Archive for the 'God stuff' Category

The Tangible Kingdom – Creating Incarnational Community – The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now

This is the first book I’m reviewing in my new reading project (one book per week.)

If you don’t agree that there are a few problems with the way America ‘does church’ and the way Christians are perceived. . . this is probably not your book.  You might want to start somewhere like “UnChristian,” where the Barna group reveals the harrowing statistics of the negative perceptions of Christians.  But if you are interested in learning more about the mindset of missional church planters who are trying new things (that are really ancient things) in an effort to truly “BE” the church. . . then this book might interest you.

Hugh Halter and Matt Smay are church planters and co-authors of the book.  They identify with many Christian leaders from the past few decades who are saddened by the rate at which Christians are leaving the institutions and structures common in American Church, and they have built their lives around trying to find ways to “live out” the kingdom principles that Jesus lived and professed.

So how to describe the book?  I think it’s a good place for disillusioned church leaders to vent frustrations about church and to consider new/yet ancient solutions to the concept of living out the Tangible Kingdom instead of just attending Sunday service; creating incarnational community instead of an affinity-based small group.  The authors are quite candid with their opinions of Christendom, but do so with humor.  Their goal is not to bad mouth God’s bride by any means, but to in some ways call the church back to her roots.  Also, it’s quite funny to refer to the rise of Christendom via Constantine as the “1700-year wedgie.”

I believe in the chuch.  I believe God loves his church and that he’s quite ticked that his bride looks like “Fiona the Ogre” instead of Cameron Diaz. I believe he desires a beautiful bride- one the world looks to with awe and amazement, with intrigue and longing.” p.2

The book is about dreaming and discovering ways to BE the church.  The first half of the book is more of an explanation why this needs to be done.  The second half of the book is more about how to do it, ways in which church leaders can begin to bring the gospel to their cities, instead of waiting for the cities to come inside their walls.  They describe it in terms like “living out” the kingdom principles and “inviting in” those who are seeking for God.

I liked the book’s practicality, but at the same time, I fear they may have too much of a pragmatic approach.  By that I mean, church planters often begin by asking, “what works?” instead of beginning with the Gospel.  I think this approach has much to do with the current state in which we find the American church.  Many have planted churches asking, “how can we make this relevant?” or, “what works?” and what we have often ended up with is a performance-driven Sunday meeting that caters to our society’s desire for entertainment instead of a living, breathing, kingdom community that is at it’s core determined to live out the principles that Jesus taught.  Often we’ve grown megachurches from Christians that switch from one church to the bigger one, without focusing on conversion growth.  One statistic in the book states that in the year 2000, that roughly half of all churches in American did not add one new person by conversion. . . Ouch.  That doesn’t really sound like the kind of community that is turning the world upside down from the inside out — which is what we want, right?

So, I will say that just because I line up with a lot of their thinking about missional church, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I like their premise.  I think it would be best to agree that the Gospel is the most relevant thing to everybody, and therefore we shouldn’t necessarily begin by asking, “what works?”  We should primarily concern ourselves with becoming the gospel-centered community that displays and declares God’s Word with our lives and actions.  That being said, I bet the authors would agree.

It’s a good book, written well with several humorous anecdotes that get the point across.  If you are interested in modern ecclesiology, give it a read.

Well, that’s my humble opinion and maybe writing a book report will help sharpen my skills.

Next up will be:  Fire From Heaven – The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the 21st Century

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More thoughts on Power and Purpose

I’m listening to the Soma Podcasts again.  Just finished listening to The Message Part 2.  These are some thoughts from the teaching that hit me hard.   These aren’t ‘original’ thoughts on my end.  Actually I think God came up with them, but I’m just trying to rehash so I can better understand.  Any thoughts?

Conversion begins with an awareness of Who God is and Who I am.  When I see my depravity against his holiness, my inability against his total ability… then the Cross gets big to me.  But if my view of him is too low(God’s not as big or as good as he says he is), or if my view of myself is too high (I’m really not that bad of a person, I can make myself righteous) — then the cross doesn’t seem like much.

Sometimes we’re guilty of believing that the Gospel is something we believe once at the beginning and then we move on to greater things, but the truth is that we believe the Gospel so that we can live the Gospel.  Whenever we believe that we can get saved and then do whatever we want, we’re trying to say that we choose a god so that we can be god (do whatever we want to do after we come to Jesus.) This is a result of knowing the Power of the Gospel (how God saved us), but not having an awareness of the Purpose of the Gospel (the mission God calls his people to/why God saves us).  In this false Gospel, the Story becomes ABOUT us (instead of him).

The other swing of the pendulum happens when we know the mission of God, but we don’t live from a motivation of the power of God.  In other words, we see the work he wants to do in the earth (restoration), but have not fully realized that he alone has the power to complete it, although he chooses to use us.  In this case, the Story becomes DEPENDENT on us (instead of him). The resulting mindset is that we are the ones responsible changing the world, and we can gain more favor with God through our works toward that goal.

But the Gospel is that he alone is Holy and perfect.  The fall tells us that we are sinful and never capable of perfection in our own right — and that our sin separates us from God.  But the Power of the Gospel is that Jesus’ work on the cross saves us– makes us right with God in spite of our sins and his holiness.  The purpose of God is that he saved us to be a people on mission (not merely individuals who serve their own purposes).

We are saved by God’s work, for God’s work.  We are saved by his grace, to live in his grace, for his purposes.

When we begin to see Who God is and who we are, we don’t have to pretend any more.  We realize that he’s the only one who could ever be perfect, not us.  Jesus is the only one who could ever save us (not ourselves).  So now the secret is out.  We’re not perfect.  I’m not perfect.  You’re not perfect.  So lets quit expecting each other to be perfect.  The pressure is off!  Jesus is the only Jesus.  We don’t have to be our own Savior, our own Jesus.  That is the Gospel!  God knows we couldn’t, so he made a way in Christ.

So the questions comes to me:  Whose Story is it?  Is it primarily about me?  Or is it primarily about God?  It is about us both, but who is it primarily about?  When we see God, we can quit trying to be god.  When we see ourselves, we can quit trying to be God.  God is God, and he loves us, and has a purpose for us.  This is the Gospel.  Power and Purpose.  Faith and Works.  Word and Deed.

A big bite to chew on, the Power and Purpose of the Gospel

My heart is full.  I love the Gospel.  I love the Good News.  I love the Story of God.

The neat thing about the Gospel is that it is more than just an event.  It’s more than the beginning of our story with God.  It’s the beginning, middle, and end.  My heart is continually being restored by God’s Word and his Work, through the power of the Spirit.  I know that often I have treated the Gospel as if it is only a set of facts, orthodoxy, “right belief.”  But whenever I let God have his way, the Gospel become the vehicle through which God changes my heart to align it with his kingdom.  And the Gospel is the means by which he is restoring the entire world.

Often, what I have considered the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Which is the Gospel.  But maybe a better way to state it is that there are different ways you can read God’s story.  You can read it “against the grain,” or thematically– this helps with systematic theology.  When reading this way, we look for themes throughout the Bible’s narrative that tell us what God is like and what He’s done for us.  We find out about God’s character, our sin, the work of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection; and we see that God is creating a new humanity- a people for him self – not merely a set of saved individuals, but a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that will display God’s kingdom on earth.  This is what we see reading across the grain.  The themes of the Gospel.  God, Sin, Jesus, Faith.  The means of the Gospel…. How God does his work in our hearts.

But another way to read the Story of God is with the grain, discovering truths in the context of the stories in which they happened.  While the former gives you a better understanding of doctrines and systematic theology, the latter will give you a better Biblical theology.  Reading this way tends to flesh out the truths that we find in the doctrines of systematic theology.  We get to see God’s truth in the context of the Story that he’s telling us.  We get to see the purpose for the Gospel.  We see Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  We begin to see why God saves us, why we need to be saved, why we are a people instead of just individuals, and our purpose on earth as the body of Christ, with Jesus the head.

So what do we have?  We have the power of the Gospel (God, Sin, Jesus, Faith) and the purpose of the Gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), and together we can begin to see the beauty and purpose of the church.  We can begin to see the daunting task in which we are called by God to participate; and of which we must fully rely on God to accomplish.  When we understand the Gospel, when we see more of who God is, and more of who he says that we are, then we can be motivated because we have his approval, not in order to gain his approval.  When we understand the purpose of the Gospel we can see that God wants a people who he can use to bless all nations on earth (Genesis 12), and the power of the Gospel is the means by which he does that work.

As the church, we need both the power and purpose of the Gospel.  If a church focuses on the Power of the Gospel, it can tend to become very focused on doctrines, conversions, and unclear as to why a person gets saved.  The extreme forms of this mindset would be to “get saved” and then just wait on God to come back, as if God doesn’t have a big purpose for the church on earth.  If a church focuses on the Purposes of the Gospel, the people can tend to be works-driven, and possibly even motivated by guilt.  This could take many forms, but one example would be a lot of social action without declaring truth.  It would be like trying to do the work of reconciliation ourselves, without relying on the means of the Gospel (Jesus’ work on the cross) to do its work in the lives of people.

Anyway, I know that’s a lot, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about the last few days.  I would love to say that those are my thoughts, but I’ve been re-hashing a teaching by Jeff Vanderstelt from Soma School up in Tacoma that I went to a few months ago.  Here‘s the link if you’re interested in hearing it.

A pound of flesh

Last night I watched Seven Pounds, the somewhat recent film in which Will Smith’s character is stricken with a deep since of guilt about some untold event in his past.  As the movie progresses, it become clear that Ben Thomas (his character) is driven with such a desire to help others, to his own detriment, that he donates his eyes, bone marrow, kidney, liver, part of his lung, his beach house, and even commits suicide in order to give his healthy heart to the woman he loves.  Though unspoken, the implication is that he does these things in order to make up for the seven lives lost in his past during a head-on collision in which he was driving.

Now there are all kinds of parallels here.  His fiance was one of the lives lost in the car wreck.  So the movie portrays him indirectly “taking the life” of the woman he loved, and “giving his life” for the new woman that he loves.  There are a lot of redeeming qualities to the plot.  He feels the weight of his actions.  He feels the guilt of the situation.  And in order to relieve his dark conscience, he gives a total sacrifice of his own body so that others will know life in a deeper, more beautiful way.  He does some great things to help great people.  His eyes help a blind man see.  His house becomes the new home of a battered woman and her two kids.  And in the end, you are made to feel as though he is a man of great sacrifice.  Many redeeming qualities, and also a few things I noticed about our human nature.

We often find ourselves in Ben Thomas’ position.  Knowing we’ve done something wrong, wanting to make it right, not quite knowing how.  At some time or another, we all try to self-atone.  We try to make things better on our own.  We try to prove that we can pay the price for the wrongs we’ve done, that on our own we can make things right, make it better, make it acceptable to God and others.  But the story of the bible tells us this is not the case.  The wage of sin is death, and all have sinned, and more importantly all are sinners.  We’ve messed things up, we’ve marred the image of God that we were formed in far beyond recognition… far beyond our own ability to redeem.

In many Christian traditions, the wrath of God is empasized over his love.  The justice of God is empasized over his grace.  I grew up with a fear that God was waiting for me to mess up so that he could send me straight to hell.  I know of others with similar stories.  It led me to believe that I had to perform.  It led me to believe that my salvation depended on my performance of God’s rules, instead of his act of love for me on the Cross.  It let me to believe that everything was riding on whether or not I sinned, instead of whether or not he made a way.

But the good news is that when we had no way to pay for our sins, God acted on our behalf.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the us.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours, but for the sins of the whole world.  He loves us!  He knew that we would sin.  He knew that we would try on our own to cover it up, or to make things right.  And he knew that the only way to make it right was through the Blood of Jesus on the Cross.  The truth is that when we could do nothing to help ourselves, he did everything to help us up, and to make us acceptable!  This is the story of redemption.

But are we Ben Thomas?  How often, though, have you found yourself still trying to self-atone?  Have you ever found yourself holding on to the guilt of a mistake, almost grieving it to prove to God that you’re sorry?  As if you will “feel guilty” enough to make up for the wrong?  As if there is a scale which you must tip in order to have God’s favor?  Have you ever found yourself going above and beyond to prove to your friends and family and co-workers that you are competent, that you can handle things, that you can measure up? (especially if these are people you have let down in the past).  Aren’t we always trying to prove ourselves to somebody?  Whether we’re proving ourselves to ourselves or to others, it’s because of a false belief.  It’s because of a lie that we hold on to so dearly.  It’s because of a belief that we can make things right.  Or that we should be perfect, so we will try our best to prove to others that this is the case.  It’s because we think that since God is perfect, he expects us to be sinless and perfect on our own.  (If you think I’m wrong, then ask yourself if God is surprised each time you fall into sin.)

Here is the truth:  God is gracious, so we don’t have to prove ourselves.  God knows we are imperfect.  He knows our fallen nature.  And out of love, he made a way that we could live above sin.  In Christ, he’s made us from from the guilt of sin and the power of sin.  So, the challenge for when we misstep is to rely on HIS GRACE instead of our own abilities (or should I say feeble attempts) to make things right.  God is gracious, so let’s rest in that.  God is gracious, so let’s show others grace.  God is gracious, so don’t work so hard trying to prove to him or to others that you’re perfect.  He knows you’re not, and we know you’re not.  After all, when we try to self-atone, what we’re really communicating is that we feel like we have sinned against our own image.  When I sin, have I sinned against “me and my image” or God and his image?

I know this is long, but it’s really only the beginning of what was happening in my heart as I watched.

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more – Rom 5:20

Musings on Money: A non-comprehensive compilation of recent thoughts

We all know money doesn’t make you happy.  Or at least most of us know that.  It is said that money reveals who you truly are inside.  Money gives you options.  Options to possess things.  Some things good, some things superficial, some things questionable at best.  A new car, health insurance, new jeans, hair product, groceries, diapers, college funds, bills, a house.  But health insurance doesn’t give you health any more than new jeans give you good friends.  Having a degree doesn’t mean you’re  truly educated just like paying your bills only gives you freedom for 30 days.

We need money to survive.  God knows that.  And we all know money won’t make us happy, but we all tend to act like it will.  We generally make decisions in life that will lead us to more money, assuming we’ll be content when we have more money.  Considering that progression, why don’t we just choose to be content first?  Choose to be happy first, then make our money decisions.  Shape our money decisions around the truth instead of making our money decisions in spite of truth.  This way of thinking would seem to make more sense to me.

But instead of choosing this way, we most often throw our best efforts and energy into winning a race that doesn’t matter.  We bring no possessions into this life and we take no possessions out of it.  Only what you do for Christ will last.  Jesus said not to lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and the thief can steal, but to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  This is a truth that most Christians profess.

But time and life have a way of lying to us.  The longer we are here, the more we believe we belong here.  The more we believe we belong here, the more we behave like this life is the means and the end.  And the more we live like that, the more we tend to play off Jesus’ words about money as allegorical– or as if the truths they contain are meant for others and not for us.

We rob the gospel of its power when we act as though Jesus didn’t mean what he said.  We rob the Christian life of its witness when we live as though all we are living for can be found here on earth.  As believers, we are called to look toward our eternal inheritance; to recognize that this world is not our home; that we are passing through.  In fact, Paul said that Christians who aren’t looking forward to eternity are the most miserable people on earth (I Cor 15: especially verse 19).

Only one passion can fuel the human heart.  Vying for two passions is like cheering for both teams in a competition:  when the games ends, you’re not sure if you won or lost.  It’s like trying to run in two races at the same time headed in opposite directions.  Jesus said that No one can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and Mammon (mammon being the god of money.)  We have to make a choice.  This is the truth, and the reason it stings is because truth pierces.  Truth divides.  Truth separates between what is true and what is a lie, what is the light and what is dark.

What am I saying?  Is it wrong to be rich?  Is it wrong to have money?  By no means.  I am saying that Jesus says it’s about as difficult for a rich man to enter heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  I’m saying that when we make decisions, we should choose God.  If he gives you money, great.  If he doesn’t, it’s still great.  Paul said he learned to be content with much or with little.  (“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13)

Also, what I’m saying is that if you’re reading this, the odds are that you already are rich, myself included.  We’re probably both very rich in the global sense of the word.  Let me give a few examples.

  • You’re educated enough to read
  • blessed enough to have a computer/access to the internet
  • if you have a car, you are among only around 8% of people on earth who own a vehicle
  • if you have access to potable water today, you’re doing better than at least a billion people today in that aspect
  • are you in an air-conditioned room
  • do you have electricity
  • the average annual income of Kenyans is $353, less than one dollar a day; but a decent job for a college student would make more than that in a week
  • should I mention the people who died of hunger today (1 person every 3.6 seconds)

You are rich.  I am rich.  We are rich.

What am I saying?  Choose God.  Don’t just make him the first choice in a list of priorities.  Make him the only choice.  The only way to serve god and money is if you’re serving Mammon (the god of money); and that’s no way to spend your life.  You’re going to be at the end of your life one day, and you’re going to say either something like this :” I spent my life on things that count, I spent my life on Jesus.”  Or something like this: “I wish I had lived my life more fully for God and chosen him in everything.”

I heard of a man who had a great heart for sacrifice and giving.  He had an acquaintance who asked him, “Don’t you think you’ve ever given too much?” to which the man quickly replied, “Do you think you’ll still ask me that when we’re dead?”

I’m saying we’re rich, both in the kingdom reality and in the reality of our broken world.  How can our world ever see the eternal hope we have in the kingdom if we live our lives as if the real goal is the temporary riches our broken world has to offer?  I want to recognize I am blessed, but I also want to be a good steward.  With knowledge comes responsibility.  Jesus put it this way: to whom much is given, much is required.  If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I want to do my best to live like I believe what he said.  I want to do my best to close the gap between what I believe and how I behave.  I want to declare the message with my mouth and demonstrate it with my life.  Let’s do that!…. or at least take our best stab at it!

Update Numero 3

Hello from Delhi-

It’s July and the trip is already half-way through.  It’s hard to believe that we’ve been in India for almost a month.  The last week had it’s own set of learning opportunities and experiences.  

The last week was the hottest it’s been and the coolest it’s been.  I think it was 47.7 C (I think that’s around 115 F) last weekend, but then it rained for a few days in a row, so it’s been cooler.  Ministries are going well.  Some new doors have opened up with our new translators who are more experienced.  So God has been working through that.  

Last week at the leper colony we visit, there was a death of someone from the colony.  We found out about it as we showed up, and some people with leprosy from other colonies had gathered as well.  Our team was asked to pray– we weren’t sure how to pray or what to pray for.  We gathered around the body of the elderly lady, her eyes open, figure covered with flowers.  Incense was burning to a Hindu god.  The situation was so solemn for us, because it reminded us of how lost this area of the world is.  Around 99% of the people here are not Christian… that’s 99% of over 1 billion people.  A girl from our ministry team volunteered to pray and she prayed with such a beautiful heart.  It was such a memorable moment.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to preach to the kids from the slums on Sundays.  I’ve preached twice so far.  Once about how Jesus is the Bread of Life, and once about how Jesus is the light of the world.  I’ve been told how important it is in preaching here to emphasize Jesus because the word “God” understandably doesn’t have the same connotation here as is does in our culture (because there is a god for everything here).  It’s been really refreshing to preach straight gospel to these children who are going back to Hindu households at the end of each meeting.  Praise the Lord for that.

Sunday night some of our team was together discussing the sermon on the mount.  I think it’s so important to discuss and wrestle with the meaning of scripture in the context of community.  We talked for a while and didn’t even make it through half of the beatitudes.  But something that came up in the discussion has really helped me through most of this week. 

We talked about what it means to be “poor in spirit,” and why Jesus says the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are “poor in spirit.”  One aspect of being poor in spirit is to be aware of my glaring, ever-present need for God… and to live in that need for God.  Not to just pick it up when things get tough.. let me share an entry from my journal this week.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Lord I need you.  I am aware of my need for you.  My need for you is ever before me… except not really in practice.  I usually find that I try my best to be self-sufficient.  Like the Copeland lyric, “you’d break your neck to keep your chin up.”  I try to make all the decisions and have most if not all the answers on my own.  But it always comes around to this… my need for You.  Thank you for the patience you have in dealing with me.   Thank you for taking the time to teach me that I need You… for everything. Not just for the things that are too difficult for me, but I need you in all things.  My life is one of utter dependence on your grace- whether I acknowledge that or not.  But God, how sweet it is to acknowledge my need for you.  And not simply acknowledge it, but live in the reality of it.  To stand in the reality of my need.. to live with the knowledge that I am insufficient and that you are the only Independent One.  To lean into you for the things I need, and to recognize the grace you give me just to make it through a “normal day.” My God I need you… and I say thank you for being enough, for being more than enough to meet that need.  You are a good Father who knows how to give good gifts, and you meet my need with more than I could ask for.  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

As my responsibilities, the challenges in ministry, ministering to the team, and other things have grabbed for my attention, it’s just brought to light the truth that I need God.  And I’ve found this week that it’s so beautiful to rest in my need for Him, and to know that he meets my needs for Him.  So that’s where I’ve been with all that. 

I leave you with this.  The Scooty has continued to be a joy… but the other day, I was on a grocery run with a guy from the team when it began to rain.  We got drenched, and all the Indians were laughing at the sopping wet foreigners on the Scooty and in the market… but hey, it was like God-given air conditioning… and there’s no way I would pass that up.  

Once again, thank you for your prayers and encouragement.  May God bless you this week and may you rest in the reality that you need Him… even for the next breath you breath while reading this, you need him… and he’s providing for your need.  Until the next update- Peace!

 

T-Minus 5…

Well, here goes again. In 5 days I’ll be headed back to Gainesville, Georgia for some intense training camp… and from there to New Delhi, India for nearly two months.  Although it seems like I returned to the states just yesterday, it’s already been a month that I’ve been back from Kenya.  That’s hard to believe.

What’s happened over the last month?  A lot.  A whole lot.  God is so good.  I have been able to see so many of my friends, to see all of my family, to be with several congregations that have meant so much to me. . . I have been so blessed.  Every day has been packed with life, it seems.  There is something about being with the ones I love, and being able to share with them the things God has done and the mission he has me on, that just makes life burst at the seams.  From Mena to Fayetteville to Little Rock, Memphis, Fort Worth, Sierra Vista, Seattle, and San Diego– God has been good.

When I decided to go on the India trip, feeling that it was God’s will, I told AIM (Adventures in Missions) that I would go as long as God would provide the funds.  The truth is, I didn’t have the funds.  And I was worried if God could provide them for me.  Imagine that… me worrying that the same God who provided a lamb for Abraham, provided a way out of Egypt for the Israelites, provided a perfect sacrifice all… worrying that that same God couldn’t help me raise enough money to go on a two month trip.  I was concerned that 5 weeks in the states raising money wouldn’t be enough time for him.  But the truth is that the funds were raised within two weeks!  Thank God for that.

So now I’m just getting ready.  I’m trying to fully process Kenya, Soma School (which I’m sure I’ll write a little about soon), and get emotionally ready for India.  Besides that, I’m sure there will be a lot of packing and several trips to Wal-Mart over the next few days.  Anyway, just dropping you guys (if anyone follows this anymore) a line to know where I am and how great God is… and that in 5 days I’ll be gone.

My hope is to keep everyone posted about the India trip through this blog.  So you can check back here as often as you wish and I’ll try to let you know what God is doing half-way across the world.  Peace on earth!