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Jesus is Enough. Mostly.

September 12, 2019

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:15-20

centrality of Christ I had a conversation with a friend today about the place (or not) for marketing principles in the church. Not gonna get into all the various pros and cons in that discussion here. However, I do think there is (at least) one interesting dilemma any marketing professional might face in trying to help a given church with a marketing plan. I am not convinced all of us as church leaders even agree on what, exactly, our product is. That is a sad problem. But it is not a new problem. Paul addressed it in his writing. More than once.

The Colossian Paradox

After a (frankly) gushing introduction in his letter praising the little church at Colossae for its impressive faith and reliance on Jesus, Paul does something interesting: he reminds them of how important Jesus is. It almost feels out of place. He heaps the praises on them. You are faithful! You are on the right track! Being gospel-centered, you are getting it right and we have heard all about your impressive faith in Jesus! And then he launches into …

What Does “Authenticity” Even Mean for the Church?

August 29, 2019

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Colossians 1:3-5

authenticity

Why Authenticity Matters

There is a lot of talk these days about authenticity. According to most “experts”, authenticity is among the very highest values in our culture’s two youngest adult generations. That reality has brought authenticity to center stage in most churches’ efforts to more effectively reach those two generations. All of us, after all, are deeply troubled by the mass exodus by our adult children’s generation from the church. But, while everyone seems to understand how important authenticity is (especially for the church), I wonder how much consensus there is among church leaders about what authenticity even looks like in the church corporately? When it comes to being authentic (as a church), what does the “win” look like? More specifically, are there metrics? Are there particular, measurable characteristics or attitudes in a church that translate into actual authenticity? I believe there are. And, while there are probably many places we could find such descriptions in scripture, the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Colossians is particularly compelling.

Why the Letter to the Colossians is Helpful

Paul wrote his letter to the church in Colossae having never met them. He did not start this particular community of believers and, to our knowledge, did not know them as of the writing of his letter. So, his introductory remarks wherein he found them to be particularly authentically Christ-centered, were grounded strictly on characteristics that were observable and measurable by others. In other words, he was not biased by any personal relationships within that church. For …

Choosing Restoration

February 21, 2019

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”  Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”  Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  

John 21:17

Breakfast with Jesus

I know that John 21 includes more story than just Peter’s, but I believe the entire chapter is all about Peter.  I believe the miraculous catch in the first half of that chapter is still about Peter.  It is important backstory to the moment when he finally got to be reconciled to Christ after his dismal denial a week earlier.  In what surely must have been a state of depression, he had to sit idly by and watch each of the other disciples be utterly transformed before him by the various resurrection experiences.  Each time, he probably muttered to himself, “well isn’t that just great for John…or Thomas…or Mary…but when do I get my opportunity to make it right with Jesus?”

The miraculous catch in John 21 was that opportunity.  Peter leaped from the boat and ran/swam to Jesus as fast as he could!  Jesus was waiting for him.  And Jesus could not have prepared a more perfectly customized restoration process for Peter.  Breakfast on the beach together…eye-to-eye conversation for the first time since that ugly night outside the high priest’s courtyard…three affirmations and exhortations from Jesus…one for each of Peter’s denials.  No doubt, the Peter we see in Acts 4 would NOT have appeared but for this critical restoration in John 21.

Our Calling to Do Likewise

Just a matter of minutes before that Peter’s infamous denials, we see Jesus modeling behaviors for us and saying things like:

“For I have given you an example, that you should also do

The Church and Politics

February 07, 2019

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.”The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.

John 19:6-11a

The Problem(s) with Politics

Let’s just say this right up front: there is a lot to hate about politics. And there is not enough space in this little blog post to cover all the problems. In a world where the ends always justify the means, there are always going to be plenty of bad “means” at the front and center of our attention. In politics, getting into office is the “end” that, in seemingly every winner’s mind, justifies whatever I have to do or say to get there. And, while there may have been a softer, gentler time when winning the election was followed by a season of sincere public service, those times are gone (at least on the national political scene). Today, every election is immediately followed by campaigning for the next election. And that, of course, means bad behavior is justified every day, all day, all year long.

But we have come to expect that much. We jumped on that train a …

Exercise for the Church

January 31, 2019

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

John 14:16-17, 26

Diet & Exercise

No matter how many fads come and go in the personal fitness industry, one reality remains constant…personal fitness always comes down to diet and exercise. Certainly, the kinds of diet and the kinds of exercise come and go. But physical fitness will always be a function of those two things.

When it comes to church health, the same is true. Through every generation and all the variations of worship and programming and metrics, a church’s “fitness” is still–and always will be–a function of diet and exercise. To the church, “diet” is about how it receives, hears, studies, and contemplates the Word of God. “Exercise”, then, is all the ways it mobilizes those scriptural truths. That is, how it becomes “doers” of the Word. But in both cases, diet and exercise, the critical catalyst for the church is God’s Spirit working in and through us.

What We Take for Granted

I often wonder how much we, the church, take for granted the miracle of the manifest presence of God’s Spirit among us. I wonder if we have any idea how amazing and wonderful and, frankly, unimaginable it would have seemed for most of the heroes of the Bible to have God’s very Spirit living within them on a day-in, day-out basis. Even the men sitting with Jesus as he spoke these very words would …

Grace and Truth: The Only Gift the Church has to Offer

November 29, 2018

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth… For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:14, 16-17

“The world can do almost anything as well or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or heal the sick.  There is only one thing the world cannot do.  It cannot offer grace.” Philip Yancey (What’s So Amazing About Grace?) quoting Gordon MacDonald

grace and truth

Batteries Not Included

Gift-giving can be tricky. Over my years of celebrating Christmas with family and purchasing, assembling, prepping and wrapping hundreds of gifts, I have learned some things the hard way. For example: waiting until the wee dark hours of Christmas morning to begin assembling a child’s Christmas gift…NOT A GOOD PLAN. And these lessons come at a cost, both to us and to those for whom the gifts are intended.

For at least an entire adult generation, there are three simple words that, if not heeded, represent a huge failure in Christmas gift giving: “BATTERIES NOT INCLUDED”. Yikes! Those words bring back so many bad feelings! If I don’t see them printed on the box early enough in the whole gift-giving process, they can turn the most awesome gift ever into the biggest disappointment of some child’s season.

The Church has a Gift for the World

I wonder if there is even consensus today about what gift, exactly, the church has to offer the world. It is not just food for the hungry nor shelter for the homeless nor healing for the sick. Those are all just the …

The Weapons of Outrage (and Why They Won’t Work in the Church)

November 15, 2018

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

A Broken Culture

I don’t have to tell you about the ridiculous state of brokenness in our public discourse. The divide between worldviews in our culture grows deeper by the day. The rules of engagement are changing faster than any of us can fully absorb. So are the weapons. Each “side”, in its obsession with destroying the “other side”, gets more and more creative with its narrative. And, to the extent there are any institutions with any integrity left, both sides have gone after them mercilessly in order to coop them for their own political purposes.

The culture wars tainted social media and completely coopted mainstream media. Similarly, well-intentioned non-profit organizations have been turned. Alas, even the church has been twisted, reshaped and weaponized for the battle. The great divide took an untold number of otherwise profound, complicated social problems and sucked them into the fray, reducing them to trite, idealogical soundbites. This pretty much guarantees no real solutions will be forthcoming. That is because problem-solving is no longer the goal. Winning is the goal. No matter the cost.

The Weapons of this War

In this culture of outrage, all problem-solving begins with an underlying assumption that one “side” must win and one must lose. There are no options outside this false duality. That is the war we are fighting. Those are the rules of engagement. The weapons are false narratives, confirmation bias, identity politics, and fear mongering. These are the weapons …

Church Discipline: Finishing What We Start

October 25, 2018

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

triathlon running race

Moments that Test our Motives

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It was a triathlon. It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area. There we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.

I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  Genuinely torn about what I would do, I could quit now and just lie back and relax or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  It was the very kind of moment most endurance races bring: the moment of decision, whether or not to finish what I started. How we respond to those moments …

The Two Kinds of People in Your Church

October 18, 2018

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,  who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

comfort

We all have seasons in our lives when we need a little help. And, given the choice between someone who has already been through my issue versus some spiritual leader who knows nothing about my issue, I’ll take the former every time. If you think about it, it just makes sense.  As you are climbing that mountain, you can listen to the guy on the ground below you who has never been up that mountain or you can listen to the guy above you who has just come up that same climb.  Who would you choose?

God’s community is set up that way.  There are times and circumstances in our lives when we’re the ones who need the help and there are seasons when we make ourselves available to others in a sacrificial way.  Often, those seasons even overlap and we find ourselves in both positions simultaneously.  In the support group arena, it is always a significant moment in the recovery journey when a person stops focusing inwardly and begins to ask how he/she can turn outward and begin to help others on this same journey.

So what does this all mean for you and for your church?  On any given Sunday morning, within your church, you will find two kinds of people: (1) people who are there to be comforted and ministered to, and (2) people who are there to comfort and minister to others.  You may have found that you are capable of being in either group, depending on …

Truth, Knowledge and the Humility with which We Hold Them

October 04, 2018

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12

 

There is so much wrong with our public discourse these days, even among Christians…maybe especially among Christians. The arrogance, the tribalism, and the mere screaming across the cultural divide (as if adding a little outrage to my message will make it more convincing) is just sickening to me. Maybe it is to you as well.

I have no idea what mirrors looked like back when Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth. But I’m certain they weren’t as good then as they are now. I rather suspect that the image in the reflection was pretty poor, maybe like looking at your reflection on the back of a silver spoon. However their mirrors worked then, one thing is clear: Paul is telling us that our state of “knowing” spiritual things is pretty poor on this side of Heaven.

For me, this is a truth which keeps me humble, especially when I am discussing theology or scriptural interpretations or even more general matters of God. Whatever it is I think I know, however certain I think I am, I must hold even that certainty with a healthy dose of humility. And when I lose that humility, I lose my ability to influence those who might disagree with me. By that I mean that any hope of conveying that truth to anyone not already inclined to listen is lost.

I sometimes think that we in the evangelical church have convinced ourselves that our job is to persuade. We act as though the gospel, despite its inherent power, somehow needs our polished communication skills …