Theological Method and the Leaning Tower of Pisa

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Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is not the only leaning tower in Pisa? There are actually several leaning towers in Pisa as a result of the soft soil in that area.

Did you know that the Leaning Tower of Pisa originally leaned in the other direction? As the builders saw the tower beginning to lean, they built the subsequent levels with one side higher in an attempt to straighten it out by putting more weight on the one side. It ended up being an overcorrection which resulted in the tower leaning in the opposite direction, in which it currently leans.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa as a Picture of the Importance of Theological Method

In my studies at LST I have been studying the topic of theological method. Everyone who thinks about God or the Bible does so methodologically, although they do so with varying degrees of self-awareness and consistency.

There are 5 universally recognized sources of theology: Scripture, Tradition, Reason, Experience and Community.

The way in which a person orders these, the role they believe each of these play, how much importance or credence they give to each one, and how they believe each relates to the other are the questions that go into play in one’s theological method.

Basically: theological method is about the foundations of how we think about God and the Bible.

What we learn from the Leaning Tower of Pisa is that foundations are pretty important. And what happens if you build on a poor foundation, or don’t take care about the foundation you lay – the mistakes the builders in Pisa made – then you will likely end up with a faulty edifice.

Another thing that can happen if you don’t pay attention to foundations is that, like in Pisa, you will end up trying to save your edifice by trying to compensate or over-correct, in which case you may end up leaning in the opposite direction. As Martin Luther said, many of us are like a drunk man trying to ride a horse, who – upon falling off the one side, resolves not to make that mistake again, so he remounts, careful to avoid falling of on the left, and promptly falls off on the right.

A proper theological method will always be driven by Scripture. Reason is a God-given ability which helps us understand His divine revelation, but one which does have its limits in fallen humanity. Tradition is about recognizing the historic interpretations of the Bible by the Body of Christ, such as the Trinity. Again, tradition is not without its errors either, as it has humanity’s fingerprints on it, so this cannot be what drives our theology either. Experience is effective in confirming what we read in Scripture, but what about when we feel something that seems contrary to what the Bible teaches? In these cases, we are to interpret our experiences by the Scriptures, not the other way around. And our community obviously shapes how we read Scripture, but we are to apply the Scriptures to our times and places rather than changing our understandings of Biblical truths based on present cultural mores. Scripture, God’s revelation of Himself, is the proper foundation.

Here is a short video about the Leaning Tower of Pisa:

Overcoming Blind Spots

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Have you ever heard a recording of your voice and been appalled by how it sounds? “Surely there must be something wrong with that recording,” we think, “because there’s no way that that’s how I really sound!”

But guess what: That’s how you actually sound to other people. The problem isn’t with the recording, it’s that your perception of how you sound doesn’t match the reality of how you actually sound.

From Time’s article: “Why Do I Hate the Sound of My Own Voice?“: “When you hear people talking, sound waves travel through the air and into your ears, vibrating your ear drums. Your brain then transforms those vibrations into sound. However, when you’re the one talking, your vocal cords and airways vibrate. That means you receive two sources of sound: the sound waves that travel into your ears, as well as vocal cord vibrations.”

What is true of our voices is also true of us in general: we aren’t very good judges of how we really are. There is some amount of discrepancy between our perception of ourselves and how other people see us.

We call these things “blind spots.” They are the things about ourselves that we do not see clearly, or are completely unaware of. They can be habits, attitudes, fears, insecurities or other idiosyncrasies.

For example: I can see things in my wife that she doesn’t realize about herself. She is blind to them, but I can see them. The same is true the other way around.

We all have blind spots, but if you were to ask me, “Hey Nick, what are your blind spots?”, my response would be: “How the heck should I know?! By definition they are things that I am blind to! – that I don’t see about myself!”

And oftentimes our blind spots are our greatest weaknesses; they’re the things which can do the most damage to us or hold us back from reaching our goals – they’re the things which will lead us into ruin and trouble!

If that’s the case, then we’ve got a big problem! Because if there are things about us which have the potential to hold us back and even hurt us or wreck us, but we are unable to see them, then we are in big trouble! What can we do to overcome our blind spots?

The only way to overcome our blind spots is by having other people in our lives whom we allow to get to know us well enough that they can see those things about us, and by giving those people permission to speak into your life.

Not any old person will do for this. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what someone’s weaknesses or blind spots are, but it does take a loving person to be willing to come alongside someone and help them see their blind spots in a way that helps rather than hurts. This is why the Bible says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Critiques which come from those who are not committed, loyal friends may often be accurate, but they can often be crushing.

Recently at a conference I spoke about the importance of bringing other people into a creative process. In this case I was speaking particularly about writing sermons, but I believe it is true of other creative processes as well. In order for you to overcome your blind spots, you need people who can help you overcome your idiosyncrasies and weaknesses, but who will do it from a place of commitment and a desire to help. I have experienced this, not only on a creative level, but on a personal level as well.

In order to become the people God is calling us to be, we need brothers and sisters.

Let brotherly love continue. (Hebrews 13:1)

For more on the subject of Christian community, check out this recent message from White Fields Church:

What Sets Christians Apart? – An Ancient Summary

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The Letter to Diognetus dates to sometime in the 2nd Century (approx. 130-180 AD), and is one of the earliest examples of Christian apologetics outside of the Bible. Apologetics is the practice of giving a defense of, or an explanation of, one’s faith for those who have questions or doubts.

The letter, whose author and recipient are unknown, gives us a glimpse into life and thought of early Christians as well as the way that people in their communities viewed them and thought of them.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 5, on the topic of what sets Christians apart from others in society:

Christians are not distinguished from other men by country, language, nor by the customs which they observe. They do not inhabit cities of their own, use a particular way of speaking, nor lead a life marked out by any curiosity. The course of conduct they follow has not been devised by the speculation and deliberation of inquisitive men. The do not, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of merely human doctrines.

Instead, they inhabit both Greek and barbarian cities, however things have fallen to each of them. And it is while following the customs of the natives in clothing, food, and the rest of ordinary life that they display to us their wonderful and admittedly striking way of life.

They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through. As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.

They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.

They share a common table, but not a common bed.

They exist in the flesh, but they do not live by the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, all the while surpassing the laws by their lives.

They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned. They are put to death and restored to life.

They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.

They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.

This poetic and beautiful description of Christian lifestyle encourages me and challenges me to want myself, my family and my church to be seen as a counter-cultural community  with convictions, who are for the community where we live because God so loved the world and He has poured his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

The rest of the letter is also worth reading, particularly Chapters 6 & 9, the latter of which talks about the doctrine of justification.

You can read the letter in its entirety here.

 

The Problem with Facades

In Exodus 34, we read an interesting story: when Moses went to meet with God on the mountain to receive the tablets of the 10 Commandments, it caused Moses’ face to glow.

It says that when he came down from the mountain, the people were frightened to see his face glowing. In another place we are told that they couldn’t look upon it, because the glow was so bright.

behind-the-veilBut then an interesting thing happens; if you read the text it says that Moses would first let the people look at his face (or at least see that his face was glowing), then he would cover his face with a veil (supposedly for their sake), and then whenever he would go in before the Lord, he would remove the veil, get “charged up,” then come back, let the people see that his face was glowing again, and then put the veil back over his face.

Now, think about it: If the reason Moses covered his face was for the sake of the people, so as not to blind them by the glow on his face, then why let them look at his face first, and only then cover it up until the next time he went in before the Lord?

There is something implied there which is made explicit in another place in the Bible: in 2 Corinthians 3, Paul tells us that the reason Moses covered his face was because he didn’t want the people to know that the glow was fading away…

In other words, Moses hid behind the veil in order to keep up an appearance before the people, that wasn’t really true. Moses didn’t want people to know that he was just like them. He liked having people look up to him and be in awe of him, so he hid his face, lest everyone see that the glory was fading.

It was a facade.

That’s what a veil is: it’s something you hide behind. It’s a kind of mask that you use to cover up your blemishes, lest people see the real things about you that might change their image of you.

As a pastor, I see this a lot.

There are many examples of this today, in our own culture. Oftentimes people are willing to help other people deal with their “messiness,” but they don’t want anyone to know about the messy things in their lives. People tend to be quick to offer help, but reticent to admitting that they need help, or accepting help when it’s offered. They’d rather keep up a facade that they’ve got their stuff together, that their face glows with the glory of the Lord, even when that’s not the case.

In other words: “Life is messy, and that’s okay – as long as it’s not my mess.” “Community is about serving each other, and that’s great, as long as it’s me serving others and not me being served.”

Veils hinder true fellowship and community. Facades can hinder people from getting help when they need it. If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down. All too often, that’s exactly what happens.

If your curtains are on fire, but you don’t want to call the fire department, lest your neighbors see that there was a problem at your house, then the fire will spread until the entire house burns down.

Furthermore, when leaders put up a facade, like Moses did, that things are better than they actually are, or that they are more spiritual than they actually are, it creates a culture which encourages people to not be honest about where they are really at. I believe that people deserve to have leaders they can look up to, and that they should expect more from leaders: to be a leader means to be out in front; after all, how can you follow someone, unless they are a few steps ahead of you? However, it should be authentic and not contrived. What Moses did was contrived.

In Genesis 3, we read about the first time people tried to cover up their shame: Adam and Eve had been naked and unashamed until they rebelled against God, but when sin came into the world, they were overcome with a sense of shame, and they tried to hide it by covering themselves with leaves. Leaves are good for a lot of things, but they made terrible coverings. They’re itchy. They’re drafty.

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Here’s what God did: he said, “I will make a covering for you,” and he made them coverings of animal skins. Do you know how you get animal skins? By killing an animal. In other words: because of their sin, an innocent creature had to die, in order to cover their shame.

Are you picking up what the story is putting down? The only way for us to be covered, is by the death of another. That other, the ultimate covering for our sin and shame, was Jesus – the “lamb of God.”

Any of your attempts to cover yourself will be not only uncomfortable and drafty, they will be insufficient and unhelpful. Facades create unnecessary barriers which hinder fellowship and growth. Embrace the covering of Jesus, and pursue authenticity rather than facades in your relationships and in your spirituality!

A Culture of Loneliness and What to Do About It 

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I’ve noticed something: a lot of people are lonely.

I don’t know if it’s particular to Colorado, or even to the United States. I would guess that it isn’t.

In my conversations with people, this is a recurring theme: they are lonely, they wish they had more friends, they find it difficult to connect with people.

From a quick search on the internet, it seems that this is a widespread problem. This article mentions major media coverage of this problem, and there are some interesting causes which they point to: one of them is the Internet, another is the decline in church membership and attendance in recent generations. This article from the New York Times talks about how research has shown that even in social situations where people are surrounded by others, loneliness can be contagious.

It seems clear that people long for deep, meaningful relationships, but struggle to create them.

What’s at the root of this?    Here are a few things I can see:

1. “Rugged Individualism” Leads to Loneliness

I moved to Hungary when I was 18, spent 10 years there and moved back to the US when I was 28, having spent ALL of my adult life in that cultural setting. When I moved back to the US, even though I grew up here, I had never really lived as an adult here, and so I experienced a good deal of culture shock.

The 2 characteristics of American society, particularly here in Colorado and the West, are what I call: “Rugged Individualism” and “A Pervasive Sense of Loneliness”.  These 2 go hand in hand: the rugged individualism leads to the pervasive sense of loneliness.

In the US, individualism is considered not only a virtue, but one of the supreme virtues. However, in other cultures, individualism can even be considered a vice, whereas being part of the group is considered a virtue. This comes out in our politics: perennially, there are calls for “an outsider” to come in and “shake things up”. Our culture places value on not needing or depending on anyone but yourself, and looking out for your own needs first above those of the community. It’s an every-man/woman-for-him/herself type of mentality. The result of this mentality is an undervaluing of other virtues such as loyalty and self-sacrifice for others outside of your immediate “tribe” (usually a nuclear family). When people do meet up with other people, they tend to be very careful to put their best face forward, showing their strength rather than being vulnerable. Americans tend to be very generous, which is good, but sometimes the motive behind generosity can be a way of showing strength: that “you are weak, and I am helping you, because I am strong”.

2. Isolation is one of the results of “the Fall”

The Book of Genesis begins by presenting the “ideal”:  God and humankind, in relationship with each other, in a world where death and sickness, malice and sin do not exist. However, when humans decided to rebel against God, not only was the natural harmony ruined, but the results were: shame, fear and isolation.

The results of “the Fall” were: shame, fear and isolation.

This isolation was not only isolation from God, but it also involves isolation from each other. People fear intimacy, often in large part because they are afraid to really be known, lest their shame be revealed or discovered. Isolation and the breakdown of community is one of the results and repurcussions of sin in the world.

 

3. A Culture of Fear and an Obsession with Privacy

One thing that stuck out to me when I moved back from Europe, was the degree to which people here in the US are concerned about their privacy. People tend to be very cautious with who they give their address or phone number to, who knows where they live, how much they let people know about themselves. For a people who pride ourselves on being “free” – we are particularly captive to fear in many areas of our lives, and quite obsessed with privacy.

My take on it personally, is: if someone is watching my every move, 1) they are going to be very bored, and 2) they are going to see me live a Christian life, and hopefully hear a lot about Jesus.  I always think of the Proverb: the righteous is as bold as a young lion, but the unrighteous runs even when no one is pursuing (Proverbs 28:1)

Being obsessed with privacy leads to being afraid of intimacy in relationships – which hinders friendships from developing. People are afraid of sharing too much about themselves, afraid of inviting others into their homes, etc.

Okay…but now what?

Here are a few thoughts on how to combat this pervasive sense of loneliness:

Begin with the Assumption, that Everyone Else is Lonely Too

…because the great majority are. Most people I talk to are lonely, yet they assume that everyone else has tons of friends, and that their loneliness is unique to them. It’s not. Reach out to others, because most of them are lonely too.

Embrace the Gospel

Many people believe that they can be either fully known or fully loved, but not both – because if someone was ever to really know everything about them, they could not possibly love them. The message of the gospel though, is that God knows you better than you even know yourself, and yet, he loves you more than you can even imagine; so much so that he was willing to suffer and even die for you.

That love, perfect love, the Bible says, casts out fear (1 John 4:18). If you know that you are fully loved and fully accepted, and that you have nothing to fear, neither in life nor in death, then you are truly free. With a God who is both sovereign and wholly committed to our good, Christians should be the most bold, fearless people in the world, as they allow the gospel to address each and every fear that they have.

Live Out Redeemed Community Life

Furthermore, Jesus told us that the real life that we desire is found not in seeking our own fulfillment, but in laying down our lives – as he did – for the sake of something greater than ourselves: e.g. God’s mission, and the good of other people.  In other words: what most of us are looking for is something which can only be found indirectly: it is not in seeking friends that we find friends, but in serving others. I’ve found that when you pour our your lives for others, you find yourself surrounded by people, and paradoxically, it is in pouring yourself out that you become full, rather than empty.

When you embrace the gospel, you become a changed person. And as changed people, we are to live out the principles of God’s Kingdom together as a new community, that doesn’t function on the same basic principles of community at large.

 

How about you? Do you feel this “pervasive sense of loneliness”?  What causes do you see – and what solutions?  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

 

 

Acknowledging the Beauty of the Body

I don’t know how many times I have heard it or read it before. People referring to this phrase that Jesus said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (‭John‬ ‭13‬:‭34-35‬ ESV)

But almost EVERY single time I heave heard or read someone refer to this statement, it is followed by commentary along these lines:

  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other; and you’re not doing it well enough!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, not by our doctrinal purity!
  • Jesus said people would know that we’re his disciples by our love for each other, so do it better!

I spent this past weekend in Washington State and British Columbia. A dear friend of ours from our church in Hungary passed away, and his funeral was on Saturday in Langley, BC.

When I heard that this friend passed away, I called some friends in Everett, WA, where the husband is the pastor of Calvary Chapel Everett, to ask if they might be able to help me out if I were to try to attend the funeral. They quickly told me to go ahead and book the tickets and they would work out the rest: lodging, rides, etc. I also got in touch with people from my friend’s church in Langley to tell them I was trying to come, and they responded the exact same way.

This whole past weekend was spent with people from these two churches in Everett and Langley. A couple from the church in Everett picked me up at the airport and drove me to Everett, where a car and a place to stay the night were prepared for me. Of course, this was all done by people I had never met before

On Friday I drove up to British Columbia, and that night went to stay with a family from Christ Covenant Church. As soon as I arrived they welcomed me, and then I went with them to their church community group, where we ate, studied the Bible and sang and prayed together. Again, I had never met these people before, but they treated me like a long lost family member. There was something we had in common, a bond which was stronger than race, citizenship or accent (it was surprising how strong that Canadian accent can be!).

We went home and I ended up staying up until 2 AM conversing with the couple about so many things regarding our shared faith.The next day was the funeral, which consisted of 3 parts at 3 locations over the course of the whole day. During this time I got to see how well our friend’s wife was being cared for and loved by her church community there in Langley. And I felt loved and cared for by that community as well

I returned to Everett, where I preached at Calvary Chapel yesterday morning, and was once again loved and welcomed like a long-unseen family member.

This weekend left me considering those words of Jesus, and the commentary which is almost always attached to them – and it made me think: that’s what Jesus was talking about!

And to all those people bemoaning the perceived lack of love amongst Christians: I disagree with you. In my experience, the church has been the most beautiful, wonderful, true community. It’s something I want to be a part of. It’s something I believe in. Yes, it has its spots and wrinkles and blemishes, because it is made up of flawed people, but it is wonderful – and I come away from this weekend and the love that I experienced in amongst those Christians with the feeling of: THAT is what Jesus was talking about when he said that we will be known as His disciples by the love that we have for one another.

It doesn’t take a genius to identify weaknesses or problems or find fault; the basest among us is capable of that. To put it frankly: any moron can do that! But it takes nobility to identify beauty and light and goodness.

I talked to someone a while back, who, upon hearing that I was a pastor, immediately assumed that I would agree with her, that church is just the worst! She said that in her opinion, “Church is a necessary evil.” I told her that I couldn’t possibly disagree more! I love the Church! I believe in the Church! It is the most wonderful, most beautiful thing in the World! It is the Body of Christ, in the world, living out his mission and being his hands and feet.

How do you think this woman’s children are going to view the church as they grow up if she continues in this kind of attitude? Most likely, they will think of the Church as a “necessary evil” too. They might choose to attend when they are adults, but they will have been trained to look at it with a critical, cynical eye. I do not want that for my children! I want my children to grow up LOVING the church and seeing the beauty in it, and knowing it as the most wonderful, most loving community in the world – and one that they want to be a part of, not because they have to, but because it is so wonderful. And they should believe in it – because Jesus ordained it for OUR good, and for the good of the whole world!

And for this reason, my wife and I have determined never to speak badly of someone from church or discuss tension or bad things that people from the church have done in front of our kids, because we want them to love the Body of Christ rather than grow up cynical about it, considering it a “necessary evil”. (And may I say: far be it from any of us to use the word “evil” in reference to something ordained by our Lord! How can we call bad what the Lord called good for us and for the world?)

So, love the church! And keep on loving each other. And don’t always talk about how it’s lacking; recognize and acknowledge and rejoice in the beauty of this loving community, which is the Body of Christ, where Jesus’ disciples do indeed show love one for another, in a way that is a testimony to the world.

Someone Like You? : The Purpose of Community

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What should the church be?  A place where you go to meet someone like you, or a place where unity in diversity is the name of the game?

I think in this we have two divergent approaches to what the church should be. And the approach taken will determine a lot about what a church looks like.

On the one hand – if church is a place where you go to meet someone(s) like you, then we would expect to see different churches geared towards every “people group”, and in our churches we would design small groups and programs around every different interest and age group. This is the case in many places.

On the other hand – if church is a place where unity in diversity is not only an integral part of the design, but is portrayed as something to be sought after, then that would mean that our churches will be designed in such a way as to not be centered so much around bringing people together based on demographics and interests, but more about bringing people together around ideas and concepts and doctrines – no matter what stage of life they might be in.

I must say that for me, the second option is the more intriguing – and the more Gospel-driven. I think that unity in diversity is one of the greatest strengths of the body of Christ, and something we should seek after. If we are constantly surrounded by peers and people who are basically just like us in the way they think, their socio-economic status, their stage of life – then we will be poorer people as a result of having a very narrow view and experience.

If single people or young married couples without kids are in fellowship with people who have kids – actively spending time with them, then guess what happens: Yes, they have to deal with stuff they don’t usually have to:  screaming kids, messes, tantrums. But guess what else: they learn from observation. They get to observe how those parents deal with their kids – for better or for worse. Rather than being a bother, this should be taken as an enriching experience. Part of the reason is because through being parents, those people have learned something God and walked with God and grown in ways that they couldn’t have otherwise. The person with kids has something to glean from the one who doesn’t – and those who don’t have kids have something to glean from those who do.

If upper-middle class people are in fellowship with lower-middle class people, what happens?  Yes, they might feel uncomfortable with some things – there is an obvious cultural divide between economic classes in our society – but guess what else: presuppositions are challenged on both sides, and that is healthy and makes us grow.

In 2005 my wife and I planted a church in Eger, Hungary. In the beginning, the church only had one demographic: college-aged girls. They were all friends, they all hung out all the time. And that was fun and great for a while. Later on others joined the church – the oldest person in our fellowship was 40 years old, and we became known in town as the “youth” church. That was fun and great for a while – but do you know what happened? The people in the church began to complain and bemoan the fact that there was no one in the church who was different. There was no one who was older, who they could glean wisdom from. There were really no minorities to add cultural and economic diversity. God did add those elements to that fellowship in time – but the point is that they realized that they were poorer for the fact that they were surrounded with people who were basically the same age, same stage of life, same basic interests, etc.

Let me say that God’s vision for the church is much bigger than a group of people who gather together to find other people who are like themselves and share their interests. God’s vision for the church is that it be an oasis where the principles and culture of His Kingdom are present and cultivated, for the flourishing of life and the growth of human beings ultimately to the full stature of Jesus Christ.

Don’t limit your view of the Body of Christ to a lesser vision of it than what God intended. Embrace diversity, seek out diversity – for your own sake, for the sake of others and for the glory of God and the building up of His Kingdom. If the body of Christ is truly a body, and each member has been given a distinct gift to share and a role to play in the lives of others to mutually build each other up and help each other grow – then don’t not limit your experience of the body of Christ to just ‘someone like you’.

Article in the Longmont Times-Call about Project Greatest Gift

Article in the Longmont Times-Call about Project Greatest Gift

Last week I wrote a post about an initiative that White Fields Community Church is doing to bless children in foster care at Christmastime. 

The Longmont Times-Call newspaper featured Project Greatest Gift and some other Longmont holiday initiatives in this article.

Halloween: A Conundrum

Halloween is a conundrum for many Christians. Is it only a weird fashion show for candy, or is it something more sinister? Should Christians allow their kids to dress up in innocent costumes and go knock on their neighbors doors begging for sweets, or should we forsake participation in this whole thing altogether?

This week I read this post about Halloween by a Christian woman, which I found very insightful. She points out one very important thing: This is the only day of the year, when most of your neighbors are going to come knocking on your door. The only day.

So, what are you going to do?  Are you going to go to a church event far away from your neighbors?  Will you turn off the lights and refuse to answer the door? OR, are you going to use this unique opportunity to reach out to your neighbors?

Being missional means being intentional about being incarnational.

Being incarnational means meeting people where they are at in order to bring the love of God to them. That’s what Jesus did. (For more on what it means to be incarnational, click here)

If you look in the Bible, at the nation of Israel, you find that they constantly fell in one of two ditches: On the one hand they had a tendency to conform to the nations around them: to take on their ungodly customs, and to worship their gods. They were called to be set-apart and different, but they oftentimes just wanted to be like everyone around them, and it got them in trouble. On the other hand, the other ditch they fell in was – like the Pharisees in the time of Jesus – they viewed themselves as superior to those around them and avoided contact with people who were not like them, lest they be defiled by them.

We as Christians need to avoid these two ditches as well, and make sure that we remember our calling to bring God’s light to all the nations, including those who live on our block and on our street. So many people are eager to do mission work somewhere else! But let us not neglect the neighborhoods that God has placed us in.

I’m not asking you to celebrate Halloween. I’m not asking you to compromise anything. I’m only asking you to consider how you can use this opportunity to be missional and incarnational, to build relationships through which you can share the love of God and the Gospel. Every year at Easter, White Fields church puts on an Easter egg hunt outreach in the Roosevelt Park in Longmont. We’re not condoning Easter traditions that take attention away from the resurrection of Jesus – what we are trying to do is meet people where they are at, so that we can have the chance to speak to them about Jesus. That’s a very important difference, both at Easter and this week at Halloween.

One thing I will be doing is passing out White Fields stickers. Kids love stickers – and these ones have our church’s website on them. Another thing I will be doing is trying to get to know my neighbors. We might put our fire pit out front to give people a place to get warm. We might provide coffee for parents. We’re still thinking through it – but here’s the point: we want to reach out.

I love this quote from the blog post I mentioned above:

If Jesus can go straight to hell, stare death and devil in the face, win and come back alive, why can’t we open our doors to the 6 year old in a Batman costume and his shivering mom?

What do you think? What’s the best way for Christians to respond to Halloween?

The Cost of Community

“If you love deeply you're going to get hurt badly. But it's still worth it.” – CS Lewis

One of the things that my wife and I liked about Longmont when we were first moving here last year was that it wasn't a suburb of Denver or Boulder, but a stand-alone community. Whenever possible we choose to spend our money at local businesses and restaurants rather than at chains. Last year we had some friends visiting from California, and we took them out to eat on a Saturday night in downtown Longmont, where we walked around for a while trying to find a place to eat where we wouldn't have to wait an hour for to be seated. At one point this friend of ours asked us, “Don't you guys have any chain restaurants around here? I haven't seen any!” I think people in this area pride themselves on supporting the local community. That's why people here love Oscar Blues and Left Hand Brewing, because they are local businesses that love this community and pour back out into it. 'Community' is an increasingly popular concept all over America – just as it is here in Longmont. Its a good thing to be a local and to be a part of your community – which means knowing and being known, it means relationships and mutual support.

And community is at the heart of Christianity. The whole of the Bible centers not around isolated individuals who know God, but around families and nations – people living out a relationship with God in community. What we learn from the Bible is that community is essential to growing in the knowledge of God and living out your faith. The radically individualistic American culture has tried to take Christianity and make it into a private, personal thing that you can do on your own without any ties to anyone but God – but that's not what it was ever meant to be.

There has been an increasing resurgence of value for community in Christian circles in recent decades – with lots of books being written on the topic and books like Bonhoeffer's “Life Together” becoming popular. But the thing is: when you actually do it, you realize that there's a cost to community. And the reason there's a cost is because real life is messy and people are imperfect. So if you get close to people and you really, actually “do life” with them, and enter into their lives and allow them to enter in to the reality of your life, sooner or later you are going to see their mess and they will see yours. It's a lot easier and cleaner to keep people at arm's-length, and keep relationships superficial. That's what social media is great at: we are able to always put our best face forward and only show people what we want them to see about us. But that's not reality and that's not real community. In fact, neither is simply knowing your neighbors and shopping at the local store and gardening at the community garden.

The word the Bible uses is the über-Christianese word “fellowship”, but the original Greek word for it is super rich: Koinonea, which means 'sharing' or 'having in common' – the root word of 'community'. It says in Acts 2 that the early Christians had all things in common. They were dedicated to fellowship and they met in the temple daily and then met in each other's homes and ate together. This is the life of a community. Knowing and being known. Sharing and partaking. Life together.

And life together can be a rich and fulfilling experience – but the flip-side of that is that there is risk involved. Any time you choose to share your life with someone and get close to them and love them, you make yourself vulnerable – vulnerable to the pain of losing that relationship, vulnerable to the hurt of being betrayed by that person, which, the closer they are to you, the more it hurts. You make yourself vulnerable to their junk affecting your life and messing it up.

If true community has a cost and risk involved, then the question is: is it worth it? Why not just isolate yourself, keep your relationships superficial and your life private? You can still know your neighbors and shop local, but you don't have to get involved in other peoples lives nor will they get close enough to hurt you or cause you grief. The reason is, because the more you love, the greater your capacity for joy. It also increases your vulnerability to be hurt, but you can't get great returns without taking great risk. It's like having a child; there is a great amount of risk involved: your kids could turn out to be terrible people who hate your guts and ruin the world. But if you never take that chance, you'll never experience the depths of joy that kids can bring. Or like marriage: that one's a huge risk statistically! If you get married, there's a huge chance you could go through a painful and expensive divorce. But if you don't get married out of fear of those things, you will miss out on the depths of intimacy and fulfillment and joy that marriage can bring.

So, here's my 2 cents: let's not just like the idea of community – let's actually live life together. You'll be richer for it. Because those other people have something to give to you and to receive from you. There is a cost to community, and it can be substantial! When someone is close, their junk can affect you. But the risk is worth it, because it raises the ceiling on how much joy and growth you can experience.