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Just returned from the Willow Creek Leadership Summit and was struck again by the power of personal and leadership development. Bill Hybels mentioned several times the truths that leadership matters and that:

“Everyone wins when a leader gets better.”

This is certainly true on the physical battlefield. But it is equally true in every endeavor. As a leader gets better, everything and everyone benefits.

Over the last 15 years, Laurie and I have seen it over and over again at Gettysburg. Get leaders to invest in their own development and in the development of the leaders they lead and good things happen. Because we believe that, we’re committed to continue offering a unique learning experience at our “If Properly Led” conferences. We hope you’ll consider joining us or investing in the development of those you lead by sending them to join us Oct 3-7, 2012 in Gettysburg.  See info here.

Here’s one recent review:

Over more than 40 years of ministry, I’ve had opportunity to attend many professional leadership conferences. NONE was as valuable as your “If Properly Led” conference. I love history and was exceptionally charged to have my sons with me, but way beyond that was the pure value, intensity and transferable nature of everything we did together. You have crafted a truly great experience. Never quit.

– Stu Weber, Pastor and Author of Tender Warrior, Infinite Impact and others

 

Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament, argues that the tension between “evangelism” and “social action” grows out of a deep misunderstanding.

To posit tension between evangelism and social action amounts to a deep distortion of both and is in the end a phony issue. Or to put it more positively, serious, responsible faith attends to both serious evangelism and intentional social action.

Brueggemann suggests we must go past the distorting antithesis to discover that behind both mandates is the God of the Bible–decisively present in the story of Jesus–who is both:

  • –the principle subject of evangelism &
  • –the principle agent of social action.

When we say that **the God of the Bible is the subject of evangelism,** it means that every aspect and dimension of our lives is being brought under the rule and intention of that God. The message of the gospel deabsolutizes every other claim of authority and invites us to situate our lives in the story of Jesus’ death on the cross, his burial, resurrection and ascension.

Similarly, when we say that **the God of the Bible is the decisive agent of social action**, it means that social action has an ideological quality. As Brueggemann writes:

The message of the gospel is the sustained affirmation of the Bible that the creator of heaven and earth is at work to mend and redeem and repair and rehabilitate the world so that it may become the good creation . . . the new creation . . . that God has always and everywhere intended.

 Brueggemann argues that all our zeal is fundamentally “penultimate.”

In other words, we avoid the distorting antithesis between evangelism and social action when we become intimately aware and purposefully acknowledge that God is indeed effectively at work in Jesus on behalf of the well-being of the world. That God is doing the work of bringing the entire world under his good rule. And morever, that God will not quit until it is finished. As John the Apostle said, the lips are laid to the trumpet and the voices are starting to sing:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. (Rev 11:15)

In his argument, Brueggemann believes that evangelism taken by itself and social action by itself both need to be regospeled, reinvited into the news that the action stays God’s not ours. If this is so, our action stays bouyant, propelled not by success but by faithfulness.

  • Evangelism taken by itself becomes self-indulgent narcissism that imagines our embrace of the gospel to be an end in itself rather than enlistment into an alternative world. Evangelism is thus trivialized away from God.
  • Social action by itself becomes hard-nosed ideology that is authoritarian and graceless. Social action is thus undertaken in Promethean autonomy.

But together, Brueggemann argues that radical social action is a public articulation of our identity in Christ.

Social action indwells the evangelist because the God who promises the news of the gospel is the God at work transforming the world, inviting all adherents of the gospel to share in the tranformational work.

When we enter the larger story of God’s intent to redeem and restore all creation, we enter a story in which we are inescapably engaged in the work of mending the world “that is God’s own work.”
1. We are engaged by prayer, whereby we pray daily that God’s way of governance shall be fully established on earth as it already is in heaven so that there will be no more violence, poverty, homelessness, nor any other injustice.
2. We are engaged in hope, whereby each day we expect God’s decisive action, fully confident that things need not stay the way they are and will not stay the way they are, simply because God is God.
3. As in prayer and hope, we are engaged in God’s transformative work in the world by our actions–when we make our intentional, bodily investments in the narrative of God that we have, in Christ, come to accept as the true story of our lives. We invest our bodies in this way, not because it is exceptional or because it is heroic or because it is expecially more or virtuous, but because it is the natural and unexceptional living out of who we are in our relished identity as members of the narrative of God.

Brueggemann closes his chapter with the account of a transcendent moment in Martin Luther King’s life where at his kitchen table he was claimed and redefined by the belief that “the essence of religion was not a grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience.” It was that moment that provided the power for the movement.

Brueggemann asks us to imagine if King had so prized the gospel that he stayed forever in the kitchen: no movement! Or to imagine if King has so prized the movement that he had not paused long enough in vulnerability to be reshaped and empowered that day in the kitchen: no durable courage or freedom! It is not an either/or. It is both/and….the deep claiming of good news and the insistent dangerous public obedience.

Source

I’ve been reading Walter Brueggemann’s Deep Memory, Exuberant Hope. I love the way he looks at the “thickness of the text.” He argues that the preachers and teachers of the gospel are to “invite, empower and equip the community to reimagine the world as though Jesus was the key player.” Our role as Christ-followers is to “utter a sub-version of reality, an alternative version of reality that says another way of life in the world is not only possible but is peculiarly mandated and peculiarly valid.”

As we proclaim the king and kingdom, we challenge the dominant version of social reality which (for example) thinks:
* bread must be guarded, and not shared
* that it is each against all, with no ground for community
* silence can authenticate the status quo.

The preacher/teacher/leader of a reimagined vision of an alternative reality where:
–the community offers break even amidst their own material deprivations
–the community affirms a covenantal solidarity amidst social dissociation
–the community legitimates speech where the rest of the world uses enforced silence to protect its privileges.

Jesus was such a leader who announces from the beginning that a new reality, a new governance is at hand. This new goverance–of Jesus as King–brings all of life–public and personal, human and nonhuman–into a regime of wholeness.
(and my favorite line from Bruggemann)

Jesus came with a mandate to do for the world what the Creator had intended from the outset.

Today is water day…and I want to be part of a water movement that brings clean water to every person on the globe.

Why?

Because it’s a compelling cause:

The water crisis is at the heart of a daily emergency faced by a billion of the world’s most vulnerable people–a crisis that threatens life and destroys livelihoods on a devastating scale. Unlike war and terrorism, the global water crisis does not make media headlines, despite the fact that it claims more lives through disease than any war claims through guns. Unlike natural disasters, it does not rally concerted international action, despite the fact that more people die each year from drinking dirty water than from the world’s hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, and earthquakes combined. This is a crisis that is holding back human progress, consigning large segments of humanity to lives of poverty, vulnerability, and insecurity. The church of Jesus Christ can see an end to this silent crisis experienced by the poor and tolerated by those with the resources, technology, and the political power to end it. – Chris Seay

Because it’s pursued by visionary communities:

Edmund Burke described visionary communities as “God’s little platoons”–little concerts of benevolence committed to the pursuit of something great. Even if my daughter and daughter-in-law weren’t among the following “companies of friends,” I would want to join these water movements. Both strike at the very heart of the water crisis. Laurie and I are privileged to be part of these heavenly platoons–making significant contributions today to each. We’d love for you to join us.  Click on either image below to explore options.

 Because it challenges the status quo.

Movements like The Adventure Project and One Billion Thirsty refuse to accept reality–they embrace it, they acknowledge it, they even lament it–but they wont “accept” it. All movements kick back at the darkness. One Billion people in need of clean water?? Crazy. Wrong. But solvable.

All movements both “criticize” and “energize.” They never criticize alone; they also bring energy to bear–creating a new reality. Whether it’s investing in well-mechanics repairing broken wells in northern India or in new deep water wells in a repairing Sierra Leone, movements like these are taking action. Ideas are one thing, action is another.

Because nothing is easy.

All true revolutions take place in an evolutionary way. Movements that solve the water crisis require thousands of “tiny strategic” actions persevered over the long haul. Movements take time–a long time. Getting clean water to One Billion people won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy. It will be hard. But who wants to be part of something easy? Not me. I want to do something that many think can’t be done.

And when it’s done–how fun will that be!

Libby Swenson, Freedom58project.org, is helping launch justice movements around the country.  Chk out her article (click on image).

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I recently taught thru Revelation 21-22 (here) and was reminded that salvation in the Scriptures points to a future when all creation is redeemed and restored. In his book, Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright argues that we have got to get it into our heads that which the New Testament is really banging on about–the (bodily) resurrection. This bodily resurrection (to which the The Apostles Creed refers to as “I believe in …. the resurrection of the body and life everlasting”) is NOT a synonym for going to heaven when you die, but is what is going to happen after that.

I’ve often say, heaven is important but it’s not the end of the world. What the New Testament is all about is what I call “life after life after death.” That is, resurrection life after whatever state we go into after death. The New Testament teaches a two-stage post-mortem eschatology. The New Testament goes on and on about the (bodily) resurrection and says very little about the intermediate state.–N.T. Wright

OK, here my translation of Wright’s main point: there are two stages to life after death… the intermediate state when we are with Jesus as disembodied spirits and the final state when we get our bodies back. Eternal life is fully realized at that final state. The New Testament says very little about the intermediate state, but goes on and on about the final state.

Do you get the implications of this? Our hope as Christians is for our bodily resurrection, not for a disembodied home in heaven. In other words, the heart of the gospel is not “going to heaven, but heaven coming to earth.” We will be resurrected persons in a transfigured universe so that our final home is “a presence, a people, and a place.”  By all indications, the New Jerusalem will come down to earth, this earth. The new heavens and the new earth of Isaiah 60-66, 2 Peter 3, Revelation 21 are a “renewed heavens and earth”– not totally different ones.

So what? Well, here’s a few implications:

  • Christian spirituality is about an embodied life on the earth both now and forever. Our bodies matter.
  • There is a continuity between this world and the world to come. What we do in this world with our bodies, even what we do in secular work with our bodies, has value in the world to come. We receive good according to what we do with our bodies.
  • The earth matters; it will be my eternal home. It groans too for redemption. I should love it, steward it, nourish it, protect it.
  • We are ambassadors for a king- in-waiting. His kingdom is both now real and coming soon.
    (Lots of other implications: See another discussion in Nathan Bierma’s book, Bringing Heaven Down To Earth)
 

The Inklings and Old Books

It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones…. Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all therefore need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period…. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books….The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds and this can only be done by reading old books.–C.S. Lewis

The Inklings loved old books. It was in part their love of old books that brought them together. Indeed, they fought against what Owen Barfield called “chronological snobbery– -the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.”

C.S. Lewis, prior to trusting in Christ, was captured by this belief: what was modern was somehow more right or true–just because it was newer. His Oxford friends- –Barfield, Dyson, and Tolkein–challenged his assumption. They gave him an appreciation for the truths inherent in the classics.

As Lewis reflected later on this period, he wrote a friend.

A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.

Lewis discovered that most of those traps lie in the old books which have so pro- foundly affected our world. When he converted to Christianity, Lewis changed his position. The classics, the great books of the ages, are best able to deal with the issues of our own time. He soon argued, “The more ‘up to date’ a book is, the sooner it will be dated.”

For this reason, Lewis (and the other Inklings would agree) suggested that we spend significant time reading the classics—whose “time-honored” nature will help us not only understand the past, but also awaken a deeper understanding of the present. We need the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds.

To do this, Lewis made the following suggestions:

  1. Add to your reading schedule the old books. Lewis suggested that after reading a new book, read an old one before you read another new book. When was the last time you read a book other than the Bible that was over 100 years old? Over 1000 years old?
  2. Read and re-read the very best books. Lewis believed that we lose a great deal by only reading a book once. Re-visit the great books again and again. Other than the Bible, have you ever read a book again and again?
  3. Read these old books with a sense of discovery. Carefully study these books, mark key passages, write notes or questions in the margins, pause to understand the arguments. Do you mark your books?
  4. Discuss what you read with others. Lewis wrote, “when one has read a book, I think there is nothing so nice as discussing it with someone else–even though it sometimes produces rather fierce arguments.” To share a book in common is one of friendship’s greatest joys. Who are your Inklings?
  5. Make friends with the old books. Learn to see through the eyes of others. Garner the insights of the thoughtful people who have gone before you.

Some Old Friends Worth Knowing

Here are some old friends you might want to know. Most are Lewis’s friends, but I’ve thrown in a couple of my own. Begin with at least one of these “old books” and add a conversation with him or her to your reading plan this year.

  • Confessions by Augustine
  • The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
  • Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales
  • Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
  •  The Iliad and the Odyssey by Homer
  • The Aeneid by Virgil
  • The Temple (and other poems) by George Herbert
  • The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius
  • Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell
  • Centuries of Meditations by Thomas Traherne
  • Serious Call to a Devout & Holy Life by William Law
  • Divine Comedy by Dante
  • Revelations of Divine Love by Lady Julian
  • Pensées by Pascal
  • Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • The Fairie Queen by Edmund Spenser
  • The Poetry of John Donne
  • The Works of William Shakespeare
 

Drawing as a Means of Hearing the Holy Spirit

I don’t know whether you’ve noticed it or not. The Bible is a picture book—it uses imagery to reveal God’s truth. Bible words are often picture words.

Take, for example, the Book of Proverbs. Open it up and put your finger down anywhere on the page. I just did it—here’s what it says: “As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed.” (Ouch, I got up later this morning than I should have.)

Or consider Jesus who almost always spoke in figurative language. “I am the vine, you are the branches… The Kingdom of God is like treasure hidden in a field.”

The Scriptures are rooted in an Oriental culture, which tends to be much more right-brained—more visual and non-linear. God chose to reveal himself in the Scriptures in figurative language–language that “draws pictures in our brains”. The Scriptures are predominately narrative or story (extended metaphors) and poetry (purely metaphorical).

Unfortunately, most of us are trained to see things in logical, linear, verbal fashion. Bringing our occidental proclivities into play, we come as lawyers to the Word, not as artists. As a result, we miss some of the depths of its riches.

The human mind is not, as philosophers would have you think, a debating hall, but a picture gallery. Around it land our similes, our concepts … Metaphor is the essence of religion and poetry.?— W. Macneile Dixon

Several years ago, I discovered a rather simple way to tap into the figurative, metaphorical language of the Bible. This method opened up the Scriptures in some powerful ways for me. Give it a try.

The Method (aka Drawing Near to God).

  1. Secure a journal or notebook without lines. In fact, turn it length-wise (landscape).
  2. Read your Bible (let me suggest starting in Proverbs 10).
  3. Simply sketch the image or picture described in the text —maybe three or four snap-sketches per notebook page. (Begin with the more obviously pictorial proverbs—10:5, 9, 11, 13…)

    As you develop your visual sense, try to draw each proverb. Use your imagination to probe the meaning of word pictures.

  4. Don’t show anybody your sketches. Most of us who are not artistic–or think we’re not artistic–refuse to draw or sketch because we’re embarrassed at our silly stick figures.

    We worry about the product. Drawing near to God is about process, not product. So think process.

  5. What truths does God reveal to you as you see the biblical passages through different eyes?

To make you happy about your own sketches, I’ll break the fourth rule and show you some of mine:

 

There is a difference between reading a text and letting the text read you. I’ve so often treated the Scriptures as an object, unpacking its truths, mining its riches. Certainly, we are to read and study the Scriptures to show ourselves approved (2 Tim 2:15). But dissecting the Scriptures as an object is different than allowing the Scriptures to pierce the soul and spirit and to discern the heart’s thots and intentions (Hebrews 4:12). When we allow the Scriptures to become–not an object to study–but a living word, we become in a sense subjects of the word. Instead of us studying it, it studies us.

A friend recently suggested that I practice the following discipline.

Take a “story” from the Gospels. Read it and, as you’re walking or jogging, enter the story. Become the characters, imagine what they are feeling. What is going on in their lives and hearts? See the setting. Grasp the tension. Play out the plot in your imagination. Most of all, don’t let the text become an object. Let it study you as you become subject to it.

(Devotional masters over years have called this exercise: Gospel Meditation. I didn’t tell my friend that I’d once written up the attached description here. My friend tends to perceive in me something I don’t–there’s a difference in ‘knowing’ about something and ‘practicing’ it.)

Now, here’s the difference between my previous experience with the exercise and how I’m beginning to practice it.

For some reason, I’ve always tended to be Jesus in the passage. I was looking to imitate Jesus, to follow him and his ways. After all, I told myself, the disciple will become like the teacher.

But lately, my friend argued, see yourself as the person with whom Jesus is interacting.

For example, as Jesus is pressed by the crowd in Mark 5, a sick woman touches the hem of his garment. Jesus turns and asks, “Who touched my garment?” In the past, I would have processed this passage with the application.

In the midst of the rush of life, be sensitive to the touch from people in need. Don’t just keep pressing on in the crowd. See the individual.

Not a bad application. Certainly true. Something I could resolve to do better at.

But today, I imagined myself as this poor woman reaching out to just touch Jesus’ garment. I could see Jesus turning toward me, asking “Who touched me?” I experienced somewhat the fear the woman felt as she trembled and fell down before him.

I have a brokenness no doctor can solve; every effort I’ve spent to get better fails. I was only growing worse. But today, I fought thru the crowd and touched your hem, Lord. I felt your power flow into me.

This morning, as I “became” this woman, I entered the rest of the day–not with an application, not with something for me to do. I entered the day, having encountered Jesus. I felt the fear. I heard his voice. I left in peace.

I had moved from the head to the heart. The story had studied me.

 

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