Sep 24

(O)mission

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line at a coffee shop

We’ve got this conference coming up, which has had me thinking a lot about mission. Mission is often about something you do. On a mission trip, you build a house, or clean up a neighborhood, or spend time with folks you wouldn’t normally be around.

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line at a coffee shop

We’ve got this conference coming up, which has had me thinking a lot about mission.

Mission is often about something you do. On a mission trip, you build a house, or clean up a neighborhood, or spend time with folks you wouldn’t normally be around.

It’s a lot of action.

And it can be draining.

Imagine trying to live every moment of your life at the level of a traditional mission trip. You’d be exhausted.

But that’s how mission is communicated. Go do this thing. Come help out with our event on Saturday. Feed people.

Those are all good things.

But I don’t think that’s all there is to this whole mission thing.

Because the word mission carries meaning of sent-ness.

So who’s the one doing all the sending?

God.

The mission trip or experience you went on is part of a bigger mission God is on in the world, and has been for quite some time.

The Father sent the Son into the world, and Jesus sent out the apostles (with the Spirit). And that sending continues.

But it’s not just a sending to another place where they don’t speak your language.

It’s a sending into your everyday. Into your neighborhood. Into your coffee shop. Into your work place. Into your gym. Into your commute. Into every aspect of your life.

The mission is your openness and willingness to respond to the places God is already active.

Sometimes mission is guilt-driven: you have, those people don’t, therefore mission. And it’s all about doing.

But mission in the fullest sense is more about paying attention. Because we follow an active God who is already on the move in mission.

The missio Dei (mission of God) is another way of saying this. Whatever activity you’re involved in is a participation in the work God is already doing. Which takes a little of the pressure off.

Here’s Dave Fitch’s perspective:

“If the Triune God is already in mission, then I need to see the worlds in which I regularly walk as the arenas of the Spirit–places imbued with the presence of God…I started to changed the way I inhabited places: work, the coffee shop, the train on the way to work, a neighborhood conversation, a school board committee meeting, the food pantry, and of course my own family life. I started to pay attention to things I normally would miss. I began to listen for God. I tried not to make God into an evangelism project that I had to do a few hours a week. I simply paid attention to my existing routine and daily tasks. I looked for what God was doing in all the relationships and interactions of my life.” (Prodigal Christianity, 28).

Too often mission is about what we do, instead of paying attention to what God is already doing. Yes, we do something, but we’re just looking for ways to align ourselves with God’s work in and around us.

Which means mission will look less like a trip and more like a listening and responsive life.

How would your day tomorrow look different if you looked for the Spirit’s action all around you? If you listened for the nudge?

Posted in Blog, Formation for Mission | Tags: / / / /

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Jun 24

How’s Your Fountain Working?

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation. How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel? What emotions rise up in you while looking at it? What kind of fountain did you

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Close your eyes and imagine a water fountain. Maybe it’s one you’ve seen before, maybe it’s your own imaginative creation.

How does the water look? Sound? Fall? Taste? Feel?

What emotions rise up in you while looking at it?

What kind of fountain did you imagine? One you’d seen before on a vacation? Or one you might see everyday (a drinking fountain)?

Was it beautiful to see the water cascading across the picture of your mind? Was it refreshing to have the cool water satisfy your parched mouth?

Water fountains can be beautiful. Water seems to dance and shoot in unexpected places and at unexpected times.

Water fountains can be fun. Children love to play and splash in the water.

Water fountains can be peaceful. A slow, steady fountain can be a great background for silence and meditation.

Water fountains can be refreshing. Nothing is better than a long cold drink from a water fountain on a hot summer day.

In all this beauty, fun, peace, and refreshment, I would guess not many of you imagined the driving factor behind those experiences: the lowly pump.

The pump is that forgotten, but essential piece that makes the whole fountain work.

Without the pump a fountain would just be a big pool, or a flat surface.

Without the pump, you’ll still be thirsty.

And water pumps, like anything else in life, require maintenance. Don’t care for the pump? Don’t expect a water show.

No one goes to a fountain to look at the pump (except the person charged to maintain it).

You look at the result of the pump’s work and enjoy it; thankful for its presence and function, even if you never actually realize it.

Which is kind of like spiritual formation and mission. In this with-God life journey, your spiritual formation is the pump.

No one sees your time in solitude and silence, lectio divina, prayer, secret acts of service, tithing, charitable giving, fasting, the list could go on. Those are all behind the scenes.

What people will see is the beauty of a life bent toward mission. Not in an annual mission trip kind of way, but in a regular openness and responsiveness to the call of God in your daily life. The nudges and pulls that are easy to miss when we’re overly busy or rushing from place to place.

220px-Jet_pump--wikimedia commons

The lowly pump

The hard work of creating margin and slowing down (pump maintenance) frees you up to listen to those moments when the fountain can burst forth in all its splendor.

It’s easy to want to run out and transform the world into a better place (fountain). But unless your pump is properly maintained, that fountain won’t keep working for long. It will sputter and try to work, but finally sit dry. And pump maintenance isn’t exactly glamorous work.

But the opposite is true, too. The best maintained pump in the world isn’t much good, unless the fountain is on and running. It’s just a nice museum piece, or relic.

The best fountains have both things working together constantly. Without one, it’s just not a fountain.

So how are you at pump maintenance? Are you overly focused on the appearance of the fountain? Have you been maintaining the pump well and need to turn the fountain on already?

If you want to improve your pump maintenance so the whole fountain works better, our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission is a great opportunity.

**Featured Image Photo Credit: Biblioteca de Arte-Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian via photopin cc

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May 28

3 Beliefs that Will Free You Up For More

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This post is adapted from the introduction to Mark Scandrette’s latest book, FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most (IVP 2013). Mark will be leading an intensive called Invitation to Simplicity at the Apprentice Conference this fall. Register today! We live in

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This post is adapted from the introduction to Mark Scandrette’s latest book, FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most (IVP 2013). Mark will be leading an intensive called Invitation to Simplicity at the Apprentice Conference this fall. Register today!

We live in one of the wealthiest economies on earth. Yet many of us feel crunched for time, stressed in our finances or perplexed about what makes life meaningful. Our culture is driven by a sense of scarcity, fear and an unquenchable quest for more. If we don’t make conscious choices to resist these impulses, the force of a materialistic and consumeristic society will make most of our decisions for us. The scripts we’ve inherited about material prosperity are wearing us out, robbing our joy and destroying the planet.

If you are reading this, you are very likely in the top 5-10 percent of global wealth. As people living in postindustrialized countries we must wrestle with our contribution to the crisis of global inequity and ecological destruction. The 12 percent of us who live in Western Europe and North America are responsible for 60 percent of global private consumption. We should be haunted by estimates that it would take four to seven earths to sustain us if everyone on the planet had the same ecological footprint as the average American.

Our overconsumption is largely fueled by a debt-based public and private economy. The current US national debt is estimated at $16 trillion. As of September 2012 the average American household was $6,772 in debt, with the average indebted household owing $15,328 to creditors. If we feel strapped in one of the wealthiest and most stable economies in the world, what about the nearly three billion people on earth who are living on less than $2 a day?city view from plane

Our challenge is to pursue a standard of living that can be shared by all. To love our neighbor as ourselves we have to consider how our individual actions affect our sister across the street and our brother on another continent. We might not be able to fully grasp the scope of the problem or offer a complete solution, but we can wrestle with the weight of our relative privilege and disproportionate consumption. For the sake of our global neighbors, the planet and future generations we’ve got to find a way to be less wasteful and consumptive, discovering a more sustainable version of the American Dream.

We can be encouraged by the growing awareness among people of faith that the gospel of Jesus is holistic and touches every aspect of our lives. We see Christians of every variety desiring a life of faith that includes being a good neighbor, valuing relationships, cultivating an inner life, caring about people affected by poverty and consciously becoming better stewards of creation.

However, this good vision for the church will remain largely unrealized unless practical realities and competencies are addressed. Many of us are too busy or distracted to sustain a life of compassionate engagement. We live lives of hurry, worry and striving, finding little satisfaction in our manic work and recreational activities.

Instead of being free to create beauty, nurture relationships and seek the greater good, many of us feel stuck in lives dictated by the need to pay bills or maintain a certain (often consumptive) standard of living. We can’t have it all—the prevailing level of consumption, a life of deeper meaning and relationships and global equity and sustainability. To realize these good dreams we must adjust our values and practices and seek creative solutions.

Few things in life shape us more than our choices about how we earn, spend, save and invest. Most of us will spend a third of our lives at income-producing jobs. How we choose to manage those earnings largely determines whether we are free to serve the greater good. Yet, rarely have religious communities, in particular, done well at addressing money and work as areas for discipleship—other than the occasional sermon about giving.

Perhaps we unconsciously tend to separate money and work from the center of our spiritual lives, making an artificial and unhelpful distinction between what is spiritual and what is temporal, and thereby less important. In a holistic understanding of the gospel every part of life is sacred and integral to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This means we must learn to talk more honestly and openly about the details of our financial lives as an essential aspect of Christian discipleship.

The gospel invites us into a life of radical contentment, generosity, gratitude, trust and simplicity. We can reimagine our assumptions about time, money and material possessions to pursue a life of greater freedom, leveraging our time and resources toward what matters most.

Three core beliefs can shape how we connect formation and mission with our time and money choices:

1. We were created with a purpose, to seek the greater good of God’s loving reign. Human beings long for a deeper sense of purpose. According to Jesus, we “are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14), created to do and bring good to this world (Ephesians 2:10). The wisdom of this teaching encourages us to stretch beyond the mundane
concerns of our lives to be animated by a calling to be agents of healing and restoration.

2. We have enough. The ancient voices of Scripture affirm that we live in a world of abundance, where the Creator provides all that we need. “You [God] . . . satisfy the desires of every living thing”(Psalm 145:16). Rain falls and sun shines on the earth, producing the goods that sustain us. We are invited to celebrate this abundance with thanks, to trust God for what we need, to be content with what we have and to share with those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick and lonely.

3. We can make intentional choices about how we spend our time and money. We’ve been given incredible power to imagine, learn, grow and choose how we want to live. Living well requires vision, self-awareness, discipline and the development of practical skills. As those created just “a little lower than angels and crowned . . . with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5), we can make choices to become more content and free to spend our time and resources on what matters most. We think that to make life-giving changes that last, we need a source of energy and love greater than our own. The promise of the gospel of life is that if we do what we can, God will help us do what we cannot under our own strength (Philippians 2:12-13).

We can choose to pursue meaning, value people, engage the world’s needs and move toward a rate of consumption that is more globally sustainable and equitable. We can be free to spend our time and money on what matters most.

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May 20

Remembering the Power of Relationship

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empty bench

This is a guest post by Tom Smith. Tom will be presenting one of the A Talks and leading workshops at our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission. I am passionate about mission and spiritual formation but I fear that sometimes these two beautiful manifestations

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empty bench

This is a guest post by Tom Smith. Tom will be presenting one of the A Talks and leading workshops at our 2014 National Conference: Formation for Mission.

I am passionate about mission and spiritual formation but I fear that sometimes these two beautiful manifestations of God’s invitation to love God and others can become abstract “talking points” devoid of real life relationships.

From personal experience I know this abstraction too well.

A few weeks ago I listened to the audio version of CS Lewis’ The Great Divorce and stopped the car when Lewis places the following speech in Gordon McDonalds’ mouth,

“There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself… as if the good Lord had nothing to do but exist! There have been some who were so occupied in spreading Christianity that they never gave a thought to Christ. Man! Ye see it in smaller matters. Did ye never know a lover of books that with all his first editions and signed copies had lost the power to read them? Or an organiser of charities that had lost all love for the poor? It is the subtlest of all the snares.”

The real danger is that I can easily fall into the snare of being fanatical about spiritual formation and mission, or missional spirituality, without involvement with God and God’s people. Jesus hinted at this when he reflected with the Pharisees and noted that, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40, ESV)

In the end, missional spirituality is an invitation into a friendship with God the Father, Son and Spirit and God’s people and creation. It is here where Dallas Willard’s beautiful definition of knowledge helps me to remember what the end of missional spirituality is. Dallas noted that, “Knowledge, biblically, is interactive relationship with what is known”[1] The invitation into a missional spirituality is towards an interactive relationship with Christ who said, “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me”(Mtt 25:40). Interaction is an invitation towards the inward and outward relational journeys wherein we become part of the dynamic blessing nature of the Triune God making the world a better place.

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/resources/WillardWords.asp accessed 16 May 2014

Questions:

–          How have you experienced the subtle snare that leads to abstraction?

–          What does an interactive relationship with God and people mean for you?

 Want to hear more from Tom? Register today for

[1] http://www.dwillard.org/resources/WillardWords.asp accessed 16 May 2014

 

Tom Smith is married to Lollie and they have two children, Tayla and Liam. Tom has a passion for following Jesus in his everyday context. He is the co-founder of the organization Rhythm of Life (www.rhythmoflife.co.za) that helps churches to grow in discipleship. Tom is a church planter and is currently a PhD student doing research on the development of missional spirituality. He is the author of the book “Raw Spirituality.” He lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

 

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