Following Jesus into Exile

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. (Romans 11:17-18)

The apostle Paul uses the metaphor of the olive tree to describe how God has included the Gentiles in his family, a family that is rooted in the faithful people of Israel. The non-Jews were, in Paul’s description, grafted into the rooted life of the Jewish people, sharing in their inheritance before God.

This grafting—which would one day evolve into what we now call the church—was not into a root that enjoyed the power and prestige of a dominant culture. Instead, it was a rooted people who were in exile, a people living in their homeland but under the political, military, and economic dominance of Rome. The church was birthed into an exiled family.

We now live in a culture where there are new voices that insist on new realities, realities related to economics, government, sexuality, and spirituality. These voices demand a hearing and often find a place of dominance, requiring people’s acceptance that in these new stories, all is well. The worst crime imaginable in such a world is suggesting that all is not well.

Followers of Jesus have the opportunity to live out a prophetic vocation in the world. Such a vocation sees the world as it is and refuses to claim that there is “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14), not to cast judgment, but rather to properly identify the wounds of the world and seek to bring healing. Because these followers see the brokenness of the world reflected in their own lives, they can stand in solidarity with the world without permitting brokenness to have the last word.

When leaders, therapeutic practitioners, and ministers claim that all things are well, that all preferred expressions of life are valid and proper, then they had better be right. Otherwise they are guilty of malpractice and risk leaving people in places of destruction, assuring them that all is well. And the worst kind of malpractice is spiritual.

Jesus approached the broken and marginalized of his world with eyes wide open. True, they came to him just as they were—tax collectors, demoniacs, prostitutes—but Jesus never left them as they were. He saw that there was pain and distortion in human lives, and he reached out to heal, not to condemn. His harshest words were for the religious elite who had chosen the vocation of judgment.

Jesus meets all human beings right where they are. And then he says, “Follow me.” Once the following begins, nothing will ever be the same. The following becomes a healing journey with Jesus, and it is always a journey into exile.

– Mike McNichols

Stay Connected

In the past few years, I have discovered the life and beauty of Wisconsin’s north woods. Three times now, when summer rolls around, we’ve retreated to a lakehouse for a week with dear friends—and it feeds my soul.

And here’s what I’ve noticed about the north woods:
lots of stuff grows right out of the ground up there.

I guess I’ve become too accustomed to Southern California where we place things on the ground or over the ground. Buildings, pavement, freeways. On top, but not rooted in.

But in the woods, seeing the trees rooted gladly in the soil and their leafy arms stretching out to the sky puts me in mind of those places in Scripture where our blessedness is described in just those terms.

Jeremiah 17:7-8, (echoing Psalm 1)

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
 whose confidence is in him.They will be like a tree planted by the water
 that sends out its roots by the stream. 
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. 
It has no worries in a year of drought 
and never fails to bear fruit.

I Cor. 3:6-7
I [Paul] planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow

Eph. 3:17
I pray . . . that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

And of course, John 15:5
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Nothing?! Really?
Apparently much depends upon staying connected to God.

We are accustomed to emphasize journey in speaking of our lives, and we should. But equally strong in the Bible is this metaphor of dwelling deeply. One point of the agricultural metaphor is that as our connection to God deepens, we thrive. As it grows shallow, we wither.

Even here in Southern California, when I see trees sprouting up solitary, hemmed in by the pavement, I am reminded of the one thing necessary—as Jesus and Paul both say: to send the roots down. And I ask my soul: how have I connected to Him? How am I connecting to others? What is it to send my roots down deep, every day–to dwell as I journey?

– Todd Pickett






The God of the Crucifixion

The Crucifixion is arguably one of two or three monumental historical moments for the Christian church. In addition to the incarnation and resurrection, no other event has as much latent mystery or power surrounding it. It was through this action of cosmic redemption that Christ made permanent satisfaction for sin and Divine righteousness available for broken humanity. Upon further reflection, however, it seems that this pivotal, historical event not only accomplishes something for human salvation, but also unveils to us the eternal heart of a loving, humble, giving God.

When we look at the cross, we see pain, suffering, and death; the Son of God brutally murdered for dubious reasons at best. But when we look for a vision of the Godhead within these horribly unjust circumstances, we find a giant, Divine-sized love bursting forth! The simplest story of the gospel wrapped up in John 3 tells us that it was for love’s sake that the Father sent us his Son. This Divine love was so motivating that God gave something (someone) to us. Did you catch that? God gave. I think this is the most striking feature of the Crucifixion event. The eternal, self-sustaining, perfect God gave himself to his creation. He didn’t send a representative or liaison. He wanted to be directly involved in the work of redemption and so he offered himself. Unfortunately, giving himself to us also required that he be vulnerable. Vulnerable to rejection and shame. Vulnerable to suffering and pain. But that didn’t stop God. Why? Because God is a humble God. This doesn’t mean that God is weak. Weakness is not the opposite of humility. God is humble in that he is willing to accomplish cosmic redemption in an inconspicuous sort of way – a simple birth, a misunderstood ministry, and an insignificant death. What a cover for such a magnificent mission!

I would encourage you to take some time this week to praise God for his character. We truly serve an amazing God! Also, why not ask God to show you how you can emulate his character traits of love, humility, and sacrifice to those around you? You might be surprised at how much life is found in these actions.

– Dave Strobolakos

Awareness Examen

Lent 2014

Prayer of Examen* Noticing God in all of life.

“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting”

Practice: daily, 10-15 minutes

Prayer Prompts:

Silence & Gratitude
Become aware of God’s presence. You are always and everywhere with God. Acts 17:28.
Recall particular good things you’ve experienced since your last Examen. Jam. 1:17

God knows your heart. Ask God to reveal things in your heart and life that are hurtful to yourself or others,
knowing there is no condemnation in God’s love. Ps.139:23, Rom.8:1

Review & Awareness
Ask: Where have the interactions, circumstances of my life been taking me?
Away from God, to God?
When do I notice the love of God?
How did I respond to God?
What challenged me?
When did I say yes to God?
Resisted God?

Talk with Jesus
Honestly converse about what you notice. Attend to these things in prayer:
ask for forgiveness, counsel, guidance, give thanks, know that you are loved, accepted, forgiven in Christ.

Acknowledge your need of God’s abiding presence to live a God-honoring life Jn.15:5;
an ever deepening internalization of God’s love for you Eph 3:17-19;
aithfulness to you Heb 13:5; power within you Eph 3:16.

Close: The Lord’s Prayer.

*Prayer of Examen, St. Ignatius of Loyola adapted by Larry Warner.