The Price of Freedom

There are those of us in the Vineyard movement who seek the edge.  We are finding ourselves in atypical ministries, or planting churches in atypical contexts.  We don't do this in spite of our Vineyard heritage, but precisely because of it.  It is the Holy Spirit that drives us to these places.

We follow the Wild Goose into the wilds of urban blight, the confusion of cross-cultural ministry, the sacrifice of incarnational community with the poor, the massive scope of ecological disaster, the dark nether-world of human trafficking, the ambiguity of post-christendom, and the blue oceans of secular humanity.  We are seeking the creative and entrepreneurial responses to these contexts and injustices that will further the aims of our King beyond the birthplace of our movement.

This is not a critique of what has come before, or even much of what goes on now.  Simply an acknowledgement that we are indeed leaving the house of our fathers.  We do not leave without their name, nor do we leave as a critique or rebuke.  We leave to expand the house.

It is here, however, that many of us begin to feel the pain.  In leaving the birthplace behind, we feel the lack of provision and protection that comes with being there.  I have seen and heard (and even felt in my own heart) the complaint from those of us on the frontiers, "why am I laboring in such obscurity, deprivation, and isolation?"

This however, is the beauty of our movement!  The Vineyard has always chosen to embrace the nimble creativity of freedom over the cumbersome power that comes with supporting structures.  Those of us in the frontier feel this even more, but it is still the Vineyard way.  We must simply accept the cost of being a pioneer.  We chose this.  Indeed God, in His sovereignty, chose it for us and us for it.

We are the signposts pointing towards the future.  This is the price of being the change.

The word of the Lord to us is simple, "stop seeking affirmation from those who have gone before you, and stop seeking it from those who hold power and authority today.  Instead, walk in the confidence you have in the affirmation from your King.  You need no other."

Spirituality of Poverty

The fundamental task in laboring in poor communities is spiritual.  This doesn't mean it isn't also practical, but it is a measured practicality that is attempting to uncover the curse of 1) alienation from God, 2) coercive and abusive relationships with each other, 3) hostility, ignorance, and apathy towards creation, and 4) an identity of shame.  These practical acts are spiritual in so far as they uncover the truth of the curse, and simultaneously uncover and introduce the authority and action of Jesus to break the curse,  heal these places of wounding, and tie bonds of love around us and Him, us and each other, us and the world.

The Second Adam is taking on the power of sin and death, defeating it, and re-forming us into His glorious image: favor and freedom with God, table fellowship with our enemies, stewardship of the creation, and walking in our authority and glory as the revealed children of God.

We partner with Him in breaking the power of the curse, healing the wounds, and building the bonds of love.

Charity and relief work are often needed as a precursor to this work, and in deed often constitute this very task.  But they can often also serve to inhibit this spiritual task.


Living in the Caveats

Somethings aren't always the case, thats why we have exceptions, 'what-ifs,' asterisks, caveats...

Recently, in a conversation about the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, we decided that most people live in the caveats.  They don't live in the middle, they live in the exceptions.  People often don't live in the scriptural balance of 'pursuing the gifts' and 'orderly worship.'  One group lives in the place of 'who am I to quench the Spirit,' when in all reality its not the Spirit at work.  Another group lives in the place of 'that opens us up to abusive practices, and emotional hype,' and all that means is, 'we don't do that here.'

You know you are living in the caveats when you find yourself asking the question, "yes, thats true, but what about...?"  The fact that there are wrong turns, and bumps in the road, on the way to Chicago, doesn't mean there isn't a way to get there.  Or even that it will be all that difficult to navigate.  Just that we have to pay attention to the guide, stay focused on the road, and never forget the destination.

This is a cultural phenomena.

We like to focus in on the exceptions to the rule instead of the meat of it; we wanna follow the letter of the law instead of spirit; we want to find out what is permissible instead of what is beneficial.  We love bizarre interpretations of obscure texts instead of the main and plain teachings of obvious and popular texts.

My pastor would always say, "its not the things in Scripture I don't understand that bother me, its the things I DO understand!"  Loving God with every fiber of my being, repenting of my sins, loving my enemies, living generously, humility, forgiveness, sacrifice, listening and obeying, spiritual disciplines; these are the most difficult, but necessary components of my faith.  Which is why I'd rather sit around and argue about obscure textual references...


What Laws Should We Add to the Gospel?

Acts 15:29 contains a prohibition on the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, meat from strangled animals, and blood, as well as a prohibition on sexual immorality.

Interestingly this prohibition is a part of a letter explicitly freeing gentile followers of the Messiah from the obligation of following the Torah.  (Read all of Acts 15)

So what's up?

I thought we Christians were not under law?  Am I guilty of sin for enjoying a rare steak?

Why would they, in one breath offer absolution from the ceremonial law of the Jews, and in the next breath, require adherence to a few obscure points of that same ceremonial law?

The simple answer is... context.


This was the early churches exhortation to the gentile believers, 'don't conform to the pattern of this world,' don't participate in your culture simply because its your culture.  Don't go with the flow; thoughtfully engage in counter-cultural subversion of the status quo.  Not by picking up a sword or a spear, nor even by moving out into the desert in isolation, but by living right in the middle of the Empire, engaging in all of the same relationships and social interactions, but do so with Christian intentionality.  Live a different, otherworldly, heavenly culture, right in the middle of this one.  Do it in quiet but obvious rebellion.  Refuse to eat these things, and watch your culture quickly come to frustration and confusion at the question, 'who are these people, and why do they live the way they do?'

So how do we apply this today?

I think its okay to eat blood sausage, if thats your thing.  For us to really apply this passage to our lives, we need to contextualize it.  What are the cultural forces at work today that 'it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us' to confront and subvert?

Here's my list:

"You are to abstain from purchasing any item that is not used or handmade; from eating or driving alone; from recreating behind your house instead of in front of it; and from sexual immorality."

What's yours?


1st Century Church Planting Strategy

Do you ever wonder what the secret of the miraculous growth of the first century church was? Well here it is!

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 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 1:7-8

Jesus commands them here (and earlier) to go into all the earth and teach women and men how to live in the Kingdom, partnering with the Spirit's actions on the earth.

"you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching"
Acts 5:28

The pharisees themselves testify to the effectiveness of the apostle's preaching, but we see that they still haven't obeyed Jesus! They have stayed in Jerusalem. They are indeed witnessing effectively to the King's rule, but not obeying it!

8 And Saul approved of their killing him (Stephen). On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
Acts 8:1-3

With the stoning of the deacon Stephen, a great calamity falls on the 1st Century church, and yet, it is the very tool that God uses to spread His people throughout the surrounding countryside, and nearby regions. So, to be succinct, the 1st Century church-planting strategy is a) disobey God until b) persecution comes, and c) the church is scattered, so that d) the seeds of the Gospel are carried to the far corners of the earth.