Consider praying this prayer of disorientation and reorientation for the New Year…

Lord Jesus, WITH WHOM are You leading me to live sent? Those few people whom I will care deeply for and who will care deeply for me as we live on mission together with You.

And TO WHOM are You leading me to live sent? Those few people in my daily rhythms as well as that one group across the globe whom I can love first as You have loved us, pray for as You have prayed over us, dine with as You came to dine with us, and learn “on earth as it is in heaven” with as You delivered it to us.

I surrender to be disoriented from my current routines. Help me to follow You as You redefine and reorient my daily rhythms and relationship. I will follow You.

Amen.

One more word on “scripturing” and an introduction to “eating.” Read more…

In case you are jumping in new, each week this month, I am blogging two or three times a week on a letter from the SENT acronym – Scripturing. Eating. Neighboring. Together. Last week, I posted three posts on “scripturing.” This week, we sit down to the table for some “eating.”

One final word on “scripturing.”

Scripture memorization – does it play a part? I would say yes absolutely. In order to see the teachings of Jesus, the living Word, come alive in our daily rhythms and relational conversations, we must store up the Scriptures in our minds and hearts. How else would they come out in the flow of what we are doing and who we are becoming? How you memorize matters not. A system for remembering or simply immersing yourself in the by reading more slowly and intentionally such that they are remembered, either will work. But memorization is helpful for scripturing.

Now, on to EATING.

Let’s begin today with two questions.

1. Did Jesus value eating as part of His mission and purpose?
2. Why is eating so effective at connecting hearts and lives?

First, Jesus certainly did value eating as part of His mission and purpose. Every criticism has some element of validity to it. While I am not suggesting that Jesus was a drunkard and a glutton, it is clear that He valued fellowship over a meal or else why would the Pharisees have said such extreme criticism about Him in Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34. In fact, the Luke reference begins with the following:

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”
(Luke 7:34 HCSB)

Jesus came eating and drinking. Why? Because food fills more than stomachs. It creates an environment in which minds can be stretched and hearts connected and lives filled up with love.

Tim Chester wrote an entire book about it. And it’s worth the read. CLICK HERE to read more from Tim.

Secondly, why does eating so effectively connect hearts and lives? Simply stated, because our hearts tend to go into preparing and sharing food. We want it to be good. We want others to enjoy it. We want those hungry to be filled. We converse while we share it. We typically encourage the invitation to do it again together. This seems so ordinary. So everyday. No wonder the religious leaders criticized it.

It took their sacred work out of sacred space. It brought learning the Kingdom of God from Synagogue to supper table.

Alan Hirsch told us one time that his mentor while he was learning in Austrailia challenged him to commit to eating his way with others into the Kingdom of God. Alan and his wife Deb have practiced this with much fruit ever since.

With whom are you sharing a meal? To whom are you taking a meal? How many people both intimately acquainted with as well as not very acquainted eith the ways of Jesus have you invited to your supper table lately?

For Jesus, eating was part of a SENT life.

Will it be for us who follow Him?

What is “scripturing” and what does it have to do with living sent? Read more here…

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This month, in order to help our church family prepare for our 2013 emphasis on SENT, I will be blogging about the four letters of the SENT acronym. One letter per week. Obviously flavoring it a bit with some Christmas cheer.

This week the letter S is for “Scripturing.” That last sentence was brought to you by Sesame Street. Look each week for one of the Dukes kids’ favorite Sesame Street short videos included below the post just as a lagniappe. This should be fun :-)

What is “Scripturing?”

The grill was hot. It wasn’t a special occasion, because they grill a lot. But one neighbor, who happens to be a follower of Jesus, had invited another neighbor, who happened not to be a follower of Jesus, into a normal rhythm of their family life. Conversation happened. A statement about marriage difficulty. A confession about personal selfishness being the cause. The Jesus-follower encourages with a simple yet profound statement – “I’m so sorry to hear that man. Marriage is tough for sure. Let me encourage you that I find in the ebb and flow of our marriage that it works well when we don’t go to bed angry and when we both fight for oneness rather than fighting to be the one who won.” SCRIPTURING.

This time, it wasn’t the child’s fault. He had actually gotten it right. But the mom, stressed from her husband leaving for work yet again with unresolved conflict between them and fatigued from carrying the load at home because her husband works too many hours, snapped at her son with a critical tongue that hurt more than a swipe of a spoon. His eyes said enough. Her heart ached with remorse. “I am so very sorry, sweetheart. Please forgive me. I snapped at you and know it hurt. I confess to you and to the Lord that was wrong and exasperating to you. Please forgive me.” SCRIPTURING.

The phone call had come. Tragedy. Unexpected. Tears. A text message followed. “I heard. I want to pay for your flight.” An email. “We will pick up your mail.” Yet another call. “We are so sorry. Will the kids and she stay here? We will make sure they have a meal and the lawn is mowed. You go. Be there. We got it.” SCRIPTURING.

All she had ever known was a family with no father. And the guy who shared her mother’s bed from time to time had a normal expression – condemnation. So her roommate in college reading about a Father who loves enough to come near and give His life – unthinkable. No words were said necessarily, except those that came in late-night talks over microwave popcorn. No verses quoted, except those that were unnoticed with no biblical address mentioned that came in normal flow of conversation. No bible study imposed, except the one she had studied in observing the living Word that was her life. But one night, between sobs, a secret revealed. She had hidden an unexpected pregnancy, confessing to having ended it with fearful heartache just the day before. Her roommate’s eyes filled with tears. No Bible was pulled out, but her warm embrace and eyes quoted the verse to her – “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And that was where she realized, finally, that she wanted to be. In Christ. The Father who came near. She believed she was loved for the first time. Restoration had already been completed. Discipling had been ongoing and would now continue. Healing began. SCRIPTURING.

Are you scripturing?

May His Word come alive in our daily rhythms as we do more than study it. May we live with the Word such that He is studied in the flow of our lives.

May we learn more together. Because I believe Jesus’ life embodied this form of disciple making much, much more than the contemporary patterns known as discipleship.

Thoughts???

More tmrw…

“The Art of Neighboring” – a post by Tim @Challies, re-posted with permission

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The Art of Neighboring
by Tim Challies
(re-posted with permission)

Take a look at the graphic above. Imagine that the middle box in the chart is your house and the boxes that surround it are the eight houses closest to your own. I doubt your neighborhood is arranged like a tic-tac-toe board, so you may need to use your imagination just a little bit.

Here’s what I want you to do.

First, write the names of the people who live in the house represented by each of the boxes. If you can give both first and last names, that’s great. If you’ve only got first names, that’s okay too.
Second, write down some information or facts about each of the people in that house. I don’t mean facts that you could observe by standing on the road and looking at their house (“Drives a red car”) but facts that you’ve gathered from speaking to them (“Works for a bank,” “Grew up across town.”).
Third, write down any in-depth information you know about each of the people. This could include details like their career plans or religious beliefs—the kind of information that comes from real conversation.
How did you do? Or how do you think you would do if you actually went through with this exercise? The degree to which you simply do not know your neighbors is the degree to which you will benefit from reading The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon. They premise their book upon this simple question: When Jesus told us love our neighbors, what if he meant our actual neighbors, the people who live closest to us? They explain that Christians have long been making “neighbor” into a safe metaphor that allows us to believe we are carrying out the Lord’s command when we visit soup kitchens and do acts of kindness to complete strangers.

The problem, as they explain it, is that “when we aim for everything, we hit nothing. So when we insist we’re neighbors with everybody, often we end up being neighbors with nobody.” Ouch. Much like the Pharisees, we ask “Who is my neighbor?” in the hope of finding a loophole, not in the hope of loving those who live nearby. “Jesus assumed that his audience would be able to love those nearest to them, their literal neighbors, the people most like them, who shared the same heritage and geography. In telling the parable, Jesus was stretching their concept of neighbor to include even people from a group they didn’t like.” As we read the parable today we tend to go straight to the stranger on the side of the road and no longer include the person in the house next door.

This book is full of biblical counsel and simple wisdom about how to be a good neighbor. Perhaps the most freeing concept is that there is inherent value in being a good neighbor, even if your neighbor never becomes a Christian. The authors helpfully distinguish between ultimate motives and ulterior motives. The ultimate motive in engaging your neighbors is to share the gospel with them and to see them turn to the Lord, but we must never do this through ulterior motives. Too many Christians use engaging their neighbors as a thinly-veiled guise to try to “win them,” and give up when the neighbors do not respond positively. Pathak and Runyon say, “The ‘agenda’ we need to drop is the well-meaning tendency to be friends with people for the sole purpose of converting them to our faith. Many so desperately want to move people forward spiritually that they push them according to their timetable, not according to how God is working in them. It’s tempting to offer friendship with strings attached.”

They clarify: “Sharing the story of Jesus and his impact on our lives is the right motive, but it canot be an ulterior motive in developing relationships. We don’t love our neighbors to convert them; we love our neighbors because we are converted.” Christians have long been taught that we should do good things solely to have a spiritual conversation that can move people toward conversion; but Jesus never called us to use a bait-and-switch approach where we are friends only so we can share the gospel. “We are called to love our neighbors unconditionally, without expecting anything in return.”

The Art of Neighboring clearly comes from a little bit outside the theological “tribe” that I identify with, and that brings both benefits and drawbacks. The book is not without its weaknesses. I would have liked to see the authors wrestle a bit more with issues related to sharing the gospel and creative ways of doing that. I would have liked to see them focus more on the role of the local church in the life of the Christian. But those weaknesses are more than compensated for with their call to be good neighbors and the challenge they offer.

This is a book I learned from, a book that was of immediate benefit to me, and, I think, exactly the book I needed to read. We live in a closely-packed neighborhood where we know and are known (at last count at least four of our neighbors have a key to our house!) but I needed to be freed to simply love my neighbors, to be a good neighbor to them, without feeling guilt for not always offering gospel sneak-attacks where I work it into every conversation. There is value in being a good neighbor and as we neighbor well, we trust that very natural gospel opportunities will arise.

Christian – what is the essential message we have to share? Are we really sharing it? Please consider this…

Last night I had the privilege of hanging out with a group of Central Florida Spanish pastors. Our language barrier was less impeding than I expected it to be. Our kindredness was tangible, these broken hearts of leaders longing to see “Christians” go near with Jesus, burdened to see lost and lonely know they are fully loved. And the issue came up again.

It is an issue that has come up multiple times in conversation with leaders over these last years. The issue that we know Jesus intended His church to live sent, but why?

What is the essential message that we as His followers have to share? The message that we believed. The message that we hope others believe. And why?

Is that essential message the declaratoin that people are lost and hell is imminent and you need to choose Christianity? Is it the assertion that truth must be defended and a culture must be protected and so those pagans need to change? I am afraid that much of American church culture has mistaken that essential message to be one of or at least a derivative of these.

Hell is real. The Scriptures speak of it. I believe it. But I would suggest that Jesus lived and died and lived again to declare more than the message of hell’s imminence and the call to people to get their act together and grab a ticket out of it. He intended to give more than an alternative religion. He died to give life.

Truth is real. It is not an “it,” though. Truth is a person. Jesus needs not my strong defense for the sake of cultural preservation. Rather He asks for our selfless love for the sake of cultural restoration. This will not happen through our country’s capital. It will only happen through our respective community’s hearts. Jesus lived and died and lived again to go near with His love through His church’s going near with His love.

And maybe that is the essential message we have believed that we are now compelled to share. Could it be that simple?

The message I have believed and keep believing is that I am loved by the God who came near. The God Who did not wait for me to say I was sorry. Who did not leave me in my loneliness and hopelessness and hurt and shame and lostness. Who did not love me because I was lovable, but rather while I was still wayward and selfish and sinful and condemned did not condemn me. Who ached to give life again and was willing to lose life to be raised to life again. Who became “God with us” and asked me to go with Him, to love like I had been loved, now and forever.

Maybe the essential message we are to believe is that God loves us. Maybe the essential message He has intended that we share is simply that – we are loved by the God who made us, whom we spurned, but Who came near anyway.

Jesus, in fact, taught this to Nicodemus in John 3. God so loved the world, and those who “unbelieve” this are condemned by their own unbelief (John 3:16-18).

The two questions I have been asking friends, and for that matter that I keep asking myself as a reminder, are:

“What do you think God thinks of you?”

“Do you believe that God loves you?”

Lord, forgive us, please. Have mercy on us, please! Those of us here in America who call ourselves Your church have far too often called people to moralism rather than to You, the Messiah.

He does not want us just to live FOR Him. He desires that we live WITH Him. And He came near to restore us and invite us into that relationship.

Abundant life does not come when we live perfect and give our best. Abundant life comes and keeps coming when we live loved and give love as it has been given to us.

Sin was not worth dying for because it was the symptom of rules broken. It was worth dying for because it was the symptom of relationship broken. It is the evidence of death. It is the result of life not present, of love not trusted.

We believe we are loved and are fully secure in Him and that love compels us to love as we have been loved. That is good news worth sharing!!!

You are loved!!! You are loved fully!!! You are loved securely!!! You are loved graciously, even in your feelings of not being worth loving.

Jesus thinks you are worth dying for!!!

And why do we share this message?

Because not trusting that we are fully loved by the God who made us, believing that He is hiding something worth knowing from us, choosing to pursue what we can know rather than pursue knowing Him, that is the root of our problems. The cause of all evil. The source of our loneliness and isolation. The brokenness of humanity.

May we share His message. Surrendered. Grateful. Selflessly.

People we encounter every day do not believe they are loved and are lost, even trapped, in that brokenness. May that break our hearts like it broke God’s heart. May we remember our own brokenness that we did not fix ourselves. May we go near like He came near to us.

May the world believe in the One who was sent.

Jesus replied, “This is the work of God-that you believe in the One He has sent.”
(John 6:29 HCSB)

How do you know if a “church” is “spiritually mature?” Here are a few thoughts & suggestions on the matter…

Last month on New Hope Digital, I suggested 3 questions to challenge us to rethink our understanding of spiritual maturity. You can read the post by clicking here. I promised that this month I would offer a few suggestions about how a spiritually maturing local church might gather, live, and love together.

Let me start with a disclaimer.

The church matters. It clearly mattered to Jesus. Nothing in this article suggests otherwise. What I am suggesting, however, is that we may need to rethink how we understand spiritual maturity in the context of the local church.

First, I would suggest that Jesus did not intend for His church to speak of people’s maturity in terms of being “in church” but rather in terms of being “in Christ.”

I have heard too often people declare maturity over someone with such descriptions as “look how much she is in church” and “he is back in church.” But did Jesus intend that people be connected with His bride or with the Groom?

The real issue stems from our typical understanding of church. Church is not a place or event. Church is not a list of religious practices. Church is the restored-by-love, now-compelled-to-love people of Jesus. Those people together are His bride. He is our Groom. We live by His love, in His love, and for the sake of giving His love.

In John 13:35, Jesus said the world would know we are His disciples by our love for one another. Loving one another and loving our neighbors puts on display the near love of Emmanuel. God uses those daily, interactive, learning relationships to help the lost and lonely see how loved they are by Jesus. In relating with the church (the bride), they often then are moved to relate with Jesus (the Groom).

That is the burning question, then. Am I only relating with the church through its activities, or am I—in Christ—relating with the church and loving as the church in all my daily activities?

People are not spiritually mature because they are back in church. They are exhibiting evidence of spiritual maturity when they are daily living as the church.

Next, I would suggest that Jesus does not intend His church to cater to spiritually mature consumers but rather cultivate spiritually mature caregivers.

People argue with me on this one and accuse me of thinking in extremes. But read me through here. The common argument I get is that it is more than OK for the church to have programs and events that encourage and serve their own families. I agree.

The problem is that we reap what we sow. If we sow for people to be given into through events and programs, then we reap people with an appetite for that. If we sow for people to be givers first, then we reap people who give into each other as we together give ourselves away. That’s the issue. It is OK to have programs and events for church families. But is it OK if the emphasis and purpose of those events and programs are not to equip and encourage the church to live sent? Otherwise, people will constantly expect to be given into by the pastors and the programs.

The “given into” mentality results in a self-absorbed strategy that strives to keep people coming back. This certainly must be questioned when Jesus said on more than one occasion that He has sent His church as He was sent. Furthermore, that self-absorbed strategy results in attempts to make church events and programs more and more attractive to those in the church.

However, we cannot make the bride prettier than the Cross already did; and our catering to consumers is not what Jesus intended. The sick mattered too much to Jesus to focus all of our attention on the healthy (Matthew 9:9–12). Instead, may we equip compassionate caregivers who daily are living to make disciples.

Finally, I would suggest that Jesus never intended that we measure our spiritual maturity with a mirror, but rather by how we relate in community.

John recorded that Jesus commanded His followers to love one another as He loved them (John 12:34–35). John then, in his three letters, expounded on that command.

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old command that you have had from the beginning. The old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command, which is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in the darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
(1 John 2:7–11 HCSB)

This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. Whoever does not do what is right is not of God, especially the one who does not love his brother.
(1 John 3:10 HCSB)

Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.
(1 John 4:7–11 HCSB)

The person who “has been born of God and knows God” loves. Our maturing in Christ is evidenced by our love. Our love cannot be on display when in front of a mirror, sizing up whether we were good enough that day or whether our efforts were “holy” enough. Our love is only put on display when walking with and in a community of people.

For far too long, the American church has measured spiritual maturity by personal goodness on display rather than God’s goodness on display. Jesus avoided a compliment about His own personal goodness (Luke 18:18–19). So should we. God’s goodness, however, is displayed when an otherwise selfish group of people unify to daily grow together becoming, by His Spirit, a transformed, selfless people.

We must be very cautious to consider the church-attender and Bible-toter and fish-on-the-car-displayer with all good appearances as spiritually mature. May we remember how loved we are, live secure in His love, and let His goodness be on display as we love generously daily.

Don’t forget. We will never be spiritually mature this side of heaven, but we can certainly be spiritually maturing. And that journey of becoming will be characterized by grace, belief, confession, trust, learning, and love. A group of people becoming in those ways and giving themselves away together—now that would be a spiritually maturing church.

As followers of Jesus, should we show up at Chick-Fil-A today or Friday? A few thoughts… #chickfila

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Earlier this month, Dan Cathy made some comments on marriage and family in a Baptist Press interview that were quite possibly taken out of context by those who affirm same-sex marriage. Moreover, the Baptist Press probably mis-titled the interview in order to get more readership by stirring up controversy. Whether the article was titled poorly is a matter of interpretation I guess. Whether Cathy’s comments were intended to be a shot across the bow toward those in the gay and lesbian community can only be cleared up by Cathy himself. Nonetheless, what those who follow Jesus should now do about it is what I would suggest we need to seriously consider.

May I suggest three specific actions for all of us, both those who have adamantly spoken out from the gay and lesbian community as well as those who consider themselves religious conservatives, but especially all of us who profess to follow Jesus.

First, may we be gracious rather than gregarious. Webster defines “gregarious” as “tending to associate with others of one’s kind” in the sense of only socializing with the people of one’s own tribe or colony. Jesus was not gregarious. In fact, He took significant criticism for not being gregarious (read Matthew chapters 8 through 11). Unfortunately, human tendency is to be gregarious. Both of the opposing sides of the same-sex issue tend to associate only with their kind, and the result is typically a declarative imperative rather than a conversational viewpoint. Protests rather than relationships occur. A culture of grace is rarely displayed.

Next, may we look for opportunities to love others rather than lash out. Jesus said to love your enemies (Matthew 5). Now, I am not suggesting that the opposing sides of this issue are actual enemies. However, they are perceived as such and often act as such. For this reason, I am suggesting that those who say they follow Jesus, who say they love Him, should obey His commands (John 14:15). Jesus taught and modeled love for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends” (John 15:13). Paul asserted that we are to put the interests of others above our own as Jesus did, not even holding tightly to what was His right or what He deserved in order to be a servant of all of us (Philippians 2:3-11).

The only people whom Jesus lashed out against were those whom He called hypocrites (Matthew 6). It was a word derived from the actor’s guild in Tiberius near the Sea of Galilee. Jesus referred to the religious leaders as actors who were putting on a religious show but were not actually relating with the God of their religion. In some cases they were exploiting God-worship for personal gain (John 2), and in other cases they were proudly displaying how pious they assumed themselves to be (Luke 18). In either case, they were not loving others as much as they loved themselves. May we not be hypocrites.

Finally, may we have ongoing presence rather than only making presentations. It seems that both sides of this issue have become well-versed in declaring their own stories, making their own presentations, even staging their own protests. Mike Huckabee declared on his TV show that today (Wednesday, August 1st) should be “Appreciate Chick-Fil-A Day.” This was in response to the uproar from the gay and lesbian community regarding Cathy’s comments. In essence, Huckabee called all those who stand against same-sex marriage to go out today to support the chicken chain, one that our family happens to frequent. At the same time, the gay and lesbian organization GLAAD has called for national protests today along with a “same-sex kiss day” to be held this Friday, August 3rd, at all Chick-Fil-A restaurants across the nation.

Presentations rather than presence.

Presence would actually mean relationships. I wonder how many of those who will go to Chick-Fil-A today to support the restaurant have a homosexual friend whom they have ever respectfully conversed with about their sexual preferences. I wonder how many who will represent GLAAD with public displays of same-sex affection have ever had public displays of friendship with a conservative evangelical.

To love someone, presence is required. Relating WITH someone is what is imperative. The presentation someone wants to make of which someone is trying to convince another cannot be held in higher value than that other person with an opposing view.

I would suggest that one of the most underestimated aspects of loving someone is simply valuing their story, actually wanting to hear what they have to say. We want to tell our stories rather than listen to someone else’s. We want to value our viewpoint rather than actually try to see from someone else’s. Jesus modeled the opposite for us when He partied with Matthew (Matthew 9), when He went to the house of Zaccheaus (Luke 19), and when He conversed with the woman at the well (John 4). His hope was to show them they were loved and let them respond to that love. It was not just to try to show them they were wrong. You can declare to someone they are wrong with a presentation, but you can only show someone you love them with presence.

THE BOTTOM LINE
I am going to go to Chick-Fil-A on Friday. That is, I am going to go there unless I am in the hospital meeting our newest little one who is due Saturday. If you follow Jesus, I would suggest that you go that day, also. Not to try to counter-protest, but rather to converse with the protestors. Possibly create a friendship. Offer a bottle of water. Maybe even have a meal together, even if it is at another restaurant near that Chick-Fil-A.

You can read CNN.com’s article that prompted my writing this post by clicking here.