Monday, March 28, 2011

There is one body and one Spirit

The title above is part of a quote from the letter to the Ephesians, "For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all" [Eph 4:4-6]

This last week I felt I should do justice to the furore surrounding Rob Bell's latest book, 'Love Wins' by reading the source text, if a digital Kindle version can be described as such. I enjoyed the read far more than the running commentary on the 'warfare of words' that has been taking place around our e-world ("e" for 'electronic' rather than 'evangelical'!) Most saddening has been the apparent dismissal of Rob as a serious voice even before the book had been released. I suspect that the 'future' referenced in the Ephesians quote may include a fair amount of 'egg-on-chin' for many.

It is all too easy to point the finger at the 'splinter' over there and yet miss the 'plank' in our own eyes. Recently (as in during this Lenten season) I have been pondering our belief in and commitment to these verses within BridgePoint, our network of simple missional faith communities. I have found myself wrestling with a nagging suspicion that the pendulum has swung a little too far on the organized to organic continuum. One seems to emphasize our corporate identity whilst the other promotes more of an independent free-spirit. There are dangers in both extremes.

Just as it is not good for man to be alone [Gen 2:18], neither is it good for a church community (of any size) to be alone, independent, unsupported and unaccountable to anyone. That would be an approach and a conviction more in line with the flesh than the (one) Spirit. We become more vulnerable and therefore prone to temptation and deceit if we think we can operate as a 'detached limb' of the Body. We live in a culture (& state) that exalts independence and selfish ambition but we truly belong to a Kingdom in which the opposite is true [cf. Psalm 133].

The example of Rob Bell demonstrates that it is not always safe to be real within the Church and that is a tragedy because it means that we tend to remain hidden from one another, out of fear. This happens in our communities when someone disagrees or expresses something with which I disagree and I remain (or go) quiet out of fear. I have been guilty of this myself and guilt is the right word. I am guilty in that moment of not trusting the Father and not being vulnerable with the family of which I am a part. The one Spirit is grieved and I remain unchanged.

So what might all this mean for our shared life within BridgePoint? Well, first and foremost, that we make love (as Jesus loved) a priority in our dealings with anyone and everyone. We are both beneficiaries and dispensers of grace, undeserved favor. We are also to be those who seek to foster with some the kind of close relationships in which mutual accountability is a natural byproduct rather than a fearful imposition.

I would love to see more shared, prayerful and loving leadership teams emerge within our communities where it was safe to hold and express differing passions and priorities. I would love to see leaders 'huddling' with other leaders for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort (not unlike the purpose of prophecy [1 Cor 14:3]]. I would love to see us personally reaching out and showing hospitality to those who are different to us and who are unlikely to take the initiative (whether in our community or beyond). I would love to see us occasionally, yet regularly, gathering in celebration and worship of God, bringing delight to our one Father by giving expression to our common identity and purpose - His glory and not ours.

The Christian life is a battle, not primarily externally but internally, between selfish, me-centered living and selfless, God-centered living in the power of the one Spirit. Too many of us fight that battle alone, unobserved and isolated. We need to be known by someone at that level and vice versa. We need to enter the battle for one another's souls as the Spirit leads and guides us. Until Christ be formed in us - one Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Friday, March 18, 2011

"May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering"

In 1732, two Moravian men decided the best way to win the slaves of St. Thomas for Christ was to voluntarily sell themselves into slavery. As their ship left the harbor, friends and relatives heard them shouting “May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.” Those were the last words heard from these brothers. This became the rallying cry of the Moravians for more than a century as they led the way in the evangelization of hostile peoples, often enduring unbelievable hardship and horrific martyrdoms for the name of Christ. A missionary movement was birthed by the Spirit through the united prayers of a once theologically divided community. This is what is possible when we turn our gaze and our focus away from ourselves and surrender afresh to Christ and his purpose.

This week, in one of our readings from Hebrews, we read, "Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest" [Heb 3:1] We too are "holy", which means we 've been set apart for God's purpose. What is God's purpose, this "heavenly calling" in which we share? Well look to Jesus - he is the model, the example, both the messenger (Apostle) and the message (high priest who re-connects us to God through the gospel). Our purpose is to make him known to this end, to all people groups of the world.

A key verse in my own ordination call comes from Romans, "“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”" [Rom 10:13-15] I fear that this has not always remained a consistent priority in my life and ministry. It seems, as I talk with various people in our network, that this outward purpose of God is often missing from our community's rhythm of life. We score highly on the inward dimension of relational care and discipleship, medium on the upward dimension of drawing near to God, but the collective outward dimension is missing. Can we really be a Christ-follower yet not be proclaiming, "The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!" [Jesus' first recorded words in Mark 1:15]

Tomorrow, someone I know is leaving with two others to travel to Libya for this express purpose. It is dangerous, foolish (in man's eyes) and yet strangely inspiring. I read recently of someone who commented on how exciting it was at how many Christians lived in their community. I understand that sentiment and the difference it can make at home and at work. But I wonder also whether we are collectively broken over how many around us do not know Christ, are not following him and have no assurance of sins forgiven, the Father's loving presence and future hope.

There is much being made of Rob Bell's new book, "Love Wins", and the suggestion of a 'heretical universalism' (all are saved regardless). We love our theological skirmishes it seems. But maybe by our actions most of us demonstrate a 'practical universalism'. The Moravians learned to put aside some of their differences, be reconciled in love and focus more upon the beauty and supremacy of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice. It led to a great expansion of the kingdom as Jesus received (some of) the reward for his suffering. We are invited to stand in that same tradition, with our spiritual forebears. As we pray together, he will similarly inspire and guide us, the major question is, will we heed the call?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Oh the joys of sacrifice and suffering . . .

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent within the Anglican (and other) Church's calendar. Lent is traditionally known as the forty-days (excluding Sundays) preceding Easter Sunday, the resurrection of our Lord, and the climactic feast day on the Christian calendar. The Scriptural basis of this season stems from Jesus’ own forty days of wandering in the desert and subsequent temptation by the devil.

Lent has come at a good time for me this year. I feel a greater sense of purpose and timing this year due to the circumstances of my life and my desire to hear God's call for the next phase of ministry. I therefore feel more compelled to observe this time and use it to devote myself to a season of drawing near, questioning and listening. Most of that will probably be directed towards God, some of it to fellow sojourners. I want to let go of some things (alcohol and TV) so as to be able to take hold of other things (listening prayer, Scripture and friendships).

I sense the call to personal examination but also community examination so my hope is that others within my community will join me in different ways. Over the last few weeks, as we have worked with 2 groups of people looking at the process of spiritual formation and the place of spiritual direction to that end, one Scripture has been uppermost in my mind. "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it." [Mark 8:34-5] These words were spoken to the disciples and the crowd following, and interestingly come just after Jesus' rebuke of Peter for not having in mind the concerns of God (his own crucifixion). Hence the "joy" of sacrifice and suffering! I sense God wanting to speak more deeply to me through these words.

If you are connected with us and the work here in Austin, TX, then I want to invite you along to use this season in your own way so that we might be led to a deeper trust in the promises of God and a willingness to repent of any self-obsessed self-protection that has put us more in line with Satan's rebellion than the Son's submission to the Father. We have been learning about the cycle of transformation for the Christ-follower that always begins with brokenness leading to repentance and a yielding to the Spirit. This brings new revelation (an unveiling of what already is) bringing confidence and a release of the Spirit's life.

For now though, through a time of renewed consecration, our focus is the first part of the cycle - brokenness, repentance and yielding to God. Hence the desire to be still and to listen ... to God and to one another. Let us invite the Lord to speak into our communal life and to reveal his call upon our lives for his glory. I have been thinking much recently about place, wondering where the 'right' place is for this time. Carol and I are currently living in an inbetween place (or so it seems), but maybe that is always the case when we think geographically. The place God wants us is in His Son, following Jesus on pilgrimage and on mission. There's no other place I'd rather be but sometimes I am distracted by rabbit trails, or just simply fall off the path. Fortunately I can continue to lay hold of another promise of God found in the Psalms;

"You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." [Psalm 16:11]