Dad-Love

Fatherhood is a massively important theme of the Scriptures.  Many of the biblical stories themselves take place within the complex dynamic of the father-child relationship: Abraham and Isaac, Eli and his sons, David and Solomon, and so forth.  Still more, it is not without incredible significance that early on in the biblical record, the relationship between God and his people is spelled out in terms of the father-son relationship: “I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son” (Jer 31:9).  And of course in the New Testament, this theme is writ large – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” declares Paul (Eph 1:3), later adding that “There is One God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:6).  God’s Fatherhood is bedrock.  We live in a Fatherhood-soaked universe.

But what in the world IS fatherhood?  Too often our notion of fatherhood falls prey to cultural stereotypes, and what we’re left with are caricatures at best: the authoritarian dictator on the one hand; the spineless, valueless companionable adult friend on the other.  Neither do justice to the what fatherhood really is all about.

I confess that I’m not sure I understood it until just recently.  And that’s part of the pain and passion of fatherhood – that’s its so prone to being misunderstood.  When I was growing up, I often couldn’t make sense of my own dad; how he could at times be so extraordinarily fun and self-sacrificing, and at other times downright severe.  Where does that come from?

I vividly remember my first real father-son moment with my oldest son, Ethan.  After the insanity of a prolonged labor-and-delivery, Mandi and I were finally alone, together, with our new baby.  Exhausted as she was, Mandi fell asleep, and so I decided to pick up Ethan and enjoy a moment alone with my boy.  I started walking around the room with him, talking to him about all the things that were most important to me… and would soon become important to him.  I told him about his parents (and our undiminished awesomeness), about his extended family (they’re nuts but really lovable), and then finally about the Lord – how he was loved beyond compare and one day would come to know and understand that.  And as I started talking to him about that, I could feel a surge of emotion rushing up… and I started to cry – weep, actually.  It was a feeling of ABSOLUTE ACHE FOR HIS GOOD.

And it hit me like a semi-truck.  The first of many times it would do so.  As Ethan got older (and eventually we had another son – Gabe), I watched that emotion flower in my soul in all its beautiful complexity.  Sometimes it would issue in deep tenderness as I pulled my boys close to my chest and hugged them.  Other times it would show itself in a sort of zealous severity as we dealt with behavior issues.  Always it was the ache for good.

When Ethan was nearly 3 and Gabe nearly 2, we gave birth to our youngest – Isabella.  A friend of ours watched the boys during the night we were in the hospital.  When the next day rolled around, I left mommy and Bella there and went to go be with the boys – to get them back into their routine.  So I went home, made some dinner for the three of us, bathed them, and got them ready for bed.  And then the bedtime routine began.

And there again, that old emotion that first made itself known in the hospital with Ethan 3 years earlier started rushing on me.  As we sang our bedtime songs and prayed our prayers, I could feel a veritable torrent of ache rising up in me, and I knew at any minute I was about to start sobbing.  It was one of the strongest emotions I’ve ever felt.  I held it together long enough to kiss them goodnight, turn off the light, and close the door.

The moment I exited their room, I hit the deck, buried my face in my hands, and started crying.  I mean like throat-aching, stomach-heaving, head-pounding weeping… THAT kind of crying.  And so I crawled into the bedroom, knelt by our bed, and started praying for them… that in all this transition, they’d be okay.  That we wouldn’t neglect them or fail to attend to their needs and their development as we tried to take care of a new baby.  I loved them too much and wanted DESPERATELY to make sure we did right by them.

The next day we brought the girls home from the hospital.  That evening I sat at my computer and wrote up a short email to my parents telling them that all was well, etc.  In it I included the story about the night before.  I hit send and went to bed.

When the morning rolled around, I checked my inbox and saw that my dad had written back to me.  His response went like this, and I will never forget it:

Andrew,

Now you know.

Love,

Dad.

I’ve come to see since that part of the pathos of fatherhood is that it so often goes misunderstood.  The tenderness and severity come from the same root – an absolute ache for your children’s good.  The same love that drives a good father to sweep his kids up in his arms and shower them with kisses is also the love that will make them go bananas over some behavioral issue that may, at least from the child’s perspective, seem downright trivial.  But fathers, good fathers, if their heart and minds are sound and they’re living up to their calling, cannot do otherwise.  Dad-love drives them.

I think this is why the New Testament so often refers to God as “Our Father.”  Not “President of the Cosmos” or “Intergalactic CEO” or “Czar of the Universe”, but “Dad” – with all that that image entails.  And what other image could capture it as well – the complex interplay between deep tenderness and unrelenting severity?  As Paul says, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God.”  In our culture we’re constantly prone to playing these against each other, as if one cannot be both kind and stern at the same time.  And so we’re left with barren caricatures – the harsh, distant, cold, aloof taskmaster of a father, the checked-out idiot, the deadbeat, the foolish slob, or the companionable adult friend.

But none of those do justice to the full meaning of the word “Father.”  God is better than that.  He aches for our good.  And that ache is absolute.  This is why he is worthy of love and worship.  Not some authoritarian dictator.  Neither an indifferent gaseous vapor.  You can’t love and worship a dictator or a vapor.  Still less can you flourish under it.

But “Dad-love” – you can flourish under that canopy.  And so it is that the Spirit grafts us into the Son so that as sons and daughters we can come to know and love the perfect Fatherhood of God, and his absolute determination to do us good.

We love you Father…

And now you know : )

Grace and peace to you.

One Body… Levels of Preservation

As we’ve been working our way through Ephesians this summer at Bloom, I found this little snippet out of chapter 4 pretty compelling:

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

It’s intriguing to me, and I think highly significant, that Paul doesn’t say “make every effort to achieve…” or “make every effort to create…” or “make every effort to establish…” or something of that nature.  Rather, he says, “make every effort to keep/retain/preserve the unity of the Spirit in/through the bond of peace.”

Fascinating stuff.  Apparently Paul thought that the “unity” of the Church – what the apostle John would call “koinonia” in another context – was ontologically prior to any single member of the Church’s feelings about it.  That is to say – it is REAL.  Even if we don’t think it is.  Or feel it is.  Or believe it is.  It just is.

Which is perhaps the reason that the unity of the Church is an article of both the ancient Apostles’ and Nicene creeds – because if we didn’t have to confess it every week, odds are we wouldn’t believe it.  And if we didn’t believe it, odds are we wouldn’t order our lives according to it.  Much like marriage.  Christians believe that the act of marriage is creative – that something (the union) has come into being that is greater than anyone’s feelings about it.  “What God has joined together…” after all.  And it is the confidence that the union is deeper than our feelings about it that helps order our desires and passions in the right direction.  As the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it to a couple about to be married: “From now on, it is your marriage that will sustain your love, and not your love the marriage…”

Profound stuff.

Frankly, however, in our culture of radical individualism, autonomy, and consumerism, and of course in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, which shattered Christendom into a billion little pieces, the primal confession that “we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” has fallen on hard times.  Now, it is the empowered “user” who through the dynamism of her personal choice gets to construct her social and religious world, “unity” be damned…  And, as it turns out, Queen Choice is an awful tyrant.  I see three places where this is perverting our individual lives and corporate witness:

1) On the interpersonal level, we are more flippant about our relationships within the body of Christ than perhaps we’ve ever been.  Aided and abetted by our transience and by the plenitude of communal options before us, we simply don’t “make every effort” to fight for deep, meaningful, lasting interpersonal relationships within the body of Christ.  We enjoy the bliss of community for a season, but the moment things get difficult or conflicts arise, we bail out.  Everyone loses here.

2) On the corporate/communal level, we are more flippant about our relationship to total communities of faith than we’ve ever been.  Pastors, you are much to blame for this.  The degree to which we’ve acted as an accomplice to this conspiracy of the autonomous choosing individual and user-empowered church experiences in the name of attracting people to our communities is appalling, and is actually destroying our communities.  Like madmen, we’ve cut off the branch we’re sitting on in the name of getting people through the doors, forgetting that churches aren’t built on consumers – they’re built on the backs of collectives of people who have covenanted together to live out the deep meaning of “ekklesia”.

3) On the “universal” level, we’re more eager to excommunicate each other than we’ve ever been.  The Rob Bell fiasco of this spring was a perfect case in point.  Before the book was even released to the public, Rob was being denounced and condemned as a heretic.  The witch hunt was on.  But then – and here’s the crazy thing – before too long, the hunters became the hunted.  Pretty soon the “pro-Rob” faction was denouncing and condemning the “anti-Rob” faction.  What we forgot was that in times past, when someone would teach/preach/write something controversial, the Church would labor – often for YEARS – trying to parse out exactly what so-and-so was saying, measuring it against the canons of received faith, before issuing some broad judgment.  And in the process, they’d (a) preserve unity and (b) grow much wiser.  After all, the great creeds and confessions of the church were BIRTHED out of theological controversy.  And their birthing, make no mistake, was a “labor” from beginning to end.  We’d prefer to microwave the process by tweeting our denunciations.  What a weird world we now live in.

In all of this, the Pauline injunction is dismissed or overlooked entirely – make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  That is to say, to reiterate, our connectedness as members of the body of Christ is ontologically prior to our feelings, and therefore must be fought for.  And from where I stand, by and large, we’re just not doing this.

How do we fix it?

In small but profound ways…

By fighting for relationships within the Body, even – and especially when – they get complicated.  Actually, it has been my experience that the eruption of conflict within relationships can be the doorway to deeper friendship.  But most of us never get there because we’re afraid of conflict.  Stick with relationships.

By fighting for our sense of commitment to particular communities of faith.  It’s ludicrous to me that many from my generation scorn and scoff at our parents’ churches, but don’t have even an ounce of the character that our parents had – many of whom took out second and third mortgages to help pay for the buildings we now laugh at, because they believed that in so doing they were helping to spread the gospel.  However misguided in retrospect that might have been, at least they bled for something they believed in.  Sadly, we don’t.  We mock and criticize… and then wander back off into our private little consumeristic ghettos.  Shame on us.  Time to do better.  Let the Spirit lead you to a community of faith, and then STAY THERE and CONTRIBUTE, until the Spirit leads you elsewhere (and don’t mistake being bored with a community or having the romantic feelings for a community wear off for the Holy Spirit).

By fighting for unity within the broader Body of Christ.  And when I say this, SO THAT I’M PERFECTLY CLEAR, I’m not advocating some kind of fuzzy “Let’s just all get along because in the end it doesn’t really matter anyway” idiotic Christianized “tolerance.”  I think we need to think.  I think when Rob, or anyone else, writes something or says something that’s challenging or controversial, we ought to subject their work to rigorous, thoughtful, deep, careful scrutiny WITHOUT AUTOMATICALLY ISSUING CONDEMNATION in the hopes that in so doing we’ll edify each other and clarify what we actually do believe.  After all, one of the postures that Paul commends in the passage above is “patience”, and there was nothing patient about how the Bell controversy was handled.  Foolishness I say.  We will be less than we could be as the Body of Christ for failing to heed the Pauline injunction in ALL areas of our lives.

Well, there it is… a bit of a rant : )

Grace to you.

Reflections on the “Missional Manifesto”

“Post-evangelical”, “post-liberal”, “post-modern”, “post-colonial”, “post-Christendom”, “emergING”, “emergENT”, “third way”, “organic”, “centrist”… the world of North American Christianity is a landscape littered with words like these like shells scattered across the shore of the sea, now so overused we can barely remember that at one point they actually had positive content.

Among such words is the word “missional”.  Sometime in the last ten years, the word began to be used extensively as a self-description for churches/communities organized and oriented towards “the mission of God” as opposed to something else.  Usually, the term functioned as a sort of “pushaway” – that is, “we” (whoever that is) are defined by our participation in the mission of God “out there” (in the world) as opposed to “them” (whoever they are), who are defined and organized by a sort of “indragging” principle (i.e., get more people in the building).  “Missional” was often set against so-called “attractional” churches.

Somewhere along the line, however, the word began to lose its moorings (if indeed it ever had them).  Pretty soon, folks as diverse as Craig Groeschel and Shane Claiborne were using the term to describe what they were up to.  As the word became more and more diffuse, therefore, it came to have less and less content.  If an indie hipster artist type can use the word to describe what she’s doing with her art, and Steven Furtick can use it to describe what he’s doing with his exploding church in South Carolina, clearly we have on our hands a word in search of a meaning.

Thus, a little more than a year ago, a small group of thinkers, pastors, and practitioners (including Alan Hirsch, Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Dan Kimball, and others) got together to draft a document laying out what they mean when they use the word “missional”, entitling the document the “Missional Manifesto.”  (You can read the full text of the Manifesto here.)

In the main I tend to be wary of highfalutin-sounding things like “manifestos”, but I must say that I do appreciate both what the “framers” (that’s also a little highfalutin-sounding for my ears 🙂 ) intended to do (define how they’re using the term) and in fact did (provide, IMO, a nice theological framework for understanding the missionary nature of the Church).

To be specific, some appreciations for the Manifesto:

  1. I appreciated the attempt to limit the term “missional” (as it relates to the Church) to our calling to join with God in seeking and saving the lost.  As the Manifesto states: “Missional is not synonymous with movements attempting to culturally contextualize Christianity, implement church growth, or engage in social action. The word missional can encompass all of the above, but it is not limited to any one of these…Missional is the perspective to see people as God does and to engage in the activity of reaching them. The church on mission is the church as God intended.”  Kudos to those statements.
  2. I appreciated the distinction between the “Missio Dei” (Mission of God) and the “Missio Ecclesia” (Mission of the Church).  As I’ve already written about here, I think confusion on this point is harmful, and actually diverts the Church away from the specific role she plays in the “summing up of all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ” – that is to say, the “Mission of God.”   I loved this statement: “Although it is frequently stated ‘God’s church has a mission,’ according to missional theology, a more accurate expression is ‘God’s mission has a church’ (Ephesians 3:7-13).”  Definitely.  I might be tempted to say, in further clarification, that “God’s mission has a church which has a mission.”  Missio Ecclesia, in other words, is a subset of Missio Dei.
  3. I appreciated that Gospel, Christology, Kingdom, Church, and Disciple-making formed the heart of the “Affirmations” of the MM.  As a people being-formed by the Good News of what God has done for us and for the whole world in Christ Jesus, the people of God together bear witness to a world which has fallen into the hands of the Evil One that the gracious Reign of God in Christ is available to all.  I thought that whole section was well-articulated and theologically precise.

And so, in the main, I would like to express a hearty appreciation for the Missional Manifesto, and for its Framers in taking the time to put it together.  Well-articulated and timely I say.  Good work guys 🙂

Still, I have some concerns, all of which (I think) are bound up with each other:

1) I am concerned that “living missionally” is going to become a new badge that separates “us” (the so-called “missional Christians”) from “them” (the “non-missional Christians”).  That is to say, that “missional” is going to be the “new legalism”, as my good friend Michael Hidalgo has written about here and here.  This concern is related (I think), to this concern:

2) I am concerned that the ideal of “living missionally”, despite the Framers’ intentions, is still so vague that, unless it is further clarified, is bound to become oppressive.  What does “living missionally” actually look like?  And at what point are we “missional” enough?  I’m reminded here of the Shane Claiborne/Irresistible Revolution phenomenon from several years back… an ideal so high and lofty that it was bound to inspire us deeply.  And yet, when it came down to the average soccer mom, college student, or businessman putting it into play, it became oppressive at least as often as it was helpful.  How will “living missionally” as an ideal not fall into the same trap?  This concern is related (I think), to this concern:

3) I am concerned about statements like this: “The Church, therefore, properly encourages all believers to live out their primary calling as Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) to those who do not know Jesus” (Emphasis mine).  Frankly, I am not sure if saying that our “primary calling” is to be Christ’s ambassadors is theologically accurate, or at the very least, it is not precise enough.  It seems to me that the Scriptures teach that our primary calling is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength.  That of course is the “first and greatest” command… and the “second is like unto it”, though not synonymous with it – “love your neighbor as yourself.”  When we’re loving God well (and letting ourselves be loved by God well), love for neighbor is the inevitable result.  It is what “runs off” of the life of adoration.  We were made, as the Westminster catechism declares, “To glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  And when we order our lives towards that telos, we become radiant and alive with the very presence of God, ever bearing glad witness to him in a world of self-worship, confusion, and death.  Bluntly, I think worship is our primary calling.  Yes?  No?

I suspect that most if not all of the Framers would agree with that last statement, but I think it deserves clarification, especially in a “Manifesto”, for, as I can see it, the only way the ideal of “living missionally” (WHICH I WHOLEHEARTEDLY AFFIRM!) will avoid the trap of becoming yet another “law” or “badge” as opposed to a glorious “gospel of peace” is if our imaginations are first directed towards God… and our call to live fully into his love and glory as sons and daughters, and then – and ONLY then – prayerfully discerning how to join him in his work of reconciling lost humanity to himself, right where we live, in the “sacred geography” that God has placed us.

To that extent, I enjoyed this post over at DesiringGod.org and also James MacDonald’s recent emphasis that “the primary purpose of the church is not soteriological but DOXOLOGICAL.”  Our joy in God begets mission… God help us remember that.

In any event, I hope this came across as charitable.  I would love some interaction from those of you familiar with the Manifesto or EVEN (by some miracle of the internet) from those of you who helped FRAME the Manifesto.  Do you share these concerns?  Disagree with them?  Am I off base here?

Shalom…

Practicing “Presence”… On Cultivating a Missional Posture

The British scholar David Bebbington in his work Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s, defined evangelicalism in a way that I find particularly helpful.  He distinguished it by four convictions which have historically been the source of energy for the movement (on both sides of the “pond” as they say).  Those convictions later became known as “The Bebbington Quadrilateral.”  They are:

  • Biblicism – the belief that the Scriptures are authoritative for faith and life
  • Crucicentrism – that the atoning death of Jesus is the center of the biblical story
  • Activism – that faith needs to be expressed in public, tangible ways in society
  • Conversionism – that people need to repent and believe in Jesus, submitting the totality of their lives to him

I don’t think that very many of us have a quarrel with the quadrilateral.  (In fact, by the way, the quadrilateral is why I don’t have a problem identifying myself as an “evangelical”.)  Nevertheless, at times, one or several of the corners will suffer.  At our current moment in history, I think the last one is suffering (well, actually, probably the first two are suffering too, but that’s a topic for another day).  IMO, the rise of a new dogmatic agnosticism on the fate of those who don’t believe the gospel coupled with a “fuzzification” (very technical word, huh?) of our notion of the “kingdom” (that the kingdom is wherever nice stuff is happening) buttressed by a further confusion regarding the relationship between the Mission of God and the Mission of the Church (see my last post on that one) are probably much to blame.

But there are other reasons too.  And one of them, I think, is a desire to avoid the sort of “guilt by association” that comes with any attempt to influence people towards submission to Christ.  We don’t want to be identified with the sort of confrontational, arrogant, rigid, narrow-minded, Bible-thumping, dispassionate, one-off encounter evangelism that has been so popular among evangelicals for so long.  And that is right and good.  If our words and strategies don’t match the “ethos” of the good news we have to bring (“the kindness of God leads you to repentance…”), then we are right to feel the need to distance ourselves.

THE PROBLEM IS – many of us have made a wrong turn at exactly this juncture.  Instead of repenting and working hard to stoke a new missional imagination among our communities of faith, we simply back off altogether, redefining the “mission” in such a way that an actual concern to see lost people “found” is a side issue at best.  As long as “mission” means any good thing we wish to do, we are free to be unconcerned.

But the Scriptures won’t let us off the hook that easily.  At Bloom this past weekend, we noted in Ephesians 3:1-13 that after Paul gets done with his masterful depiction of the grand cosmic purposes of God, he turns on a dime and begins to express how he PARADIGMATICALLY engages those cosmic purposes by saying, “We go out by the grace of God and tell people this surprising, stunning, ridiculously amazing good news – that gates of the kingdom of God have been flung WIDE OPEN to all humanity!”  (Listen to the talk below).

\”Ephesians #5: All Things…On Earth\”

It would appear, on even a cursory glance at the New Testament, that when the early church (with Paul as a prime example) thought about what it LOOKED LIKE for them to engage in the “summing up of all things in heaven and on earth under one head – even Christ”, they thought, “We tell people.”  That is to say, we play a very specific role WITHIN God’s mission by working WITH HIM to “sum up” part of the “on earth” category, which most concretely is PEOPLE.  And Paul says that he was “given grace” (as all of us are) to “work out” that part of God’s cosmic plan.

What I’m saying is, seeing people “reconciled” and “restored” and “summed up” and “renewed” in Christ (which is a subset of the “reconciliation”, “restoration”, “summing up” and “renewing” of all things) is the centerpiece of the church’s task in the world.  This is part and parcel of how God gains glory for himself – by rescuing human beings from sin and death, restoring them “to the praise of his glory.”

But admittedly we have to do better at this than we have done.  We need to combine a deep sense of clarity on what our call is with a deep passion to see people restored to God with a sharp sensitivity to how “But God” (see Eph 2:4) moments actually occur in people’s lives…  With that in mind, I submit a short list of things that I’ve found to be immensely helpful in cultivating a missional posture in my own life.  So read, be encouraged, and feel free to feedback me on what’s worked for you… let’s learn together!

  1. Know your “sacred geography”.  Who are the people that God has uniquely positioned you to be able to connect with?  Paul, let us remember, was originally “Saul of Tarsus”, Tarsus being the sort of cosmopolitan city in which a young Saul would have wide exposure to a variety of cultures, making an adult Paul as much at home in Jewish Palestine as he was in the wider Roman world.  No wonder God used him the way he did.  I think our “sacred geography” includes that but much else also, including the people we work with, the coffee shop or bar we ALWAYS hang out at, and of course our street.  Let us assume that the “places” we’ve been put are not accidental.
  2. Practice “presence.”  One of the worst features of our modern technological age is that we are hardly ever “present” in the places we live and move and have our being.  We never hang out on the front porch (because we’re watching TV in the living room, which is likely in the back of our house, as far away from the neighbors as possible).  We never engage conversation with our neighbors (because we’re surfing the web in the friendly confines of our offices).  When we’re in public, we’re constantly checking that stupid mobile device to see what inanity has been written on our FB wall.  In short, we’re “there” (wherever we are) but not “present”.  Let us work hard to overcome the habits created by our modern technological age in order to be fully present in whatever place we are.
  3. Shift the balance of power away from yourself.  A huge part of what’s wrong with evangelistic strategies like this one is that’s fundamentally a power play designed to get the unbeliever to cry “uncle!”  It is inherently coercive, and if we know anything about Jesus, we know that power is not at all an apt instrument for seeing the kingdom come (see, for instance, Mt 4:8-10).  After all, it wasn’t until Jesus’ own weakness was completely consummated on the cross that people “saw” that he was all he said he was.  To that end, have you ever noticed how when Jesus sends his disciples out, he does so (1) with them being rookies AT BEST in even knowing what the heck they were talking about when they proclaimed the kingdom, and (2) with them in a fundamentally vulnerable position?  The logic is simple: shift the balance of power away.  If folks are kind and hospitable towards you, you’ll soon find a foothold for the gospel.  So with your neighbors… learn to borrow tools, learn to ask for help on your gardening deficiencies, learn to ask for sugar and butter when you run out, etc etc etc.  There’s a myriad of ways to do this.  JUST DO IT.  Trust me.  Walls will come crumbling down.
  4. Pray for people.  I think it goes without saying… but then again, maybe it doesn’t.  The thing I’m struck by in Ephesians is the “But God” nature of how people come to faith.  It is GOD who has to sneak in through the back door of people’s little kingdoms to open them up to all that he is… and without that, all of our efforts will be in vain.  So pray for your neighbors, folks within your “sacred geography” whom you sense God is readying to be reconciled…
  5. Bless and serve with no strings attached.  And when I say “no strings attached”, I really mean “no strings attached.”  I think that we need to BE the presence of the kingdom in such a way that we’re not getting bent out of shape when folks don’t reciprocate our kindness towards them with an openness to the gospel.  After all, Jesus fed and healed the crowds who would later crucify him, knowing full well that’s exactly what they would do.  But that didn’t change his posture one bit.  Grace and mercy all the way… so shovel sidewalks for your neighbors, bake Christmas cookies for them, help them with yard work, with no agenda other than to love.  And again, just watch what happens.
  6. Run towards pain.  If we’re doing 1-5, chances are we’re going to be in position to engage people at the moments when their lives are falling apart.  And it is right that we should be so engaged at such moments, for God most characteristically uses pain to get hold of human beings’ attention; as the great C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our conscience, but SHOUTS to us in our pain; pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world.” (The Problem of Pain).  Live 1-5 well, and watch God go to work through you when people’s lives are crashing down all around them.
  7. Keep your eyes open for the kingdom breaking in.  Where is there openness?  Interest?  Where are these folks demonstrating an absence of hostility towards you and the way of life you live?  Where is God working in them?  Help them interpret their own experiences as “God events”.
  8. Use gracious speech at all times.  The writer of Proverbs claimed that “a soft tongue breaks the bone” (25:15).  Sometimes I think we use abrasive speech because we’re anxious that unless we “up the ante”, nothing will happen.  The question is whether you actually BELIEVE that God actually is capable of winning people over without our verbal coercion.  If you do, it will be far easier to be patient, coming alongside the process with gracious words, helping to midwife God’s rebirthing people into his kingdom.

And all of this is done with the goal of being drawn deeply into the orbit of people’s lives so that you’re positioned to spot God’s work and run with it.  It is an OUTRAGEOUS but highly common tragedy that the longer most people are Christians, the more distance there is between them and folks outside of faith, when precisely the opposite should be true, if Jesus was at all serious about that whole “as the Father has sent me, so am I sending you” bit.  So let’s get to work.

Okay… I’m out of breath.  What have you found?

(By the way, the reader will note how much I’ve been very helped by David Fitch over here on these matters.  Thanks Dave!)