“Send the Spirit powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Send the Spirit more powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake.
Send the Spirit still more powerfully now, for Jesus Christ’s sake.”
(Evan Roberts, Welsh Revivalist)
John the Baptist said to the crowds, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Luke 3:16). When people become ablaze with God they sometimes get “fired up” and then go on crusades to share it with and spread it to others—sometimes with scorching zeal without tactical knowledge. But, why is it that our church experiences often lack fire, lack passion, lack power, lack God’s blazing presence? How can we be effective missional Christians and churches, unless we first know something about fire and the Spirit?
Mission on the Fireline
On cold winter nights when our children were younger, our family would sit around the fireplace, play games, have hot chocolate, talk, and stare at the fire. Strange isn’t it? There’s a mystique about fire. As we watch it dance and hear it hiss and pop as it radiates its heat and light, fire captivates us. I’ve asked our children what they see. They see various colors of red, green, purple, blue, and yellow. Of course, the kids aren’t content to stare at it. They also want to poke at the logs. They also want to help light it, throw logs on it, and then eventually play with it. Parents get nervous when their kids play with fire. Until they have enough experience with it, they can burn themselves or start something they can’t control.
Theologian Emil Brunner wrote, “The church exists for mission as fire exists for burning.” If we aim to be missional people, should we not have first-hand experiences with the fire of the Holy Spirit? Pentecostals and charismatics might say, “Brother Roger, that’s nothing new. We’ve been saying this for years. You gotta get the baptism of the Spirit. Read the red and pray for the power!” But I’m not talking about a Pentecostal or charismatic experience with a formula. I’m talking about pastors and people who regularly experience God’s presence, who’ve tasted the powers of the coming age (Heb. 6:5), who’ve felt the flames and inhaled the smoke, and who’ll commit themselves to first-hand ministry and mission on the fireline. Read the rest of this entry »
“Prayer is a subversive act performed in a world that constantly calls faith into question. I may have a sense of estrangement in the very act of prayer, yet by faith I continue to pray and to look for other signs of God’s presence.”
I spent a weekend with a rural evangelical Baptist church of about 75 people. It’s a warm and hospitable church situated in a predominately Catholic community of 200 in a county of 6,000 residents. As in most rural settings, this church has interweaving networks of families and friendships that span decades. In many ways pastor Joe has become the town chaplain. This aging congregation wants to be missional, and yet realizes it faces enormous social and spiritual barriers to be a faithful witness for Jesus and the gospel.
I was scheduled to lead a meeting with the core leaders on Saturday night, and then teach an adult education class and preach on Sunday morning. As I prayed at home before I left, I sensed the Lord didn’t want me to arrive with a specific agenda or a prepared talk for the Saturday meeting and the Sunday class. I did prepare, however, to preach Romans 12:9-13 for the worship service. During the Saturday night meeting, as we discussed the church and the barriers in the community, it became clear that they had come to a place of frustration, as if a wall blocked their progress. Those were their words. Several mentioned that prayer had been a common subject in the church and many had recently watched a video series on prayer by Jim Cymbala. They realized the only way forward was through persistent prayer. In the previous year, the pastor had also been reading The Works of Jonathan Edwards as he also longed for revival.
During the meeting, I felt prompted to read Colossians 4:2-6. As I commented on the passage, I encouraged these leaders to make “breakthrough prayer” a central rather than a bookends practice and priority in their board meetings, annual meetings, Sunday worship services, small groups, and virtually every time people gathered for study, fellowship, or whatever. I also mentioned that in most churches prayer defaults to an internal focus. A common tendency is pray for the needs within the church and for each other. We sensed this was a “God moment.” We sat in sacred stillness as the Spirit’s presence seized our imaginations. This unleashed some lively conversation. We then moved into a vigorous prayer time that lasted about 30 minutes. We met each other, met Scripture, and then God met us! Read the rest of this entry »
Colossians 3:1-2 is a fitting text for Easter Sunday: “Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Christian theology should help us engage in “faith thinking” to inform Christian lifestyle and mission. That’s the point of Colossians. What you believe influences how you behave. While Christ’s crucifixion figures prominently in the Christian tradition on Good Friday, Christ’s resurrection, and further, his ascension, figures prominently in Colossians 3. The ascension, recorded in Acts 1:9, could only occur because of the resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection is only complete by the Ascension. Christ now sits metaphorically at God’s right hand—the place of prominence, honor, and authority. This is Jesus is Lord language. He rules from the limitless place of heaven itself where God is.
Paul says that our ongoing practice should be to literally “seek” things above where Christ sits. We do that when we fixate our minds on things above where he is, not on earthly things, as a continuous orientation of our hearts and wills. Somehow, through our spiritual union with Christ, we are raised (spiritually resurrected) with Christ, dead to our old life, and now deeply tucked away with Christ in God (Col. 3:3). As a Christian, your life is secluded in the impenetrable vault of God’s protection. As we celebrate Easter Sunday, let us remember, that Christ is the risen and ascended Lord, having conquered sin, Satan, and death. Today, let us renew our commitment to live in light of the resurrection and ascension. Paul instructs, “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him” (Col. 2:6).
Have you attended many funerals? I have. Reflect for a moment on what they are like. Our reflection will depend on the relationship we had with the people we came to respect. During a funeral with its program compressed into minutes, we attempt to honor a life composed of years. We grieve the loss. Our hearts scramble to deal with how brutal and final death feels. As we sing familiar hymns and listen to the sermon, we struggle to absorb brief moments of comfort. But more than all of this, for me, a convicting interrogation occurs deep inside my heart. As I choke back the tears while I hear kind words spoken about the person, I hear other words spoken to me, “What about you Roger? What will they say at your funeral? How are you living your life?” I become very sober about my death. Even more sober about my life. I’m reminded, it’s not how you start the journey of life that counts; it’s how you finish.
You may have heard of Valerie Harper, the 73 year old star of the classic sitcoms Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She was recently diagnosed with incurable brain cancer with between three to six months left to live. With amazing determination and resolve, Valerie is going to live every day to its fullest. Read her personal reflections, Read the rest of this entry »
“A great oak is simply a small nut that held its ground.”
Our family had dinner with another family from our church. After the kids left the table, we two couples chatted over tea and goodies. Eventually, the conversation moved to a deeper level. My wife and I sat across from this solid Christian couple and gazed into the teary eyes of the 41-year-old husband and father of three. As his wife looked on with compassion and support, he recounted how just two days before he was ready to quit. He explained that he had been a Christian for many years, was happily married, had a very successful job, was effectively involved at church, and lived in a nice home that they had built. “On the outside,” Don remarked (not his real name), “everything looks good. And yet for no special reason, two days ago I lapsed into a dark fog, a very low point in my life. I did not care about Christianity anymore. I felt empty and burdened inside. For the first time in my life I briefly pondered suicide.”
We continued to talk of disappointment and loss and how our tidy evangelical solutions and seven step formulas don’t seem to work. We agreed that an intellectual belief system with an abundance of Christian activities could not navigate a journey through the fog. Only an unwavering experience of faith in God could. I responded, “Our theology is shaped by our experience. Theology is forged not in the classroom of academics but in the furnace of afflictions. Don, what you describe is God challenging you to a deeper level. It is part of the walk with God. There is a vacuum in the heart of every person that only God can fill. He always seems to up the ante. Neither the right church nor the right circumstances will ever satisfy us fully. Walking with God does not get easier, but it does get better. God will meet us, for He is with us on the walk. We must maintain a long obedience in the same direction.”
Don responded. “I agree. Just when I need help, He often speaks Scripture into my mind. God met me in my despair. Two days ago as I also waited and listened in prayer, God gave me hope and a new perspective that blew the fog away. I thought of Psalm 56:9 which says, “this I know, that God is for me.” I’ve always believed that God is for me. But now I know that He is for me. This was a rhema word for me. God spoke specifically into my situation. I saw and experienced Him in a new and real way.” Like many of us, Don is at half time. He’s evaluating the first half of the game. As he appraises his private journey, he’s gearing up to go for the gold in the public journey. He’s beginning to see clearly enough to finish the second half. Read the rest of this entry »
In her book God Never Blinks, Regina Brett tells the story of Leslie Hudak, a high school English teacher who made it her job to help bruised and problem teens that needed encouragement the most. She did not just teach and then go home, but co-signed car loans for students, helped pay their rent, and gave her old car to one student who needed transportation to work. When one student wanted to try out for pole vaulting, Leslie watched videos on it and became his coach. She would show up at student’s homes to thank them, host spaghetti dinners at her place, and deliver Easter baskets and Christmas gifts to poor teens.
To motivate the girls to quit smoking in their school restroom, she decorated it with colorful wallpaper and fresh paint, and placed baskets that contained free hair spray, tampons, hand lotion, and candy. It worked. She stocked the girl’s refrigerators with food, taught them to do laundry, and held their hands when they delivered their babies with absentee parents. She also attended their wedding days. One girl wanted to be a singer, so Leslie gave her money to help her record a CD. That student sang “Amazing Grace” at Leslie’s funeral. At age 58, she died in an automobile accident on her way home from school. Thousands showed up to honor her at the memorial. Here was a high school teacher who truly served in missional “youth ministry.” The lesson that author Regina Brett concludes from Leslie’s life is this: “Don’t Audit Life. Show Up and Make the Most of the Now.”
 Regina Brett, God Never Blinks: 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours (New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2010), pp. 188-89.
To place the book, it feels for me much like the ground work for Phyllis Tickle’s new release, Emergence Christianity. If you could interview the people who Tickle is writing about and hear their stories, stories and initiatives that are unfolding all over the world, you might wind up with something like The Gospel After Christendom.
David Fitch says of the book,
“TGoF is the broadest and most accessible global survey of emerging missional churches available today. It is filled with good analysis and insights as well as challenges to the imagination. Between its covers lies a glimpse into the future of the church.”
And Michael Frost says,
“Here’s proof that the emerging missional conversation is transcending the traditional ecclesial and cultural boundaries that so often limit the church’s ability to speak to itself and to have an impact on the world.” Read the rest of this entry »
Over the weekend I was looking at the books I have collected this past year. A few are unread, and a few are not books of 2012, but following the great tradition, here is my list of the best reads of 2012.
Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us
Benner, Sacred Companions
Berry, Imagination in Place
Bolger, The Gospel After Christendom
Hastings, Missional God, Missional Church
McLaren, Naked Spirituality
Peterson, The Pastor
Ramo, The Age of the Unthinkable
Rohr, Everything Belongs
Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality
Sheldrake, Spaces for the Sacred
Van Gelder, Missional Church in Perspective
It would be tougher picking the three top, but I would go for Bolger, Sheldrake and Van Gelder.
**** Diana Butler Bass asks,
“What is causing the erosion of Christianity in North America? Most North Americans look at Christianity–especially as embodied in religious institutions–and find it wanting. I suspect that Christianity is in decline because it appears both hypocritical and boring. Although young North Americans express deep longings for a loving, just, and peaceful world, they don’t find an equal passion for transforming society in meaningful ways in most congregations. And, sadly, many churches simply lack the imagination and passion that many spiritual people are searching for. Folks aren’t looking for answers nearly as much as they are trying to clarify their questions and are hungry for accepting communities in which to ask them.
“If you think about it, mainline liberal churches embody a theological vision of God’s reign that resonates with contemporary hopes for social transformation. But they often lack passion, acting on God’s dream for the world in business-as-usual ways. Conservative churches are chock-full of passion. But they are often passionate about all the wrong stuff–like excluding people and supporting the military-and-economic status quo that is destroying the planet.
“Perhaps North American Christians are smarter than anyone suspects–that we are looking for congregations, communities and denominations that put the pieces together–passionate, imaginative, open, justice-seeking, inclusive, and loving gatherings of faith that actually live, as Jimmy Carter put it, “the teachings of Jesus Christ.” If progressive faith communities can be both — transformative and passionate — we may be better poised to reach a new generation than the “decline” bellyaching of recent decades suggests. With the waning of conservative churches, it may well be the historical moment for the rest of us to step up the the spiritual plate.”
Paul begins to conclude his letter with final instructions to the Colossians in how a magnificent surrender to Jesus as Lord—living in him—must work out in daily life and mission. In chapter 3, he taught how the inward practices of heavenly-minded Christians are to live a life of love with one another. He now turns to how the outward practices of prayer-devoted Christians are to live a life of witness with non-Christians. This is a missional spirituality. His final appeal is for devotion to prayer that also opens the way for clear proclamation, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Col 4:2–4).
We say we believe in prayer, that God answers prayer, and that we need to pray more. We attend prayer meetings, read books on prayer, and “say our prayers.” We open and close our meetings with prayer, we ask for “prayer requests,” and we say to people: “I’ll pray for you.” We pray to God at prayer meetings, church services, meal times, during “personal devotions,” and in times of trial and trauma. Nevertheless, Richard Foster declares, “All who have walked with God have viewed prayer as the main business of their lives.” When I look at my life and the life of most churches, I wonder if we truly believe that prayer is the main business of our lives. What I see is endless technocratic brain-numbing study, information, talking, planning, meetings, analysis, and strategies. We tend to rely on man-made methods and models to build and “grow” a church. We learn evangelism techniques and invite people to attend church services and events. These are not all wrong. But perhaps, like the Colossians, we perpetuate a theological problem—we don’t deeply believe that Jesus is Lord—supreme and sufficient. We assume that better leadership and programs will break through the barriers of culture to reach people for Christ. Read the rest of this entry »
Have you ever encountered ordinary things that suddenly became a symbol for something more? Have you used ordinary bread and ordinary juice and believed that somehow Christ met you in a special way among that company of believers reconnecting with a living story?
Symbols, images, embodiment, story — we are walking on a dusty road when suddenly something blazes and we recognize the Christ among us. Wendell Berry writes in The Gift of Gravity:
The incarnate Word is with us,
is still speaking, is present
always, yet leaves no sign
but everything that is.
Scott Boren reflects on his experience of the labyrinth:
“Two weeks ago, I sat in a recording studio for a day and a half. After recording 24 segments of teaching, I was wasted. I found myself at the end of my emotions… As I walked around, I noticed a labyrinth week. I had read a lot about praying through a labyrinth but I had never done so myself. So I walked toward it.
“I had read and heard from others that when praying through a labyrinth, things come up within you that you don’t expect. This made no logical since to me. I had walked and prayed many times. What’s the difference? But as I neared the entrance, which at first I could not locate, I found myself not wanting to step in. I wanted to just keep walking and get back to work. It was not that I was afraid of meeting with God or that I was full of pride and self-sufficiency. I was so tired that I had no pride left. I had gotten to a place of having nothing left and at that point I realized a core fear. I was afraid that meeting with God would be less than what I expected, that he might not even be there to meet with me.”