After four years with Typepad, I've switched to Wordpress and have a new blog address.
You can now find me at www.jrbriggs.com
Please update your RSS feeds and bookmarks.
After four years with Typepad, I've switched to Wordpress and have a new blog address.
You can now find me at www.jrbriggs.com
Please update your RSS feeds and bookmarks.
Alan Hirsch asked three simple, but fantastic guiding questions for those striving to possess a seven-day-a-week missional mindset. What if we asked these three questions every day?
Imagine if we reflected on these questions every day? Or just once a week?
Spiritual formation, the process of growth to become more Jesus-ish, happens when we resist God less and join God more.
This daily discipline of self-reflection have a potent capability of cultivating a spirit of anticipation, where we expect God to show up and join with him in advancing his kingdom - his rule and reign - by practicing his ways in our everyday lives.
Tim Keller said, "Don't try to build a great church. Instead, try to build a great city, because when you have a great city you will have a great church."
That's what we're striving for with this new faith community called The Renew Community.
Just this week I realized something: I'm so humbled, honored and proud of our Renew launch team and the ways we are intentionally striving to live out the gospel every single day of the week, not just on Sundays. Sure, we're not perfect, but we're growing and its inspiring to see the way they are serving and loving and leading.
We've said over and over again that we're more interested in launching people first, before services. That we want to be known more for our sending capacity than our seating capacity.
And I believe we're catching that.
Our team is striving towards a more holistic understanding of the gospel - individually and corporately.
There's a lot brewing this month that I'm really excited about...
-People are impacting their oikos. Oikos is a Greek word that means "family, household, sphere of influence. We all live in several "neighborhoods" (i.e. geographical, vocational, social, demographic, psychographic, genealogical, etc). We're seeing unofficial connections happening, friendships that are forging and spontaneous activities and relational spaces are emerging. We're attempting to live as missionaries who are 'cleverly disguised' as businessmen and teachers and college students and engineers and stay-at-home moms. The stories emerging from people being intentional in their oikos has been so encouraging and inspiring.
-Our house churches are off to a great start. They're eating meals together, sharing their stories, exploring the Scriptures, adopting a family/school/organization where they are serving on mission at least once a month and throwing parties for their friends and neighbors at least once a month as well. So many fun stories have already emerged from these house churches - I may share some of them some time in the future...
-We're serving at least twice a week at Manna on Main (the main soup kitchen/food bank/financial assistance organization in our community) by cooking/preparing meals and/or serving meals to the under-resourced and marginalized.
-We're serving at the North Penn Boys and Girls Club in their tutoring program, weight lifting program and helping to teach leadership classes. We've helped them with a blood drive last weekend. Others are considering coaching flag football.
-The Lansdale Farmers Market continues to take form and shape. Last summer we went to the borough leaders and asked "Would a farmers market be of help to the community?" They liked the idea and a team has been working very hard with other people from the community to see a farmers market start late spring/early summer in Lansdale. We're very excited about it! The LFM graciously received a grant for $12,000 from the North Penn Community Health Foundation to help us bring fresh fruits and vegetables from local venders to promote a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. The LFM team holds an open to the public meeting once a month. About 50 different North Penn residents have come to one of these meetings to offer their help and their willingness to volunteer. The LFM team is constantly looking for people who would want to help serve to make this happen so if you are interested shoot us an email here.
-Every Tuesday morning a group of guys meetings at Zoto's Diner to eat, hang out and discuss three questions: (1) Where did you see God at work this week? (2) How did you join him this week? (3) How did you resist him this week? They've been great conversations as we strive to pay attention to God and learn to respond appropriately.
-We've been proposing some ideas and initiatives to borough council, the North Penn Regional Council for the Arts and the Lansdale Performing Arts Center for some ways we can help to cultivate the arts in the area. There are many artists who desire to connect with a community of artists and who long to exhibit and express their art in spaces in the commnity. We're attempting to work to see that happen. There is a lot of potential here!
On Saturday February 21 at 10 am we're hosting another Clean up day around downtown Lansdale. We're meeting at Railroad Plaza (next to the train station) to clean up the area around the Kugel Ball, Main Street and the train station as a way of serving the community to make it look clean and nice. This event is open to the public and you are more than welcome to join us!
-On Tuesday night February 24 at 7:30 we're renting out a bar and hosting an evening called Doubt Night to connect with skeptics and create space to air out our doubts, questions and thoughts regarding faith, life, Jesus, God and the Church. Should be fun! We'd love to have you a part of the conversation. Find out more information by scrolling down two posts and seeing the post below called doubt :: night. We've also created a facebook group...join us.
Other things we planning for later this spring...
-We will be hosting a Forum on Homelessness and Suburban Poverty. We will have a diverse panel of experts who work closely with homelessness and suburban poverty in the borough and in the Montgomery and Bucks counties. This will be educational and will intend to help residents in the community to know how we best address the systemic issues of poverty and homelessness in our region. Stay tuned to the website for more information.
-We will be hosting a financial seminar called Strategies for Surviving an Economic Downturn. We know the economy has been difficult for thousands of families in our area. We are bringing in my dad to teach a seminar in late March about practical ways we can work towards a more financially healthy lifestyle (reducing and getting out of debt, creating a budget, etc). We're doing this to bless the community and equip them in this difficult time.
-We will be sponsoring an Invisible Children Film Viewing and Discussion.
-Area-wide prayer walk: Prayer is important. All we do does not start with us. We never start anything new. We're are simply joining God in what he is already doing. We'll be hosting a Saturday morning time this spring to do two things: walk...and pray!
-And, Lord willing, we're looking to hold our first public corporate gathering this spring. (Stay tuned).
Exciting stuff! Again, stay tuned to the Renew site for more information as it becomes available. Oh, by the way: if you live in and around the area we would love for to join us for any and all of these things listed above.
Regardless if we know you (yet) or not. Regardless of your faith background.Regardless if you are currently involved with us at Renew or not. We would love to have you join us for any of these events. If you want to be involved just let us know. Log onto our website or contact us.
Alan Hirsch in his fantastic book The Forgotten Ways asks a great question regarding our mindset with how we approach this concept called church. It's a simple framework, but its been invaluable for me in my conversations with others. He asks:
Is our approach:
the community for me
me for the community & the community for the world?
One approach is driven by consumption. The other is saturated with a mission-laced ethos of sent-ness that must get into our bloodstream as the people of God.
Someone emailed me recently and asked: What books should I be reading to understand the missional church concept? Here are a just few recommendations:
The Missional Church: A Vision for Sending of the Church in North America (Darrell Guder)
The Tangible Kingdom (Hugh Halter and Matt Smay)
The Forgotten Ways (Alan Hirsch)
The Shaping of Things to Come (Hirsch and Frost)
Exiles (Michael Frost)
Organic Church (Neil Cole)
Search and Rescue (Neil Cole)
Transforming Mission (Bosch)
The Mission of God (Christopher J.H. Wright)
The Celtic Way of Evangelism (James Hunter)
Reimagining Church (Frank Viola)
Mission in Christ's Way (Lesslie Newbigin)
The Renew Community is hosting an evening of conversation we're calling doubt :: night and I'm pretty pumped about it.
What is doubt :: night?
It's a laid-back evening of conversation and dialog about questions and doubts.
We firmly believe that we don't have to be afraid of the deep, significant questions of life, but instead we can discuss them openly and courageously.
This event is for anybody- regardless of your faith background or journey - who is willing to share their doubts or questions about life, faith, God, church, Jesus - with others.
We'd love to have you come and air it out with us.
Ever think about small town firehouses and firefighters as missional entities?
If not, we probably should.
They may be the best metaphor for the church's responsibility for missional engagement with the community.
When we lived in our old house I would drive by the firehouse in our town everyday to work - there and back. Here are a few things I noticed:
(1) Everyone trusts a firefighter.
There is intrinsic trust and respect. They are viewed by the community has being there to protect the community. They are a friend of the townspeople. When a problem arises people think of them immediately. They care about the safety of people.
[Q]: How can we as followers of Jesus gain the respect and trust from those in the community?
(2) They train their people.
They undergo hours of required and constant training to help keep their people sharp and informed so that they are prepared to face any emergency.
[Q]: Are we being trained as leaders to be prepared for emergencies - and are we understanding the changes and shifts in culture to be most equipped to be relatable to the culture we are trying to reach?
(3) They train others in the community.
Education is important. Firehouses host classes, teach seminars and post reminders. On the sign out front it would sometimes read March is National Child Safety Month. Come in and we'll show you how to properly install your child's car seat. They are equipping people constantly.
[Q]: How are we equipping people to lead and serve effectively where they live, work and play?
(4) They use their facilities to bless the community.
Firehouses are oftentimes the places where emergency shelters are first established in times of great crisis. Numerous times I would drive by and the marquee would read Middle School Dance Friday Night 8 pm or Bingo Night every Thursday.
[Q]: How are our church facilities being used by a variety of people and organizations and groups throughout the week?
(5) They help towns celebrate.
They know how to throw parties. They host elementary school field trips. They sponsor pancake breakfasts and bingo nights. And fourth of July fireworks shows.
[Q]: The Kingdom of God is described by Jesus as a party. Most churches wouldn't be described that way by outsiders. What parties could we throw? How can we help celebrate with the people in our community?
(6) They are willing to give their lives away for the betterment of other people.
They are always on call - all hours of the night - to provide help when it is needed most.
[Q]: Why isn't the church viewed this way? What would have to happen for us to be viewed this way?
(7) They fight evil rather than run from it.
The thing a firefighter hates more than anything else is fire...and so therefore he or she rushes towards it, not away from it. He/she wants to do everything in his/her power to stamp it out because it knows its power and the destruction it is capable of causing. (Same with a doctor who hates cancer or a social worker who hates domestic violence. They do what they do not because they like cancer or domestic violence but because they hate it and want to eradicate it.)
[Q]: Do our churches have a posture of running away from evil or moving towards it in order to help stamp it out?
I'm sure there are other elements of firehouses and their missional expressions that the church could learn from.
What else would you add to the list?
What are the questions that individuals and faith communities that possess a missional mindset are interested in asking?
This is far from exhaustive, but it probably offers a good sampling.
I am sure there are others and I'd love to hear from you all regarding ones that need to be added to the list.
Here's a start...
-How are we blessing the neighborhood/community?
-How can we help?
-How are we earning the right to be heard, growing to be an ally and an advocate for the community in which we live, work and play?
-Who is in my oikos (Greek word for family, household, social sphere, circle of influence) and how am I being intentional with them?
-How are we listening to the needs of our community? What are the top needs of our community and how can we unleash the various passions, skills and gifts that exist in our faith community in order to meet those needs?
-What are ways we can join God, who is already actively at work in the world today?
-How am I growing to be more like Jesus through my attitudes, thoughts, feelings and actions in the midst of my everyday activities?
-How can I ____________ in the name of Jesus today?
-How are we creating spaces of belonging for those who are not interested in things of God? How am I intentionally inviting people into those spaces to listen, party, hang out, converse and live life?
-How am I learning from the other?
-What is good news to "those people"? (This is a question of understanding context of certain groups and sub-groups, not an 'us/them' dichotomy).
-What is a holistic gospel understanding and how can I flesh that out in my life?
-Where am I spending time? Is it in a location where people who are close to the heart of Jesus hang out?
-How am I developing opportunities to build relationships with people outside the four walls of my church?
-How am I living out the values and the patterns of a Jesus life seven days a week, not just on Sunday?
From time to time publishers send me free books and ask that I read them and then write a review about them. I enjoy this (when I have time) and (hopefully) helps to get the word out with a few titles. (If you're a publisher and are looking for bloggers for your company's blogger book review program email me on the link below my picture. We can talk...)
Here are two books I read this week:
How Can A Good God Let Bad Things Happen? - Mark Tabb
Mark Tabb unabashedly wrestled with the questions.
It was thoughtful, respectful, honest, engaging...even raw.
It didn't shy away from the tough questions - in fact, he invites them. The honesty truly came through in the first-person struggles, sometimes through tragedy and grief, with God and life and how they are to make sense.
I read this one with greater focus and diligence as Renew prepares to host "Doubt Night" later this month, allowing skeptics to air it out regarding doubts and questions about life, God, faith, Jesus and the Church. I'll recommend it at Doubt Night, for sure. The book reminded me a lot of John Ortberg's most recent book "Faith & Doubt."
The author writes with the theological prowess you'd come to expect from a seminary professor...and yet writes in an intriguing, engaging style that you might not come to expect from a seminary professor.
I'm grateful the book answers tough questions, but I am even more grateful that this book is willing to question the tough answers.
Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and the Churches That Reach Them - Ed Stetzer
I'm really loving the thoughts and insights of Ed Stetzer, whether its in book format, his blog or on Twitter. He's somebody that you should start reading and following.
He's a keen missiologist who's done some great research. That research isn't just in surveys and numbers (although there's a lot of that in here) but its translated into the "so what?" for church leaders. He reminds me a lot of George Barna...except Ed writes with hope.
Here are my reflections:
-it's thoroughly researched
-its fair and balanced and provides strengths and cautions for effective ministry.
-this is a gift for leaders trying to understand unchurched twenty- and thirty-somethings.
-Stetzer is fully engaged and connected with the thoughts and feelings of unchurched younger adults, something far too few Christian leaders have been able to do.
-its full of great connections of surveys to stories to rea-life translatable opportunities for church leaders
I'm very grateful to have read both books. They've taught me a great deal. I'd recommend both books for skeptics and dreamers.
What if we read the morning newspaper missionally?
If we did, I think we'd think differently.
Instead of reading the newspaper only to catch up on what's going on in the world what if we read it prayerfully? What if we read it in a way that broke our hearts as we read stories of war and famine and corruption - and it made us long for God's peace and goodness to reign?
What if we had a continual prayerful state of reading - that God would bless our leaders and would give them wisdom as they make significant national and global decisions? What if we prayed for grace to be extended to those who were instigators, initiators and advocates of evil? What if we prayed that God would have good triumph over evil? When we read about stories of retaliation what if we asked God for opportunities to respond with a different way of life?
What if we read the main section of the paper and prayed for each of the countries that made the headlines? What if we thanked God that He is the God if every nation, tribe and tongue?
What if we read the local section of the paper and wondered how we, our families, our friends, our faith communities could respond by comforting those experiencing tragedy or loss or heartache?
What if we read the money section and asked God to show us while "some trust in chariots, some in horses, we trust in the name of the Lord our God"? What if we asked that the god of consumerism would be dethroned through this economic downturn so we can be reminded as a country of what's most important?
What if when we read in the weather section of the paper that a few nights this week will dip below freezing -and it prompted us to pray for the homeless - and we asked God to show us what our role should be with those outside without heat?
I think if we read the newspaper that way we'd be readily available to join God in his work for the day ahead...
Missional has become the overused (and misunderstood) phrase in church leadership these days. (My favorite line was a pastor that confidently started, "Oh, we're missional...our church has a missions department!" Ugh). As Leadership Journal wrote, "Is there a pastor that you know of who is proudly anti-missional?"
Which brings up a set of new questions:
Should we continue to use the word missional or drop it from our vocubulary?
And, if so, is there a better word that can be used in its place?
Last week I was on a teleseminar conference call with Eric Bryant of Mosaic in Los Angeles and Alan Hirsch, missional guru and author of many books including The Forgotten Ways.
Here were a few highlights from the conversation...
Alan mentioned that there is a radical difference between traditional discipleship and missional discipleship.Traditional discipleship is done in the context of a church, usually based around personal morality/personal holiness. But we've missed the other half - that of missional discipleship - where we’re concerned about where we're hanging out and who we are hanging out with, what we’re doing for the poor - where we're concerned about being Jesus out in the world.
He mentioned that oftentimes we put way too much emphasis on personal morality and we’ve not emphasized where we stand. Great line: "What you see depends upon where you stand."
Another marker of missional discipleship is a mindset that says its not just about stopping doing things, its about starting new rhythms as well.
Then he asked this great question: What cultural idols tend to disciple us more than Jesus?
That question deserves about a week of my attention.
Who are the most mission-minded people in America today?
My answer might surprise you.
I believe it's the Mormons.
Think of their strategy.
They start training their people at a young age (high school) with an intense discipleship regimen (daily training every morning before school).
And they give each high school student three things: a backpack, a Bible and a map of their neighborhood.
You may not like the answer, but that's thinking missionally.
Imagine if as followers of Jesus each of us were involved in an intense discipleship training process where we were given a backpack, a Bible and a map of our neighborhoods...and actually used all three of them?
I think you would find many faith communities living on mission.
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with Hugh Halter, author of the fantastic book The Tangible Kingdom. He said something that really stuck with me.
He said part of the job of a missional leader is to create tension.
He said that if consumerism is the predominant force in the church culture today, and consumerism is amissional, then the best thing to do is to remove those things that create consumerism.
If people are consuming good worship maybe what we need to do is take it away for a while.
If people are coming to a service simply to consume good teaching maybe we remove it or change it from its traditional form for a season.
But taking stuff away makes people mad.
It essentially creates tension.
Missional leaders have to learn to appreciate living in a world where they create tension.
The question I should be asking this week: How can I create healthy tension with God's people?
Check out these beautiful photographs if you have a moment.
The presidential inauguration is the big news today.
But this story also needs to be told.
It reminds me of two passages in Scripture.
1. A kingdom parable Jesus told about a banquet.
2. Direct words of Jesus regarding party invitations.
Earl Stafford's story preaches a pretty good sermon...
If you are familiar with the show Penn & Teller you know that Penn is an outspoken atheist.
Check out this fascinating YouTube video of Penn speaking candidly about believers who proselytize. Here's just a snippet of what he says (again, this is coming from an atheist):
Watch the video...its worth five minutes of your time.
Last month I was on an airplane and read the ever-present and intriguing in-flight magazine. I always read those in-flight magazines from cover to cover. Some of my most creative ministry ideas and thoughts come from those in-flight magazines Pastors and leaders: on all your future flights, stop reading that book, wake up from your nap and read that in-flight magazine! There's ministry gold in there if you look for it. (But skip the SkyMall magazine: its the best collection of the most creative - and expensive - insignificant gifts you'll ever find...as Chris Seay says, if you need a Lord of the Rings ring for $399 then you really do need to get a life).
The issue I was reading featured an interview with the very private Jewish actor Liev Schreiber. One quote jumped out at me. He said:
This raises all sorts of questions and implications about the gospel.
What sort of Story do you believe that we find ourselves in?
Am I asking people to tell me their story?
Is the gospel story a good story - truly, 'the good news'?
If not, do I undertand it well enough?
Am I seeking out opportunities for storytelling?
Am I sharing my story?
Am I sharing the Story of God with my life? Is it compelling?
Do I believe the Story of God is hope-filled, compelling enough to help us not just survive, but thrive?
Oftentimes we can approach the Scriptures with fear and trepidation.
It can feel intimidating.
It can feel boring.
It can feel outdated.
It can seem confusing.
Sometimes I feel that way, too.
I hear comments from people - sometimes on a weekly basis - such as, "I've never been to seminary...I'm lost in the Bible" or "I don't even know where to start" or "I just flip open my Bible and start reading, but I don't even know what I am supposed to be doing." With great regularity I hear this significant and foundational question: "How do I study my Bible?"
If you have asked these questions before, you are not alone.
For the past several years I have used five basic questions when I read the Bible.
I forget where I got these questions but they have been valuable tools for studying Scripture.
I think it works for me - and others - because of their simplicity.
These questions can be used by seminarians and scholars, as well as with those confused about the Bible and those who have never studied the Bible before. (A few weeks ago I taught a new believer to use these five questions when he reads his Bible).
They can be asked when reading a few verses or entire chapters.
They can be utilized in personal study times or in a Bible study, house church or faith community.
Consider using these questions as you explore the Scriptures:
I've been thinking a lot about the news lately.
It's been making me wonder: What would Jesus say to...
...contestants on American Idol?
...Osama bin Laden?
...athletes on the Cardinals, Eagles, Steelers and Ravens?
Ever seen people picketing on the street corner holding a sign with something about hell written on it?
I remember a time a few years ago in Colorado Springs when I saw a "Christian" who was picketing, holding a sign that said, Burn in Hell
Sinners as he yelled venomous messages of hatred to passersby on the
street, justifying it by saying that the prophets of old spoke of
destruction and ruin and so should we.
"Aren't we to call people to repentance?" he shot back at me when I had asked him why he was doing this and if he thought it was effective.
"Hell is about repentance!" he said confidently.
This is why the world knows more about what Christianity is against than what it is for.
Ever done a study on the word "hell" in the Scriptures? The past few weeks I've been doing a word study on it.
I'm not sure why I have never done a word study on hell before. Maybe its because I've always believed in the fact that there is a hell - ultimately believing that it is eternal separation from the presence of God Almighty. But I've also been embarrassed by the ways that Christians have abused, misinterpreted and misrepresented hell.
As I was doing this study I had the image of this picketer in my mind's eye.
What I found during this study surprised me.
Here's what I found...
Euphemism for Hell: Sometimes when Jesus taught he used a euphemism for hell, which he
described as a place where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Jesus used that euphemism six times in Matthew (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13;
24:51 and 25:30) and one time in Luke (13:28). Each of those times were
when he was telling stories - and almost entirely when speaking to his
One of the biblical words for hell is gahenna, which refers to the
Hinnom Valley just outside of the city walls in Jerusalem. When I
studied for a semester in Israel I spent many an afternoon running
around barefoot in the lush grass playing Ultimate Frisbee with other
students.It's a beautiful park today, but thousands of years ago it was an awful place. Absolutely awful.
The Hinnom Valley was said to be a place where trash and refuse was
taken outside of the city and where there were fires burning at all
times. It was also at this place where pagans went and sacrificed their
infant children in this valley to the gods, specfically the god Molech
as an act of worship - a detestable place! Shouts and screams and
shrieks would come from this valley, as one would only imagine in
seeing and hearing infants sacrificed and thrown into fire by their own
parents!Historians recorded that wild animals would wander around eating the remains. It was said that these wild animals would gnash their teeth together as they would wander around looking for food.
A place of fire...where there is weeping...and gnashing of teeth. The Valley of (ben) Hinnom. Check out these references to the Hinnom Valley in the Old Testament. When Jesus used the phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" it would have drudged up horrific images in the minds of those Jewish listeners who knew exactly what he was referring to... Jesus intended to make a graphic, detestable point that turned the stomachs of those who were in earshot.
Other words for hell: In addition to the Hinnom Valley or gahenna, there are other words that have been used for hell. One is the Old Testament word sheol (translated in the Revised Version as "lowest pit," "pit" or "grave" and found many times in Genesis, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy and the Psalms). Another word used for hell has been hades.
Explicit mention of hell in the New Testament: Explicitly, hell is mentioned only fourteen times in the Bible [twelve times by Jesus in the gospels - Matthew (7), Mark (3), Luke (2) - and once in both James and 2 Peter].
Here is the context around each of those fourteen references of hell:
Reflections on the explicit mention of hell: Here are some conclusions that can be drawn from the passages I just listed.
-when Jesus spoke about hell he used it mostly to teach and instruct (nine times he used it to teach as a rabbi to his disciples) not to rebuke or call people to repentance.
-he uses it in story format when talking to the religious experts
-He was most emotional around the religious. The only time he talks about hell when ripping on people was with the most religious people in the land - the Pharisees.
And finally - catch this - Jesus never mentions hell to those who are irreligious.
Not once. Yeah, seriously. Look it up.
Not to the women caught in adultery, nor the woman at the well. Not the lepers. Not to Zacchaeus nor the other oppressive tax collectors eating at his house. Not to the man who cut himself, lived in a cave and was demon-possessed. Jesus spoke about hell only around those who are religious; those who thought they had their act together, who were striving to have all of their religious ducks in a row, who dotted their spiritual i's, who carefully minded their moral p's and q's.
Which has some seriously implications for those of us who are attempting to follow in the ways - and The Way - of Jesus and raises many questions regarding how we speak of hell to those who are far from God.
Makes me want to say to the picketing guy on the street who thinks he is doing something that honors God: put your sign away.
All this makes me believe that we might need to rethink our approach to hell.
Do I believe there is a hell?
Do I think we need to be soft on repentance or we need to shy away from it because its politically incorrect?
No, but I do think that we need to understand our context and communicate the message of Jesus that gives a clear and accurate portrayal of who he was - with compassion and truthfulness.
But do I believe that as Christians that we need to rethink our approach to this topic?
A friend sent me this prayer (thx Loren) recently and is worth sharing.