JUST DO IT OR HOLINESS
The Backyard Missionary posted recently on some thoughts about holiness by Alan Hirsch. It was interesting to see these ideas in front of me, nearly 15 years after I first heard them. I had been dating Amy (now my bride) for a few months. At the time I was new to this whole follow Jesus thing in every aspect of your life and the guy who was teaching me to walk with Jesus (Matt) wanted to have a conversation about my dating relationship. That was weird.
So, Matt and I headed to the Bovee University Center on the campus of Central Michigan University and grabbed a table in the Down Under Club. It was awkward as he asked me some really personal questions. I told him what he wanted to hear (whether or not it was the truth is another story). Then Matt asked me what I thought the statement, “Be holy as I am holy” meant. Well, I listed off as many rules of good Christian moralism as I could muster and Matt took it in. This was not his first time around the block. He smiled and asked, “Is that it?” I squirmed (not smiling) and replied, “Yeah.”
At that point Matt flipped my entire grid of what it means to be holy. He changed the way I thought because he opened my eyes tot the reality that I was focusing on all the things that I couldn’t do and still honor God with my life. The key thing, Matt explained, was what we could do. We could be holy. We could choose to live our lives in such a way that shows the world around us that we are different.
I had never thought about it like that. I thought following Jesus meant that I needed to understand the rules. The reality is that the rules aren’t the point. The point was living like someone and as opposed to not like someone. It’s so much easier to watch someone model something and do it than figuring out how not to do it. You see Jesus lived life the way we ought to live life. He lived it full, he lived it fun, he lived it on the edge. Do I? Do you? Jesus was called a drunk and a glutton. Most of us would only be mistaken for Tom Sawyer’s good-goody cousin Sid.
Holiness pushes us out to the brink. Holiness challenges us in ways that makes us uncomfortable. Holiness subverts our ordinary lives and causes us to live life on the edge where only angels dare to walk.
ONE. MONO. UNO.
There is a saying, “One is the loneliest number.” For many years I thought one was not all that lonely but a nice change of pace. I think that’s because in my former life as a staff member with Campus Crusade for Christ there was such a crushing emphasis on team that you almost couldn’t escape it. I am not an introvert by nature so for one to feel not lonely is saying something. I have been a “pastor” for one year now. I am coming to the conclusion that “pastor” equals “one”. I want there to be a team around me.
I desire for there to be a team around me. But, the nature of the office is that there is the pastor (full-time, on duty, Christian-type) and then there are those around the pastor (people who are working out their faith in REAL life, in the REAL world, here and now). It seems to me that those around the pastor are amazing, awe-inspiring actually. I mean they work, they work hard all day for some company somewhere and then they work, and work hard in the context of the church. Pastors become pastors because (and let’s be honest here) they can’t or are unwilling to do that (yes, I understand there is an aspect of being called by God to vocationally serve his church, please don’t think I am missing that or downplaying it, I am not; I feel very called and very led to vocational service. I also know that if I wasn’t in vocational service I wouldn’t serve to the level that I do).
Leadership requires one to plan, prepare, and set direction. This takes place as we dream, think through the possibilites of how to make this dream work, and then begin to put it into practice. This is very easy to do in the context of the parachurch (relatively speaking). You have a team of full-time professional staff who are committed to the mission of the organization. There is already a base of like-mindedness or they would not have spent the time they did to raise all that money. Now you come to the church context where everyone (and I mean everyone) has their own idea of mission, direction, and praxis. There is only a handful of professional staff (all of which are working in specialized areas) and there are volunteers. The volunteers care deeply for the people they are ministering to but generally don’t have a broader desire to lead, cast vision, or set direction.
As a result this means that for the pastor there is much that must be done alone. However, this is then compounded by the reality that he must bring his volunteers along and up to speed with his dreams and vision. This requires the pastor to be a coach. I stink as a coach. I am a terrible coach. I am pretty good at casting vision, setting direction, and bringing change, however, I am not good at bringing others along with me.
So, what does this mean? I think it means that I have to learn to hold certain things more loosely and do a significantly better job at bringing people into the conversation at the beginning of the process as opposed to the end. This means that I have to cast vision to them to help them see how important it is for them to set direction with me. I think I see why Dan Allender calls his book “Leading With a Limp”.
YOU TOOK ME SERIOUSLY?
It turns out that people are actually taking this stuff I write seriously! It also turns out that when I post something it is no longer for me but for the world to read. Oh right, I wrote about that.
Well, today I cam face to face with one of my weaknesses in our staff meeting. I realized today, in light of a great conversation around a big table, that my Achiever combined with Futuristic makes it hard for me to field questions regarding vision and direction (see my page on my personal strengths here). I take in so much information and I am constantly learning that my vision and direction are based on good strategic information. The details of the conversation aren’t important. What is important is that for the first time in a long time I was actually aware of how my brokenness was being displayed.
I realized today that I need divine intervention so that I might be more gentle, not some wishy-washy gentleness, but the kind of gentleness that meets people where they are. I am comfortable with being like this in relationships with people who are not in relationship with God, however, I struggle to live this way alongside those who are.
I don’t know, that’s why I am writing and processing and limping my way through all this. Thanks to those around the table who are willing to enter in with me in spite of how broken I am.
MATRIX OF BROKENNESS
As I said yesterday I am going to work through and begin to try and identify the weaknesses that I have. Before doing that though I need to show you the matrix that Allender developed in for the challenges that leaders face and their potential responses. It’s helpful and it’s a bit of a diagnostic tool. It also provides a good grid for framing the discussion.
There are five leadership challenges with which every leader comes face to face. I have re-created the grids that Allender developed on pages 8 and 9 of Leading With Limp.
The challenges are obvious. I don’t think that anyone would doubt them. If you do doubt them then, I would have to assume that you have never led for any length of time. Now consider these five ineffective responses. Which of them do you most struggle with? I want to pick and choose. Yet, as I honestly evaluate my own leadership I think that I have failed in every one of the categories.
The effective solutions are the places where we want to get to. I find that courage is easier for me. The reality that I have to grapple with is that the ineffective responses are easier to control. If I am going to legitimately move into these effective solutions the core of my being, of who I am, has to be open to change. If it is not then I simply will not get there.
One note of hope, I don’t want you to think (or me to think) that I am a constant failure in leadership. I think that in many ways I lead well. I think that there are times when I actually live out the effective solutions that are listed above. I simply am aware that I have a very long way to go.
YOU’RE IN THE BATTLE OF YOUR LIFE
Dan Allender says, “So here’s the hard truth: if you’re a leader, you’re in the battle of your life.” Welcome to a challenging text called Leading With a Limp. This is a book that was given to me by a man who mentored me for six years, on the day of my ordination he mailed it to me. I finally got around to reading it this Advent season and what I read has brought me to a place where I need to re-evaluate how I have been leading. I have not been leading with a limp.
The assumption of Allender’s book is this, “To the degree you face and name and deal with your failures as a leader, to that same extent you will create an environment conducive to growing and retaining productive committed colleagues (2)”. He goes on to say, “To the degree you attempt to hide or dissemble your weaknesses, the more you will need to control those you lead, the more insecure you will become, and the more rigidity you will impose — prompting the ultimate departure of your best people (3).” These are the presuppositions. They are truthful and if you have been in leadership for any length of time you have experienced these statements in an all to painful way.
In the swath of leadership literature that I have read this book is changing the way I think about leading. Allender is not calling for leaders to be “authentic” and “self-disclose”. He is calling for leaders to do more. He is calling us to embrace our weaknesses and then in the company of those we lead to take our weaknesses apart piece by piece. This is not a “work on your weaknesses” kind of effort. This is an embracing of our brokenness that will necessarily lead us to a place of humility and in search of grace.
As I consider my leadership in the past I realize that more often than not I ignore my weaknesses, I write them off. I ask for forgiveness when I offend. I have never considered the idea of inviting those on my team into my weakness. I am going to process some of my weaknesses out here and subvert myself. Other weaknesses will have to be embraced elsewhere. In all of them, I need to invite people in. To live out of my strengths (which I am going to post soon too) I need to dismantle the atomic bomb of my weakness.
RELIGION IS GOOD AT GUILT
On January 1 Charlie Rose had a montage of his best interviews. Well, we usually put Charlie on in the background and fall asleep to him. I suppose it’s gentle North Carolina accent or the intonation of his voice but he knocks us out pretty quickly. In one particular clip he was interviewing Frank McCourt, the author of Angela’s Ashes and ’Tis. McCourt said, “Religion is good at guilt.” For some reason that idea stuck in my head and I have been thinking about it ever since.
Is religion good at guilt? I suppose so. Religion is a man made attempt at controlling other people and at the same time seeking to make people feel better about themselves. But, if you are going to control other people then you can’t possibly clear their shame ridden consciences with something like grace. No, you must make them work for it. They must work hard for it and they must comprehend that whenever they slip up they need to work even harder because the scorecard is now unbalanced. They can’t get ahead until after their dead, possibly, and the right people think they were especially good.
You see, religion is good at guilt. Religion is about control and power. It is about controlling those around us and exerting power over them so that we can continue to stay in control. I think this is what is so incredibly subversive about Jesus. He was unwilling to grab the power and control. He was willing to set aside controlling power and offer up grace. This grace changed the world. It’s interesting when you think about following after Jesus you aren’t required to do anything. But, when you come to terms with the reality that you aren’t required to do anything it compels you to do something.
I think this is what makes Jesus so compelling to me and also makes me sad when I look at this world with supposedly 1/3 or so of its residents claiming to follow him. It seems to me that maybe many of us might not understand this grace in a way that we ought and that has kept us from being compelled.
STOP THE SNARK
I have recently noticed that people who are supposed to be academics, people who are supposed to be representing an intellectual position, are becoming increasingly snarky towards those who disagree with them. I am especially noticing this in the intelligent design/evolution debate that seems to be gearing up again. It’s interesting to me that many on both sides of the debate start, continue, and end with name calling. They refer to one another in demeaning tones. I see this happening in the political debate too. Where ever an issue has two sides with strong feelings it seems that emotion takes precedence over reasoned intellect.
I think the reason for this is found in a comment by Wendell Berry in his essay, “A Few Words in Favor of Edward Abbey”. He is discussing Abbey’s tendency to tip sacred cows. Berry’s says, “Any human product or activity that humans defend as a category becomes, by the very fact, a sacred cow — in need, by the same fact, of an occasional goosing (Berry, 42).” In our current cultural milieu we struggle for meaning and for finger holds. Therefore, we tend to categorize everything and everyone. This categorizing leads to the development of multiple “consecrated bovines (Berry, 42).” As these cows begin to fill our world we are constantly bumping up against someone’s deeply personal category and they defend it with passion. When sacred cows are engaged the one protecting them flares the nostril and becomes a raging bull.
This kind of debate and conversation is wholly unhelpful. If we are to engage with meaning and purpose with those of other perspectives and worldviews there must be a willingness on both parties to discuss rationally and with grace. What is the purpose of just being snarky? What is the point of just making fun of someone you believe to be wrong on an important issue? Can you not bring to the table more than one liners designed to gain the smiling head nod of your supporters?
Berry, Wendell. What are People For? North Point Press: San Francisco, 1990.
REVIEW: EQUIPPED FOR ADVENTURE
Equipped for Adventure: A Practical Guide to Short-Term Mission Trips by Scott Kirby was published in 2006 by New Hope Publishers. It is a handbook for making short-term mission trips happen. This is a holistic treatment of the process of making short-term missions a centerpiece of your church’s ministry. Kirby casts vision, answers criticisms, and then proceeds step by step through the process of planning, organizing, actuating, and following up a mission trip.
I found this to be a helpful text. Kirby provides the busy minister or volunteer with a guide to make missions a reality in any context. I thought one of the most enlightening conversations in the book was in reference to partnerships. The discussion helps to provide a matrix for understanding when and with whom a partnership ought to be formed.
I also found the Appendices to helpful. These provide the resources to carry out the ideas and concepts taught in the book. This is key. So many other books on mission leave out the applicable. I strongly recommend this book for those who are looking to begin doing short-term missions or bring focus to their church’s mission program.
REVIEW: SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP IN THE GLOBAL CITY
Spiritual Leadership in the Global City was written by Mac Pier and published in 2008 by New Hope Publishers. This is a book of stories and mission combined to get your mind and heart thinking about what it means to reach a city. Pier’s text looks at twenty different churches and Christian organizations in New York City. He walks you through their development and growth. Each church and organization provides you with a key spiritual leadership insight. It has a unique, engaging, and accessible format.
Quite honestly this is one of the most encouraging reads I have encountered in a long time. I am pastoring in Metro Detroit which by all accounts is a city on the verge of failure. From what I understand this is similar (on a much smaller scale) to what New York was going through in the 70s and 80s. Upon finishing this book I was encouraged that there is hope for our city and surrounding region. I came away with a fresh desire to partner with other churches and leaders for the sake of the gospel.
The most helpful part of this book were the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The chapters function almost like little parables when paired with the questions. I think this could be timely to be used with a leadership team in a local church in an urban environment.
REVIEW: EYES WIDE OPEN
Eyes Wide Open by William D. Romanowski
Brazos Press, 2001.
Eyes Wide Open was written by William D. Romanowski the Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences at Calvin College. It was initially published in 2001 and was revised and expanded in 2007. As a Christ-follower seeking to engage culture and to make culture I have found that this little book is remarkably helpful. Romanowski’s style is engaging and accessible. He is writing from the Reformed perspective and is seeking to see Christians engage the world around them in such a way as to transform culture.
The book opens with a solid discussion of the state of Christian engagement within the culture. The first eye opening discussion is on the apparent double talk by the Christian world regarding popular culture. Out of one side of our mouths we decry the debasement of the culture around us and yet we consume pop culture as quickly as anyone else. Why is this? It’s because we are members of the culture within which we live and it is through the voice of pop culture that we find a road map for understanding the world around us. While this is not inherently bad we as believers must come to the place where we can evaluate and transform this road map to point people to Christ and the redemption that he offers.
From here we come to a discussion regarding the re-imagining of pop culture. This section points toward the competing and yet similar aspects of the vision of pop culture and the church. With the core question being: how do we reconcile this reality?
Next, Romanowski evaluates “Christian” art and points out that much of it is missing the point of pop art because it does not communicate to a fallen world. The closing chapters of the text give a framework for how a follower of Christ might be able to engage the arts and culture.
I think that Eyes Wide Open is must reading for any Christ-follower that is serious about engaging the culture. Along with gaining a vision for how the Church can engage the lost world Romanowski also provides in his Appendix a matrix that is helpful in discerning the good and bad of pop culture offerings. He also applies his matrix to the film, Titanic. In conclusion, I think this can be a useful tool for helping train this generation of believers to think about the culture and engage it, as opposed to them waiting to be told what to think.
REVIEW: COMPELLED BY LOVE
Compelled by Love: The Most Excellent Way to Missional Living was written by Ed Stetzer and Phillip Nation and published by New Hope Publishers. Stetzer is the director of LifeWay Christian Resources and Nation is a church planting missionary in north Metro Atlanta.
Compelled is broken up into three parts. The first, “Death by Love: God and Mission” looks at how the three persons of the Trinity love and how their love applies to our relationships and ministry. The second part, “Identifying Love: The Church in the World” looks at how we are shaped by love. This section really highlights the way that love works itself out in the context of the Christian community. I would say that this is the central argument of the text. The third part, “Formed by Love: Believers and the World” looks at how the church is to interact with the non-Christian world within which it finds itself. This section I think is the most important as it challenges the presumptions of the status quo.
There were two chapters that stood out among the rest. The first was Chapter 9 where Stetzer and Nation push back on the popularity of bashing the Church. They argued quiet well that if you say that you love Jesus then you will love his church. The vision cast for the necessity and centrality of the local church is fantastic. It might be one of the most simple and clearly stated arguments for the local church that I have read. The quote from James Emery White has really stuck in my mind over the last few days, “The church is not simply the vanguard of kingdom advance; it is the entire assault force (145)”. When we pick on the church we are picking on the very bride of Christ. We must love what Christ loves, and Christ died for his church.
The second chapter that really stood out was Chapter 12, “Called to Love: Living a Missionary Passion for the Lost”. Here Stetzer and Nation challenge the deep rooted selfishness that is inherent in the Christian community by walking through the Jonah narrative. They are calling the church to a renewed sense of contextualized service. I was reminded again that I am a Jonah, as most of us are, willing to serve God on my terms in my ways. How many times do we miss the God-sized redemptive opportunities around us because we are pouting in a corner as a result of not getting our way?
In conclusion, I can’t really find too many weaknesses with this text. I think in future printings (yes, it’s that good) it would be helpful to see an appendix with some best practices for individuals and churches to be able to look to as a model. By no means a claim of a “magic bullet” or a “recipe for missional ministry” but just some jumping off points. I think some of the people in my life will read this and wonder, “OK, now what? How do I DO this?”
REVIEW: TROLLS AND TRUTH
So, I have this awesome opportunity to read and review books from New Hope Publishers. It’s a great way to score some free books and have some accountability to read! Anyway, here is review number one (review number two will come today or tomorrow).
Trolls and Truth: 14 Realities About Today’s Church That We Don’t Want to See is written by Jimmy Dorrell. He is the lead pastor of Church Under the Bridge and also the Executive Director of Mission Waco in Waco, TX. This is a little book and quick read. It hits on 14 key issues that Dorrell has found to be truths that the first world American church needs to hear. He argues that most of the American church ignores the poor and broken in their communities. He is writing from his own experiences as a pastor to those very people. He tells the stories of 14 different people. Those stories each function as a parable for a particular truth that he believes the contemporary church can learn from those people who live on the fringe of society. He covers a wide range of issues including appearance, actions, societal barriers, giving, communication, and music.
I found that his most powerful chapters were regarding the issues of gifts (Dedrick’s Truth) and the fact that the “rich need the poor” (Catfish and Pilgrim Bill’s Truth). Regarding giftedness, Dorrell tells the story of Dedrick and his unique issues and life. While Dedrick has serious mental limitations he joyfully worshiped God. Dorrell’s church embraced him and found a place for his infectious excitement and exuberance. He served the community with how he was made. This is particularly challenging. If you look around your congregation you know who “those” people are. Will you embrace them and find a place for them to serve their God or will you ignore them?
Catfish and Pilgrim Bill’s tale flips the script on the American mindset. It argues for the fact that the rich need the poor. The rich need the poor because it is through their engagement with them that they find meaning and purpose. The poor teach them what it means to love and care for things beyond the almighty dollar. The rich need to get outside themselves and it is through relationships with the poor that they are able to break out of their self-centeredness. Truly powerful.
One area that I find weak in Dorrell’s text is that I wish he would have written from a bit of a more universal application of his principles. The question that I kept coming to was, “What if you do not have access/proximity to these kinds of people?” For example, our church is located in Farmington Hills, MI. While there are those who struggle and there are certainly a handful of homeless people, it is not a hot-bed for the poor and indigent. For us to find the people represented in Dorrell’s parables, we would need to relocate the church. I believe that our church is called to where we are and that God has a mission for us. Dorrell would have provided an even greater tool for the church had he broadened his application a bit to more of a principle level.
All in all this is a wonderful book, especially if you are willing to do the work to take the application to the principle level and apply it to your context. Well worth the read.
So it turns that some of the greatest thinkers in the Christian world are coming to the conclusion that the church has missed something. It has missed “discipleship”. We are not training, building, developing, and sending mature believers into the world. It seems to me that this is the “cost” of the great “evangelical” movement that has developed over the last fifty-five years. Prior to the fifties the church trained people well. There was a commitment to “catechism”. There was an emphasis on education. However, there was a cost. The cost was that of evangelism. We were not inviting people into the community of faith. So, were we really training people well? Probably not.
But, now we get the message out and get people saved but we are not building and sending. We need now not a pendulum swing but a re-centering on the life and ministry of Jesus. I think that this is a good article and points us back to where we need to be. However, it’s still a rehash of Coleman’s Master Plan of Evangelism. If we could only master the Master Plan.
NextReformation » The Great Omission
Doug Walker passed along a book for me to check out and I thought that is was pretty helpful. So, I thought I would briefly review it here. The book is entitled Activate: An Entirely New Approach to Small Groups. The authors Nelson Searcy and Kerrick Thomas are pastors at the Journey Church in New York City. They consider themselves to be a “Church of Small Groups”. It is in this context that they have seen their church grow exponentially and powerfully.
Basically, the content of the book is simple and straightforward. They give a an overview of the subject in Part One. Here they take about 70 pages to give you a fly-over of their small group system. In Part Two, Searcy and Tomas, then breakdown the system specifically and discuss how to implement the system in your church. They also provide an in depth calendar and very specific how-to’s.
The text is an easy read and did not take very long to work through. So, if you are looking for something quick that will also challenge and provide you a structure for you to consider regarding small groups this is a worthwhile read.
So, what’s the evaluation? Most of what is written is pretty standard small group stuff. However, there were two issues that have stuck in my mind that I think are worthy to throw out here. First, Searcy and Thomas use a semester-based structure. Their groups are only committed to be with one another for 10–12 weeks. They argue that this model follows the best educational/growth model that we know of. That is, the necessity of stress and release. This was interesting to me because it really flies in the face of conventional thinking about small groups. Most would say that a good small group requires a minimum of a one year commitment. This has been pretty challenging to consider the ramifications of this length of time. I am not sure what I think about this. I am still chewing on it.
Second, they unequivocally state that “intimacy” is a myth about small groups and as a result has caused the church to think in such a way that makes the implementation of small groups very difficult and sets them up for failure. “Intimacy” is something that is very difficult to create, if not impossible. When we look at small groups and tell people that they will have “intimacy” if they join a group this will almost always fail. They want people to focus on friendship. The idea that a small group provides a place for friendship which, with some in the group, might lead to intimacy. This change in direction is something I whole-heartedly agree with. The intimacy fallacy is one that has plagued ministries for so long. If we would just lower the relational expectation a bit then we will find greater success and at the end of the day the intimacy we long for.
I am not sure on one of their key platform items. I really embrace another. Time to go back and chew on this a bit more. I would encourage you to grab the book and think through some of these issues.
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THE YOUNGER UNCHURCHED…
There are so many thoughts running around in regards to the emerging generations. These generations are building an ever greater legend for themselves as the “unreachable” generation. They drop out of the faith following high school. They are all “evolutionists”. They “hate the church”.
The legendary status of this generation is amazing. The only problem is that the stats do not bear it all out. Ed Stetzer over at LifeWay Research is doing some good work. The stat that is most profound is that yes these generations find the church hypocritical. However, they are very, very open to the Bible. Nearly two thirds of the thousand surveyed said that they were open to having a friend study the Bible with them.
The Bible. It’s still relevant. Who knew?
On the Radio Talking about the Younger Unchurched… — EdStetzer.com
REVIEW: PRODIGAL GOD
On my vacation I am reading! It’s great! I just finished The Prodigal God by Tim Keller and am going to wade into Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places next. But, I wanted to get some thoughts out about Prodigal first.
Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is beginning to expand his ministry influence through writing over the last couple of years. He hit the scene popularly with his book The Reason for God. He has recently published a new book entitled, The Prodigal God. This is a short read (I read it in about two and a half hours) but the substance is much weightier (I have pondering it for three days!).
In a nutshell Keller tells and teaches the parable of the “Lost Son” from Luke 15:11–32. However, this is not your typical flannel-graph retelling. Keller takes the parable and flips it upside down, left, right, and under. The transformation of our understanding of the parable comes quickly when he challenges the typical understanding of the term “prodigal”. We usually think about it as a negative term which has come to mean someone leaving or running away. However, Keller redefines (or educates us about the true definition) as one who, “1 spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wastefully extravagant, 2 having or giving something on a lavish scale.” These definitions are often spun negatively and only applied to the younger son. However, it is the father of the story who is truly living out this reality.
Our understanding of the parable of the “Lost Son” has always focused on the younger son who wasted all that the father has given him. We shake our head at the older brother and his lack of grace. Keller wants us to see that the younger brother is the “tax-collector or the prostitute”, the older brother is the “religious person” and the father is “God”. These are common enough. However, the twist comes when he makes an excellent case for the fact that the key to the parable is the response of the father to the OLDER brother. Read the passage again. Notice, it is the OLDER brother that misses out on the banquet and grace of God. He has lost his soul by obeying. Keller spends most of his time driving this home. The more insidious sin of the parable is the hard-hearted, legalistic, arrogant, obedient, heart of the older brother.
The exegesis of the passage is well done. The target audience is broad so you won’t get the nuts and bolts of how Keller came to his conclusions. I would love to see an exegetically driven text from Keller that helps us understand how he came to his conclusions. That being said, this is a must read for anyone who is trying to understand the gospel and how it applies to their lives.
By means of application and conclusion, I will share with you what I am wrestling with. Friends, most of you reading this are of my ilk, the older brother. The prideful, arrogant, do-it-yourself, know-it-all, obeying-in-all-things, hard-hearted older brother. What happens when the father comes to us and invites us insider to celebrate the grace he has bestowed on another? Will we celebrate? Or will we stand outside in righteous indignation?
The sermon from July 19 was lost. So, I am putting up a manuscripted version of it for those that want to take a look at what was said but missed it. It’s not exact but hits the same points.
We don’t believe that God is who he says he is and therefore we we don’t care.
The question that we are answering this morning is this:
Why is there a deep apathy in the family of God? Why has there been no cry
or repentance for our nation’s sins just as Daniel did for Israel? Romans 1:18–32 speaks of God’s wrath against man because of his progressive downward spiral. Why no repentance?
This question is fundamentally about what we believe. A.W. Tozer said in his remarkable book, Knowledge of the Holy that “the most important thing about you is what comes into your mind when you think about God.” I think that is one of the most profound statements in Christian literature. Everything we do and say points to what we believe about who God is.
Consider what Annie Dillard says (from Teaching a Stone to Talk), “Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless
ourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does
o one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a bunch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing cr
sh helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should alsh us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god my draw us out to where we can never return.”
Friends, this is the issue that is at hand. What is it that we believe about who God is?
The letter to the Hebrews is in many ways a mystery. Nobody knows who wrote it. Nobody is really sure to whom it was written. What seems most likely is that it was a letter written by a pastor to his Jewish congregation somewhere near Rome. There was a large Jewish population there and it is likely that within the city there were multiple gatherings of Christ followers and probably one within the Jewish quarter itself. The pastor was writing to them on the eve of persecution. It was about to get bad in Rome and he wanted to encourage his people. He knew that they could avoid persecution if they would simply set aside this Jesus and go back to their old ways of believing. So, he set out to write a letter to encourage them to stand firm in their faith because Jesus is better than everything else.
So then we come to passage that we are going to look at today. Hebrews 12:18–29. Here the pastor is giving them a graphic image of the God whom they now serve. He brings to their mind the image of Mt. Sinai and the giving of the commandments. This is the key event in the story of the Hebrew people. It was here that their leader, Moses spoke directly to God and would return emanating God’s glory. The holiness, majesty, and glory of God was so real that they could not even touch the mountain or they would die. The God of the universe was present on that mountain and the people trembled in awesome reverent respect.
He is telling his people this is the God whom they are up close and in person with through faith in Jesus.
But, that’s not all look at what’s next: They come to celebration that is beyond anything they can imagine. They are inheritors of the living God! This is what it means to be a part of the assembly of the first born. It means that you are included in the inheritance.
The story goes on though. It comes with a warning. He says look at this majestic, holy, great God who has invited you into his presence as his own, will you faithfully follow after him? Will you listen to the call that is on your life? Will you refuse him? H
points to the return of Jesus and says that when that day comes the things that are not eternal will be shaken away and what is real and eternal will be all that’s left. Therefore we are to be grateful for being in this kingdom that will last forever.
What is his application? “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” He says then, in light of all this, our response to the reality of God in us is that we are to acceptably worship God.
How can we acceptably worship God if we don’t really believe this?
I think that most of us live just like this from the film, Talladega Nights. Ricky Bobby and his family are illustrations of our silly attempts at making God manageable, trivializing him down to something small and meaningless. We seek to make him into something that we want. I think that Ray Ortlund describes it well in his brief essay, Jesus Jr.
“Our local deity is not Jesus. He goes by the name Jesus. But in reality, our local deity is Jesus Jr.
Our little Jesus is popular because he is useful. He makes us feel better while conveniently fitting into the margins of our busy lives. But he is not terrifying or compelling or thrilling. When we hear the gospel of Jesus Jr., our casual response
s “Yeah, that’s what I believe.” Jesus Jr. does not confront us, surprise us, stun us. He looks down on us with a benign, all-approving grin. He tells us how wonderful we really are, how entitled we really are, how wounded we really are, and it feels good.
Jesus Jr. appeals to the flesh. He does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him. He is not able to understand them, much less impart them, because Jesus Jr. is the magnification of Self, the idealization of Self, the absolutization of Self turning around and validating Self, flattering Self, reinforcing Self. Jesus Jr. does not change us, because he is a projection of us.”
Our lives, everything we do reflects what we believe about who Jesus is.
Why is there apathy? Why are we not seeing the repentance that we have seen in the past? Quite honestly it’s because we don’t really believe that any of this stuff is real. We minimize Jesus and create a reflected version of ourselves so that we can remain safe and comfortable.
We say we believe in prayer, right? Well, let’s see on average there’s two or three people who gather prior to the service to pray. I am not there either, but, I think it’s time I start showing up. Maybe most of us are praying on our way in, but I doubt it. We simply don’t really believe that praying is effectual. We don’t really believe that if we pray and ask God to move in our worship service that he will move in our service. No, we believe that we need a great band, a better speaker, maybe some entertaining videos and dramas. But prayer, well that’s not really doing anything.
We say we believe in the Bible right? Well, Romans 1:16 says, “the gospel is the power of salvation to those who would believe.” So, we boldly share our faith and invite people to encounter Jesus right? Oh, wait, no we don’t. We don’t want to offend them. We don’t want to make them uncomfortable. We don’t want to appear to be crazy Jesus people. We want our “lives” to “preach” the gospel to them. We think a slick ad campaign will bring them to Jesus. Except that Romans 10 tells us that it is by communicating, speaking our belief in Jesus that leads people to belief.
As Doug and I were planning one day at the Coffee Bean in Plymouth there was a man sitting near us. He eyed us up and down. He was listening to what we were talking about. He would walk in and out of the room. And finally he walked over and asked, “Are you pastors or something?”
“Yes we are.” Doug replied.
“Do you have any people in your congregation who are sick? With chronic pain? Maybe cancer?” The man asked.
“Yes we do.” Doug responded.
“Oh, man, then have you heard about medical marijuana? It will change their lives! It has healed me and it’s benefits are endless! You have to tell people about this and help them get the medicine they need!” Marijuana guy exclaimed.
He spent the next fifteen minutes proselytizing us concerning medical marijuana. He believed that marijuana would change the world and fix the core problems of our society.
Do we believe that Jesus and the life he offers is better than marijuana? Most of our lives would say that we don’t. Or consider this from a man named Penn Gillette. He is a devoted atheist and a comedian. You may have heard of him, he is the Penn from Penn and Teller. Well, after one of his shows a man gave him a Bible and this was Penn’s response (click here for the video).
Profound is it not? How much do you have to hate someone to not share the message of Jesus with them?
We look at the statistics of young people walking away from their faith after high school and we try to figure out a better program to make Jesus more exciting. Yet, what matters most is that kids see their mom and dad authentically living for Jesus. Second to that is having another adult involved in their life authentically living for Jesus. All of us desire to see children who love Jesus and are getting to know him, yet it’s the same handful of people over and over again who get up an hour early to teach sunday school. If we really wanted kids to walk with Jesus people would be lining up to volunteer and mentor young people.
We see that there are people hurting everywhere around us and then wonder when the “church” is going to begin a program to reach “those” people and yet we forget that we are the church. There is nothing “out there” that is going to do it for us. What will do it is us falling madly in love with our savior and really believing that we are so utterly broken that there is no hope apart from him. Until we really believe it then apathy and self-reliance will remain.
My brothers and sisters in Christ the reality that we must face is that we would prefer a manageable and safe deity of our own creation. If we say that we believe in Jesus and yet ignore him and choose to fill our lives with other stuff so that we are too busy to engage in his mission, then what do we really believe?
In this question there is a desire to see spiritual awakening take place. In a little book called Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening, Dan Hayes lays out the five pre-requisites for awakening.
- God’s people must recognize that there is a desperate need for spiritual awakening.
- God’s people must humble themselves before Him.
- God’s people must confess their sin and repent.
- God’s people must continually and earnestly pray.
- God’s people must call others to join with them to meet these pre-requisites.
We are pretty good at number 1. It’s numbers 2–5 that we struggle with. It’s 2–5 where things get to close to home and we are faced with the necessity of real change in us and around us.
The bigger issue for me is that if we do these things then history tells us we can expect:
- Holiness of life for believers.
- Obedience to God and His Word.
- Increased power from God.
- A massive movement of God’s Spirit in evangelism.
When I am honest with myself all four of those things scare me to death and excite me beyond comprehension.
What would happen if we lived this out? What would happen if this kind of spiritual awakening took place? We wold be transformed. The world around us would be transformed. God would be glorified.
You see, when we come face to face with the God of the Bible, the God we meet in Hebrews 12:18–29 we are necessarily driven to our knees humbled, praying, gathering to pray, and calling others to join us.
So what do we walk away with? Well that’s really up to each of us. Will we believe? Will we bear out that belief by how we live? How will we choose to live in this world? Will we pray or will we simply go on living as happy, brainless tourists on a tour of the absolute?
LOVE AND MARRIAGE, LOVE AND MARRIAGE, USED TO GO TOGETHER…
If you are wondering about the effects of the much ballyhooed “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960s then I suggest you take a look at this article. If you are wondering whether or not things have changed in the world then I suggest you read this article. Friends, this is not your world anymore. The emerging generation has solidified a sexual and moral compass that requires us to help those who are Christ followers to find their identity not in the context of their generation but in and through the context of the Scriptures. We are not to get caught up in the modern/postmodern debate. That’s just silly. Postmodernity is here and will remain. The issue is how are we to live in light of the Scriptures and the new culture within which we find ourselves.
First, we must not desire the “good ol’ days” because quite honestly they were not that good. Second, we must be teaching and training kids from the cradle to love the Scriptures and teach them to study and understand, not just inoculate them with bed-time bible stories.The question before us is — will we engage (pun intended!)?
Marriage Still Fits Into Millennials’ Future…Eventually | Ypulse
URBAN EXILE: GRAN TORINO
I read this article this morning because I am always interested to see what people have to say about Michigan and Detroit. Usually it’s some sort of comedic piece or a good chuckle at the ineptitude of the city’s political structure. However, this morning when I read this Out of Ur post on Gran Torino I was moved.
You see, it’s not everyday that you see a snapshot of Detrtoit that points to the racial and the spiritual. But, here we do. I have worked in and around the city of Detroit for four years. My first three and a half took place on the college campuses and for the last six months I have been in the suburbs working at Grace Chapel, EPC. In my time here I have been amazed by what is happening in and around our city.
Many people look at 8 Mile and Telegraph, those grand dividers as the keys to what’s going on here. The reality is that they aren’t. There is a movement growing of the emerging generation to re-engage in a real way the very real problems that our city faces. They see the problems. They live the problems. Yet, when you go to Wayne State University or talk to people from Citadel (a multi-ethnic church in the heart of the city) you begin to glimpse a different picture: hope.
Whereas our parents generation was one “lost in space”, our generation is one that seeks to rectify those problems and change the future. Are we despairing? Yes. Are we frustrated with an institutional agenda that makes change difficult? Yes. Are we without hope? No.
As I think about what David Swanson says in his article I can’t help but think that this is the generation that will change the tide. We can only hope.
I read this today and thought that the nine traits listed in Ed’s book are really insightful. What do you think?
Creating Deeper Community
Churches that are effective at attracting and developing young adults place a high value on moving people into a healthy small group system. Young adults are trying to connect and will make a lasting connection wherever they can find belonging.
Making a Difference through Service
Churches that are transforming young adults value leading people to serve through volunteerism. More than being pampered, young adults want to be part of something bigger than themselves and are looking to be part of an organization where they can make a difference through acts of service.
Churches that are engaging young adults are providing worship environments that reflect their culture while also revering and revealing God. More than looking for a good performance, young adults desire to connect with a vertical experience of worship.
Churches that are reaching young adults are willing to communicate in a language of technology familiar to young adults. Young adults sense that these churches are welcoming churches that value and understand them, engaging them where they are.
Building Cross-Generational Relationships
Churches that are linking young adults with older, mature adults are challenging young adults to move on to maturity through friendship, wisdom, and support. Young adults are drawn to churches that believe in them enough to challenge them.
Moving Toward Authenticity
Churches that are engaging young adults are reaching them not only by their excellence but by their honesty. Young adults are looking for and connecting to churches where they see leaders that are authentic, transparent, and on a learning journey.
Leading by Transparency
Churches that are influencing young adults highly value an incarnational approach to ministry and leadership. This incarnational approach doesn’t require revealing one’s personal sin list so much as it does require that those in leadership must be willing to express a personal sense of humanity and vulnerability.
Leading by Team
Increasingly churches reaching young adults seem to be taking a team approach to ministry. They see ministry not as a solo venture but as a team sport–and the broader participation it creates increases the impact of ministry.
Is your church reaching young adults? If so, are any of these traits proving to me more instrumental than the others in your context?
BASEBALL, REDEMPTION, AND A HOSPITAL ROOM
A week ago yesterday my bride received a phone call. It was one of those calls that you dread. Her dad, Dennis, was in the hospital due to a stroke. It was “minor” but for a man like Dennis and for a family like ours it is major. Dennis is an athlete (at times becoming a scratch golfer!). Dennis is the life of the party. Dennis is the picture of the entrepreneurial spirit. Dennis is the kind of man that other men want to be. This is seen in the respect that his four son-in-laws have for him and the tender love that he bestows on his four daughters.
Amy left Detroit early last Thursday morning and drove (I am sure more quickly than she cares to admit) directly to the hospital room in Evansville, IN where Dennis was beginning his recovery.
But wait, that’s not the whole backstory.
The beloved St. Louis Cardinals were about to finish their three game homestand against the hated Chicago Cubs. The Cards had won the first two games of the series and were in position to sweep and return to first place in the division. In business like fashion they dispatched the Cubs and welcomed to town their cross state rivals, the Royals for a weekend set.
Every single day there was baseball. Every single day there was time spent in a hospital room. Every single daay there was a conversation over lunch or dinner that took place between Amy and Dennis about the Cards.
You see baseball was the beginning of healing. It was normalcy brought into an abnormal situation. It was the pastoral balm that allowed father and daughter to sit and talk and be. Baseball. Not doctors. Not a golden tongued preacher. Not a good book. Baseball. It was the context. The rhythm of life that never stops. It’s six on, one off created rhythm that touches us deep.
Some say the season is too long. Some say the games are too long. Some say it’s boring. Some say it’s day in and day out grind take away from it.
I could not disagree more. It is redemptive. It is ongoing. It is always with you. It provides passion, joy, pain, sorrow, elation. Most of all, it provides time. Time for a father and daughter to be together. Time for them to get lost together and forget that they are in a hospital room. Time for them to be transported to that place they both love. That place where the buzz of the crowd, the warmth of the sun, and smell of the hot dog fill you.
A Hospital Room.
SCOT MCKNIGHT ON SPIRITUAL EROTICISM
Scot McKnight: Spiritual Eroticism | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders.
Above is a link to an article by Scot McKnight. As I read it I was struck by how pointed the article was. Do we love Jesus, no really, do we love Jesus with the kind of love that requires us to be in his presence? Or are we satisfied with the idea of loving Jesus?
A RESPONSE TO THE ELECTION IN THE WORDS OF A TEACHING ELDER
Below is a letter that was sent to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church by Pastor Rufus Smith of City of Refuge Church in Houston, TX. It is moving. It is poignant. It is something that we need hear and consider.
November 6, 2008
To: My Fellow Followers of “That Way”
From: Rufus Smith, Pastor, City of Refuge Church (Houston, TX)
As Chairman of the EPC’s Urban Ministry Network and the only black senior pastor in the Central South, may I ask you to consider pausing this Sunday or next to openly recognize the historic American election this past Tuesday? The question is not whether you or I voted for President-Elect Obama or not, but the issue is the potential capacity of his election to expedite the erasing of the stain, stigma and stereotype in the collective soul and psyche of an indigenous ethnic group and a nation.
Whether you agree with the election results or not, on Tuesday, something happened in the minds and hearts of a significant percentage of African-Americans in your cities, towns and churches. For many whom we are trying to evangelize and disciple, please acknowledge in some way this political seismic shift, atmospheric meteorite and divinely permitted event (Ps. 75:1–6); to ignore it with silence or inaction would be a setback and a squandered bridge building opportunity. Make a phone call, send a note, visit the office, issue a statement or whatever else the Lord may lead you to do to some African-American pastor or leader in your community.
As a Christian, I am NOT personally distracted from the first task of Glory to God via worship and making disciples of every ethnicity; for I deeply believe that our hope is salvation in Jesus not legislation through jurisprudence. As an American, I am prayerful for my President Elect and push for his success (I Tim. 2:1–5 as I did for President George W. Bush); As a Black American, I am as proud as a prancing horse. I was very somber Wednesday. Quite unusual for me. It seemed surreal. Time stood still as I savored what had just happened in my beloved country. 388 long years after the arrival of the Mayflower, the glass ceiling and, I believe, a national curse had been broken.
My 18year old daughter Rhoda called me at 10:45am on Wednesday in tears. “Dad, she said, you won’t believe the stuff I am seeing and hearing…Please come get me”. I warned her on our drive to school this morning of the backlash some would have today. Several of her classmates are dressed in black today to commemorate the destruction of our country and have hurled insults at her. She has been their classmate for 12 years at this highly esteemed Christian school. My wife Jacqueline went to share an off campus lunch with her, then take her back to school where she belongs to continue her maturation process. I don’t fully blame the kids, but their behavior is indicative of the work we still need to do in our society, even among Christians. We as elders know that the ultimate issue is sin not skin.
I don’t expect those who are not black Americans to share the SAME EUPHORIC INTENSITY of this HISTORIC DAY as I do. They can’t. At stake is how this atmosphere can be a time of bountiful harvest for the LifeGiver King and how it can hasten the probability that inner city churches and multi-racial churches like City of Refuge can become commonplace in our children’s lifetime.
I trust that a sacred and civil dialogue can begin for some and continue for others. This time can be a Kingdom building opening for those of us who name the name of Christ and are Christians first, Americans second, and African-Euro-Asian-Latino, Native Americans third.
No reply necessary.
Pastor Smith, I say thank you.
THE BLUE PARAKEET — A REVIEW
First, Dr. McKnight and Zondervan thank you for the advance copy.
The Blue Parakeet is a text that discusses how we actually read the Bible. Dr. McKnight brings up two key ideas throughout his short work. His first organizing principle is the concept that the Bible was written in a certain period’s time and ways. The second is that we are to read the Bible alongside of tradition as opposed to through it.
Dr. McKnight seeks to challenge some of the assumptions that we have regarding how we read the Bible. He begins with a discussion of his own history where people would “read the Bible and do what it says” even though as he began reading the Bible for himself he realized that they did not do all it says. This then leads to the dominant question that he seeks to answer: how do we read the Bible in our times and our ways?
The book is divided into four parts, “What is the Bible”, “What Do I Do with the Bible”, How Do I Benefit from the Bible”, and “Women in Church Ministries Today”. The first section provides Dr. McKnight’s organizing principles. The second and third sections discuss the proofs and ramifications for his new hermeneutic. The fourth section provides an application to a particular issue within the Christian church.
Dr. McKnight writes an engaging book. I think that he has provided a useful challenge to the assumptions with which we tend to come to the Bible with. He also provides a wonderful framework for understanding the Bible as story.
Many, no doubt, will struggle with his section on women. I am not sure that he proves his point fully. I would like to see this section developed more in a future work.
In conclusion, I would recommend this text for those who are thinking about how to read and understand the Bible in a post-modern, post-Christendom context. I would caution the reader to read with a critical eye as it easy to get caught up in Dr. McKnight’s winsome prose. This will be a text that will be at the center of the conversation for some time to come.
WHERE ARE YOU FROM?
The Hansen Report: Where Are You From? | Out of Ur | Conversations for Ministry Leaders.
This article is quality. I think that the ramifications are huge for a congregation like the one that I am a part of. We live in a suburban setting and there are tons of church choices.
This reality makes implementing change very difficult. The reason for this is that instead engaging with the body in the midst of change the “I will go to that other church” card is played. This also frees people from having to engage with the church when there are deficiencies.
When my wife and I moved back to the Detroit area we decided to choose a church and not shop for a church. This meant that we never visited a different church. We came to our church and stayed. No matter what.We believed that any weaknesses in the church were things that God had for us to step into there.
It makes me pretty sad and a little angry when people play the “we’ll just go to a different church” card. If there is a weakness in your church stand in the gap, and be a solution.
This doesn’t happen, I think in part, because there has been a loss of catechism and a loss of commitment to the vows made in membership. I think this happens because people seem to think that the grass is greener. I think this happens because people are unwilling to truly engage with the body of Christ. I think this happens because in the end people are self-centered and unwilling to die to themselves.
One of my good friends, Jose, says “It’s time to Ride and Die”, indeed it is.