Saturday, January 25, 2014

Reflections on Greater Dallas Movement Day

This past Thursday, over 1400 leaders gathered together for Greater Dallas Movement Day, in what was surely a marvelous and much needed gathering for Christian leaders from our local cities and region. 

The Bible is clear on the significance of Christian unity. God promises an overflowing blessing when his people live in unity (Psalm 133). Jesus thought that it was so important that he made the future oneness of his followers one of his last prayer requests (John 17:20-23). He tells us the reason too – so that the world will believe! The Apostle Paul tells us to “Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.” (Ephesians 4:3 NTL). 

I believe God selected Mac Pier, who just happens to be my old ministry boss, to lead this movement even from another city, because he understands citywide unity at a profound level. I have been living in Greater Dallas (McKinney) for the past eight years and six months, and 15 days now. I know that the functional unity I witnessed in New York City has been absent from our region. When I moved here in 2005, I was surprised that there were no ongoing efforts to unite the Church. Rather, I discovered the proud independent spirit of Texas instead.

Prayerfully, Greater Dallas Movement is a leap forward toward being “united in the Holy Spirit,” not just as an invisible spiritual extension of who we are in Christ, but in visible meaningful ways the world can see.  Thankfully, there have been some small steps in that direction that led to this significant day. 

It was 2011 that I first met Rebecca Walls of Unite Greater Dallas and I praise God for her vision to move the Church in the direction of unity. I believe it was her groundbreaking work these past few years that, in large part, made Greater Dallas Movement Day possible. The Church needs to get behind her leadership in significant ways and resource her organization well for this important work. 

When Rebecca first shared with me the vision to bring together 1,600 leaders at the Dallas Convention Center, I was skeptical. “Not in Dallas” was my first thought. Even a month before the event, it looked like my skepticism would be vindicated, as registration was slow coming in. But God is able, in his perfect timing, to do what is impossible to our feeble thinking. I therefore must now repent of not trusting our Lord for what He would do on January 23rd, 2014 at the Dallas Convention Center. It was truly a “united in the Holy Spirit” day for Greater Dallas. 

Such events as Greater Dallas Movement Day however have a way of becoming monuments instead of movements. I am sure we have all experienced wonderful, motivational, conferences where we come away from the time with fresh vision, new ideas, and grand plans to change the world.  All we need is more action, more advocacy for the poor, hopefully more acknowledgement of our need for God and we will get the job done. More people will hear, more people will be cared for, more good works will happen, now that we’ve been charged up, pumped up, and spiritually fed by the likes of Dr. Tim Keller, Dr. Albert Reyes, and Dr. Bryan Carter. 

Not so fast. We all know we don’t stay on the mountain-top for long. Life happens. 

We must now pray Greater Dallas Movement Day does not become just another moment in time, a monument to our resourcefulness to create big events. Will we as, one speaker asked, look back on this event a year from now with the thought, “oh yeah, I was there, great event.” Or will we see greater progress toward a greater expression of unity, through collaboration, in the bond of peace? 

To see the later, we must pray for the movement of the Holy Spirit that Tim Keller spoke of, for a transformational movement of the “whole Gospel” that is Word centered, and seeks “a most excellent way” forward. We must commit before God to be part of His great movement as we obey His call to be His witnesses in Dallas, Irving, Richardson, Plano to the outermost parts of the Metroplex and beyond.

At a reception after the day’s event, I said to Mac, “the hard work really starts tomorrow.” Another version of Paul’s admonishment toward being united in the Holy Spirit says, “make every effort….” The hard work starts now toward a movement, as we make every effort in that direction - in united prayer and collaboration.

Will we as Greater Dallas Christian leaders, partakers of what God did on January 23rd, 2014, “make every effort…” to pray together and work together, as never before. Will our motivation be solely to see a movement of the Holy Spirit for the knowledge of God’s glory to fill Greater Dallas to the outer most reaches of His world?  Will we do it together, even as we work on different issues? 

If not, we will be left with only a monument of a marvelous day where it could be said, "a good time was had by all."

If so, to God be the glory, great things he will do! 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Rethinking Judging: Stop NOT Judging

Just stop it already, stop NOT judging! 

 I have grown so weary of the way so many twist Jesus teachings, especially, as it relates to this “judging” thing that so many are so afraid to be accused of today. Go ahead and call me “judgmental,” if you like. I really don’t have a problem with that since “not judging” is not what Jesus actually taught. 

Our culture today wants permission for and acceptance of their sins. Postmoderns say, “Don’t judge me” because they want their life to be totally self-governed, with no accountability to anything or anyone, except themselves. They are their own judge, so they get to decide what is right and what is wrong. 

I get that, I really do. Who wants to be judged, if you are doing your thing, according to your own way, with no serious thought to what is good or true. As long as there are multiple truths, then who is anyone to say what is right and wrong, good or bad. Live and let live, right? 

But if there is truth, and there is, there logically must be, it needs to be known or we end up in chaos. Sadly, that is where our nation finds itself today. Too many are their own god, so who are we to judge their god? 

This postmodern thinking has also infiltrated the Church. Christians in some numbers are calling for the end of “judging” the world. It’s in vogue right now. It’s high time we stop judging others for their personal favorite sin and just love them, is the argument. Any position on any matter then becomes deemed as judgmental, and who wants to be considered such a backward thinking Neanderthal anyway. This is the 21st Century, for Pete’s sake! 

The problem for Christians who demand an end to judging is their own judgment of what is right and wrong. Just the other day, I was called out on Facebook for “judging,” of all people, Sylvester Stallone. Yep, I was judging Rocky because apparently he went from a seemingly rock-solid Christian in a 700Club video in 2006 to distancing himself from the faith he said he had in a 2010 GQ article.

My comment was that the “soil” of Rocky’s heart was apparently “shallow,” a reference to Jesus parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. The available evidence was that Stallone’s faith had sprung up quickly and faded just as fast, such was my observation. But how could I make such a judgment? One FB poster retorted, “I think judging him though is pretty shallow indeed Brian.” The problem for the “Not judging” advocates, like this FB poster, is that they need to makes judgments against not judging, based on their perception of what judging is. What a mental quagmire. 

Here’s the important thing though, Jesus never said “Don’t Judge!” period, as is commonly understood in our postmodern culture today. That is a call to hold no opinion on anything, which is humanly impossible, if there is any cognitive function. The fact is you can’t love God with your whole mind without “judging” properly. 

The common misconception of the “Not Judging” crowd is that this is really a better way for everyone to get along. “Do your own thing and let me do mine” however is the most unhealthy way for a community to flourish together.  Rather it serves only individualism and don’t we already have enough of that? It leads only to confusion like Jonah encountered in the Ninevites, not knowing their right hand from their left. That, tragically, is where our culture is today. 

Let’s examine closer what Jesus actually did say: 

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:1)

Okay, Jesus actually did say “do not judge” however that big word “or” makes this not a command but rather a proposition – a simple statement of fact regarding an action and reaction – “or you also be judged.” In other words, don’t take the action if you don’t want the natural reaction, since people typically respond in kind.

What Jesus was saying is, if you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge others. He was saying that by the same degree, in the same way you judge, others will judge you. If we don’t want to be judged by how we live, then we have no place for judging others.

 If on the other hand, we are fine with having others judge our life, by God’s standard, then we can rightly judge the world. Our problem however is that we have all sinned and fallen short of God standard, so there is no room for self-righteousness judgment. We must factor that into how we interact with the world. 

Jesus also says: 

“If anyone hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge that person. For I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” (John 12:47)

Jesus came to save the world, to set things right, so that we can make right judgments about life, knowing that people are tragically lost and without hope without him. Knowing this, we do not judge others on the basis of what they do, but on whom they are to God and how very precious they are to him that he sent his Son to die for them. 

The fact is, I do see way too much self-righteous judgmentalism among Christians today, in my judgment, especially given the anonymous nature of social media. The damage this does to the corporate witness of the Church is disturbing. The mean-spiritedness expressed by many today is exactly what Jesus was talking about and the reason he tells us “not judge, or you will be judged” in the same way – before the living God. 

Paul renders the same judgment when he says: “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same thing. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (Romans 2:1-3). 

Paul point is also the manner in which judgment is rendered, by the world’s standard – not God’s. Paul was pointing to hypocrisy, not calling for the end of right judging.

Then there must be a right way to judge the world, right? Yes. Love others (Romans 13:8) and speak the truth in love (Ephesian 4:15). If love is our standard, it still may cause offense as we encounter the world, but at least then we can accept God’s judgment of how we judge. 

How then are we do judge rightly?

Judge the world the way Jesus did - by demonstrating God’s love for the lost and hurting. 

Judge the world the way Jesus did - through the beauty of his grace that accepts others for whom God created them to be, not for what sin has done to them. 

Judge the world the way Jesus did - by incarnational living that meets people where they are and loves them in spite of themselves, even when they don’t return that love. 

But by all means, judge the world! Just do it the way Jesus did!

The Apostle Paul also wrote to a messed up church in Corinth: “Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (1 Cor 6:2-3, emphasis mine)

Several chapters later, Paul shows us the "most excellent" way to do it (1 Corinthians 12:31 ff). 

That is the way of Living Sent Today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In 2014 - Connect to the Story

In my first two posts of this New Year, I have blogged about the need to both know and live “his story.” I hope you have been considering how to connect with the story we need to know and live in for living sent today.   

Our story has God on a mission that runs from Genesis (past) to Revelation (future), one continuance thread. Amazingly, God invites us to connect to his story for our own. 

For me, the story starts in Genesis 1:28, since it is where the human experience begins. The story of God doesn’t end in Revelation 7:9 but we can hang a large banner there – “Mission Accomplished!”

The thesis of the story, of our divine “White Paper” (see my last post), takes shape around what God is doing for, with, and through ”every nation, tribe and tongue”  to reconnect us to himself. 

It is important to know firstly that God’s mission is not for the “nations” sake, as the primary reason God is connecting us. The “nations” are rather both the beneficiary of and a connecting point through which God attains his ultimate purposes of filling the earth with the knowledge of his glory. Rather, the mission of God is for his glorious Son, the King of kings and the Lord of lords! 

If you have been around Christians for any length of time, you have probably heard: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” While that is true the “plan” isn’t about you. My friend David Bryant make this significant change to idea this way, “God loves his Son and has a wonderful plan for him to rule.” The mission of God connects us to what God wants to do for his Son.  

Psalm 2:8 declares:  “Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”

Here’s a question to start 2014: “How are you connecting to his story?” Perhaps, first we need to ask, is our life connected to the reason God has us here? Have we found “it” – our purpose for living? I know many Christians who are still looking for the answer to that question, as if it is some kind of divinely disconnected mystery. It's not.

This disconnect originates with the idea that God has a wonderful plan for our life, personally, individually, and so we go looking for our plan, our purpose, thinking it’s about us. In fact, God’s plan for us has everything to do with and is directly connected to God’s plan for his Son. 

Americans, including the vast majority of Christians, think life is about self-advancement, self-achievement, and finding self-significance – and then they will be happy. Christianity then has been “marketed” as a way of self-improvement, of achieving our goal of personal happiness, and spiritually to connect to God’s plan of salvation. However unless our “improvement” is connected to God’s purposes, it will always leave us wanting more, still looking for contentment. 

Much of Christian teaching disconnects us from God’s purposes and the results are that many are disconnecting from the Church. 

In a conversation at dinner Saturday night, this point came up with friends we were with. My friend said, “…problem is you can’t mass-produce Christians and that is what we (Evangelicals) have done.” 

In order to mass produce Christians, the Church largely left out the message of God’s missions to focus on “self.” But life is meant to be lived for others, many different others, who lack the knowledge of the glory of God, until it fills the earth and Jesus receives his rightful inheritance. 

Getting connected to God’s story starts with knowing and living for the glory of his Son among the nations. Without that, a big piece of our Christian life is missing. In fact, and I am sorry if this offends, but you’re not really following Jesus, at least not the way he desires, in the way that will truly achieve our best life now. 

God is all about his mission because he has a wonderful plan for his son, as Psalm 2:8 tells us. We need to connect to that truth and allow it to be the conduit we live our lives by. 

Jesus does not want us disconnected from his mission. He wants us plugged into his commands, what he commissioned us for, and what we must connect with him in. These aren’t burdensome requirements but a life-giving connection with the power source of all things. I will come back to this point in future blog posts but please know this – Jesus wants us connected to his mission to the “nations,” because he knows this is where our greatest joy in this life will be found. 

Sadly, however, few Christians understand the grand narrative, the mission God has to see greater and greater glory for his Son connecting in every nation, tribe and tongue. We’ll never achieve the highest level of self-significance without a good connection with Christ in his-story. We must move beyond the “self-help-feel-good-about-myself theology” that permeates our churches. 

When Christ’s mission is disconnected from our Christianity, we produce the cultural Christians so prevalent in our nation today. When Christ’s mission is left unconnected to our lives, we produce consumerist Christians who compartmentalize life, allowing only limited space for the things of God. Is it any wonder then that there are so many powerless Christians? 

In 2014, if you are not there yet, get plugged in by connecting your life to His Story. I would be blessed to help you take steps in that direction. If you are there, mobilize others to get plugged in - for #LivingSentToday.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In 2014 - Know the Story!

In my last post, I encouraged you and me to “live His story.” You might be thinking, “okay, but what story exactly?” Obviously God’s story, but first we need to know His-story, if we’re going to live it, right?

That is particularly true given the fact that, as I mentioned last time, most Christians don’t understand or even know the “grand narrative” of Scripture. Many think of the Bible as a collection of 'books,' somehow related perhaps, but not one single story with a common thread from beginning to end. Others may have a cursory understanding of the story, knowing it all has something to do with Jesus, but not really sure what that means for them, apart from a relationship with our divine Person.

In this post, I want to begin to unlock this 'grand narrative.' Doing justice to this subject in a blog post however is like the Apostle John explaining at the end of his Gospel, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21:25). Nevertheless, let’s begin, and that's all it is, a beginning.

Here’s a question to answer: If you could select one and only one Bible verse as a ‘thesis statement’ for the entire Bible, what verse would you select? Probably a quick answer might be John 3:16 but here’s the definition of a ‘thesis statement.’ 

“A thesis statement appears near the beginning of the introductory paragraph of a paper, and it offers a concise solution to the issue being addressed. It states the claim of the argument presented in a paper, and sometimes a brief summary of all explained reasons in the paper. A thesis statement is usually one sentence, though it may occur as more than one.”

Some may fuss, "the Bible is not a simple “white paper” that presents a single argument!" A ‘white paper’ is “an authoritative report or guide helping readers to understand AN issue, solve A problem, or make A decision.” And that's what the Bible is, does, when he understand the 'grand narrative'! 

The fact is the Bible is one life-altering ‘report’ that deals with a single issue, which we will get to in a moment. The Bible has been described as a “love letter from God,” however it is too easy to brush past such a mushy metaphor and not really think deeply about what that means.

As I wrote last time, we too often read and teach the Bible through the stories within the story. However if there is a grand narrative, or metanarrative, to all of Scripture, that helps us to understand AN issue, solves A problem, or make A decision, then we have in the Word of God the most profound “white paper” ever written.  Everything in it should point toward a solution. 

Certainly, the Bible is an ‘authoritative’ work, regardless how one views ‘inerrancy,’ as no other work can match the depiction of God we get from the Bible, notwithstanding the difficulty we often have in understanding it. Perhaps the difficulty with the Bible is rooted in the fact that we don’t grasp the ‘thesis statement.’  

Okay, so have you thought about the earlier question? What one verse offers a concise solution, is near the beginning of our Holy “white paper” and explains the reason for the work is being written?  Can I suggest to you Genesis 1:27-28:
“So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.”

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’”
These two verses of the creation account are not simply the beginning of our story but the very reason for the story. This verse is not simply about an expanding population, as male and female humans propagate the species to “fill the earth.” It’s not simply about subduing and ruling over creation. Not when we understand the “grand narrative” of our ‘white paper.’

Rather, I believe these verses, tied as they are directly to our being image bearers, the 'imago Dei,' are in fact the “thesis statement” – “a brief summary of all that follows and is explained in the paper.” All that follows serves the purposes of the author, God (okay, through divine inspiration and human understanding), toward his purpose of the fruitful existence of His creation and human flourishing – all for His glory. 

This passage informs us of our life’s purpose and should shape how we live - to fill the earth and subdue it. But it is not about human progeny but rather about what God wants to accomplish as God blesses. Nor, is it about human authority, theocratic governance, or some dominionistic polity.  Rather, these verses are a commission that need to be understood in terms of the grand narrative, as the thesis statement, our  raison d'ĂȘtre.
It is only by God’s blessing that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:26). The Creator made mankind in his image so that through his immeasurable love all people would know, glorify and enjoy God throughout the whole world - eternally.

Genesis 1:27-28 can be better seen in light of two other key Scripture that help to unlock this “grand narrative”.  First, Numbers 14:21: “Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth…” 

The Bible declares two ideas: God is and God's glory fills the earth (see also Isaiah 6:3). In this passage, Moses is speaking the ‘Word of the Lord’ to a rebellious people, the Israelites. God’s glory was known to them but yet they forsook it. The penalty for their neglect was their generation would perish outside the Promised Land. 

The "grand narrative" is about God’s glory and how mankind continues in rebellion against the blessings of God - that is the problem. But mankind's rebellion won’t last forever - God has a solution.

Second, Habakkuk 2:14: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” While the glory of the Lord fills the earth, what is still universally missing is the “knowledge of the glory.” 

Today, mankind fills the earth with our human population exceeding 7 billion (not to worry, there is plenty of room for many more). However, at the start of the 21st Century, nearly 3 billion people have no or very little knowledge about God’s glory. These are the “Unreached” of the world, many of whom are “Unengaged” (no one even trying to reach them with the knowledge).

The whole of the Bible is about what God has done and wants to do to “fill the earth with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord.” This is the story that runs through the whole of Scripture. Our task remains "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it." 

Jesus put it this way: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). Do you see the connection?

From creation to Christ to the beautiful mosaic of the countless number peoples gathered together in cosmic worship we see in Revelation 7:9, God is on mission to fill the earth with the knowledge of who he is for us. Then through us, His people, the people who know and live the story, to "subdue" the earth with and through Christ (Matthew 28:19-20) – finally to put and end to the strife, the darkness, the hostility toward one another and rebellion toward God. 

When we learn the "grand narrative" we read the Bible in a whole new Light, through the knowledge of his glory, what God has done to reveal himself so that we can glorify God and enjoy him forever. 

Much more can be said about our divine ‘white paper’ we too often take for granted today. Many believing "the Book” is passĂ©, antiquated, irrelevant for our story in the 21st Century reality. The problem is we get so bogged down in the stories and subplots of the Bible that we can miss the grandness of the greatest story ever told. And the story is not finished! 

In 2014, immerse yourself in His-Story, know it and live it, for his glory!