Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"Sacred Marriage" -- Gary Thomas


I just finished reading a very popular book by Gary Thomas, titled Sacred Marriage. The premise and directive of the book is included in the image on the left: "What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?"


Marriage is so fleeting in our culture. Jamie and I approached our marriage knowing that it was not going to be easy; that we were going to fight and that the "honeymoon" feelings would not be ever-present. We were willing to enter into that covenant/sacrament with that knowledge. Through the reading of this book and the wonderful last few weeks that I have spent with my wife, I am realizing how spiritual marriage is. We often look at the big pictures in marriage and find spirituality - forgiveness after a big fight, praying and reading Scripture together, serving in church together, etc. etc.

But our marriages are spiritual on so many other levels. Serving my wife by putting away the dishes. Putting down the toilet seat. Going to bed when I'm not tired because it's important. Choosing to not be annoyed by minor issues. I have thought of these things as spiritual before, but more in the sense of character formation. By doing them, I am involved in sanctification. But these are spiritual acts/prayers in and of themselves. We are formed more closely to the image of Christ when we live a life for another.

"Sacred Marriage" -- Gary Thomas


I just finished reading a very popular book by Gary Thomas, titled Sacred Marriage. The premise and directive of the book is included in the image on the left: "What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy?"
Marriage is so fleeting in our culture. Jamie and I approached our marriage knowing that it was not going to be easy; that we were going to fight and that the "honeymoon" feelings would not be ever-present. We were willing to enter into that covenant/sacrament with that knowledge. Through the reading of this book and the wonderful last few weeks that I have spent with my wife, I am realizing how spiritual marriage is. We often look at the big pictures in marriage and find spirituality - forgiveness after a big fight, praying and reading Scripture together, serving in church together, etc. etc.
But our marriages are spiritual on so many other levels. Serving my wife by putting away the dishes. Putting down the toilet seat. Going to bed when I'm not tired because it's important. Choosing to not be annoyed by minor issues. I have thought of these things as spiritual before, but more in the sense of character formation. By doing them, I am involved in sanctification. But these are spiritual acts/prayers in and of themselves. We are formed more closely to the image of Christ when we live a life for another.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Capitalism and Christmas

Adam Smith, in 1776, wrote that,

"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."

Think about that quote for awhile:

Keep thinking:

A few more minutes:

OK:


Jamie and I went to Woodfield Mall tonight in Shaumburg, IL to finish our Christmas shopping. I passionately dislike shopping anyway, but was further perturbed by the frenzy of the mall 11 days before Christmas Day (do these people not know that we are only in the third week of Advent). I am not a communist or believe that capitalism is bad, but this time of the year should make any Christians question materialism and the state of mind of his/her peers. Wait, isn't this one of the great things we are to be doing during this period of Advent? "Make straight the way of the Lord!"

Capitalism and Christmas

Adam Smith, in 1776, wrote that,
"It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages."
Think about that quote for awhile:
Keep thinking:
A few more minutes:
OK:
Jamie and I went to Woodfield Mall tonight in Shaumburg, IL to finish our Christmas shopping. I passionately dislike shopping anyway, but was further perturbed by the frenzy of the mall 11 days before Christmas Day (do these people not know that we are only in the third week of Advent). I am not a communist or believe that capitalism is bad, but this time of the year should make any Christians question materialism and the state of mind of his/her peers. Wait, isn't this one of the great things we are to be doing during this period of Advent? "Make straight the way of the Lord!"

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Idol Factories"

If you read my previous post (which was posted a few minutes ago) you were introduced to an article by Paul Waitman Hoon. Early in the same article he makes a reference to the way in which our minds create idols so easily. He describes the mind as an "idol factory" (stolen from Calvin, but referenced).

A few weekends ago, I went to the Festival of Lights downtown Chicago with my wife and some friends of ours from California. While Mickey Mouse was strolling down the street serving as "master of parades" our friend Russ stated that, "Mickey Mouse is no more than a present day idol." I passed this comment off as being comical, but when I think about it, he is absolutely correct.

Our minds are completely prone (thanks sin) to creating idols out of created matter. We worship that which is like us; less than God. And doing so certainly costs us something. It costs us the ability to realize the utter dependence upon God our Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the ever-present Holy Spirit, that is required. Instead we turn to those things that are seemingly more accessible and enjoyable.

It is shocking how our idols do not come solely in the form of material/physical things, but also in the form of our thoughts, aspirations, ideologies, and empiricism. For an idol is anything that we place our trust, hope, or desire in, that is not God. The more I think about Russ's comment, the more I realize that we need to be critical of ourselves in the same manner, asking, and when necessary, willing to label our desires, pursuits, or things what they are, can be, or will become: idols.

Aesthetic Excitement

Monday night we were given the topic for the take home portion of the final exam for our Early and Medieval Christianity class that I am in, and the take home was to be a paper that traced asceticism (positive and negative) throughout the history of the Church. This evening I sat down to begin some very surface level research, and I picked up one of my favorite reference books, Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship, Edited by Dr. Robert Webber. After skimming through the glossary for the topic, I came across the title of an interesting article: "Corruption of Worship by Aestheticism." So, rather than being about asceticism, this blog is going to be about aestheticism.

Paul Waitman Hoon is the author, and in it he contends that many Protestant traditions, following some Puritan tendencies, have made some great mistakes in aesthetics. He makes the statement:
To reject the corruption of aestheticism in worship is not to deny the liturgical function of art...Rightly afraid of aestheticism, free-church Protestantism wrongly feared art. (page 402)
So there are those who rejected it's use completely (failure), but we are currently seeing a failure on the other side of the spectrum. Quoting Chesterton, Hoon says that:
"The God who acts" gives way to the God who smiles. Similarly, the person to whom such aestheticized worship is made to appeal is not the one whose soul needs redemption and whose will needs rescue; rather, it is the aesthetic individual whose sensibilities are to be titillated and whose imagination is to be intrigued. In this respect aestheticism has learned only too well from errors of the past. Persuaded that people are primarily symbolic animals, it addresses them as essentially creature of feeling and imagination. It would engage our senses and shrive us with God's beauty rather than confront our will and search with God's holiness. (page 403)

This article was very thought provoking and is forcing me to think about the space in which I worship on a weekly basis. As leaders in the church we need to constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating the worship space and what we say (or don't say) by including/excluding aesthetic mediums.

"Idol Factories"

If you read my previous post (which was posted a few minutes ago) you were introduced to an article by Paul Waitman Hoon. Early in the same article he makes a reference to the way in which our minds create idols so easily. He describes the mind as an "idol factory" (stolen from Calvin, but referenced).
A few weekends ago, I went to the Festival of Lights downtown Chicago with my wife and some friends of ours from California. While Mickey Mouse was strolling down the street serving as "master of parades" our friend Russ stated that, "Mickey Mouse is no more than a present day idol." I passed this comment off as being comical, but when I think about it, he is absolutely correct.
Our minds are completely prone (thanks sin) to creating idols out of created matter. We worship that which is like us; less than God. And doing so certainly costs us something. It costs us the ability to realize the utter dependence upon God our Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the ever-present Holy Spirit, that is required. Instead we turn to those things that are seemingly more accessible and enjoyable.
It is shocking how our idols do not come solely in the form of material/physical things, but also in the form of our thoughts, aspirations, ideologies, and empiricism. For an idol is anything that we place our trust, hope, or desire in, that is not God. The more I think about Russ's comment, the more I realize that we need to be critical of ourselves in the same manner, asking, and when necessary, willing to label our desires, pursuits, or things what they are, can be, or will become: idols.

Aesthetic Excitement

Monday night we were given the topic for the take home portion of the final exam for our Early and Medieval Christianity class that I am in, and the take home was to be a paper that traced asceticism (positive and negative) throughout the history of the Church. This evening I sat down to begin some very surface level research, and I picked up one of my favorite reference books, Twenty Centuries of Christian Worship, Edited by Dr. Robert Webber. After skimming through the glossary for the topic, I came across the title of an interesting article: "Corruption of Worship by Aestheticism." So, rather than being about asceticism, this blog is going to be about aestheticism.
Paul Waitman Hoon is the author, and in it he contends that many Protestant traditions, following some Puritan tendencies, have made some great mistakes in aesthetics. He makes the statement:
To reject the corruption of aestheticism in worship is not to deny the liturgical function of art...Rightly afraid of aestheticism, free-church Protestantism wrongly feared art. (page 402)
So there are those who rejected it's use completely (failure), but we are currently seeing a failure on the other side of the spectrum. Quoting Chesterton, Hoon says that:
"The God who acts" gives way to the God who smiles. Similarly, the person to whom such aestheticized worship is made to appeal is not the one whose soul needs redemption and whose will needs rescue; rather, it is the aesthetic individual whose sensibilities are to be titillated and whose imagination is to be intrigued. In this respect aestheticism has learned only too well from errors of the past. Persuaded that people are primarily symbolic animals, it addresses them as essentially creature of feeling and imagination. It would engage our senses and shrive us with God's beauty rather than confront our will and search with God's holiness. (page 403)

This article was very thought provoking and is forcing me to think about the space in which I worship on a weekly basis. As leaders in the church we need to constantly be evaluating and re-evaluating the worship space and what we say (or don't say) by including/excluding aesthetic mediums.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving Day, and I am sitting at Starbucks reading and studying as I wait for my wife to get off of work for the day. This Sunday marks one of the greatest periods of time within the Christian calendar: the beginning of Advent. However, before we arrive at the readings and anticipation of the next four weeks, we pause to give thanks to God. Believe it or not (Protestants) there are separate readings that are given for this day specifically; and it is those readings that I am focused on today.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8:7-18. It is here that the author describes the land that YHWH's people will enter into. It is a good land that has potential for great prosperity (water, wheat and barley, fruits and other food, bread in great abundance, raw materials, etc.) This is the land that YHWH is giving to his people. On this day, Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that the American land is similar, at least in potential, to that of the "land flowing with milk and honey." I am trying to be careful as to not make too many parallels that are dangerous (Americans as YHWH's chosen people, settlers serving under the hand of God at the expense of the natives, etc.), but I believe that the American land itself is a geographic place blessed with potential. However, the description of the land constitutes only the first four verses of the reading for the day.

The next eight verses command those who are the benefactors of such great blessing to "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today." Take joy in the land, eat to your full. Multiply the silver and the gold. Build houses and live in them! But DO NOT forget that it was YHWH who brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. Do not be so childish and ignorant as to believe that YOU, by your own might, deeds, or mind have created this good life. "But remember the Lord your God…"

The act of remembering the deeds and promises of the Lord constitute the central acts of his people throughout the story of Scripture. It requires a constant 'looking back' and remembrance to interpret ones' contemporary situation. The reality is that the Israelites never did figure this out and constantly faced the temptation to believe in their own works and abilities.

On this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give thanks to our God for the blessings that are in abundance in the land of America. We are blessed (or cursed) with wealth and power. We are, according to law, free to practice our faith and do good works. There are great strides being made towards reconciliation between races, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are learning to value more greatly values such as equality and freedom.

But we have also constantly make the grave mistake of neglecting the plea that Deuteronomy makes. We have aligned the prosperity and blessings in the country with the works that have been done at the expense of our own energy. The thought runs rampantly that, "we deserve it." The perception of the American Dream is a great example of this: I had nothing, I worked hard, and now I have. It is by my own will power and effort. The prophetic voice of the church is that all belongs to God, and if one has been given much, it is God who deserves the glory and honor.

But those who are blessed with much are also created and required to be good stewards. In fact, this is our basic identity and job description: to be good stewards of creation in obedience to God. May we, on this great day of Thanksgiving, remember the hand of God throughout history and give thanks to him for the blessings that we have received. May we reject the temptation to applaud our own works. May we, with great humility, take joy in this land and time. But may we also, out of loving obedience, be good stewards of the blessings.


 

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

It is Thanksgiving Day, and I am sitting at Starbucks reading and studying as I wait for my wife to get off of work for the day. This Sunday marks one of the greatest periods of time within the Christian calendar: the beginning of Advent. However, before we arrive at the readings and anticipation of the next four weeks, we pause to give thanks to God. Believe it or not (Protestants) there are separate readings that are given for this day specifically; and it is those readings that I am focused on today.

The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8:7-18. It is here that the author describes the land that YHWH's people will enter into. It is a good land that has potential for great prosperity (water, wheat and barley, fruits and other food, bread in great abundance, raw materials, etc.) This is the land that YHWH is giving to his people. On this day, Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that the American land is similar, at least in potential, to that of the "land flowing with milk and honey." I am trying to be careful as to not make too many parallels that are dangerous (Americans as YHWH's chosen people, settlers serving under the hand of God at the expense of the natives, etc.), but I believe that the American land itself is a geographic place blessed with potential. However, the description of the land constitutes only the first four verses of the reading for the day.

The next eight verses command those who are the benefactors of such great blessing to "Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today." Take joy in the land, eat to your full. Multiply the silver and the gold. Build houses and live in them! But DO NOT forget that it was YHWH who brought you out of Egypt and out of slavery. Do not be so childish and ignorant as to believe that YOU, by your own might, deeds, or mind have created this good life. "But remember the Lord your God…"

The act of remembering the deeds and promises of the Lord constitute the central acts of his people throughout the story of Scripture. It requires a constant 'looking back' and remembrance to interpret ones' contemporary situation. The reality is that the Israelites never did figure this out and constantly faced the temptation to believe in their own works and abilities.

On this Thanksgiving, we need to pause and give thanks to our God for the blessings that are in abundance in the land of America. We are blessed (or cursed) with wealth and power. We are, according to law, free to practice our faith and do good works. There are great strides being made towards reconciliation between races, ethnicities, and nationalities. We are learning to value more greatly values such as equality and freedom.

But we have also constantly make the grave mistake of neglecting the plea that Deuteronomy makes. We have aligned the prosperity and blessings in the country with the works that have been done at the expense of our own energy. The thought runs rampantly that, "we deserve it." The perception of the American Dream is a great example of this: I had nothing, I worked hard, and now I have. It is by my own will power and effort. The prophetic voice of the church is that all belongs to God, and if one has been given much, it is God who deserves the glory and honor.

But those who are blessed with much are also created and required to be good stewards. In fact, this is our basic identity and job description: to be good stewards of creation in obedience to God. May we, on this great day of Thanksgiving, remember the hand of God throughout history and give thanks to him for the blessings that we have received. May we reject the temptation to applaud our own works. May we, with great humility, take joy in this land and time. But may we also, out of loving obedience, be good stewards of the blessings.


 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Analysis of First Time Preaching

Well, it is now five days after my first preaching engagement ever. I have sat down to write about the experience on numerous occasions, but have not been able to fully digest those thoughts. I am making another attempt now.

It would be a great lie if I said that it didn't go well. There were, of course, a myriad of things that I wish I had said differently, structure that I wished I had followed more closely, illustrations that I wish I had included, and moments when I wish that I would have paused longer or spoken with more passion and emotion. But there will always be these types of things to work on. That is the nature of being human. That is the result of wanting to challenge oneselve to do better each time.

The greatest fears that I had leading up to the morning were not about content or information, but about the act of preaching themselves. Clarity of voice, speed, pronunciation, structure, flow, etc. And to those great fears I claim with confidence that God was with me. There may be many who disagree, but I was happy with the job that I did in those areas.

It was also encouraging, immediately following the service, when two different people approached me and said that the message really spoke to them. I realize that this may sound small, but when it is your first time, there is a craving to know that someone was impacted by the things you said and the time it took for you to put them together.

It was an important message I believe, and one that we need to continue to not only preach, but live out. The message of the Kingdom of God being for all people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, race, social, or economic status. We are people, and that unites us.

Since Sunday, I have had a shocking and surprising emotion, and that is a desire to preach again. I enjoyed the process of it, even through the stress. I enjoyed being committed to being in and studying the Scritpures. I enjoyed research for the sake of if benefiting others, not just for writing academic papers. I enjoyed discussing the themes and concepts with others. I believe that I was impacted greatly through the process of preparation.

But I also have a desire to preach again; as in the, the actual act of it. I not only felt energy, but I felt that I had/have something to offer. I have a heart for the people in this congregation, and I believe there are many struggles and questions that need to be addressed. I am so thankful for having a pastor and shepherd who is willing to "go alongside" his flock and be a gentle yet confident leader. It is something that I want to be and I want to strive towards. This is such a beautiful church, with beautiful people, and a beautiful example of sanctification at work.

Analysis of First Time Preaching

Well, it is now five days after my first preaching engagement ever. I have sat down to write about the experience on numerous occasions, but have not been able to fully digest those thoughts. I am making another attempt now.
It would be a great lie if I said that it didn't go well. There were, of course, a myriad of things that I wish I had said differently, structure that I wished I had followed more closely, illustrations that I wish I had included, and moments when I wish that I would have paused longer or spoken with more passion and emotion. But there will always be these types of things to work on. That is the nature of being human. That is the result of wanting to challenge oneselve to do better each time.
The greatest fears that I had leading up to the morning were not about content or information, but about the act of preaching themselves. Clarity of voice, speed, pronunciation, structure, flow, etc. And to those great fears I claim with confidence that God was with me. There may be many who disagree, but I was happy with the job that I did in those areas.
It was also encouraging, immediately following the service, when two different people approached me and said that the message really spoke to them. I realize that this may sound small, but when it is your first time, there is a craving to know that someone was impacted by the things you said and the time it took for you to put them together.
It was an important message I believe, and one that we need to continue to not only preach, but live out. The message of the Kingdom of God being for all people, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, race, social, or economic status. We are people, and that unites us.
Since Sunday, I have had a shocking and surprising emotion, and that is a desire to preach again. I enjoyed the process of it, even through the stress. I enjoyed being committed to being in and studying the Scritpures. I enjoyed research for the sake of if benefiting others, not just for writing academic papers. I enjoyed discussing the themes and concepts with others. I believe that I was impacted greatly through the process of preparation.
But I also have a desire to preach again; as in the, the actual act of it. I not only felt energy, but I felt that I had/have something to offer. I have a heart for the people in this congregation, and I believe there are many struggles and questions that need to be addressed. I am so thankful for having a pastor and shepherd who is willing to "go alongside" his flock and be a gentle yet confident leader. It is something that I want to be and I want to strive towards. This is such a beautiful church, with beautiful people, and a beautiful example of sanctification at work.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Denominational Affiliation and Education

On the first class day of every quarter in seminary, each student is asked a set of questions to answer so that those in the class can become better acquainted with one another. These are usually:

  • Name?
  • Degree Pursuing?
  • Biographical history?
  • Plans for the future?
  • Denomination?

The answer to the denomination issue has always been blurry. I grew up Lutheran, my family switched to an Evangelical Free Church when I was in High School, and then I attended a non-denominational church during college. According to doctrine and theology, I have not assented to any one of these denominations beliefs. I have viewed this eclectic background and the experiences at the churches not only as okay, but as beneficial to a seminary degree. The thought was always, "every church has things wrong, so I might as well study the issues without bias."

I am beginning to wonder though how beneficial this stance of neutrality really is. For the fact of the matter remains that I will be leaving the liberal-academic institution within a few years, where I will be serving within the localized church. And this church (wherever it will be) will ascribe to particular doctrines. And those doctrines will be important to people.

I think it is a great privilege of the academic life to use a sifter when interpreting knowledge and information. And the creation and formation of this sifter is, in reality, one of the most significant contributions of the seminary education. It is a tool that we will use for the rest of our lives when we are ministry with real people and real issues.

I would love to do an independent study about denominations, and possibly try to find out doctrinally where I fall. I think it would be important, not to be tied down to a set of beliefs for the sake of a sense of knowing, but to have a base and framework with which to start. And then allow those base beliefs to be challenged or built up even stronger.

Denominational Affiliation and Education

On the first class day of every quarter in seminary, each student is asked a set of questions to answer so that those in the class can become better acquainted with one another. These are usually:

  • Name?
  • Degree Pursuing?
  • Biographical history?
  • Plans for the future?
  • Denomination?

The answer to the denomination issue has always been blurry. I grew up Lutheran, my family switched to an Evangelical Free Church when I was in High School, and then I attended a non-denominational church during college. According to doctrine and theology, I have not assented to any one of these denominations beliefs. I have viewed this eclectic background and the experiences at the churches not only as okay, but as beneficial to a seminary degree. The thought was always, "every church has things wrong, so I might as well study the issues without bias."

I am beginning to wonder though how beneficial this stance of neutrality really is. For the fact of the matter remains that I will be leaving the liberal-academic institution within a few years, where I will be serving within the localized church. And this church (wherever it will be) will ascribe to particular doctrines. And those doctrines will be important to people.

I think it is a great privilege of the academic life to use a sifter when interpreting knowledge and information. And the creation and formation of this sifter is, in reality, one of the most significant contributions of the seminary education. It is a tool that we will use for the rest of our lives when we are ministry with real people and real issues.

I would love to do an independent study about denominations, and possibly try to find out doctrinally where I fall. I think it would be important, not to be tied down to a set of beliefs for the sake of a sense of knowing, but to have a base and framework with which to start. And then allow those base beliefs to be challenged or built up even stronger.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Simeon Stylites

On Monday night, my Early and Medieval Christianity class began talking about monasticism and its rise. I was introduced to a monastic that I had never heard of before, and thought that his story was very interesting. Forgive me for making a grave academic failure, when I add the link to Wikipedia about him. Anyway, if you have time, enjoy reading about Simeon Stylites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

Simeon Stylites

On Monday night, my Early and Medieval Christianity class began talking about monasticism and its rise. I was introduced to a monastic that I had never heard of before, and thought that his story was very interesting. Forgive me for making a grave academic failure, when I add the link to Wikipedia about him. Anyway, if you have time, enjoy reading about Simeon Stylites.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simeon_Stylites

Sunday, November 2, 2008

I Do Believe in Preaching

There has been a significant amount of time between this post and the previous. This is partly due to the busyness of life and the vast amount of writing being undertaken by the demands of an academic degree, but also due to the blurriness of thought and confusion. I find myself today, however, with a plethora of topics to write about.

In talking with family and friends, I described the previous week as one of the most difficult of my life. Yes, the schedule was very busy. Yes, it was midterms and I was forced to study and write. But capping off the busyness and midterms was the cloud of preaching hanging over my head. Next weekend, November 9th, I will be preaching at Elgin Community Church on the passage of Luke 4:14-30. Whereas this may be a routine experience to the veteran preacher, it just so happens that this is my first time.

And the confusion of thought and mind stem not only from rhetorical challenges, but from my own deeper questions of what it means to preach. Do I believe that preaching still plays an important role in our cultural context? Have I been called to the role of preacher? And if so, do I have a relationship with Christ that allows me the privilege of speaking into others' lives? Do I really have anything of value to share with a diverse congregation? Does my young age create a block to large for people to step over?

I have consulted numerous friends and family for wisdom in reference to these questions. And there has been one overarching Truth that I am learning to believe: it is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that speaks through the preacher. It is an absolute reality that I am not equipped, in the proper sense of the word, to deliver the words that people need to hear on my own power and ability. It is expected and realized that I will stumble over thought and speech. It is also expected that the sermon preached will not provide everything to everyone.

But I have become utterly settled on the Truth that where God's Word is preached, souls and lives are changed. I am convinced that on November 9th, from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M., the Holy Spirit will be present not just in our bodies in the collective sense, but specifically in our minds, hearts, thoughts, words, and ears. I am convinced that I have been called to this position, as an Intern Pastor, to obey and glorify God through humble obedience and service.

So with that said, I plead for prayer from those who will read this and care for creation. I ask for prayer first and foremost for my own time to spend in the Word and in prayer. I ask for prayer for the preparational processes of exegesis, outlining, drafting, mapping, and illustrating. But most of all I covet prayers centered on the hearers, visitors and members of the congregation, who meet together in faith. Many who come do not even know why they have come. They have not been trained in ecclesiastical studies, theology, or even social interaction theories. But they have come, as believers, as non-believers, as doubters, and possibly as those who downright reject and refuse the faith. And it is for the body of Christ at Elgin Community Church that I pray specifically for this week. And I believe, with great hope, faith, and expectation, that the Holy Spirit will be present on Sunday to convey and apply the reality of Christ Jesus.

I Do Believe in Preaching

There has been a significant amount of time between this post and the previous. This is partly due to the busyness of life and the vast amount of writing being undertaken by the demands of an academic degree, but also due to the blurriness of thought and confusion. I find myself today, however, with a plethora of topics to write about.

In talking with family and friends, I described the previous week as one of the most difficult of my life. Yes, the schedule was very busy. Yes, it was midterms and I was forced to study and write. But capping off the busyness and midterms was the cloud of preaching hanging over my head. Next weekend, November 9th, I will be preaching at Elgin Community Church on the passage of Luke 4:14-30. Whereas this may be a routine experience to the veteran preacher, it just so happens that this is my first time.

And the confusion of thought and mind stem not only from rhetorical challenges, but from my own deeper questions of what it means to preach. Do I believe that preaching still plays an important role in our cultural context? Have I been called to the role of preacher? And if so, do I have a relationship with Christ that allows me the privilege of speaking into others' lives? Do I really have anything of value to share with a diverse congregation? Does my young age create a block to large for people to step over?

I have consulted numerous friends and family for wisdom in reference to these questions. And there has been one overarching Truth that I am learning to believe: it is God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that speaks through the preacher. It is an absolute reality that I am not equipped, in the proper sense of the word, to deliver the words that people need to hear on my own power and ability. It is expected and realized that I will stumble over thought and speech. It is also expected that the sermon preached will not provide everything to everyone.

But I have become utterly settled on the Truth that where God's Word is preached, souls and lives are changed. I am convinced that on November 9th, from 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 P.M., the Holy Spirit will be present not just in our bodies in the collective sense, but specifically in our minds, hearts, thoughts, words, and ears. I am convinced that I have been called to this position, as an Intern Pastor, to obey and glorify God through humble obedience and service.

So with that said, I plead for prayer from those who will read this and care for creation. I ask for prayer first and foremost for my own time to spend in the Word and in prayer. I ask for prayer for the preparational processes of exegesis, outlining, drafting, mapping, and illustrating. But most of all I covet prayers centered on the hearers, visitors and members of the congregation, who meet together in faith. Many who come do not even know why they have come. They have not been trained in ecclesiastical studies, theology, or even social interaction theories. But they have come, as believers, as non-believers, as doubters, and possibly as those who downright reject and refuse the faith. And it is for the body of Christ at Elgin Community Church that I pray specifically for this week. And I believe, with great hope, faith, and expectation, that the Holy Spirit will be present on Sunday to convey and apply the reality of Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Cardboard Testimonies

A few Sundays ago, our church put aside the regular liturgy to celebrate and challenge one another with/through testimony. The following video is of a small segment of the service that was very powerful. If you are unable to read the writing, I have included it below the video.







Paralyzed by Fear/Boldly proclaiming Christ

Never met my dad and had 18 surgeries/My heavenly Father’s got my back

Depressed from a failed marriage/Peaceful and assured in Jesus

Isolated “Good,” pastor’s Kid/Faith became my own at age 12

Depressed, Burned out, single mom/Depression lifted when I met Jesus

Lonely and hated myself/I know and feel God’s Love

Guilt and shame when I failed/God loves me no matter what

Living for self, sports and parties/Spiritual leader of my family

Burdened with guilt from abuse/Jesus carries my burden

Almost died from alcohol and drugs/called on Christ and he set me free

Lost my dad, rebellious, and lonely/Hopeful and heaven-bound

Bitter and guilty from a sinful past/burdens lifted by accepting Jesus

Unemployed for 2 years/learned god’s provision and power of prayer

Angry, bitter, self-righteous/freed to love humbled by grace

Depressed, suicidal, and addicted to pornography/healed by God’s love

Accepted Jesus at 4, baptized at 8/missionary to my friends

Abandoned by mom at 13/adopted by god and Christian parents at 18

Cardboard Testimonies

A few Sundays ago, our church put aside the regular liturgy to celebrate and challenge one another with/through testimony. The following video is of a small segment of the service that was very powerful. If you are unable to read the writing, I have included it below the video.

Paralyzed by Fear/Boldly proclaiming Christ
Never met my dad and had 18 surgeries/My heavenly Father’s got my back
Depressed from a failed marriage/Peaceful and assured in Jesus
Isolated “Good,” pastor’s Kid/Faith became my own at age 12
Depressed, Burned out, single mom/Depression lifted when I met Jesus
Lonely and hated myself/I know and feel God’s Love
Guilt and shame when I failed/God loves me no matter what
Living for self, sports and parties/Spiritual leader of my family
Burdened with guilt from abuse/Jesus carries my burden
Almost died from alcohol and drugs/called on Christ and he set me free
Lost my dad, rebellious, and lonely/Hopeful and heaven-bound
Bitter and guilty from a sinful past/burdens lifted by accepting Jesus
Unemployed for 2 years/learned god’s provision and power of prayer
Angry, bitter, self-righteous/freed to love humbled by grace
Depressed, suicidal, and addicted to pornography/healed by God’s love
Accepted Jesus at 4, baptized at 8/missionary to my friends
Abandoned by mom at 13/adopted by god and Christian parents at 18

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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Beginning Internship

OK, so today I had my first official internship meeting with my supervisor at Elgin Community Church. It was a wonderful meeting and I feel blessed to dive in more fully and deeply to the existing ministry in the local community. When I came back home, I checked my e-mail first thing, as is my regular process. Adam had sent out a church update announcing the beginning of the internship and encouraged the congregation to refer to me as "Pastor Andy."

Now, this is what I had expected. We had discussed the title, its use, and the importance of its use in the church at an earlier date. It is exciting to know that I have been called by God to join in ministry with the body of Christ in obedience and play in some way and form as a leader. My initial emotional reaction to the title was fear: I am now on a pedestal and I could fail. This is the fear. Even as I write though, my emotions are transforming into excitement. I know that I have been gifted and equipped for this work. I know that the Holy Spirit is alive, active, and powerful in my life. I know that I am a small but important part of the larger body of Christ. It is a great work that God has called pastors to, but no greater than the call to each and every individual. A pedestal, ideologically speaking, does not exist.

The ministry, mission, and vision at Elgin Community Church are exciting. The guidance and leadership under the senior pastor is thoughtful and strong. The obedience is marked with humility. The people work as a family, struggle as a family, take joy as a family, and care as a family. This does not mean that we are a perfect church, but it does mean that we are working and attempting to be obedient to the call to "be a blessing." It was an exciting day.

A Right to Affirm the Creeds

On Monday night I was challenged by a statement that Dr. Blumehoeffer made: "The creeds are more than something you just say: you EARN the right to say them!" The earliest Christian creeds were based on a question and answer form such as, "Do you believe…?" and, "Yes, I believe." These creeds eventually became professions and affirmations. The point of creating such creeds was to differentiate beliefs from those who had "gone out from us," for example the Gnostics and Marcionites. These were not literary tools thrown into the middle of a worship service, but were proclamations and testimonies themselves that proclaimed certain beliefs to be accepted and others to be rejected.

I am interested in this because I was challenged last year when meeting with a pastor in the area about a potential internship (not the one I am at now). The church was interested in beginning a more "contemplative" service to supplement the already existing contemporary service. The discussion eventually turned to elements that would be incorporated into this type of service. Following traditional liturgy, I naturally thought that there would be incorporated into the service a pronouncement of a creed or some other reading that affirms the basic beliefs of the worshipping community. Without trying to sound to insulting, the pastor's response will similar to that of the movie Officespace: "Umm….yeah…about that….we don't use those."

This statement threw me out-of-whack. My defenses shot up, and I was positive that this was the wrong church for me because of that statement. Now looking back, my decision to not intern here would probably be the same, but for different reasons (some the same). Many evangelical-protestant churches fear the use of traditional-liturgical elements because of abuses or inappropriate uses of them (i.e. reading without thought, separation of clergy and laity, making creedal (dogmatic) statements about things that do not require it). But there are many more evangelical-Protestant churches that are in the process of giving life to the creeds in the way that they were originally intended. And when this happens, the Christian community is blessed and acts as a witness to those who have either purposefully gone-away from belief, those who have never heard it, or those who have been agnostic towards it. We have a right and an obligation to state clearly those core doctrines and beliefs that we possess. In a world where truth is either cloudy or rejected all-together, we need to become 'good' at stating the beliefs of the Christian Tradition. Relax, many good creeds have already been written that we can utilize and be blessed through.

Beginning Internship

OK, so today I had my first official internship meeting with my supervisor at Elgin Community Church. It was a wonderful meeting and I feel blessed to dive in more fully and deeply to the existing ministry in the local community. When I came back home, I checked my e-mail first thing, as is my regular process. Adam had sent out a church update announcing the beginning of the internship and encouraged the congregation to refer to me as "Pastor Andy."

Now, this is what I had expected. We had discussed the title, its use, and the importance of its use in the church at an earlier date. It is exciting to know that I have been called by God to join in ministry with the body of Christ in obedience and play in some way and form as a leader. My initial emotional reaction to the title was fear: I am now on a pedestal and I could fail. This is the fear. Even as I write though, my emotions are transforming into excitement. I know that I have been gifted and equipped for this work. I know that the Holy Spirit is alive, active, and powerful in my life. I know that I am a small but important part of the larger body of Christ. It is a great work that God has called pastors to, but no greater than the call to each and every individual. A pedestal, ideologically speaking, does not exist.

The ministry, mission, and vision at Elgin Community Church are exciting. The guidance and leadership under the senior pastor is thoughtful and strong. The obedience is marked with humility. The people work as a family, struggle as a family, take joy as a family, and care as a family. This does not mean that we are a perfect church, but it does mean that we are working and attempting to be obedient to the call to "be a blessing." It was an exciting day.

A Right to Affirm the Creeds

On Monday night I was challenged by a statement that Dr. Blumehoeffer made: "The creeds are more than something you just say: you EARN the right to say them!" The earliest Christian creeds were based on a question and answer form such as, "Do you believe…?" and, "Yes, I believe." These creeds eventually became professions and affirmations. The point of creating such creeds was to differentiate beliefs from those who had "gone out from us," for example the Gnostics and Marcionites. These were not literary tools thrown into the middle of a worship service, but were proclamations and testimonies themselves that proclaimed certain beliefs to be accepted and others to be rejected.

I am interested in this because I was challenged last year when meeting with a pastor in the area about a potential internship (not the one I am at now). The church was interested in beginning a more "contemplative" service to supplement the already existing contemporary service. The discussion eventually turned to elements that would be incorporated into this type of service. Following traditional liturgy, I naturally thought that there would be incorporated into the service a pronouncement of a creed or some other reading that affirms the basic beliefs of the worshipping community. Without trying to sound to insulting, the pastor's response will similar to that of the movie Officespace: "Umm….yeah…about that….we don't use those."

This statement threw me out-of-whack. My defenses shot up, and I was positive that this was the wrong church for me because of that statement. Now looking back, my decision to not intern here would probably be the same, but for different reasons (some the same). Many evangelical-protestant churches fear the use of traditional-liturgical elements because of abuses or inappropriate uses of them (i.e. reading without thought, separation of clergy and laity, making creedal (dogmatic) statements about things that do not require it). But there are many more evangelical-Protestant churches that are in the process of giving life to the creeds in the way that they were originally intended. And when this happens, the Christian community is blessed and acts as a witness to those who have either purposefully gone-away from belief, those who have never heard it, or those who have been agnostic towards it. We have a right and an obligation to state clearly those core doctrines and beliefs that we possess. In a world where truth is either cloudy or rejected all-together, we need to become 'good' at stating the beliefs of the Christian Tradition. Relax, many good creeds have already been written that we can utilize and be blessed through.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Conclusion on Evangelism Study

This morning will be the completion of the series that our church has been doing on evangelism through the book Just Walk Across the Room. As you can tell by the blogs that I have been posting, it has been challenging and rewarding.

Prior to beginning the small group study, Jamie and I were both very worried of and anxious about the material. When I analyze the anxiety, it is clear that the basis is in the realm of reason and rationale rather than experience. My past experience of sharing faith with others in a similar form to that of the material of this study is actually quite positive. Rarely was I turned down and refuted, and rarely (if ever) did I feel inadequate or feel that what I was doing was NOT accomplishing something wonderful! So where does my uneasiness come from?

I have realized that my thoughts of and beliefs in evangelism are opposed to my practiced (or at least do not mimmick one another). In other words, there is discontinuity between what I believe and what I do. I believe that the message that we proclaim as Christians is a message for the world. We join in with the work of God in the Kingdom of God through service and living among people, but it would be utterly ridiculous to deny function of preaching in the Kingdom of God. Sharing the story of God's work in restoring creation and God's work in our own lives is what we need to share. Yet, as I said, the tension rests when trying to take the belief and put it into practice.

The good news is that this tension is being talked about and struggled with. We are struggling not only to interpret proper forms and methods of evangelism, but our belief about it and other corresponding beliefs (salvation, relationships, boundaries, etc.) And if we truly believe that the Holy Spirit is working and active in the entire process, then we can rest assured that the struggle is not worthless and blind, but guided and important.

So as somewhat of a conclusion to this material, I realize that it has truly been a blessing. I have not always agreed with the material, but I have been challenged. I feel a new desire to seek first the Holy Spirit's promptings in the daily activities of my life. I have taken the time to really look at my own story of how God's love, grace, and redemption have changed me and continue to do so. I have met a great mentor who will continue to challenge and encourage me. I am very thankful to have been a part of this church that is willing to struggle with how we best follow our call in obedience to our Loving Father, Saving Son, and Guiding Spirit.

Conclusion on Evangelism Study

This morning will be the completion of the series that our church has been doing on evangelism through the book Just Walk Across the Room. As you can tell by the blogs that I have been posting, it has been challenging and rewarding.

Prior to beginning the small group study, Jamie and I were both very worried of and anxious about the material. When I analyze the anxiety, it is clear that the basis is in the realm of reason and rationale rather than experience. My past experience of sharing faith with others in a similar form to that of the material of this study is actually quite positive. Rarely was I turned down and refuted, and rarely (if ever) did I feel inadequate or feel that what I was doing was NOT accomplishing something wonderful! So where does my uneasiness come from?

I have realized that my thoughts of and beliefs in evangelism are opposed to my practiced (or at least do not mimmick one another). In other words, there is discontinuity between what I believe and what I do. I believe that the message that we proclaim as Christians is a message for the world. We join in with the work of God in the Kingdom of God through service and living among people, but it would be utterly ridiculous to deny function of preaching in the Kingdom of God. Sharing the story of God's work in restoring creation and God's work in our own lives is what we need to share. Yet, as I said, the tension rests when trying to take the belief and put it into practice.

The good news is that this tension is being talked about and struggled with. We are struggling not only to interpret proper forms and methods of evangelism, but our belief about it and other corresponding beliefs (salvation, relationships, boundaries, etc.) And if we truly believe that the Holy Spirit is working and active in the entire process, then we can rest assured that the struggle is not worthless and blind, but guided and important.

So as somewhat of a conclusion to this material, I realize that it has truly been a blessing. I have not always agreed with the material, but I have been challenged. I feel a new desire to seek first the Holy Spirit's promptings in the daily activities of my life. I have taken the time to really look at my own story of how God's love, grace, and redemption have changed me and continue to do so. I have met a great mentor who will continue to challenge and encourage me. I am very thankful to have been a part of this church that is willing to struggle with how we best follow our call in obedience to our Loving Father, Saving Son, and Guiding Spirit.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Global Poverty and Presidential Debates

A close friend sent out an e-mail the other day, with quite a shocking statistic: there have been only two questions pertaining to global poverty in the history of modern presidential debates. The ONE campaign is urging Americans to add their name to a list of people who want Tom Brokaw to ask these candidates what they are thinking. You can add your name by following the link: http://www.one.org/debates/?rc=debatestaf

Global Poverty and Presidential Debates

A close friend sent out an e-mail the other day, with quite a shocking statistic: there have been only two questions pertaining to global poverty in the history of modern presidential debates. The ONE campaign is urging Americans to add their name to a list of people who want Tom Brokaw to ask these candidates what they are thinking. You can add your name by following the link: http://www.one.org/debates/?rc=debatestaf

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Seminary Doubt and Questioning

This weekend I had a very important and beneficial conversation with my parents. After discussing some previous blog posts, our conversation turned to seminary education and the role of interpretation and interacting with difficult questions: questions that deal with creation, inerrancy, rhetorical structure, application, etc.

About a year ago, Jamie and I were enjoying conversation and fellowship with some friends from California who were visiting their parents in Wisconsin. Joining us was another couple from Minnesota. Late at night, after a few drinks, we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with the mother of our California friends. After discussing some pop-theological questions, she chimed in with her own observation: "The only thing that is really important is simple faith." Rollie and I attempted to rebut, but found ourselves at a dead end. Historical evidence didn't matter, Church Fathers' input didn't matter, and scientific evidence didn't matter. To this woman, all that mattered was a childlike faith.

I think that I understood quickly that arguing with this woman was going to lead to no positive agreement or ends. Rollie on the other hand, was heated (although covered well, which I understand). The questions that we were discussing and the answers that were formed as a result, were important. Yes, faith is important; but ignorance and blindly following are horrible ways of approaching faith. The conversation ended up lasting late into the night.

I woke up the next morning with a strange paradox: I loved the questioning and the discussion, but I appreciated the importance and weight that Russ's mother gave to faith. I have struggled with this question since that time last summer.

In bringing this blog back to the previous weekend, I discussed briefly with my parents the importance that I have realized on shredding pre-conceived doctrine (or dogma) in order to defend our childlike faith from its foundation. I have realized after the first year of seminary that we, as Christ-followers, hold to some theories and doctrines that seem utterly ridiculous to the rest of the world. I realize that as a pastor I will be expected to walk alongside parishioners when they encounter these questions as well. My goal is to be able to say that, "you are not the first to think of that." This is the story of Christianity and the creeds. They have been contended over and proven throughout the years, and people have still believed. I believe that my time at seminary is a blessing in that I have not only the time, but the resources (books, professors, community) to struggle with difficult questions. I also believe in the role of the Holy Spirit, who can guide and direct my education and lead me in wisdom to truth through faith.

I end this blog by stating my excitement and joy in people like Russ's mother. She is a woman who believes firmly in the message of the Gospel as the good news to all of creation! Although I would love to stop asking questions and have a childlike faith, I believe that it is necessary to struggle through those questions as a pastor. May God grant strength, wisdom, and discernment to all of those who struggle with questions and doubt as they seek to glorify and honor their Almighty Father, Gracious Son, and Powerful Spirit.

Seminary Doubt and Questioning

This weekend I had a very important and beneficial conversation with my parents. After discussing some previous blog posts, our conversation turned to seminary education and the role of interpretation and interacting with difficult questions: questions that deal with creation, inerrancy, rhetorical structure, application, etc.

About a year ago, Jamie and I were enjoying conversation and fellowship with some friends from California who were visiting their parents in Wisconsin. Joining us was another couple from Minnesota. Late at night, after a few drinks, we found ourselves engaged in a conversation with the mother of our California friends. After discussing some pop-theological questions, she chimed in with her own observation: "The only thing that is really important is simple faith." Rollie and I attempted to rebut, but found ourselves at a dead end. Historical evidence didn't matter, Church Fathers' input didn't matter, and scientific evidence didn't matter. To this woman, all that mattered was a childlike faith.

I think that I understood quickly that arguing with this woman was going to lead to no positive agreement or ends. Rollie on the other hand, was heated (although covered well, which I understand). The questions that we were discussing and the answers that were formed as a result, were important. Yes, faith is important; but ignorance and blindly following are horrible ways of approaching faith. The conversation ended up lasting late into the night.

I woke up the next morning with a strange paradox: I loved the questioning and the discussion, but I appreciated the importance and weight that Russ's mother gave to faith. I have struggled with this question since that time last summer.

In bringing this blog back to the previous weekend, I discussed briefly with my parents the importance that I have realized on shredding pre-conceived doctrine (or dogma) in order to defend our childlike faith from its foundation. I have realized after the first year of seminary that we, as Christ-followers, hold to some theories and doctrines that seem utterly ridiculous to the rest of the world. I realize that as a pastor I will be expected to walk alongside parishioners when they encounter these questions as well. My goal is to be able to say that, "you are not the first to think of that." This is the story of Christianity and the creeds. They have been contended over and proven throughout the years, and people have still believed. I believe that my time at seminary is a blessing in that I have not only the time, but the resources (books, professors, community) to struggle with difficult questions. I also believe in the role of the Holy Spirit, who can guide and direct my education and lead me in wisdom to truth through faith.

I end this blog by stating my excitement and joy in people like Russ's mother. She is a woman who believes firmly in the message of the Gospel as the good news to all of creation! Although I would love to stop asking questions and have a childlike faith, I believe that it is necessary to struggle through those questions as a pastor. May God grant strength, wisdom, and discernment to all of those who struggle with questions and doubt as they seek to glorify and honor their Almighty Father, Gracious Son, and Powerful Spirit.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Story

One of the first major papers that I had to write for my seminary education was for a class on the Foundations of Worship, taught by Dr. Sam Hamstra. For this paper I chose to study Dr. Robert Webber's writings, focusing on the weight that Webber gives to the preaching and experience of narrative. This narrative can be individual, but when we join together as a corporate congregation we come to tell and retell the story of creation, fall, redemption, and recreation. This is the great narrative not only of me as an individual, but that of all creation as a sum. My story matters; but the story of God and his people is bigger than me and my eternity.

I realize how much I still struggle with much of this theology and its implications. This evening, we had small group again, where we discussed practical means of evangelism. We were taught how to use the "bridge illustration," the "moral ladder," and the "Do vs. Don't." I was very uncomfortable throughout the reading of these chapters, and even in the small group tonight. When we sit down and try to get friends, family, or new acquaintances to believe this simple pattern or formula, are we presenting the entire gospel? I am, in all honesty, an absolute beginner in theology, philosophy, sociology, and any other 'ology' that there is. My uneasiness with all of this is not because of epistemological insight or discovery, but because of a deep fear of turning evangelism into something other than relationship. I fumble horribly through my words when trying to put voice to feelings that I have not even had for more than a few years.

I think of times that I have shared with friends and others of the love that I believe in and have felt from God and from God's faithful followers, and realize that people my age care deeply about story and acceptance (tolerance). My experience with the bridge is not story but math. A + B = C.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Ecclesiology and Evangelism

Most recently I have been thinking about the link between our ecclesiastical beliefs and methods of evangelism. Whether the reason for such thought is the reading of Hirsch and Frost, or our small group material Just Walk Across the Room, or small group discussion, or deep discussions with my wife about the anxieties that we both have toward certain mediums of evangelism, I don't know. But the reality is that I cannot get this topic off of my mind.

I have come to realize and question how closely tied together our ecclesiology and our perception of evangelism is. For years (Hirsch and Frost contend since Constantine), Christendom has been not only accepted as a viable religious stance and belief, but it can actually be attractive. Therefore, we approach evangelism as something that gets people to come to our beliefs, our rituals, and our customs. We want to verify our beliefs by the continual growth of our church populations. We believe and teach that that surveys and "sinner's prayers" afford the most accurate and honest exclamations of beliefs (both objective and subjective).

In the past few days I have questioned this mentality. Christ walked among, taught, healed, and loved those whom the religious sects rejected. The story presented in our accepted canon continually tells of covenant, exile, and restoration. God's covenant people, the faithful, "born-again Christians," all claim that they are following a leader who resides above earthly institutions. When the institution of church was made acceptable (Constantine), was the message, the good news of the Kingdom of God, made too easy to follow?

My question, concern, and excitement lies in the perception of many contemporary scholars that we are now entering into a post-Christendom society and mentality. No longer is a claim to absolute Truth accepted. No longer will we draw people to our churches through intellectual argument. Although we have a long history with the practice of spirituality that so many in today's world desire, we do not have a monopoly. The vast presence of New Age spirituality and Eastern spirituality in Western cultures illustrates this clearly. Although we can claim to provide care for the poor, we have seen countless other agencies, political organizations, and social/economic entrepreneurs desiring and providing seemingly identical care and concern (if not even more). Although we say that life has purpose, so do numerous other worldviews and eclectic religions. What we do offer is a message of salvation, not through power and control, but through love and service. We have a message that claims a God (as do many religions) who cares about creation (in contrast to Deists) who took a step (Incarnation) to begin a process of restoration. This is how our message differs from that of the world. We can truly begin to understand evangelism as a "living among" and "loving among" people. We can share our faith experiences. We can share the hope that we have through the message that we have come to understand and rely upon by faith. Our message is not judgmental. It is not condemning. It is not forceful or demanding. It is welcoming. It loves. It is gentle yet filled with truth. We believe that our message has been revealed through more than just psychosis of the mind (as current popular writers might suggest, i.e. Christopher Hitchens), or psychological needs (Freud, Jung, etc.). We believe that we have come to this great believe in a God who loves his creation, through corporate and individual revelation through Scripture, through Reason, through Experience, and through Tradition. And we believe this message through faith.

It is encouraging and exciting to look to the future of our churches. In my own experience, I participate in a church that is beginning to grasp this concept of missional evangelism. A type of evangelism that wants to see people in its buildings, but more than anything wants to see its members in people's homes. That desires to see people worshipping, but desires to see families come to realize God's glory in everyday life, and not just through the institutional church. That wants to be resourced and funded, but done so through an act of worship and offering to God, given for the greater work of joining in with the mission of God in this world. It is a beautiful time to be a student and minister of God's work and words. I pray continually for guidance, for faithful and God loving/fearing mentors, and for an open ear to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in ministry and evangelism.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Ecclesiology and Evangelism

Most recently I have been thinking about the link between our ecclesiastical beliefs and methods of evangelism. Whether the reason for such thought is the reading of Hirsch and Frost, or our small group material Just Walk Across the Room, or small group discussion, or deep discussions with my wife about the anxieties that we both have toward certain mediums of evangelism, I don't know. But the reality is that I cannot get this topic off of my mind.

I have come to realize and question how closely tied together our ecclesiology and our perception of evangelism is. For years (Hirsch and Frost contend since Constantine), Christendom has been not only accepted as a viable religious stance and belief, but it can actually be attractive. Therefore, we approach evangelism as something that gets people to come to our beliefs, our rituals, and our customs. We want to verify our beliefs by the continual growth of our church populations. We believe and teach that that surveys and "sinner's prayers" afford the most accurate and honest exclamations of beliefs (both objective and subjective).

In the past few days I have questioned this mentality. Christ walked among, taught, healed, and loved those whom the religious sects rejected. The story presented in our accepted canon continually tells of covenant, exile, and restoration. God's covenant people, the faithful, "born-again Christians," all claim that they are following a leader who resides above earthly institutions. When the institution of church was made acceptable (Constantine), was the message, the good news of the Kingdom of God, made too easy to follow?

My question, concern, and excitement lies in the perception of many contemporary scholars that we are now entering into a post-Christendom society and mentality. No longer is a claim to absolute Truth accepted. No longer will we draw people to our churches through intellectual argument. Although we have a long history with the practice of spirituality that so many in today's world desire, we do not have a monopoly. The vast presence of New Age spirituality and Eastern spirituality in Western cultures illustrates this clearly. Although we can claim to provide care for the poor, we have seen countless other agencies, political organizations, and social/economic entrepreneurs desiring and providing seemingly identical care and concern (if not even more). Although we say that life has purpose, so do numerous other worldviews and eclectic religions. What we do offer is a message of salvation, not through power and control, but through love and service. We have a message that claims a God (as do many religions) who cares about creation (in contrast to Deists) who took a step (Incarnation) to begin a process of restoration. This is how our message differs from that of the world. We can truly begin to understand evangelism as a "living among" and "loving among" people. We can share our faith experiences. We can share the hope that we have through the message that we have come to understand and rely upon by faith. Our message is not judgmental. It is not condemning. It is not forceful or demanding. It is welcoming. It loves. It is gentle yet filled with truth. We believe that our message has been revealed through more than just psychosis of the mind (as current popular writers might suggest, i.e. Christopher Hitchens), or psychological needs (Freud, Jung, etc.). We believe that we have come to this great believe in a God who loves his creation, through corporate and individual revelation through Scripture, through Reason, through Experience, and through Tradition. And we believe this message through faith.

It is encouraging and exciting to look to the future of our churches. In my own experience, I participate in a church that is beginning to grasp this concept of missional evangelism. A type of evangelism that wants to see people in its buildings, but more than anything wants to see its members in people's homes. That desires to see people worshipping, but desires to see families come to realize God's glory in everyday life, and not just through the institutional church. That wants to be resourced and funded, but done so through an act of worship and offering to God, given for the greater work of joining in with the mission of God in this world. It is a beautiful time to be a student and minister of God's work and words. I pray continually for guidance, for faithful and God loving/fearing mentors, and for an open ear to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in ministry and evangelism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Man Who Listens to Horses and Evangelism

Some (or most) of you may already be familiar with the book called the Man Who Listens to Horses (roughly turned into the film The Horse Whisperer). Although I have not read the book, Frost and Hirsch reference it beautifully in the sixth chapter of The Shaping of Things to Come. It tells of the main character, Monty Roberts, who strays from the traditional method of taming horses because of the unnecessary cruelty shown. He comes to realize that horses have a need to be in contact with others, whether other horses or humans, so much so that they will change their "animal" nature in order to be in contact. Roberts discovers that if he enters a corral but stays as far away from the horse as possible, never making eye contact, the horse will give in, leaving aside it's instincts. Frost quotes Monty Roberts saying, "These animals need contact with others so much, they would rather befriend their enemy than be left alone" (pg. 98).

Frost and Hirsch use this story to illustrate evangelism in a post-Christendom arena. What was seen as the best method for taming horses in the past has been proven to being outdated and something else can replace it. They go on to say that evangelism during Christendom has been characterized by in and out groups, by tracks and surveys, and propositional teaching demanding response. The methods include making non-Christians to realize their brokenness, to crush their spirits, "to tear them down and bring them to their knees" (pg. 98) They contend that post-Christendom evangelism may need to look for other means by which to evangelize. They say that "It's time for us to develop a spirituality of engagement with not-yet-Christians. That will involve true listening and genuine presence" (pg. 98).

Evangelism is weighing heavily on my mind and heart during this time. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Jamie and I have started a new small group that discusses a method of "Just Walking Across the Room." This story of the Man Who Listens offered a good and helpful side tool when thinking about challenging the system(s) that we have become so uncomfortable with.

The Man Who Listens to Horses and Evangelism

Some (or most) of you may already be familiar with the book called the Man Who Listens to Horses (roughly turned into the film The Horse Whisperer). Although I have not read the book, Frost and Hirsch reference it beautifully in the sixth chapter of The Shaping of Things to Come. It tells of the main character, Monty Roberts, who strays from the traditional method of taming horses because of the unnecessary cruelty shown. He comes to realize that horses have a need to be in contact with others, whether other horses or humans, so much so that they will change their "animal" nature in order to be in contact. Roberts discovers that if he enters a corral but stays as far away from the horse as possible, never making eye contact, the horse will give in, leaving aside it's instincts. Frost quotes Monty Roberts saying, "These animals need contact with others so much, they would rather befriend their enemy than be left alone" (pg. 98).

Frost and Hirsch use this story to illustrate evangelism in a post-Christendom arena. What was seen as the best method for taming horses in the past has been proven to being outdated and something else can replace it. They go on to say that evangelism during Christendom has been characterized by in and out groups, by tracks and surveys, and propositional teaching demanding response. The methods include making non-Christians to realize their brokenness, to crush their spirits, "to tear them down and bring them to their knees" (pg. 98) They contend that post-Christendom evangelism may need to look for other means by which to evangelize. They say that "It's time for us to develop a spirituality of engagement with not-yet-Christians. That will involve true listening and genuine presence" (pg. 98).

Evangelism is weighing heavily on my mind and heart during this time. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Jamie and I have started a new small group that discusses a method of "Just Walking Across the Room." This story of the Man Who Listens offered a good and helpful side tool when thinking about challenging the system(s) that we have become so uncomfortable with.

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VA Drummer - Mario

If you have not been introduced to VA Drummer, let me be the one to do so.






VA Drummer - Mario

If you have not been introduced to VA Drummer, let me be the one to do so.


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Monday, September 15, 2008

Evangelistic Tools – A Missional Perspective

A few days ago I posted a new blog describing the impact a new small group was having on my views of evangelism (click here). In it I mentioned that the gospel message is received differently by people depending on their own circumstances. David Fitch recently submitted an article for Christian Today (click here) that begins a discussion as to what evangelistic tools might look like for a missional church.

First, such an evangelistic tool must lead the new believer in the back-and-forth motion between the bigness of God's salvation for the world and what he wants to do "for us": forgive our sins and shape us in the image of his Son. In other words, such a tool should begin with 2 Corinthians 5:19 ("that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them"), move to the personal John 3:16, and go back again. This tool must in effect allow the busy suburban family person to catch a glimpse of the world he or she is not seeing, instead of first appealing to the all-too-familiar "need." Like a mind-bender movie that helps us see reality in a different way, such a tool would unfold the big picture of God's "reconciling the world to himself." This sets the stage that makes possible the words, "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Such a tool will prepare us to offer a glimpse of a new world order when everything else has become cloudy and dark. It will be composed of stories and pictures, both scriptural and personal.

Second, this evangelistic tool must function from within the context of the community's life, because it is only here that the words and pictures we share take on flesh and make sense. In post-Christendom settings in which people have no language to comprehend the gospel, an evangelistic tool can make the gospel seem like another lofty idea for achieving a better life. The gospel therefore should not be separated from real lives engaged in living the mission. It is the community that translates the mission of God, through tiny acts of loving one another and the world around us. The community becomes a necessary part of "the bridge."

Evangelistic Tools – A Missional Perspective

A few days ago I posted a new blog describing the impact a new small group was having on my views of evangelism (click here). In it I mentioned that the gospel message is received differently by people depending on their own circumstances. David Fitch recently submitted an article for Christian Today (click here) that begins a discussion as to what evangelistic tools might look like for a missional church.

First, such an evangelistic tool must lead the new believer in the back-and-forth motion between the bigness of God's salvation for the world and what he wants to do "for us": forgive our sins and shape us in the image of his Son. In other words, such a tool should begin with 2 Corinthians 5:19 ("that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them"), move to the personal John 3:16, and go back again. This tool must in effect allow the busy suburban family person to catch a glimpse of the world he or she is not seeing, instead of first appealing to the all-too-familiar "need." Like a mind-bender movie that helps us see reality in a different way, such a tool would unfold the big picture of God's "reconciling the world to himself." This sets the stage that makes possible the words, "whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Such a tool will prepare us to offer a glimpse of a new world order when everything else has become cloudy and dark. It will be composed of stories and pictures, both scriptural and personal.

Second, this evangelistic tool must function from within the context of the community's life, because it is only here that the words and pictures we share take on flesh and make sense. In post-Christendom settings in which people have no language to comprehend the gospel, an evangelistic tool can make the gospel seem like another lofty idea for achieving a better life. The gospel therefore should not be separated from real lives engaged in living the mission. It is the community that translates the mission of God, through tiny acts of loving one another and the world around us. The community becomes a necessary part of "the bridge."

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s Definition of Church



A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Adam Hultstrand who will be fulfilling the role of mentor and supervisor for my upcoming internship at Elgin Community Church. After discussing potential responsibilities, duties, and goals for the upcoming year, he recommended a few books that I should be reading to prepare for ministering in a local-community-church. One of these books is by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch entitled, The Shape of Things to Come. I just finished reading the fifth chapter which addresses the issue of the contextualization of the church. This topic has produced a roller coaster of beliefs in these last years of my life: If the church is the body of believers, then is any gathered group of believers a church? Is it not the four-fold pattern of worship that designates the church as church? Isn't a church a church when the people live together in intentional community, such as the Simple Way or Reeba Community?

Frost and Hirsch offer the following criteria to designate a gathering a Christian church. First, the gatherings of believers are concerned with commission. Commission is broken down to these two authors as serving/giving and Gospel telling/sharing. Secondly, it is concerned with communion. This communion is in relationship with Christ through God's word and worship, enacted through a response to God. And finally, they are concerned with community. Community here means being in relationship with another through learning, fellowship, and friendship.

I believe that these two authors are accurate in their analysis that much of the failure of the modern-Christian churches in Western America and Western Europe revolve around an obsessive emphasis on one of these areas while neglecting the others. So to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph, yes, a gathering of professing Christians is a church when they acknowledge and practice their commission, communion, and community (It is important to note that Frost and Hirsch see longevity as important an important criteria as well. A gathering for a day may be a good Christian meeting, but it does not meet the community aspect of church). The four-fold pattern of worship (Gather, Word, Eucharist, Sending) is a very important and even necessary aspect of the church, but if the Sending does not evoke a greater awareness of the commission and the Gathering does not pronounce the community, then the church is not functioning as a church. And yes, intentional community can be a church, if they maintain a practice and awareness of communion and commission.

Looking at church in this light opens up creativity and expands the boundaries to what can be considered church, but offers measurable and solid guidelines to critique and confront those that are claiming to be the church while neglecting some very essential aspects. I hope that in the next few days I will have the time and energy to filter Elgin Community Church and its practices through these three criteria.

Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch’s Definition of Church


A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to meet with Pastor Adam Hultstrand who will be fulfilling the role of mentor and supervisor for my upcoming internship at Elgin Community Church. After discussing potential responsibilities, duties, and goals for the upcoming year, he recommended a few books that I should be reading to prepare for ministering in a local-community-church. One of these books is by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch entitled, The Shape of Things to Come. I just finished reading the fifth chapter which addresses the issue of the contextualization of the church. This topic has produced a roller coaster of beliefs in these last years of my life: If the church is the body of believers, then is any gathered group of believers a church? Is it not the four-fold pattern of worship that designates the church as church? Isn't a church a church when the people live together in intentional community, such as the Simple Way or Reeba Community?

Frost and Hirsch offer the following criteria to designate a gathering a Christian church. First, the gatherings of believers are concerned with commission. Commission is broken down to these two authors as serving/giving and Gospel telling/sharing. Secondly, it is concerned with communion. This communion is in relationship with Christ through God's word and worship, enacted through a response to God. And finally, they are concerned with community. Community here means being in relationship with another through learning, fellowship, and friendship.

I believe that these two authors are accurate in their analysis that much of the failure of the modern-Christian churches in Western America and Western Europe revolve around an obsessive emphasis on one of these areas while neglecting the others. So to answer the questions posed in the first paragraph, yes, a gathering of professing Christians is a church when they acknowledge and practice their commission, communion, and community (It is important to note that Frost and Hirsch see longevity as important an important criteria as well. A gathering for a day may be a good Christian meeting, but it does not meet the community aspect of church). The four-fold pattern of worship (Gather, Word, Eucharist, Sending) is a very important and even necessary aspect of the church, but if the Sending does not evoke a greater awareness of the commission and the Gathering does not pronounce the community, then the church is not functioning as a church. And yes, intentional community can be a church, if they maintain a practice and awareness of communion and commission.

Looking at church in this light opens up creativity and expands the boundaries to what can be considered church, but offers measurable and solid guidelines to critique and confront those that are claiming to be the church while neglecting some very essential aspects. I hope that in the next few days I will have the time and energy to filter Elgin Community Church and its practices through these three criteria.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Good News and Evangelism

I was blessed this evening at small group after hearing from one another how the gospel and the reality of the Kingdom impacts and forms the body of Christ, individually and corporately, on this journey of sanctification. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them" (Mt. 11:1).

To all listed in Matthew 11 the gospel was understood in a different way; to all it was good news. The same is true for us today. We are all impacted by the reality of the gospel, and not always in the same way or to the same degree. For the drug addict, it is freedom from captivity. For the fatherless, it is the adoption into a family. To those who can see no purpose in life, the gospel offers hope. The gospel message is substantive and complete. But our limited experiences and capabilities only allow us to experience a select few of these truths. Therefore, testimony and evangelism cannot be made into a stencil or formula. Yes, there is a corporate aspect to the gospel. In fact, the redemption and re-creation is one of the major themes and some of the best news of the gospel. But the good news of the Kingdom of God also impacts believers on an individual level. And when we share those testimonies, others are blessed. Help us, oh God, to share the good news of our realization of the Kingdom of God!

The Good News and Evangelism

I was blessed this evening at small group after hearing from one another how the gospel and the reality of the Kingdom impacts and forms the body of Christ, individually and corporately, on this journey of sanctification. "The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them" (Mt. 11:1).

To all listed in Matthew 11 the gospel was understood in a different way; to all it was good news. The same is true for us today. We are all impacted by the reality of the gospel, and not always in the same way or to the same degree. For the drug addict, it is freedom from captivity. For the fatherless, it is the adoption into a family. To those who can see no purpose in life, the gospel offers hope. The gospel message is substantive and complete. But our limited experiences and capabilities only allow us to experience a select few of these truths. Therefore, testimony and evangelism cannot be made into a stencil or formula. Yes, there is a corporate aspect to the gospel. In fact, the redemption and re-creation is one of the major themes and some of the best news of the gospel. But the good news of the Kingdom of God also impacts believers on an individual level. And when we share those testimonies, others are blessed. Help us, oh God, to share the good news of our realization of the Kingdom of God!