On earth as it is in heaven…

It seems as if every pastor at one time or another dreams of planting a church. I, too, had thoughts of church planting at one point and who knows…it may still happen! But, it is the conversations about church planting that led me to really imagine what it means for God’s Kingdom to be reality on earth as it is in heaven. Below you will not find my words. Below you will not see my short film. Below you will discover the beauty of theological expression from one theologian who considers the theological practice of ministry his art form. Below you will experience one filmmaker’s attempt to give expression to God’s mission on earth as it is in heaven. Both the words and the film come from years of imagining with friends, theologians, colleagues, and other practitioners, about what is meant by the Kingdom of Heaven found in the Bible. To me the Kingdom of Heaven is the essence of what is hoped for by the follower of Christ (Hebrews 11:1). Below may you see one expression of evidence of that hope.

The following was first published in October 2013 on the Virginia Baptist Mission Board Blog.

Art + Justice + Mission = Mission Possible VA

The following is a guest post from Josh Hayden, Associate Pastor to Students & Creative Technologies at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Warrenton, VA. We heard about Mission Possible VA and asked Josh to share more about this unique event.

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What if injustice exists not because of a scarcity of resources but a lack of imagination?

Artists have a unique way of showing us what they observe in the world by helping us to see what they see, to hear what they hear, and uncover a new perspective by shining the light at a different angle. Artists are great truth-tellers, helping us to hear the cries of the oppressed through song, showing us the brokenness of sexual exploitation through painting, or systems of injustice caused by slavery through film.

There is power in holding up a mirror to the world and bringing what is going on all around us into plain sight through the strokes of a paintbrush, a steady beat of a drum, or the texture of a film.

Artists help to show us, not just tell us, what is actually taking place in the world, even when it is uncomfortable.

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If artists help provoke our imagination, then an exploration of the biblical injunction to do justice is a second catalyst for systemic change. When Jesus taught us to pray, we learned that we are to pray that the kingdom of God would be on earth as in heaven.

As we do justice—set the oppressed free, loosen the chains of the slaves, release the captives—we participate in the new creation that comes down from heaven to make earth new.

At Mission Possible VA, speakers, storytellers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers will help connect the grand narrative of God’s story—which bends towards justice—to the call on every Christian’s life to ask what does biblical justice look like in 2013?

Like many different strands of rope coming together to make a stronger cord, the mission of God is made real through a community of people with a shared imagination for a changed world. The combination of insights from artists and the guidance of scripture lead to a sense of collaborative and shared mission.

By highlighting the work and stories of people on the ground in Newport News, VA, e.g.First Baptist Church Newport NewsChristopher Newport University International Justice Mission ChapterVirginia Beach Justice Initiative and The Network for Theological Education, along with people like Chris Folmsbee and organizations like International Justice Mission on a larger scale, a renewed scope of mission can be revealed. The mission of God includes all of us, and the telos (end goal) of the mission is that all creation is restored and redeemed.

While it may seem like there is a scarcity of resources, the good news is that there is a God of super-abundance who has promised that all things will be made new. The question is: are we willing to let God stir up our imaginations?

So, on November 2 in Newport News, VA, students, young professionals, and anyone trying to participate in the mission of God to renew all things are invited to a creative conference where art is connected to justice and the overall mission of God.

People will gather to help answer one question:

How can we join in the mission of God to restore the world to its intended wholeness?

There are two plenary gatherings, with breakout sessions, interactive worship experiences (i.e. opportunities to engage in film, prayer, stories, and art as a means of reflection and response), all wrapped up with a closing concert. The day is laid out to provide opportunities for conversation, listening, reflection, worship, questions, hope, and learning.

If you are wondering who is invited to Mission Possible VA, well, you are! Check out a film interpretation of Mission Possible by one of the featured collaborators, Katy Andres, and hope to see you and your church at Mission Possible VA on November 2 in Newport News. We are all invited to help make the connection of:

Tom Lynch lives in Henrico, VA with his wife and two children. He is a full-time Master of Social Work student at Virginia Commonwealth University with a focus in Administration, Planning, and Policy Planning. He works as the director of ministry rotations for the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. He holds a master of divinity from the Leland Center and a bachelor’s in communication from Michigan State University. He volunteers as a justice advocate for International Justice Mission and serves as the Vice President on the board of trustees for The Network for Theological Education.

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The Shadow of the Cross

“They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” Luke 4: 29 (NRSV)

This is the first full week of Lent, a season in which many Christians around the world reflect on the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus in preparation for the celebration of the resurrection on Easter. When thinking about the cross of Jesus, our minds go to the last week of his life in Jerusalem during which the events of that first Holy Week took place. Yet the shadow of the cross fell over the life of Jesus well before that week. In fact, that shadow emerged at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

Luke chapter 4 begins with the familiar story of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness. This story is regularly lifted up at the beginning of the Lenten season. However, the story that follows is just as important in helping us to see the shadow of the cross during the very first days of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4: 16-30). After gaining a reputation as an acclaimed teacher in Galilee, Jesus returns to his home town of Nazareth where he  is invited to teach in the synagogue. He chooses the opening verses of Isaiah 61 as his text and goes on to proclaim that this Scripture is fulfilled in him. At that point, everyone is amazed and proud of their home town boy made good. After all, it’s not every day that someone from your home town fulfills a Scriptural promise!

It doesn’t take long for this celebration to turn into the worst homecoming ever. Instead of stopping his message when everyone is inspired and pleased, Jesus goes on to cite two examples of how God acted outside the boundaries of the people of Israel through the widow of Zarephath in Sidon during Elijah’s time and through the Syrian general Naaman during Elisha’s time. Luke succinctly records the reaction of the hometown crowd, “When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.” (vs. 28) They were so enraged that the homecoming ends not with a pot luck supper but with an attempt to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. Clearly, the shadow of the cross falls over Jesus from this time until the actual crucifixion on that first Good Friday.

What made the people in Nazareth so angry that they were driven to attempted murder? I believe that they did not want to hear or believe that God acts beyond any of the boundaries with which they were so comfortable – boundaries of religion, privilege, culture, ethnic pride. Jesus made it clear that anyone who follows him will face the same shadow of the cross. In his famous book The Cost of Discipleship, the German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is a call to follow Jesus  and die to ourselves and the boundaries that define us by race, economic class, social status, gender, sexual orientation, religion or any other boundaries that come to mind. God in Christ breaks down those barriers and reconciles us to God and to each other. If we are honest with ourselves, the Church is often seen as an institution that erects barriers rather than as a fellowship that destroys them. Are we willing to follow the person and way of Jesus to the point of taking up such a cross? The shadow of the cross begins right now for anyone who follows Jesus. Yet as with Jesus, the cross always leads to the resurrection- the promise of abundant life both now and forever.

Dr. Jim Melson

Vote for Jesus?

It’s election season.  Actually, it has been since the day after the last election, but we are now only three weeks away from a national election.  But I don’t have to tell you that, unless you are holed up in a cave somewhere, and in that case you would never be reading these words anyway.  I live in one of those “battleground states,” in which the electoral vote that determines who will be elected President is likely to be decided.  That means we are under the gun for television ads, radio ads, browser ads, print media ads, brochures in the mail.  In short we are under a barrage through every conceivable means a candidate has at his or her disposal in order to communicate with us.  I was in a conversation earlier this week in which we all agreed that technology is such that we should not have to listen to the political ads for candidates for whom we cannot vote – for example the United States Senate race in Maryland.  I don’t live in Maryland.  It is clearly torturous enough to have to listen to the endless ads – or should I say the endless charges and countercharges – for the candidates on whom I will vote.  I’ve further concluded that, since I will be out-of-state on November 6 and have already voted absentee, I should be able to get some kind of an exemption from all of those attempts to influence my already-cast vote.  I am so fed up with candidates who try to get my vote by attacking his or her opponent.  I would much rather listen to candidates telling me who they are, what their values are, what their goals would be if elected to office.  If I know who they are and what they value I am much better able to determine if I can support them with my vote.  Instead, they all – or almost all – try to get my vote by telling me what a dangerous rascal the other candidate is – trying to define the opponent and his or her values and goals in a way that will demonize that opponent.  We all complain about this, but the fact is that such negative attacks on opponents win elections.  That is, we (the electorate, present readers excluded of course) allow our votes to be influenced by such attacks.  I’ve heard people say, “We deserve better” candidates and elected officials.  I believe that in the end we get what we deserve, and if we really want different results we had better start looking at ourselves for answers rather than at the behavior of the candidates. We must change.

Suppose Jesus ran for office – let’s say for Senator from Virginia, since that is a highly visible race this year.  I’m somewhat reluctant to even bring this up, because each of us seems to have a way of understanding Jesus and his teachings so that our own beliefs and biases are essentially affirmed.  To state the obvious, therefore, the following are my own opinions about how this might play out.  How would He handle the inevitable attacks from His opponent?  Based on his public ministry as recorded in the gospels, he could reveal publicly the dark inner thoughts of His opponent, lay out for the whole electorate every last sin and stumble – as He did for the Samaritan woman He encountered at Jacob’s well.  His advisors (can you imagine that job!) would urge Him to do exactly that.  Instead, He would more likely say something like, “Forgive him, for he doesn’t know what he does.”  Or, when accused of being soft on terrorism, He might reply that we need to pray for our enemies.  When He would be pushed for His own platform, He would probably say something like it could be summed up in loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself.  Instead of attacking His opponent, He would call each of us to live out the best that is within us – as He did long ago with those He called to follow Him then.  He would not say things just because we wanted to hear them, or make promises that would be neither pursued if He were elected nor be desirable if they were.  When I come across a candidate who employs those campaign tactics, I will be very likely to vote for him or her, who – like Jesus if He ran – will probably lose.  But if he somehow won, that’s when the changes would begin.  It would be interesting.

It’s easy to write those words, and even to mean them.  Putting them into practice, however, can be another matter.  What happens when I get inside that voting booth and no one knows how I’m voting except myself?  What if a particular proposition or a particular candidate’s positions and platform would benefit me personally, but do so at the expense of the “least of these” that obviously meant so much to Jesus?  What if a proposition or candidate is good for the country but not for the Kingdom, that is a world ordered according to God’s values?  I don’t want to live in a theocracy, even one in which I’m in the ruling majority.  I think I’m more afraid of that situation than I am of a situation in which God’s order is completely ignored.  But I cannot separate myself from my values and world view when I step into a voting booth.  Actually, that’s not true.  I have learned to do exactly that on occasion.  I’ve developed considerable expertise at creating wiggle room where Kingdom values are in conflict with my own.  That is the only place that I can actually change the political landscape.  I can prayerfully listen to the whisper of the Spirit and cast my votes based on my best understanding of that message.  I doubt that I would often wind up in the majority, but I’d probbly feel better about myself.  Maybe the first thing transformational leaders need to transform is themselves.  Ourselves.  Myself.  What do you think?

Dr. Gerald L. Young

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