Relocation to Abandoned Places

New monastic communities are analogous to prophets having been carried out to the desert to hear from God. It’s sort of like the stars, from a city street you can’t see many stars even on a clear night, but from a country field or desert plain, the stars fill the sky. Removed from the chaos of life as we know it, a community can begin to hear and to re-learn the story God is spinning, and soon they begin to embody that story themselves, and soon others recognize something familiar in the community of folks living differently and eventually realize its a clearer picture of that same image in which they were created.

Is everyone called to a “monastic” life? Is everyone called to intentional community? Is everyone called to relocate to the abandoned places? No, but those who are called to serve remind the rest of us what we were created for and called to. The lives of a new monastic community serve as a prophetic voice speaking against the tumult of a world overpowering the still, small voice of God, and calling a people subsumed to become once again a “city set on a hill” in the midst of a world desperately seeking its purpose.

A City Like a Sore Thumb

God gives the law on a mountain, the prophets predict that people will flock to God’s holy mountain and worship the Lord together there, living according to God’s law. Jesus reminds us that a “city set on a hill cannot be hid” all while standing on a mountainside reiterating the law of God. The point of God having a holy city, on a holy mountain (Zion) is that God calls a people to live according to his law and in so doing, be like a city set on a hill in the midst of a world of flatlands. We’re supposed to stick out; we’re supposed to be different. This is supposed to happen by virtue of following God’s mountain-fed spring of teaching, instruction, and guidelines for good living.

The point of having a city on a hill is that it’s a community. It’s not a call to an individual; it’s a call to a people. “Come be my advertisement to the world of what you were meant to be.”

ht: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today’s Church, Chapter 4

Tikkun Olam in Christian Tradition

I’m always delighted to find doctrinal statements that coincide with ancient Hebraic understanding. Today I read the following in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Notably, this represents Anglican, Evangelical, Methodist, and Brethren strains of thought.

We pray and work for the coming of God’s realm and reign to the world and rejoice in the promise of everlasting life that overcomes death and the forces of evil.*

For those who may not be familiar with it, tikkun olam is a rabbinic concept that contains the idea of our responsibility to partner with God in the healing or the repair of the world. We find this concept multiple places in Scripture, but contained clearly in the intersection of Ephesians 2:10 and 2 Peter 3:11-12.

Lest there be any doubt that this is the concept under discussion The Book of Discipline goes on to say:

The goodness of creation is fulfilled in human beings, who are called to covenant partnership with God.**

In Ephesians 2 (and a quick peek at chapter 1, verse 4) we find St. Paul declaring that the purpose for which we have been saved (by grace, through faith) and, indeed, chosen before the foundation of the world, is to walk out the good works that God created beforehand (referring to before the foundation of the world) for us to do.

even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will. . .For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 1:4-5;2:10 ESV)

If we flip over to St. Peter’s second letter we find that our faithfulness in living these lives of holiness and godliness actually hasten the coming day of the Lord, when He will forge a new heaven and new earth in which all will be as it should be–as it was created to be. “Therefore, beloved…be diligent…”

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:10-14 ESV)

* page 44 of The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church: 2004
** Ibid, page 46

Elorah’s Healing

This is the third time that this has happened, but on the two previous occasions I neglected to write it down.

On Saturday, December 21 Elorah came down with a cold. We took her to the doctor and they put her on an antibiotic in order to prevent the ear infection that was all ready forming. By Sunday night she was very bad, having difficulty breathing, continually coughing and often choking on what she brought up.

We were staying in a hotel in Shipshewana, IN because we had been without power since 7:00 Friday morning, due to an ice storm and the severe cold (it was -6 degrees). I put my hand on Elorah’s head and prayed earnestly for God to heal her during the night. I did not command, I petitioned, but I asked specifically that God Who is the Great Healer would take away Elorah’s congestion and return her breathing to normal. I also asked that He would send ministering angels to surround, protect and cover Elorah with their wings.

Monday morning Elorah woke up with the fever broken, and markedly improved. By Monday afternoon, she was clearly back to normal except for a residual cough every once in a while as her body continued to clear out the congestion that had built up.

Others may doubt, but as the one who was involved it is clear to me that God healed Elorah in response to my specific prayers to this end. I give Him the glory, and am enormously thankful. Given that any fever puts Elorah in grave danger of a repeat seizure (her first one was 45 minutes long), any illness is of great concern to us.

Lord of Life, I am grateful for Your intervention in our lives and particularly in Elorah’s life. Thank You for being so gracious to us; I know that Elorah is a gift from You. All glory to the Sovereign of the Universe Who lovingly cares for His creation.

Understanding the “Tutor” Analogy

When someone graduates from under a tutor, that person (if they’re wise) does not subsequently abandon the lessons they were taught.  When you learn to shoot a jump shot, you don’t forsake the lay-up. When you learn to parallel park, you don’t stop parking in parking lots. When someone understands the "higher consciousness" of love that the Law of God describes in specific scenarios, this does not mean that it is now appropriate to abandon the building blocks!

We have been grafted into the commonwealth of Israel and their Scriptures are now ours also. We are privileged to participate in their inheritance. Note that it is a "commonwealth," if someone is of Gentile descent they do not become a Jew. We maintain our ethnicity but become part of the spiritual administration of Israel/God’s people. God doesn’t have multiple peoples; He welcomes all into His one people – Israel. There are those who are Israel after the flesh and those who are Israel after the heart.

I Believe

I believe it is the great privilege of Christians to imitate Messiah and to represent God’s image to the world by following the commands of Scripture. Whether they be found in the First Testament or the Second, the commandments of God will always reflect the image of God.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV)

It is our challenge to wrestle with how the instructions found in Scripture can be faithfully observed in this time and place.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17 ESV)

Isn’t it interesting that Jesus promises the presence of the Holy Spirit immediately after saying that if we love Him we will keep His commandments. It’s almost as if the two things are connected! It’s as if “walking in the Spirit” and keeping His commandments are one and the same thing.

The King Messiah Fellowship Statement of Beliefs says,

We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation. (Matthew 5:17-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)

A Critical Interpretive Issue

My brother-in-the-Lord, Joel Usina, continues to update and improve his increasingly profound blog. There is a post over there from last month that is short, sweet and to the point, but oh, what a point it makes.

Joel takes up the issue of whether it is consistent to imagine that the Apostles considered Jesus the prophet predicted in Deuteronomy 18:15 and then taught a way of life that contradicted the teachings of the very same Scriptures (Torah).

What If?

What if “church” actually benefited its participants rather than burdened them?

What if contributing to the local gathering of saints actually helped each family and each individual practically live life more like God intended?

What if we got together and bought one of the homes that has been foreclosed on in our neighborhood? It sure seems like there are some in every block these days. What if neighbors walked to what was truly a “neighborhood church”? What if our “church” mortgage was $800 a month instead of $8000?

What if we spent less on maintaining a massive building, that sucks our money and our time and just hung out with other like-minded people in a local gathering each week? What if we spent some time giving God the worship of our lips, spent some time reading His words to us and discussing them, broke some bread together, and discussed one another’s lives, played some games, danced with our kids to the sound of praise music, sometimes chatted till the wee hours, then walked back home?

What if that local home we bought together in each neighborhood became a “one-room schoolhouse”? What if one or some of the recent school or college grad girls taught our children down the street, using curriculum we approve of and teaching according to goals we agree upon? Or what if each Mom took one day a week as the “school-marm”?

What if we lived close enough to share a lawn mower between 3 families?

What if living out the gospel actually helped the environment, saved money and freed up more for giving to the needy instead of paying down interest, taught our children what we believed rather than what the godless want them to believe, fought greed, kept the cost of living down, fostered neighborhood economics, supported local commerce, and built deep relationships between members of the same local gathering of the Church? Could the Gospel really look like that? Could that have been part of God’s intent for us?

What would happen?

Is it possible that God gave us a societal blueprint that met all those goals? Is it possible that God’s omniscience could have anticipated all the woes of our Western, individualistic, consumer society and formulated a way of life that would have prevented them?

Do you believe in homeschooling (or at least cooperative, small schooling)? Do you believe God actually meant for His people to live in community? Do you believe God really meant for us to progress in Christ-likeness by following the principles He laid out in Scripture? Well…there’s a house for sale next door to me. There’s another one abandoned 3 doors down. There’s a park around the corner, there’s a grocery store around the other corner. I’d love to see what would happen…

The Celtic Way of Evangelism

I ran across a new book this morning (new to me, at least) that I can’t wait to read. Here’s what interested me:

The Church, in the Western world, faces populations who are increasingly “secular”—people with no Christian memory, who don’t know what we Christians are talking about. These populations are increasingly “urban”—and out of touch with God’s “natural revelation.” These populations are increasingly “postmodern”; they have graduated from Enlightenment ideology and are more peer driven, feeling driven, and “right-brained” than their forebears. These populations are increasingly “neo-barbarian”; they lack “refinement” or “class,” and their lives are often out of control. These populations are increasingly receptive-exploring worldview options from Astrology to Zen—and are often looking “in all the wrong places” to make sense of their lives and find their soul’s true home.

In the face of this changing Western culture, many Western Church leaders are in denial; they plan and do church as though next year will be 1957. Furthermore, most of the Western Church leaders who are not in denial do not know how to engage the epidemic numbers of secular, postmodern, neo-barbarians outside (and inside) their churches. Moreover, most of the few who do know what to do are intuitive geniuses who cannot teach others what they know (or charismatic leaders who cannot yet be cloned). The mainline Western Churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant, lack both the precedent and the “paradigm” for engaging the West’s emerging mission fields. There is, however, a model upon which Western Christians can draw as they face this daunting new situation. The ancient movement known as Celtic Christianity can show us some ways forward in the twenty-first century. (pg 9, 10)

This book is presented with the naive confidence that, if Western Church leaders are willing to love the Lord of the Harvest with their minds as well as their hearts, and are willing to learn from a once-great movement outside of the Roman paradigm, then Christianity can become contagious once more across North America and Europe in the twenty-first century. (pg 12)

The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again by George G. Hunter III. Abingdon Press, Feb 2000 (144 pgs) ISBN 978-0687085859