What’cha Reading: Book 1, Part 2

unfettered-hopeI recently started a new blog series called Whatcha Reading. My inaugural post was part 1 of a review of a book called Unfettered Hope by theologian Marva Dawn. Due to the density of this book, I decided to break it up into two posts. Here is part 2.

So What?

There are many questions that have been haunting me since reading this book. I’ll mention only a couple.

First, how do I relate to technology? More specifically, am I aware of the ways technology may be using me instead of the other way around? For example, despite the ways technology connects me with others, am I aware of how technology (like my phone) pulls me away from relationships that are right in front of me? Since Dawn wrote this book before Facebook and the smartphone, cell-phone-addictionI can only imagine how much more relevant these questions are today when phenomena like nomophobia and FOMO are common experiences. Here are some diagnostic questions that have helped me think through the question of how I relate to technology. Because my phone is the most powerful piece of technology in my life, these questions tend to be phone-specific:

  • How many collective minutes per day do I spend staring at my smartphone (news, sports, facebook, twitter, Instagram, blogs, snapchat, email, text-messaging, etc.)? How many minutes per day do I spend on my knees in prayer or reading the Bible?
  • Are people in my life often telling me to put my phone down because it’s keeping me from being present to the relationships or tasks right in front of me?
  • Is my phone the first thing I give my attention to in the morning and the last thing I give my attention to at night?
  • If I go somewhere without my phone, does it feel like I’ve lost a part of myself?
  • Do I regularly fast from my phone? What are some daily or weekly habits I could adopt that would create “technology-free” spaces in my life?

Second, what matters most to me? And is my answer to this question the determining force giving shape and meaning to my relationships, habits, and schedule? If Dawn’s right that what should matter most for Christians is love of God and love of neighbor (and I think she’s right), my life should be increasingly reoriented around these twin-commands.

love god love peopleIf you’re like me, the idea of “reorienting” anything in life sounds daunting (my wife and I are currently juggling two children who are two and under – we barely have time to change all the diapers that need changing, let alone relationships, habits, and schedules!). That being said, since reading this book I haven’t been able to stop wondering what it might look like to take tangible, realistic steps toward loving God and neighbor more deeply. Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself lately.

  • Am I intentionally taking time every day simply to talk and listen to God (could be in the shower, car, bed, etc.)?
  • Is there an activity that makes me more aware of God’s presence and love or that helps me see and experience the beauty of God? If so, make a weekly or daily (if possible) habit of doing that thing.
  • Identify someone in your life who seems to love God and others well. Then ask them how they think a person can grow in love of God and neighbor.
  • Are there people in your life whom you pray for every day by name?


Favorite Quotes:

“Because our society has been so good at inventing diversions, because the wired world is inundated with them, the media have to bluff us into the fettered thinking that consumption is our absolute duty – for if we do not consume, the pace of the economy will slow down, money will not circulate, and people will be forced out of work. Consequently, we are also bombarded with the bluff that we should follow the opinions and styles propagated by the advertising media. Thus we are always directed toward enslavement by self-concern and the various idolatries of possessions and the “Mammon” that purchases them” (19).

“How has the world become so unbalanced that part of the world struggles to cope with all the stuff it possesses while the larger part of the world scrambles to find enough” (41)?

“Can we learn in our churches that worship is for God and not to please our own tastes or express ourselves? Can we learn to be genuine communities in our churches so that we are willing to forego our musical preferences at times for the sake of our brothers and sisters in faith” (82)?

“…my concern centers on the large proportion of congregations that have thrown out everything that can be learned from historic worship and music and liturgies and leadership in order to “attract” the unbelievers. In the process, they tend to turn the practice of engaging in worship for the sake of our focal concern to love God into the device, or means, that will produce the commodity of greater numbers. But attracting neighbors is not loving them” (93).

“Do we blame liturgies or worship styles for not being user-friendly when we ourselves are inhospitable? … If I came to your congregation, would someone invite me to sit with her” (95).

“Many church budgets do not include even a line item for caring for the poor” (103).

“Why do churches measure success by how many souls ‘they’ have added in the past year? Could we look instead at how deeply we have nourished discipleship, how profoundly we have helped people learn to live according to their focal concerns of loving God and their neighbors throughout the world? The device paradigm has ruined our ability to think of quality instead of quantity… Why do I let society’s numbers game so affect my attitudes? I know: I lose sight of my focal concerns” (103).

“…many U.S churches become caught in a nasty spiral of needing to produce the commodities of plenty of programs in order to attract enough people to generate the income necessary to keep offering the programs. At root is the device paradigm and the undoubtedly culture-driven beginning of the attitude that delivering programs is what churches are for” (104).

“I am totally convinced that the main reason that churches fail to live by their focal concerns is because their members are not deeply committed to each other in genuine communities formed by the biblical metanarrative” (147).

“To call a local church into the mission of Jesus is to call its members into the same two behaviors. First we cry. Then we die. We let our hearts be broken with the things that break the heart of God. Then we die to the comfortable patterns of life that insulate us emotionally and geographically from those for whom Christ died” (Ben Johnson and Glenn McDonald, quoted on 158).

“…the Christian practice of faithfulness in marriage is a gift of the larger society – not only because of the stability it provides the spouses and any children the marriage might create, but also because it is another protest against the ‘instant gratification’ ethos of our commodified culture. People who choose deliberately not to participate in our society’s consumption of genital excesses (in the flesh as well as in the media) have habits of restraint and moral carefulness that affect many other dimensions of life” (167). ‘

“…the solution to the immense bodily needs of a great proportion of the world is not merely to give away more of our money, but rather totally to de-sacralize Mammon in our own lives so that it doesn’t have such a hold on us” (169).

“It is that willingness to suffer that we seem to lack these days, and therefore the abhorrent economic injustices of our world remain” (170).

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church
michael@chriocommunities.com

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On Prayer: Waiting Five Years For The Answer I Wanted

Five years.

Yes, five years.

When the Chrio family invited me to be their Pastor just over five years ago I began praying that God would develop relationships between our church family and the families that attend Pedro Guerrero Elementary School, where we gather on Sundays.

Seems like a simple prayer, right?

Father, draw our church family close to families that bring their children here for school.

Now don’t misunderstand me. There have been countless times when people in the Chrio family have shared space, conversations and laughter with families at Guerrero.

  • Every Thursday for three years both Guerrero families and Chrio servants descended on the gym to pack food through Blessings in a Backpack so every child at Guerrero would have some food on the weekends.
  • We’ve hosted basketball and soccer clinics for students.
  • Science Night, Dr. Seuss Night and Fiesta de Mayo have been annual service events for the past five years (in fact Dr. Seuss Night is Thursday…you should come!)

While each of these events was beautiful they were not like this.

For the past three weeks a group of women from Chrio have been teaching English to a group of families from Guerrero. Now all parties know each other’s names. They know what each other do for work. They know how long each has been associated with Guerrero—whether it be because of education or because of church attendance.

This isn’t a ‘kind acknowledgment’ level of relationship. It’s deeper.

This is what happens when you sit across the table from someone. You get to know them. You begin to want God’s best for them.

Maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal as you read this. But it’s been a five year prayer of mine—for Chrio family members to be in week-in-week-out relationship with families at Guerrero.

Do you have five year…or fifteen…or fifty year prayers that you just keep lifting up to our Father?

Maybe sometimes you’ve prayed it only because you’ve been praying it for such a long time. Maybe you’ve had this nagging thought, is it time to STOP saying this prayer?

I’m not sure if you should keep saying any particular prayer or not, although I would love to talk to you about your prayers!) What I do know is that God recently answered a five year prayer in a new and fresh way.

I’m writing today to tell you he does these kinds of things.

Because He is God.

Because He is good.

Because He hears prayers.

And sometimes, after five years, he surprises you with the answer you’ve been wanting but wasn’t sure you’d ever get.

 

Joel Scott

Pastor / Chrio Communities

joel@chriocommunities.com

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What’cha Reading? Book 1, Part 1

unfettered-hope

Title: Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an Affluent Society

Author: Internationally renowned theologian, author, and educator Dr. Marva J. Dawn has served as Teaching Fellow in Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Under Christians Equipped for Ministry (CEM), she has preached and taught at seminaries, clergy conferences, churches, assemblies, and universities throughout the United States and world. A scholar with four masters degrees and a Ph.D. in Christian Ethics and the Scriptures from the University of Notre Dame, Dr. Dawn has also been a popular preacher and speaker for people of all ages. She is the author of numerous articles and over 20 books, several of which have won awards and\or been translated into several languages. Marva (who is now officially retired) and her husband Myron (a retired elementary school teacher) live in southwestern Washington State. (Adapted from the bio on her website.)

Why This Book?
Last year one of my wife’s best friends was getting rid of some books and asked if I wanted to peruse the stack. I could keep whatever I wanted and give back the rest. “Sure, why not,” I said aloud (while joyfully squealing in my heart). I love reading good books and this would give me a perfect excuse to acquire some without breaking my “don’t buy a new book until you finish an old one” policy. The second I saw this one, I knew I’d be taking it.

Marva marva_dawnDawn is an author I had been wanting to read for a while. I had heard about her work in spiritual theology (having co-authored a book with Eugene Peterson) and when I saw the themes covered in this book (Christian spirituality, technology, affluence, poverty), I knew she’d be scratching an itch I’d had for a long time.

What’s It About?
The Question
The book begins with an uneasy question: Why are our hopes so fettered? As a Christian author writing for a primarily Christian readership, Dawn invites Christians who live in affluent, western society (which includes me) to explore what it is that fetters our hopes and the hopes of those around us, so that we may be freed to embody the hope of the gospel as agents of justice for the world’s poor. In her words,

My goal in this book is to make as vividly clear as possible the kinds of fetters we (who are the world’s possessors) experience and to show as radiantly as possible the gloriously magnificent hope of the Christian faith, so that we are liberated from the former by the power of the latter and thereby enabled to work more urgently against the injustices that fetter the hope of the dispossessed (Intro, xvii).

The Problem
So what is the cause of our fettered hopes? To answer this question, Dawn reminds us that the Biblical concept of “principalities and powers” (Col 1) has less to do with “little spirits flying around and spitting sulfur” and more to do with “human institutions created for good, but [which] share in the fallenness of the world and thus overstep their proper vocation” (Intro, xx). She then identifies technology as the reigning power in our society. Drawing heavily upon the late French sociologist and theologian, Jacques Ellul, as well as contemporary philosopher, Albert Borgman, she describes how our “technological society” feeds the hyper-consumerism, purposelessness, and economic injustices that characterize western culture. Dawn is quick to point out that the problem is not technology per se, but the various and complex ways we use and become enslaved by the “technological milieu” in which we live. Dawn concludes that our unhealthy relationship with technology results in

a variety of kinds of violence – not only of the rich over the poor, as more and more resources become devoted to the technological advancement of the few rather than to the alleviation of the poverty of the many, but also against our own personhood when we are ensnared in the way of life precipitated by the technological milieu and its rule. Thus our world is characterized by the despairs of the hopelessly enmeshed” (52).

officespaceLet’s be honest. We all love the benefits of technology, right? But do we ever question it? While I don’t have the space to recount the details of her argument, Dawn poses some interesting questions intended to get us thinking more deeply about our relationship with technology, including:

Does the computer really save us time and worry?
Does all this information help us think?
Do I really need all this stuff?
How does language hide our enslavements?
Is faster always better?

Each question is followed by thought-provoking reflections. For example, in response to the question How does language hide our enslavements? she writes,

Advertisers employ terms like stupendous and extraordinary to sell laundry soap, but never have I found a detergent that truly matches up to such expectations. If we waste our words in this way, what words to we have left to talk about what really matters in life? (14).

She continues,

One of the worst misnomers is the term user-friendly as an attribute of machines. I have never yet met a machine that was my friend! We should delete the phrase from our vocabulary. Equipment might be more or less difficult to use, but machines are neither friendly nor unfriendly …. By calling elements of our wired world “user-friendly,” we hide from ourselves our lessened ability to make friends or sustain friendship. With the rapidly escalating technicization of our culture, more and more people are discovering within themselves an inability to nurture, or even a lack of interest in, friendship (15).

The Solution
One of the reasons I appreciated this book is because only the first two chapters are spent identifying and describing the problem, while the last five are spent elucidating the solution. So what must we do if we want to live lives of unfettered hope? We must identify then radically reorient our entire lives around our focal concerns. By focal concerns, Dawn simply means “our foremost loves by which everything else is judged” (62). They are those things which matter most in life, the things in which we place our hope. When we allow the “technological paradigm” to determine or sideline what matters most to us, we will naturally lead lives of despair and frustration. But by naming and radically recommitting ourselves to our focal concerns, we have the power to break free from the fetters of this world and live the life God calls us to. She writes,

In wealthier societies, those who possess plenty desperately need this kind of centering, for in our first chapter we saw that lives and hopes are fettered by various accumulations – of information, belongings, jobs on our to-do lists, aspects of society that stifle relationships. In the second chapter, we discovered that much of that fettering is due to the paradigm that controls our society: that the development of the technological milieu has moved us away from engaging in practices that are related to our focal concerns, the center of our lives, and instead toward a way of life cluttered with commodities (objects, data, achievements, even persons) produced by devices (physical machinery, networked communications machinery, or more hidden machineries such as that of advertising or the pressures at our jobs to accomplish certain levels of performance) (62).

Dawn believes that every Christian shares two fundamental focal concerns (and I’m sure few will disagree): love of God and love of neighbor.

These two loves are to be the central and controlling commitments of a Christian’s personal and home life, working life, corporate life in Christian community. These twin focal concerns change the way we spend our money, time, energy, and love (77).

She spends the rest of the book exploring issues and challenges surrounding Christianity’s two focal concerns. When the church begins to live with unfettered hope, freed from the snare of the technological paradigm to pursue practices that reinforce love of God and neighbor, our life together will then form what she calls a “parallel culture.” She offers ten visions as to what a church with this kind of mission would look like. Here are five:

Against the super-objectivity of technological logic and scientific hyper-rationalism, the Church bows before the mystery of the Triune God and His love (193).

In a technological milieu that has led to a decrease in skills, time, and social fabric for intimacy, the church knows that it is loved without limit by the Triune God who free us to love our neighbor thoroughly… (193).

Against the technological milieu’s primary criterion of efficiency, the Church is ushered by our unfettered hope into the language of patience, waiting, eternity (193).

Against the passivity of an entertained, consuming world, the Church is stirred into action by the fullness of god’s grace. We are freed by our unfettered hope to live as saints engaged in mission. We are always being Church for the sake of the world (194).

Against the economic disparity of our unjust, technologically oppressive world, the Church is freed by the overwhelming generosity of God’s forgiving grace to practice generosity, critique the principality of Mammon, and build genuine shalom (194).

So what does all of this mean for your life and mine? In my next post, I’ll share some reflections as I’ve wrestled with these ideas. So stay tuned.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church
michael@chriocommunities.com

 

 

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What’cha Reading?

books“Hey Michael, you need to read this.”

I hear these words often. When someone in my life who knows I’m a pastor reads a book they really enjoy (usually having something to do with Christianity or spirituality) they assume I would want to read it too. And while I genuinely appreciate the default impulse to think of me when reading a good book, I rarely get around to reading a book someone recommends. The reason for this is simply because I don’t have time to read all the books I want to read, let alone the books others want me to read. When I explain this to people, they are usually gracious and understanding (for which I’m grateful!), but these sorts of interactions have happened often enough to make me wonder: Is anyone curious about what I’m reading?

So for the two people out there who answered yes (I love you, mom!), I’ve decided to start a new blog series called “Whatcha Reading?” I have a couple motivations for this series.

The first motivation is for me. Writing these blogs will force me to think more deeply and slowly about what I’ve read. Instead of merely consuming books (so I can move on to the next one), these blogs will cause me to downshift, listen, and prayerfully consider how these authors’ words and ideas should change the way I think and live. And that’s a good thing.

The second motivation is for you. If I can expose you to authors, books, or ideas that cause you to read a book or at least consider how some of these ideas might spur you toward discovering or loving Jesus, his mission in this world, and your place within it more deeply – then I’ll be happy.

I’m not sure how often I’ll post. But when I do, each post will follow the same format:

  1. Title (with photo)
  2. Author (with bio and photo)
  3. Why This Book? (A brief description of how I heard about the book and why I decided to read it)
  4. What’s It About? (A short synopsis of the book)
  5. So What? (Some reflections on what I learned, why I think it matters, or ways I either think or live differently as a result)
  6. Favorite Quotes

Next week I will post my inaugural review. However due to the breadth and depth of the book under review, I’ll be breaking it up into two different posts. So stay tuned!

Oh, and if you read a good book, I still want you to recommend it to me.

Michael Carlson
Pastor / Chrio Church
michael@chriocommunities.com

 

 

 

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More Than A Song: Why Picking Fruit On Sunday Is Worship

Do you remember the song ‘Heart of Worship’ by Matt Redman?

I know. I know. Bringing up a song from 1998 dates oneself. But do you remember it? If not, you can have a cultural experience by going here.

As we’re wrapping up plans for our Sunday Service Day @ Alma Gardens my mind jumped to the part of the song that says,

‘I’ll bring you more than a song

For a song in itself

Is not what you have required’

90’s worship aside (and yes, I promise to put it aside after this post), do you believe what this song proclaims?

Does worshipping the triune God involve more than singing songs?

Further, does it extend beyond proclaiming the word?

Beyond gathering at the table to meet Christ in communion?

As a church family we certainly believe that worship includes each of these things but it also includes much, much more. At its core, worship is about integrating our lives with God’s life. It’s about re-centering our desires. It’s about discovering and then saying ‘no’ to our idols. And all of that involves more than singing songs.

Ok, so maybe you can get on board with everything I’ve said so far. But how about this:

Worship includes picking fruit.

As in oranges, lemons, and grapefruit.

Here are two reasons why:

  1. Serving Others Is Worship

On Sunday we’ll gather at Alma Gardens Mobile Home Park (530 S. Alma School Rd. Mesa, AZ 85210) to serve our neighbors. It may seem like an insignificant act of service for you to pick fruit off of trees but it’s not insignificant to our neighbors. You see when we remove the fruit from their trees it means that it won’t be on the ground or on the roof of their home. This means that rats (and other unwelcome rodents) won’t find any treats on or around our neighbor’s homes. Is that good news or what?!?!?

Can you imagine dozens of people, some who don’t know Jesus, saying ‘I’m so thankful those Christians came to my home today.’ While there are many things that bring a smile to our Father, this would certainly be one of them. And that—bringing joy to our Father—is part of what worship is about.

While serving our neighbors is enough of a reason for us to skip singing it’s not the only reason.

  1. Being in Community is Worship

When we gather together to serve it provides time for us to interact in a manner different than how we interact during a normal Sunday Gathering. We get to have extended conversations with one another as we work. We get to encourage our kids to see beyond themselves as they labor (and play!) in our midst. We get to eat a full meal together, as one family, with our neighbors. Being a people in relationship with one another—brothers and sisters in God’s family—asking questions, sharing stories, swapping recipes, holding each other’s children, and much, much more brings joy to our Father. This is part of what worship is all about.

These are just two components of a life lived before God and for his glory.

In his book The Dangerous Act of Worship, Mark Labberton says,

For all of our apparent passion about God, in the end much of our worship seems to be mostly about us … (yet) Biblical worship that finds God will also find our neighbor (21).

On Sunday we’ll be saying worship is not just about us. On Sunday we’ll be saying we see you to our neighbors. On Sunday we’ll be saying, with our hands, worship can and should happen while picking fruit.

At 10am on Sunday February 12th—did you put it in your calendar yet?—a group of Jesus loving, neighbor seeing, God glorifying people will be picking fruit together. Our hope is that you’ll clear your schedule to be there. Oh, and from 11:30-12:30 we’ll have a potluck meal with our neighbors.

Why?

Well, as Matt Redman said, worship is more than a song.

 

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Invocation Dilemma – Offering A Prayer At The Mesa Public Schools Governing Board Meeting

“Will you offer a prayer at the Governing Board meeting for Mesa Public Schools?”

“Sure!”  I replied, not knowing exactly what that even meant.

This is how a meeting ended with a small group of leaders from Mesa Public Schools concerning refugees that are making their way into our city and how we as a community can best support them.

In need of deep wisdom on how to offer a public prayer in a multi-faith community like Mesa I did what any seasoned leader would do…

“Ok Siri. How do you offer an invocation?”

This was an honest question.

One well known Christian thinker rejects the opportunity to offer an invocation because of the fine print that often accompanies the invitation.

  • Don’t pray in the name of Jesus
  • Recognize this…
  • Say (fill in the blank)…

While I respect his perspective, is that really the best response?

Fortunately, the instructions that the Mesa Public Schools gives to those who offer an invocation is to pray according to one’s conscious.

So as I was considering how to pray my mind kept floating back to a letter in the Old Testament from the prophet Jeremiah to some exiles living in a multi-faith city called Babylon.

‘Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you…pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ (Jeremiah 29:7)

Here were some of my questions:

  • How can I pray a prayer that builds bridges with my neighbors but is also authentic?
  • How do I pray in such a way that differentiates the Christian faith in the Triune God from the faith of my neighbors?

Well, here’s what I did.

 

Thanks for the invitation and a special thanks to Board Member Jenny Richardson for the connection!

I’m one of the pastors of Chrio Communities, a Christian Church that gathers in West Mesa at Pedro Guerrero Elementary School on the corner of Alma School and Broadway.

I’m grateful to live in a city with much diversity and I’m grateful to have friends that are Sikh, Muslim, Mormons, Unitarians, as well as those who are Agnostic. I believe part of what makes Mesa beautiful is our diversity.

As a Christian, I’ll be praying in light of my faith in the triune God—Father, Son and Spirit. I invite you to engage this prayer in any way that you feel comfortable.

One more thing, the first portion of this prayer comes from NT Wright’s ‘Trinitarian Prayer.’

Will you pray with me?

 

Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: set up your kingdom in our midst.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God: have mercy on me, a sinner.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God: renew me and all the world.

 

As we open this time of planning and evaluation we approach you God—Father, Son and Spirit.

We recognize your uniqueness, Father Almighty, because you made everything and the coming of your kingdom is the key to the flourishing of our community.

We recognize your uniqueness, Lord Jesus Christ, because we are not perfect. We need forgiveness. By your death and resurrection you open the door for us to live within the Father’s kingdom.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God, we recognize your uniqueness too. You bring life. You bring love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness and much, much more.

These leaders here, our public school’s Governing Board need all of that! So come.

God—Father, Son and Spirit—move in our midst. Empower these leaders with wisdom and enlarge their hearts. Do the same for the rest of us too.

Amen.

So that’s what I did. What would you do?

 

 

 

 

 

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Epiphany: Discovering and Display Jesus

January 6th was the first day of Epiphany. Since many Christians are not familiar with this season of the Christian Year, I want to post an excerpt from a booklet I wrote a couple years ago called Time for God: An Introduction to Living the Christian Year. If you’d like to learn (or be reminded of) what this season is all about and some ideas for how you might embody it this year, then this post is for you.

graphics-epiphany-812255Have you ever been in need of light? Maybe you’ve stumbled around in a room, stubbing your tow on a table-leg while searching for something. If so, then you know the relief and joy that comes with light (and the frustration of darkness!). If Advent is about preparing for the light, and if Christmas is about the coming of light, then Epiphany is about that light shining bright for the whole world to see. Historically, three events in particular are given special emphasis during Epiphany: the visit of the wise men from the East (Matt 2:1-12); the baptism of Jesus (Matt 3:13-17); and the turning of water into wine (John 2). Epiphany means “manifestation” and is about God revealing himself through the life, teachings, and miracles of Jesus.

So if this is what Epiphany is about, how exactly do we inhabit this season? By discovering and displaying Jesus. If you have committed to living the Christian year, you may be thinking, “Wait, I’ve already discovered Jesus. That’s why I’m doing this Christian year thing.” But isn’t it possible that there are ways in which Jesus wants to grow, even challenge some of our assumptions about who he is and what it means to follow him as a disciple? Actually, isn’t it probable? This is precisely what Philip Yancey suggests in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew, when he writes,

bfbe7c8d7e581a7b105b61f6e1054752The more I studied Jesus, the more difficult it became to pigeonhole him. He said little about the Roman occupation, the main topic of conversation among his countrymen, and yet he took up a whip to drive petty profiteers from the Jewish temple. He urged obedience to the Mosaic law while acquiring the reputation as a lawbreaker. He could be stabbed by sympathy for a stranger, yet turn on his best friend with a flinty rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan!” He had uncompromising views on rich men and loose women, yet both types enjoyed his company… Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable (23).

As we seek to inhabit Epiphany, we’re invited to discover Jesus in new and fresh ways. To be surprised, humbled, and delighted by him – as well as confused and frustrated at times.

But we are not only invited to discover Jesus during Epiphany; we are also invited to display him. Imagine for a moment that a painful and deadly plague broke out and began to spread around the world. It infected everyone. You. Your friends. Family members. Neighbors. Co-workers. And imagine that there was no cure… until you discovered one. After successfully administering the cure to yourself, what would you do? Would you hide it and not tell anyone? (Of course not!) Would you sell it to the highest bidder? (I hope not.) You’d share it with everyone you know. You’d use every relationship, every communication platform at your disposal to get the word out so that everyone could be saved. Epiphany reminds us that Jesus is like that cure. He’s the one everyone needs. He’s the one through whom God wants to heal the whole world. Jesus tells his followers not only to “come and see” but also to “go and tell.” Through our lives, words, and actions, Epiphany invites us to become a living display of Jesus. As Bobby Gross puts it,

The one who summons us to himself sends us out on his behalf. The one who shows himself to us asks us to make him known to others. The one who declares, “I am the light of the world,” says to us, “You are the light of the world” (84).

Sacred Practices

During this season, consider adopting a new practice or habit that in some way embodies the heart of Epiphany. Feel free to choose from this list of suggested practices, or come up with one on your own.

  • Do Something to Rediscover Jesus – It’s so easy to remake Jesus in our own image, to assume he thinks like me, acts like me, votes like me. But the more we get to know Jesus, the more we realize how gloriously unpredictable he is and we’re reminded that the goal of knowing him is to be remade into his image (not the other way around). Here are some ways you might consider rediscovering Jesus this Epiphany season.
    • Read one of the four gospels in one sitting. It doesn’t take as long as you think! Or consider reading a gospel a week for four weeks. However you do it, pay extra close attention to Jesus as you read. Notice the stuff he says, what he does, how he he treats people. What upsets him? What upsets others about him? Make yourself a student of Jesus. It might help to write your observations in a journal as you read.
    • Read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) once a week for five weeks (there are five weeks in Epiphany). That may sound daunting, but reading it is actually quite easy. The hard part is living it! Ask God as you read to help you become more like Jesus, who perfectly practiced what he preached.
    • Identify someone in your life whom you respect, who loves Jesus, and whose life resembles his in visible ways. Offer to buy them coffee or a meal, then as you’re together ask them to talk about their walk with Jesus. Ask them how they’ve cultivated a close walk with him. What spiritual disciplines do they practice? What have their challenges been? What doubts and questions have they had? What people, books, experiences have had the biggest influence on their faith?
  • Do Something to Display Jesus – Most parents are quick to talk about their children. Some people jump at the chance to discuss politics. Others could talk about sports all day long. It’s a fact of life that the stuff we enjoy talking about is usually what we love. If that’s true, why can it be so difficult to talk about Jesus with others? One way to inhabit Epiphany is to intentional do something that encourages displaying Jesus to others. The following ideas are adapted from the book Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross:
    • Ask Jesus to increase your compassion for those far from God and for greater courage to speak to them.
    • Read a book to sharpen your thinking about sharing your faith (Check out one called The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission by John Dickson).
    • Choose a few friends or coworkers or family members to pray for during Epiphany.
    • Become alert to openings in your everyday conversations where you can mention Jesus in a natural and interesting way.
    • If someone seems open, suggest going for coffee and some conversation about spiritual matters – be prepared to really listen to their experiences, beliefs and questions.
    • Invite a neighbor to come to a social activity with your Community Group or to a Sunday morning worship gathering.
    • Give a friend a thoughtful book on Jesus or the Christian faith (here are a few recommended books: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey; Who Is This Man? by John Ortberg; The Reason for God by Tim Keller)

Suggested Prayer Prompts

Use these prompts to guide your time of prayer. Rather than thinking of these as scripts that restrict or limit your prayers, think of them as conversation starters between you and God. Let them guide your heart and mind as you pray. Oh, and as you pray, don’t forget to listen.

Dear Lord…

In what ways does my understanding of you need to be challenged?
These are some of the things that I love about you… These are some things that confuse me…
Why is it so hard for me to talk about you with others?
Please burden my heart for those who are far from you.
What’s an area of my life that sorely needs to look more like you?
Thank you for the example of your life.

 

Michael Carlson
Pastor – Chrio Church

Posted in Christian Year, Michael's Blog, Prayer | Leave a comment