fbpx
The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.

 

Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 

 

A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 

 

Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”

 

A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.

The Gospel According to Twenty One Pilots

The Gospel According to Twenty One Pilots

At the end of each concert, the two frontmen of the musical group Twenty One Pilots stand together on the stage, put their arms around each other, and smile at their fans as the cheers rise. Throughout the crowd, people lift signs with “Thank You” written on them. After a while the lead singer lifts the mic and gives them his parting words: “We’re Twenty One Pilots, and so are you.” As the duo walks off, the crowd continues shouting out their thanks for their music, performance, and, for many, their witness.

Yes, witness. Witness to what? What are the crowds gathering at these shows so grateful for

I believe the reason the fans of Twenty One Pilots are so profoundly impacted by their music is because through it, whether we realize it or not, we are getting a glimpse of, even becoming participants in, the good news of Jesus Christ. 

 

The Art of Our Everyday Work

I need only one song to show you an example of how this duo embeds the gospel into their artwork. They become a witness and a guide for us as we embed the gospel into our “artwork,” that is, the art of our everyday work.

“Trees” is the song Twenty One Pilots always performs to end their shows. Its basic flow traces the dialogue between God and a man who is hiding in the trees, silent and afraid in the face of his impending death. And yet God comes after him, initiating a conversation and showing his heart’s desire to be with him. 

Clearly, this recalls the aftermath of human rebellion against God in the Garden of Eden, giving voice to the interchange of Genesis 3:8-9. Adam and Eve stood naked and afraid, hiding from God amidst the trees, and yet he came after them. He called them out of hiding and invited them to be known, even in their sin. 

What the song does next is repeat this scenario by repeating the same set of three verses, but building to a much bigger finish. This gives the sense that the same dialogue between God and a man happens again, but with a different outcome. 

And indeed, this is what the good news proclaims! Jesus takes on our shame and faces his impending death, fearful and exposed before his Father as he sweats blood amidst the trees in the garden of Gethsemane, pleading for the cup of the cross to pass from him (Luke 22:42). But this man, the last Adam, remains obedient to the end (1 Corinthians 15:45, Philippians 2:8). He gives himself up to make our death his own, crying out while he stands nailed upright on one tree amidst others, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). This is echoed in the lyrics from “Trees”: “Why won’t you speak, where I happen to be?… Silent in the trees, standing cowardly.” 

 

God’s Heart Cry

Then, the climactic refrain at the end of the song invites a response: “I want to know you, I want to see, I want to say, Hello.” This is God’s heart cry. God came in the flesh to be with us, which is what he has been after since the beginning. He’s always initiating, starting a conversation with us. Not from afar, but here, where we are, in the midst of our sin and shame and death, even taking it all upon himself. Then he rose from the grave to new life and Mary saw him standing amidst the trees, mistaking him for the gardener, and he called out to her (John 20:15-16). The cross and the resurrection are God’s song of invitation to know a love stronger than death. 

So when a slight, dark-haired man stands in front of a stadium full of thousands at the end of a show, he sings out the refrain of that invitation: “Hello.” He repeats it throughout the song, bending over his microphone while his friend sits behind him hammering away at his drum set. Then the hellos stop, and after another chorus and some intervening “la la las,” the beat stops. A synth interlude rolls over the crowd. They’re anticipating. Waiting. They know what’s coming. As the two men make their way down from the stage, the security workers in the front lift two large tom drums on either side of the audience from the orchestra pit. A small platform comes next, one beside each of them. Then the spectators become participants. Drumsticks in hand, the two men climb onto the platforms, held up by the people who have spent the last 2 hours singing their guts out along with them. And then it comes.

Confetti drops like a snowstorm from the ceiling as the two men pound their drums in unison. In between beats (buh buh – pause – buda buh buh buh – pause) they point their sticks out to their “Skeleton Clique” (their fan club). And the clique responds, as if coming to life. The crowd shouts a resounding “Hey!” each time, responding to the invitation sung from the stage just moments before. When the music stops, the duo gets back on the stage and says goodbye.

An Invitation to Participate

This is how Twenty One Pilots ends their show, every time. If you’re curious, you can WATCH a recording. They have designed their music and performances with an invitation for fan participation. If my interpretation is right, they have written their music to be sung out so that the singers become participants in the gospel narrative hidden in its folds. This is what Twenty One Pilots has made with their artwork. They’ve not written “Christian music,” but music that nonetheless points to Christ in story-form. 

What about the artwork of our own lives? Have we received the message that we have to make “Christian art” or do “Christian work” to be impactful in God’s Kingdom? With the apostle Paul I say, “By no means!” (Romans 7:13). 

In your home or at work, with your spreadsheets, with your meetings, with your budgets, with your coworkers, with your friendships, with your relationships, with your sexuality, with your (dare I say it) politics, with your grief, with your depression, with your trauma, with every particularity that makes up your particular story…what would it look like to embed the gospel story into your own story? Every single facet of our story can become a witness and invitation for others to participate in God’s Story. 

But we have to know our story to do this. And the best way, indeed the only way to fully know ourselves is to know the God who knows us. We have to let God in, and respond to his invitation. We need to yell “Hey” when he sings “Hello.” The deep desire of his heart is for us to know him even as we have been fully known (1 Corinthians 13:12). 

 

Reflect on Your Own Story

So reflect on your own story. Write it, draw it, yell it, sing it, dance it, however the Spirit leads. Then invite others to listen to your story. Allow yourself to be known before God as two or three gather around to bear witness to the work of God in your life (Matthew 18:20). In doing so you offer up your story as a prayer, giving voice to the silent dialogues between your heart and God’s, thus training the ears of your heart to recognize your Shepherd’s voice (John 10:3).  

If you’re convinced, come with me and follow the path that Twenty One Pilots have laid, to imitate their artwork as they seem to be imitating Christ’s (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus himself told stories and lived a life that perplexed most, but for those who have ears to hear, he has spoken and lived the very words of life (Mark 4:9-13, Luke 8:8-10, John 6:60-69). Let’s participate in his life, and through our lives invite others to do the same. 

Where Does It Come From?

Where Does It Come From?

Behind every product is a person. Behind every purchase, every consumable, every dish and drink, garment and gas tank, car and cell phone — behind everything we use and abuse and cherish — is a person who made it. A person just like you.

 

But, where does it come from?

I certainly didn’t care about this question for most of my adult life, mostly because I didn’t think about it. That started to change when I got to Kansas City in 2019 and found that everything’s about supporting local business! 

 

Then my world was blown open when I became a small business owner of a coffee company. 

 

Now my first question became: where does my coffee come from?

A couple of friends approached me about becoming entrepreneurs. We tried a bunch of things — exercise programs, creative services, website design — but our constantly evolving mission statement kept coming back to the same thing: we wanted to help people. Whether it was solving a problem or growing a brand, we felt we had a skill set that could benefit others. 

 

Then we started talking with Ervin Liz. He took entrepreneurship classes with my business partner back in college and then went back to his home in Colombia, South America to start a coffee business. 

 

Ervin had seen first hand the poverty of Indigenous coffee farmers and the brokenness of the coffee industry. His parents are farmers, and they were forced to cut down their coffee trees in 2010 because they could not make ends meet. In fact, many in their native Nasa community struggle with this burden due to unfair coffee prices and large coffee producers. So, Ervin built a business selling directly to the consumers in Colombia. By taking out the “middleman” and providing fair prices for high-quality coffee, he was able to pay farmers more.

 

Ervin ultimately had a growing demand from US consumers, and he needed help expanding. We suggested doing some marketing, but instead he invited us on as owners — people with a real stake in this thing, and Native Root Coffee was born. Plus, the coffee was really good, so we couldn’t say no.

The Triple Bottom Line 

In 1994 entrepreneur John Elkington coined the term “triple bottom line,” which stands for people, planet, and profit.

What he may not have realized at the time is that valuing people, planet, and profit actually aligns really well with our faith. 

 

People

As creatures made in God’s image and charged with His creation, we have incredible worth and responsibility — not only to our own bodies (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) but also to others, especially the vulnerable (Matthew 25:44-45). Businesses have power through money and influence, and it’s a decision maker’s responsibility to do right by humanity.  

 

Planet

God made humankind stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:28) but everyone and everything in the universe still belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1). Just as we are made in God’s image, His creation clearly bears His signature (Romans 1:20) and it should be honored in kind.

 

Profit

While the Bible says a lot about money and greed, it also makes it clear that those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully (2 Corinthians 9:6) — it all depends on what you sow. The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) describes investing God’s gifts as a way to create greater things. If a business uses profits to invest in people and the planet, it sows goodness. 

 

Meeting the people behind the coffee

So, where does our coffee come from? Before Native Root, I thought I was fancy by buying the imported German coffee at Aldi for $5, as opposed to the breakfast blend for $3. But the focus was inward — I wanted yummy coffee for myself; that’s it.

Then, Ervin invited us to meet the farmers — first through photos, and then in person.

Our team made the trek to the Togoima Reservation in Colombia, which is about 10 hours south of Bogotá by overnight bus. We got to experience the farm and meet the people first hand. Ervin’s parents, Ana and Isidro, greeted us with limited words — because they spoke the native language Nasa Yuwe — but with unlimited hospitality. 

I have so many stories about our visit that I’d love to share with you if we meet in person. When we left Colombia, we could not stop thinking about the people we’d met — how they interacted with their environment, the hospitality they exuded, and the ways we hoped to help them. 

 

Native Root + the Triple Bottom Line 

 
Profit: 

First and foremost, we pay our farmers. They work the hardest, they produce the coffee, and yet so often they can’t make enough money to live on. Our model pays them higher prices for high-quality beans, and then an additional 10-15% more. Ervin’s parents had to chop down most of their coffee trees because they couldn’t make a living. Now, his parents are thriving — they’ve nearly finished a new house with processing capabilities.

 

People: 

This business model was built with people in mind. When unfair trade is the basic business model, entire communities suffer. These Indigenous farmers are vulnerable to dips in the market, big middlemen who swallow profit, and a lack of resources for major infrastructural improvements. In many ways their community is their strength. Native Root pours into this community with both relationships and resources. We get to know each of our partnered farmers. Our founder Ervin, along with our Colombia CEO, Alcides, physically meet with each farmer to instill intentionality and dignity across the mountain communities. Some of the funds are also used to build up members of our network. Our company raised funds to build an elderly woman a home after her kids left. We also formed relationships with farmers in a nearby reservation who have historically encountered poor access and political turmoil. It’s our goal and our dream to continue building relationships and pouring into more Indigenous communities.

 

Planet: 

Coffee prices shot through the roof recently due to a bean shortage in Brazil. Unusual and extreme weather decimated their coffee crop. The earth’s wellbeing is vital, both for the grand scale of humanity, and for the micro scale of our coffee farms. That’s why we employ sustainable and organic practices. For example, when the seeds are extracted from the cherry, the fruit pulp is reused as a natural fertilizer. The parchment, which is the thin, papery coating around the bean, is usually considered another “waste” product. We use it as fuel for bean drying machinery. Finally, we use a software program to counter our shipping carbon emissions. Shipping is calculated as a monetary number, which is then paid toward conservation efforts. Our contributions of this effort are set up for the Acapa – Bajo Mira y Frontera Forest Conservation Project in Colombia.

 

So, where does your coffee come from? 

Take a deep breath. It’d be nearly impossible to know who made each and every product you use — and less so the motives behind their actions. You’re not a bad person if you don’t know the person behind your soap dispenser (but now I’m curious).

My goal is to increase intentionality. To increase awareness of the products I interact with daily, like my morning coffee. 

Where does it come from? Ask, and find out.

AUTHOR BIO:

Travis Meier attends Christ Community’s Downtown Campus. On Sundays you can usually find him playing bass on the worship team with Aleah Eldridge or sitting with his fiancee, Sarah. He also writes for a local publication called KCtoday, and plays the saxophone in a community band called the Kansas City Wind Symphony.

 

For more information about Native Root you can visit nativerootcoffee.com

 

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

Four Lessons St. Patrick Has for the American Church

It is unfortunate that St. Patrick has become synonymous with wearing green to avoid being pinched, dyeing rivers green, and consuming large quantities of beer while pretending to be Irish. Little is widely known about the tremendous influence that this man had on the nation of Ireland and western Christianity. Patrick is easily one of the most successful Christian missionaries of all time. The indigenous Christian movement he started took root where missionaries had failed. Patrick’s influence grew to even re-evangelize much of western Europe in the centuries following the chaos of the Dark Ages and the decline of the institutional Roman church. His success is especially remarkable considering this was all done without any aid from other institutions of political or cultural power. As the current American church declines and we are in an increasingly post-Christendom world, we would do well to listen to voices like his.

The Life of Patrick

Patrick was born in roughly 389 AD to upper-middle-class parents in the British part of the Roman Empire. This was only a few years after Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Empire and Christendom was established. Patrick’s father was a Christian deacon and a member of the city council, both highly respected roles. His grandfather was a priest, so it would be fitting to characterize his family as a pious one with high social standing. Despite this, Patrick described his own Christian upbringing as nominal at best.

A drastic change to this life of privilege happened when Patrick was 16. A band of Irish warriors raided his town, and he was taken away to Ireland, outside of the Empire, in captivity. He worked as a slave herding pigs for six years. Finally, apart from his complacent life where he tacitly accepted nominal Christianity, Patrick was forced to consider the ramifications of his faith. In his own words, “the Lord opened the sense of my unbelief.” He began to pray daily and call out to God to sustain and deliver him. His interaction with the religious beliefs of the Irish also strengthened his faith. Their belief in multiple gods and spirits that roamed throughout the land needing to be appeased aroused a deep sense of peace from the security he had in Christ.

After spending six years in Ireland, he received a vision that encouraged him to escape. While sleeping, he heard a voice tell him to rise and find a ship to take him home. He awoke, ran down to a nearby port, and found a ship that took him away from Ireland. He went to Gaul (modern day France) and spent some time learning and living at a monastery in Lerins. Although he felt called to live a life with common men, during this time he developed a strong appreciation for the monastic rule of life. When he left the monastery he returned to Britain to be reunited with his relatives. Later, at the age of 48, he received his version of the ‘Macedonian call’ (Acts 16:6-10). In a dream an angel brought him letters from his former captors in Ireland, and he heard their voices cry out “we appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.” After consulting with the bishops of the British Church, he was ordained a bishop and sent out to Ireland in a missionary band.

His method differed greatly from other Roman missionaries of his time. Instead of forcing conquered “barbarians’’ to convert or waiting for them to come to him as spiritual inquirers, Patrick and his companions would set up a community of faith in each village they visited. They would practice a monastic life of prayer and work, not in a cloister far from society but in the midst of the Irish. As they looked for receptive villagers, the band would pray for the sick, exorcize demons, and mediate conflicts. They were interested in the felt needs of the communities, even regularly praying for fish in the village river. In open-air settings, Patrick would speak about the gospel, using his vast knowledge of Irish culture to communicate the gospel in a way that would connect with them. Parables, symbols, drama, and other visuals were used because of the Irish people’s vivid imagination. Responsive villagers would join the monastic community and partake in their practices.

After a few months, a church would be officially born and the new converts would be baptized. Patrick’s group would leave behind a priest and a few others to continue instruction in Christian doctrine, but take some of the converted villagers with them as they moved on to the next village. It is estimated that Patrick started 700 churches, commissioned 1000 priests, and reached 40 out of the 150 tribes in Ireland, during his 28 year ministry.

Four Lessons for Us

1. The gospel is central.

Patrick’s ministry was rooted in a profound belief that humanity’s only hope was God’s intervention of grace through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. His personal experience of liberation from slavery by divine intervention no doubt made this truth a vivid reality for him. Each of his surviving writings begins with the words: “I, Patrick, a sinner.” This humility was not from self-loathing, but from an honest recognition of his need for a savior. Patrick was zealous to maintain that salvation is a result of God’s work of grace, in opposition to his contemporary fellow British monk, Pelagius, who taught human effort alone was enough to be saved. Patrick’s strong conviction that the unconverted would suffer damnation and had no hope apart from Christ motivated him to return to his former captors to share the good news with them.

The Church today should never grow weary of proclaiming the gospel and trusting in God’s grace. We should take care and not water down the biblical gospel. We must also be zealous like Patrick so that the good news does not become old hat.

2. The gospel changes everything.

Patrick’s missionary bands differed significantly from Roman missionary models by doing their Christian life in the midst of pagan communities. Patrick himself was deeply influenced by the Irish reverence for nature and so developed a sacramental vision of all of life, where the line between the natural and spiritual was paper-thin. Work was an integral part of their monastic life and not a distraction from it. Their concern for the economic realities of their Irish neighbors bolstered their witness.

One of the greatest dangers facing the church today is the unbiblical distortion that creates a sharp sacred-secular divide. This can lead us to believe our Monday work does not matter to a Sunday-focused God. As our culture becomes increasingly post-Christian and the influence of the institutional church wanes, we need to be faithful disciples of Jesus in the particular places He has us the majority of our week.

3. The gospel demands justice and reconciliation.

Similar to the previous lesson, the gospel Patrick preached did not only restore sinners to God but also led them to love one another and pursue justice and peace. In his writing, Epistola, he writes a letter rebuking a nominal-Christian warlord named Coroticus. He had raided some of Patrick’s converts and taken recently baptized women off as slaves. Patrick commands him to release them because he is compelled by “the zeal of God, the truth of Christ… (and) the love of (his) nearest neighbors.” His concern for justice and the flourishing of the Irish was also evident in how he ended the slave trade in that region. Patrick earned the respect of various Irish tribes by acting as a broker for peace to end conflict between clans. His evangelistic effectiveness was integral to his concern for the whole-life flourishing of the Irish.

The American Church would do well to follow Patrick’s footsteps. As we allow the gospel to speak to all of life, it will inevitably move us to work toward a society that is ordered by God’s justice and enables the flourishing of all.

4. The gospel is lived out together.

Though Patrick gets all the recognition and a holiday all to himself, we must never forget that he did not evangelize the Irish by himself. He was not a lone ranger, solo-climber, or solitary pioneer that set out on his own. Patrick owes much of its success to the many unknown members of his missionary bands that evangelized together. They demonstrated a different way of being in community among the Irish that became a compelling witness. Rather than requiring a profession of belief from ‘barbarians’ before partaking in Christian community like the Roman church, they recognized that belonging often precedes belief. Irish inquirers could join their monastic community, “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good” by experiencing the care of His people before making intellectual assent to Christian doctrine.

In a similar way, the American church will go nowhere relying on its celebrity leaders. It takes communities of extra-ordinary believers doing life together so that others can be drawn in to experience the reality that the gospel changes everything.

Let us take time this St. Patty’s day, in addition to any other celebration, to thank God for the work He did through St. Patrick and his friends. Let us also consider how we might emulate him by being a faithful, gospel-centered presence in our communities.

Should We Return To Normalcy?

Should We Return To Normalcy?

After having our lives so disrupted with the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are experiencing a sense of relief and joyful exhilaration in returning to a more normal life. It is great to be gathering with friends again, worshiping in person with our church family and enjoying fun vacation traveling. But should we return to pre-pandemic normalcy? While not minimizing the great pain, loss and lingering negative impacts of the pandemic, by simply returning to pre-pandemic normalcy we may miss a golden opportunity. Could the rugged pandemic terrain of testing, trials, disruption and difficulties actually be an unusual grace gift to us? 

As the Apostle James opens his inspired epistle, he frames the trials and difficulties that come into our lives as a gift. In The Message, Eugene Peterson beautifully  paraphrases James’ words. 

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well developed, not deficient in any way.” (James 1:2-4) 

Reflecting on the Apostle James’ words, I would like to suggest the COVID-19 pandemic has given each of us at least three amazing gifts.

First, we have been given a grace gift of needed insight into the true state of our spiritual formation. Eugene Peterson describes our faith life being forced into the open and showing its true colors. I have often said that many people (including me) have not been their best selves during the pandemic. While I believe that is a true observation, I also believe there is more we must honestly say. The pandemic crucible has not only amplified our weaknesses, it has, like a mirror, also revealed the true colors of our lack of spiritual and virtue formation. A pastor friend of mine made the comment that the pandemic had uncomfortably revealed to him his heart idols as well as his glaring lack of Christ-like character. The pandemic pried open a revealing window into our inner worlds. What grace gift of needed insight into your life have you been given? What needs greater attention in your inner world? 

Secondly, we have been given a grace gift prodding us to make needed changes in our daily lives. Eugene Peterson reminds us not to prematurely jump back into well-worn ruts of the status quo. For many of us, the pre-pandemic frenzied pace of our overly scheduled, distracted lives was detrimental to our spiritual growth, our relationships, our workplaces, our faith community and our Sabbath rest. Rather than jump immediately back into the unhealthy lifestyles many of us were living before the pandemic, how might we rearrange our priorities and carve out new rhythms that are more God-honoring, spiritually formative, relationally deepening and integrally whole? For many of us our work dynamics have significantly changed and this gives us a unique opportunity to evaluate our workplace patterns, sustainability and effectiveness. A member of our church family whose work had led him to do too much traveling said to me, Tom, I am reevaluating the whole business travel thing. I am going to use video technology more and travel less.”  What grace gift for needed change have you been given? What lifestyle changes do you need to make? 

Third, we have been given a grace gift catalyzing needed growth in our lives. In his paraphrase Eugene Peterson encourages each one of us to let the trials, testing difficulties, and disruptions of a pandemic lead us down the path of increasing growth and maturity. The pandemic has been a time of pruning and while pruning is often painful, it is purposeful. Pruning offers new growth, renewed hope and greater flourishing. Eugene Peterson paraphrases the Apostle Paul’s wise and hopeful words. 

“There is more to come. We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.”  (Romans 5:3-4)  

What pruning needs to take place for new growth in your life? 

In many ways, the pandemic has been a gift; a gift that brings needed insight, needed change and needed growth. Instead of returning to normalcy, let’s embrace lifestyles that lead to greater relational intimacy, deeper spiritual formation, wiser work patterns and greater human flourishing. A pandemic is a terrible thing to waste.  

 

 

 

Why Are You a Christian?

Why Are You a Christian?

A few years ago, Dr. Peter Berger, the preeminent sociologist of our time, came to Christ Community for a conversation about religious faith. After eloquently expressing the formidable plausibility challenges of faith in our late modern western world, Dr. Berger was asked if he considered himself a Christian and if so why? This more personal question seemed to take the towering intellect and prestigious academic by surprise. Dr. Berger paused for a moment, then pensively looked up and said, I do consider myself a Christian. Another thoughtful question emerged. Dr. Berger, Why are you a Christian?” Dr. Berger then pointed out his belief that something occurred over 2000 years ago on Easter morning that cannot be explained away, something that had spoken hope into his life and to the world. For Dr. Berger, an empty tomb is what made all the difference. 

As a faith community on Easter morning we once again peer into the empty tomb and hear the Gospel writers hope-filled words, He is not here, He is risen!

Do we grasp with heart and mind the massive significance of those words? As we prepare to celebrate Easter, let us be reminded that we are Christians because we truly believe there was an empty tomb. The Apostle Paul banked his entire life on the bedrock truth of Jesus‘ bodily resurrection. For Paul, the very crescendo of the Gospel was “the fact Christ has been raised from the dead…. (1 Corinthians 15:20) Peering into the empty tomb of our Lord and Savior who conquered death makes all the difference in our lives and our world. Not only does the empty tomb point to our own resurrection from the dead and a joy-filled eternity with our risen Lord, it also speaks loudly to the importance and meaning of the vocations of our present daily lives. 

Writing to the local church at Corinth, Paul concludes his masterpiece chapter on the bodily resurrection with an exhortation of living the resurrection life in our daily work. Paul concludes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers and sisters, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58) As we prepare to celebrate the glorious good news of Easter, may our hearts be filled with a renewed hope that there is life beyond the grave, that as image bearers of the one true God, we are never ceasing spiritual beings with a grand eternal destiny in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Let us also be reminded that our lives here and now in this small moment we call time, really matter. Peering into the empty tomb, may we hear and heed the words of the Apostle Paul encouraging us to live resurrection lives each and every day wherever God has called us to serve. Paul writes to the local church at Colossae, Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24) Resurrection hope not only greets us at the grave, but also on Monday when we enter our paid and non-paid workplaces.