Posts Tagged ‘Len Sweet’
How Close is He?
“Deus intimior intimo meo, or God is closer to me than I am to myself…” ~~Augustine
I find this incredibly comforting and assuring. I also believe it to be a true statement in light of what the Bible teaches us; in particular, the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus told his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20 see also John 14:18). Jesus promised His indwelling Spirit would come to “comfort,” “guide,” and “instruct” us. As I consider this and meditate on all the implications, several realizations come to mind. (1) God knows my strengths, gifts, and abilities more than I do. He created me and now dwells within me. He not only knows the things I know, He knows all of my untapped potential. (2) God knows my “weaknesses,” “brokenness,” “fears,” and “frailty.” He knows the places I am weak and prone to failure, yet He trusts me still as an image-bearer of His person. He trusts me with His name and mission. He knows the struggles I bear and is willing to walk through each of them with me. (3) He knows my “fears,” “doubts,” and my “breaking point.” His promise is that He will never put anything on us, or allow anything on us, that is too much for us to bear… that He has not provided a way for us to make it through (1 Corinthians 10:13).
I do not know all that God knows about me. I consider myself self-aware, but not nearly to the degree and/or depth that God is aware of me. Therefore, it is a dangerous road to travel that I would rely on upon my own designs and “self-understanding.” I don’t have all the data to account for every variable in my “unknowing” self. I can fail because of my own unknown faults in the equation of my life. God, on the other hand, will not and cannot fail. His promise is true. He alone is the unfailing promise of truth in my life.
Walking in step with His Presence, guided by His Indwelling Spirit, is tantamount to the worry-free and regret-free life. What a glorious revelation and what glorious God! Praise Him, who is Closer to me than I am to myself!
So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church -Day 6
Epilogue and Final Thoughts -continued
I finished up So Beautiful this morning. It stays in the book bag for a reread. I know I missed a lot of what this book is speaking to me, so I’ll continue to spend time with it. I’m sure my heart and mind will be challenged further. Speaking of challenging, the epilogue of So Beautiful is sub-titled “Mirror, Mirror…” and it provides a scorecard of sorts to help us measure our MRI index (the value of how effectively we live out the missional, relational, and incarnational life). I think this is to be (or can be) applied personally (as individuals) and corporately (as a local church body). It’s a tough ending to a challenging book. We don’t like to look at ourselves in the mirror; most of us anyway. I know I’m not “magazine cover” material, and when I look into a mirror I see a rapidly aging, balding, not-so-handsome guy. In light of that awareness, I’m prone to not look in the mirror or change the criteria of assessment so what I see in the mirror appeals more favorably to me. I think we do that for our personal ministry, church, and personal maturity as disciples of Jesus. Touche’
The epilogue doesn’t just present the challenge of evaluation, but it also offers suggestions on how to become a Beautiful Church. I think this is very valuable as it provides solid, and practical, action steps for the person and/or church to start walking in divine design for life.
I am a disciple of Jesus. It is my intent to follow Him in truth and spirit. It is also my desire to serve Him in the role He has destined for me. I am a pastor. I am a leader and teacher of people. My role comes with great responsibility and a high level of accountability. So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church challenges my definition for “disciple” as well as “pastor-leader.” So Beautiful also challenges my (personal) definition of “church” the local entity and “church” the global entity. In my opinion, I think Len Sweet has portrayed a more accurate Biblical representation of the church than what we in the West have created. It is difficult for us to admit our wrongs…most often we want to do so with qualifications for our actions or excuses. Change is tough; we don’t like discomfort or difficulty…we don’t like to deliberately make people upset and change invariably makes some people upset. If we are going to be the “beautiful Bride” that is the Church, change is going to be necessary. The scorecard (as Reggie McNeal and Len Sweet refer) must be changed. Our success cannot be measured in “brick and mortar,” “building funds,” or “VBS attendance.” Our success must be measured by “Sermon on the Mount” style discipleship and fruit for our God…fruit that will last for eternity.
I will be recommending this book for my church leadership (it will be on my recommended reading list for everyone), I will also be challenging our leadership team to use the measurements found in the epilogue as practical exercises to assess our effectiveness as a seed-sowing and fruit-bearing “tree of life” in the local garden that God has planted us. My prayer is that we will become the Beautiful Church that reflects our Beautiful Savior.
Thank you Len Sweet for a great challenge.
Part 3: The Incarnational Life: God’s “No” -continued
I picked up my reading from Part Three of So Beautiful with chapter twelve and it seemed it started in a “clap of thunder” and “full sprint.” The Incarnation is “to live in the world, but not of the world.” My reading began with a heart examination:
“Or here’s another Jesus Metaphor-Faith is the ‘saltness’ that brings every food to life and makes it pleasurable. How salty is your life? How salt-of-the-earth is your church? Or has your salt turned to basalt?
I especially appreciated the call to memory of the prophet Jeremiah’s words to the exiled peoples of Jerusalem as they were being carried away captive to Babylon; “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters.” In other words, become a part of that community. (p.180)
“Incarnants are cheerful pessimists: We see the world as it is, and as it could be, while enjoying the world as it is, and as it could be.” Len Sweet (p.183)
This chapter is extremely thought-provoking. Culmination of the MRI model (missional, relational, incarnational) is in this final part of the book, So Beautiful. It is a call to action and I have found it very difficult to stay focused on the words without my mind wandering…interacting, and considering how my routines and attitudes might change in order to be more malleable and useful in the advancing of God’s Kingdom. I want to be a builder and beautifier of the Bride that is Christ’s…His Church.
This Incarnational section borrows the structure of part two, rephrasing and representing the “idea” of incarnation over, and over, and over, and over, and over again…living in-not of; becoming part of culture, but not losing identity In Christ. Metaphors, analogies, and various other illustrations flood the pages appealing to the senses and learning style of almost any reader. The inclusion of so much diversity and description in mission stands as a clarion call to Be the Church; almost begging the rhetorical question “what else is there to do in life; or what is life really all about?” This is it: allowing permission to the Spirit of the Living God to live in and through us in order to redeem, reconcile and restore all of creation. This, to me, is incarnation.
A secondary and very critical point underscored time and time again is the “not a formula and no templates allowed” directive. We must be fluid… “liquid” -living water. What works as an embodiment of Christ to the world in which you have been planted may not (and probably will not work) in a different culture and context. As I was reading this part of the book, another book came to mind that I have been enjoying this year, Ancient Christian Devotional. An excerpt I read just a few days ago from that book illustrated in a very beautiful and thoughtful way this “liquidity” of person and mission. Hear the following words from Cyril of Jerusalem:
“One and the same rain comes down on all the world, yet it becomes white in the lily, red in the rose, purple in the violets and the hyacinths, different and many-colored in manifold species. Thus it is one in the palm tree and another in the vine, and all in all things, though it is uniform and does not vary in itself. For the rain does not change, coming down now as one thing and now as another, but it adapts itself to the thing receiving it and becomes what is suitable to each. Similarly the Holy Spirit, being One and of one nature and indivisible, imparts to each one his grace ‘according as he will.’ The dry tree when watered brings forth shoots. So too does the soul in sin, once made worthy through repentance of the grace of the Holy Spirit, flower into justice.” (Catachesis 14.12)
In the end, we are gardeners. Actually, in the beginning, along the way, and in the end…we are gardeners. Gardeners are what we are created to be. Isn’t it amazing how many parables and illustrations are used in the Bible and elsewhere to describe our relationship with our Creator? It amazes me and it makes me take notice. I will close this portion of my book discussion with a few final quotes and a plan to wrap up this review by the close of the weekend. Consider the divine gardener metaphors as you read these closing comments from So Beautiful…
“He who seeks the Bird of Paradise must put down a little seed.” -African saying.
“No matter who you encounter in life, Jesus has preceded you and prepared the way for whatever you are to accomplish. But the soil must receive the seed, or there will be no harvest. The seed must be planted into soil. You can’t get crops out of rocks. ‘Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,’ Jesus said, ‘it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.’ We must die to self to rise and bear ‘much fruit’ in the grace and love of God. And the smallest of seeds can become the greatest of shrubs and bear the greatest fruit: ‘The kingdom of God…is like a mustard seed.’” Len Sweet (p.211)
…i Crucified – yep.
So Beautiful: Divine Design for Life and the Church -Day 4
I finished part two (The Relational Life: God’s “Yes”) today and started part three (The Incarnational Life: God’s “No”). I really connected to the relational life; I also liked part one (The Missional Life: God’s “Go”), but my spirit soared all the while I was immersed in reading and absorbing the relational life chapters. Several aspects of Len Sweet’s so thorough explanation of the relational life connected with me. I realize this was intentional on his part because of the painstaking effort taken to express his points. In chapter seventeen of part two Sweet writes the following:
“In case you haven’t noticed, this entire section has been saying the same thing over and over again from every conceivable angle and position. This is necessary because of all the features of the divine design, this track seems to be the most difficult for us to grasp and travel. Why is relationality, this relational component of MRI, so hard for us? Ever since Descartes, we’ve been trained to think that the only real authority is reason itself, to which we all have equal access.”
This “relational” part of So Beautiful really fueled my thinking and for the last thirty-something hours I’ve been thinking of nothing but the interconnectivity of creation. Everything is interwoven and interdependent upon one another by God’s design down to and beyond the sub-atomic levels of our understanding. I realize how easy this thinking could swing over into Pantheism or Panentheism, but my thinking and (I believe) Len Sweet’s explanation of relationality is very different…extending into the understanding; “For in Him we live and move and have our being…” (Acts 17:28). Now, this being the case, how much more relational is the jewel of God’s creation, humanity? Or, better put, how much more relational should we be? We fall so short of God’s grand design…thank Him that He provides through Himself a means to restore our brokenness. Praise Jesus!
“Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu” (A person is a person through persons) -Zulu proverb Read the rest of this entry »
So Beautiful – Relational Life
I started (and almost finished) part two of So Beautiful this morning. This part discusses the “R” of the MRI model that Sweet introduces in the beginning of the book. I know I haven’t mentioned this before, but in my excitement and zeal for this awesome book I sort of overlooked that piece. MRI stands for missional, relational, and incarnational. Yesterday, in part two, the discussion was on the missional aspect of our faith (missional God the Father, missional Jesus, missional Holy Spirit, missional Church, missional you, and missional me); great, great stuff in part one. Part two, as mentioned is about relational; that is the relational aspect of our faith (once again…relational God the Father, relational Jesus, relational Holy Spirit, relational Church, relational Creation, relational you, relational me, relational us…and relational…relational). Yeah. This story and explanation is so wonderfully assembled in So Beautiful. I am enjoying it so much that I can’t wait to start over and read it again. I don’t think I’ve said that about many books outside of the Bible. I am finding this study to be so affirming in what is already in my own heart, and in addition, I’m finding answers (connecting dots and filling in blanks) for things I didn’t have answers to. I’m being stimulated to study, encouraged to action, and clarified in my focus.
It is probably greatly attributed to my own learning style, but I love the enormous diversity of teaching, knowledge, and experiential thinking that Len Sweet draws upon to present his material. The story is so robust there doesn’t seem to be a dry or dull moment as he weaves the delightfully eloquent narrative of So Beautiful.
I leave my thoughts this morning with this comment on relational and a quote from Len Sweet and So Beautiful. It is God Himself that chose us to be conformed to His Son and His Image; “For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:29) And, it was Jesus who prayed the following:
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one-as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” (John 17:20-23)
And finally, from Len Sweet…
“Gospel holiness is to so be in a relationship with Chris that your life channels the name and nature of God: love. I know this word channeling has the smell of new-age sewage. But sometimes no other word will do when something or someone else has gotten greasy from too much fingering. What else do you call it but channeling when the Jesus who is of one substance with the Father wants to be of one substance with every human being? It is more than our vocation as ‘channels’ of God’s peace, as Saint Francis is alleged to have put it. It is that we are channeling the very presence and power of the Prince of Peace.”
“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” Jesus (John 17:25-26)
I’ve been reading the book Becoming a Contagious Church by Mark Mittelberg for the last week or so. As I have shared before, I usually read several books at a time and on occasion books will complement one another in a really neat way. This book, Contagious Church and So Beautiful by Len Sweet are having an exponentially compounding and complementary effect on one another. It’s interesting, exciting, inspiring, and challenging. It’s hard for me to describe the rush of thoughts, ideas, and interactive thinking that are taking place in my head as I read these two books alongside one another. When I toss in a provocative parable from Pete Rollins’ The Orthodox Heretic the challenges to my thought processes are multiplied even more. It has been a long time since I have stumbled upon a mix of books that have motivated and encouraged me to such a degree.
One of the things that I am refocused on and latching a hold to is mission. I’ve shared repeatedly over the years of my blogging and journaling how much I have been impacted by Jesus’ words “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you…” There are numerous other instructions from Jesus that I’ve quoted that fall into that quote category as well. It’s easy to get sidetracked from the mission; it shouldn’t be, but it is. It doesn’t help when there are mission saboteurs in your camp either. Our God is a “going-sending” God. He made us to take up the mantle of His Mission and assume our destiny as people of the reconciliation and restoration. We are Kingdom Builders and we should never ever forget it. Here is what Mark Mittelberg shares as a warning from his experience…
“Invariably, when you declare the mission, draw a line in the sand, and make some changes needed to reach more people, a few members will refuse to accept it…”
“I hate to say it as much as I hate to see it, but there are some people who profess to be Christians yet don’t care one whit about people outside of God’s family. They are typically self-centered and think the church revolves around them and exists solely to meet their needs. They probably wouldn’t actually say it, but their attitude projects the message that they want what they want, and everyone else can go to hell-literally. These people need to be confronted for their sinful attitudes and called to repentance (Galatians 6:1). Hopefully they will turn around and begin to embrace God’s heart of love for lost people. If this happens, everybody wins. But if they refuse, you must hold firmly to God’s guidance and their priorities for this Word for your church.”
Situations like this (I know from experience) test us. These moments expose the grit and crud in our hearts too as we are attacked, questioned, slandered, and criticized. This is a time to not lose sight of the mission and remain focused. It is also a time to allow the Holy Spirit the permission to do delicate and sometimes painful grace surgery on our hearts. Here’s the time and opportunity to learn how to truly “turn the other cheek” and love those who would despise you. Here are a couple more points from Mr. Mittelberg on the topic.
“Be advised, though, that if these people leave (your church), they’ll likely do so with a very different perception of reality than you and the other leaders in your church have. Some will be very vocal about what they may describe as you or your pastor’s overbearing leadership, your unbiblical ideas, your compromise with the culture, or-fill in the blank. Some of what they say will probably shock you… Listen to their complaints graciously, but avoid giving an immediate response. Search your heart to see if there’s any grain of truth in what they’re saying, and, if so, address it humbly. Then do your best to gently but firmly confront any errors or misrepresentation in what they are saying-and after that you must move on. Be patient, but don’t get side-tracked. You have to keep your focus on the ministry God has given you.”
“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you…” Jesus (John 20:21)
I knocked down another 45 pages or so of this wonderful book this am. I have determined that I will need to continue reading and rereading this for the remainder of the year…and I’m serious when I say this. I also recognized that highlighting and underlining would be futile as it would just make my copy a jumble of lines, marks and technicolor (in other words – it would all be colored and marked). I’m saying this should be mandatory reading for anyone professing themselves as a follower of Christ. Here’s an excerpt from this morning:
“Honest disciples gulp rather than gargle at the fountain of knowledge. Life is filled with difficult questions. If disciples aren’t as wise as Solomon, they’re at least honest about not having all the answers. As Moses found out on the peaks of Mount Sinai. the closer he journeyed to God, the more he was enveloped in the mist and ‘unknowing.’ As Aaron discovered at the foot of Mount Sinai, the farther people journeyed from God, the more they became certain what God looks like and cast the golden calf.” (Len Sweet)
And this, Len Sweet quotes, from Eric Brown:
“To build a non-going church, you make sure that the bond with Jesus is weak, that every decision is tepid and triple-checked, and dissuade people from taking risks.”
And from Thomas Merton, he cites this quote:
“The mission of the church is to continue Christ’s ministry on earth.”
This sounds a lot like; “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you…” John 20:21
Man, Oh Man…
Just started this one this morning (for those who know me well, you’ll be saying “how many books you got going now, Borden?”). I have something like 6-7 books going all the time, not counting my devotional studies…but that’s the way my brain works. It takes me longer to get through a single book sometimes, but it works for me. Anyway, back to my point. I started So Beautiful this morning by Len Sweet. I got through the first 50 pages or so and my heart is beating so passionately in tune with what I’m reading, I probably won’t put this one down. Actually, what I’m doing is listening to the audio book (available from ChristianAudio.com) while doing my morning cardio-walk; however, there was so much going on in the audio I came home and skimmed through the quotes and highlighted the main points in my hardcopy. This book is going to be gold! I plan to recommend it for reading together with my fellow district pastors as well as introduce it to my fellow clergy in my local ministerium. I would love to quote some of the book as a teaser, but I don’t know that it would be fair at this point. In the introduction alone there are over 80 citations and quotes; Len Sweet is weaving and unpacking (a beautiful paradox) a remarkable story that is the organism of the church. I will be sharing my thoughts over the coming few days and end with a full review, but for now…, I’m so excited about this one I had to share. In the meantime, here’s a sample from the publisher, David C. Cook’s, site.