Wednesday, October 19, 2016

A quote worth our cogitation...

In Donald Bloech's fantastic God the Almighty: Power, Wisdom, Holiness, and Love, he writes,

"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Theologically, we know that God does not change and that His plans and purposes are eternal. But that does not mean he is some inept father unaware or unconcerned about his children at play or in the throes of suffering. God is not aloof or absent to creation. He really does experience things with spiritual beings, human persons, created species, and the like.

The LORD experiences these things in His unique God-like way, and then He acts (a free act, done in love, never by compulsion). And when He acts, his eternal, unchanging perfections are on display for anyone willing to look, notice, and admire. God was perfect prior to sending Jesus to die on the cross for human sin, but through seeing and experiencing our experience of sin, God chose to bring out His perfections in the glorious gift of Jesus' life and death. He is the powerful Father who sees all that His children face and not for one second keeps from them exactly what they need. Your experiences today are seen by Father, and His unchanging perfection remains our unchanging hope.

Glory to God--"God has new experiences, but they do not so much enrich his being or add to his perfection as bring out the perfection that he already possesses."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: "Don't Fire Your Church Members"

                What would you do if you had a long-standing attender, who recently left his wife and moved in with his girlfriend, show up on communion Sunday? That happened during my first year as a senior pastor. How does a local church hire its first part-time staff members after years of paying only a single pastor? That question came up recently. What would you do if a member of your church left their husband accusing him of emotional abuse/neglect, refused to meet with any sisters in Christ or the elders, then started dating someone else, and then submitted her resignation for membership? That happened too.
                Who makes decisions in such situations? What decisions go before the entire church body? What tasks fall to appointed leaders? Jonathan Leeman, a veteran writer on all things ecclesiology, weighs in:

Practically speaking, that means the gathered assembly should probably not waste its time debating the color of curtains or approving photocopier purchases. It means they have been tasked with receiving and dismissing members (the who [of the Gospel]), with ensuring that the teachers are teaching biblical doctrine (the what [of the Gospel]), and by inference, with being involved in any significant decision that sustains or directs that church’s existence as a gospel-bearing witness.

In short, the keys of the kingdom belong to the membership of a local church. Bishops and presbyters are not invested with the authority; the local church is.  The church (according to the pithy and theological accurate song) is the “people….I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.” Or as Leeman defines, “A particular church is a gathering of two or three witnesses who together testify to the name of Jesus and to their shared membership in him. They do this by preaching the gospel and by employing the keys of the kingdom through the ordinances.” (italics original)
                Let me give three reasons you should read Don’t Fire Your ChurchMembers.
#1:  Leeman offers biblical rationale for duties that the local church body should be doing. Even if you are not convinced that congregationalism is the biblically-stipulated polity, you should consider Leeman’s arguments for the responsibilities of church members, individually and corporately.
#2: Leeman makes a compelling case that congregationalism takes seriously all the blessings of the New Covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34) and thus, that New Covenant people are capable to make authoritative decisions for a church. Likewise, Leeman warns if we take away New Covenant responsibilities from New Covenant people, they will not mature or serve, as they should.
#3: Leeman challenges elder-pastors to lead, but not do, the work of the flock (cf. Ephesians 4:10-12).  This was by far the most convicting theme for this already-convinced adherent of congregationalism. I am quick to do the work of ministry rather than equip the saints to do the work. Because it is hard to communicate and invite the congregation into importance decisions, I often by-pass them, and thus, I miss out on the congregation’s full participation. Sure, I’ll let the congregation eventually vote or eventually affirm decisions (the bylaws require it), but I’m seeing ways I need to equip the saints now so they can help exercise authority more faithfully in the future.

This glorious mystery, the church, is God’s means to display His wisdom to the visible and invisible world. Let us serve this glorious gift well.

Should You Care about the Work in Front of You Today?

Do you find yourself living out this instruction from Colossians 3:22-23 in your daily work, serving "with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters [read: bosses, children, fame, power or paychecks]."
Are you engaged in work as defined by Dorothy Sayers: "The only Christian work is good work, well done."
If you need a pick-me-up today to engage your daily calling(s), consider listening to one of the sermons I preached in a Fall 2015 series: "Contributing to God's Kingdom."




Thursday, October 06, 2016

Should Christians 10% to God?

Here's a great article from Pastor Sam Storms on financial stewardship as it relates to supporting a local church and global missions...

I like how he starts summarizing his ideas at point #9:

(9) Is it permissible for a New Covenant Christian to tithe, i.e., to give 10% of his/her income to the work of the church? Not only is it permissible, I would strongly recommend and urge you to do so. In choosing to give 10% of our income to the Lord, we are honoring a God-given, Old Testament principle. In the absence of a prescribed percentage for giving in the New Testament, why not adopt the Old Testament pattern? However, this does not mean you are sinning if you don't. To give only 8% or to give 15% is equally permissible. Not to give at all, or to give disproportionately to your income (which is the case with most Christians today), or to give grudgingly, is indeed sin. Let us be joyful and generous in our giving. After all, everything we own belongs to God anyway!

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sage Advice on Choosing a Church...

I think this is fantastic advice from the veteran Christian statesman, writer, and pastor, Eugene Peterson from a recent interview with Jonathan Merritt (whole interview available here):

JM: Eighty-one years is a long time. As you enter your final season of life, what would you like to say to younger Christians who are itchy for a deeper and more authentic discipleship? What’s your word to them? 
EP: Go to the nearest smallest church and commit yourself to being there for 6 months. If it doesn’t work out, find somewhere else. But don’t look for programs, don’t look for entertainment, and don’t look for a great preacher. A Christian congregation is not a glamorous place, not a romantic place. That’s what I always told people. If people were leaving my congregation to go to another place of work, I’d say, “The smallest church, the closest church, and stay there for 6 months.” Sometimes it doesn’t work. Some pastors are just incompetent. And some are flat out bad. So I don’t think that’s the answer to everything, but it’s a better place to start than going to the one with all the programs, the glitz, all that stuff.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Two Arguments for the Bible being God's Word

I believe these are two good arguments on why Christians can sincerely hold the Bible in their hands with deep trust of its sacred and divine origins. Note, I have not attempted a logical argument (syllogism), but more of a natural step-by-step process that a person might go through to trust the teaching, authority, and divine authorship of the Bible:

Case #1: Jesus and the Bible.

1. Jesus was a real person in space-time history who lived in 1st century Israel, was crucified under the Roman leader Pontius Pilate, and three days later was announced by His followers to have resurrected from the dead, causing a world-changing religion to form that is now called Christianity. (this can be confirmed from extra-biblical/secular sources of history)
2. The best explanation for Jesus' resurrection is that it really happened.
3. If the resurrection happened, all other miraculous reports of Jesus' ministry in the New Testament are most likely to be true as well.
4. If the miracle accounts are true, so are the authoritative statements and teaching of Jesus.
5. Jesus taught, believed, and assumed that the Old Testament was written by God and spoken by God.
6. Jesus prophesied that when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles that they were to proclaim His life, death, resurrection, and its implications in His power (with the natural assumption it would be just as accurate as God's previous speaking in the Old Testament, cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-16). This is what we call the New Testament.
7. Thus, Christians should trust the authoritative teaching of Jesus that the Bible is the Word of God.

Case #2: The Bible and Reality

1. Humans have senses, reason, and innate ability to comprehend what is true, real, and rational.
2. The Bible makes claims to what is true, real, and rational.
3. The Bible best reflects reality, both in its history and its details regarding life, humanity, and the world.
4. Therefore, the Bible is true, real, and rational.
5. The most likely source for a true, real, and rational Bible is God Himself.
6. Thus, the Bible comes from God.

All that to say, a divine book will require divine assistance to fully understand and embrace (cf. 1 Corinthians 2). The Bible says the human heart and mind are broken and opposed to the things of God. A veil is over our eyes to fully understand the good news contained in the Holy Scriptures. Spirit of God, lift that veil. We need Jesus and His salvation.

Many people do not have to go through the process(es) described above to trust the Bible. God in His grace gives them confidence of His speaking through Scripture. Like a child who just knows the tone and tenor of their father's voice, some Christians just hear the Bible and hear God. Such people shouldn't look down on others who find it harder to trust God's Word, but rather say, "Thank you," for such a marvelous gift.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Dangerous Whispers

"Singleness is awful. Why be lonely when all you need to do is download this app? Your one click away from happiness."

"Marriage is a drag. Remember all the fun and freedom you had when you were single?"

"You're not a complete woman unless you have children. What's a couple of tens of thousands of dollars as long as you get a baby?"

"Kids have stolen your life. Is it too much to ask to have a few free days to yourself?"

"You're only 45 minutes late. She'll understand and the kids are too little to notice. How else will you afford this lifestyle if you bow out on work every time your wife needs a little help at home?"

"You'll only resent this job more and more if you don't get out of here right now. You've worked so hard, and this stress is over the top. A couple of beers will help you get to where you need to be so you can go home and help with a good attitude."

"That cake is exactly what you need to deal with the day you've had."

"Hey fatty, if you'd just skip food for 2 days, you could finally fit in that dress you used to wear."

"Those $200 shoes are what you need to perform at your best."

"Don't even think about going to Jesus. All he'll want to do is steal your soul and whisper things in your ear."

Friday, September 09, 2016

Brother Pastors, do you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture?

What grows churches? The Word rightly preached, taught, and believed in the power of the Holy Spirit, empowered by the prayer of God's people, or...

1. A fun children's ministry?
2. A fancy facility?
3. A fantastic website?
4. A flawless communicator?
5. A friendly atmosphere?
6. A fabulous choir?
7. A flurry of spiritual activity?
8. A functional program calendar?
9. A funny preacher?

I charge you, under God, preach the Word. (-The Apostle Paul)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Irony and Lotteries

It's ironic that a major goal of public education is to teach people basic mathematics, all the while, public education is funded by people playing the lottery.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A 'published' article...

It's nice when someone else let's you write for them:

Blogger always thinks my stuff is good enough to be posted, but admittedly, their "posting" criteria is minimal. :)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Lessons for living for non-native Iowans...

Having been back in my home state for 6 years, I've picked up on a few lessons that I think will help non-natives now calling Iowa home.

Lesson #1: We're glad you're here. Iowans are generally pleased when people choose to move to our fine state. So welcome.

Lesson #2: We'd prefer that you don't tell us all the reasons you prefer your previous residences. I use the word "prefer" because as an Iowan, I'm polite. But in truth, Iowans love Iowa more than Texans love Texas. So, when you tell me about your preferred big city life in Chicago or the heat you miss from Arizona, I'm only politely listening.

Lesson #3: Feel free to choose a State School (UNI, ISU, UI) to support in athletics, but you are not allowed to make commentary on any of the other schools for a minimum of 10 years of sincere fandom. These rivalries are deep and you need to be on Iowa soil for a while before you are allowed to talk smack.

Lesson #4: Never make fun of Iowa, ever. Yes, Iowans joke about being backward, being "idiots out wandering around," and that we have more pigs than people. We can express such sentiments because our loyalties are not in question. When you do it, we are inwardly rolling our eyes and if grace is absent, silently writing you off as "friend potential." Just don't do it. Would you make fun of someone's grandmother?

Lesson #5: You are not an official citizen until you've eaten Casey's pizza, shopped at Hy-Vee and Fareway, and visited the State Fair. (Feel free to leave a few other Iowa staples in the comments section.)

Lesson #6: We like college sports. Sure we have our fair share of Packer fans, Cubs fans, and a smattering of neighboring states' professional teams' fans. But we live and die by college sports. So when you bemoan our lack of professional clubs, we just don't get it. We cheer for one (or all three) state school(s). We even follow high school sports and small college athletics. We like it; it's the way we are. (See #4, if you are struggling with #6.)

Lesson #7: Yes, we wave at strangers (sometimes with a single finger upon the steering wheel). We allow people to merge. We shake hands with anyone and everyone. We open the door for people behind us. We leave pennies (dimes, nickles, and quarters) at cash registers for customers to follow. If you choose to not participate in these activities, you will never become a full citizen (see #5) or be allowed to engage in sports' conversations (see #3).

Lesson #8: Farming is a way of life that is appreciated, supported, and honored. Yes, there are debates about ethanol, hog confinements, and the like that will need to be had among Iowans. But, in principle, we support farmers (Google ANF if you have questions) and thank them for what they do. It's hard work, and our country would not be what it is today without these fine men and women.

Lesson #9: Iowans need Jesus. We are not as good as we think we are. We fall short of God's standards of perfection, holiness, and others-centered love. Deep down, our "niceness" is rooted in pride. Without God's forgiveness through the Cross of Christ, our pride will get worse and our consciences cold to what is true goodness, love, and beauty. We need Jesus as much as residents of Sin City, Hollywood, or wherever. Forgive us, Lord.

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

An anniversary, a birthday, and longing

On June 21, I celebrated my sixth anniversary as the pastor of Cornerstone Church.

On July 4th, my dad would have turned 66.

The first date was one of reflective joy. In 6 years, I've seen God's hand at work in my life and others. I've learn so much above love, forgiveness, and perseverance from the saints and sinners of Cornerstone Church.  I've learned more from them than anything I've taught. A local church proclaiming Jesus Christ is the hope of the world; it's been a place of hope for me.

The second date was a heavy day. I was surrounded by smiles, laughter, fireworks, and fun, but the gravity of my father's absence kept me from fully entering into the delight of the day. I wanted to send Dad a birthday text. I wanted to give him a call. I wanted to hear what he shot in the 4th of July golf tournament. But he's not here. Please don't throw the "you'll always have your memories" card at me. He's not here. It hurts. I'm not going to jump off a bridge, but I think it's a form of honoring another person when a special day comes around and you grieve. Sure, it can be unnecessary martyrdom or self-mutilation. But I think there's a healthy form of grief that does stick around for people. For some it never goes away. For others it lessens over the years.

Both dates created in me longings...

1) A longing to be a faithful shepherd today and for the years to come.
2) A longing for Christ's return, the meeting of those asleep in Christ with those still alive at Christ's coming.
3) A longing to be in the final family, where death no longer separates and sin no longer invades.

Come Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A Book Review - Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom

I wrote this book review back in 2006 for an online seminary class from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I still stand behind these words:

Johnson has written a fascinating book, loaded with many strong arguments.  I appreciate her thoughts on the rise of the “Psycho-Culture” especially.  To think psychology would make someone Christian is to think a woman can accurately teach on true manhood.  A woman cannot develop manliness in a man, and psychology will not develop people into Christ-like individuals.  The chapter titles reflect the foolishness of such thought patterns.  If the church keeps drinking from the wrong wells of psychology, the church can expect to look less like Jesus and more like Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung.  Johnson’s presentation was strong and convincing.  Psychology is taking over the world.  I have personally witnessed multiple church members laugh off the authority of scripture to the predominant psychological doctrines heard on TV and radio programs.  Obviously these chapters were an oversimplification of psychological ideas, but it appeared to reflect the 21st Century American culture.
Johnson’s emphasis of the church as the decisive and dynamic context for spiritual formation hits home as well.  Numerous parachurch organizations have overemphasized personal discipleship to the detriment of both the local church and Protestantism as a whole.  Unfortunately, many local bodies have bought into this harmful self-actualizing ideology.  Churches have become factories to disciple and produce individual “mature” Christians.  By highlighting the bible’s mandate for corporate growth, Johnson is attempting to bring down this unbiblical behavior of independent spiritual formation into a more family-centered, dare I say biblical, affair. 
Johnson’s inconsistent view of scripture is the main weakness that wreaks havoc on her desire for the church to have authority in the world.  She says, “The recovery of Christian spirituality, therefore, cannot come through a debunking of Scripture and tradition.” (23)  She also uses God’s Word as the foundation for much of her ideas throughout the book.  She remarks later that “the Bible is at the heart of the church.” (91)  But in the same book she questions the inerrancy and historicity of Scripture. (93-94) She also encourages the Bible to be studied with a hermeneutic of suspicion. (101) She mentions on a few occasions that the Bible’s backwardness and strong patriarchy is meant to be interpreted out of scripture through a more modern feminist lens. (101)  She calls modern historical-critical scholarship a “liberating power . . . [for] unlocking the Bible for Christians.”  Many of her statements match the statements of her mainline liberal companions.  These statements strip God’s Word of the very power and authority she hopes to see alive and working in the church.  Maybe she should take some of her own advice, “We must not only teach persons how to read the Bible, but to resist their dominant culture.” (150)  The dominant culture has been devaluing the Bible and making it a fantasy tale for over a hundred years, and Johnson is dangerously close to joining them.  Perhaps, the mainline liberal church will never experience the prominence Johnson is hoping for until they return to a more conservative evangelical perspective on Scripture.
            “Protestantism lacks authority, clarity and direction.” (137)  These words reveal the deep concern in Johnson’s heart for a renewal of the Protestant faith community.  In response, Johnson has produced this text to rally the church into a position to transform lives in a powerful way.  Johnson longs for an authentic Christian spiritual formation in the lives and communities of Christian people.  She dreams of a day when human beings embrace their ability “to recognize and to participate in God’s creative and redemptive activity in all of creation.” (22)  The world is full of interest in “spirituality” and “psycho-analysis,” but Johnson presses the church’s to authoritatively teach that true Christian spirituality is marked by love for God and neighbor. (28) 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

It's not your spouse's fault...or is it?

Ahab, meet Jezebel. Ahab, a child of Israel, a member of the covenant people, marries the foreign woman, who worships the foreign gods. Who is at fault? - Ahab. Bad move buddy.

But wait, Ahab listens to a prophet, humbles himself, and seeks the LORD (1 Kings 20). Way to go. Oh, wait, he doesn't do all that God commands. Fool.

Ahab tries to get some land, doesn't get it, and goes away sad (1 Kings 21). Then, his pagan wife says, "You're the king; you get what you want." She has the owner killed off and seizes the property. Oh, my, Jezebel.

The Prophet Elijah shows up to rebuke Ahab and Jezebel. Ahab repents, Jezebel remains a stone. Only time is needed for Ahab to turn away again. A final judgment has its day (1 Kings 22).

Who you marry matters. They are "significant others" because they impact your life, soul, and trajectory more than any other human person. Clearly, Ahab's spiritual condition was revealed when he was attracted to a woman like Jezebel. But it's also clear that her influence over time made him even worse than he was.

1 Kings 21:25-26 (There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, urged on by Jezebel his wife. 26 He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the LORD drove out before Israel.)

Truly, behind every good man is a better woman. Behind every evil man is an even worse women. And in others homes, it works the opposite. 

Your sin is your sin. You are solely responsible. And yet, our spouses play a key role in the direction of our lives. And yes, you will be held responsible for the influence you have on your better  half.

Spouses, point each other to the LORD.

Spouses, do not lead your partner into sin.

Spouses, humble yourselves before the LORD and seek His grace.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Any takers?

Would you like a world...

1) Where lying is unacceptable.
2) Adultery forbidden.
3) Forgiveness encouraged.
4) Second chances offered.
5) The lazy challenged to work.
6) The working challenged to help.
7) Wives respecting husbands.
8) Husbands cherishing and loving wives.
9) Children raised with engaged parents.
10) People rejoicing in other people's success rather than coveting and clawing for their share of the pie.

Note: This is the type of community depicted in the Bible that is expected of Christian people. This is the "horrible, dangerous, dehumanizing ethics" of conservative Christianity.

My church isn't perfect, but we refuse to change the ideal set before us for 2000 years. We don't want to lighten a single command of God's Word because we'd lose the beauty of excellence if we'd ever hit our target.

This "impossible" ideal is also what sends us to Jesus for forgiveness, salvation, and the hope of renewal.