documents, to the creation account (I don’t care whether you see those early chapters as folk history, or a founding myth, or literal history—the essence is the same). Why, we might ask, does the eternal sovereign creator of all things, at the beginning, create humans, a human couple, to walk in fellowship with himself in that primordial paradise? Does God need them? Is God lonely? Is God fulfilled in them? Does the true humanity of the couple depend on their being in joyous harmony with their creator? … many such questions emerge from that account. Why is it such a tragedy when they decide to listen to the temptation offered by the serpent, that they would be better off if they declared their independence, and tried to become their own gods?

It is obvious that God sees this coming, and the “mystery hidden for the ages” gets its first clue: “the seed of a woman” will mortally wound Satan the accuser, and God’s purpose would be irresistibly accomplished in the human community … as we know, and in hindsight understand it, it will be recreated, and there will be a community in which God will dwell and manifest his divine nature. Those millennia later, after many intriguing prophecies, there comes God’s beloved son, who reveals that his is going to call out a people, a community, who understand through Jesus, the reconciling love of God the creator.

But, then, back to our questions about God’s design, God’s need, God’s love for the human community. Look at the end of scriptures, at Revelation 21:3: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and they will be his people, and God himself will   be with them as their God. …” Ah! but that dwelling place was inaugurated by Jesus, by all that was necessary to reconcile an estranged (and guilty) humanity by is death and resurrection. It was a community that was created and empowered by the Spirit/Life of God, and so would be, itself, the ongoing incarnation of God’s design for the human community.

All that being so obvious, that it is tragic when an ostensible ‘church’ sees itself as a merely human religious institution. Rather, it is a community formed in adoration of God’s Son, and a community, that like the Son, in which each participant, each believer, by his/her repentance and faith, has God’s life in themselves, and expressing God’s love for one another in the community, … where God dwells through each believer, in love for those bruised and weary, and those still outside the community. It is a community in which God dwells by his Spirit, forgiving one another, confessing sins to one another, comforting one another, teaching and admonishing one another, seeking one another’s welfare, encouraging one another, displaying God’s love to one anothr. The church is a divine miracle in itself, because it is the dwelling place of God, it is where God dwells in sweet and life-giving fellowship with his people.

It is the human community that God created because, somehow, he wanted our company, and for which he paid the infinite price to make such an intimate relationship a reality. … to be continued ….

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BLOG 12/11/18. SELF-EXAMINATION IN AUTHENTICITY IN OUR NEW HUMANITY

BLOG 12/11/18. SELF-EXAMINATION IN AUTHENTICITY IN NEW HUMANITY

In both of his Corinthian letters, the apostle encourages the Corinthian believers to examine themselves to see if they are in the faith. It is, to be sure, a wholesome discipline. In these blogs in recent weeks I have been setting forth that the church is the communal form of God’s new creation, of his new humanity. It is healthy to do just that, even as it is worthwhile to get a physical examination periodically. There is a whole plethora of questions which we might ask ourselves about our embrace of Christ and his new creation, as well as about our understanding of what makes our participation in the whole Christian enterprise authentic. I offer a few in this blog.

This can begin with the very basic question about our faith-relationship to Jesus Christ. I still chuckle at the occasion when my (late) wife, Betty, and I had been invited to a dinner with a couple of seminary professors and their wives. The two professors and I were all over the map doing “clergy-theological talk,” … when in a lull in the conversation, my wife across the table from one of them, asked: “Marty, how did you come to know Jesus as your savior?” His mouth dropped open, and he grinned. “Betty, I’ve been on this theological faculty for four years and nobody has ever asked me that basic question.” Thereupon, he gave a most convincing statement of his life-changing encounter with Jesus. That’s the basic question in one’s healthy self-examination. But it also leads to other healthy questions, such as:

  • Do I understand the awesome implication implicit in God’s inaugurating his new creation through Christ into this old creation ,what with all its indifference, broken relationships, and cultural darkness that are so much our daily existence?
  • Do I understand that the church Jesus Christ is building is to be the communal expression of that new creation, of God’s new humanity that is formed by a radical and redemptive new frame of reference (that’s what repentance is all about)?
  • Have I embraced Christ: his life, his death, his resurrection, and his teachings, expressed in my life through my intentional turning to this new frame of reference which is necessary to transform me into a child of the Light? Do I understand the necessity of his Spirit dwelling in me to enable this transformation to be dynamic in my life?
  • Can I accept the transformational grace of God in Christ in which God is in process of conforming me to the image of his Son, … and that I am not some other real or imagined ‘saint’/Christian, but am his unique child? That I am set free in Christ?
  • Am I a part of a real community of other believers for whom and to whom I am accountable I love? in whom the word of Christ dwells richly so that we can “teach and admonish one another’ in love?
  • … that I cannot be an anonymous participant in a church institution, and so avoid my place as a dynamic, functioning, ministering person in that community of God’s new humanity?
  • That my own ‘mission field’ is the ordinary, daily, 24/7 context in which I operate: family, home, neighborhood, workplace, school, athletic/social club, … and that it is there that I become “the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity”?

… for starts … You can add your own self-examining prayers for those specifics that will make you to be an authentic and contagious new humanity person. There should be no hiding places in our lives. Ask God to shine the light into your personal areas of doubt, inauthenticity, confusion or mistaken notions. This is a healthy discipline. We can only become a truly missional church with such transparent authenticity. There needs to be a “hands down, no-hold-barred, honest and informed faith”… in all that Jesus came to be and to do in us. Got it?

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BLOG 12/7/18. THE CHURCH … THEN COMES DISILLUSIONMENT

BLOG 12/7/18. THE CHURCH … THEN COMES DISILLUSIONMENT

Okay. If the church is the ‘communal form of God’s new humanity,’ why is it often such a confusing and disillusioning scene on the stage of this present human scene? In these recent blogs, I have been pursuing the over-arching reality that when ‘God’s tomorrow’ invaded our today, when God in Christ came to inaugurate the kingdom of God (or God’s new creation,) that he would call out a people to embody, or to incarnate that new creation before the watching world. Yet, shortly after the church was, in a sense, ‘birthed’ at Pentecost, and right away, you begin to see the complications and contradictions that would take place – so much so, that most of the apostolic writings (epistles/letters) were addressed to the issues and problems involved with bringing integrity into these new creation/new humanity communities. It is not only the persecutions and harassment from outside the church that constitute the challenge, … it is the internal dynamics of creating authentic communities of God’s family in Christ.

So, then, we are back to the old illusionàdisillusionàreality formula. We come to the church with the illusion of a perfect, mature, encouraging, nurturing and harmonious community, … but soon we find out that it is made up of real persons who have been called out of the darkness and into God’s marvelous light, … and that they have brought some of their pre-Christian baggage along with them. They do not immediately become mature new creation persons. You discover that within the community are all kinds of, often confusing, or compromised, prejudiced, even pathological personalities who have taken the first step into new creation, and it is still strange territory to them, so much so that much of their inner programming is still determined by their pre-Christian day.

That is the reality behind such the repetitive instruction of the apostles, to present our bodies as living sacrifices so that we may prove what is God’s intent in Christ, and then not to be conformed to this world but to being dynamically transformed in our minds so that we may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. So, underscore this reality: that the community of God’s new humanity is always in process of being recreated. We are always in process of being transformed from captives to the darkness into the glorious liberty of the children of God. We are always in the process of casting off the works of darkness and putting on the garments of light.

Therefore, the church as the community of God’s new humanity, the church in whatever form it may take, is, of necessity, a community of continual and dynamic repentance in which our mutual confession of sin is a healthy discipline necessary in that transformational process. It also means, however, that the church can often be complex and ambiguous in its actual incarnation. But, while this is so, it is also a continual community of reconciliation in which, as those who have been reconciled, are therefore to be reconcilers. Mutual love is he basic rule, and that by which the community is to always be the “sweet savor of Christ unto God,” as well as God’s witness in the realities of daily life.

Yes, we come with our illusion of a perfect and harmonious and loving fellowship, … only to have that illusion dashed by personalities still too much formed by the darkness. At the same time, as we learn to love one another, and forgive and be forgiven by one another, and to seek one another’s welfare and to be patient, we become more and more the community of God’s new creation in process that we are intended to be. It is a community of contrition as well as of joyous worship and profound communication with one another. Slowly, often, we learn to love one another as Christ has loved us, and so become “the sweet aroma of Christ unto God.” (Check out the ‘fruits of the holy spirit in Galatians 5, and you will begin to sense the character of that community). Stay tuned …

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BLOG 12/4/18. MISSIONAL VIS-A-VIS CUSTODIAL CONCEPTS OF THE CHURCH

BLOG 12/4/18. MISSIONAL VIS-À-VIS CUSTODIAL CONCEPTS OF THE CHURCH

I want to continue to pursue the theme I have begun in previous blogs, e.g., that the church is to be the communal expression of God’s new humanity, or the communal component of God’s new creation / God’s kingdom. It is that new creation that Jesus came to inaugurate. It is God’s tomorrow invading our today. That understanding inevitably brings us unavoidably to understanding the church missionally: “As the father has sent me, even so do I send you.” That commission is given to all who take their baptismal/conformational vows with any integrity.

It takes on an even more awesome revelation when Paul asserts: “… you also are being built together unto a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The clear implication of this affirmation is that the Spirit that was in Christ and his mission, his search and rescue mission, is also dynamically present in the community of God’s new humanity, dwells in all of those who compose his church. The further inescapable implication of this is that the church is in its very essence missional.

Yet, a huge distortion has invaded our understanding in all too much of the church. That distortion is that the church is, rather, a custodial community, in which passive believers are provided with a safe context to observe their faith overseen by active church professionals/clergy. To be sure, the church as the communal expression of God’s new creation does have a custodial dimension. It is the community’s responsibility to see to it that every believer within its company is continually being equipped and encouraged for their individual ministry/participation in the mission of God the 24/7 realities of their daily lives. To that end there emerged early within the church presbyters/elders who were to be models of God to the community, and those to whom the individuals were to be accountable in their new creation incarnation. There also appear episcopals/bishops whose role was to oversee that the community was faithful to its calling (these could be differing designation for the same function).

Then, there is the fascinating dimension of the community that every believer is given gifts for the benefit of the whole, and these gifts need the oversight of the bishops/elders so that they don’t get misused. There are gifts of administration, teaching, encouraging, helping, healing, etc. (This is a study in itself.) So, there is the need of a healthy custodial dimension to the community, … but only to give it integrity in its missional essence. One of the prominent gifts is that of pastor-teacher, or teaching shepherd. It is by the word of Christ that the church as a missional community is primarily equipped to carry out is mission. One is always blessed by those who are skillful in this gift. But, the other end of that is that every believer is give the task, as the word of Christ dwells in them, to “teach and encourage one another” (Colossians 3:16).

At the heart of it all is God’s search and rescue mission in which the community of God’s new humanity, and the individual participants become the dynamic missional components, become the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity in their daily context.

The sobering flip-side of this is that: according to the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) a church can actually cease to be a church when it becomes distracted or distorted or forgetful of its true essence and mission, i.e., it can have its “lamp removed from the lampstand.” To that end the church must ever be vigilant that it, with integrity, embody the passion of Christ to make visible the love and grace and forgiveness to all of those still walking in darkness, those motherless children whose lives are without meaning, or hope, or love.

The church is always to be in its totality, a missional community in which no one is passive.

[I always appreciate your feedback. RTH]

_______

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BLOG 11/30/18. FACE IT: THE TRUE CHURCH IS ‘HUMANLY’ IMPOSSIBLE

BLOG 11/30/18. FACE IT: THE TRUE CHURCH IS HUMANLY IMPOSSIBLE

Continuing in train of thought in these Blogs, about the church has the communal component of God’s New Creation being made flesh and blood in this present world scene, of ‘God’s tomorrow’ invading our ‘today’, … one needs to admit that this stretches our credulity a bit. To suggest that God’s new humanity finds its communal expression in the church, given the existential reality of so much that labels itself as ‘the church,’ is, indeed, a stretch. It might mean that we either misunderstand what God’s kingdom is all about, … or that we don’t understand what the true church is intended to be in the eschatological design of God.

Maybe as we look forward to the first Sunday of advent, in a couple of days, it is worth remembering how humanly impossible the whole event God’s messiah, of Jesus and all that he came to be and to do, is humanly impossible. When the angel came to Mary and greeted her as the one who would bear a son who would be the long-awaited messiah, she protested that it was not humanly possible in that she had never yet had sex with a man. Ah! but the angel explained to her that the one in her womb would be conceived by the holy spirit and would sit on the throne of his father David, and of his kingdom there would be no end. Humanly impossible, yes, but not divinely.

As the story unfolds, even those who had been anticipating the arrival of the promised messiah, the anointed one of God, … did not understand that in this one, who was called Jesus, ‘God’s tomorrow world’ would be invading this present world. It was such an overwhelming concept, that even his intimates were continually seeking to conceive of it in ‘merely human’ terms. When Jesus announced that in his role as the promised messiah, he would be building his church, he would be invading human history, and the human community, with God’s tomorrow, his disciples were still trying to understand that in merely human terms. They could not conceive of the creation of a whole new humanity, the human community as God intends it to be. It was because of that that we need to look at the church’s being something of a counterpart to the virgin birth of Jesus.

Jesus would insist that his disciples must wait until the holy spirit came upon them as the creator spirit, and ‘birthed in them’ the very life of God, empowering them to live out the divine image and purpose in God’s mission to reconcile the world to himself. The holy spirit would give them all that was needed to be the communal incarnation of the life of God, and of the mission of God. At the heart of this new humanity would be the totally transformed and transformational lives of God’s kingdom people. It would actually be formed and focused on the ultimate reality of the kingdom of God.

Yes, and this is what gets forgotten as the church continually reverts to a merely human religious community, rather than “the dwelling place of God by the holy spirit.” It is not buildings, or institutions, or ecclesiastical politics, … no! rather it is the communal expression of the Kingdom of God, of God’s New Creation, which is only possible as each participant embraces Jesus and his Kingdom by a total new framework, and a new way of living. Such an understanding also gives us understanding of the apostolic word, that “…in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled with him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:9). This means that the church is supernaturally empowered to think like Jesus, to behave like Jesus, to worship like Jesus, and to engage in his mission to seek and to save the lost.  It also means that such a community is always in ‘missionary confrontation” with is existential context. It is in this light that the church must always be examining itself.

Stay tuned …

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BLOG 11/27/18. THE CHURCH: THE COMMUNITY OF GOD’S NEW HUMANITY

BLOG 11/27/18. THE CHURCH: THE COMMUNITY OF GOD’S NEW HUMANITY

It is always more difficult to get rid of an erroneous idea than it is to introduce a new one. This is the dilemma we face culturally today, as the era of Christendom recedes, and a post-Christian culture is emerging irresistibly. The question is: how are we to conceive of the church when the dominant conception for millennia has be that of a ‘sacralized institution’ and its ‘sacralized clergy leadership’? Cathedrals and their chapels, “the church in the valley by the wildwood” (from an old gospel song), the Catholic church on the boulevard, etc. … somehow it was always “a place to go” where the rites of the Christian tradition were observed. I am not at all seeking to demean the blessing that such have been, … but rather to seek to propose the church in the mind and heart of God as something much more dynamic and transformational than that of a mere institution, in which one can easily participate and yet never see it in its true eschatological / cosmic and divine purpose.

This ongoing discipline of conceiving of the church is an essential component of that for which Jesus came, and for which he died. As the church was birthed in the context of Judaism what with its temple and priesthood, it was the challenge of Jesus’ apostles to give thanks for the heritage of the anticipatory centuries of Judaism and the revelation of God to the fathers and the prophets over all of those anticipatory generations, … but then to see the church as the  communal fulfillment of God’s new creation in Christ, it was to be a whole kingdom of priests in which every participant, every person is called by the preaching of Christ to embrace his/her place and ministry within that reconciled human community.

The letters of Paul and the other apostles are always seeking to unfold that radically new understanding: the community that is the communal expression of God’s new creation. Paul will pray for one such community that they may see all things from God’s point of view, … that they will understand themselves as God’ picked representatives of his new humanity, purified and beloved of God himself (from a paraphrase of Colossians by J. B. Phillips).

Such communities of God’s new humanity can take on any of many diverse forms, depending on the setting. They are always ‘aliens and exiles’ and always finding fresh ways to demonstrate their calling to be that new humanity, even in the most unlikely places. Such communities appear and disappear as societies and circumstances change.

In the Christendom era, the churches were given ‘perks’ by the dominant order, and so could become prestige institutions with tax deductibility and privilege. But such impressive institutions can/and do easily so conform themselves to the dominant order, and in so being conformed in their influence, that they cease to be the Spirit-anointed heralds of the good news of God’s new and transformational kingdom, they cease to be salt and light, cease to be God’s missionary arm.

True communities of God’s new humanity are those whose participants are intentionally and dynamically recreated into the image of Christ, their lord, in their thinking, in their behavior, and in their intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit They become the dwelling place of God by the Holy Spirit. Such communities are the salt and light that God uses to effectively accomplish his purpose in new creation as it demonstrates in its communal love and good works God’s passion for his lost and benighted humanity. Such self-understanding is somewhat eclipsed by too many church institutions and denominational rivalries.

So, drive down a stake here: the church is essentially the communal demonstration of God’s new creation. … to be continued…

 

[ cf. http://wipfandstock.com/what-on-earth-is-the-church-14083.html ]

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BLOG 11/23/18. AN ADEQUATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHURCH …

BLOG 11/23/18. AN ADEQUATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHURCH BEGINS WITH AN ADEQUATE UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT JESUS CAME TO BE AND TO DO.

The starting place for our sojourn into embracing an adequate understanding of the church begins with having an adequate understanding of the huge, awesome, and all-encompassing understanding of what it was that Jesus came to be and to do. That may sound obvious, but it is right here that the so often minimalistic, inadequate, and misunderstood concepts of the church begin. What Jesus came to be and to do is (again) huge, awesome, and totally transformational. The apostle put it this way: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and entrusting to us he ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus did not come to initiate a new religion, or to tamper with Judaism, or anything humanly imaginable, or so narrowly spiritual, or to be the religious component added to the fringe of our lives. He did not come to create a religious institution with sacred places, and sacralized church professionals in leadership. Such a common misunderstanding is a subversion of Christianity.

No! Rather, he came to make all things new. He came to initiate the invasion of this present age with the age to come. He came to unveil God’s ultimate intent for his creation, and to make that possible by his reconciling death, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. He came to create a new humanity as the communal dimension of that new creation (i.e., the kingdom of God) that is being continually recreated into the image of the Son of God.

The church is about God’s new creation in Christ, and the church is that community called to be the missionary arm of God in making that new creation visible. The church, and every disciple of Christ, becomes, in its very nature, an integral part of God’s great seek and rescue mission in this lost and confused scene. In the invasion of God’s new creation, the church and its individual participants renounce this age of darkness and the powers thereof, and to embrace all that Jesus came to be and do as they are conformed to his image, and to live out their human lives as radiant displays of that divine image in the warp and woof, in the existential realities of their daily lives.

The church, as that communal expression of God’s new humanity in Christ, is continually being tempted, or subverted, albeit, into a ‘religious christianity’ that is immunized against the radical mission of that new creation, so that one can become a passive participant, or an appreciative observer of religious rites in that community, and avoid the demands of discipleship. God’s new creation is transformational in its very essence. The church, as the community of God’s new humanity, becomes right here and right now: the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit.

The church is, individually and communally, the radiant display of the divine nature in a context that is seldom congenial. Even in the most sordid of circumstances, it’s calling is to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God, the ‘sweet aroma of Christ,’ everywhere (II Corinthians 2:14-15). The church, as the community of God’s new humanity, is always in process, always provisional, … but it is always intentional in its understanding of its purpose in God’s ultimate design of new creation.  … Something like that.

It is critical, in our quest to understand the church, then, to understand the nature of God’s design in sending his son, and the awesome part the church is to play in that design.

Stay tuned …

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BLOG 11/20/18. SHIFTING GEARS ON THE BLOGS FOR A SEASON

BLOG 11/20/18. SHIFTING GEARS ON THESE BLOGS FOR A SEASON

I want to explain to my viewers, that for a few months I want to become much more thematic in these blogs, and for a reason. Let me explain: I identify myself as a missional ecclesiologist on my calling cards. That confuses most people, but it defines my identity. Ecclesiology is the study of the nature of the church, while missiology is the study of the mission of the church. So, a missional ecclesiologist would be one who seeks to engage in a study, and in the integrity and praxis, of the church and its missional nature.

This identity has become more compelling in me because of sixty-plus years of engagement in church leadership. When I was thrust (somewhat against my will) into a role in church leadership as our denomination’s staff person in the field of evangelism, and thus into engagement with the larger church in multiple conferences, retreats, study courses, etc., I discovered that so many of the persons I was conversing with had no adequate understanding of the gospel itself. It was that discovery that prompted me to engage in writing on the essence of the gospel. The church was, in many ways, un-evangelized itself.

But, then, along the way I became increasingly aware that, in addition to this blank spot in their understanding, was the even more disturbing realization that they also did not understand what the divine purpose and design of the church was either. So, then, if one does not comprehend what the dynamic reality of the gospel is, nor understands the dynamic purpose of the church in God’s eternal design, … then, what you get is an ostensible church that is far removed from whatever it was that Jesus told his disciples he was going to build and against which the gates of hell would not be able to prevail.

Along the way, I was influenced by a couple of significant scholars. One was the South African missiologist David Bosch, who wrote Transforming Mission. In that seminal work, he traces the history of the church’s mission from the apostolic period right down into our present post-Christian era. He notes, toward the end of the book, that missiologists are always “gadflies” in the arena of ecclesiology. So, that in these forthcoming blogs, be forewarned, I am engaging in my gadfly role. The other work was: The Subversion of Christianity by sociologist-theologian Jacques Ellul, in which he spends time speaking of the huge shift of understanding that defined the church (and it leadership) as something quite different from what it was designed to be in the purpose of God.

For the last ten years of my public role in church leadership I was engaged in a ministry of mentoring, or encouragement, to students and faculty in about fifteen different theological seminaries. I found the same blank spots there among those engaged, ostensibly, in equipping for church leadership. In many of these institutions, there were almost no courses in ecclesiology, and missiology was only beginning to emerge as a required discipline. Many of the faculty shared in this blank spot. They were good academicians, but often had been practitioners in church leadership, or pastoral ministry. The notion of a missional ecclesiology was hardly formative in their thinking (confirming Ellul’s charge of the subversion of Christianity).

So, stand by and let me chip away at this concept, and attempt to give you some insights that will, hopefully, be provocative in your own formation and your engagement with the church and its mission. And, be it known that your feedback will help me to accomplish my purpose.

Have a thankful Thanksgiving.

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BLOG 11/16/18. WHAT MAKES A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CONTAGIOUS?

BLOG 11/16/18. WHAT MAKES A CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY CONTAGIOUS WITH THE MESSAGE OF JESUS CHRIST?

Notwithstanding that there appear to be church institutions in abundance, and glamorous ‘mega-churches’ that are colorful and attractive, … there is the lurking question of what makes a Christian community genuinely and spontaneously contagious? What makes its participants irrepressible in their fervor to be engaged in the mission of God and the message of God in Christ, … to declare God’s love for all humankind his passion to have them reconciled to himself, and to one another, through his son, Jesus Christ?

When something is contagious, it knows no boundaries. Something causes it to spread infectiously. This certainly was the case with the first century church, and again and again in episodes through its history. But then also, it goes into those periods when it retreats into institutional passivity, becomes self-satisfied and non-reproductive—not at all contagious. Comfortable and non-demanding church communities easily become the home of religious ‘fellow-travelers’ who are evidently not at all converted to the life of obedient discipleship.

I have always been fascinated by (what is easily passed over in casual reading) the account of Paul’s missionary work in Ephesus. It tells of Paul doing what was his typical pattern, as a Jew, of going first to the synagogue, and when he got a hearing he would tell the participants of Jesus who was the promised messiah, whom the Jews had been anticipating over the centuries. He was convincing to some, while other rejected, even resented, his message. In Ephesus (a major commercial center) he first found some disciples of John the Baptist who were responsive to the message of the fulfillment of John’s prophecy in the coming of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. These dozen persons were to become the first Christian community in Ephesus.

He, then, went to the synagogue with the same message of Jesus and the kingdom of God, and for a brief period, evidently got a hearing, but ultimately that message was rejected by the leaders of the synagogue, and he took those who believed to a public meeting place. There, it records, that for two years he equipped them with the whole message, the ‘whole counsel of God,’i.e., he became their disciple-maker, their teacher and mentor as well as their model. And in that process these disciples became contagious. How do we know that they became contagious?

We can only extrapolate the answer to that question in understanding that Ephesus was a commercial center, and the city which had communication with the other cities in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). That would mean that those early disciples undoubtedly were part of that commercial enterprise and would be travelling all over Asia Minor on a regular basis.

So, then, let me make just two points here: 1) those disciples were not passive about the message of Jesus, but we convinced of it, converted passionately to it, and contagious with it. And, 2) the account says (Acts 19: 8-10) that in those two years “all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” How did they hear it? Not from Paul, or the other apostles. No! All the residents of Asia undoubtedly heard it from the contagious disciples from Ephesus, who in their regular business travels into those cities, could not keep the message to themselves.

Christian discipleship can never be passive about the mission of God, or the message of God in Christ. True discipleship is, by its very nature, spontaneous and contagious. It incarnates itself in each disciple’s unique personality, and in his daily context. It is the responsibility of the overseers and teachers of the Christian communities to be constantly equipping the participants for such daily contagious lives in both their behavior and in their capacity to communicate the message convincingly. That’s how and why some communities are contagious, … and some are not!

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BLOG 1/13/18. BEYOND THE WI-FI WORLD: HAUNTING QUESTIONS

BLOG 11/13/18. BEYOND THE WI-FI WORLD: HAUNTING QUESTIONS

The omnipresence of Wi-Fi is a current fact of life, what with, seemingly, iPhones, and iPads obvious wherever there are people, whether sitting in coffee shops, walking their dogs, or at almost any gathering of friends. The access to information is a huge blessing in so many ways. Nearly all of us have become dependent on it. But, … lurking just beyond the Wi-Fi world there are haunting questions: What does my life mean? Does my life have any real significance beyond my current project? Does anyone care that I am here? Or care for me as a person? And: Is there anything beyond this life? Any ultimate destination? Or Is the grave the end of it all?

Meaning, acceptance, and life beyond this life—these are the issues. These have occupied poets, psychiatrists, song writers, and philosophers over the span of human history. It would seem that the emerging post-Christian culture finds these all archaic, or irrelevant to their lives, since so many eschew any attachment to religion, or any dependence on philosophical thinking, … or at least brush the questions out of sight since they make them uncomfortable. But they don’t go away. Tragedies occur, lives are snuffed out, fire destroys all you’ve lived for, terminal illnesses come unexpectedly. … What does my life mean?

After the holocaust during those nightmarish years of the 20th century, the Austrian psychiatrist, Victor Frankl, noted that those prisoners who had a sense of meaning in their lives survived more often than those who did not. He developed what he termed logo-therapy, or the therapy of meaning. He saw it as a universal need for one’s healthy psyche.

To me it is interesting that Jesus, and the apostles of the early church, saw these human needs as significant components of their message of God’s New Creation. Jesus’ teachings offer to us a whole new abundant life that is part of God’s design and loving intent of a new creation suffused with God’s acceptance and love, of Jesus as the explanation, the word of meaning, made flesh. He had a message of hope for life beyond life, and of a life that was marked by love and caring.

Then, the apostle Paul, makes reference to three elements that make up the Christian life: faith, hope, and love. These point directly to the three haunting questions mentioned above:  Does my life have meaning? Does anyone care about me? Is there life/hope beyond this life?

To say, then, that our embrace of these components of Christ’s life and teaching should be radically formative in our engagement with the human community in the specific expressions it takes for us. Peter even noted that in a hostile context that we should be ready with a thoughtful answer when anyone asks a reason for the hope that is in us. Jesus made plain that our love for all humankind, our caring for each individual, is a sine qua non component of our new creation lives. And the very fact that Jesus came to destroy the power of death and to give us such great hope. And, the apostle makes very specific that in Jesus, the mystery hidden for the ages, is made unveiled.

When there is no access to Wi-Fi, we can fruitfully reflect of the wonder of God’s new creation where these are no longer mysteries, but rather, components of our lives in Christ, which we are to incarnate before the watching world. “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (I Corinthians 2:9).

In Christ, the questions are no longer haunting, but rather sources of our rejoicing, of the new song in our hearts.

Peace!

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