Friday, July 01, 2011

Surprised By Hope 6

Wright continues to lay out this New Testament hope for the future.  For some this may be elementary, for others boring.  I find it refreshing to affirm (and clarify) concepts that we hear in church circles but never seem to get around to discussing.  It helps me for when I get questions, as a pastor, from folks about such matters.

Here are a couple of key points from chapters 8-10:  (As with any of the points I have summarized in this post or others, I recommend reading the book for the full and best explication of Wright's argument.)

Chapter 8 deals with Jesus' return.  The chapter (and New Testament thought, Wright would argue) is summed up in the following:

"There will come a time, which might indeed come at any time, when, in the great renewal of the world that Easter itself foreshadowed, Jesus himself will be personally present and will be the agent and model of the transformation that will happen to the world and also to believers." p. 136

Chapter 9 deals with judgment.  Now in our culture this has become a taboo word.  We don't like the thought of being judged.  Yet, Wright reminds us that in the Bible, particularly the Psalms, God's judgment is a good thing -- something humanity and creation long for -- indeed a reason to celebrate BECAUSE God is the good and perfect judge, and that perfect judgment will put all things back to rights.

So, as Wright states:  "In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and the weak are given their due is the best news there can be." p.137

Chapter 10 begins dealing with the confusion of Christians and non-Christians alike about what Christians believe about the fate of the dead.    Essentially Wright says that resurrection is indeed bodily, and will take place on earth when Jesus is bodily present once again, and NOT immediately when we die.  Resurrection, he writes, is a way of talking about a new bodily life after whatever state of existence one might enter immediately upon death.  (Please note, Wright is not arguing for the existence of purgatory.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Surprised by Hope 5

Chapter 7 of NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope deals mostly with the idea of “the ascension”:  the event of Jesus going to heaven.  Wright argues if we misunderstand the ascension, then we get into some murky theology.

The part of this chapter that struck me the most are these two sentences:
“What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension?  The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum.  If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst form of triumphalism.”  p. 112

I believe see the affects of ignoring or downplaying the ascension in North American Christianity’s decline, in the United Methodist Church in particular.  For too long, instead viewing the church as a means to God’s ends, we made the church the end in and of itself.  Instead of proclaiming a Risen Jesus, who transforms lives and the entire cosmos, who is Lord over heaven and earth, the church proclaimed an institutional message that forgot who was the Creator and who was the created.

Having a healthy view of the ascension allows us as Wright states, “to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures:  image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.” P. 114

In other words we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth…including the church…including our lives.  Then we seek to live out God’s agenda and not our own.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Surprised by Hope 4

I am thoroughly enjoying NT Wright’s book Surprised by Hope, where he is laying out what resurrection is and what it means for the world and the church.  In this section of the book Wright suggests three ways of seeing the future where  humans find hope:  Evolutionary Optimism, Souls in Transit, and What the World is Waiting For.  I briefly discussed the first two in yesterday’s post

Today I want to look at this third concept, what Wright would call a New Testament image of the future of hope (New Creation/Redemption).  To understand this third way, Wright suggests we need to understand three concepts:

The goodness of creation – “[Creation] is good as creation, not as an independent or self-sufficient ‘nature.’”  Creation is an act of love by the Creator that is designed “to reflect God back to God in worship and to reflect God back into the rest of creation in stewardship. “ (p. 94)  

The nature of evil – Wright denotes evil is rebellion by which we worship that which is created instead of the Creator.  He suggests we tend to lump transience, physical death, and decay into the category of evil.  These he suggests are natural processes that point to what God is doing with creation:  moving the world from its present existence to what it is mean to be.  

The plan of redemption – “Redemption doesn’t mean scrapping what’s there and starting again from a clean slate but rather liberating what has come to be enslaved.” (p. 96)  Because creation is God’s act of love, God has a plan to redeem creation, to put it to rights as Wright is fond of saying. This plan of redemption is not just spiritual, but physical in nature as well.

Wright then goes on to masterfully discuss six beautiful images the New Testament uses to point to this third way of seeing the future, a future that the whole world has been waiting for:  redemption.  They are:  Seedtime and Harvest (1 Corinthians 15); the Victorious Battle; Citizens of Heaven, Colonizing Earth (Philippians 3:20-21); God will be All in All (1 Corinthians 15:28); New Birth (Romans 8:18-25); Marriage of Heaven and Earth (Revelation 21-22).

To sum up this third way, New Creation/Redemption, in Wright’s own words:  “What I am proposing is that the New Testament image of the future hope of the whole cosmos, grounded in the resurrection of Jesus, gives as coherent a picture as we need or could have of the future that is promised to the whole world, a future in which, under the sovereign and wise rule of the creator God, decay and death will be done away with and a new creation born, to which the present one will stand as mother to child.” (p. 107)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Surprised by Hope 3

In the second section of Wright's book on resurrection, he seeks to articulate a Biblical vision for the future.  To do this he describes three options for how people view the future: two I will very briefly sum up below. I will deal with in a separate post post.

Evolutionary Optimism:  this is the Myth of Progress (based on liberal modernism and Darwinian thought.) It believes that humanity is moving, progressing through education, technology, and science “up and to the right”.  This philosophy of thought believes that all the worlds ills can be fixed through progress and humanity will one day arrive at utopia.  Wright points out that this line of thought underestimates the nature and power of evil.  It fails to deal with how to understand or prevent evil, past and present.

Souls In Transit:  This line of thought relies heavily on Plato, that sees the material world as something to be transcended (evil and decay with it) for a more perfect eternal existence that has no material substance.  In other words humanity was created for a spiritual existence and must endure the physical world  to get to the spiritual world.  This line of thought informed the Gnostic sect in early Christianity (as well as certain elements of the Romantic movement in the late 18th & 19th centuries.)   Such a view devalues the material and any kind of physical creation.

As I read this chapter, I could see strains of each line of thought in the culture around me and in my very own thought process.  Think about political discussion (or the lack thereof).  Think about approaches to the environment (both good and bad).  I think about my own love of technology and my tendency to be an early adopter, do I see that as a means to fix the world’s problems?  I also see out culture and world’s difficulty in dealing with the problem of evil.  As a pastor, I get questions all the time about the existence of evil.

I am curious to get to the third option for viewing the future to see how it agrees and differs with the two options above.  Which of the above best describes how you see the future?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Surprised By Hope 2

Resurrection is the central event of the Christian faith.  NT Wright has written a masterful book that explores resurrection and what that means for followers of Jesus.  I have been reading through Wright's book to help bolster my understanding of resurrection.  Below are some "money" quotes from my reading today:

"Jesus of Nazareth ushers in not simply a new religious possibility, not simply a new ethic or a new way of salvation, but a new creation."  p. 67

"Hope, for the Christian, is not wishful thinking or mere blind optimism.  It is a mode of knowing, a mode within which new things are possible, options are not shut down, new creation can happen."  p.72

What strikes me about these quotes and about resurrection are:
1. God is not static, but dynamically working in creation to bring about restorative justice
2. The resurrection of Jesus is the event where we see God conquering the powers of sin and death to usher in the new creation (i.e. the Kingdom of the Heavens) as a reality
3. Hope is a way of living recognizing God's movement and the future possibilities that God has for the creation, including you and me.

Lastly, I believe a robust understanding of the resurrection helps move Christianity from a set of propositional ideas or "truths" to an embodied and incarnate faith that changes the world in participation with the movement of the God of Creation.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What is Resurrection?

If someone asked you to define "resurrection" what would you say? Why is resurrection central to Christianity? I would submit that many would struggle with how to respond to such questions, particuarly in light of our modern beliefs. It seems many modern understandings of resurrection and after-life death sound more like they are from Plato than they are from the New Testament. (i.e. the body is bad and the soul is good, and at death the body and soul are separated forever, the soul going to heaven and the body decaying to nothing.)

A helpul resource I have found in better understanding resurrection is NT Wright's book, Surprised By Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church.

Wright walks the reader through 1st century Jewish and pagan understandings of resurrection to clarify an orthodox Christian perspective on what resurrection is. He then looks at the implications of such an understanding for the future, exploring what heaven is and how we are to understand it (i.e. not just life after death, but life after 'life after death'.) Then in the third part of the book, Wright spells out the implications of resurrection on the mission of the church.

I am only part way through this book, but I have found Wright's book very helpful in articlulating a core component of the Christian faith. I am so thankful for theologians/pastors like Wright and his ability to help clarify the Christian faith and how it is embodied in our everyday lives.

Friday, June 03, 2011

What are you doing with your cognitive surplus?

Author Clay Shirky in his book, Cognitive Surplus, asserts that because of a shift in media being something we merely consume (i.e. broadcast media,magazines, newspapers) to something in which we participate (i.e. Blogs, social media, sharing tools, etc.) we are now able to use our collective free time (as a society or a subgroup of society) to do some pretty cool things. For instance: Ushahidi.

Kind of humbling when I think about what I accomplish (or don't) with my free time. What is the most constructive thing you do with your free time?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tomorrow's Workout - 2011-06-03

Tomorrow's Workout: meet in front of Porter Library. Easy 3 miles. The "bus" leaves at 5:45AM.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Workout 2011-06-01

Tomorrow's Workout: meet in front of Woodlands Pool. 4 mile hill run.  The "bus" leaves at 5:45am.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tomorrow's Workout: 2011-05-30

Tomorrow's Workout: meet in front of Hampton Oaks pool. 3 or 5 mile option. The "bus" leaves at 5:45am. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Workout 2011-05-23

Not available to work out this week. Will resume workouts 5/30. Have a great week!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tomorrow's Workout - 2011-05-20

Meet at Woodlands Pool parking lot. 3 miles: hills and negative splits. Come join the fun. Rain or shine the "bus" leaves at 5:45AM.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interesting Research on The Wisdom of Crowds

I saw this interesting Wired article via Zite. I read James Suriwecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds, several years ago and was fascinated with its premise (that crowds that meet certain criteria are often smarter than individuals in making decisions.)

The end of the article, stating a conclusion from researchers led by mathematician Jan Lorenz and sociologist Heiko Rahut of Switzerland’s ETH Zurich, intrigued me:

“Opinion polls and the mass media largely promote information feedback and therefore trigger convergence of how we judge the facts,” they wrote. The wisdom of crowds is valuable, but used improperly it “creates overconfidence in possibly false beliefs.”

What do you think? How does this impact how we communicate and operate as the church, the community of Jesus?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Workout - 2011-05-18

Tomorrow's Workout: Meet at Porter Library parking lot. ~3 miles, push-ups & sit-ups, too. Rain or shine the "bus" leaves at 5:45AM.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tomorrow's Workout - 2011-05-16

Tomorrow's Workout: Meet at Porter Library parking lot. ~3 miles, push-ups & sit-ups, too. Rain or shine the "bus" leaves at 5:45AM.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Introducing the Shallow Small Group...

Pretty funny caricature of small groups. How does reflect (or not) your own perceptions or experiences of small group community?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Church: Purveyor of religious goods and services or Community of Jesus?

When the church is merely a provider of religious goods and services, we run the risk of making Jesus a consumable "product" to meet our own needs, rather than the life-giving Savior who transforms and reorients our lives.  

In what ways does the 21st century church seem to be merely a provider of religious goods and services?  In what ways does the 21st century church seem to be the community of Jesus?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tomorrow's workout...

Inaugural workout tomorrow AM! Meet @ Hampton Oaks Community Center. Running 3 miles, push-ups and sit-ups after. The "bus" leaves at 5:45AM sharp!

Monday, May 09, 2011

BIG IDEA from the One-Month Experiment

It's been a month since I wrote about committing to four practices. Three of the four were successful:

The one practice that I wasn't successful with was regular exercise.  I want to change that.

So, here's my idea:

For the next two months (from now until the beginning of July) I am going to lead "group" workouts. 
(Note: "group" equals whoever shows up. If no one shows up, then I will run with my good friends "me, myself and I."  Either way, I am meeting my goal of exercising three times a week.)

Here are the details:

WHEN:  Three times a week (M, W, and F) at 5:45AM.  The "workout" begins promptly at 5:45AM, and will not last more than an hour.

WHERE:   I will post the location and distance in three places:  here, Facebook, and Twitter by 8PM of the night before. (You can friend me on FB or follow me on Twitter - bennettvt.) Workouts won't start in the same location twice in a row.  We will meet up at the church, the local library, or one of the neighborhood community building parking lots.   (All start locations will be within 5-8 minutes of the church.)

WHAT:  Workouts won't be the same twice - some days it will just be running, some days we will incorporate other "goodies" into the run. (i.e. push-ups, pull-ups, lunges, sit-ups, etc.) Most days we will do between 3 and 4 miles.  No work out will ever go over 5 miles.

WHO:  Anyone can participate - just be prepared to do the distance. The motivation and accountability of exercising with others can be fun!  If you choose to participate you are responsible for yourself. Your mother will not be there to watch over you. (Unless of course you choose to bring your mother, in that case make sure she's ready to exercise.)

I am curious to see how all this turns out.  I look forward to seeing some of you at 5:45AM on Wednesday.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Never Say Never...

I was talking with a friend yesterday. She was reflecting on an experience in her life where she has experienced significant growth. "Four years ago, I said I would NEVER lead a small group much less participate in one. Now I am leading one and, wow I have grown so much in my ability to be vulnerable in community." Never say never...

That conversation got me thinking about all the times when I said NEVER and what happened. Here are two:

In the fall of 1989, I remember watching the Hawaii IronMan on TV. I remember thinking, I will NEVER do that, its crazy. My "never" was primarily because I didn't think I would be able to do something like that. I mean come on, that's crazy - 140.6 miles, in one day, under your own power. That's insane! I could never do that!

Then in 2001 I met a group of guys at the gym who talked me into signing up for IronMan Florida with them. (Yes, peer pressure works.) I was excited about possibility that I MIGHT be able to do it. Those guys replaced my doubt with hope. I did what I said I would never do on November 9, 2002 in 14 hours and 21 minutes.

In Spring of 2006, after serving as an associate pastor where the senior pastor and I didn't always see eye to eye, I remember saying I would never be an associate again. NEVER... My "never" was based on fear going through the same challenges I previously experienced again.

In Fall of 2008, I had a conversation with my current lead pastor discussing the possibility of being an associate with him. I told him, "No" because of my previous experience. However, I couldn't get the idea out of my head. (The Holy Spirit's "peer pressure".) In January 2009, I called him back to see if the offer was still open. I knew from my conversation with him that this would be a different kind of appointment. (Not mention I had grown and matured quite a bit since my previous experience.) Now I get to serve with a great team, learning lots, and contributing in great ways to the mission of God through the church. This is a completely different experience than my previous experience.

WHAT I HAVE LEARNED...(in addition to the fact that I can be talked into just about anything) I wonder if saying "never" to something is actually just putting up a wall against possibility for fear of failure, hurt, and/or rejection.

What if our "nevers" are a protection against something we really need. For instance, my "never" about the triathlon wasn't about triathlon. It was about the possiblity of pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone and attempt difficult things. My "never" about being an associate was judging all future experiences by past experiences without discernment and nuance. I needed to learn to not pre-script the future, rather to learn lessons from the past to help me be discerning towards the future.

Now, whenever I say "I will never" it gives me pause to see what it is I am really guarding against, and how there may be a growing moment ahead of me.

What are some times when you have said, "I will never..." then some time later you found yourself doing that? What was the impact? How did you grow?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A One-Month Experiment...Update

On my 37th birthday, I decided that for 30 days I would be diligent about doing four practices in my daily life:
Practice 1: Going to bed each night at 10PM and getting up each morning at 5AM
Practice 2: Becoming more regular in my practice of Spiritual disciplines (i.e. prayer, journaling, reflection on the Scriptures, etc.)
Practice 3: Exerciseing 3 times a week to take help maintain good health
Practice 4: Fasting once a week to remind myself that while the physical life is part of who we are, it is not our master.

I chose to tell about this experiment through blogging for two reasons. First, if one share's goals publicly it becomes harder (not impossible, mind you) to rationalize commitment to the goals. Second, because I had a fifth unstated practice - get back to regular writing and usage of social media.

So, dear reader, more for my own accountability than for your reading pleasure, here is how the practices have been going:

Practice 1: I have really enjoyed the challenge of going to bed by 10PMish* and getting up at 5AMish*. (*Note: "ish" is a technical term that means give or take five to ten minutes. Its a real life-saver when telling one's spouse what time one plans to be home from work. "No, I'm not late, I said 5:30ish.") And for the most part I have done pretty well. There have been exceptions to this rule, (trip to emergency room for stitches with a two-year old, guests arriving from out of town, etc.) but they have been for actual life events and not because I was staying up late surfing online for the latest Justin Beiber updates. (And no, I am really not a fan of Justin Beiber.)

Practice 2: Getting up early has made becoming more consistent in practicing the spiritual disciplines much easier. I have been successful at this practice and am thankful for the time to start my day in quiet reflection, prayer and reading. When I start my day out this way, i really notice a difference in my attitude and approach towards others. I don't know who said it, but I believe there is something to the quote: "Before beginning dealing with the affairs of men, it is important to deal with the affairs of God." (my paraphrase)

Practice 3: Umm...well...Yeah I haven't been very successful with this practice. I really need to find a group of people with which to run or sign up for another race to give me a goal. Even with the warmer weather, I have not been able to motivate myself to get out and run. So this practice definitely needs some work.

Practice 4: I continue to find the practice of fasting a helpful discipline. Interestingly enough, each week instead of getting easier, it seems to get more challenging. I find myself more tempted to break the fast early. Now that Lent is over and my Lenten commitment is ended, I have considered not fasting any more. However, since it is still a helpful and challenging practice, I will continue it for the rest of this one-month experiment, and re-evaluate then.

So, that's how the practices are going. I will give a final update on the "one-month experiment" on May 7...ish.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Goal and an Idea...

Earlier today, we had the Sticky Group Summit, where we invited leaders and participants from our Sticky Groups (sermon-based small groups), other small groups, and adult classes to join us for a conversation. In the course of the conversation, I shared with them a personal goal to have 60% of our average worship attendance participating in a group where they are being connected to the Scriptures, to God, and to one another.

My purpose for stating such a goal is not about getting more people to do more stuff. This is about letting Jesus run rampant in our community through transformed lives. I believe that as the church we are about transformation.

I firmly believe that one of the ways we experience transformation is when we gather in community with others to explore the Bible and seek God. This is an important part of intentional spiritual growth.

Now back to the goal for a minute. Right now, 60% of our average worship attendance is about 720 people. Imagine if 720 people from the same community are experiencing transformation. Think about all the people those 720 people touch in their daily lives: their family, friends, and co-workers. Imagine the impact those 720 will have in the world. Its exponential!

Remember, this is not about getting more people to do more stuff. This is about letting Jesus run rampant in our community through transformed lives that begins in Christian community and runs out into the world.This about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

If you live in Stafford, and you are not already a part of an experience where you are connecting with others, the Bible, and God, click here to learn about some upcoming opportunities for transformation!

Friday, April 15, 2011


People often ask me what makes Christianity different from other religions.  This is a fair question.  Today, while preparing for a memorial service, I came across the following excerpt from a sermon I did at a funeral a couple of years ago, which points toward a unique claim of the Christian faith.  Since Easter is right around the corner, I thought it would be appropriate to post.

"You see, the Christian faith makes a particular and unique claim:  Jesus (the Son of God) was crucified, dead and buried.  After three days he was raised from the dead – not through some magic hocus pocus - but through the action of God to show God’s power over death and sin – two parts of life that seem to have so much power in the world, as evidenced by the power of the grief you are feeling right now.

Yet God has more power.  Jesus conquered death and sin so that we, God’s creatures, are not conquered by death and sin.  Jesus’ death releases us from the grips of these two oppressive powers and frees us for new life.  This shows not only God’s amazing power, but it shows God’s amazing grace – God’s amazing love  - that he would conquer those things on our behalf through the sacrifice of Jesus.

And so, by these acts, which are God’s initiative and not ours, we may lay claim to everlasting life – a life that begins here on earth and passes through death into new life at the resurrection. This everlasting life is not marked by fear or sorrow.   This everlasting life is marked by hope and love.  We have hope for the full and everlasting life God promises.  And we grow in love for God, the one who frees us from the power of death and sin.  And this love of God transforms us to go out and love others.

This is our unique and particular claim – that God loves us, and through Jesus saves us from death and sin, which transforms us to a people of hope and love.  And this is a reason to celebrate life  for death does not have the last word!  That belongs to God, because God is about life – everlasting life!

And so my friends, today as we celebrate XXXXX’s life, a life of hope and love – may we rejoice in the everlasting life that is his and ours through Jesus."