As Jesus followers we are called into the Kingdom Life. This blog will help us converse and learn what that means. It will contain thoughts on Scripture, Sermon Reflection, Leadership Training and interesting reads. -Pastor Jeff

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Theology is Dangerous

Yawn...that's the response.

It's never a good idea to start a blog with "theology" in the title.  Who cares?

Theology is what scholars do.  Theology is for academics.  Theology doesn't make a difference in our lives...right?  Ummm, actually just the opposite is true.  Theology is extremely important because it consistently impacts our lives in unseen ways.  Theology is often a behind the scenes force that drives our interactions with one another personally, communally, and globally.  It affects our attitudes towards those that are different from us and the ways in which we view ourselves.  Theology can be liberating or damning.  It can be life-giving or life-stealing.  It can produce communities of compassion or compel people to hate-filled actions.  Theology is not a neutral subject handled by professional theologians, rabbis, imams, or gurus.  Theology is what is done anytime God, faith, or religious belief is at stake.  Theology, yes even in a secular culture, is the way in which people make sense of their ultimate concerns in this world.  What is done with theology makes a difference. Theology is dangerous.

Theology is dangerous?  Yes...because there is a lot at stake.  In many cases, at many times throughout history, and even presently, theology either bolsters or diminishes the possibility for human flourishing in this world (and in some traditions - especially the Christian tradition), beyond.

How is it dangerous?

Theology is Dangerous in Bad Ways:

1.)  Prejudice:  It can be used as a tool to defend and give credibility to our already existing prejudices and biases.  We are not neutral beings.  We have prejudices towards other people for multiple reasons.  Unfortunately, it is possible to use theology as the system of defense for those beliefs, reading our prejudices into the belief system.  Anytime we use God to substantiate our hate-filled agendas, we must recognize the dangerous elements of our theologies.  We must also understand that hate-mongers will use theology to recruit and enlist people to their cause by using sacred texts and religious traditions as the platform for their agendas.

2.)  Prosperity:  Theology can be used to baptize our selfishness, materialism and consumerism.  That's the problem with the Prosperity gospel.  Within that theological framework, God is nothing more than a vending machine in the sky with knobs to be pulled to ensure we get the "best life now" that we can possibly achieve.  Theology becomes the resource to take our already self-centered interests and make them the interests of God.  At the same time, broken systems that keep people bound and suffering continue to exercise limiting affects on the lives of those people.  Who cares?  Can't change those things, right?  Maybe those suffering at the hands of injustice need to believe harder that God is "speaking abundance over their lives right now."  Sorry...I just threw up in my mouth.

3.)  Spiritual Abuse:  Theology can be used as a system to oppress people by inciting the judgement of a wrath-filled angry God who lives to drop the gavel of judgement on the heads of the infidel, the sinner, the heathen, the pagan or whomever else with whom you choose to disagree.  God is used as a tool of judgment.  It's present in corporate political language, from behind pulpits, and in the lives of families.  God is imagined as angry, rash, and ready to condemn.  Any religious action is taken out of obligation and fear.  To question those that propose such theology is met with an immediate reaction that they are defending the "purity" of right belief.  They are on the side of God.  Doubt or questions means that you are enemy to God and will suffer.

4.)  Lack of Concern:  Theology is often concerned with eternal affairs, with heaven, paradise, Nirvana, or whatever.  Many religious participants only set their minds on things above.  Much theology is so heavenly minded that it is no earthly good.  Churches, synagogues, and mosques fill up with adherents and yet the communities around them remain unchanged.  They don't affect change because their only concern is arriving at the pot of gold on the other side of the rainbow.  Such spiritualism authorizes a lack of concern for those issues that surround us daily that we have the ability, resources, and hope to affect change.

So...yeah.  Theology can be dangerous in bad ways...and this is just a sampling.  No wonder why so many will have nothing to do with overt religious practice.  They've witnessed the life stealing affects.

But wait...Theology can be Dangerous in a Good Way!
1.)  Challenge:  Theology can be the means in which our already existing presumptions and attitudes are called into question.  What if the God we speak of isn't a God that we've imagined, concocted, or created to serve us and our agenda?  What if the revelation of God in this world challenges the life-stealing agendas of so many?  What if God didn't register for either party on His voter ID card?  What if God sees all ideologies, programs, and politics as fraught with imperfections and possibilities for injustice?  What if our religious traditions (and here I am thinking especially of the Christian Tradition as it relates to Jesus) speaks a word that challenges our assumptions about one another?

2.)  Subvert:  Theology can and has been used to subvert oppressive structures in society that steal life from the vulnerable.  Theology has the potential to draw together communities of resistance, who given the hope of change can stand up against tyranny, prejudice, and injustice.  It can subvert systems, structures, and cycles by refusing to play old games (by turning the other cheek.)

3.)  Draw together Communities of Compassion:  Theology can be a means of calling together groups of people who share the belief in a reconciling, redeeming God whose heart breaks for the broken and suffering.  For those that surrender their selfish desires and presumptuous/pitying attitudes, it can muster a community who share in life together for the purpose of love, mercy, provision, peace-keeping, bridge-building, and justice-establishing.  Theology has the power to challenge the societal arrangements based on economics, religion, race, and ethnicity, and instead establish a community that shares life together.

4.)  Proclaim a Counter-Kingdom:  Perhaps, especially in the Christian Tradition, the most dangerous way (in a good way) that theology can be deployed is in its proclamation of a counter-Kingdom.  Within the Christian tradition is the belief that Jesus proclaims a Kingdom that challenges and dismantles old power structures.  It refuses to leave empires or kings, presidents or tyrants as those that have the ultimate power to determine the trajectory of humanity's future.  Instead, the Kingdom of God has already done that.  It is a future when evil is undone, chaos is conquered, hate is eliminated, where God's presence is our all in all, of new creation and inexpressible joy.  This counter-Kingdom is the hope of theology that keeps believers leaning into a future much different than our present situation, refusing to use out-dated tactics to change things or control situations.  It is dangerous because it is a threat to any person, empire, nation, political or economic ideology that thinks it sets on the throne.

Theology matters.  How are you using theology?

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Pregnant Vision

Is Your Vision Pregnant?

Visions die for a lack of leadership and buy-in from others.  Much is made about vision and rightfully so.  Unfortunately many great visionaries never see their dreams become a reality.  Why?  They lack the personnel to make those visions a reality.  A vision without the buy-in of others, the embrace of others, the participation of others is nothing but a good idea.

Jesus had this incredible Kingdom Vision.  It was a vision to turn the world on its ear, flipping things upside down and inside out.  It was a vision to bring healing to the broken, reclaim what has been lost, and restore justice where evil runs rampant.  But Jesus never set out to fulfill that Vision by himself.  He recruited leaders intentionally.  He shared a vision that others could get excited about.  He pointed to the need and offered people places to be involved.  He empowered them to dream about their role in the vision.  There was a certain gravitational pull in the Kingdom Vision of Jesus...and as that Vision expanded, it became pregnant with leaders, participants, servants, those willing to take their place in the Vision he preached.

Vision requires pregnancy.  As the vision is shared, it should create a gravitational pull among others, drawing them in, getting them excited, empowering them to find their place.  The bigger the vision the larger the size of the pregnancy.  As that vision becomes action, it will give birth to those that will use the gifts, graces, and passion to impact the trajectory of the vision.  We see that in those recruited by Jesus.  Is your Vision Pregnant?  Is there a gravitational pull toward the Vision?  Is there buy-in?

One Note:  During the pregnancy, there are some very important things for those eager to see the Vision become a reality to remember.
1.)  Humility:  You are one of many sharing in the Vision.  Don't allow your need to be recognized to trump the larger vision.
2.)  Keeping Informed:  During the pregnancy there is a lot of wondering "how, when, what."  It is imperative for leaders and participants in the vision to keep a steady line of communication to ensure that patience isn't being misunderstood as passivity or a lack of initiative.
3.)  Patience:  Great Kingdom Vision happens according to God's timing and not ours.  Often God is at work in the background in ways we can't always see.  Prayerful patience is the way of discerning when the moments are right for action.
4.)  Commitment and Sacrifice:  Fulfilling Vision always requires both commitment and sacrifice.  Any Big Vision is worth the cost.  Those who have share in the pregnancy will begin to feel the reality of the cost.  Creating a sense of vulnerability and community is necessary to continue to encourage, embolden, and inspire those who have buy-in.  Don't ever assume that they should just get it and keep it!  It (the vision and their role in it) must be consistently nurtured and affirmed in their lives.

Is your Vision pregnant?  Are you a part of pregnant Vision?  Is your Vision about to give birth?

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Detox - Your Social Media

8 Things to help you Cleanse your Life from Unhealthy Posting

In the new year, I read a lot about people working to establish better eating habits, turning toward clean eating, choosing organic, and working on detoxing their systems.  I think we just sort of know that we let a lot in our lives that is unhealthy.  Sometimes we need to clean things up!  As a pastor, I often wonder what would happen if we took the same steps with our social media presence.  I often hear of the damage done as the result of poor usage of Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms.  So what can we do to detox our social media practice?

1.)     Let It Sit:  When deciding to post something that you know is going to be controversial or get someone upset, I encourage you to write what you think in another format.  Write it down with pen and paper, in a Word Document, on the notes app of your phone.  Write it and let it sit.  Walk away from it for 12 to 24 hours.  If you are still passionate about what you are going to say…then post.  Most of the time, when the emotion passes so will the need to post.  

2.)    Don’t Regurgitate:  A lot of nonsense circulates through Social Media…we know that!  We know that not everything that goes viral is true!  We know these things…why do we continue to fall prey to lies?  Take a moment and ask the question, “Does this feel true?”  “Who is saying it?”  “Are there any sources behind what is being said?”  Don’t reshare something without first doing everything in your power to find out if it is true.  Too often our quick reposting reveals our prejudices and the shadow side of our beliefs.

3.)    Careful in using BFF:  Hey there are other people that like you too!  There are others that think they are close to you too!  When you throw out BFF all the time what you are doing is laying claim to someone as your “best” friend, telling everyone in the Social Media world they are your possession.  You are also saying to others… “I’ll only go so far with you because the ‘bestie’ position is already taken.”  

4.)    Stream of Consciousness Really?  I often think to myself, “I’m glad that people don’t know all that goes on in my mind all the time.”  Sometimes thoughts are passing thoughts.  Let them pass!  We don’t need to know how regularly you are tossed and blown about by the whims of change.  

5.)    Avoid the Teaser Posts:  Are you guilty?  Have you posted statuses that are elusive, but say enough to get people wondering about you?  “I wonder if they are alright?”  You have a way of saying just enough to make people start swirling about what could possibly be going on with you.  Instead, why don’t you reach out to those trusted people in your life and share with them?  

6.)    Should I Really Tag Them?:  Listen, times change.  Sometimes old things are just that…old things.  What might have been received well by a person at one time in their life may not be received well by them now.  Give them a choice.  Before posting a picture of them from the past – from the “Good Ole Days” instant message them and ask them first.  They may be in a profession or with people who would not find “Glory Day” pics funny.  Also, don’t tag someone as a way of saying to others, “I know something you don’t know.”  

7.)    Get Beyond the Passive Aggressive Posts:  We look like cowards when we post something about someone that we wouldn’t say to their face.  Likewise, when we toss things out that we aren’t clear about it can get people wondering if that is about them.  Don’t use Social Media as a way of getting back at someone from a safe distance.  

8.)    You Can’t Get it Back:  You can edit and you can delete it, but not before someone has seen it or screen shot it.  Think…do I want this to land?  Will I stand behind it a week from now?  Am I proud of what I am saying?  Will I be kicking myself later?  It’s too quick to go from mind to fingers.  Give it time.  Make a good decision. 
Just a few easy simple steps to Detox your life from unhealthy Social Media decisions.  There is nothing inherently wrong or evil with social media.  But!  When we fail to be diligent, discreet, or thoughtful we can contribute to our own lack of relational health and the health of others. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Bridgeway 40 Day Prayer Initiative for Vision and Mission

Prayers for Alignment
Jan 12: - Today pray that our vision for moving forward is in alignment with God’s.  In Philippians 2:3 it says “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.”  We don’t want to do our own thing. 
13 – Today pray that our purposes—our intentions, the reasons why we do what we do are in alignment with God, that we are about God’s redemptive, Kingdom-Building purposes.  Pray that it would never be about Bridgeway but about God!
14 – Today pray that God breaks our hearts for the things that break His.  Pray that God softens our hearts to feel what He feels.
15 – Pray today that God would align the leaders of the church with God’s own heart, ensuring that those that help to chart the course forward are deeply rooted in God’s grace, love, and purposes.
16 – Today pray that God would align our hearts with the hearts of those in our communities that already have a passion to make a difference.  Pray that we wouldn’t compete with other churches and organizations to make a difference, but that we’d join them. 
17 – Pray that God would align our steps with the Spirit.  In Galatians 6 it talks about keeping in step with the Spirit.  We want to ensure that our pace, our rhythms, and our plans never cause us to step before God has called us to step. 

Prayers for Open Eyes
Jan 18 – Pray today that God would help us to see our communities in a fresh way, helping us to see those people we might regularly miss.
19 – Pray that God would help us to see beyond our own little worlds, our own needs, and our own desires, that our attention is looking out. 
20 – Pray the Lord would help us to see past all the obstacles that would get in our way, and instead that God would help us to see the potential
21 – Each community has unique places of entry to affect and change a community.  Pray that God would help us as we engage this vision to be aware of those entry points...always asking the question where is the need. 
22 – Pray that each of us at Bridgeway would see the gifts and talents God has given each of us to contribute to the vision.
23 – Pray that we would be given the faith to believe God is capable of big things and that the obstacles we face wouldn’t cause us fear but instead be seen as opportunities, to see with the eyes of faith and not fear
24 – Pray that God would specifically show YOU where YOU might be involved in the vision of making a difference in our communities. 

Prayers for Open Hearts
Jan 25 – Pray that God would purify our hearts from anything that might disrupt, delay, or distract us from the vision God has for us. 
26 – Pray that we have hearts open to receive each calling, each direction, each step that God calls us to.  That we’d be open to moving obediently
27 – Today pray that we have hearts and bodies ready to respond when God speaks, when God calls us to take steps of faith. 
28 – Pray today that we would each be filled with God’s Holy Spirit.  Pray that the lives we live, the grace we give, the love we show would come from God.  Pray that he is the source of all we do and all we are. 
29 – Pray that our hearts would be freed from the prejudices and insecurities that keep us from stepping out and making a difference.
30 – Pray for the communities that God sends us to, that God would grant us favor and the people would be receptive of us.
31 – Pray that God would give us courageous hearts, hearts eager to say YES, hearts ready to join God in whatever He plans to do!

 Prayers for Willing People and Radical Sacrifice

Feb 1 – Pray that God would grant us a willingness to discover the gifts He has given each of us for the unique impact that we can make in the Vision.  Pray that we’d not allow our “Can’t do” to affect God’s “I’m calling you!” 
2 – Pray that each of us are willing to accept and step into the different roles that will be needed to see this vision become a reality, never allowing our jealousies to cause us to wish we had a different role.
3 – Today pray for a willingness to step up…to say, “I don’t have all this figured out, but God wherever you need me…I am ready.”
4 – Pray that we wouldn’t get sidetracked when we realize what it costs us to be involved in God’s plan.  Pray that our YES is a YES regardless what that means. 
5 – Today pray that we would be willing to make the financial sacrifices as a church and personally to make this vision possible. 
6 – Pray that God would give us the spirit of  servants who are willing to do whatever it takes to meet those in need where they are and serve.
7 – Today pray that God would help us to refuse to hold anything back, but that we would through radical abandonment give ourselves away to God’s plan and purposes. 

Prayers for God Pulling Things Together
Feb 8 – God is an abundant God, who has more than we will ever need.  Pray that God would make available the resources need to carry out His Vision in His World.
9 – Pray that God would continue to raise up new leaders and servants in areas of ministry, so that as we establish new campuses and churches that we would be able to supply the needs for each ministry. 
10 – Pray that God would go before us into each community or city.  Pray that God would grant us favor with the leaders in those communities and with the people that God would have us reach. 
11 – Today pray that God would give us hearts of discernment and patience.  Pray that God would help us to discover His timing! 
12 – Pray that God leads us to the right locations for new works, locations where the soil can be made fertile for growth and Kingdom-Impact.
13 – pray that in each location that God would send us community partners that would encourage and share our passion for making a difference. 
14 – Today pray that we wouldn’t be fickle, but that God would hold us committed to His Vision.   

A Week of Gratitude
Feb 15 – Today spend time giving God thanks for what God’s already done in the 10 years of Bridgeway.  Celebrate that we stand on our past.
16 – Today give thanks to God for what He’s done in your life and for the ways in which God is preparing you to make a difference. 
17 – Give thanks today that God always supplies what is need to make a Vision a Reality.  We need only be receptive. 
18 – Today give thanks that God will make the financial resources available to see the vision of changing lives possible! 
19 – Today give thanks for the lives God intends to touch through the ministry of Bridgeway.  Give thanks for the stories of change yet to come
20 – Today celebrate the next season in the ministry of BWCC and that God has brought you to be a part of that season! 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Do you mean what I heard?

A constant snag that threatens to unravel the quality of our relationships is our own insecurities.  We all have them.  We all wish we didn’t.  And most of us allow those insecurities to subvert the strength of our relationships.  How?  Insecurities add a running commentary to our interactions.  They are like a constant voice at work in the background of our minds telling us why someone acted the way they did, what they really meant by what they said, and what they really feel about us. 

You know what insecurities do…They twist the tone of conversations (especially digital conversations), they invite us to make assumptions about the intentions of others (which may in the end bare no resemblance to reality), and they warp our imaginations leaving us consumed with what we thought we saw, felt, or perceived from others.

“What I often hear from you is what I’ve filtered through my insecurities and interpreted through my lack of self-confidence.  You may have not said what I thought you said or meant what I thought you meant…but because of my insecurities, that’s what I heard.”  The deeper our insecurities run, the more likely we will force others to walk on egg shells around us and undermine those relationships that might really add value to our lives. 

So what can be done?  Below are six thoughts you might consider when navigating the terrain of your own insecurities.

1.)     DON’T assume others think of you…the way you think of you.  Not everyone sees you in the same light that you see yourself.  You might not imagine there is much in you worth appreciating, but others might see you differently.  Don’t do others the disservice of prescribing to them the “right way” of seeing you.  Allow them to bless you by pointing out the places in your life where you add value to others.  

2.)    DON’T deflect your insecurities on to others.  People who live in their insecurities often make assumptions that everyone is feeling the exact same way about themselves.  Likewise, they will speak in totalizing language, “Well, everyone seems to be dealing with (Fill in the blank).”  While most of us have insecurities, we don’t always suffer the same insecurities, nor do we suffer in the same ways at the same times.   Own your own insecurities without forcing others to own yours.  

3.)    DO clarify what you hear from others.  Insecurities warp our imaginations and create havoc in our minds.  When you walk away from a conversation and insecurities rise to the surface, when you start to believe someone said or felt something they might not have said or felt, re-engage and ask them to clarify.  This is far simpler than you might think.  Give them a call.  Step back in their office.  Go to their room and say, “I’m sorry I wasn’t quite sure what you meant when you said ______________.  Sometimes my mind messes with me a little and I just wanted to make sure that I heard you correctly.  Could you clarify so that I don’t allow my assumptions to get the better of me?”  

4.)    DO confess to others when you’ve allowed your insecurities to get the best of you.  When you have misread Facebook and become offended about something that had nothing to do with you, (remember not every negative post from a friend has you in mind!) when you’ve become offended by a person who had no intentions of harming you, when you see others in the false light of your own insecurities…own it!  Tell them, “I’m sorry for making you bear the weight of my insecurities.  I am still working on some things from my past and I try to be intentional of naming those moments when my insecurities get the best of me.” 

5.)    DO extend to others the same grace you’d ask for yourself.  Others live and operate out of their insecurities as well.  Don’t demand others to be proficient in something you are still trying to figure out.  When two people are equally insecure, there are multiple opportunities for relational snags.  That’s where patience and forgiveness comes in handy.  

6.)    Finally, DO seek the confidence that only God can give you.  Much of our insecurity is because our identities are always in flux.  They are ever-changing.  We are constantly trying to measure up to the demands and expectations of changing groups, seasons of life, and perceptions of others.  Unable to live in that flux, we feel as though something is missing.  Grounding ourselves in our identity as Children of God is key to establishing a solid, stable framework on which to understand ourselves and others around us.

Soon, I will discuss the ways in which insecurities subvert our leadership.  However, for now ask the question, “Do you mean what I heard?  Or did I hear what my insecurities have taught me to hear?”