The pitfalls of Kingdom potential

Okay, so I’m getting really excited by this season of MORE. God seems to be galvanising and bringing into reality things which had been bandied about by our community in theory-land for quite some time (I’ll perhaps share some stories with you next blog post or so). I can see the hand of God cranking up not only our worship life as a family, but also his influence in our daily lives. I’m having more God-conversations with friends and colleagues (don’t you just love those?), enjoying greater intimacy with God, hearing cool God stories from others and seeing a whole slew of answered prayers. The dam is bursting!

With this in mind, I want to discuss two potential pitfalls that go hand-in-hand with this sort of Kingdom amplification; pride and despair.
PRIDE
To paraphrase Bill Johnson, your weakest point is not at the moment of your greatest failure, but of your greatest victory. At times when things are clicking into place and we begin to live more and more radically for God, we are especially prone to the sin of pride – arguably the greatest sin in the Kingdom of God (it is, technically, what got Satan kicked out of heaven, as it were). Pride blinds us to our need for God and especially to our need for his grace.
One particular manifestation of pride that I have observed in myself and among followers of Jesus is the sort that creeps in when you are ‘getting it right’. We are called to live lives that are radically sold out for God, wherein we tap into all of heavens resources and pick up our cross daily. At Canterbury Vineyard, we believe unashamedly in not settling for anything less than the fullness and abundance of life promised to us by the scriptures – this means love, miracles, salvation, gifts of the spirit, fruit of the spirit, healing, deliverance, holiness, intimacy, passion and more. As we press into this lifestyle, frustration with the mediocrity of much of what passes for the Christian life today will arise; this is natural. However, we must never allow this to turn into pride or self-satisfaction. Don’t be deceived about your immunity from this; pride is like sand – it gets into every nook and cranny (even nooks and crannies you didn’t know you had). Have you ever looked at other Christians who are less on fire than you and gotten frustrated with them? Have you met Christians who don’t believe in miracles, who are hypocritical, who are too middle class, who aren’t as free as you think they should be, who don’t pray enough, who are not seeking God in every area of their life – and thought, “thank God I’m not like that”? Because I have.
Don’t ever forget that it is only by God’s grace that we get anything right. It is only by God’s grace that we found Jesus in the first place, and it is only by his grace that we find ourselves in a community that is going hard after God, and it is only by his grace that we actually take any of it on board ourselves.
DESPAIR
Another risk of not settling for mediocrity in Christian life is despair, or despondency. I see it rear its ugly head time and time again in my own life and in that of others. You pray for something and it doesn’t happen. You hear about the MORE that is promised to us by Jesus and wonder why you aren’t experiencing it. You see other people get set ablaze or experience victory and wonder what is wrong with you. You desire more of God, you desire miracles, you desire mountaintop experiences or a more tangible sense of his presence, you desire the salvation of your friends and enemies, you desire the influence of God over situations in your life, you desire spiritual gifts, you desire the Kingdom; these things don’t come as quickly as you’d like them to and you begin to wonder if they ever will.
‘Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”‘ – John 20:27-29
If we aren’t seeing all of the Kingdom that we want to, but keep pressing in anyway, we are blessed. It may be a cliche by now, but it’s vital to be intentional about which well to drink from – what God is doing – and his promises and potential – versus what he isn’t.
A couple of nights ago some friends and I wrote down some insanely outlandish prayers, just to put our money where our mouth is and mark out our territory as people who genuinely are seeking more. Among the stuff we listed came such gems as “I want to have frequent visions of heaven”, “I want to be sick with love for Jesus”, “I want people to be healed by just my walking into the room”, “I want every single one of my friends to know God”, “I want to see Jesus breakdance”, “I want to glow like Moses”, “I want to raise the dead” and so on. We did it because we know it’s possible, we did it because we know there’s more, and we did it because we know it’s ours. Does raising the dead and having frequent visions of heaven seem a long way off? Yes – so all the more reason to go ahead and make those huge requests! It’s all too easy to limit your imagination and faith in order to avoid disappointment, but we must at all costs resist the urge to shrink our vision to match our experience.

I challenge you to give your despondency to God and go ahead and make some ludicrously humongous demands on his generosity. Ask God to make you persistent and able to keep knocking until he opens that door. Do it now!

Quote time!

“We’ve been taught as Christians to tell a story that isn’t true. ‘Before I came to Jesus, I was a sinful, evil person who could do no good. Then I gave my life to Jesus and I became this great human being who’s always happy. The problem is that the story doesn’t even resonate with the person telling the story.” – Erwin McManus

Why I am (sorta-not-really-but-then-again-maybe) emergent – part 2

At the end of my last post on the subject, I posited (not without substantiation) that Christendom is currently undergoing a detox of sorts to purge some of the gunk that has built up over the last five centuries or more. So what’s the gunk?

In short, the “gunk” is modernism, the train of thought in Western philosophy that arose out of the Enlightenment/modernity (meaning the historical timeline after the Middle Ages). Enlightenment thinking advocated reason as the primary source of truth and authority. Now, I firmly believe the development of linear thinking was a precious gift, but when it becomes the over-arching, all-encompassing theory of existential thought, there are major problems. On a profane level, it has led (particularly with late modernity) to secularism and Dawkins-esque thinking. On a spiritual level, it has led to the type of faith Rob Bell illustrates very well in this anecdote:

Somebody recently gave me a videotape of a lecture given by a man who travels around speaking about the creation of the world. At one point in his lecture, he said that if you deny that God created the world in six literal twenty-four-hour days, then you are denying that Jesus ever died on the cross. It’s a bizarre leap of logic to make, I would say.

But he was serious.

It hit me while I was watching him that for him faith isn’t a trampoline; it’s a wall of bricks. Each of the core doctrines for him is like an individual brick that stacks on top of the others. If you pull one out, the whole wall starts to crumble…

[Last week] somebody showed me a letter from the president of a large seminary who is raising money to help him train leaders who will defend Christianity. The letter went on about the desperate need for defense of the true faith. What disturbed me was the defensive posture of the letter, which reflects one of the things that happens in brickworld: you spend a lot of time talking about how right you are. Which of course leads to how wrong everyone else is. Which then leads to defending the wall. It struck me reading the letter that you rarely defend a trampoline. You invite people to jump on it with you.

Rob Bell, “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith”, pg 26-27

[I should probably give you a heads-up at this point that I’m largely going to be making my points through hefty quotations, as I deem others to have expressed this material much better than I could.]

Peter Rollins sums up the modernistic impulse behind the man in Bell’s story:

At a very basic level the creationist judges the truth of faith as a factual claim that can be externalized from the one considering it, objectified, and dispassionately reflected upon. For the creationist the truth affirmed by Christianity can then, in principle, be proven via the same empirical processes as those embraced in classical scientific theory, because it is fundamentally of the same substance as the objects studied in science. Of course, the creationist can be seen to engage in bad science, and this is no doubt what the evolutionary biologists are reacting against. My point here, however, is not related to the debate itself but rather to how the creationist’s approach to religious truth presupposes that the truth of faith is on the same level as scientific statements…Yet, such an approach seems foreign to the unconditional commitment that is demanded of authentic believers, a commitment described by Paul as one that involves becoming a living sacrifice. Distancing oneself from one’s faith asks that believers engage with the deepest, most intimate, most personal, and most pressing issue in their lives in the guise of a detached, disinterested observer…

To be a believer would thus require some hefty subscriptions to the latest academic journals in order to see if the truth claims of Christianity could still be regarded as plausible, or even possible. Philosophy journals would become a stable diet for the preacher who would, in fear and trembling, be working out whether belief in Christianity is still rational.

Peter Rollins, “The Fidelity of Betrayal: Towards a Church Beyond Belief”, pg 88-94

Cornel West understands modernist discourse to be influenced by three main processes: the rise of the scientific worldview, the Cartesian remodelling of philosophy (Descartes was the philosopher who deemed that the mind was sufficient to prove or disprove God) and our re-enchantment with Hellenism. The Greek mindset, as opposed to that of Hebraism, is concerned with analysing life according to precise categories and linear logic. The Hebrew mindset, out of which the Bible was written, had no trouble embracing mystery and complexity. Greeks were concerned with knowing; Hebrews with doing. Our adoption of the mindset of Athens is evidenced in the way in which many Christian circles seem overly focussed on issues of systematic theology and the differentiation between orthodoxy and heresy, regardless of whether or not these doctrines have any practical outworking in believers’ lives. In contrast, West suggests a more appropriate conception of Christian truth:

The paradox of the Christian tradition is that it precludes its own descriptions from grasping the truth; that is, the Christian notion of the fallenness of human creatures does not permit even Christian descriptions to be true. This is so, because, for Christians, Jesus Christ is the Truth and the reality of Jesus Christ always already rests outside any particular Christian description.

For Christians, truth is not a property, characteristic, or attribute of a theory, portrayal, and description, not even a Christian description. Rather, Jesus Christ is the Truth, a reality which can only be existentially appropriated (not intellectually grasped) by fallen human beings caught in ever-changing finite descriptions…

If there is any test for the “truth” of particular Christian descriptions, it is their capacity to facilitate the existential appropriation of Jesus Christ. This means that any “true” Christian description makes the reality of Jesus Christ available.

Cornel West, “Prophesy Deliverance! An Afro-American Revolutionary Christianity”, pg 98

To be continued..

Frederica Mathewes-Green on Burning

I came across this fantastic article via Liz Dyer about the Transfiguration and the fire-related implications of light in previous cultures, and just couldn’t pass up a bit of quoteage:

But there is something about light that most previous generations would have known, that doesn’t occur to us today. We think of light as something you get with the flip of a switch. But before a hundred years ago, light always meant fire. Whether it was the flame of a candle, an oil lamp, a campfire, or the blazing noonday sun, light was always accompanied by fire.

And fire, everyone knew, must be respected. That’s one of the lessons learned from earliest childhood. Fire is powerful and dangerous. It does not compromise. In any confrontation, it is the person who will be changed by fire, and not the other way round…

Through prayer, fasting, and honoring others above self, we gradually clear away everything in us that will not catch fire. We are made to catch fire. We are like lumps of coal, dusty and inert, and possess little to be proud of. But we have one talent: we can burn. You could say that it is our destiny to burn. He made us that way, because he intended for his blazing light to fill us.

I highly recommend reading the whole thing. It’s reasonably short, but packed with good stuff.

Thoughts on evangelism part 2

“First rule of Christ club: you do not shut up about Christ club.”

But why? Why talk about Jesus?

Because, like a good TV show or a favourite band (only approx. 50 000 000 000 times better), Jesus is something I desperately want to share with others. Here are two ways this works:

1) “Like a good TV show…”: Have you ever started watching a television series, and got really into it and decided it was the best thing EVER, but then whenever you asked around to see who else watches it nobody had ever heard of it or was interested? That’s happened to me countless times – it’s no fun to watch an episode of The L Word or Green Wing and then have no-one to jabber about it with afterwards. I want my friends to know about Jesus because it’s this super-cool thing I love to talk about and want other people to get excited about it with me. There’s nothing like sharing love for something in community (I could totally go into genre theory here but I won’t…)

2) “Or a favourite band…”: What happens when you come across a mind-blowingly good artist or band? If you’re me, you make mix-CDs (or tapes back in the day) for all your friends, or post YouTube links to their songs on Facebook because you think they’re so frakkin’ cool that you want your friends’ lives to be enriched by knowing about this band. Hmmm…bit like Jesus then…

That’s it in a nutshell. When I talk about Jesus it’s because I’m excited about him and want my friends to share in my excitement, or because I’ve tasted how transformative knowing Jesus really is and want others to have the pleasure of  having their lives similarly transformed.

When done properly, there is nothing remotely imperialistic about the Jesus movement.

This is how it starts…

It starts with my tiny heart.

It starts with my tiny, shrivelled, proud, indifferent heart.

It starts when I realise that my heart is tiny, and shrivelled, and proud, and indifferent,

When I realise that the brokenness and decay I see all around me (when I even pay enough attention to notice) is true of my own self – the self that I had always thought so highly of.

And so I cry out to God not to give up on me, and he doesn’t.

He takes my tiny, shrivelled, proud, indifferent heart out and replaces it with his own – a heart of abundance and love and infinite resources.

And when I live into the reality of my heart transplant, he begins bit by bit to unfold his vision of renewal before my very eyes.

My old heart, ridden with disease, is now a new one full of dis-ease:

dis-ease at all the suffering in the world

dis-ease at my numbness to the suffering in the world

dis-ease at the way I currently spend my money

dis-ease at how easily I close my ears to the cries of the distressed

dis-ease at my spiritual poverty

dis-ease at settling for second-best in how I relate to others, in how I date, in how I treat those around me, in how I think about the earth and everything in it.

This glorious discomfort nourishes me with hunger and thirst for more of whatever powerful, mystical, real thing is happening inside me…

And then groups of people who’ve had their tiny, shrivelled, proud, indifferent hearts replaced by that of God start finding each other; we start dreaming new dreams, and fuelling each others’ hunger, and helping others into this new reality, and working together to live into the fullness of God’s kingdom and to bring heaven to earth.

Despite the fact that we are broken and flawed and we make a mess of things, we are invited to be the hands and feet of God – the lifeforce he unleashes on a hurting world – because we are operating out of his wealth and not our poverty.

I have had my heart transplant – and I’ve only barely glimpsed this new reality; I live in hope of its continued revelation.