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13 Things You Need to Know About Monk Wes

wes with kidsRather than write a long, boring bio of myself, which you would only briefly scan anyway, I thought I’d make it easy and give you a bullet-pointed list of things you need to know about Wes Magruder, the newest Missional Monk:

  1. Yes, I actually am a friend of Bret Wells. We got to know each other through our work with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, but even then, I kind of like him. I think he’s cool, especially with the facial hair. We like hanging out together, and even more, talking about how to be Sent. Together.
  2. I am a Wesleyan, but not sure how Methodist. Full disclosure: I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I became a UM because I felt called to the Church, and because I resonated with John Wesley’s emphasis on sanctification, joining together of faith and good works, and patterns of discipleship. When I see those things happening in the UMC, I celebrate. When I don’t, I get a little crabby.
  3. I don’t think most people who throw the word “missional” around knows what it means. I will say more about this later, but the missional conversation has been dangerously diluted by those who use the word loosely. And a lot of them are denominational folks looking for a new angle. If I can accomplish anything as a new Missional Monk, I’d like to help correct this situation.
  4. I hate church meetings. This comes from experience, believe me. I’ve been a pastor in churches in London, rural Texas, and suburban Dallas. Most church meetings, I have learned, peak after 11 minutes, and then quickly descend into ineffectiveness, gossip, and malaise. The proudest moment in my years as a pastor was shutting down a committee in England that couldn’t remember why it was meeting in the first place.
  5. I’m distrustful of institutions, but love community. This isn’t a paradox. It’s just a recognition of the reality that institutions quickly lose sight of the movements that birthed them, and end up doing things that undermine relationships and community. Exhibit A: most North American congregations.
  6. I believe that justice work is one of the great neglected themes of the North American church. Which means that most evangelical churches are lopsided, having determined (consciously or not) that social justice is not “spiritual” work. We need a recovery of the whole gospel, good news for every system, principality, power, and people group. Look for my contributions on this theme coming soon on this blog!
  7. I don’t own a gun, and never will. I might as well get this out here now: I’m a pacifist. No, I would not kill someone even if they were advancing on my family to do harm. I can explain some other time and in some other forum. All you need to know is that I believe the way of Jesus is nonviolent. Completely.
  8. I am suspicious of most Western missionary efforts, though I have been a missionary myself. I spent four years in Cameroon as the director of a new mission initiative through the denominational missional board. The experience was wonderful and life-giving (to myself and others), but even while I worked on the ground, I wondered if I was engaged in anything more than a colonizing project.
  9. Daraja is the Swahili word for “bridge,” and the name of the nonprofit organization that I recently started. Daraja is my current passion, a ministry to recently resettled refugees in the Dallas area. We train volunteers to coach refugees and their families, and help them make a successful transition to life in America. For more information, check out www.jesuswasarefugee.com
  10. I am a girl dad. That’s what my three daughters call me. This means that I know way more than I ever wanted about drill teams, the Twilight series, hair and clothing, and emotional swings. But it also means that I am pampered, loved, and spoiled. Rachel is 19 and currently touring the world with Long Island University — Global. Chloe is a Planoette and going to be a senior next year, while Mallory starts high school next year as a Vikette. Oh, and my wife recently started her own business, a franchise of Kumon.
  11. In my next life, I want to be a rock musician. Seriously. My younger brother lived this life for awhile as the drummer of a band called Calla, and I was madly jealous the whole time. I’m currently digging the new album by The National, but I also like Bon Iver, Delta Spirit, Mumford and Sons, The Tallest Man on Earth … ok, this could go on awhile. Just know this — Bob Dylan is the man. And so is Bono.
  12. When Jesus says to follow him, I think he meant it. My whole life has been an attempt to figure out what this is supposed to look like. It’s taken me to some pretty crazy places, but it’s what life is supposed to be about.
  13. There are only two seasons of the church year: Baseball Season, and Ordinary Time. My major leisure activity is watching baseball. I am a lifelong fan of the Texas Rangers, and thus, have recurring nightmares of a ninth-inning fly ball in St. Louis. I’m SO glad we let Josh Hamilton go, but hope we never trade Jurickson Profar. 
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What Do You See?

In my class on the Missional Imagination students are required to select a “missional space” for the duration of the course (and hopefully beyond). The only requirements for selection are that it must be local, public and regularly accessible. So, for instance, if they live in Fort Worth, their location shouldn’t be a favorite hangout in Dallas (unless they drive there every day for work), it shouldn’t be a church building or their living room and it shouldn’t be someplace like Six Flags that they can only afford to visit a couple times a year.

Beyond that, they can choose just about anywhere. A coffee shop, local bar, grocery store, community center, town square, neighborhood park – or in some instances, perhaps even their front yard.

Each week part of the course curriculum involves spending time in this location. The first assignment is simply to describe what they see. What are the sounds and smells of the place? How is the place decorated? How would they describe the atmosphere? What do they notice about the people? Is this a place where people come for escape or connection? Do people notice each other or keep their heads down as they go about their business?

And what we often discover is that we’ve seen a place a million times without ever seeing it.

As the course progresses I ask them to look again. When we talk about the missional imagination, we’re talking about the ability to see what could be, can be and will be as the kingdom of God breaks in more fully. Where is the kingdom of God already breaking in here? Where does this place and these people desperately need God’s kingdom more fully?

What do you see?

I believe that most, if not all, of us could benefit from someone walking alongside us all day long asking this question. “Wait. What do you see?”

Because our temptation is simply not to see. Perhaps its a matter of convenience, self-absorption, frustration or fear, but we just don’t see. We don’t see the stuff that is right in front of us…so how can we possibly see what could be? Whenever people ask me to help them think through ways to engage a more missional orientation to faith, this is one of the first questions I ask.

Whenever someone complains that missional – or any other – theology is too abstract or theoretical, this is one of the first questions I ask. Whenever someone says that they aren’t sure what they’re supposed to do with their life, don’t know how to move from intellectual to holistic faith, don’t know where to begin…I ask, “What do you see?”

Everywhere we look, if we will look, there are signs of God at work and there are signs that the people of God need to cry out for God’s ministry of reconciliation, redemption and rescue.

So, what do you see?

A Prayer for Thursday, September 8

Leaders who lead through visions of justice rather than fear

Holy God, we trust that perfect love drives out fear and yet we confess that too often, fear remains our constant companion. Open our eyes to the ways in which we allow fear, rather than faith, hope and love, to drive our decisions. We pray for the leaders of our country, local governments, influential organizations and your church. May our leaders lead through visions of justice rather than reactions to, and manipulation of, fear. We pray for your perfect love to be made perfect within us. Lord have mercy.

Life in Suburbia

 

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This may seem a bit obvious, but Chris and I have been spending a lot of time thinking about the suburbs lately. Its obvious (obviously) because we live and are planting churches in a suburb of Fort Worth, TX. 

A couple months ago we both read a book, Death by Suburb, that we felt addresses many of the issues that we and our community deal with on a regular basis. Toxins like the temptation to for every relationship to be transactional – based on an exchange of goods, services or some perceived benefit. We get our coffee from a drive-thru worker, not a person; we buy our groceries from a corporation and pay a cashier…no names required. Even our interactions with our Christ Journey family runs the risk of becoming transactional – I call you because you volunteered to read Scripture on Sunday or because you are a House Church Leader, not because I wanted to see how your doctor’s appointment went yesterday. That reminds me, I want to call somebody about their doctor’s appointment yesterday….

…Okay I’m back.

Transactional relationships, the inability to slow down, the temptation to define ourselves by what we do or have, the compulsion to have someone else’s life – to compete with our neighbors and define ourselves through “immortality symbols” such as new minivans, community service activities, successful kids, etc, – none of these things are unique to the ‘burbs, but many have unique expressions in suburban life. And we deal with all of them in one way or another.

Of course, our work here in Burleson is interesting in that we aren’t in an exclusively “typical” suburban area. There are sprawling McMansion neighborhoods to be sure, but there are also still plenty of “small town” and even “rural” areas, many of which found in the same zip code.

As we’ve continued to engage this suburban idea in our studies and conversations, we’ve come across some very helpful resources, including this article in Newsweek magazine (thanks for the link Chris!)

I couldn’t help but think of my time in the New Orleans area when reading that article. I typically say New Orleans when folks around here ask where we were in Louisiana. But to the locals, we were well outside of NOLA…we were on the Northshore. New Orleans is situated around the Mississippi River but is also held in place by Lake Pontchartrain (the huge oval shaped water feature on the southeast corner of a LA map). Across the 24 mile Causeway Bridge there is a growing “bedroom” community made up of several towns: Mandeville (where we lived), Madisonville, Covington, Lacombe, Abita Springs…and plenty other small communities.

MANY people drive across that bridge to the Southshore every day. New Orleans would be in serious trouble if it were not for the North Shore. And yet the various discussions of urban renewal and even church planting typically ignore or show mild neglect to the residents of St. Tammany Parish.

The Newsweek article addresses the reality that as the popularity and availability of suburban life increases, so does the existence of social concerns which many suburbanites tried to leave behind. One quote in particular said it well: 

The end of the (traditional) suburbs was inevitable. Hopeful, mobile Americans may once have thought they could leave behind the pressures, demands and compromises of city life. But social concerns inexorably follow society.

One of the things that Chris and I have wanted to be very intentional about in our Navigating the Suburban Wilderness series is to avoid telling people they should move to the country OR to the city. 

It seems that these options are often held up as the true choices for the person who doesn’t want to become a Stepford wife…or husband. “Move to the country and get back to your roots!” “Enjoy small town values with people you can trust.” “Experience the land again.” These are all great things – I come from the country and enjoyed these aspects of my upbringing.

“Return to the cities and stop ignoring the poor!” “Jesus wouldn’t live in the burbs, he’d be in the city where the oppressed and forgotten live.” “If you want real character and personality, you have to experience city life…suburbs are too sterile.” There is a deep pull in my heart for speaking for the voiceless, seeing the invisible and breaking the chains of injustice. And its hard not to like areas like Sundance Square in Fort Worth…

But make no mistake, Jesus is not merely a resident of the city or a friend of the rancher. Jesus is the one who has come near and is the companion of humanity – not just a certain cross-section. Anywhere there are people there is opportunity to know their names – not just in small towns. If you won’t meet your neighbor in the burbs, you aren’t likely to learn the names of shop owners in a rural town either. If you haven’t spoken up for the needs of the oppressed in the suburbs (refer back to the Newsweek article if you think they don’t exist…or better yet, visit Harvest House, Heart for the Kids, or talk to just a couple random people and ask them their story) then why would you be more likely to do the same in the city? 

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that there are people who feel a special calling to show solidarity with the urban poor and I am so glad they are willing to answer that call. There are plenty of people raising their families is small towns, and that is great. But you don’t typically have to go any further than your own neighborhood to find opportunities to love those who are unloved and share hope with those who are trapped in despair.

I believe that the burbs are going to continue to become more and more complex and diverse. We believe that the Kingdom of God is breaking in even here and the Lord Jesus is seeking to proclaim freedom for the captives, even if their prison bars are picket fences and their sentence is self-imposed.

Chatty Cathy’s Thousand Word Reply

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My friend Anthony left a comment on my previous post asking a couple questions. When my response reached post length I decided to just put it up here! So with that said here’s the comment and my reply.

Anthony says:

Ok, I’m a latecomer to this conversation, but thought I’d chime in anyway. I have no time to go finding a bunch of texts to buttress a position, so I will assume that we all share a common general knowledge of the same story. Anyway, I have two questions regarding Bret’s position, which may be completely right, I just have some questions.

1) Is God’s wrath passive — leaving us to the consequences of sin, but without active intervention on his part? “Passive wrath” sounds like an oxymoron.

2) Was the death of Christ necessary? Jesus prayed that the cup be taken from him if there was any other way. Did the Father say, “I could do it another way–but this one shows the depth of our love better than the others”? Or was there really no other way that we could be saved?

My reply:

Anthony,

Thanks for the comment/questions.

First, I wouldn’t use the word passive. I for sure think that it goes too far to say that across the board God’s response to sin is passive – though I think there is plenty of evidence to show that one response of God’s wrath is choosing not to intervene. 

We know that for those who consistently choose to live rebelliously God will give them over to their sinful desires…the result of believing a lie is living into that lie. Is that passive? I don’t know that passive is the best descriptor, but neither does it fit the view of vengeful God doling out punishment. 

Also, as I pointed out in the previous post, Galatians 6:7-8 says “Do not be deceived, God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” I’ve heard it said here that God pours out his wrath on those who sow to please the sinful nature. However, it makes at least as much sense (and I honestly I believe it is more true to the text) to say that God allows us to reap the natural consequences of what we’ve worked to achieve.

In that way it does seem that the Wrath has a passive component – the wrath is the withholding of rescue that has been rejected. 

I do not believe that God’s only response to sin is passive/not responding and I don’t know whether “passive wrath” is an oxymoron or not. However, at the risk of going more philosophical than anyone wants: if God is omnipotent, to choose NOT to act isn’t really passive, it is a significant action.

In either case I believe that God’s wrath, be it active or passive or some paradox of the two or something else entirely, is meant to be redemptive. And that leads to your other question.

Was the death of Christ necessary? I’m not sure if that’s the right question for this conversation. I would say that Christ’s death was necessary – just perhaps not for the reasons we’ve traditionally held. Taking your hypothetical God to Jesus statement “This one shows the depth of our love better than the others” 

I’m not sure but I think you probably meant that as a tongue-in-cheek obviously wrong answer, but perhaps that “argument” would be more compelling for God than it is for us. The deepest display of love may in effect be “the only way” precisely because God IS the deepest display of love.

The question we’re really wrestling with here (or at least that I’m wrestling with) is whether the death of Christ was the only way for God’s irrevocable demand for justice to be satisfied. Or beyond that, is the satisfaction of God’s righteous wrath and need for justice the crux of our salvation?

Perhaps we’ve too narrowly defined what it means to “be saved.” Is our salvation merely the satisfaction of God’s righteous anger? Who are the players in this drama? Is God the protagonist and humanity the antagonists? Or vice versa? 

Are not sin, death and satan the true enemies? Is it possible that we, marred as we are by sin, have perhaps been held captive by the enemy or even foolishly (and often unknowingly) aligned ourselves with the enemy?

There is no other name in heaven or earth through which salvation is available than that of Jesus – this I fully affirm. To whatever degree that sins must be atoned for it is only through the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus that atonement is made possible. Whatever rescue is available, God has fulfilled it through Christ.

But I still contend that we devalue the true wonder, power and profound love/kindness (chesed) of God by placing such emphasis on penal substitution and God’s inability to forgive any offense without the taking of a life.

Many brilliant folks through the years have put forth views of God’s justice and holiness which demand that he have satisfaction. My dissent is not to the position but the degree to which that position is held. I agree that God is righteous, holy and just. I’m not so sure I agree that God’s demand for justice outweighs all else. Why then should Jesus have taught us to turn the other cheek? Why then would Paul have said, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Cor. 6).

In a previous conversation the response to this was that God’s demand for justice is unavoidable but he shows his grace by sending Jesus as a scapegoat. Okay. That still leaves me with questions of why we then are commanded to forgive. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Do we forgive those who trespass against us by demanding the death of an innocent?

I find little support for saying we are to forgive only once justice has been enacted. And I believe it is a cheap forgiveness indeed to say, “you can forgive them and move on because God’s going to punish them in the end.” There doesn’t seem to be any real forgiveness taking place there. And doesn’t that only work if they aren’t “saved”? Otherwise they avoid punishment – which then leads me to cry out for justice…which I apparently won’t get.

However, if the message is that through ultimate sacrifice we learn to have peace even when justice is denied…

When God incarnate makes the choice to NOT continue the cycle of vengeance and retribution (what if Israel and Palestine could get that concept??) When he willingly lays down his life rather than demanding the justice he deserved. When God made that choice he stepped into the middle of an unending cycle of sin and death and sent the whole thing spiraling in a new direction. Then justice was indeed served when Jesus rose from the dead, vindicated and glorified. 

Perhaps our mistake is confusing the issue of satisfying God’s wrathful requirement for justice with the issue of our salvation in Christ as though the two were synonymous. We’ve treated them as such but, again, just perhaps they aren’t.

Perhaps there have been many things throughout history which have appeased God’s wrath – sacrifice, repentance, a broken and contrite heart and faithfulness to name a few. But perhaps our salvation is about more than that. Perhaps our salvation, found only in the power of Christ, is the restoration of God’s Kingdom; the defeat of the enemies of sin, death and satan; the healing of wounds; the end of death; our transformation into fully human creatures, once again bearing fully the image of God without blemish or scar. And perhaps wrapped up in that is indeed the appeasement of God’s wrath…but its wrapped up in it, it isn’t IT. Only the power of God could accomplish all that – there is no human effort or sacrifice possible beyond the fully human and fully divine sacrifice of Jesus himself. 

Yes, I think that the death of Christ was necessary and I think it was much more valuable than just a penal substitution.

Anthony, I don’t know if answered your questions or just used them to launch into another tirade.

If nothing else, I think its clear that I don’t buy into the Calvinist/Reformed determinism theology. I’ve received a couple questions asking, since I’m obviously not very Augustinian/Calvinist in my persuasion do I consider myself Pelagian or Arminian or something else. Most of the 3 people who read this blog regularly either don’t know or don’t care what that means, but I will post a reply to that question in the near future.

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