where did all the daylight go?

Last night, my wife observed something subtle, yet something that effects everyone on the planet: the days are getting shorter. No, I'm not saying that time itself is decreasing, but if you take a moment to step outside this evening, you'll notice that the sun is beginning to set a bit earlier. Wow, what a revelation! It's nothing new, it's to be expected right? But we often forget this subtle change that takes place year after year, season after season until we're in the midst of the dark asking, "Where did all the daylight go?"

I've been feeling a bit like this lately. As a graduate student about to begin my fourth and final year, I pause wondering where all my time and energy has gone and how I am to have enough to embark on what will most likely be the most hectic year thus far: 15 hours of courses each semester, working a part-time job I really don't like, submitting resumes and interviewing for future jobs, loving my wife, keeping up with friends, and participating in ministry. Needless to say, I doubt too many posts will be seen on this incredibly awesome blog of mine...

But I must go on, I'm already 4 1/2 hours away from darkness and there must be something significant for me to accomplish. Ah, there it is. Did you catch it? Perhaps we struggle with the reality of losing time in the day because we have the perspective that it is I who must gain some sort of accomplishment, only to discover that that accomplishment was not enough to satisfy our craving for more and so we strive to accomplish more in the ever decreasing daylight, only to have more on the list to accomplish tomorrow (with one less minute of light). Perhaps if I grasped true significance, that is, being chosen by the Light Giver, the Creator of all things, the One True God, to have a part in the Grand Story, a part that offers endless significance, a part that calls me to a task that is never complete in my day because it is only He, the one who brings us significance in the Grand Story, Jesus Christ, that can complete His task on that Great Day of His Return. It's about coming to terms with, and being satisfied with the apostle Paul's great life lesson: "In my weakness He is strong." In the meantime, I get to play a part in the Grand Story today because He has given today to me, rather than me giving today its significance by what I have labeled as an accomplishment.


"Missional Church": A Fad Worth Following?

I recently had a conversation with a friend who works with a church in Austin, TX that is seeking to establish a missional mindset among their new and growing congregation. In seeking this endeavor, my friend told me that a professor at a prominent seminary in the U.S. had responded somewhat pessimistically concerning the recent "missional church" movement, stating that it is merely a fad that will come to pass. It is true that the conversation of ecclesiology in the recent years has become much more focused on the concept of "missional church," and there are a lot of folks who have jumped all over the "mc" bandwagon for the sake of being a part of the next coolest thing. However, there are also a lot of folks who are following the leading of the Holy Spirit in their communities for the sake of obedience to the Mission Maker. So, the question poses itself: "Is the 'Missional Church' a fad worth following?"

It might be helpful, to provide a description of what is meant by the idea of "missional church." In a broad sense, the term is a a manifestation of the Missio Dei or Mission of God. Most missiologists and theologians evaluate the Mission of God in terms of the Triune God's activity throughout history, begining with Creation and culminating in the return of Christ. Darrell Guder, from Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America, defines it this way,
"We have come to see that mission is not merely an activity of the church. Rather, mission is the result of God's initiative, rooted in God's purposes to restore and heal creation. 'Mission' means 'sending,' and it is the central biblical theme describing the purpose of God's action in human history(4)."
A crucial component to understanding the Missio Dei is that it is derived not from "ecclesiology or soteriology," as Guder states, but rather flows directly from the Trinitarian nature of God. Thus, just as the Father sent the Son and the Son sent the Spirit, so too is the church understood as the sent people of God. Just as the three persons of the Trinity cannot be separated from the singular essence of Trinity but are intimately united as one (i.e., perichoresis), so too are the people of God, intimately connected to the activity or mission of God in history. This is seen in the creating and sending of Adam and Eve into the earth to “fill and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), it is seen in the calling and sending of Abram to be a “blessing to all nations” (Gen. 12:3), it is seen in the emancipation and sending of Israel into Canaan to be a “holy nation, a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:5-6; Duet. 4:5-8), and it is seen in the redemption and sending of the church to “declare the divine excellencies of God” (1Pet. 2:9).

From this it is clear that to be “missional” is a characteristic that is not anthropocentric but again, theocentric, centered in the Trinitarian activity of God. Colin Gunton describes the missional portrait of the church as a, “finite echo or bodying forth of the divine personal dynamics,” “a temporal echo of the eternal community that God is.” Such a perspective then shifts the activity of the church from simply being about “missions” to being “missional.”

The irony though, and I believe this is what the seminary professor’s comment was hinting at, is that many American churches have taken this concept and have made it into being about “missional church.” In other words, they have made this concept a fad to follow rather than an identity to incarnate. One does not realize who they are in Christ by wearing Christian t-shirts, watching Christian movies, or joining Christian blogs (although many are sadly deceived and believe they do), but instead by submitting to the Word and Spirit of God. In the same way, the church must not simply observe the latest “fads” of ecclesiology or missiology or etc., and jump on the bandwagon, but instead must carefully evaluate these “fads” in light of the Word, by the guidance of the Spirit, and with the help of the church, both past, present, near, and far, and then determine if this “fad” is really the character of God in disguise. In the case of the “missional church,” I believe this is one “fad” worth...becoming.

It would be great to hear how you and/or your church is playing a part in the Missio Dei. The great thing about being a new creation in Christ and about being a "missional church" is that not everyone looks the same. Each follower of Christ and each body of Christ is placed in a specific context at a specific time in history and in the world. And each of these portraits will look differently, yet all will and should be united around the same mission: to bring all peoples to know and follow the Triune God. So what does that look like for you?


Hammers are made for hammering

As a young boy, I remember receiving my first tool kit, the hammer was my favorite tool and boy was I eager to utilize it. One afternoon, I remember sitting out on the edge of the sidewalk in front of our house with my new tool of choice, the hammer, and began chiseling away at the concrete. Before I knew it, I had decimated more of my hammer than the section of concrete I was whacking profusely and purposelessly. When my dad caught wind of this attempted destruction project, I can't recall his exact words but let's just say a very valuable lesson was ingrained into my young mind that day: "Hammers are made for hammering, not chiseling!"
When Paul wrote to the Ephesians, as well as several other churches, I believe he was reminding them of a similar lesson: Christians are a new creation, the old has been put off and the new has been put on (see Eph. 4:20-24). I've got this great ability to make myself feel really inadequate, and even try to theologize reasons for feeling as such, mainly it plays out something like this: "Hey, I'm a sinner and I am constantly battling the flesh. Oh flesh, you're so bad and persistent and enticing, why can't I ever gain victory over your deceitful desires...arrrrgh!" This usually leads to a huge party with the big fat banner of PITY plastered above the entrance. I end up wallowing in the fact that sin has a grip on me that never seems to loosen itself and will thus hinder me from ever doing great things for the Lord. WHACK! I can almost feel the vibrations of that hammer cracking into the concrete, determined to chisel that curb to smithereens.....
But remember, "Hammers are made for hammering, not chiseling!" In the same regard, Paul reminds me, "Brad, that old self is gone now, its been put off. You've got a new self that's been put on by Christ!" There is no excuse for wallowing in pity for sin's grip on our lives; in Christ, sin has no grip on our lives. It is my responsibility however, as Paul suggests, to continually renew my mind/spirit with the ever present help of the Holy Spirit. This is only possible because I am first and foremost freed from the grip of sin over my life because of Christ's intervention on the cross. I am no longer meant to be deceived by the flesh's corruptible desires, which ultimately corrode a person to death, but am meant to reveal the excellencies of God (see, 1Pet. 2:9).
So the next time you go to use a hammer to chisel away some concrete, remember: "Hammers are made for hammering, not chiseling."