Sinless Someday


(Today is my firstborn son, Sean’s 19th birthday. I’m missing him as I am in the city of Santo Domingo, DR training a group of about 150 lay leaders at a large church in the heart of the city)

Reading N. T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, I was encouraged by these words:

“This is where the personal meaning of the cross becomes very clear. There will be a time when I–even I, sinner that I am!–will be totally sinless, when God has completed the work of grace within me. But I already enjoy, in anticipation of that future fact, forgiveness in the present and the new life of the Spirit that is made available precisely when Jesus has been ‘glorified’ by being ‘lifted up’ on the cross (John 7:39, 20:22).” (Wright, N. T. Evil and the Justice of God. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006, p. 96). Buy this book

Isn’t that encouraging. I can hardly imagine myself with nothing coming between God and me, nothing in me to be embarrassed, ashamed and guilty about. The reality, as Wright puts it, is that this is exactly how the Father sees me in the Son…right now!

(Repost from May 2007)

Avoiding Responsibility by Pointing Fingers


I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s latest book, After You Believe, and came across this paragraph this morning:

“…we who have lived for many generations with the phenomenon of ‘denominations’ may well sigh and throw up our hands. Our denominations, with all their ambiguities and puzzles, are often rooted in the very kind of ethnic distinctions or personality-based divisions which Paul went out of his way to combat. Perhaps that is one reason why moral discussions in the church tend to go round and round in small circles on a few favored issues, especially sex: discussing how, why, and when two human beings come together in a loving or quasi-loving act may be, after all, a displacement activity when we can’t cope with the question of how, why, and when a whole family of Christians should (but can’t) come together in mutual love and support. That doesn’t mean that sexual ethics are unimportant. On the contrary, they are symptomatic of the health or unhealthy of the wider community.” (N. T. Wright. After You Believe. New York: HarperOne, 2010, p. 208-209)

Questions Wright raises for me:

  • Are there ways in which I am focusing more on the “big sins” of others as a way of avoiding my own?
  • How might God want me to become more awake to my own shortcomings so that I might experience mercy and grow in grace myself?
  • Specifically, how might He wish our communities to focus more on loving one another in such a way that this mutual care overflows into the world around us?

(A repost from April 2010)

Telling Our Stories of Transformation


(A repost from March 2010)

One expanding arena of our work in The Leadership Institute has been in organizational transformation. Recently, Paul Jensen pointed me to a quotation in Evil and the Justice of God (Intervarsity, 2006), where N. T. Wright says, “As Walter Wink has argued strongly in his major work on the powers, there is a great deal to be said for the view that all corporate institutions have a kind of corporate soul, an identity which is greater than the sum of its parts, which can actually tell the parts what to do and how to do it. This leads to the view that in some cases at least, some of these corporate institutions-whether they be industrial companies, governments or even (God help us) churches–can become so corrupted with evil that the language of ‘possession’ at a corporate level becomes the only way to explain the phenomena before us (p. 18, emphasis mine).”

Wright and Jensen are careful about explicitly referencing the demonic in relation to Christian organizations, but there can be patterns in any organization that look more unholy than holy, unloving than loving, ungraced than graced. Christian organizations may find themselves desiring a deeper integrity as it relates to practicing God’s presence in their individual and shared life together. One of the tools that has proven fruitful is remembering and telling founding stories. In any church, ministry, mission, movement or denomination, there are stories about how it came to be. There are often powerful God dynamics illustrated in those stories. Over time, a community may lose touch with those God stories. When this happens, a community forgets who they are and Who God is among them.

A basic biblical version of this dynamic is the way in which Israel told and retold their own Exodus story, remembering together (and often) how God had delivered them from centuries of slavery in a miraculous way through the Red Sea. Whenever they lost track of that story, they lost track of their unique relationship with God. So the story needed to be told and retold.

What are some of your own earliest God stories? How well do you remember them? How often do you remember them?

If you are in any kind of ministry leadership, what are some of the founding stories of your organization? How might remembering them be a source of renewal and encouragement for your community?

Buy a copy of Evil & the Justice of God on Amazon.com

The Art of Thinking Different Thoughts


A while back, I read N. T. Wright’s latest book, After You Believe. Early on, he tells the story of a father who, during a very hard rain, realized his dog and his daughter had been sucked down a storm drain. Instead of panicking (which he was sorely tempted to do), he thought quickly, and realized that he needed to run 100 yards towards the river where the drain emptied. There he saw his daughter and was able to rescue her. His comment about how he was able to do this struck me: “Every time I had a bad thought, I forced myself to think of something else.”

This is really good counsel. I realize how easily I let certain thoughts carry me to places that are far less fruitful or life-giving. Lately, I often wake with feelings and thoughts of fear and anxiety. Sometimes I have able to find my way to places of peace. Sometimes I just struggle.

The man in Wright’s story was practicing Paul’s counsel to “take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).” (The context there makes it sound more like Paul is taking the thoughts of others captive, but I think the personal application is appropriate). If I fail to take false thoughts captive so that they obey Christ, I will be taken captive by them so that I don’t obey Him. It really does seem this simple. These thoughts and arguments and pretensions set themselves up against the true knowledge of God, His ways and His righteousness. They lead us, not to make it too dramatic, on the path of destruction.

I’m finding, though, that many of these thoughts are quiet and sneaky. They don’t bang on the front door. They sneak in the back. They don’t shout their destructive, negative suggestions. They whisper them so quietly that I easily mistake them for my own. I find myself often praying that God’s Spirit will enable me to remain awake and aware in the midst of the many thoughts that cross my mind moment to moment, day by day.

For Reflection:

  • As you think back on the last twenty-four hours, what are some thoughts that have crossed your mind? What has been the fruit of following some? What has been the fruit of resisting others? What is Christ inviting you to think about?

Buy a copy of After You Believe on Amazon.com

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Avoiding Responsibility by Pointing Fingers


I’ve been reading N. T. Wright’s latest book, After You Believe, and came across this paragraph this morning:

“…we who have lived for many generations with the phenomenon of ‘denominations’ may well sigh and throw up our hands. Our denominations, with all their ambiguities and puzzles, are often rooted in the very kind of ethnic distinctions or personality-based divisions which Paul went out of his way to combat. Perhaps that is one reason why moral discussions in the church tend to go round and round in small circles on a few favored issues, especially sex: discussing how, why, and when two human beings come together in a loving or quasi-loving act may be, after all, a displacement activity when we can’t cope with the question of how, why, and when a whole family of Christians should (but can’t) come together in mutual love and support. That doesn’t mean that sexual ethics are unimportant. On the contrary, they are symptomatic of the health or unhealthy of the wider community.” (N. T. Wright. After You Believe. New York: HarperOne, 2010, p. 208-209)

Questions Wright raises for me:

  • Are there ways in which I am focusing more on the “big sins” of others as a way of avoiding my own?
  • How might God want me to become more awake to my own shortcomings so that I might experience mercy and grow in grace myself?
  • Specifically, how might He wish our communities to focus more on loving one another in such a way that this mutual care overflows into the world around us?

Buy a copy of After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters on Amazon.com

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The Transforming Power of Remembering Our Stories


One expanding arena of our work in The Leadership Institute has been in organizational transformation. Recently, Paul Jensen pointed me to a quotation in Evil and the Justice of God (Intervarsity, 2006), where N. T. Wright says, “As Walter Wink has argued strongly in his major work on the powers, there is a great deal to be said for the view that all corporate institutions have a kind of corporate soul, an identity which is greater than the sum of its parts, which can actually tell the parts what to do and how to do it. This leads to the view that in some cases at least, some of these corporate institutions-whether they be industrial companies, governments or even (God help us) churches–can become so corrupted with evil that the language of ‘possession’ at a corporate level becomes the only way to explain the phenomena before us (p. 18, emphasis mine).”

Wright and Jensen are careful about explicitly referencing the demonic in relation to Christian organizations, but there can be patterns in any organization that look more unholy than holy, unloving than loving, ungraced than graced. Christian organizations may find themselves desiring a deeper integrity as it relates to practicing God’s presence in their individual and shared life together. One of the tools that has proven fruitful is remembering and telling founding stories. In any church, ministry, mission, movement or denomination, there are stories about how it came to be. There are often powerful God dynamics illustrated in those stories. Over time, a community may lose touch with those God stories. When this happens, a community forgets who they are and Who God is among them.

A basic biblical version of this dynamic is the way in which Israel told and retold their own Exodus story, remembering together (and often) how God had delivered them from centuries of slavery in a miraculous way through the Red Sea. Whenever they lost track of that story, they lost track of their unique relationship with God. So the story needed to be told and retold.

What are some of your own earliest God stories? How well do you remember them? How often do you remember them?

If you are in any kind of ministry leadership, what are some of the founding stories of your organization? How might remembering them be a source of renewal and encouragement for your community?

Buy a copy of Evil & the Justice of God on Amazon.com