Categories
Christian Living Culture

Radically Local

Photo by Doc Searls via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I don’t drive my car very often.

We are a one car family and I choose to take the trolley to work most days. I’ve learned to love the slowness of riding my bike and taking public transportation.

When I do drive it tends to be with the five of us crammed into our Passat. A fun and usually noisy experience that I’ve learned to adore.

But, the other day was different and found myself in the car alone. And I did something even more rare… I turned on the radio and surfed some channels.

I found a local station that just plays local bands. Their commericals said something like this, “Sure, we could be like everyone else and copycat the LA stations. But we’re local. We’re San Diego. We favor local music over commercial hits.

It was cool. Fresh even. And something deep in me resonated with the knowledge that I was hearing music on the radio you wouldn’t hear on the radio anywhere else.

Radically Local

All of this is a movement towards local. Farmers markets have become popular across the country– a celebration of locally grown foods. Food trucks are all the rage– cooking up local eats in a way that is both local and mobile. Local food chains are a growing market. Local festivals are as strong as ever.

In the past 3-4 years people have grown a taste for all things local. And increasingly people are radically local and radically loyal to locals.

It is a pendulum swing against the rapid nationalization of the past decade. You could get a Chicago style pizza in LA. You could get buttered grits in Seattle. You could get a Krispie Kreme donut at any gas station in North America.

And for a time I think people thought that was novel and cool. But people tired of this trend quickly. It was awesome that in the same restaurant they could chose between a Texas steak, a Pad Thai, or Kansas rub BBQ ribs until they woke up to the realization that while novel, it wasn’t authentic. People began to realize that convenience was coming at the cost of destroying what made their community interesting.

And the pendulum has swung the other way.

People’s preference now shifting towards local. And people are getting radical about local. It starts with food and music. But it won’t stop there.

God’s call to become radically local

I have an assumption that God is smarter than I am. He isn’t surprised by the street I live on or who my neighbors are. I’d like to think that God has you right where He wants you for His purposes. When Jesus was asked what the Greatest Commandment was Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.

We aren’t called to hide from our neighbors. Or pretend they don’t exist. Or justify that since our neighbors are weird or jerks or old or drunks that they aren’t the neighbors we are supposed to love.

That’s radically local. It’s too easy to focus on what we do at church or what we do when we are leading teams or what we do when people notice or even what we do to serve the greater community as “loving our neighbors.

Loving your neighbor is often private, small, and even simple.

Simple, minor, radical local— love.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership

The great hope of the American church is…

Photo by Gary Ericson via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Neighbors loving neighbors.

The funny thing is that if you read enough church leadership blogs or read enough books by big-time church people you start to think that they believe the great hope of the American church is the church organization and its staff.

We know Jesus was a big fan of all things mega, right… (read John 6 to see an example of Jesus’ mega model.)

And we know that he sometimes went to the Temple or local synagogue but he just as often met out in public spaces, in a field, or in homes.

As a member of my faith community I’m reminded of the words of Paul in Romans 12:3-5.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

What about people? Do you know any people?

Healthy organisms are marked by their ability to grow.” – A church leadership mantra.

Apparently they skipped botany and biology. In my garden the goal of a maturing organism is reproduction. If something grows too big, is not pruned, and doesn’t reproduce… I pull it out of the ground and add it to my compost pile. A plant not reproducing is a waste of good soil, space, and time.

Understanding species

See, big churches or small churches or whatever your church species choice/preference is, were never designed to be the solution to reaching people. I’m a fan of churches of all sizes and shapes. But the species of a church was never the point in the Gospels.

The church is a gathering place of worship where we celebrate what God is doing in us and through us. In nature, the health of any organism is measured by its ability to reproduce. I believe the same is true in the church.

The solution is you. Your love for your neighbors is infinitely reproducible. Jesus death tore the veil between priest and citizen. Jesus freed Hope from the descendants of Aaron and gave us each equal access to the King. You have been empowered to reach your neighborhood. And thanks to the hard work of generations of scribes and translators you have, in your possession, the greatest tool you could ever need to reach your neighbors– the Bible.

Jesus could have chosen to spread his message by force. (Some of his disciples really wanted that!) But Jesus knew that hope doesn’t spread by force. Change only happens when the heart is transformed. (Our military has learned that in Iraq and Afghanistan.) [If you want to see the power of a message of hope vs. a message of force, just compare the exploits of David in the Old Testament to the exploits of the apostles in Acts.]

A message of reconciliation to the Father was a message of the heart best transferred neighbor to neighbor. It was never intended to be a come and see message. It was only meant to be a go and do message. It’s not dependent on a top-down leadership structure. Instead, Jesus empowered the people to change the world from the bottom up… from neighbor to neighbor.

Categories
Christian Living Church Leadership Politics

L’agenda

The longer I walk with Jesus the more complicated my life seems to get.

Kids, ministry, job, dreams, bills, skills, personality flaws, responsibilities… the list is endless. Life is complicated. Scary. Confusing. Worrysome.

At the same time, the longer I live the more simple the application of God’s Word gets.

When things seem really complex and over my head I am reminded of how Jesus spoke into the complexities of a “religious life.

One day Jesus was talking with a group of religious people. And, as religious people are known to do, they all carried a specific agendas. They wanted to know if Jesus was on their team. As they sat around testing Jesus on his belief on the issues of the day they were flustered by his ability to respond with Option C on an Option A or B test time and time again.

They were upset with him because he had taken the things that divided people… agendas with teams, financing, factions, and power… and given simple answers with a new agenda.

So they put their heads together and nominated the biggest religious expert in the room to trap Jesus. This question was the 1st Century equivalent of, “If God is a good God, why do bad things happen in the world to good people?”

Here’s the agenda-laden trap:

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:34-40

Baffling simplicity.

L’agenda

Jesus’ agenda for your life is quite simple. As we see above, all of a God-pleasing life flows from those two bullet points:

  1. Love God with everything.
  2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

A popular phrase in Evangelical circles, full of agenda, has repackaged Jesus’ words and simplified it too far by saying we are called to “Love God, Love People.” But I think Jesus is smarter than they are. And his agenda rings clear enough for me.

Jesus’ agenda for my life is to love him with everything I’ve got. (From my skills, to my personality, to my family, to my vocation… everything) And the action of that agenda is to love my neighbors as myself. (You know, the people I live near, see in my daily life. Neighbors implies really close to me, and is specific to a group of people I’m to have regular casual contact with. It’s the people on my block, not the people in the pews or in my youth group.)

All of God’s word is to be applied through that lens. Jesus sets the agenda.

When I study Scripture I’m left to ask myself, “How is God calling me to love him?” and “How can I love my neighbors as myself because of this teaching?

It’s personal and communal– but not religious

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a deep love for the church. In the same passage of Matthew 22 and other places in the Gospels, Jesus refers to his relationship with the church as his bride. To disrespect the church is de facto disrespecting Jesus. (If you said you loved me but disrespected my wife… I’d punch you in the face. What kind of husband wouldn’t?)

I’d prefer not to get punched by Jesus for disrespecting his bride.

At the same time, I wonder if many churches have made the agenda about them? There’s nothing more annoying than a selfish bride. Sure, there is love there… but there are a lot of strings attached to that love.

Other churches are defined by their size… hardly a respectful description for a bride. We’d politely say things like, “She must be a good cook.” Right?

Other Christians are defined by the political bedfellows they keep. Their agenda is confused with the issues of the day. Their leaders espouse vocal support of things like a right to own a gun while all the world desperately needs of them is to embrace their right to love their neighbor.

Still others are defined by their application of Revelation 2-3. They look at Jesus’ proclamations of judgement and they say… “Wait a minute. Jesus isn’t judging First Baptist of San Diego any different that he is judging San Diego Church of the Nazarene or even the Diocese of San Diego… Jesus loves and judges us by where we live in community, not where we individually gather to worship.” And those churches are defined by the agenda of neighbors loving neighbors, churches loving churches, and sharing in the great love of their Savior in the L’agenda.

My prayer today for the bride of Christ is that we would be a people defined by our world-changing L’agenda for our neighbors and not the trappings of a religious life.