Tag Archives: God

Talking With God: Not deep but still refreshing

9781601429445Sometimes praying is hard. If prayer wasn’t hard, then some of our greatest theologians, scholars and pastors wouldn’t have spent the time and energy writing books about prayer. In his book Talking with God: What To Say When You Don’t Know How To Pray, Adam Weber adds his voice to many others on the subject of prayer. Weber is the lead pastor of Embrace, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Weber writes a book that feels personal, even though it’s story-filled and light on in-depth teaching. Talking with God is theologically sound but basic. There is nothing earth-shaking in the book and, in a way, that’s refreshing. Weber doesn’t project to know a way to pray that “changes everything” or a “new” method of prayer, what he brings are simple ideas about prayer. They are ideas that the reader can put into practice no matter how long they have been a believer. This book is not for someone looking for an in-depth study on prayer, however, this book is a good introduction on prayer for a non-Christian, a new Christian or a student. But it does have good reminders on what it means to pray and how we can pray within the different circumstance in which we find ourselves.

Overall, it was a pleasant read and it is one that I’ll keep in order to pass along to someone looking for an introduction to prayer.

I received this book from Blogging for Book in exchange for this review.

 

 

 

When Following Leads to Opposition

Close-up of fire and flames on a black background (Huge file)

Current Sermon Series

I want to take this post to clarify/ elaborate on something I mentioned in my sermon last Sunday. In Acts 10-11, we read the account of Peter and Cornelius. Peter, a Jew, goes into the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, and preaches the message of Jesus to him and he and his family believe and they are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is an awesome event! God has opened the gospel to Gentiles.

But not everyone is happy. When Peter returns to Jerusalem, some of the leaders in the Jerusalem church are not pleased that Peter went to the house of, ate with and (presumably) shared Jesus with Gentiles. Peter obeyed God. Peter got to be a part of an amazing work of God. And when he got back to church, he faced opposition.

In my talk, which you can listen to here,  I said that if you want God to start a holy fire in you, then you will face opposition. In the talk I define “holy fire” as having a passion to know God, to know God’s movement in the world and a passion to be a part of that movement. If there’s a holy fire in you, there’s a chance that you’ll face opposition from some Christian-people, church-people, people who you would think would be the most excited about what God is doing. Where I want to clarify/ elaborate is why?

Why will you face opposition?

  1. You’ll face opposition because people don’t know the context. The church leaders in Jerusalem only heard part of the story. They didn’t know that God had spoken to Cornelius or that God had spoken to Peter. All they knew was that Peter had broken the social norms by associating with this Gentile, Roman military officer and his family. But when Peter explained everything, the whole story, and placed it in the context of Jesus’ words, the church leaders understood, changed their position and began glorifying God.
  2. You’ll face opposition because you’re different. Let’s be honest, for most  Christians and most people who attend church, God is not their utmost passion. God is a passion but not their utmost passion. God’s plans are not their utmost concern and being a part of God’s plan isn’t their utmost desire. There are a lot of other things that get in the way- some of them are good things but God’s desire is for us not to have anything before him. Being passionate about God (while it’s how we all should be) makes you different and when you’re different you’ll face opposition.
  3. You’ll face opposition because you’re making others uncomfortable. The Jewish-Christian church leaders were uncomfortable that Peter would go to the house of a Gentile because it broke a social taboo. For you and I,  opposition could come from those who think that talking to “him” or “her” or inviting “those” people to church is breaking a social taboo and it makes them uncomfortable.

Now that we have seen potential reasons why opposition could come our way if God has begun a holy fire in our lives, what can we do about the opposition. We’ll take each in turn.

  1. Don’t keep what God is doing in your life to yourself. God could be working in your life in very personal ways but be willing to let others know what God is teaching you. Let them know the context and the Scriptures that are speaking to you. This is important for two reasons. First, your pastors, small group leaders, friends can help you and encourage you. Two, you may inspire them to want to God to work in their life as well.
  2. Walking with God and putting God as the utmost thing in your life doesn’t make you different. It makes you exactly who God wants you to be.
  3. God’s way naturally challenges the status quo. In God’s kingdom the last are first and the first are last. Jesus didn’t come to save the righteous but the needy. In God’s kingdom, the poor are blessed, the gentle are blessed, the peacemakers are blessed. Read the Sermon on the Mount and see how God’s kingdom makes the status quo uncomfortable. Making people uncomfortable, if it’s for the sake of the gospel, is good- that’s how movements and revivals begin.

God wants us to be passionate about knowing him. God wants us to be passionate about what he’s doing in the world and passionate about how we can be a part of it. Sometimes that will bring opposition. But our faithfulness to God’s calling in our lives can lead, like those who opposed Peter, to change their hearts and glorify God because of the amazing things God has done.

A Fellowship of Holiness, Newness and Flourishing

9780310277675_1Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). Last time we looked at the first three of six traits that McKnight says should define a diverse church. Those three traits were: grace, love and table. In this final post on this topic, we’ll look at the final three traits: holiness, newness and flourishing.

Holiness

“There are three elements to holiness. First, we don’t make ourselves holy; holiness is the inner work of God. Second, holiness means learning to live a life that avoids sin. Third, holiness means learning to live a life devoted to God” (118-119).

McKnight notes what Christian author and minister A.W. Tozer said, “the Christian life begins right where the Bible says it does- with God- and that the only path to holiness is time in God’s presence” (118). Not only is the church a group of people committed to one Lord, it is also a group of people committed to one end: holiness. Holiness should be the result of putting our faith into application in our lives.

Newness

“Everything about this early-church life was new for everyone. including Paul. They were trying out a new kind of community under a new Lord with new people around them with all kinds of new ideas about how to live under the new Spirit with new assignments and new gifts and new morals” (147).

Newness: New freedom, new faithfulness, new politics. As people within the Kingdom of God, we have the freedom to live as people of the Kingdom. We have a new way to be faithful to God because of God’s love and God’s grace. We have a new way to look at the world, a new politic.

Flourishing

“Twenty centuries of dismal disunity and the witness of a fractured church ought to convince us of our raw inability to be the church God wants us to be. The hope of this book is that that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents” (191).

McKnight goes on the say that this flourishing can only take place through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Which means that we can only flourish through the work and power of God, as God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, transforms our hearts individually and collectively.

McKnight’s book is well written, challenging and encouraging. It made me want to be a part of and to lead a church of differents and to see God take people from different backgrounds, social and economic classes and be united under one Lord. Not that they would be melted together into a homogeneous mass but that, like McKnight’s picture of a salad, the best of individual identity and giftedness contributes to the beauty and flavor of the whole. I encourage you to pick up this book.

We’ve All Done a “Lochte”

I’m sure you’ve heard of the situation that US swimmer Ryan Lochte has recently found himself in during the Rio Olympics. Even after a week, the details are a little fuzzy. What apparently occurred is that Lochte and some fellow swimmers went to a party and drank (a lot), then left in a cab that stopped at a gas station where the swimmers broke…something (a sign?), and when they tried to leave a security guard (who had a gun, pointed a gun) demanded money in return for not calling the police.

The next day, Lochte embellished the story into a Hollywood script where they barely escaped a well orchestrated robbery by men poising as police officers.

The whole situation appears to be shady. The behavior of Lochte and the others swimmers was irresponsible and immature. By demanding money, the actions of the security guard seem to ride the line between a monetary fine for their actions and a bribe to not report their actions. And of course the exaggeration of the story (along with the filing of a false police report) turned it from an quickly forgotten addendum to the Olympics into a international story. The fallout hasn’t stopped for Lochte who, according to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, has been dropped by all his corporate sponsors, including Speedo and Ralph Lauren.

The truth is that we have all done a “Lochte.” Taking Jesus’ imagery from Matthew 7:3-5, most of us have had the little speck (a sin, a decision, a set of circumstances) that turned into a huge log. Maybe we didn’t think our actions were a big deal, or maybe we lied about our actions or maybe we didn’t think about the consequences. Whatever the reason, what we thought was relatively small issue turned into a huge problem.

On the other hand, we’ve all done the opposite thing too. When we really look at Lochte’s actions objectively, what did he really do? He broke a sign or mirror- we don’t really even know for sure. Of course the lying made it worse, but should people be calling for him to never be allowed to swim again and should sponsors be cutting ties with him over a broken sign? Especially when we see athletes arrested for DUI, drug use and domestic violence? Part of me believes that this whole situation is a society with a log in it’s eye pointing out the speck in someone else’s eye.

And we do the same thing. Because of insecurity or fear or pride, we can make someone’s minor infraction and blow it up into a Class A Felony. Much of the time, we do this to cover up our own faults. It’s like when a parent blows up at their kid for not making their bed and grounding them for a month when in reality they are mad at themselves for lying to their boss about the status of a project.

So what do we do? Jesus says that we have to look at our speck/log before we address someone else’s speck/log. Each of us needs to do a daily (maybe hourly) assessment to identify and confess any logs we find and, especially, to remove the specks before they turn into logs.

Let’s commit to examining ourselves and addressing our specks and our logs.

 

 

 

Fall To Grace, Not From It

This time it’s Perry Noble.

Perry Noble was founding and Lead Pastor of NewSpring Church in Anderson, South Carolina. NewSpring is a mega-mega church 17 campuses and a weekly attendance of around 30,000 people. Perry was removed as Lead Pastor of NewSpring after admitting to alcoholism and “unfortunate choices.” It is a sad time for NewSpring Church and for the Church of Jesus Christ.

I have heard Perry Noble preach. I  have also heard and read things about his church and ministry that have caused me pause and made me question his orthodoxy in certain areas. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, I pray that he had been genuinely engaging people with the gospel.

This isn’t the first high-profile pastor that has made a mistake. In recent memory  we have seen Mark Driscoll resign from Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 removed him from the organization (even thought he founded Acts 29) because of controversy surrounding, what has been called, abusive behavior toward church members, ex-church members and ex-staff. Mars Hill Church then announced that it would dissolve and sell all 14 campuses.

We have also seen the fall of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church pastor Tullian Tchividjian (who is Billy Graham’s grandson) who resigned after confessing t0 extramarital affairs. There’s also the revelation from Naghmeh Abedini who filed for separation from her husband, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who was the Irania American pastor imprisoned in Iran because of “allegations of physical, emotional and spiritual abuse.”

As I mention these three “high-profile” examples, I’m sure you know of others- both locally, nationally and internationally (like South Korean pastor David Yonggi Cho who was convicted of embezzling $12 million from his church).

With all these example of pastors falling from grace, what are we to do? What do we do as Christ followers? What do we do as church leaders?

There is a lot that could be said, but I believe it can be boiled down to one overarching idea: fall to grace, not from it.

The phrase is not unique to me and it summarizes many of the other points. It reminds us that we all need grace. We are all sinners saved by grace. And we continually need grace because, though we are saved sinners, there is still the desire to sin within us. All of us are one mistake, one bad decision, one lapse of judgment away from being a thief, murderer or adulterer. That realization is a sobering one. It’s only by pressing into Jesus and falling into God’s grace each moment that helps us put to death the sinful nature and walk in the Spirit.

When we fall into the temptation that our strength, our ministry, our very life are derived from anywhere else but Christ, we move one step closer to falling from grace- in the eyes of those around us; we can never fall from God’s grace. When we don’t continually fall into God’s grace, rest in him and rely on his strength, we find that we will be let down by others and we will let others down.

I can’t say that I will never make a mistake. I can’t say that I will never let my wife, my children or my church down. I can’t say that I will never say the wrong thing. But I can say (because I believe it to be true) that the further I fall into grace, the harder it will be to fall from it.

 

References:

Alcohol Abuse, Perry Noble, and the Church’s Response” by Ed Stetzer

How a Megachurch Melts Down” by Ruth Graham

Tullian Tchividjian Confesses Second Affair Concealed by Two Coral Ridge Elders” by Morgan Lee

The strange case of the pastor released from Iran and his wife’s abuse allegations” by Bob Smietana

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 3

This is a series about the metaphors we used to describe the church- and if they are really helpful or if there are better metaphors that we could be using. So far we have examined if the church is like a gas station or a family and if the church is like a hospital or a Tough Mudder.

Is the church like a battleship?

Is the church like a battleship?

Perhaps you have heard this: The church is not like a cruise ship, it’s like a battleship. I’ve heard this metaphor several different times in sermons or in discussions on the role of the church. This metaphor tries to correct the spiritual consumerism that plagues Western Christianity- as that we talked about in Part 1. The cruise ship is equated with pleasure, consumption, entertainment, extravagance and a midnight buffet (wait, that really is only on a cruise ship). While the battleship is equated with mission, purpose, dedication and the whole being greater than it’s individual parts.

I know it sounds repetitive at this point, but I get where this metaphor comes from. It gives purpose and meaning to the Christian life and (again) combats the consumerism that plagues our churches and vision of Christianity. In part one of this series, I talked about how there are good metaphors and better metaphors. I believe the battleship metaphor is a good metaphor but there is a better metaphor. The reason we need a better metaphor is because, within the world in which we live, we must be careful using militaristic language to describe Christianity. What other metaphor could we use that expresses similar meaning as a battleship but without the militaristic undertones?

The US embassy in Brussels

The US embassy in Brussels

What if the church was like an embassy? An embassy expresses mission, purpose and a representative of something bigger. What makes an embassy unique is that an embassy is a piece of one nation inside of another nation. If I am in France and go to the United States embassy, as soon as I walked through the gates it is like walking in the US. The same is true for the French, Spanish or Dutch embassies in the United States.

The mission of the US embassy in France (or any country) is to look after the interests of the Unites States, to advocate for it’s interests within the government, to undertake diplomacy as the official representative of the US government. The embassy also exists to provide a resource to US citizens visiting, working or who have a problem in the country where the embassy is located. Additionally, the ambassador stands as the official representative of the US government- with all the responsibilities and privileges that come with it.

What if the church was like the embassy for the Kingdom of God within the world? What if Christians were ambassadors? That is what Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians. What if the church acted like the official representative of the Kingdom of God on the earth? What if we advocated for the interests of King Jesus? What if the church was a resource and advocate, not just for our “citizens,” but for all people? What if we lived like ambassadors, believing that each one of us is an official representative of King Jesus and the Kingdom of God?

Wouldn’t we be braver? An ambassador has the full weight and power of the government behind them, we have the full weight and power of God behind us and that’s even more powerful than a battleship.

Why Our Metaphors Matter: Part 2

In this series of posts, we are talking about the metaphors that are used for the church and examining them to see if they are the best metaphors to use- because our metaphors matter.

One metaphor I’ve heard repeated is that the church is like a hospital- a hospital for sinners. Once again, I understand what this metaphor is trying to express. This metaphor probably arises from Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17. There Jesus tells the religious leaders: “It is not those who are healthy that need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” This metaphor shows that the church (and the Jesus that the church preaches) isn’t for people who are good and who have their life put together but for those who have problems, issues and who’s life is a mess. Hospitals are the place to go if you are very sick and need to get better. The church should be likewise.

But.

The problem with this metaphor is that no-one wants to go to a hospital. Hospitals are quiet. Hospitals are sterile and clean. Hospitals are uncomfortable- both physically and emotionally. Hospitals are where all the problems are hidden behind closed doors. Hospitals are the place where people die and where you just want to get out as quickly as possible. The hospital metaphor also perpetuates the idea that the “doctors” (pastors, ministers, church leaders, other Christians) are different from the “patients” (the sinners, unchurched, those with messed up lives). It makes us think that pastors, ministers, church leaders and other Christians are the “cured,” and that they are there to prescribe the medicine- while never being sick themselves. In a hospital, the doctor and the patient are not equal and that idea can bleed over into the church.

The truth is that we were all sinners, we still suffer from sin, we are all in the life-long process of sanctification and we are traveling this life together trying to do our best to follow Jesus.

Maybe church is more like this:

Did you catch some of the phrases that were used in this video?

  • “Everyone here is your teammate.”
  • “That’s the name of the game: people helping people.”
  • All you have to do is decide, deep down, that you’re going to finish.”
  • “Challenges that foster teamwork and camaraderie- things that are fun.”
  • “After this, you’re going to be a different person.”

I think those phrases could and should apply to the church and to our Christian lives as well. The church shouldn’t be a hospital where all the problems are shut behind closed doors and the professionals prescribe solutions. The church should be like a Tough Mudder. Church should be a place and Christianity a lifestyle where we help each other, push each other and get down in the mud with each other. Where we see challenges as obstacles to conquer- with the help of one another and through the power of Jesus Christ. And then, when we have conquered, we celebrate with each other, share our war stories, share about when we got knocked down but got back up again and how God remained faithful. That seems like more fun than a hospital.

So what is the church? Is it like a hospital or like a Tough Mudder?


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