Post Valentine’s Day Thoughts

Learning to love well…

It’s been said that loving well is the essence of true spirituality. Loving well involves authentic interaction (or communication) with God, with ourselves, and with other people.

“Love reveals the beauty of another person to themselves”  –Jean Vanier, friend and mentor of Henri Nouwen

Jesus epitomized – and modeled spiritual and emotional health for us.

[Jesus said], “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.” –Matt 22:37-40 (MSG)

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day were not able to make the same connection with people as he did. They were competent, diligent, zealous, they were absolutely committed to having God as the Lord of their lives…they memorized entire books of the Hebrew Scriptures, they prayed five times a day, they faithfully tithed off all their increase — plus gave money to the poor, and they evangelized – yet there is little evidence that they delighted in people.

The word incarnate come from a Latin word that means – in – flesh. Jesus choose to limit himself to the confines of human history and a human body.

John 1:14 in the MSG translation says:

“The WORD became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes.”

Today the incarnated presence of God is intended to be the Church – identified in the Bible as the Body of Christ.

3 Dynamics of Incarnational Life…

1. Enter another’s world. James 1:19; Philippians 2:5-8

“Understand [this], my beloved brethren. Let every [person] be quick to hear [a ready listener], slow to speak, slow to take offense and to get angry.” James 1:19 (AMP)

What does it mean to enter “another’s” world?

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. — Henri Nouwen

What does it mean to be fully present, or become “a ready listener”?

  • Put your own agenda on hold
  • Look people in the eye
  • Practice reflective listening:
  • Allow the other person to speak until their thought is completed
  • Try and restate their thoughts in your own words
  • Don’t try to fix people.
  • Be cognizant of body-language (only 10% of communication is verbal!)
  • Validate people’s feelings. We can validate without being in agreement. (Feelings are neither right, nor wrong, they just are.)
  • Try not to become defensive…

2. Hold on to your world. Ephesians 2:10; John 15:15

“For [you] are God’s masterpiece. He has created [you] anew in Christ Jesus, so [you] can do the good things he planned for [you] long ago.” Eph 2:10, NLT (singular & plural)

In The Emotionally Healthy Church Pete Scazzero states that this dynamic (holding on to our world) is the most difficult and challenging principle to apply. He asserts…

“It is the key to conflict resolution. It is the key to responding in a mature loving way when other people push and challenge your desires, values, and goals inside or outside the church. It is the key to serving as a leader, in any capacity…Without this ability to hold on to yourself, it is not possible to be an imaginative, creative leader who breaks from the status quo and leads people to new places.” (p. 185)

What does it mean to “hold on to your world”?

  • Recognize that we almost always have a choice. (The choice often involves choosing between “peacekeeper” or “peacemaker.”) Peacemakers create false peace.
  • Determine and set clear boundaries:
  • Identify and be clear about limits. Don’t allow people to make demands of you. Allow people to make requests, but not demands. If you hear a request that makes you uncomfortable, your discomfort may be a signal that this is an attempt to invade your boundaries.
  • Learn to say The Graceful “NO.”

“Good boundaries attract good friends.”

3. Live in the tension of both. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7; Matthew 22:37-40

“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” 1 Cor 13:4-7 (thought to be a description, not a definition)

  • Living in the tension of another’s world and your own world happens when we are willing to authentically connect with people across our differences (including religion and politics). Civil, or respectful, dialogue…
  • When authentic, incarnational Christian love, or spirituality, is released in a relationship God’s presence is manifest.
  • When we ignore conflict we create a false peace. Jesus was murdered because He disrupted the false peace all around him. True peacemaking disrupts the false peace.

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matt 10:34

  • We cannot have true peace in the Church, or society, with pretense and façade.

To care means, first of all, to be present for each other. –Henri Nouwen

Thoughts on Love

Speaking of Valentine’s Day… I’ve been writing quite a bit lately – working on a manuscript on the mysterious topic of intimacy. Today I was grappling with the ideas of love. As I worked through my notes I found some descriptions and definitions for the various Greek words for love. Here’s a sampling…

OT Theme – The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus likened to adultery and prostitution.

EROS (ἔρως) –

  • Intense physical desire. It’s the same word we get our English word “erotic” from. The Song of Solomon (or Songs) is a passionate and powerful recounting of a man and a woman falling in love that includes the erotic aspects of their love.
  • In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead speak of a different slant on eros than is typically defined in Evangelical circles…

Although we usually associate eros with the engines of sexual desire, it is much more than that: “It is an ebullient, eager, and sometimes disruptive energy that moves us again and again toward more life…the energy of eros also opens pathways to our passionate God.”
“The human journey is sustained by eros and grace.”
Eros names the vital energy that animates all creation.”
Eros lies at the source of our desires — for friendship and love, for fruitful work, for life in abundance.
“Grace names the healing energy that flows from our loving God, transforming the world through compassion and hope.”
Eros and grace embrace in the heart of God.”

  • The Whiteheads proclaim that the Holy One is involved in the affairs of humanity as they survey the Biblical themes of grace and divine extravagance. In a section on “The Body’s Romance with Eros,” the authors discuss the potencies of sensuality and sexuality; the movements of eros in energy and tension; our body image and the body sacramental; and the eros of pleasure as a pathway to presence and gratitude. It is so good to read about positive ways of thinking and practicing eros in everyday life.
  • The Whiteheads also connect the passions with hope, suffering, anger, and compassion. The vital energies of eros infuse us with the transformative power of hope, the ability to cope with suffering and pain, the chance to use anger as a spur to righteous indignation, and the call to love our neighbors and reach out to strangers.
  • In a section of the book titled “The Rhythms of Eros,” the authors deal with presence and absence as a means of honoring light and darkness; holding on and letting go as learning the rules of engagement; feasting and fasting as nourishing the Spirit; and shadows of eros with a look at ways vital energy can go awry. The Whiteheads are convinced that our erotic lives stir within us wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and generosity. (I haven’t read the book yet – found an excellent review at this site.)
  • C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves describes eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love.’ He says this is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. This promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from him/her. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history’s most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that “love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god”, he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a god.

PHILEO (φιλία) –

  • A brotherly/sisterly kind of love. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love.” While males and females can’t be non-sexual in relationships; we can be non-erotic. Phileo love is friendship love without the “weirdness” – and where we feel safe.
  • My take on the writing and speaking of (Vineyard pastor, author, and speaker) Ed Piorek is his different, and quite helpful, slant on PHILEO love… In attempting to define the Father’s love in the experiential sense we are focusing on his PHILEO – his demonstrated tender affection for us. The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described in John 5:20. The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of his Father’s PHILEO. Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense his Father’s presence and hear his Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing. Henri Nouwen also speaks to this as he defines prayer as listening for the voice of God who calls you his beloved.
  • C. S. Lewis on PHILEO – Friendship is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be “about”. He calls Companionship a matrix for friendship, as friendship can rise in the context of both. Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either sorge (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or agape (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients, (and Lewis himself), that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that “about”—that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness.

STORGE (στοργή) –

  • Describes affection and was applied especially to the mutual love between family members. In the New Testament, this word is used in the negative as astorgos, of steárgo (to cherish affectionately) and means hard-hearted toward kindred and is translated “without natural affection”(Rom 1:31 marg.), inhuman (2Ti. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV) The word is also used in combination with philos. philostorgos (5387), “tenderly loving” (from philos, “friendly,” storge), is used in Rom. 12:10, rv, “tenderly affectioned” (kjv, “kindly affectioned”). (Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words).
  • C. S. Lewis describes STORGE as affection and fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being “built-in” or “ready made”, says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.

AGAPE (ἀγάπη) –

  • Describes a unique type of supreme love involving a conscious and deliberate choice to do good for another, a commitment based on the willful choice of the lover, not the qualities of the person receiving the love.
  • This word, interestingly enough, was used quite sparingly by ancient secular Greek writers. It’s original definition identified a kind of abstract virtue out of Greek thought.
  • Over the years, this word has been redefined to describe a different kind of love in relationship to God.
  • AGAPE love is a sacrificial love that reaches out to people who don’t deserve it – a love that puts the interests of others first – a love that forgives and starts over. AGAPE love means caring, forgiving, spontaneous, redeeming love, which is the essence of God’s nature.
  • AGAPE love may be best described in John 3:16, “For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
  • C. S. Lewis on AGAPE, or charity, is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Lewis states that “He is so full, in fact, that it overflows, and He can’t help but love us.” Lewis compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, the lover as the gardener, and God as the elements of nature. God’s love and guidance act on our natural love (that cannot remain what it is by itself) as the sun and rain act on a garden: without either, the object (metaphorically the garden; realistically love itself) would cease to be beautiful or worthy. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt—and thereby warp—this love (“But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.”—Matthew 6:3), which is its potential threat.

An acquaintance of mine, Walter Hansen, says this — Much is made about the difference between friendship (PHILEO) love and divine (AGAPE) love, but this is overdone. The words are used interchangeably for Jesus’ love. For example, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus to tell him, “the one you love (PHILEO) is sick” (John 11:3). Then the gospel writer tells us, “Jesus loved (AGAPE) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” The point is that Jesus loved in many different ways. All the words for love in every language of the world together are still insufficient to describe the love of Jesus.

How Vision is Achieved – Pt 2 of 3 (or 4)

• Again, “leaders in every generation have been distinguished as those with ability to see in the mind’s eye what others cannot yet imagine.” The question, then, is how is their imagination quickened? It all starts with spending quality time with Jesus. To do this one must develop eyes to see what Jesus is already doing in the midst of a congregation. Give prayerful thought to the following questions:

o Who has he assembled in this place and what gifts are predominate?
o How are these gifts currently being expressed?
o Who is already being blessed?
o What is Jesus doing in the lives of those in the (surrounding geographical) community that he is preparing to be part of this congregation?
o What changes in the surrounding community past, present, or future impacts the opportunities for ministry?
o In other words, what is the Lord of the Church already doing to extend his reign over the lives of persons in this congregation and in the community?
o Then the question is, how do we join Him?

• As leaders develop the eyes to see Jesus in the “fields white for harvest,” and mobilize people and resources to reap the harvest he has prepared, the vision for ministry will be clearly visible and the congregation will be contagious with it.

• Methods, strategies, and ministries follow vision. Innovative ways of doing ministry are needed to realize Christ’s vision for a particular congregation. Each congregation has a unique opportunity to contribute to the completion of the making of disciples of panta ta ethne. This is because the opportunities before each congregation are unique to where God has positioned them, at a particular time, with the resources to bear fruit for the Kingdom.

• “Can vision be induced?” “Are there tools, concepts, and practices that can be trusted to help leaders weave the threads of their dreams into the tapestry of tomorrow’s reality? Are there rational tools, with a logic that can be followed?”

• Vision can, indeed, be induced. The Apostle Paul spent a great deal of his time persuading (inducing) a vision for the completion of the Great Commission. His vision was simply Jesus – to know him and the power of his resurrection realized on earth. Paul’s primary strategy was to incarnate himself and those who followed Jesus within every culture, society, and network of persons through which the gospel could be communicated most effectively. Becoming all things to all people that by all means he might win some.

• Vision for the ministry of any particular congregation is seeing how their ministry can most effectively be incarnated. Leaders contend for this and persuade others to pay the price.

• However, there can be a pattern of insidious trends that capture a congregation over time that need to be identified and repented of. Until this ground is covered, few will pay the price of change necessary to incarnate their ministry. These trends hold the congregation captive to the old paradigm. New forms, tools, concepts and practices are not usually accepted by a rational process or persuaded by logic. The emotional attachment to the old and fear of loss overrides the rational process. The old paradigm for ministry must be revealed as inadequate to exploit the new opportunities to expand the Kingdom. Israel had to give up the paradigm of a “temple cult” captured by legalism and the traditions men. Jesus fulfilled all that was good in the old paradigm and replaced it with a new paradigm of bring the Kingdom to earth, which included persons from all peoples. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount gave the new forms, tools, concepts and practices of the Kingdom. He contrasted the old paradigm with the new.

• The old forms, tools, concepts and practices of westernized Christendom are woven into a tapestry of yesterday’s reality. This tends to blind church leaders to the present reality. This is why a Kingdom intervention is often necessary. Tomorrow’s reality will be woven from what the church sees Jesus doing in the present reality and from what it learns from joining with him as he is incarnated in the new opportunities for making disciples of all peoples. Just as Peter saw God do a new thing with Cornelius and his household, and through the Apostle Paul’s ministry among the Gentiles, the church must see new forms, tools, concepts and practices that allow the incarnation of its ministry within those “fields white for harvest” where Jesus stands and calls us to join Him.

How Vision is Achieved – Pt 1 of 3 (or 4)

A couple of things…I stopped blogging a while back and I’ve started back up again. I didn’t have the foresight to save my earlier posts, so I’m really starting over.

I’ve recently done some fresh thinking on the issue of attaining vision. This will be a 3-4 part post. I should mention that I am grateful for the thinking, writing, and friendship of Dr. Bob Brady – a long-time mentor of mine.

Here’s my equation for the work that needs to be done: Values + Mission = Vision

Values = Abstract qualities that we prize.

Mission
= What we are here to do and our unique approach to the enterprise we are in.

A mission statement is text that states the chief activity that the organization wishes to engage in and gives specific guidance on the direction the organization should take in regard to programs, services, and activities. Additionally, the law obligates the trustees/board of the organization to limit their activities to those covered by the mission statement.

Vision = A description of the reality you expect to create; it is the discovery of God’s will for a congregation.

We don’t DECIDE on a vision, we DISCOVER vision through commingling core explicit values with the organizational mission.

Preliminary Thoughts How Vision is Achieved:

• From more sophisticated uses of the imaginative capabilities of our minds to our inner ears seeking to be more attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit — the path to vision will be discovered. How we have learned to think about ministry in times past will require, of some, extensive relearning in order to cope with the kinds of discontinuity forecast for the future.

• Leaders in every generation have been distinguished as those with ability to see in the mind’s eye what others cannot yet imagine. Can vision be induced? Are there tools, concepts, and practices that can be trusted to help leaders weave the threads of their dreams into the tapestry of tomorrow’s reality? Are these rational tools, with a logic that can be followed? Or, must we wait in a desert without foresight until a burning bush signals a new order? “The future ain’t what it used to be,” and that’s the good news. Much of tomorrow is waiting for someone to invent it.

Some Noteworthy Quotes:
• “Every institution is perfectly positioned to obtain the results it is currently achieving.”

• Leadership: the process of aligning a church to God’s mission and vision.

• The gospel is primarily something to be embodied and proclaimed, rather than a set of beliefs that people assent to intellectually.

Further Thoughts
• The underlying presupposition is that Jesus Christ is the chief shepherd and vision caster, and that he has a definitive future for every congregation that he is working out. The task of church leaders is to join with him as co-laborers in the realization of his kingdom at a particular place and time with the resources and opportunities he provides.

• If this is true, then it follows that one of the main hindrances to the realization of Christ’s kingdom through a particular congregation is failure to let Christ be the head of his body in that place. This can take several forms:

o Unqualified leaders who are incapable of providing examples of Christlikeness and authentic discipleship.

o Structure/Systems that work against community building and one-another relationships.

o Misuse of resources both financial and the spiritual gifts of the Body.

o Protection of the vested interests of members overshadows the needs of the lost.
o Unresolved conflict that poisons the fellowship.

o Failure to mobilize the power of prayer in seeking God’s will.

• Now, assuming all the above are addressed and corrected as needed, how is a vision discovered by biblical leaders who are following Jesus Christ and desire as first priority the realization of His kingdom through their congregation?