Tag: Practical theology

Growing Backwards

It was Mark Twain that humorously noted that it would be better if humans were born at the age of 80 and worked backwards. This backwards growth would afford us all the wisdom we would need to navigate the challenges of life. This idea was picked up by the great American author Scott F. Fitzgerald in a short story called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, recently popularized by the Pitt and Blanchett film by the same name.

It is an interesting thought and curious story. It seems all of us are short on wisdom, but as the Curious Case proves even being born 80 doesn’t solve all our problems. However, what if we began to think like an 80 year old? What if we began to approach work, family, leisure with the sagacity of our elders?

Life Maturing Wisdom

In his book The Making of  a Leader, Robert Clinton identifies six stages of a leader. These stages can be adapted for stages of life by simply replacing “ministry” with your vocation. The stages include:  Sovereign Foundations, Inner life Growth, Ministry Maturing, Life Maturing, Convergence, Afterglow. Clinton’s comments regarding our “Life Maturing” stage got me thinking about growing backwards.

He notes that this phase of life, typically occurring in our 40s, begins with intentional and extended reflection on life. This period of reflection is often forced onto us by life circumstances, a major conflict, growing children, or life crisis. What would happen if we began to cultivate these patterns of reflection now? What kind of person, families, communities would emerge if we became more concerned with learning about how God wants to shape us through conflict and life and less concerned about merely navigating our conflicts and challenges? Clinton writes:

During Ministry Maturing we attempt to constructively navigate conflict; during Life Maturing, we instead tend to focus on what our conflicts say about us. Overall, relationship with God starts to become far more important to us than ministry success. Ironically, as we begin to care less about the results of our ministry, our effectiveness, satisfaction, and attractiveness as ministers suddenly begins to grow. Our lives become an object of imitation. We are not merely appreciated for our work; we are admired as people.

Reflecting not Just Navigating Through Conflict

Are you driven by work, family, success? Are you more concerned with managing conflict than being sanctified by conflict? How can you begin to care less about results of vocation and more about discipleship through vocation? If we want to be people whom others aim to imitate, as we imitate Christ, periods of reflection and prayer will be important. Wouldn’t it be wonderful it we became so obsessed with God’s agenda in our conflicts, challenges, and vocations that we became appreciated more for our Christlikeness than for our “work”?

Reflecting through conflict instead of merely navigating it is not a popular process. In general, our culture values success, results, and output over sanctification, maturity, and reflection. Our very busy lives run against the grain of such extended times of reflection. Turning around is hard. However, the result of becoming more process oriented, more reflective will lead us into more fruitful living, parenting, and community. Perhaps you should start by taking a weekly walk in the woods, alone. Going to a coffee shop without a laptop or PDA. Refusing to answer emails for a day and journal instead. Have extended discussions with your friends and spouses about what God wants to teach you through the challenges and conflicts of your life.

This time of reflection has inspired me to grow backwards. To begin cultivating more times of reflection and prayer that draw me deeper into communion with God, meditation on life, and into obtaining the wisdom of an 80 50 year old. I hope it does the same for you.

Reviewing ReJesus – II

Continuing the review (part I here) of Frost & Hirsch’s ReJesus, chapters 2 & 3 apply the concept of ReJesus to the individual and the community, to discipleship and the church. The aim of “rejesusing” disciples and communities is to “recover the absolute centrality of the person of Jesus in defining who we are as well as what we do.” Thus, they “believe that Christology is the key to the renewal of thE church in every age and in every possible situation it might find itself.”

Chapter two advocates personal renewal through Christology but what kind? They advocate a “recapturing of our imaginations” to person and example of Jesus. Sympathetic to empire theology, they suggest that we become a “conspiracy of little Jesuses” to order to subvert the rules of the Western empire, i.e. globalism, consumerism, etc. In short, “the task of discipleship is the lifelong project of literally becoming like him, of becoming a little Jesus” (49). How then do we become like Jesus? F&H try to steer clear of religion and “conformity to impersonal commands” by emphasizing a “constantly renewed, up-to-date experience with our Lord.” How do we develop this personal relationship with Jesus (which never appears as such in the Bible)? Contemporaneousness–unmediated closeness to Jesus, a term drawn from the wells of Soren Kierkegaard, an existentialist philosopher turned Christian. And here are where some personal concerns begin to emerge.

While I have been invigorated by the radical focus on the person and work of Jesus, the power to become like Jesus appears to be pietism. They steer clear of bootstrap religion but point us to the personal relationship with Jesus as the source for obedience. While I’m sure that is a motivating factor–the more I know Jesus, the more I desire to be like him–the Bible doesn’t appeal to a personal relationship w/ Jesus for our motivation to imitate him. Why? Probably because our experience of being close to him fluctuates considerably. As relationally, emotionally broken evangelicals, we easily confuse emotion for love and piestism for being “in Christ.”

Rather, the New Testament consistently points to new creation, the Spirit, and the Cross as motivation for obedience. For example:

Future Glory: “ For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, a)who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry.

God’s sovereign pleasure: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

Power of the Spirit: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Should there not be a concomitant emphasis on the gospel, the Spirit, new creation and so on, if we are to imitate Jesus? Will not imitatio Christi lead to a new works righteousness without proper emphasis on the gospel? While working on this post I noticed Stetzer interviewed Hirsch, so I dropped some of these questions off in a comment. Hirsch graciously responded by pointing us away from cheap grace to costly grace. Read his response here.

N.T. Wright on Work

How do you approach people who do low profile work or ministry in your church? Do you assume their faithfulness? The children’s workers, the set up/tear down crew, custodians? Do you go out of your way to thank them? Do you see the light of Christ flowing out of them? N. T. Wright does:

I am delighted when I go to a church and see people doing mundane things with a sense of pride, because they’re doing them for the love of God and the body of Christ.  I love those people.  Nobody knows who they are; nobody knows their names.  As a bishop, I try to go around and thank them because I can see they’re doing a good job.  Of course, we’d all like to be the architect who builds the cathedral or the composer who writes the symphony or whatever. But most of the time, we do what needs to be done. Christ shines out of the way we work, not so much what we do, but how we do it.( read the rest here)

Wright brings us a lovely reminder of working unto the Lord and thanking all those who do it. However, I’m not sure I agree with the last half of the last sentence: “Christ shines out of the way we work, not so much what we do, but how we do it. I think what we do does matter to God, not just how we do it. If we consider the essence of our work, we can shine glorious light to God even more, as well as enjoy our work more.

The “essence of vocation” is shaped by its principal goal or discipline. For instance, the principal discipline of medical surgery is biology. In order to make the proper incisions, a surgeon must know where human organs are located and how circulatory systems function. After you have identified the principle goal or discipline of your vocation, try to connect that principal to the nature and character of God. For instance, medical surgery reflects God as an orderly, creative Designer and as a merciful Redeemer. (read more here)

Deacon Training – I

Tonight we had our first of three sessions on deacon training. I was moved by the number of quality of potential deacons sitting in our house. God has been so kind to Austin City Life! In preparation for training our deacons, I did the following:

Then I wrote and mailed a letter of invitation to potential deacons, gave them a copy of Driscoll’s booklet, and developed a teaching outline for our three session Deacon Training. In all of this I borrowed heavily from Bob Thune and David Fairchild. Thanks guys! Here’s the list of topics we are covering each month:

October 5, 2008 1st training meeting @ Dodson’s house

Discussion topic: A Theology of Deacons

Assignment: One Page Reflection Paper on 1 Tim 3:8-13

November 2, 2008 2nd training meeting @ Dodson’s house

Discussion topic: The Practice of Deacons

Assignment: One Page Dream Ministry Description

December 7, 2008 3rd training meeting @ Dodson’s house

Discussion topic: Holding to the Mystery of Faith

Next Assignment: One Page Summary of the Gospel

December 8-14, 2008 Interviews and Installation