Direction or Destination

bounded setMost of the frustrations I’ve had with hearing and reading Christian beliefs is they are usually very exclusive. If I could draw a simple description, most approaches look like the picture I’ve posted.(1)  In bounded set thinking we create a circle around our beliefs and put certain people we agree with in our circle and others out. We don’t do this to be jerks but because of our loyalty to the Bible and to distinguish ourselves from the many diverse spiritual beliefs in our world today. In this kind of thinking it’s very easy to define ourselves by what we are against. We can quickly close our circle tighter and tighter by aligning ourselves with certain pastors, authors, and political preference. Without knowing it, we can alienate ourselves from the very world God deeply loves. It’s the select few that are right and everyone else is wrong and if you want in our circle then you have to admit you are wrong. (which no one wants to do) The emphasis is on getting others on the outside to agree with me.  This bounded set automatically turns any conversation to a “me vs. you” dynamic. It can be offensive, abrasive, and ultimately not constructive. I’ve been guilty of this spiritual territorialism and it has often left me hoping for another way.

centered setWhat I’ve discovered is a refreshing alternative. In centered set thinking the issue is not about who’s in or who’s out but which direction are we headed. We’re no longer inclined to accidentally judge people on how far or close they are to God but which way are they pointed. This has liberated me in regards to common controversial Christian issues.  The person with correct doctrine but pointed in the wrong direction is worse off than the person with misguided beliefs but humbling pursuing God.  In a centered set, the tax collector’s prayer is rewarded over the Pharisees. (Luke 18:9-14) We are free to open the doors of faith wide and accept people for where they are.  Spiritual elitism fades away and an authentic conversation can begin. A centered set also humbles me.  See, it’s no longer about adopting certain “correct” beliefs, marking that off my spiritual to do list and thinking I have everything together. A centered set forces me to daily ask the question, “Which way am I headed?” Am I traveling closer or farther away from a loving God today? I care less about which club I belong to and care more about who is along for the journey. The goal has not yet been reached in a centered set.  After all, the connotation of a “follower of Jesus” is movement and direction.  You simply cannot say you are following anyone and stay in the same place for very long.

Finally, a centered set allows for freedom. We can hand those with different beliefs a gift rather than take something away. We are free to validate rather than diminish. We no longer need to feel threatened or defensive.

I hope this helps you as much as it has helped me. May we all head toward a loving God today.

1.  This ideas was initially developed over 30 years ago by missiologist and anthropologist Paul Hebert in his book Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. His ideas were then popularized by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch in their book, Shaping of Things to Come, and in the book edited by Darrell Guder, Missional Church.

Look, The Moon!

90665015Last Saturday morning was Laura’s sleep in day so I got up with the kids.  There is a coffee shop a few blocks from our house so we decided to walk there for some breakfast. Since the boys get up really early, it was still dark out as we walked.  About half way to the coffee shop, Linc stopped and pointed upward shouting,

“Look!  The Moon!”

Our youngest, Sawyer also stopped and pointed upward yelling, “The moon!”

Being the responsible and prudent parent that I am, I quickly hushed my boys so the neighbors wouldn’t wake up.  After all, it was just the moon and I hadn’t even had my coffee yet.  However, they just kept going on an on about how cool the moon looked the whole rest of the way.  For them, the moon was a awe-inspiring, magical mystery.  To me, the moon was, well, just the moon.

No wonder Jesus told his disciples,

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.(1)

There is something children understand about God we adults just don’t get.  Jesus is inviting us to take on a totally different perspective.  He is calling us to a new world-view.  He is asking us to “turn and become”.  He is encouraging us to embrace the awe-inspiring mystery and beauty of God.  He is pleading for us to see the moon.

Do you remember when grace amazed you?  Do you recall when the cross shocked you?  When is the last time God’s presence moved you?  Or are we to mature for that now?  Are we now so responsible and prudent that we have accidentally outgrown grace?  After all, life is very busy and who has time to just stare and point.

May you and I turn and become.

May we point upward with wide eye wonder at all God is.

May we welcome mystery and appreciate His beauty.

May we never miss the profound magic in simple truths.

May we wake the neighbors with our praise!

Renewing Our Vows

IMG_1204This past week, Laura and I celebrated ten years of marriage by traveling to a resort in Mexico.  It was our first vacation alone since having kids so sleeping in, sharing a meal longer than five minutes, and uninterrupted conversations were all things we enjoyed.  However, the highlight of the trip for us was renewing our vows.(1)  We held hands, and recited some promises we made to each other a very long time ago.  We laughed, cried, and remembered again all we dreamed this relationship to be.  I got to stare into her eyes and be amazed all over again by her beauty.  I know it sounds a little silly renewing our vows after only ten years, but hey, why not!  Right?

Sometimes I catch myself talking about grace as something I used to need.  Maybe I’ll share about how a long time ago I made some bad decisions and God’s grace and forgiveness mattered way back then.  After all, my church attendance is impressive now.  Sure I’m not perfect, but my sins are more acceptable(2) now and we should be more concerned with the salvation of all those sinners out there anyway.  Whenever I start thinking this way, it reminds me of a husband that told his wife, “Woman!  I told you once that I love you and if that changes, I’ll let you know!”

The other day I was praying with a group of men and for whatever reason it struck me that it had been awhile since I had thanked Jesus for dying for me.  I started remembering all the pain he endured and how he didn’t deserve it and now because of the price he paid, I can be forgiven.  Remembering all this made me want to give my life to him all over again so I just ended up telling him that in prayer while these other men listened in.  I wept quietly because grace amazed me all over again and I was so grateful to speak to a holy and good God that would call me his kid.   I’m kinda self conscience about praying in front of other people anyway, so I couldn’t help but wonder if these other men thought I was being silly.

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;(3)

Have you ever noticed how many times in the Bible God talks about himself being a groom and we’re the bride?  It’s a lot.  In fact, it’s one of the primary ways God explains our relationship with him.  This analogy is full of a romantic, dynamic, and intimate kind of love.

My prayer that day felt like I was reciting some promises to God that I made a very long time ago.  I remembered again all we dreamed this relationship could be.  I got to stare into his eyes and be amazed all over again by grace.  I know it sounds silly praying such a elementary kind of prayer and I know God knows I love him but hey, maybe he just likes to hear me say it.

May grace amaze you today.  May you renew your vow to Him.  May your love toward him look silly.

1.  This is an actual pic of my wife and I.

2.  It’s always crazy how we rank sin and judge other’s outsides while ignoring our insides. All the while, Jesus was angered by religious arrogance and welcomed the prostitute.  If you had to rank, I’d say God’s more concerned with pride than even porn.

3.  Revelations 19:7

Why I Don’t Evangelize

evangelist-with-bible-pointing-600x360I was asked the other day, “Are you one of those evangelical Christians?”

I immediately didn’t know how to answer and thought,
I am, but I don’t want to be…?  Wait that came out wrong!  Umm… I mean, I want you to know about Jesus but I don’t want you to know some of the ways my people go about this…?  Oh crap!  I’m not ashamed of my people, but I am… “My people!”  Wait!  This is sounding like a cult!  I give up!!!
This conflict in my head led me to the Bible to find how Jesus explained evangelism.  What I found was,
He didn’t.
In fact, Jesus doesn’t once use the word “evangelism” or any variation of the word.  This word that labels political camps, denominations, churches, and even people is never once uttered by the founder of the religion. Also, “evangelism” is loaded with negative connotations, and unnecessary political affiliations.  So why do people use the term, “evangelism” when we struggle to even define it?
Because love has lost its definition as well.
In most evangelistic churches, when we talk about loving someone it’s assumed love is passive, flimsy, and intangible where “evangelism” is active, heroic, and quantifiable.  “Love is that warm fuzzy, Chicken Noodle Soup For The Soul Volume 84, emotional thing but evangelism is what the church is really about!” Some church leaders think.  Many evangelicals assume Christians that merely love others somehow water down the gospel but what if love (in its correct definition) is the gospel?  What if creating an additional word merely helps us feel superior to others and makes others feel like a project?
Jesus never needed to come up with an additional word for his followers because he was busy defining love instead.  For Jesus, love is enough.  He never once told them, “Go into a town and evangelize” or “Hey, that was a pretty sweet evangelistic event you put on Peter!”  No of course not!  Jesus didn’t have to.  Instead, Jesus talked a lot about being a good neighbor, caring for the needy, and even sacrificing your life for others.  He continually models, shares stories, and teaches a definition of love.  He even died on a cross as a final explanation of love that leaves me speechless.  After all, God didn’t define himself as “God is evangelistic” but he confidently announces “God is love.” (1). No other words are necessary.
Love passionetly pursues.
Love extravagantly does. (2)
Love boldy speaks.
Love graciosly invites.
Love generously shares.
Love is “evangelical”.
How about we lay down this negatively charged word that Jesus never bothered with in the first place and the next time someone asks us, “Are you one of those evangelistic Christians?”
Confidently reply, “I’m one of those loving ones.”
1.  1 John 4:8
2.  For much more on this, I highly recommend Love Does by Bob Goff.  An inspirational read that reminded me of the definition of love.