Community . . . God's Way
January 14, 2020
And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children. Matthew 14:19-21
A lot of churches and church leaders are doing strategic planning right now. We all enter into a new year (and a new decade) with great hope and excitement for all the new and innovative ministry approaches we will endeavor to take. And we will talk a lot about mission and vision and goals and measurement. In that process, let’s keep some perspective.
Jesus did not take an institutional approach to ministry. He did not survey the neighborhood to determine what the physical needs were then implement a task force to study those needs. Jesus did not plan the infrastructure of an organization that might be able to meet those needs and then go looking for funding for that organization and for the right people to fill the various positions in that organization. Jesus did not do strategic planning to set specific goals and objectives for his ministry over a one-year, five-year and ten-year plan. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do any of those things. It just means we should keep all those things in perspective.
I believe Jesus operated according to God-inspired vision. In the case referenced in Matthew 14 above, I believe Jesus recognized the hunger of the crowd and immediately developed a God-sized vision of what could be…of what should …
December 19, 2019
And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?” Matthew 8:26-27
Have we ever been more starved for peacemakers among us…for those who maintain a non-anxious presence in the midst of these current storms? These are anxious times. You may have noticed. The list of words and phrases that immediately invoke anxiety in our culture is growing: debt, cancer, abortion, immigration, guns, impeachment, republican, democrat, etc. In a world of fear run amok, anxieties are off the charts. At the same time, our common ability to engage in civil discourse seems to grow smaller by the minute. So here is an interesting question: what role is the church to play in such a storm? And by “church”, I mean you and me, individually and corporately, in our respective communities.
In the gospels, we read that the disciples were overcome with their own anxieties in the face of a storm. Jesus was a non-anxious presence in that situation. Jesus’ disappointment with them for their tiny faith is convicting. They seemed to know at least enough to turn to him with their fear, but then they show genuine surprise when he actually resolves the problem for them. In other words, their fear of the storm far outweighed their faith in Jesus. And their words and actions showed their hearts. Do ours? As Christ followers stewarding the gospel message in this broken world, are we the non-anxious presence we should be?
In an outrage culture where we hear only the most extreme voices, does the church really further God’s …
December 05, 2019
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Matthew 4:1
The church in America is in the wilderness. That’s not such a bad place to be. It’s a difficult place, often a painful place, but it’s a place God often leads his people when He has some difficult lessons to teach them or preparations to be made. And the American church certainly has some difficult lessons to learn. Moses learned in the wilderness, as did Elijah. The people of Israel learned in the wilderness. And Jesus went there as well, where he experienced some critical “perspective builders” in the form of temptations. The American church, while in the wilderness, is experiencing temptations as well. That story would go something like this…
The devil said to them, “If you are the Church of God, tell these people to become members.” As bread represents a basic necessity for our body, believers (i.e., members) represent a basic necessity for the Church. It is, in fact, one of the first descriptors most church leaders use in describing their own church. It is one way we measure our effectiveness in mission. We measure every evangelistic outreach this way. In our rush to “success”, the temptation here is to move as many bodies as possible from the “prospect” category to the “member” category as quickly as possible.
The temptation is to use emotional pleas, scare tactics, or other forms of manipulation toward an all-important “decision”. And what the church is left with, especially over the long term, is a membership full of non-committed non-believers. At that point, none of the promises God gives us about His church are any good anymore. This temptation of getting people to check the correct box on our …
October 24, 2019
But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:8-10
Another week and lots of new opportunities to see social media lit up with examples of Christians behaving badly, saying hateful things…about other Christians. You know what’s sad? This blog post can stay up for years and that opening sentence will still be perfectly timely and relevant. Oh, how we make embarrassing choices over and over again. And social media seems perfectly designed to help us shine the brightest of lights on those embarrassing choices. Is it just me, or has social media become the newest highway for our road rage? The temptation to make embarrassing choices is just too great for many of us.
I’ve lost track of how many reality TV shows there are about fashion makeovers. Well, that’s not true. I’m certain I never did have any handle on that count. But you know the formula for them: some unsuspecting soul is suddenly put into what amounts to a fashion intervention by well-meaning friends or family. The fashion “experts” come in and go through the person’s closet and ridicule them for all the horrible fashions represented there. A miraculous transformation ensues, and that person is a new person as a result. May it never happen to you or to me.
But the truth is, we all have worn things in the past which we would be thoroughly embarrassed to wear today (e.g., take a look at the wedding pictures of anyone married in the 70s or 80s). …
October 10, 2019
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 2:8-10I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2-3
The Supreme Court of the United Sates has just begun what promises to be a politically packed new term. At that same time, talks of impeachment proceedings swirl through Congress. These become the on-ramp to what will be a full year of political outrage leading up to the 2020 Presidential election. Oh, the joy that fills our hearts. For “the church”, this is perhaps the perfect time to stop and remind ourselves of Whose we are. As the bride of Christ, we need this reminder about our focus.
In his letter to the Colossians, Paul challenged that church to keep from being swayed by any of the competing ideologies of the culture. Specifically, he was concerned about the secular philosophies of that Greco-Roman culture. He was also concerned about the legalistic approach of the Judaizers. This tiny Colossian church surely felt the pull from each of these competing worldviews. It found itself trying to navigate truth from the middle of two extreme ideologies. If there is something about that “difficult middle” …
September 26, 2019
“…the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col. 1:26-27.
Who doesn’t love a good mystery? Especially one that has been kept hidden for ages and generations and now is finally being disclosed? This word picture from Paul is Indiana Jones-like imagery. Something wonderful and powerful has been hidden away for a long, long time and is now finally unleashed. By the end of this remarkable introduction to his Colossians letter, Paul has us all leaning in, desperate to know what it is.
I believe when God created man (and woman) in His own image, this mystery was more apparent to the angels looking on than to the created man. Being created in God’s image, whatever else that means, surely includes being created with the capacity to be indwelled by God’s own Spirit. Man was created with a void in the shape of God’s spirit; a void that would not be filled on a large scale until a day we know as Pentecost.
Everything changed at Pentecost. The answer to the mystery of what that void was all about was then revealed. For the first time, the Spirit of God completed what was God’s plan from the beginning, to indwell His creation. While we see appearances of His Spirit earlier in His story, temporarily filling individuals for limited purposes. But Pentecost was different. It was a permanent filling of every believer. God, the Spirit…Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Doesn’t this reality change how …
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
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.
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 …
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
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.
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 …
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
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.
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
February 07, 2019
6 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.”7 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.” 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9 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
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 …