Monthly Archives: November 2011

One Word

One word…? Really?

This is what I was thinking following a conversation I had a few years back. After discussing the sermon preached, my counterpart in the conversation concluded that it was far too long (over 20 minutes) and too scattered (3 points). Finally he declared, “I think each message should focus in on one word…ya know…one push and that’s it.”

Now initially my reaction was to agree. Each sermon or message should have a specific thrust and focus, however, what became all too apparent in our conversation was that what he wanted was short, simple, and immediately applicable. I admit also that I enjoy a message that (due to the thrust of the biblical text) gives an immediate application. It’s helpful and encouraging and easy to remember throughout the week. Sometimes, after all,  the most applicable lessons are the one liners from dad or grandpa quoting scripture out next to the shed.

Where I must disagree though is with his underlying premise. He admitted to me in the conversation that his reasoning began by determining that people cannot remember more than one word. Therefore, anything else would be a waste of time and breath. I immediately and concretely concluded myself that there must be….MUST BE…responsibility within the church placed on the listener as well as the speaker.

We have greatly underestimated the human mind’s capacity for retaining information.  We’ve become so accustomed to having information thrown at us in quick two minute YouTube videos that our attention span collectively is not as it should be, but if we’re honest, not really what it actually is capable of. We memorize songs, movies (ENTIRE MOVIES), without even trying. We’ll sit through an entire football game, movie, or comedian, all of which are much longer and MUCH more intricate than most messages or sermons we’re exposed to week in and week out.

The Psalms pour forth David’s heart for God’s word. He has an extreme desire to listen, learn, be filled. And that’s just it isn’t it. We don’t want fulfillment, we want entertainment. The dramatic irony of that is that if we were to listen, truly pay attention, what we would find in God’s word is the most entertaining story ever told.  But we must come taste and see that the Lord is good.

As pastors present sermons and messages to us, it is not wrong to hold them accountable to communicating effectively. However, if our main criterion are short, simple, immediately applicable; then perhaps we’ve missed the point. There should be a push for one message, one stress, one focus, one word. But he has a name. Jesus. And what goodness and mercy he would share with his people is far greater than 20 minutes once a week 15 of which is a “good story”. We must discipline ourselves to sit and listen as the disciples did in acts as they submitted themselves to the apostles teaching. Be attentive. Be a listener. Be a learner of the one and only word of truth.


CHURCH AS COMMUNITY – (Intro) Misconceptions About Community

This is the introduction to a series of posts entitled “Church as Community.” Collectively, these posts will explore the various implications of the biblical truth that the local church is, by definition, a community to which believers belong.

 

“Community” is a buzz word in many Christian circles these days, not least of which is the young missional crowd. Everyone is trying to find out how the church can hone in on what community is and how it can be cultivated in the context of the local church. I think this is, so far as it goes, a good thing. However, I would like to think some about the proper category for an idea like “community” (henceforth without quotation marks) in a local church. There are, I think, at least a few misunderstandings. In this post, I’ll explore some of these misconceptions, and in later posts I’ll try to provide some constructive suggestions for how a church can think about community.

Misconceptions

First, some churches think about community in terms of a ministry of the church. When we talk about community as a ministry, we often look to passages like Acts 2:42-47, or Acts 4:32-37. These passages depict the church gathering together, meeting one another’s needs, and worshiping together regularly. These are all great things for a church to do, but therein lies the problem. If we view community as a ministry, then it becomes something that the church “does.” It can be turned on and turned off as need arises and abates. Community mainly happens on Sundays and Wednesdays. If we’re really edgy, we might even get some community going at an in-home small group on a Tuesday or Thursday (but don’t go longer than an hour and a half!). Our view of community is often betrayed by how we talk about it. You might view community as a ministry of the church if you use community with action words. We “do” community, “make” community, and “pursue” community. These are good, but does that tell the whole story?

Other churches think about community as a distinctive of the church. You see this in language such as “having community” or “living in community.” These churches may recognize that people do not get a sense of belonging in their jobs or through their kids’ soccer teams, so they believe that cultivating such an atmosphere will meet a need. It’s a place where you can get to know people, go over to someone’s house, and babysit one another’s kids. Certainly this is a good thing. We need more churches that recognize this and actually do it. But I wonder if community is not deeper than this. Is being marked by community a means to an end, making the church a collective therapy session where isolated people can meet other isolated people and thus avoid loneliness? And this might be a little picky, but is it possible to have a church not marked by community? Shouldn’t all churches display this sense of community? (If so, can it really be called a “distinctive”?) What is a church that doesn’t have community?

Still other churches view community as a context. In this sense, you are a community church if you are composed primarily of people who live or work in the same area. Your kids go to school together, do boy scouts together, and play on the same baseball team. The alternative is churches that pull from various parts of the city—a commuter church, if you will. To me, this seems like the weakest understanding of community, because it is merely a consequence of circumstance. There is nothing convictional about it. It just happens.

I’ll go ahead and play my cards. I’m going to argue that community is not simply a ministry of the church, nor is it just a distinctive of a church, nor is it a product of context in a church. Instead, community is in the very identity of the church. A church is, by definition, a community. Community is not something we do; it is who we are. And it is this fact that affects how we serve, minister, live, and grow together. I’ll try to develop this more in my next post.


Out of the Mouth of Babes

Here in Louisville, I teach 7th grade boys Sunday School. It’s a sanctifying process for both them and me. There are some guys in there that, honestly, stress me to the max. There are others though that, already, point to Christ in so many areas of their lives. I was blown away and convicted by one of them this weekend.

The student ministry held an event where guys could preach to their peers and other church members and receive feedback. One of my 7th graders accepted the challenge and preached his 12 year old heart out. It made me think of several things in regards to pastoral ministry and the future.

The first was that it was simply convicting and challenging. He preached out of 2 Timothy 2:
“You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!”

One thing he said was to look at the life of a soldier. If the soldier loses focus on the battle field, people die. If we, as leaders in the church, lose focus and get tangled by the world, people with die spiritually. Men, we’re going into battle. This thing isn’t to be taken lightly.

The second thing I thought about was the importance of raising up men in the church to carry forth the Word of God. Much too often, congregations are allowed to simply walk through the motions and are never raised up as leaders. Leaders are something you go pluck fresh from somewhere else. Is this what the New Testament did? Throughout the pastoral epistles Paul refers to Timothy as his “true child in the faith.” He reminds him of his mother and grandmother who raised him to love the Word. Paul also reminds him of when the elders laid hands on him. All these suggest that Timothy has been raised up to lead the church that he has now been entrusted. He wasn’t a graduate from Jerusalem Theological Baptist Seminary. We need to raise men up. I’m thankful that I’m a member of a church that is doing that.


The Creator, The Creation and Crayola?

The commercial starts with a young girl twirling around dancing. As she looks at the image of herself on the computer screen, she exclaims,  “CINDERELLA!”. The message is concise and clear. Your child not only can act like the princess she dreams of becoming…she now IS the princess! Her face is stamped and printed on page after page of crayola’s newest line of personalized coloring books; where everyone’s dreams come true. This may seem innocent enough, and lets be honest what guy my age didn’t want to be Aladdin growing up. I had the vest and the magic carpet. Ok, I had Abu too. More importantly, I was the hero. Likewise, whatever flavor of story you choose for your coloring book, you are the main character.

This mentality though, goes way beyond a cute little coloring book or Halloween costume. The markings of being self-centered , prideful, embittered, autonomous, and individualistic within a believer or unbeliever, do not arise overnight. They are embedded. The enemy is no respecter of age. He starts from the moment we take our first breath. From the time we are old enough to understand language we are bombarded with signals and messages from the world that we are the center of the universe. And it would be naive of us to think otherwise. The problem i’m convicted of today, however, is that within the church we must combat this ..but often we support it.

THIS IS TRUTH – We are fearfully and wonderfully made, the Psalmist tells us. We are knit together in our mother’s womb’s, known specifically by our Creator. This is a wonderful truth that should make us weep at the thought of being intimately known by the Creator of the universe…

HOWEVER – We promote this to our children to an extent that cripples them. Follow the thoughts.  “No one has your fingerprint”. “Just like there can never be a snow flake the same, no one can be you.” “You are unique and no one in the history of the world before or after will ever be like you.” And finally it comes…boiling to a point of no return…”Jesus, above all else, was thinking of you on the cross” or how about, “Jesus died for you so that he wouldn’t have to live without you”. All of these come from a partial truth, but when stretched this far become completely unfounded in scripture altogether.

As ministers and teachers we have to balance this truth with an understanding that we are also in so many ways exactly alike. We are ALL sinners. We have ALL fallen short of God’s glory. There is NOTHING you can do to find worth within yourself. You are DEAD. LOST. POWERLESS. We must embrace this! The gospel begins with a recognition that we have NOTHING good within us at all. No one seeks God. He seeks us. He liberates us. He lived righteous. He died defeating sin. He rose conquering death.

Our message to children within the church doesn’t necessitate mixed signals. We should recognize our unique characteristics as image bearers of the Most High God, but also realize that this applies to all of mankind. We should love our children specifically, and in a special way…but all the while we must maintain a far distance from a “me” centered “trading the truth of God for a lie” culture who’s master would love nothing more than for us even as believers to live lives with us as the hero. We need to teach our children that our only hope of heaven is bound in what Christ has completed, having his righteousness given freely to us, our sin washed clean by his blood.

Oh that our children would want to replace their picture with that of Christ Jesus our Lord. He is the main character in our story. Not us.


Replenishing People

May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, for he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains, but when he arrived in Rome he searched for me earnestly and found me—may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day!—and you well know all the service he rendered at Ephesus. (2 Timothy 1:16-18 ESV)

If we take the Apostle Paul’s life as the standard, it would be gross understatement to say that the life of a pastor is hard. We have several passages that catalogue his difficulties, beatings, shipwrecks, and imprisonments. In addition to these external oppressors, he had what he calls the daily pressure of his anxiety for all the churches (2 Cor. 11:28). And while most pastors in the Western hemisphere will not go through quite as much external persecution (though they should be ready to do so), there is much about pastoral ministry that is physically exhausting, mentally draining, and spiritually grueling. To be sure, the same could be said of the Christian life in general. How do we respond to such a burden?

In college, I took a spiritual discipline’s class in which the professor strongly recommended that we all find what he called “replenishing people” to serve us in the same way that Onesiphorus served Paul in the passage above. These are people who, for one reason or another, the Lord uses in our lives to give us grace. They are people who don’t even have to try, but simply by being around them you gain a fresh desire to serve faithfully and live obediently. They give you encouragement without effort, and they sharpen you in casual conversation. If hard conversations need to be had, they are the ones who can rebuke you and lead you to the cross in the same sentence. These are true, gospel friendships, and every pastor needs to have them.

Paul’s burden for the churches was not unhealthy. It was right. It was a consequence of his calling, and it should be shared by all God’s undershepherds. But that does not mean pastors need to bear this burden in isolation. They cannot, and they should not. Pastors, make it a priority to seek out and cultivate relationships with those replenishing people that God has placed in your life. Praise God for them. Let these people know the ways in which God is using them in your own life. Admit your need for God’s people and celebrate his good provision in replenishing people.

As for me, one of the great privileges of my time in college was meeting many of those who would serve as replenishing people in my life. Two of those guys I now share this blog with, and I am excited to continue to grow with them as we pursue Christ. I’m grateful to God for these two brothers, and I trust we will all be replenishing one another along the way.


Phinehas and Pastoring

Last week I turned a paper in on the story of Phinehas in Numbers 25. You should read it. It’s a great story about Phinehas, the high priest heir, who responds to an abomination in the congregation with the jealousy of the Lord. While studying for the paper, I ran through some good quotes about pastoral ministry from Matthew Henry’s commentary.

“So much does God delight in showing mercy, that he is well pleased with those that are instrumental in turning away his wrath; this is the best service we can do to our people; and we may contribute something towards it by our prayers, and by our endeavors in our places to bring the wickedness of the wicked to an end.”

“Note, it is requisite that ministers should be not only for God, but zealous for God. It is required of them that they do more than others for the support and advancement of the interests of God’s kingdom among men.”

In the story of Phinehas, he is serious about sin. While I don’t think pastors have the right to go and kill off the parishioners, I think, as Henry points out, that we have an obligation to be serious about sin. Too often, sin is overlooked in the church. We all know it’s happening, but no one is willing to do anything about it. To shepherd the flock is to protect the sheep no matter what. Sometimes this means breaking their legs and holding them. Ultimately, it means that I, as a minister, must be serious about my sin. Sadly, I don’t think I am as serious as the Lord has called me to be.