Tumbling RE:creative

The title for this blog is a triple entendre.

My posting for RE:creative has tumbled, well, since I stopped the writing project and even more so since I started blogging for the Houston Chronicle at Sacred Duty.

Subsequently, the views on this blog tumbled from the thousands to the hundreds to the less than hundreds.

Finally, I AM GOING TO START TUMBLING!

The RE:creative process and my blogging about RE:creative spirituality is not over! Instead, I am going to switch over to Tumblr as my new blogging service because I believe it is a better platform for the direction RE:creative is going to take.

Thanks to all of you who subscribed over the years and thanks to everyone who interacted here on the RE:creative blog. I hope you will choose to follow me on Tumblr and keep the conversation going.

The content that RE:creative currently has will remain for the foreseeable future, so please feel free to look back on past content.

Until we meet again, shalom!

I Am Because We Are

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to hear Claude Nikondeha share about his theology of transformation, based partly in the African notion of ubuntu, that a person is a person through other persons (umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu). Claude shares:

The spirituality of transformation has ubuntu as the foundational understanding of persons. ‘We are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and all of creation” Tutu states. This is a foundational understanding for our humanity, as one connected to others. In Africa we call this ubuntu, We are persons through other persons. Our humanity is all bundled up together – yours, mine, those outside this camp, even those across the world. We are interconnected, and we are affected by the well-being of one another. When someone is humiliated, I am humiliated. When another is going to bed on an empty stomach, I am not satiated. When you are broken-hearted, my joy cannot be complete. I am diminished when you are not well. We are connected.

Listening to Claude Nikondeha that evening in Krugersdorp, South Africa I was mesmerized. Not by Claude, not even by his words but by the idea that my existence is wrapped up in other persons. I do not, indeed I cannot, subsist unto myself as an autonomous, independent or disconnected human being.

I am because we are.

I exist in communion with others.

Ever since hearing about the ubuntu spirit, wrestling with it in Africa, learning about it from others in experience and dialogue, I have continued to search it out in other places – in Luther’s writings, in conversation with others, in experience etc.

Lately I had the opportunity to explore John D. Zizioulas’ concept of “being as communion” in light of the personhood of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and our creation in the imago Dei, the image of God.

Through it all God has led me to Scripture to see how relationship is a fundamental element of what it means to be human, what it means to be Christian and what it implies for our life in Christ and with one another.

On Trinity Sunday, Father’s Day, June 19, 2011 I shared the message “I am Because We Are” at Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy, TX. Below is a shortened version of that message:

What makes dad “dad”? Is it physical characteristics? Shared traits? Similar quirks?

Of course not.

We all know people who may have a biological connection with a man but he is no father to them. Take for example a woman who writes for the Step Family Letter Project. In a letter entitled “To My Biological Father” she opens with the line, “Does it ever bother you that I no longer consider you my dad?” This biological dad is no dad at all. He has ignored her, abused her and treated her like she is nothing. She is so hurt by the actions of this biological father that she signs off with “not your daughter.” This man is not her dad because there is no relationship between the two of them.

A dad is a “dad” because of relationship. And not just any relationship. A relationship of love, self-sacrifice and on-going care.

The same is true about God. What makes God “God” is not his power, his omniscience or his glory. No, what makes God “God” is relationship. In 1 John 4:16 it is written that “God is love.” Not “God loves” or “God has the power to love” or “God is glorious because he loves.” Instead, “God is love.” If God is love, love always has an object of affection. In God’s case his love is first expressed in the relationship of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The love between Father, Son and Holy Spirit is described as an eternal dance by the Greek Church (perichoresis). It is a beautiful and eternal connection between the persons of the Trinity; their love so strong that it unites them together as one. God is God because of the relationship that unites Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is God because of love. Relationship defines the very being of God.

We, being created in the image of God (imago Dei) are also created for love and for relationship. We cannot say we are made in God’s image because we look like him or think like him, although we may like to claim this as true. We are like God because we are built for relationship (Genesis 1:27-31; 2:4-25).  We are meant for a perfect relationship with the Triune God of love, we are meant for a righteous relationship with one another and we are meant for a relationship of stewardship with the world around us. We are meant for relationship; the capacity for love makes us who we are. Relationship defines our very being.

Yet, we forsake our very essence. We deny the relationships gifted to us. Just like Adam and Eve we choose other things, we chase after other relationships. Adam and Eve, serving themselves in their choice for that forbidden fruit not only forsook their relationship with the Triune God, each other and the creation when they sinned but they also enjoined themselves to other things. They abandoned one relationship for another. Instead of uniting their destiny with the Lord they united themselves with their fallen flesh, the tainted world and Satan himself.

We continue to do so today. Each time we forsake relationship for our own anxious self-seeking we repeat the sin of Adam and Eve. We seek after power, money and other false sources of identity. We believe that having this or dominating that might define us and make us truly worth something. The saddest reality is that these things are passing away and in defining ourselves by them we unite ourselves to their destiny. Like them we will pass away into death and our existence will cease.

There is hope. Forsaking our relationship with God, with one another and the world around us is not the end of the story. Death and its minions do not have the last word.

Instead, our Triune God seeks relationship with us even today. He is in passionate pursuit of us. He seeks to restore the relationship lost.

So radically does he desire to restore this relationship that he sent his Son (John 3:16) so that he might unite his divinity with our human flesh. And so he did. Jesus was born as God and human. The fullness of the deity dwelt in him bodily (Colossians 2:9). He was born united with the Father in love. He continued to live with the Father united in love. Throughout the Gospels you hear how Jesus continually references his connection to the Father and denies temptation after temptation to sin against his beloved dad. Taking this love all the way to the cross he is forsaken for our sake and abandoned by the Father. Even then he clings to the love of his Father and yields his spirit to Him. United in close communion with the Father Jesus would rise again in the power of the resurrection, in the power of a restored relationship.

And so, because of his resurrection a restored relationship is available to all of us.

By his Word we are invited to die and rise again with him in Holy Baptism, being united with him by his love and joining with all the Christian church as one family. Adopted as children of God we can now call on God as Father. In Holy Baptism we can now turn to people who we have no biological connection with and call them brother and sister.

As family we gather around the altar to receive Christ’s body and blood as a sign of the relationship and to receive forgiveness. In Holy Communion we continue to connect with the Triune God; He taking on our sin and brokenness and we his forgiveness, mercy and love. Likewise, we share with one another at Holy Communion, united by our common confession and sharing one another’s burdens. As Martin Luther said, “we all become one cake.”

Connected to our Triune God, in perfect relationship with him and with one another as forgiven and saintly sinners we are bid to live in relationships of love with the world. We are sent in the name of our Triune God and the relationship that exists between Father, Son and Holy Spirit to baptize others and welcome them into the relationship of the family of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

We are invited to live in fervent love towards one another understanding that relationship defines our being and that “I am because we are.” If our brother is hungry we cannot be satisfied; and so we fill his plate. If our sister is thirsty we cannot be satiated; and so we fill her cup. If our sister is suffering we cannot be filled with joy; and so we ease her pain. If our brother is without Christ we cannot remain silent; and so we share the Word.

We are connected in Christ.

And so, knowing that our Triune God exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit together in perfect relationship and we are united with Him in Christ’s birth, life, death and resurrection through Baptism and Holy Communion we are called to live in faith towards him and fervent love towards one another. All the while, we know that when we seek after our own desires at the cost of our relationship with others our relationship with God is secure in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen. May the peace of Christ and the relationship of love that we enjoy with God our Father and the Holy Spirit guard our hearts and minds always, unto the end of the age. Let it be.

 

Witness to the Resurrection

This last Sunday it was my joy to share the Word with St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Westminster, CA where I had the honor to serve as a Director of Christian Education practicum student four years ago.

The title of the sermon is “Witness to the Resurrection” and is based off of Acts 1:12-26; John 17:1-11 and 1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11.

I pray it is edifying for you and that Christ is glorified and you are comforted!

Immaculate Immigrants

Greetings in Christ!

Here’s the link to my May 22, 2011 message at Memorial Lutheran Church in Katy, TX entitled “Immaculate Immigrants” based off 1 Peter 2:2-11.

Please enjoy the recording, may it guide you ever deeper into God’s mercy in Jesus Christ and may you daily proclaim the excellencies of Him who brought us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

Peace to you in Christ.

Missional Matchmaking

I posted this other day in my capacity as LINC Bible Institute Director on the LINC Bible Institute blogsite. Either way, you can substitute (Ken Chitwood) or (RE:Creative Spirituality) in for LINC Bible Institute at any time during this post. Oh, and yeah, you should totally come to FiveTwo this June. Read on…

The LINC Bible Institute is about training followers of Christ for ministry today. We seek to EXCITE new disciples, EQUIP disciples for the work of the harvest, EMPOWER leaders to make other disciples and ENCOURAGE missional replication.

All of that involves connecting with other missionaries and missional leaders, sharing with one another, growing with one another and learning from one another. We’ve learned that while one missionary has the vision, the other has the experience. While one leader knows how to revitalize a church, the other knows how to start a brand new one. Together they learn, together they grow and together they excite, equip, empower and encourage one another in a Christological, Gospel Centered, Missional and Cross-Cultural way.

You might say, it’s a match made in heaven.

On its website the Five Two Wikiconference organizers share that the very core of this conference is getting missionaries, pastors and leaders together to collaborate with one another about the mission of Jesus Christ.

The mission of Five Two is to facilitate the collaboration of mission-minded leaders and grow the Kingdom of Christ in a specific and purposeful way.  While this may happen from time-to-time in informal conversations, on Facebook and via e-mail Five Two is intentional about connecting mission leaders together. The Five Two team brings mission-minded leaders together regularly via an on-line community (www.fivetwo.com) through videos and articles, and this summer is bringing them together for a momentous gathering for mission collaboration.

As they put it, Five Two serves as a missional matchmaker.

And so, this June they are putting on the big dance for Christological and community oriented mission leaders in Katy, TX. Five Two is bringing together over 30 excellent speakers and hundreds of missional leaders to learn from one another and grow together in mission capacity as they share with one another what the LORD is doing in this place.

So, here it is. LBI is in full support of what Five Two is doing in Katy, TX from June 21-24.

We think it’s going to be an amazing time of collaboration, fun, challenge, confirmation and mission development.

We believe that if you are a church planter, a senior pastor, a worship leader or a lay leader,  you should be there.

Whether you are considering missional communities or moving towards a multi-site model, you should be there.

If your mission team is  forming a multiethnic ministry in the suburbs or downtown, you should be there.

If your church is just starting new or seeking to revitalize, you should be there!

LBI will be there and we look forward to collaborating with you and learning from you and your team as well.

So, we’ll see you there.

Love Wins Dialogue: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

When it comes to books, lectures, experiences and events we are apt to give an immediate opinion, a snap judgment, a gut reaction. We do it all the time, it’s in our nature. I am as guilty of it as you are. It’s who we are. For every action there is an equal and opposite…you know the rest.

Thus, when Rob Bell and Harper Collins put out a video and a synopsis for Bell’s new book Love Wins there were plenty of immediate reactions, many of them before the book was even read.

When the book came out there were plenty of reviews the next day, discussions that were starting, opinions that were given and study guides written. Some of them were fantastic, others were, well, less than that.

I myself tried to get the whole thing going with a discussion here at RE:creative. Yet, two things happened: 1) I am a grad student and its the end of the spring semester (read crazy busy) and 2) I found that reading a book like Love Wins and reacting immediately to it with comments, questions and conclusions is irresponsible and disrespectful towards Scripture and the God who is love (1 John 4:16).

Love Wins is a book that is to be read, digested, mulled over, challenged, discussed and processed.

Three reads later and after tons of conversation I am ready to post what I think is going on with Rob Bell’s book, his theology, the discussion about heaven/hell and what God is doing in and through Jesus Christ in this world and the next.

This is not a page-by-page exposition, and you will note that I don’t quote Bell much in the review below. This review is more of a commentary on the theme, the thrust and the tone of Bell’s book and theology more than anything else. It weaves in stuff I’ve heard from him in other books, in speaking tours, in NOOMAs and in sermons. If you haven’t read Love Wins (which I recommend before passing judgement) it probably is not the best review for you.

So here it is: the good, the bad and the ugly

First, the good. Let’s give Bell a compliment sandwich.

While I was painting a fence in the Fifth Ward here in Houston as part of a missional leadership class a colleague/informal-mentor of mine asked what I thought of the book. I, liking to put a positive swing on things, stated what I liked about it. I replied saying that, “Bell brings the narrative focus of Scripture back to the here and now and that’s what Jesus did, God wants and the Spirit drives us toward. He warns us of a theology of evacuation and instead points us back to Scripture, which speaks of redemption and restoration.”

It’s cute to say it, and fun to put it on a bumper sticker, but the case of the matter is that the Bible is not Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth, it is a narrative that we are joining today and get to be a part of for eternity.

Take the story of Lazarus as a prime example. Jesus shows up on the scene and Lazarus is dead. Four days dead. That’s really dead. Talking to Martha Jesus blurts out, “Your brother will rise again.” Being quite pious and faithful, Martha responds with the Jewish catechism answer, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

What an empty theology. You can almost here the doldrum inflections in Martha’s voice.

Yes Lord, I KNOW that he will rise again in the last day, I’ve heard that before, but that does not change the fact that he is dead here and now.

Then Jesus quips, “I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never dies. Do you believe this?”

Now that’s something to believe in!

So Martha replies, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

The momentum is building, the expectation is thick…Jesus is about to do something. He is the one who is coming into the world. He is not simply the one who has come or will come, he is actively doing something right here, right now.

In this case, he raised Lazarus from the dead.

Some well-meaning preachers and commentators reflect and say, “Poor Lazarus! He was in heaven with God and then he was ripped back into life!” We should not feel sorry for Lazarus. Jesus did not feel sorry for Lazarus, he raised him from the dead, not only to make a point about him being the resurrection and the life, but also saying something about the content of the resurrection and the life that he brings. He tells people that the resurrection he is bringing is not about when we are dead or just some day in the future.

I AM the resurrection and the life. Whoever who lives and believes in me shall never die.

Those words are present and active, not future or indicative.

Jesus’ resurrection life is just as much about living life now as it is about living eternally.

We would, like Mary, Martha, the disciples and the rest of the mourning crew, do well to remember that.

Bell should be applauded for bringing the discussion of heaven and hell back down to earth.

In terms of the Gospel and eschatology (our limited understanding of the last things) there is a danger to make (at least) two mistakes:

1) Making the story too small. Limiting ourselves to this side of restoration.

+The Gospel is a message that is for me, but its not about me. The Lord’s Prayer is given on purpose; we are confiscated (look to what Jesus did of the fishermen) for something much greater than ourselves. This message is about God and his creation (that obviously involves us). It is God’s rescue story for all his creation.

2) Making the story too short. Limiting ourselves to thinking our bodies don’t get to join the party.

+That is to say, we are neither Gnostics or Platonists, and we must not give death the last word. It is not the doorway into life; it is death. Our bodies die, but then they rise. They are restored, fully. That’s happening now as much as it will happen after death, but death still happens.

Now, if you get this larger story wrong then you start to get a lot of the smaller details wrong too. That’s what Bell presents in his book. That those of us who are thinking so much about heaven after we die tend to live like disembodied souls today, completely out of touch with the reality of death, suffering and evil in the world today (unless of course, it lines up with our political ideologies – that goes for the left and the right).

On the same token, there are those of us who are so focused on the here and the now that we miss the grand restoration of all things and the realization that no matter how much we do and how much we try to restore things to their rightful place here on earth it will never happen by our might or our strength alone. We need Christ to set things right, and he is doing that now, but there is much still left to be done in the not yet.

The questions we must ask ourselves in the face of Bell’s challenge are: what does it mean to be fully human? what is death? where is the realm of salvation? is anyone climbing Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28)?

Salvation is something that is oriented from up to down and not the other way around. It is heaven coming to earth, the kingdom in-breaking into this world, not us getting out of this world. The Kingdom, the Reign, of Christ is coming into the world. It is about restoration not evacuation.

However, bringing the story back to earth does not equilaterally mean extrapolating it into the eschatological future. The reign of Christ will come to earth. There will be things evacuated at the end as much as they will be restored (Matthew 3:12; 25;35-46 etc.).

(Un)fortunately, the narrative of Scripture, does not say much about the mechanics of the evacuation and the judgment. There is something of fire, of abandonment, of judgement. God is holy, it’s about him and the judgement and the restoration are on his terms just as creation was. We know that part, but who is in, who is out, how they are out and all of that is largely left unknown. We live in the tension today, promised that those of us who believe in Christ also live in him. Isn’t that enough?

I know full well that there will be “surprises in heaven” as Bell states, but I do know that there will be plenty of surprises in hell as well (both the sheep and the goats were flabbergasted – Matthew 25:35-46).

So, does love win? Yes, as God wants it to. Our love is not his love, his ways are not our ways.

As my professor Bob Rossow put it in our Reformation class’ discussion of the doctrine of predestination:

“God is God. We are not. Glory to God.”

Thus, again we live in the tension.

So, thank you Mr. Bell for bringing the discussion back down to earth. May we all not focus so much on how you’re changing hell that we miss how important it is to orient the discussion back to what the Lord is doing today and how individuals are responding, both for the heaven and hell, in the here and now.

However, let’s not go where the text does not lead us. Being a reader of the narrative is submitting ourselves to the story and limiting ourselves to describing it. We do not deconstruct it or reinterpret it. We want to ask the questions the text wants to answer.

The error of reading our interpretation onto Scripture is happening on both sides of the Bell debate. In one instance the Reformed Neo-Calvinist theology takes its reasoned estimation and interpretational principle of GOD’s GLORY and thrusts it onto Scripture. No questions asked, no room left for surprises.

On the other side you have Bell with the pastoral heart of an emergent thinker who is very much about GOD’s LOVE. So much about GOD’s LOVE that I think he forgets GOD’s GLORY and errors on the other side of caution.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in the tension.

If you missed it, that’s the “bad.”

Now the ugly.

Rob Bell is still very much a son of his theological background. Evangelicals boil the whole God-loves-us equation down to a choice, a decision, a moment in a human life.

If God’s love is so powerful, if God’s glory is so great, if God’s Kingdom is so foreign, is God’s reign is to come down to earth and not the other way around then how can we say it is our choice?

It was our choice to bite the apple, it was our choice to run away from God, it was our choice to reject Jesus and crucify him, it was our choice to betray him, our choice to deny him, our choice to doubt him, it was our choice to misunderstand him, our choice to limit his promise to a certain tribe or people group and these are still our choices today.

We don’t get it and so our choices don’t work out very well.

Our choices suck.

Good thing that God is great. Good thing that God is love. Good thing that God does not rely on our choices, but on his own.

It was his choice to create us and match us together in the garden, it was his choice to clothe Adam and Eve in their nakedness, it was his choice to rescue his people from Egypt, it was his choice to guide them through the wilderness and return them to the promised land of their forefathers, it was his choice to judge them, it was his choice to restore them, it was his choice to give up his one and only Son and his choice to raise him from the dead, it was his choice to expand the promise to all nations, his choice to give his Son all authority on heaven and earth and his choice to be with us to the end of the age and then, it will be his choice, and his choice alone to restore heaven and earth and separate the wheat from the chaff.

The Reign of Christ and the restoration of heaven and earth is not about our choice.

It’s about what God is doing and the choices he is making.

If we miss that, we miss the whole thrust of Scripture.

In the end, I agree with Bell on this point – LOVE WINS.

But it is HIS LOVE, not our love, or our conception of his love, that wins.

It is HIS LOVE; on his terms and according to his will.

That’s the LOVE that RESTORES, that’s a LOVE that is MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS, that’s a LOVE that truly WINS.

Amen, let it be.

Triple-Post Defense

This is a triple-post.

No, this isn’t a blog about the offensive strategy employed by the Mavericks in the playoffs (although the picture above is a good decoy).

It means I am blogging about three things at once, and offering some excuses in my defense…while simultaneously apologizing, which kind of negates the apology.

First – I am currently at the TX District Theological Convocation where a whole bunch of us are journeying through the Gospel of Matthew as a narrative about the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in the world. Great stuff so far from Dr. Jeff Gibbs of Concordia St. Louis. I am sure I will share some stuff later on.

Second – Here is a link to a Maundy Thursday message I shared last week entitled, “Your Name Was My Curse.” 

Third – Last month I issued an invitation to my readers to participate in a five-week discussion of Rob Bell’s Love Wins book. I failed to show up to my own discussion. Six weeks later I succeeded in posting two blogs about it. Even though I am no math expert, I can tell you that 2 does not equal 5. I sincerely apologize to those of you who wanted to participate and I pray that the posts I did put up were edifying and beneficial for discussion.

With that said, I was terribly busy with work at LINC Houston, vicarage responsibilities during Holy Week and research comparing the Genesis account with Zulu cosmogony and the role of women in conventual exodus and reform in the 16th century. I hope to share some insights from this research over on the UbuntuSpirit blog.

Also, I will have you know that I am working on one final blog post about Rob Bell, the controversy and the book just to wrap things up properly and let everyone know where I stand on Love Wins, as this has been a common question people have asked me lately and I have yet to respond in full to their inquiries.

Thanks for journeying with me. Peace to you all.

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