Monday, June 29, 2009

river miscellany

Sara and I took off from Normal this morning around 8:00 ish for the North American Christian Convention. Many of you may not know what this is, but it's a 60+ year old gathering of independent Christian churches (which is the tradition Eastview comes from - the convention is sort of a non-decision making, non-denomination, denominational gathering). I'll hear some good sermons (and hopefully write one for Sunday), connect with some old ministry friends (encouragement is important), and I have two breakfasts scheduled where I will get to mentor some younger guys in ministry (which means I'm becoming an old guy in ministry). The trip was made more enjoyable because we brought the bike over. It was a perfect sunny day for a ride!

A couple of comments on my previous blog: One having to do with networks and how a Christian should listen to them (the CNN/Fox News dillemma). Here's the deal. I watch both, but I'll have to be honest and tell you I am convicted more often than not that I'm wasting my time. Of course, both have political agendas (no matter how much they say they don't) but that's not what bothers me. What I find really destructive is the whole genre' of 24 hour news. The truth is that both cover a lot of stuff that is a waste of time, fabricated, or embellished to fill air time with meaningless words. I think this is harmful to the use of language in our culture. When we manipulate language and news to try and make things that normally aren't of interest a headline; then we have the effect of making words unimportant. We are becoming a society of "blah, blah, blah, blah, blah". You know why this is so crucial to me, right? Because I use words to communicate the WORD and if people get accustomed to tuning out what is being said....well then preaching suffers. So, I would say Christians should watch news discriminately. When there is something happening (like Michael Jackson's death) watch to get the information. But if you're still watching "breaking news" or "alerts" after four hours and they are still saying the same thing...turn it off and go read your Bible.

In a similar note, a late comment asked about my impression on popular books like "the shack" etc... is that you must remember they are fictional writings. This means they may be helpful in expressing God emotions, or giving God perspectives, etc... But they can't be taken as conclusive when it comes to theology. the scary thing for a pastor is that a newer believer or unbeliever reads these books and take them as the way God is. This leads to a lot of heretical thinking. So I'd say make sure you read the Bible at least as much (really more) than any other books and you'll be o.k.

Finally, the baptism I got to do in 2nd hour yesterday...this lady was so broken and thankful for Jesus grace and proud to confess him as Lord and filled with tears of joy as she broke free from the watery grave and overwhelmed with the love of Christ. I love it...never gets old...and the angels rejoiced.

Monday, June 22, 2009

What if a NT God-follower is OT blessed?

Yesterday we talked about the blessings God reviewed for the Old Testament people of God as revealed in Deuteronomy 28:1-14. We noted that OT blessings followed the Abrahamic covenant that God would bless him in one of or all of four ways: land, descendants (some people think kids are a blessing:-), prosperity, and defeat of enemies. However, we noted that the real blessing was spiritual and that Jesus confirmed that for NT covenant people in his "blessings" in Matthew 5. Conclusion? Our blessings are spiritual and we as followers of Christ should not expect prosperity, land, progenity or defeat of enemies in the earthly sense.

But what if we are prosperous? We do have big and healthy families? We seem to overcome all of our foes and detractors? We have lots of possessions? Well here (in expanded form) are the five answers I gave from God's perspective on what to do if God Old Testament (physical) blesses you on top of New Testament (spiritual) blesses you.

1. Be thankful. These things are true blessings because every good and perfect gift comes down form the Father of heavenly lights (James says). So if you have much you should thank God for his grace on top of grace.

2. Be aware. Don't assume for one minute that this is the case for all of God followers. I don't have stats for this, but I'd say that the majority of the world's Christians live in poverty. Any time you hear a televangelist talking about how God loves to give cars and houses and worldly prosperity to believers who trust in him; you need to take a missions trip. I've been in worship services in Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Mexico City that are filled with Spirit-filled Christians who have nothing in the earthly sense but would call themselves "blessed" (and biblically speaking they are spot on).

3. Be generous. Selfishness and unwillingness to share are not Christian attitudes. If you have been given a lot, I believe you be increasingly generous. This means you should give now and you should give more later. One monk said, "Make all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can."

4. Be willing to give it all up. You know the story of the rich ruler right? Jesus challenged him to give away all his stuff and follow him. Would you? Could you? You'd better or else you can't be a follower of Jesus. NOTE: this is easier to do "hypothetically speaking" so you should regularly follow number three above to actually put your money where you mouth is!

5. Ask how you can bless others with what you've been blessed with. This is the kicker about yesterday's teaching. Did you know that God didn't give land, kids, prosperity and peace to Abram for Abram? Nope. It was for God's glory...that all nations on earth would be blessed through Him. Think of it. All the stuff you have isn't about you or for you? It's for God and His name.

Be blessed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

important stuff

A couple of books have converged in my world to impact what I do as a pastor recently. First is the book I've almost completed called "Why Johnny Can't Preach". It's basically a book by a man on his death bed lamenting the fact that preaching in our American churches has sunk to an all-time low in terms of quality. The other book is a biography of the famous Great Awakening preacher from the early 1700's New England by the name of Jonathan Edwards (google "sinners in the hands of an angry God"). Anyway, here's how these two come together...

one premise about why Johnny can't preach is that Johnny (in fact all of our society) is driven by a media that constantly distracts us with "sights and sounds of inconsequential trivialities". In other words we have greater access to more useless information than ever before (don't get me started about I need to know that you are going out to walk your dog? NO!). Simply
the preaching in our churches often focuses on the trivial and unimportant and talked about instead of the eternal constants and deep things of God.

the book about Jonathan Edwards comes into this conversation because his life was filled with notebooks and journals and logs that addressed the deepest questions of his day from a theological and scientific (the age we know as enlightenment was happening in Europe where scientific discoveries and theories were proposed daily). His effort was to address from a biblical point of view all of the world's mysteries. He wrote about deep stuff like what the discovery of an ever expanding universe means about God and how gravity and God go hand in hand. His mind simply covered every important question of his day.

So I'm inspired to be a Jonathan not a Johnny. I'm committed to addressing the things that are important to our culture...the ones that will last for eternity, not the trivial junk that will be over when the next fad comes along. I have committed to write every day and I'm trying to make these writings about the significant stuff of all of our lives. I challenge all pastors and teachers to do the same. We have enough junk writing and media...maybe we should offer something different.

Also, this is where you as the leader may be helpful. What is important right now in our culture? Anything
that I could study, research, and address from a biblical perspective? Let me know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

st. louis

well, sara and I are taking some vacation time this week in st. louis (hotwire makes it affordable and this time of year is in right rhythm for a break). we love hanging out in the city. I get energized by people so being surrounded by them and yet anonymous is somehow relaxing to me (don't try to figure me out, just love me).

I found another public gathering besides church where it's apparently acceptable to be late (don't construe that statement as an endorsement of late church attendance)...the ball park. People were actually showing up today at the cards/rockies game in the third inning! c'mon man, I've gone back for more cracker jacks by then. By the third inning you've missed some great plays, the national anthem, the kids trying to start the wave, and passing beers down to the guy in the middle of the row. In other words you don't get the whole experience - you've missed a third of the total picture. I could develop this as a parable for going to church and get on some soap box about that, but you get the picture (if you come to our services at church 15 minutes left you may have already missed a home run). Besides, I left after the 8th inning so i'm like the guy who leaves after communion to beat the crowd to the restaurants. But I knew the cards weren't coming back. Unlike church, there were no miracles. O.K enough of that.

What do I do on vacation? Nothing. Or more specifically nothing in the awareness of God. What I try to do is not plan, intentionally work, or worry, or set an alarm but try to think about God and be aware of His presence as much as I can. This is rest for me and so far, I'm rested. One thing I did bring along was a biography on Jonathan Edwards, famous pre-revolution American preacher (among other things). As the theologians Bill and Ted say, he a "famous dead dude" of faith and i'm always inspired when I read of such guys. It's a long book, so I hope I get it done (i read slow and distracted...It took me a half hour to get through the famous "Dick and Jane books" from my childhood. I mean I read "See dick run." And I think "Who's he running from?" "Is he in a fight?" "Is Jane mad at him?" "I wonder if Dick is very fast?" "I see him running, there is a drawing on the page." "He doesn't look that fast to me." "I bet I could beat him up." "Maybe he's running from me." "No, wait, I'm reading this book not chasing Dick." "See Dick run." I think this parenthetical tangent proves my point!)

I must be on vacation!

Oh yeah, one more thing...I sat one table over from Colorado Rockies star first baseman Todd Helton last night at a downtown steak place (Mike Shannon's). Sara wouldn't let me talk to him though he was with his family. I saw him run today too.

Monday, June 1, 2009

profound theology

Let me hit you with some really profound theology (even more profound than the sermon I preached yesterday from Deuteronomy 25:11&12 about a wife seizing her husband's assailant by his private parts :-) Yes all of God's Word does preach!) about sharing your faith. Ready? Here goes some real truth you can take to the bank.

If I'm contagious and I sneeze, but no one is around; they won't get what I've got.
If I'm not contagious and I sneeze all over a bunch of people; they won't get what I don't have.

This is not about swine flu (although it got my brain thinking in this way). This is about sharing the good news of Jesus!

It occurs to me that no matter how contagious I am; if I'm not around people they are not in danger of getting what I have. No matter how spiritual I am. No matter how much I love Jesus and am dedicated to all the "dos'" and "dont's" of the Bible; I will never win anyone to my Lord unless I hang out with people who need to be "infected" with the love of Jesus. Many times, we Christians slip into comfortable Christian lives that do not include neighbors, relatives, co-workers, fellow students, etc... who do not have the truth of the good news of Jesus.

On the other hand, I can be as social as I want to be - literally surrounded by dozens of people in close proximity, but if I'm not contagious then they are not in danger of getting anything. No matter how much i hang out with non-Christians. No matter how many times i invite someone to church, or how many Christian fashion statements I make; I will never win someone to relationship with Christ unless i have a true relationship with Jesus. The reason many of us struggle with witnessing is that we really aren't followers. This means that the unbelievers around us don't see anything different that would cause them to want what we have or worse that they see us as hypocrites for saying we are Christians, but acting like the world.

I guess what I'm saying is get something and then sneeze on as a many people as possible!