Ted Talk: “Am I Dying?”

Some of you who read this blog will die in the next twelve months. All of you, including of course me as well, will surely die. (Unless of course the Lord returns at the end of this age first!) But so few of us talk about our own demise. We talk about sex as if there were no other important topic in our culture. But we rarely talk about dying unless it is about assisted-suicide or the death of someone already departed. Facing death honestly is the Christian’s responsibility and deep joy. We say, “I am going to meet Christ face-to-face.” But few of us act like we believe this to be true. In this TED talk Matthew O’Reilly is not dealing with the questions of faith. But what he says does make a great deal of good sense. I share it in order to help you pray, think and plan for your own demise. “It is appointed to mortals to die once, and after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27, NRSV). Are you ready? What have you done today to prepare to “die once” and then face your Lord in judgment?

Death, according to Scripture is an enemy. But for those who believe in Christ as Lord it is also the portal into the presence of the King. You should plan every day. (“I die daily,” said Paul.)

 

Text here.

Posted in Death, Personal, The Future | 13 Comments/Likes

ACT3 Network Video Story

A few weeks ago I posted the “new” version of the ACT3 Network story on video. I am delighted to once again encourage everyone to see this well-done presentation (special thanks to Tim Frakes who did the work). Please share this with your friends. Encourage them to support us in prayer and with financial help if the Lord leads them to do so. We need friends to grow the network into the new places where God is opening doors wide to us.

Posted in ACT 3 | 1 Comment/Like

Why Unity In Christ’s Mission? Video

The best video that ACT3 Network has ever made is now available on our homepage. It is the way to “see” and “hear” our vision very clearly. Several months ago I made a shorter, simpler presentation about the WHY of ACT3. I am seated in my lovely gazebo where I pray and write each day that I am at home. I hope that today this video will give you fresh insight into the power of Christian unity.

 

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Unity of the Church | 7 Comments/Likes

The Great Degeneration

UnknownWhat causes rich countries to lose their way? Obvious symptoms of decline, in the West in general and America in particular, abound: slowing growth, crushing debts, increasing inequality, aging populations, antisocial behavior. A significant number of social critics will agree that these are the general symptoms of cultural shifts in the West but few will agree on what has actually gone wrong and what really caused it. The answer, says author Niall Ferguson argues in The Great Degeneration, is that our institutions—the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail—are degenerating.

The Great Degeneration is based on four lectures that Ferguson gave in 2012 and then revised and edited for this book. Niall Ferguson (b. 1964) is a professor of history at Harvard as well as a research fellow at Jesus College, University of Oxford. Ferguson is also a controversial critic who has engaged in serious research as well as partisan political action. He is known for his provocative views in both history and economics.

Ferguson argues that representative government, the free market, the rule of law, and civil society constitute the four true pillars of West European and North American societies. It was these institutions, rather than any geographical or climatic advantages, that set the West on the path to global dominance around 1500. (He gives no serious credit to the Protestant Reformation in the formation of Western society as we know it.) Ferguson believes that these four institutions have all severely deteriorated in disturbing ways. In the process Western democracies have broken the contract between the generations by piling immense debt on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are hindered by overcomplex regulations that debilitate the political and economic processes they were created to support; the rule of law has become the rule of lawyers. (I think I personally found this argument to be the strongest in the book!) As these pillars have begun to fall civil society has degenerated into uncivil society, where we falsely hope that the state will solve our problems.

The central point of the book is that institutional degeneration lies behind economic stagnation and the geopolitical decline that follows it. Ferguson analyzes the causes of this current stagnation and writes of the profound consequences this will have for our future if we do not deal with the problems now.

The Great Degeneration is an incisive, sharply polemical indictment of an era of negligence and complacency. While the so-called “Arab Spring” gains our interest, and the wider world struggles to adopt democracy, the West is failing. As China struggles to move from economic liberalization to the rule of law, our society is squandering the institutional inheritance of five-plus centuries. Ferguson argues that it will take heroic leadership and radical reform to bring about change. One of the more compelling arguments he makes is that we can best address these problems through social networks that are rooted in relationships with real people. He rightly says these cannot simply come about via the Internet.

It is this particular point that intrigues me since I believe the church must address its breakdown in the West in the same way. I call this way missional-ecumenism.

Over the past 500-years the West built up a substantial lead over other parts of the world in economic power and its material standard of living. Now the West’s lead is slipping away. Most of us are aware that developing nations such as China and India are quickly closing the gap. Many social historians and writers about culture argue that this closing gap is the natural result of globalization but Niall Ferguson clearly believes something much deeper is causing the close of the gap between the West and the Rest. The fundamental change is the decline of the West.

I will take only one aspect of the four major areas that Ferguson addresses to provide a sense of his overall argument. With respect to capitalism, where once Western institutions led the world in making it easy for businesses to start-up and operate efficiently, now heavy and overly-complex laws and regulations stifle new business and send domestic corporations overseas. Ferguson resolutely believes that Western banks and financial institutions are not under-regulated, but poorly regulated. Exhibit A can be seen in the financial meltdown of 2008. Those who took reckless (illegal?) risks are not made to pay for their transgressions. They breached the law and got away with it thus they are inclined to make the same mistakes again, a danger that Ferguson is clearly not alone in being nervous about the future of America.

When it comes to civil society, where once most Western citizens freely donated their time and money to worthy causes and charities, and thus flocked to join associations, clubs and organizations that promoted both civic-feeling and the public good, now citizens largely hide behind their televisions and computer screens and wait for the government to take care of the less fortunate.

This is a small book, less than 150-pages. I listened to it on four audio discs which were wonderfully narrated.

Ferguson’s conclusions are profoundly troubling. Many conservatives will readily agree with him. He makes a closing reference to President Obama as the “stationary mandarin” (based upon his now infamous “you didn’t build that” speech) who feels that government institutions and bureaucracies are the key to growth and not individual initiative supported by a good legal system, civil institutions, and competition. (It should not, therefore surprise anyone that Ferguson was an adviser to the John McCain campaign in 2008 and was also an open supporter of Mitt Romney in 2012.)

With his partisanship freely acknowledged I still found Ferguson’s central argument, namely that the West is losing its way in the world, to be both credible and quite easy to follow. It is in his “answer(s)” that some readers will be more likely to radically differ with him. I found myself saying, here and there, “He must be right about this point.” Then, I would say a few minutes later, “How can he draw that conclusion?” It strikes me that he is two parts convincing and one part overly impressed with his own sense of what is happening and how we should solve it. The most glaring absence is his complete failure to see the Christian faith as having an particular contribution in solving our major cultural concerns. In such a short book the author is lean on sources for many of his claims, which even further diminishes his otherwise convincing counsel.

Having given all these caveats I have to say, having never read Niall Ferguson previously, I found his book interesting and worthy of serious discussion. If I had five friends, of varying political views, who would read it and discuss it with me then I would enjoy a two-hour debate about his analysis as well as the answers he gives.

 

Posted in Books, Current Affairs, Economy/Economics, Personal | 8 Comments/Likes

The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids

22271147Several weeks ago I preached at the Saturday Vespers service at the Lutheran Church of the Master (LCM) in Carol Stream. The lectionary text was Matthew 25:1-14. This text is the parable of the wedding banquet. This text is also often misunderstood by Bible readers. This particular sermon is quite short. It may help some of you grasp the essential elements of what this account is really about in light of the kingdom of God and the gospel of good news.

I will be leading and preaching at LCM this weekend at the Saturday Vespers at 5 p.m. (November 29). I will also lead and preach at the two Sunday services (November 30) at 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Friends in the area are welcome to attend. Lutheran Church of the Master is located at 580 Kuhn Road, Carol Stream, Illinois, 60188. You are welcome to take part in one of these services of worship this weekend. I’d love to see old friends and meet new friends as well.

You can listen to the sermon on Matthew 22 below:

Posted in ACT 3, Biblical Theology, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Personal | 7 Comments/Likes

Is This a New Era in Global Catholic-Evangelical Relationships?

UnknownUnless you follow the various meetings and events which impact global Christian ecumenism closely you may well have missed one of the more historic meetings that took place in 2014. On November 6, in Rome, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance, had a meeting with Pope Francis. This meeting included a group of dear friends who are exploring together how missional-ecumenism might be better understood and lived between Catholics and evangelicals around the world. Because I make it my personal practice to prayerfully follow such events, and to support them in every way possible, I share several reports about this meeting. (The translator for the meeting was a very dear friend who I’ve had the joy of sharing my life and vision with in a deep mutual friendship thus I also followed this meeting with particular prayer!)  The report that follows was given by the WEA, which is the oldest such alliance of churches in the world.

WEA Secretary General Visits Pope Francis,

Sees ‘New Era in Evangelical and Roman Catholic Relations’

New York, NY – November 6, 2014

A delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) met with Pope Francis and representatives of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCCU) today to talk about areas of potential collaboration to address global issues of common concerns to both, the evangelical community and the Roman Catholic Church. In his address, Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe, Secretary General of the WEA, outlined specific action steps for the two world church bodies that could lead to a ‘new era in evangelical and Roman Catholic relations’.

“We acknowledge the differences between our traditions, yet also affirm the common tasks we have shared in the past and pray that we can build on those,” Dr. Tunnicliffe opened his speech. “Evangelicals are a very diverse group that includes peoples and churches from Pentecostal traditions, Reformed, Baptist and independents. We share a common faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and a desire to serve God’s kingdom, we have a heart to encourage personal spiritual renewal and transformation and a passion to make Jesus known around the world.1 As we seek to obey Christ, we see this time as a new era in Evangelical/Roman Catholic relations.”

Dr. Tunnicliffe highlighted that within the WEA’s constituency of 7 regional and 129 national Evangelical Alliances, there are many countries where believers of both communities work together.

“It is important that the world knows that there are many localized partnerships between Catholics and Evangelicals, which are developing into large-scale collaborations in response to tragic social problems,” he said. “For example, we know that in many cities around the world, Evangelical and Roman Catholic Christians are cooperating to respond to human trafficking, while at the same time Evangelical and Catholic scholars and activists have begun collaborating to analyze and respond to the terrible problems of religious persecution.”

At this meeting, the WEA suggested the Cradle of Christianity Fund2, nuclear weapons disarmament and seeking justice for the extreme poor as some of the specific areas of possible collaboration between the WEA and its partners and the respective offices of the Vatican.

While there is significant potential in increased cooperation on global level, there are theological differences between the two bodies that have historically been an obstacle to collaboration even in areas of common concern. Therefore Dr. Tunnicliffe also suggested that discussions about theological commonalities and differences be part of this new approach.

“A new era of Evangelical/Roman Catholic cooperation responding to people in need should raise questions about what we believe in the manner described. Therefore, we propose that it be accompanied by a new level of public discussion of our core beliefs, on matters where Evangelicals and Catholics both agree and where we differ,” Dr. Tunnicliffe said.

“Deeper levels of joint love of neighbors should be accompanied by higher levels of public discussion of fundamental theology and ethics between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals. This will have educational value for our own church members; it will provide answers for seekers who are interested in the Christian faith, whose interest and questions may have been awakened by our shared love of neighbors; and it sets healthy patterns for principled public discussion in a multi-religious world,” he stated.

The WEA and its partner First Step Forum also presented Pope Francis with the Shahbaz Bhatti Freedom award for his tireless commitment to build a more peaceful and reconciled world.

Apart from visiting Pope Francis, the WEA delegation is meeting with other Catholic representatives to discuss topics such as religious liberty, peace building, family, and Islam. The series of meetings followed an earlier private visit of Dr. Tunnicliffe and several other WEA representatives with the Pope in June, where the conversation was focused on personal relationship building.

Dr. Tunnicliffe’s speech can be read online here.

Over two billion Christians in the world today are represented by three world church bodies. The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) is one of those, serving and representing more than 600 million evangelicals. Launched in 1846 to unite evangelicals worldwide, the WEA continues to be a dynamic movement with 7 regional and 129 national Evangelical Alliances, and over 150 member organizations. WEA’s mission is to speak as a trusted voice, to equip members and leaders for global impact and to connect its members and others for common action in the furtherance of God’s reign. For more info e-mail at wea@worldea.org or go to Worldea.org.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 8 Comments/Likes

Cardinal O’Malley: ‘If I were founding a Church, I’d love to have women priests’

Cardinal_OMalley-140x156I was in Boston for three days last weekend working in a number of exciting missional-ecumenical contexts. Boston is best known, in terms of its Christian leadership, for the work of Cardinal Sean O’Malley. I pray for Cardinal O’Malley, a leader who represents Pope Francis and his vision as well as any American leader in the Catholic Church. Let me explain some of what I mean by sharing about my recent experience in Boston.

On Sunday evening (November 16) I met with twelve ecumenical leaders from the city. Included among those at the table were some wonderful folks such as the leader of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, the newly appointed dean of the Orthodox Cathedral, the evangelical catalyst for overseeing the joint efforts of ten seminaries in the greater Boston area, a lay leader in the office of ecumenism for Cardinal O’Malley and various religious leaders, both clergy and non-clergy. We were Catholic, Orthodox, charismatic, evangelical, mainline Protestant. We were Asian, white, black and hispanic. We were male and female, young and old. It was quite a group and the energy in the dialogue was rich and Spirit-directed. The prayers moved some of us very deeply and we wept with joy. Friendships were strengthened and made. It was all around a delightful evening meal hosted by two dear Focolare friends that I met in June in New York at the Luminosa Award ceremony. All of these lovely guests are active in mission for unity in Boston. My host for three days was my long-time friend Dr. Mark Yoon and my new friend, Scott Brill. (I also met Scott in June at the Luminosa ceremony.) Scott is an ecumenical leader in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the co-founder of the new Institute for Christian Unity. The Institute sponsored our first Boston Unity Factor Forum on Saturday, November 15.

You should also check out Unite Boston on Facebook, a movement that is doing some great work in the city. The leader, an energetic and visionary young woman, shared in this same dinner. She has a heart for unity like few I’ve met in the U.S. I look forward to forging new friendships through Unite Boston as she gets to know me better. She is now reading Your Church Is Too Small since I gave her my only copy I took along on this trip.

In addition please check out Emmanuel Gospel Center. I will write a longer blog on the EGC mission next week. The story of this evangelical witness in an urban context is truly one of the greatest stories of missional-ecumenism I’ve personally encountered in America. EGC hosted our ACT3 Unity Factor Forum last Saturday, November 15. Mark Yoon is the chairman of the EGC board and also serves as the evangelical chaplain at Boston University. Mark and I met a decade ago in Chicago after his daughter studied at Wheaton College Graduate School. I thank God that Grace Yoon insisted that I meet her dad. We did meet and became close friends for life.

What God is doing in Boston is truly amazing. One older leader called the Boston story a “quiet revival.” I am inclined to agree based upon my small three-day sample. Here, in greater Boston, the Spirit has been moving for decades. This work is not about politics or ideology but rather about unity, grace and reaching the unchurched with the good news of Jesus. This work is neither sectarian nor overtly linked to any one church expression. One of the greatest visible supporters in this movement of the Spirit is Cardinal Sean O’Malley. Cardinal O’Malley was interviewed on CBS 60 Minutes while we were enjoying our Sunday evening meal. You can see the  program online. I will watch the entire program in the next day or so. CBS called the interview with Cardinal O’Malley one which revealed his “careful candor.” I love that. Journalists are missing this “candor” because they do not understand it well but many Christians have missed it as well, including some bishops! The second clip is so fascinating if you want to get perspective on how such an interview is actually done.

Pope Francis has called Cardinal O’Malley the leader that he trusts and looks to for leadership in America. I can understand why this is true when I see and hear this man of God speak of the joy of the gospel. Pray for Boston and all Christian believers in this great city.

On Sunday morning, November 16, I preached at a young church on the campus of Boston University. (I will write more about this soon.) This evangelical church, which is less than five years old, draws well over 300 young adults and is growing and reaching the unchurched every single week. (The average age of the congregation that I preached to in the morning was about 23!) Please do not tell me that young adults will not respond to the gospel when it is presented with joy, in the power of the Spirit, and in a context that understands and relates to their story.

The Cardinal O’Malley interview is worth reading about here:

Cardinal O’Malley: ‘If I were founding a Church, I’d love to have women priests’.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Discipleship, Emergent Church, Evangelism, Faith, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 12 Comments/Likes

Lausanne Catholic Evangelical Conversation

During the days of September 11-13, 2014, the second Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation took place at Mundelein Seminary in suburban Chicago. Twenty-six leaders, thirteen Catholics and thirteen evangelical Protestants, met to consider again what the Spirit is saying to us about a new “springtime” of unity in Christ’s mission. The rest of the conversation was private. A report of this private dialogue will be posted here soon.

The only public meeting that we held included two papers and two responses. This evening meeting began our formal conversation on September 11. Four of us participated in this public, formal conversation. ACT3 Network secured a videographer to make a high-quality film of the entire evening. This includes the dialogue and some questions from the audience. Remember, the audience response does not reflect the actual private dialogue that the twenty-six of us shared throughout three wonderful days.

We rarely post anything of this length on our ACT3 Network web page or here on my personal blog site. We do so today because this material is extremely useful to the work of missional-ecumenism, the work that I have given my life to as a minister of the Word of God.

Again, this is long. You will need nearly two hours to see it all. I hope some of you will watch it all,  and interact with it, when you have time. You will find the video below and on the ACT3 Network site.

This reminds me to invite you to help us do the work of ACT3. We depend on donor support to make films like this one possible. This was a rare event and one that we believe will be useful to many viewers for a long time. To this end we invite your support for this project and similar future efforts. You can give at the ACT3 Network donor page.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Evangelism, Missional Church, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 5 Comments/Likes

A Gospel Call in Montreal (4)

The Gospel Call renewal event that I shared in Montreal two weeks ago has four specifically stated goals:

  1. To deepen our Christian sense of identity and solidarity with one another.
  2. To enable the co-sponsoring congregations to envision their mission differently.
  3. To identify concrete ways that congregations can act together in the future.
  4. To increase awareness of the biblical call to unity in faith, worship and mission.

Gospel Call is a ministry under the oversight of the North American Paulist Ministry Center in Washington, D.C.. Further information is available at the Paulist site.

DSC_6805On the last day of our Gospel Call mission in Montreal Fr. Tom Ryan and I led a “follow-through” event at the Lutheran Church. After a meal we invited leaders from the nine participating churches to come together as a group for prayer and one more symbolic expression of our oneness. In this instance the liturgy was quite simple and did not include a sermon. We placed an open Bible before the congregation and offered prayers.

Following this opening time of gathering we broke into six small groups around various ministries within the congregations. These included youth ministry, liturgy and music, administration, social action, Christian education, and mission. After about forty-five minutes in the small groups settings the people gathered together again. Fr. Ryan and I led them through an identification process through which we wrote their observations and ideas on a white board. We showed them several ways in which they could pursue some of mission together and encouraged them to come back the next week to begin a process of working on specific things. This process is meant to create ongoing collaboration between the local churches as they face their future together rather than entirely separate from one another. We ended our evening with another prayer time.

So, does this mission work? I think the honest answer to this must be left to the Spirit’s work and the response of the local churches and leaders in the months ahead. Fr. Ryan and I sowed good seed in Christ’s love. I believe this is a start but only a start. I wish there were a hundred similar Gospel Call missions taking place in North America. I know of no other teams doing what we did in Montreal but there are some grassroots efforts in various cities and regions that approximate what we attempted in Montreal. I also know that Fr. Ryan has some stories of ongoing ecumenical mission happening in places where he has done a Gospel Call event in the past.

The first Gospel Call event, before the actual name was even chosen, occurred twenty-five years ago in Canada. Fr. Ryan shared with me some of the ongoing story of how this mission continues to change the way those particular churches do mission. This encourages me to believe that our sowing this seed was worth the effort even though our numbers were not huge. (We had between 120-180 people at the three main services!) The real story is not about how large the crowd was but rather about how the Spirit worked in these churches and their leaders. I believe great good was done in Montreal in this mission. I look forward to seeing what this means going forward. Ultimately, I realize that Tom and I only “sow” while others may “harvest” (John 4:37) but it is God alone who will grant lasting fruit in his own time and way.

Posted in ACT 3, Discipleship, Evangelism, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 2 Comments/Likes

A Gospel Call in Montreal (3)

DSC_6743 copyThe final Gospel Call worship celebration in Montreal (October 28) was the last large event that Fr. Ryan and I led together. This evening event was also the last of three preaching times. The focus was on the word “Sent.” Fr. Ryan and I again preached as a team, taking turns and both speaking for about five minutes and then stopping to allow the second person to speak. Back and forth the flow went as we challenged the people to go out into the world as God’s “sent” people to be the missional people of Christ. What is different about the charge that we gave  is that the context called people and churches to specifically cooperate, collaborate and  practice unity. We are not asking Catholics to stop being Catholic or Protestants to cease to be Protestants. We are calling everyone to realize that we are all part of the same Christian family. As fellow members of the one body of Jesus Christ we can share in his mission better as those who are “sent” in unity into the world in the love of Christ.

During a Gospel Call week we do several other meetings. One was a brunch at an Anglican Church which was specifically designed for education and development. In this meeting Tom encouraged leaders from the several churches to find ways in which the Spirit is leading them to work in Christ’s mission. We entertained questions and responses. Besides being present in two Catholic churches we were also hosted by a Lutheran Church and an Anglican Church. Tom preached in a Catholic Church and a United Church on Sunday (October 26). I preached at St. Luke’s Catholic and First Christian Reformed Church, as I noted in my blog on Monday.

47a4ce11b3127cce985487cccaa700000015102BcM2zJq0ZQOn the final evening we did an interactive listening time where the leaders of the mission broke into various groups around mission outreach ministries that are presently being done in their churches. They listened to each other and wrote down ideas about how they could do their ministries better together than separately. One week later these leaders were to meet and follow-up these ideas. They would pick three things that they would seek to do in common in the months ahead. It is our hope that this will lead to deeper friendships and shared mission.

Tomorrow I will conclude this series on the Gospel Call. I will tell you about how you can invite Tom and me to do such a mission in your city or town. No place is too small or too large. I hope that some of you who read these blog reports will begin to pray about hosting a Gospel Call mission in the churches of your area.

Posted in ACT 3, Discipleship, Evangelism, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 1 Comment/Like