A familar vacation?

“We are invited to make a pilgrimage – into the heart and life of God…the major problem with the invitation is precisely overfamiliarity…they think they have accepted it – or rejected it, But they have not, The difficulty today is to hear it at all.” (so writes Dallas Willard, Divine Conspiracy, p 11)

I suspect most of us have a day or two or a week or two that we are going to call vacation this summer. I have wondered what to say to encourage us to make vacation more beneficial. I am resisting the temptation to write about not taking our tithes on vacation with us, or to encourage godly play, or to focus on the relationships most important in our lives and for our futures. These are worthwhile exhortations, but only one thing is necessary.

A trip is something we go on and come back from, more or less unchanged. A journey is something we go on and if we return, we are changed. A pilgrimage is more. A pilgrimage seeks a larger space, a larger place outside us. This place is a place of connection, of renewal, of seeking purpose and consolation. A pilgrimage that works is a pilgrimage “into the heart and life of God.” If we are moving deeper into the heart and life of God, things likes money, recreation and relationships will find themselves in the correct position in our lives. So how do we do this?

First, the Bible is where we encounter Christ (John 5:39). I am going to pick the gospel of John to read slowly and thoughtfully while I am on vacation. I am going to write in my journal the things about Christ that I am freshly aware of or reminded of.

Second, I am going to practice solitude, even when my travels take me into a crowd. In the solitude I will speak to God and listen for his voice, easy and gentle (Matthew 11:29). Again, I will record in my journal the fruit of my solitude.

A trip, a journey or a pilgrimage: which will my vacation be?


Adding field to field

In his book Center Church, Tim Keller says that the first of six marks of a missional church is “The church must confront society’s idols.” (p.274)

This week I have been reflecting on some words from the prophet Isaiah:

And he looked for justice but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness but heard cries of distress.

Woe to you who add house to house
and join field to field
till no space is left
and you live alone in the land.
Isaiah 5:7,8

What is the idolatry Isaiah is confronting? Is it a foreign god, an idol of wood or stone? What is the concern that grips the heart of God? Is it true that all of the prophets, even this one, hang on the two commands to Love God and love our neighbor? One of the professors at North Park Theological Seminary has said that we ought to add a new category to our systematic theology: neighborology. This is the arena where Isaiah’s text finds traction. The problem is not so much acquisition itself, it is the acquisition without community, the exclusion of people as we embrace things that is at the heart of this idolatry. He goes on to say:

they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. (verse 12)

As we continue to live life together, how will our community be different because the Church is here in her midst? Will we heed the call to use our stuff to embrace people or will we succumb to the idolatry of materialism and add our implicit voice to the cacophony of voices proclaiming the majesty of accumulation?

Gary Walter, my denomination’s president, has been saying that our aim is to see “more disciples, among more populations, in a more caring and just world.” Effectiveness at that will accelerate our journey to being an expanding, embracing community of love with God Himself at the center.

Both And

Is it better to be a contemplative or missional Christian? Do you walk or take your lunch to school? Some questions just don’t make sense.

“For God alone my soul in silence waits…”
I appreciate this translation of Psalm 62:5. It captures the deep need I have to connect with God, to “dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to enquire in his temple.” (Psalm 27:4) Silent beholding, prayerful enquiry, enthralled by beauty – these are the fruit of contemplation. As someone whose mind doesn’t shut off, specific times of silent, reflective contemplation are challenging to come by. Yet when I do I am grateful for the renewal in energy and connection, peace and love that I enter into.

Additionally, Philemon 6 reads “I pray that you may become active in sharing your faith so that you may have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” Active sharing of my faith opens me to a fuller understanding of my many riches in Christ. What I do for others blesses me! Would your self-interest (in a good sense) make the Chicago intergenerational mission trip from June 16-22 workable?
Being anticipates doing, Doing anticipates being.

Active contemplation, contemplative action: both, and, not either or. May we find fresh focus on these two things in our life together as a committed family of Christ.

What’s next?

In my recent trip to the Congo with Dr. Bill Dunn and the team from Paul Carlson Partnership I was profoundly reminded of the commonality and therefore the communal responsibility we have in this world. It is easy to divide the world into various sets of two kinds of people. The haves and the have nots. The rich and the poor. The healthy and the sick. Hungry and satisfied. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who do not. Yet as I reflect, I find myself drawn to the universal rather than the distinctive. There is a universal longing in our hearts. It is a longing for removal, renewal and reconciliation. Isaiah captures it this way:

¶ On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
¶ On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
¶ The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people
from all the earth.
The LORD has spoken.
Isaiah 25:6-8

We all long for a removal of the things that bring poverty, sickness, death, prejudice and hunger. We all long for a renewal of love that overcomes greed, a faith that overcomes fear, a hope that rises above despair. We all long for a world without death, a future without shame and a joy that vanquishes tears. We all long for a world of people reconciled to their God, themselves and to each other. That world is coming. Hallelujah.

But that world is not here yet. The trip to the Congo taught me in a new way that the humanity we share is more profound than distinctives arising from uncommon ancestry or geography. The same range of brokenness and acts of reckless love are exhibited here and there. But the resources to express such reckless love are not evenly distributed. Material poverty does not mean human inferiority. Nor does material poverty equate to social and spiritual superiority. But the responsibility to each other is real and unsettling. “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 John 3:17) All of us on our trip brought “a little extra” and all of us left the extra behind. The reality that we cannot help everyone did not stop us from helping some.

What is next for us? What local and global expressions of interpersonal and intercultural partnership are we being called to? How do we live into our calling to love recklessly and live prudently and productively? How do we grow the courage to live in faith and love and hope and not in fear? I need your help. We truly can be “better together.”