Blog Archives

Saturate

51UNj7NurnL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_

Jeff’s heart is now in print. Saturate comes loaded with a passion for Jesus and is filled to the brim with the gospel. In many ways it reads like one of his sermons. Frequently, he stops whatever narrative he is recounting or point he is making to challenge the reader personally. Jeff’s philosophy spills out onto the pages of his book through his life story. In the telling we discover a brutal honesty and a raw and refreshing vulnerability. When the gospel has it’s effect, there really is nothing to hide and so Jeff is wide open.

The church is the people of God on mission for God in everyday life. Thanks to Jeff and others increasing numbers of Christian people are coming to this basic conclusion. We are  finally getting the memo that Church is not a place you go to. It’s not a weekly dispensary designed to give religious consumers the goods and services they feel they need. But what does a church for everyday life look like? That’s where this book proves very helpful. Jeff’s teaching on understanding our identity as Christians and his practical helps at becoming intentional about everyday rhythms made alive though his stories are invaluable.

A great companion volume for this book would be Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Advertisements

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

13237862

This book, intended for Christians, walks the believer in Jesus, through what he is supposed to believe. Set against the cultural context of the west, the gospel as Jerry presents it seems ever increasingly counter-cultural.

God’s Hatred — A massive part of the good news story is the complete holiness of God. The hatred God has for sin is overwhelming. There is no “relax, take it easy, no big deal” attitude when it comes to God and sin. His holiness will not tolerate any sin ever. The guilt of offence is proportional to the greatness of the one whom we have offended and since God is the greatest of great, we have a problem.

Sin is very, very bad — Our culture is at war with the very concept of sin. Nobody in our world want’s to speak of it. Poor choices, extenuating circumstances, lousy environment, mental illness, unwise decisions etc. are the preferred explanations we give for the bad stuff we do. However, the gospel defines all the bad stuff as sin, and sin according to the Bible is a complete disregard for God, a rebellion against his authority, and a defiance against his way, and, as the story goes, all of us are full of sin. Nobody seems to want to think in those terms anymore. But those are the terms set before us if the good news is to truly be good news.

Jesus meets us in our mess — Some people deal with the reality of guilt through self condemnation, they are forever beating themselves up. Others go in the opposite direction and embrace self righteousness as their coping mechanism. They have no time to consider their own guilt because they are too busy judging others and proving to anyone interested (and anyone who is not) just how good they are. Jesus comes and through him we acknowledge our guilt. We no longer condemn ourselves or justify ourselves we simply in faith give our sin over to God through Jesus. The good news destroy’s the performance based life — we don’t have to prove ourselves anymore, we are loved.  The good news also destroy’s the guilt based life, we don’t have to punish ourselves any more, we are forgiven.

Am I really cursed? — Do we really believe that we deserve the curse of God? Unfathomable, in our modern cultural context, but yet that is the belief of every single Christian.

Gratitude as motivation for obedience — If we are convinced that we are deserving of judgment but yet we receive eternal reward because of Jesus’ sacrifice, then the overwhelming response to this grace can only be gratitude. We do not obey God’s wishes because we live in fear of judgment or in expectation of reward we obey them out of a thankful heart coming from the great love that has been showered upon us.

Don’t think about rewards think about grace — Jerry attempts to divert the reader from considering eternal rewards as a motivator for obedience, I get that, however, if eternal rewards are a non-factor, why do the Scriptures talk about them so much? Jerry does not attempt to answer that question. Perhaps, we are supposed to think of eternal rewards, not so much as a reason for obedience, but rather a cause for joy. The anticipation of what will be is great fuel to help us persevere now, most especially when times are tough. This forward look of the gospel’s consummation, is a big point, I think, that was missed.

Dependant Responsibility — This was a major point in this book. The Holy Spirit does the work of transformation. Salvation and growth in a persons life are all the work of God. However, the human is responsible. How does that work? Jerry sorts this paradox by going into a classroomish explanation of the synergistic vs. monergistic works of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes when you break the story down into it’s highly technical parts you loose a little something, at least for me anyway.

Repentance — I was struck at the necessity of regular repentance for the Christian. Getting into the habit of giving all the junk over to Jesus is tremendously beneficial for helping the follower of Jesus remember the gospel story he is believing.

Everyday Church

book-chester-timmis-everyday-church

Another book about the church. There are a lot of them out there. This is one of the better ones. These men offer us a powerful critique of where the church has lost it’s focus, but they don’t just blast away, rather, with a gracious spirit they offer some tremendous assistance in moving forward. For 2015 this book receives my strongest recommendation. If you are at all interested in the church, read this book. Below is simply a compilation of snippets, woven together, to give you a taste.

If I build it will they come? Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient. Offering good products is not enough. What is clear is that great swathes of America will not be reached through Sunday morning services. (15) Since the Bible no longer has authority in public discourse increasingly less and less of our population has any interest in church attendance whatsoever. (19) Our persistent ‘come to us’ mind set suggests that we really believe that people who refuse to come in the front door are beyond the reach of Christ. We cannot assume people will come to us. We must go to them. (28) We cannot assume that people feel any need or obligation to attend church (37) – they don’t.  Even if we could produce cool church events, we would create a generation of Christian consumers who look to the church to entertain them. (49) – Sadly, this in many cases is exactly what we have done. When church becomes a performance in which most people are observers of the super-talented, the people of God eventually become disenfranchised. (96)

What about persecution? It is a daily thing to experience marginalization and hostility. (36) We need to discover or recover the sense that if this year we are not imprisoned it has been a good year .(38)

What is evangelism? It’s not a question of “improving the product” of church meetings and evangelistic events. It means reaching people apart from meetings and events. (17) Programs are what we create when Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do in everyday life. (50) It is not simply that ordinary Christians live good lives that enable them to invite friends to evangelistic events. Our lives are the evangelistic events (89) When we think of evangelism, we should not first think of guest services, evangelistic courses, street preaching, or door knocking. We should think of Gary at a meeting of the resident’s association. We should think of Hannah in her office. (90)

Being the church The church needs to understand itself as a people sent on a mission together rather than the storefronts for vendors of religious services and goods. (98) The gospel community is the core unit, when understanding church. These little communities on mission should be the primary organizing principle of the church.  It is within these collections of people that the work of evangelism, pastoral care, discipleship, and sharing life take place. A gospel community is a network of relationships that will probably have a regular meeting, but they are sharing life throughout the week (105) However you do church, let it be nothing less than the people of God on mission together. In this way we are a city on a hill and a light of the world. (111) Everyday church fills everyday, but it does not necessarily fill it with extra activities. It’s fundamentally a matter of becoming intentional about the everyday stuff of life. (143) No new life is possible without the Spirit of God, so we arrange to pray together because we see it as our  primary missional activity. (149) Everyday church is not primarily about a structure but about a culture or ethos. (155) Weekly Sunday gathering is important but it cannot achieve all that the New Testament envisions for church life. It cannot be a context for the one anothering of the New Testament. Moreover, if it is seen as primary, then all these other things are viewed as secondary. If the bulk of a churches time and energy goes into the Sunday meeting, then everyday church will not happen. (160)

Where are the lost? If we could place people on a range of one to ten depending on their interest in the gospel, where one is no interest and ten is a decision to follow Christ, lots of evangelism assumes people are at around eight. We teach our gospel outlines. We teach answers to apologetic questions. We hold guest services. We put on evangelistic courses. We preach in the open air or knock on doors. All these are great things to do, but 70 percent of the population is at one or two. (112) It’s not so much attractional events that will win people it is attractional communities. (88)

Speaking the gospel story into peoples stories. — Obviously, people do not use the categories creation, fall redemption, and consummation. But they will talk about who they are and what they are meant to be (creation) They will talk about what is wrong with them or what is wrong with the world — somebody or something will be blamed (fall) They will also have a sense of what needs to happen for things to be put right (redemption) and some sense of the state of affairs that they are hoping will give them meaning or satisfaction. (consummation) Creation = my identity who I am. Fall = My problem. Redemption = my solution. Consummation = my hope.  (115)  People are throwing out their versions of this grand story all the time or job is to look for points of intersection. (119)

Measurements of success — What is a good church? What criteria do we use to make assessments? Preaching? Youth Work? Music? For the apostle Peter a good church is characterized by love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, service, and grace…A good church is a church in which the believers share their lives together as an alternative and authentic society. (140)

Re-thinking professional ministry — The most important evangelistic work of the minister appears to be not in the church and the pulpit but in two other kinds of relationships: one to one meetings with non-Christians and the ‘lapsed’ and group situations, particularly those where there is an opportunity to talk about the nature of faith. (24) Authentic leadership can be bi-vocational, and in a marginalized context this may be preferable. Unbelievers are often suspicious of professional clergy. They are more willing to listen to someone who works hard with integrity in a “normal” job. It also brings leaders into contact with people who would never attend a church service. (146)

Earning Your Salvation?

Why isn’t Christianity Jewish? It started out that way

premillennialism-destruction-jerusalem-70ad-titus-arch

Gentile converts we’re interested in following Jesus not Jewish customs. Jews had bled and died for these customs during their long and difficult history. It was no small thing to simply abandon them. In the early days of Christianity, the newly forming church seemed to be working out a mediating position giving Gentiles Christians more freedom but yet respecting Jewish customs.

However, the success was short lived. A complete and irrevocable split would happen well before the turn of the first century.  The Jewish revolt from Rome had begun in earnest in the mid 60’s. The Roman emperor had had enough. Titus and his legions marched upon Jerusalem. Complete and total destruction was the military plan for dealing with these pesky Jews who had been for too long a pain in the eastern side of the Roman Empire.
As Jewish patriots prepared for the onslaught, the Jewish Christians of the city decided it was foolish to fight Rome. Their hope was in a heavenly city not made by human hands, so they fled. This was viewed as an ultimate act of treason by “real” Jews. Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 and in the following months all the synagogues in Palestine were also obliterated. For the survivors of this slaughter one point was clear: to abandon Jerusalem in its hour of need was to abandon Jewishness. As synagogues we’re rebuilt a law was quickly passed prohibiting any Jewish person who claimed to be a Christian from entrance into the synagogue and thus Jewish life. The split was complete. Jewish Christians now had to decide if they were Jewish or Christian they couldn’t be both.

(For all of these snippets of history I am indebted to Bruce Shelley)

Love Your Body (Psalm 139:14)

David actually loves his body he’s thrilled with it! But he does not become egotistical with this kind of self-love. When I love my body and realize it’s a gift from God the gratitude that I feel for that gift turns into worship. So many people in this world stumble around hating their bodies unhappy with how they look, because they are overweight, have the “wrong” body shape or some undesirable feature. This self loathing creates anxiety, fear, despair and unhappiness, God wants us to believe that our bodies are masterpieces of incredible design handcrafted by the king of the universe. Believe this! Come to love how God has made you and in so doing free yourself from the trap of worthlessness. Only then will you be able to truly love God and love others like you were meant to

IMG_0953-0.JPG

Transformers Prime — Good T.V.

3906409-trans I like Transformers Prime, in fact its the only T.V. show we’ve watched as a family these last many months. Why the attraction? Prime serves as a great reminder to me of the ultimate story that I love and am shaping my life around. The good news of Jesus Christ is never mentioned a single time in all 3 seasons or in the feature length grand finale, but it is everywhere present. Starting with Optimus we come to see Jesus. Optimus is patient and kind, he is the one who wants to bring peace. He isn’t filled with hatred for “the bad guys” Instead he challenges deceptacons everywhere to “repent” and “believe”. He wants the cons to give up their quest for power and control, to stop their life styles of deceit and self absorption. For their joy he longs for them to embrace a new life, characterized by sacrifice and love. Though regularly rebuffed Prime never gives up, he continues to love his enemies even though they regularly try to snuff out his spark. The con’s are bent on chaos and destruction however, so Optimus must battle tirelessly the evil threat. He does so with courage and bravery never considering himself above others. In the end, as a willing sacrifice, Optimus gives up his life so that the world might be saved. The Autobots under his command are like the disciples of Jesus. They are rough around the edges. They argue, complain, and make foolish choices. Often attitudes of pride, revenge, and hatred surge up in these all too human robots causing plenty of problems. Prime both gently and firmly teaches them the way of grace and over the course of time they grow in their faith. Their belief system is both counter intuitive and counter cultural.  You see, the Autobots are badly outnumbered and always on the edge of extinction, but yet over and over again Prime extends grace and mercy to their mortal enemies. — Shouldn’t he kill con’s to survive? Prime and his Autobots regularly stand in harms way to protect lowly humans because of love and commitment to them. — Shouldn’t weaker creatures be sacrificed to ensure the survival of the fittest? Not according to Prime, there is a better story to believe than just the natural course of things. I love being a Christian, because I think it’s the better story. It’s the truest love story there is. Transformers Prime reflects this story so well and that is why I give it a two thumbs up!

My Thoughts on the Lego Movie

Unknown

The prophecy states that a “special” will come to save the day at just the right time. As it turns out the “special” is just a regular guy. Nothing special about him at all. However, with the help of LegoLand’s spiritual leader (very fittingly voiced by Morgan Freeman) Emmit comes to believe that he might just be that guy after all.

Then everything goes horribly wrong. Morgan Freeman’s character gets decapitated, the good guys are all captured and condemned to death and Legoland is faced with imminent destruction at the hand of the evil Lord Business.

The ghost of Morgan Freeman visits Emmit in his darkest hour and gives him a revelation which ultimately changes the outcome of the movie. He tells the sad hero, that the prophecy isn’t true, that the whole thing was made up. There is no “special” in Legoland, but that doesn’t matter; the truth that changes everything is when Lego people believe they are special. “It sounds like a cat poster but it’s true” says Freeman. Emmit believes, and his life is changed. Because Emmit believes he is special, sacrificial love, courage, bravery, hope, creativity and perseverance become the hallmarks of his life. Belief made all the difference.

If belief in the “specialness” of humanity is so important to human flourishing then what world view best helps it along? Naturalism is committed to the blind physical forces of nature: some get hurt, some get lucky, there is no rhyme, reason or justice – no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, just blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows or cares. DNA just is and we dance to it’s music (paraphrase of Richard Dawkins). If this is actually the truth, then how does one muster up enough belief to convince himself that he is actually special? It becomes difficult to say the least.

If we as a human race intuitively recognize the value of believing that we are all special, then what would hinder us from attaching to this conviction a grand story, a worldview that would make it easy for us to become convinced that we are special?

God’s grand story teaches us that we are created in God’s image making us special, but thats not all, later we learn that despite all of our failures, sins, and poor choices, God in the person of Jesus lays down his life for the human because of his deep, deep love for us, making us even more special. There is more: we learn that the Spirit of God promises to fill us, becoming our guide and helper all the days of our life. . . proving once again that we are special. Finally the story’s end is one of undying hope. The promise is that all that is broken will become unbroken. There can be no doubt in this story, we are all special!

When a human believes he is “special” there is a risk that he might become inflated, but if pride can be checked, he will flourish every time. “Specialness” obliterates the deadly thoughts of worthlessness and meaninglessness and God’s story as a worldview makes sure that unhealthy pride won’t creep in. God, not the human, is after all at the centre of his own story.

When the conviction of “I am special” joins itself to a worldview that agrees, a beautiful awakening happens. Sense is made and life starts.

 

Untamed (Alan & Deb Hirsch)

book-untamed

The call of God for his people is discipleship but discipleship doesn’t happen without an unyielding untamed missionary mindset. Yet countless numbers of people today who would identify themselves as Christians, could hardly define “missionary” let alone be one. Why is that? There are 6 reasons that stood out to me. Untamed, however, was far from simply being a book of reasons. It is a passionate, story filled appeal for Christians to embrace the wild untamed way of Jesus and in so doing be who they were meant to be.

  1. Love verses Reason — Reason is always in the employment of love. Our heart tells us what we want and our minds do whatever is necessary to make it happen. In short, people aren’t interested in the missionary life, because they don’t really love Jesus.
  2. Holy Spirit — In referring to to Alan’s conversion they talk about how he had an ecstatic tangible experience with the Holy Sprit after which Alan said that he felt as though his mind was on fire and that he had never really had thoughts before that time. Later on an appeal is given to the reader to take the risk of encountering the divine so that “you can experience God in wild and wonderful ways”   What does that even mean? What if the reader (like me for example) doesn’t have any experiential frame of reference? Without answers to these questions, the point is clear enough: the Holy Spirit’s power is what makes missionaries and his very real presence is absolutely necessary.
  3. Consumerism — Entertaining consumers into being disciples is a failed experiment. One does not consume his way into following Jesus. Consumerism is what has filled the vacuum of meaning in the 21st century and the church has not been unaffected. Church has become a vendor for religious services and a mature Christian is one who makes good decisions on what he will consume. Church has become a feeding trough where people come to “get fed”  by trained professionals. Hirsch points out that it is babies who need to be fed, and laments  that we have created a religious system designed to employ professional food distributers while keeping Christians in perpetual stages of infancy.
  4. Fear & Laziness – The two greatest vices that keep Christians domesticated are fear and laziness. These vices are employed as an attempt to obtain security and comfort. Sadly, what is sacrificed in the vain pursuit of security and comfort is freedom and life itself. Like a domesticated goose that ends up on the dinner table because he is too fat to fly away so it goes with Christians who give in to these vices.
  5. Sexual judgement — Christians are masters it seems in their universal condemnation of sexual sin. Sexual sin is frowned upon far above any other sin. This judgemental reaction against all things sexually illicit greatly reduces the possibility of actually being a missionary in the sex saturated culture of west. The Hirsches advice when it comes to sexual sin: “it’s not what we believe about sexuality that matters it’s how we treat those with differing perspectives on sexuality…when it comes to sexual sin disciples must leave the judgement of those sins to God” If all this was only considering not yet believers, absolutely, I agree. Where the issue gets complicated is with regard to Christians who embrace sexual sins. On this the Hirsches are silent. But the Bible is not. Biblically informed Christians know that what they believe about sexuality matters and that they are responsible to help restore brothers and sisters who stumble. This restorative process requires judgement.
  6. Mistaken view of Holiness — Christians seem to think that authentic holiness requires separation from all things sinful. In looking at the life of Jesus that doesn’t really seem to be the case. Sinners flocked to Jesus who was as holy as you can be. It was religious people who were repulsed by his holiness. Somehow our version of holiness, seems to attract religious people and repel sinners. The mission heart of Jesus established in his followers will will not embrace this mistaken view of holiness which runs in terror from all things unclean.

“Abandon the safe and tame life of conservative religious morality and live a life that has stories to tell”

What it means to be a dad

photo

“Wrestle time!” 

That’s pretty much all my 5 year old son says whenever he sees me. First thing in the morning or late at night, it doesn’t matter he’s always up for a fight. He tries to think of put downs to really get me going. The other week he put his tough guy face on and called me a “rubber ducky” — the ultimate throw down! This week, he fine tuned his verbal barrage and goaded me into another rumble by calling me an “old man”. We took it to the park, shirts and shoes off, no holds barred. Forty year old verses five year old. The dog walkers in the park were quite amused to see this shirtless duo of father and son engaged in mortal combat. There was a pause in the melee:

“Dad, were not allowed to hit each other in the penis right?

“That’s right son” 

The dog walkers chuckled. Fists and feet flailed away once again.

A homeless guy passed out in the park, woke up, squinted, and looked over in our direction, trying to figure out what the ruckus was all about. He finally did, and stumbled over to us. He watched for a few minutes and then said.

“Dude I need a woman, so I can have a son, cause what your doing is f***ing awesome!”

He wandered off. The fight ended, and we headed back for supper, sweaty, sticky, itchy, dirty, scrapped, bruised and happy. My son’s efforts earned him a shoulder ride home. He had four helpings for dinner, and made no objections when it was bed time.

As Father’s Day comes upon us, my appeal is specifically for fathers to be fathers to their sons. Young boys don’t need gadgets and television shows to occupy their time. They don’t need physically or mentally absent fathers preoccupied with trivial matters like making money or advancing a career. They don’t need dad’s who spend most of their time in vain pursuits and selfish hobbies. They need dad’s who will get dirty with them, who will wrestle, who will roar with their sons like lions, who will go on adventures, take risks, and scrape knees together. Dads committed to walking out perilous exploits, and daring feats that require courage, bravery, responsibility and hard work from their sons. This is fathering and the homeless dude was right, it’s f***ing awesome!