What Happens When the Church is Activated?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the book of Acts we read about how the Holy Spirit set the early believers ablaze for the work of God. We encounter Peter, who courageously steps into the public square to preach the good news of life in Jesus Christ, and thousands come to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see powerful people like Stephen, who speaks of Christ in the face of persecution, even though it ends up costing him his life. We hear about Philip, who shares across cultural and religious barriers to bring the Samaritans to Jesus. We even see an enemy of Christ and persecutor of the early Christians, Saul of Tarsus, become a passionate evangelist and bold church planter that we know as the Apostle Paul.

The book of Acts is an active book. The church is not stagnant, but moving. The church is engaged and alive, moving forward on mission by the power of the Holy Spirit. What does it look like when individual believers and church communities are activated by God for His work? Well, at the very least we can say that it is not easy to ignore a church that is activated.

But it’s important to give a little more attention to something we could miss here. While Acts is an active book, we also see two things in this story of the early Christians that clarify for us what does not fit with an activated church.

First, an activated church that truly follows Jesus cannot be apathetic. There are times when see find ourselves confronted with the many needs, challenges, and serious situations within the world, that we can become overwhelmed by it all. In the mass of it all, we sometimes shut down and turn away from the needs of the world. We may, instead, focus on our own lives and challenges without giving any thought to the world God loves. Essentially, we become apathetic. But activated churches and Christians are not apathetic. They are engaged with the needs of the world because God cares about people and the needs of the world. While no one church or Christian can address all the needs and challenges of the world, our faith will not give us permission to turn away. An activated church remains open-hearted to the world because God is an open-hearted and generous being.

Second, even though Acts shows us that an activated church is not apathetic but engaged, it also shows us that an activated church is not necessarily a busy church. There is a significant difference between being busy and being active. The early church was activated by the Holy Spirit to join in with God’s mission in a focused way. However, the early church was not meaninglessly busy, doing whatever came their way at any time. In fact, there were key moments where the early believers chose not to do some things or pursue some aspects of potential mission because of the Holy Spirit’s leading. Some of us misunderstand the missionary aspect of Christianity as a command to become busy for the kingdom. But an activated church replaces busyness with focused obedience. Some of us need to remember that God is not very interested in un-commanded work. Yes, God wants us to join in with His kingdom mission, but He does not want us to aimlessly rush around with whatever need or challenge captures our attention in the moment. In fact, what captures our attention may lead us away from the mission God has for us. As a mentor once shared with me: we may need to consider whether we are more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work.

An activated church is not boringly apathetic to the world’s need nor frenziedly busy. An activated church is alive in the Holy Spirit, open-hearted to the world, and walking in obedience to the Living God.

A Prayer of Trust in Busyness

Motion blur traffic in city

“As for me, I am like a green olive tree
in the house of God;
my trust is in the tender mercy of God
for ever and ever.” (Psalm 52:9, Coverdale)

Only You do I trust, my God,
to be my refuge and strength—only You.
Only You do I trust, my God,
to bring me comfort and peace—only You.

All round me whirls the busyness
of a raging world and my tumbling life.
People come and go—kind and unkind, gracious and bitter
—but You alone, my God, are ever true and constant.

As the dawn shatters the pane of night’s darkness,
so shatter the veil of troubles around me—glorious.
As the tree roots slowly sink deep and strong in the soil,
so slowly grow me in Your grace and truth—rooted.

Only You do I trust, my God,
to guide my path and relieve my heart—only You.

Unhurry Your Life: a review of John Mark Comer’s ‘The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry’

JMC The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry
John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (Waterbrook, 2019)

I still remember the time I read a line that changed my life: “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”[1] I was a pastor in urban Milwaukee, working with college students. I was reluctantly leading student leaders through a study of John Ortberg’s popular book, The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People (Zondervan, 2002). I say reluctantly because I had—and probably still have—a natural aversion to anything that seems widely popular. You can call it a failing, because it probably is, but it’s there all the same.

When I read that phrase, I realized two things. First, Ortberg’s work was so attractive because we all can relate to the way he talks about spiritual growth in our everyday lives: we want it, but it sometimes seems so out of reach. Second, Ortberg had a mentor of great depth in Dallas Willard, author of many weighty books on spiritual growth such as The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life with God, who spoke that powerful line about hurry into Ortberg’s life. In fact, John Ortberg would go on to sometimes describe his ministry and The Life You’ve Always Wanted as “Dallas for Dummies,” which appropriately helps us understand how challenging some of Willard’s writing can be, but probably undersells the significance of Ortberg’s work.

After encountering Willard’s advice to Ortberg about ruthlessly eliminating hurry, I immediately began to consider what that would mean for me at that time as a husband, a father of three young children, and a college pastor burning the candle at both ends. I made some changes then, and a good part of it was based on what I read by Dallas Willard and Richard Foster while new in my faith and during my own college years. One thing I figured out was that I would need to continually learn and re-learn what it means to live at a slower pace than the world around me in order to walk with God and minister out of the overflow of my own life with God.

eliminate hurry.001Fast-forward to this past year, when I posted that same quote from Willard on Twitter and a friend reached out to ask me if I had read John Mark Comer’s recent book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World.  Truth be told, I had not heard of the book, but was familiar with Comer, author and pastor for teaching and vision at Bridgetown Church in Portland. I picked the book up and discovered what was already obvious from the title, that Comer was influenced by Ortberg toward a deeper encounter with writers like Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and others.

Comer’s book is divided into three parts: part 1 – the problem; part 2 – the solution; and part 3 – four practices for unhurrying your life. There is also a small interlude between parts 2 and 3 about what spiritual disciplines or spiritual practices—Comer calls them “the habits of Jesus” (106)—are and why this is important to eliminating hurry. The third part offers an exploration of four practices to help us enter into life with God in the midst of a harried culture: silence and solitude, sabbath, simplicity, and slowing. Throughout the book, Comer astutely combines wide-ranging research on the challenges to eliminating hurry with a depth of insight about how to bring spiritual practices meaningfully into connection with our life.

I confess that when I first began reading the book, I wondered whether it would really be worth it. After all, I’ve read nearly everything Willard and Foster have written, and I’ve read Ortberg’s book The Life You’ve Always Wanted more times than I wanted to with student leaders over the years. However, as time went on, I discovered something very helpful within Comer’s book. He had taken that familiar materials and placed it so close to the changing culture we live in that the practical suggestions and application were rich and profound. For example, Comer connects classic works on spiritual disciplines with deep works on Old Testament biblical studies to talk about sabbath both as rest and worship, as well as sabbath as resistance.  I also imagine you will enjoy Comer’s list of twenty suggestions for bringing the practice of ‘slowing’ into our lives in a fresh and meaningful way. We all need someone to make old things feel new and Comer does an outstanding job of that with this book.

While I would hate to say, “Hurry up and read this book!”, let me encourage you to take advantage of our present moment to give thoughtful engagement with John Mark Comer’s The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry.


[1] This comes from chapter 5, “An Unhurried Life: The Practice of ‘Slowing’”, in The Life You’ve Always Wanted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002), but also can be found in Ortberg’s article “Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry,” Leadership Journal, July 4, 2002, https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2002/july-online-only/cln20704.html.

The Weekend Wanderer: 19 October 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed“Ethiopia’s Evangelical Prime Minister Wins Nobel Peace Prize” – In the midst of our political debates, Christians often wonder what their role should be within the public square. H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic work Christ and Culture (1951) outlines a fivefold typology: Christ Against Culture, the Christ of Culture, Christ Above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ the Transformer of Culture. While you can argue your position, it seems hard to argue against the witness of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, an evangelical Christian, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts at making peace with Eritrea.

 

Walter Kim“National Association of Evangelicals names new president, diverse leadership” – Speaking of evangelicals, the National Association of Evangelicals announced on Thursday that Walter Kim will succeed Leith Anderson as President of the NAE. This announcement marks a change toward greater leadership diversity for the NAE, as they simultaneously announced John Jenkins to the office of chair of the NAE board and Jo Anne Lyon to the office of vice chair.

 

92413“The Most Diverse Movement in History – As a pastor of a multiethnic church, I think about what diversity means quite a bit. I wrestle with Christianity’s checkered past and present on certain aspects of what we call diversity, and I hold onto the hope of the dream of God in Revelation 7:9-10. Every once in awhile someone comes along to breathe some fresh wind into my sails on these issues. Rebecca McClaughlin did just that in this essay, which points toward the powerful multiethnic history and reality of Christ’s church.

 

lead_720_405“Why You Never See Your Friends Anymore” – In her strange, but arresting, book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell relates the strangely refreshing experience of having dinner with one of her neighbors: ‘Because I hadn’t been in a neighbor’s home since I was a teenager, it was unexpectedly surreal to be inside the house that forms a permanent part of the view from our apartment….For my part, the experience made me realize how similar the life situations of most of my friends are, and how little time I spend in the amazing bizarro world of kids.” Odell’s experience is increasingly rare. In part, that is because of the way that work and our sense of time are being transformed in our current culture. As Judith Schulevitz, author of The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Timeargues in The Atlantic, we may want to do something about it. As those who believe people are made in God’s image, work is worship, and sabbath is theologically and practically significant, we may want to do something about it as well.

 

GerardManleyHopkins“The Poet in the Pulpit: On the Brilliant, Homely Homilies of Gerard Manley Hopkins” – Let me confess it: I am a preacher who loves poetry. Both my undergraduate studies in literature and my love for music gives me great joy in hearing the beauty of poetry read aloud. There is a tradition within Christian pastoral ministry of poet-preachers that includes such well-regarded figures as George Herbert and John Donne, as well as one of my favorite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins. A recent book of Hopkins’ extant homilies, only 32 total, gives us some insight into Hopkins as a preacher. From the sound of it, both his poetry and his preaching may not have been well appreciated in his lifetime.

 

Music: Cross Worship, featuring Osby Berry, “So Will I (100 Billion X) / Do It Again”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

||40days|| week three: turn from busyness

What was your schedule like this week? Did you rush around from one event or meeting to another? Did you feel like there wasn’t enough time for everything and everyone?

Legislators in the 1950s expected that as technological advances were made, people would have less work to do and more free time in their lives. Here we stand in 2012 more than half a century later with incredible technological advances that would have been difficult to foresee. Yet, our pace of life has done anything but slow down. Instead, our pace of life and expectations of mobility have increased exponentially.

In the midst of the rush of activity, it is important for us to turn from busyness, even if only for a season. Whether it is taking a weekly sabbath or scheduling seasons of life (like this ||40days||), we must do the hard work of whittling down our activity to enter into healthy and meaningful rhythms of life with God.

Only then will we be able to hear the still, small voice of God. Only then will we be able to enter into the words we encounter in Psalm 131 (NLT):

 1 LORD, my heart is not proud;
my eyes are not haughty.
I don’t concern myself with matters too great
or too awesome for me to grasp.
2 Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself,
like a weaned child who no longer cries for its mother’s milk.
Yes, like a weaned child is my soul within me.

3 O Israel, put your hope in the LORD—
now and always.