Thursday, 5 April 2018

What is mission

The great commission at the end of Matthew is not often considered part of the resurrection story of Easter. But if you really take a look at it all together, you can see how the words of Jesus at the end of the book are meant to be taken in a 'victory over death' kind of way.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

At a closer look you can see how this whole speech could only be given by the resurrected Jesus. 'All authority on heaven and earth is given to me,' kind of stands out. But the baptism language carries the idea of death and new life as well. He also includes himself 'the son' on par with the Father and Holy Spirit, all connected to this idea of Resurrection. The command to obedience, but also the eternal presence of, Jesus also stands unique to a risen Christ rather than anything else.

Regardless of all this what we have seen is a disconnect of this passage from the resurrection story. Instead this 'great commission' is dissected, discussed, and taught from the angle of mission rather than part of the resurrection story. This is symptomatic of one of the biggest problems in the Christina church today. We separate mission from God's power. We take the resurrection out of the great commission.

In the book of Acts the message of Jesus is spread throughout the world at an incredible, say miraculous, pace. God is sending fire and wind, people are speaking in languages they don't understand, miracles are being performed, angels are letting people out of prison, people are being healed, people are disappearing and reappearing in other places, people are being struck down and everywhere the power of Christ is unmistakable and undeniable. That was mission for the original church, completely tangled up with resurrection power.

Today, I feel like mission is something tacked on to a long list of things that Christians do... sometimes.

Today we often think that mission is somehow convincing, or even tricking, people into becoming part of the faith in some small (or large) way, and then hoping that God will do something once we get them in the door. But from a biblical example mission is the simple consequence of living and being connected to the resurrected Christ. These two things don't really seem compatible. One is about what we can do, the second is about what Christ is doing through us.

Interestingly, I think that the biggest way that we can change this problem practically is the same way that we need to change things theologically. In the same way that we need to make room for resurrection in our understanding of the great commission, we also need to make room for resurrection in our understanding of mission. The question is not, 'what mission are you doing for God,' but rather 'how are you making room for God to work in your life?'

Discussion Questions:
Missions can be a sore spot for many people, even Christians. What are this sore points for you? Would these sore points fit the category of 'our power' or 'Christ's power?'
How have you seen mission by God's power rather than our own power in your life?
What are you going to do or change to allow opportunity for God to do mission through your life?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Peter and Judas.

Beyond focusing on Jesus himself, the arrest of Jesus gives us a look into many characters in the gospel narratives. Especially the characters of Peter and Judas. Judas, of course, is known as the greatest betrayer in history. In fact to call someone a "Judas" means to call them a betrayer even still. Peter on the other hand, is one who is know as the rock on which Jesus would build his church.

Both of these men hold important roles in the narrative of Jesus arrest, but both of them hold important roles throughout the story of Jesus. Both were hand picked by Jesus to be called Apostles. Both were given the power to heal, forgive, and cast out demons in the name of Jesus. Both were with Jesus when he taught, performed miracles, and rose the dead by his command. But most importantly both betrayed Jesus in their own way.

The betrayal of Judas is well known. Judas conspired with the temple leadership to hand Jesus over and be arrested. But when we look at Judas' actions we see something that is possibly less sinister than it appears. For all the reputation, Judas' role in the betrayal seemed nothing more than simply pointing Jesus out in the crowd. But Jesus himself makes it clear that he was not hiding, in fact he was in the temple courts every day teaching. Furthermore, Judas gave Jesus over not to the Romans who had the mandate to kill anyone, sometimes even if they're only suspected of, stirring revolution. Instead Judas handed Jesus over to the high priest Caiaphas, who according to the current law of the time, had no right to execute anyone.

Peter's betrayal looked different. While he is known for his denial of Jesus three times at the courtyard, he had his own sort of betrayal at the arrest scene as well. Peter pulled a sword on the crowd and in an attempt to kill one of the high priests servants managed only to cut off his ear. In that moment Peter became the only person in scripture to raise a sword or weapon in the name of Jesus, and he is immediately ostracized by Jesus for doing so. Jesus says "Put your sword away, for those who live by the sword will die by it."

The result that we see is two men who both had a serious misunderstanding of who Jesus was and what his kingdom was all about. Their misunderstanding led to their betraying of Jesus and what Jesus stood for in their own ways. And with all the comparisons we see between these two the question becomes, what is the real difference here. When both these characters lived with Jesus and followed him so closely the same way, how did they end up so differently.

I believe that the answer comes down to one of the most important themes of the Lenten season, which is repentance. Judas ran from Jesus and killed himself rather than face what he'd done and the consequences of his actions. Peter met with Jesus after the resurrection and had to confirm his love and devotion to Jesus three times, the same amount of times he had denied ever knowing him.

It can be hard seeing 'sin' as a betrayal of Jesus. But in essence that is what all sin comes down to in some way. So to think that we're in any way different from Judas can be nothing more than a defense mechanism. We can see that regardless of our personal betrayal our own relationship to Jesus is determined on repentance more than anything else. Repentance is the difference between being called a Judas, or being called the rock on which Jesus would build his church.

Discussion:

  1. While living in a world based on confirming our own biases, and continually justifying our actions, how do we look realistically at ourselves to find our faults?
  2. What has repentance looked like to you in the past?
  3. Is repentance a common aspect of your spiritual practices?

What we've been up to.

Often we get into the winter and we hunker down into our routines and forget that there's all sorts of people out there doing all sorts of different things. What's crazier is when you realize that you're one of those people too, and no one knows what you've been up to.

As a church we've had some great changes since the fall, including launching another house church our of the city, and moving our celebration services to a new location at Bridgeport community center. We've had a chance to double our time at the Ray of Hope community center helping to prepare and serve meals for our neighbors to share with us.

We've been excited by the changes and momentum we've seen in the last few months, and want to give a special thanks to everyone for all their time, effort, prayer and support over the winter. We're looking forward to the rest of 2018.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Submission! Bet that got your attention. (1 Peter 2:11-3:7)

The word 'submission' automatically brings up several negative connotations. And rightfully it should. If it makes you think of things like slavery, or the subjugation of women, or oppressive governments in the world then these are, of course, terrible things which should be opposed on every level. But the New Testament takes a very different route in to the idea of submission. While things like slavery, patriarchy and political oppression are examples of dominance, submission is presented as something different.

Submission is presented as an act of free will. It is choosing humility, fatherhood, and giving up of power. This is rooted in the very basis of what Jesus taught as "the first being last and the last being first," or "Whoever wants to be the greatest among you must become a servant to all." And yet submission still gives us a negative response, mostly because the demand for submission has been at the core of much of the oppression throughout history. And while we must recognize this oppression and the constructs it still supports, it's important to remember that the understand of submission as part of oppression is a misuse of the word. 'Submission' is supposed to describe the free act of making ourselves servants.

Still, even the act of making ourselves servants of others is something that often goes against the grain. But scripture seems to propose that submission seems to be the very way in which we should approach oppression and subjugation in our lives. This is because submission is a way of life which is powerful enough to change the hearts and minds of people. In 1 Peter 2:12 he writes:

"Live such good lives among the unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us."

This passage is followed by passages on submitting to governing authorities, slaves submitting to masters, wives submitting to husbands (and in a roundabout way husbands submitting to wives), and later on, the young submitting to elders. Peter's words in verse 12 gives the theme that the purpose of all this submission is so that others will see and glorify God. He gives us some important points to remember.

1) Submission is a tool for social change.

The civil rights movement was kicked off by courageous individuals like Rosa Parks. For a black woman in her society 'submitting to the authorities' in her context meant sitting on her segregated part of the bus, or face the consequences. She chose to face the consequences. It's interesting that in that act of submitting to the government authorities was how she became the mother of the civil rights movement in the United States.

This was a very similar approach to the way that Jesus demonstrated submission in his life. Jesus submitted to the governing authorities of the Roman authorities, and they killed him. He famously instructed his disciples not to rise up to save him. It is even said that he could have called an army of angels to save him, but he did not. His act of submission was an act which reflected his life and teachings, and he died.

The big idea is that submission is a tool for social change, but it is not a tool for social reconstruction. Peter, and Jesus for that matter, were not interested in breaking down and rebuilding societal constructs, but rather they were interested in changing the hearts and minds of people towards good. And I would suggest that this is actually better. If we start by changing structures we will always get push-back. But if the hearts of people are turned towards good the the structures will change, or will even start to matter less.

2) Submission in suffering.

Peter's words to slaves in chapter 2 are some of the most criticized verses in the New Testament. How could Peter talk about slavery without even once condemning the evil practice. Slavery in the first century was a terrible affair as slavery has always been. But again, Peter isn't as interested in changing the social construct of slavery as we might want him to be. The idea of slaves being free from their masters, and in fact free from any kind of worldly power, is already a well taught and accepted concept for early Christians. What he's actually talking about here is the ability for a slave to influence the hearts and minds of their masters through their behavior. This is actually quite empowering to slaves. And the tool that's given is submission.

In the context of slavery the conflict between dominance and submission becomes important. Slaves were dominated by their masters in every respect. However, if the slave chooses submission it becomes a tool of expressing and living a true freedom in their lives. Their work becomes about their choice rather than being dominated.

But most importantly is the idea of suffering. Peter exhorts the believers in this passage that it is better to suffer for doing good rather than to suffer for doing evil. And this is where things become real for us in a way. One of the realities we need to accept in this life is that there will be suffering. Of course it would be better if we could all just stop causing any level of suffering on others and that should solve most of the problem, but the reality is that suffering is going to happen. Peter brings us an important question. What are you suffering for? Are you suffering in your life because you are choosing holiness, or are you suffering for evil? It is an important question to consider.

3 There is a joy in submission

Another piece that Peter takes a lot of flack for are his comments about women. Specifically about how their beauty does not come from their clothes, hair, or jewelry, but rather from what he calls a 'gentle and quiet spirit.' First of all there's a certain disdain for a man making comments on how a woman should feel beautiful, but also why the 'gentle and quiet' woman. Well, as with everyone else he's spoken to in this passage, submission is a powerful spiritual practice for everyone. Of course that would include wives.

Let's remember a few important things. First of all most of the early church, especially in this context, were women. Most of them had unbelieving husbands. Most of them were slaves. There's a very important distinction between these women (generally speaking, which always has it's problems) and the women of today. Women in our culture are generally free to dress themselves in any way they want (even though sometimes they will suffer ridicule from some). However for Peter's audience what they wore would mostly be under the power of their husbands or more importantly their slave masters. Women who were slaves, again a very significant number for Paul's audience, would have been dressed by their masters and would have little, if any chance to dress 'beautifully' in a way they would choose. In fact for some they would be dressed in the 'beautiful' way Peter describes but it would not be by their own choice, but also for the pleasure of the master.

The gentle and quiet spirit Peter talks about is one which finds an incredible joy in a Lord that finds their beauty not in their dress and appearance (something they can't control), but rather in the love and spirit they bring (something they can control).

Conclusion:

What Peter really presents to us is submission as a spiritual discipline. It's a lifestyle chosen freely to make ourselves humble and servants of others. It is the tool for social change without worrying about society, but rather worrying about the hearts of individuals, specifically our own.

Discussion: Read 1 Peter 2:11-3:7 together.

1) Which topic, phrase, verse or issue brought up in this passage brings you the most trouble? Why?
2) Has there ever been a time in your life where you have practiced submission?
3) What is your 'next step' for making submission an aspect of your life? Which area of your life do you plan to bring it? How are you going to do it?




Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Summer camp! We want to help send your kids.

Summer camp was one of the most iconic experiences of my life. That one week away in the summer

helped me to form a great part of who I am today. Ever since the time I was eight years old I began attending the same camp every year. I still have friends that I met on my first year there (my counselor actually). I ended up working at that same camp as an adult and spent my final year life-guarding. (I actually met my wife that year, it was a very good summer).

Knowing that there are many children out there who may long for this kind of experience yet may not have the chance simply for financial concerns is one that has been placed on our heart as a church. There shouldn't be these obstacles in childhood and yet they remain within our cultural framework.

Knowing that camp can be such a formative experience, we're excited to announce that the Network Church has decided that any kids who want to go to summer camp should be able to. That's why we're offering financial assistance to any families out there who want to send their kids to camp but otherwise wouldn't have the means to do so.

Funds are limited (of course) and camp registrations have opened, so we ask that you apply soon.  If you're interested please email thenetworkchurch@gmail.com

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

What is good/evil anyway?

We live in a world where what is right and acceptable seems to be changing at a lightning pace. Yet if we're really honest with ourselves we will realize that future generations as well as the current and previous generations will all likely fail to live up to life in it's fullest. We are constantly changing and adapting to try to reach a better understanding of what is right, and what is wrong.

Scripture talks a lot about purity. I sometimes wonder if purity is something that needs to be separated from right and wrong actions. When the Bible talks about being pure, it never really means that this individual has done nothing wrong. Purity is a state that someone is seen to be despite their past, present, and future actions.

Last weekend we looked at the second half of 1 Peter 1 and saw a few important lessons about purity and holy living.

1) God is the one who makes us pure:

1 Peter 1:13-15 (Exerts) - "Set your hope fully on the grace given you... just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do."

Peter starts this section by reminding us about the grace that God offers us as our reliance for holiness. Christian theology has long taught that it is God's work to save someone, purify them, and bring them to himself. The term 'sanctification' refers to how God continues to work in us through our lives to purify us, change our living, and bring us in step with him.

The problem comes when we start to take that responsibility on ourselves as individuals and as a church. Every church has it's priorities and essential practices. Often these are things like abstinence before marriage, not drinking/smoking, giving a tithe of some sort, attending a service, participating in prayer/study, and a myriad of other examples. What we tend to forget is that the priorities we set as individuals and churches are not necessarily God's priorities for someone's life. While we may tell someone that they must stop cursing, God's work in them at that time may be around some sort of heavy addiction that we know nothing about. The mistake of 'challenging' or 'rebuking' others in the church, which has caused so much pain, is that these challenges and rebukes often come from a place of selfish motivation.

Instead we should learn to develop the spiritual skill of discerning where God is moving in someone's life so that we can speak into their experience with encouragement rather than rebuke. God is the one who makes us pure, but we can become important participants in that, both individually and communally.

2) God is the one who 'knows:'

1 Peter 1:17 - "Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear."

The idea of God's judgment here is one which always causes problems. One of the greatest reasons for this is because our experiences in our lives make it very difficult to imagine a perfect judge, and we're constantly reminded that we live in an imperfect, or even corrupt, justice system.
But scripture constantly teaches God as one who's judgment and justice is tied to his perfect love for an imperfect world. This means that God is the only one who truly knows justice.

It becomes interesting when we look at the way people often try to 'know' what is right in the world now. Such as...

The majority- In our democratic societies where the majority are the one's who decide who has the power over our lives, laws and society, it makes sense that we would put a lot of trust in the idea that whatever the majority believes is right must be right. Anecdotally we cold come up with many examples of people who have tried to use the 'the majority of people agree with me' argument. 

The problem is that the majority isn't usually the majority, but rather the majority of whoever that individual speaks to. But even if it is an actual majority that agrees with us we need to remember the vast examples of geniuses from history who were opposed by the majority. Even Galileo's theory that the Earth revolved around the sun was opposed by the majority of experts and scientist for many years.

The loudest- It seems like loud people always get the platform. You might say that loud people are listened to because we have no choice. I would say that the louder someone is the more likely I am to ignore what they're saying. And yet it seems that those people who have the larger platforms, biggest stadiums or the reddest face when they speak are given a lot of credit for these things.

When I look at a loud person I can't help but feel like "wow, there's a person who has life figured out" (sarcasm intended). I find that often when you get past the bluster and noise you rarely find much behind what's being said. And on the other hand, there are many wise people in the world who will never have a platform because of their quiet, meek, and honestly more holy manner.

Intuition- Beyond the others is the prevailing thought that we must naturally know what's right. We understand what is right and acceptable naturally and should trust our instincts. And while this may be true for some things, such as torture and murder, even with those examples we can see instances where people just don't seem to understand the natural immorality of these tragedies.

The problem with being guided by intuition means that we're rarely convinced about doing good, or challenged to be holy in a way that doesn't seem natural. Truly holy living requires sacrifice and humility. Intuition will rarely lead someone towards giving away their possessions, blessing an enemy who harms them, or refusing pleasures. Yet all these things are clearly taught in scripture as holy living. surely living 'right' means giving ourselves to a lifestyle more difficult and challenging.

3) Purity creates communal love:

1 Peter 1:22 - "Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart."

The biggest lesson we need to learn is that true purity, true holy living, or simply what is 'right,' will always result in greater love for each other. It's unfortunate that we can so easily turn purity into some reason or excuse for ignoring or even casting away people we don't like. But purity can never be used as a reason for exclusion or bigotry. Neither should purity be seen as something which makes anyone better than, or above others. True purity will only result in bringing people together, working through problems, and creating a more fulfilling experience for those around us as well as ourselves.

Discussion:

  1. What is something that you know is acceptable? What is something that you know is wrong? How do you know? Does it compare at all with 'majority opinion, loud teaching, or intuition?'
  2. How do you look for God in the people around you, and the society as a whole? 
  3. How do you encourage someone towards purity without seeming to belittle them?



Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Blessings for Evil.

Peter's often known as Jesus' hothead disciple. We like to talk about the reckless guy who pulled a sword, or stepped out the boat. This is certainly a part of Peter's character but, as with most people who are not constructs of one trait, Peter is much more complicated. And it can be hard to reconcile the hothead Peter we talk about with the 'Rock' that Jesus was going to build his church on, or the apostle who died famously for his faith in Rome.

Peter also wrote two books of the new Testament, and while not particularly popular or long, these books are rich. 1 Peter 3:8-9, for example, carries one of the greatest summaries of Jesus teachings. Specifically "do not repay evil for evil or insult for insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called..."

The idea of repaying evil with blessing is one that at first glance seems like a simple 'nice' idea. But the further you think about it the more radical it becomes. You'll notice, for example, that there's not limit or qualification on the evil talked about in this verse. This could range from someone 'calling you a name' all the way to an enemy of the state threatening (and performing) violence against you. There's no limit on the evil and no limit on the blessing. the line "repay evil with blessing" is not a line that's meant to sound nice. It's ridiculous, radical life-changing even world-changing teachings.

Peter links this aspect of choosing to respond to evil with blessing to five other qualities.

  1. Harmony - Harmony doesn't sweep problems under the rug for the sake of harmony. Harmony recognizes and deals with the hurt and problems which come. In the same way, the way we bless those who hurt us should recognize the hurt and work to repair.
  2. Sympathy - Linked with empathy. Recognizing that those who do harm do not do so in a vacuum. It does not excuse evil, but it does seek to find humanity in enemies who we tend to dehumanize.
  3. Love - Loving as brothers means loving 'just because.'
  4. Compassion - Compassion means giving to those when we have no requirement to give. Compassion on those who do evil to us recognizes evil acts as cries for help with no language to express it. Blessing those who do evil seeks to heal the hurt of those who harm us as much as ourselves.
  5. Humility - All these qualities are enhanced when we realize the truth about ourselves as imperfect beings. We too are guilty of harming and doing harm, regardless of extent. This should all us to connect, understand, and then bless.
For discussion on the topic of blessing those who do evil to us we're not going to talk about who has harmed us and how we act specifically. Instead we're going to look at the five qualities of harmony, sympathy, love, compassion and humility and ask ourselves two questions for each in turn. 

1) How does this quality rate in my life with those I struggle against?
2) How do we improve this quality in ourselves?