You Do Not Need to Go to Seminary to Follow Jesus

Today’s post comes from Jon Stevens who together with his wife Elaine runs The Open Gate Farm on Camano Island an hour north of Seattle.  Jon says: A little bridge brings friends, family, and customers to our farmgate produce stand where crisp lettuce, crunchy radishes, and beautiful beets share space with bread and cinnamon rolls and colorful plants.  We have lived here 10 years, and are entering our 6th year with the produce stand.  All of our activities are rooted in, are centered around, and are driven by our family mission statement, “To live so that others may know the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
It comes as a jolt to some folks, but it is true.  You do not need to go to seminary to follow Jesus, to draw close to Him.  If you can read, or know someone who can, you can do it.  It starts with reading the Book, the big one.  Then just do what it says.
It’s that simple.  Really.  Just do what it says in the Bible, remembering that the New Testament trumps the old if there is any conflict.  Of course, you have to take it at face value.  That is, after all, how Jesus takes you.  He does not “contextualize” you. He doesn’t form a committee to consider you, or gather some friends together to talk about you.  He just takes you.  So likewise, we should “take” Him.  Read the Bible and take Him by doing what it tells you to.
And therein is the jolt.  The more seminary training, the bigger the jolt.  And if you want a lesson in ducking and dodging, in denial and doubting, get someone with a Phd in religion and ask them why we can’t take the Bible at face value.  You’ll see a lot of fancy footwork, but they won’t be dancing with Jesus.  You’ll see them dancing with doubt.
I’m not sure we can draw close to Jesus.  I’m thinking since He is the one who chooses us, He’s the one who does the drawing close.  Sends His Holy Spirit ahead to clear out our cobwebs and check our shoe size, then He shows up with the band and refreshments and when the music starts, asks us to dance with Him.
When we do finally shuck off our shyness, we step out on the perfect floor and so long as our eyes are on Him, we don’t feel like fools, and we begin the dance.  And you know, it goes on and on and we never get tired and our feet never hurt.  Not until we take our eyes off Him so we can get a diploma that says we know lots about religion.  Then suddenly the shoes start to shrink and we meet real pain.
But when we listen closely to the song in the Bible, the love song of the New Testament, we can always step out again and He’ll be waiting for us on His dance floor.  The band will strike up and we can once more celebrate the real.  For none of this around us now is real, you know.  Only what is around Him is real.  At least, that’s what I read in the Bible.
And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
May you start reading the Bible soon, and discover yourself dancing with Him.

From Anywhere to Everywhere – The Future of Missions is Global

The January 2011 MSA Seed Sampler is out.

The future of missions is global! Not global in the sense of the old bastions of Christian power and missionary efforts from the Western Church, but rather global in the sense that it is now “from anywhere, to everywhere”. In 2010 the Seed Sampler explored several global trends providing the church with “New Challenges and New Opportunities 2010-2020”. All of these global trends impact the future of missions. Whether we’re talking about global power and economic shifts from the North and West to the South and East, the ever-growing global youth culture, turbulent economic times and issues swirling around food and water security and an environment in crisis, or ethnic shifts to a new majority future which, in turn, propels us deeper into issues of pluralism and multiculturalism, there is one clear fact: the mission of God through the church cannot go on as if nothing has changed.

In this edition we look at just a few of these areas and what they mean for missions into the future.

Andy Wade
Seed Sampler editor

January Articles

Poem | Neon Nights – Andy Wade
Reflection| We Have Come, We Have Seen, Now We Must Follow – Christine Sine
Lead Seed | The Changing Paradigm of Missions – Eldon Porter
Seed Share | Still Waiting – Global Disciples
Seed Share | Globalization: The Challenge – Os Guinness
Seed Share | Media’s Influence – Joseph Vijayam
Resources | Resources


A New Year’s prayer to welcome 2011

i am sitting at home on a beautiful frosty winter’s morning looking out at the snow covered, sun drenched mountains.  it is already New year’s day in Australia and my thoughts and prayers are still with my family in Sydney.  However I am also ready to welcome in this new year with a sense of God’s eternal presence and thought that I would share yet another prayer with you that came to me while we were travelling

God is the eternal rock

From year’s beginning to its end

God is faithful

In each day God is present

In each action God comes close

Through all eternity

God is trustworthy

Yesterday, today and forever

Sustaining, enlivening, making all things new

God is the eternal rock



God have mercy

Over the last couple of months we have been using David Adam’s The Rhythm of Life for our morning and evening prayers.  As we read the refrain Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy a couple of days ago I was suddenly overwhelmed by the impact of my awareness of God’s incredible mercy and found myself crying out to God for mercy.  There are so many different aspects of God through which I am aware of that mercy.  As a result I wrote this prayer for us to use yesterday morning in our MSA team meeting.

God the source of life

Have mercy on us

God the sustainer of life

God the lover of life

Grant us peace

Christ the redeemer of life

Have mercy on us

Christ the revealer of life

Have mercy on us

Christ the way the truth and the life

Grant us peace

Spirit the indwelling life

Have mercy on us

Spirit the healer of life

Have mercy on us

Spirit the transformer of life

Grant us peace

Big Tent Synchroblog

Last week I contributed to the synchroblog for Big Tent Christianity a conference coming up in Raleigh NC September 8,9.  There are a fascinating series of articles going up here that i would heartily recommend to you

Big Tent Christianity Synchrobloggers
(in alphabetical order)

David Adams, “Big Tent Christianity”

David Adams, “What is That to You?”

Shawn Andrews, “Fruitful”

Kathy Baldock, “Synchroblog for Big Tent Christianity”

Greg Bolt, “Big Tent Christianity – Part 1″

Heidi Bolt, “Big Tent Christianity”

Joe Carson, “Big Tent Christianity and ‘ground level truth’”

Joe Carson, “‘Big Tent Theologian’ wanted to develop theology/praxis for Christian engineers, please state your terms”

Julie Clawson, “Big Tent Christianity – A Place Without Fear”

Philip Clayton, “Is Big Tent Wimpy or Radical?”

Matt Cleaver, “Big Tent Christianity in Big Time Denominations”

Bob Cornwall, “Coming Under the Big Tent!”

Bob Cornwall, “Living Under the Big Tent – Christianity That Is!”

Bob Cornwall, “What’s New about the Big Tent?”

Roy Donkin, “Big Tent Christianity”

Ryan Dueck, “Big Tent Christianity”

Jan Edmiston, “Big Tent Christianity: Wikichurch”

Mark Eikost, “Peace”

George Elerick, “Monkeys with Vertigo: The BTC Event”

Kathy Escobar, “recovery under the big tent”

Rachel Held Evans, “Small Town, Big Tent”

Scott Frederickson, “‘Big Tent Christianity’ and Prairie Table”

Henry Friesen, “Big Tent Christianity”

Tripp Fuller, “Kierkegaard on ‘What big tent Christianity is NOT’”

Matt Gallion, “Big Table Christianity”

Andrew Hackman, “Big Tent Christianity and The Sneetches”

David Henson, “The Samaritan in the Big Tent”

Chad Holtz, “Big Tents, small gods and Knotted Brides”

Corey Howard, “Big Tent Christianity”

Ken Howard, “Coming Together to Build a Bigger Tent”

Tony Hunt, “For and Against Big Tents”

Ira, “The Church’s One Foundation”

Tony Jones, “A Plea for Big Tent Christianity: Don’t Suck”

Matt Kelley, “Big Tent Christianity: Easy to Say, Hard to Do”

John R. King, Jr., “Our Common Faith!”

Amanda MacInnis, “Big Tent Christianity”

James F. McGrath, “Thank God My Opponents Are Pharisees!”

Brian McLaren, “Big Tent Christianity Synchroblog”

Tim Meier, “Assumptions”

Hannah Middlebrook, “Engage”

Bert Montgomery, “Going Inside the Big Tent with Charlie Manson”

Josh Morgan, “Big Tent Christianity”

Josh Mueller, “Dreams of a Big Tent Christianity”

Patrick Oden, “Sketching a Big Tent Christianity”

Thomas Jay Oord, “A catholic Spirit for a Big Tent”

Joe Paparone, “Big Tent Christianity – Synchroblog”

Lesley Paparone, “Being The Church”

Matt Ritchie, “The Case for Progressive Christians”

Dyfed Wyn Roberts, “Big Tent Christianity in Wales”

Daniel Rose, “Big Tent Christianity 1″

Daniel Rose, “Big Tent or Single Issue?”

Daniel Rose, “Scattered, Gathered, and Beautiful”

Daniel Rose, “Unity, Liberty, and Charity”

Ellen Ross, “Big Tent Christianity, Part One: What Faith Is Not”

Bo Sanders, “An Everyday Theology”

Christie Sanders, “Hope”

Christine Sine, “Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now”

Anthony Smith, “Hopes for Big Tent Christianity”

Arthur Stewart, “A Tale of Two Tents”

Alan Ward, “Coming Together Under a ‘Big Tent’”

Nathan Wheeler, “Wishful Thinking”

Randy Woodley, “Honest Hatred Under The Big Tent”

John Worst, “Hospitality”

Karissa Worst, “Racism”

Big Tent Christianity – Living the Gospel Now

Big Tent Christianity is hosting a synchroblog this week in conjunction with their conference in Raleigh NC in September.  The theme is What does “big tent Christianity” mean to you? What does it look like in your context? What are your hopes and dreams for the Church?

The question has revolved in my mind for several days now.  What are my hopes and dreams for the church?  Some of them I know seem rather idealistic.  I would love to see a unified church that is working towards the wholeness and completion of God’s new world.  But there are other hopes that should be within our reach.  My hope is that one day the world will once again look at communities of Christian faith and say “See how they love each other” as historians recorded in the first century.

But what will it take to get us there?  The church world seems to be more divided and less filled with love than it ever was.  The gap between right and left within the church continues to grow and the hostility between sides grows in response.

To be honest I struggled with the quote from Philip Clayton

[It is] urgent … to reclaim a Big Tent Christianity, a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and action. The two poles are driving each other ever further apart, spawning ever deeper hostilities. The solution — in American society as in the church — certainly is not to let the other’s anger fuel my own. As leaders it’s our task to help break the cycle of anger, of rejection leading to rejection, and to foster a radically different understanding of the heart of Christian faith.”

I don’t think that we are going to get to a community that the world sees as loving and caring by focusing on a centrist return to ‘just Christian’ in word and deed.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I strongly believe in the need to combine word and deed.  This is why I refer to myself as a contemplative activist. And my heart aches with the desire to break the cycle of anger and rejection that permeates the church.  But I don’t think we will get there by trying to convert others to our way of thinking and I am not sure that we would produce a healthy and vital church in the process anyway.

What we need I suspect is not more theology but more listening, not more teaching but more receptivity to learning from others, more willingness to accept the viewpoints of others without trying to change their minds.  God is a God of diversity.  We only need to look around at the incredible diversity of created things to realize that.  Why then do we think that God only expects Christians to think in one particular way?

Big Tent Christianity must be inclusive not just of different cultural expressions but of different denominational expressions and even of different faith expressions.  In an earlier post I quoted from Samir Selmanovic’s book Its Really All About God.

In Jewish thought and belief, God first provided empty space for life to be created and continues to provide empty spaces in which creation can continue.  According to the rabbis of old, one of the ways the creation continues is through spirited conversations in which we are in a disagreement – the highest form of discourse.  When we take a stand and pull the argument in our own direction, we create an empty space between us, a possibility for the emergence of a truly new idea, an unexpected solution, a way forward.” (p175)

This to me is what Big Tent Christianity is all about.  I love this concept that implies that all humanity in its rich diversity of cultures and worldviews, needs to be included in a conversation that creates rather than destroys, a conversation that moves towards understanding and mutual respect rather than uniformity of belief.

So often we take on ourselves the responsibilities of the Holy Spirit.  We have no confidence in the fact that God is working in the hearts of others just as God is working in our own hearts.  The Holy Spirit is into transformation.  And all of us need transformation.  The image of God is present but distorted not just in those who think differently from us.  It is present but distorted in us too.  All of us need to be transformed.

Amazingly it is often as we rub shoulders with, befriend and interact with others who are very different from ourselves that we learn most about God and the people that God intends us to be.  We need people in our midst of different religious perspectives (Christian and non Christian) and cultures so that in the creative tension between us new ideas are created and new understanding of God emerges.  A God that is revealed only through our own perspectives is a very small God.

The struggle is that this kind of creative dialogue requires an attitude of humility and a posture of learning.  This is a real challenge for all of us who have grown up believing that we have the corner on truth about God and religion.

Western culture has trained us to believe that we are here to teach the world how to believe and how to live.    Out of our arrogance we proclaim that our way is the best and only way to live, and in so doing we destroy the love and mutual respect that should be the defining qualities of Christian community.

The pinnacle of success in Big tent Christianity is I believe not to become a teacher but to become a learner, not to become a speaker, but to become a listener.  My hope is that one day the world will again know we are Christians by our love and our respect for all human kind.

The Kingdom is Near: Gender Equality is so Pretty

The following post for The Kingdom is Here: Where Do You See it synchroblog comes from Kathy Escobar who works at a small church in Colorado called The Refuge.  described as an eclectic faith community, all equal, love jesus, pretty messed up, lead, follow, laugh, cry, serve, co-pastors, stories of brokenness and healing, smoker friendly, the refuge

Kathy is one of my favourite bloggers and I couldn’t resist starting this post by sharing another great article entitled Recovery Under the Big Tent that she has just posted for the week-long synchroblog hosted by big tent christianity, a collaborative event in raleigh september 9-13.  It also has a great Kingdom is Here flavour.

yeah, i think “the church” has a control problem. its heart is not bad.  its intentions are not evil.  it doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking “i’m going to ruin a whole bunch of relationships today.” but like all addicts (which i believe we all are in some shape or form), it is often unaware of just how pervasive the problem is and how much damage its really doing with controlling-finger-pointing-we-know-we’re-right-and-you’re-wrong ways.  and the only way to change is to begin to break out of denial and humbly engage in a healing process that will move toward restoration in their relationship with others, God, themselves.  Read more

the kingdom is near: gender equality is so pretty

when christine asked for some kingdom is near stories for this summer, i thought of all kinds of fun ways i see the kingdom of God in the life of our beautiful faith community, the refuge.  but the one that seems to rise to the surface often is the beauty of gender equality when-it’s-really-lived-out-in-the-body-of-Christ.

honestly, i never set out to be so passionate about gender equality in the church. i have always been a boat rocker in general, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago that the scales fell from my eyes and i saw clearly how unjust so many church systems really were when it comes to gender equality.  i am a little mad at myself, to be honest, that i submitted myself to systems that oppressed women and silenced their voices for so many years.  i think it’s because their oppression was subtle; it wasn’t like women weren’t able to serve and lead in many capacities.  it was just that there was a clear and noticeable limit to that work and all the “power” ultimately rested in men instead of being shared openly and freely together.

over the years things have shifted and i see what it can look like for men & women to learn to live, love, and lead alongside each other.  it is not easy to do; there are all kinds of forces working against it.  but isn’t that really what the kingdom of God is all about?  that despite the resistance of all of the “forces” of man and the world (and sometimes religious systems), there’s now a new reality possible because of God’s spirit-at-work-in-all-kinds-of-ways-that-defy-the-status-quo.

i am so thankful to get to see the kingdom of God up close and personal almost every day.  i see men and women learning how to be friends, real brothers & sisters on the journey.  i see men and women using their voices alongside each other, separately & together but equally.  i see men and women healing deep wounds from their past with people and their present with God because they are finding people who reflect God’s image as mothers & fathers & sisters & brothers & daughters & sons in community.  i see women freed to use their gifts and passions right alongside men and men fanning that into flame tangibly.  i see prayer and support teams that aren’t just women-supporting-women or men-supporting-men but a lovely mix of both together, focused on loving and supporting and encouraging hurting friends.  i see people saying out loud “i don’t know how to be friends with men (or women), but i want to learn. can you help me try?”

really, what i’m seeing up-close every day is how Jesus’ spirit can break down patricarchal systems of inequality that have been deeply engrained in us. it is not something that comes in a rush, but it is something that can come when God’s people give up power and mutually submit, one to another, in freedom and love.

our community is small.  it is not flashy or exciting.  we are poor.  we are messy.  and there’s no question–sometimes it’s downright scary to have this level of community going on right before my very eyes. but one thing i know for sure–gender equality is so pretty, a beautiful reflection of the kingdom of God in the here and now.