Tag Archives: Christianity

Contentment: The Church’s Goliath

And David said, “The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!” 1 Samuel 17:37

David fighting GoliathI have known the story of David and Goliath most of my life. It is possibly one of the most familiar stories in all of scripture. We use it every time we need to illustrate an unlikely hero overcoming impossible odds to defeat a seemingly unstoppable foe. So, as I am studying 1 Samuel 17 this week, thinking about the “foes” whom Christ followers face in our current culture, I am asking myself, “Today, who/what is the church’s Goliath?” The list of possibilities is long. I think I have the winner, but first, here are some things that are NOT our Goliath:

  1. Different worldviews from ours are NOT our Goliath. Whether it is the Muslim world, or atheists, or people who vote differently from you in national elections, our Biblical worldview does not mean our struggle is with these groups. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood…Eph. 6:12;
  2. A culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity is NOT our Goliath. It is a fact: from a global perspective, persecution of Christians is at an all-time high. And, though we in the U.S. would be hard-pressed to call our difficulties “persecution” at this point, we have certainly seen the needle moving in that direction as anti-Christian sentiment seems to grow stronger with each news cycle. Nevertheless, we really must stop acting so shocked and surprised by this.  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first… you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out

The Leader’s Problem with Pretense

Tuesday Re-mix:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  Hebrews 4:15

transparencyMy friend Scott is a gifted teacher.  I remember one of his illustrations using a bunch of unmarked tea bags.  He had everyone pass them around and smell them to see if we could tell what kind of tea each one held.  Then he said something really profound: “Tea bags are a lot like people…you don’t know for sure what’s inside them until you put them in hot water.”  It was a beautiful illustration about integrity and transparency.  Together, those are the currency of leadership in the church.

What was truly transformative about Jesus (and what has been transformative about Christianity for over 2,000 years now) is not the power nor the persuasion nor the perfection of Jesus.  Rather, it was the almost spellbinding “connection” he had with everyone he met.  He connected with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He connected with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  He connected with fishermen and tax collectors and soldiers and prostitutes.  What changed people was his ability to see right into their souls, and at the same time allow them to see right into Him.

That was the founder of this revolution for which you and I are contending.  And we should reflect that same level of transparency and connectability.  It is important to our mission.  In fact, the revolution depends on it.

But in our efforts to work harder to do all the things good Christians should do, and in our efforts to manage our people’s perception of us, we often tend to lose the transparency.  In our churches’ efforts to elevate our leaders …

The Medium is the Message

Tuesday Re-mix:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… Hebrews 1:1-2

God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.  Hebrews 2:4

JesusMarshall McLuhan was the first to coin the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  In his instance, he was referring to the ushering in of the information age (specifically, television) back in 1964.  He noted that television (and other similar media) were more than just conduits of information, they were actually shaping and reshaping the message and were as much a part of the message as the message itself.  I suppose we could make the same observation today about social media.  Twitter and YouTube and SnapChat are literally reshaping how (and what) we communicate.  It just seems that, from time to time, a medium comes along that changes everything we thought we knew about messaging and communication.  When that happens, “the medium becomes the message.”

Never in the history of the world has this notion been truer than with Christianity.  In ancient days, God spoke His message through angels, He spoke His message through the prophets, He spoke His message through the law, and He spoke His message through miraculous signs and wonders.  But never was the message so clear and so divisive and so disturbing as when God spoke His message through  Jesus.  The very embodiment of God, representative of all His glory and power and authority, Jesus is “the Word become flesh.”  He is BOTH the medium AND the message.

For Christ-followers (for His church), we have a contemporary medium through the gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed …

Good-sized Vision v. God-sized Vision

Tuesday Re-mix –

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Acts 1:6

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:8

For both churches and individuals, there is a difference between a good-sized vision and a God-sized vision.  Which do you have?  Great story about this in Acts 1.

I am thinking this had to be a disturbing and frightening scenario for the disciples who, for almost three years, had awakened each morning and simply allowed Jesus to set the agenda for the day.  The only thing he asked of them was that they follow him.  It was an easy arrangement, one that led them through amazing and miraculous moments and obviously changed them forever.  Now, Jesus was leaving them and telling them “you guys take it from here…go and do this ministry!”

“Wait.  What?”

With this, the most significant revolution this world has ever known or will ever know was begun.  The church was born.  Your local body of believers and my local body of believers (and every local church around the world) all call ourselves followers…soldiers in this revolution.  But the question this passage raises in my mind is this: am I an Acts 1:6 follower or an Acts 1:8 follower?  Additionally, which is my church?

These disciples had an impressive vision…one found in scripture and supported by nothing short of a promise from God: they envisioned an Israel no longer under Rome’s thumb nor its puppet governors…an Israel who once again was on top of the world, boasting strength and numbers and the support of the sovereign …

The One Test Your Church Really Must Pass

Tuesday Re-mix –

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand.  And the LORD asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

   “A plumb line,” I replied.

   Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.  Amos 7:7-8

plumblineThere are a lot of ways to measure the “success” of the church today, a lot of standards from which we can draw.  I suppose which standard we use will depend on who we are trying to please at the time.  Whether they will admit it or not, our people most often use their own comfort level as the standard for judging whether or not we are “getting it right”.  Our denominational entities likely would care about our level of “support” for their programs and, more importantly, their budget.  Our communities would measure our effectiveness by how much assistance we offer them.  And you and I?  Oh we probably count noses in gathered worship or baptisms last year or variance from budget or some other such objective, measurable standards.

Please hear me when I say that, as far as I am concerned, all of those standards are fine measurements of some aspect of our effectiveness as a church.  I really have no qualms with any of them.  Each of them, it seems to me, has a right place in our strategic planning and in our “doing church”.  Similarly, I suspect that, during Amos’ time, the people of Israel had some objective, measurable standards for their own version of church and worship and honoring God.  I also suspect that, like the church today, they were knocking it out of the park by some …

Leaders Wobble But They Don’t Fall Down

Tuesday Re-mix –

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

weeble3Is it just me?  Does anybody else read these words from the Apostle Paul and remember those silly Weebles ads about “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down” (with apologies to all my international friends who all think I have finally lost my marbles!)?  Weebles are those cute little Hasbro/Playskool toys with the weighted bottoms so that they literally cannot be knocked over.  They are a near-perfect illustration of this revolution we call Christianity.  No matter what the world tries to do to stamp it out, it just gets back up and keeps growing.

And it is that same “struck-down-but-not-destroyed” spirit which inhabits you and me as church leaders today.  That is the encouraging word here from Paul to us.  We are filled with this same indestructible spirit.  The question is, does it feel like that to you?  And if it does not, how can you recapture it?

It seems clear to me that this spirit of “indestructibility” which Paul talks about in verses 8-9 is very much tied to his “jars of clay” illustration in verse 7.  In other words, it is only when we lose sight of our position as flawed and fragile vessels that we begin to set ourselves up for destruction.  When we, as leaders, begin to believe people’s scouting reports on us as “amazing communicators” or “extraordinary people”, when we begin to see ourselves as being just a little bit better than most of those around us, when we tend to forget that …

Theology as God

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Theology is the science of religion, an intellectual attempt to systematize the consciousness of God. If we take the doctrine of the Trinity (which is a noble attempt of the mind of man to put into a theological formula the Godhead as revealed in the Bible) and say – ‘That is God,’ every other attempt as a statement of the Godhead is met by a sledgehammer blow of finality. My theology has taken the place of God and I have to say, ‘That is blasphemy.’ Theology is second, not first; in its place it is a handmaid of religion, but it becomes a tyrant if put in first place.  The great doctrines of predestination and election are secondary matters; they are attempts at definition, but if we take sides with the theological method we will damn those who differ from us without a minute’s hesitation.  Is there any form of belief which has taken the place of God with me?” Oswald Chambers

My sister married a Lutheran.  Of course, by the time of the wedding, Chad (my brother-in-law) had pretty much convinced most of us that he was OK and that he was not a pagan or anything.  But still, my sister was getting married in a Lutheran church.  It was not a huge thing, but for my very Baptist family, it was also not a completely small thing.  I think it mattered a little to some in the family.

That was a long time ago, but even by then I was already being shaped into a peacemaker…and this peacemaker was a little worried about how my very Baptist and sometimes loud and argumentative family might behave in that Lutheran church.  Oh, I’m not saying I stayed up at night worrying about it.  I’m just saying…I wondered.…

God, Google, and Magic 8 Balls

Tuesday Re-mix – 

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

Do you remember Magic 8 Balls?  I do…that awesome Mattel toy (wow, just the name Mattel conjures up so many exciting feelings for several generations of Americans…Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels, Matchbox cars, and all those games!) that would answer any question you have about anything!  Ask it any “yes” or “no” question and then shake it and, voilà, the answer would magically appear in the little window.  “It is decidedly so”, “signs point to yes”, “Don’t count on it”, “Ask again later”…it was all very simple, really.  We liked that about it.  We got to set the agenda, we got to ask the questions we wanted answered…and if we didn’t like the answer, we could just shake it and ask again!

We’ve grown up now and we no longer rely on Magic 8 Balls to answer all our pressing questions.  We realize, of course, how silly we were when we did that.  Now, we have something much more powerful, something much more completely accurate to answer all our questions.  Now we have the internet.  The process still works the same way, of course, because it is a process we like, one we get to control.  We simply log on and Google whatever our question is and, voilà, the answer magically appears on our screen.  We like getting wisdom that way.  It appeals to us.  We set the agenda, we ask the questions, and we get the answer.  We are powerful.

It is this notion of being in control and powerful, I think, that makes it so difficult for us to embrace the Bible (or a walk with …

Spelling “Success” for the Church

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when men hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man…

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all men speak well of you,
for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-22, 24-26

Even before He started the revolution he called “the church”, Jesus established clearly and often that God would not measure its success in any ways we would like.  According to Jesus, here are some ways NOT to measure success as a church:

1.  Amount of resources. This is not just about financial wealth (though there is that too).  Riches include other resources as well, such as human resources (i.e., gifts, talents, innovation, leadership, etc.).  Be honest, even for the most Spiritual among us, when we see a beautiful young, talented, dynamic family join the church, doesn’t our heart skip a beat or two, thinking about how much “better” our church just became?  But when the homeless person walks in off the street and joins (if we will even permit that to happen), do we feel the same way?  Jesus spoke to this so often, yet we still get trapped by the way the world tends to see things.

2.  Amount of physical needs. Even though my local church may …

The Truth Behind “It is finished.”

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Matthew 6:14-15

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  Ephesians 4:32

This is the time of year when we, as Christ followers, remember the three events which all happened within a few weeks of each other and which changed our world forever: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost.  Within the Christian world, different groups have tended to focus more on one of these events or another.  In my particular flavor of Christianity, we tend to focus more on the resurrection than on the other two; so much so, in fact, that I sometimes lose the practical significance of either the crucifixion or of Pentecost.  This week, as an exercise to help me balance this, I have been thinking a lot about the crucifixion.

In The Gathering this past Sunday, I challenged everyone to consider their daily routine, their life and their world without the crucifixion.  What would it look like?  What would it be like?  It made for some interesting discussion, as we each began to come to grips with what the crucifixion means to us individually.

So, I have also been asking the same question with regard to the entire church.  What does the crucifixion mean for us corporately?  What would “church” look like without it?  For me (so far) the picture is both simple and scary: there would be little forgiveness and there would be little grace.  I believe that because, over and over again, scripture draws a clear and convincing connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of each other.  Don’t …