TBT: 2 Minute Unity, 25 Minute Unity

christian-unityUnity between churches is challenging and time consuming but is also at the center of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

As a general rule of thumb, if Jesus prayed for it, we want to be part of it.  Collaboration between churches is exciting and powerful, but if you’re not there yet, here are two easy-peasy steps any pastor can take toward true unity with other churches.

2 minute unity: Take 2 minutes in your church service to pray for other churches in your city by name.  We’ve been doing this for a few years now.   Continue reading

Cutting Room Floor: 24,500% Forgiveness

We’re spending our summer following along with Peter as he follows Jesus, from the moment Jesus calls him, through Acts and then finishing in 1 and 2 Peter. Since so many sermons study a “point in time” in the life of a follower, but can often take that point in time and preach it as if we should live that way every day, all the time, we thought it would be helpful instead to take a long view of the ups and downs of a follower of Jesus over his entire lifetime.

We love Peter because he was a public learner. Partly because of his personality – he blurted out what he was thinking without much filter. I can’t relate to that at all can totally relate. But also because he was the spokesperson for the disciples. Often Jesus would correct Peter and we get to listen in. Also of note, Peter seemed freakishly comfortable saying, “No, Lord.” An oxymoron if ever there was one, but one that all of us think or say under our breath or with our fingers crossed.

So this week, “Lord how many times do I need to forgive? 7 times?”

“Not 7 times, but 70 times 7 times.”

A few thoughts that didn’t make the sermon:

  • First of all, waddup, NIV11? Talents and Denari are now silver coins and bags of gold. First you remove NIV1984 from my trusty Bible software so I can’t access that excellent translation, but I’m tiring of how far you push dynamic equivalence. With google, people can sort out the definitions for themselves.
  • Jesus talks about little children, then “little ones” which scholars think is referring to brand new believers. Should we not lead astray the little children or the little ones? The correct answer is “yes.”
  • Children bookend the story about forgiveness. There are many benefits of approaching God as a child. In the message we focused on two: how easily a child can move into wonder and astonishment and how a child can enjoy the same thing over and over again without tiring of it. In contrast an adult needs some things taken off our plate before we can open up to wonder and we quickly tire of repetition. Which leads me to one of my all time favorite quotes:

 Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. – GK Chesterton

Litmus Test for Any Church

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The Litmus Test: Can I bring my unchurched friends to this church?

Will I have to prepare them before hand or can they just show up?

Will I have to translate for them so they can participate without feeling like an outsider?

Will I have to apologize to them afterward?

Will they encounter Jesus when they come?

The apostle Paul said that the gospel is a stumbling block.  It sure is.  It always has been an anathema to the human condition.  It is bad news before it is good news.  But the church ought not be a stumbling block.

The church ought to be as welcoming as Jesus.  And people ought to be able to belong before they believe.  How’s your church doing on this litmus test?

Cutting Room Floor: Lifetime vs Point in Time

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St Peter holding the keys to the Kingdom. Statue at St John Lateran Church, Rome. 

Often times preachers can fall into the temptation of taking one “point in time” moment in the Bible and teach that everyone should be like that everywhere, all the time. I recall sitting in a sermon where the preacher invited us to pray the “Prayer of Jabez” every day for the rest of our life. But let’s face it, Jabez prayed that prayer at one point in time and the Chronicler briefly concluded, “And God granted his request.” One and done. If preachers keep stacking these “point in time” moments into ongoing commitments, we won’t have any time left to do dishes or take out the trash, to say nothing about how we too quickly ignore the unique nature of many of those encounters. “We should ALL step out of the boat and walk on water!” Really? Because one guy did it one time?

What if, instead of extrapolating these “point in time” moments, we instead look at the ebb and flow and the ups and downs of a lifetime of following Jesus? I think that would give us a more accurate picture of lifetime discipleship.

This summer, our church is doing that very thing – starting with the moment someone follows Jesus through the ups and downs of following for a lifetime. Bold moves, mistakes, confused questions, failures, amazing courageous acts, all of it. We’re spending our whole summer with Peter, one of Jesus’ most famous disciples because the authors of Scripture wrote so much about him.

One other quick mention: The Bible condenses history into action moments on every page. Matthew, for example, recorded approximately 1000 days of Jesus’ ministry into 31 pages. When we read Matthew or any of the gospels, we can mistakenly think that following Jesus is an “action every day” sort of experience, but surely Peter had days of getting up, doing dishes, kissing his wife goodbye, running the donkey-pool, spending time with Jesus, coming home. No miracles, no spectacular moments. But unfortunately, scripture leaves those days to our imagination. Don’t get me started on how many mundane days Abraham lived, or the Israelites in the wilderness. Forgetting this reality leads us to a false conclusion that every day is a miracle filled adventure with Jesus and we’re not measuring up. Hopefully this summer series will offer some needed balance to that assumption.

We began this week with Jesus’ call to follow him. Next week we’re looking at the moment when Peter walks toward Jesus on water. We’ll follow alongside Peter through the ups and downs of his Jesus following – from his declaration of who Jesus is to his denial and subsequent forgiveness. We’ll then chase him through Acts as he helps build the church and finally close with a few sermons on 1 and 2 Peter. Of course, Peter is still a singular figure in church history. We should proceed with caution before saying, “we too should be like Peter.” But all the same, staying up close and personal with Peter for a few months will give us a taste of the ebbs and flows of long term Jesus following. We invite you to join with us on the journey.

Public Shame and Solidarity

‘I was seen by many but actually known by few. And I get it. It was easy to forget that That Woman was dimensional, had a soul, and was once unbroken.’ –  Monica Lewinski

1997. I was sitting in the hospital cafeteria eating a chuckwagon steak when the ER beeper lit up. A young mother driving the neighborhood carpool was in a bad accident and several of the kids had been thrown outside the van. She came away unscathed because she was wearing a seatbelt, but none of the kids were buckled and now she was on one side of the ER double doors, the kids on the other. She was waiting to hear if she had killed her son and her friends’ sons.

What do you do for a person who is so wrecked with guilt that they exhibit pure self hatred?  I was far enough along in my CPE journey to be self aware that I was very angry at her. My default setting at the time was self righteousness and it often came to the surface when I was under pressure or needed to feel better about myself. I was, in so many ways, the pharisee who said, “thank you God that I am not like that person….a sinner.”

She didn’t make the kids wear a seat belt. Continue reading

Advent Art: ProtoEuangelium

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“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Quality art is better enjoyed than explained. I hope you enjoy this fine craft. Artist is unknown, but I found the piece profoundly moving. I hope you do too.

Annotated Guide to Deeper Bible Study

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Our church is in a series that focused on Bible Study this week. Our message focused on two dynamics:

  1. The contrast between God determination and self determination. We live in a culture that values self determination, but David reminds us in Psalm 19 that God determination is the pathway to freedom and that we shouldn’t trust self determination. “But who can discern their own errors?” he asks? He writes affectionately about all the ways God’s laws and edicts are for our protection, not for our restriction, yet our tendency is to “keep the law off our back.” The contrast is stark.
  2. Most followers of Christ want to get more out of their Bible reading, but feel stuck for various reasons. We spent the majority of our message on this dynamic and as promised, below is the list of tools I mentioned as pathways to growth.

People grow in their Bible reading when they combine their spiritual hunger with guides who can help them (like scholars or pastors) and time and money. In my own journey, I put a lot of time and money into getting helpful guides and it made a huge difference for me. Of course as a Pastor, it makes sense that I would invest a large amount of time and money into my vocation. Fortunately, we live in a technological age where you really don’t need to enroll in a seminary to get incredible, seminary level guides. So many great scholars now offer online courses, but you can also find them in books, podcasts, iTunes university etc. We live in a golden age of resource, why not spend some time and/or money on some of these resources below.  Continue reading

Happy Thanksgiving

Everybody has a favorite Christmas movie. In that same vein, I have a favorite Thanksgiving television episode. The West Wing season two episode “Shibboleth.” It has several great plots running through it, one involving Chinese refugees seeking religious asylum and the White House staff having to determine if they are “feigning faith” to get in, or if they are true believers. Another involves the Press Secretary, CJ Craig having to choose between two turkeys, one of whom will be pardoned by the president, the other will be eaten within days. Having spent time with both turkeys, she wants neither to two and implores the president to pardon a second turkey.

Here’s the discussion on faith:

Here’s the turkey:

 

The whole show is on Netflix if you’d like to enjoy it. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Elephant (And Donkey) In the Room and the Kingdom Manifesto

*On November 9, the country woke up to a new president elect, surprising a great deal of people including people in this church. This nation has been through some harrowing times in our history, we have dealt with cultural anxiety and anger as a country before. September 11, 2001 was one of those times.

But this is different because the inciting incident hasn’t brought us together, it has divided us against each other even further. Pew research center, “more than 4 in 10 voters believe that the other side’s policies are so misguided that they pose a threat to the nation.”  55% of democrats say the republican party makes them afraid. 49% of republicans say the same thing about democrats. That means that basically half of the country is terrified of the other half and convinced that they are destroying what makes America strong.

I believe the anxiety, fear, hurt and anger are only going to increase in the coming days and while it is a very painful time, regardless of how you cast your vote, I believe the church has an obligation to show this culture that there is a vision for another way in God’s kingdom.

Never in modern history has there been a more important time for the American church to embody the Kingdom. In God’s kingdom, powerful people always move toward powerless people. Jesus was the very model of finding marginalized people, humans that society had deemed unclean or unwelcome and welcomed them into community. So if you are a woman, or if your skin is a color other than white, or if you are a man, or if your skin color is white, if you are an immigrant or have a disability of some kind, or a police officer, if you are not a follower of Christ but follow another religion or no religion at all. If you are attracted to people of your same gender, the gospel of Jesus is for you and this church is a place where you can encounter Jesus, be scandalized by Jesus and transformed by his Spirit. None of us who encounter Christ stay the same.  Behold the old has gone and the new has come. In Christ, you are a new creation. The church exists as an outpost of God’s Kingdom welcoming all humans and honoring their inherent dignity and value.

Russell Moore said, “We’re not getting anywhere as long as we gather in church with people we’d gather with if Jesus were still dead.”  Continue reading