Monday, May 25, 2009

Loving Each Other as Missional Strategy

This weekend at The Vineyard I wrapped up our series on the Nicene Creed with the idea that theological study is virtually useless without an honest expression of love. I wanted to take a few minutes to discuss something that I didn't have time to unpack in the message.

I used the entirety of John 13 as a primary text. I'd like to point out these verses in particular:

34"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (Jesus in John 13:34-35, NIV)

Here is an explicit statement of strategy from Jesus to his disciples regarding the expansion of the Kingdom. It is my hunch that many of us tend to miss this strategic mandate on two different levels.

The first is a blatant disregard for primacy of love in our faith. We read these verses but we really don't believe that Jesus is accurate on this point. We explore and invent a myriad of strategies other than love to try to show the world that we are on Jesus' team. It is not by our knowledge that all men will know we are with Jesus. Not our power or our ideas or cultural awareness. It's not our worship style or ecclesial construct. It's love. Love is what "outsiders" to our faith notice first and foremost about true followers of Jesus.

The second dangerous oversight for us in this passage is missing whom Jesus says is the receiver of our love. He tells us to love one another. In loving one another we create a community so dynamic and countercultural that "all men" will look toward us in amazement full of wonder and intrigue. Our missional strategy is to love each other so rightly and radically that those outside of the faith will long to be invited into it.

At The Vineyard our mission statement is to love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus Christ and to give away to the world all that God has given us. I love that mission. It creates an outward focused church with a laser focus on the people of our city. Our mission truly lived out creates selfless missionaries fully devoted to Jesus and the Kingdom.

Here's the rub though: we cannot love the world until and unless we first love each other. If we are not careful, we could become outward focused in practice without the base of a true servant community. That would be the ultimate bait and switch: we'll love you until you are one of us, then when you want in, the love stops.

Another way to say it is this - truly loving your family, your small group and your close Kingdom friends is a form (perhaps the most fundamental form) of evangelism. One genuine Christian community addicted to love and selflessness is the greatest advertisement there is for the gospel of Christ. Precisely because most people innately know such a community cannot be sustained within normal depraved people. Something supernatural must be going on when broken people genuinely love one another deeply without agenda. Loving other disciples is a central part of what it means to live an outward focused life.

This in no way lessens our resolve to love those outside of our community. To say so is paramount to saying that if I choose to love my wife more deeply I must therefore love my children less. There is no fear of scarcity in agape love. The more we love each other, the more we will love the world. As the love between Father, Son and Spirit flows from their very essence outside of themselves and onto all humanity, so our love for one another spills onto the world around us.

If you have ten minutes, read this ancient letter on the same subject...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Raven Run - Discussion?

I watched this ESPN Outside the Lines report twice today. For some reason it is really captivating me. I find myself going through a lot of different emotions as I watch it. Part of me feels bad for the guy...and I don't know why. Part of me is highly impressed, maybe even jealous of him. This story is full of statements about persistence, community, and the human condition. I'd love to see your thoughts in the comment section.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Steve Fuller

I used to say that Steve was my best friend whom I had never met. Now we have officially socialized twice in the real world, so I'll say he is my best friend I have only seen twice in my life. My take on Steve is that he is a good guy trying to become a better guy. I see him as a struggler aware of his struggles. He's on a journey now where he is visiting different churches and places of worship for 52 straight weeks. The Cincinnati underground newspaper, Cin Weekly, did a cover article on him this week.

You can check out that article by clicking here.

Or head straight over to Steve's blog by clicking here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Reflections on Vineyard USA Leadership Conference

Dave Workman and I spent the entire week in Galveston for the bi-annual gathering of leaders in the Vineyard Movement. I have several thoughts that are unformulated. This blog may help me formulate them...or it may just ramble on and on. Read at your own risk.

1. Thought: Everyone needs a tribe.

The Vineyard Movement was the first people group that I encountered (long before I was a part of it) who identified themselves as a "spiritual tribe." My earliest Vineyard contacts were the guys over at Vineyard Central - Kevin Rains and Dave Nixon. I remember them using tribal language vs. denominational language back in the 1990's. Something about that appealed to me. My original spiritual tribe is the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. I've struggled personally in that I'm not sure where I belong in my original tribe. I rejected some of my tribe's tenants, but never felt like I officially "left" it. (I don't even know if that is possible.) At the same time, I wasn't a very good tribe member. I had no desire to change my tribe - just to change me. The more I changed the less I felt like them, so the less I interacted. But...I miss them. Seeing everyone at the Vineyard Conference embrace and laugh reminded me of all the relationships form my past that seem paused in 1995. Like all my good Catholic friends who are now protestant, I feel that tension that I am now the product of both my old tribe and my new one. I don't think about it much, but it is always there. It creates a feeling of spiritual homelessness and rootlessness at times. The Vineyard Movement is my new tribe. It's exciting, but also a little exhausting to think about taking the time to be engrafted into a new people. (I'm not speaking of VCC - I feel fully accepted at my church. It's the larger movement that I feel a little lost in.)

On a larger scale, I feel like many people my age and younger who have been part of historically younger movements like the Vineyard or the emerging church or even Willow/Saddleback will begin to feel rootless. The older we get the more we will see that all of our reforming and re-inventing and rethinking led us away from being engrafted into a deeply historical family. Movements like the Vineyard and Willowback are at a place where the next generation of leaders must emerge. It will be hard for the innovators to let go. The emerging/emergent tribes will also hit this wall in the decades to come. (I was an early innovator in this "tribe" but grew less interested in maintaining the effort to influence others as I was seeking something deeper in my own life. I remember the youthful enthusiasm and excitement and passion in our early discussions with Leadership Network in the mid-nineties. My prayer for my friends who remained as influencers is that they will hand over influence to the next generation sooner than later.)

Ultimately I see myself as trans-tribal. Truth be told I feel as connected to the international improv or acting community as I do any church tribe. I was very engrafted into the the simple/organic/house church tribe for many years. Those guys and gals are sill amazing friends, but again I moved on. This is the rebel pilgrim in me I suppose. Always moving on...(see the previous post), but moving on at some point feels exhausting and perhaps even neurotic. I'm happy to be a Vineyardite. I hope I grow roots here for a long time.

2. Thought: Kingdom Theology

I'm noticing that many streams and tribes of the faith are beginning to find common ground around the centrality of the Kingdom of God in the Christian message. The Vineyard was a Kingdom movement from early on. It was the Kingdom language on the Vineyard USA and VCC websites that most significantly attracted me to my current post. (That and Dave's persona and the few dozen miracles that got me here.) Historically, the Vineyard has brought the Holy Spirit power and naturally supernatural elements of the Kingdom where it has gone. The movement generally found a way to be supernatural without being showy or gratuitous. This both appeals to me and stretches me. (I was raised a cessationalist but never fully bought into that. I approach it all with hopeful wonder and a little skepticism. When the Kingdom comes, anything can happen...)

However, I came to the same Kingdom theology through academicians like Dallas Willard, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Hans Kung, N.T. Wright and John Howard Yoder. This was less about miracles and more about the real socio-political rule of Jesus the King. Signs and wonders actually became less important to me as I began to see the social, economic and relational impact of the Kingdom coming.

The Neo-Reformed tribe is also swimming in the Kingdom stream. I've learned a lot for people like Tim Keller. I love his stuff on the Kingdom coming as a new city from God.

(An aside - I just realized that maybe the fact that my influencers above are Methodist, Mennonite, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, Pentecostal and Quaker have something to do with my rootlessness :)

All this Kingdom centrality gives me hope that God is doing something in the realm of the American church. What if the streams continue to merge into Holy Spirit directed unity on Kingdom issues? What if signs and wonders meet socio-econo-political reformation under Jesus? What if the post-liberals and post-conservatives find common ground in the coming Kingdom? It is exciting to think about. It may be what God is doing in post-Christendom America. I'm not sure the Kingdom would fully come along side Christendom anyway.

3. Last Thought for today: Children Matter.

Wess Stafford, the director of Compassion International, spoke the last day of the conference. He broke my heart. It's been a long time since a speaker really broke me. I'm going to read his book, Too Small to Ignore when I get it next week. His story is amazing and his voice needs to be heard as loudly within the Kingdom minded churches as it has been elsewhere. I'll post a review after I read his book.

I may have more to say later, but this concludes our therapy session. Thanks for listening. Send the bill to Humana.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Moving On vs. Pushing Through

Sometimes life is about moving on. Sometimes it is about pushing through. I find it incredibly difficult to know the difference.

Let's take your favorite high school sport. Most kids start little league or pee wee football thinking that they could possibly grow up to play in the pros. The vast majority of them will not make it. Many of them will be good. They may be the star of their high school team or even get a college scholarship. Very few will completely fulfill their professional dreams though. That's OK. It is hard to see someone who was the starting quarterback in high school still trying to recapture their glory days a few decades later. We want to scream, "move on!"

Then, of course, there are those great American stories of perseverance. The Reds have a new third basement this week, Adam Rosales. He's a classic old-timey charlie hustle kind of player. His minor league teammates even gave him the nickname, "Pete Rose-alas" because he sprints to first on walks and plays with Pete's inspiring passion. He was told countless times by his own coaches that he would never make it to the majors, but he kept at it and here he is. He persevered instead of moving on. That's inspiring.

The problem is that we never hear the stories (there are millions) of people who chased a dream and failed miserably. For instance, no matter how much I may want to play for the Reds, I never will. They make Disney movies about thirty-somethings quitting their jobs and becoming professional athletes, but that isn't real life. (OK, those movies are based on real life, but that even underscores the point. Every time an old guy does the impossible they get Mark Wahlberg or Dennis Quaid signed on and throw millions at a film to inspire us all again...and to sell tickets and popcorn.)

The point is this...if guys like Adam Rosales or the real guys those movies were based on (Vince Papale and Jim Morris) gave up, how lame would their story have been? On the flip side, you still want to shake your neighbor to death when he starts to tell you that he'd be starting for the Yankees if they'd just give him a chance. These are extreme examples of real life dilemmas that we all face: when do you move on? when do you push through?

I thought I had moved on once. I really believed that I had given the vocational pastor thing a solid run. I was finished. I took a new career and started chasing the next dream. Then I found out five years later that I was only really taking a break. Here I am again. Now many of my new dilemmas stem from that second career that was left somewhat unfinished. I'm a member of the Screen Actor's Guild, but I had stopped paying my dues when I moved here. There aren't a lot of SAG jobs in Cincinnati anyway. Plus, I have to turn down most of the real auditions I get here because I have a real job now and they don't work well with my schedule. I'm not a working actor anymore. That's OK. But I had to do some soul searching this week. SAG sent me a friendly letter telling me to pay up by May 1 or kiss my membership goodbye. It's very difficult to get into SAG and even harder to get back in when they dispose of you. "Moving on" would mean no more SAG roles in my future, or possibly paying thousands of dollars to get back in someday.

I had decided to "move on" and not be that guy who lives in the past. I have no desire to move back to LA and do that drill again. I want to do my job here for a long time. I'm happy here and it feels right. But I just couldn't do it. I paid up at the last minute. Now I'm officially a professional actor who makes no money acting - at least for another year. Maybe it's just too hard to let something that was such a part of me die. Maybe it says something about me that I couldn't turn in my card. Maybe I am that guy. Crap.

Or maybe it will all integrate. Maybe I'll produce my own SAG movies here in Cincinnati and it will all make sense. Maybe I'll get to play Middle Age Guy #4 in the next blockbuster movie that comes to town. Maybe I need to hold onto it because that part of my story informs and shapes this part of my story. Maybe.

I'm just saying it's complicated. My hunch is that we all have something that complicated in our lives.

Gonna go watch the Reds beat the Pirates now. Adam Rosales just popped up to center. Poor kid. He'll never make it.