Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Has Your Method Become an Idol?

Last week on the blog there was some discussion that revolved around working with other followers of Christ that may not be from the same background or tradition. The main idea being whether or not there are issues that would cause one to either break fellowship or not work alongside with another believer based on issue x, y, or z. Basically what was looked at was are there such things as non-negotiable and negotiable issues within the church? 

For the record I am a huge proponent on working with people from varying backgrounds as I see the benefit of the larger body of Christ in the Church Universal being whole and on mission together. But I do not think that means that you just incorporate every idea or method in order to get along with every guy who comes along claiming to be a Christian because I do believe that there is a place for the gift of discernment within the church.

That being said, I still hold to there being non-negotiable and negotiable issues within the church, although my view or may be how I articulate it has been challenged in recent days.

I want to briefly look at an issue that goes hand in hand with this whole idea, that being principles and methods. In regards to this overall discussion over a few blog post, I like how Mark Driscoll sums it up in his recent leadership coaching video by saying, "Principles are close-handed and timeless; whereas, methods are open-handed and timely." http://theresurgence.com/2011/08/30/methodology-vs-methodolatry

It is often our methods that would fall into the negotiable category, but many are guilty of making these non-negotiable, which in essence has turned a methodology into an idol. Driscoll has created his own term here in calling it "methodolaltry," when ones method becomes the "only way" of doing things.

Much of this is played out in the church today as being the "big issues" that split churches when in reality they are not "big issues" at all other than the fact that they have become idolatry to some. Practical examples would be robes or no robes (My Orthodox Priest friend), choirs or bands, the way in which to serve the elements of communion, etc. These are all methods that are timely, open-handed, and contextual.

I am sure that this is convicting for some, so my question is what methods have you tried to make principles? What methods in your life have become idolatry? Please feel free to share an example from your own life or that of your church as you have seen "methodolatry" or the repentance from such.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Test and Trials=Steadfastness

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 
James 1:2-4

All of us have needs, but few us like to ever admit those needs. So there are times in your life that God will allow you to face a trial so that you clearly see your need in the midst of what you are facing. 

But what is encouraging about facing a trial and being in need is that by recognizing our deepest need for Christ then all other needs and trials can be counted as joy because it is helping produce spiritual maturity within us. Yes, this is encouraging, but not always easily recognizable. 

This has been something that I have been wrestling through myself in the last six weeks in the midst of my families own trial once we were uncertain of our future back in mid July. I can honestly say that James 1:2-4 were the last verses on my mind as we received an unexpected email, but in the process of six weeks God has worked on my heart to where now I can read these verses and honestly say that I count it all joy because of the spiritual maturity that it is building in myself and my family. 

I recognize now that what we have been facing has been a trial and a test. A trial and a test that I believe I can now say that we count it all joy because of the steadfastness that it is producing in us that will help lead us to faithful endurance in South Asia when we face troubles and afflictions of numerous kinds. 

So wherever you are, whatever you are going, know that your ultimate need is for Jesus Christ. Once you recognize that need then everything else you face in life can be counted for joy because it is all part of maturity that is helping lead to steadfastness, which ultimately will lead to perfection at the return of Christ.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Three Levels of Church Authority


On Wednesday I posted on Deconstructing Faith in A Safe Environment, which reminded me of George Patterson's "Three Levels of Church Authority" that I learned about during my time in seminary. I have always found this helpful for discussions such as I described in my last post and thought that it would be worth sharing with you all here for your own faith discussions. So here it is: 
THREE LEVELS OF CHURCH AUTHORITY
This document may be freely translated, copied, and published in any language and any country. It must carry the following copyright statement.
Copyright © 2002 by George Patterson
To differentiate between New Testament commands, apostolic practices and human customs has proven over the years to be most helpful, for settling church disputes, for ascertaining the level of authority for a church activity, and for making plans and establishing priorities. The method is a simple one.

The FIRST level of authority is New Testament commands. We must obey them and must not hinder others doing them. These include Jesus' commands, which are foundational, and those of the apostles written in their epistles. These build on Jesus’ commands and are for Christians who are already under pastoral care in a church. The basic commands of Jesus, which were being obeyed by the 3000 new believers in Acts chapter 2 in their most basic form, include:
Repent, believe, and receive the Holy Spirit. Be baptized. Break bread. Love God, neighbor, fellow disciples, enemy (forgive). Pray.
Give. Make disciples (witness, shepherd, teach)

The SECOND level is apostolic practices that were not commanded. We must not make universal laws of these, nor prohibit others' doing them. They include:
Baptizing immediately. Using one cup in the Eucharist. Fasting. Worshipping on Sunday. Speaking in tongues. Naming several elders to shepherd a church. Etc.

The THIRD level is Human traditions not mentioned in the New Testament. We can take them or leave them, and we can prohibit them if they hinder obedience to New Testament commands. We must not force our own traditions and customs on other churches. Most traditions are good, and some are necessary for good church order. They include:
Non-biblical requirements for ordination, officiating the Eucharist, baptism, church membership.
Sunday School structure. Wearing robes in the pulpit, not wearing robes in the pulpit. The pulpit. Prohibition against using wine in moderation. Democratic processes in church business meetings. Episcopalian hierarchy, etc.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Deconstructing Faith in A Safe Environment

Through the use of social networking, I have become friends with an array of people, but occasionally the opportunity allows for that friendship to become real, such is the case with my new friend Fr. Anastasios. I describe him as a once Protestant turned Catholic, now Orthodox Priest. 

Being Orthodox he obviously believes that the Orthodox tradition is the "right" and most "pure" tradition to be in, which in essence is exactly what every person in any tradition believes. I must note that this post is in no way a slander against him because as I said, I now consider him a friend. 

Rather this post serves as a purpose to show that it is possible to deconstruct ones faith in a safe environment without arguing or fighting, but rather openly discussing issues with hopefully an open Bible in hand (In our case it was a printout and an iPad). 

First, we met on the basis of differing beliefs, namely modes of baptism. Orthodox practice infant baptism as a saving act in itself. In Fr. Anastasios own words, "Orthodox baptisms contain many long prayers, and several ritual actions with great significance.  The focal point of the service is naturally the moment of baptism itself, when the candidate is immersed in the water three times (in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), but there are several things leading up to the immersions, such as the renunciation of Satan, and several things take place after, such as the giving of the Cross to the newly-baptized." http://wp.me/p1HngT-x 

Second, this post reminds us that we can meet with others who have differing beliefs and do so in a way that at the end of the day honors Christ. Do I personally think that the Orthodox tradition has everything right? Absolutely not, case in point would be infant baptism. Fr. Anastasios believes that infant baptism is saving, but at the same time that those baptized can walk away one day and lose that same salvation. I would argue that many who believe this see their children walk away because they never had salvation in the first place. It is easy to walk away from something you never had.

How about you? Does this sound like your typical encounters with those of differing beliefs? If not, what is causing your encounters to go differently? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Endurance in Temptations

I have recently discovered that at the age of 25 my metabolism has started slowing down, meaning that I can no longer eat whatever I want without reaping the physical results. This has led to me running on a regular basis as I attempt to keep in shape and avoid one of my fears of being overweight.

Running has been both great for me physically and spiritually as it has also given me an opportunity to spend time conversing with God in the midst of my run. This has led to many great times communing with God and reflecting on what He has been teaching me in this season of my life.

Where I have been running is on a  Green Way path in Raleigh that is paved and surrounded by a wooded area. As I started to run I immediately noticed that every so often there would be a wooden bench on the side that is great if someone is taking a leisurely stroll or wanting to do some bird watching, but counterintuitive to a guy like me who is trying to run to get back in shape.

These benches got me thinking about the Christian life, the fact that it is not easy, and that there are many temptations along the way to trip us up. The first few days that I went running on this path was a struggle in the least, but then every time I passed one of these benches it made me want to give up, quit, and sit down.

Just like these benches caused me to be tempted to give up on being in shape and caused me to want to sit down, so in the Christian life we often experience something similar. If you have been a Christ follower for any of amount of time then you know that in the same way that these benches would pop up for me every so often so temptations pop up daily in the life of a Christian.

Many times we give into these temptations instead of abiding in the gospel, which gets us down and causes us to want to sit down and give up on the Christian life. But just like for me to push forward and stay on the task of my run, so in the Christian life we must abide (remain) in Christ in the midst of these temptations in order to endure through them, so that at the end of our life we may join Paul in saying, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." 2 Timothy 2:7

Friday, August 19, 2011

Seek the Good of Others!

"Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." 
1 Corinthians 10:24 

It's interesting how many times I have read this verse and probably claimed to follow this verse, but the reality is that I often do not. This reality became real to me and smacked me in the face the other day as I was spending a little time in the Word one day before work. 

I am recently back working at Starbucks temporarily for the next couple of months during our transition of everything that has taken place in our lives. It was humbling enough to contact my boss and return to Starbucks, but then once returning I sensed that some co-workers were less than happy of my return. This led to my own attitude towards these co-workers as I was determined to not allow their attitudes interfere with me and my life.

Instead of me loving them and seeking their good, it turned into me having an attitude towards these co-workers that was out to seek less than their good. One co-worker in particular I would do the minimum expected and sometimes less intently, so that she would be left with more to do and deal with before ever leaving work. 

About a week ago I arrived at work early to eat breakfast and spend some time in 1 Corinthians and the first person I see is this co-worker. My attitude changed immediately and I decided right then and there that I would do the minimum expected during my shift. 

I walked to the back, started eating my cereal, and opened to 1 Corinthians 10:23-33. I made it to verse 24 when God smacked me upside the head as I read, "Let know one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor." Immediately I was convicted as I realized that I had not been seeking the good of all of my co-workers. 

Yes, I realize that more than likely this passage is dealing with seeking the good of other believers, but if that is the case then how much more should we seek the good of those that are outside of the church as a testimony to them? 

I started to realize that I was seeking the good of those around me, but often times only when it was people that I liked or when it would benefit me. As followers of Christ we should be seeking the good of all people and desire to see them be what God created them to be by practicing grace in their lives just as we have been given undeserved grace in our life. 

So if you have been like me and only seeking the good of those that you like then I pray that you will repent as I have had to repent and start seeking the good of all people. And when it comes to work in particular, Josh Reeves posted on his blog this week, http://joshreeves.tumblr.com/post/8698505392/30-ways-to-bless-your-workplace, "30 Ways to Bless Your Workplace" that are extremely simple and helpful ways that you can engage your workplace missionally. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What Is an Unreached People Group?

By now most of you know that my family is preparing to move to South Asia to plant churches amongst unreached people groups. In July I answered the question, "Why Move to South Asia to Plant Churches?"http://t.co/OlC95aa, in which I quoted the statistic from Desiring God International that over 70% of Asian's have yet to hear of Jesus Christ, even for the first time.

When referring to most Asian peoples, there is much talk of going to reach the unreached, but I believe that many times people are unaware of what that really means. In fact, on a regular basis I receive this exact question from people, "What is an unreached people group?"

What Is an Unreached People Group? from Pioneers-USA on Vimeo.
In order to answer that question today I am going to quote a Pioneer in Central Asia, from the video above, who says of unreached people groups, "We're not talking about people who are lost and don't know the Lord; we're talking about people who are lost and don't know the Lord and there's no one that speaks their language that can tell them. There is no church that exists... That's an unreached people group."


Monday, August 15, 2011

Gospel Prayer

Yesterday in church we started a new series titled Gospel: The Revolutionary Power of the Christian Life. I am very excited about this series as I am continually learning and being reminded in my own life that the gospel is not just for those outside of the church, but it is just as much for those inside the church. Just take a look at many of Paul's letters in the New Testament and you will discover that they were written for and addressed to the church in particular areas. 

In addition to this series, lead pastor J.D. Greear (jdgreear.com/), has a new book coming out towards the end of the series on October 1, which I blogged about earlier this summer here: http://t.co/p9LJPqr. In his upcoming book and at the start of this series he has given us what he calls, "The Gospel Prayer", which he describes as a tool for saturating yourself in the gospel daily. 

The prayer is broken down into four parts and I thought that it was worth sharing as it has helped me in my own life making sure that I am consistently lined up with the gospel. 

The Gospel Prayer:

1. "In Christ, there is nothing I could do to make You love me more; nothing I have done that makes you love me less." 

2. "You are all I need today for everlasting joy."

3. "As You have been to me, so I will be to others."

4. "As I pray, I'll measure Your compassion by the cross and Your power by the resurrection." 

I am still fairly new to this prayer, but it has already been a great tool in my own life. I have this prayer written down on a few different cards that I am placing at spots that I will see throughout the day that will assist me in gospel saturation. Perhaps the number one spot this will be is somewhere on my dashboard of my car so that as I go to work and return home I will be reminded of the gospel. So I encourage you to at least join me in this prayer for the next eight weeks to see how it helps keep you saturated in the gospel daily. 



Friday, August 12, 2011

Are You Thirsty For God?

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. Psalm 42:1

I was reflecting on this verse the other day as I watched the movie 127 Hours, which tells the biographical story of mountain climber Aron Ralston, who became trapped by a boulder when climbing in Utah. He was trapped for 127 hours, which is where the name of the movie comes from. 

In his entrapment he becomes more and more desperate as he runs out of water and even drinks his own urine to survive. He eventually does break free after his five day struggle and the movie portrays his desperation for water alone when he finds a pool of water in one of the crevices of the boulder. He  puts his face to the ground and drinks up whatever he can. As he runs into other people who are hiking he tells of his story as he begs for their water, drinking up all that he can get.

It was a great movie, but that is not the point. The point here is a reflection of what our lives should look like in relation to God. We should long for Him so as the Psalmist puts it that we are like a deer panting for a flowing stream. We should long for him in desperation like Aron Ralston for water. 

In most cases this will be displayed through your public life in worship, but not as a way of a show, but as a sincere longing for the one true God.  In many of our lives this is not how are longing for God would be described, rather He more often then not becomes a by product of our lives if convenient. Why? Because most of us are not at a point of desperation for God, but perhaps we need to be. So what about you? Do you long for God as if desperate for water? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Be Content - God Is Enough

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:12-13

The point of these verses is obviously contentment in Christ in the midst of life's difficult circumstances. But until recently I was never truly faced with circumstances that required me to do a self-examination to see if I was really content in Christ. 

Now Philippians 4 speaks to me in a whole new light as I have been faced with a situation that required me to see where my contentment was truly found. And I can honestly say that I am not so sure that I am quite there yet; but I definitely believe that God is using my circumstance and this passage to help me discover that true contentment comes from and in Him.

Something else that stood out to me in this passage like never before when reading it is that just like the Philippians partnered with Paul in his ministry at both the spiritual and practical level(4:14-16), my local church has done the same with me and my family. 

As Paul pointed out in verse 17, we were not seeking this gift of support from the church, but it has been incredible to see the body of Christ surround us with both spiritual and practical support in this time. It has been both a testimony of their fruit to the body of Christ, but also to those that are not yet part of the family of God. 

One friend even commented, "I am starting to think that maybe the rest of us need to start going to church because it seems like it doesn't matter what type of situation you guys face, it always seems to work out."

The truth is that this is a testimony of the church being the church. And what our friend is seeing is that although we face difficult circumstances just as she does, we have an unexplainable provision and contentment that allows us to have joy at all times as seen in 4:4. 

So if you are struggling to find your contentment in Christ then start today. Embrace the truth that God is enough and that in Him you can do all things and face every kind of circumstance in life. Be content - God is enough. 

Monday, August 8, 2011

My Endurance and Hope Has Perished

so I say, "My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord."
Lamentations 3:18

We've all felt this lament at some point just as Jeremiah is feeling here, but for most of us, myself included, we have been raised in a church culture that no longer allows you to honestly express yourself when it comes to doubts. Instead we have created a culture that feels as if it can only express itself in a way that is described on "positive and encouraging" K-Love.

I have often felt this way, most recently when it came to the potential for my family to be homeless and without jobs, due to some uncontrollable circumstances in our life. I knew the "Christian" answer that I would give most people, but I was sick and tired of hearing it from others. Common phrases used were: "God knows best", "God has a plan", and my favorite "God is Sovereign."

I kept thinking I have been a follower of Christ long enough that I know all of this so thank you captain obvious! I guess most people just wanted me to smile and say, "God is good all the time." Instead I chose to be honest, imagine that, about how I was feeling in the midst of all this just as the prophet of God, Jeremiah, was honest in his circumstance.

I think what we often forget is that God can handle all of our doubts and He can answer all of our questions so there is no reason to be worried or freaked out when people doubt and question God. In fact I often encourage people to do this. My pastor, J.D. Greear, described it this way this weekend, "Real faith grows out of honestly expressed doubt."

But for the prophet Jeremiah it doesn't end with doubt instead we see a huge transition take place from verses 21-24. But this I call to mind, and therefore I hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in Him." Lamentations 3:21-24

So for Jeremiah in the midst of his doubting and questioning of God he recognized that God is enough; which for me in my circumstance I came to this same conclusion that God is enough and as verse 24 points out "therefore I will hope in Him. We will not always understand what is going on in our circumstances that is why J.D. Greear also pointed out that God is often doing three things in our lives when we face difficulty and despair. He's pursuing His agenda, He' purifying your heart, and He's preparing you for ministry. 

There are definitely going to be times of difficulty in your life and in the midst of those you will often have doubts and questioning of God. But be honest in those times as Jeremiah was honest by allowing your faith to grow as you express your doubt. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Win A Seminary Scholarship & Theological Library

Many of my readers are seminary students so most of you know that going to Seminary is expensive. On top of that, finding a scholarship can be really difficult. That's why I was so excited to find this Seminary Scholarship website today. Not only are they giving away a $1,000.00 scholarship and a digital theological library, all I had to do to apply was watch the short video below and answer a few questions! It took me less than 10 minutes to apply. The best part of this is that if you're in seminary and apply for the Seminary Scholarship, and put my name as the person who referred you, if you win the scholarship, so do I! We could both get a $1,000.00 scholarship and digital theological library. So, do us both a favor and go apply for the Seminary Scholarship today.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Are You Producing Theologically Orthodox, Morally Upright, Warmly Pious Idol Worshippers?

Last night I sat down to start reading The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, which sets out to tell the biblical story of redemption as a unified, coherent narrative of God's ongoing work within his kingdom. In the reading of the preface of the book a couple of statements stood out to me that describe much of what we are seeing happen within the church of the West in regards to Scripture, interpretation, and how we view our role in the story.

Here is the first statement that stood out:
"If we allow the Bible to become fragmented, it is in danger of being absorbed into whatever other story is shaping our culture, and it will thus cease to shape our lives as it should."

There are many other stories shaping our culture, but most all of these stories could be boiled down to one thing, idolatry. Idolatry is what has taken precedence in the secular world, but it is also showing many signs of prominence within the church. It is really a heart issue, which Tim Keller address by saying, "Our hearts are idol-making factories that make good gifts from God ultimate in our lives, thereby replacing God in our affections." Keller goes on to say, "An idol is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your hear and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you only what God can give you."

Here is the second statement that stood out:
"Hence, the unity of Scripture is no minor matter: a fragmented Bible may actually produce theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers!" 

In recent days there has been much talk of the unity of Scripture by seeing the overarching story (Creation, Fall, Rescue, Restoration) in the Bible, which I see as a positive thing. The issue is that many people within our churches for far too long have been taught only one part of the Bible, often the New Testament, which has left many to believe that they are different stories. Many professing Christians believe that many of the stories in the Bible are just that, stories with no purpose. The problem is if Christians fail to see every part of the Bible in the context of one story then the risk is a fragmented Bible as the quote points out.

My question then is to you leaders, are you teaching your church the unity of Scripture? Have you ever thought that if you are not communicating to the people the unity of Scripture, then you may actually be assisting in the producing of people who turn out to be theologically orthodox, morally upright, warmly pious idol worshippers!

N.T. Wright says, "The whole point of Christianity is that it offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth." I want to encourage you all to see the story that Christianity offers, which faith in Jesus is the means by which you understand life and all of history.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Do You Speak Christian?

I came across an article on cnn.com this weekend that was titled, "Do you speak Christian?", which got me thinking about how we in the church typical speak about our faith and following Christ to those outside of the church. In other words, I have often wondered, do we make any sense to those outside of our own faith circles?

This article appears to answer that questions with a big flopping NO. It uses common examples of phrases used such as: "born again", "have you been saved?", "pray the prayer", etc. Looking back over these phrases I understand exactly what every single one of them is asking because I have been cultured within the church. It doesn't mean that I choose to use these particular phrases, although I have been guilty of using all of them at one point or another in my life.

So you might be reading this right now and wondering, so what? What is the big deal that we use "Christian" phrases within church. It is not so much an issue that you use Christian phrases within the church, it is that often the phrases being used make no sense to those outside the church and then we look like idiots when we try to communicate with them. An example of this would be try to explain your faith and how you came to be a Christ follower without using typical Christian phrases. I bet most of you reading this would struggle to make it more than one minute.

The other issue at stake as pointed out in the article is that often words used within Christianity will be used in a different manner than they were intended to be used. Marcus Borg says it like this, "When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means." Many people in our churches have not taken the time to dig into the Scriptures along with a Bible Dictionary to understand and grasp the real meaning behind some of the words that are used within the church.

Bill Leonard points out that, "Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in, He used stories, parables, and metaphors. He communicated in images that both the religious and nonreligious folks of his day understood." So this is the picture that we get of Jesus, but not the picture that we get with most of his modern day followers.

My challenge to you today is that if you find yourself constantly using only phrases that those within the church would understand then you need to stop and find a different way of communicating as Christ communicated. It is difficult to communicate the gospel when the audience you are talking to has no concept of what you are even talking about. I also challenge you to go beyond merely taking a certain belief or doctrine and believing as if you have full understanding, but take the time to dig into the truth of Scripture to see fully where the doctrine developed and why it is held within the church today. You may even be surprised to learn that some of the beliefs you hold may not even be in Scripture or your particular interpretation may only be held in the church you grew up in.