A Worthwhile Podcast…by Donald Miller

Donald Miller   Appearances-1

I’d like to point you to a worthwhile podcast that I was originally put on to by Jake Bouma. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, among other titles, gave a talk at Mars Hill Bible Church. He spoke on the topic of story and the way that God speaks through story and is a God of lived story. This was incredibly impact-full, not just because of it’s post modern perspective, but because of how he brought to life the story of Joseph. He unpacked the essential elements to what makes good and bad stories. The resolve is that God loves story, he speaks through story, and is inviting us to live a story that is beyond the script of material acquisition and uses our hardships to shape the texture of the Kingdom coming. Please have a listen and be blessed.

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One Year Blogging…

As I approach the anniversary of my first year of blogging, I took some time to reflect on the experience and how it has shaped me. Blogging has been a tremendous source of life for me. In addition to helping me improve my writing skills, blogging has expanded my insight into the greater missional/emerging church conversation. Blogging has also connected me to some intriguing and wonderful people that God has used significantly in my spiritual growth. Here are a few that I am grateful to know, read, and admire. In no particular order:

JR Woodward – this guy is onto something unique and prophetic in both his writing and missional context. JR, thanks for always being an encouragement to me in your writing. Check out his site if you haven’t already and make it a regular read. There is much to be gleaned.

Erika Haub – Erika is one who ‘earths’ her theology. She finds God at work in the everyday and skillfully writes her stories for us to enjoy. Erika and her husband are embedded in a missional context that is both challenging and (from what I hear in her writing) rewarding. Theirs is the front line of the mission that reconciles this world to God. A must read.

Bill Kinnon – Bill’s writing is inspiring and thoughtful. He has a penetrating eye that can see through to the heart of the conversation and is never hesitant to speak his mind. Signs of a prophet perhaps. I met Bill in person back when I started blogging and his words of encouragement were immediately a blessing. Thanks for your help, Bill. Please link to Bill.

Brant Hansen – Brant is busy blogger because, well….he’s just sooo popular. His writing and whit are unmatched in the blogosphere, as his his theological insight and reasoning. Much can be learned from Brant and reading his stuff is pure fun. Humor was handed to him twice when he was created and he has a knack for communicating important things about the Kingdom. This leading feeder of leading leaders and his conferences are sure to spur many on to love and good deeds. Please link to him, he plays the accordion.


Rick Meigs – How could I have forgotten? In the wee hours of the night when I types this post, I forgot to include Rick. Rick over at the Blind Beggar has been an informative read over the last year. He’s the founder of ‘Friend of Missional‘; a website anyone who is interested in the missional church conversation should read. From what I read at Rick’s site, he seems to have an uncanny and prophetic way of living out what he writes about. Please link to him.[UPDATE]

These are but a few of the people that have made this blogging thing a substantial blessing for me. Thanks to you and to the others who are linked in my blogroll. You are all part of a significant journey and I am thrilled to peek in and learn from time to time.

As a way to remember this past year at Toward Hope, here is a list of what I feel were my top posts in the last year…not by comments or hits, just the ones I liked writing the most. Consider them the “Best of Toward Hope”

Eschatology & Missional Spirituality

Spirituality, work, and integration…

Thoughts about Vision

Questions about “Mega Church” ecclesiology…

What’s in a word?

Sacred Reading and Creative Word

Billy Graham Special & some observations about the Gospel on TV and in our culture…

Living in the Story – Narrative and the Kingdom

Church as Public Companion…

I was reading the latest Christian Bookstore flyer and…

While waiting for my prescription…

Writer’s Block and the Bachelor…

Artistic imagination as subversive prophetic engagement

Community, Discernment, Compassion, and Justice

Thoughts about charity and justice…

Listening into Action…

The day the Lord spoke…

A scholar and a gentleman…(some humor)

The Royal Consciousness…

An interesting neighbourhood…and an invitation to pray

Reality and Values Collide….

10 Tips for Living the Incarnation…[Plus One]

The Bishop weighs in on the topic of ecclesiology…

The People Formerly Known as Passive (or TPFKAP)

The Loss of Lament: The Devil Pulled a Fast one…

The 3 Maladies of Facebook relationships

The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3

3 Perspectives on Congregational Life

3 Perspectives on Pastoral Ministry

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A Covenant Evening…

Tonight we kicked off our 07/08 mission groups. Since we found out who we will be sharing life with, we have been eager for this night so we could dive into a rhythm of life together again. The structure of our groups are predominantly geographic and are centered around mission. This year we are approaching the discernment of mission for our group through the Ingnatian practices of Examen and discernment. We really want to recognize what God wants from us by listening intently to how He is working in our own lives and where He is already at work in our community. Such an approach is exciting because we get to discover each step of the way what surprising adventure the Lord invites us into. It puts us in a posture of responsive faithfulness as we seek to tease out of life the workings of God.

We began the evening by sharing what our hopes and dreams are for the year ahead. Person after person desired a greater intimacy with God and maturity in their faith. It’s wonderful to stumble upon the realization that at the heart of each of our desires is a longing to share the life of the Trinity. Twas good to hear.

We then went over our mission group covenant. At the start of each year, in our first meeting, we remind each other of our commitment to be shaped by a set of biblical practices and values that can guide us toward faithfulness. Rather than a burden or standard to live up to, our covenant is an invitation to each of us to live deeply within the story of God that is being orchestrated in our lives as followers of Jesus. It was affirmed how living into the covenant is a good way to realize our expressed hopes for the year. We followed this with ample scripture readings about love and community, music, communion together, and prayers.

After communion, we practiced the Examen on our day and then shared how God had been working in our day through our experiences and desires. The discussion was amazing and all had a sense that the Lord was speaking. I love those moments, when you just know that God is in the room. It makes for a very sacred time and served to bind us together significantly on our first night. When I think of it, we are not normal Christians by mainstream, Western standards, as there is evident in us an ethos that we are not here for ourselves, but for each other and for the sake of the world through mission. How else should we be in response to the love that God lavishes onto us?

All contributed to the discussion tonight and that was a source of encouragement. There is great anticipation among us as the journey unfolds.

Here is a good link to help you get started with the Examen. May this practice bless you.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 3

As I look toward tomorrow, I see it a very busy day and so I will post part three of my series on incarnation today. Part 1 and Part 2 dealt with two things I think are necessary for the church to embody appropriate witness in a community; Perceptive eyes for which to read culture, and the embrace of lament and pathos for prophetic engagement. Today I want to talk about a third necessity; the importance of a robust understanding of Jesus. For this, I lean on NT Wright’s work, The Challenge of Jesus.


A Robust Jesus – Reducing Reductions for a Complete Vision

In recent history, there have been many understandings of Jesus that are swayed in the tides of philosophical thought. From Gnostic tendencies, to enlightenment constructions, Jesus has been understood and misunderstood. Notably, the church’s understanding of Jesus will reflect the church’s witness. NT Wright in, The Challenge of Jesus, suggests that commitment to the task of understanding the historical Jesus is needed to ensure the Church’s witness remains faithful. One can think of the theological shifts in Germany that led to Aryanism as an example of cultural capitulation that resulted from not committing to the study of the historical Jesus. This book is a great help to understanding Jesus robustly for appropriate incarnational witness.

If one does a Google search for images of Jesus, several appear; from bobble head Jesus, to Scandinavian blond haired, blue eyed Jesus and everything in between. Part of the challenge this brings to churches is the cultural “trinket-ization” of Jesus as a vending machine god that resembles more the consumption mechanism of out culture. This is a result of our lack of historical study of Jesus within his context. Although personal relationships are platformed in Western Evangelicalism, I think there exists a thin understanding of who Jesus was, and his purpose for individuals and the world.

A proper historical understanding of Jesus, as Wright is committed to, will have serous implications for the church as she seeks to incarnate the gospel. For in addition to the “personal savior” element to Jesus, the Kingdom of God, the cross, and the resurrection radically shape the church’s vocation in the world. Jesus “…is not about ‘soul-making’, the attempt to produce or train disembodied beings for a future disembodied life. It is about working with fully human beings who will be reembodied at last, after the model of the Messiah.” Wright’s comment is a corrective for the church because the lack of a robust Jesus has dimmed her understanding of vocation to a point where discipleship has been neglected. Just imagine what most would say to the truth that we are called to implement the project of redemption Jesus initiated against the backdrop of a “Jesus is only my personal savior” culture?

As we travel into neighbourhoods seeking faithful embodiment of the incarnation, we must remember that we are to the world what Jesus was for Israel. For it is “…because Jesus to Israel, therefore the church to the world”, that launches us headlong into God’s plan of redemption for the world that includes not only saved souls, but saved creation. To do anything less will lead to a Gnostic-type gospel that takes away the most significant components to who Jesus was and is.


As the Church moves into the neighbourhood, the three perspectives above, I think, will help us toward faithfulness. Without keen eyes on culture, fearlessly plunging philosophical depths to understand how we are shaped, we leave ourselves open to misunderstandings. Without the embrace of pathos we in some ways deny our own humanness and revert to being the masters of our own destinies. And without a robust Jesus, the gospel messages we contrive will be as powerless to transform the world as many of the statistics on Western Christianity indicate. Furthermore, the call to incarnation is one of great price that we need to carefully consider as we remember where the incarnation led Jesus before the resurrection.


Brueggemann, Walter. The Prophetic Imagination. Augsburg Fortress, 2004.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Foolishness to the Greeks : The Gospel and Western Culture. Wm.B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 1990.

Peterson, Eugene H. The Message//Remix 2.0. NavPress, 2006.

Sider, Ronald J. The Scandal of The Evangelical Conscience : Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? Baker Book House, 2004.

Wright, N. T. The Challenge Of Jesus : Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Intervarsity Press, 2006.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 2

Here is Part 2 of a three part series on incarnation. In Part 1 I shared a reflection about the importance of having eyes to see the theological and philosophical constructs of our culture. In Part 2 I talk about Brueggemann’s work, Prophetic Imagination, and how a second element for incarnational witness is the embrace of pathos and lament.


Embracing Humanness – Mourning, Pathos, and a Shock to the Numbness

Jesus embraced humanness in the incarnation and we are invited to follow him in that way of suffering love. But there is a problem in our culture to which the church in the West is largely unaware. The problem is that there is an inability to embrace suffering and mourning. Walter Brueggemann makes this clear in his work,

The Prophetic Imagination. We are scripted into a cultural status quo (or Royal Consciousness) that presses us to live for the now. On a more sinister level, forces of consumerism are providing for us “ends” that leave us satiated in materialism alone. The story is a dark one and tells us that the highest point in life is to live for consumption. It masks the reality of impending death and doom shouting “peace, peace, all is well, just buy more stuff”, when there is no peace (Jer 6:14). The problem we are faced with in this situation is a denial of humanness that leads to oppression, for an illusion that ends in calamity.

How is this important for incarnation of the gospel in our time? Brueggemann plunges us deep into the narratives of Moses and Solomon to contrast the two consciousnesses they embodied. Under Moses, God was free and responded to the people’s lament and embrace of Pathos. Under Solomon, affluence, oppressive social policies, and static religion attempted to contain God and formed a consciousness that served the King. To answer the question, in our time today, we live under a Royal Consciousness that is not unfamiliar to the Solomonic one. Ours is the worship of the economic, capitalist King that is uninterested in the greater values of God’s heart; to act justly and love mercy (Micah 6:8).

If we are to live our faith genuinely in communities, it will require that we embrace our humanness and suffering in the way of Jesus and the prophets that preceded Him. This should happen as we journey with Jesus; for in conversion there is a mourning that leads to dying that leads to new life. Both personally and corporately, the church’s task in the numbness of culture is to embrace pathos to teach it to mourn. In addition, embracing pathos will help us to embrace our humanness, shock us out of Royal numbness, and fund for us a way to imagine an alternative future that belongs to God. Brueggemann put it best in concluding his book. He reflects on the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”:

“There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”

Part three and the conclusion tomorrow.

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The Church Moves into the Neighbourhood – Part 1

The following is part one of a three part series of posts on the incarnation. It is a small paper I completed for a class in Spiritual Formation. I welcome your questions and feedback on these thoughts. As the total paper is a short 7.5 pages, it was difficult to formulate detailed arguments. As such, I deal with three general perspectives that I feel the Church needs to consider as it incarnates the gospel. This first part considers Lesslie Newbigin’s work, Foolishness to the Greeks


Engaging the topic of the Church and her move into the neighbourhood, presses one to grapple with elements of the incarnation. That Jesus incarnated the presence of God in human form requires us to consider the presence and work of God among us and in us in each cultural context we find ourselves in. As Eugene Peterson’s, Message puts it: “The word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood”. This compelling description of incarnation shapes the pattern now for the church.

But the pressing questions of “How?” and “In what manner?” remain on the forefront and can determine the difference between faithfulness and gospel reductionism. I believe for the church to faithfully move into the neighbourhood, a number of things need to be considered. That they begin with the church’s faithful relationship with Jesus and a clear understanding of his mission and purpose is without question. Without this, “moving into the neighbourhood” will bring with it numerous reductions and cultural accommodations that are sadly far too evident in many churches today.

As I Reflect on the readings for this paper, Brueggemann, Wright, and Newbigin, all offer incredible challenges to the Church about her relation to the gospel and culture. In addition, they fund for us new (or, rather old) perspectives for the church’s faithful witness. In this paper, I will present three perspectives that have emerged from my engagement with the texts.

With Eyes to See – A Cultural Investigation Alongside the Gospel

I am learning that perceptive eyes and critical thinking about the world around us are important elements to appropriately understand how to incarnate the gospel. Foolishness to the Greeks is a superb book that engages the sub-forces of culture and how we are shaped in the West alongside the gospel. For how can we trust that our understandings of the gospel and the culture (in which we are so enmeshed) are accurate, without first listening and observing the philosophical and theological assumptions we come to the table with?

Newbigin’s work is helpful in that it challenges our presuppositions about culture and the gospel. One big issue was made clear to me. It is that the gospel is not about propositions and mental articulation of Jesus in order to go to heaven when one dies. The gospel is, as Newbigin summarizes, “…the announcement that in the series of events that have their centre in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ something has happened that alters the total human situation and must therefore call into question every human culture.” This statement early in the book sets up a number of arguments that bring into question Modernity’s Post Enlightenment assumptions that suggest a divide between that which is sacred and that which is secular. This has made religion a private affair (of values) and left the public world of “facts” (as governed by the public religion of science and rationality) untouched by the challenge of the gospel.

Why is understanding this important to faithfully incarnating the gospel? It is so because the neighbourhoods we desire to incarnate in operate in the realm of pluralism where our Christianity has no superior claim to any other religion and all religions have no claim on the God of rationalism that governs public truth. “What is true for you is not true for me”, is the earthed expression of this postmodern reality. This must cause the church to move beyond trying to rationalize faith (as it so often does) according to the scientific principles of modernity, and begin to live and breath the resurrection as a result of being in Christ. We must embody the resurrection in historical word and deed following in the footsteps of Jesus.

The Gospel is foolishness to the Greeks and this serves true in our day as well. It can be said true that sacrificial love and care for the world holistically (beyond care for only the rational mind) will always trump the scientism that tries to rule the public realm that belongs to the Kingdom of God, without discounting the value of science, of course. To live out of a hermeneutic of love is the invitation knocking on the door of the church in the West. After all, in our postmodern times, truth is understood locally and experientially. This way will surely call into question the culture with the gospel and what better opportunity than now to live out our faith?

Part two will come tomorrow.

I welcome your questions and feedback.

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Defensive vs Demonstrative

It_s Fun To Be A Fundamentalist on Flickr - Photo Sharing!-1In conversation today with a coworker about faith and things spiritual, we wandered into the realm of fundamentalism and the limitations therein. We discussed notions of control and the compulsion for certainty that leads faith groups toward putting God into a box. Of the many challenges with this type of religion, that masquerades as effective God Management systems, one that came to the surface was the way in which fundamental groups deal with questions, or challenges from without. Most become defensive when uncomfortable questions arise to which there is no black or white answer. Rather than dialogue, counter critique is applied and effort is placed in proving right (which means proving wrong) those who question.

This approach invariably does little to build bridges for the gospel message to germinate in people’s lives. Rather, it causes further division and preaches damnation to those who oppose the neat and tidy constructs of the fundamentalist way. The baffling element to this is that fundamentalist groups believe the argumentative posture employed is a form of evangelization, as if proving someone wrong will make them bow at the sword of intellectual prowess. Not the case. Rather than seek the healing of all things, more hurt is often the result.

Our conversation then turned to what a better way might look like. When we examine the way of Jesus, we find inherent in him the demonstration of faith. Jesus not only proclaimed the Kingdom, but he enacted, very symbolically, the values of the new order of God. Often in contradiction to the God Management system of the Pharisee party, Jesus embodied the love, care, attention, and respect in the form of dignifying others, seemingly at times the Pharisees would notice most (like on the Sabbath). Of course, he debated with those intent on viewing Him as a threat to the establishment of the day; however, his sharp, corrective, critique was always backed up with demonstration of the truth in signs and wonders. He engaged in dialogue and sought to understand. He even gave those with malicious motives the benefit of the doubt by asking questions back when they tried to bait him on an issue.

So what do you do when someone questions your faith? Do you get defensive, or do you get demonstrative by engaging in dialogue? The type of real dialogue that is willing to be open to what others may convincingly say.

I have been defensive in the past, feeling personally attacked and wanting to prove wrong those who challenge what I believe. It is only the last few years that I have taken a more generous approach that includes listening on common ground.

What about you?

[image credit: curtis perry]

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Speedlinking – August 26th


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Questions to Guide Theological and Ecclesiological Perspective

The Challenge Of Jesus _ Rediscovering Who Jesus Was  and  IsI have just begun NT Wright’s book, The Challenge of Jesus, for a paper I am writing. At the end of his first chapter, in which he outlines the importance of studying the historical Jesus, he offers five questions that can guide us toward an appropriate understanding of Jesus to inform our theologies and ecclesiologies.

1. Where does Jesus belong within the Jewish world of his day?

2. What, in particular, was his preaching of the Kingdom all about? What was he aiming to do?

3. Why did Jesus die? In particular, what was his own intention in going to Jerusalem that last fateful time?

4. Why did the early church begin, and why did it take the shape it did? Specifically, of course, what happened at Easter?

5. How does this all relate to the Christian task and vision today? How, in other words, does this historical and also deeply theological approach put fire into our hearts and power into our hands as we go about shaping the world?

These are big and important questions. Wright suggests that if we do not commit to applying ourselves to further study of Jesus, all sorts of misunderstandings creep into our faith and get wrapped up in our traditions.

Anyone care to take a stab at one of them? I know they are big, but perhaps we can address them succinctly.

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The God Next Door Resource

Simon Carey Holt, author of The God Next Door has made a neighbourhood exegesis resource available from a section in his book. It looks intriguing and gets at asking some important questions about neighbourhood for discerning mission. Being able to read our world is a critical task for appropriate incarnational ministry. The questions have a hint of Ignatius’ Examine about them (which I quite like) as they encourage discovery of how God is already working “outside” the walls of the church. Have a look and while you’re at it, check out his blog.

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The Loss of Lament: The Devil Pulled a Fast one…

1-26-07 on Flickr - Photo Sharing!

The more I attempt from the inside to get a read on the world we are immersed in (however futile that may be), the more I realize the loss of lament in our culture. It’s darn hard to grieve! When hit with tragedy, we are conditioned to move past the problem via distraction instead of working through the issue appropriately and biblically. I think the devil pulled a fast one.

The cultural stories we find ourselves in press us into a “never let them see you sweat” mindset that subtly co-opts us into the “only the strong survive” world. Given little opportunity to grieve well, our cultural symbols and practices for this hardly compare to the richness of lament we find in scripture. Think of Job. Here was a man who was beset by tragedy. What did his mourning look like? It was light years ahead of how we grieve in the West today. Embracing weakness is not prized in our day and it’s costing us big time. Somehow, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

What makes this so? I think it has something to do with the consciousness we are overwhelmed by. This consciousness tells us to live for the moment. We have been craftily shaped into consumers who have bought into the myth that materialism will satisfy any woe. For some reason, killing God with the secular dream has not only conditioned the most potent consumer market ever, it has also created the greatest fear of that which we cannot control; death. It’s no wonder why we invest so much in avoiding death, regardless of how much we are surrounded by it at every turn in the media. We take comfort knowing that it’s all make believe. Somewhere, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

So why would the devil pick on our capacity to lament? I have learned to never underestimate his craftiness on matters of deceit. He did it (is doing it) because without lament we lack the capacity for true repentance and identification with the God who suffers. Without lament we are handicapped in our love and words like ‘compassion’ and ‘poverty of spirit’ carry little weight outside of their ability to be trite sentiment. The loss of lament stifles our capacity for justice and compassion and dismantles what was supposed to be a highly potent, world-changing, movement of Jesus followers into a religious system that worships idols of success, strength, and entertainment. The lack of lament is the ingredient the enemy needs to cement our hearts into a stoney numbness and nullify genuine, continuous, conversion.

The other day I quoted Brueggemann. He was going on about Jesus’ beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn”. He reveals the challenge of this scripture to us by saying:

“There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”

Perhaps worst of all, the loss of lament has caused us to turn away from the riches of the Kingdom that come when we begin to feel in this world with the heart of the Father. It is only then, when we have mourned with God, that we can begin seeing with the eyes of the Spirit and acting with the hands of Jesus for His Kingdom. As I reflect, I think the devil pulled a fast one.

[image credit: chrismaverick]

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Brueggemann on Jesus’ …”Blessed are those who mourn”

52_brueggemann.jpg (JPEG Image, 175x248 pixels)“Jesus takes quite a dialectical two-age view of things. He will not be like one-world liberals who view the present world as the only one, nor will he be like the unworldly who yearn for the future with an unconcern about the present. There is work to be done in the present. There is grief work to be done in the present that the future may come. There is mourning to be done for those who do not know of the deathliness of their situation. There is mourning to be done with those who know pain and suffering and lack the power or freedom to bring it to speech. The saying is a harsh one, for it sets this grief work as the precondition of joy. It announces that those who have not cared enough to grieve will not know joy.”

Walter Brueggemann, The Prohphetic Imagination, pg. 119.

A Walter Brueggemann site for you

What is the place of mourning and lament in the Western Church today?

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Doing Little Things Well…

Often there are great aspirations and dreams that are tied to ideas about church growth and Kingdom talk. This is in both the church growth movement and the subsequent Missional conversation; one that in many respects is being defined many times over. Although the church growth movement and the emerging Missional Church movement are categorically different on every level, there still seems to be idilic visions of grander that haunt those set with the passion of Jesus within. This is all good…sort of. On the one hand it is important for us to dream toward hope in the reconciliation of all things. On the other, leaping too far forward thrusts the Kingdom realities of the daily into the future tempting a disconnect from living our spirituality today. So, it seems, we have a tension to live out among us.

What if we set our hearts on the hope of all creation restored and practiced doing the little things well? Since we are all priests, the 9-5 job, the housework, the caring phone call, the pastoral preparation, mowing the lawn, and everything else that defines the daily of the people of God, are sacred and considered ministry. If we remember that our actions echo in eternity and work toward that end, the little things within the bigger picture come into focus as important and of great value. The crux, of course, is being faithful with the little daily things whilst stoking the dream of the vision God has for creation. Perhaps we can see the daily deeds as tiny embers that warm the flame of reconciled eternity that burns in our hearts. And what if we entrust how big the flame gets to the one who starts the fire?

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10 Tips for Living the Incarnation…[Plus One]

[UPDATE: Brant Hansen initially left a comment this post expressing perhaps what might be one of the most important and prophetic tips/practices for living the incarnation these days in the West. I asked him to elaborate a little and his latest, well written blog post hits the mark. In a world marked by lives rushing at an unsustainable frenetic pace, simplicity, or as he calls his post “Here’s to Nothing“, can ironically accomplish the most benefit for the Kingdom. Brant’s examples of how he and his family live this out practically are worth consideration. Consider it the 11th tip and Check it out! More tips are welcome, leave a comment and let us know what you think.]

As a way to express much of what has been stirring in me lately, I have decided to give my top 10 tips for living incarnationally. This list is by no means exhaustive, but consists of my reflections on some important elements for the task. They are a result of my experience and experimentation of trying to embody the gospel in our neighbourhood. In some ways our community has explored and experienced many of these to a good degree; in other ways, we are just scratching the surface of what incarnational living means. In no particular order:

1. Attentive Listening: The art of listening is becoming increasingly important for what it means to live incarnationally. Appropriate listening is grounded in a robust understanding of Pneumatology that believes, in addition to the oft overemphasized personal experience, that the Holy Spirit is active, working, leading, and inviting the church into mission. Our ideas and plans can often override the still small voice that gently invites us into unexpected and new adventures. Peter’s encounter with Cornelius in the book of Acts is a good story to identify with for the importance of listening to live incarnationally. As the Spirit promises to lead us into all truth, we trust that God will reveal the injustice and oppression in our midst so that we can respond appropriately.

2. Formative Practices: Living in a rhythm that includes formative spiritual practices is vital to remain intimately connected to God. This is the Contemplative way. Seeking union with God and to see God in all things allows for greater freedom to reflect the image of God to others, understand His good an pleasing will, and it gives us a greater awareness of reality. Walking in closeness through disciplined practices of prayer, listening, scripture reading, Examen, discipleship, and fasting prepares the us for works of service that are pleasing to God and shapes us into a Gospel storied people.

3. Proximity: As Jesus localized himself in the incarnation, so too must the church localize in order to reflect most vividly the image of God. Without local relationships, the fullness of community seems somewhat lacking. People are transported everywhere through vehicles, the telephone, and the internet in convenient and practical ways. But at what cost? In the midst of the connectedness we have through technology, there is still a great longing for local relationship and the gift of presence. Being proximate with our relationships is vital if we are to express a full embodiment of what Biblical community is. So go for walks. Build relationships. Let people see you and know you are there.

4. Holistic Gospel Proclamation: Who are we and what are we about? These are vital questions about ourselves to understand and unless we have embraced the holistic gospel that includes the restoration of all creation, we run the risk of dualistic spirituality that settles for getting people to believe things about Jesus to get to heavn. Proclaiming the gospel invites people to walk alongside God in this world to help put it to rights. If we are to see the values of a community transformed, proclamation of a renewed heaven and earth and not just going to heaven are a vital component. Furthermore, inviting people into the restorative work of the church under the Lordship of Jesus is the most complete embodiment of the gospel. So we must ensure that we preach the full message and not just part of it.

5. Patience: Relationships take time. Gone are the days of thinking drive-by gospel presentations to win souls actually works anymore. Incarnation happens through the fabric of life involvement with others. That is why it is difficult to say how long it will take to transform a neighbourhood. The Gospel needs to take root and the most influential and effective way for this to happen is through long term relationships of trust to be established. So be patient and recognize that we are here for the long haul.

6. Generosity: Living with a deep theological generosity is both prophetic and attractive to a culture that is socialized into a hoarding mentality of scarcity. The fear of “not having” and the false human end our consumeristic culture preaches leaves people thinking charity and generosity consist merely of giving spare change or junk away. So be generous with all you have. Give without expecting repayment and share. The reality is that there is too much to go around in most cases and the freedom the Gospel invites us to live is one of an open hand toward possessions and not a closed fist. I am convinced it takes a living example of generosity to convince someone that the perceived freedom of consumption and materialistic pursuit is actually a form of slavery.

7. Advocacy: Following in the footsteps of Jesus means siding with the oppressed. Not only an identification with them, but an advocacy for them is what Kingdom living means. For if we believe that God is putting the world to rights, then we believe our place in that reconciliatory task is to deal with oppressiveness and injustice that systemically operates in our community. Go and involve yourself with local groups that already have a leg up on some issues, or start a grass roots movement. Offer to help and always be prepared to give an answer when people ask you why.

8. Hospitality: Relationships deepen in the home. Sharing a meal is an opportunity to allow the stranger to become a friend. As we welcome people into our home we welcome them into our hearts and allow them to freely be who they are. This requires us to become less and seek not our own desire to be known, but to desire first to know, understand, and appreciate the other. It is a posture of gentleness that reserves judgement and seeks only to love. Hospitality creates space for relationships to flourish and deepen.

9. Reading the Culture: This is perhaps one of the most important tasks for the church these days. To read the culture and understand how we are socialized as part of it is crucial to discern appropriate demonstration of the Gospel. The world and its messages that shape us today are nothing less than subversive and if we fail to understand the cultural forces and values that shape us we become scripted unawarely by them. So pay attention to media, to the stories people in your community tell and live by, to the news and to the things people constantly buy into. You’ll be better off for it and the opportunities for powerful and prophetic incarnation increase when we are aware of the stories our culture tells.

10. Pathos: Why do we even attempt to commit our lives to traveling the narrow road described in the points above? It is a response to the unending and faithful love of God alone! The love of God is the beginning of all incarnation. A response filled with passion and fueled by the Spirit comes out of our experience of conversion. Our experience of conversion is enabled by our willingness to embrace pathos. It must not stop with our initial coming to Christ, we must always have a real view of ourselves and our need for God as we grow in Him. In addition, none of this is attainable unless our hearts are in line with God’s and weep alongside His against the injustice, brokenness, and sorrow that plague what it means to live the human experience separated from God. We must resist thinking everything is OK and take seriously the suffering among us so that those who do suffer are not perceived as normal and expected fixtures of our community, but seen as Christ himself suffering. Compassion is born out of embracing pathos. Do we weep over our city as Jesus did over Jerusalem?

So what do you think? What other tips for incarnational living can you recommend. What is your tip and why?

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