Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Halfway through my two weeks here in Birmingham for my Doctor of Ministry course, Biblical Theology for Ministry.  The class has been good, but today certainly marked the high water mark of the trip.

This morning, I visited the Church at Brook Hills.  Listening to David Platt speak was like listening to a kindred spirit.  Those of you who know my journey of redemption from church growth strategies and their subsequent pressures, will appreciate the story that David shared.   When he first became the pastor at Brook Hills, he poured through all of his church growth books which encouraged him and his team to pinpoint “Brook Hills Bob”, the emblem of their “target audience.”  The Brook Hills team rejected this kind of thinking and decided to go after “Brook Hills Burudi” – a non-Christian man living in a region of North Africa closed to to the Gospel.  I loved it when Platt added that he no longer reads those church growth books.  They are preaching and living the whole Gospel for the whole world – not just a target audience.  Now here’s what’s really cool.  As Platt told it, one of their Brook Hills Bobs, a typical upper middle class Birmingham businessman, and his wife,  started a small group two years ago because God was calling him to invest his life in other couples.  This morning in their worship service, they commissioned a young couple from that small group will be moving to a remote region of North Africa to plant a church for Brook Hills Burudi – all of those people who have never heard the Gospel.  This resonates so much with what I have sensed the Lord doing in me over the last 18 months – stepping away from all of that “cool church” jazz to just be the church, living in the world as a witness to Jesus Christ. 

On a side-note, I was amazed that probably 99% of the 2000 people I worshiped with this morning carried their Bibles into church!  Awesome, awesome!

Following worship, I went to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  The museum was amazingly sobering.  The tour begins with exhibits describing life in Birmingham before the Civil Rights movement and then begins the Civil Rights struggle with Rosa Park’s and the Montgomery Bus boycott and follows it through the late 1960’s.  Two highlights of the museum for me. 

First, the exhibit on the Freedom Riders.  They have the burned out shell of an old grey hound bus (not sure if it is one actually involved in the ride, or not) and old footage of the freedom riders talking about what they did and why they did it.  I kept wondering if I would have had the chutzpa to have been one of them.  Only time would have told and only time will tell if I rise to those kinds of challenges in my own time.

Second, looking at two water fountains that were actually marked “white” and “colored” was mind-boggling.  It is hard to believe that this happened in an America not much older than my generation.

Walking down the street to go into the museum, I was just across the street from the famous 16th Street Baptist Church, which was very much at the center of the Civil Rights movement.  In September of 1963, the church was bombed and four little girls were killed in the bombing.  I also learned that on that same day, two African American boys, were also shot by white assailants in Birmingham while out riding their bikes.

While I am not a fan of many of President Obama’s policies, I gained a deeper appreciation for what his election means for our country – the healing of so many wounds – and why it is so momentous for so many of our fellow Americans.  I won’t add much more because, like I said, it was really very sobering.


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A few people this past week made reference to the closing section of Sunday’s sermon.  I closed the series on the Apostle’s Creed with a section on the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Here’s that section:

Theologian J.I. Packer suggests that heaven may not be tilted toward either of those extremes.  Eternity is probably not an everlasting classical harp concert any more than it is an everlasting orgy.  Packer says this about life in the kingdom of heaven:

 What was said to the child (about heaven) – “If you want sweets and hamsters in heaven, they’ll be theer”’ – was not an evasion (of the question), but a witness to the truth that in heaven no felt needs or longings go unsatisfied.  What our wants will actually be, however, we hardly know, save that first and foremost we shall ‘always want to be with the Lord’ (I Thessalonians 4.17).[1]

 Packer also says this:

 What will be do in heaven?  Not lounge around, but worship, work, think and communicate, enjoying activity, beauty, people and God.  First and foremost, however, we shall see and love Jesus, our Savior, Master and Friend.[2]

 In other words, we will eternally grace the new creation in the same way that God intended us to grace this creation in the very beginning.  We will love God, because each one of us was created to walk with him.  We will work because each of us was created to tend to and care for the creation.  We will think grander thoughts of greater purity and capacity than any thoughts humanity has yet to think.  We will communicate with each other in a harmony that is free of anger and jealousy and “come-uppances”.  We will enjoy activity and beauty and other people for we were made to walk hand-in-hand with one another in the open-sun of the meadows and beneath the shade of the trees, to enjoy the songs of the birds, to lie down with both the lion and the lamb for naps in the cool of the afternoon.  And best of all, we were made to see him with our eyes, to hear him with our ears, to touch him with our hands and to be held in the embrace of Jesus everlastingly.

            Feeble though these words may be in their descriptive power of eternity, this is something of what it will mean to be resurrected in the body and to live everlastingly; to become the finishing touches that God designed you and me to be on that sixth day so very long ago.  We believe in finishing touches:  the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.

[1] Packer, J.I., Affirming the Apostle’s Creed.  Crossway Books:  2008.  p. 148.

[2] Ibid, p. 146

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A few Sundays back, while I was eating a bagel, smeared with low-fat PB and sugar-free jam, the pastor of another local church, whose services are televised, made this statement to the church in a very gentle and humble way.  “We want you to be well.  We want you to be healed.  We want you to have an abundant life in Jesus Christ.”

His statement brings us to a fourth expectation for GCF:  EXPECT to be healed.

In Matthew 4.24 we find these words, “News about him spread throughout Syria and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases . . . and he healed them.”  Matthew 8.1-9.34 recounts several amazing stories where Jesus takes authority over illness and the forces of nature.  Obviously, healing was an integral part of Jesus’ ministry.

Because Jesus, according to the Great Commission, confers upon us something of his authority, we should not doubt that God intends for the community of his followers (the church) to be a place of healing.

We tend to focus on two types of healing.

First, there are physical healings.  Quite often, the church is more than prepared to be the recipients of this type of healing.  When beloved friends within the church are made well or recover successfully from illness, we are quick to give God thanks for his healing powers. 

Within traditions that emphasize the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about manifestations of God’s coming kingdom, there is usually a strong emphasis on God’s ability to heal instantaneously.  This belief is shared by charismatic traditions, such as ours, and by liturgical traditions, such as the Roman Catholic, Anglican and Episcopalean churches.

We expect that God will bring about physical healings when those healings will be for his glory and will hasten the coming of his Kingdom.

On a second frontier, there is emotional healing.  It is this kind of healing that the Pastor, mentioned earlier, was referring to when he was talking to his congregation.  Churches are usually not prepared for emotional healing because it tends to be a messier, stickier and more time-consuming process.

In an age when people flock to therapists (which is not a bad thing – I am trained as one, after all), turn self-help books into New York Times best sellers, and make programs like Dr. Phil and Oprah day-time hits in the Nielsen ratings, the church has an important word to speak to the greater culture about emotional healing.  That word?  That healing comes when we are no longer focused on the extent of our wounds but are focused instead upon the healing that flows from the wounds of Jesus Christ and the wholeness that might be ours through his resurrection.

There is no emotional healing that is complete apart from eyes and ears that are turned toward and tuned into Jesus.

Andrew Comiskey – a great writer in the area of emotional brokenness and healing – notes the following steps toward healing in his book Strength in Weakness.  After outlining these steps, I want to suggest how the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) can facilitate such a process and become a body where emotional healing is not the exception, but the rule because people are focused on Jesus.

Comiskey’s Steps:  (1) Take time to acknowledge our wounding, (2) Seek out safe people who can help bear our burdens, (3) Feel freely, (4) Take authority over wordly sorrow that brings death and refuse the invitation of hopelessness, (5) excercise the power of the resurrection by forgiving our wounders.

How the church can facilitate these steps so that we can expect emotional healing:

Challenge people to see their woundedness.  OK, as a counselor I have sat with more than one person who could never see beyond the end of his or her own nose.  Whether legitimately or illegitmately, these people were so wrapped up in their own woundedness that they were unbearable and draining on almost everyone with whom they came into contact.  There are plenty of these folks out there, but they are usually the exception.

Instead, most people forsake their woundedness by ignoring it or covering it up.  This is quite common in churches.  We become so focused on spiritual disciplines or goals for church growth or accomplishing “things” for the kingdom of God that we never allow the healing power of Jesus Christ to actually touch our wounds in such a way that we can become as-complete-as-possible bearers of his image in the world.  This is sad because, as those called to bear his image, we end of robbing the world of the fullness of his presence.

The church can first become a place of emotional healing by doing what Jesus did:  challenging religious folks to give up the quest for religious perfection and see the wounded and sinful creatures that we are when we do not know the full measure of his grace.

Be a community of “safe” people.  While praying yesterday, the Lord impressed upon my heart Psalm 101.1-6.  I memorized those verses.  At one point, Psalm 101 finds David saying this, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, I will put to silence.”  Obviously, an important step in becoming a community of “safe” people is to make sure that we do not gossip and that we put to silence those within the church who do gossip.

Being a community of safe people also requires humility.  The great preacher Haddon Robinson occasionally begins some of his sermons by praying, “Lord, if these people knew what was really in my heart, they would not listen to a word I have to say.”  Being a community of safe people means realizing that those who are wounded are no greater, nor any less a sinner than we are.  When we understand the depths of our own sin and the expanse of God’s grace and salvation, we can truly help another person bear his wounds into the presence of the One whose wounds bring our healing.

Feel Feelings.  Tullian Tchividjian in his book Unfashionable notes that the church must learn to be angry at the evil works of the enemy in the world.  Too often, the church has been silent while both injustice and unrighteousness have been perpetrated in the world.  And when the Christian community has become angry, it has usually been anger focused on a person or a group of people; not at the greater problem of evil.

Tchividjian is right in telling us that the church needs to shed more tears of sorrow, of mourning, of frustration, and of anger about brokenness in this world.  We need to see this world through God’s eyes and we need to become conduits of the Father’s emotions for this world  in this world.

When the church learns to feel pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger at the enemy’s work in the world, then those who see our emotions will learn that they too can begin the journey of pain and sorrow, grief and agony, heartache and anger that will set them on the journey of emotional healing.

Be a Sign of Hopefulness.  The church must be a marker of hope in the midst of a world of despair.  There are three practices of the church that make us such a marker.

First, we are to care for one another.  Providing meals for others church members during a time of need is one example.  But doing this outside of our body is also important.  Projects like GCF’s Backpack and Snacks where we provide weekend meals for children who may not get any square meals between lunch on Friday and breakfast on Monday morning is yet another way for us to be a marker of hopefulness in a world of despair.  By caring for one another, we exercise the power God has given us to take authority over hopelessness.  Beyond meals, we can pray for one another, listen to one another, and help one another in a myriad of ways. 

Second, we can call the world to be focused on the hope that is ours through Jesus Christ.  The message of the church must always be one of a hope that can personally belong to each and every person through the death, resurrection and the coming return of Jesus Christ.

Third, we can teach people how to take spiritual authority over their hopelessness.  The war against hopelessness must be waged in the spiritual and emotional realm as well as the physical realm and the Bible offers ample teachings on waging that war in both spheres.

Be an Example of Forgiveness.  Within the community of Jesus’ followers (the church) there is plenty of room for people to wound one another.  The church is, afterall, not only a place where God wants us to learn how to receive his grace, but also how to give his grace to others.  When we model forgiveness and perserverance in the midst of the woundedness that takes place within the body of Christ, we are making room for people to learn to forgive – over time – those who have wounded them.  And the forgiveness that they learn to show will not be the forgiveness modeled by five steps in a self-help book, but will be the very forgiveness of Jesus Christ that has the power to turn the old and the decaying into the new and the eternal!

It’s a great expectation, GCF:  expect healing!

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This morning I begin two weeks of posts (for a total of ten posts) in which I am going to try to pull together some thoughts on what expectations should exist for Great Commission Fellowship (or any local church, for that matter)

During the first week, I want to focus on what you and I can and should expect from GCF as members and attenders.  In the second week, I will explore what the community and the world around us should expect from GCF.

Since we are Great Commission Fellowship, the first two posts in this series will break down the two main components of the Great Commission to discern what you can expect from GCF based on the Bible passage for which we are a namesake.

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit . . . –Matthew 28.18-19.

The first component of the Commission focuses on baptism.

We understand baptism in two ways.  First, baptism is the seal of the work of grace that God has done in our hearts in revealing to us our salvation through Jesus.  In other words, baptism takes place as a sign and marker that we have, as Paul says it in Romans, “confessed with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believed in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.”

This confession and believing in Jesus Christ, which is a work of God’s grace in our lives, is also called conversion.  The first of our Great Expectations from GCF should be conversion.  We should expect that God wants to use GCF to bring about a great change in our lives that leaves us matchlessly in love with Jesus Christ.  So in love, in fact, that the rest of our lives will be shaped and molded around loving and being loved by him.

Pete Hise is the Lead Pastor of Quest Community Church in Lexington, KY.  Being that Quest has grown from zero to over 3000 members in just under 10 years, they are often the receiving end of a lot of criticism from a lot of people.  Perhaps some of it is deserved.

 A couple of years ago when I first met Pete Hise, he was sharing with me what he considered to be the most important lesson God had revealed to him in the early days of his time with Quest. 

Pete had learned that ministry here in the Bible Belt was quite different than ministry in New York or other largely “unchurched” regions of the nation.   In those largely unchurched areas, people know that they do not know Jesus.  But here, in the Bible belt, Pete discovered that people think that they know Jesus but what they actually know are the external dynamics that have been used to define the stereotypical “good Christian”. 

Knowing the external standards for being a good Christian and knowing Jesus Christ, as Pete Hise points out, are two very different things.  Pete began calling for Christians to actually discover the person of Jesus Christ.

Say what you will about Pete Hise and Quest Community Church, but I have discovered Pete’s realization to be all-too-true truth in my time as the Lead Pastor of GCF. 

Certainly more than once – in fact more times than I could count – I have sat with college students, seminary students or people who have grown up in the church to find that they are beating themselves over the head because they have a constant sense of “failure” as they try to live up to the external standards of the “good Christian”.  Frustrated with their efforts, they settle for what we might call being “the good-enough Christian” which usually results in some combination of luke-warm church attendance and tepid obedience to what they perceive to be the all-too-hard commands of scripture.

In his classic book, Conversion, the great evangelist and missionary E. Stanley Jones, quotes the great writer H.G. Wells from his deathbed:  “A frightful queerness has come into life.  Hitherto events have been held together by a certain logical consistency as the heavenly bodies have been held together by the golden cord of gravitation.  Now it is as if that cord had vanished and everything is driven anyhow, anywhere, at a steadily increasing velocity.  The writer is convinced that there is no way out or around, or through the impasse.  It is the end.”

Such were the dying sentiments of a man who had always trusted the “logical consistency” of the universe.  Make no mistake about it, the end result of efforts to be a “good Christian” or a “good-enough Christian” are not much different than the end result that H.G. Wells discovered from his trust in the “logical consistency” of the universe.

What is needed, as E. Stanley Jones notes, is conversion:  a radical, life-changing experience with the living person of Jesus Christ!

Expect this from GCF:   to be called to a radical encounter with Jesus Christ that “converts” the rest of you life from one of working and striving to be a good person or a “good-enough Christian” which leads only to hopelessness and despair TO a life that is filled with, as the United Methodist liturgy for baptism says, “a joyful obedience” to a living  and loving Lord who gives you the awesome assurance of an eternal life and the power and will to live an abundant life of love in Him.

There is also a second understanding of baptism that gives rise to an addendum to this first expectation.  We understand baptism to be an initiation rite into the community of God’s called and set-apart people; also known as the church!  A part of the radical nature of conversion is that it joins us to a new people.  These new people are nothing less than the old people who have been made new through God’s conversion of their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ.  For these “old-people-made-God’s-new-people” there is a radical joining together as one people.

We see this radical joining-together displayed in what we call local churches.  GCF is a local church.

Not only should we expect GCF to call us to a radical conversion to Jesus Christ, but also to a radical commitment to God’s new-creation-people, which is his Church; of which GCF is a part.

Here a couple of questions to ponder . . .

1.  Which more accurately describes your life as a Christian:  working to be “good-enough” for God OR joyfully following Jesus where ever he calls you to go?

2.  What does a radical commitment to God’s new-creation people look like?

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As I was traveling over the weekend I listened to a few sermons from a wide variety of pastors:  Charles Stanley, Jon Weece (Southland Christian Church) and Mark Driscoll.

Driscoll had an excellent sermon on the Cross from his doctrine series – if you don’t mind the fact that he used the phrase “I don’t give a damn” in the sermon 🙂

When I got home, I took a look at Driscoll’s blog and ended up linking to a whole train of posts in response to a speech about “manly” preachers that Driscoll gave at a conference (probably more than one) some time ago.  Depending on what you think about the legitimacy of the blogs, Driscoll was trying to be funny OR was way over the top.

No matter.  If you are reading this blog to find a critique of Mark Driscoll, Mark Batterson or any other megachurch pastor, you’ll have to go elsewhere.  I’ve long sinced learned that the “most read” blogs that I write will always be those that mention the name of a megachurch or its pastor!

Driscoll, Batterson, Perry Noble, Ed Young and others are all gifted leaders.  God has used them to accomplish some awesome things and – like ALL of us – they remain imperfect and sometimes over-the-top.  My grandmother, if she were alive and listened to some of their sermons, would note that they are also occasionally full of themselves which she also sometimes said about me!

This post is intended to encourage us to consider whether or not God has called us to be who we are in Jesus Christ or whether or not God has called us to be who Mark Driscoll, Batterson, Noble or Young are in Jesus Christ.

God smacked me in the face with this thought in the car on the way home Saturday.  I began to feel the pressure to do things in the same way that these guys do them so that I can be successful, so that I can be a good leader, so that, so that, so that . . .

But I am not them.  I am Jason and God wants me to be me – in Jesus!  I can’t be who these other guys are in Jesus.

Jesus works in me to give me gifts, to give me leadership and to call me to obedience in my life, my family, my church and my community.  The one thing that we all have in common with these mega-church guys (or at least should have in common) is a passion for Jesus Christ and the expansion of his Kingdom! 

But in that passionate pursuit of Jesus and his kingdom, we will discover that Jesus does not call us to be Driscoll, Batterson, Noble or Young, but intead he calls us to be us – in him!  And there is no one more or less that I can be than the me I am in Jesus.  And the me that I am in Jesus is the best person I can be for my family, my church, my community and the Kingdom of God.

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Well, I’m back from West Virginia.  Had a nice couple of days there.  Max and I had a good time together.  He listened to The Magic Tree House, Just So Stories (Rudyard Kipling), Geronimo Stilton and Stink (Junie B. Jones little brother) on his I-Pod.  Apparently  he spent most of his time with The Magic Tree House because the trip was peppered with little gems of real wisdom and knowledge that he was learning . . . like the definition of patriots, how firemen tried to stop the great San Francisco fire after the 1906 earthquake and how the Titanic sank.

For my part, I spent some time worshiping and listening to some sermons by John Weece (Southland Christian Church in Lexington) and Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church in Seattle).  Boy, Driscoll preaches for a long time . . . usually talking for anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour and fifteen minutes.

On Friday morning I got up early and went to Pipestem State Park and hiked a ways into the woods where I read and chanted several Psalms out loud and dug into a full reading of the Gospel of Matthew.  Later in the day Max and I went and walked around Sandstone Falls and then grabbed some hot dogs at the Dairy Queen in Hinton, WV – undoubtedly the world’s best chili and slaw dogs!

I slaved a way for a good part of Friday on tomorrow’ sermon; the second in a series on joy.  Let me tell you, I really struggled with the passage (John 16.16-24).  I am praying that God will use my study and my work tomorrow morning to do what he wants to do with it.  I began to wonder if some of my difficulty with the passage arose from just how much the enemy does not want his people to ask for Kingdom things in Jesus’ name.  Afterall, Jesus promises that if we pray for kingdom things in Jesus’ name, God will give us what we asked for.  Pretty awesome!   All the way home, I found myself praying for things in Jesus’ name.  I’ve always done this, but after working on the passage all week I think I had a deeper understanding of why I was praying in Jesus’ name.

BTW – Mark Driscoll’s sermon on the cross – from his Doctrine Series – was fabulous . . . go to I-Tunes or the Mars Hill website and give it a listen (or a view).

I just heard from my mom.  Max is still with them and he had a great time at the Virginia Tech scrimmage game and a lot of the players signed his football and his baseball cap.

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I was intrigued to read an article in Revmagazine this week about our sociological need for three kinds of space.  People, its seems, move on a continuum from public space to social space to private space.  As the article points out, this should have churches thinking because we do really well at providing public space, somewhat well at providing for private spaces and we tend to absolutely stink at providing social spaces.

let’s use the average home to think about these spaces.  Your foyer or entry area is public space.  Its a space where just about anyone who comes to do your door might stand.  Conversations in this kind of public space are usually short and never go beneath the surface.  Your family room or kitchen would be social space.  If you invite someone into one of these rooms, then it means that you are going to be “social” for a while and hang out together.  Your bedroom, on the other hand, is a very private space.  Intimate conversations and intimate things (don’t read too much into this) happen in bedrooms.  Its a place where husbands and wives talk about stuff that you can’t really talk about in the foyer or the family room or the kitchen.

Sunday worship gatherings are public spaces for churches.  They are a place where people feel welcome (if the church has a knack for hospitality), but they are not conducive to “hanging out” or “socializing” for a while.  Small groups, women’s Bible studies, prayer meetings, team (committee) meetings, etc. are private spaces.  These conversations are more intimate and are not the kinds of things you’d talk about in a public setting.

The problem, as the article points out, is that churches don’t really provide “social” spaces where people can go beyond the banter of public spaces without having to rush right into the intimacy of private spaces.  When we try to move folks who are new to our churches from public space (worship) to private space (a small group), it is like inviting a door to door salesman from the foyer to your bedroom!

Within the last couple of months, we have started working harder at GCF to provide these kind of social spaces.  Without these in-between social spaces, the move from worship to more intimate community may happen, but it will feel contrived and often proves to have some fleeting short-term impact but no lasting, long-term impact.  In social settings, people get to hang-out and relationships can form naturally.  People can move into more intimate settings having formed relationships that will last and that will also encourage accountability and intimacy with God.

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