Monday, November 28, 2005

Being the Church

In my mind, several small phrases have totally shifted the way I think about leadership in the body of Christ in the future. I have become aware of small groups of churches that are beginning to push the envelopes in these areas, and they are having tremendous success in expanding God's kingdom. The first phrase has been, "the church exists for the world." I have blogged about this before and will continue to write about the impact that the outward-focused movement will have on the local church. More and more mature Christians are coming to the point of frustration with getting fat on everything the church has to offer for them. We spend all of our time, energy, and money on serving ourselves, and then wonder why contemporary Christians are selfish consumers of church in much the same way that they consume other products. The bar is being raised, however, concerning the level of commitment required to impact the world for Christ, and I believe that the church will respond.

The major shift happening now, though, in my mind is in the way we use the word "church." For so long, we have talked about going to the church or attending church or meeting at the church that we have lost the ability to understand the NT idea that we are the church. The people who follow Jesus are the church. I don't think this is just a shift in verbiage - I think it is a fundamental change in the way people think about themselves and their responsibility before God. I don't go to church once or twice a week (to meet with God); I am the church (and I walk with God every moment of every day). What happens when the people of God begin to understand that wherever they gather and whatever they do, they are the church? Barna has put his finger on something in his new book Revolution, where he writes about many mature followers of Christ who are beginning to understand that they can walk with Christ and serve others and build the kingdom of God apart from the building they have called "church." This shift is built on a new understanding by many that in our "American" church culture, we have been rocked to sleep by the idea that our Christianity was secure because we had buildings on every corner. But here is the key: many buildings do not represent a healthy church (just ask post-Christian Europe). A healthy church means healthy Christians because the Christians are the church. This leads to many great questions about the establishment, and as a church planter, I get excited about hopefully asking the right questions. I'm not confident about any answers yet, but I am confident that these paradigm shifts will affect the rest of my ministry.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

1 A.M. Thoughts

For whatever reason, I can't sleep tonight. I haven't felt good the last couple of days, and I should be sleeping right now, but my mind is working overtime right now on many things. Mainly, I'm praying more and more about "listening to the voice of the Lord." What exactly does that mean? I have been thinking today about the Civil War. I know that sounds weird in this discussion, but in my reading I have noticed how both the North and South believed that they were doing "God's will," and that the Lord was truly on their side. Many times in our lives, we seem to think that we know for sure what God is telling us to do or what God thinks about a certain event. Despite all the mistakes that people have made throughout history reading the signs of the times, we continue to read our circumstances as though we know what God is saying through each and every event that occurs. I have problems with this form of folk-theology for two reasons: first, we never see the whole picture...as I wrote on my devotional blog several days ago, God's thoughts and ways are so much higher than ours. We think that we understand what God is doing, but many times in my life I have thought God was doing one thing, when actually years later I understand that He was doing something totally different. Second, we are naturally self-centered. We seem to see that God is doing great things in our own lives while He is certainly disciplining other people. The fact is that God blesses and God disciplines everyone, and we should be slow to proclaim that we know at anyone one time exactly what the mind of God is about anything. Rather, we probably should stick to proclaiming what we know from God - His Word.

I'm think I want to be more like Abraham Lincoln, who during the Civil War never said that God was on the side of the Union, but simply said that he hoped that the Union was on God's side. Maybe we would all do better working to make sure that we were on the Lord's side than making any kind of bold claims of what God has said beyond what He has revealed in His Word.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving thoughts

On Thanksgiving 2005, I've been thinking...

...that a short life well lived is much more important than a long life poorly lived. As I stood through Courtney's funeral yesterday (yes, stood, because of the overwhelming amount of people attending the service), I heard the words of William Wallace from Braveheart, "Every man (and woman) dies, but not every man truly lives." How true. Here's to Courtney fighting the good fight and living well.

...that though we think we are totally in control of our destinies, the Lord directs the path of our lives. I've been reading Truman by David McCullough during my two week break from school, and if anything has been reinforced in my mind, it is the pure truth that most of the major events in our lives are outside our control. Who would have thought that Harry Truman would ever be President of the United States, much less the one to make the major decision of dropping the atomic bomb? Unreal.

...that family is frustrating at times, but the most wonderful gift that God gives us. I am thankful this year more than most for a family that will always support me and love me. My wife, kids, parents, sister & brother-in-law, cousins, extended family are all wonderful people, and a true gift from God in my life. They all get on my nerves sometimes (some more than others, ha!), but I am truly thankful for each one of them.

...that every good gift in my life is a blessing from God that I don't deserve and a testimony to His grace.

...that I can't wait to eat lunch!

Here' s wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Departure

We got word last night that Courtney Howard, a very special girl in our college group at church, had finally surrendered in her battle with cancer after years of struggle. She had been a special part of our lives for the last two years, and we are mourning the loss we feel while celebrating her arrival in the arms of Christ. Please pray for her family as they struggle with their loss. Also pray for Dane & Marni White who have loved Courtney as one of their own.

I have posted a few thoughts on unanswered prayers on my devotional blog. Please take a few minutes to read it and add any comments you have.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Senior Sermon

I've been working this week on the topic for my senior sermon (December 8th). During my degree program at DTS, I have been required to take three preaching courses. The first two classes required two sermons, and this last class (called "senior preaching" by the guys in it) requires three. For all of the sermons in these classes, specific requirements are made for which texts you can preach and even how you can preach them. Except for the senior sermon. For their last sermon, each student chooses their own text. While we were away this week of vacation, I have been thinking daily about this last sermon. I excited about it for two reasons.

First, many of my family and friends are coming to celebrate this as the completion of my studies at seminary. The school doesn't have a fall graduation, so I have invited all of my family and friends to come here my last sermon. I am excited about preaching to those who have meant so much to me during my years at school. And second, this will be my last chance to preach to my fellow classmates who have been through senior preaching with me. So, I have been wondering - what need do I share with my fellow classmates who are about to launch into a lifetime of ministry inside the church? The resounding theme in my heart: dependence on the Spirit of God.

In reponse to this need, I've been reading through the book of Acts again. Acts is a tough book to preach because we don't want to preach every event in the narrative as normative for the Christian church. In other words, we don't want to preach that if you lie to God about your tithe, God will strike you dead (as He did Ananias and Sapphira in chapter 5). The point of that narrative is probably more about the authority of the apostles to establish the church as representatives of Christ Himself and the divinity of the Holy Spirit than establishing a punishment for unethical giving. But I am excited about preaching Acts (because of the consistently powerful ministry of the Holy Spirit) in my senior sermon. Right now, I am thinking about Acts 4:23-31, where Peter and John pray with other believers after being released from prison. I love the fact that they pray for great boldness with the message of Christ and for great displays of the Spirit's power in their midst. And you know what? It happens.

Pray for me as I prepare to share my heart about our great need to rely on the life-giving and life-changing Spirit of God.