Sunday, August 2, 2009

missional sanctification


As the stories of our lives intersect, there are transformations that take place. This is a story of transformation, but not in the way that you might suspect.

The word “missional” gets kicked around a lot these days. Mostly it becomes a covert word for evangelism through social justice, altruism, or servanthood. Missional is rarely talked about as sanctification or incarnation or discipleship. But I suggest that missional living has two primary impact points. One is the effect that God has on the world through his people, and the second is the impact these moments have on God’s people when they are with God in his missions to the world. We want to be a church people that are moving into the world in such a way as to bless it, love it, rescue it, and transform it.

At 5 stones community church we are just exploring what it means to be missional. We have formed a leadership team to do this; reallocated a lot of our budget in this direction; and begun to search the scriptures to see how we can join God in his ongoing mission to the world.

Enter a phone call. On the other end of this phone call is a man who has lost his job, has no place to live, and a wife that is overwhelmed. There are drugs, alcohol abuse, and a huge warehouse of negative history for a couple that have lived most of their lives outside of Gods will and ways.

The phone is picked up and a church responds to this story with as many resources as can be found and bought. Rent on a new house is paid, furniture and clothes found, appliances purchased. And two people who know God enter into the lives of two who do not.

At first this story heads in the romantic direction we all so wish it would. The couple attends church services, begins to make friends there, and tries to kick the bad habits that they know have been destroying and enslaving their lives. Christ seems to be pressing into them with his transformational love, and they seem to be responding.

But then there is a fight, the loss of another job, and another night of binge drinking. Followed by promises of repentance and reform.

And those that have been investing in them don’t know what to do. They pray, they call, they visit…but the more they reach out the more it seems like this couple is slipping through their fingers. Finally after weeks of unreturned phone calls one of them visits church, and tells of the affair-the drugs-and the divorce papers being filed.

And this is where the heartbreak of being missional begins. At the juncture where romantic ideas about spirituality crumble and we are faced with the stinging truth that peoples lives are never clichés. Here is the fork in the road for Gods people, and here is the place of deep sanctification. For in this place we must be transformed the most deeply or we will exit the mission of God.

First of all we must stop trying to figure out who is to blame. When things go awry from our expectations we usually look for a source to assign guilt to. Sometimes we stand like a prophet on the wall and blame God; sometimes we blame those we are reaching out to; and often we blame ourselves. But if we stop blaming and start really feeling we can be transformed. Because if we would be missional and Christlike we must be called into his heartbreak for the world. To allow the worlds rebellion and lostness to shatter our hearts as Gods heart has been shattered. To sit with Jesus and watch the rich young ruler walk away, and to weep over a Jerusalem that will not come home. And when we let this heartbreak form in us, and we take it to our heartbroken God he can then fill us with his compassion, long-suffering, and faithfulness. Missional heartbreak opens the door for our hearts to be ravaged and transformed into the very heart of God.

Secondly we must become resilient. Jesus warns us that we will be battered, rejected, imprisoned, etc. and yet we often act emotionally surprised when these things actually happen. We say things like “I’m just not called to this; it’s too hard; or I guess this doesn’t work.” If we aren’t wise we will quickly stuff our pain and frustration into a simplistic and convenient excuse jar and reference it every time we feel called to again engage in the rescue of a dangerous world. But Jesus experienced the same thing. In some places he was rejected, in others no faith meant no miracles could be performed, and at other times his own disciples didn’t understand what he was saying. But Jesus always saw the “joy set before him” and understood the magnitude of the mission. The event or relationship before us is microscopic not macroscopic. We must like Jesus set our eyes on the prize not the person in front of us. Missional living is not an experiment it is a mandate; it is not a moment it is a lifestyle; and it is not about momentum but about obedience. We must learn to be a tougher and more resilient people, a people of tenacity and training. We must learn to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Jesus as he leads us.

Third, and lastly, we must grow our interior world so that from it we can have the energy and resources for the mission before us. The immature disciple is still looking for some external event that will provide the motivation and momentum necessary to live the Christian life. They read books, attend worship events, and plug themselves into as many things as they can to acquire passion, focus, or intentionality. But the missional person must ultimately be a mystic. Because the world they are called to minister to is so dark and twisted they dare not find their courage and resolve in what happens “out there.” They must instead be focused on what happens “in here” and work their life…words…actions…thoughts…feelings…etc out from a deep and vitally vibrant relationship with God. In particular the God who has indwelt us with His Spirit. The missional community and a missional people are not naïve nor are they negligent. They have a high view of God and find pleasure in serving Him by serving others. They engage the world anticipating it might change, but are more expectant about the fact that they themselves will change. And it is in this fact that they take refuge and find rest, because he who is within them is greater than anything that is outside them. A person and a people that are spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually mature on the inside can face anything. This is what we had when we lived in the age of the martyrs and it is to this way of existing that we must return.

So is this a happy story? Does this have a happy ending? That my friends, depends on you. If heartbreak, tenacity, and mysticism are things to be avoided than this is a gloomy fable of tragedy. But if the experience of formational empathy, the discipline of resilience, and the call to a contemplative life are to be embraced then this is a narrative of epic adventure.

As Christendom dies in America the people of God will have to be transformed. Our lives, our morality, our politics, our church services have become so much rust and dust to the world around us. But from these ashes we are finding the true embers that lie beneath the rubble. The everlasting echoes from eternity that calls us into Gods deep and transformational love. And when we traverse into this love and are saturated with it, we are then unleashed by God to lavish the world with this love. And love is the backbone of the missional movement. God’s love residing in us being given freely to the world. This is revolutionary. And while Christendom may or may not ever be rebuilt in America, our goal is not to try and force this to happen. Our goals are simpler. To be a person of revolutionary love, amidst a people of revolutionary love, serving a world that is lost without love.

And the story I told you of is not over. The biography of those lives are still being written. Redemption is still within reach and restoration may yet happen. And our faithfulness and obedience have something yet to say on the chapters that have yet to be written. But for the two at our church who have embraced this call, their biographies have been forever changed. And the spiritual formation in them has been profound and painful. But I believe they would smile at you from a deep-deep place of intimacy with God, and they say “join us.”



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