Archive for December, 2011
What if the angels came to the shepherds and announced that they brought good news of great joy–Jesus has moved from one side of heaven to the other? What if the good news was simply to state that God is still on his throne with an encouragement for those below to press on? No intervention promised…. No hope for something better….
If that was the Christmas story, then it would be, I am convinced, a pretty pathetic tale. Maybe this story would elicit frustration or even a shaking, clenched fist as the helpless stood begging for His intervention. With arms raised the shepherds and wise men could have cried out, “where are you?” Ultimately, plodding along or suffering silently would be the best anyone could have hoped. But, thankfully, that is not the Christmas story.
We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. The king of kings took the form of a helpless baby. His parents would wrap him in a blanket to keep him warm, feed him, and follow The Father’s direction to keep him away from murderous soldiers. Leaving heaven, he was born into humility. His need as a child for others to intervene on his behalf is apparent. Yet to a much greater extent at that time and still today, we need him–desperately. Still, we celebrate Emmanuel. We have hope and direction because he is God with us.
Over the past several days I have been approached on a couple of occasions by people with tear-soaked eyes. Desperate. Deep concerns visible in their faces, the weight of the world pressing on them, they cried out for help.
During this same period, we have experienced a number of physical ailments in our immediate and extended family ranging from minor to life-threatening. I have been to the doctor more in the last 7 days than in the past several years.
We have family and friends that have recently lost jobs and are trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Another relative continues in a job with a company that has just declared bankruptcy.
A broken people, we live in a broken world. But, we celebrate the Truth of Christmas–the Christ. We press on because of his presence among us. At times we carry on with our hearts filled with hope. At other times we struggle to take one more step while anxious or even desperate to see the smallest glimpse of his salvation for us. All the time we are sent to follow in the steps of Emmanuel. We celebrate God with us.
If you are easily offended, skip this post. You can come back soon for the next one.
This week I learned of Tim Minchin, a highly-talented British-Australian who is either a comedian that sings or a singer that does comedy–both descriptions seem accurate. In listening to some of his stuff, I found almost all of his songs and comedy to be laced with profanity, except for one song that consists of profanity sprinkled with conjunctions and a name. One theme that seems to run throughout his stuff is a disdain for all things religious as well as anything God-related.
Minchin could easily be a key narrator for a western, post-Christian world. With a recent trending on Twitter and his concerts taking place in some of the largest venues in the western world, his message clearly resonates with a large percent of audiences in Australia, the UK and the US. Having examined various aspects of religion including a number of key points from the Bible, he rejects it all. But, he is not rejecting all that is good. In what is becoming a Christmas standard, White Wine in the Sun, he sings of the deep trust and safety he has in his family. His holiday celebrations with them represent a place and time that he treasures. Something that he wants to convey and extend to his baby daughter. He values the deep community made up of people that he loves, a people that love him well.
In this song, Minchin celebrates the sentimental aspect of Christmas. His celebration is of a Christ-less Christmas. For him, I pray a wonderful celebration with those he loves and that one day he will experience the transformational love of Jesus. For me and others that read here, I pray that we can learn from Tim about how to better represent Christ to those that have wholly embraced a post-Christian non-belief.
When I think of Christmas I think of comfort….traditional songs, warm food, candles, fireside chats, thick sweaters…to me Christmas is all about comfort.
When I look at the first Christmas I don’t really see much comfort. Jesus left the right hand of the throne of God for a dirty, smelly manger. He left behind the worship of the saints for the sounds of sheep and camels. He left a place of prominence for a place of obscurity. He was born to an unwed mother and went from being the Creator to the created. He went from being all-powerful to needing diaper changes and meals. He learned a new language, found a new role, learned a new craft and subjected himself to everything human….sore feet, acne, being hot/cold, temptation….everything human. And he did this…for us. He was the ultimate incarnational, cross-cultural missionary. He took on a life of being uncomfortable to please God and rescue us.
In our ministries we get to choose who is uncomfortable….us or them. Our traditional, attractional models are comfortable for us. We invite someone to our church or our small group or our event. We invite them into our world….and they are the ones made uncomfortable. They have to learn our rules, our “Jesus” language, our way of dress and our rules of behavior.
This is the primary way the US church does ministry….we like it on our terms, in our context…it’s safe for us. But if we look at the way Jesus did life and ministry we see a different approach. Not only did he become the uncomfortable one in his birth, but he maintained this approach throughout his ministry. He taught in the synagogues but he also dined with sinners. He spoke with religious leaders but also met a samaritan woman at a well. He was viewed with suspicion by religious leaders because he chose to hang out with tax collectors, whores, the sick and the crippled. He never lost his faith or became like the sinners he was with but he constantly chose to learn their language, enter their world, minister in their context and in doing so took the gospel to places it had never been before.
So it’s not about giving up our comfortable Christmas with our rich traditions, favorite foods and family. It’s about looking at the amazing life of Jesus and learning from Him. We have a hurting world all around us….most of which will never come in contact with our church campuses and dynamic worship services. They already gather and find community in clubs, pubs, coffee shops and other activities. What if we became uncomfortable and went to where they are….entered into their world. What if we stopped inviting and started going and serving. What if we went to church less and became the church more?
I want to learn to accept being uncomfortable as a way of life. The best way I can honor Jesus and his birth is to learn from his example and allow myself to be made uncomfortable for the sake of King and Kingdom. Merry Christmas!
Last night my wife was helping a friend that has recently begun seeking to learn and live the ways of Christ. During their time together, my wife mentioned the Jewish people. In reply, our friend shared that she had heard the word Jew before, but had no idea what it meant. None.
This kind mother of four is, for several months now, seeking to teach her children to follow Christ. She is recently characterized by sharing the hope that she has because of Christ with others in her neighborhood. But she did not have a bit of knowledge about the Jewish people, the nation of Israel or any of their history either in Scripture or modern day.
Realizing this made me aware that I need to slow down and back up in my expectations of what others know. Seems like a good idea with her to now “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Also, our realization last night made me thankful that we are called to make disciples that obey everything Christ commanded, not disciples that are simply chock full of knowledge.
Putting up a video today that has gotten some play time lately. It was brought to my attention by a tweet from an Upstream Collective buddy and posted on the Missional Church Network. In case you have not seen it, I encourage you to make the time to work through it. Participating in the Page Lecture series at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Christoper Wright does a great job of making a case for a missional reading of Scripture.
Had a great time last night meeting people, hearing stories, sharing with and learning from others at the Engage@Work forum who are seeking to live out the whole gospel by seeing their work as part of the expression of their faith. The goal of the night was to begin to raise some questions about what this might look like. Special attention was given to what it may look like to conduct business in light of the triple bottom line.
For any readers that may be familiar with the idea of the bottom line, but unfamiliar with where it comes from, this is simply a number that comes from the Income Statement (some refer to this as a profit and loss statement). It is the remaining number (“in the black”) at the bottom that is calculated by taking revenues (green) and subtracting out expenses (“in the red”). Naturally, companies and individuals (and yes, even governments eventually) must pay attention to the bottom line. But the question arises, is that enough? Is making money all that business or life is about?
Socrates stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I would offer that evaluating business from a triple bottom line (TBL) is an attempt to do this examination thing for a business entity. And that, I would offer, is a very good thing. A TBL approach will evaluate whether or not a company is achieving their objectives in profit, people (this may include but is not limited social justice) and place (such as environmental issues, city beautification, etc.).
In extending the conversation, I would propose that doing TBL evaluation can be unwieldy. Still important conceptually, just difficult. I have seen businesses seeking to implement some dashboard metrics that included TBL issues, and found evaluation difficult because of the multiple outcomes. To aid in this, I would offer that it would be ideal to incorporate having an impact on people and/or place in the business plan as key factors that would be able to be key in our ability to also drive the monetary bottom line. Some good examples of this would include TOMS and Land of a Thousand Hills. If there is a big idea that resonates as true and worthwhile with others, then it should give a competitive advantage when all other things are equal. Even when other things such as price or ease of access are not equal, it may still give a distinct benefit that will help drive the old-fashioned bottom line.
Historically, businesses that have sought to do good have primarily done that through charitable giving. This avenue is still healthy and has great merit. But finding ways to incorporate being a blessing to others and/or to the creation we are to steward are definitely worthwhile pursuits to incorporate into business plans and practices.
Sent as Christ was sent, we are, I would offer, sent as the wise ones (among other things). So, what say you wise ones? What do we do with the TBL as we seek to live out the gospel?
This video quickly illustrates some of the cultural differences between a western mindset and what is the uniqueness of Russia. This provides a funny look at some extremes in culture, but also serves as a reminder of some of the challenges that lay ahead in seeking to do business as mission in a foreign context.
Next week Sojourn Community Church will be hosting an Engage@Work Forum where I will be participating on a panel. In preparation for that, panelists were asked to put a paragraph down addressing “why [work] is an important issue for Christians and the church as a whole to consider.” Below is my response. Other responses will be linked here as soon as they are posted.
Work began or at least was radically altered as a result of the curse and consequence of sin as recorded in Genesis. Because of this, redemption of a person’s work is one of the key ways that evidence transformation by Christ. While this real-world working out of one’s faith is naturally a blessing to the individual, it is vastly more. In a context where bottom-line and the resulting self-gratification is often viewed as both the primary objective and metric, work that is done for the glory of God is markedly different to observers including co-workers, clients and the community. Products manufactured and services delivered with the highest levels of quality control, contributions to make more just the lives of the needy, work relationships that are healthy and others-oriented, and work policies and practices that raise the ethic levels of the business showing it to be distinctly different are some of the ways that exalt Christ in the workplace. In a day of globalization, work that is conducted in this way has potential to provide evidence of the reign of God to the nations. This transformation of work from being the curse of man to a vehicle that exalts Christ to the nations in keeping with the mission of God is a clear example of the complete redemption that comes only through Christ.