Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Biggest vs. Best: Truth for the Modern Church?

Seth Godin wrote this about businesses, but I wonder if there's a nugget of truth for the modern church:

Biggest vs. best

There's not much overlap.

Regardless of how you measure 'best' (elegance, deluxeness, impact, profitability, ROI, meaningfulness, memorability), it's almost never present in the thing that is the most popular.

The best restaurant, Seinfeld episode, political candidate, brand of beer, ski slope, NASDAQ stock, you name it. Compare them to the most popular.

Big is a choice. So is best.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Edwards on Regeneration

Dane Ortlund summarizes Jonathan Edwards on regeneration in his new book Edwards on the Christian Life

"We need Edwards today on regeneration.  Salvation is not, in essence, what many seem to think.  It is not essentially a gradual process of moral improvement, or rational assent, or ecclesial association, or doctrinal rightness - important as all these are.  Salvation is new birth." 

Friday, August 08, 2014

How the Gospel Changes Relationships: Church Relationships Become a Priority

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25
Christians have a responsibility for the love and good works of other Christians.  According to Hebrews 10:24-25 we need to be thinking about how we can get our brothers and sisters in Christ loving more and doing more good deeds.  Not Christians in general, but the ones you choose to gather with each week.  Verse 25 makes that clear.  This is a command we are to pursue in the context of our local church; a command requiring our presence if we're going to carry it out.

We've all heard about the 80/20 principle in church volunteerism.  Normally, the people who think they're carrying more of the burden than other people say, "20% of us are doing 80% of the work."  The 20% says it with frustration and even exasperation that the 80% isn't pulling their weight.

I think Hebrews has something radical to say about the 80/20 principle.  Hebrews says that it may be the 20%'s fault for not considering how to spur the 80% along to love and good works.  Hebrews says quit pointing fingers and start spurring.  The word consider means what it says.  It means think about it and figure it out.  Try one thing and if that doesn't work try something else.  It may be different methods for different people; that's what we're called to consider and figure out.  Hebrews 10:24-25 asks us to find ways to get others involved in more love and more good works.

You carry a responsibility for the love and good works of others in your local church.  You, not just your leaders.  Hebrews says, "Let us  . . ."  This is one reason, of many, why committing to a local body is so important.  Other Christians need you.  They need you to look at them and consider how you can help them along.  Oh, and by they way, you need them to look at you too!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

How the Gospel Changes Relationships: Everyone Else Becomes More Important

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

When a Christian walks into a room they should view themselves as the least important person there.  That's easy if you were to walk into the Oval Office, but can be more difficult when you set foot in a homeless shelter.

Here is a list of 7 things that this command does and does not mean:

It does mean:

1.  You should be really good at asking questions.

This is one of the most practical ways to live this out.  Ask people questions about their life - their family, job, interests, hobbies, and their favorite sports team.  It communicates your desire to learn about them.

2.  You should be a good listener

This is kind of obvious in light of number 1.  If you're asking questions, but not listening to the answers, then you're not really interested in what the person has to say.

3.  Your weekly schedule should reflect intentional investment in other people (neighbors, friends, wife, children, grandchildren)

If you get to the end of the week and realize the vast majority of your time was spent pursuing your own interests to the neglect of others, then you need to adjust your schedule.

4.  You should pursue people, not demand to be pursued.

Often it's easy to fall into the trap of being the friend that wants to be pursued; waiting on the phone call or the invitation.  But, if we treat others as more significant than we are, then we should pursue them so that we can be a part of looking out for their interests.

5.  You should be teachable.

A teachable spirit demonstrates that you believe other people have valuable feedback to offer.  It's rare for someone who views themselves as the most important person in the room to listen to advice from other people.

It doesn't mean:

1.  You never take time for yourself.

Jesus retreated to the places of solitude, even fleeing from the crowds, to spend time in prayer.  Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for others is prepare our hearts to serve them.

2.  You never talk about your needs.

If obedience to this command meant never sharing struggles with others, then no one would ever know how to pray for each other.  But, it does mean you shouldn't get into those all too familiar "one up" struggle competitions where you try to show how much worse your situation is than theirs.

What are some other practical ways we can live this out?

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

How the Gospel Changes Our Relationships: Introduction

Last week I was invited to lead a breakout session at a youth conference in town themed “The Gospel Changes Everything.”  The conference explored all the different aspects of life that the gospel transforms, relationships being one of them.  Of course, most of the students assumed relationships meant dating.  That became clear when the girl to boy ratio for each session was about 7:1.  Nevertheless, I wanted to look at relationships from a more fundamental perspective, then apply what we learned to specific types of relationships.

I posted the outline last week, but thought it would be good to treat each of those areas individually in posts over the next week or two.

Relationships weave through every area of our lives; parents, spouses, friends, co-workers, peers, cashiers, waiters, bank tellers, and on and on.  Some of these we choose and others we don’t.  Some hold greater importance than others.  All of them matter.  The Gospel has something to say about all of them.  

Relationships are difficult for numerous reasons from selfishness to lack of communication to presumption to pride.  Those are all internal reasons.  But, we cannot ignore the fact that those internal desires are fed through the IV of television, internet, advertising, pop-psychology, music, and even friends and family.  They sustain and feed our view of relationships and most often the slow drip giving life to our unhealthy views goes unnoticed.  They shape how we think about marriage, dating, co-workers, revenge, etiquette, parenting, love, affection, forgiveness, self-esteem, and priorities, all manipulate how we relate to other people.  Our challenge, therefore, is to be sure our relationships are not defined by these shadowy influences, but from the Word of God.

The Bible challenges our assumptions about relationships. We'll look at the following:

  • Treat other people as being more important than yourself
  • Church Relationships become a Priority
  • Neighbor Redefined
  • With whom do you pursue friendship?
  • Submission to Authority
  • Genuine Happiness for the Joy of Others
  • Forgiveness
  • Servant to All
  • Purity and Devotion in Relationships

What do you think are some specific aspects of relationships that have been led down an unhealthy path by cultural influences?

Monday, July 28, 2014

How the Gospel Changes our Relationships

I'm leading a Breakout Session at a Student Conference this evening and wanted to make the outline available here:

How the Gospel Changes Relationships - Handout
  1. Relationships
    1. What is a relationship?

    1. What influences do we allow to shape/inform/instruct how we handle relationships?

    1. So, what does the Gospel do to our relationships?
  1. What is the Gospel

  1. How/Why does the Gospel change anything?

  1. What does the Gospel change about our relationships?
    1. Other people are always more important than you are
      1. Philippians 2:3-4
      2. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
    2. Church Relationships become a Priority
      1. Hebrews 10:24-25, Galatians 6:10 (Eph 2:19, 1 Tim. 3:15),
      2. 1 Corinthians 13
    3. Neighbor Redefined
      1. Luke 10:25-37
    4. With whom do you pursue friendship?
      1. Luke 14:12-14
    5. Submission to Authority
      1. Pastors: Hebrews 13:17, Parents: Eph. 6:1, School and Work: Colossians 3:22-24
    6. Genuine Happiness for the Joy of Others
      1. Romans 12:15
    7. Position of Forgiveness
      1. Ephesians 4:32
      2. Matthew 18:21-22
    8. Position of Service
      1. Mark 10:43-45
    9. Pursue Purity and Devotion in Relationships
      1. 1 Peter 4:1-5
      2. 1 Corinthians 7:7-8; 32-35

Monday, July 21, 2014

How Far Is the East From the West?

Psalm 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” This is a glorious statement of God’s grace toward us; beautifully summarizing the gospel. God placed our sins on Christ so that, in our place, he could bear the wrath we deserved. Psalm 103:12 paints a word picture to help us understand what that means. But, what exactly is Psalm 103 saying? What’s the word picture being painted? Pastors explain this imagery most often by contrasting east/west to north/south. The north/south distance limits the distance sin could be from us. If you travel far enough north, you will eventually end up going south when you make the turn at the north pole and start heading back down the other side of the globe. We can measure that. On the other hand, if you travel west then you just keep going to the west and you’ll never start traveling east. Eastward travel and Westward travel continue without end. So, they make their point: there is an infinite distance between east and west. God chose east/west instead of north/south, they say, to show that he put the greatest distance possible between you and your sin. Of course, technically speaking, if you go far enough east you actually end up where you started. Which could also mean our sins eventually come back to bite us. In other words, if we’re going to make our point based on the spherical shape of the earth giving an advantage to east/west over north/south for the distance of our sins - then we also have to accept the “what goes around, comes around” reality as well. Therefore, the fact that moving around the globe eastward is an infinite distance compared to moving north, probably isn't the point of the text. So, then why east/west and not north/south? What is the point? The Old Testament, and the Pentateuch in particular, often uses movement eastward to symbolize movement away from God’s presence and/or people. When Adam and Eve sin in the Garden, God sends them eastward (Gen. 3). After Cain kills Abel he “went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). When the people decide to rebel against God and make a tower to show how great they are, they migrated to the east (Genesis 11:2). When Lot separates from Abraham, the blessed one, he chooses the land of the east - away from God’s chosen man (Gen. 13:11). Finally, when Abraham sends the sons of his concubines away from his promised son, Isaac, he sends them to the east country (Gen. 25:6). So, if movement east represents movement away from God and separation from his people, then perhaps that’s the imagery of Psalm 103:12. Maybe the point is not the infinite distance between them, but the biblical imagery of being removed from God’s people and the land of promise. He removes our sin from us, just as he removed sinners from his promised land, to purify us. The illustration is not as convenient and takes a little more work, but it uses biblical imagery that seems more fitting.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

On Baptizing Aliens


Earlier this week Pope Francis argued the church should display grace and be more open to baptizing all who come seeking after it, regardless of their parents' practices, for example.  While I disagree with the way the Catholic church practices baptism (and a lot of other things!), I would certainly applaud the driving point the Pope is making - the church should be open to receiving all who come desiring to place their faith in Christ.

But, I would certainly want to limit what I mean by all to all . . . humans.  To illustrate his openness, the Pope said he would reach beyond humanity and extend baptism to green martians, "green men, with a long nose and big ears, like children draw,"  and "If tomorrow, for example, an expedition of Martians arrives and some of them come to us ... and if one of them says: 'Me, I want to be baptised!', what would happen? . . . Who are we to close doors?”

I understand the Pope was simply illustrating his point and not laying down church doctrine for ET.  I can only imagine a Green Lantern or Jedi style meeting of cardinals from a plethora of human-like species.  After all, Yoda would look ridiculous in a mitre.

An illustration though it may have been, it misses the whole point of what God did when he sent Jesus to become a man and take on human flesh. Hebrews 2:14-18 makes clear that he "had to be made like his brothers in every respect."  Jesus didn't take on humanoid flesh - which could potentially include anything with two legs, two arms, opposable thumbs, and the ability to fly a spacecraft.  No, he took on human flesh.  The same humanity that Genesis 1:27 tells us was created in the image of God.

So, to answer the Pope's question, "Who are we to close the doors?"  We're Christians, who have been given the truth of God's Word and have an obligation to order our practices by it.  We don't get to make it up as we go long so that we sound more compassionate.

So, just to be clear, aliens can visit our church anytime.  They can come to potluck and we'll fellowship with them if they want to hang out.  But, the Bible doesn't allow us to offer them salvation through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  And, therefore, we can't baptize them either.  Plus, remember what happened when they spilled water on Gizmo - I mean, you never know!

Praise God that Jesus took on human flesh that we might have life.  That's more precious than you or I can ever imagine!

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:13-17 ESV)