Running full speed

This article was originally written in June 2019.

These follower of The Way had to move beyond the borders of Judaism to be who they were called to be…and we must also move beyond the boundaries of our own comfort to be who we are called to be.

Diane LeClerc, in her book Discovering Christian Holiness, points out that as long Christianity was under the umbrella of Judaism rather than a radically new, un-Jewish form of religious faith, it enjoyed “a type of immunity and toleration” (78) with regard to the way it was seen and responded to by the Roman Empire.  The relationship between the Roman Empire and Judaism had a history with established boundaries, regulations, and expectations.  As long this new movement–The Way–kept to itself, didn’t make waves, and stayed within the already established boundaries delineated by the already existing understanding between Rome and Judaism, The Way would have remained relatively safe and unbothered.

People often say that Jesus did not come to earth to start a new religion. Whatever our opinion of that statement, one thing is clear—

Jesus presented such compelling example and demonstration of God’s power, plan, and purpose that those who took it seriously simply could not responsibly stay within the boundaries of Judaism as a religion, nor move forward while staying in the narrow lane of Roman expectations for them as nothing more than a Jewish sect. 

These follower of The Way had to move beyond the borders of Judaism to be who they were called to be.  The result brought about an era of church history in which martyrdom was viewed, according to LeClerc, the highest sign of holiness. That is, the willingness to die for ones faith in Jesus Christ was seen to be highest form of devotion, commitment, and outward evidence of a transformed heart and life.

For much of the history of the church in America, perhaps, it might be said that we have been like The Way, staying within the boundaries established by Rome. That is, perhaps the church has enjoyed the protection, safety, and comfort protection by favorable government regulations (freedom to gather, freedom to worship openly, and tax-deductions) , the safety of a general cultural favorability to basic Christian thought and life (there was a time when parents who didn’t attend church sent their children to Sunday school because it was “good for them”), and the comfort of economic and social well-being and success (large buildings, extensive facilities, land ownership, and large congregations).

At a glance it might seem that the church in America has enjoyed one of the best and most fruitful periods of church history. But it hasn’t come without a price. We’ve been able to enjoy these things as long as we stayed within our own lane.  One example–churches enjoy tax-exempt status and privileges, so long as they abide by certain state-established laws and regulations. The question that needs to be asked, however, is whether this lane–wide and comfortable as it is–has helped or hurt its ability to live out the compelling example of Jesus of God’s power, plan, and purpose.

The followers of The Way they may well-have enjoyed similar protection, safety, and comfort under Rome, if not for an undeniable conviction that their movement called them to so much more. 

In other words, their understanding of their foundational and ultimate purpose would not allow them to remain trapped inside a box—they had to break free, live out their purpose, and follow the example and teachings of Christ regardless of the consequences.  This was the way they must go.

The contemporary situation in America is somewhat different has it has been in the not-so-distant past. The church is being moved out from under the long-established protection, safety, and comfort that came with the cultural, social, economic, and religious favor of popular society. This is not a missional choice by the church, it’s not motivated by a conviction that to live responsible Christian lives the church must renounce the protections it once enjoyed. Instead, these changes are coming by way of a rapidly shifting cultural, economic, social, and religious landscape that is pushing the church out from its once well-respected position in society. As a result, there is this foreboding sense of mourning over what is being lost, anger because it is being lost, and and “all-American” desire to fight back and take back what we believe is rightfully ours, all the while only giving lip service to the overriding theme of holiness that is the ultimate purpose of God the church—full and complete love for God and Christlike love for neighbor.

            

—————————————————-

This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students.  I have reproduced a few of those responses below:

—————————————————-

My Response to K:  You wrote, K — “What if we took our church calendars and examined the events and activities of the church each month or year in light of this statement?  We could do the same with our budgets and our curriculum.  Families and individuals can do the same with their calendars and budgets.” 

This is something I’ve often thought about–how do budgets reflect who we are?  How do we allow budgets to determine the things we do and don’t do?  In my particular ministry, I talk a lot about house churches or “no-designated-church-building” churches.  It’s not an idea that is easy to accept for most of our churches leaders who were taught (to put it very simply) that churches must have buildings.  But there are two great advantages–(1) churches can be planted with virtually no financial investment required, and (2) monies that are given/collected can more easily be used in ways that directly reflect the mission and priorities of the church. May we all score well on the rubric of love!  🙂

Response from G:   I really appreciate the perspective you lend when you write, “We can see the church moving out from under the long-established protection, safety, and comfort that came with the cultural, social, economic, and religious favor of popular society.” As a young up-and-coming Latina American,  I hadn’t really thought of the church as holding a respected position in society until recently. I was kind of rushed into learning about politics in 2016 because it felt like my life depended on it. The divisiveness of that time that continues to protrude into our rhetoric, has proved that half of the population in North America is unhappy with those in power, the church being one of those. I am not sure if this is because of who makes up our churches or because Christianity is what the ideals of the founding father of this nation were but now, the church is definitely facing a loss of its seat in power. People are angry at that. Truly, the “’all-American’ desire to fight back” is real as you said. But at what cost? I guess I am just echoing your thoughts and really appreciate the narrative your perspective shares. It makes sense to me! I think this may be an opportunity for our churches to gracefully respond to the challenges that face it. I hope we respond in love and haven’t lost our footing in the way of holiness

Response from M:   Thanks for your addition to this class! I appreciate what you have to offer to us by way of your perspective living outside the USA. You have the unique opportunity to look at questions of culture and exile and empire through a different lens. It is pretty obvious that the church and Christianity in general are losing their position of spiritual authority and respect amidst a culture that is changing at a rate we cannot keep up with.

I really was struck by what you pulled from our reading about The Way and how they had a certain amount of protection from Rome so long as they did not make waves or push the boundaries. I rather agree that same thing applies to present day Christianity in that we are tolerated so long as we do not make too many waves. We have not been in this place before.  We are coming to a place where we may at some point be called on to step up or step away from the protections we once enjoyed to order to live by our convictions. I was also thinking about another angle on this….I think it comes from “The Screwtape Letters,” where it is suggested that Satan will leave us be so long as we are complacent. Satan has no need to waste his energy on stopping our efforts because we are not accomplishing anything for the Kingdom. 

 

Embracing Exile

This article was originally written in June 2019.

Unfairness–real or perceived–gives us no platform to respond in with unfairness, unkindness, and untruthfulness.  

It has been both fascinating and frustrating over the past 12 years or so, watching presidential elections and the commentary surrounding two Obama presidencies and this most recent Trump presidency.  During Obama’s first campaign I was surprised and discouraged by much of the commentary I heard coming from Christian circles—there was clearly fear and uncertainty at work, among other things.  What I have seen and heard since Trump became President, though, has gone completely off the rails. So much of this boils down a question of the connection between state (or empire) and the Christian community.  I shake my head and, at times, feeling great remorse at the way those who carry the name of Christ speak of, and act toward, those who do not share their priorities, worldview, and faith.

Just prior to writing this I was listening to an NBA podcast and the topic of Muslim players fasting during the NBA playoffs came up.  The guest spoke for more than 20 minutes about the intricate details of Muslim faith and the decision whether or not to fast during the basketball season.  While I found it interesting, I also thought to myself, “It would have been deemed inappropriate, at best, to have had a discussion about whether NBA players ought to play basketball on Sunday, or some other discussion that would have been labeled as “Christian.”  Is it fair?  No, it’s not.  But perceived unfairness gives us no platform to respond in with unfairness, unkindness, and untruthfulness.

I am growing more and more convinced that Christianity doesn’t work well—or at least as it should—when tied with the yellow-brick-road of power.  It’s like biscuits and gravy flavored ice cream; two things that should be put together.  Could it be in America that the church has no idea how to live and work and function apart from the power, favorable legislation, and wealth that it has enjoyed for so long?  It seems to me this may be the case

“Embracing exile is not a pause in the missional purpose of God’s people. Embracing exile may, in fact, be setting God’s people free to rediscover their true mission and the powerful reasons for their divine creation in the first place.”   

Daniels, Exile, Kindle location 1218

My biggest concern and question for the church in America today goes something like this—if our attempts to maintain some semblance of Christendom in our national power and legislative structures become our mission and purpose, do we only end up looking like the bullhorn brigade outside the Rose Bowl? 

Do these efforts please God, or do we do more damage than good to our witness?

Are we losing our saltiness and snuffing our these little lights of ours?

Is our primary purpose to uphold and defend the Kingdom of American and its perceived Christian roots and ideals, or is our mission to live out the “alternative way ” of the Kingdom of God in our world no matter what the political, social, and economic climate? 

No doubt, some have trouble distinguishing between the two Kingdoms, but Jesus was clear, “No one can serve two masters”  (Mat 6:24).

—————————————————-

This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students.  I have reproduced a few of those responses below:

—————————————————-

Response from K:  “I’m just trying to sin as little as possible before I can go to heaven.” This disposition, while on the surface could be seen as righteous, has damaging consequences on mission and witness when people begin to think, for example that there is no point in working if this will only get worse until it all burns.

You pointed out clearly how this affects eschatology, ecclesiology, and soteriology.  Each of these have a clear connection to the way we live in this world and the way the church carries out its mission.  Thank you for the clear reminder.

          My response to K:  Thank you, K, for this great response.  Like you, I appreciate the message of hope conveyed by Daniels that is appropriate for all believers in every place at all times, regardless of how we interpret the metaphor of “exile” used in this book. In Genesis we also see the reality of the human dilemma and, by extension, the reality of the church; that is, all the good that God created was changed drastically by this thing we call sin.  The perfect paradise of Eden was no longer.  The perfect Shalom between God and humanity, and between Adam and Eve (and by extension all humanity) was broken.  The world is not as it should be…and this is the world where we live and breath…this is the context of our lives. 

It’s not perfect.  It’s not right.  It’s not fair.  We are in exile from Eden, so to speak, and always have been.  But there is hope; a hope that cannot and will not be quenched.

          Follow-up reply from K :  I am amazed at how often in the last 10 months the story of Genesis has come to meet me in the study of his word.  As I have the opportunity to lead women’s ministries the word “believe” has been the pinnacle in planning and preparations.  It started with studying Genesis 3, Eve was presented the first question in scripture: “Did God really say?”  I believe that is the question the enemy used first and it has been his gaming question since. 

In this book, Embracing Exile, Daniels mentions the importance of imagination .  It can be used for our good or our harm.  When the enemy gets us to imagine that what God says isn’t really true then we are in trouble. Eve doubted and sin entered the world and every time we doubt what God really says we open up the opportunity for the gap (separation) of the broken humanity to pull us away from the path to which we are called.   

Women are so good about forgetting, or just not believing, what God really does say about them. Of course, it’s not just women who have this problem!  The enemy was able to get Eve’s imagination off track even in the “perfect paradise of Eden” that you mention.  Adam proved himself to be no better.  How much more is the struggle to not truly believe what God has said in our broken world that is not at all what it was designed to be.

Scripture

As the church, we ought to so immerse ourselves into God’s saving story in Acts 1-4 that we know “how to live authentically in ways that carry the great story forward.

The tradition folklore of the Asian country where I live is full of crazy, fantastic stories about gods and spirits and wars that somehow resulted in the thousands of islands that make up this nation.  If you ask people if these stories are historical realities—did they really happen?–they will answer clearly, “Of course not, they are legends.”  But if you ask them if the stories are true, they will answer, “Yes, of course,” and then explain clearly the deep foundational truths that are contained in the stories.  They are “untrue” stories that are chock full of truth that have been passed down generation after generation.

I once told a group of students that “God teaches people using ‘untrue’ stories,” and then paused, taking the opportunity to watch their faces.  “Are you saying the Bible isn’t true?” a student finally asked.  “Not at all,” I replied, “I believe the Bible to be both true and trustworthy, but we can also see clearly that Jesus taught deep and difficult truths by telling parables, stories that have no historical basis.  They aren’t true in the way that most people use that word today.”

I am convinced that the opening chapter of Genesis comes to the people of God in this pattern because they wanted their children to interpret the world God created through the three words of separation, filling, and blessing.

Daniels, Exile, Kindle Locations 398-399

I love it when Scripture comes alive and the truth behind the words is seen in a new and deeply meaningful way, far more meaningful than simply the face-value of words on paper.  My faith has been strengthened and deepened in recent years through a desire to find the truth of Scripture through the story being told.  I really appreciate how Daniels points out the metanarrative of separation, filling, and blessing that is found below the surface of the creation story in Genesis 1. The more I read Scripture, understand its context, and begin to better understand how ancient writers wrote and the tools they used to convey meaning, the more the Bible comes alive and the story of God, the story of Israel, the story of Christ, the story of the church, and our story that we are living out in the here and now take on new significance and weight. 

In cross-cultural ministry I am working with a young man who is trying to build relationships with non-Christian-background people.  Early on I told him to start by telling the Old Testament story of creation, but don’t go immediately to sin.  “Spend a little time in the goodness of creation,” I told him.  Having grown up in a typical evangelical church where “sharing the gospel” meant “talking about Jesus,” he wasn’t too sure why we would waste time in Genesis.  After meeting with one particular man with whom he had been sharing regularly, this young man came and shared with me how excited that man has been to read the first two chapters of Genesis.  I wanted Jonah to begin in Genesis 1 to give him an opportunity to talk about a personal, creative, loving God that created this world for a good purpose and plan.  What I hadn’t thought about it explicitly, before reading these chapters from Exile, was that this young friend of mine was also introducing a new story to his friend—new foundational understandings of God and our existence in this world.  And this happens whether or not we view Genesis as literal, historical reality.  It’s full of truth, regardless.

I can only answer the question “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”

Alasdair MacIntyre

Of which story am I a part?  Daniels explains briefly some of the stories prevalent in the West—success, nation, humanist, to name three. Part of the transformative power of exile is that it forces us to re-center our story.  When the path to easy success is littered with obstacles, then what?  When nation is finally seen to not be the mirror image of the Kingdom that we wanted it to be, where do we turn? 

As the church, we ought to so immerse ourselves into God’s saving story in Acts 1-4 that we know “how to live authentically in ways that carry the great story forward.” What story am I telling with my life? What story is our church telling through it interactions with each other and the world? Where is balance between “becoming all things” (1 Cor 9:19-23) and remaining distinctively different?

 

For further reflection, please see:

Daniels, T. Scott  (2017-02-26). Embracing Exile: Living Faithfully as God’s Unique People in the World (Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition).

—————————————————-

This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students.  I have reproduced a few of those responses below:

—————————————————-

Response from R:  ” I am nervous that although we can articulate who we are suppose to be in the world, we really have a hard time living into it. I believe we struggle with this because we miss empire. We miss the power. And the truth is we cannot chase after God and empire too.”

My response to R:  You nailed the crux of our human weakness on the head. We know intellectually what we should be doing; it’s fairly easy to put it into words and not all that hard to explain.  But actually doing it?  That’s the hard part.  Being part of the empire is rather easy…but easy makes lazy.  Life in the kingdom brings with it power and authority…but Jesus, himself, told us to go lower and empty ourselves.  Life in the kingdom comes with safety and security…but life in the kingdom is reflected in the question Susan posed to Mr Beaver–

Is Aslan quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

”Safe?”  said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

As far as it depends on you
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone—–Romans 12:18 NIV
During this season when tensions are high, divisions are wide, and uncertainty is around every corner…
  • …as far as it depends on me…
  • …I will make efforts to live peaceably with everyone.
  • …seek to know both sides of the story…
  • …intentionally give people the benefit of the doubt…
  • …not give people unkind labels or unfair names…
  • …seek to view myself humbly and others generously…
  • …see all people–all people–with eyes of compassion, hope, and love.

“It would seem as though God’s people have almost always had to narrate their life through the lens of exile”

(T. Scott Daniels, Exile, Kindle location 180) 

Having lived for nearly 15 years in an Asian country where the Christian community is a significant minority, the idea of exile is a familiar one, though prior to reading T. Scott Daniel’s Exile I’m not sure I ever thought of it through the lens of exile.  In the context of the minority Christian community where I live, the reality of exile is the way things have always been and probably will be generations to come.  Modest increases in the demographic percentages of Christians nationwide, along with a general cultural religious tolerance, have made Christian communities fairly optimistic.  Even so, an underlying nervousness underlies the delicate political foundations of this nation as radical, hard-line non-Christian political leaders often receive strong support from somewhat small, but very loud, radical factions of the nation.

In the U.S., I see a very different form of exile, if it is appropriate to refer to this truly as exile.  Daniels writes that “many Christians are waking up to the reality that they are suddenly strangers in a strange time” (Exile, Kindle location 141).  The sense of exile I increasingly see and hear from my American friends has a very different feel than that of their Asian counterparts.  Here in U.S., the Christian community seems to be feeling the loss of something and so the reaction often takes the form of an aggressive “let’s get back what we had” mentality, especially as it relates to politics and changes in the American cultural landscape; perhaps even a “defeat the enemy invading our territory” kind of impulse. This has been demonstrated with great clarity over recent weeks of political debate and discourse leading up to a highly divisive presidential election.

Here in U.S., the Christian community seems to be feeling the loss of something and so the reaction often takes the form of a sometimes aggressive “let’s get back what we had” mentality…

The Asian world in which I live and work is a world to which I have grown accustomed and the world in which my children have been raised.  The American world is one in which many loved ones live, to which my children will return (much sooner than I’m prepared for), and to which I will certainly sometime return.  What sort of world will that be?  Will the American church continue to struggle against its cultural exile?  Or will exile be embraced and become a catalyst for unity in mission?

For my Asian friends what I fear most is that their view of God’s Kingdom and reign will remain small, characterized by a “waiting for the future eternal kingdom” that is disconnected from the here-and-now and easily manifested as a fortress mentality that builds walls between “us” and “them.” For my American friends and family, what I fear most is that the view of God’s Kingdom and reign remains tied political victories and maintenance of a cultural Christianity that replaces, for many, a more authentic expression of the church, and that when these things slowly begin slipping away—as seems to be happening—harsh words and actions said and done in the name of Christ will only serve to increase the distance between “us” and “them.”

For my American friends and family, what I fear most is that the view of God’s Kingdom and reign remains tied political victories and maintenance of a cultural Christianity that replaces, for many, a more authentic expression of the church…

Those are my fears.  My prayer and hope, however, is much the same as that expressed by Daniels, that “…when the people of God are in places of marginalization and need, they seem to allow the Spirit of God to dwell in them an empower them to live faithfully despite the challenges.”  If Daniels is right, then exile may well lead to transformation.  If that is the case there is reason to be hopeful, regardless of the results of any political battle, presidential election, or sense of cultural loss.

Our hope, ultimately, is not found in political system, leader, or legislation.

Our hope is in Christ…

Majority of minority.  Wealth or poverty.  Power or weakness.  Health of sickness.

Our hope is in Christ alone.

—————————————————-

This article was originally presented in a class and was responded to by other students.  I have reproduced a few of those responses below:

—————————————————-

Response from G:  Change in and of itself is hard and can bring about uneasiness and fear.  When that change comes creeping into something we hold sacred…then the fear is intensified and can take any number of forms.  

My reply to G:  I am not a pastor or a local church, but I see this fear constantly in the eyes of young people who sense that the church could and should be so much more than what they experience it to be, yet an older generation of leadership resists change and even sometimes seems to actively suppresses it.  

—————————

Response from T:  I briefly touched on this above, but one thing that makes me nervous is seeing the church identify as an exile without giving allowance to hope or the restorative power that God has for His people. “

My reply to T:  This is an important observation, T, because it touches on what I see as a key difference between those who have lived as exiles (or as significant faith minorities) and those who have a sense that they are in the process of being exiled; that is, a realization or sense that they are in the process of losing something.  A significant difference is that of hope.  Those who have long been exiled look forward with hope, while those being exiled lament what they perceive is being lost.  My other thought, though not yet fully formed, is that perhaps exile is (at least part of) the way that restoration will come—not the restoration of a church buoyed by cultural norms and a basic Christian literacy; rather a restoration of what the church really is and it’s role in the world.

—————————

Response from J:  God does his most transformative work when his people are in exile. God’s power and grace are manifested in times of exile not when his people are not in power.

My reply to J:  Similar to you, J, on a theoretical level (logically speaking) I can see what Daniel’s is saying here.  On the practical level, however, it’s not something most of us are ready to enthusiastically embrace.  I guess it is comforting to know that Israel also did not ask for exile or seek it out or embrace it when it came.  Yet, it was beneficial, albeit painfully at times.

Implicit in the quote above is an idea that when everything is easy and a general cultural worldview holds sway, God’s full power and grace cannot be manifested in the same way as when the people of God are powerless, marginalized, and defeated.  I think we can all give examples of times when “Christianity in power” had resulted in a less-than-Christlike witness, testimony, existence in the world; whereas the early church, for example, was virtually bankrupt of power yet became well-known for it’s love for each other.

These are challenging ideas, to be sure. 

—————————

Response from R:  When I read your sentence about “true citizenship status” a brief though crossed my mind, something like this–what if tomorrow morning all of those who called themselves Christian were taken out of their context and then randomly reassigned to a Chrisitan life somewhere in the world.  For example, what if tomorrow I woke up as a Christian in a small village in Siberia while another Chrisitan from Africa suddenly woke up in my place.

What would each of us think?  Would the poor Asian Christian mother be happy in an affluent suburban church setting?  Would the successful pastor of a large church make it in a small South American village church?   What I mean is, how much of our experience is tied to our social, political, and economic realities.  And, if those were suddenly shuffled, how would it change our perspectives on the Kingdom of God and the church.  I have a “creeping sense” that the exile we dread may well be seen as a significant improvement if we were to trade places.

Response from R: Thanks for sharing, R.  Excellent thought!  I think your are right that in some ways our American “doomsday” fear may well be considered an improvement of circumstances for many of our global brothers and sisters.

  Just as you shared about  being an African American living in Idaho (culture shock!), far away from the familiar, I have also been through similar form of exile being among the few caucasian Christians in a region of the world dominated by darker skinned people (of various people groups) who claim a variety of religious backgrounds.  At first I definitely felt like I did not belong and longed to go home….now, I more and more feel like I belong here and less and less feel like I belong at home.  What I have realized, though, is that I really don’t fully belong anywhere.  

Children from one cultural background that grow up in a different cultural background are often called “Third-Culture Kids”– that describes my own children, but it also describes me.  Perhaps this is one way to look at exile, too.  We are somewhere in the middle.  Yet, if you ask me, I’ll tell you that the person I am today and whatever growth I have experienced over the several years are precisely due to the fact that I have been living in this “in-between” place, and I don’t think I would trade it for anything.

“Participants in the kingdom of the world trust the power of the sword to control behavior; participants of the kingdom of God trust the power of self-sacrificial love to transform hearts.
The kingdom of the world is concerned with preserving law and order by force; the kingdom of God is concerned with establishing the rule of God through love.
The kingdom of the world is characterized by judgment; the kingdom of God is characterized by outrageous, even scandalous, grace.”

Greg Boyd

Christians should not be surprised when they are persecuted for their faith; they should be [concerned] if they are not.
This persecution should not come from a lack of Christlikeness or from a shortage of visible fruit from ones life in the Spirit, but rather from an overflow of such things in our attitudes, words, and actions.
Unfortunately, in our world today persecution due to these things is as likely to come from those within the church as from without.

 

Borrowed from a friend with a slight modification and addendum–

Originally posted at https://www.facebook.com/deilcommunity 

Part Two — Read Part One entitled “What Worship is Not”

Sending and gathering, and the choices we make in both, reflect our relationship with God, our life of worship in community, and our neighborly love and compassion.

Worship IS praise and glorification of God

God’s purpose, according to Revelation, is that people of all nations would come to love, obey, worship and glorify the living God for all of eternity…When Revelation pictures every creature in the whole of creation bringing honor and glory to God (Rev 5: 13), we see the ultimate goal of the Missio Dei in which the church is caught up.

Dean Flemming, Rediscovering the Full Mission of God:  A Biblical Perspective on Being, Doing, and Telling, Kindle location 244.

Brent D. Peterson rightly notes that “God’s creation of people to become one by the Spirit as the body of Christ has one goal, one end, one purpose—doxology, the praise and glory of God” [Created to Worship, 17]The purpose of worship is  not for participants to “feel something” or even to leave with a feeling of having “been fed.”  In contrast, the kenosis (emptying, surrender) modeled by Jesus becomes our posture of worship; that we empty ourselves as living sacrifices (Rom 12:1) before God.  In worship we seek more of God and less of ourselves.

Worship IS gathering of family

Heal us and we shall be healed, help us and we shall be helped, for you are our joy…All by myself I was praying these ancient lines that were exclusively framed in terms of “we” and “us” and “our people” (as is the Lord’s Prayer, of course). A few days later I attended a large Christian worship service. There, the focus of every song was on God and me: “I love you, Lord, and I lift my voice” … “Just as I am, without one plea” … “Here I come to worship, here I come to bow down.” Hundreds of us were worshiping side by side, a sea of voices resounding together, and every one of us was pretending to be all alone.

–Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life, Kindle location 828.

The individualization of worship plays out in many ways, one of which is the songs that are sung.  The shift from hymns to praise music brought with it a shift from singing about God to singing to God.  At the same time lyrics on slides removed the musical notes from view and with it congregations that sang in parts. Last Sunday I sat in a service where at least half of the people in the room didn’t sing at all.  None of these things in an of themselves are the problem, but rather reflect “Jesus and me” form of Christian practice.

“The process of being a Christian,” writes Peterson, “must be learned in community” [Created to Worship, 28] He is right, but I would go even a bit further. One of the things I appreciate most about Asia, is the way in which church is viewed as even more than community—it is family. The sharing of the gospel, writes Dean Flemming, “leads to establishing transformed, worshiping and obedient communities of faith. It is a call to belong and behave, as well as to believe. God’s people are to live their life together “in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27) [Rediscovering the Full Mission of God, Kindle location 2705.]  The community that lives life together is, in a very real way, a spiritual family. As family, when it comes to “indigenous expressions of worship and community,” writes Leonard Sweet, “participation trumps excellence: all geese are swans” [So Beautiful, Kindle location 4310.] Active participation in the family is to be valued above performance excellence.

 

Worship IS a transforming process

…this transformation is not so much about going to church every Sunday or reading our Bibles daily. It is not about saying prayers a certain way or singing the right songs. All these things can be important parts of worship if we allow them to shape us and focus us into the type of people who then go into our world and make choices that bring life and love rather than death and hatred. This is where McManus’s words ring so true. The acts we traditionally attribute to being worship prepare us for the spiritual act of making choices!

–Rob A. Fringer and Jeff K. Lane,  Theology of luck : Fate, Chaos, and Faith, Kindle location1551.

Our lives are defined by the choices we make, and the choices we make are very much determined by the kind of people we are, and the kind of people we are is very much shaped by the family or community of which we are a part. Walter Brueggemann wrote that “Sabbath is a bodily act of testimony to alternative and resistance to pervading values and the assumptions behind those values” [Sabbath as Resistance, Kindle location 394].  The choice of true worship—Sabbath—is to a choice to resist the values and assumptions that bear down on us in every other part of our lives.  Peterson writes that in worship we become more “fully human…to have one’s will and desires aligned with what God wills and desires for creation” Rediscovering the Full Mission of God, Kindle location 394].  In other words, worship transform humanity into people who reflect the image of God.

For Peterson the entirety of worship, but particularly the sacraments are divine-human events and encounters in which God heals individuals to become more fully human… gift to the church for communal worship that serves as a command and promise” [Created to Worship. 151]. The sacraments serve as symbols and reminders of what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do in the life of the Church, the Body of Christ.  Of importance is a reminder to all the Church that God has, is, and will send out his people into the world.  “God breathed in the church [and] the church is sent empowered by the Holy Spirit to be doxologically (in praise) broken and poured out before the world” [Created to Worship. 151].  Sending and gathering, and the choices we make in both, reflect our relationship with God, our life of worship in community, and our neighborly love and compassion.