Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Destination Transformation: ENGAGE

This is the third part of a blog series where I unpack TCOC's approach to spiritual formation

Enagage the Unchurched
Connect to Christ
Connect to Others

I spent earlier posts (Here and Here) highlighting the aim of the gospel: TRANSFORMATION. Some people call it discipleship, others sanctification and still others redemption. In the end, Jesus came to change you and the world. As a Christian, I believe transformation begins and ends with Jesus. Therefore, TCOC's spiritual formation model begins with engaging the unchurched with the good news of Jesus. Technically...Evangelism!

Evangelism! Seems today it has more in common with force-feeding or hogtying than sharing "good news!" It tends to conjure up images of street-preachers spewing condemnation and judgement or pesky little souls ringing your doorbell on Sunday afternoon when you just want to watch football, "If you died today would you go to heaven or hell?" picture those Christians who treat evangelism as a sport, as if angels are eying you for a first-round draft pick in Fantasy Evangelism, "Bob would be a great pick! He had 32 conversions last year!"

Although these disastrous approaches and self-centered motivations have turned evangelism into a lame pick-up line at best and made many churches evangeliscally gun-shy, the root meaning of evangelism is simply "the act of proclaiming good news." There is no better news than to whisper in the world's ear, "I know someone who makes dead things alive again!" Such a message peeks the interest of all mortal creatures, and the Church carries this balm in her lungs! Why wouldn't churches share the "good news?" Not only is it logical and ethical to share "good news," but Jesus commands the Church to do so. In Acts 1, as Jesus prepares to return to the Father, he speaks these last words to his followers:
" will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

Witnesses testify to what they have seen and experienced, and in this particular instance Jesus calls the Church to testify to a Risen Christ...good news indeed! Popular or not, Jesus commands the church to engage the unchurched and he promises to equip us with power to accomplish such a task. Yes, evangelism should flow naturally out of a deepening relationship with God, but at the same time Churches should intentionally and strategically engage the unchurched. Luke-Acts depicts the Godhead as a strategic and intentional evangelist.  In my next post, I will use sections of Luke-Acts to highlight four keys to engaging the unchurched.

But before we explore the keys to engagement, we must ask ourselves, "Does our church take evangelism seriously? Do we see it as necessary? Do we see it as a command? Are we being intentional and strategic in engaging the unchurched in our area?"

Sometimes Christians get nervous when we talk about evangelism because of past abuse, but let's not throw the baby out just because the bath water has gotten cold.  Let's change the bath water! Our past failures (Thank you, Crusades!) do not exempt us from a tremendous responsibility to share the good news! Let's reassess our approach. We learn from Christ engaging the unchurched is not about "power over," coercion, or force. It's about sharing and living Hope..."Practicing Resurrection." It is never US vs THEM. It is always US for THEM! We engage the unchurched not as the un-compassionate Borg assimilating everything in its path, but rather as the body of Christ laying down her life on behalf of the world.

I have some good news...would you like to hear it?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Destination Transformation: Part II

This is the second post in a blog series where I unpack TCOC's spiritual formation model in hopes that it will help in your spiritual transformation. In my first post I highlighted the goal, "The End," the aim of the gospel: TRANSFORMATION. In this post I will us an example from Jesus' life to show how TRANSFORMATION took center stage in Jesus' ministry and it's implications for the church today.

Engage the Unchurched
Jesus did not come as a religion entrepreneur. He did not step out of heavenly glory, wrap himself in fragile human flesh so he could establish another religious system. The Son of God did not come down with a new set of Stone Tablets entitled How to Be Spiritual. "One or two Communion prayers?" did not even make his Stuff-that-matters list. His mission did not entail an article for Christianity Today arguing theologically for Home Church over Mega Church. He came to change the world and not in some kind of nebulous disembodied domain, but in a tangible, relevant and practical way.

In Mark 3, Jesus gathers on Saturday, as all faithful Jews, in the synagogue. He finds himself face to face with a man crippled by a shriveled hand. Jesus' gut reaction is to heal the man, to mend and restore. To any rational human being, healing makes the most sense, but not to religion. The Pharisees were counting on Jesus' healing instincts, because to heal meant to break Sabbath Law.

Connect to Christ
Sabbath Law defined "work" as any activity exercising dominion over your environment. Healing clearly demonstrated authority over one's environment and therefore it was a blatant violation of Sabbath Law.  This moment provided a prime opportunity for Jesus to prove his spiritual superiority and his religious mastery to the Pharisees, but Jesus did not come to be Judaism's Most Valuable Player. He came to save, to heal, to redeem, to TRANSFORM!

So...Jesus gets angry, stands the man up in front of the scheming leaders and restores his hand! Technically he breaks The Law, but a man goes home that day with a recreated hand. If Jesus had simply followed the powerless rules and rituals of his day he would prove nothing except his self-discipline, but by raising a dead hand to life he screamed of God's tangible love.

Connect to Others
In many of our neighborhoods the church sounds like Charlie Brown's teacher. Our discussions and conversations often have very little relevance to a world hungry for the tangible love of Jesus.  I pray God uses the Church not as a club for theological and doctrinal discourse but as a transforming catalyst and guide in people's lives.
  • We want to see drug addicts set free.
  • We want to see the lonely find a community of friends.
  • We want marriages restored.
  • We want single parents to find "co-parents" in their church family.
  • We want to see people move from being money slaves to generous Kingdom givers.
  • We want to see people break free from debt.
  • We want to see individuals who are in the final phase of life die well, loved, and unafraid.
  • We want to see the hungry fed.
  • We want to see the unemployed find work.
  • We want to see bitter individuals discover joy through forgiveness.
  • We want to see apathy catch fire.
  • We want to see people discover compassion for the first time.
  • We want to see racial division and social segregation collapse.
  • We want to see prisons turned into churches.
  • We want to see strip clubs remodeled into teenage pregnancy centers.
  • We want to see Satan fall like lightening.
  • We want to see TRANSFORMATION through Jesus.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Destination Transformation

Seven months ago I started preaching again...resurrected but completely unqualified and undeserving. The grace-filled community of TCOC invited me to partner with them in welcoming the Kingdom of God to Downriver (southern Detroit burbs). Unlike past ministry experiences, they hired me as another piece to living out the vision God had placed before them rather than hiring me to aid in vision discernment. I believe God called my family here because our vision aligned with TCOC. Stepping into a community already convicted by God's leading has created a very smooth transition thus far.

With the brief introduction behind us, this post is the first in a series unpacking TCOC's vision and mission.  I'm sharing this on my blog because I believe TCOC's vision captures the function of the gospel, the heart of God, and the calling of the Church. I pray these posts will enrich your relationship with Christ and create lasting change in your life.

TCOC's mission statement reads:
To engage our community in spiritual transformation by connecting people to Christ and one another.

Not only does the mission statement serve as our decision-making filter, but inherent to the statement is a spiritual formation model. I believe God, as a relational being, not only relentlessly pursues us, but invites us to chase him with the same abandoned passion. A spiritual formation model is a intentional and practical pursuit of God. We communicate our model through a simple formula:

Enagage the Unchurched 
Connect to Christ 
Connect to Others 

In order to understand the spiritual formation model, I start with "The End:" TRANSFORMATION.

Growing up I argued the Christian "End," the goal, the aim was heaven - to walk the golden streets, grub the all-you-can-eat calorie free buffet, sing God's Family 1 million to the millionth times (Actually, that sounds a lot more like Hell). But, the more I dug into the macro movement of scripture I realized "heaven" was a byproduct of God's ultimate aim.

During another season in my life, I came to believe the "End" was to be like Jesus, to be the perfect live out the great commission in my own life to do everything Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). Yes, God calls us to follow Jesus, to become "little Jesuses" in the world, but one question moved me a step further in my quest toward The End: WHY? Why be like Jesus? So I can give legalism a new twist and elevate my Christian status by being more like Jesus than you? To master Jesus' teachings rather than let Jesus master my heart?

After more study and a renewed discovery of Jesus, I realized when I become like Jesus, the world becomes more like The Garden. God's shalom swells. As more people become "Little Jesuses," the more sin's curse goes in reverse. In other words, discipleship is the TRANSFORMATION of me for the TRANSFORMATION of the world.

God seeks the TRANSFORMATION of all things. TRANSFORMATION has may aliases: restoration, resurrection, recreation, new birth, New Heavens, New Earth, etc.  The pages of scritpture testify to a God who is transforming a rotting creation through the sacrifice of Christ's death and the power of his resurrection:

  • Jesus describes his ministry as one of TRANFORMATION: ...he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor...proclaim freedom for the prisoners...recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free... (Luke 4:18-19)
  • The culmination of Christ ministry was on one of TRANSFORMATION. There is no greater TRANSFORMATION than dead to life: Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! (Luke 24:5b-6a).
  • Paul captures the essence of conversion as TRANSFORMATION: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (II Cor. 5:17)
  • Paul goes on to describe life after conversion as ongoing TRANSFORMATION: have take off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in the image of its creator.
  • Paul also alludes to TRANSFORMATION not simply as God's goal for humanity but for all creation: ...creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Rom. 8:21)
  • John supports Paul's theology for cosmic TRANSFORMATION when he hears God's voice declare: I am making everything new! (Rev. 21:5a)
I believe God is up to something EPIC...if that isn't the understatement of the millennium. The day the stone rolled everything began to change. I want to see TRANSFORMATION that only comes through Christ in me, at TCOC, in Downriver, in Metro Detroit...and in you!

Our destination? Transformation. In my next post, I will explore a passage that brings TRANSFORMATION to the forefront of Christ's ministry.

Father, may you bring all who read these words ever deeper into Christ. May they never be same...not today, not tomorrow, not the next day...may they be renewed in your very image for their sake and for the sake of the world. Amen!