Bread of Life Radical Nourishment

Jesus is the bread of life.

Even though it doesn’t sound like it — this is a radical statement.

How can something seemly so mundane as bread be radical?

Let’s explore this together!

bread of life

cheeseslave [photo credit]

Bread of Life in John 6

As we’ve already seen, John 6 is an exciting and challenging passage!  Jesus revealed himself as a provider, as divine, and as a chaos calmer.  How awesome!

So how can we move from such grandiose topics to bread, a banal notion if there ever was one!?

Well, this is the jump that Jesus himself makes in John 6.

Jesus provides for 5000+ in a miraculous fashion.  Then Jesus retreats, only to return to his disciples as they are in trouble on the Sea of Galilee.  And Jesus reveals his divinity on that body of water by walking on the water and saying that he is the “I am.”

And when Jesus and his team finally make it back to their ministry “headquarters,” the city of Capernaum, they are discovered by the great crowd which Jesus had fed the day before.

Instead of reacting like so many of us might have, Jesus interacted with these folks.  And he does it in a truly rabbinical way, answering and asking questions.

And in the turning moment of the dialogue with the crowd Jesus says these words in John 6.35:

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

What’s so radical about this statement?

Well, for Jesus’ original audience it was revolutionary.  God had used Moses to provide bread (manna) for the Israelites in the desert as they escaped slavery in Egypt.  And that image was sacrosanct!  Infringing on it or claiming it as one’s own more or less amounted to blasphemy.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not Moses.

But the radical-ness goes deeper.  For John’s original readers this statement was radical too.  It was Rome who provided them bread (literally and figuratively as general provision and protection).  More specifically, it was the Emperor who was their provider and to say something otherwise was counter-cultural and even politically dangerous.

But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not the Emperor.

And all throughout time since Jesus spoke these words, they have remained radical.

Competitors for the Title of Bread of Life Today

Let’s think about this in our day and time.  Who provides our bread?  (I’ll speak from my context, namely the American Church.)  Two ideas instantly pop into my head:

  1. America claims to be our bread of life.  Think about it.  How many times have you heard people say, in one way or another, that out nation is our ultimate provider?  Here are a few ways I’ve heard it: We’re protected by our military, we are educated thanks to our government, many of us receive benefits from our state and federal governments (whether food stamps, health care, retirement benefits, etc.), and we’re given a system (capitalism) in which people can “make it.”  And don’t even get me started on the so-called “American Dream”!!  If any of us make claims otherwise we’re labeled as ungrateful, unpatriotic, and ultimately un-American.  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not America.
  2. We claim to be our own bread of life.  On a more personal and intimate level, we hold tight to the idea that we provide for ourselves and our families.  Many of us have fought and clawed our ways to where we are through all kinds of difficulties, like systemic inequalities, racism, poverty, and just life and all of its complications.  So we feel entitled to the idea that we’ve got this.  We can take care of ourselves.  And anyone who claims otherwise is telling us that our efforts weren’t enough.  They are undermining what we’ve accomplished.  And they are hamstringing our attempts to be self-reliant!  But that’s exactly what Jesus did.  He claimed to be the bread of life, not us.

Letting Jesus Be Our Bread of Life

So if Jesus’ radical statement that he is the bread of life is true (and it is!), then how can we allow him to be just that in our lives?  Here are a few ideas to get us started:

  • Stop allowing other things/people/entities to be our breads of life.  As we talked about above, America is not our bread of life and neither are we.  In fact, our families aren’t either.  Neither are our friends, our jobs, our investments, our passions, our pleasures, our pursuits, or our dreams.  Nothing but Jesus can serve as our bread of life.
  • Turn to Jesus first.  So that means that when we are seeking meaning and provision, the first place we should turn is to Jesus.  To be sure, this doesn’t mean that other things and people can help provide for us.  Of course they can!  But our first source of provision must be Jesus.
  • Allow others to help us. Like so many other things in life, seeking to allow Jesus to be our bread of life is hard.  In fact, it’s so hard that given enough time, all of us will fail at this miserably if we go at it alone.  So, instead, let’s do it together!  We need to find a few other Christians and ask them to hold us accountable as we seek to allow Jesus to be our bread of life!
  • Pray, pray, and pray some more.  But even community and accountability aren’t enough.  We need an infusion of divine aid!  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us as individuals and communities as we seek to make Jesus our bread of life.  So we must pray…maybe something like this: Father, help me/us turn to Jesus when I/we are in need.  By your indwelling Spirit, help me/us to quit putting my/our faith first in other things.  Amen.
  • Rest on God’s grace.  Even when we have accountability and even when we pray, we’ll still fail.  We are humans after all!  And when we mess up, when we allow other things and people to be our bread of life, let’s not beat ourselves up.  Instead, let’s remember that we’re recipients of the greatest gift of all, the grace of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  And in that grace there’s unconditional love and unending do-overs.

So that’s it!  Jesus is our bread of life!

Now the hard part — let’s live like it!

 

What do you think?  What does it mean to you that Jesus is our bread of life?  What are we tempted to put in his place?  How can we more and more turn to Jesus first?  Let me know in the comments below!

 

Samaritan Woman: Role Model? Transformed, On Mission, and Effective

Could the Samaritan woman from the Gospel of John in the Bible be a good role model for those of us who follow Jesus?  And is she a better role model than many of the alternatives out there?

Samaritan woman

By: The U.S. National Archives — Rosie the Riveter served as a role model for millions of women during WWII.

Role Models Are Everywhere

I wonder if there was a time in the past where role models were harder to come by than they are today?  Think about it — with the constant bombardment of media today, we are quite literally surrounded by role models.

Fortunately, many of those role models are great!  Right in the palms of our hands or on the screens of our televisions we get to see stories about and created by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Steph Curry, Lindsey Stirling, and Destin Sandlin, each of which would serve as great role models for adults and children alike!

Unfortunately, however, there are at least as many horrible role models we could be influenced by too.  And, equally unfortunately, these role models have just as easy access to our collective attention too (if not more due to our love of bad news).

So what are we to do?

Here’s an idea — why don’t we try to curate our role models a bit?  I know, I know.  This is a method that parents have been trying for years and years.  There’s nothing new under the sun!

But in today’s attention economy, the one thing that we can control perhaps the most is what we pay attention to.  So, for the next few minutes at least, let’s attend to a really good role model: the Samaritan woman.

The Samaritan Woman as a Role Model

I’ve written about the Samaritan Woman before: about how she was an avoided person and about how Jesus didn’t pass up the opportunity to connect with her.  In this post I’d like to discover what about her is worth imitating.  In other words, I want to investigate why is the claim that the Samaritan woman is a good role model is true.  I want to focus on three things about the Samaritan woman that are role-model worthy: she was transformed, she was on mission, and she was effective.

The Samaritan Woman: Transformed

In John 4 Jesus and the Samaritan woman have a great philosophical and theological discussion about spirituality, human insatiability, divine provision, her private ethical choices, worship, God, and the Messiah.

Her last words in this discussion are words of faith, saying that she knows the messiah is coming and that he’ll explain everything when he comes.

Then Jesus says something mind-blowing.  He says that he’s the messiah.  In fact, he uses a particular phrase that would have rung loudly in her religious ears — egō eimi.  These two little Greek words spoke volumes.

Egō eimi are the two words that appear in the ancient Greek translation of Exodus 3.14 where God identifies himself as “I AM.”  And here Jesus uses egō eimi to describe himself.  Jesus is making a claim about his divinity here, albeit in a slightly roundabout way.

But the Samaritan woman gets it.  She understands the reference.  In fact, it appears that when she hears these two words her entire perception of Jesus changes.  She probably played their conversation over in her head in a new light.  And, much more importantly, she let the truth that Jesus just revealed about himself play out in her future.  She saw that if Jesus truly was the egō eimi as God revealed himself to be to Moses, then her life could not be the same.

In an instant she was transformed!

So much so that in John 4.28-29 she leaves her water jar behind (perhaps a sign of her leaving her old way of life behind) and runs into town to tell everyone what had just happened to her.

Her faith in this moment changed her from the inside.  The external parts of her transformation would surely be more gradual.  She was still wrapped up in a deep relationship web after all (see John 4.16-18).

But the very fact that she would run into town demonstrates the reality of her transformation.  She was a known commodity after all.  People were well aware of her choices and judged her for the(which is likely why she was drawing water at midday instead of the morning or evening, as I wrote about here).

However, the transformation brought about in this encounter with Jesus trumped all her fears and concerns about how she would be perceived.

What a role model!  How many of us would have cowered when Jesus brought up our past and current ethical choices?  How many of us would have let the perception of others thwart what God wanted to do in and through us?

Let’s look to the Samaritan woman as an example of the amazing transformative power of Jesus!

The Samaritan Woman: On Mission

It’s true that the Samaritan woman was transformed on the inside.  But as we have already seen, she was transformed on the outside too.

Here it is in the text of John 4.28-29 itself:

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”

These are the actions and the words of a woman on mission!

She had just had an amazing encounter with Jesus, the messiah, the egō eimi, and she simply had to share it with others!  She can’t contain what has happened in her life!  She has met the divine and she must tell people what she knows!

But notice how she tells them — she says what Jesus did (told her everything she had done) and then invited them to come and see for themselves with a question (“Could this be the messiah?”).

Unfortunately this isn’t exactly the way that we usually think about sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom with people, is it?  Instead of the way of the Samaritan woman, many followers of Jesus try to reason, argue, or scare people into following Jesus.  And we’ve seen how poorly these methods have worked at growing the church.

Instead of doing things like we always have, let’s look to the Samaritan woman as a role model!  Let’s see in her not an attractive church model, but an attractive life model.  She didn’t beat anyone over the head with anything.  Instead she simply said what happened to her and then invited others to come see for themselves by drawing on their native curiosity.

What might this look like today?  Passion City Church in the Atlanta area uses the phrase “irresistible lives” when talking about this idea.  I think they are on to something.

If we live the good news with our own lives, incarnating Jesus and his kingdom where we work, live, and play, then our very lives are the curiosity-inducing questions.  Sure, there will be times where we should use our mouths too.  But what if we lived our lives so radically centered on the love of Jesus that people couldn’t help but be curious?

That’s a question I want to see answered in my own life!

The Samaritan Woman: Effective

Lastly, the Samaritan woman is a good role model not only because she’s transformed and on mission, but also because she’s effective.

When she invites people to come and see this guy who might be the messiah, they did so!  But it gets even better.

Check out John 4.39-42:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

People first believed because of the testimony of the Samaritan woman, so much so that they pleaded with Jesus to stay with them longer.  After spending more time with Jesus, the egō eimi, many others believed as well.

So the effectiveness of the Samaritan woman came in two phases — Phase One: people believed her when she said what Jesus had done for her; and Phase Two: people were able to confirm what she said when they met Jesus for themselves.

So if the Samaritan woman is to serve as our role model, then what would this look like?  How can we be effective like her?

As mentioned above, invite people to meet Jesus.  Live irresistible lives.

But it’s the next step — we have to let them confirm what we say by actually meeting Jesus.

Do we get in the way of this today?  Absolutely!

In my humble opinion we are more likely to introduce people to institutionalized religion, the baptized American Dream, a religious self-help group, or even the church.

How, instead, can we introduce them to Jesus?  How can we peel back all the caked on crud with which we’ve covered him?

Here’s a radical idea — we can let them see Jesus in us and through us.  We don’t have the blessed opportunity to literally take people to the incarnated Jesus.  Instead Jesus makes himself known in us through his Spirit and then calls us to incarnate him and his message wherever he sends us.

So instead of inviting people to church (which is still a fine thing to do, it’s just not the most effective thing to do), let’s invite people into our lives so that they can meet Jesus there.

And we don’t have to do this alone.  We can invite them into our communal experience of Jesus too.  The Samaritan woman didn’t have community (yet!), so we’ll have to pave our own road here!

One more thing — if we want to invite people to meet Jesus after having shared with them what he has done for us, not only should we invite them to meet him in our lives, but we should also invite them to meet him in the Gospels.

In my experience people love reading about Jesus’ life in the Gospels.  So as we live curious lives, let’s point people to Jesus in us and our communities and to Jesus in the Scriptures as well!

 

What do you think?  Is the Samaritan woman a good role model?  Did I miss something about her that you find imitation worthy?  Let me know in the comments below!

Joy Despite Circumstances A Spirit-Synced Way of Life

joy

My favorite shot from Myron’s 7-month photoshoot!

 

Joy Despite Circumstances

The photo above is of my son, Myron.  That shot was taken right in the middle of a crazy day.  He had been fussy just before this photoshoot and he was fussy right after it.  But right there in the middle of all that fussiness, Myron found some joy.

Sure, some of his favorite toys, books, and stuff helped.  But joy was found nonetheless!

To be honest, Myron’s experience of joy sounds an awful lot like mine.  As I’m seeking to live a Spirit-synced way of life, I often find joy wedged right in between hardships.

Right between a letdown at work and a car problem.

Right between bad news about a family member and a plumbing problem.

Right between violence in the neighborhood and burning dinner.

It’s right there that joy is found, the joy that is an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit.

 

In Every Season of Life

The circumstances that shouldn’t impact our joy from the Spirit are not just limited to one-time events.  No.  We should find joy in all seasons of life, even those seasons that seem long, dry, and difficult.

How do we do this?  Do we try to manufacture joy on our own, putting on a happy face for the world to see?

joy

By: Janelle

No!  When we try to drum up joy on our own, it may look cute for a minute or two, an hour or two, or even a day or two…but eventually people will see that this “joy” is as real as a plastic doll’s smile.

Instead we can only truly experience joy as we walk in step with the Spirit, as the Apostle Paul talks about in Galatians 5.  That’s where we’ll find joy.

The unending depth of joy that are available in the Spirit is our source of joy, not our will power, discipline, or acting ability!

 

Fake It ‘Til You Make It

So we shouldn’t fake it ’til we make it!  We should trust in the Spirit of God to infuse us with his joy as we walk with him.

Now if there’s anyone who needs to hear this advice, it’s us — Christians!  I bet this scenario sounds familiar to you if you’ve been part of the Church (at least in America!) for a while:

It’s Sunday morning and the time when you need to leave the house to arrive to the worship service more or less on time is rapidly dwindling.  Everyone in the house is harried, frantic, and on-edge.  People are yelling at each other.  There’s a fight over who showers next.  Maybe even an expletive or four are thrown around.

Then you get in the car.  No matter how long your drive is, it’s probably filled with continued stress and anger.  More yelling.  Threats of violence are leveled against the children.  Promises of eternal hate are returned.

Then you arrive in the parking lot that you use when you go to the worship service.  Until the doors to the car are opened, a few more tight-lipped verbal salvos are lobbed at one another.  But everyone is taking care to not look like they’ve just been angry at one another for at least the last ninety minutes!

Then the car doors open.  That’s when the plastic smile from the doll in the picture above is slapped across everyone’s faces.  The family must put on airs, appearing to be happy, loving, and joyful.

And the sad truth: everyone else is doing it too.  Okay, not everyone.  I know there’s a few of you out there who live this Spirit-synced life better than the rest of us!

But it’s truly sad that during our times of Christian community and gathered worship we are most tempted to fake joy or the manufacture it on our own.

It would be better for us to be honest with ourselves, our families, and our brothers and sisters in Christ.  At least that way we could begin to grow and learn.  As long as we’re pretending we don’t need to learn, we’re certainly not going to seek learning out!

So let’s NOT fake it ’til we make it.  Let’s pursue the Spirit, being vulnerable along the way.  Let’s admit our shared humanity and help one another find the joy of the Spirit more and more!

 

Biblical Joy

My favorite place in the New Testament that reflects on joy (to some degree) is the beginning of Philippians 2.  Here it is:

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2.1-4)

Paul had a vested interest in the church at Philippi.  He planted the church in Philippi and was falsely imprisoned while doing so (Acts 16.11-40).  And so this church, which initially met in the home of an early female Christian leader named Lydia, had a special place in Paul’s heart.

You can see this in Paul’s words in Philippians 2.  He’s begging them to be unified.  And he says that if they are unified together — being like-minded, having one love, putting aside selfishness and embracing true community — then his joy would be made complete.

He doesn’t say that he won’t have any joy until this happens, just that if the church in Philippi his joy will be complete.  This word, “complete,” can mean “full” or “mature” as well.  It’s almost as if Paul is saying that his joy is like a fine wine, and when the church in Philippi finally gets unified, then his joy will be properly aged and ready to be enjoyed.

But I want to be sure we note a few things here.

  • First, this kind of joy that Paul longs for has its origins in a “common sharing of the Spirit.”  This isn’t a joy that can be manufactured on one’s own.  It comes from the Spirit of God working within and among his people.
  • Second, this kind of joy is communal.  Paul’s joy is deeply connected to the church in Philippi and their joy is connected to Paul and to one another.  Joy isn’t something that is reserved for individuals to enjoy on their own.  It’s born in community (through joint pursuit of the Spirit) and it is best expressed to one another within community.
  • Third, immediately following this passage at the beginning of Philippians 2, Paul writes that we should have the same mindset that Christ had.  In other words, in order for joy to be made complete, we need to be more and more Christ-like.  In fact, I’m going to make a revolutionary claim here: living a Spirit-synced life is a synonym for following Jesus!  *gasp*  As we pursue the Spirit, he’ll lead us to live like Jesus lived when he was walking around on earth.  And as we seek to imitate Jesus, we can only do so with the aid and help of the Spirit (and one another).
  • Fourth, joy and love are intimately connected.  As we discussed previously, love is a choice which is acted upon to put the interests of others before our own.  In so doing, joy can be made complete.  And as we experience joy (both as a recipient and a conduit), we’ll demonstrate our love for one another more and more!  Paul would talk about this more in Philippians 4, where he says that because of what he has found in Christ and within community, he can have joy, that is, contentment, in all situations and at all times.  I don’t know about you…but that’s what I want!

 

So joy means having a deep and abiding sense of contentment despite what life, circumstances, and others throw at us.  Joy is based on the unchanging nature of the Triune God and not on our moods, our life stages, or our friends and family.  But when we experience joy, it is one of those things that can only truly be enjoyed with others!

 

What do you think?  How do you define joy?  How does pursuing the Spirit help you find it?  Let me know in the comments below!

#SmallGroups: New Wine Podcast #010 How can small groups help us be more missional?

Do small groups help or hinder followers of Jesus becoming more missional?  My answer: depends on the groups!

 

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Thanks!

 

 

The Ugliness of Envy How to ensure that you'll be unappealing and unattractive!

I think we all have that one friend, co-worker, or family member who insists on being annoyed that anyone else has anything good going on for them.  Do you know what I’m talking about?

This condition is called “envy” and it is really pretty unseemly and downright ugly!

But I think if we’re all honest, then we know that we exhibit lots of envy in our lives too.  So that means that our behaviors, words, and attitudes make us pretty ugly to others too.  (Did you see what I did there…”pretty ugly”…get it!?)

Envy

Green with Envy

Envy Invades Us All

Recently my wife and I were having a conversation and I was talking about someone that we both know.  Everything in his life has seemingly just come together without much effort while many things in my life have taken great struggle and persistence.  I went on and on and eventually I veered off into envy territory.  I started saying things like “Well, if I were him…” and “It would be nice if my life were as easy as his…”

My guess is that this story resonates with you.  Envy is real and its reach extends to each one of us.

The Impact of Envy

What’s so bad about envy?  Some people argue that envy doesn’t really hurt anyone, so why would God tell us not to envy what our neighbors have (cf. the 10 commandments)?

Well, I think there are two reasons, at least:

  1. Envy is a sign that we can’t be content with what we have.  Envy is primary side effect of the disease known as “I wish I had that other stuff over there.”  Honestly, envy communicates loudly that our desire for things we don’t have trumps our desire for God and his will in this world.  And I’m pretty convinced that it is envy that drives our desire for more stuff, more stuff, and more stuff.  If someone else has it, then I have to too!
  2. Envy impacts the people around us.  Check out John 4.1-2: “Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”  Do you see it?  The envy of the Pharisees about who was more popular led to Jesus leaving Judea and returning to Galilee.  Their envy impacted Jesus’ plans.  The same is true in our worlds — our envy impacts the people around us.

Envy Solution

So what’s the answer to envy?  Well, I don’t think there’s a quick fix.

Honestly, I think we have to start by being totally satisfied with God and God alone.  If we lost it all but still had him, would we be okay?  Would we be happy?  Or are we so tied to our stuff and relationships that we can’t exist without them?

A second area to work on would is being content with what we have (cf. Philippians 4).  Do we really need more shoes, more gadgets, more square footage, and more fame?  Will it ever be enough?

And a third way to combat envy would be to surround ourselves with community, the kind of community that will love us, correct us, encourage us, and hold us accountable.  So when we start exhibiting signs of envy, they can call us on it and help us change.

Lastly, a fourth way would be to pray.  We need to ask God to help us.  We can’t do this on our own — we’ll always default back to envy.  We need the internal power that only God can provide through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.

 

What do you think?  How big of a problem is envy and what can we do about it?  Let me know in the comments below.

Fictive Family

The family that Jesus calls together goes beyond blood or marriage.  His family is a fictive family — a family called together by something else, something deeper.

That something is a someone — Jesus.  And the glue that holds his fictive family together is his mission.

 

 

Fictive Family

Fictive family is a phrase used by researchers to label a kinship group or a community that is brought together not by DNA or marriage  Instead, these communities are formed on some other basis.

There are numerous examples of this but perhaps the most popular one is the military.  The television series Band of Brothers captured this idea well.  A diverse group of young men, who weren’t related in any traditional sense, developed a deep sense of connectedness which caused them to sacrifice for one another, even to the point of death.  What brought them together initially was patriotism or the draft (or both) but what enabled them to move from men in proximity to a fictive family was their mutual suffering and their mission.

They each went through the rigors of boot camp and training.  They had horror stories of drill sergeants putting them through the ringer.  Then they had hours and hours of sometimes boring specific assignment training.  And when they were together on the field, they faced danger, hunger, and loneliness.

But sharing in suffering doesn’t automatically create a fictive family.  But when you pair shared suffering with an exciting, risky, and real mission, that’s when you get the first inklings of fictive family!

The soldiers begin to learn that not only do they have the same sob stories as their brothers in arms, but they also have each other’s backs.  They begin to see for themselves power and beauty of fictive family when they are literally at death’s door together.

This kind of closeness, this fictive family, is somewhat rare.  Why is that?  Why aren’t we humans more inclined toward being fictive family?

I could probably list a hundred or more reasons, but here are the first few that come to mind: we’re scared to be open and vulnerable, we think we will look or become soft, we’d rather not share the glory and fame, and we’re just plain ol’ selfish.

I mean, really, who wants to give of themselves until it hurts?

 

Fictive Family Glue

As followers of Jesus we commonly use familial language, calling each other brothers and sisters and claiming that we’re all part of the family of God.

But we all know that we’re often just parroting empty language that was parroted to us.  We don’t always treat one another with real affection.  We don’t always create interdependent relationships that fictive families have.  And we don’t always sacrifice for one another the way we might for family.

Why not?  Why aren’t we more like family?  Why are we more akin to acquaintances within in the church?

Here’s my belief: It’s because we aren’t on mission together, we don’t operate under the same purpose.

It seems to me that we Christians, especially those of us who consider ourselves Evangelicals, have made it incredibly difficult to live within fictive family well.  For years (centuries really) we have focused so intently on individual faith and Jesus as a personal savior that we’ve made community, i.e., fictive family, a luxury and not something that is expected.

Christian community is not optional!  It is absolutely necessary in order for us to follow Jesus actively in the real world!

But how do we do it?  How do we begin to form fictive family as followers of Jesus?

Here’s what has worked in my own life — I got on mission with some other followers of Jesus.  The fictive family formed quickly!  Being on mission together gave life and meaning to our worship together, our service of one another, our prayers for one another, and our reading of Scripture together.

 

Fictive Family on Mission

The real question this is this: What is this mission and how do we get on it?

Mission is from a Latin word (missio) which means “send.”  Therefore a mission is something we are sent to do.  It’s active and it comes from God.  Our mission isn’t something that we think up or that we lean on others to find for us.  It’s revealed from God.

And the basic missio Dei, mission of God, in the Bible is simple — God wants to reconcile all things to himself through Christ Jesus (2 Cor 5.19-20).

And it is this one idea, reconciliation, through which we should filter all of our potential thoughts about mission.

So our thinking should go like this: Do the activities we engage in as a fictive family, as a Christian community, promote reconciliation (the mending of broken people, relationships, and things)?  If so, then we should prayerfully pursue them in the power of the Spirit.  If not, then we should avoid them like the plague because all they’ll do is distract us from God’s one mission in this world, to reconcile all things.

 

Friends, real connection is formed between followers of Jesus when we are on mission together, when we are engaging in God’s reconciling work together.

And being on mission like this will form us into loving, vibrant, and attractive fictive families in which we love God, love one another, and love others.

 

What do you think?  What do you think holds Christian community together?  Is it mission or is it something else?  Let me know in the comments below!

#Community: New Wine Podcast #005

This is the fifth New Wine podcast and here’s what we’ll do this time: We’ll chat about what community has to do with being sent – that is, are we sent alone or with others and why does this matter?

 

I answer this question in my latest podcast.  You can listen to it on the bottom of this post, on iTunes, or on Stitcher.

If you like it, would you please rate it and even leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher?  That would be super cool!

Thanks!

 

Also, here are a list of links that you may find helpful after having listened to the podcast:

 

 

Lessons from My Weight-Loss (Honesty)

honesty

By: The U.S. Army
How important is honesty?

Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?

Um, yeah!

One of the best examples is how important honesty is when trying to lose weight.  This may sound surprising to some of you, especially if you’ve never really struggled with your weight.  But it can be very, very difficult to be honest with yourself about what you’re really consuming and what’s it done to your body, self-image, health, etc.

What do I mean?  Let me give you an example.  The day that I came to the realization that I needed to lose weight ended with me taking the first honest look at my food intake ever.  I can truthfully confess that before that day I had never sat down and took a good, hard look at what I was consuming.

The results were rather shocking.

At that time I needed to consume 2500 or so calories a day to maintain my weight.  But when I calculated how many calories I consumed the day before I started losing weight, the number almost reached 4000!  And, sadly, that day was not exceptional; it was just a normal ol’ day!

That level of honesty with myself helped kick start my rear-end into gear!  And the more honesty I dished out to myself, the more motivated I became to change.  I took measurements.  I found out my bod fat ratio.  I discovered my body mass index.  The result of all that honesty?  I discovered that I was obese and ready to change!

How Honesty Can Help Us Become More Missional

How does this weight-loss lesson about honesty apply to becoming more missional?  I think the answers are pretty self-explanatory:

  1. Appraisal — How is your life lining up with the mission of God?  From the opening pages of the Bible to the very end of Revelation God has revealed the fact that he’s interested in reconciling all things to himself through Jesus Christ.  Are you regularly joining God in this mission?  Are you doing something besides just giving money?  Are you getting your hands dirty?  Are you involved in making disciples and deepening the discipleship of those who already follow Jesus?  Remember, it’s important to be honest.  If you don’t take the honesty portion of this journey seriously, none of the other steps will be effective at all!
  2. Progress — How are your progressing in being more in line with the mission of God?  Jesus certainly doesn’t expect you to have it all down pat right from the beginning!  His closest friends and disciples didn’t have it all figured out even though they had been in an intensive, hands-on training program for three years!  In other words, it’s perfectly typical not to have it all figured out.  But it’s important to be honest about where you are at in the process.  Now some of us will be tempted to minimize any progress we’ve made, choosing instead to focus on how much more missional we need to become.  But others of us will err in the opposite direction, over-estimating our alignment to the Missio Dei.  Whichever way you lean, it’s extremely important to be honest so that you can have a true picture of where you’ve been and where you need to go.
  3. Need — Are you being honest about the fact that you can’t do everything alone?  Are you able to admit and act on the facts that you need God to empower you and you need a community to encourage you to be all that God desires you to be?  Honesty in this area can be really hard.  Some of us are just wired from a very young age to achieve and to do so on our own.  If that’s you, then it’s high time that you took a dose of honesty!  No one can do this thing alone.  In order to be missional in the most effective and worshipful way, we must admit that we need God and we need one another.

So I hope you’ve seen how important honesty is when talking about becoming missional.

How else can being honest help us become more missional?  Let me know in the comments below!

Priorities in Relationships

It’s sad to admit but several times in our marriage my wife, Alida, has had to remind me that my priorities are a bit skewed.  She always seems to find the right time and space to let me know this too.

First, she doesn’t wait until she’s so angry that she’s going to explode.  Instead, if she sees me veering of course for long enough, then she’ll speak up.  Things get a bit more complicated when my lopsided priorities impact her directly; but even in those situations she has always done a great job of loving me and showing me grace.

Second, when she has determined that it’s time to have the “come to Jesus” talk with me, she boldly says what’s on her mind.  She doesn’t beat around the bush and qualify her feelings with ten thousand sickly sweet statements.  She simply tells me how she’s feeling, what’s she’s seeing, and the impact she’s observing.  I am so grateful for this!  The last thing that I need to be left hanging in the wind!

Third, in virtually every single instance that Alida helps me get my priorities straight, she’s been sure to check back in with me in the future.  Usually the next day she’ll initiate a conversation with me in which she wants to make sure that I’m not hurt or confused.  Then, later on when old habits start being reestablished, she’ll lovingly remind me that I said I wanted my priorities to be different.  In fact, one of Alida’s mantras is “Don’t complain about something unless you have a plan for it to succeed.”  So, when she points out something in me that needs molding, she understands that as a call for her continued participation in my development.

And because of the example that Alida has set for me, I have learned how to do the same for her.  Full disclosure: I’m not nearly as good at this as she is!  I often wait too long, which means that I tend to be too angry, hurt, or annoyed to infuse a priorities conversation with grace and love.  Like Alida, I tend to get straight to the point but since I am naturally so confrontational this often comes across as being argumentative.  And I’m not nearly as good on follow through as Alida, though I am learning and growing in this area!  Needless to say, Alida has set the bar high for me!

But as I think about the times that she has brought my messed up priorities out into the light it’s always been for one reason: I’m selfish.  Now I know for a fact that I’m not the only selfish person out there!  My wife is selfish, my parents and sister are selfish, my pastor is selfish, Billy Graham is selfish, the pope is selfish, Mother Teresa was selfish, the Apostles were selfish, etc., etc.  Looking out for number one, unfortunately, is just part of the human predicament.

How does the problem of selfishness rear its ugly head in me?  Pretty straightforwardly: I get uber-focused on me and my stuff.  I talk about me and my stuff.  I invest my time and energy in me and my stuff.  I try to convince people of the value of me and my stuff.  I seek out input on me and my stuff.  I want validation for me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.  Me and my stuff.

Notice the problem?

When my selfishness is in full bloom, where is my concern for the interests of others (Philippians 2.3-4)?  Where is my self-sacrificial love (1 John 3.16)?  Where is my care for the poor, the needy, the oppressed, etc. (Isaiah 58.9-10)?  Where is my commitment to transformative community (Hebrews 10.24-25)?  Where is my love for God that requires all of who I am (Matthew 22.37)?  And where is my drive and desire to make disciples (Matthew 28.19-20)?

I must surround myself with people who can help me see when I slip further and further into selfishness!  I’m blessed that I live with one such person but I’ve had and now have many others in my life too.

Here’s a twofold challenge: 1) Find someone to help you see when your priorities get a bit out of whack; and 2) Be the same for someone else!