The Grand Paradox: a book review

IMG_4809-0
Ken Wytsma has done it again. His first book, Pursuing Justice, instigated deep awareness and powerful conversations concerning social justice, especially among evangelicals. The newly released volume, The Grand Paradox, invites readers into the current conversation on Christian spirituality with mature pastoral wisdom. The subtitle, “the messiness of life, the mystery of God and the necessity of faith,” aptly describes the interdependent threads which together strengthen the message of the book.

The Paradox of Faith provides a much needed fresh trailhead into the theological and philosophical undergrowth of these threads by refusing to offer patronizing anecdotes or simplistic solutions. Life is hard, often confusing. And that’s where faith has opportunity to blossom. Wytsma writes, “Faith is often characterized less by clarity than by confusion.” This is a long overdue corrective to the pervasive teaching (both within and outside the church) which declares clarity and certainty as a sign of faith.

In American church culture we make much of finding God’s will for our personal lives, our churches, our families. We devise mission statements, concoct lists of core values, and develop action plans which reflect those values. Then tragedy strikes, or something goes awry, or things simply don’t work out the way we envisioned. Did we miss God? Or are we just now being presented with an opportunity to meet him more powerfully than we ever thought possible?

Wytsma writes,

“We pray and seek God’s will as though He has a specific will for each of us–for each of the seven billion people alive today. I think it’s more accurate to understand Him as having one will that involves separate roles for each of those seven billion people. Rather than seeing myself as the central figure, I need to learn what the whole puzzle looks like so I can find where my little piece fits.”

So then, what is my role in his will. What is yours?

Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Early in the book Wytsma reminds us of our first year Greek. Despite being commonly translated righteousness and interpreted as referring strictly to personal or corporate moral purity, the underlying Greek word has a dual meaning. Justice is the oft-forgotten doppelgänger. Such an understanding does not change the meaning of Jesus’ words; it does radically challenge our long-held interpretive assumptions, especially within evangelicalism.

It’s the sort of thing Jesus commonly did in his earthly ministry, creatively upending world-views which were contrary or divergent to his person and work. God is using Ken Wytsma to be that kind of gentle, but piercingly targeted messenger in my life and in the lives of those God is influencing through him.

There is far more to The Grand Paradox than what I have time or space to share here. I treated those items I felt were most meaningful to me. And in doing so, I hope I’ve encouraged you to consider buying the book. It has my heart-felt appreciation and endorsement.

I received a copy of this book from the author for free in exchange for providing an honest review. Thus, the opinions above are my own.

he saw that it was good

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a9f/4366019/files/2015/01/img_3343.jpg
Photo courtesy Nasa.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1). For six days he created. He spoke and there was light. He separated the waters from the land. Plant life and creatures filled the earth and waters. And then on the sixth day he created humans, first the man, Adam; then Eve from Adam’s rib. At the close of each day of creation he saw that his work and his creation was good. On the seventh day he rested.

I introduced my young friends in kids church to the account this morning. For many of them it was their first time reading and hearing it. They looked up the text for themselves in the Bible. I pointed out to them that God created, but that he himself was not created. Several looked at me in amazement.

God, the all-powerful, loving, good, creative One created all of this out of his goodness and love.

Next week they learn more in detail about how God created the first man and woman, and why.

Because he is loving and good.

He created you out of his love and with his breath brushing your innermost being he affirmed, “It is good.” Even now his thoughts toward you are for your edification and well-being. He remembers your first wiggle in your mother’s womb, your birth, your first steps, your first words, your first prayers, your first hopes, your first failures, every detail, every moment of your life to the present and into the future for all eternity.

He knows all your days from before the foundation of the world. And he loves you. Because he is infinitely good.

Now then, how will you respond?

living excursus

/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/a9f/4366019/files/2014/12/img_3522.jpg While the culture swirls around me in a frenetic display of preparations for year-end celebrations, I’ve stepped far away from their activities to reflect upon my life. Consider it a living excursus, not unlike its literary counterparts. I also celebrate the ending of 2014 and the onset of 2015, but in my own way. In the quiet, the lull before re-engaging my neighborhood in mission.

I’m at that place where youth and age meet in conversation. It’s likely not what you might expect. Rather than age saying, “Let’s play it safe” and youth snorting in derision, it’s quite the opposite. I continue pressing into the margins, to the unsafe, uncharted, even–at times–undesirable places. In my early youth I secretly desired prestige, position, honor, and titles. In my public humility I privately craved approval. I wanted to be loved.

Through the years, I’ve learned increasingly that I have always been loved by those who matter most, foremost The Lord God, and also my family.

Therefore, I forsake the need for approval. I choose to take up, instead, the cross which Jesus Christ has set before me.

This gives me courage to seek out and try to help those who do not know God and who are vulnerable to the vicious cruelty of systemic injustice; that is, justice which we as a culture fortify via our collective behaviors and the actions of our elected representatives in government.

For the last few years I’ve struggled to make sense of my life and purpose. Formerly it was wrapped up in academia and being a children’s pastor. Now it continues to be shrouded in obscurity, like a winding, muddy mountain trail curving up into the fog bank into a dense stand of trees.

So be it.

You asked who will go, Lord. Here I am. Send me.

Wilderlands

Yesterday I joined the 180 team and kids and their parents and grandparents, along with many friends from church to share a thanksgiving meal together after an abbreviated 180 session. My favorite memories include watching a grandma race children to carry ping pong balls from one bucket to another. She was quick. Her team won three times in a row. No lie.

We are developing relationships. Doing life together is becoming a pervasive theme in our ministry ethos. It’s gratifying to witness this ongoing maturation in our culture.

In our ministry there are no stars. Just humble servants seeking to do God’s will. And if we should ever become tempted to succumb to pride, may God crush us once again for our sake and that of our community.

We are invested for the long term. No plans to move our campus to a more affluent area as was suggested by some folks years ago. We love our neighborhood. These are our people. Their hurts are ours. So we are learning to open our hearts to them, give of our time, become vulnerable, become real.

It’s hard. We don’t have all the answers. I know I don’t. In my brokenness I cling desperately to God’s grace, thankful for his deliverance and healing. Yet for the sake of the gospel I must press more deeply into the wilderlands, the untamed territories, the hard places where most don’t want to go, where I sometimes fear to tread. How can I not?

Whether it’s the drug addict or the ex-con, the hardened truck driver or tough guy warehouseman, the wealthy businessperson or destitute person on the street corner, I must be fully present for them in God’s timing.

As I’ve written before. It’s not about me, it’s all about Christ and him crucified.

What about you? What is God stirring in your heart?

Neighboring

The teen boy in the neighborhood attempted to push the SUV forward by himself. Too much weight. I immediately pulled over and lent my shoulder to the effort. A second teen jumped out of the vehicle, which meant the three of us were now a team with one goal: move the car two hundred yards forward to the nearby gasoline station.

No problem. Some sweat in the frigid air. A few breaks from our exertions. Bam. Job done. They shook my hand and began to offer money, I smiled, telling them they did not need to pay me. I am always happy to help.

It’s what I learned from my father as I saw him help others on many occasions over the years. Later in life a friend named Danny inspired me in the same way. How can I not follow their examples in giving when it is within my power to do so? Anyone can articulate the importance of helping neighbors and being on mission to share Christ’s love with them. Yet, without tangible action, the words are just a theory of what we might do or a memory of what once had been done.

Neighboring is not about living and working in proximity while minimizing prospective interactions, thereby keeping the peace…. No. It’s about intentionally reaching out to neighbors in kindness within the common routines of daily living. It’s simultaneously an invitation to community and a respect for personal privacy.

It consists of shining the hope of the gospel in dark places from an embedded platform of prophetic humility: relational togetherness, rather than some vague notion of spiritual otherness as seen on tv or heard on the radio. Knowing and being known while remaining faithful to the gospel in belief and action.

It’s what we do, you and I, as we serve God in the way of Jesus.

You in?

the power of choice

You have a choice right now. Will you continue reading this post or move on? Will you scratch your chin because it itches or ignore it? Will you act on your dreams or treat them like the itch you likely just ignored? What is your choice?

If something in you stirred concerning acting on your dreams, then this post is for you.

What is blocking you from taking action? What fears? What obstacles? What choices you have previously made?

Are you ready to make a change? If yes, then coaching may be for you. If no, then you may benefit from a compassionate listener such as a pastor, counselor, or friend.

If you are interested in coaching, check out my coaching page for information about my services and how to obtain them.

We all may benefit from coaching from time to time, whether in business, ministry, or our personal lives. I share this post because you own the power to choose. You can change those things in your life, work and ministry which are within your power to influence. Will you make that choice? Or will you choose to maintain the status quo, doing what you and others have come to expect as normal?

Want my recommendation? Toss mediocrity to the garbage heap and agitate the status quo for the sake of a preferred future. Your preferred future. By God’s grace and with his wisdom and power you can make that choice.

It’ll be scary. The big dreams always are. But if it’s God’s dream for you, then he will empower, supply, and encourage you along the way to its fulfillment for God’s glory.

Interested? Use the contact page to look me up. Let’s talk.

Portland Street Ministry Network

For several years I’ve taken steps to befriend leaders who minister to and with the homeless in the Portland metropolitan area. I’ve visited some of their places of ministry, shared in conversation, and mostly listened, asking questions so I may better understand what they do and why.

But that didn’t entirely satisfy my curiosity; it stoked the fires, inspiring me to dig more deeply. So with the encouragement and active support of my friends Pastor Steve Kimes of Anawim Community and Pastor Luke Sumner of HomePDX, I started a network designed to bring homeless ministers together every two or three months for encouragement, collaboration, prayer and inspiration. We’ve met three or four times as a group. We are on the process of planning our next gathering, likely on October 16, 2014, with details to come soon.

We are a varied assortment of people. There are pastors of homeless churches, homeless advocates, folks who run shelters, and even a box truck driver, namely me. Some are liberal, a few more conversative. We have anabaptists, Roman Catholics, baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, and so on. Our gatherings are characterized by kindness and compassion, flavored by authenticity and candor. We have nothing to lose by keeping it real, but we try to consider the feelings of others in the process.

It’s an organic, fluid conversation that is nuanced by the diverse perspectives of those who are present. That’s why we need you: your wisdom, experiences, dreams and hopes, even your pain and frustration. That way we can learn from and support each other.

You may be wondering how you can get involved. Here are a few ideas:

1. Join our email list by leaving a comment on this blog with your email address. Or you may message me directly using the contact page.
2. Come to our next gathering. Every month I use the email list to inform subscribers about upcoming events. I would love to see you at our next network gathering!
3. Pray: for the network and for all those who are doing the work of ministry among the homeless in Portland and beyond.
4. Volunteer: find a local shelter or homeless church and give time, money, food and clothing, and so on.

Got questions? Ask away! Meanwhile, go befriend and love someone who lives outside. It will change your life.