All posts by Jon Swanson

About Jon Swanson

Social media chaplain. Author of "Lent For Non-Lent People" and "A Great Work: A Conversation With Nehemiah For People (Who Want To Be) Doing Great Works." Writer of 300wordsaday.com. I help people understand. Understand some of the Bible. Understand what Lent can be about. Understand what it means to follow.

Equipping by living.

(This continues posts from the last two days: “Effective equipper and “Learning how Jesus taught“)

Teaching with words isn’t the only way that Jesus equipped.

Jesus lived his teaching.

In his last assignment, Jesus talked about “teaching people to obey everything I’ve commanded.” The way you teach people how to obey is, to obey.

Jesus did things that he told others they needed to do.

It started at the beginning of his public work when he went to John the Baptist to be baptized. At the time, John was using baptism as a way of illustrating sins being washed off. Jesus, John said, didn’t need that. In fact, John said, Jesus should be baptizing him.

But Jesus was making baptism serve as an action that marked membership in the kingdom of heaven. He wanted to model the behavior he was going to commission for others. And so he was baptized.

For me, the most challenging illustration of the consistency between telling and living is a brief glimpse of his teaching around forgiveness and enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Forgiveness is a noble thing. People talk about the value of forgiveness in releasing us from bitterness. But we acknowledge that it is hard and that, perhaps, there are limits.

A couple years after Jesus talks about praying for persecutors, he is struggling for breath, nailed to a cross. And someone hears him say, “Father forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.” Unlike people who have persecuted others in the name of Jesus, Jesus himself asked for forgiveness. Not leniency in sentencing. Forgiveness.

Sometimes, I do group activities as I am teaching. Afterward, I explain why I use the activity, how it works, and how people in the group might apply it themselves. That’s what equipping through living looks like in a classroom.

It’s easier than doing it from a cross. But both are important. Both are about integrity.good friday

Learning how Jesus taught.

(This is a continuation of Effective Equipper)

To understand how to live, I sometimes look at how Jesus lived.

I understand that there are differences between the first century and this afternoon. I understand, for example, that coffee hadn’t been invented then.  But if I want to help people or teach people or learn about people, I learn by looking at the way Jesus helped people and taught people and responded to what he knew about people.

So to understand what it might mean to have a year guided by the idea of equipping, I started looking at what he did to equip his followers.

First, Jesus taught out loud.

In “Learning A New Routine,” I looked at the Sermon on the Mount as an explanation of the living habits of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus starts with rules that were familiar and accepted by his audiences (“You have heard it said”). He then expands their interpretation and then their application (“But I say”).

This sermon isn’t parables (which provoke thinking), or inspirational stories. Jesus clearly says, “here’s what to do.”

I know that we struggle to apply his statements. We appeal to culture, to context, to disputes about the original language. Which is great, particularly when people get adamant about their particular interpretation. But disagreements about interpretations don’t invalidate the authority and integrity of Jesus’ teaching.

18263_10153426757387008_378775420552947480_nSo having “equip” as a guiding word means making sure that I teach. And, since I’m interested in equipping people to follow Jesus, I need to work on unpacking, with clarity and humility and practicality, what Jesus included in his teaching.

For example, Jesus taught people to pray. And told them to pray. And conversed with them, which counts as prayer if we work within a framework that Jesus is God. If I’m going to equip people to live as Jesus taught, I need to help us understand who we talk to, what kinds of things we can talk about, when we don’t need to talk anymore and can simply do something.

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I’ll have more tomorrow on equipping.
Sign up to get occasional emails during Lent: Lent Mail
And Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on February 10.

Effective equipper.

“What do you want to be true of you in five years?”

It’s a question I often ask when I’m teaching groups. I let them know that the question is coming, to allow introverts time to reflect. The group separates into clusters of three or four people to share their answers. And then I have each person introduce someone else by telling us their answer to the question.

The question can be phrased in slightly different ways. “How do you want to be in five years?” “How do you want to be known?” “If I were to introduce you to a friend of mine in five years, how would you want me to describe you?” But always, the time span is five years and the content of the answer is less about jobs or accomplishments and more about character.

The other day, I was going through this process with a group of young leaders. I realized that I needed to be able to answer the question myself. And so I asked me, “What do you want to be true of you in five years?” And I immediately wrote down two words: “Effective equipper.”

“Equip” is the third of my three words this year. The other two are Kingdom and Invite. The word comes from a letter to a church in the ancient city of Ephesus. Paul says that God gave some people the capacity for leadership roles to equip God’s followers to serve others. Equipping here includes explaining how, explaining why, giving permission, focusing attention.

wednightguys
This is the group of guys I spent Wednesday nights with for most of six years.

Rather than always doing works of service, pastors and teachers are to equip others.

That’s scary.

Some of us don’t think we know anything. Some of us don’t think we can trust anyone. Some of us don’t think teaching is as meaningful as doing. Some of us think teaching is more important than doing. Some of us love to be abstract.

But Paul says that the measure of whether we are living out our gift is whether anyone else is serving because of how we equip.

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I wrote Lent for Non-Lent People to help people take small spiritual steps. A couple groups are going through it together this year.  It’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents).

Not my problem.

IMG_0261I walked out of Grabill Missionary Church Sunday night. It was my last time in the building as a staff member. We’ll be back as attenders in a couple weeks. I resigned from the staff, not the relationships or the community.  (And I’ll talk more about some of what’s next soon.)

As I walked into the building Sunday morning, as I have most of the last eight years, I thought about the things on my project list that had never gotten done. And I thought, “It’s not my problem now.” But then I realized that most of those things never had been my problem.

Some of you will have no idea what I mean with what I’m about to say. But some of you will. I’m talking to – and for – you.

I worried as if they had been my problems, as if the subtle shifts in the walls were my responsibility somehow. But I realized today that often, I was concerned with what people thought about how I was responding. I mean, I often knew what to do, or not to do. I often knew a good approach. But I was concerned about measuring up, about whether others would think this was the right response.

And that worry was all in my heart. And my imagination.

I thought last week that I would tell my 25-year-old self to worry less. I realized that I would still marry Nancy, still work in higher ed and in church, still live where we lived. But I would spend less energy on worry and more on celebration and affirmation. I would look at situations less as problems and more as opportunities to learn about God and myself and my relationships. I would coach better, laugh more.

And I would remember that I’m so grateful for the last eight years. Of Nancy and I sharing life with a remarkable community of coworkers who are friends, a small group who has become community, a group of men who challenged my study to deepen, and a God who invited us out to Grabill, and now to a place we don’t yet know.

It never was my problem. It’s been God’s all along.

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I’m also grateful that I’ll be walking through Lent with a bunch of people who purchased Lent for Non-Lent People last month. It’s available in paperback and for Kindle (for just 99 cents). 
Sign up to get occasional emails during Lent: Lent Mail
And Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on February 10.

 

Listening for Lent.

[This continues a conversation started yesterday]

“That’s a great summary,” I said. “Lent is about talking and listening to God.”

“But isn’t there more?” he asked. “Why do we always hear about Lent as a time for giving things up? When I was growing up, my friend always gave up watermelon and black licorice. Of course, there wasn’t watermelon in the winter back then, but still. I thought it was about giving stuff up.”

11722319_10153487852487008_6447884506779383992_oI smiled. It was a great question.

“But isn’t talking and listening always about giving something up? In order to concentrate on conversations in the family room, don’t we have to mute the TV? Do you ever get frustrated in a conversation with a child when they keep checking their phone? Doesn’t the best brain research now suggest that we cannot multitask, we merely switch tasks?”

He looked up. He grinned and pulled his hand above the table. And laid his phone in the middle of the table. “So, for example, giving up Facebook for Lent may be just an extended version of giving up Facebook for this conversation?”

I nodded. “And when questions get deeper, I find that I need to eliminate distractions and have to work to focus. Sometimes while talking with someone I close my eyes.”

He interrupted. “Didn’t you fall asleep during a counseling session once by ‘closing your eyes to listen better’?”

I laughed. “That’s another story. Back to the challenge of focusing. When I’m listening to a traffic report on the radio, I need to have it quiet so I can turn those words into a map.”

“Okay,” he said. “So maybe the things that go into Lent–the practices giving up food or technology, the practices of prayer more often or solitude or silence, the practices of eating together, those things are clearing space in our hearts so we can listen and attend. Is that why we should celebrate Lent?”

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Lent for Non-Lent People is available in paperback and for Kindle
Sign up to get occasional emails during Lent: Lent Mail
And Lent starts with Ash Wednesday on February 10.