Rediscovering what it means to be the church

Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? …It worthless.”

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.

  •  It’s not about buildings, it’s about people
  • It’s not about membership, it’s about discipleship
  • It’s not about performance, it’s about presence
  • It’s not even about success, it’s about obedience

Looking Deeper:

1)It’s not about buildings, it’s about people

We’d all love to have great buildings b/c people like great buildings & cool spaces, but remember the early church, where did they meet? Wherever they could. Homes, under trees, the steps of the Temple, caves, wherever. No one had a building that was referred to as a church till about the time of Constantine in 4th century. In many ways the church is beginning to return to these early roots. Anchor Mission churches meet in coffee shops and schools, and basements, and storefronts more than we do in actual church buildings. Non of that matters because it’s about the people & not the building.

2) It’s not about membership, it’s about discipleship

It’s been called the ABCs of ministry, (attendance, buildings, cash) America’s church often has fuzzy vision that resembles the materialism and values of the corporate world model; but our call is the call of the early church; to real discipleship, to make disciples. All other things serve that goal, not vice-versa.

At the end of the day did we take Jesus at His word and “Go, make disciples” or did we grow our membership? There is a difference. As disciple-makers  we seek to encourage each other not to buy into the corporate church model.

3) It’s not about performance, it’s about presence

Of course we want to do all we can to do a good job, do things well, “professional”, decently and  in order; but at the end of the day we need the spirit leading and anointing what we do. As Paul said “I didn’t come to you with men’s wisdom but with the spirit”.

An example of what I’m talking about is music and worship in the early church. Paul, James and others instructed that the church support each other with songs, hymns, spiritual songs, words of wisdom, and scripture. But by the 4th century congregational singing was quickly diminishing, being replaced with performance chiors, which required  up to 9 years of training to sing in Latin. It had become about performance and not necessarily about presence. For 1000 years that’s pretty much how it was. One thing the reformation returned to the church was congregational singing, thousands more voices praising God. This trickled down via hymns, to the camp meetings, and then to Calvary the new expressions of worship of today.

Things should be done well. It’s important to do all things as best we can, but it’s more important to do so seeking Gods presence, seeking intimacy with Him, being focused on Him & not ourselves. It’s about presence. As a group we seek the presence of God.

4) It’s not even about success, it’s about obedience

We all want to be successful, to pay our bills doing what we love, to be known and respected for what we do.

According to the world’s standards John the Baptist was a failure, Isaiah-failure, Jeremiah-failure, Paul-failure. The early church, leaders of the early church were not called to be successful; they were called to live by the truth, and to make disciples. Often this meant death, persecution, or at least suspicion by a jaded and un-trusting world.

You’ve not been called to succeed, you’ve been called to be obedient, to try, to pick up your cross and follow him. Bonhoeffer says you’ve been called to DIE. You’ve been called to obedience, not necessarily success. As church planters we encourage each other to obedience.

At the end of the day all that matters is if you were obedient. All that matters is if it was all about presence and not performance…about discipleship and not membership, about people and not about a building. At the end of the day all that matters is if you took God at his word and encouraged people along their path to go forward on their journey with Jesus. Did you call them forward on that journey or not? That’s all that matters.

In the words of Saint Francis: “We’ve been called to heal wound, unite what has fallen apart, and bring home those who have lost their way…” We need to return to this simplicity often;  just what it means to be the church.

Real Humility Is The Hardest Thing

The Litany of Humility cannot help but to offend our 21st century American sensibilities, and that is precisely why we should wrestle with it at least a little. Even if hyperbole, it gives pause, it sucks the oxygen out of the room and makes us uncomfortable, and we realize how centered we are on self. It was written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X. 

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved,
From the desire of being extolled,
From the desire of being honored,
From the desire of being praised,
From the desire of being preferred to others,
From the desire of being consulted,
From the desire of being approved,
From the fear of being humiliated,
From the fear of being despised,
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
From the fear of being calumniated,
From the fear of being forgotten,
From the fear of being ridiculed,
From the fear of being wronged,
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it. (repeat after each following line)
That others may be esteemed more than I,
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease,
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
That others may be praised and I unnoticed,
That others may be preferred to me in everything,
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

 

Are You Worried That You’re Not Worried

What are you afraid of?

Most have a fear, phobia or neurosis: spiders, snakes, heights, tight spaces, going broke;

What are you worried about? It’s a slightly different question: Finances, health, unemployment , situations, relationships, it can be endless. So what’s the problem with worry? Let’s define.

Worry: “to fret, be anxious, overwhelmed, even paralyzed”

Wyrgan: Old English “to strangle”

Merizo: Greek “to be drawn different directions, divided, distracted”

So, paralyzed, strangled, drawn and quartered pretty much sums it up.

You are probably neck-deep into worry if it’s the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about at night, when it’s your constant topic, and when you’re wide awake at 4am, and when you’re not thinking about it… you’re worried that you’re worried… or worried that you’re not worried.

What we worry about can be, or become a little false god or idol in our life.  Jesus said “No one can serve two masters” False god’s love for you to worry. Father-God does not.

One of the biggest challenges in the life of a disciple is the willingness to develop trust, reliance, and dependence on God. This is our primary aim and goal, yet it is an uncomfortable one at times. He truly doesn’t want us to worry but to live life to the full! Instead of any false god that ultimately cannot deliver and cannot satisfy, He wants us to “Seek first the kingdom of God”. If…

“WORRY is an indication that we think God cannot look after us…”

~ Oswald Chambers

and if…

“No Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as anxiety…”

~ Soren Kierkegaard

Then Jesus instructed us not to worry because He has more for us than that. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. (Matthew 6:33 nlt)

Eulogy for Saint John the Baptist

John the Baptizer
John who’d lept in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary came near
John who’d baptized by the River Jordan
John, who when seeing Jesus exclaimed
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”
The first Old Testament prophet in 400 years
Calling Israel to repentance
Calling them to look for Messiah
and like Elijah, calling out the sins of the King

John, baptizing Jesus at his insistence while exclaiming
“I need to be baptized by you”
John, who said “He must increase, I must decrease”
Who was thrown into Jail by Herod
John, who asked Jesus
“Are you the one-or do we seek another yet to come…”
John, who was put to death
because of a king’s debaucherous and drunken diversion

Of whom Jesus said
“What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes! And more than that…”

The powers of this world never understand the anointing of God.
To them they seem foolish, crazy, inconsequential…

Such was John:
Walking about in a rough shirt made of animal hair and eating locusts and honey
Yet the foolish things of God confound the wise
And that which seems insignificant to the world of influencers
is of great significance to the Kingdom of God.
John performed no miracles
Yet his calling to Israel for repentance was truly miraculous

John considered
A Pearl of Great Price
And sold everything to have it.
He considered the Treasure hidden in the field
And bought the farm to obtain it.

He was humble
He was God’s mule
Doing the work he’d been harnessed to do.
He was a dollar in God’s pocket to spend however God saw fit
And God spent him well.

At the same time
the world was not worthy of him as he wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves…
Exclaiming
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
Make straight his paths
Every mountain will be brought low
And every valley filled
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.”

John was the forerunner of the kingdom
exclaiming that the messiah was coming!
A herald with a message

And in many ways
He is the example of what the church is to be today…

In a few weeks we’ll begin the season of Advent
We look back to Jesus’ 1st coming
The baby in a manger
Who for us and our salvation
Came down from heaven and became a man
By the power of the Holy Spirit
Born unto the virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate
Was crucified, died, was buried
And on the 3rd day he rose again in accordance with scripture…

In Advent we remember Jesus’ 1st coming
But we also look forward to his second coming
As a victorious King of a Kingdom
Where every wrong is made right
And every tear is wiped away
And where God has made for himself a people
From every tribe and tongue and nation…

And like John
we live in between the times
Of what has been and what will be

And WE the church are like John the Baptist
We are a voice of one crying in the wilderness
“Prepare the way of the Lord”
Make straight a pathway to your heart!

Let’s Pray
Almighty God,
by your providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of our Lord
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
And example,
May your church be constant to speak the truth,
Even boldly when necessary, like John,
and patient to suffer for the truth’s sake when necessary;
And may we take joy in proclaiming the coming
Advent of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
Who will come again.
Keep your church
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Society of Rage & Saint Francis’ Other Way

Recently my college friend Ed Stetzer, who is at Wheaton College as Exec. Director of the Billy Graham Center, published a book titled Christians In The Age Of Outrage. I’m so glad Ed put this book together, it’s something I, and I’m sure others, have been thinking on and wrestling with for several years now as we watch our society become less and less civil in public discourse. The following is an article I wrote two years ago on the subject specifically exploring how we should conduct ourselves as Kingdom People in a turbulent world.

The Rule of Saint Francis for regular people belonging to a secular order, known as the 3rd order, was first penned in the early 13th century. Third Order Franciscans work their jobs, raise their kids, and live into the Franciscan ideas of generosity, love, and prayer while surround by, and participating in, the world around them.

I first read the rule, around 2005, as an oblate in The Company of Jesus, a blended Franciscan, Benedictine, and Celtic third order now associated with ACNA under the Diocese of the Great Lakes. As I read the rule it seemed foreign and antiquated to me in some places, but also oddly relevant and fresh in others. I felt I had discovered a long forgotten treasure that is vitally needed today.

In chapter 4 of The Rule of Saint Francis, The Way To Serve And Work, we find this:

Let the sisters and brothers be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, mild and humble, speaking respectfully to all in accord with their vocation. Wherever they are, or wherever they go throughout the world they should not be quarrelsome, contentious, or judgmental towards others. Rather, it should be obvious that they are “joyful, good-humoured,” and happy “in the Lord” as they ought to be (c.f. Philippians 4:4). And in greeting others, let them say, “The Lord give you peace.”

Speaking Peace to the World
In a day and age of rage that does not produce the righteousness of God, the Franciscan Rule challenges us to live life in a stark contrast to what we witness on TV, and in the news. Bad news brings good ratings, but good news brings life to those all around.

The spirit of Francis’ words challenge us to be gentle, peaceful, unassuming, mild and humble, being respectful to all. These things bring life and peace in society. To be quarrelsome, contentious, and judgmental can rob society of blessing, shows our own tendency toward hypocrisy, and reveal our own blindness to our unfairness and our sin. Francis admonishes us to speak peace over our world, but that we must be sure to first allow peace to have its place in our own hearts.

The Challenge of Peace
Francis says we should be joyful, good-humoured, and happy. We ought to be. When I remember and center myself on Jesus, and his love for me, I am happy and at peace. It is challenging to live this kind of life, but I know it is also the best way to live. It’s the best way to dismantle the atomic bomb of hatred, rage, anger, and un-peace so prevalent now in our culture.

It is completely counter-cultural in our context to be happy, kind, and nice. It was probably somewhat counter-cultural in Francis’ day too, or he would not have made such a point of it.

Real Power
I confess to you, sometimes I struggle to bless instead of curse the person who is inconsiderate, blindly opinionated, or who cuts me off in traffic. Am I the only one? My challenge is to have peace on my lips, and also in my heart towards that person, as much of the time as I can be mindful to do so.

How about you? This may not sound like real power to the conventional structures of our world, but it is power, first according to Christ, and also according to Saint Francis. It is great power, real power that heals and gives new life. “Pax et bonum!”, “Peace and all good!” is a traditional Franciscan greeting.

May the Lord give you peace as you go, and may you also spread peace to those around you, and to the world!

(originally published at Anglican Pastor dotcom in September 2016)

Despicable Beloved

Great insight from 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence:

“I regard myself as the most wretched of all men, stinking and covered with sores, and as one who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King. Overcome by remorse, I confess all my wickedness to Him, ask His pardon and abandon myself entirely to Him to do with as He will. But this King, filled with goodness and mercy, far from chastising me, lovingly embraces me, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the keys of His treasures and treats me as His favorite. He talks with me and is delighted with me in a thousand and one ways; He forgives me and relieves me of my principle bad habits without talking about them; I beg Him to make me according to His heart and always the more weak and despicable I see myself to be, the more beloved I am of God.”
― Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God

Go To The Humble Places, Be An Icon Of Christ

Go to the humble places, be an icon of Christ there…

“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop, within a yard of hell.”

― Charles Thomas Studd, English missionary

Humbleness and Success
Often people are known, their names are recognized, usually because they are in big, important places, with titles and accolades. Most of us have a desire to be recognized, esteemed, and seen as an important contributor. This is called success, It requires hard work, the right connections are very helpful, and sometimes being at the right place at the right time is crucial.

Humble places require only a willingness and obedience to go and serve. In other words, it requires nothing less than everything (to quote T.S. Eliot), which also includes much hard work. Few desire unacknowledged silent service. Few seem available for the beginning of something when no one is noticing, the small start, the humble place. No one knew who Saint Francis was in the beginning, and he didn’t care. But the order quickly grew to the point that it was ultimately strongly encouraged that he abdicate leadership of the Franciscan Order, the order he had founded. In a real sense, the thing he started was taken away from him. Most of us would not willingly give up our “baby,” but he did, while also praying that the order wouldn’t lose the humbleness it had begun with, now that everybody knew the name of Francis, and knew of the Franciscan order.

Humble Prayers and Small Beginnings
Humble vision is right vision. (Meaning, you have no false imaginations about self, and acknowledge God’s primacy in all things) Humble vision can accomplish great things, if it is following God in obedience and in humility; it doesn’t care so much for acknowledgement, as long as the work gets done.

Talking with the COO at our local homeless outreach, The Community Kitchen, the opportunity presented itself to serve in a unique way. They have very few groups come in to provide spiritual worship opportunities there, so we began a Thursday Morning Prayers & Communion Service at The Community Kitchen. With a box of supplies and a mobile communion kit, we invite the homeless to join us in Morning Prayer in the facility Day Room where everyday social services and various activities still go on. We step into sacred space as we read the psalms and lessons, pray silently and together, and then celebrate communion. About a dozen people come forward to receive that special grace. Afterwards we greet each other, pass the peace, and chat… not “church people” and “the homeless”, just “us”, “we”, all of us together.

A few years ago now, I felt the Lord had given me a vision of the homeless being invited into the work of prayer, the prayers of the people, for the city and for the world. A piece of Saint Basil’s “Urban Monastery” idea, a unique piece, inviting the unlikely into participation in the Prayers of the People. I think God hears the prayers of a Billy Graham, or Tim Keller, or even my prayers, but doesn’t God also hear the prayers of the widow, or perhaps the homeless person, as much? Maybe even more? Yes, maybe.

Icons of Christ in Humble Places
Saint Lawrence, third century martyr, beheld the treasures of the church in the poor. Saint Francis saw in the faces of the poor the brother or sister of the firstborn, Christ. Mother Teresa, and others have seen an icon of Christ in the poor around them, in humble places. In turn, they were also icons of Christ as they served the least and the last. As an Anglican I was first ordained as a deacon, first called to serve. I am reminded that Christ did not fear the humble places, in fact, he sought them out. He sent first the twelve, and then the seventy two to go out to the humble places, to be an icon of Christ there.

What humble place is God sending you to? How does he desire to reshape your heart? Do not fear the humble places, but rather, allow yourself to find Christ there, and let us seek to be an icon of Christ in the humble places, and wherever we go.

(similar blog originally posted on anglicanpastordotcom)

God’s Kindness Heals Me

It’s easy to be hard in this world. It’s easy to be frustrated. It is easy for us to get into a cycle of frantic mediocrity as we go throughout our work-weeks. Have you found yourself impatient and over-reacting to things that are really too small to merit the response given?

This week I have been reminded of God’s kindness, and I have also been praying to be aware of His kindness, and to experience and receive His kindness. God’s kindness heals the deepest wounds I have.

The Expressions Of Faith from The Northumbria Community are a perfect reminder of God’s kindness, and a perfect prayer if you are seeking to experience afresh God’s kindness towards you.

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always kept
me safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.
Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

Sacred Creation and Saint Francis

Creation is so much more sacred than we acknowledge on a daily basis. Every few days it seems there is another headline of ecological tragedy. You don’t even have to believe in global warming to know that we still have a problem with pollution. We poison our streams and rivers without thought.

In light of the hard hits the earth has been taking lately I think it’s appropriated to pause and humbly give thanks for creation. We should also consider how we can get back to our original work to keep and tend the garden. If we do then maybe we can leave the world better than we found it.

Saint Francis Canticle-Giving Thanks for & Celebrating Creation:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them bright, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.

Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.

Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin!

Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.

Francis in the 21st Century

What does Saint Francis have to do with us in the 21st century? Possibly everything.

We are not, in many ways, that far removed from Francis of Assisi. In his day the church had been tainted with greed, and it was in need of renewal. He saw a need for prayer, for a new kind of monasticism, not cloistered off away from the world, but in the thick of it, in the nitty-gritty-ness of every day life. We must also embrace the outcast, those who are “lepers” in our world, as well as those who are simply wandering lost all around us. Francis seemed to have time for anyone in need. Do we have time or are we too busy?

In his day and age he was an apostle, pretty much as the original apostles had been in the Roman world which they had lived, only with the additional challenge of how do you convert people who already see themselves as “christian” at least culturally?

We find ourselves with these challenges and opportunities: How can we be apostolic in our world? The world is our cloister, therefore ministry can happen anywhere. We can be peacemakers in a violent and changing society; ours is changing, and is also very often violent full of angst, hypocricy, and rage.

Man’s anger does not produce the righteousness of God. Father Francis challenged us to walk in peace. Sometimes we fail, but we are called to be missionaries to our local area, to those who are not “christian”; showing the way of Christ and peace. Also, we are to convert many from “christian” to “follower of Jesus.”

As Francis said “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” Go.

 

(“Francis of Assisi” by Cook & Herzman may be helpful for your further exploration)