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Archive for July, 2010

One of the great things about having ADD is the frequency with which random things pop into your head. For me, this is usually something humorous from recent memory. This also tends to occur at inconvenient times which does nothing but reveal your ADD-ness to those around you. Take for example this week when I was attending a prayer meeting with local pastors from the Bloomington area and I was forced to put my head down on the table to conceal my laughter as this little bio clip (below) suddenly came back into my head.

The fact that he “got his two front teeth knocked out by a chainsaw” is undeniably hilarious. Nothing cracks me up like hillbillies. If Darwin is to be believed, shouldn’t natural selection have weeded this guy out by now? On the other hand, he has found himself a unique food source. His resourcefulness may make his chances of survival greater than us suburban couch potatoes.

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I’m loving 2 Peter these days.

In the first few verses of 2Peter he fills us in on the source of grace, peace, and “everything we need for life and godliness” – the personal, first-hand knowledge of Jesus Christ (see previous post).

In the next couple of verses Peter goes on to admonish us to press on in developing godly character:

5For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

10Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, 11and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. – 2Peter 1:5-11

Each of these character qualities are a study in and of themselves, and it is certainly not meant as an exhaustive list. But what strikes me most is that in these few short verses Peter has given us the sum total of “success” for the Christian. You can now return all your Tony Robbins books to the library. Peter gives us two simple instructions for life. 1. Grow in grace through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. 2.  Take that grace by which you are empowered and use it to press on in developing godly character.

Peter promises that if we do this we are guaranteed a) to live effective and productive lives b) be kept from spiritual blindness c) be sure of our calling and election d) to never fall and e) to receive a rich welcome into the kingdom of God.

Wow… maybe I’m in my own little world here, but I find that stunning. Simple and glorious. Sign me up! Well, simple in the conceptual, anyway. The process of developing some of these characteristics is a real bear! That said, it does not matter what your gifts, skills, job, business, or calling is, this “formula” is what will make anyone effective and productive unto eternal reward in the kingdom.

This is elementary stuff, but I know I need to be reminded of it constantly. I was thinking of this the other day when looking again at statistics concerning American Christian families. Studies tell us that 4 of 5 Christian young people are now “leaving their faith” during their college years. This is not good news. But before we start blaming the media, the devil, the government, and everyone else, we need to take another fact into consideration. Studies also tell us this: by FAR, the #1 influence in the spiritual life of a young person is their parents and grandparents.

Why are young people leaving their faith? Primarily because the faith demonstrated and taught to them by their families was weak and ineffective. At the first sign of challenge the tree topples over because the root system is so shallow.

Certainly it’s true that kids need to “go to the source” if they are to have a persevering faith. They will need to grow in the knowledge of Jesus themselves. Our faith will not save them. However, how as parents do we awaken hunger and pass on such a faith? We’ve spent enormous effort to make sure our kids have healthy homes and activities, receive the best education we can get, and receive spiritual nourishment through our churches and programs. But we’re seeing that this alone is failing.

Peter gives us the answer:

“For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive…”

As parents (yea, as believers in any endeavor), it is only through the life of the Spirit manifested in us in these qualities that we will make an impact on others or produce any fruit that will last. We can be assured that our “works” are on a faulty foundation if we cannot find evidence that we are growing in the knowledge of Jesus and His character in us. We can state Peter’s word in the converse: “if you do not possess these qualities in increasing measure, you will be ineffective and unproductive”.

We can accomplish many things through ingenuity and our own human efforts that may even appear “good” on the surface. But much like the discovery that it is a weak faith our churches and families have produced in this generation, our works will eventually be exposed. The reality that works alone are not sufficient is frighteningly demonstrated in the words of Jesus:

“Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ – Matthew 7:22

Our passage in 2Peter echoes the words of the Apostle Paul when he says:

5Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. 2 Cor 13:5(a)

Are we growing in the knowledge of Jesus through prayer and the word? Is there evidence in our lives that the characteristics of 2 Peter 1:5-7 are increasing as a result? This is the only way we can be assured of a fruitful and effective life that will stand the test on that day when “the earth and all the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10)


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“Have you ever wondered if we’re missing it? It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe—the Creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and E–minor—loves us with a radical, unconditional, self–sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss. Whether you’ve verbalized it yet or not, we all know something’s wrong.” – Francis Chan

While I was on vacation last week I read a couple of books, one being Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love”. There’s an awakening taking place in the evangelical church that is causing many leaders to return to the radical heart of the gospel through the simple ways of prayer and fasting, care for the poor and the orphan, and turning from idolatry.

In “Crazy Love”, Francis Chan “piles on” with a vengeance. I read this book because I had seen some other articles about Francis that described how he downsized his lifestyle, sheltered the poor in the small home they moved into, and quit his job at the church he pastors in California in order to return to his original passion for Jesus through a life of simple ministry and prayer. I knew Francis was “for real” and wanted to hear what he had to say.

For some time I’ve been thinking long and hard about the church. I’ve been contemplating tough questions concerning the role, form, and function of the local church. Do we even need “church” as its currently expressed in most western cultures? How do you explain why the church in the western world is dying and declining while the church in the third world is exploding with the power of God when we’re the ones with 95% of the resources, training, and education?!

My mind is troubled by 2 Peter, particularly the Apostle’s warning to believers:

“For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.”  2 Peter -2:20-22

I can’t profess to have all the answers but I know one thing is settled in my heart:

Our problem is not methodological.

I’ve read the books, digested copious hours of sermons, and hearkened to the opinions of experts on all sides concerning how we should regain effectiveness in our churches. In many of them, a lot of the energy and discussion is focused on methodology and how leaders implement it; like we have some kind of engineering problem. “If only we simplified structure, met in homes, engaged in outreach, let everyone ‘share’ their gifts, or Constantine had never legalized Christianity and we were all still persecuted and desperate; then the church would be the pure and powerful ‘beautific vision’ (as one author describes it) that we see in the early church.”

One question – has anyone read 1 Corinthians, Galatians, or Revelation 2-3 lately? The early church was rife with idolatry, religious spirits, political power games, and gross sexual immorality (even incest), just to name a few of the more prominent sins among them. Hardly a “beautific vision”. As far as I can tell, the methodology of the early church was not a panacea.

Again, the Apostle Peter gives us some plain talk:

“May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” 2 Peter 1:2-4

In all the reading, listening, praying, and thinking I’ve done I’ve only seen and experienced one common thread that leads people to become radical, transformed, and deeply committed to the person of Jesus – Prayer. Meditative prayer, prayer with the Word, prayer in worship, prayer together. Prayer. As Peter tells us, it  is only “through the knowledge of him” that grace and the power of God are manifested in our lives and we “escape the defilements of the world”. As you all are probably aware, the word “knowledge” does not mean the sum total of all the information and truth about God we’ve heard and accumulated. Rather, it means intimate, first hand, personal knowledge. Without it, despite all our accumulated information about God, will be doomed to a predominantly ineffective, powerless, and fruitless Christianity that only appears productive on the surface. And the only way to personally access Him? Prayer.

This explains why Paul’s instruction to Timothy in ministry is not to “make sure the people are meeting in small groups”, or “make sure you have quality and safe childcare”. Instead, Paul gives Timothy this priority:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. – I Timothy 2:1-2

Once again, I have been struck anew with the reality that methodology is not our problem, prayerlessness is. I know, it still doesn’t sound sexy or innovative to my ears either. But, it’s  only unattractive to us because we don’t do it. We have no hunger for prayer because we’ve abandoned it and thus choked off the pipeline of the transformative power of God’s grace in our lives. Those who have lived a lifestyle of prayer testify that it would drive us to desire nothing else but time in His presence; and the fruit of their lives bear the evidence.

When we regain the priority of prayer, we will see a people (and thus a church) that is effective and hungry for God. Methodology only matters as it pertains to facilitating prayer and entering into His presence together. As he drove out the merchants in the temple Jesus said “is it not written: ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer'”. Apparently He wasn’t upset about the type of building or the size of the group. He was driven to righteous anger to see that it was maintained undefiled as “a house of prayer”.

I thank God for how He is moving in the hearts of many leaders like Francis Chan through the priority of the place of prayer. God help me/us if we ourselves don’t hear “what the Spirit is saying to the churches”.

I also love what John Piper recently said (via twitter, ironically enough):

“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” – John Piper

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In part one I mentioned the number one complaint I hear from people who leave their churches (“I don’t feel connected”). As luck would have it, I actually heard #2 on the list recently so this works out perfectly for a follow up post! What is #2? If you’ve been around evangelical Christianity a while I’d bet you can guess it….

You got it…  – “I’m not being fed”.

Here’s a great quote concerning that ever popular trump card of the disgruntled congregant:

This simple complaint–the teaching is lacking, the sermons are thin, etc–is the official complaint of church grumblers the world over.  If we could figure out a way to monetize it, we could permanently end world poverty.  Forget cold fusion; if we could generate energy every time someone says this phrase, we’d be able to break our dependency on foreign oil in about four minutes.

It’s such a perfect thing to say because it deflects any attention away from me, while at the same time creating false humility and making me seem spiritually mature and advanced.  “It’s not you, it’s me.  I just want to learn.  I’m admitting that I am incomplete.  I’m hungry for deep, real spiritual teaching.  I’m humbly confessing that I’m not getting enough out of church.  Please help me get the rich faith-building experiences that I so desperately need.”

Just be careful who you say this to.  Pastor’s are starting to get wily.  When people tell my friend, “I’m not being fed,” he replies, “I’m perfectly happy to spoon feed my one-year old.  But if I’m still spoon feeding him when he’s five, we’ve got a problem.  Here’s a fork.  Feed yourself.”

While I’m not in favor of the belittling tone of the quote, we can all laugh because of the kernel of truth therein.

Cheap jokes aside, as with the “I’m not feeling connected” complaint, it’s unfair to immediately jump on the complainer and chastise them. As a leader we often quickly want to point out their immature reliance on the pastor to “spoon feed” them the word and their possible laziness in personally pursing God in prayer, study, and fellowship. I mean seriously, being in America and saying “I’m not being spiritually fed” is like standing outside of the Old Country Buffet with $20 in your pocket and saying “I’m starving”. Every manner of teaching, preaching, bible study, commentary, and spiritual life enhancement literature is just one mouse click, small group, TV broadcast, or podcast away. And again, if at the end of the day your stance toward the local church is primarily “getting my needs met” rather than seeking to mutually encourage and serve the body of Christ, you will likely not resolve these issues you’re having anytime soon.

That said, we mustn’t refuse to take a look at ourselves and ask if we’ve been lacking in our preparation & depth of teaching or if we have no discipleship mechanism by which people in the church can grow in their biblical understanding and spiritual life.

If after taking a good self-examination and receiving objective input from others you determine that the word is in fact being preached and taught pretty decently (there’s always room for improvement), then I would suggest that most likely the “I’m not being fed” complaint is not really the heart of the issue for the complainer. In fact, in my years as a lay-leader and church employee I personally have yet to run across a single individual who has brandished this accusation honestly.

So what’s the problem? Here are the most likely issues, or at least where I would start in trying to uncover the real issue at hand:

1. Good ‘ole fashion rebellion

I have literally heard the “I’m not being fed” line from people in the church who had glaring issues of serious sin they refused to acknowledge and confess. Nothing will kill the flow of revelation like pride and rebellion in the heart. Furthermore, as I said before, if your personal spiritual life is lacking; you’re not spending time in prayer, the word, discussion of the word, and serving others in the church, you will likely see a significant impact on what you “get” from your teachers and preachers. It’s amazing how when your heart is alive with passion for God the Holy Spirit seems to speak in even the worst of sermons.

2. Not being “scratched where you itch”

Maybe you have pet issues and theologies not being addressed. Maybe you’re unhappily married and unemployed but the pastor is doing a summer series on Christology. Nothing wrong with the preaching or content, but Sunday morning is the only time you’re in the word and so if it’s not relevant to your personal crisis then the “I’m not being fed” card gets played. Now, are there churches out there preaching unbiblical truth? Sure, but you can smell them a mile away and your complaint would be specific. Are there plain ‘ole “bad” preachers out there? Some, but I have yet to encounter a church where the preaching was so bad that the entire congregation was “rotting on the vine”. Again, if you’re involved in a church primarily to “get fed” by the Sunday preaching, you’re setting yourself up for some level of disappointment.

3. An excuse to cover the real complaint/offense

Many times people have other issues related to the practice of the gifts of the Spirit, the children’s ministry, or the color of the carpet in the foyer, and for some reason the “we don’t feel like we’re being fed” line just seems like a more palatable excuse for leaving the church. Other times there may be offense because noone visited their mom when she was sick, or funding was eliminated for their program. Sometimes, it’s not even a “problem” with the church. There may be a person who’s single and desperate for a relationship and there’s not a lot of options for them at the church. As our quote at the beginning humorously illustrated, “not being fed” is the perfect excuse to keep the focus off yourself, and provide a very spiritual cover for the real issues.

4. Style

This is a toughie. As a preacher you may be serving it up hot and spicy, and they like it Scandinavian blase. The same goes for worship music. Sometimes we just don’t like the style. I’m honestly not sure at what point this becomes a legitimate issue. I mean, I know if my worship band was layin’ it down a la Keith Green every sabbath I’d prefer to scratch my eyes out with a rusty fork (My apologies to you Keith Green fans. While I greatly admire the man, I find some of his music grossly annoying). I think we just need to keep in mind our consumerist tendencies and make sure we’re not missing a greater plan the Lord may have in order to cater to our own comfort and tastes. We need godly counsel and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to know how to respond in those situations.

Well that’s my nickels worth on the topic. Hope it’s interesting reading. I promise to move on…unless of course, dear reader, you could suggest another common church complaint to address!

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Here’s the five things that “I’m lovin’ me some of” so far this fabulous summer of 2010:

1. Sea Salt Carmels

I had never heard of these until my wife and I took a weekend away in Red Wing, Minnesota this spring and we stopped by the local chocolate confectionery. When my wife bought a “Sea Salt Carmel” I thought it sounded pretty odd and not at all tasty. Boy was I wrong. Food items with a mix of sweet and salty have always been a favorite of mine so I shouldn’t have been skeptical. Man, are these babies d-lish. They are my indulgence du jour for this summer (and likely into the foreseeable future!)

2. Camping

I’ve already made the annual boys trip to the BWCA this summer and I’ll be tripping up to my brother’s house next week and camping out in their yard with the kids. I’m sure the kids and I will get out a couple more times before the good weather is gone.

I have a hard time explaining the allure of camping. It really does not make a whole lot of sense. Wasn’t the main impetus’ of progress to set us free from the hardships of primitive living? Nonetheless, love it I do.

3.  Jon Thurlow

“J.T. Money” as he is also known is, IMHO,  the master of meditative worship smoothed out on a jazzy R&B vibe. If you’ve got a little hitch in your spiritual giddy-up, JT will cure what ails ya. In the lazy days of summer when you’re sitting around in the evening or putzing around the house & yard; JT on the House of Prayer webstream is the perfect musical companion. Set adrift on JT bliss!

4. The World Cup

What can I say but “I’m lovin’ it”! Go Netherlands…

5. Being master of my time

A couple of years ago I made some decisions in order to simplify my life and gain control of my time. As I sat floating on a raft with my daughter in a local lake this past Saturday with no idea what I would do the rest of the day or the next, I deeply appreciated this decision once again. To have a busy week of work and at the end of if be able to enjoy a full holiday weekend with my wife and kids with no obligations or appointments is, as they say, priceless. It would not have been possible two years ago.

BONUS:

Not necessarily new this summer, but new to me is the “World’s Most Interesting Man” ad campaign from Dos Equis Beer. Hilarious! Their tag line has become my favorite slogan of the summer of 2010. I wish a beer company hadn’t come up with it because it would make a great vision statement for a church event…

“Stay Thirsty, my Friends…”

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I enjoyed this clip from Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Church (below).

One of the most common reasons I hear as to why people change churches is that they “don’t feel connected” or they had a hard time getting “plugged in”.

To be sure, church members have a responsibility to create an environment where people feel valued as brothers and sisters in Christ, where there are easy avenues for new believers to discover their giftings and find outlets to utilize them in the local expression of the body of Christ. Furthermore, if the life of a church is so tightly controlled by a small group of leadership so no one outside of it has any hope of significant engagement in church life, then you just perpetuate the problem. People feel they need to find the “perfect church” because they have no ownership or input and are pretty much stuck with what they get. Mandates and directives from those in control  simply reign down on the assembly like so much unwelcome confetti.  For leaders in churches, it’s  tough finding the balance between strong vision/leadership and a life giving and empowering environment.

That said, I think the much greater challenge is overcoming our consumerist approach to life. We carry this over with us into our churches. We expect to be served and catered to; not to be the ones who serve. We enter a new church and mid-way through the first visit we start to write our prescriptions so we can let the local leaders know of all the ways this church could be improved to better serve our needs. We rarely (OK…never) come into a church, look around and say “what ways could my gifts serve this body of believers?”. “After all, this is my eternal family and, wow, it sure looks like they could use some help!” I’m convinced that until this perspective changes, many of those who don’t feel “connected” will likely never feel so with any church they are involved with.

It doesn’t matter what type of fellowship you are a part of; mega-church, small church, or home fellowship, this is a cultural problem not a methodological one. In fact, we’ll even “try out” all the different types of fellowships in our attempt to find the “perfect church” to suit our personal tastes. Of course, as the old saying goes “if you find the perfect church, don’t join because you’ll ruin it!”

One thing I am proud of at our church is the strides we have made to see ourselves more as family than members of the same country club. The people in our church value the quality and depth of ministry we give to one another, not the size and elegance of the children’s playground or the cafe/bookstore (but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a false dichotomy to say that spiritual depth and big facilities budgets can’t coexist) .  There really is a culture developing of self sacrifice, of deep abiding in the Spirit, and of service to one another and the church body. This is not easily done or maintained. We must also remember the day may come when we no longer have the luxury of incorporation as churches accompanied with land and building ownership. What will we do then? We’ll be stuck with just each other!

Being one of the guys on a church staff with whom complaints gets registered, I’m fully aware of the shortcomings both our church and the people in it still have. It’s overcoming them together that is a key ingredient in the life and success of a family; and family we are.

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