Wednesday, February 28, 2007

God's Purpose in Election...It's not about democracy

Romans 9 begins a special three chapter section where Paul digs deep about Israel's relationship with God, their salvation, and their mission to Gentiles. It also includes a touchy subject on the issue of Election. Often times the issue is simplified down to: you are in if you are elected (pre-chosen by God at the foundation of the world to go to heaven), and you are out if you are not elected, thus you are created to be consigned to hell. This is a tough teaching. Martin Luther reserves conversation about this issue only with the very mature believers who can handle such doctrine.

Verse eleven-twelve has this to say about election: "Yet, before the twins (Esau and Jacob) were born or had done anything good or bad - in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls - she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.'

And verse sixteen: "It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy." (18) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden."

Paul anticipates a logical response: v19 - "One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?"

There is not enough space in this blog entry to work through this concept adequately - many volumes have been written about it by men smarter and holier than me. My one word of caution: speak carefully about this issue. If it is a complicated doctrine and difficult to understand, don't be too dogmatic about it. Be open to dialogue about God's role in saving people. Paul is clear that God calls us prior to our salvation, we don't work to convince him of our worthiness. The way of righteousness begins with faith, it cannot be attained by works. Works do not give birth to a righteous standing before God. God works to make us righteous, and that right standing is what gives birth to our works.

Does God make the offer of salvation available to all people, or only a select few?

What we do know is this: if you find yourself trusting God with the way of your life, then you can consider yourself elected. Rather then judgmentally guess who is in or out, live in joyful gratitude as you go the way of righteousness in faith. God does the calling, and he uses our way of righteousness to bring salvation to others. So live out God's mercy unto others not yet going the way of righteousness.

Wake Up and Shout for Joy!

Isaiah 25-27 marks a transition, moving from a series of invectives against rogue nations to a triad of praises to the LORD. The author is a war survivor, he's seen the LORD destroy the enemy and thus earn their respect. But this strong God who destroys is also one who is a refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm. This God of violent justice also knows how to throw a fantastic feast, as well as wipe away the tears. The author declares: this is the LORD we trust in...yes! Wake Up and Shout for Joy!


Men: what kind of vision do you hold out for yourself? What kind of man do you want to become? A strong man who is a shelter for the weak? An agent of justice to the wicked and one who wipes the tear of the oppressed? A feast-giver of generous reputation who is trustworthy and celebrated?

The author goes on to ruminate, not only about the failure of the enemies to overcome the LORD, but also the failure of God's people to bring the blessings of peace and righteousness to the world. Only God was good and strong...as already described, but not enough men and women.
He laments:
"We have not brought salvation to the earth, and the people of the world have not been reborn."

It is important to note that the theme of a bodily resurrection does not occur very often in the Hebrew Scriptures, so when it does - though we almost automatically think of Jesus - we ought to consider how vital and significant is the mention. In a sense...the failure of mankind - both the good and the bad, has left the author almost on the verge of despair. If we die a failure...is that it?
The author writes with immense hope - almost daring anticipation:
"But your dead will live, LORD; their bodies will rise -
let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy -
your dew is like the dew of the morning;
you will make it fall on the spirits of the dead."

Men: do you know of any fellows who are down in the dumps, face in the dirt, dusted with failure and shame? What kind of man do they need to come alongside them? What kind of strength do they need for another man? What kind of justice or mercy do they need from another good man? What kind of feast do they need, to have their head lifted up once more by a generous man?

Jesus walked amongst dust-drenched men, and through his Way, his Instruction, his Life he woke them up to Joy. His tragic death is in one sense symbolic of the death of humanity to being able to save itself. But his resurrection is a picture and a promise of what is to come to those that say "Yes" to his grace.

There are men all around us who dwell in the dust...and God calls out to them through you: Wake Up and Shout for Joy!

Men: do you hear his morning call?

Men: do you see the dust-dwellers?

Strength for the Day

Several mornings a week I read from a devotional, a collection of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writings on Christianity, spirituality, the disciplines, Scripture, faith, etc. He was a brillian Christian theologian, a thoughtful believer, a brave pastor, and gifted writer. Here is the entry for today, taken from page 76 of his book Life Together:

Prayer offered in earlly morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouagement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealings with other people - all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer.

The ordering and scheduling of our time will become more secure when it comes from prayer. The temmptations of the working day will be overcome by this breakthrough to God. The decisions that are demandedd by our work will become simpler and easier when they are made not in fear of other people, but solely before the face of God.

"Whatever you do, do it from your hearts, as done fo rthe Lord and not done for human beings. (Col 3.23) Even routine mechanical work will be performed more patiently when it comes from the knowledge of God and God's command. Our strength and energy for work increase when we have asked God to give us the strength we need for our daily work.


Amen.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Forgettable LORD our God...

Judges 1-7 is the historical transition from the sole leadership of Joshua (Hebrew name for Jesus), to the leadership of generational leaders as the twelve tribes root themselves in the land. What characterizes this chapter in Israelite history is their chronic forsaking of God. And it begins with the generation that follows Joshua's generation: the generation that crossed the Jordan River and conquered Jericho and beheld God's Mighty Right Arm...that generation failed to pass these stories on to their children. How can God be so forgettable?

In chapter two, following the death of Joshua, the author writes: "another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals. They forsook the LORD, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshipped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the LORD's anger..."

If God is so great, so good, so glorious, so grace-full, so generous...if this God is so central to the stories of a generation...how is it that the next generation knows nothing of him? Surely God is not that impressive or memorable, that parents would forget to tell their children the stories of God's beautiful, life giving work. Why are gods carved of stone and wood, gods with four wheels and multiple horse-power, gods of green-colored paper, gods of gold, silver and silicon...why are these gods so much more attractive and interesting then Yahweh?

How can God-followers, those that live by the name of the LORD, not tell the stories of God, yet be fascinated by so many other kinds of stories/movies/novels/episodes/reality-based crap? We'll retell all sorts of urban legends, rumors, jokes and riddles - but stories of God's deliverance and help in times of dire need, as well as stories of generousity and grace...oh yeah, forgot about those...didn't think you'd want to hear about it.

A generation of children are lost because their parents do not tell God-stories. In the days of the Judges/Leaders, God would bring in oppressors by which God's people would turn to him for help. God would deliver them through a leader, the people would rejoice and be reconciled to God and enjoy shalom for forty years. But then they'd forget to tell their kids God-stories, and the next generation would infuriate the LORD with their whoring and tomfoolery. And so the cycle goes. And goes.

Why is the LORD our God so forgettable, why are his stories so stale, why do parents chronically fail to pass on their God-experiences unto their children?

Just Discovered! Jesus' Tomb Included His Wife and Kids! Or Did It?

For a really helpful analysis of this newsy item, copy and paste the link below into your browser and read it. Ben Witherington is a world-renown scholar, professor at Asbury Seminary in KY, a great evangelical theologian. He's a good writer and great thinker. His post includes a link to the Toronto Star article that highlighted this issue.

http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/02/jesus-tomb-titanic-talpiot-tomb-theory.html

For the record, based on the limited reading I've done, and the trust I place in particular scholars, I believe that this story is based on shoddy work, promoted by brilliant men with an eye for flash and an ability to make a big buck. Though I'm not opposed to asking hard questions about the stories of Scripture, my presupposition is that they are trustworthy, thus when "discoveries" come to light that cast the Scriptures as untrustworthy - I'm a little wary.

Of course Christians are going to seek to discredit these findings, if the tomb is Jesus', and he had a wife and kids, we are fools. So how does a Christian respond without precluding the answer due to fear and deep-rooted bias? Examine the facts, use ruthless logic and truth, assume nothing, and question all motives, including your own.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Open My Eyes That I May See

Gimel

This is the third letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the third stanza of Psalm 119 - eight verses that all begin with the letter Gimel.

The author makes two requests that reveal our dependence upon God's initiative in our life, he writes:

"Do good to your servant, and I will live; I will obey your word...

"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.

He is making a request that God is already at work doing...he is invoking the Genesis Story, and in one sense prophetically the Jesus Stories.

All that God has ever made is Good. All that God has ever given is Good. But wouldn't you know it, we have a hard time seeing what is Good in this world, in the Creation, in the neighbor and annoying family member, even ourself.

So we have the next obvious, crucial declaration: open my eyes - even in my blindness, even in the darkness, even in my foggy yearnings I can sense a goodness not yet touched, feel a goodness which is just beyond my grasp. God - Open My Eyes!



I want to see what is good, beautiful, inspiring, deeply satisfying and delightful. God spoke the Creation into existence - all that God has ever said is Good, terrible at times - and tragic, but Good. Thus if God speaks to us in the form of instruction, command, decree, law, etc, it is Good, and we need it to really live, and we need him to open up our eyes, our soul, our heart to his Word.

God Open My Eyes That I May See the beautiful truth of your good words which create a new beginning in the world of people around me.

Neighborhood Churches & A Soup Supper at Anchor



Tonight was a lot of fun.

Five neighborhood churches gathered together in our Fellowship Hall for a smorgasboard of soup and homemade bread, lots of chatter and making new friends, along with some good music and sharing of our Anchor story.

The five churches: Grace Presbyterian on Fairhill, First Mennonite on St. Mary's, North Highlands Church of Christ on Archer, and Trinity United Methodist on Putnam, along with us - Anchor on 3rd Street. We're doing a soup-circuit, traveling during five Sundays to each church, sampling their soups and enjoying their stories about their background, their denomination and their mission in the neighborhood.

I think about seventy-five people got together...and a bunch of them, though they come from different churches, already know each other as neighbors, classmates, or community events. And now we're pulling together, uniting as One Church - letting the Spirit bring us together for something special.

In speaking for the group, I would say that our main objective for our churches coming together rests entirely on the Gospel: that more neighborhood families would choose to follow Jesus for the rest of their days. What we want to do together is bring the Good News of Jesus to our community by being the Good News - through community service, through fun events, through grace-filled caring and meeting of needs.

Next week is Dave's church - I can't wait!,

Be sure to check out Steve Dennie's blog for his review of the fun event:
http://www.randompokes.org/pokes/

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Kierkegaard on Repentance

Repentance means to lament the sins one has committed and not to commit any more sins one has lamented.


There is a Savior, not merely so that we can resort to him when we have sinned, receiving forgiveness, but precisely for the purpose of saving us from sinning.

God in heaven, let me rightly feel my nothingness, not to despair over it, but all the more intensely to feel the greatness of your goodness.


It is precisely our consciousness of sin that can lead us nearer to God. For there is hope of conquering the evil, if only, every time sin attacks us, it leads us nearer to God.

How shall God be able in heaven to dry up your tears when you have not yet wept?


The all-knowing One does not get to know something about the one who needs confession, rather the one who confesses gets to know something about himself.


Teach me, oh God, not to torture myself and not to make a martyr of myself in suffocating introspection, but to take deep and wholesome breaths of faith!


Oh infinite love, I do desire to be involved with you! If I make a mistake, oh, you who are love, strike me so that I get on the right path again.

- pages 363-365, Provocations: spiritual writings of Kierkegaard

Friday, February 23, 2007

Honey in my Tea

Proverbs 25 begins a section of Solomonic proverbs that were collected by the men of King Hezekiah - he ruled 12 generations after the Son of David.

Two proverbs that stuck out to me had to do with honey.

I like honey.

Honey is good in tea. It is really good on my Mum's homemade biscuits - especially freshly baked, warm biscuits with a bit of butter on them and then a good dose of honey smeared on top...ahh...yes. Honey is also good on toast with some cinnamon sprinkled on top. Growing up we ate lots of honey on muffins - we ate lots of homemade muffins. I'd eat them the same way I ate my biscuits - slowly!

And for all you honey-lovers out there, you know what it is like when you've had too much honey: ugh!

The other day I put too much honey in my tea and I couldn't finish it, too much...blah.

That recent experience is what made these two honey proverbs stick to me:
"If you find honey, eat just enough - too much of it and you will vomit.
Seldom set foot in your neighbors house - too much of you and you will be hated."

The other honey proverb:
"It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep."

The first proverb was interesting, but I don't go to the houses of other people very much, so I guess that is why I am so well liked. But the second honey proverb was more interesting to me...I would describe myself as someone who has been maybe searching out matters that are too deep. Not that I'm particularly skilled at it, just stubborn about it.

The death of my two brothers resulted in many things, but one of them being a seeking of understanding and better questions to ask about life. There has been a deeply earnest searching that has charactized my life for many, many years. Some of it has been fruitful. But there have been times when it has yielded experiences of "too much honey".

There's nothing wrong with searching out the deep things, but I've got to come back to the surface and live life - and eat and drink just enough honey in my tea and and on my muffins.

Humans are but Maggots

Job 25 is a brief diatribe of Bildad, a final response to Job in a cycle of three rounds of conversation.

Bildad does what is typical of some modern day Christians. He asserts the greatness of God: "Dominion and awe belong to God; he establishes order in the heights of heaven."

Okay, nothing wrong with that, but then he reveals where he is going with this - it is not really about God but a set up: "On whom does his light not rise? How then can a mortal be righteous before God?"

This has been the basic argument of Job's three friends this whole time: Job - YOU ARE NOT RIGHTEOUS, YOU ARE WICKED - THAT IS WHY THIS IS HAPPENING TO YOU - why won't you relent and accept what you know is true. This is how they are comforting him.

But note what Bildad does next: he transitions from a truth about God, and takes his theological question about mankind, and makes this terrible assertion - in an attempt to justify himself and put Job in his place: "How much less a mortal, who is but a maggot, a human being, who is only a worm!"

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa - wait a minute...God never says this about humanity! Bildad has grossly exaggerated his position. God said his creation is good (so don't get down on maggots and worms!), God has made male and female Imago Dei. Humans were made to be good, to bear the image of God and be a blessing to the world. Humans were deceived and corrupted by Evil, and now are able to do both noble and despicable things.

God is also at work at all times, and Job is an example of those that can resist evil, he refuses to be deceived and fights corruption in his own soul. Apparently the three friends didn't do this as well as Job, and now their lives are exposed - there is more filth there then they are willing to admit.

Know this: Mankind is not maggotty, we are more then worms.

But just as Job chose to do righteous, and so live as one just below angels, you and I and others can choose to do unrighteous things, which sometimes reduces us to a bit above the worms. However, Abraham was declared righteous before God. And so can you, if you want it. Do you want it?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Sunday Sermon Notes - 2.25.07

The second deadly sin of the series that we are dealing with is Gluttony. In Latin the word is "gula", which can also be translated as "excess". Traditionally we think of a glutton as someone who eats and drinks too much. But gluttony can be more then just a sin of the flesh, it can be a way of life: excessive consumption can be deadly no matter what the object.

The story of Solomon is, in one sense, a story of excess. He asked God for wisdom instead of wealth and honor, so God gave him what he did ask for, and because Solomon didn't ask for the other two, God gave it to him. One would think that with all the wisdom he had, he could handle the wealth and honor. What is fascinating is that not only did Solomon receive the wealth and honor that God directed to him, he also reached out for and took more wealth. It is almost as if Solomon mistook God's promise of wealth and honor as permission to attain/consume as much wealth as possible.

In 1Kings1-11 we have the rise and fall of Solomon. The author elegantly informs us of the subtle consumption that in the end ruins Solomon. Chapter 6 tells us of Solomon building the Temple. Chapter 7 tells us of Solomon building his own Palace. The author writes: ...the temple was finished in all its details according to its specifications. He had spent seven years building it. It took Solomon thirteen years, however, to complete the construction of the palace." Notice that already Solomon's perspective is skewed, he has consumed almost twice as much as the LORD requested for the Temple.

Starting in Chapter 9, continuing through the demise of Solomon in Chapter 11, notice how many times gold is mentioned. God shows up to Solomon and outlines the deal, David did it once on the deathbed, this is God's second time - and this time God outlines the curses that will come for disobedience.

I think that there is a connection between the excessive consumption of gold, wives, "honor", and "stuff" and the downfall of Solomon.

James, in his invective against wealthy oppressors surely had Solomon in mind: 5v1,5 "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery (think Solomon- who died a warped, frustrated old man) that is coming on you. You have lived on earth in luxury (lust) and self-indulgence (gluttony). You have fattened yourself as in a day of feasting when there was to be no feast.

We think we are a sex-obssessed, lust-full people. And we are. But more so, we are gluttonous, we have excess and yet crave more, our barns are stuffed to overflowing, we pity the poor - not because they have no food or shelter, but because they have used cars and only local channels on their televisions.

Lust and Gluttony are the Sins of the Flesh. And they both kill, the soul and the body.

Jesus' invitation to us: redirect your desires - seek first the kingdom of God and his rightness; redirect your cravings - hunger and thirst for righteousness.

This is more then sentimental, pious religion. This is the antidote to a bloated, unhappy, restless existence, devoid of God and the good life we can never purchase or possess.

Is Gluttony your sin?

Try "feeding" on God, he'll help you use your excess to bless people rather then deprive them. Wouldn't you like that?

Woe! Woe! Woe! Does Your Pastor Practice What he Preaches?

Matthew 23-24 - ah yes, Jesus meek and mild, so soft and sensitive, never gets angry or frustrated.

Jesus is brilliantly perceptive, more so than most people (sometimes it is worth stating the obvious).

I think that Jesus is also deeply emotional, more so than most people (sometimes this is not always stated as obvious).

What would God say if He were a brilliantly perceptive, deeply emotional man or woman?

Thus we have the Gospels...four of them - so we wouldn't gloss over his insights and rants (amongst other reasons).

Jesus is so careful in what he says..."The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat (thus they have authority). So you must be careful to do everything they tell you (Jesus is covering his "seat"). BUT (and this is a big but) do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach."

Wow! Who is going to argue with that? Even the Teachers and Pharisees can't argue back...Jesus has made a potent, emotionally charged observation of reality to which everyone can testify, and to which everyone has strong feelings about.

Even before Jesus gets to the Seven Woes (seven being a number of completion..one woe is bad, two really not good, three - now it is getting serious, but seven...you are completely woeful...) He rattles off three other damning observations - it's like he's just getting warmed up.

One very important aspect of this ten-fold rant by Jesus towards the religious leaders and Scripture experts of the day is this: what was Jesus' attitude about all of this? What was Jesus' history with these influential people? What right did Jesus have, how had he lived so that he could say this and not be self-incriminated?
Was he just criticizing to make himself look good? Did he exaggerate their flaws so that his would look minor? Did he have something to prove? Did Jesus have some unresolved feelings towards his father Joseph that caused him to chafe at the authority of other men?
Did Jesus ever offer any solutions to these people that he was cutting down to size?

Reading through Matthew's gospel, you would find, point by point, a complete contrast between Jesus and these influential religious leaders. Jesus did not burden people, rather he took their burdens upon himself, Jesus did not seek honor with others, but rather ate with the dishonorable. Jesus did not ask to be called Rabbi, Father or Teacher, even if some used that title on him. Jesus had demonstrated many times his life as a servant, he had intentionally and repeatedly chosen to not exalt himself - his whole Incarnation was an act of humiliation, as would be his Crucifixion (see Philippians 2).

There are particular pastors that I have problems about, who I think should be close to first in line to receive their woes. There are churches, Christians, religious organizations that I think are blatantly hypocritical. Oh how they annoy me. Especially when they negatively influence me, my friends and family, my church members and attenders and neighbors.

But everyday I have to look in the mirror. Am I willing to see a Woe-Hypocrite branded on my chest?

And when I react to other hypcrites, what's the goal of my reaction? Restoration? Redemption? Truth in Love? Reconciliation?

What's the end result you work towards when you react to hypocrites?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Holy Spirit Who?

Romans 8 is a long and winding, yet moving line of reasoning of Paul...he's leading us somewhere...can you guess where? The main character of this part of the letter is the Spirit. Interestingly, at no point in this chapter is the word "Holy" attached with "Spirit", though he does start the next chapter adjuring the Holy Spirit to confirm the truth of a statement he has just made.

Prior to chapter 8, I only found a few references to the Spirit in the other seven chapters, once in chapter 7 (Spirit), once in chapter 5 (Holy Spirit), and once in chapter 1 (Spirit of holiness). Following chapter 8, there are a few more references: once in chapter 9, as laready noted, once in chapter 14 (Holy Spirit), four times in chapter 15 (twice Holy Spirit, once Spirit of God, once Spirit).

Who and what is the Holy Spirit? Paul gives us some illumination, but not too much - if we find any, it is mostly in chapter 8, it is almost as if he concentrated all his comments about the Spirit into one section, and then moved on. According to chapter 8, what does the Spirit do? That might help us figure out who the Spirit is.

vs1 the Spirit gives life (think Genesis account...spirit and breath and wind in Hebrew are all the same word)
vs4-5 we can live according to the Spirit
vs 5 we can desire what the Spirit desires
vs 6 the Spirit can control our mind (the outcome being joy and peace)
vs9 we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us (Paul is diving deep into philosophy, metaphysics, theology...)
vs 9 we can have the Spirit of Christ (as a possession? as a body part? as an soul-attachment?)
vs 10 the Spirit gives life...again
vs 11 the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead
vs 11 this Spirit can live in you
vs13 by the Spirit you can put to death the misdeeds of the body
vs 14 you can be led by the Spirit (think Jesus' 40 day desert journey)
vs 15 the Spirit does not make you a slave that lives in fear
vs 15 the Spirit brought about your adoption as a son/daughter of God
vs 16 the Spirit testifies with our spirit
vs 23 the Spirit bears fruit...
vs 26 the Spirit helps us in our weakness
vs 26 the Spirit intercedes for us with wordless groans
vs 27 the Spirit interedes according to God's will

The Trinity is our overarching theme to describe the relationship and identity of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. The word "trinity" is never used in Scripture to describe the relationship, it is our word to bring the persons together. In chapter eight we have all three referenced numerous times. God seems to be the initiator, the Son and the Spirit are agents/means/doers of God's desires and intent for humankind. The Spirit is present amongst us since Jesus has come and gone and promised to return...and we still wait...we wait with the Spirit within us...we also await for God the Father to dwell amongst us...and we have his Spirit within us as well as we wait..the Spirit of the Father and the Son are the same Spirit.

Based on what Paul says the Spirit can do, we ought to pay more attention to the role of the Spirit in our lives.

Does your pace of life leave you out of breath? Get the Spirit.

Does your life continually have the wind sucked out of its sails? Get the Spirit.

Do you feel enslaved to a pattern of living that results in dying relationships, unhealthy bodies, and restless hearts/minds? Get the Spirit.

How do you get the Spirit of God/Jesus Christ/holiness?

Read through Romans 8 again very care-fully. Then go back and re-read chptrs 3, 5, 6, 7 again. And then ask for the Spirit.

Then read Matthew 5,6,7.

Then read James 1.

Then read Psalm 119:1-8

And enjoy the Spirit!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Today is Mardi Gras, Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday

Did you know that Ash Wednesday is the day after Mardi Gras, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a forty day spiritual experience, the Lenten Season, marked by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance of sins. Shrove Tuesday is the Carnival day where one has a final experience of non-fasting, non-abstinence, and non-repentance (apparently Carnival in Latin means "farewell, meat").

Though Ash Wednesday has not been a day observed in my religious heritage, I will be acknowledging it this year by fasting and repentance of sins. During Lent I plan on abstaining from some items that I have chosen which, by doing without, I believe will be a good experience for my soul.

How about you? Are you interested in observing Lent this year? Do you feel a prompting to begin fasting once a week? Do you sense that there is something you should abstain from for the sake of your soul? Do you have somethings you need to repent of in the next forty days?

 Maybe Ash Wednesday could be a New Day for you?

Oh Judgment! Oh End of Evil! Oh My God...

Isaiah 22-24 wraps up the string of prophecies against cities of the middle eastern world - woes that began in chaper 13 come to a devastating, stunning, glorious finish in chapter 24.

Three things I noted:

Chapter 22 - though this prophecy is against Jerusalem, it takes on a very personal tone against a man named Shebna, the steward of the palace. He is cursed by God, and another man is named to take his place - Eliakim. Amongst other things the LORD describes as being given to him is this:
"I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David;
what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
I will drive him like a peg into a firm place;
he will become a seat of honor for the house of his father.
All the glory of his family will hang on him.
In that day, declares the LORD Almighty, the peg driven into the firm place will give way;
it will be sheared off and will fall, and the load hanging on it will be cut down.
The LORD has spoken."

This account immediately reminded me of the story where Jesus asks his disciples about his identity; Peter answers correctly - He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God - and Jesus replies with: to you I give the keys to the kingdom of heaven, whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, etc, and upon you I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

I'm sure Jesus had in mind this Isaiah prophecy...the background adds a new richness to the Gospel story. Peter is the one to end the judgment against God's people, his being placed in a position of authority signals a reversal of fortune. The keys represent his authority and ability in the kingdom to operate and in this case: be the rock upon which Christ will build his church. Though in the days of Isaiah the LORD promised to even shear off the "replacement peg", in Jesus' situation, there is a promise that not even evil can withstand the oncoming church. What a reversal of fortune for Israel and the whole Earth!

Second note: the city of Tyre, a port city north of Israel, is condemned and judged - there is a sense in reading it though that God had high expectations for the city, that they were outrightly rebelling against Him. But they are not God's covenant people? So what kind of relationship did God have with them that illicits this response? Is God at work in all nations/peoples of the world despite the words/deeds of his covenant people? May it be...

Third note: the devastation of the earth, as epically penned in this last chapter, reminds me - on a much larger, global scale, the devastation that the LORD brought to the Amorites through Joshua as Israel entered into the Promised Land. Genesis 3 tells us the tale of evil's infestation of the good earth, and here we see the ultimate, devastating, deeply saddening effects of evil run rampant. For the millions and billions of people that bear the brunt of evil everyday - on a global level, on a regional level, on a national level, on a local level, on a personal level - through war and famine, through rape and disease, through torture and dismembermant, through neglect and betrayal, through abandonment and mockery...through a land so polluted and disemboweled... will it ever end? Will wrong ever be righted? Will hurts be healed? Will suffering be turnd into gladness?

At the end of the day, the LORD Almight will reign...with great glory!

He will judge my evil. He will redeem evildoers. His Glory will drive away the darkness within our souls.

Oh my God have mercy on the church - your instrument of glory and redemption in this world.

Chapter 25 beautifully envisions the Restoration of all Things...the story of humanity does get better.

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Violence of God

Joshua 10 is a disturbing chapter. The five kings of the Amorites rise up against Joshua and his invading army, to defend themselves and end this disturbance in the land. But God is on the side of Joshua, and he enables his people to rout the enemies, the Amorites have no chance.

vs8 "The LORD said to Joshua, "Do not be afraid of them; I have given them into your hand. Not one one of them will be able to withstand you."

vs10a "The LORD threw them into confusion before Israel, so Joshua and the Israelites defeated them completely at Gibeon."

vs11 "As [the Amorites] fled before Israel...the LORD hurled large hailstones down on them, and more of them died from the hail than were killed by the swords of the Israelites."

vs12 "On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to Israel..." Joshua asked the LORD to still the sun for the day, so that the slaughter could be completed.

vs14 "There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the LORD listened to a human being. Surely the LORD was fighting for Israel."

As I was reading this section of Joshua, I was again re-shocked at the level of death and violence commanded by God, but also by God himself. This is uncomfortable, especially having just read through the Beatitudes of Jesus: blessed are the peacemakers.

Several things come to mind to help make sense of this:
ONE - in Genesis 15 God informs Abraham that his people will go into a foreign land for 400 years, and then they will return to the Land of Promise...for that land is currently inhabited by the Amorites, and their sin has not reached its full measure. When Abraham's people return after the 400 year absence, they will be returning as instruments of judgment. Moses makes clear in Deuteronomy 28 - if you obey me, you will be blessed, but if you act like the Amorites, you'll get their future. This story in Joshua is not one of random violence, but a judgment upon a people that have done many wicked deeds to others and their own.

TWO - this story takes place around the year 1500BC, over three-thousand and five hundred years ago, it is a story of an ancient people, a story taking place in a violent world. The actions of Israel are not out of place for their day. Kings of cities brutally enforced their rule upon other weaker cities, cities were places of refuge...as long as you didn't let other cities get too powerful. Outlying villages and farms were in constant insecurity of raiding parties and ambitious kings.

THREE - God instituted "eye for an eye", meaning that the judgment would be equal to the crime - God is not slaughtering the innocent; God is bringing justice to a people who promoted, celebrated, and allowed all sorts of crimes against humanity. No reformation of their soul was possible - their hearts were hardened, they were sadly unwilling to listen to the words of God.

The stories of Joshua conquering the Land of Promise is on one level a very sad story. There is relief for the nation of Israel, that they get to come to a land with so much abundance and put down some roots. But they will, in large part, be just as guilty of the same sins as the Amorites. And God will have to sadly bring in other nations to do to them what they did to the Amorites because of hardened hearts, and finger-plugged ears.

And thus we have a more profound understanding of why Jesus (Greek translation for Joshua) rode into Jerusalem riding on a beast of peace (donkey), not on a beast of war (stallion) in the Gospels, and why Jesus comes on a stallion in Revelation. To those with an unhardened heart, peace is a welcome gift. But to those with hard hearts, only violence and death will satisfy their desires. Jesus, don't give up on us yet - keep bringing your shalom, keep riding through this world on the beast of peace.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I Seek You With All My Heart

Beth

No, this is not a love song by Celine Dion. It is an ancient poem written by a wise rabbi named Ezra, a man who had grown up frustrated with the seemingly absence of God. Ezra was a responsible for completing the rebuilding of the temple after the Exile, the fulfillment of a life-long dream, an act that symbolized the return of God to his people - God was no longer absent.

Do you ever feel like God is absent from your life?


Sometimes, when I'm sitting at my Starbucks working on my sermon, I'll look out the windows and watch cars drive by, people walking towards the mall, the traffic rushing by on Illinois Road, and I'll wonder: if this is real life - why does there seem to be such a disconnect with the kind of life described in Scripture.

Where does God fit in with my normal life: get up, get the kids up, get ready for work, go to work, work, run some errands on the way home, come home, get dinner ready, play with the kids, get the kids ready for bed, put the kids to bed, clean up the house, take care of personal business, connect with my spouse, get ready for bed, go to bed, wake up, start the day over again.

This psalmist, Ezra envisions a kind of life where the heart, in whatever place if finds itself - at home, at work, out shopping, with the kids or spouse, playing or sleeping - the heart is seeking God, looking for signs of God's presence, the heart is reciting His poetry of life and love, the heart is remembering his works of generosity and creativity, the heart is envisioning a response of forgiveness and grace to whomever comes across my way.

There is the kind of life that happens to you. And then there is the kind of life that you make happen. God invites us to seek him, to delight in his instructions, to meditate on his ways, to rejoice in his interventions, to keep his Words wrapped around our mind. This is how one makes a life that one calls blessed, this is how one makes a life that blesses others.

So when I wonder where God is, when I wonder how God fits in with my regular life, I remember what He has done to me and others, and I keep seeking.

Someday I'll find what I'm looking for.

Oh That My Ways Were Steadfast...

Aleph

The first word of Psalm 119 is "blessed". It is the description of those that go the way of God, of those that listen to his instruction, who do what is good and right and noble and true and loyal.

It is the most desirable kind of life - one where God gives in abundance, gives through you generously, gives to you shalom.

And in a moment of honesty, the author writes: Oh that my ways were blessed, oh that my life would be shalom...Oh God do not forsake me.

I think of alot of my friends at church, they have tough decisions to make as parents, complicated decisions to make about their jobs, schooling, finances. They are trying to figure out how to get an unreliable car fixed, or afford a different one; they are trying to figure out how to get a different job that will help them make ends meet as well as bring some kind of fulfillment.

But the way is foggy. And there is not this sense of blessedness.

The psalmist, being in similar predicaments takes control of what he can: doing what God has laid out as his Way. He states: I will obey your decrees. I can at least do that. If I determine up front to know and do what you have asked of us, then I will trust you to help me find a way that helps me not only make ends meet, but provide me with opportunities to give and bless others.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Kierkegaard on Sin

What is sin? It is the pact of an evil conscience with darkness.


What else has a memory like that of a bad conscience?

What sin cries to heaven? The very one that hides most secretly and most quietly within. What the adulterers, murderers, and thieves do cries out already here on earth.


To be a mere observer is actually sin.

Whenever sin is thought of as a disease, or as an abnormality, it is falsified.


Oh my God, even when I go wrong, your guidance is over me, lovingly overruling innumberable possiblities, so that even this error becomes beneficial to me.


To sin against God is to punish yourself.

It is not dreadful that I have to suffer punishment when I have acted badly. No, it would be dreadful if I could act badly - and there were no punishment.

It is small things that irritate and so embitter one's life. I can gladly fight against a storm so that my blood almost bursts from my veins; but the wind that blows a grain of dust into my eyes can irritate me to such an extent that I stamp with rage.


The opposite of sin is faith. And this is one of the most decisive definitions of all Christianity - that the opposite of sin is not virtue but faith.

- pgs 376-378, Provocations: spiritual writings of Kierkegaard

Sunday Sermon Notes - 2.17.07

This week I start a seven week sermon series during the Lenten season about the seven deadly sins. I'm doing them in reverse order, starting with lust and ending with pride. As I've been preparing for the series, an observation about the sins that emerged is how closely related they are, how they almost overlap, and at some times seem to be synonymous with each other. At what point is lust, envy, greed that much different from each other?

In particular about lust, it is not necessarily about sexuality, so much as about desires and longings. Lust is misplaced longings, desires that result in ruin and taintedness, not beauty and joy. Lust leaves at least one person defiled, and if left unchecked, more than one person.

One of the underlying themes of this series is helping people know what to do to deal with the sin in their life. The biggest challenge may be convincing people they are sinners. Nobody likes to be called a sinner. People are very good at defending their life, coming up with good reasons for why they do what they do, and why it is somebody's elses fault. Or I made a mistake, or was confused, or misinformed, etc. Why is it so unfashionable to talk about sin?

Sin is a very religious word, and it is God's word for what is wrong in the world and what has corrupted us. Sin is an overarching word that encompasses alot of ideas. It is both a power at work in us, and something we do; it is something that we are guilty of, and something we are powerless to resist in our own will. It corrupts our desires, and we embrace its mastery over us.

Lust is a dirty word. Lust is a dirty deed. One can lust over a man or a woman, over money or a Mercedes, over power or prestige, over convenience or victory. And when you lust, you sin against God; and every time you sin against God, you've sinned against someone else. To lust after something or someone is to do make it an idol, an object of obsession, a fulfillment to longings that are at the expense of another. And lust is a deadly sin because if left unchecked or unrepentent, leads to death. (see James 1)

Lord have mercy on my lust-full soul.

Walk God's Way

Job 23 is his response to Eliphaz's charge against him of great guilt, wanton wickedness and abusive power. How else to explain Job's misfortune, surely it is God bringing justice: you reap what you sow, what goes around comes around.

But that is not the case, and Job knows better. Here is his description of himself
"But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
My feet have closely followed his steps;
I have kept to his way without turning aside.
I have not departed from the commands of his lips;
I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread."

I wonder how much of Job's story Jesus reflected upon as he walked through tumultous Israel, avoiding plots to take his life, deflecting controversial questions to trip him up, dealing with friends who abandon him in times of great need?

Though we may not face trials like Job or Jesus, we are commanded to pick up our cross daily. If we are to walk under the burden of life without losing our heart and soul, if we are to follow Jesus wherever or to whomever he steps toward, what kind of character do we need to have nurtured?

Jesus has given us his Spirit to empower us to walk God's way, it's how we can have that kind of character cultivated. He sustains the desire in our heart, empowers our will, and guides our feet. We can't follow Jesus alone, we need his Spirit in us, and his People around us. I write this from experience.

Are you struggling or stumbling? Like Job or Jesus, shoot straight with God, honestly examine your life, eat the Scriptures, and lean hard on your friends...assuming you have better friends then Job and Jesus.

And if you are not struggling or stumbling, be that friend.

The Superiority of Red Rose Tea

My Mum was right, again. Argh!

I have been a regular consumer of Lipton Tea for some years now. Mostly I drink iced tea (homemade), especially during the summer. In order to lose weight a few years back to qualify for a particular life insurance policy, I switched from Coca-Cola to Lipton Iced Tea. Since then I've been a big fan of Lipton, keeping our cupboard regularly stocked.


I started drinking hot tea more regularly, partly to reclaim my Canadian roots. Growing up, whenever we would visit my grandparents at their Ontario farm, for dinner we'd always have hot tea with our dessert. As a kid I remember being allowed to have a cup, and it was quite tasty. What I didn't know is that the brand of tea Grandma preferred was Red Rose.

My Mum reminded me of that fact several months ago. She saw that I was drinking more tea and wanted to know why I didn't use Red Rose, a superior tea. Since I'd become a Lipton man, I didn't want to bother with switching brands, what if I didn't like it? Besides, I've got fifty more Lipton bags to go through.

What prompted my Mum to increasingly insist I switch was that I had begun requesting a real teapot for Christmas/birthday/etc, just like my Grandma. In reclaiming my roots, I wanted to brew tea like they did in the old days, so my Mum challenged me to reclaim my roots farther and become a Red Rose man.

Today I declare that I have made the switch, I am no longer a Lipton man (though I still have about forty bags left...), I am now an official Red Rose man. As I prepared to write this morning, I took another sip of my superior Red Rose tea - and it was delightful.

How to describe the superiority? The Lipton flavor is a bit duller, the Red Rose has a cleaner taste to it.

I may still stick with Lipton for iced tea, but for hot tea, I'll savor Red Rose!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Angry Jesus

Matthew 21-22 includes the account of Jesus getting angry at the moneychangers in the temple. It's a fascinating little story. It comes on the heels of the Triumphal Entry story, which is also chock full of wonder.

Both of these stories electrify Jesus' persona in Jerusalem. Most of Jesus' ministry has been in Galilee, the northern section of Israel - hill country surrounding a lake. It was a rural, farming region, alot of shepherds, vineyards, cropfields, with scattered villages and some larger towns like Capernaum which had a synagogue. Jesus didn't venture down to Jerusalem very much, but when he did, it usually sparked controversy, and as a result strengthend resolve of those that breathed death threats against him. So going to Jerusalem was a very strategic move, Jesus wasn't stupid.

When he enters on a donkey with the colt trailing behind, Jesus is making an enormous statement about his royal heritage and his royal intentions. All this talk about the kingdom of heaven/God takes on a palapable sense when he rides in as royalty. A king would enter a city on a stallion if he came to declare victory or threaten war; a king would enter on a donkey if he came to declare peace and reconciliation.

Matthew records the crowds buzz over this entry: "...the whole city was stirred and asked, 'Who is this?' The crowds answered, 'This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.'"

Coming from Galilee was not something one wanted to admit, in the cultured, powerful, legendary city of Jerusalem, being from up north was an embarrassment. Especially from Nazareth, everybody knew that "nothing good comes out of Nazareth".

So Jesus has three strikes against him already: from Galilee with the accent, from Nazareth with the reputation, and rode in as a king...he is stirring up the pot big time.

Then he walks into the temple and makes an enormous mess.
"Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the benches of those selling doves."

Jesus was disrupting an ancient custom, a practice going back centuries and centuries and centuries. Temples always served as financial centers, in almost every culture and religion. So why is Jesus getting so irate over a practice that God had initially approved? Apparently there is nothing wrong with the exhange of coins in a temple, but there is something wrong when you forget why you are doing it.

Jesus declares: "My house will be called a house of prayer, bu you are making it a den of robbers"

This angry tirade by Jesus is not just about the temple and money, it is about a whole way of life, a way of relating to God, a way of relating to fellow citizens and believers, a way of loving.

Jesus' reference to "a house of prayer" is quote from Isaiah 56:7, a beautiful poem that opens with these words:
"Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed."

Wow! Did you catch that? Jesus was opposed to the injustice - the extortion cheating that was occuring in the exchange of money, in the buying and selling; the taking advantage of "supply and demand" to make an ungodly profit, that really riled up Jesus - especially when they do it in God's name and proclaim a God's blessing upon themselves for their ingenuity.

Jesus' name means salvation, I'd say he is close at hand to these financial finagelers. The cross will soon reveal his righteousness. Jesus is able to say so much with so few words.

The Isaiah poem goes on:
"And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD - these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a hous of prayer for all nations."

Not everybody raised livestock, so when they went to the temple to make the presrcibed sacrifices, they would pay money and purchase the necessary animal. The rich would purchase an ox, or a sheep; the poor could only afford a dove. You have to make the temple sacrifice, and who wants to purchase it on the outskirts of town and have to get the livestock through the busy streets, it is just easier to buy the animal on the temple mount: law of supply and demand drives up the prices...and the resulting profits fuel greed by the sellers and resentment by the buyers; not a good attitude to be fostered just before your worship service. Foreigners who were coming to the temple, this is what they saw? This was the beautiful covenant of God at work? People were profiting at God's expense? This did not bring the bulk of the people joy...and this upset Jesus.

The second part of Jesus declaration comes from Jeremiah 7:11
"Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the LORD."

The whole chapter is an indictment against the religion that Israel had been engaging in, a perversion of God's covenant, it was now worthless, and God was upset about it. He lays it all out for His people:

"If you really chage your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly,
if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow
and do not shed innocent blood in this place,
and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm,
then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever.

But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.

Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and swear by false gods,
burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known,
and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name,
and say, "We are safe" - safe to do all these detestable things?

Jeremiah and Isaiah lived and preached and loved and had their hearts-broken when the land of Judah (southern Israel) went into exile around 586BC. And now, almost 450 years later, the prophet of Nazareth is preaching and loving and having his heart broke by the same kind of things.

In Matthew's account, Jesus follows up his tirade of justice with a time of healing of the blind and the lame. Amongst the broken tables, spilled coins, bleating sheep and fluttering doves, amongst the chaos of shouting, irate business men and religous leaders, Jesus hears the lamens and pains of the oppressed, the fatherless and the widows, the foreigners - and lays his hand of justice on their heads and brings them mercy.

Jesusians are those who get angry when shalom is obstructed, when righteousness is prevented from coming to those hungering for it. Jesus got angry about it, he cleared space for the ones needing God's shalom - and then brought it.

Is God's house a place of joy?
Is God's house a place of prayer for all nations?
Is God's hosue a place of shalom?
Is God's hosue a place of rightness?
Is God's house a place of restoration?
Is God's house a place for Jesus?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

To Those Who Beat Yourself Up For Your Blunders...

Romans 7 includes a powerfully honest confession from Paul. I've read this chapter many times, but this morning it was like reading it with new eyes...I got it more then I did before...though I'm sure someone can debate me on the understanding issue.

In this chapter, Paul is trying to help his fellow Jesusians in Rome to find a metaphor that they can grasp by which they can stay loyal to the One. He opens the chapter with this verse: "...for I am speaking to those who know the law..."; thus he is addressing those who are either faithful Jews or faithful Gentile converts to the Judaism of the day. These men and women would know the Torah, they would have memorized the Psalms, and they would be inspired by the Prophets and Writings. And all of this was very attractive to them, sufficient for their spiritual journey...almost. Jesus pushed their buttons of unsatisfaction, opened their eyes more to reality, and offered them a Way for those that were blind, deaf, crippled, dead, hungry, thirsty, forsaken, ridiculed, hated, abused.

For these Roman Jews and Gentile/Jewish converts, they believed the gospel of Jesus. But they were having a hard time reformulating how they related to the Torah, to the laws and instruction of God, and the teaching of Jesus. And Paul centers in on the issue of sin, wrongdoing, transgression of the commandments, violation of the laws, disobedience to the instructions.

To those that know that law, who care about the law, who desire to please God, who delight in the direction and way of God as revelaed in the Torah, the Way of Jesus is the next step for them. Jesus' death symbolizes their death to the Way of the Torah, and the resurrection symbolizes their Way of Christ. This tomb they have to enter through doesn't negate the Torah, it does reveal how essential it is, but how it is not the end, but a beginning.

Paul writes vs4
"So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law thorugh the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God."

In regard to the issue of sin, of transgressions, disobedience, rebellion by our bodies, he writes this, on the heels of his concept of bearing fruit: vs5
"For when we were controlled by our flesh/sinful nature the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death."

This is an important concept: controlled by our flesh...such that we bear fruit of death.

One of the sinister signatures of sin is death of what is good, beautiful, right, noble, pure, innocent - most notably in relationships between husband and wife, father/mother and children, brothers and sisters, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc. Sin, left unchecked, ignored, or untended bears wild berries of misery.

For those that faithfully adhere to the law, this is there dilemma: the more they follow the Way, the more awful they realize they are, the more commands they seek to follow, if they are honest, the more of a lawbreaker they realize they are becoming. And they struggle so mightily: in their mind they want to delight in God and his instructions, they want to obey the Way of Life, but there is something in them that they cannot control that bursts out of them and by it they say the wrong things, they rebel and transgress and sin. What are they to do?

Paul goes on to write in vs21:
"So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our LORD! So then, I myself am a slave to God's law, but in my flesh/sinful nature a slave to the law of sin"

What are you to do when you don't do the right thing you want to do, and what do you do when you do the wrong thing you don't want to do?

Understand the struggle going on inside your soul: your will, your mind, your desires are to please God and bring joy to others; but there is an evil bentness in your life that rears its ugly dragonhead, breathing fire onto your best efforts. But rather then flog yourself for impurity, recognize the good that does come out of you through Jesus's Spirit; and then as one who is penitent, recognize that the evil that comes out of you is not the Renewed You, it is the corrupt flesh of this world - that part of you that keeps you yearning for the Restoration of All Things.

Thanks be to God who daily delivers me over a lifetime through Jesus the Rescuer, my Leader.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Who Gets Blessed By God?

Isaiah 19-21 continues the prophecies against select nations: the ones highlighted here are Egypt, Cush, Babylon, Edom, Arabia.

As an American Christian, I have heard a lot about how preoccupied God is with our country. Many theologians and scholars are fascinated with God's growing interest in other parts of the world.

In the good old days, I'm sure Israel was confident that God was preoccupied with them. Maybe too preoccupied, since God seemed to get really miffed at them when they cheated the poor, idolized the rich, and worshipped sex. Maybe they wanted the blessings of God, but not God Himself.

But God, being the mysterious, creative, patient, abounding in loyalty Father that he is, brings judgment upon Israel because they are not preoccupied with him. God and Israel had a covenant, much like a marriage bond - God is the husband, Israel the wife. And Israel is continually referenced as a whore, their unfaithfulness is a disgrace - so blatant, so sad. And God would not tolerate that kind of behavior, and why should he. But God still wants the kind of covenant he originally envisioned, so he must rehabilitate the sinners, the wrongdoers, the unfaithful, the rebellious.

So God uses other nations to bring judgment. God uses people as his instruments of justice and mercy. In this case, God uses Egypt and Assyria to bring the discipline needed to end the horrendous infidelity. God has a particular kind of relationship with these nations. They are not just tools for him, they are people that he cares about deeply.

Chapter 19 ends with these beautiful words of God towards Egypt and Assyria (notoriously wicked peoples...)
vs21 "So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD.

vs22 "The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.

vs23 "The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together.

vs24 "In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth.

vs 25 "The LORD Almighty will bless them saying, 'Blessed by Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'

God has great affection for the nations of the world. Even today. God is at work in all peoples...even the violent ones, the seemingly godless ones, the terrorist ones, the corrupt ones, the greedy ones, the belligerent ones, the dirty ones, the sex-crazed ones, the religious ones, the neglected ones...all of them bear the attention and affection of God. Even America.

I'm sure that Isaiah's prophecy did not set well with the people. Maybe that is because he was buck naked for three years as he preached this sermon.

God works in weird ways. Mysterious? Maybe. But definitely wierd. Yet it works...

What does that mean for what we characterize as God at work in our world? How should we as Christians in America view other nations? Who is and has been most blessed?

Us?

Really?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Through Time Immortal...

Through time immortal,
my eyes have traveled.
Empires rise and empires fall.

Through war and famine
my eternal eyes have seen
death, depravity, and sins unmentionable.

My eyes travel and see.
My eyes have seen man at his worst.
But in the darkest of times
my eyes have seen the brightest of hope.

As brother slays brother,
stranger saves stranger.
As neighbor betrays neighbor,
stranger heals stranger.

My eternal eyes travel
and have fallen upon you.

What will I see?

- Daniel Alexander

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What Kind of God is This?

Joshua 6 is the story of Jericho's fall at the feet of Israel, and the next chapter is the fatal account of Achan. At the end of the account are these two verses (7v25-26)
"Joshua said, 'Why have you brought this trouble on us? The LORD will bring trouble on you today.'
Then all Israel stoned [Achan], and after they had stoned the rest [of his family and livestock], they burned them.
Over Achan they heaped a large pile of rocks, which remain to this day.
Then the LORD turned from his fierce anger.
Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor/Trouble ever since."

It's the description of God and his reaction to the situation that startles me. It is so unlike Jesus. What kind of God is this?

Some background to the story: God is bringing Israel into the promised land, they've just crossed the boundary river called the Jordan - now they are in enemy territory. Either they destroy the inhabitants of the land, or the inhabitants will rise up and destroy them. It is a very violent, tribal-oriented, black and white culture. Either you are for me or against me, no middle ground. So Jericho is the first stop, and since it is the first city to be conquored, and God is going to give them the city (all they have to do is walk around it...basically), the Israelite army is to "devote" the city to God. This means that all possessions (silver, gold, jewelery, etc) are to go to the temple treasury, and all living beings are to be destroyed. It all sounds so bloody and brutal. What kind of God is this?

Achan, in his plundering of the city, took some of the possessions for himself, something that God expressly forbid - there was no confusion of the issue. He confessed that he coveted the items and took them anyway. Either he didn't think God would notice, he didn't think God would really do anything about it, or he was stupid.

God did notice, and God did care, and he did do something about it. God became fiercly angry.

Was God justified in getting fiercly angry with Achan? How does this compare with Jesus getting fiercely angry with the money-changers in the temple?

Is it okay that our God gets fiercly angry?

What happens if he gets fiercly angry with us?

What Goes Around Comes Around

Psalm 64 is a song of lament, a choral complaint about the unfairness of life - but not just any kind of unfairness, the kind where mean, stupid, selfish people hurt other people in order to promote themselves. Based on stories I've heard about where some of you live, the kind of people you share a home with, people at the office, at school...some of those people are just plain selfish and mean. (vs3 "They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows")

And here you are, trying to do the right thing by everybody, working hard to be honest, diligent, considerate of everybody, forgiving, staying out of the gossip ring, forsaking vengeance and yet...you keep getting the shaft while they get what they want.

That's how it seems, anyway.

This psalmist, like you, really needs to see justice done, that someone will do what is right and fair.

As we've heard a million times: life is not fair.

So what are we to do?

Celebrate everytime fairness does occur! Don't live as if you deserve fairness, live in such a way that you savor and celebrate it! (vs10 "The righteous will rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him").

The psalmist credits all justice/fairness to the work of God, hence his joyful song to the Creator.

We all want to see people get their due, we need to know that at least once in awhile people who are worse then us don't get away with their shenanigans. (vs8 "He will turn their own tongues against them and bring them to ruin").

And when justice/fairness occurs - even in our own life, we breath a sigh of relief that even though this life isn't fair, God is just and he is always at work through people who are committed to being a conduit for what is good, noble, right and true.

A Good Name & Great Riches

Proverbs 22 has as its main theme the issues of riches, the poor, and justice.

The first verse sets the tone, and it is a verse many of us have read before:
"A good name is more desirable than great riches;
to be esteemed is better than silver or gold."

Tara and I are busy trying to pick a name for a soon-to-be-born baby. If it is a girl, we think we've landed on a beautiful, meaningful, good name; if it is a boy...well we're still searching.

Part of our criteria for picking a name: a short name so that it won't be shortened to a nickname, a two syllable name, it can't start with the letter H, and it has to sound right when uttered with the names of the other three siblings, we can't use the name Gunther or Gunner, it needs to have some kind of family history/personal/biblical link to it, and it has to sound good with the middle name which is already predetermined for the most part.

But this is not what the Proverb means by a good name. A good name is not something you get at birth, it is something earned through life. In the ancient days, names were given that carried a specific meaning for which the parents hoped the child would live out; or the name was given to commemorate some event surrounding the birth/conception of the child. For example, Abraham's son Isaac - his name means "laughter" because Sarah the mother laughed when she heard that she would be able to conceive a child at the age of 80. Or Jesus, his name means "God will save", and that was the description of his life.

This proverb, though, is summing up observations made by normal people through the centuries: at the end of the day, people generally would rather have good friends standing by their deathbed then piles of wealth and no real friends. People wrapping up their life are happier when they have good stories to tell of good times with good friends and the good deeds they did to help out people who needed a good break; much happier then people who boast and brag about what they accomplished in life, keeping quiet on the people they trampled, the family they ignored, and the earth that they polluted.

I go through these periods where I get really envious of people who are wealthier than me. I want to live a life where I've earned a job that pays lots of money so that I can have a bigger house, a big SUV, a big boat, a big vacation place, a big savings account, a big etc. Then I would have the good life, right? Then I would be happy? Then I would know that I am successful?

Wisdom instructs that for most people in most places in most of history - wealth corrupts your soul, accumulation of riches often costs you your love for others, and God. Some people can handle lots of wealth and lots of love. Some people. But for people like you and me, we are way better off by pursuing a good life, a good name, a good reputation with people who are in need then by pursuing more possessions and money and trying to impress people with power and more possessions. Envy ruins everything. Covetousness is a root of all kinds of evil.

Near the middle of this list of proverbs is this one:
"Those who oppress the poor to increase their wealth
and those who give gifts to the rich -
both come to poverty."

Though you may not oppress the poor personally, do you bear any responsibility for your employer's abuse of the poor? The bigger the company, the more likely they mistreat the poor - despite their benevolent funds. Of course some small business' are not more sacred - they can be run by greedy people just as well as some big business'. Just like some churches.

And when you consider who to have over for dinner parties, does the list include people you are trying to impress, people who you are hoping will like you more and thus you can gain from the relationship? This is called networking for your own gain. Or do you ever consider having just your friends over, to have a good time, a meal to enjoy with them and bless them? Or do you once in awhile invite some people over who you know need a good neighbor, they need a break, they need someone to listen...

Go for a good name...it's better for your soul than silver and gold.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Jesus and Little Children

Matthew 19-20 contains the famous story about Jesus being a kid-magnet.

A major teaching of these two chapter is highlighted in this story: "But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first" 19v30.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these...little children are not to be hindered in coming to Jesus.

Several thoughts:

Jesus must be alright if kids like him - he's good, he's funny, he's strong, he's playful, he's kindhearted with them.

The way of Jesus is a way that kids can travel. It doesn't mean building a good kids program at church, or a simplistic religion, or naive spirituality. It means living in such a way that kids are welcome, kids are played with, kids are infused with goodness, and strength, truth, and kindness. And our motive for such is how Jesus interacts with children...God is our Father and we are his children. Seeing how Jesus welcomed kids on his knee, we can picture how God wants us to play catch with him.

Not trying to sound trite, but God is both very big and powerful and mysterious, but also very present, and very real, and very involved.

I was reading through the website for the ONE Campaign - there are so many little children that bear the brunt of humanity's atrocities: hunger, violence, corruption, negligence, AIDS, etc take their worst toll on little children.

In being a father to Emma, Levi, Isaac and Baby Hallman, I want them to grow up in the way of Jesus - as described above; and I want them to look out for, protect other kids who need some strong kindness. That's how I take care of the kids in my neighborhood; and there are people like ONE and others who help take care of kids around the world. Like Jesus.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Not As Free As I Think I Am

Romans 6:17 caught my eye this evening, I've read this chapter many, many times, but its as if I'd never saw this verse before:

"But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance." (TNIV)

Beautiful.

The last phrase is fascinating: "...the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance."

Paul goes on to write in 6v18: "You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."

Apparently humanity, all individuals, have some kind of master over them. This, if it is a fact, means that we are not free people. In fact, we have very little freedom. Our behavior is dictated to us, we must conform in order to keep a job, keep a spouse, keep out of prison. But there is one thing that no master can take away from us: our ability to choose. We can choose to conform or rebel; we can choose to listen or ignore. There is always some kind of choice that gets made - one act of freedom that then leads us to living under the rule of something/somebody.

Nobody is as free as they think they are, especially in America. We are actually one of the least free people in the world. We have so many laws, so many legislators, so many oversight committees, so many oversight organizations, we are so dependent on China for imports, on the Middle East for oil, and on Canada for Coffee Crisp. We are not as free as we think we are.

Paul is arguing that in relation to our soul/life and God, we have two basic options: we are slaves to God or slaves to Evil, we get to choose where we put our allegiance. Interestingly, the only way that the Evil One could get Adam and Eve to place their allegiance to him was by deceiving them, and deceived people are rarely free people. Thus, the "pattern of teaching" that Paul is refering to must have a quality to it, a content to it that is liberating. Jesus instructs us that the truth will set us free. Free from what? Free from the tyranny of sin, from the cycle of wrongdoing and folly. And free of the deception that blinds us to truth, so that we can make a choice to come under the rule of a different master: the original Creator and Father.

To be in community, to be a citizen in a country, to pledge allegiance to an entity means I give up some rights and freedoms so that we might have greater prosperity, security, and happiness. But if we give up our rights and freedoms to the wrong person/entity, we'll not ever really find what we are looking for. And Jesus offers us a way of life, a pattern of teaching for us to follow with our heart, head, knees and feet which results in a certain kind of freedom to live by truth, delight in God and love like we've always wanted to.

As you have already figured out, to love someone is to give up your freedoms. You can't be free and also have love. And it may be that for many of our fellow citizens, in our efforts to protect freedom, we lose our capacity to really love our neighbors.

Thanks be to God that I'm not as free as I think I am, that I am more loved than I think I am.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Chore time for the guys...



Kids are never too young to start chores.

Levi and Isaac, amongst other chores, are responsible for our laundry.

Here you can see them working together, getting a load of dark colors ready to wash.

They had a little trouble in the past getting the clothes sorted, but after a few botched loads, they've gotten the hang of it!

Happy Birthday to Levi & Isaac

Monday was the brothers 25 month birthday. However, the following pictures are from their twenty-four month birthday. Well, the day after was when all the extended family came over. We had lots of fun.


Isaac is wearing the black v-neck sweater vest, Levi, obviously, is wearing the red v-neck sweater vest; can you find Emma in this picture? Very good!



Aren't they handsome? They are big boys now. Almost.



Isaac loves eating cake, Levi likes having his picture taken with his piece of cake.



Daddy and Mama are proud of their sons, it's hard to believe they are two already.



Annie Sauder knows style, Levi looks so cool in his leather jacket. His bike is in the garage, waiting for him. Now if only he can find his chain wallet...


Levi and Isaac are excited about their new kitty-kitties. Emma received one for Christmas, and the boys were too fond of it for her liking. So now they have their own, and they love them, and pet them, and play with them and give them a drink each night before bed!

"Hey everybody, we're two now; nobody mess with us or else..."

Sunday Sermon Notes - 2.11.07

St. Paul pens these words in his letter to the Colossian and Laodocians house churches: walk in the Way of Jesus, flowing abundantly with thankfulness towards our Father. (my edit/translation).

This core idea is found again and again in Deuteronomy and the Psalms: God wants us to live as beneficiaries of his blessings, and thus live a life rich in gratitude - a heart that aches from so much laughter and tongues tired from telling of our thankfulness to the Creator of all that is Beautiful and Delightful and Mysterious.

There is a way that we can walk that leads to unthankfulness - which is understood as resentment/bitterness, "everybody is out to get me", "you owe me", lonliness, helpless, independent, unloved, etc. It is a dark way to live, it is as if one is blind to the beauty of God, and deaf to his words of instruction.

One way to understand the ministry and mission of Jesus is this: He came as One overflowing with thankfulness to the Father, and he came so that he could pour his abundant gratitude into our hearts. The goal of Jesus' work with humanity is seen when we have hearts thankful towards God. The mark of "salvation" is a grateful heart towards God. When we say that we are saved, we are saying we are constanly grateful for/to God.

We often discredit the importance of thankfulness. Yet I know how many of you feel like maybe your service at Anchor doesn't matter because rarely are you noticed or thanked. We all feel underthanked in one way or another. Including me. And we are always looking for someone to notice us, we are always hoping that we will be appreciated/thanked. So by our yearnings we admit that thankfulness is a big deal. And so we should not underestimate how important it is for us to be thankful towards God. If anybody anywhere is thankful towards God, it is a sign that Jesus has been at work there.

The way you walk ties closely with the abundance of gratitude coming from your heart. And Jesus says it is more blessed to give thanks then to receive thanks. And so for us, everytime we feel underthanked, unappreciated, etc, it is a moment for us to mutter a prayer of thanks to God...which hopefully will begin to change our disposition, and result in a lightened heart that begins to focus outward.

The next time someone asks you how you are doing spiritually, measure your answer by how thankful towards God you have been lately.

Thankfulness is born out of reflection, on the heels of having received something. To be thankful towards God you must be aware of what it is you have been receiving from God. And if at first consideration you are not sure what you have been receiving from God, you may want to reflect where your "stuff" has come from if not from God...I'd be a little wary of "stuff" that you don't know where it came from!

Dianna Burt's class did a study on gratitude last fall and she has some leftover books. If you want to do some reflection on gratitude, pick up one of the books and begin a new journey.

Jesus envisions people whose delight in God gets expressed in a wealth of gratitdue, the result being that others become more grateful because of your gratitude (it is a a great-attitude that is contagious). Also, the more rich you are in thankfulness, the more thankful you can be when the hard times come, when life comes difficult, wearisome, dull, painful, lonely, etc. Paul encouraged the Jesusians in Colosse and Laodacia to be overflowing in thankfulness as he wiled his time away in a Roman prison.

Consider: who are the people in your life who seem ungrateful, resentful, feel a strong sense of entitlement, are picky, etc? Obviously those people are very annyoing, and your first inclination is to get away from them. But they need your rich gratitude, the thankfulness overflowing from your heart is desperately needed in the deeply impoverished and oppressed souls.

A heart overflowing with gratitude is like a cup being poured into another vessel, a cup that never empties. There are plenty of empty hearts at your school, office, factory line, playground, church...and they need to "catch" the contagious thankfulness that has infected your heart.

And if you are not feeling that rich in gratitude, Jesus invites you to reconsider the "tradition" going into your head, and the choices you are making with your feet and the experiences on your knees. God needs your heart to be a conduit of his blessing to a hurting world: get your head, feet and knees into the game so that your heart can be rich in thankfulness.

The people in your world will be grateful and glad you did.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Judgment Upon the Unjust

Isaiah 16-18 contain oracles against three nations: Moab (remember who Moab is? from the book of Genesis, the son of Lot and his daughter!), Damascus/Syria, and Cush/Egypt. These nations at one time or another opposed God and the nation of Israel. But the cause for judgment is rooted in very common forms of evil.

Moab is guilty of pride and insolence.
Damascus is guilty of rage and idolatry.
Cush is guilty of aggression towards others and causing fear.

It is one thing when a one person has this problem, maybe a parent or child in a household. But what happens when a few people in the neighborhood unite around one of these evil acts. Or people at work come together and perpetuate all sorts of mean things/conditions upon others. It can get ugly very quickly, and ruin a lot of livess in many subtle and profound ways.

This is why Isaiah includes these oracles: Israel needs to know that God will stick up for them. Evil/wickedness/meanness will not go unpunished, justice will come.

Remember: God uses people as instruments of his justice. And sometimes God has to wait for people to wake up to their role in bringing about justice, ending the evil that fills their home, workplace, their church, etc.

Do see something at home, at work, at church, in your neighborhood that you know is just plain evil? Have you considered what you could do to bring it to an end?

The goal of God is not to destroy evil, but to redeem people from evil, to free them from the bondage of evil. But if people are unwilling to let the shackles of sin be taken off their ankles and wrists, what is God going to do? He won't force his mercy on anyone. God wants to use you to bring about the end of evil, but more then that, he wants to use you to free people from evil. Who do you know that needs freed?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

More Bob Roberts - Nine Things He is Unlearning/Learning: Read This Now!

Bob Roberts on church and mission:
9 Things I'm Learning and Unlearning

I'm learning … that mission begins with Christology not ecclesiology. Following Jesus leads us to mission, which leads to churches gathering.

I'm unlearning … my assumption that starting churches naturally leads to mission. It doesn't. Churches default to self-focus unless a commitment to be like Jesus in the world comes first.

I'm learning … that being glocal means decentralizing power, decision making, information, all of it. The kingdom of God means ministry opportunities are available to almost everyone.

I'm unlearning … the American church's traditional focus on a super-star speaker, worship leader, educator, and shepherd, which serves mainly to attract spectators rather than igniting the power of everyone else.

I'm learning … that we serve not to convert but because we have been converted. We serve because Christ has changed us and made us servants to people who are hurting and lost.

I'm unlearning … the assumption that "Christian" is defined primarily as acknowledging a moment of conversion. Becoming a follower of Jesus depends on what happens after that.

I'm learning … to love people, which means to see them healed, educated, and given the same opportunities that we have.

I'm unlearning … that the Christian faith is all about heaven. I believe the church has denied the future by just waiting for the Second Coming. We need a story that includes the future.

I'm learning … the kingdom will be established not by human power or entertainment, but by realizing God's concern for humanity and the whole of society.

******

Amen and Amen - may it be true for Anchor...

*****

This article can be found at http://www.christianvisionproject.com/2007/01/we_arent_about_weekends.html

Insights from Bob Roberts...Good stuff on what makes for a good church

The following Q&A a partial section of an interview found at http://www.christianvisionproject.com/2007/01/we_arent_about_weekends.html

I strongly encourage you to read the following interview, and copy/paste the link and read the rest. Roberts speaks clearly about where Anchor is shuffling towards.

Enjoy...


Q. This is a different kind of mission from church planting.

A. In kingdom work, we make a mistake when we start with ecclesiology. We should start with Christology. Our first approach should be "How can we live out the love of Jesus in this society?" It's not "How can we start a church?"

People living like Jesus: that's what changes a society. Too often, we start with a preacher who tries to gather a church first, thinking that, in time they'll get around to engaging the world. That's backwards. It teaches people to think engaging the world is something we pay people to do after the church is built, or that it's an occasional trip we make.

No, we want people to understand the Great Commission is not the church's project, but it's something we all own personally. "You mean me go and use my job? What in the world can a plumber do over there?" Yes, we want everyone to think mission first. Mission doesn't mean multiplying churches, but finding ways to show God's love and greatness to the world.

If you focus on mission, churches will follow, but if you focus on churches, mission often gets lost.

Q. Is this true of individuals, too? Does focusing on my "standing" in Christ divert the focus from my "calling" in Christ?

A. It can. Our definition of disciple must move from the celebration of a moment of "conversion" to a focus on transformation over time, seeing that person and their community transformed. We have to move from an evangelism perspective that says, "Here's the prayer you need to pray. If you don't accept my gospel presentation, it's over. I've done my duty" to a radically different expression of faith, which is unabashedly proclaiming the gospel, and serving, and loving.

Q. How does evangelism fit into your understanding of mission?

A. I see evangelism as introducing a person to Jesus and getting that person to convert. Our mission is engaging the whole of society as agents of God's kingdom. For God's kingdom to be seen on earth, evangelism is a must.

But if we focus on evangelism only, then when we've done evangelism, congratulations, somebody got converted. End of story. But evangelism isn't the endgame. It's just a core competency. If we're trying to see a community transformed, evangelism is just part of it.

Q. Your church is helping internationally with clinics and schools in Afghanistan and Vietnam. You're working locally by tutoring in under-resourced schools and in correctional facilities. Your church specifically offers help to families of special needs children. Doesn't it take a large church to be missional in this way?

A. No. We started when we were a church of 300; a church of any size can do this. The key is to focus on one spot. Don't bebop everywhere. Find a place to serve and stay with it long term.

When I began to read the Bible and understand how societies were put together and what God's kingdom was all about, I thought, My goodness, everything a society needs is sitting in my pews. We just started applying the resources we had to the societal needs we became aware of.

If you have a hundred people, you can engage two or three domains of society all by yourself. Nothing will transform your church like building a $15,000 school in east Asia and sending four of your schoolteachers, who raise their own money, to go and help put it together. It will change the whole makeup of your church.

We've gained resources as we've grown, but mission is what Christians do in whatever size group they're in.

Q. Most churches that try to "find a need and fill it" fall exhausted just trying to meet the needs within the congregation. "We need more youth workers. We need more children's workers. We need more small group leaders." The "needs" within a congregation are never satisfied, and that can draw a church's focus inward. How do you break out of that to focus on touching the world outside?

A. You have to ask yourself, What kind of a church do we want to be? What is my definition of church? And what kind of disciples am I producing?

If my church is primarily about the Sunday event, then doing kingdom work is secondary and actually unnecessary. If the Sunday event and church programming is primary, then I'll spend all my time, money, and energy what happens inside the church.

For so many pastors, church is about what happens on Sunday. Well, I really disagree with that. Church is not supposed to be a Sunday event. It's supposed to be salt and light in the family, in the community, and around the world.

Our church is not about the weekend. I didn't understand this when we started. Many churches, like ours, start out with mass mailers, advertising, "show up on Sunday," we're starting "our thing."

But the best people to reach are those you connect with in your community involvement when you're engaging the culture. They're seeing the church in action, not just in its advertising.

Q. Doesn't every church believe in missions?

A. Lots of churches tack it on here and there. But it's an add-on. Missions isn't the core of what they do.

That's why I don't use the word missions. We talk about the kingdom. At our church we say, "Kingdom in, kingdom out." When the kingdom gets inside of you, then missions is not an occasional project you do; you live out your faith constantly for God's kingdom.

Q. You also ask, "What kind of disciples are we producing?"

A. That's huge. For years pastors have implied, "Come to church; come to small group; you'll be a disciple." It hasn't worked. That system's broke. We all know that. Even if we get people into small groups, how many groups are really turning people into disciples that engage the world for God's kingdom?

Discipleship is more than urging conversions, signing people up for Bible study, and recruiting workers for church programs. The greatest tool for making disciples is getting people to engage the world.

Q. What did this change of focus mean for you as a preacher?

A. Humility. Not trying to get people to come back to hear me. But to get them into the world.

Think about it. Why do people come to hear most preachers? Because they're great preachers. But some kinds of great preaching just anesthetize the church. People will tell their friends, "Oh, you've got to hear this." But that's the extent of their action. Listening to that kind of preaching leads only to more listening.

Part of the problem is the preacher's natural interpretation of certain passages. We preachers naturally tend to organize the church around our role. Take Ephesians 4. We'll preach about the leadership roles: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. But we concentrate on the roles of leading the church—we're focused on our gifts. We've neglected everyone else.

What are all those leadership functions for? "For works of service." We are to preach in such a way that leaders are in the background and we make the heroes the people doing the works of service.