July 20, 2014
December 12, 2013
Ted and Tom are twin brothers. In their early 40s. Living at opposite ends of a large city. Both attend churches with weekly attendance in the four-to-five hundred range.
At Tom’s church, the Sunday announcements are fairly predictable. More people are needed to serve in the nursery. And the food pantry. And the middle-school boys Sunday School class. And the tenor section of the choir. And a drummer for the contemporary worship team. And the facilities committee. And now they’re asking for people to serve as parking lot attendants.
“Why do we need parking lot attendants with only 250 parking spots?” said Tom aloud to no one in particular.
“Shhhh!” said his wife, as the couple in front turned around and scowled.
“Did I say that out loud?” Tom asked.
…Across town at Ted’s church the situation is much reversed. There are not as many ministry initiatives, and Ted who happens to be a drummer and a tenor and a fairly competent pre-teen Sunday School teacher has nothing to do on Sunday morning. He shows up. He gives money. He has meaningful conversations with people during the coffee time between services. But he always feels a little lost on Sunday mornings and to his credit, he helps out on Monday nights at The Salvation Army and on Saturday mornings he is committed to a men’s group at another church. There just aren’t any pressing needs for anything Ted has to offer.
Ted and Tom often compare notes. While there’s nothing new about churches asking for assistance in various departments, Tom wishes his church was more like Ted’s (and that there were fewer announcements.) On the other hand, Ted his envious of Tom’s situation; he’d like to feel he was needed even if it was the superfluous task of welcoming cars in the parking lot.
So which is the more healthy situation? What would the church metrics people say about these churches? Is a healthy church one in which there are always needs because lots of exciting things are happening, or is a healthy church one in which people are stepping up and filling volunteer ministry positions as quickly as they become available?
And what about Ted? Should there be some avenue of service for him to continue to develop his spiritual gifts? Should Ted’s church be creating some new ministry initiatives so that people like Ted can feel more involved or plugged-in?
Where on the continuum does your church lie?
September 10, 2013
Another lifetime ago, I could have recited the titles of all the appropriate follow-up materials for people who had ‘made a decision,’ ‘committed themselves to Christ,’ or ‘crossed the line of faith.’ There were booklets like Now, What? (not to be confused with What Now?) and The First 30 Days of Your Christian Life and a handful of great study booklets by The Navigators (which is not the name of a Christian rock band or gospel quartet, so far.)
But you could do a lot worse than simply handing someone a copy of Adventures in Churchland: Finding Jesus in the Mess of Organized Religion by Dan Kimball; in fact you could give someone this book before they decided, committed or crossed, especially if they present themselves as even the least counter-cultural. The book covers the waterfront of challenges anyone might face being a newbie at the whole Christ-following thing.
Which brings me to saying that now I finally understand Kimball’s pompadour-coiffed looks; it’s a tribute to his love of all things 1950s, especially the music described as rockabilly. It’s hard today to imagine a senior pastor telling him that this type of haircut was inappropriate for youth ministry, but it helps you to appreciate the culture shock he experienced entering Churchland (the world of both mainline Protestantism and Evangelicalism) for the first time. His hilarious description of his first Anglican/Catholic-styled communion service is alone worth the price of admission (and the fact he shares the experience with a guy named Randy makes the whole episode sound like a scene in My Name Is Earl.)
Because I spent the summer defying the publishing establishment and simply reading books I wanted to instead of books currently being promoted (though Churchland is a 2012 title), I approached some of them differently and must confess that I read some of this one out of chapter sequence. This turned out to be a viable method, as the book is very much a series of essays and some of the biographical information is repeated, even in chapters that follow consecutively.
The book is really equal parts biography, basic doctrine, and apologetics. In a casual, offhand manner, he covers most of the essentials; and if all you knew of the belief system was what you read in newspapers, saw on television, or learned from blogs and websites; this would set you straight as far as confronting the things that tend to make headlines and tend to be an embarrassment to those of us on the inside.
Only weeks earlier, I had read Kimball’s They Like Jesus But Not The Church. He is currently working on a book with an eerily similar title. When it comes to presenting Christianity to those without a church background, Kimball gets his audience. He was once one of them.
…If you missed it two weeks ago, here is an excerpt.
(Note to Zondervan: That’s two blog posts on a book I bought. You guys owe me!)
April 28, 2013
English is a constantly-changing language. The World English Dictionary defines pejoration as “semantic change whereby a word acquires unfavorable connotations.”
I was reminded of this on Friday when a friend pointed out the title of a popular book by David Platt, Radical. The tragedy in Boston two weeks ago was a reminder of the radical elements in our world. We speak of students being radicalized. The word has taken on nuances of meaning that weren’t present in the past.
The call of Jesus is a call to live a radical life, and nobody puts that idea across better than David Platt, which accounts for the book’s bestseller status. And we hate to have to surrender a perfect adjective to the effects of mass media and popular culture. But it is incumbent on communicators to choose their terminology carefully; to make their message and intention crystal clear.
Do you think this is over-reaction, or do you think my friend was being highly alert in spotting a linguistic shift that has negative repercussions if we are misunderstood?
March 25, 2013
The title of this has probably raised some eyebrows, but relax, it’s more of a Bible study than anything, and it had a much more refined title when it appeared last week at C201. Still, a couple of times in my life I have found myself in a position of being under the leadership of a pastor who in many different degrees I did not respect, and I know some of you have as well. Believing him to be placed there in the sovereignty of God, I have made a statement like, “I don’t respect the decision he made [or direction he is taking] but I will support him [it] because I respect the office” that is to say, the position he holds. In other words, I didn’t want to undermine the general support I think a pastor should have once they occupy that position.
Some of you have been in the position of knowing a Christian leader or author or pastor intimately enough that you are aware of some severe flaws in their character, and yet their preaching or writing was solid; their teaching of God’s word was able to penetrate your heart or move people to a place of repentance.
Ideally of course, this type of situation — or character double standard — shouldn’t exist. It’s really at the heart of hypocrisy.
It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus addresses this issue. In Matthew 21: 1-3 we read:
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
In Matthew Henry’s commentary he looks at this. The language is older English than we speak today, so read slowly and unlike at C201, where you can read the original I’ll try to paraphrase some of this:
Christ allows them their office as expositors of the law; The scribes and Pharisees (that is, the whole Sanhedrim, who sat at the helm of church government, who were all called scribes, and were some of them Pharisees), they sit in Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:2), as public teachers and interpreters of the law…
First: Many a good place is filled with bad men; this is nothing new; sometimes the vilest men are promoted even to, in this verse, Moses’s seat (Ps. 12:8) When that happens the men are not so much honored by the job as the job is dishonored by the men…
Second: Good and useful positions and responsibilities are not automatically to be condemned and abolished, just because they fall sometimes into the hands of bad men, who abuse them. We must not overreact and pull down Moses’s seat, because scribes and Pharisees have are in control of it; rather than so, let both grow together until the harvest, Matt. 13:30…
…As far as they sit in Moses’s seat, that is, read and preach the law that was given by Moses” (which, as yet, continued in full force, power, and virtue), “and judge according to that law, so far you must listen to them, as conveyers to you of the written word.”
The scribes and Pharisees made it their business to study the scripture, and were well acquainted with the language, history, and customs of it, and its style and phraseology. Now Christ desires the people to make use of the helps they gave them for the understanding of the scripture, and do accordingly. As long as their comments illustrate the text and don’t pervert it; as long as they make plain, and don’t make void, the commandment of God; to that extent they must be observed and obeyed, but all the while exercising caution and a judgment of discretion. Note, We must not think the worse of good truths for their being preached by bad ministers; nor of good laws for their being executed by bad magistrates. Though it is best to have our food brought by angels, yet, if God sends it to us by ravens, if it is good and wholesome, we must take it, and thank God for it.
Our Lord Jesus promises this, to prevent the nitpicking which some would want to make in this situation; as if, by condemning the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus intended to bring the law of Moses into contempt, and to dismiss it; whereas actually he came not to destroy, but to fulfil… Sometimes, we need to carefully fine tune the difference between the office-holder and their offices, so that the ministry isn’t blamed when the ministers are.
I looked at Matthew 23: 1-3 after reading a chapter in a recently released book, Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live and Die for Bigger Things by Ken Wytsma (Zondervan). In Chapter 6, he looks at this from the point of view of our behavior and reminds us of our responsibility not to be jerks, and thereby hypocrites.
It’s deceptively easy to believe a lot of good things about God but fail to live out those good things. It’s been said what we do is actually what we believe. It’s easier than we think to have the spiritual exteriors without the spiritual heart. It’s easy to mistake the packaging for authentic living, to confuse the décor of religion with genuinely loving our neighbor.
Think of James 4:17, where we are reminded of this truth: “Anyone then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Or Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold the good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Sometimes trying not to do the wrong thing is the surest way to do the wrong thing.
[This type of sin*] is subtle. We’re often one step away from becoming the Pharisee. And the minute we care more about avoiding the bad than doing the good is the moment we’re in deep trouble. Our spiritual pride blinds us to our own imperfections, causing us to become “lukewarm” from a Biblical standpoint — good only to be spit out.
True morality — true righteousness and justice and love — can never lead to external legalism because we cannot be fully righteous and just and loving. For that we need God’s grace, every moment of every day, and grace is the stake through the heart of legalism.
pp. 93-94 [* eusebeigenic sin, term coined by Eugene Peterson; a sin picked up in a place of righteousness; a type of sin only available to those within the church]
So it may be at times in our lives we are called to follow less-than-perfect leaders; times our food will be brought by ravens and not by angels. Nonetheless, we are to follow genuine teaching from God’s word, and also to look in the mirror to make sure that our leadership or place of influence in someone else’s life is free of anything that would be hypocritical.
October 17, 2012
July 23, 2012
The first was a confession from a guy I’ve gotten to know well in the last couple of years. It seems his pastor at a previous church had loaned him a copy of a book written by a well known, but very liberal Canadian “Christian” author. He told us that the book totally undermined his faith; that he stopped going to church for three years; and that during those years his two children dropped out of church [at this point, possibly] never to return.
Then, last week I linked to the Christian Clichés article. Personally, I love it when people call into question some of the words and phrases we’re emotionally bonded to; but I had not done a lot of background research on the author, and in the comments section of this blog, and other blogs that linked to it, some disturbing things came to light concerning the author’s orthodoxy.
Then, on the weekend, I decided to ‘help’ out a guy who has been asked — for the first time — to do a Sunday morning sermon at his church on the subject of a popular Old-Testament story. Knowing that a mega church in Grand Rapids, MI was covering this same territory, I sent him the sermon link before realizing that the pastor in questions has some serious misgivings as to whether or not the story can be accepted as fact.
We live in a time when doubts are cool; where transparency about a faith struggle is considered a virtue; where it’s okay to call the creation narrative in Genesis a “poem;” where hell may or may not exist and may or may not be everlasting. Still, the rule of hermeneutics (Bible interpretation) that has always stood Christians in good stead over the years is that, “Everything that can be taken literally should be taken literally.” This includes both the stories and the teachings. That may lead to different results with different people, but I believe it is the safest place from which to begin. Sadly, Christian belief is becoming increasingly diluted as increasing numbers of both mainline Protestants and Evangelicals seem to be throwing the baby out with the bath water.
If I were a new believer today, I would need a lot of guidance, and I would want to be shielded somehow by the ‘enlightened’ whose ‘insights’ might ultimately be doing more harm than good.
image: Transforming Leadership
June 29, 2012
I haven’t done a lot of cross-posting with Christianity 201 lately, because that blog has taken on a life of its own. But it’s the start of a long holiday weekend here in Canada — Monday is the actual holiday — so I’m feeling a bit lazy.
While this blog follows topics, trends, and current issues; Christianity 201 — see the button in the sidebar — almost always begins with a scripture portion and Bible exposition or devotional thought by some of the best Bible study bloggers. It really provides a spiritual balance to this blog.
Anyway, for those of you who are new here, I want you to know I am capable of writing other types of material… and who knows? You might just decide you want to be a regular reader.
Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. ~Romans 12:3b NIV
At 6’0″ I usually find myself in conversation with people not as tall as myself, but in the last few months I’ve noticed that I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable carrying on conversations with people taller than myself, probably because it happens so seldom. Yesterday we ran into Tim, the son of one of my mother’s best friends, and I again found myself registering the fact I had to keep looking up to make eye contact.
I can see how people like myself who are tall of stature might get confused and think that they are somehow ‘taller’ intellectually or emotionally; and there is always the danger of thinking oneself to be ‘taller’ spiritually. Of course, we all know our inward shortcomings and weaknesses, but when we’re out and about with members of the wider faith family, it’s easy to posture. In the key verse today, Paul says we should use ‘sober judgment’ of ourselves.
Another application of this principle is that we look up to God, who scripture tells us looks down on us. This is repeated in various passages; it’s important to remember who is where! One prayer pattern that I learned years ago contains the phrase, “You’re God and I’m not;” or “You’re God and we’re not.” When we come to Him in prayer, we need to remember who is ‘taller.’
Here’s a similar application of how we deal with our own estimation of ourselves from Luke 14. Jesus is teaching…
7 When Jesus noticed that all who had come to the dinner were trying to sit in the seats of honor near the head of the table, he gave them this advice: 8 “When you are invited to a wedding feast, don’t sit in the seat of honor. What if someone who is more distinguished than you has also been invited? 9 The host will come and say, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then you will be embarrassed, and you will have to take whatever seat is left at the foot of the table!
10 “Instead, take the lowest place at the foot of the table. Then when your host sees you, he will come and say, ‘Friend, we have a better place for you!’ Then you will be honored in front of all the other guests. 11 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” ~NLT
A month ago we attended a family funeral. My wife’s uncle passed away and we didn’t realize that some seats were being held for nieces and nephews, so we took a seat toward the back. Her cousin saw us and immediately told us that special seats were reserved for us, and invited us to “come up higher” in the seating plan. We appreciated this, but I couldn’t help but think of this passage as we were walking to the front, and also of the potential embarrassment that could occur if the situation were reversed.
The brand of Christ-following that is portrayed on television is centered on people with very strong personalities and — dare I say it? — very large egos. I think some of this is given away by the very fact these people want to be on television, though I don’t preclude the use of media to share the gospel. But you and I, the average disciple, should be marked by humility; the type of humility that takes a back seat in a culture that wants to proclaim, “We’re number one.”
We serve the King of Kings. We have the hottest news on the rack. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places. But we approach this in a humble spirit, with gratitude that God chose to reach down and rescue us from our fallen state.
Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. ~ James 4:10 NKJV
How tall do you feel?
Christianity 201 is a repository of some of the best devotional and Bible Study material in the Christian blogosphere. Selections come from a variety of doctrinal and theological viewpoints. You’re encouraged to read articles at source, and if you like what you read, click that blog’s header to discover more about the writer and consider subscribing.
May 6, 2012
This morning during the coffee time between services, I wandered into the auditorium, which I discovered was mostly empty except for a young guy sitting in the back row. We know each other, but I doubt we’ve ever really conversed before. I told him I’d heard he had moved away, but had noticed him back at church for the last few months.
He told me that things hadn’t been going well where he moved, and the environment wasn’t conducive to maintaining healthy habits. After some general conversation, I came right out and asked him, “How’s it going spiritually?”
He then told me he was really seeking some kind of spark to re-energize his faith; and little did I know that in the ten minutes that followed, I would — hopefully as the seed of our conversation has time to sprout — be that spark. (Yes, I know I’m mixing metaphors in the same sentences, seeds and sparks.)
He told me he was going to go home and get back into his Bible with fresh enthusiasm and understanding. I hope that happens. Pray for “M.”
At any rate, I really felt good about our brief time together, and I truly believe there was a real connection made. Here’s why I think it worked:
- He was willing to be upfront about his situation, admitting his vulnerabilities, and revealing that his life was at a turning point.
- I was willing to take a risk by moving the conversation past the superficial and toward asking him as to his spiritual health.
- He seemed generally receptive, spiritually hungry and open.
- I was hopefully able to offer some solid information and not just general encouragement.
We could have easily talked about a number of subjects, but I really felt a nudge to move the conversation deeper.
The title of today’s post is from Proverbs 25:11 in the KJV. In The Message it reads:
The right word at the right time
is like a custom-made piece of jewelry.
The NLT says:
Timely advice is lovely,
like golden apples in a silver basket.