The Myth of Belonging

sheep-belonging-to-tenant I’m a fan of REVEAL, the initiative started by Willow Creek.  I think there findings concerning the reality of spiritual growth in the church are significant, and point to an issue that I have been harping preaching about for years.

The sources of the problem are largely the result of the descent of managerialism on the church. However, that is an issue for another post.

One of the five “key findings” of REVEAL is that there is not necessarily a correlation between commitment and church attendance, or community. This is what REVEAL reports:

We found that those who were the most active in the church did not necessarily report higher levels of spiritual attitudes (“love for God and others”) and spiritual behaviors (evangelism, tithing, etc.) than those who were less active.
This led us to discovering a Spiritual Continuum centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ, which was much more predictive of spiritual growth (Chart 3).



What I find interesting is that I missed the conversation going on in other quarters. I have a book I purchased a few years ago, long before REVEAL hit the stands, written by Joseph R. Myers, The Search to Belong.

In a chapter entitled “the myths of belonging (p9),” Myer writes:

More commitment = more belonging. People often believe that there is a significant relationship between commitment and community. That is, however, a romantic view. When we search to belong, we aren’t really looking for commitment. We simply want to connect (p12).

I’m not saying that Willow Creek borrowed the idea, quite the contrary. When an organization as large as Willow Creek  picks up on an issue that has been surfacing throughout the church,to say we are sensing a moving of the Spirit is a bit of an understatement.

This sentiment is found in Rick Richardson’s writings, such as Evangelism Outside the Box, and in the the halls of the emerging church.

So, what’s next? That is the question that faces my colleagues and I in France. I’ll get back to you.


Snakeskin Boots

vogon-lg My friend Marcus is his own brand of Renaissance Man. One of his many talents is his turn of a phrase to compose some very interesting poetry. His work ranges from some that are very good to some that are akin to Vogon poetry.

But on a more serious note, Brother Marcus sent us his latest work, which I think is worth a look. Here it is:

De-cursed, Rehearsed, Well-Versed : Snakeskin Boots

I’ve had some thoughts about this snake
who came and stole our birthday cake;
he spoke the truth, Eve did assume,
he came in light and left in doom.

He seemed so lovely, wholesome, pure,
but was a fake, that is for sure;
by God’s command he bit the dust,
to crawl, not walk: this is a must.

Inherited by all who come:
a conscience broke and mostly numb;
a spirit dimmed with shadowed sight,
the truth forlorn midst shadowed night.

God cursed that snake, it was to be,
still cursed through all eternity;
a lake of fire: it waits ahead,
for snake of sin amidst the dead.

But Christ became a curse for me
by hanging there upon that tree;
I stare, I gaze with wonder filled,
this spirit soars, my heart is thrilled.

For cursed no more: that is my state,
redeemed and sealed: this is my fate;

the lamb was slain, the snake was stomped,
we praise the King’s deliverance prompt.

O join with those whose snake is gone,
in praise of heart, yea praise in song;
for boots of snakeskin we will wear,
upon those streets with golden glare.

MWA; June 2, 2008

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Psalm 107

praise In the process of doing my preparatory study for a sermon on Psalm 107, I discovered a structure that runs throughout the entire Psalm.

It looks like this:

Psalm 107


Cry to God

God’s Response

Summons to Give Thanks for Hesed


I. Deliverance

4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.


6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.

8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

9 For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.


II. Freeing the Prisoner

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.


13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.

15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

16 For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.


III. Healing and Forgiveness

17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.

19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.

21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!


IV. Salvation from the Storm

23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.

28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

29 He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.

31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!

32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.


I find the structure interesting. What I plan to do is explore the structure at two levels. The first level is the original setting. Most commentaries see this as post-exilic, which it could be, but that could also reflect the presuppositions of the commentator.  I seems, at first blush, that it is a reflection of God’s interaction with his people, from the Exodus to the Exile.

The second level I would explore is the significance of this structure. Is it meant to be a reminder and a call for people to thank God with praise and thanks giving? A reminder for people to call out to God for help, and then to acknowledge his help? Or is it just a formula, similar to the cycles in Judges, to recount God faithfulness, based on his covenant love?

Anyone have any ideas?

I’ll let you know what I come up with.

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China Earthquake, 2008

23202568 I have been looking at some of the most incredible scenes of the earthquake that recently struck China.  I find the destruction incredulous, hard to believe, and the loss of life is mind numbing.

My friend Jeff is in Chengdu with an team people, one of the areas hardest hit my the quake. His wife said in an email:

“Jeff called this morning from Chengdu. His team had gone back into the city for the night. He said he was most worried last night, as they were sleeping in a 7- story building in Chengdu. He said he feels better outside under the sky!! He sounded exhausted and said he was beat. They were going back up to the quake zone this morning, Monday morning. His team is registered with the Red Cross and he said they are mostly treating minor injuries and giving tetanus shots. The majorly injured people have made it to refugee camps where medical help is available there. Jeff said all the buildings are gone up there. It is reduced to rubble everywhere!!”

Keep these workers in mind in your prayers and meditations.

sc2 For all the hurt and pain and anguish, certain scenes stirred me to my soul as I watched.  One clip shows the spontaneous outbreak of joy and happiness as rescue workers pull a survivor from the wreckage (go to link).

If you haven’t seen the pictures and such, both the BBC and the New York Times has some great stuff on their web sites.

The BBC has clips, and the New York Times has photo galleries.

Image Credits: Screen captures from clips found at

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50 Possible Reasons Why You’re Not Emergent

image  Great Post.

Of course, this is humor, but it is still good stuff.

On another note, my thinking on emerging church is in flux.  I can see a lot of reasons why it isn’t a good alternative to the usual modernist, mainstream vanilla flavor church we have today, but unfortunately it is often the best alternative that we have.

But once in a while there is some good thinking that is going, so I am not ready to jump ship.

For another, more serious take on the idea of missional, take a look here,

And for the big guns, I think this list from the Dream Awakener blog has the names of theologians to draw on for a dialectical conversation to help shape our Ecclesiology.

A Missional PerspectiveFinally, here is an interesting diagram, part of a missional synchroblog. There are other posts from other bloggers on the topic of being missional, scroll down.




Seeking Justice – Take Two

mediationI’ve had some trajectories that I’ve been working on cross paths since the previous post. A reading of a chapter 15 in Scot McKnight’s book The Jesus Creed, entitled  A Society for Justice (p143ff), provided some insight and dissonance. 

The first trajectory is that we aren’t looking just for justice, we should be looking for Kingdom Justice. I began to realize this when I started reading what McKnight had to say in this chapter, which parallels and tracks many of the conclusions I arrived at.

He starts by saying that

Justice is a faded entry on a dog-eared page of our society’s lexicon (p145).

This means that most justice is self-centered and self-serving. We cry out at some injustice that happens to us, or something that stirs our self-interest, and we want to reap our share of rewards as recompense for it. Justice is about recompense, getting our pound of flesh, and so on.

A quote from The Jesus Creed is apropos here:

"I think we grab the whole business of justice by the wrong end of the stick," he says. "Currently we ask who did it and how we can punish them. But it makes more sense to ask who was hurt and how we can restore them…." (p149)

Kingdom justice is interested in restoration of the other and society to a relationship with God, not to satisfy some overweening sense justice that I might have.

The second trajectory is that most of the references to justice in scripture is restorative. Justice for the sake of punishing the wrong-doer is minimal, if it exists as all.  Let me explain the difference.

Retributive Justice

Retributive Justice is a matter of giving people their just desserts.

  • In cases of wrongdoing, someone has lost certain benefits, while someone who does not deserve those benefits has gained them.
  • Punishment will set this imbalance straight.

What Is Retributive Justice?

Retributive justice maintains that proportionate punishment is a morally acceptable response to crime, regardless of whether the punishment causes any tangible benefits. Central to retributive justice are the notions of merit and dessert. People who work hard deserve the fruits of their labor, while those who break the rules deserve to be punished. People deserve to be treated in the same way that they voluntarily choose to treat others.

Immanuel Kant discussed the idea. People enjoy the benefits of a rule of law. According to the principle of fair play, the loyal citizen must do his part in this system of reciprocal restraint. An individual who seeks the benefits of living under the rule of law without being willing to make the necessary sacrifices of self-restraint has helped himself to unfair advantages, and the state needs to prevent this to preserve the rule of law.

In some cases someone who merits certain benefits has lost them, while someone who does not deserve those benefits has gained them. Punishment "removes the undeserved benefit by imposing a penalty that in some sense "balances the harm inflicted by the offense." It is imposed as a debt that the wrongdoer owes his fellow citizens.

Retributive justice is in this way backward-looking. Punishment is warranted as a response to a past event of injustice or wrongdoing. It acts to reinforce rules that have been broken and balance the scales of justice.

This concept of justice seeks to regain an equality that the injustice overturned. Some think that it is  most simply summed up in the principle of revenge ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth’.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. Matthew 5:38-39 (ESV)

But for some, there is a short slide from retribution to revenge. Vengeance is a matter of retaliation, of getting even with those who have hurt us. Like retribution, revenge is a response to wrongs committed against innocent victims and reflects the proportionality of the scales of justice. But revenge focuses on the personal hurt involved and typically involves anger, hatred, bitterness, and resentment.

Deuteronomy 19:17-21 is the passage that Jesus refers to in his teaching above. The problem is that this is often seen as the standard to guide justice, when the best understanding is that this is the minimal level of justice that God desires.

This is similar to the discussion about building codes in the United States. When someone says that a project is up to code, what they are actually saying is that the project meets the minimum level of safety standards. So, this passage serves to limit retaliation, and is not necessarily meant to deal with the standard by which society is to aspire to justice. 

On the other hand, I believe that most of scripture is about restorative justice.

Restorative Justice

  • Restorative justice is concerned with healing victims’ wounds, restoring offenders to law-abiding lives, and repairing harm done to interpersonal relationships and the community.
  • It seeks to involve all stakeholders and provide opportunities for those most affected by the crime to be directly involved and to respond to the harm caused.

In a restorative justice process, victims take an active role in what takes place, as well as defining the responsibilities and obligations of offenders. Offenders also participate in this exchange, to understand the harm they have caused to victims, making efforts to set things right, to make amends for their violations, by committing to certain obligations, that may come in the form of reparations, restitution, or community work, and to take active responsibility for it.

This means while fulfilling these obligations may be painful, the goal is not revenge, but restoration of healthy relationships between individuals, and in the communities that have been most affected by the crime.

An example of this is the reconciliation process in South Africa.

For Kingdom justice, the essence of this consists in God’s love for humankind, such that he came to humanity in the person of Jesus (i.e., the incarnation). Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God demonstrated his merciful and suffering love in response to our wrongdoing, thus making forgiveness and restoration fundamental to how we should respond to human wrongdoing. The background to this understanding of Jesus is in the Hebrew concept of shalom (understood sometimes as the word for salvation, justice, and peace"), and in the ethical and messianic insights of the Hebrew prophets.

McKnight gives two examples of inaugural addresses that focus on Jesus’ concept of justice. The first is Luke 4,


18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:18-19 (ESV)

and the second is Matthew 5.

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Matthew 5:3-5 (ESV)

In Luke 4, Jesus gives his inaugural address, which has a focus on restorative justice, i.e., Jesus sees his mission as restoring the poor, the prisoner, the blind and the oppressed to community with God and others.

Matthew 5 continues along the same theme where he shows that God’s intent is to restore everyone to a relationship with him and with others.

The poor Theirs is the Kingdom
The hungry They will be satisfied
Those who weep They will laugh
Those who are hated, excluded, are insulted, rejected because of Christ Great is their reward in heaven

As McKnight says, "Jesus is concerned with restoring humans so that things are just plain right. (p147)."

At the end of his earthly life, Jesus shows that justice is not retributive, but restorative. Judgment is part of the process of restoring people to God’s kingdom so that they can enjoy a relationship with him and others. But the judgment process is not what we expect:

35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:35-40 (ESV)

The basis of judgment is not whether or not we prayed the right prayer or believed the right thing (see the discussion in McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy, p45-49), but how the followers of Christ have lived out the mission and commands of Christ in their lives.

Next time, what is the goal of justice? 

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