Tag Archives: john 17

The Greatest Threat to the Missio Dei

Jesus said the church is the light of the world and a city on a hill (Matt 5:14).

While this certainly involves individual disciples following Christ in their own context, Jesus had in mind an organism, a unified Body, and a Kingdom collective—a gathered people on mission together—representatives in every city and culture. This is God’s eternal purpose through Christ and his church.

The Missio Dei (mission of God) is about God’s missionary heart for all people revealed throughout the OT (e.g. Jonah), embodied perfectly by Jesus in the Gospels, and carried out through the local church beginning with the book of Acts. Jesus then is the hope of the world, and the church is the vehicle which corporately manifests this hope while on mission to her neighbors.

For better or for worse, the church is the messenger of the gospel.

An increasing number of Christians are waking up to the fact that Western individualism and our egocentric living today is an enemy to this vision of Jesus. I’m convinced that behind this cultural current is the work of the devil who seeks to put distance between God and humanity, between the divine and each other. This is fitting with a NT perspective of spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12).

Did you know that the name diablos (devil) comes from the root which means “to scatter” abroad? Think about that for a moment.

If we’re always scattered, we’re not gathering in any way that allows the church to be a formidable force for the Kingdom where we live.

It’s always been through the gathering that the Missio Dei is lived out. Yes, the church is “sent out” to her neighbors, but always for the purpose of mission and gathering again. We gather and go with a purpose.

We gather with the church and are then sent out for the sake of the Missio Dei. Gather… sent out. Gather… sent out. Jesus sends out his disciples so that they would then return and share their experiences in the world (Lk 10:1-17).

This gathering of the church is where we grow as disciples, where we are energized in our worship together, and where we learn to regularly and faithfully sabbath. As Walter Brueggemann says, sabbath is our way of resisting the powers in a world that desires to have us as slaves.

When there is more scattering than gathering, local churches can forget building any missional momentum.

We often hear Jesus’ prayer “Father, make them one as we are one” (Jn 17:20-23) in response to church disagreements. It is definitely useful in the face of our differences. However, I’m hearing Jesus say something else.

“Father, don’t let the enemy scatter my people and make them slaves again to Egypt. May they know the power of being together like the missional God.”

In John 17, Jesus is pouring out his heart to the Father. He knows that the only way God’s mission will be carried out is for the church to resist the scattering forces of the enemy, to know the power of unity and work to protect it.

This prayer comes from Jesus, the Son sent by the Father, who then sends his Spirit to us that we might enjoy the missional unity of the Triune God. This God is three persons working in unison together for the sake of mission, to invite all people to share in the unifying force of God’s loving community.

I believe the greatest threat to the Missio Dei, within Western society and culture, are the demonic forces that scatter. These forces scatter our minds, our families, and our churches. They push us away from gathering and mission.

If our local churches wish to survive this threat to the Missio Dei, we must resist the principalities and powers that force us to capitulate to the constant separation, division, and scattering of God’s people that regularly comes through politics, in-fighting, and living lives so busy that we’ve become nothing more than sophisticated slaves in Pharaoh’s matrix.

We must not continue to fuel the way of empire and this spirituality of distraction. It’s time to resist the liturgical forces of the imperial order and the calendar of Caesar that too often rule our lives, keeping us from deepening relationships in the church and furthering the Missio Dei.

I’m confident that Jesus will fully establish his Kingdom at some point in the future. He said it would happen (Matt 16:18), so I believe it. In the meantime, we must decide if we will join the revolution and contribute to the building of God, or collude with empire and forfeit our inheritance.

Viva La Revolution!

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

This post was expanded into a full article at ChristianWeek.org


Deep Listening

In the last couple of weeks I have been reminded of the radical polarities within society, culture, and the church. I have especially noticed this when it comes to Christians trying to have conversations about theology and ethics.

We must learn to stop thinking from within the extreme positions of any given issue, and discover a third way. Continually responding to our brothers and sisters as if there are only two camps of thought is dishonest and destructive.

This is the way of politics, but it’s not the way of Jesus. The way out is through the practice of deep listening.

“Answering before listening is both stupid and rude.”  Prov 18:13 MSG

There are many issues today that are threatening to tear the church apart. We can’t hope to overcome these challenges without learning to listen before we speak. This means that we come to the table in order to listen and learn.

We do not come simply to share our own thoughts and convictions, assuming that we know the other person and their journey. This will require humility and a desire to want to understand our neighbor for Christ’s sake.

Let’s remember that while some of us may have (or believe we have) a more pure & authentic understanding of Jesus than our neighbors, no one person or group has the corner market on truth and the fullness of Christ. We serve a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional, cosmic Christ that can’t be contained in your (or my) theology or denomination.

Therefore, we need each other. We belong to each other (Eph 4:1-5). There is NO other way forward. The Kingdom is coming, and will come, through ONE Christ and ONE church (Jn 17:20-24).

After we have listened to the person from across the table, it is possible that we simply disagree on the matter. That’s fine, but at least we listened and sought the good of the other. We’re always seeking the good of the other. I think that’s what the third way of deep listening is all about.

Deep listening should always lead to a greater understanding and love for our neighbor, even if our neighbor turns out to be our enemy.

And in that case, we love them and pray for peace.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Seeking Christian Unity

NOTE: This post should be read as a follow-up to my last post, On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.

As my faithful readers know, I recently began pastoring Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship in Southwest Virginia. My first month has been a great experience. We love our church. We’re getting settled in and planning for the year ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support.

I’m currently in the middle of a sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101. To use Stuart Murray’s language from his book, The Naked Anabaptist, we are covering the “bare essentials” of the Anabaptist tradition.

You can “LIKE” and listen to the sermons at CMF’s Facebook page if you’re interested. The series will eventually be archived at our new website.

In the first message (“Beginning of a Movement”) I cover a lot of history in about 40 minutes. I begin with the NT/early church and then talk about the merging of church and state with the emperor Constantine in the 4th century. From there I go on to describe the situation and circumstances that led up to the Radical Reformation in the 16th century.

It’s impossible to talk about the Anabaptists and not mention the terrible persecution they endured by both Protestants and Catholics because of their “radical” view of discipleship and their rejection of Christendom—the imperial church, militant and triumphant. It is rather shocking to read what the magisterial reformers (Zwingli, Calvin & Luther) thought about Anabaptists.

I make mention of this in the message, “Radical Discipleship” (2 of 6).

John Calvin is even responsible for seeing to the death of “heretic” Michael Servetus, a radical non-conformist. It’s ugly, folks. It should sober us to know how well-intentioned and misguided a Christian can be in “defending” truth.

This still happens today. It’s just mostly with our tongue that we burn people at the stake. According to James, that’s no small thing (James 3:1-12).

Okay. So let’s be honest, the Anabaptist movement isn’t without spot and blemish either. I want to make that clear as I write and preach on Anabaptism, and when explaining my reasons for naming this particular group “my tribe” and tradition.

Murray discusses this in his book. I highly recommend The Naked Anabaptist if you’re curious about Anabaptism. If you’re a Greg Boyd fan, you should know that he has written the forward for the book.

Embracing a Spirit of Unity

Yesterday I met a Lutheran pastor in our community for the first time. Our church partners with his church, and others, in ministering to the homeless during the winter months. I stopped by to drop off some clothes and Bibles. I had the pleasure of catching him in his office.

Our conversation lasted for about an hour and a half. It was an encouraging dialogue. I wanted to share some of it with you as a follow-up to my last post, “On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.”

When I first met this brother, one of the first things he did was embrace me. He looked at me through watery eyes and apologized for what his tradition (Martin Luther/Lutherans) had done to mine (Menno Simons/Anabaptists).

I must say that I was surprised by the refreshing gesture, which set a tone for the entire meeting. Reconciling love was in the air.

Let me say… this pastor (I’ll call him John) didn’t have to do that. It was a long time ago. He didn’t do those things to me. Besides, I just recently joined the Mennonite USA and began pastoring an Anabaptist congregation.

Yet, he did it. And it brings me to tears as I write this post.

I can’t help but wonder how this act of kindness might be imitated in other areas of life and faith. What would that look like?

Before I could even sit down, John went right into telling me that his wife of 20+ years had left him for another woman. She is now married to her new partner. As a result of this (still ongoing) experience, his views on marriage and human sexuality have changed. It quickly became clear that we have some disagreements on this issue. It’s the world we live in now.

I hope you know me well enough to know that I didn’t bolt for the door. I listened to his pain, and I did my utmost to understand his journey. I have no doubt that we will have some edifying conversations in the future regarding the topic. I look forward to it. I can see Jesus at work in this fellow pastor.

Most of our conversation was focused on reviving the Ministerial Alliance, a network of pastors in our area. The association is meant to coordinate ministry efforts and encourage continued ministry in our local communities.

In the past this group has been made up of both male and female pastors from different traditions. Of course, some choose not to be a part because of theological/biblical interpretive disagreements on a number of issues.

For some folks, “ecumenicism” is a bad word. Doctrines still divide those who love Jesus and want to build his Kingdom. It’s unfortunate. But after my recent conversation with John, I’m hopeful about the future of the church.

Listen to Jesus’ prayer for his Bride to embrace unity:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  John 17:20-23 NLT

Over the last few weeks, through local ministry and in attending an ecumenical conference, I have encountered folks from many different denominations. I even helped to feed and clothe the homeless alongside Lutherans.

I have been reminded of the singular bond that brings us together and sets us apart from the world: a love for Jesus, neighbor, and enemy—to see his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

May Christ’s church seek peace and unity in love, so that the world will know.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


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