IVP - Strangely Dim

March 1, 2013

And Then There Were None: Farewell to Strangely Dim

A final post from David A. Zimmerman

I'm tired. So tired.

Strangely Dim has been a regular part of my week for nearly ten years now. In that time I've posted over five hundred times and deleted over twelve million spam comments (give or take a few million). I've also written two books and a booklet, started a personal blog and become a columnist at Burnside Writers Collective, with occasional articles at other outlets. Oh, and I've edited over a hundred books. That's a lot of words, and I fear I may be running out.

In the past ten years Strangely Dim has hosted a handful of guest-posters (a combination of authors and interns), and it's been a forum for five bloggers besides me: Suanne, Rebecca, Christa, Ann and Lisa. Four of the five have left InterVarsity Press in the past year and a half; I don't want to quit IVP, so I've decided it's time to quit Strangely Dim.

Stop crying, people! We'll all get through this together. You can still read my stuff here or here, and if you need something more tangible and permanent, you can always buy this, this or this.

Strangely Dim has been great fun for me from the beginning. I tested ideas here, profiled friends and trends here, and played a lot of writing games along the way. Here are a few of my personal favorite posts:

The first post ever to Strangely Dim, posted below, reflects the outlook of a much younger me, but I can still affirm it. I like that: with all the changes, both to the world around me and the world within me, that come over the course of ten years, it's nice to see that God is still there, still not silent, still endearingly ineffable.

Thanks for hanging out with me here over the past decade; even though the blog is now part of our history, I hope we can continue to be strange and dim together far into the future--world without end, Amen.

Oh, and one more thing: Rabbit!

***

Why Strangely Dim?

I have two cats. Wait, I also have a point.

I mention my cats because they, like you and I, are things of earth created by a watchful, careful God. They're also cuter than I am; you wouldn't have kept reading if I had opened with "I have a wart on my third knuckle."

But back to the cats. Such divinely inspired stuff doesn't grow dim without a catfight. And yet, Christians often disregard the things of earth. Some churches even sing about it:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus.
Look full on his wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

The insinuation is clear: nothing else warrants a close look once we've caught a glimpse of God. Fair enough. I can't imagine what could be more compelling than the face of our Maker.

But why, then, all this stuff? Surely a world could be fashioned in which all we could see was God, with no other people, institutions, animals, plants or minerals to distract us. But that's not the reality God created.

The prophet Isaiah once turned his eyes on God in full glory.

"I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty. . . . The house filled with smoke. And I said, 'Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King.'"

Maybe we're better able to appreciate the glory of God after experiencing our failings and the failings of those around us. Prodigal creations celebrating God with clearer vision--that would be a happy ending. But Isaiah's encounter is far from an ending; in fact, it serves as a beginning for his project: "Go and say to these people . . ."

Isaiah encounters God, and God sends him back from whence he came. Something smells funny.

The apostle Paul tells us that "what can be known about God is plain. . . . His eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." We see all this stuff and recognize the glory of God. But if we are anything like Isaiah, God will quickly point us back toward the things he has made--the people who rub us wrong, the institutions we support or endure, the creation we steward or pollute.

The things of earth are important to God; they ought to be important to us as well. We each have a perspective limited by our location in space and time, but given that God created each of us from scratch and placed us where we are, when we are, who knows but that we were created for such a time and place as this?

So I propose that we explore the things of earth afresh, searching for what God has for us in them, and for them in us. God has created the things of earth--from cats to kids--for a purpose, and though they occasionally dim in the light of his glory, with his help we can see them more clearly than ever.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 12:35 PM | Comments (2) are closed

February 15, 2013

The Bouncy Ball: A Farewell Note

by Suanne Camfield

So I have this bouncy ball in my coat pocket.

I found it earlier this winter when I stuffed my hands in the pockets of a coat I hadn't worn since last spring. You know how it goes, the discovery of random items that leave you scratching your head. For me, it was a few disintegrated tissues, a gum wrapper, a hair tie, a handful of spare change, and one bright green and yellow camouflaged bouncy ball. I put the hair tie on my wrist, slapped the change on the counter and was about to toss the ball in the trash when my spirit gave a little flutter.

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A few years ago, my kids went through this bouncy-ball-obsessed phase. They'd snag them from gumball machines, birthday parties, dentist's and doctor's offices, and with unrivaled enthusiasm marvel over sizes and colors, sparkles and swirls, and--of course--bounciness.

For months I dodged the balls as they flew through my house, taking erratic turns as they leaped off floors, tables and walls. I'd step on them on my way to bed and curse. I'd uncover them, caked with dust, in every corner of the house. One got stuck in my Shop Vac. Another one hit me in the eye.

I hated those dang bouncy balls.

And yet there I stood, holding one in my hand, tears stinging my eyes, and I couldn't help but smile. The bouncy ball has come to remind me of the bittersweetness of life, the way it bounces us around in ways good and bad but that never stays the same. I stuffed the ball back in my pocket as a reminder to live fully in the present, and to hold onto those experiences and people and moments that mark seasons of life, bring us joy and shape who we are. Above all, it's become a reminder to continually be grateful for a savior who, regardless of any bumps and turns life throws our way, always--always--remains the same.

Today is my last day at IVP. I've worked here just shy of three years--a flash in the pan considering the tenure of some of my colleagues. But, for me, it's been a significant three years. Years that have helped me find my professional footing after eight years as an at-home mom. Years that have given me the privilege of sharing meals with inspired and prophetic voices I never dreamed would be more than ink on a page. Years that have been full of meaningful experiences, rich ideas and gracious colleagues that have shaped the way I interact with my faith and move through life.

When I set out to write this post, I envisioned naming, specifically, a long list of those things: coworkers to whom I'm indebted (Dave Zimmerman, for example, who in addition to serving as my supervisor, editor and friend, has listened to me drone endlessly about my five-year plan without once telling me to shut my yap), books I wanted to rehash, authors whose real-life character has spoken more volumes than they could write in a lifetime.

But, frankly, I've run out of time. Quitting a job is time-consuming stuff. Emails keep coming, to-do lists lengthen, interruptions abound.

And so, instead, I'll say thank you here to all of IVP--its staff, its authors, its audience and its friends in the publishing industry--for being the kind of people that I'll put in my pocket and carry with me, gratefully, wherever I go.


Posted by Suanne Camfield at 9:24 AM | Comments (10) are closed

February 1, 2013

Direction for Life

A guest post by Lisa Rieck. First posted at InterVarsity.org.

You've been a Christian your whole life, I told myself in a mini pep talk. You should know how to have a meaningful quiet time, a deep prayer life, a correct perception of God. But the truth was, the practices that had been helpful in the past no longer were.

The deeper truth was that I--a trying-to-be-a-perfect-adult, would-like-to-do-it-all-on-my-own-thanks, twentysomething pastor's kid--needed some assistance.

So I sought out a Christian spiritual director, a woman named Wai-Chin who lived near my office. It seemed like a nice, respectable, relatively low-risk and low-commitment way to find the help I was after.

When the day of my first appointment came, however, I wasn't quite sure how the whole baring-my-soul-to-someone-I-don't-know-that-well was going to work out.

As it turned out, my six-plus years of meeting with Wai-Chin for spiritual direction and prayer were one of the most significant factors in changing my perspective on who God is and how he sees me.

What Is Christian Spiritual Direction?

At root, Christian spiritual direction is a practice in which one person helps another see God's work in their life. In The Practice of Spiritual Direction, authors William Barry and William Connolly define it more specifically as "help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God's personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in intimacy with this God, and to live out the consequences of the relationship." It provides an opportunity for personal, caring guidance in our walk with God in the context of a safe, sacred relationship.

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The task of the Christian spiritual director is mostly to listen--to the other person and to God. As spiritual director Adele Ahlberg Calhoun says in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, "A spiritual director listens with one ear to God and the other to the directee, always encouraging the directee to recognize where God can be found throughout the journey. . . . The Holy Spirit is really the Director of the time together as both parties pay attention to God's movements and call."

And he shows up in some very transformational ways.

Seeing God

My monthly sessions with Wai-Chin took place in a back sunroom in her home. She would serve me hot tea, light a candle to represent Christ's presence with us, and then invite me to be silent--always a welcome respite in my day. After she closed our time of silence with a prayer, I would recount to her the past month of my life--the moments of joy, the frustrations and points of pain, places I saw God's work, and instances that left me wrestling with him.

Mostly, she listened. Sometimes she asked a clarifying question, or prompted me to expound on a certain statement. Sometimes she read a passage of Scripture to me, or led me through a short lectio divina exercise. Sometimes she related a story from her own life, or had me meditate on the lyrics and melody of a particular song. And sometimes she sent me outside--one of my favorite places to encounter God--to listen for his voice. Almost always she'd offer a suggestion for a discipline I might practice in the month ahead, or a Scripture passage I might sit with, or a book I might read and reflect on.

And in those hour-long appointments (which often stretched closer to two hours), I met Jesus.

I realized that God speaks to me, in ways I hadn't imagined he could speak.

I recognized and confronted idols.

I cried.

I confessed and repented.

I saw my finances and family and job and ministry in a new light.

I worshiped.

And, over and over again, I experienced the goodness and mercy and love of Jesus.

Even in months that had been particularly painful or discouraging, where I came to our appointments with many more questions and feelings of guilt or anger than stories of God's goodness, I left knowing that I was known and loved by the triune God--Father, Son, and Spirit.

Seeing Myself

I also came to know myself--the "true" me, the person God created me to be, as well as the "false" me, the me who tries to find significance and worth apart from Jesus' love--in much deeper ways.

Having space and time to name joy and pain from the month--the intentional act of remembering and then speaking out loud to someone else where I saw (or didn't see) God--helped me make connections between events, or gave me deeper insight into what was going on inside myself. Those insights then empowered me to walk a little more closely to Jesus, and live a little more deeply out of my identity as his child.

Direction for Us All

You might be feeling stuck like I was. Or maybe you're still walking in the afterglow of a conference like Urbana. Maybe you're feeling a need for alone time with God. Or maybe you're longing for the kind of help a Christian spiritual director could bring. In any case, we hope that, not just in January but throughout 2013, you'll pursue Jesus by committing to practices that open you to him. Moving toward him, deeper into him, closer to him, more like him--that's the direction we want to move in together.

To find a spiritual director, click here or contact churches in your area.

***

Read more from Lisa here.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 1:07 PM | Comments (2) are closed

January 21, 2013

Remembering Birmingham

A quick thought from Dave.

Every year on Martin Luther King Day I read his Letter from Birmingham Jail to white clergy who had called on him to take it down a notch. Here's the passage that stuck out to me this morning, which apparently also stuck out to me two years ago.

***

On the Blemished and Scarred Body of Christ

An observation by Martin Luther King Jr., from a cell in Birmingham, Alabama, on the history and responsibility of the body of Christ.

I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

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There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

***

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of the Letter from Birmingham Jail. Read the whole thing here. And keep an eye out for Ed Gilbreath's forthcoming ebook Remembering Birmingham for a consideration of King's ongoing challenge to us today.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:10 AM

January 17, 2013

What I'm Editing: The Easy Burden of Pleasing God

By Dave

Next week we will send a PDF of Patty Kirk's The Easy Burden of Pleasing God (on my short list for favorite book of 2013--sorry, everyone else) to the printer. Six weeks from then we'll get it back as a book. Then, God willing, we'll start shipping it to readers, mostly via other booksellers.

That's all in the future. Today I'm simply taking my last look at it.

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The last look is always a little angsty for me. What have I, the editor and primary interface for the author to date, forgotten to deal with? What new errors have entered the book since the look before this one? Is this book the best it could be? What will the reviewers say? What about the readers? What will the author think of the finished product? Of me?

Ah, the perils of people-pleasing. They can make what should be a celebration into an existential crisis.

In this case, thankfully, I feel pretty good. Patty Kirk is a great writer, and editing her (for the second time now; you can get her first book with IVP here) has been just a little bit like a master class for me. She's also a relatively unique persona in my network of author relationships. She's the only author I've edited who lives on a farm (some of my authors, frankly, give me the impression that they were born in a barn, but that's a different story), and her sensibilities reflect the farmer's life--something that for me evokes memories of my childhood, when I would play in the fields and occasionally assist in the chores at my grandparent's farm in northeastern Iowa. I've developed a great fondness for Patty as this book has made its way through our publishing process.

Moreover, I've developed a bit of a dependency on her thesis: that the work that God expects of us is nothing more and nothing less than to believe in Jesus, the One God Sent.

That's a burden, because any claim to godhood and messiahship is a totalizing claim on an adherent's life. Paradoxically, however, it's also a relief. As we've proven over millennia, we're not comfortable accepting simple belief as the whole work of faith. So we come up with burdens of our own devising, telling ourselves that they please God or somehow save us. And then we start judging ourselves and, worse, our neighbors by the quality and weight of our burdens. Every time we do that, Jesus suggests, we're missing the point; more than that, though, we're missing out on the rest that Jesus promises as a side effect of the burden he places on us.

Kirk demonstrates this insight into the gospel throughout the book, going so far as to reinterpret the ethical burden of faith in Christ not as human work but as the gift of a divine parent who knows us better than we know ourselves. For just one example, Kirk recounts a story of a conflict she had with a fellow teacher who "shared" (in the bureaucratic sense) equipment and facilities with her. When her best efforts to use the equipment well came into conflict with his own thoughts, the you-know-what hit the you-know-what:

He yelled at me as at a child, right in front of my students and his, and I went home that day angrier than I'd ever been at someone not related to me.

Coincidentally, I had been reading about anger in Scripture, hoping to convince my husband that anger was not sinful.

She had just read Matthew 5:21-22, however, which doesn't entirely subvert the argument that anger is not sinful but does complicate it quite a bit. Here is where Jesus associates anger, as it is practiced, with murder, going so far as to say that "anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." Patty "detected the unmistakable trail of the Holy Spirit" and took on the burden inherent in the passage: not the burden of forgiveness, as we might expect, but one of confession.

The smile he had for the student or colleague he assumed would be opening his classroom door vanished when he looked up from his gradebook and saw me, and it took every ounce of who I am to force myself to express convincing remorse. I lied that I should have shared authority over the lab with him, should have consulted him before making changes that would affect his teaching. If I had it to do over again, I told him--if I had our entire acquaintance to do over again--I would have operated so differently.

The curious thing was, as soon as these words left my mouth, I actually felt them to be true. . . . I confessed to my innermost self--who knows such things anyway but likes confessions--that I'd felt as intruded upon by this man and his snooty high-schoolers as he must have felt by me and my ridiculous seventh-graders. Our distrust and hatred was mutual, our culpability in the conflict about equal.

My apology tipped the balance, though. Expressions of remorse tend to disarm an opponent, I have since learned. In any case, we forgave each other, on some level, immediately. We even hugged. . . .

Every new time I offer myself in this way, I think of my girls and how I feel when they reconcile after a fight, and I know that God is thrilled.

Imagine God thrilled, the way you're thrilled when your kids hug it out and stop hating each other. Imagine the bizarre physics of taking on the burden of confession only to feel the burden of a strained relationship fall off. Imagine a world in which everyone abandoned the various burdens of their own devisings, or the burdens laid on them by people who loved them but didn't know how to love well, and instead took up the burden of believing in a God whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, for whom in fact the believing in is the burden itself.

If you have trouble imagining that, read Patty's book when it drops.

***

Patty's book is one of the first in a new line we've launched here. IVP-Crescendo offers dedicated space to showcase women we should all be listening to, women whose insights into the faith and the human condition are worth simmering in for 180 pages or so. You can take a look at some of the other initial offerings in the line here.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:52 PM

January 4, 2013

A Likewise Year in Review, and Reviews in the Likewise Year

Reflections and a mild rant from David A. Zimmerman

Well, good riddance, 2012. We're still here and you're not.

We're just back from the triennial Urbana Student Missions Conference in St. Louis, and while it will take us a good three years to recover, a fickle blogosphere demands constant refreshing of content. So this seems like as good a time as any to look back on the year just ended and celebrate or mourn as appropriate.

Several new Likewise books were released this past year, including

  • Everyday Missions, by Leroy Barber, whom Sam Edgin at the Englewood Review of Books lauded for his "incredible ability not only to relate the stories of others, but also to draw new meaning out of Biblical passages most Christians have heard many times over."
  • Letters to a Future Church, a collection edited by Chris Lewis, which Blake Atwood at Faith Village called "a challenging and yet ultimately hopeful appeal to the church-at-large to put feet to faith."
  • Go and Do, by Don Everts, which Matt Reynolds at Christianity Today praised for its "summons . . . to robust missional engagement." 
  • Reborn on the Fourth of July, by Logan Mehl-Laituri, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly for its "well-crafted story and . . . compelling narrative" about the competing claims of militaristic nationalism and Christian faith.
  • This Ordinary Adventure, by Christine and Adam Jeske, which Grace Biskie praises with a sassy challenge: "You wanna a healthy kick in the tush? Go get it."
  • Real Life, by James Choung, about which church planter and missiologist JR Woodward said, "The lessons linger with you long after you shut the pages of the book."
  • What Jesus Started, by Steve Addison, which Neil Cole says "contributes a strong focus on the patterns shared by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament and . . . helpful examples of what God is doing today around the world."
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Four of these books were designated as Urbana Books of the Day, which should give you a sense both of how long Urbana is and how significant Likewise Books is to Christian students and the missional church. You're welcome, global evangelicalism. 

While at Urbana, I had the pleasure of interviewing three Likewise authors (plus Christianity Today Book of the Year award winner Amy Sherman) for the bookstore team. Amy, Phileena Heuertz, Leroy Barber and Alexia Salvatierra (whose book Faith-Rooted Organizing will release late 2013) were all delightful conversation partners and made me look very smart in front of many of my coworkers.

I would be remiss if I didn't invite and encourage you to review these books yourself. You would be helping these authors and book publishing in general a great deal by posting your thoughts (about these and other books you've enjoyed) at GoodReads, on Amazon, on your blog and other places you have influence.

In sadder news, the band of contributors to Strangely Dim went from a trio to a duet when Lisa Rieck left InterVarsity Press to work for, um, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. You can track her new blogging here. We're hoping to continue to have new posts from her at Strangely Dim, or at least reposts of what she's writing for InterVarsity.

We began our year with a new sister line of books when Biblica International transferred their books program to IVP. We added another line mid-year with the launch of Praxis, a line of books for church and ministry leaders. And in December we sent off to the printer four books that will launch our next line, IVP Crescendo, which showcases women authors. Keep an eye out for that (as if we won't be bothering you about it in the weeks and months to come).

So, that's our year in review. How was your year? Feel free to post your reflections on the last twelve months below. Otherwise, please enjoy "My Year in Review," by the great Bill Mallonee.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:18 AM

December 23, 2012

What Jesus Started: Part Five of Five

An Advent reflection based on the book What Jesus Started by Steve Addison. Read parts one, two, three and four here.

Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. While the world waits till January for its hard reboot, Christians have already moved on. Advent, which begins typically toward the end of November, ends with the beginning of Christmas, which itself is not a day but a season and carries the church over the changing of the civil calendar. By January 7 the church is in its third season, already marking Ordinary Time.

Advent is a beginning that culminates in Christmas, a time that has become a time of gathering. We travel far and wide to see and reconnect with friends and loved ones. We sing songs together and give gifts to one another. We share meals and make memories. If Christmas weren't sacred for what it marked--the incarnation of the Lord in the world--it would be sacred merely for what it elicits in us.

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Of course Christmas is sacred because God was made flesh and took up residence among us. But it's a false dichotomy to say that because the one is true, the other is insignificant. In fact Christmas is marked from the first by a gathering. Having seen the need of the world, and having purposed to make meaningful connection to the world, and having developed a plan that would involve training in the ways of the kingdom of God and sharing in the life of one another--having done all this, God inaugurates his incarnational mission by gathering people to himself.

  • Zechariah, a priest in the Temple of the Lord, is recruited even in his old age to parent a child who will prepare the way of the Lord.
  • Elizabeth, elderly wife of Zechariah, is commissioned to bear that son--a commission that fills her with joy.
  • Mary, a modest young woman from a backwater town, is asked to sacrifice her body and her reputation, with the accompanying promise of power and grace, and the utterly unique experience of carrying God inside her body.
  • Joseph, a righteous man of the lineage of the great ancient king David, is called upon to sacrifice his own reputation and serve as foster parent to the Son of God.
  • Shepherds keeping watch over their fields at night are invited to come and see a newborn king,
  • Kings from afar are beckoned westward to witness the fulfillment of ancient prophecies and to meet the child to whom the whole universe points.
  • Simeon and Anna are vindicated in their long wait with the joy of seeing the coming of the Lord with their own eyes and formally welcoming him into the covenant family of God.

In Christ God acts singularly, without need of anyone. But God does not act in solitude. The act of incarnation is at its foundation an act of solidarity: God willfully eliminating the distance between God and the Other. In Christ God binds himself to the people he created.

God is also, however, binding us one to another: Zechariah and Elizabeth to their son, John the Baptist; Mary to Joseph; Elizabeth to her cousin Mary; John to Jesus; Jesus to Israel and, through the ceremonial action of Anna and Simeon and later John, Israel to Jesus. Once, the apostle Peter tells us, we were not a people; but in Christ we have become the people of God (1 Peter 2:10).

So now, as Advent 2012 yields the floor to Christmas, and as our anticipation of Christ's coming gives way to our celebration of Emmanuel--God with us--let us not give up gathering, as so tragically many are in the habit of doing, but rather let us gather regularly--to encourage one another, to spur one another on in the mission God has for us, to remind ourselves that we are bound together by the God who made us and who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

In this way the church is regularly birthed in the world. In this way it carries on the mission of God in the world. In this way the world, which year after year seems to turn on itself, gets set right and bound back together. Thanks be to God.

***

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Read chapters five and six of What Jesus Started, along with the interlude "Church on the Porch." Then go through sessions nine and ten in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)

As you gather for Christmas this year, make a concerted effort to see the need of the people you've surrounded yourself with. Then seek meaningful connection with them--beyond the polite conversation that too often subverts such gatherings. Share what you've been learning about What Jesus Started and how it might impact on the lives of the people you're with. And then make plans to gather again as the year continues in January and beyond.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:51 AM

December 16, 2012

What Jesus Started: Part Four of Five

An Advent series inspired by the book What Jesus Started. Read the entry for the first week of Advent here, and the prefatory post here.

Advent is an act of faith. In the weeks that lead up to Christmas we declare that God is, that God sees, that God reaches toward a people in profound need of God's touch. "O Come, Emmanuel," we sing, "and ransom captive Israel." We long for this Emmanuel--this "God with us"--to intervene in the desperate condition of every Israel among us--each of us who "strives with God."

The amazing thing is, God does in fact come to be with us, and the God with whom we so often strive makes equally forceful commitments to us. "Surely I am with you always," Jesus tells his followers at the moment he departs from the earth, "to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). It's not unusual to cry out to God for deliverance; it's life- and world-changing when God actually does it.

So, if our lives and our world are changed by this intervention from God, then our attitudes, perspectives and approach to life need to change as well. Jesus recognized this during his time on earth, and while we might anticipate that a great and cosmic God would invest his one and only incarnation in magisterial, majestic, world-altering acts, we find in the Scriptures that instead Jesus consistently started remarkably, frustratingly small.

  • Rather than starting in the house of the emperor, Jesus started in the womb of an unmarried adolescent girl, in a town of no account among a people of no power.
  • Rather than starting with the storming the temple or palace gates, seizing control and establishing his rule, Jesus started in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the Satan, and at the river Jordan, where he was baptized by his cousin.
  • Rather than starting with the best and brightest, the movers and shakers, Jesus started with a ragtag collection of followers from the margins of society.
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Whatever Jesus was starting, it would be unlike the movements and institutions it would be set against. It would, in fact, serve as a prophetic symbol against those movements and institutions. Everything that made sense to the world would be overturned by Jesus, from the merchandise tables at the temple to the presumption of power at the governor's residence. Even the presumed finality of death would be turned on its head, as Jesus emerged from a grave and declared himself the resurrection and the life.

This radical reordering of reality would blow anyone's mind. So Jesus invested himself not simply in restructuring the world but in training the people who followed him to live in the way of his counter-cultural kingdom.

  • "The greatest among you," he told them, "will be the servant of all."
  • "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you."
  • "Blessed are you who are poor . . . who hunger . . . who weep . . . who suffer because of me."

Time after time Jesus drilled into the minds of his followers principles that would sound absurd if they didn't feel so true. In Jesus the intuitive logic of the world God created came to the surface and confronted the imposed logic of the ways of the world. Those with eyes to see and ears to hear were confronted with a choice--the same choice that confronted Moses' followers on the mountain and which confronts us still today: Will we choose the ways that seem so sensible to us but which lead inevitably to death, or will we choose the ways that defy conventional wisdom but lead us steadily into life?

One of Jesus' more perceptive followers--we're not told which one--once said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray." Jesus taught them gladly, and he teaches us gladly today, as an act of service to the world, so that it might be set right in us and among us. Jesus taught and teaches his followers in joyful anticipation of an earth and everything in it recalibrated to be as it is in heaven. And even as he left earth for heaven and turned over the administration of his kingdom to us, he encouraged us to go and do likewise. So let's go do it.

***

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Read chapter four of What Jesus Started, and work through sessions seven and eight in the implementation guide. You can get the book here.

Get together with a friend or two, pick one of Jesus' provocative, counter-cultural teachings, and develop a plan for trying to live it out. See the experiments at the Jesus Dojo for some examples of what you might try.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:10 AM

December 9, 2012

What Jesus Started: Part Three of Five

An Advent series inspired by the book What Jesus Started. See week one's entry here, as well as a prefatory post here.

The season of Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar. As the world around the church winds its year down, the church is starting its year up. This is appropriate, since Advent culminates in Christmas, where we remember the birth of our Lord and the inauguration of the Christian epoch.

It can be difficult, however, for the church to remember that Advent and Christmas are seasons of beginning. Ironically, the ways of the world encroach on the church at Christmastime in painfully evident ways. Rampant busyness, chronic materialism and corresponding consumerism subvert the sacred nature of the holiday. Remembering that Christ is born on Christmas day is tricky enough; remembering that Christ's birth symbolizes the beginning of Jesus' world-changing and history-changing movement is trickier still.

So this Advent season it's worth remembering that Jesus brought a message with him to the world.

  • An angel told Mary that her child "will be great . . . the Son of the Most High," and that "his kingdom will never end."
  • Mary recited to her cousin Elizabeth the great character of God, who would be manifested in her son: "His mercy extends to those who fear him. . . . He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty."
  • An angel told Joseph that Mary's child "will save his people from their sins."
  • An angel told the shepherds that they would soon be introduced to "a savior."

The New Testament springs from these pronouncements, fulfilling each in the story of Jesus. As an adult Jesus traveled the towns and villages and highways and byways, illuminating the scriptures and refocusing the faith of the people he encountered. He made promises to people and delivered on them. He demonstrated by his words and his acts that he had come for the people he encountered.

In previous posts in this Advent series we've considered that the movement that is Christianity would be nothing had God not first looked closely on the world he created. Every movement begins with a kind of seeing, and the movement Jesus started is no different. We've also considered that merely seeing something accomplishes nothing; the move toward the Other is what sets a movement in motion. But no movement sustains itself without a kind of mutuality, a shared life and vision that extends beyond the act of seeing and the moment of connection.

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Movements are ever-expanding shared experiences: what was true for the instigators is embraced as true by more and more people further and further removed from the point of inception. What the angel declared to Mary as Jesus gestated in her womb, what the heavenly host pronounced to shepherds up the hill from the manger where baby Jesus lay, what Jesus announced to his friends and neighbors and disciples and enemies--these are affirmed two thousand years later by people of every tribe and tongue and nation as an act of faith and a pledge of commitment: Our God who is with us is for us.

This enduring allegiance is one miracle of the Christian movement. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, "Christ is Christ, not just for himself, but in relation to me. His being Christ is his being for me." Christianity is a shared faith from the beginning; we share our faith freely and broadly because our movement's founder, Jesus, shared himself.

This sharing was not just lip service, nor was it simply random acts of kindness. From birth to death to resurrection Jesus was giving himself to us as merciful Savior and righteous King. This remains our task today: to share what has been shared with us, to invite others to share in the good news we have heard, in the goodness of God that we have seen and tasted and touched. Only by sharing will the world be set right.

***

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Read chapter three of What Jesus Started, as well as sessions five and six in the implementation guide. (You can get the book here.)

This week look for opportunities--whether by word or by deed--to share with others what in Christ God has shared with you.

Read the songs of Mary and Zechariah in Luke 1. Reflect on the character of God demonstrated in those songs. Try singing each of them yourself.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:00 AM

December 2, 2012

What Jesus Started: Part Two of Five

An Advent series inspired by What Jesus Started.

Advent is a time of anticipation. Whether in joyful hope ("Hark, the Herald Angels Sing") or pleading anxiety ("O Come, Emmanuel"), we wait for the world to be set right, symbolized by the birth of the world's Savior, Jesus the Christ. The thing that Advent anticipates is affirmation of a long-held article of faith, declared by Hagar and echoed by Hannah and Mary and countless others: "You are the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13).

Steve Addison, in his book What Jesus Started, understands Jesus' incarnation as inaugurating not just a static kingdom but an expanding movement that stretches even to today. Seeing is the first incremental stage of this movement, and we are called likewise to see the world as God sees it: as a place in need of a God of love, as a drama moving steadily toward its redemptive resolution by the grace of God. But for God and us to see the world in this way is not nearly enough, even as for us to be seen by God is not enough to carry us through the challenges we face. Even pop singers affirm that God sees us, if only "from a distance." God goes further, and he calls us to go further as well. We must not only see, we must connect.

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Jesus didn't just come down from heaven, take a quick look at the earth, wave a magic wand and split. Jesus attached himself to the earth--and not by way of an emperor or tribal king or temple priest or even the head of a household. He literally connected himself, umbilically, to a young, unmarried girl from a backwoods town. He was born and moved around, learning the cultural practices and worldviews of a particular people, rehearsing their history and growing in wisdom and stature over the course of decades.

When it came time for him to act on behalf of God's creation, he was baptized, fulfilling all the righteousness his culture expected of him. He became a rabbi, embracing a role that the people could understand and interact with (this despite his conviction, expressed in Matthew 23:8, that "you are not to be called 'Rabbi,' for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers"). He confronted people of power and sought out and befriended people of peace. He recruited followers from all corners of society and made them agents in his redemptive work. This Son of God, we affirm by faith as well as by all historical accounts, was fully human, a man of a particular time and place. He saw the world because he was there, and he loved the world enough to give himself to it.

The movement Jesus started is fueled by this connection. We reach out to others not as abstractions in need of some ethereal soul-redemption but as neighbors who were created to love and be loved, and who fall short of the glory of God but do not fall out of reach of God's grasp. We connect to the world because Christ first connected himself to us, and by those connections we and the world are saved.

What Jesus started begins with seeing and continues with connecting. But even these are not the whole story. Next week we'll reflect on how Jesus shares, and how we are called to do likewise. But for this week, it will be enough to remind ourselves that we are connected, and that the world needs more and fuller expressions of its connection to us and to God.

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Read chapter two of What Jesus Started, as well as sessions three and four in the implementation guide. (You can sample the book here.)

This week, pray for people who are disconnected in one way or another from God and neighbors. How is God inviting you to extend yourself toward those people?

Be on the lookout for "people of peace"--people who are open to new connections and who are themselves ports of entry into communities of people you've not interacted with before. Pray about how you might make meaningful connections with those people of peace in the days and weeks to come.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:55 AM

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a writer and copyeditor on the communications team for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a founder of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs occasionally at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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