Sep 30, 2010

Want Revival? Spend Yourself for Your Neighborhood

Jesus loves our cities.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

This is true not only for church going people, but for all people. We all know that. But what does this truth mean? Here's what I believe:

If we want to see our churches thrive and get healthy, our churches have to spend itself for our cities. The revitalization of our churches is directly related to the revitalization of our neighborhoods that our churches find themselves in. If the good news of Jesus Christ doesn't make a difference to our neighbors then what use is the church to a world who doesn't know and doesn't care about Jesus?

There is something wrong with churches that find themselves growing in numbers and dollars while their neighborhoods are declining and suffering.

Jesus impacts the world. And the way Jesus impacts the world is through the body of Christ - the church of Jesus Christ.

Do you want a revival in your church? Start investing and loving your neighborhood with the love of Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life not only for church going folks, but for the world!

A Great Reminder for Every Preacher as We Prepare Sermons

If you're a pastor, minister of the Word and Sacrament, preacher, reverend, priest you will be spending the next few days working and perfecting the sermon for the weekend.

As you do, I invite you to take a moment to reflect. Don't just speed through these words. Slow down. Let them sink in. Chew on them. Let them soak through your heart and mind.

What we have the privilege of doing - proclaiming Jesus Christ and his glory - is a tremendous privilege. It is not our words people need.

I have been reading through a book called "The Art of Pastoring: Contemplative Reflections" by William Martin. These next words are from his book.

You are a minister of the Word
but not of words.
The Word was in the beginning before words
and beyond words.
And whether they weave sophisticated patterns 
of intellectual magic,
or they strike with passion
at the heart of the people's emotions,
words are not Word
For the Word is inexhaustible.
One can only stand in wonder
and point.
William C Martin

Sep 29, 2010

Be Perfect as Your Heavenly Father is Perfect...How's That for a Challenge?

I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven...If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than other? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 
Matthew 5:44-48

God, you had me until the perfect part.

I know, even what precedes that is incredibly challenging.

I am not sure if I've ever seen it done consistently.

There have been incidents when I've practiced this, but I can't even come close to saying this is the way I live my life. I want to. Even as impossible and difficult this way of life is, there is truth there that resonates deep within my soul.

I want to live in a world like that. I want to be treated like that. I want to live like that.

There is no way I can be that unless God does this work in me.

I am selfish and revengeful by nature. Only God can do this work in me.

But I am not sure if even God can ever make me perfect. How can I be perfect?

What is the meaning behind the perfection. Why would God ask something of me that is impossible? Or is perfection possible?

I've heard scholars say that the word for perfection doesn't have the Greek notion of perfection where it means flawless, without error, etc.

All I know is there are truths in scripture I don't fully understand. And even what I do understand is incredibly challenging.

Sep 28, 2010

Is There a Way to Be Presbyterian Other Than Having to Be "For" or "Against" Each Other?

One of the things I hear people say as we consider the shape and scope of life in the PC(USA) is how we need to be more courageous, prophetic, bold, strong, etc. 

As a type "A" person, I like those words. It's words like that that get my blood pumping and engaged.

I like clarity. I like boldness. I like strong.

However, as I consider the climate of ministry life in the PC(USA), I think it's words like these that are part of the problem.

It's not that I favor weak, muddy, go with the flow, compromises with the culture. There are some things that are absolutely non-negotiable - like the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, etc. But there are so many other things we have to decide and discern as fellow brothers and sisters that could be helped by not having to only vote "for" or "against".

I appreciate Robert's Rules - the system by which our church governs itself. Robert's Rules is great for bringing clarity because you only have two choices. By its very nature, it pits people against one another. 

In such an environment, bold, prophetic, clarity can only mean that the other side is weak, compromised, confused, and wrong.

Maybe we are facing a time in the life of the church where we need something other than Robert's Rule where everything is spoken of in terms of "for" or "against" in order to discern what the Spirit of God is up to.

I wonder what our church life would be like if we didn't see each other only as people to be "for" or "against".

Sep 27, 2010


It's a bit of a wonder to me how two people can experience the same exact things and have such different views of what actually took place, but more importantly what those events mean.

Our attitudes and our perspective makes all the difference in the world.

This is highlighted in a humorous way by John Ortberg in his book, "The Me I want to Be":

Excerpts from a Dog's Diary:

  • 8:00am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
  • 9:30am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
  • 9:40am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
  • 10:30am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
  • 12:00pm - Lunch! My favorite thing!
  • 1:00pm - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
  • 3:00pm - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
  • 5:00pm - Milk Bones! My favorite thing!
  • 7:00pm - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
  • 8:00pm - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
  • 11:00pm - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!
Excerpts from a Cat's Diary:
  • Day 983 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre, little dangling objects. The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape.
I wonder. Am I more like the dog or the cat when it comes to how I approach the incredible gift of life God has given me? 

It is my prayer and hope that God will find me more like the dog in the days to come.

"This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!"

Sep 25, 2010

Christian Vocation - Right Priorities

Give God your best, you won't regret it. 

Give your family your best, it will be your best investment. 

But don't give your best to work or career. You do your best at work. 

If you give your best years, best effort, best talents to work you'll regret it and your family will suffer for it.

Feeling Overworked? Check This Out

Do you ever feel overworked, over-regulated, under-leisured, under-benefited? Take heart. This notice was found in the ruins of a London office building. It was dated 1852.

1. This firm has reduced the hours of work, and the clerical staff will now only have to be present between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays.
2. Clothing must be of a sober nature. The clerical staff will not disport themselves in raiment of bright colors, nor will they wear hose unless in good repair.
3. Overshoes and topcoats may not be worn in the office, but neck scarves and headwear may be worn in inclement weather.
4. A stove is provided for the benefit of the clerical staff. Coal and wood must be kept in the locker. It is recommended that each member of the clerical staff bring four pounds of coal each day during the cold weather.
5. No member of the clerical staff may leave the room without permission from the supervisor.
6. No talking is allowed during business hours.
7. The craving for tobacco, wine, or spirits is a human weakness, and as such is forbidden to all members of the clerical staff.
8. Now that the hours of business have been drastically reduced, the partaking of food is allowed between 11:30 and noon, but work will not on any account cease.
9. Members of the clerical staff will provide their own pens. A new sharpener is available on application to the supervisor.
10. The supervisor will nominate a senior clerk to be responsible for the cleanliness of the main office and the private office. All boys and juniors will report to him 40 minutes before prayers and will remain after closing hours for similar work. Brushes, brooms, scrubber, and soap are provided by the owners.
11. The owners recognize the generosity of the new labor laws, but will expect a great rise in output of work to compensate for these near Utopian conditions.
Bits & Pieces, May 26, 1994, Page 13-15.

Sep 21, 2010

Reflections on the movie "The Town"

My wife and I saw "The Town" starring and directed by Ben Affleck a few days ago.

I typically write a blog about the movie right after I see it but I wanted to wait a few days to let this one sink in.

Here's the thing. The movie is brilliantly acted. I am not a fan of Ben Affleck but I thought his performance was wonderful. Jeremy Renner (Hurt Locker) was amazing. And the rest of the cast wasn't too shabby. All around great performances. I would not be surprised one bit if this film garnered several oscars. The performances were that good.

Having said that, here's my issue with the movie. I don't like how movies like "The Town" have me rooting for the bad guy while rooting against the good guys.

I know. I get that life is not always black and white, that good people aren't always good and bad people aren't always bad. I get that there is good and bad in all people. Me included. We all carry skeletons.

But, I wonder what kind of societal impact movies like "The Town" have when it so blatantly has as its heros the criminals. With movies like "Unforgiven", we have seen a steady stream of movies that have us rooting against the people who are trying to protect our lives and establish law and order and it has us rooting for the criminals.

That's what makes me nervous about movies like "The Town".

Like I said, I thought the movie was well made and brilliantly acted. But I still find myself uncomfortable because I want to live in a world where criminals get locked up for doing criminal activities and where we honor those who put their lives on the line day in and day out to protect law and order.

Vitamins A, B, C, and D of Godly Parenting

Children need four vitamins to grow up emotionally and spiritually healthy - vitamins A, B, C, and D.

Vitamin A – Acceptance. 
Accept your kids for how God created them. 

Not every boy is going to be a great football player. Mine will. But not everyone's boy will be a great athlete. If your kid’s thing is piano, encourage him in that. 

Not every girl is going to be a cheerleader or a ballerina. If their thing is art, encourage her in that.

I’ve got four kids. They are all very different. I love them the same, but I must accept them for who they are and treat them differently because God created them differently.

Every child is different. God made them just the way he wanted them to be. The first vitamin your children need from you is vitamin A – accept them for how God created them.

Vitamin B – Boundaries. 
Your kids need you to clearly teach them the boundaries of what is acceptable and right.

Kids aren't born with moral compass. They need to be taught what is to be expected of them. Teach them the boundaries of Scripture of what it means to live a Godly life.

Vitamin C – Competence, not confidence
Teach your children to be polite. Teach your children to excel. Help them to discover their gifts. 

When you help your children to become competent, their competence will build up their confidence.

Vitamin D – Discipline.
Discipline your children for disobedience and not mistakes. There is a great deal of difference between a mistake and disobedience.  Disobedience requires immediate attention and action. You cannot let disobedience go unpunished. Outright rejection of your authority must be dealt with and the child must learn to obey you. If they do not learn obedience at home, how will they ever learn to obey God?

But kids, being kids, make mistakes. That’s what kids do. Don’t punish them for mistakes.

Know the difference between disobedience and an honest mistake.

Sep 20, 2010

Perhaps a Possible Way Out of the Current Sexuality Debate?

Those who believe changing the ordination standards is what Jesus would have them to do are not going to change their minds anytime soon.

I am also equally convinced that those who believe that maintaining the ordination standards is exactly what Jesus would want us to do are not going to change their minds anytime soon.

The question for the life of the church is not who is Jesus speaking to because people on both sides of this issue are absolutely convinced that Jesus is speaking to them. We can both cite our scripture passages and our theological convictions about our own perspectives. 

Does that mean that there is no absolute truth when it comes to Biblical standards for human sexuality? 

Of course not. I believe that Jesus and the Bible is crystal clear about one man and one woman, about chastity in singleness, and about fidelity in marriage. But the problem is that there are many who don't see what's so crystal clear to me. 

The only way everyone involved will be convinced which side Jesus is on is when Jesus himself declares it when he returns. Until then, we're going to have people on the entire spectrum on this issue. And what's more, the way we relate with one another in how we disagree over this matter bears witness to Jesus to an ever growing non-Christian world.

I used to believe that since I was on Jesus' side and therefore those who disagreed with me about Biblical sexuality were on the wrong side, they just needed to be convinced that they were on the wrong side.

And those who believe that changing the ordination standards and their understanding of Biblical sexuality is what Jesus would have them to do, are also convinced that they are right and that folks like me just need to be shown how wrong we are.

And the church has pretty much debated in this fashion for the past three plus decades. Look where that's gotten us.

The question isn't who's right - because we (regardless of which view one holds) are not going to be convinced our convictions are wrong on this issue. We will all go to our graves absolutely convinced we are right.

The question is how are we to be a church together when people on opposite ends of the spectrum are convinced Jesus is speaking to them? Or to put it more bluntly, can people who believe opposite things about Biblical interpretation stay within the same church family?

I believe that's the question we need to be exploring. We need to start asking and exploring answers to questions such as:
  • What do we understand about our connectionalism? 
  • What do we understand about ecclesiology? 
  • What does it mean to belong to a certain denomination when there are churches outside our particular denomination who are much closer to us when it comes to our essential beliefs? 
  • What does it mean to be Presbyterian? Is it our polity (how we do church) that make us Presbyterian? or is it our theology (our essential beliefs) that make us Presbyterian? Or is it a combination of both? And if so, what does that look like?
  • What does it mean to belong to a particular denomination in what many are calling a post-denominational world?
  • Would there still be a PC(USA) if there was no property clause?
There are so many more questions like this that needs both asking and exploring.

I have very little energy to continue the sexuality debates as we have been engaged in them for the past three plus decades. I see no end to them. 

However, I am passionate about discerning what the future/imminent church might look like. And I am convinced that we will not get there through our current way of debating over the sexuality issues. I am optimistically hopeful that the future church lies in answering questions like the ones above.

Sep 17, 2010

The Exclusive Claims of Jesus Christ in a Pluralistic World

I've had the privilege of emailing with a friend about issues of faith. In one of these discussions, we got into the question of the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. 

What do we do with the absolutely exclusive claims of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic society?

There is no doubt that there are general truths in all religions. There is no doubt that there is value in all the major religions - Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. 

There are portions of the Quran, Buddhist, and Hindu texts which if I were to read at church on Sunday, most folks would never know that the truths being shared were not from the Bible but from these other sacred texts. 

The very fact that these religions have been around for centuries is proof that there are truths present in them.

Having said that, I need to also say that the exclusive claims of the church are actually the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who declares, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me"(John14:6)

That's about as exclusive as one can get.

Does that mean that other religions possess no truth? 

Of course not. 

Does that mean that Jesus' exclusive claim is false?

Of course not.

What Jesus claims is that there is no other pathway for human beings to get right with God apart from receiving the grace and gift of eternal life. We cannot get to God through our performance. We cannot will our way to God. We cannot gain entry into heaven by good deeds. 

The only way to bridge the gap between our frailties and shortcomings and God's perfection is to accept Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross.

This is a difficult thing to consider. It sounds so elitist. How can so many good people of other faiths be wrong?

I don't think Jesus is saying that other religions are intentionally bad. But Jesus is claiming that all other systems, religions, and ways fall short because no other way deals with the issue of sin. Adherence to the truths present in religious systems will make people more moral, kind, compassionate, giving, etc. The best religious systems - including Christianity as a religious system - can do is make us better sinners.

The only way that we can be changed from sinners and become saved and redeemed people of God is by accepting the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.

What Jesus is saying is that all of humanity has been infected with a disease called sin. And because of that, we all fall short and will die in our sin. 

This doesn't mean that other religions, including Christianity, doesn't have truths. It doesn't mean that adherents to other religions, including Christianity aren't often time better people and live more generous lives. All those things are true.

However, when it comes to the matter of our souls, the only remedy for the disease of sin is the infusion of the grace of Jesus Christ. And if what Jesus claims is true, then the most kind thing we can do is to share what Jesus says as plainly as possible. 

The good news is that Jesus has paid the penalty for sin by dying on the cross and descending into hell. Jesus rose again from the dead so that all who receive Jesus as Lord and Savior can rise again as new creations. 

And that my friends, is great news!

What Is It About Sex? I Don't Get It

The sexuality debate is not about sex. It's always been about Biblical interpretation and the authority of Scripture.

I get that.

But here's something I don't get.

The debate over abortion, capital punishment, civil unions, war in Iraq, etc. also come down to Biblical interpretation and one's understanding of the authority of Scripture. 

No one on either side of the debate over these issues is picking their stance willy nilly. We all hold our views because we're convinced that's what Jesus would have us do.

But here's the thing I don't understand.

I don't understand how Biblical interpretation and one's understanding of the authority of Scripture over issues of sexuality is any different than Biblical interpretation and understanding of the authority of Scripture over any of these other issues.

And yet I hear over and over how if the PC(USA) does this or that over the sexuality issues that people are willing to leave the denomination. 

Why are we willing to leave the denomination over Biblical interpretation over the sexuality issues and why not the other issues?

What is it about the sexuality debate that's so different than any of these other issues?

I don't get it. 

Sep 15, 2010

Taking Care of Those Can't Take Care of Themselves - A Virtue or Curse?

I read a phrase today that's got me thinking: Take care of those who can't take care of themselves; that is my duty as an American.

I find this phrase interesting because it will either keep our country great, or it will destroy our country. And it all depends on who's saying it.

One of the things that makes America great are virtues like this - that we really are a people who are going to do our best to take care of one another, that we will not leave anyone behind, that we want to give everyone the opportunity to stand on their own two feet and make it on their own. This is virtue at its best. This is what makes America so strong, so good.

At the same time, if this is what is expected from those who are on the receiving end of this, it creates an  entitlement culture. And should that be the case, where everyone believes that they ought to be taken care of by others, such a self-understanding will destroy this or any country.

What makes America so great and so good is that its people have been ones who have strived to be on the giving end of this statement. And as long as we continue that, even when we fall on hard times, together we will be a strong and good country.

Sep 10, 2010

Stories from Russia - Pastor Oleg

I traveled to the Ural Mountains to lead a pastoral seminar in a town called Lysva. This was a region, until a few years ago, no American would have ever been allowed to visit. 

Lysva is a place with a dark history. Many Soviet prisons called "gulags" were located in the Siberian tundra, but more importantly, this is the region that produced the intercontinental ballistic missiles which are even now currently aimed at the United States. 

We visited a museum that showcased these missiles that are capable of reaching the United States in 12 minutes with its nuclear load.

Some of us may remember the days when we regularly practiced running and hiding in a shelter in the case of a nuclear attack. 

One of the most moving moments for me was worshiping at a church that’s located way beneath the earth in an old bomb shelter. Here were Russians, Americans, Koreans together worshiping God, our Shelter, in an old Soviet bomb shelter. What a perfect picture of who God is.

The pastor of that church in the bomb shelter is Pastor Oleg. He shared with us his vision for the church.  
He said the church is like a star. A star has two forces at work – the expulsion of energy (that’s the light we see), and the gravity of its mass.

These two opposing forces keeps the star together.

If the expulsion of energy becomes greater than the force of gravity, a super nova is the result as the star shreds itself to pieces as it explodes.

If the force of gravity becomes greater than the expulsion of energy, than a black hole is the result where everything around is sucked into itself, where not even light is able to escape the grips of its pull.

The church also has these two forces. The expulsion of energy is the mission, evangelism, and community outreach. And the gravity is the loving and the caring of the members of the church. When both of these are in balance and operating as it should, that church shines brightly the light of Christ. But if the church becomes only outwardly focused, the church will lose her identity and explode. And if the church becomes too inwardly focused, the church will suck the light of Christ and everything will be absorbed in that dark black hole.

But wherever there is a church that gets this balance right of both reaching out and reaching in, the light of Christ shines like the morning star.

What a beautiful imagery of who we are as the church of Jesus Christ.

Sep 9, 2010

Stories from Russia - Pastor Ivan: The Mobster Pastor

Pastor Ivan is am imposing figure. He is one of the biggest Russian men I have ever met. From the time you first lay your eyes on Pastor Ivan, you can tell that he is a man of great influence. You would be a fool to mess with Pastor Ivan. Pastor Ivan is a huge Russian pastor, and his story is absolutely amazing!

Even from his childhood, Pastor Ivan was larger than life. And due to his imposing figure and personality, he was a leader from the beginning. When the old Soviet Union collapsed, he was merely twenty-years-old. As the communist system gave way, the Russian mafia quickly filled the void left by the old communist system.

The leaders of the Russian mafia quickly saw Ivan’s talent to lead. By the mid nineties, Ivan was running the local mafia in his town. While he was the local mafia leader, his girl friend became a Christian, and he didn’t like the person she was becoming. So one day, he found out when his girl friend was going to church and he decided that he would show up at church to “straighten out” the pastor who messing up his life.

As Ivan sat in the church waiting for the pastor to show up, the church began filling up with people.  Before he knew it there were over 700 people at church, and he decided it would be best to wait until the end before he “straightened out” the pastor because he says, "I can take on quite a few people, but 700 is even too many for me."

As Ivan sat listening to the praise and the sermon, something crazy was happening. Something inside him, a part of his life that he didn’t even know existed, came to life. His soul was awakened and the words began drawing him to an irresistible force. The pastor gave the call to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and before he realized what was happening, with tears streaming down his face, Ivan found himself marching to the front of the church to confess his sins and take his place in the Kingdom of God.

The mafia leader who went to church to “straighten out” the pastor ended up getting straightened out. Today Pastor Ivan, instead of ruling people with fear, is a Presbyterian pastor who leads people to discover their place in God’s kingdom.

Sep 8, 2010

My Reflections on the Pastor Burning the Quran

For what it's worth, here are some of my reflections about the pastor who's organizing the burning of the Quran to remember 9/11.

  • When has anger and hatred ever produced good and Godly results? Such actions never produce peace. They always foster ever greater hatred and anger. 
  • This is such a selfish act. Doesn't this pastor know what kind of pressure and danger this puts our soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq? Doesn't this pastor care about the Christians who live in Muslim dominated countries? This puts all of them in physical danger. This is such a selfish act.
  • How does this at all glorify Jesus Christ? How does this further the cause of Christ? How does this further peace? It destroys our witness.
  • This pastor and his actions are getting WAY TOO MUCH PRESS. He pastors a congregation of about 60 people. He was fired from his previous ministry under questionable circumstances.
What gets me about this is that the actions of one person is impacting the testimony and witness of the Christian church. I am praying that God would change the heart of this pastor. I hope and pray that he is a praying man open to God's and direction.

But before I close this blog, the most important take away for me from this story is this: my actions, my attitudes, my life either gives credence to the glory of Jesus Christ, or my actions, my attitudes, my life discredits the glory of Jesus Christ. 

So as I express my frustration with the pastor who's planning burning the Quran, really the onus and responsibility of living in a way that glorifies Jesus is upon every one who claims to be a Christ-follower. 

May we all live in such a way that the glory of Jesus Christ.

Stories from Russia - What God Can Do Through Just One Person

I love hearing stories of how God can use ordinary people to do extraordinary things. In the next three days, I want to share with you stories from people I met in Russia.

Prior to 1990's there were no Presbyterians in Russia. But because of one man's willingness to serve Christ, there are over more 10,000 Presbyterians in Russia today.

This is the story of that one man. His name is Heung Rae Lee.

Elder Lee was a junior in high school when he was at a church revival. There he heard the testimony of a pastor who promised to lead 50,000 people to God in his lifetime. It was at that revival that Elder Lee discovered his purpose, passion, and destiny in life. While he might not be able to lead 50,000 people to Christ like the guest speaker, certainly he can lead at least 10,000 to Christ!

Elder Lee went off to college and entered the seminary to become a pastor. It was while he was a student at the seminary that he realized that it would be easier to lead 10,000 people to Christ in the marketplace than in the church because that’s where the non-Christians were. So after graduating from the seminary, he started his own business. He became quite successful and prosperous. During this time, he was an active member of his church as an elder and was a generous giver of his time, talents, and finances.

Life continued this way for a couple of decades until one day his wife suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized. At his wife’s bedside, the promise he had made to God as a young man become ever more urgent as he was reminded of how precious and short life is. There at the hospital, he resolved himself to do something about keeping his promise to God.

The year was 1992, and the old Soviet Union had collapsed and Russia was ripe for revival. Surely, if there ever was a place where he could lead 15,000 people to Christ, it would be Russia.

Elder Lee sold his business and made plans to leave for Russia. When he left Korea for Russia, he had no contacts, did not know where he might stay, did not know a single word in Russian, did not know the culture or its history, and had no idea how he was going to fulfill his promise to God. All he had was his vision to claim his God-given destiny.

Once he arrived in Russia, he began praying and planning how he might proceed. There, God gave him the realization that if he established 100 churches with at least 100 members, then he could accomplish his goal. That was the reason why Moscow Presbyterian Theological Academy was born. In order to establish 100 churches, he would need to train at least that many pastors.

To date, God has established over 130 Presbyterian Churches where over 15,000 have come to discover their place in the Kingdom of God.

What can God do through just one person?

You tell me.

Sep 5, 2010

Soul Mates

This is the letter I shared in my sermon today written by a major just before the Battle of Bull Run to his wife in July 1861. This letter was shared by Dr. Les and Leslie Parrott in "Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts" DVD series. This is one of the most touching letters I've ever read. Back in the day, people knew how to write.

Sarah, my love for you is deathless. It seems to bind me with mighty cables that nothing but omnipotence can break. And yet my love of country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly, with all the chains, to the battlefield. 

The memory of all the blissful moments I have enjoyed with you come crowding over me and I feel almost deep so much deep gratefulness to God that you and I have enjoyed them for so long together. And how hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of the future years when God willing we might still have lived and loved together and seen our boys grown up to honorable manhood around us. 

If I do not return, if I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I loved you. 

Now when my last breath escapes me in the battlefield, it will whisper your name.  Forgive my many faults and my many pains that I have surely caused you. How thoughtless, how foolish I have sometimes been.

But oh, Sarah, if the dead could somehow come back to this earth and flit unseen among those they love, I shall always be with you. 

In the brightest days and in the darkest night. Always, always.

And when the soft breeze fans your cheek it shall be my breath. Or the cool air brushes your throbbing temple it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah, do not mourn me dead. Think I am gone and wait for me, for we shall meet again.

The major who wrote this letter died in the battle later in the week.

Sep 2, 2010

What Is It That Makes You Most Alive?

God created everyone of us as absolutely unique individuals.

Because we are human and because we are creatures we have some things in common: the need to live for more than just the temporal, the need for vision, hope, and purpose, the need to have something worth dying for.

But because we are unique and because there has never been and there will never be another just like us, God deals with each of us in our own unique ways.

Therefore, when it comes to how people encounter and experience Jesus Christ, what works for me may not work for you, and what works for me now may not work for me in a later chapter in my life.

So then how can people grow closer to God?

What is it that makes you feel most alive? Once you discover that, make it your life's goal to do that with everything you've got because that's our spiritual worship. That's how we connect with God.

I love what John Ortberg writes about how God interacts with us in ways we need. He writes in his book, "The Me I Want to Be":

God had Abraham take a walk, Elijah take a nap, Joshua take a lap, and Adam take the rap.

He gave Moses a forty-year time out, he gave David a harp and a dance, and he gave Paul a pen and and scroll.

God wrestled with Jacob, argued with Job, whispered to Elijah, warned Cain, and comforted Hagar.

He gave Aaron an altar, Miriam a song, Gideon a fleece, Peter a name, and Elisha a mantle.

Jesus was stern with the rich young ruler, tender with the woman caught in adultery, patient with the disciples, blistering with the scribes, gentle with the children, and gracious with the thief on the cross.

God never grows two people the same way. God is a hand-crafter, not a mass-producer.

Sep 1, 2010

Reflections on Anne Rice and the Church

Anne Rice, the vampire author turned Christian, has been under fire for her recent comments regarding the church. Rice has vowed to cling to Jesus while rejecting the institutional church.

Most of the criticism of Rice has been overblown in that they equate the church of Jesus Christ to current manifestations of institutional church.

All current forms of organized church as we know it today is a reflection and a representation (albeit imperfect) of the true church. No single manifestation can rightly declare that they are the true manifestation of the church.

However, Anne Rice's assertion of clinging to Jesus while rejecting the institutional church brings to the forefront some interesting questions:

  • Is the current manifestations of the institutional church the only way a church can be a church? In other words, can one be a part of a group of believers without the trappings that come with current versions of organized religion?
  • Can a person be a Christ-follower and not have an affiliation with a church?
I don't blame Anne Rice for her frustration with the institutional church as we know it. One of the main cries of the reformation was "Once reformed and always reforming." 

That's who we are. And yet, when you look at the current version of institutional/denominational churches, we have been frozen in time both theologically and institutionally. It is time for a thorough and ongoing reformation of the church.

There has to be better ways of being church.

For instance, right now my church is a part of a denomination called the Presbyterian Church (USA). And because we have been a part of this historical denomination, we are somehow more "connected" with other churches in this same denomination. But if you were to ask people what this connectionalism means, nobody knows.
  • How are we at the Little Church who are evangelical more connected to churches who are already ordaining homosexual leaders just because we both belong to the same denomination?
  • What does connectionalism and denominations mean when the Little Church has more in common theologically (bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth, authority of scripture, etc.) and in understanding of the interpretation of Scripture with non-denominational/Baptist/Lutheran/etc. than we do with progressive PC(USA) churches?
Year after year, and General Assembly after General Assembly, the Little Church and other evangelical congregations find themselves at odds with some of the decisions made by the national church. The GA and other entities in the denomination seem to make decisions and declarations with seemingly no accountability and representation to the congregations they represent. 

How are we more connected to this denomination than the Christian brothers and sisters around the world? 

There is no doubt that a person cannot be a follower of Jesus Christ and not belong to the body of Christ which is the church. However, we ought not equate today's versions and manifestations of the institutional church as "the church". 

The church of Jesus Christ is much broader, bigger than our current manifestations of institutional church. It is time for the institutional churches to catch up with what the Spirit of Christ is already doing to shape and reform his body - the church.