Archive for September, 2006

misc. items

We’re now under occupation.

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jesus-camp-180.jpgThere are two documentaries coming out soon that paint “Christianity” in a less-than-favorable tone. There’s Jesus Camp, which tells the story of one summer camp where kids as young as 6 are being enlisted to fight against the popular culture in “God’s Army.” It’s hard to explain why this makes me feel slightly nausious … just watch the trailer. GKB has had a few good posts about the movie, and was even interviewed about his feelings on the BBC.

The other movie that makes me more than slightly nauseous is Deliver Us From Evil, an award-winning documentary about the tragic Catholic church abuse scandal. This story was, of course, HUGE news here in Boston a few years back, and the spiritual wreckage from that scandal — and apparent cover-up — still remains here. I cannot even begin to imagine how many people’s lives — and often faiths — were destroyed because of selfishness and evil within an institution that so many people used to trust.

the most important ministry lesson I’ve ever learned:

hurried man.jpgSlow down.

Seriously.

Now, take a deep breath, count to 10, and let that sit for a few.

Was that hard? Oh, it’s hard for us too, but it’s getting easier.

I’ve blogged about Sabbath a few times before (here and here, for instance), but a weekly period of rest is not particularly the focus of this post.

I want to talk about what happens the rest of the week.

When I look around me, I see people bent on productivity, busyness, full day planners, and schedule-making. And that’s just the Christians. Many of us have bought the lie that the faster we go, the busier we are — the better. We have bought the old American lie of productivity.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

We’ve all heard it a jillion times. It’s half of “the Law boiled down,” according to Jesus. But how often do we remember to love ourselves? I mean “love” in the deepest sense of the term, in the same way that we are loving others? Do we believe that the second part (as yourself) of this commandment of Jesus is as important as the first (love your neighbor)?

Since we’ve been in Boston, Chrissy and I have covenented with each other and some of our friends that if we were going to be in the “loving others” business, we would make sure we loved ourselves first. This includes eating right, exercise, and all that, but it also includes avoiding the franetic pace of life known by so many American Christians. We purposefully limit the number of nights per week that we are out of the house. We don’t work “overtime” at work and school. We use the weekend to rest. We set aside an entire day (Sundays for us) where we do nothing.

Several reasons exist for why this is important to us:

First, it opens us up for more spontaneous movements of God in and through us. If every second of our week is planned out in advance, can we really expect random “God moments” to happen through and to us on a regular basis? For instance, we stayed in on Monday night. As a result, Chrissy spent more than an hour in our downstairs neighbor’s home encouraging her about the job she just got (and in essence, showing the love of Christ!). This wasn’t planned or programmed, but it happened because Chrissy was available for a spontaneous “God moment.”

Second, it conveys the kingdom principle that Christ’s “yoke is easy and his burden light.” Let me explain: We want to “pass along” a faith to our neighbors and co-workers that is not fast-paced, hurried, frenzied, stressed-out, programmed, scheduled… So many Christian families are so busy with “church stuff,” running from one Bible Study and pizza party to the next. What are we communicating to the pre-Christians with whom we come in contact? Would anyone want to sign on to such a gospel? We believe that the gospel makes claims on how we spend our time, and that these claims are refreshing to a go-go-go world.

Third, we need it. Jesus told some of his critics this one time that the Sabbath wasn’t created for God, but for man. Somewhere toward the beginning of the human race, God realized that humanity that works and plays hard needs adequate rest as well. We cannot run on fumes and be effective in the kingdom of God — not for long, at least. Rhythms of slowness and rest were built into the original plan of our Creator. That should count for something!

(there are certainly not just three reasons for a sane rhythm of life … I would welcome anyone’s additions to this partial list)

If you haven’t noticed, I’m talking about more than just observing a weekly Sabbath here. A prolonged period of rest each week is important (and has blessed Chrissy and me immensely), but I’m talking more about what my friend Adam Kirkland calls “Sabbathizing” your life. It’s more of a “rhythm of rest” that permeates the entire life of a Christ-follower. Sanity, if you will. This is in part a recognition that in God’s ideal world, we’re never anxious, out-of-control or stretched thin. Seeking a sane rhythm of life is sort of like grasping for another deposit of God’s in-breaking kingdom — the way of Jesus — in this world, starting with me.

This is counter-intuitive to us, so I know it’s not something that one perfects overnight. It’s really a spiritual discipline, and one that takes intentionality and a heckuva lot of work. I have seen so many Christians run out of gas because in an attempt to love as many people as they possibly can, they have ignored Jesus’ command to love themselves first. Slowing down is one crucial way that we can do this, and it has been our experience that divine things take place when God’s people obey.

Is there a more important ministry practice than this?

Be blessed today. (and slow down, for Pete’s sake!)

holy rage

What is the task of the preacher (or the church) today?
Shall I answer: “Faith, hope and love”?
That sounds beautiful.
But I would say â&emdash; Courage.
No, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth.

Our task today is recklessness.
For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature,
We lack a holy rage.

The recklessness that comes from the knowledge of God and humanity.
The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets . .
and when the lie rages across the face of the earth &emdash;
a holy anger about things that are wrong in the world.

To rage against the ravaging of God’s earth,
and the destruction of God’s world.
To rage when little children must die of hunger,
when the tables of the rich are sagging with food.
To rage at senseless killing of so many,
and against the madness of the militaries.
To rage at the lie that calls the threat of death and the strategy of destruction â&emdash; peace.
To rage against complacency.
To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change
human history until it conforms with the norms of the kingdom of God.

And remember the signs of the Christian church have always been &emdash;
the Lion, the Lamb, the Dove and the Fish &emdash;
but never the chameleon.

— Danish Pastor Kaj Munk, as quoted in Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post Christian Culture, by Michael Frost

safe places

Fred Peatrosss has continually blessed me with his writing, specifically the stuff he’s done for Next-Wave E-Zine. He’s a missional Christian with roots in the Restoration Movement who, according to his profile on Next-Wave, “makes a habit of creating safe places for pre-Christians.”

Listen to what he has to say about “safe places” as they relate to our relationships with not-yet-Christians (the whole article, titled “Fellow Explorer, Sometimes Guide,” can be found here:

Creating safe places offers nothing new or beyond the model Jesus gave us almost 2,000 years ago. God became flesh and joined the indigenous practices of His culture. Now it’s our time to embed the message of Jesus into the emerging culture of our day. (I’m indebted to Brain McLaren for this terminology.) Flesh is encoded culturally and historically and is socially constructed.

Safe places stand as a corrective to the prevailing mentality of the church and its uncanny addiction to centripetal ministries, which attempts to drag seekers into its gig. Jesus wasn’t centripetal but centrifugal. The four walls of a church building should simply serve as a location for training loyal apprentices how to leak the life of Jesus to the people around them. Portable spirituality is the ministry of Jesus.

The tradition of primarily using church facilities for activities to bring people closer to the presence of God is not the creation of “safe places.” Church buildings are owned and managed by the church, sometimes to good effect but always subordinate to some other purpose. God’s people would come closer to fulfilling the mission requirements of the emerging culture if they could define the common ground in such a way that it is not directly under the control of the organized church. This is the significance of the boundary between the sanctuary and the “Court of the Gentiles” â&emdash;such as, believers must come out of the church in order to play on the common ground. They do not cease to be believers, but the rules of the game have changed.

Though I think many Christians have made amazing strides in moving toward a more Christ-imitating practice of everyday mission, so many of us have so far to go. We have such a hard time thinking beyond what we can buy, maintain, and control. We have such a hard time thinking beyond hard, quantifiable results of our ministry.

This is evident even in many emergent/emerging churches, which have often taken baby steps toward incarnational ministry while in essence maintaining a primarily attractional structure. Many of the changes have been aesthetic, whether it be fresh worship music, soft couches, incense and candles, or art-decorated sanctuaries. Unfortunately, the DNA of these churches has often remained the same.

Peatross raises some important questions about where ministry happens, specifically among pre-Christians. We must begin to see ministry as happening not only in our padded sanctuaries and fully functional gymnasiums, but in the rhythms of everyday life — on their turf.

ibuprofen

me running.jpgWell, at about 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, myself and 11 others pulled into Hampton Beach, NH. Nice place. Kinda “honky-tonk,” as my Ivy League-educated friends described it, but I thought it was a nice place. Why were we in Hampton Beach, NH, you ask, and why were there 12 of us?

Simple: We ran there. 210 miles. From Bretton Woods, NH, a ski area in the middle of the state.

It was called the Reach the Beach Relay (check out www.rtbrelay.com for more details, plus photos of past years), and it’s a unique field of runners, as you’d imagine. Each runner on the team of 12 runs three legs, with up to 8 hours (depending on how fast the team is running) between each leg. So it’s like running three full-speed races in 30 hours’ time. My legs were 1, 13, and 25.

No. 1 was only a 5K (3.1 miles) — up a ski slope at 9 in the morning (the race’s first leg)! Yeah, I increased 1,000 feet in elevation in 1.5 miles (the toughest run I’ve ever experienced) and then ran back down. It was cool, though, because the mountain (Bretton Woods Ski Area) was the one that Bode Miller — the U.S. skier who choked at the winter Olympics earlier this year — trains on.

No. 2 was an easy 3.8 over flat terrain at 5:30 p.m., which wasn’t too much of a problem. The legs were definitely a little heavy from the run that morning, but I ran pretty fast and felt good.
No. 3 was a little harder. It was 8.9 miles. Throw in some monster hills and the fact that the leg started at 5 a.m. (on only 2 hours of sleep), and things get interesting. But I actually smoked the last leg, starting off conservatively, then laying it on the line the rest of the race. Ended up averaging 7-minute miles over the leg, which turned out to be (unbeknownst to me) 9.4 miles instead of the published 8.9. After that, I was completely shot. My legs were gone.

Our team, mixed in terms of age, gender, and skill level, actually ended up finishing in under 30 hours (the fastest teams did it in around 22!), averaging 8 minutes, 26 seconds per mile over the 210 miles. I think we all surprised ourselves at how well the team did.

Anyway, I say all that to tell you this: I’m sore. Very sore. Can hardly walk up and down stairs. My calves and hammies are livid at me right now for what I did to them this weekend. It’s OK, though — they’ll heal, and I’ll run again.

(for a better idea of what the weekend was like, watch this video)

the challenges of traditional church in my neighborhood

As we spend more and more time in our new Boston neighborhood — in people’s homes or chatting in the park — we become even more convicted that the modes of evangelism that “worked” in the Bible Belt are moot on our block. (I’m growing more and more convinced that modes of evangelism that “work” in the Bible Belt — mainly the “if we build it, then they’ll come” model — have worn out their welcome even in the Bible Belt, but that’s a different post…)

One of the main reasons is the sheer diversity that exists in East Boston. There are over 56 nationalities that people in our zip code are a part of, and they speak over 20 languages. That’s one zip code in Boston.

As I asked in a post a few days ago, do we believe that God cares about the people of Boston — and the world — infinitely more than we do? Mateo correctly pointed out in the comments section a few days ago that though we often give this idea lip service, we seldom live it out. We rely too heavily on our own methodology or pragmatism. But Revelation paints a beautiful picture of a banquet at the end of time at which “every tribe, tongue, and nation” are represented at the banquet table of the Lord. This means every diverse people group from every socio-economic bracket imagineable. Not just “postmoderns” or college-aged or White Anglo-Saxon Protestants or African Americans — the Afghan, Argentine, Spanish, and Ukrainian children of God will be present as well.

Do our current church planting/evangelism methods account for this great diversity of God’s children, many of whom live right around us?

We’ve been asking the question, “What would it take to see a vibrant family of Jesus in close reach — culturally and geographically — of every person in East Boston?” Well, for one, we need someone who speaks Khmer, the native language of the Khmer people in Cambodia, to communicate the gospel in that dialect while modeling the Way of Jesus in a culturally relevant form (there are 36 people in my zip code who put Khmer as their “language spoken at home”). And what about the 10,319 people (in 2000, mind you) in my zip code who speak Spanish at home? (from experience, most of these people speak Spanish when they’re not at home as well) And who is considering how the hundreds of Islamic people in my zip code will not simply accept a proposition about the existence and divinity of Jesus Christ, but will follow Him?

Believing that God will use us to reach a cornucopia of people besides the WASP types we’ve grown up knowing means recognizing that our limited methods and strategies are just that — limited. Can just one church reach all 56 people groups in East Boston? Can 10 churches? Can 100 churches? Well, if we redefine what “church” means, then maybe. If “church” means “radical followers of Jesus hearing their master’s voice and following His lead,” then watch out. This will take us among the East Bostonians from Greece, Guatemala, and Guyana, and to those speaking Polish, Portuguese and Persian. We will begin to incarnate the love of Christ among the people — all the people — that God loves so dearly, and transformation will begin to take place. God will add to his church those who are “red and yellow, black and white.”

The best news is that Steve and Chrissy aren’t responsible for making disciples of every person in these 56 people groups (and those are just the people groups as they are broken down by nationality … imagine if we broke down people groups in terms of interests, socio-economic status, neighborhoods, social group…). God added to the church those who were being saved in the Book of Acts, and we believe He will not only do this in Boston today — He will commission and send Khmer-speaking Cambodian Christians back to their own people to live out the Way of Christ. Moroccans will begin to speak of one from whom they do not need to earn their way to heaven.

Our responsibility is simply to listen to our Master and do what he says, going in love to “all the world.” For us, “all the world” can be found within two square miles.

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Note: Originally, I titled this post, “why traditional church won’t work in my neighborhood,” but at 1:07 a.m. I got up and changed the title to the one you see now. God is using several forms and structures of Christian community in East Boston to reach the diverse people groups here, and for that I am grateful. Diversity — even in ecclesiology — is beautiful. What I am calling for is a deeper and more imaginative faith in what God can do through us to facilitate the planting of “vibrant families of Jesus within close reach — culturally and geographically — of every resident of Eastie.” This takes faith, and it takes all of us.

You can see all the nationalities and languages in my zip code by clicking here, clicking “search by zip code,” and entering “02128.” I’d encourage you to do the same for your zip code. You might be surprise who lives next door.

Latest Barna Findings

barna chart.jpg

Source: http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrowPreview&BarnaUpdateID=245

This research is certainly consistent with Thom Rainer’s numbers from a few years ago that said the Builder Generation (ages 14-27) is the least churched age bracket in the U.S.: just 4%.