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The American Church: Tempted in the Wilderness

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…

temptations

Tempted to Manipulate Numbers

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 …

Christians Behaving Badly

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

Christians behaving badly 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.

Embarrassing Fashion Choices

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). …

Keeping Our Focus in Political Chaos

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 2:8-10

I 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

church and politics 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.

We Are the Colossians

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” …

The Great Mystery of the Ages

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.

Christ in you 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.

Imago Dei – Created in God’s Image

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.

The Hope of Glory is the Hope for Unity

Doesn’t this reality change how …

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 …