Posts tagged with: transformation

onward-russell-moore-culture-gospelOne of the long-running mistakes of the church has been its various confinements of cultural engagement to particular spheres (e.g. churchplace ministry) or selective “uses” (e.g. evangelistic conversion).

But even if we manage to broaden the scope of our stewardship — recognizing that God has called us to pursue truth, goodness, and beauty across all spheres of creation — our imaginations will still require a strong injection of the transformative power of Jesus.

When we seek God first and neighbor second, we no longer proceed from the base assumptions of earthbound goods — the “love of man” what-have-you. Yes, our goals and actions will occasionally find overlap with those of the world, but eventually, the upside-down economics of the Gospel will set us apart. We will do certain things and make certain sacrifices that are foreign and incomprehensible to those around us.

This has implications for all areas, but much of it boils down to our basic views about the human person: his and her dignity and destiny as an image-bearer of an almighty God. Once our hearts are transformed according to his designs and our views about our neighbors are aligned to God’s story about his children, our cultural engagement will manifest in unpredictable and mysterious ways. This is, after all, what it means to be strangers in a strange land, as Episode 1 of For the Life of the World artfully explains.

In his latest book, Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, Russell Moore offers some valuable reflections along these lines, noting that we can’t possibly stand as witnesses of God’s love if our cultural comings and goings fail to respond through the lens of Christ’s kingdom. “The kingdom of God changes the culture of the church by showing us a longer view of who’s important and who’s in charge,” he writes.

What cultural engagement really requires, then, is a careful destruction of that basic lie the enemy continues to spread and embed across societies and civilizations: that the love of man and the worship of his goals is, indeed, enough. (more…)

When struggling with “work that wounds”— work that’s “cross-bearing, self-denying, and life-sacrificing,” as Lester DeKoster describes it — we can content ourselves by remembering that God is with us in the workplace and our work has meaning.

But although these truths are powerful, God has not left us with only head knowledge and philosophical upgrades. When we give our lives to Christ and choose a path of transformation and obedience, the fruits of the Spirit will manifest in real and tangible ways, despite our circumstances. We will find meaning, but we will also experience peace, patience, and joy, even when it doesn’t make sense.

In Music Box, a classic Christian film from the early 1980s, we see an apt demonstration of this. The joy of the Lord is indeed our strength, not just as some abstract idea, but in real and noticeable ways through the application of mind to hands and hands to creative service. The Gospel breathes new life, even into the most dark and plodding situations.

Watch it here:

In the film, we see a tired and moping man, who lives a life of drudgery at a factory, followed by misery and disconnect at home. The solution? On his way home from work, he finds a magical music box that triggers a chorus of angels. God reminds him of the gift of Jesus — a lesson that sets the man about gift-giving of his own joy and purpose to other people, a newfound capacity that God continues to stretch throughout the film. In short, he’s awakened to the reality that all is gift. (more…)

When we hear about church “outreach ministries,” we often think of food pantries, homeless shelters, and community events. But while these can be powerful channels for service, many churches are beginning to look for new ways to empower individuals more holistically.

For some, this means abandoning traditional charity altogether, focusing their ministry more directly around recognizing the gifts and strengths of others. For others, like Evangel Ministries in Detroit, it involves a mix of many things, but with a particular emphasis on the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities.

Hear their story here, in a video produced by Made to Flourish:

For Evangel, it’s not just about meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but about teaching work skills and financial literacy, teaching congregants on the details of permitting, and even in some cases providing investment capital for particular businesses. (more…)

lanterns1Given the many warnings about the “crisis of Christianity,” the inevitable rise of secularization, and the decline of our public witness (etc.), it may not be all that surprising that the most popular verse of 2014 focuses on the key tension the underlies it all.

According to data compiled by YouVersion, the popular Bible app, that verse is none other than Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

This peculiar position has confounded Christians since the beginning, and serves as the primary focus in Acton’s new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles. How are we to be in the world but not of it? How are we to live and engage and create and exchange in our current state of exile? Beyond simply getting a free ticket to heaven, what is our salvation actually for in the here and now?

We can respond to this in a variety of ways, and as Evan Koons notes early on in the series, the more common tendency is to resort to three faulty strategies: fortification (“hunker down!”), domination (“fight, fight, fight!”), or accommodation (“meh, whatevs”).

Each stems from its own set of errors, but all tie in some way to an undue divorce or clumsy conflation of the “sacred” and the “secular.” We embrace one to the detriment of the other, falling prey to our own humanistic imaginations, and in the end, leaning on the very “ways of the world” we are seeking to avoid. We hide; we coerce; we blend in. We embrace God’s message even as we ignore his method.

Yet God has called us to a more mysterious obedience: to hear and heed his voice, to conform to his will and purposes, and in turn, to serve and spread the love of God in all areas. To seek the good of our neighbors, the flourishing of our cities, and the prospering of the nations across all spheres and through all “modes of operation”: our work, families, education, creativity, political involvement, and so on. (more…)

Good Seed, Good Soil, Abundant HarvestThe faith-work movement has risen in prominence across evangelicalism, with more and more pastors and congregations grabbing hold of the depth and breadth of Christian vocation and expanding their ministry focuses in turn.

In an article at Missio Alliance, Charlie Self offers a helpful snapshot this trend, explaining where we’ve come from and why this shift in arc and emphasis is a welcome development for the church. To demonstrate its power and promise, Self begins with the story of Scotty, a mechanic and member of Self’s church, who after 40 years in the business finally came to understand the fuller meaning and purpose of his work.

“Pastor Charlie, I just realized I am as much a minister as you are!” Scotty told him one day. “I meet people in crisis, have as much knowledge as some doctors, solve problems quickly and continually update my information and technology…not to mention keep up with all the regulations and taxes. People share their lives with me. What an awesome responsibility.” In addition to providing these basic services, Scotty lives a life of active generosity and evangelism, constantly reaching out and connecting the day-to-day material to the day-to-day spiritual in other people’s lives. “Scotty is helping an entire community flourish and he is part of God’s reign, bringing hope and justice for many,” he writes. (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
Thursday, December 4, 2014

In light of my recent posts on boyhood and the formative power of work, a new holiday ad for UPS does a nice job of illustrating a key point: something deep down in a boy longs for work, and that basic desire ought to be guided, encouraged, and discipled accordingly, not downplayed, distorted, or ignored.

The ad highlights one of the company’s youngest fans, a boy named Carson, who is fascinated by UPS trucks and relishes the chance to perform deliveries in a miniature model of his own. It’s funny, charming, heart-warming, and all the rest. (HT)

Girls are created for work as well, of course — subject for another ad, another day — but anyone who is parent to a boy knows that the shape of Carson’s excitement has a particular arc and aim. Boys love things that go, enjoy working with their hands, respond well when given big-red-button ownership, and so on. Yet even as we perceive these basic tendencies, it can be easy for us to sideline them as mere Vroom-Vroom Stereotypes, cute and quaint as a blue baseball cap, but not all that meaningful or distinct in the grand scheme of things. (more…)

exile“What is our salvation actually for?”

It’s a question that many Christians neglect to ask or seriously consider, and even for those of us who do, we tend toward answers far too focused on ourselves — our personal well-being, piety, or pathway to heaven.

But what if salvation isn’t just about us? What if it’s about something deeper, wider, and richer?

This is the question at the center of For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, a newly released 7-part series from the Acton Institute that seeks to examine the bigger picture of Christianity’s role in culture, society, and the world. Guided by storyteller Evan Koons, the documentary includes Acton researchers Stephen Grabill and Anthony Bradley, as well as other powerful thinkers and doers such as Amy Sherman, Tim Royer, John Perkins, and upcoming Acton University speaker, Makoto Fujimura.

The series is debuting nationally at this week’s Q Conference in Nashville, where Anthony Bradley is giving a related talk on “Life in Exile: How Do We Practice Being a Counterculture For the Common Good?”

Watch the trailer below:

“We are strangers in a strange land,” explains Stephen Grabill, yet “we are meant to make something of the world.” Our salvation is not about holding God’s gifts for ourselves, but rather, about being gift-givers to all and for all. Salvation is for the life of the world. (more…)

twinots_front1Buried in a note in my book about the economic teachings of the ecumenical movement is this insight from Richard A. Wynia: “The Lord does not ask for success in our work for Him; He asks for faithfulness.”

This captures the central claim of Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s book, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (IVP, 2013), which I review over at Canon & Culture. As Wigg-Stevenson puts it, “Our job is not to win the victory, but to expose through our lives the victory that has been won on our behalf.”

The wrong way of understanding this insight would be to conclude that what we do on this earth really doesn’t matter. All we have to do is be “faithful,” especially in terms of our mental orientations, and that’s sufficient. But as Gilson would remind us, “Piety is no substitute for technique.” The reality that the world is not ours to save is no excuse for pursuing good irresolutely or amateurishly.

“We need transformation, relief, and opportunity…in that order,” says AEI’s Arthur Brooks in a new video on conservatism and poverty alleviation. “Transformation starts with culture. Transformation is faith, family, community, and work…That’s the beginning of getting people into the process of rising.”


Flourishing Churches and CommunitiesI recently wrote about the need to reach beyond an earthbound economics, re-orienting our thinking around a more transcendent framework that requires active spiritual engagement and discernment. Even as Christians, far too often we set our focus too strongly on temporal features like material needs, happiness, and quality of life—all of which come into play accordingly—without first concerning ourselves with what God is actually calling us to do as individuals.

Transcendent ends will only come from transcendent beginnings, and those beginnings will only be ordered properly if we take the time to identify what objective truths exist for society and how exactly God is calling us to participate within that broader social framework.

As Charlie Self notes in his book, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work, and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship, “cultural, economic, and social institutions are built on transcendent moral foundations,” and rely on spiritually transformed individuals to function and flourish toward God’s ultimate ends. By structuring our institutions around this understanding, we create more opportunity for society to reach past the mere meddling of man.

As Self explains, properly rooted ourselves in transcendent truths opens the door to a broader, fuller approach to “service” itself:

Economic and personal liberties must be united with the rule of law to nurture loving and just expressions and allow all people to flourish. Objective truths, which guide behavior and relationships, do indeed exist. There must be explicit and implicit values that ensure cohesive and prosperous living. The Holy Spirit gives discernment and wisdom, enabling Christians to engage virtuously in commerce and culture without being enslaved by the perversions of liberty caused by rebellion and sin. (more…)