Lament: When It Is Not Okay and That Is Okay

Lately, I have found expression for my own frustrations and disappointment in the Psalms of Lament. The thing about these Psalms is that they are honest and emotional while acknowledging the reality of God. I find this an incredibly healthy way of interacting with God. I decided to write my own modern lament patterned after Psalm 3.

Lord, where can I find dedication to your Son!

Why do the once faithful seem to move away from you the first chance they get?         Why are they so weak in the face of personal difficulty or challenging social situations?

Many say, “I once believed, until this happened.” Should a few poor situations really push people away from you?

But you have given me an assurance of your faithfulness to me.

Even when I have faced my own bad situation, at church and otherwise, I have never wanted you more Lord.                                                                                                     You have been with me and others through Wilderness times.

Don’t let your church be sullied by unbelief, modern sensibilities, controversies, reduction of the mission, or scandals.                                                                                       Give no one ammunition to bring down your name in response to your church’s example.

From you comes blessing, living water to sustain us, peace, and direction for the future. May your blessing be on your people.

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The Uniqueness of the Ordinary

No one in our culture likes the ordinary. Nothing ordinary goes viral or gets likes or gets copied. The ordinary is often shunned as if it is wrong or terribly mistaken.

The church in American has picked up the aversion to the ordinary. No church highlights their willingness to meet the ordinary people, provide tools for ordinary situations, or celebrates the purity of the ordinary.

But the ordinary is the most important aspect of our days. How we manage the ordinary is how we manage life. Who we are in the ordinary situations is who we are. If we don’t stress the ordinary in our days then we are ignoring 95% of our existence.

This is where Growing Up comes in. Becoming a mature follower of Christ means that every moment, every situation, and every encounter is an opportunity to live my life in the way that Christ would if he were I. My mornings are not just the preparation for the day but an opportunity to commit that day over to God. Driving is not just a point A to point B thing but a mobile prayer closet. Dinners are not just communal necessities but a chance for thankfulness and unity among loved ones. My work is not just routine but my God given tasks that require my God given abilities.

The ordinary is everything. Christ was ordinary yet he changed the world and offers us an ordinarily extraordinary life.

Embrace the ordinary.

Why You Shouldn’t Drop Out of Church

If you have had a bad church experience, then join the club. But understand what you will be missing if you drop out of church.

You will be missing a chance to hear the Gospel proclaimed on a regular basis. This age of personalization and personal preference can lead us to never be really challenged or convicted. This doesn’t help growth.

You will be missing a chance to worship as a group. There is really something special about a room full of voices and hearts pointed towards God in praise. Don’t you think God deserves this? Don’t you think it is better done corporately than just individually?

You will be missing out on part of Christ’s mission on earth. Christ established his church and we can be confident that it will turn back the work of Hell. This is dramatic talk that emphasizes the importance of the church.

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You will be missing the chance to be convicted. God always uses church to challenge my pride and humble me. Whether it is a sermon or a relationship I need to work on, or my willingness to serve, I need that level of accountability and challenge. I don’t trust myself to provide that laboratory of change on my own.

You will miss incredible support and love from Godly people. When our youngest was born with several birth defects, we were overwhelmed with gifts, meals, letters, encouragement, prayers, and evidence of love. In times like that, our extended family could not have been too big. Church extended that family to hundreds.

You will miss a chance to serve. There is nothing quite like stepping out of your comfort zone, humbling yourself, and sacrificing your personal preference to serve someone else. My family always has a rotation in our church nursery. I have kids but am not a huge fan of hanging out with other people’s kids for long periods of time. Yet, I never want to be that guy who says, “I am not a kid person so I WILL not help in the nursery.” I need to be willing to serve and usually the Lord takes care to teach me a few things during my time of service. For one, truly connecting with a child is a unique experience that has a purity to it that reminds me of the power of human connection and mutual enjoyment.

If you are considering dropping out of church, know that any collection of humans is going to be flawed but the potential for dissipointment shouldn’t outweigh the hope of an encounter with God and a community that brings true love and connection.

Treasure or Clay Pot?

I work at a Christian university that has developed quite a culture. A culture that they are very proud of. I have worked at two others Christian, Baptist universities and DBU is unique in its commitment to Christ-centeredness and Servant Leadership.

Maybe you have been a part of a church with a rich culture with many admirable qualities and distinct elements of what is good.

What we have to guard against, though, is mistaking these institutions as a way of life. Let me explain.

I might be prone to thinking about being a servant and sacrificing some of myself to help the students at DBU because our culture has instilled that idea in me. Or, I may have a community surrounding me at my church that is inspiring and uplifting. But the reality is that these institutions are mere vessels. Scripture says that we have treasure in earthen vessels.

We have to ask ourselves, is being a good member of my church more important than being a good follower of Christ? Is being a good Baptist, or Methodist, or Lutheran more important than being a good Christian? Is being a good parent more important than being a child of God?

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You see, we are called to be obedient to Jesus with all that we have have and nothing else.

This is important, as Dallas Willard has said, “The problem comes when we mistake the vessel for the treasure, for the treasure is the life and power of Jesus Christ.” Willard goes on to say, “A culture can capture us and shut off our access to the supernatural spirituality of the Kingdom of God.”

So, praise God for these institutions that are doing good work, even excellent Christian work, but let us not substitute these good things for the great goodness that comes from a life with Christ. A life that is filled with power, creativity, conviction, growth, and grace. This life is what is worth our complete allegiance and obedience. Everything else is just a vessel.

 

photo credits: Alexandre Dulaunoy

 

The Church Has Neglected This Most Important Goal

Yesterday in my own church, a visiting retired missionary told the story of a missionary he knew that was hampered in his own efforts to disciple believers because he said that he was never discipled himself.

Discipleship is simply learning to do the things that Jesus said to do.

American church culture has created a world where discipleship is an add on. Not a bad thing to practice and work on but not essential to the life of the believer or the good of the church. So efforts at Growing Up get pushed to niche times and places and become largely ignored by the majority of the church faithful.

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How have we gotten to this state?

“What you present as the gospel, will determine what you present as discipleship.” This quote by Dallas Willard has much to say about the modern church and why there is a significant lack of discipleship.

The 3,000 people that first joined the infant church at Pentecost were presented a Gospel that was Jesus focused. Peter, in his talk that day, stressed the arrival of Jesus, the work of his ministry, his death on the cross, and his resurrection. The Gospel story was Christ centered and began with Jesus, not with us. If our Gospel starts with us, then we are in trouble. Jesus gets reduced to an instrument for our personal use rather than a King destined to rule the Earth for all of eternity and transform us into Children of God.

The baby believers at Pentecost were not making a transaction that required little of them, they were entering a new existence that quickly began to be evident as a peculiar community sprung up around them. They shared their life together (including some of their possessions), they shared meals together, they had glad and sincere hearts, and they praised God as one. Everything changed because of the Gospel.

Ruth Haley Barton says that churches oversell and under-deliver two things, transformation and community. Could it be that the gospel we are presenting is contributing to our inability to create true disciples who are radically changed and urgently busy at the work of God’s kingdom?

Start with Jesus and his story of life, death, resurrection, and future return and see if that doesn’t produce a different result. This was the gospel of Acts and this good news started a global spiritual revolution.

A Month of Growing Up

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Thank you for riding along with me this past month as the Grow Up Blog was launched and I try to be your guide to a more mature Christian life. I know the writing has been beneficial to me and I pray that some of my words have challenged and inspired you.

Don’t forget that you can donate to support my opportunity to attend the Apprentice Experience. I would much appreciate it and know that it will greatly influence the quality of the content of this blog.

This past month, you learned the two purposes of Scripture and discovered that the difficulty of the Christian life is one of the reasons it is worth committing to…I told you about my next big thing and how long time Church attendance may be holding you back…We also realized that you should be listening to God more and that God does the growing but you must plant, water, and care for our spiritual life.

I am looking forward to what else we will discover in June. Thanks again for being a part of this.

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Book Review: Renovation of the Church: What Happens When A Seeker Church Discovers Spiritual Formation – Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken

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Some of my favorite non-fiction, non-Christian books are “looks under the hood” of movements, organizations, and individuals. Books such as Moneyball by Michael Lewis and The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell take an objective look at situations and people who have changed the landscape of their particular field or context. Their formula is fairly simple – “With odds against them, how did Company X become a trend setter and revolutionize their industry.”

Unfortunately, Christian literature lacks this writing approach. Besides Philip Yancey, I can’t think of any Christian authors who approach their subjects in somewhat of a journalistic way. Instead, we have works that are originating largely from one point of view. Usually, I never really notice this aspect but in the case of Renovation of the Church, I began to scream for a different perspective.

The authors, Kent Carlson and Ken Lueken, are the co-pastors of the church, Oak Hills, that is the subject of the book. They explain and present their transition from a church that is built on a consumer model of church organization to a church designed on a spiritual formation model. As far as I know, me being from one of the hotbeds of evangelical church environments, their approach is extremely novel and even “out there.” I admire their courage and commitment to this endeavor and am envious of their experiences and church life. But as a reader who is a thousand miles away from their church, I needed more from their story than observations from the driver seat. I wanted to hear the other side of the story. What was it like for a church member to experience such a drastic change? What conversations were church members having among themselves? What were the success stories? How has a focus on spiritual formation changed individual lives? Lueken gave a few examples but they were often sparse.

This is where an outside perspective could have really made this story riveting. Instead, we get a hodge podge of commentary on the state of American churches mixed in with the authors’ personal philosophy on church leadership. In the end, we find out more about the authors’ transformation as pastors than we do the church’s transformation. This certainly serves a purpose and I am in high agreement with Carlson and Lueken’s criticism of the American church and its pastors but their was more to be told there.

Personally, I could identify more with Eugene Peterson‘s tales of church work in his memoir, The Pastor, than I could Renovation of the Church. Peterson told stories on himself as well as members of the church he pastored. His stories could speek to the transformation that can occur in church and to churches under the reality of the Gospel. Carlson and Lueken never reached this level of reflection and expression.

Let Him Hear: Reading Revelation For Spiritual Growth #3

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Image by hickory hardscrabble via Flickr

I have an idealist streak in me and I take injustices and problems, especially in churches, as a blow to my sense of what is right in the world. I get easily discouraged and angry. I fantasize about churches where people “get it” and the life and work of Jesus is taken seriously. I romanticized the early church as containing a group of people who never were distracted, selfish, or in turmoil. But I guess I haven’t read my New Testament well enough. Paul’s letters were primarily letters to churches who had some problem or another and Paul was writing to set them straight.

Now, in Revelation, Jesus through John, is addressing seven churches who need encouragement and exhortation. It turns out that these churches contain individuals who barely resemble what they once were in Christ, or have turned their back on the faith and are pursuing other idols and pagan practices. Others are so non-distinct and complacent that Jesus is crying for them to be either hot or cold instead of lukewarm. Otherwise, he will have to spit them out of his mouth.

All of this to say, the early church had as many problems and maybe more serious ones than our churches today. And, these churches are made up of people who are just as prone to being derailed by culture, or losing their passion for Christ, or falling into false teachings as individuals today. People haven’t changed a whole lot in 2000 years.

The message for us is the same as it was for the early church. “If you have ears, let them hear the message of the Holy Spirit.” Open our ears Lord, let us hear.