September 30, 2006

Focus

Over the past few months, there have been a lot of changes in my life. I have moved back to my hometown after 12 years of being elsewhere. I left the denomination that nurtured me theologically and where I spent all of my first years of ministry.

In this time of transition I have been forced to go back to the essentials. I read a lot of blogs and articles by church planters, leaders, and pastors, and there seems to be something missing. I don't think it is intentional. Writers and leaders tend to speak and write about what they perceive to be missing. John Maxwell spoke almost exclusively on leadership because that was an area he saw as lacking. Warren spoke on the Purpose of the church. Others speak of technology, culture, and relevancy. All of these things are good.

What I am afraid often happens, though, is that they become the focus. I was reading Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline yesterday. His chapter on Simplicty proved very convicting (a word that we hear little about). When things other than God become the focus, we become "lost."

Technology, relevancy, even theology are all well and good, but if they replace a pastor/planter's desire for all of God or take the place of being the focal point of the ministry we are focusing on the wrong thing. "Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added." The danger is to begin depending upon all these things rather than to seek the Kingdom of God.

There is a balance needed. We cannot neglect our need to grow in leadership, use technology as a tool, speak to people where they are at, and "seeking the kingdom" does not allow us to be irrelevant, negligent of good tools, or lacking in leadership. But these things can become the proverbial "tail that wags the dog."

The focus of our writing, reading, speaking, etc demonstrates whether our hearts are in the right place. Where we spend our time is of equal importance. I was reading several blogs of church planters whose day included a half-hour of time spent with God. Time spent in the car was listening to sermons, and the rest of the day was activity and busy-ness.

Is there a set amount of time we should spend with God? No, but I doubt a half-hour is sufficient. Are things we have to do? Yes, but where is the silence and solitude?

I don't think I have done justice to what is stirring inside me, but I know that just as the modern church was accused of making "seeker friendly," "structures," and "marketing" a god, many today are making technology, cultural-relevance, and "hip-ness" a god. What would happen if we as pastors/planters sought after God first and gave him the majority of our time, and then did what he led us to do?

September 29, 2006

Here is the Church!


Here is the Church...
Here is the steeple...
Open the doors...
Where 're all the people?

Walk down the street...
to the local bar...
open the door...
Oh, there they are!

September 27, 2006

Lessons Learned from Soccer

Over the past few weeks, my daughter has been playing soccer. Her team is filled with a large amount of girls who have not played soccer before. They have not won a single game. In fact, I don't think they have scored a single point.

Here are a few lessons I am learning.

1. If you are going to complain about the coach you should have the guts to voice your opinion directly to him/her. Sitting on the sidelines, I have heard a lot of complaining. The obvious application to the church is, if you are going to voice your opinion, do so directly to the pastor in a respectful way.

2. If you are going to complain, at least have the guts to do something about it. These same parents who complain are the same ones who took the step backward and left the poor parent standing out front who is currently coaching. (I have an excuse, we joined the team two weeks into the season.) If you aren't willing to lead or step up to an area of responsibility in the church, you have no right to an opinion about how things are being done. You may have a good opinion, but if you are not invested in the community you have no right to voice it.

3. It takes someone outside of the game to see how good or bad you are playing. During one game, the girls were wandering around, playing with their hair, and talking to each other. All the while the other team was moving the ball and easily kicking it into the goal. The girls came off the field talking about how hard they were playing. We often need a mentor or a very honest friend who is willing to risk the friendship to tell us the truth about how well we are "playing the game."

4. It is just a game. I am able to encourage good plays and teamwork. I am able to accept a loss as long as I see effort. Failure is more acceptable than a failure to even try in the first place. At least SOMETHING was attempted.

5. I have always been a solo-sport kinda-guy. I have always hated playing on teams because I can't trust other people to play their part and play it well. And, if they are playing their part well, chances are I am the weak link. With solo sports if I win, then I am repsonsible, and if I lose then I am responsible. I do need to be a team player, and I need to learn to trust my team. Now I just need a team.

6. If you complain about bad calls when you are losing, you are a bad loser. Those who complain about megachurches while they are pastoring a church that is not growing and hasn't reached a new person for Christ in some time...well...you see where that one leads. I don't think being in a large or small church is either good or bad. They all have their good and bad points. I do, however, think that everything goes back to motive and what the pastor does with the responsibility God has given.

I am sure there are more things I have learned like don't yell from the sidelines and realizing they are young, but I think that is enough for now.

September 26, 2006

*Dramatization, Orbit Gum Will Not Get You Into Heaven!

Pay attention to the fine print near the end of this commercial.

Consumer Christianity

Here is an interesting article at Christianity Today.com.

I guess the question, for me, goes back to how does the church exist in a consumeristic, choice-driven culture without submitting to that culture?

There was a time when a person went to church in their "parish." The church was local, and the people were part of the neighborhood. But now, the average distance is 15-20 minutes away for most churches. In some areas, a person can pass 15-20 different churches on their way to their church.

We have turned Jesus into a commodity. Discipleship is placed in the same time frame as a fast-food restaurant. We go to church where WE feel comfortable. I don't think that it is always wrong because there are some unhealthy "faith" communities.

This article serves to remind me that God is not a product to simply be chosen. Jesus died and bids us come and die. We die to our selfish desires. We die to our anger, hatred, bitterness, unforgiving spirit, self-seeking ways. Being part of a local church is more than choosing the right place, it is a committment to a group of people.

Here are some thought provoking quotes from the article:

"Being fully formed in a consumer worldview, Greg and Margaret intuitively accepted that the personal enrichment and fulfillment of desire is the highest good. As a result, they chose the church that best satisfied their family's preferences without bothering to consult their community, the Bible, or the Holy Spirit to gauge the legitimacy of those desires. After all, in consumerism a desire is never illegitimate, it is only unmet."

"Today, according to The New York Times, each American is exposed to 3,500 desire-inducing advertisements every day promising us that satisfaction is just one more purchase away." (I find this interesting as the website where the article is located has advertisements flashing all over the place!)

" Consumers demand options, but this poses a problem. Formation into the likeness of Christ is not accomplished by always getting what we want. In ages past, choice was not heralded as a Christian's right. In fact, relinquishing our choices by submitting to a spiritual mentor or community was prerequisite to growth in Christ. Believers were guided through formative and corrective disciplines—most being activities we would never choose if left to our desires. But surrendering control ensured we received what we needed to mature in Christ, not simply what we wanted."

September 25, 2006

When Culture Gets Stuck

Seth Godin verbalizes the tension that is always constant in the church. Check out his blog post here.

I see this most in church plants that start out to "do church differently." They do church differently, but then get stuck in doing church the way they have always done church. They stop innovating and growing. They stop pushing forward.

It is easy to see this in action. The Roman Catholic church innovated their liturgy to accomodate the influx of influencial Roman elite that followed Constantine into the Church (they had to be respectable). The Lutheran and Reformed churches solidified their era, as did Anglican, Wesleyan, Pentecostals, and everyone else. Churches from the '80's that wanted to be "contemporary" are now only contemporary if you were in the 1980's.

These are needed, but so too are the innovators.

Speculative Theology

How much of what we hold dear in theology is actually speculative theology?

By "speculative" I mean things we really can't know for sure. Many of those things are good to think about, but absolutely useless to argue about. And, yet, we like to argue about them.

What falls into the area of speculative theology? Usually it is an issue of precision, and very reminiscent of Church history. If you look at all the creeds and statements of faith that come out of the early church, you will see that they were much better at saying what was NOT right than they were at saying what was right.

We make sacred cows out of theories of atonement, theories of the end-times, theories of time, etc. These are good to discuss. They are good to think about. There are some very poor ways to think about them and some very bad theories of each. It is easier to decide what is not right than it is to know what is right.

This is where humility in all we do is of most value. We are not God. And we should not make the mistake of swinging the pendelum the opposite direction and saying that we can't say anything about anything. But we must recognize that we have a long way to go. Those who study and pursue God realize that the more they know, the more they know they don't know.

September 22, 2006

Mark Batterson's Book


Last week or so, Mark Batterson pastor National Community Church, has just written a new book. Next week, I will be previewing the book. Mark also blogs.

Here is the description:

Your greatest regret at the end of your life will be the lions you didn't chase. You will regret the risks not taken, the opportunities not seized, and the dreams not pursued. Stopping running away from what scares you most and start chasing the God-ordained opportunities that cross your path.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day is inspired by one of the most obscure yet courageous acts recorded in Scripture (II Samuel 23:20-21):

Benaiah chased a lion down into a pit. Then, despite the snow and slippery ground, he caught the lion and killed it.

Unleash the lion chaser within!

Here is the Amazon link if you want to pre-order.

September 19, 2006

Mark Driscoll

It is incredibly tough being the pastor/leader of a church. In our world of media/blogger/sound-bite driven information, words and thoughts are easily twisted. There are many careless words that get tossed around the Internet; especially in light of the instantaneous access to publishing that blogging gives. Many of us would do well to shut up and listen, to meditate and to think on things for a long time before we put them on our blogs and pontificate our opinion.

Mark Driscoll, while I know I have theological differences with him, is a man called of God to a very difficult situation. He was twenty-five when he began the church. He is still only thirty-five. And we are all in a constant state of growth. While I disagree with some of his theological views, I can understand the pain and the humility it takes to write something like this: It's Always Something at Mars Hill Church.

Despite all the naysayers and critics, as a leader you have to run with the vision you feel God has given you. As long as you are genuinely seeking the face of God, the leader has to "ignore" the criticism and complaints of many people. Being a leader is equivalent to placing a target on your back. With the proliferation of blogging, the darts become easier to throw.

Despite my theological differences with Mark, I plan to pray for him and his church. I also know that I should be more careful.

Why Go to Church?

How many times have we heard someone say, "I can worship God from my home or in the woods as well or better than I can in church"?

Take this quote from Dallas Willards' book The Great Omission: “Spiritual formation simply cannot go forward as it is intended by God unless the individual is incorporated in a body of believers where he or she can receive the benefit of the gifts that others have” (Pg. 116).

September 16, 2006

Retire that Phrase

Gary Lamb made a post today.

I understand his frustration, but the role of blogging is that everyone has a say. It is the role of the reader to sift the valuable information from the crap. He is right, there are too many people telling people what to do that have no idea what to do themselves.

However, I absolutely hate the phrase, "Those who can do, those who can't teach." Let's retire that phrase shall we? That is the most arrogant and anti-intellectual phrase available. We have seen the church more often led astray by those who do and can't think than by those who teach but can't do. Why because the teacher is called to teach.

I think this phrase is an insult to God's calling on a person's life. God calls professors just the same way he calls minister, and for someone to say something like that demeans the role of the professor in God's plan.

It also places "success" back into the realm of the ABC (attendance, buildings, and capital) rather than in the realm of what is right. Why would a person not be able to speak some truth and inspiration into a situation if they are "unable" to do? What does "unable" mean in that phrase unless it means they have not had success in the ABC's?

Besides, nearly every coach in football failed to be the "star" player on their college or NFL team. But, they were great teachers. They were able to understand the strategy of the game. They couldn't play, but they knew how to make those who do play better.

Good thing Miroslav Volf, Dallas Willard, Leslie Newbigin, Walter Brueggemann, and many other didn't buy into the belief that those who can do and those who can't teach.

I am not meaning to pick on Gary. He just happens to be the one swinging that phrase around.

September 15, 2006

Now Is the Time for Salvation

"I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:1-2).

I remember hearing that verse as a child. I was seated on wooden pews in a revival service. The preacher was urging the congregation to accept Jesus' offer of salvation. He then said what many preachers had said before him, "Some of you may leave here today and never have another chance to accept Christ as your Savior. The Bible says, 'Now is the time for salvation!'"

As I sat there, fear filled me. Maybe I wouldn't be the one to make it back. Maybe I would never have another opportunity to accept Christ as my Savior. The preacher had used guilt and a thinly veiled threat to "push" people into salvation.

Not only is using guilt and fear to get a person to say the Sinner's pray wrong, it NEVER works. Oh, there are some people who respond to that sort of thing. Filled with fear or guilt they move toward the altar and say the prayer, and sometimes it sticks. But at what price? This sort of guilt, pressure, abuse takes years to overcome.

The life that Jesus calls us to is not one that can be entered through guilt and fear. It must be entered will an understanding that we are being called to leave life as we know it to enter into an abundant land of freedom. The Old Testament understanding of the word "salvation" meant "to be lead into a spacious land." See Psalm 23. Salvation was a place where the person found rest from all the falseness of the world; escape from "the way things are."

Because Jesus was not the Messiah that many expected, they began to look to the future for their deliverance. The Jews believed that when the Messiah arrived He would free them from sin, punish the evil, and bring true peace and rest. Jesus came offering the Kingdom of God. He seemingly postponed the coming of The Day of the Lord. So some disciple began to look to a future day for their salvation.

Paul wanted them to know that Salvation, the spacious land of God, was available to them here and now; in this life. They didn't have to expect it only for the life hereafter, they could receive the power of the Holy Spirit and the transformation of their character here and now. Paul points them toward the heavenly home that they will inhabit someday, but tells them that salvation is available now.

Many in today's church are content to look to a future salvation; one that will let them escape this world. They look to a salvation that will let them escape the punishment of hell and enter into the glorious realm of heaven. But salvation offers that glorious realm here and now in this life. This does not mean that everything in a person's life will be peachy and go smoothly. In fact, the disciple's life is often harder in many ways. It also doesn't mean that our salvation is complete.

In the here and now we can have a foretaste of heaven, and yet so many people live defeated, anemic Christian lives. They buy into the lie, as I did for so long, that we have to continually suffer under the affliction of defeat at the hand of sin. We will fail, yes, but we will be more than conquerors. We are not perfect, but we can resist temptation. We will have moments of weakness and failure, but those are continual reminders our utter dependence upon the grace and leading of God. The life of holiness is not a place of arrogance and judgment of others; it is a place of the person humbly seeking all that God has to offer for their lives.

Unfortunately, many will assume they have "arrived" at a place of holiness and turn to judge everyone else as not being spiritual enough. Out of a good intention to help the church better itself, they will instead supply more evidence that this life is impossible

Or, some will turn up their nose at this post and say, "That is impossible!" They will have bought into the lie that says either "salvation is for the future life" or "that kind of life is impossible in this sinful life." In so doing they will ignore two thousand years of faithful Christian followers who have proven them wrong by their dedication to the pursuit of God.

We are not pursuing holiness. We are not pursuing an experience. We are not pursuing anything other than the fullness of the presence of God in our lives.

September 14, 2006

Practice What You Preach

People don't like hypocrites. I don't like them either. I remember as a teen my stepfather, cigarrette clenched in his pointing fingers, emphasizing that I should not smoke. "Do as I say; not as I do!" was the message, and hypocrites are good scream that message. They tell people what to do, and then try to hide the fact that they are not living out what they are telling others to do.

Sometimes people arelabeled as being hypocritical because they are not being open about their struggle. They know how they should live. They know it is the right way to live. But they are unable to live it out themselves. They struggle with the problem. Everyone struggles to reign in their problem. The hypocrisy happens when they are not honest about their struggle. They put on their happy face, because that is often what is expected, and play the good Christian. How much better would it be if someone simply said, "I know such-and-such is the right thing to do. I am not perfect at doing it, but I believe that is the right direction to go." These people, while not trying to be hypocrites, are labeled as such because of their inability to be open with others.

Sometimes people are just downright hiding their sin. They tell people how THEY should live, but fail to apply the strict standards to themselves. Those people irritate us all, but they should not be seen as the example of everyone in the church. Just so everyone knows, those people irritate those who are actually trying to live out the principles of Jesus.

The phrase "Practice what you preach" at first seems like it is easy enough. A person is simply expected to live they way they say life should be lived. This is a well and good until you consider that those in the Christian faith are not called to practice what they preach, they are called to practice what Jesus preach, and that is even harder. If I have to live by what I preach, I am going to preach an easier way that of Jesus.

It gets even tougher when you realize that Jesus did not simply spout off a list of rules. The Pharisees were already living by an extensive set of rules called Torah. They lived by the yoke of the Rabbi under whom they served. Many of them could honestly say they were "blameless" according the Law because they obeyed every jot-and-tittle of it.

This seems like is should be good enough. It should be good enough that they obeyed every statement in the law. But Jesus said there was something they lack. They cleaned the outside of the cup, but the inside was filthy. Jesus called the Pharisees "whitewashed tombs."

Why was perfect obedience to the Law not enough? Because you can obey every single law ever written, and still not be the kind of person on the inside that is obedient. In Matthew, Jesus uses an ironically humorous story illustrate this fact. Read Matthew 5:29-30. "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell."

If simply not doing something was the point, a person could gouge out their eyes and cut off their hands. They could become a human stump, and that would keep them from doing anything wrong. But even without doing anything wrong they could still be an evil person on the inside. This is why legalism NEVER works. It either creates arrogance or it creates compliant followers who are not changed on the inside.

Jesus does not expect us to simply obey the command, He desires us to become people who obey out of who we are at the core of our being. We are not simply to obey, we are to BE obedient people. There is a very big difference.

As we immerse ourselves in the spiritual disciplines and practices we open the path for God's grace to transform the "old man," as Paul says, into someone who exhibits the fruits of the Spirit. It may seem oxymoronic to talk about grace and "doing" as though one is dependent upon the other, but in a way they are dependent upon each other. Let me illustrate: if you never show up to the gym, you are never going to get into shape.

The purpose of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not to escape hell for heave; the purpose of being a disciple is to reclaim the life God intended us to live. That life is a life of holiness in the character of Jesus Christ. This life cannot be created on our own, it is truly a result of God's grace.

This process of developing a Christlike character will take a lifetime. There will be times of failure and falter, but there will be times, empowered by the Holy Spirit, of great advance and growth. God's grace continually draws us deeper and closer. We should never pretend that we have everything figured out, nor should we put on a face (hypocrite in NT Greek is the same word as "actor" meaning "to put on a face") that makes us look like something we are not. We must be honest with our struggles, but not wallow in defeat either.

September 13, 2006

Boomer Religiosity

There is an interesting article in Newsweek: Boomers, Religion and the Meaning of Life.

Here are a few quotes:

"Americans who came of age in the 1960s were the first generation born in the shadow of the atom bomb; just awakening each morning was something to be thankful for. But they were also the first generation born into mass affluence, for whom material sustenance and comfort were a given, a situation that breeds spiritual hunger."

"Prayer and faith began to seem like awfully old-fashioned paths to revelation, compared with chanting and peyote. A generation raised on television looked to its celebrities for religious inspiration."

"And the boomers wrought another, subtler shift on American religion, turning it from a preoccupation with salvation in the next life to fulfillment in this one."

"Churches now accommodate boomers' demand for autonomy and freedom of choice, says Roof, a phenomenon otherwise known as 'niche marketing—you know, motorcyclists for Jesus.' He believes that's one of the forces behind the emergence of megachurches—the mall-like institutions that offer a cafeteria of worship options, with services elaborately scored for guitars and keyboard, plus complete lifestyle services, from gyms to food courts and childbirth classes. 'Megachurches define this as the way they want to be religious,' says Roof, adding: 'Boomers love options.'"


The article continually points to the "seeker" nature of the Boomer generation. They are a generation that is seeking something.

September 12, 2006

DONE!!!!!

I am done adding all those tags to my posts. Who knew I had that much to say? Maybe it is not that I have so much to say as I say so much! (That statement will be okay as long as my wife or anyone who knows me does not read this post.)

Schwarzenegger Situation

The Governator is facing another crisis. It seems his computer was hacked, and some audio files were stolen. These files were recordings of private meetings in the Governator's office.

Here are some things to remember:

1. If you want it kept private, then don't put it on a computer! Especially if the computer is on a network. (Google: confidential "do not distribute" to see other examples of brilliance.)

2. If you don't want to apologize later for something you said, then don't say it in the first place. This goes along with the advice mom used to give, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then say nothing at all." But more importantly, as followers of Jesus Christ, we must keep a close watch over our tongue. James warns all who would be disciples here and here to keep watch over what we say. Jesus gives a similar warning.

3. Just because the media has possession of something does not mean they have a "responsibility" to share it. It is irresponsible of a media source to do what they have done; especially since the material was stolen. I know media outlets have a "responsibility" to inform their listeners/readers/whatever, but if they use stolen property, they should be held to legal ramifications of their actions. If someone stole a car and let me "use" it, then I can go to jail for possession of stolen property. We are arguing in the courts that intellectual property is equally protected from theft, and prosecuting 13 year olds for downloaded music. The same should be held for those who stole the file in the first place, and for those who used it in their report.

Church Planter Recommended Reading

Here is a list of recommended reading for church planters.

It is interesting to see how the type of community the person pastors is affected by the what they have read. You are formed by what you read. It goes back to the biblical principle that what you focus your mind on will be part of who you are.

I find it interesting that most of the books listed are from a theological/philosophical perspective and most have very little to do with the "practics" of starting a church. (Reminds me a lot of what happens in seminary!) It is Guy Kawasaki's list that points to the practics of starting something new.

Let me add a few books on practics the church planter should read :

Conspiracy of Kindness and The Perfectly Imprerfect Church by Steve Sjogren (Servantevangelism.com)
The 7 Practices of Effective Ministry and Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley (This points to philosophy as well as practics).
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Four Obsessions of a CEO by Patrick Lencioni
No Perfect People Allowed by John Burke (I have not finished this book, yet, but it promises to be a very good book.)


Thanks to JR Woodward

September 9, 2006

TA TA Texas!

Well Tony, your church is $100 up because of my donation via THE Ohio State win over Texas. And I will be waiting for proof from your wife that you asked for forgiveness. It looks like they re-opened the Troy Smith/Tedd Ginn Jr. Highway with the Gonzalez bypass!

Ohio State needs a new field goal kicker. They found out that their "inexperienced" defense knows how to step up in the big game. The only reason Texas had 7 points instead of three is because of a bad call by the ref (that was a clean hit!). And, Troy Smith is THE Heisman Trophy Candidate to beat.

All in all, a very good night for THE Ohio State Buckeyes!!!!!

(Ronni, how about that Penn State team?)

Perils of Pursuing God's Reality

A few days ago I wrote about the difference between what we call reality and what God say our reality can be.

History has its prime examples of those who have pursued reality as God said it could be, but there are perils on the journey. Too many have, in their pursuit of God's reality, fallen to these:

1. Pride and Arrogance. Once a person begins working hard in his pursuit of the life that brings about a Christlike character, he will grow deeper in his faith and closer to God. The danger is to see the growth as making him better than anyone else. This leads to a danger of doing the spiritual disciplines and practices because they make him look better in front of all the other Christians. They become a "Man of Prayer" or someone who "knows the Word."

We see this all the time in the church. Many in the Christian community see themselves as automatically better than those outside the church because they have accepted Christ and those outside the church have not. They look at the "poor evolutionist" and, despite the fact that they know nothing about science, use the Jesus trump card to prove they are smarter.

When a person grows deeper in the faith, there is the temptation to take spiritual pride in all the things they are doing to become holy that others in the church are not doing. The person reads his Bible x amount of time per day, pray, fast, attend 5 church services, etc., etc., and others do not!

This is the Big Brother syndrome from the story of the Prodigal Son.

2. Legalism. If a person is not careful, she begins to believe that all her doing is what brought about the holiness and the change in her life. Legalism begins to take root when God's work in her life is abandoned for obedience to God's command. Too often, the pursuit of God is abandoned, and in its stead is the pursuit of obeying God's commands. It is the difference between obeying the law without or having the law written on the tablets of our heart.

Here is an example of what I mean (Dallas Willard uses this same example): If we simply obey God's command to turn the other cheek, we can become bitter at all the people who hit our other cheek and at having to submit to such a tough command. How much better would it be if we are actually people whose character has been formed into Christlikeness? If we obey the command because our character is shaped into Christlikeness, we are truly obeying. Legalism happens when we simply obey because we are supposed to, and then we begin to demand that everyone else obeys.

3. Cheap grace. Some might ask, how is cheap grace a peril of pursuing the life of God? Two ways: first, it is hard and time consuming to develop a Christlike character. Some have fallen away because of the hardness of the pursuit, and settled for a cheap grace that allows for easy entrance. Because they have pursued it and found it hard or that it is not happening fast enough they settle for something far less. Second, are the people who never begin the pursuit, but look at the rigors of the pursuit and say, "I can never do that!" They quit before they even begin.

Jesus offers us a tremendous amount of insight to help us keep from falling for these perils. He says, "do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing."

September 8, 2006

I Don't Know Whether to Laugh or Be Offended

I guess I will laugh because it is kind of funny. I think....

Reformed Gangsta Rap


Thanks to D. Goodmanson


I am still not becoming Reformed though!

Lessons from Losers

This summer has seen the capture of a man purporting to be Jon Benet Ramsey's killer, and the capture of polygamist prophet. In his column Rabbi Marc Gellman searches for spiritual lessons in the wake of such obvious depravity.

Here is his article: The Spiritual Meaning of Karr and Jeffs

I am ever more impressed with Rabbi Gellman.

His article points to the fact that everything is being made more and more sensual, and the sanctity of marriage.

September 7, 2006

Tolerance

Here is a quote from Albert Mohler:
"True toleration exists when all persons are free to express their own deepest beliefs and to argue for the truthfulness and superiority of their beliefs, while respecting the rights of all others to do the same. This is chartered pluralism -- an honest exchange of ideas, beliefs, and arguments in the public square -- not ideological pluralism that denies that truth can be found, or the false tolerance that tolerates only what it likes. Here is one more article for the trouble file."

themerge: Tolerance

themerge: Curse of the Moderates

themerge: A Great Reminder

Reality

"I am just human."

"We can't live like that we live in a sinful world."

"That is just who I am!"

How many times do we use excuses to justify our behavior? How many times do we allow that way things ARE to guide our understanding of the way things can BE?

Why is it many churches point constantly to the fact that "we all fall short," which we do, but fail to recognize Jesus' words, "Go and sin no more"?

So what is reality when it comes to my life as a disciple? Is reality the way things are? Or, is reality the way God says they can and should be?

Paul says we are "more than conquerors," and yet we often live defeated, sinful lives that make excuses for our behavior. We are better at justifying our sinful behaviors than we are at living a justified life. If we are not careful we reduce salvation to reconciliation (forgiveness of sins and a restored relationship with God) and forget about regeneration (God work in and through us to transform us into the character of Christlikeness).

Regeneration is hard work.

Yes, God provides grace to transform us, but we are responsible to put ourselves in a position to receive that grace. The "means of grace" include worship, fellowship, service, solitude, silence, Scripture reading, Scripture memorization, prayer, journaling, fasting, etc., etc. (There is no definitive list of spiritual disciplines or practices.) Dallas Willard says, "Grace is opposed to earning, not to effort."

When we "accept Christ" we are not only seeking forgiveness, we are making a statement that we believe that doing life in the way of Christ is the way to live. The "Sinner's Prayer" just doesn't cut it. We can't make a decision for Christ simply because we don't want to go to hell or because we want to go to heaven. When we accept Christ we accept the life and mission of Christ as our own, and our responsibility is to use the resources of the Church throughout the centuries to foster the Christlike life in ourselves. As we "do" the disciplines and practices of the faith God gives grace to do and be more than we could on our own.

I believe that our participation in the spiritual disciplines is like a training course in the holy life. We are not seeking simply to comply with Jesus' commands, we want to train ourselves to be the kind of people that live obediently because we are different. If I try to comply with Jesus' teaching to "turn the other cheek" this can lead to anger, bitterness, and legalism. But, if I become the kind of person who has the character of Christ, then I obediently live out the command to "turn the other cheek." One way is strict adherence to rules which can (and has) lead to legalism. The other way is obedience to Christ because of who we have become on the inside.

Through fasting, I learn that I don't have to give in to every whim and fancy of my desire.
Through Scripture, I learn the words of Christ, and God's message.
Through silence and solitude, I find that I am not that important. I also get away from the rush and hurry of life to "be still and know" God. I get rid of the "noise" in my life so I can hear God's voice.
Through journaling, I see God's hand at work.
Through prayer, I commune with God. I learn to discover His movements.
Through memorization, I internalize the Word of God and then I can meditate on it "day and night."

Everyone is "training" themselves to be something both in their activities in certain areas and their inactivity in certain areas.

What are you "training" to be in Christ?

September 6, 2006

Too Bad Tony!

Tony over at Church Plant My Eye and I have been exchanging a few friendly barbs about each other's favorite college team.

Last year we had to play Texas without Troy Smith. This year they have to play us without their star Cornerback.

Oh well, Tony, at least we are not these two: Gary and Perry. Fighting over Clemson and Georgia is like fighting over crumbs from the table.

Not Fair!

Tony at Church Plant My Eye has this to say about me!

I can't post to his blog because he hasn't switched to Blogger Beta, and I can't post to his comments.

How fair is it to ridicule a guy when he can't even defend himself?

Oh well, no accounting for taste in some people.

I heard they are opening a new highway right through the middle of Memorial Stadium. It is called THE Troy Smith/Ted Ginn Jr. Highway

September 3, 2006

Changes...

You will notice that some things are changing around my blog. I have switched to Blogger Beta. One of the things I like best about it is the addition of labels. Along the left side you will see a list of labels. I am slowly working through the past 350+ posts to add labels.

Stay tuned.

September 2, 2006

I Yam What I Yam

I get mad when I am driving in traffic and someone cuts me off. In the midst of an argument, I tend to wait and say one very poignant barb meant to hurt. That is who I am.

What happens when God's desire for our lives contradicts the "Who I Am" principle?

I can't tell you how many times (those listed included) that I use the excuse "That's just who I am" to absolve myself of my responsibility to act in ways that represent my "recreated in Christ" status. I get mad...I say certain things...I act in certain ways...I do certain things...I have a susceptibility to a certain sin...That is just who I am...But is it really? Is that really the way I am? Or, is that just the cop-out I allow myself to take? (If I am honest, it is usually a cop-out)

The biblical writers seem to think that we can put on the armor of God, that we can develop fruits of the Spirit, that our works can be a profound expression of our faith. Jesus himself calls us to be His disciples. The calling of a disciple in the first century was a profound statement. The Teachers was, in a sense, saying to his disciples, "You can be like me. You can do what I do." (Thanks to Rob Bell for pointing this aspect out).

"It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher."

My theological background comes from the "holiness" movement and John Wesley. There used to be stories about what "entire" sanctification could do in a person's life. One story (I am relating from memory so it will not be exact) spoke of the wife's demonstration of her sanctification in the fact that she responded well when her husband came home from work and was upset. Rather than being an opportunity for a fight, this was the proving ground for a person's entire sanctification. (I always wondered why it was the wife's role that was emphasized in the story, but anyways).

We laughed at the thought that someone could act in such a way. "That's impossible!" we would say.

But is it really impossible? Or, is it just really, really hard? What if it really is possible to offer a soft answer and turn away wrath? What if it is really possible to actually become Christlike in all that we do?

It is impossible if not very rare for this to be a lightning transformation, but couldn't we, over time, through the disciplines, take responsibility for our actions and resist the temptation to do what we feel?

I am very far from this in practice. And, I believe, we all will fail at this. But, this is our goal, and it is possible to live this way. It is not impossible; it is just really hard.

Imagine what the world, the church, would be like if those who follow Christ would actually believe they could be like Him and act like Him. Imagine a world where Christians actually did love God with their heart soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbor as themselves. Imagine if Christians took responsibility for their actions and did their best to live up to the calling that God has laid on them.

There are some possible problems.

1. The belief that you can reach a point where you ALWAYS do things right. Even when acting out of love, you will still get things wrong. Also, the Kingdom of God has an "already and not yet" element to it. We are part of a fallen world. Through Jesus we are saved, but we are also being saved.

2. The belief that this transformation will happen immediately. Learning to live the way of Jesus takes work--lots of hard work. We live in a fast-food world, and many us expect "revival" or something else to "change" us. There are moments where the Holy Spirit comes in a special way and helps us make spiritual "jumps" that help us grow beyond the "normal" rate of growth. While those things do their work, we also need to do our part through the disciplines and practices of discipleship.

3. A lack of humility. Most of the sins affecting long-term, relatively mature Christians are internal. Most of the sins a person has to deal with have to do with the heart. In fact, Jesus recognized this with statements about white-washed tombs and clean cups. Humility is a big issue because it is easy to think that you have found the "true" essence of Christianity and remain absolutely merciless to other Christians who "don't have it figured out."

September 1, 2006

Devotions

Every morning I get up a little before 5:30am to spend about an hour "doing devotions." I hate that phrase, "doing devotions." "Time with the Lord" seems just as bad. But I really don't know of a better term: "Private Worship"?

I get up at 5:30am in order to utilize the quiet of the apartment and because my mind would wander all over the place any other time of day. I equally divide this time between Scripture reading, prayer, and journaling. As per my previous post, I now include time for memorization.

It has taken me almost 12 years to develop some sort of consistency. That's right, 12 years! You know what I learned that helped me develop consistency? I learned that I had to choose a time and then make myself show up. Spiritual growth wasn't just going to "happen." There was no lightning bolt from that sky that was going to make me magically more consistent. I had to decide that I wanted more of God than I had and then do my part to show up.

How many times are we going to use the excuse, "I don't have the time"? Let me say that if I, of all people, can get consistent you can get consistent.

I struggled for three months when I first moved back to Dayton. There was a change in my setting, my schedule, my entire life. But after three I got tired of my excuses. I set my alarm and made myself get up. I sat there in a haze the first few days, but I showed up.

How many times have we seen "revival" fade after the meetings or the emotions are finished?

What if by consistent practice of the spiritual disciplines you could actually have a stream of living water flowing from within?

I often use the illustration of a marathon runner. In order to run a marathon, the person must put in hours and hours of running. Mile after mile after mile after mile after mile... But, in order to run to the best of their ability, to have the freedom to run a marathon, that practice and discipline is needed. In the spiritual life, we are often ill-prepared for the spritual battles that we have to face or to do what God needs us to do because we have put in the time practicing the disciplines.

Too often we are content to sit around eating our Spiritual Cheetos and getting fat, rather than "beating our bodies" and disciplining ourselves to grow. As we show up to "do" and "practice" the spiritual disciplines we find that God is there giving the grace.


Compromise

Seth Godin writes a challenging parable (?) concerning compromise. This should be serious consideration for every church, pastor, and Christian. Compromise is a personal and communal thing. In order to understand compromise we must first know what we are about and compromise on offering the best "product" we can. Every Christian and church must ask if he/she/they are really attempting to live up to all that Christ has called them to be. It is a process of "working out our own salvation."

Seth Godin's Blog

"Once you start compromising, when do you stop?

If your goal is to be remarkable, please understand that the easiest way to do that is to compromise less, not more. And no, this wasn't a post about breakfast. "

How I Memorize Scripture

Let me give you a little insight into how I have started to memorize Scripture:

1. Choose a passage. Start small or find something that you are "fairly" familiar with but do not have memorized. The reason I can start small is that I am going to be in this for the long haul. I am not trying to memorize the whole Bible (or a whole chapter) my first week. But, over the course of several weeks, the small will accumulate into the large.

2. Write the passage on a 3x5 card or something that you will carry with you throughout the day. I have a thin Moleskine that I use for prayer requests, and I have started copying the Scripture passages starting from the back.

3. Read through the passage 4 or 5 times at the start.

4. Throughout the day, say the passage from "memory" referring to the 3x5 card as needed. I do this while I am driving (hey, people talk on their cell phones, I memorize Scripture), while I am waiting in line somewhere, while I am showering, etc. I do this at least 5-6 times throughout the day.

5. I look for ways to apply the verse throughout the day. In The Great Omission, Dallas Willard emphasizes our role in the spiritual growth process. As we submit ourselves to the spiritual disciplines and practices of the Church God gives grace. If we do not participate in these disciplines and practices, we find that we are not in a position to receive God's grace. I find that memorizing the Scripture has led to my recognition of the application and appropriateness of God's word to my life throughout the day. Every time I see a place for application, I say the passage again.

I am tempted to read large passages of the Bible because all Christians are supposed to read large portions of the Bible right? But, not to discourage this practice, I think I have come to the conclusion that it is better to "master" a small portion than to read large chunks and never "get it." I do think we need to read large portions of Scripture, meditate on them, and study them in such a way that does not remove the individual verses and passages from their overall context. But not at the expense of "mastering" at least some portion.

Reading large passages of Scripture does several things: it gives us a sense of context, it lets us see the thought process of the author and the Author, and we are immersed in the overall message. Memorization helps us master a passage, take the passage with us into life, and meditate on God's word. Both have their place, but not one at the expense of the other.