Tag Archives: theology

Conformed to this World

Do not be conformed to this world,but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2

protestsIn his letter to the Romans, perhaps the most complete theological treatise we have from the apostle Paul, a veritable high-definition picture of the gospel-centered worldview, when he finally turns the corner from the heavy theology in chapters 1-11 and begins to address the very, very practical question of how, then, we should live, Paul begins that counsel with a simple charge: we should look different from the world. That is his very first word of practical counsel. Be transformed. Be different.

And so, when we (as the church) respond to the world around us exactly like the rest of the world responds, it is safe to say we have failed. None of us want that. We all despise failure. Some of us even have an unhealthy fear of it. So, let’s succeed, shall we? Let’s be transformed! Let’s not look like the rest of the world.

But that is harder than it might seem. Sometimes, we have been IN the world for so long, we do not even realize that we are looking more and more like it. So, here are some reminders. Here are some ways the world behaves to which we, as God’s people, would do well NOT to conform. Spelling them out here, just so we can remember.

1. When the world sees a racially-charged incident brewing in Missouri, it runs to the fight like a bench-clearing brawl in a baseball game. Everyone sees the fight and realizes their “tribe” may be involved (or ought to be involved) and immediately begins seeing the “facts” through the lens of their cause, …

Defiling the Church

Thursday Re-mix:

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom. Daniel 1:8, 20

Daniel was not a dietician.  He was no more prepared to offer a scientific explanation for his food choices than he was prepared to explain the theory of relativity.  All he knew was God’s Word and he was “resolved not to defile himself”, i.e., he was determined not to dirty his hands with the ways of the world.  He knew God’s law.  He trusted it.  And that was enough for him.

dirty handsIn my ministry of consulting with conflicted congregations, I have reached a conclusion about the church: it can be complicated.  This is true because people are complicated and because relationships are messy and the church, after all, is comprised fully of people and relationships.  It is not always easy to find our way forward through those complications.  It may be doctrinal issues or personality issues or governance issues or moral issues.  It may be generational issues or worship style issues or social issues.  Whatever the issues, the way forward can seem almost impossible to find, even for the most brilliant strategist.  I am reminded of that difficulty time and time again.

When we find ourselves in new, unchartered territory (like Daniel), it is always tempting to fall back on conventional wisdom of the world in which we live and work.   We want answers, and sometimes scripture does not offer us quite the full explanation we are hoping for, so we “defile ourselves” (and God’s church) by relying on strategies and processes from the world.

For example, we rely upon Robert’s Rules of Order …

It’s a Relationship, Yes…but Different

Tuesday Re-mix:

When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
    and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin.

 Psalm 32:3-5

Theology is difficult for me. Understanding God is difficult for me as well. I do so much better with stories and metaphors to try to get my mind wrapped around Biblical truth.  Maybe you’re that way too…in fact, maybe we are all that way.  Maybe that is why God gave us His Word in the form of Jesus and in the stories of the Bible rather than in formulas and spreadsheets.  Surely that is why Jesus used stories, similes, and metaphors so much in his own communication.

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The metaphor most of us use to describe our Spiritual pilgrimage, our faith walk, is relationship.  We talk about our relationship with Christ, or with God.  We use little sayings like, “It’s a relationship, not a religion.”  We use that term (that metaphor, if you will), because it best captures what it means to follow Christ.  It is NOT a metaphor Jesus used for ancient times, because it would not have had meaning then.  It is NOT a vocabulary we find anywhere in God’s Word.  But, like the term “mission”, it still has profound meaning to our culture today, and it is a useful way of describing our part in this amazing revolution that is Christianity.

The call to follow Christ is a call to relationship. Yes.  So, why doesn’t that answer all our questions?  Why does that metaphor fall short for …

Focus…Trees: Leadership Focus that Jesus Values

Tuesday Re-mix:

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him,“You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.  Mark 12:32-34

Forest for the treesI believe the church has more than its share of leaders who cannot see the forest for the trees.  They get so distracted by the minutia, the petty, the theological fine points, they lose sight of the main thing.  I suspect you know a leader or two like that.  You may even BE a leader like that…but, if you are, you probably do not know it.  After all, what kind of leader would knowingly be like that?

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law in Jesus’ day were often that way.  They were so distracted by the complexities of their traditions and the fine points of the Mosaic law, they had virtually lost sight of the Spirit behind those laws.  Questions like, “What’s most important?” were particularly troublesome for them.

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to me to be a “big picture” kind of leader…at least in matters of theology.  He always had an eye on the things which matter most, and he had a way of embarrassing the institutional religious thinkers of his day in this regard.  He valued a theology which kept the main thing as the main thing.  I think that is what he saw in this particular teacher of the law in Mark 12.  …

A Spirituality of Fundraising

Tuesday Re-mix –

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

This year has been a huge transitional year for our ministry, Christian Unity Ministries. We will always remember 2013 as the year we transitioned from a small, church consultation ministry operated by Blake and a few of his friends in their spare time to a full-fledged, global non-profit organization with a paid staff and active arms operating in churches and denominational entities all over the world. Last year’s budget: approximately $75,000. The 2013 budget: approximately $350,000. That, my friends, is a God-sized transition!

One of the most painful transitions, it seems, is the one going on in me…the transition toward becoming the visionary leader this new organization now requires. And, just to get very specific here for purposes of this post, I am thinking primarily about the transition into becoming a leader in matters of money and fundraising. Anyone who knows me very well at all, knows that I have simply never been very passionate about fundraising. I have long recognized the eternal truth that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. And so, it has always been easier for me to just avoid talking (or thinking) about money rather than having to delve into any theology concerning …

Discipline for the Disciplinarians

Tuesday Re-mix –

“Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger,
in whose hand is the club of my wrath!”  
Isaiah 10:5

I know I have joked (kind of) in previous posts about how theology watchdogs in the blogosphere (and in the church) are annoying in the same way as that teacher in high school who constantly corrected your grammar while you were trying to talk.  But I also do recognize that God has given us brothers and sisters whose giftedness and very calling is to help us keep our doctrine pure…they are the doctrine disciplinarians, if you will.  You know the ones I mean.  They blog about your favorite pastor, who made a horrendous, unbelievable, heretical, probably-not-saved-if-you-say-this theological error in his sermon last week.  They call him out by name, and the venom with which they attack him is, well, pretty ungodly.  Or they review the most recent book by one of your favorite authors and basically question his very humanity, not to mention his spirituality, because of the position he seems to have taken on this theological issue or on that social issue…again, with uncommon rancor.

[And, as an aside, you know what is one of my pet peeves?  That blogger almost never makes any attempt at all to actually contact that pastor/teacher/author in order to practice this “discipline” or “accountability” Biblically, which pretty quickly gets me wondering whether they are really loving this brother or rather are just a little envious of his acclaim.  But I digress.]

I know that God disciplines us.  And I know that he often uses others to do it.  I am really OK with that.  In fact, it seems like a good plan to me.  I think scripture gives us plenty of examples of God using people to discipline his children.  …

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.…

Truth, Knowledge, and the Arrogance with Which We Hold Them

Tuesday Re-mix – 

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

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.

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 and persuasive abilities in order to carry the day. We act as though it is our responsibility to appear so certain in our beliefs that even the strongest atheist will fall to his knees and surrender to God as a result of our argumentative prowess.

In that instance, then, humility is seen as weakness. Humility does not win arguments, and it does not crush your opponent with unassailable logic. Humility in my understanding …

Let’s Get Over Ourselves

Tuesday Re-mix –

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature
God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature
of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:3-8

Arrogance is just ugly.

Whoever you are and whatever your message may be and however important that message is to me, if you deliver it with arrogance, I will not hear it.  It really is that simple…that cut and dried.  Maybe it is just me, I honestly do not know, but arrogance just so rubs me the wrong way that (despite my best efforts) I simply cannot get past it to hear the message behind it.

My bet with this blog post is that I am not alone in this perspective.

To me, there are just not very many character flaws uglier than arrogance.  I say that with a touch of self-deprecation, because I know with certainty that I am capable of this particular flaw myself.  I really, really hate it when it comes out in me, because I believe it is so very ugly when I see it in anyone else.

The more I read and listen to people outside the church about why they are not interested in being inside the church, when you start cutting through to the essence of their complaints, when you boil them all down, they mostly seem to …

Preaching is Up, So Why Isn’t the Church?

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

My impression is that the church in America is getting LESS Biblically literate, not more. I don’t have any scientific data to support that impression. Maybe the Barna Group or someone like that has researched it. I’m just saying that, when we compare the evangelical church of today to the one that existed 50 or 100 years ago, I have a distinct impression that our understanding of the God of the Bible is not deepening–rather, it is getting shallower. I believe we are becoming a Biblically illiterate church. I would welcome your impression on that issue.

If I am right about that, then here is what is really mind-boggling: I suspect we are graduating more students from our theological institutions than ever before. I mean, I strongly suspect that there are actually more theologians among us today than we have ever had among us at any other time in the history of the church. Moreover, the church in America has groomed and perfected the art of preaching beyond measure. We have truly amazing, gifted teachers and preachers in the American church, and their lessons and sermons have never been more accessible than they are right now. Anytime I desire, I can go on line or tune into the radio and listen to Charles Stanley, Andy Stanley, John Ortberg, John MacArthur, Max Lucado, Chuck Swindoll or any of hundreds of other great preachers. You want choices? The church in America has choices galore!

So here is the critical question: how is that we have so much fantastic preaching and so many really smart theologians in the church today but we are actually less Biblically literate than ever?

Let me add another perspective. …

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