Feb 28, 2008


Lately, my two-year-old son has been seeing monsters.

His three older sisters never saw monsters, but Kaleb is convinced that they are around and they are waiting to hurt him. Kaleb is deathly afraid of the dark, around corners, and particularly closets. Apparently that is where monsters hide before they jump their little boy victims.

I've tried to reason with him by showing and telling him that there are no such things as monsters. And every time he seems okay with the idea that there are no monsters, until he's left by himself or when he has to enter a dark room. He's convinced that they are lurking in the darkness ready to jump him.

So the other day, when Kaleb told me that there was a monster in my room who wanted to hurt him, I asked Kaleb to stand by the door while I walked into the room and declared, "Listen all monsters in the room, and all monsters around the house who has any intention to hurt my little boy. I am the daddy of Kaleb and if you want to hurt or scare Kaleb, I command you to come on out and show yourself. If you are going to get to Kaleb, you are going to have to first go through me. Come out!"

Not one monster showed up. We just stood there in a room. I took Kaleb in my arms and asked him, "Are there any monsters in this house who wants to hurt you? Those monsters are more afraid of daddy than you are of them. No monster will come out to hurt you because they know that they will first have to deal with daddy."

Well, it's been a day and so far, the monsters haven't returned.

I guess monsters are really more afraid of our Daddy, than we are of them.

Feb 27, 2008

When Jesus Came Alive

The Lenten reading for today is Luke 22:66-71. This is the account of the trial Jesus endured under the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.

The question we were asked to reflect on is, "What was it about Jesus that so upset the religious leaders?"

The religious leaders were upset with Jesus' assertion that He was the Son of God. It's one thing to say that you're a good teacher, or a good moral guide, but to declare that you are the Son of God, that's a whole other thing.

And when you look at why people reject Jesus today, it's not that much different. People have no issues with Jesus being a great teacher and a moral guide. What people do have issues is Jesus as God. Because once you say that Jesus is God, then you have to obey, you have to change your way of thinking to God's way.

The application question today is, "What convinced me that Jesus is who He claims to be?"

That one is easy. I grew up in a Christian home. My dad was a pastor of a large congregation. I had heard all the Bible stories and knew most of them by heart. But I hated the church and I didn't care too much about God. It seemed that all that the church was about was a bunch of do do's. Do this, do that. Don't do this, and don't do that.

Up to that point in my life, I had never met a "cool" Christian, until I met a Young Life Leader named Pastor Mark. All the Christians I knew were a bunch of out of shape nerds. I thought that was one of the criteria to be a Christian - you had to be a nerd and you couldn't be cool, you couldn't have fun, etc.

Meeting Pastor Mark changed all that. He was cool and he was a Christian! I had never met anyone like that before. For some reason, he took a liking to me and took me under his wings. He picked me up on Saturday mornings to take me out to breakfast, knowing that most Saturdays I'd be hung over. But it was through him I came to understand that God loved me and all the Bible stories came alive for me through him. For the first time I came to see that God loved me - the drinking, partying, nasty, selfish me, and not the perfect me. That blew me away! I couldn't believe that God could love someone like me. And yet that was the truth - and it blew me away.

The truth of Jesus Christ came alive for me when I saw the truth of Jesus Christ being lived out in a genuine Christ-follower's life. And I pray that that's who I can be to others.

Feb 26, 2008

Suffering and Joy

We don't like suffering.

We don't like to think about it, we don't like having to look at creatures and people suffering, we don't like going through suffering.

When we think about our optimal life, suffering is about as far as you can get from a life of joy and happiness. As far as most of us are concerned, suffering is the antithesis to joy.

And yet, the Bible tells us something very different about suffering. The Bible tells us that the pathway to joy is paved through suffering.
  • 1 Peter 4:12-13 "Do not be surprised at the painful trail you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Jesus Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."
  • 1 John 3:13 "Do not be surprised my brothers, if the world hates you."
  • Romans 5:3-5 "Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that our suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts."
  • 2 Timothy 1:8 "But join with me in suffering for the gospel."
This shouldn't surprise us because our joy of eternal life was purchased through the cross, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And our experience in life teaches us the same lesson. For instance, take health. In order to be healthy, we need regular exercise, diet, and discipline. And each of these things are painful. I've just recently started working out again in the gym. I can testify, working out hurts. I've recently been on a low carb diet because my sugar levels were too high. Did you know lettuce has carbs? It was excruciatingly painful to find foods without carbs.

And should we avoid the suffering of these pains because we think joy is the opposite of pain, the result is a greater pain of disease in the body.

Because we have believed the lie that joy and happiness can be achieved without suffering, at the first sign of difficulty in marriage, our jobs, family, church, spirituality, we want to run away. But it's precisely by going through the pain of working those issues out that we develop greater health.

I know it is counter-intuitive, but if we want joy, the road to joy is paved through suffering.

Feb 22, 2008

Not Even One

Today's lenten study reading was John 18:1-11. This is John's account of the arrest of Jesus by the Roman soldiers.

The question posed was "Why didn't Jesus resist this arrest?" Jesus had all the power of heaven and earth at His disposal and yet Jesus allowed Himself to be arrested, unjustly tried, beaten, tortured, humiliated, and nailed to the cross.

Why did He do it? It was totally unnecessary for Him.

Why did Jesus allow mere creatures to spit upon Him?

Why did Jesus willingly take on the brutality of the worst the darkness could throw at Him?

We don't have to wonder. We don't have to guess. All we need to do is to hear and listen to Jesus' own words: "I have not lost even one of those you gave me" (John 18:9).

What are to do with such love? What can we do in light of such supreme grace and mercy?

The love of Jesus disarms us, breaks us, humbles us. The love of God, properly understood, is irresistible.

God thank you for sending Jesus to show your love for me.

Jesus, thank you for your amazing love.

James <><
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Feb 21, 2008

Excerpt from "Who Stole My Church?"

Here's an excerpt from the introduction to Gordon MacDonald's book Who Stole My Church?

The title of this book, Who Stole My Church?, springs from a conversation a few years ago with a distraught man who felt betrayed by the church he had invested in for most of his adult years. From his perspective everything had changed - overnight - into something that made him feel like a stranger in the place he'd always thought of his spiritual home.

As the man described it, programs had been dumped, traditional music trashed, preaching styles and topics revolutionized, symbols of reverence (appropriate clothing, crosses, communion tables, and pulpits) thrust aside.

His anger was aimed at the new young pastor who was hired by the church leadership "to stir things up with new vision."

According to this man, most of the church members - in particular the older generation - had no idea what they were getting themselves into when all the growth talk began. Who would protest against the idea of finding fresh ways to evangelize the unchurched? But what people expected was merely a fresh voice in the pulpit and a program or two imported from more successful churches.

What he and his fellow church members had not anticipated was a total shift in the church's culture, a reinvention of ways to love God and serve people. What they did not see coming was s reshuffling of the church's priorities, so that lost and broken people rather than found and supposedly fixed people became the primary target audience. In summary: virtually everything in the life of the church under new leadership became focused on reaching people who were not yet there.

This is James speaking again.

Man does that sound familiar. That's what we're going through. We know we've been called to be this church that is focused outward. The emphasis has to be there because the natural bent of all human organizations is to be inwardly focused. We have to be intentional about being externally and missionally focused.

And that's the reason why our vision at Trinity is 1) Grow new Christians, 2) Grow faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Feb 20, 2008

Thank God for Grace

The Lenten reading for today is Mark 14:12-26 that talks about the last meal Jesus shared with His disciples.

And every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper, it just blows my mind that Jesus knew all about Judas.
  • Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him that evening.
  • Jesus knew that Judas had already made arrangements with the chief priests and the Roman soldiers.
  • Jesus knew all this and yet still offered to Judas what's been offered to every single Christ-follower since - grace.
Even to the last moment, as Jesus passed the bread and said, "This is my body broken for you, do this in remembrance of me," He was saying to Judas, "You don't have to do this. You can say no. You can make a different decision."

And as Jesus passed the cup and said, "This is the blood of the new covenant poured out for the forgiveness of sins," Jesus was reminding Judas, "Remember Judas, I will forgive you for all sins. You just have to remember me, and remember to ask for forgiveness."

We think Judas is some hideous monster for betraying Jesus. And yet, we do the same thing every time we reject God's best way and choose our own way. We do that every time we think we know better than God. The truth is Jesus died for us as much as He died for Judas. That's grace.

And this grace is offered to all who will receive grace. For we need grace just as much as Judas. It's our sins Christ died for. And it's our punishment He bore.

Thank God for grace!

Feb 19, 2008

If We Only Knew

I am currently doing a daily study with the rest of our church during the Lenten Season. Today's study dealt with the Judas' betrayal of Jesus in Mark 14:10-11.

Why did Judas betray Jesus?

The most obvious answer, based on what Mark tells us with what happened with the anointing of Jesus with perfume at Bethany, and based on what Mark tells us about Judas - "They were delighted to hear this (that Judas would betray Jesus) and promised to give him money" - is because he was greedy.

But I am not so sure it's as obvious and simple as that.

I have a hard time with how a disciple who loved Jesus enough to leave everything to follow Him could give Him up for some lousy pieces of silver.

I can only conjecture, but Judas must have been one frustrated and disappointed disciple. He left everything to follow Jesus and all this talk about being put to death and dying must have totally disillusioned him. "What do you mean dying? Dude, I left friends, family, a promising career in accounting to follow you. You're supposed to liberate our people from the tyranny and the oppression of the Romans. You are supposed to be king. So stop it with this crazy talk of going to Jerusalem to be handed over. If that's what's going to happen, we should be preparing our followers for war. You are more popular now than ever before. We might have enough support to mount a challenge to the Roman army."

Judas had to have been very disillusioned with the talk of dying by Jesus.

Also, I do not think Judas knew what the full implications of his actions would be. I don't think he had any idea that it would lead to the crucifixion and the death. He must have believed that with a guy who could walk on water and feed the multitudes, and raise the dead - that such a Jesus would be able to overthrow a Roman guard. I don't think he had any clue that it would end this way. Had he known what damage and impact his betrayal would be to Jesus, I don't think he would have done it.

But that's the way it is with us too. If we only knew the devastating consequences of rejecting Jesus and His absolute best plan for us, we would never do it.
  • We would never cheat on our spouse if we only knew how devastating that would be to our families.
  • We would never mess around with porn if we only knew the devastating consequence to our marriages and families.
  • We would never mess around with drugs if we only knew the devastating consequence.
  • We would never mess around with promiscuity if we only knew the devastating consequences.
But because we have no way of knowing the future, it is best to trust in God and His ways because God can and does know what is best.

And the saddest part of this story is, Judas never stuck around to see how his story and betrayal would continue. He never stuck around for the resurrection and the hope for renewal.

And even if we've messed around and messed things up royally, remember the resurrection. God is the God who is for renewals. He is risen! He is risen indeed! And that means, no matter what's happened in our past, we all have hope!

Feb 18, 2008

When Being Good is Sin

Jim Collins writes in his book, Good to Great, that good is the enemy of great. It is because we have good government that we don't have great government. It is because we have good schools that we don't have great schools. And in the same way, I believe it is because we have good churches that we don't have great churches.

The problem with being a good church is that a good church is not that different than a good mosque or a good buddhist temple. You would have good people who do good things in all these religions. But God made us to be set apart and holy. God made us to be the salt and light. We are to be different. Jesus told Peter, "Against such a church, the gates of hell shall not prevail." The gates of hell have no chance against a church that is holy and set apart - a church that is great.

Thomas Rainier in his book, Breakout Churches, writes "It is a sin to be good when God has created you to be great."

When God has given to each and every Christ-follower, and when God has given to each and every church the potential to be great, it is a travesty to be good. When we settle for being good, when God has created us to be great, that is a travesty.

Feb 16, 2008

Robbed of Joy

Of all the people on earth, Christians ought to be the happiest and the most joy-filled people.
  • We were dead in our sins - but now we have been made alive by Jesus Christ
  • We were blind to our purpose - but now we see clearly that we have been created for God's Kingdom ministry
  • We imagined these 70-80 years of existence on earth was it - but now we are citizens of eternity
  • And the list goes on and on.
Christians ought to be the happiest and most joy-filled lot on earth.

But are we in reality? Not so much.

Too many Christians have their joy stolen from them because we do not know who God is and we do not know what our purpose is.

So when life throws us a curve ball, we get all upset and twisted in knots with God because He's not doing what we think God should be doing.
  • Come on God! The Cowboys should always win every Super Bowl. They're my team. What's so hard to understand?
  • Come on God! I should have gotten the promotion and the raise. I'm the good guy. What don't you get about that?
  • Come on God! I can't have cancer. Other people get cancer. But not me. I'm you're number one guy. Cancer shouldn't happen to me.
Because of our misunderstanding of who God is and what our purpose is, joy is stolen from us.

And until we fix those two items - knowing God and discovering our purpose - we will always find ourselves upset.

Feb 14, 2008

Words are Easy

Words are easy. It's easy to say I love Jesus and I serve Christ.

But what does that look like? What would it mean for me to love Jesus in the midst of conflict, when facing a financial crisis, when faced with temptation, when dealing with difficult people.

What does this loving Jesus thing look like? How would I do life differently if I really loved Jesus?

Words are easy. But when it comes down to living out what I say I believe...that's another matter.

I do okay in churchy things. I do fine when churchy people are around. I do fine when people I know are around.

But it's when I am alone in my thoughts, it's when no one else is watching, it's when I can be anonymous - who am I serving and loving? That's the question.

Jesus made an awesome sacrifice. It is only right that I do my best to serve God with all my heart.

I cannot guarantee that I will be perfect. I cannot promise what tomorrow will be like. But I can promise and commit today, this very moment. And the more "this very moment" and "today" I line up together, the better tomorrow will be.

So that's my plan. Right now. This moment. I want to be fully devoted to Jesus Christ. And I will do my best to line up as many of these moments as possible.

Feb 13, 2008

Missional? Traditional? Emergent? Post-Modern? - I dont' care! Just get it done.

I don't care what you call it.

I don't care if it's the cool thing to do or if it's not.

I don't care if you call it missional, post-modern, emergent, traditional.

What I do care about is that we live in a culture that is 90% unchurched.

And while we live a world where the great majority have no idea how much God loves them, we have a church denominational culture that is embarrassed and clueless about sharing her faith. You've got wonder, what kind of a faith is that?

How could we believe in the God of love and have no compassion for those who will spend eternity apart from Him?

How could we get so motivated by protecting the rights of tomato farmers and engage the entire Presbyterian Church in a boycott of Yum Brand foods, while we do nothing to turn the tide of losing membership and doing nothing to grow new Christians and growing every follower of Jesus Christ to be fully devoted disciples?

Give me a break.

The church is not about the structures that be and what the Book of Order says if those structures and Book of Order doesn't change lives. If God's ministry and mission is not being accomplished and lives and eternal destinies are not getting impacted, change the institution, change the structure, change the Book of Order.

Missional, Traditional, Emergent, Post-Modern, etc. are just tools and categories that help us to be strategic about the mission and the ministry of the church. Use whatever tool will enable your church to make a difference!

Jesus said, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field" (Matthew 9:37-38).

Feb 12, 2008

Just Let this Sink In

Here's another quote from Martha Grace Reese in her book Unbinding the Gospel. I'm not going to comment on it or say anything about it. I would like for those of us who are part of a mainline church just to let this sink in. Because what it's telling us is totally and absolutely unacceptable.

Our findings reveal that fewer than one half of 1% (.005) of these 30,000 primarily Caucasion, non-Southern congregations are baptizing a significant number of adults. We call a "significant number of baptisms" an average of five or more adults a year over a three year period. All baptisms in three years had to be at least 1% of the church's worship attendance. Half of one percent is the percentage of congregations doing a good job of reaching unchurched adults. That translates in numerical terms to fewer than 150 congregations out of a possible 30,000 mainline churches (p.30).

Just let that sink in.

Feb 11, 2008

Prosperity Gospel - Joel Osteen

I have nothing against Joel Osteen as a human being.

I don't have anything against him selling millions and millions of books.

I don't have anything against him being the pastor of the largest congregation in the United States.

Where I do take issue is with what he is preaching under the guise of Christianity.

I know that hundreds and thousands of people are helped through his messages. And thank God for that because God can work in a myriad of ways. I know people who are members of our church today because when they were not attending church, it was Joel Osteen who helped them to get connected to a church. There are many people who have been helped by his books and tv shows. But just because someone’s on Christian tv, or their books are in Christians bookstores doesn’t make their teaching right, sound, and biblical.

In a sermon entitled "Living in Total Victory", Joel Osteen makes the following claims.

"Because of the price Jesus paid on the cross we have a right to live in total victory.
  • "not a barely get by life
  • "not a life filled with lack and mediocrity
  • "not a life where we're constantly struggling with our finances
  • "not a life where we have chronic pain in our bodies"
So, let me get this straight. Walking with Christ in victory means that you are wealthy and free from poverty and lack, with good relationships, free from pain, living life without anxiety.

Sign me up? Who wouldn’t want that? That’s awesome. Only one problem. There’s not a shred of evidence in the Bible to support that.

If God’s plan for Christ-followers is to be free from poverty and lack and to be wealthy, Jesus flunks that test.
• He was born into a poor carpenter’s family
• Spent three years flat broke and homeless, sometimes going hungry
• And when it came to pay His taxes, He couldn’t afford it.

Then there’s the relationship thing. Osteen says that living a victorious Christian life means that we are free from strained relationships. Well, Jesus flunks this test too.
• His family disowned Him
• His friends abandoned Him
• Judas betrayed Him
• Peter denied Him
• The religious leaders hated Him
• And the crowds screamed for His blood
When living for God, you can guarantee opposition from those who are against God.

Living in victory with God means you will live a life free from pain and disease? Jesus flunks this test too.
• Jesus was beaten, spat upon, crown of thorns upon His head
• Scourged, beaten, and whipped
• Crucified and nailed to the cross
• You know what that is? Pain. Excruciating, horrendous pain.
• I’ve never met with someone in the hospital who chose their disease. I meet with people regularly who live with chronic pain. And you’re going to tell these people that their not living their lives right with God because of their chronic pain and illness?

Living in victory means a life free from anxiety, worry, and despair? Jesus flunks another one.
• Jesus was falsely accused, by false witnesses, endured a false trial, and faced a false execution.
• The night before Jesus’ arrest, He couldn’t sleep and He was so stressed out that He literally sweat drops of blood.

Gee. Jesus wasn’t a very good Christian was He?

Feb 8, 2008


O, what a night!

Put my son (2 years old) down to bed around 10pm.

He woke up at around 11:30pm crying. He's not like that normally. So went up to his room and told him that he needed to go to sleep because everyone else was sleeping. He said okay and I went back downstairs. He then started crying again. I went back upstairs to his room, and scolded him for crying. I sternly told him that he needed to get back to sleep. But he kept crying for his mom.

My wife finally came upstairs to comfort him. She took one look at him and said, "James! Something's wrong. Look at his face!"

Kaleb was red as a lobster, his eyes were almost swollen shut, his lips were puffy and sticking out. We checked his body and he had hives breaking out all over.

Kaleb had gotten into a bowl of mixed nuts earlier in the evening. He was fine when we put him down at 10:00pm, but boy did he look weird at 11:30pm.

We immediately gave him some Benadryl and called the doctor who told us to take him to the ER.

The most amazing this is that my wife was able to notice something was wrong immediately. I hadn't noticed anything but a crying boy who didn't want to go to sleep until we turned on the lights.

That made me feel great. What the heck kind of a daddy was I? I didn't even notice until we turned on the lights. Nuts!

Well, we were in the ER until 4:00am. And it was his daddy who was with him the whole time. At least, there was some redemption for dad in the wee hours of the morning.

The moral of the story - watch out for them nuts!

Feb 7, 2008

That's the Problem!

I am currently reading "Unbinding the Gospel" by Martha Reese about evangelism in the mainline churches.

Mainline churches don't have a very good track record when it comes to growing the kingdom or this whole evangelism thing. That's no surprise to anyone. Not one of the mainline denominations have even come close to keeping up with population growth in the last couple of decades.

Let me share with you just some excerpts from this book.

  • "A huge number of mainline church members and pastors feel awkward, embarrassed, uncomfortable, defensive or angry when evangelism is mentioned" (p.9).
  • "We now have generations of pastors who have little or no training in evangelism. Worse, many pastors have no positive, personal experience with evangelism" (p.9).
Here are some actual quotes from pastors and members from mainline churches regarding evangelism.
  • "I cringe at the memories from the years when I pummeled people with those embarrassing questions about salvation! I don't believe in hell now. I think people should make up their own minds, without pressure."
  • "I don't think we should do evangelism - it implies other religions are wrong."
  • "How can I do evangelism when I believe that many paths lead to God?"
Many of the pastors surveyed by Martha Reese had difficulty answering the question, "What difference has Jesus Christ made in your life?"

Is it any wonder why mainline churches are losing membership while the population continues to grow?

It's a problem when the evangelism committee that I am a part of at the Presbytery spent the first six months trying to decide what the good news of the gospel is.
  • Is it that we are wretched sinners deserving wrath and judgment. But God sent His Son to redeem us and pay for our sins and made us into His children.
  • Or is it as some claimed that God created all of us to be good and the good news is to help everyone discover the good that is already in them.
We really spent half a year at the presbytery debating this question! Unbelievable.

That's exactly the problem.

The gospel is good news because we were dead in our trespasses, but God entered into our lives in Jesus Christ to save us from sin and damnation. Jesus died on the cross to pay for my sins and rose again from the dead to give me eternal life.

That's good news. I was dead, but now I'm alive. Was blind, but now I see!

Feb 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday? Lent? What is it?

What is Lent and what’s the deal with the ashes? What’s Ash Wednesday all about? Isn’t that what Catholics do?

Unless you grew up in the Catholic church, you would not be very familiar with Ash Wednesday and its practices.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the six weeks before Easter called the Lenten Season. Christians mark the 40 days of the Lenten Season with fasting, prayer, and self-denial as a way of sharing in the suffering of Jesus as He prepared for His ministry in the 40 days in the wilderness.

If you were to count up all the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, there are actually 46 days. But the Sundays are free days because for us, Sundays are mini-Easter days.

The reason why we are marked on our foreheads with the mark of the cross with ashes is because ashes were sprinkled over ones head as a sign of repentance. The ashes were a reminder that we are nothing but dust. But the sign of the cross reminds us that because of Jesus Christ, we are more than dust – that we are children of God.

Lenten season is the time of the Christian year when we especially identify with the sufferings of Jesus. During Lent we walk the way of the cross, remembering the reason why Jesus suffered and died.

During this Lenten season, I encourage you to think about how you will prepare for Easter by practicing the disciplines of fasting, prayer, and self-denial.

I urge you to commit to fasting during Lent. Don’t do it to lose weight. That’s the wrong motive. Fast in order to identify with the sufferings of Christ. There are many different ways to fast. You can drop a favorite food from your menu, you can choose to fast one day of the week, or you can go on a partial fast for the entire season.

I also urge you to consider giving to someone in need. Give a gift that goes beyond your normal giving. Let it be a giving that “hurts.” That is, you should deprive yourself of something you want in order to help someone else.

Finally continue praying and reflecting on the reason why Christ suffered and died for us. We are doing a Lenten Bible Study as a church and you can find out more about it on our web page or by speaking with Stephen Thomas.

Lent is a time that is crucial to our spiritual health. By taking Lent seriously through fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, we will be able to identify with the sufferings of Jesus in a way that we never have before. And the real spiritual gain of Lent will be experienced during Easter. For by preparing for His death and entering into His suffering we will be able to experience the resurrection joy in a way that we have never experienced before!

Prepare yourselves to be blessed as you fast, pray, and give-sacrificially and get ready for the glory of Easter morning.

Bunch of Monkeys

We've heard that a million monkeys at a million keyboards could produce the complete works of Shakespeare; now, thanks to the Internet, we know that is not true.
(Robert Wilensky)

If you put a bunch of monkeys together to bang on typewriter keys, would they eventually turn out a masterpiece, such as Shakespeare's Hamlet, purely by chance?

Dr. William Bennett, a professor of physics at Yale University, put a computer to work on the problem. The computer response was that if a trillion monkeys hammered away at a rate of ten characters per second, it would take a trillion times longer than the universe has been in existence to produce the single line: "To be or not to be, that is the question."
(Christian Clippings, April 2008, p. 15).

Feb 4, 2008

Church Discipline & Love

I've been thinking about the conversation I had at the leadership retreat in Hereford regarding church discipline and loving individuals.

One of the people had a difficult time reconciling discipline and accountability with loving the individual. And of particular struggle for this person in drawing boundaries and consequences was her understanding of the parable of the lost sheep - the shepherd left the 99 to go after the one.

As I've been reflecting on this, I've come to a couple of conclusions.

First, the parable of the lost sheep refers to lost people - people who are outside of the body of Christ, people who are not Christ-followers.

Second, the reason why I think the lost in the parable refers to non-Christians is because when we look at other teachings regarding the church in the New Testament we see that those inside the body are held to a higher standard of accountability. Let me give some examples.
  • Ephesians 5:3-8 says, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
    Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them.
  • 2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.
  • Regarding the man who was having sexual relations with his father's wife, Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:5 "Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord."

We are to go after the lost, and for those who are within the body, we are to hold them accountable. When we are not accountable to one another and to God for our actions and speech, it undermines the witness of the entire community.

This is a sensitive topic and there are no easy answers. However, one of the reasons why the modern day church is so impotent and irrelevant is because we have not been applying Biblical discipline. We will not be perfect. Only God can apply perfect discipline. However, when there is a situation where there is clear violation of scriptural norms, we must have discpline and hold ourselves accountable.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. I don't have all the answers. I'd love to learn about how we can be both loving without sacrificing God's call for us to be holy.

Feb 2, 2008

You Are Salt

I have been in Hereford, TX to lead a session retreat about vision and leadership training. One of the more fascinating discussions I had with one of the leaders here was regarding the parable of the lost sheep. We were talking about the need for discipline and mutual accountability in the life of the church, and how when this is lacking, an unchecked and undisciplined sin begins to eat away at the life of the church.

As we were discussing the need for discipline and accountability this person asked, "But doesn't Jesus tell us to leave the 99 to go after the one lost sheep? Doesn't that mean we should be concerned about every single person in the church?

While this is absolutely true, leaders cannot sacrifice the health of the 99 for the one lost sheep. Too many ministries are held hostage by such sheep who are power-hungry and just plain manipulative.

And here's one of the limitations with any parable - there are truths to be gleaned, but if you press the parable too far, it begins to break down. And you cannot pit one parable over the other teachings in scripture. If you make this parable your model for ministry, you will have a tiny ineffective congregation that is held captive because the leadership is focused on the disease of one individual rather than focusing on the health and vitality of the 99.

Jesus told us to "Go and make disciples...teach them to obey everything I have commanded you." The church's main business is to grow new Christians and to grow faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. And this mission must not be compromised by any one or more individuals.

Jesus, in teaching about what kind of lives His followers are to live, told them, "You are the salt of the earth" (Matthew 5:13).

Why on earth would Jesus tell us we are to be like salt?

Salt is used as a flavoring agent, a preserver, a thirst causing agent, etc. There are many great uses for salt.

Salt, as you know is, sodium chloride.

Sodium is a compound that is found only in combined forms. You will never find sodium on its own. It has to attach itself to some other compound.

Chloride is a poisonous gas.

But when you combine these two, you end up with salt that flavors its environment, preserves the truth, causes other people to thirst, etc.

Here's the thing. Sodium is a lot like love. Love always has to attach itself to something else. Love does not exist in a vacuum or in isolation. But that's exactly the problem with love. There are no boundaries. There are no standards. Love will love all things - not just loving the sinner, but love is incapable of distinguishing the sin.

Chloride is a lot like truth and holiness. On its own, when truth and holiness are pounded down on people kills.

But when you combine love and truth, now you've got something. You are salt!

Feb 1, 2008

Sessions and Church Leadership

John Kaiser, in his book Winning on Purpose, writes:

In the days of the Soviet Union what was the difference between taking a road trip in Russia and a road trip in Nebraska? For either one you would have needed an automobile, fuel, and a driver. But in Russia you would need one thing more that you would not need in Nebraska: permission. Travel in a totalitarian state is based on approval. Travel in a free country is based on authorization - as long as you operate the behicle within a few simple traffic laws, you are free to drive wherever you need to go.

Leading a ministry in many local churches is like taking a road trip in the Soviet Union: you may not be surrounded by Communists, but it's hard to get the resourcews, it's hard to get permission, and it's hard not to feel that you're stuck in a previous century.
(John Kaiser, Winning on Purpose, p. 61).

In too many dying, declining, and plateaued churches, the leadership functions as the permission giving gate-keepers - nothing gets passed the session without their approval. And everything in the church bottle necks with the session or the leadership body because nothing can get done without the session's permission. Such leading kills ministries and erase the desire and the passion of anyone who wants to engage the world so God and make a difference through them.

However, it cannot be a free-for-all either. There still needs to be clear boundaries that define what and how we can go about doing ministry. And this is one of the session's the leadership's primary function.

In healthy and growing congregations, the leadership body or the session functions as ministry empowering, big picture boundary defining group.

Take skiing for an example. The leadership body and the session define the boundaries of where one can ski down a mountain, but how a person gets down that mountain and which slopes and runs one uses is left up to the persons and groups engaged in those ministries. This can seem frightening for church leadership bodies who have not operated this way, but it liberates the church and the priesthood of all believers to invest and engage in ministry.

And when the church leadership body functions like that, the priesthood of all believers and the people who will be touched through their ministries will never be the same.