You are a strange bird (or, What it means to love like Jesus)

You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. – 1 Peter 2:9

We are peculiar people. We’re designed that way. Christians aren’t supposed to look like the rest of the world. We like the hard case, the loose cannon, the one in the margins, because Jesus does. He has a preference for the poor and those who struggle and because he loves, we do.

Christians are known, in fact, for the way we treat the least lovable among us. How do we love those who struggle like Jesus loves them?

Hang in there with those who struggle. Tony Campolo says, “If you want to win people to Jesus, you first have to love them.” Too often, people who follow Jesus react in fear when they are faced with someone who struggles with sexual brokenness or addiction or emotional wounds. But the Bible teaches us that perfect love casts out all fear. Jesus is our model. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry and ate with sinners. Those who follow him will hang in there with those who struggle.

Pray for anyone who struggles with any issue that keeps them from the abundant life. There is a sense that Christians are supposed to live to avoid pain. We celebrate healing as the ultimate sign of Jesus’ presence and power, but then we pray too small. As if our own personal deliverance from a headache is the most a cosmic redeemer can muster. “Well, the world is a shambles, but at least my head feels better.” Is that the redeemer we want? Is that the redeemer of the Bible?

Why not spend your faith on bigger things?

Let your heart break in prayer over someone in your life who deals with sexual brokenness. Or start praying every day for an alcoholic or an addict. Or pray in tears for God to save every person you love who isn’t saved. Why not shake the gates of hell for someone every day for a month and see what happens? Because your headache can be handled with an aspirin, but the world is full of people who cannot change or will not change until we pray.

Be a friend. You know the old saying, right? “People don’t care what you know until they know you care.” It is a cliche because it is true. Our job is not to fill every need or ease every discomfort. That’s a formula for burn-out. What we can do is simply be a friend who listens, prays and loves … a friend who cares.

Don’t define anyone by their struggle. None of us wants to be labeled according to our sins or issues. Grace doesn’t define people by their struggles, but by the blood of Jesus. If the gospel were to boil down to one issue, it would not be someone’s sin. It would be grace. That doesn’t mean we ignore sin or normalize it, but that we are able to look more deeply at what defines people so we see them as more than their worst moment.

Practice humility. We can’t possibly know all the reasons someone struggles with a hurt, habit or hang-up. Humility requires us to assume that they suffer just as legitimately as we do. It also requires us to be honest about our own weaknesses. In their shoes, we might be just as much of a mess. Humility cautions us to wait for the Lord to move first because only the Lord can change a life.

That’s how Christians act. We are peculiar people — people who love profoundly, who hang on way past good sense, who believe that the Holy Spirit uses odd people to advance the Kingdom of God.

And when we act like Jesus, the world will call us peculiar but the Word will call us blessed.

Read More

One story of how a missional church got its start

Most posts on this site are dedicated to practical theology, and this one is no different — though it is certainly more personal. For the last thirteen years I’ve been involved with an experiment in “missional church.” Together with some of the most beautifully faithful people on the planet (I won’t hide my bias), we have been figuring out what church might look like when its people are focused on building community partnerships and missional ventures that result in more intentional spiritual connections. We don’t major on the “weekend experience;” our focus is the spiritual formation of souls.

In this season, we’re planning an expansion of our building to include a community center in an area of our town that is lacking in social services. Our intent is not to become another non-profit but to advocate for the kind of healing that happens within a Christian community.

This is our story of getting started, and our vision for what comes next. If you are connected to Mosaic even through this blog, say a prayer for us. May the witness of God’s people welcome and advance His Kingdom on earth.

Read More

Why Christmas Is Worth It

At our downtown ministry this week, I watched a precious soul rock an invisible baby while “Away in a Manger” was being sung and I was overwhelmed by the values of God and his preference for the poor.

It is completely antithetical to our human nature to seek after and invest in the hidden places where the poorest of the poor live and yet this is the very heart of God. He refuses to forget the ones forgotten by the world: the almost-hermit with decades-old depression, the woman who rocks an imaginary baby, the mentally ill one who changed names two or three times in the course of an evening, the one who celebrated her approval for section-eight housing as if it were good news to be poor enough to need rental assistance.

Jesus doesn’t forget them.

In fact, he looks for the ones who look like him and the prophet tells me, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2). Which means we are left to learn how to love the unattractive, to desire the company of the undesirable. We are also left to wrestle with an uncomfortable truth: To enter into the heart of Jesus is to submit to hidden, unglamorous work.

When Isaiah was deep into the work of penning a weighty bit of prophecy about the coming Messiah, he took time to describe how this Redeemer would deal with people. He said He would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick.

Glenn Penton writes about this. In the days of Isaiah, shepherds would pass the time out in the fields by making a simple flute out of a reed. It was something to do, but also a kind of protection. They’d play it at night to let predators know that the sheep were not alone out there. But a reed flute being played by a boy-shepherd is not going to last long. It gets bent, stepped on, bruised.
Rather than trying to save a broken flute, the shepherd would toss it and make a new one. Same with their candles. They’d make cheap candles by floating a piece of flax in oil. Flax makes a great flame but when the oil gets low, the flax falls over into the oil and then you just get smoke. It is easier to make a new candle than to fish out a smoldering flax and repair it.

God told Isaiah we would know the Messiah by the way he treats the broken reeds and damaged wicks — the ones with personality disorders and bi-polar conditions and divorce and addiction and poverty. From the world’s perspective, reeds and wicks are disposable. “Toss these, and get new ones.” That is the world’s take on those who are banged up, stepped on, bruised, face down and smoldering.

Not so in the Kingdom of God. The true Messiah sees hope in even the most hopeless souls and by His power makes all things new. He specializes in the reclamation of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks. He makes things and people work again.

And this is what makes Christmas worth doing. Because at its core, it is so much more than warm feelings, family dinners and big gifts. Christmas is God stepping in when all hope seems lost to rescue the ones the world would just as soon give up on.

Lest I sound more holy than I am, I have to admit that this fact grates against all my unholy ambitions. It is also the very source of my sanctification. God has told me the path to righteousness. It is to love justice, do mercy, walk humbly … to fall in love with the people who break his heart. He wants my work to bear his image. This is tough spiritual work for ambitious people but it turns out to be the only option if his heart is my hope.

This is the only path that makes the anxiety and busy-ness of Christmas worth the trouble. So I pray for you and me both that in this season, we will learn what it really means to embody the very heart of Christ, to do the hidden work of incarnational ministry, to allow ourselves nothing less than that which builds the Kingdom on earth.

 

Read More

Church is a verb.

The tabernacle as we find it in Exodus was meant to be a sign of God’s presence among the people and a signal tower for his plan. Once the tabernacle was complete, God came into the House and filled it and a cloud rested over it with fire in the cloud so all the people could see it. And the Lord told them, “When the cloud moves, you move.”

Depending on which Hebrew word for “tabernacle” we use, it can mean either a place to meet or a place that moves. That tells me God never meant for his tabernacle to get stuck in one place. It was built to move.

In other words, when God moves we move.

What I learn from my desert ancestors in Exodus changes what I understand about the nature of the Church. If “church” is designed to move, then it is more “Verb” than “noun.” Nouns sit. Verbs go. A noun is something I come to and sit in. A verb is not a monument but a movement.

Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says I go to church. “Church as a verb” says I am the church. Are you a noun, or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says someone somewhere is supposed to provide the programs and I am supposed to come to them. “Church as a verb” says I am a functioning part of a body together with a whole lot of others and a partner in shaping my own spiritual growth. Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says someone somewhere is supposed to provide me with mission opportunities. “Church as a verb” says what motivates me ought to motivate me. Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says the church owes me something. “Church as a verb” says if anyone owes anyone anything, I owe Jesus. Not to earn my salvation but because of what he’s done for me. My mission is defined by what Jesus has done for me. Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” is always looking for what we used to have. “Church as a verb” is looking for what’s ahead. Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says you come here and we’ll show you Jesus. “Church as a verb” says we’ll come to you and be Jesus. Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says, “Let’s go to church.” “Church as a verb” says, “Let’s just go.” Are you a noun or a verb?

“Church as a noun” says, “Going costs too much. Can’t we just send a check?” “Church is a verb” says, “Go! Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And lo, I will be with you always.”

Church as a verb says, “When God moves, we move” — whatever the cost, whatever the commitment. Because it is only in following the Spirit, in moving with the Spirit and embracing change, that we find our pleasure, passion and purpose and bring pleasure to God.

(This blog was first posted in 2014. I repost it today in honor of the many churches preparing in this season for their Global Impact Celebration.)

Read More