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The Subversive Questioner (via Winn Collier)

When God asks questions its not because he needs information.
It’s because we need to learn something about ourselves and our circumstances that we’re hiding from ourselves.
The question reframes our insistence on control and self-reliance and reveals our need.
This is also true of Jesus’ questions, with the added reality that his human nature was not omniscient.
From Winn Collier.

After the tragedy of the fall, Adam and Eve hid. They hid their bodies and they hid their hearts. This is our introduction to sin. What began as Adam and Eve’s stiff-necked rebellion quickly morphed into their rabid fear of being found out and a panic over their complete inability to decelerate the meltdown they had initiated. So Adam and Eve’s response was to stick their fingers in their ears, close their eyes, and hum a s loud as they could in the bushes, pretending they could hide from the truth. God stepped into the tragedy, though, and he posed a question: “Adam, where are you?” It was a question intended to unnerve them, to reveal their desperation, to call them out of their hiding.
God asked a question to the tow hiding in the garden, and he has been asking questions to us ever since. His questions urge us out of our self-absorption and pull us into something far bigger: God. God’s questions are subversive. They reframe the discussion. They are always at work pulling us out of ourselves and drawing us into himself.

Winn Collier, Holy Curiosity, Baker Books, 2008, pg 17.


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Pastoral Ministry Does Not Try To Save The Redeemed (via Henri Nouwen)

Henri Nouwen makes an important distinction about pastoral ministry.
A contemplative is able to live fully in the moment, but not be ruled by, and reacting to, the anxiety of that moment.
In that he is able to help others to look beyond their present ‘panic-stricken convulsions’ to responses that resonate with the character of the kingdom.

It is not the task of the Christian leader to go around nervously trying to redeem people, to save them at the last minute, to put them on the right track. For we are redeemed once and for all. The Christian leader is called to help others affirm this great news, and to make visible in daily events the fact that behind the dirty curtain of our painful symptoms there is something great to be seen: the face of Him in whose image we are shaped. In this way the contemplative can be a leader for a compulsive e generation because he can break though the vicious circle of immediate needs asking for immediate satisfaction. He can direct and steer their erratic energy into creative channels.

Henri Nouwen, The Wounded HealerMins, Darton, Longman, and Todd, 1994 ed., pg 44.


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Congregational Life – A Place Where We Are Saved From Our Yearnings, Rather Than Having Our Yearnings Met (via M Craig Barnes)

In a brief article at Christian Century, Craig Barnes writes about the disposition of wanting to protect people from their own hurt feelings, and how the life in the church is not meant to be place where flawed people grow in Christ likeness by experiencing the imperfections that remain within us:

Congregations are filled with people who bring their yearnings with them into the community. Often these yearnings have not been met in other places like family or work, so people are hoping the church will be the place where they will finally find affirmation for their heart’s desire. But the church is not paradise. It’s a divine reality of redemption in which we are saved even from our yearnings. It’s a community in which we learn to sacrifice our hopes, failures, and hurt feelings in order to turn to Jesus Christ, our savior.

Read the whole post here.


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On The Different Response Of The Church To The Challenges Of Nominalism And Secularism (via Rory Shiner at The Gospel Coalition Australia)

A thoughtful piece by Rory Shiner about the differences between nominalism and secularism and how the worshipping church responds differently to each.
The observation that nominalism (people who identify as Christian without meaningfully following Jesus, while following a form of traditional church observance) and secularism (people who don’t identify as Christian or followers of Jesus, while having no knowledge of the Gospel or the actions of the church) are quite different and require nuanced expressions of church life and behaviour to help people understand the Gospel and where they are in relation to Jesus +gasp+ is helpful in thinking about church corporate practice.

Part of Shiner’s article:

The post-war generation was fighting a crucial battle. They saw the threat nominalism posed to the gospel.
But today, it would not occur to the average younger Christian that reciting the Lord’s Prayer might be inauthentic, precisely because no one they know outside the church knows the Lord’s Prayer at all. Going to church in a building that looks like a church doesn’t illicit a PTSD response in the under-40s. They find it at least neutral, maybe even attractive. They are not shadow boxing with nominalism. In fact, they’ve often never met a person who is nominal. By the time you’ve bothered to say you’re a Christian in this culture, chances are you are serious about being on Team Jesus.
Currently, the great threat to the gospel is not nominalism, but secularism.
The fact that the wider culture is in some ways interested in Christian practices is fascinating. It’s a vote against the listlessness, the disorder, the aimlessness, and the sheer loneliness of secularism.
In 1950s Australia, Christianity gave our culture a rhythm of work and rest. We had a universally observed Sunday, an expectation of shared family meals, and a deep sense of connection with the local neighbourhood or parish. Now we live in a world of 24-hour shopping. Sunday looks suspiciously like Every Other Day. Secular life is disordered life. You can be watching cat videos at 2pm on a Monday in your office, and replying work emails from the bath at 10pm on a Saturday.
Productivity literature is now full of advice that sounds suspiciously Sabbatarian. Young urbanities choose walkable neighbourhoods. They want to know their locality, buy from the same shop, know the name of the grocer, and so on. My grandma would find it all strangely familiar.
Or consider the rise of atheist churches in London. Young, secular Londoners gathering in churches to sing bad John Lennon songs and share fellowship. They have turned on its head our assumption that people like Jesus, they just don’t like the church. It would seem the other way around. They like church, they just don’t like Jesus.

Read the whole post at Gospel Coalition Australia.


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Learning To Number Our Days (via Michael Kelley)

Michael Kelley writes a four point reflection on the phrase from the Psalms ‘teach us to number our days.’
Why?

We naturally assume that there will always be tomorrow – that there will always be another chance for this or that. We become procrastinators in our arrogance, assuming that the limited number of days we have on this earth will never come to an end. Because we drift toward this kind of arrogance in which we are the charters of our own destiny, we need God’s help to have a true gauge of our own mortality.
This is the point James made in James 4, a chapter diagnosing the disease of pride, when he reminded us all that we should be careful about assuming on the time-table of our lives. Even in things like planning trips, meetings, and anything else, we would do well to remember that “you don’t even know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like smoke that appears for a little while, then vanishes” (James 4:14).

Read the whole post at Forward Progress.


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Building Generosity By Setting Vision (via Andrew Hopper at JD Greear)

Culture takes time to establish, and maybe longer to change.
In this guest-post at JD Greear’s blog Andrew Hopper talks about the way in which setting and sharing a vision builds generosity as people get a sense of what could grow if they release resources to support it.
Sometimes this giving and releasing will be on a personal level, other times it will be on a corporate level as a Church makes decision to let go of something existing in order to strive for another goal.
Participating in this is part of being a growing Christian.
From Hopper:

While it’s true that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” vision sets culture. The greatest tool for building generosity within the church is giving people the picture of what could be. I’m not naturally great at casting vision; but, leadership is focusing on what needs attention, not what you are already good at.
As we’ve applied ourselves to improving in this area, we’ve learned there are two components to setting vision: heart and opportunity. All the opportunities in the world won’t matter if people don’t first realize that generosity with time, talent, and treasure may be the greatest marker of a growing Christian.

Read the rest here.


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You Must Take Up Your Cross As Often As You Put It Down (via Connor Gwin at Mockingbird)

A reflection on the Christian life as a long obedience in a consistent direction.
This is not a process where Jesus gets us in, and then we set to work to keep ourselves in.
This is a constant remembering of the fact we’re only in because of what Jesus has done.
The more our lives change, the easier it is to forget that truth.
From Connor Gwin, writing at Mockingbird:

It takes more than praying a certain prayer. It is not a ‘one and done’ situation. You must lay down your life anew each day or each moment. You must be born again and again, over and over. You must take up your cross as often as you put it down.
For “the flesh is willing but the spirit is weak” (Mt 26:41). In our weakness, we grasp for control and power.
When we think we have control over our lives, we run ourselves ragged. When we feel like the masters of our own fate, we drive ourselves into the ditch. The world promises that we can do all things by our own sheer willpower. We are told that we can accomplish all of our dreams through nothing but our own effort, but that path is the expressway to death.
Paul writes it this way: “You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Eph 2:1-3).
It is only through surrendering our lives, letting our ‘selves’ die, and following Jesus that we find life, real life, and rest.

Read the whole post at Mockingbird.