Tag Archives: men

Wonder. We manifest the Spirit.

The first thing that happened to me yesterday in my experience of the body of Christ was sitting around a table with a devoted team having a phone interview with a great guy who wants to be in Shalom House. It was a wonder.

We made a connection around one of our favorite parts of the Bible: Acts 2. His faith got me going! Look at just a couple of lines of the famous account of Pentecost and we’ll get started.

Dali Pentecost wonder
Dali Pentecost

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place….All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

A new community

Christians, in general, put so much emphasis on personal experiences of God that we often miss the fact that the Holy Spirit’s basic work is to form a new community, an alternative culture, a new creation, God’s family business. We are all together and God makes something new happen; that’s how it works.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, the remaining followers of Jesus, the ones who had not scattered never to return, the ones who were not too afraid of the Roman and Jewish opponents to stick with it, were all together waiting for what Jesus had promised. They were praying and hoping for something new. Even though their own families thought they were nuts, they banded together in expectation and faith. The Holy Spirit came upon all of them, as a group, and they all demonstrated the fire.

That’s the blueprint for our church. I know some people are not fired up and are not demonstrating, but that’s all we’ve got. I know some people perpetually live in the house and don’t pay rent, some keep consuming bits of religion instead of owning the store, but they don’t wreck the heart of us. We’re all together, we are filled with the Spirit, our tongues and lives are loosened to demonstrate Jesus or we’re a joke. And we are no joke.

How the Spirit forms the body of Christ

In First Corinthians (well, maybe THAT’S the favorite part of the Bible) the Apostle Paul gives some pretty exhaustive teaching about how the Holy Spirit forms the body of Christ. It all starts with people who are not among the wise in the ways of the world revealing the Spirit’s power, not like slick marketers, but like clay vessels carrying glory. The leaven of the Spirit makes us a particular kind of dough; we are culture where

  • people are sacred not sex objects
  • relationships are spiritually discerned, not just adjudicated by laws
  • real freedom is worked out even while the free are compassionate towards those who can’t handle the radicality
  • people gain strength to discipline themselves for completing the Lord’s mission
  • everyone’s individual gifts are honored as part of the new community, an organism that lives out truth and love
  • we are the resurrected body of Jesus

The Holy Spirit keeps creating a spectacle of grace. I think sometimes when we do our public ceremonies, like sharing in communion or lighting the fifty candles on Pentecost Sunday, we often avert our eyes and let people have a private moment as they eat and drink or light their candle. It is very intimate, and it almost seems embarrassing to have it out there in public. Some people won’t even do it because it makes them afraid to be so noticed. But we should not avert our eyes. We should watch people and pray for them and be one with them as they are doing their acts that symbolize their oneness with us as the body of Christ. We often keep a lot of space to protect people’s autonomy, but I think we should touch each other like we have all been touched by the one Holy Spirit. We are living beyond ourselves. Just like Paul writes to the Corinthian church:

 

No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.  Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.

The common good

The Spirit of God fills each of us, but it is for the common good. The Spirit works in each of us, but God is doing His work in the world. One of the best demonstrations of the Spirit we can make to the world is by sticking together: we exist, we share, we love, we are self-consciously the body, we don’t go to Circle we are a Circle of Hope in Jesus Christ. From that base we conduct the family business; the world is like our family farm and we are all important to the harvest.

Our kind of service means that we did not withdraw into a small group and preserve our holiness. We put out a sign on major streets and let people know we’re open for business. We made major financial commitments to buildings, staff, stores, and mission teams. We created maps, plans, disciplines and schedules to keep us pointed in the right direction and relevant to the next person, for whom we exist to touch and incorporate into the body of Christ. A few of us just hang out in what we have built by the fire of the Spirit at work in us. But most of us are manifesting the Spirit for the common good.

The last thing that happened to me in my experience of the body of Christ yesterday was being in a group of men who were asked to share how God was moving them to live as people who claim Jesus as Lord — and they did it. It was a wonder.

Intent: Jesus Is Not Tupperware and You Don’t Sell Him.

I was going to take a picture of our pitcher. But I found the exact one on Etsy for $8

Gwen was marveling at a Tupperware pitcher the other day. Someone gave it to us for our wedding and it is still working well. Other pitchers come and go, but the sturdy little Tupperware goes on and on — which, I suppose would be a good reason to trust Tupperware. The corporation would be delighted if you formed a love relationship with your plastic pitcher and the business behind it.

A lot of people do trust Tupperware-like operations. You might know that Tupperware was among the original direct sales organizations that sprung up after World War 2 — Earl Tupper and Brownie Wise gave women something to do after the men came back from the front and told them to go back to the kitchen. Now they have about 2 million people who sell products worldwide. Individual, entrepreneurial capitalism is like the new American dream which comes complete with a post-Christian religious-like philosophy [addictive Tupperware propaganda here].

The method is so ingrained in our society that a lot of people seem to think the church is, essentially, a Tupperware party. You invite a bunch of people, show them your stuff while eating appetizers and try to parlay your relationships into a Jesus sale. People have certainly criticized Circle of Hope because their friends don’t want to come to our Jesus party and buy Jesus. They want to improve the product. That’s if they even want to be involved at all. Plenty of people would rather die than be involved in direct sales!

It is hard to describe the church outside of some economic metaphor, since our imagination for forming society in the United States is almost completely subsumed under how our economy works and what rights and laws are commensurate with making it doable and just. Half the time on the BIC Listserve the men (mostly) of our denomination are talking about politics as if the church has a big stake in the economy of the United States. I think we can do a lot better than merely debating just how crazy the recent Senate vote on watered-down gun laws was (although, Lord knows, the prophets need to turn up the volume). I think we can do better than integrating into the economy.

Intent holds us together

At least I don’t think we have much to say about society until we have a church. The church is how God does his work and demonstrates the life we have received. Here is a great teaching from the Bible that briefly sums up what the church is all about:

[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:10).

If you want to sell something, sell that!

Better yet, swear off economic metaphors for describing God’s people altogether, for a while. Because the church is not an economy in the popular, “consumer/free-market capitalism” sense. We are a people who God rules and through whom God reveals the character and purpose that creates us. We ARE a people in which someone can be included. We DO God’s purpose of revelation by which we include ourselves in the destiny of the world, whether it invites us to the party or not.

We don’t need an organization to work out Ephesians 3:10-11. And if the organization we adopt is modeled on consumer capitalism or American political theory, we’d be better off without one! We live out God’s purpose as individuals and in the course of daily life. We should organize our time to do that. The Spirit of God is in us and God is expressing life and love through each of Christ’s followers. But if we want to make ourselves known to the powers and provide a place for people to be included, it is pretty arrogant to think we can do that on our own. And since God’s intent is to work through the church, not just you or me, we should see ourselves as agents of the church, not as a church of me, myself and I. Because God has built each of us into the church, Circle of Hope is organized into cells and into teams. Our cells organize into congregations. Our congregations organize into a network. Our network is part of a denomination and is connected worldwide in creative ways.

What holds it all together? I focus on the word INTENT in Ephesians 3:10. God’s intention is the creative spark that again and again forms the body of Christ and animates it. And God’s intent is met with our similar intent, sparked by God’s Spirit in us making all things new. We hold together by the covenant that makes us a people and the agreements that make us doers of the word in so many ways. Our covenant, in particular, is what makes us more than a Tupperware party. We don’t hold weekly meetings to convince our members to buy another piece of the collection. We are all the “owners” ourselves and we present to others the person of Jesus, not a product; we call for relationship, not self-actualization through endless “freedom of choice.”

NOT a tupperware party

The leaders of the men’s retreat were working out our presumption of covenant love throughout the weekend. They took an audacious risk by making their small groups painstakingly diverse, crossing all congregations. Then they went even further by making dyads that were randomly selected by the small group leaders. Then they had these pairs doing intimate, spiritual things. They demonstrated a huge trust in God’s presence in the body. The had a huge faith that individuals would experience God’s truth and love and intentionally follow God’s lead. They assumed they could trust the small groups to include everyone. They trusted the dyads to do spiritual things. They presumed a covenant life and didn’t even allow for too much individual anonymity. I’m sure a few people were blown away, so far out of their comfort zone and over their capability that they are still reeling from it. But I did not hear anything about that yet. What I have heard is story after story of being moved, connected and inspired — and formed into a people as God intended.

Our destiny is to make God’s heart and God’s ways known to the world, to live out the eternal purpose of God made known in Jesus. Our destiny is not merely to keep deciding what we want to do. It is not to keep inviting people into sales events that presume they are merely meant for deciding what they want to do. We share God’s purpose. We are each someone valuable to God, and what we do has meaning beyond our capacity to choose. We are a people through whom God intends to work out his life and purpose, and what we accomplish has eternal ramifications. We have a God-intended destiny, and it defines how we take our steps together.

Men Like Dew from the Morning’s Womb

The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
   “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
   on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
   your young men will come to you
   like dew from the morning’s womb. Psalm 110 (NIV 2010)

Last night a collection of the Broad and Washington men got together for their somewhat random public meeting. I was encouraged to see their sincerity. In many sectors, men have a bad reputation: callow, dominating, selfish, unreliable, even unnecessary. Look at many sitcoms and men are represented in such an unflattering light that one wonders if they have any dignity left at all. But the men gathered last night belied such stereotyping. They had some stuff.

Psalm 110, a “royal” psalm extolling the virtues of King David and all kings that follow in his footsteps, includes characteristics one would hope for every God-lover, woman or man. But today, I feel like building up the men, who are under attack, in some ways, these days, and who need to bring what men bring to their families, their congregations and their friendships. The mission is healthy when the men have faith and share it.

So here are four things I see in this psalm for the men to put on.

Being aware of the enemies. Gwen gave me a little snippet from the research the other day that explained why female babies (like Lulu!) are much more likely to give us eye contact than their brothers. The boys have an instinct for looking at the horizon and scanning the territory for enemies. Or they are looking for antelopes for dinner. I don’t know if this is true. But the body of Christ certainly could use some awareness of the territory and some decent hunting.

Putting on holy array. “To be arrayed in holy splendor” probably seems kind of a crazy image to many men. They are arrayed in the same sweatshirt for six years (as I am as I write in my 2004 Eagles NFC champs sweatshirt). Black, drab nondescript, anonymous clothes are what sell year after year. It is almost like we’ve gone Confucian: “the tallest stalk of grain gets the overseers riding crop.” It takes some audacity to aspire to holiness and wear it shamelessly, without being proud, just being real.

Coming from the womb of the dawn. There is never any hint in the Bible that men don’t need women, or vice-versa. Coming from a womb is a good thing. The “womb of the dawn” is a beautiful image of creativity and eternity. The workmen are downstairs right now having their version of giving birth in my second floor bathroom (which finally got to the top of the rehab schedule after 15 years of gestation). The plumber was very excited last week to reveal the faucet he had ordered! He loves the restoration he is effecting. When the men are excited to create, holiness breaks out.

Bringing the dew of their youth. In a dry land like Israel, dew is a crucial source of water. In a dry spiritual landscape like the Northeast U.S. the God-generated youthfulness of spiritual awareness is what the men need to bring. When we go to battle against the powers that seek to enslave us, the Holy Spirit undermines their tired old lies and clumsy tactics with the ever-newness of living water. The young in years bring it physically with their courage. The old in years bring it with their character and wisdom. Together they are a transformative tribe.

Psalm 110 is a splendidly uncynical picture of hope in a new king, a picture of God’s fecundity in a dangerous world. I pray that all men (and women of course, but today is focused on the guys) would take on their birthright as sons of God, not giving in to the diminution of their dignity that the world is foisting upon them.

Collision in the ruins

 

I will always show you where to go.
   I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
   firm muscles, strong bones.
You’ll be like a well-watered garden,
   a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
   rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You’ll be known as those who can fix anything,
   restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
   make the community livable again.
(from Isaiah 58, The Message)

 

Last week felt like a great collision. Some people, some cells, at least one clique, were just plain falling apart, going to ruin. At the same time some people were rising from the dead, some cells were overcoming all obstacles and getting ready to multiply, in the middle of things falling apart people were finding faith for the first time, and then there was the Men’s Retreat.

 

At the Men’s Retreat I was heartened to be an eye-witness to so many springs coming up in the middle of rubble. I told a couple of people that, apparently, we could put 90 Circle of Hope men on a desert island with no planning at all and good things would happen. It made me kind of dizzy to watch it. What happened in me was good too – God was doing some rebuilding with the rubble of my past, as well.  

 

Like Isaiah’s promise of a glowing future to those who pay attention to the poor (and I include my own poverty in that), I saw a lot of full life being acquired in the emptiest of places all week – especially at the retreat. New, well-renovated, lavishly-irrigated life was colliding with some old, weak-boned, dried-up faith that was not withstanding the onslaught of unbelief and immorality.

 

It was so painful to see people go to ruin! — but, then, against all odds the community showed signs of becoming even more livable – in the same week! That brings such great joy.

 

I keep finding that it makes sense to hold on to the Lord’s promise: “I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places.”