November 30, 2009

The Beginning of Advent

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar. In the early Church, they believed that Christ's impact was not just a "spiritual" thing, but also affected the very ordering of time. The year was arranged in segments to help order time and remind the Church, on a grand scale, of the salvation provided in Christ. Advent was the beginning of the Christian Calendar year.

Advent begins the Christian year with a time of preparation for the coming Messiah and serves as a reminder that Christ will come again. It is a time of fasting, repentance, prayer, and expectation for Christians. It is similar to Lent (a time of fasting, repentance, prayer, and expectation); except it is more joyful. The King is Coming! Prepare the way of the Lord!

Capitalism and the retail system has changed the way we view this time of year. It has renamed the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas day as the "Christmas Season." In the Christian Calendar, the Christmas Season until Christmas Day. Remember the song "The 12 Days of Christmas"? It is influenced by the Christian Calendar. The Christmas Season begins on Christmas Day and continues for 12 days.

Advent's time of expectation is released in the joy of Christmas and the Christmas Season that follows. Instead, Christmas ends with a whimper following the last Christmas present being opened instead of being a 12 day celebration of the coming of our Lord into the world.

Maybe it would be good to reorder our calendars and our lives around similar principles...to use the calendar to reflect on our expectation of the Lord's arrival. He has come into the world, and He will return. We sometimes avoid talk of the "end times" because of all the dissent and debate. However, the Lord's return is when all that we hope for...our salvation, the defeat of sin and death, the return of the world functioning as God intended...will all be accomplished.

1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 says,
We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord's own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Those in Thessalonica would not see this as a "rapture" where they get to leave the world, but as sending a delegation out to meet the arriving King and escort Him into their town. The Lord will return and set to right all that sin and death has destroyed in God's good creation.

Here is my prayer for this season:
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
Charles Wesley, 1707-1788

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

November 25, 2009

Wii Pray

If we keep moving to video venues and other forms of virtual church, then this will not be far behind. This is funny!

November 23, 2009

Bible Abuse


Anyone need an example of how to not only abuse the Scriptures, but also rip them from their context and use them inappropriately?

You need look no further than the e-mail requesting people to pray Psalm 109:8 for President Obama.

Why?

Because you CAN NOT take it from its context. When read in context, this really does become a horrible verse to pray for our President, and, like Satan using Scripture to tempt Jesus, is a gross misuse of the Bible. It is also ignorant of a proper use of the Psalms.

This has nothing to do with my personal political beliefs...it has everything to do with Christians misusing the Bible to do harm. This is problematic no matter who is in office.

Check it out:
8 May his days be few;
may another take his place of leadership.

Now check out a few of the following verses:
9 May his children be fatherless
and his wife a widow.

10 May his children be wandering beggars;
may they be driven from their ruined homes.

11 May a creditor seize all he has;
may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.

12 May no one extend kindness to him
or take pity on his fatherless children.

13 May his descendants be cut off,
their names blotted out from the next generation.

How about we pray what Paul actually tells the Church in Rome to pray for the government officials who were taking their property, throwing them in prison, and executing them for their belief in Jesus. You can check that out here and here. Then, after we have we have prayed what God has asked us to pray for our government officials we can learn how to read, use, and interpret His Word better.

November 22, 2009

The Necessity of Reading the Bible

I have to confess something...for years, as a Christian, I didn't really read the Bible. I read it at church on Sundays and Wednesdays. I read a verse or two a couple of days a week. I even read it in my religion classes in college. I "wanted" to read it, but obviously not enough to actually read it.

Of all the things I regret in my spiritual walk this is the biggest. So read the rest of this knowing that I recognize my own guilt of having acted in the same way.

Check out these statistics:
  • In an interview with Assist News Service, Ron Rhodes, President of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries, quotes a recent poll, which indicates that 35% of born-again Christians do not read the Bible at all.
  • Among those who say they read the Bible, the vast majority only read it during the one hour they attend church each Sunday morning.
“American Christians are biblically illiterate. Although most of them contend that the
Bible contains truth and is worth knowing, and most of them argue that they know all of
the relevant truths and principles, our research shows otherwise. And the trend line is
frightening: the younger a person is, the less they understand about the Christian faith.”
—Barna

I find this very interesting because I speak with people all the time who have very strong theological opinions, and yet have never read the Bible all the way through. I did it. And now I have to ask, How can we make any kind of theological statement without having read the entire message from God?

I also meet people who only experience the Bible in short, proof-texting ways, and they believe this is sufficient. They seem to believe they understand the meaning of the verse, and yet haven't read it in context of the book much less the rest of the Bible.

The Center for Bible Engagement recently conducted a study to determine the relationship between Bible reading and a Christian's maturity in the faith. They made several key discoveries:

  1. Most Christ-followers do not engage (read or hear) from God through the Bible on a daily basis because it simply is not important to them—thus, establishing a habit of Bible reading is not (statistically) a probability using current methodologies.
  2. The Bible is seen as one of many ways, all equally important, that God speaks to the typical Christ-follower, thus being engaged in the Word is not perceived as being critical to one’s spiritual growth.
  3. For most people, telling God their personal needs is more important than hearing from Him.
These point to some serious problems.
How can people who claim to want God's salvation not want to read His Word? I don't believe they can. Salvation is more than just saying a prayer.It is not a transaction where I say the right words and God is obligated to stamp my passport into heave. Being "saved"is a commitment to follow the person of Christ and accept not only His Salvation but His way of life. The only way to follow is to know where God is leading. Knowing God's salvation and being in His Word go hand in hand.

In response to number 2, God does speak to us with His "voice" or inner promptings, but His primary and foundational way of speaking to us is through the Bible. The other ways of hearing God do not carry the same weight as listening to and reading His Word, and we have no way of knowing if the voice or inclination is from God if we are not actively in His Word.

Number 3 simply points to human sinfulness in its most destructive form...selfishness.

They Center for Bible Engagement also found:
  • Consistent with other studies, we find a major disconnect between respondents’ expressed beliefs about the importance of the Bible and their actual reading habits.
  • As expected, Bible reading habits are correlated with both spiritual growth and Bible knowledge. In addition, the more the respondent reads the Bible, the more witnessing he or she does.
  • One implication of our results is that the amount of time one actually spends reading (or hearing) the Bible may be a far better indicator of the state of a person’s spiritual life than church attendance.
  • For the majority of Christ-followers, Bible reading guides do not increase the likelihood of establishing a daily Bible reading habit.
  • Our evidence also suggests it is no longer enough to just hand out Bibles in this country because there is a high statistical probability that they won’t be read.
"Let me be homo unius libri"
John Wesley

In order to grow spiritually, we must spend time daily in God's Word and in prayer. We must do it not out of obligation or a sense of guilt, but because we want to be in relational conversation with our Savior. Being in God's Word is the single best indicator of our spiritual growth. According to the research the tipping point seems to be at reading God's Word 4 days or more a week. But we don't need research to tell us how important it is to read God's Word. We already know.

Check out my post How to Read Scripture.

November 17, 2009

The Insufficiency of Our Prayers for the Dying


Over on the Internet Monk blog there is an interview with a guy who gives pastoral care for people who are dying. I found this quote challenging:

When most of our prayers begin, “Lord, we just want to thank you for…,” it signals that we might suffer from a lack of language to appropriately relate to life’s awesome mysteries. Purely spontaneous prayer doesn’t work because we simply don’t have words when we are in a situation that overwhelms us.

But why do we rely on that? After all, we claim to be Bible-believing people. No book on earth contains human expressions of sorrow, pain, anguish, grief, disappointment, anger, guilt, loneliness, or fear like the Bible. We just have to read it! But because we haven’t really internalized the Scriptures, we don’t know how to be human, we don’t know how to pray as real people dealing with real life before a real God.

November 14, 2009

Christian History of Tomorrow

Just thinking...If we wince at some things done in God's name throughout history...what will our descendants wince about our having done in God's name?

November 11, 2009

10 Things

Take a few moments to answer the following:

  • Name 10 famous people living or dead.
  • Name 10 stores.
  • Name 10 bands.
  • Name 10 beers.
  • Name the 10 commandments.

A friend of mine was talking about a recent trip to pray at an abortion clinic. It was part of a peaceful demonstration. As he attempted to pray, many in the group stood around and socialized. After some time at the clinic, he accompanied them to lunch. As a pastor, he was interested in their behavior. They were all professing "strong" Christians, and he wanted to find out where they were spiritually.

He asked a few spiritual questions in a non-confrontive manner...How is you spiritual life? How much time do you spend praying personally? What is your personal time with God like?

What he found was that most of them didn't.

They didn't pray. They didn't spend time with God. They hadn't spent any serious time digging into the Bible. They were busy doing all this stuff for God, but didn't really know God. I tell this story not to rat them out, but  because it is an easy trap for me to fall into. I get busy doing all the stuff, and forget that in the end it all about being with Jesus.

It is more than that. The 10 Things quiz at the beginning points out how easy it is for me to know all kinds of information about stuff that doesn't really matter. If I am truly making Jesus the Lord of my life and putting His Kingdom first, then I should act like it. I know a lot about the things I am passionate about. The things about which we are passionate..we can't seem to get enough of.

How much more should I know about God and His Word?

November 6, 2009

He is Passionate about Soda

Nese is a passionate guy...he loves soda pop. I love his passion for what he does and what he sells.

As I watched this video I thought, "I want that kind of passion for Jesus." He is selling bottled soda...I am serving the King of Kings. It is certainly challenging. As pastors and leaders we need this kind of passion is we expect people to follow us. Not a fake optimism, but a genuine excitement about what we get to do for God's Kingdom here on earth.



What are you passionate about?

Thanks to Kim Komando via Seth Godin

November 5, 2009

Another Francis Chan Quote

"As believers, we ought to experience this same kind of astonishment when the Holy Spirit enters our bodies. We should be stunned in disbelief over becoming a 'new creation' with the Spirit living in us. As the caterpillar finds its new ability to fly, we should be thrilled over our Spirit-empowered ability to live differently and faithfully. Isn't this what the Scriptures speak of? Isn't this what we've all been longing for?

"But instead of living this way, we've created a whole brand of churches that do not depend on the Spirit, a whole culture of Christians who are not disciples, a new group of 'followers' who do not follow. If all God asked for were faceless numbers to fill the churches, then we would be doing alright. Most of us would feel pretty confident. But simply having a good speaker, a service that is short and engaging, a good venue, and whatever else we add to the mix does not make for a 'good' or 'successful' church. God intended for His bride, those who claim His name, to be much more than this." Francis Chan

I feel hungry for something more...spiritually and in God's church. Check out another quote from Chan here and this video of Francis Chan talking about Risk. What do you think?

November 2, 2009

The Lonely Places


One of my favorite hobbies is backpacking. Last year I put over 125 miles on the treads of my hiking boots, and a friend and I hiked 70 miles and 8 days on a trek through the Laurel Highlands in Southern Pennsylvania. The things I like best about backpacking are that I am doing something a relatively small number of people do and I get to see things that a relatively small number of people get to see and experience. They are the lonely places.

Why are they lonely?

Because it is easier to stay home than to make the effort to get out to see these places. Either we don't want to make the effort...we are not outdoor people...the reward is not worth it for us...whatever the reason, it is always easier to stay where we than to make the effort to get out and gain the experience that awaits us in the lonely places.

This morning while reading the Gospel of Mark, I came across these verses,
"Jesus sent [the man with leprosy] away at once with a strong warning: 'See that you don't tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.' Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere."

The news about Jesus spread quickly and compellingly. It was so compelling that people were willing to overcome the ease of staying where they were to go out into the lonely places and meet with Jesus. The lonely places became no so lonely...because of Jesus. Both because he was there and because he drew a crowd.

There is something about Jesus that continues to draw people to Him. He is the subject of more discussions, movies, books, and arguments than anyone else in history...and yet He is the subject. People talk about Him, want to know Him, and try to understand Him. As the old hymn says, "There is something about that name."

But it is easy to lose that "attraction" to Jesus, and return to that state of ease that keeps us from moving forward. Once we make Jesus the topic of our discussions, movies, debates, and books...it is easy to treat Him as just another topic to be discussed or of which to have an opinion about. It is easy to get bogged down in the mundane things of life, and lose the edge on that attraction to Him. We can forget that He is the Son of God whom we are to worship and obey, and our Savior, Redeemer, Lord, and Teacher.

What are some things that you do to keep your relationship moving forward?