Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Let's hope Seattle doesn't have another sports year like the last. Let's hope 2008 stays "The Worst Year Ever":

But, thankfully, there are more important things. May God bless you as we celebrate Jesus' birth and the life He offers. And may you have a wonderful New Year as well.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Looking for the Map?

If you want to comment on "the Map" for Cypress Church, go down to the post from December 19th. It's a few posts down. Or, do it the easy way and click here:

Comments are closed on all but the initial discussion thread. Please follow the link or find the one called "The Map Discussion."

Just War?: Background, Part 2

As Christianity gained prominence a shift, but not a break from the past, in just war theory came with the church father Ambrose. He saw the state as subject to the church. The state was charged with wielding the sword (Rom. 13), but the church was responsible for making sure they did it the right way. David was the prototypical just warrior, in Ambrose’s eyes.

Ambrose was a proponent of virtue lived out in the lives of believers, including why and how they fought wars. The pinnacle of virtue was charity (love) and soldiers lived this principle of charity because all they did was for the common good. In fact, abstaining from force in certain circumstances can be the wrong course of action and is, ultimately, unloving. Ambrose uses Moses’ rescue of the slave in Egypt as his example. For Moses to fail to act would have been a failure in character. In some cases love does not just allow for the use of force; it demands it. This is where Ambrose, according to Cole, expands the tradition handed down to him without going against it. It is not a break; it is a development.

Augustine advances the argument by noting it is the purpose of the state to restrain evil and chaos in order to have a tolerable society. Love for the common good is what drives them to do so – even if it means war. Peace is the ultimate common good, but sometimes force is required to get there. Words are preferable, but sometimes a sword is necessary. Cole emphasizes that war is not the lesser of two evils. Rather, it is a virtuous act if done for the love of the other, seeking the common good.

Now the background and foundation have been set. The next posts will look forward to the just war system built by Aquinas and Calvin.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cypress Church Map

If you want to discuss, or view the discussion, on the "Purpose Map" for Cypress Church, scroll down a couple entries, or click here: I've closed comments here so we can keep them all in the same thread.

Just War?: Background, Part 1

A few weeks ago I finally finished a book with multiple views on the role of church and state. It was too long a process, but enlightening. I found Ronald Sider’s treatment of pacifism of particular interest as he was defending the Anabaptist position on church/state relations. As I was loitering in a bookstore a few days later a title caught my eye: When God Says War is Right by Darrell Cole. It is a brief book that lays out the theory and application of just war theory in a simple way. I’ll summarize his work and interact with it to a certain degree, but it seems like a good, slim volume that can help me understand this perspective. As a disclaimer, I think I am probably in the just war camp to begin with, but it is certainly not through much contemplation and reflection. Rather, it is probably due to tradition and our Judeo-Christian heritage. Regardless, here goes…

Let’s start with Cole’s definition of just war:
“The classic just war doctrine as articulated by the Church does not view all use of force as evil; rather, it declares that war can actually be a positive act of love entirely consistent with the character of God. Love of God and neighbor impels Christians to seek a just peace for all, especially for their neighbors, and military force is sometimes an appropriate means for seeking that peace” (p. 7).
Cole starts off recognizing the tension that exists when Jesus says to turn the other cheek and love your enemies and yet God, at other places in Scripture, instructs His people to kill – and even does so Himself. Rather than pointing to specific Bible verses (which I hope he gets to later), just war is theologically born – specifically from Aquinas and Calvin.

Sider, and I’m sure others, argue that the early Christians were all pacifists because war wasn’t an option for early believers. Cole, however, seems to give a compelling survey of church fathers who, while they aren’t wild about the idea of Chrsitian soldiers, saw that believers could follow God in this capacity. And those who thought clergy ought not fight still saw the role of Christians to pray for just war.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Map Discussion

Cypress Church Leaders,

Post your questions/comments on the map in the comment thread. Remember that there might be a delay because I moderate the comments so I don't post a virus for everyone to click on. If you can't figure out how, or you don't want to register to post, send me an email and I'll post it on your behalf.

I'm not sure if this will work, but it seems to be a better route than a massive "Reply to All"

Thanks for your service,

Monday, December 15, 2008

A Facebook Link

I put a post up about the tension I feel regarding facebook and in the comments, Lee put a link. It was really good. The author has given it far more thought than I have so I thought I’d post the link so you can get a more comprehensive discussion of the opportunities and perils of facebook.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Encouragement in Prayer from Eugene Peterson

Prayer is hard for me – and I know I’m not the only one. In his section on Christ Playing in Community, Peterson talks about prayer as the lingua franca of God’s community. And he walks through three parables in Luke that are helpful for a prayer-struggler like myself. These might make for a good week of devotions and prayer time. I’ll put the passage and Peterson’s lesson briefly behind it.

The Neighbor (Lk. 11.5-13): Prayer should be weaved into daily life. It isn’t a formalized ritual thing with its own vocabulary and protocol. Peterson states, “Prayer is not ritualized language composed ceremonially for an audience with heavenly royalty. Our relation with God is as unpredictable, unplannable, and unrehearsed as life with our neighbors” (p. 276).

The Widow (Lk. 18.1-8): Everyone is on equal footing with God in prayer. Peterson: “…after a lifetime of being ignored it is hard to ‘pray always’ … Get used to being listened to by God” (p. 277). I love that. Get used to being listened to by God. Beautiful.

The Sinner (Lk. 18.9-14): The bottom line of prayer is that we are sinners in need of mercy and prayer should flow out of a deep need and desperation. Peterson: “Prayer is not casual. Prayer is not a whimsical nod upward. Prayer is urgent, nothing less than a life-and-death matter: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’” (p. 278). This is set in contrast to the Pharisee whose prayer consists of “I, I, I, I.” Peterson asks, “Where is God in all of this?” It is preening self-approval, not prayer.

I found these to be encouragement for my prayer challenges and yet helpful reminders that I’m far more desperate than I think I am.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christ Plays in Community

The church continues the resurrection life of Jesus, but it isn’t done according to our preferences (which is what we often prefer and try), but according to the community that God wants to make – one of all different kinds of people. If we don’t honor that diversity, we are not honoring God’s desire for a community of undesirables (people different than what we’re comfortable with – whatever that may be) that He will put together, unified in the life of Christ. Luke’s gospel is full of Jesus going after people on the margins.

The way to cultivate the fear-of-the-Lord in community, according to Peterson, is baptism and love. We are baptized in the name of the Trinitarian community. We are brought into a community that includes the Triune God – as well as others in community and we, just as the Trinity expresses love within its being, so we are called to love our community. Not called, commanded. Baptism includes saying ‘no’ to our selfish ways – that’s repentances. The flip side is saying ‘yes,’ which is following Jesus – and that means loving the community.

Community doesn’t happen just between us, the Bible (or any other book, including Peterson’s), and God. It happens in relationship with others people. Love is exercised on the vertical and horizontal axes. There’s nothing better than enjoying great friends and family in community. But God is, I think, particularly honored when we love those we find unlovely (and when those who find us unlovely love us as well).

Don’t post it, but think about who you find difficult to love. Why not love them in some tangible way this Christmas season?

Friday, December 12, 2008

God's Salvation

I'm preaching on the cross this Sunday - for Christmas. Jesus is the Hero who saves us from our sin. It was good to review Peterson's chapter as a reminder of the centrality of God's work in salvation. Peterson moves, in this section, from the life of creation (previous section) to death that permeates creation. It is a depressing beginning, but then we're reminded that Christ Plays in Salvation in the theater of death and despair. His main objective in this section (far greater than a chapter - 100 pages, give or take a few) is to remind us that God is the main player in salvation and we need to avoid moralism, thinking we add anything or contribute to the process.

He uses Exodus as a grounding text. Israel eats and responds. God tears down the mental, demonic stranglehold that Egypt had on God's people and leads them out. It was his work, not theirs. They eat, leave, and sing in response to salvation. Likewise, the gospels (he focuses on Mark) point to the death of Jesus that secures salvation in history. Again, we don't add anything to it. Rather, we give up. We die to ourselves and enter into the Jesus story as His followers. We don't contribute.

As we were to cultivate awe in creation via Sabbath in the last section. In this one we are reminded that salvation is Christ's work as we take communion. It is a regular reminder of what Jesus did to secure our salvation. I remember listening to a podcast by Jim Gilmore (The Experience Economy) a while ago. He was at a conference at Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He talked about how communion is an experience where we, in a small way, re-enact the cost of salvation. Powerful.

I'd encourage you to remember the next time you take communion, but that's kind of redundant. That's why we do it. But remember, I guess, that it is Jesus' work. You aren't adding anything. He is central in salvation so eat, respond, and sing with gratitude for God's great salvation.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Whole New Team

The Mariners, yesterday, were part of a 12 player trade with three teams involved. They're quite a different team. I'm not sure what to think of it because I know there's so much I don't know about the different players coming and going. But besides facebook, my primary internet addiction is USS Mariner. Here are some links on why they think this is a good deal for the Mariners - even if they're sad to see JJ Putz leaving (as most M's fans are).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cultivating Awe in Creation

Peterson’s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, focuses on Christ playing in three places, primarily – Creation, History, and Community. He spends many pages articulating the importance of being thankful and awe-filled when it comes to creation. Then he looks at the life of Jesus in John’s gospel as building on the creation narrative of Genesis (at least Jn. 1 & Gen. 1). But this time it is the overflow of life that comes from the Creator stepping into creation. Beyond this, we’re called into relationship with this Creator who is very much grounded in our creation. There is no room for Gnosticism here. Creation is God’s good gift and His means of revealing Himself in Christ.

But after all this talk of creation, gratitude, glory, incarnation, and life, the question is raised, “How do we cultivate the appropriate awe?” The answer: Sabbath.

Peterson notes it is a time where we do-nothing so we do our God-honoring. It is a time to remember that the world does not revolve around us. As competent as we may be doing our God-given work, we remember that God really holds it all together. We need to put the tools down and rest in Him. Not just rest; worship. Adore. Be filled with awe.

Is your Sabbath filled with awe? I know my Sundays are filled with to-dos and church responsibilities, but I get a semi-Sabbath on Saturday mornings. I rest, read what I want, relax. It is wonderfully recharging (and thanks to a fantastic wife who makes it happen), but do I cultivate awe? And, how does not being in a corporate setting affect that ability to cultivate awe?

What’s your Sabbath like? Is it awe-filled? May it be increasingly so, particularly during this Christmas season.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beyond Practical

Still reviewing Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Now I’m at the beginning, but it seems to be a common theme for Peterson – at least he touches on it a few times in this book. We can’t over-program life or people. Rather than programs, we need an awe of God. Listen in:

In dealing with God, we are dealing in mystery, in what we do not know, what we cannot control or deal with on our terms. We need to know this, for we live in a world that over-respects the practical. We want God to be ‘relevant’ to our lifestyle. We want what we can, as we say, ‘get a handle on.’ There is immense peer pressure to reduce God to fit immediate needs and expectations. But God is never a commodity to use. In a functionalized world in which we are all trained to understand ourselves in terms of what we can do, we are faced with a reality that we cannot control. And so we cultivate reverence. We are in the presence of One who is both before and beyond us (p. 46).
I think, as I communicate the gospel, that this “peer pressure” of which Peterson speaks is very real. It isn’t all bad, but there’s a temptation to simplify things so there’s a “take home” step. In many ways that’s good … if the text leads them there. But there are some times (probably more than I communicate) where the “take home” is to stand in awe of God, to cultivate a “fear-of-the-Lord” in Peterson’s language.

Are you looking for a “take home” when you hear a sermon, or even read your Bible, or are you more interested in entering into the mystery and sitting with an “impractical” sermon that gives you a grander vision of God? I admit being torn on this one. You?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Facebook, Relationships, & Eugene Peterson

I just finished Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places by Eugene Peterson. A few weeks ago I linked a Scot McKnight article on Peterson’s new book. He mentioned how difficult it is to review Peterson because he’s more conversational than developing a thesis in a systematic manner. I can’t say I disagree, though I’ve never really thought about it (that’s why I blog … so I pay better attention to what I read!).

Anyway, the next few posts will be different highlights from Christ Plays that I found helpful or thought-provoking. Nothing systematic. This one’s from the epilogue and talks about the danger of technology making us less human, less relational. Peterson describing the teaching of a philosopher friend:

“We have permitted a technology-saturated way of life to disengage us from what is essential to our humanity, whether in relation to things or people. As a result we live at secondhand: relationships atrophy, enjoyment diminishes, life thins out. Borgman places the ‘culture of the table’ – the preparing and serving and cleaning up after meals – at the center of the well-lived life. …Used without discrimination, technology discarnates our lives, the polar opposite of what takes place in Jesus in his incarnation, the em-body-ment of God among us. We can’t live a life more like Jesus by embracing a way of life less like Jesus” (p. 336).
I’ve been wondering about this for a while since Facebook has become a moderate addiction for me. For starters, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. My mom, too. She actually gets to see pictures because I upload them to Facebook – where I would never email them to her. Go figure. I can stay connected in fun, simple ways with friends that I see all the time. And my favorite part right now is that I’m finding out what God is doing in the lives of high school friends. People who weren’t even believers are now going to be missionaries in Muslim nations. Crazy. I love it!

But I wonder, and this may only be my introversion speaking, but is it possible to keep alive too many relationships? Not that we should have a relationship “cap,” but are we built for a certain amount of relationships prescribed by the amount of time we have to attend to those relationships? Family and best friends (regardless of location) aside, do Facebook (or other) relationships take away from those relationships I should be “present” with here in SoCal right now?

I honestly don’t know. I know I enjoy Facebook. I don’t think it is adversely affecting my “present” relationships, though it may be. I suppose I need to give it more thought. Any thoughts on Facebook or technology in general?

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Which Bible for 2009?

I try to read through the Bible each year. I just finished the King James Version for 2008. Any suggestions on which version I should tackle for 2008? I’ll be reading my Greek New Testament, but I need another translation for the Old Testament. (Notice that I’ll be reading the NT with English on the facing page. I’m reading it because my Greek is weak, not because it’s strong).


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Good Sign

M's sign Russel Branyan. Doesn't reveal much for long term plans or being instant contenders, but a good sign of things to come.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Social Justice Perspective (J. Philip Wogaman) #2: Social Justice and Creation, Social Science, History, and Issues

Wogaman argues against a Gnostic or docetic view of the world. That is, creation matters, but it is not ultimate. Creation is the arena in where we develop covenant with God. This is important because it means the material, physical world is important and, I presume, we need to seek justice within it, not just wait for eternal justice. Next, Wogaman discusses the social justice perspective’s willingness to use the most recent scientific discoveries to inform how social justice should be lived out. These findings are not ultimate, but they are taken into consideration. (Not sure why he made issue of this, to be honest.)

While there are always questions (apart from Catholics, I suppose) about who really speaks for the church, it is important for the church to speak. Sometimes it has disastrous effects (prohibition) and other times it is successful (antislavery movement). To avoid the disasters, it is probably better to influence hearts and minds rather than force something legally. Wogaman points to abortion as such a contemporary issue.

To conclude, Wogaman goes through a Methodist document and where they stand on current issues as an example of what churches should do. Whether politicians listen to them or not, it is good for churches to think through these issues.

This was a strange essay and wasn’t altogether helpful in some ways, but the prohibition/abortion issue really has me thinking. Of course I’d like to see Roe v. Wade overturned and abortion outlawed, but – whether that happens or not – maybe we need to re-think our tactics in such a way that we can change hearts and minds on the issue so it is lasting and not an ongoing tug-of-war. I’m not sure how to do that, but it seems more lasting and less divisive than the political gridlock we’re currently engaged in. Thoughts?

(PS – I’m done with political stuff for a while, which is a good thing since nobody wants to talk about it or read about it, I imagine.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Social Justice Perspective (J. Philip Wogaman) #1: Introduction & Basics

The social justice view essentially argues that churches should strive for social justice by influencing public policy. It is grounded, initially in Wogaman’s account, that the state is society acting as a whole. This does not mean that we necessarily agree with every aspect of what’s done by our nation, but we participate in it nonetheless as participants in our society. This unified society is grounded on influencing others’ values to determine the majority values. Wogaman emphasizes, “anything that is actually valued by people is potentially a source of influence and therefore political power” (p. 217). Obviously people’s values are influenced by faith.

Theological Basis for Social Justice
The idea of rendering each their due is important biblically and in the social justice perspective. This plays itself out in biblical retributive justice, but Wogaman also uses the workers who get paid the same wage in his argument (Mt. 20.1-16). Ultimately, all are due punishment for sin, Wogaman argues, but God has given grace and invited people into life with Him. Likewise, the key component of social justice is that none would be marginalized, but all are included in the process and all have a voice. We are a communal people and all have a right to belong to a society and make their voice known in that society. We are individuals, Wogaman doesn’t go Marxist (and makes a point to say so), but we are less than human if we are not both individual and communal. In his discussion of liberation theology and Marxism, Wogaman notes that, in the emphasis to stem the tide of structural sin, not enough attention was paid to personal sin. The pendulum had swung too far away from the individual.

I was leery of this perspective, coming from a more evangelical, rather than mainline background, but I appreciate Wogaman’s balance between the communal and individual. I take some issue, but there are some interesting insights in this.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #3: The Logic of Anabaptist Political Engagement

The Logic of Anabaptist Political Engagement
This section is so titled because some say, since every state uses force, that Anabaptist social engagement is logically inconsistent. Sider admits it is unlikely that a pacifist would ever be elected to political office. Yet, their goal is to move people more toward Anabaptist values. This includes holding just war adherents to their own standards, voting for people who are the lesser of two evils, and offering alternatives to war like nonviolent intervention teams for the purpose of reconciliation. Sider agrees God uses governments and force for good at times, but he does not think it ideal and, while the cost may be great, a pacifistic way is to be preferred. Even though force can be used for good, that doesn’t mean it is preferred.

Separating Church and State and ‘Legislating Morality’
Anabaptists are strong supporters of separation of church and state, but they do not argue for a privatization and irrelevance of spiritual beliefs. Our spiritual beliefs shape us and should influence how we engage politically. In a democratic process, our spiritual beliefs should shape our philosophy of what we contend for, but the majority and the process (outside of discrimination) should determine what law is.

From here Sider argues in favor of Bush’ Faith Based Initiative and Clinton’s Charitable Choice legislation arguing that, where church and state values match, they should work together with the understanding that there are things the church does that the state should not – like conversion – and the church should not lose their prophetic voice in the process of cooperation. Still, partnership in common goals is a good thing. This is similar to the Catholic Social Teaching in the first chapter of this book, but the Catholic perspective seems a bit more exhaustive in the roles the church plays.

Some of the critiques pointed to inconsistency in the Anabaptist tradition – first and foremost be a witness as the church, but yet move people politically toward your goals/ends. This has been an interesting enterprise, but better minds than mine need to wade through some details of political theory. One more position – the Social Justice Perspective by J. Philip Wogaman coming soon.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #2: Church, Politics, & the Sword

The Church
Sider continues to argue that the church is part of the gospel of the Kingdom and it is to be a visible expression of God’s new creation/community. It’s values are such that it stands out (racial unity in the 1st century) as a countercultural (not anticultural) community. This new community should influence the surrounding culture and it does so by living out Jesus’ values first and foremost. This includes “binding and loosing” – where differences are resolved by “reconciling dialoge,” not force, economic sharing, an inclusive community, everyone having a voice and a gift, and “forgiveness rather than retaliation is the way to reconciliation” (p. 175). The living out of these values are to influence culture positively.

Government, Society, and the Sword
Next, Sider offers that government is a good gift that should be limited, but is intended to restrain evil and promote the good. From there he talks specifically about how government should (or shouldn’t) wield the sword.

He begins with the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5.38-48), which Hengel believes is written contra the Zealots. Loving your enemies is radical, as is the expansion of the definition of “neighbor” (Lk. 10.29-37). Sider argues the context is public, not a two powers view articulated by Luther (personal ethic and public responsibility). The ultimate responsibility is loving the other and doing what they need.

This idea of nonviolence is not nonresistance. The key tenets of Sider’s pacifism are…
1. Don’t place every evil person in the category of enemy.
2. Don’t retaliate, but respond according to the needs of others – even if they’re offensive.
3. Regardless of response, we need to love because love is not based upon response.
4. We should act in these ways at great personal cost.

To do anything less than these is to weaken Jesus’ costly call. Sider does not buy the double ethic of public/private because he doesn’t think God has a double ethic. Jesus was calling the nation of Israel to righteousness, not private righteousness. It also goes against the literal understanding of the text. Also, this dual ethic allows for Christians to engage in atrocities like Nazi Germany. Finally, the early church (prior to Constantine) knows nothing of this public/private distinction and Christians were forbade from being executioners or in the military, according to Sider.

Lastly, God shows us how to treat our enemies in that while we were yet enemies, Christ died for us (Rom. 5). Just as Christ dealt with His enemies through suffering, so we should do the same because the cross is not the end of the story. There is a resurrection and it tells us that Jesus’ way triumphs and He will ultimately make things right.

What do you think of this sketch of pacifism? I’m intrigued and certainly challenged. I see some basic issues, but I don’t know that I could build anything as textual and coherent as Sider has at this point. I have a book, When God Says War is Right, that I’ll probably be reading soon to see how it compares to Sider. Thoughts?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Anabaptist Perspective (Ronald Sider) #1: Introduction and First Principle

Sider discusses the Anabaptist perspective, which I find commendable in many ways upon first glance, apart from the pacifism. And the fact that I like most of what he says otherwise, it makes me think I should at least take seriously his arguments for pacifism. His is the argument (thus far) most grounded in the biblical text (that’s not to say the others aren’t biblical). He gives a little history lesson to start, which is pretty interesting – though you could probably look it up on Wikipedia and get a better summary than I can give. The key gift of the Anabaptists, according to Sider, is religious freedom. They were persecuted by Lutherans and Calvinists early in their existence, but they have won the day with religious freedom being preferred in society over state religion.

The Center: Jesus Christ
Sider lays out his Anabaptist perspective by starting with Jesus. Specifically, he wants Jesus set as the example of what we’re to strive to be. While we may never attain Jesus’ values and character, He is normative. And this gospel He came to preach is not just a matter of having sins forgiven. It is that, but then these disciples are forming a new community that are living out the next age in the here and now.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #4: The Rest of the Political Principles

2. The nature of the church: The church is a community that observes sacraments, preaches the Scripture, and exercises discipline. But it is not a community that exists in a vacuum. The church – even beyond the visible church – is to be God’s people, but they are also to promote God’s righteousness in the culture.
3. The nature of the state: There are two key aspects to the state. It has limited powers and should secure justice. Power is limited because God has delegated authority to communities other than the state – the family for instance. Government ought not overstep their authority. Governmental power is also limited for the Christian by their conscience. Submission to God trumps submission to government.
Regarding securing justice, governments are to make sure different spheres do not encroach on the others and to make sure justice is protected. It cannot enforce every moral code, nor should it, but it should ensure that behaviors that impinge upon others’ fundamental rights should be stopped.
4. An agent of common grace: The state has nothing to do with the spiritual welfare and salvation of people, but it is an instrument of God to care for order and the general good of all people. It is an agent of common grace.
5. The call to political engagement: All of creation is touched by the fall and God wants Christians to redeem every area in the cultural mandate. No area of life is so forsaken that God does not want Christians to make a difference.
6. Political modesty, toleration, cooperation, and compromise: Even if believers have the Truth, we still see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13.12). Toleration only comes when there is genuine disagreement between people, but the key to government is enforcing justice. That means, even if we don’t agree with everyone, we need to cooperate and compromise for the movement toward good and God’s values – even if we can’t have everything. “The perfect should not be the enemy of the good” (p. 149).
7. Principled pluralism and public policy: Using the Charitable Choice Act, Smidt shows how it practically works. The idea being that when there is a common interest for the good, church and state should work together – like poverty. Because the circles are different, working together will reach some groups that would fall through the cracks – and the common good is accomplished.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #3: Definition and Political Principles

Principled Pluralism
Kuyper advanced Calvin’s views to the idea of “sphere sovereignty.” The idea of sphere sovereignty is articulated in the Introduction to this section. This perspective is good because people recognizes the real presence of different spheres and that people are networked in different ways, which is a good thing.

The principled pluralist government should also allow for a pluralism of religious belief. It is not the role of the state to determine what is right and true, but to allow for a pluralism of viewpoints. God, not even believers, will determine who are His (Mt. 13.36-43).

Political Principles
What does this look like, finally? Smidt gives several principles after making it clear that the Bible does speak to politics on some levels, but on other levels it just doesn’t speak to politics. So here are some key principles he sees for a principled pluralist church and state relationship:

1. The vital role of communities: People are social beings and communities and societies are essential features of societies. These relationships are fundamental and prior to the state and form a shield against the encroachment of the state upon individual rights while not advocating a radical individualism that is contra Scripture.

This is such a huge reality in our culture. Relationships are vital and drive much of what drives ministry to younger generations. We’ll get to more principles tomorrow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #2: The Theological Basis for Principled Pluralism

The theological basis for principled pluralism is the narrative that God created everything good and sin has corrupted it all. Therefore, Jesus must redeem it. The narrative structure forms the basis of how God’s sovereignty is properly exercised for the good of a fallen creation.

Creation: the cultural mandate
Creation was the initial work of God in Genesis 1-2, but the cultural mandate of “subduing the earth and filling it” (Gen. 1.28) is more than procreation. It is the cultivation of culture. Under this cultural mandate, government would be a likely development even if Adam had never sinned.

Fall: common grace
The Fall resulted in the corruption of all of creation. Total depravity in the Reformed tradition speaks to the “breadth rather than the depth” of depravity. The fall has separated all from God’s saving grace, though it is available to those who are chosen. However, God exercises “common grace” on all people (see Mt. 5.45). Government should be an operation of “common grace,” but it, too, is tainted by sin and will fall short of ideal “common grace,” but this does not mean it should be abandoned.

Redemption: cosmic in scope
Christ comes to offer redemption, not just to people, but to the created order (Rom. 8.18-23). Believers will not “save,” in a redemptive sense, the culture, but it can be transformed to what it is intended to be. This isn’t a return to Eden since the biblical witness ends with a glorious city (Revelation). Believers need to facilitate this redemption as their able.

What does this mean for the church and state? It is a two powers view, but unlike Luther, the Reformed position has the two working together. The state protects the church and the church serves as a prophetic witness to the state by calling it to “common grace” righteousness.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Principled Pluralist Perspective (Corwin Smidt) #1: Introduction

Corwin Smidt articulates the Principled Pluralist Perspective that is, according to Cochran, similar to the Catholic position (see previous posts), but this comes from a Reformed/Calvinist perspective and is particularly indebted to Abraham Kuyper, 19th century Dutch statesman and theologian. The basic gist of this perspective is that there are multiple spheres of life and God has ordained different authorities within those structures that should not encroach on the others. For instance, the state should not exercise too much authority in the family because it has a sphere of sovereignty that is largely separate from the state. However, the state should intervene when a particular “sphere” is malfunctioning, such as a case of abuse within a family, or something of that nature.

This seems like a pretty reasonable position from the basic starting point – there are some thing that are out of government’s sphere, but there’s a role for government. I guess where those lines are drawn have something to do with what we expect from our government and how we vote. Thoughts?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Financial Crisis, Catalyst, and Dave Ramsey

A timely Catalyst interview regarding the financial crisis with Dave Ramsey. I'm no financial guru, but his challenge to not live out of fear was helpful. Check it out.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Children of the World were fantastic!

We had World Help's International Children's Choir yesterday for the kickoff of our missions week. They were a hit. And the OC Register covered their visit. Follow the link for some great pictures and a brief description of the morning.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New Blog

One of my missionary friends in Germany has a blog of his sketches. Pretty cool stuff. Sketches of Kandern, Germany and other nearby cities:

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The M's Have Their Man

It's official. The Mariners have found their new GM - Jack Zduriencik. The bloggers (see USS Mariner) don't think it's a bad move. He's built a great roster with the Brewers. We'll see how he does, but there's hope on the horizon in Seattle.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Battle Line is Drawn: I’m Borderline Obese…

…The doctor assured me it isn’t a pejorative term, but a scientific one. That takes a little sting out. A little. I need to get down to 182 to be normal. I’m currently “Overweight.” Ouch. I’ve got some work to do.

I started running last week. I need to keep it up for health’s sake. The part I’m dreading is eating better. But it needs to be done if I want to just stay “Overweight,” let alone get to being “Borderline Overweight” or “Normal.”

[I thought about putting a Homer Simpson picture on here, but I just couldn’t do it.]

PS – I’ll get back to the church & state posts soon. I’m sure everyone’s holding their breath J

Thursday, October 16, 2008

We could have used this for our parables series this summer.

Oh well. To follow up on my “I’m-excited-to-start-the-next-Eugene-Peterson-book” post a few days ago. Scot McKnight shares my enthusiasm for Peterson (and does a good job of explaining why I like it better than I could) by giving a brief preview of Peterson’s newest book, Tell It Slant. Too bad I won’t get to it for a while.

McKnight on Peterson’s Tell It Slant:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Some Challenging Thoughts on Poverty

I don't check it everyday, but I should. Scot McKnight's blog,, is fantastic. Check out this challenging and, I think, pretty spot on post about dealing with poverty as believers:

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Classic Separation Perspective (Derek Davis) #4: Some Concluding Thoughts

There was much I enjoyed in this perspective and it is, actually, probably my default position, though that is probably changing as more social issues get raised these days. I didn’t note any critiques of the Catholic perspective, but a couple questions/issues came up in this one that are worth noting. Not long critiques, but noteworthy…

· The Catholic critique here notes how Davis’ study is more individual oriented and doesn’t speak to our social responsibilities.
· The idea of a civil religion is why I’m not terribly offended that they’ve taken prayer out of the schools and why there are some ways I’d like to be more than a “Classic Separationist.” It isn’t that I want to avoid all of it; it’s that I don’t want the US church to become Europe.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Classic Separation Perspective (Derek Davis) #3: The Rules of Classical Separation

OK. I'll quit whining about lame Seattle sports. Back to the different church-state relationships from a Christian perspective. This is the last installment of the Classic Separation Perspective. There are three distinct, yet related rules when it comes to Classical Separation, according to Davis.

1. Separation of Church and State.
There are clearly ways where there is no separation (“In God We Trust”). The issue is more of an institutional separation. That means “church and state in American society not be interconnected, dependent on or functionally related to each other.” The idea is that they will both function better if they function independently (e.g., government appointing clergy or the church dictating laws like the Middle Ages).
Davis seems to be skeptical even of partnership of church and state when it comes to social programs because religions have been historically considered “pervasively sectarian” (p. 104). Whether it goes this far or not, Davis’ concern is that “making religion the servant of government would likely inaugurate the decline of religion’s current role as the nation’s ‘prophetic voice’ and conscience against ill-advised governmental policies. Religion with its hand out can never fulfill its prophetic role in society” (p. 105).

2. Integration of Religion and Politics.
While the official separation is clear, religious voices are encouraged in politics. Whether it be the individual citizen, or lobbying, religion does play a role in the political arena – and should. Religious people can enter into the process just like anyone else and it is expected, or at least understood, that those running for public office can speak about their faith.

3. Accommodation of Civil Religion.
Classical separation also recognizes a civil religion under the generic terms of “God” and it allows symbols that have been around for a while to stay prominent in a given community (Nativity scenes, menorahs, etc…). This ends when it will make an impression on the young, which is why they still pray in Congress, but not in schools.

Conclusion of Classic Separation
Separation is important for the purity of the church, but it has had great benefits. There is no country as religious as the USA – and with such broad respect for so many different faiths. The church and state can pursue doing good to all (Gal. 6.10), but it is the role of the church to make disciples of the nation (Mt. 28.19-20) and the state can’t do that.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Can it get any worse?

Of course it can. It's only sports, but this has to be the darkest season in my Seattle sports memory.

Seahawks whacked again ... at home:

Mariners 100+ losses ... and no new GM in sight yet.

Sonics are no longer.

Cougars embarrassed ... big deal.

Huskies only avoid losing because they have a bye.

Rough year.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Too long without Eugene Peterson: contra spiritual elitism

I’m making myself stop. I just started reading Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. He’s been one of my favorites over the last few years, but it’s been too long since I last read him (a year ago or so, I think). I started reading Christ Plays (because my amazing wife gives me Saturdays to relax, recharge, and read) and wanted to pound through the first section of the book because that’s what I do with books, but I made myself stop. Too good. I need to think about it.

I can’t begin to capture how good Peterson is because it’s mostly in how he says it, but I’ll at least let you think about what I’m pondering to see if it is worth you pondering, too. He’s “clearing the playing field” for Christian spirituality to get rid of distractions. The first he’s dealing with is the myth of spiritual elitism, that spirituality is for a special class. He debunks this brilliantly by contrasting two consecutive stories in John 3 and 4 – Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. The stories show that Jesus shows no preference and, in fact, it is the “less respectable” one who gets what Jesus is talking about and. Notice the contrast:

A man and a woman.
City and country.
An insider and an outsider.
A professional and a layperson.
A respectable man and a disreputable woman.
An orthodox and a heretic.
One who takes initiative; one who lets it be taken.
One named, the other anonymous.
Human reputation at risk; divine reputation at risk (p. 18).
Ultimately the point of each doesn’t revolve around the person, but Jesus and the work of God. Peterson states, “Jesus is working at the center. Jesus is far more active than any one of us; it is Jesus who provides the energy” (p. 19). In removing the clutter around spiritual formation and the issue of elitism we see:

spirituality is not a body of secret lore,
spirituality has nothing to do with aptitude or temperament,
spirituality is not primarily about you or me; it is not about personal power or enrichment. It is about God (p. 19).
What a great reminder. God doesn’t care where we are or where we come from, but He cares about where we are going and wants to work in our lives. What a great reminder that, ultimately, the pressure’s off. God’s at work. Not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because He is and He loves me and wants to change me to become like Him.

Nice. Encouraging.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Classic Separation Perspective (Derek Davis) #2: Classic Separation is not Anti-God

The separation was not given to inhibit religion, but to “energize religion to supply the moral virtue in the citizenry that the nation would need for success” (p. 94). The Enlightenment rationalism wasn’t secular; God was behind the scenes as the providential hand in the universe. After noting the Baptist contribution towards separation (he’s from Baylor – he’s gotta give some love to the home team!), Davis discusses the contributions of religion to the new system. Religion contributes by creating a pious and moral people upon which freedom stands. This is whey there are so many great quotes from founders about faith – without saying the government might “promulgate religion.”

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Classic Separation Perspective (Derek Davis) #1: The Basic Debate

Derek H. Davis lays out the “classic separation” perspective by citing how religious liberty is America’s gift to the world. While most of his essay discusses the American Founders’ rationale for “classic separation,” he starts by mentioning the theological foundation of church and state, which is that all are created in the Image of God. Image bearers must be honored and belief and practice cannot be coerced. The difference between the classic and “strict” separationist view is that in Davis’ model, there can be some interaction between church and state.

The Basic Debate: The Meaning of the Religion Clauses
The 1st Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The first clause means the government cannot establish a church, but the second clause, the “free exercise clause” leads to much debate. I’ll save the debate, but Davis believes it refers to “classic separation” because direct/financial support of religion compromises the religious mission and its ability to be a prophetic voice.
While he admits it is difficult to determine from the Framers of the Constitution whether it should be separate or whether it accommodates partnership, he opts that, based on the founders’ deliberations, the separatist view is preferred, particularly since “nonpreferential” language toward religion was rejected up to five times in the process of writing the Amendment. If the framers thought it was an issue of fairness, they had ample opportunity. Since they didn’t, it seems they were aiming at separation.

Classic separation has been an historical process. Many colonies supported churches, but most stopped around the time of the Revolutionary War. After that, religious tests for holding office ended, and then finally they decriminalized religious behavior (e.g., being Catholic, etc…).

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Catholic Perspective (Clark Cochran) #3: Church and State in Tension

There needs to be division so the church can pursue its mission, but it will be in constant interaction with the state. There is not a strong wall. Tension is Cochran’s key word in all of this. There are four points of tension in CST. Cooperation with the state, transcendence, competition, and challenge are the key points of tension that shift according to seasons and issues. Virtues are stressed in CST more than structures.

The church needs to walk the line between assisting the state to help people flourish without assimilating into the culture. This tension means, based on the issue, the church needs to cooperate with the state for the good, transcend the state when it comes the eternal things the state cannot speak to. The church must challenge the state when it is unjust and compete when it will help raise the bar for the state’s performance and contribute to the common good.

The book I’m reading is one of those “five views” books, but I’ll let the differences emerge with each summary rather than comment on their rebuttals. I’m already getting tired of blogging this, which means I’ll never finish if I look at each rebuttal. Feel free to rebut, however.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Catholic Perspective (Clark Cochran) #2: Purpose of the State in Catholic Doctrine

According to Cochran, government is the stewardship of God’s gifts. Here are the responsibilities of Government, according to Catholic Social Teaching (CST).

Government & natural order – The government is to help the flourishing of the human person for the common good. There is a restraining of evil that is valuable. When governments fail in this regard, peaceful resistance should b eordinar, but there are some times where revolutionary violence is acceptable.
Common good – Government is responsible to the good is why God grants authority to the state. This steers between individualism and collectivism. There is no fulfillment in isolation. Your flourishing is tied to your neighbor.
There is admittedly tension with capitalism here. There is a ‘universal destination of goods’ that means everyone has a share of the earth’s goods and this isn’t just national, but poorer nations have legitimate claims on wealthier nations.
Solidarity – I am my brother’s keeper. There is a common humanity, which impels action. We are responsible for all the others. This is where ‘structures of sin’ fit in – exploitation of labor, nuclear proliferation, or racial stigma. This solidarity applies within and across national barriers.
Social justice – The common good is valued and pursued. The broadest application is in the economic sphere. The poor are the test, particularly the gap between the rich and the poor in the US as well as dire poverty in the Third World. CST recognizes private property, but it has a ‘social mortgage.’ This is in tension again with capitalism. CST has no economic commitment. Key is preventing exploitation, which some conservatives and neo-conservatives think is best done in free-market capitalism. Catholics on the left disagree.
Freedom & human dignity – People are made in the image of God and this dignity is both individual and collective. People have a right to sustenance, protection, and no oppression. Democracy is the best hope for this, but not the only hope. CST universally teaches that governments are responsible to stop abortion, euthanasia, and embryonic stem cell research, but there is debate on war, poverty, death penalty, lack of health care, etc…
Order & stewardship – There is a tension between the need for the government to punish evil and to and pursue the common good. Government has to help allocate the limited resources and “insure the preservation of God’s gifts into the future” (p. 56).

Some good stuff here. Some other stuff sounds nice, but doesn’t fit with our standard American values/structures. What do you think?

Tomorrow we’ll look at how this church/state tension is lived out from a Catholic perspective.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


You mean the Mariners weren't bad enough this year?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Catholic Perspective (Clark Cochran) #1: Mission of the Church in Catholic Doctrine

Catholic Social Teaching (CST) is broad, but here are some key points – even if there’s diversity within perspectives. It isn’t a tidy enterprise. There are four key aspects of CST that will be discussed later when it comes to how church and state will engage – cooperation, challenge, competition, and transcendence. First, we’ll look at Cochran’s explanation of the Mission of the Church and the Responsibilities of Government from a CST perspective.

Micah 6.8 is a key text in CST – do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with our God. Here are some key elements of Catholic doctrine.

Incarnational – Just as Christ came in the flesh to redeem humanity, so the church is to redeem the human and material world. This includes “that there is a natural justice and a natural common good” (p. 43).

Sacramental – Everyday events are chances for intimacy and relationship with Christ – everything is potentially sacred, which makes CST comfortable with the tensions inevitable in church/state relations.

Social anthropology – There is individual responsibility, but we are social creatures and have responsibilities toward one another.

Option for the poor – Tension between value of poverty and the relief of it. Monastic orders both honored voluntary poverty and worked to relieve the suffering. This has been characteristic of the Catholic left, but conservatives Catholics recognize it as their responsibility, too. They do it by different means.

Church as public institution – Most of the above the elements make the Catholic church public because it is committed to societal transformation for the public good – not for theocracy.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What's the difference between evangelicals, Catholics, & Orthodox?

Scot McKnight has an interesting response toward a letter that asked him, since he's so fond of Catholic and Orthodox tradition, why he hasn't converted.

He lays out some key issues in a helpful, brief way. There are strong issues, but his appreciation for these other traditions make this an gracious disagreement. Check it out.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Church, State, & Public Justice: Introduction

By way of introducing the complexity behind the issues of church and state relations, there is undoubtedly a history that includes a diversity of opinion and approaches. Even during great triumphs of social action by the church (slavery, for example), there was no unified golden age where everyone was in harmony. Christians have historically been on both sides of the issues at stake. Before concluding that there is no consensus voice on how Christians should engage the public and political squre, Kemeny sketches a brief history of the church’s role in society:

* Protestantism as established religion.
* Protestantism as de facto established religion (after separation of church and state is established in the Constitution)
* “Second Disestablishment” – Protestantism loses “hegemony” in society from 1920-1950s (examples of Scopes trial; JFK a Catholic president)
* End of the Protestant Establishment (1960s) – Global immigration along with the previous disestablishments lead to the most diverse nation in the world.

The current climate of disestablishment gave rise to what has come to be known as the Religious Right in the late 70s, early 80s as Christians have tried to return from irrelevance to make a difference in public policy and governance. The views on how this is best done is incredibly varied and there is no consensus.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fear and Trembling: Politics Coming …

‘Tis the season! I’m somewhat interested in politics, though I’m not an intense partisan. I listen to talk radio and I’m conservative, but I think it is a place where thoughtful people can disagree – even as Christians. There are some issues that I think are pretty black and white – you can probably guess what they are since I’ve said I’m a conservative. But when I talk to my godly, smart friends who are more liberal – even Democrats! – they make sense and they are, by any standard, every bit the Christian as a passionate evangelical Republican.

I’m not going to open the politics can of worms – at least in a partisan way. Not my bag – and certainly not something I’m going to argue about, particularly online. I’d love to chat over coffee or lunch and learn more about how people who hold like values express them differently in the ballot box, which I’ve recently had the pleasure of doing.

The next few blog posts are intended to be descriptive of different Christian perspectives on how church and state are to interact. It is a summary of Church, State, and Public Justice, edited by PC Kemeny. I hope it is of interest to you. Feel free to interact with what you think the strengths/weaknesses are of each perspective as we go. This won’t be as exhaustive an outline as my Stetzer summary was, so I’m not sure I can even do these chapters justice (they’re beefy), but I’ll try. I’ll hit the intro tomorrow and then I’ll get each view rolled out as soon as I can – I hope I can get it all out by election day.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


I'm working on my message for Sunday. We're in the midst of 40 Days of Community and I'm talking about how we need each other to grow. I mostly know what I'm going to say, but any ideas or stories could be helpful.

How do others contribute to your growth?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 12: Final States

I know I’ve got a good bit of editing to do, and studying for the oral exam board, but it feels good to wrap up this segment of the ordination process.

In the bodily resurrection of the dead; of the believer to everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord; of the unbeliever to judgment and everlasting conscious punishment.
Scripture is clear that prior to judgment there will be a general resurrection of the dead (Isa. 26.9; Dan. 12.2; Jn. 5.25, 28-29). Our resurrection is connected to Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15.12-14) and He will change our bodies to be like His (Phil. 3.20-21). Our resurrection bodies will be physical, but in some ways different from our current physical bodies (Lk. 24.38-39; Jn. 20.27). After the resurrection, each person will be judged (Acts 10.42; Rom. 14.10).

Judgment is based upon what we do in this life in our bodies (2 Cor. 5.10). Some texts indicate good works are a factor in judgment (Mt. 25.31-46; Jn. 5.29), but there will be some who do good works that are told to depart by Jesus (Mt. 7.21-23). Ultimate judgment hinges upon responding appropriately to Jesus (Jn. 12.48; 16.8), but it is clear a proper response to Jesus will result in good works (James 2.14-26) that will be evaluated (1 Cor. 3.11-15).
The true believer can anticipate everlasting blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heavens and the new earth (Isa. 65.17; Rev. 21.1). This blessedness and joy include delighting in God’s glory and presence (Rev. 21.23; 22.3) where there will be no pain or sorrow (Rev. 21.3-4) and the believer rewards for their faithfulness (Mt. 25.34).

For the unbeliever the future holds condemnation after judgment (Mt. 25.41, 46; Rev. 20.7-15). God takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ez. 33.11) and desires that all should repent (2 Pet. 3.9), but those who are not in Christ will endure everlasting (Isa. 66.24; Mk. 9.43-48; Mt. 25.46 – if life is eternal, death should be eternal in the same way) and conscious punishment (Lk. 16.19-31; Mt. 25.30). This is a challenging doctrine and our hearts should break like Jesus’ did over Jerusalem (Mt. 23.37-38), but it will ultimately result in praise for God’s righteousness and justice (Rev. 19.1-4). In the meantime, we should be motivated to share God’s life-giving message with those who don’t know (Jude 20-24).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

What about the rapture?

I’m working on ordination stuff, trying to nail down my eschatology. There are few things I’m interested in less. If you read the post on Article 11, you may notice I left out the timing of the rapture. I’m going to rewrite it, but I’d love to hear of any readers (if anyone other than my wife still check in…) why you’re pre-, mid-, or post-tribulational in your view of the Rapture.

Here’s the updated “last paragraph” from my Article 11 statement, but this could shift with the winds. Any insight, questions, etc… would be appreciated when it comes to helping me wade through the swamp of eschatology…

Next, His return is imminent and this “Blessed Hope” (Titus 2.13) has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer. Biblical authors do not discuss eschatology for the sake curiosity, but to motivate the church to vigilant and diligent living (Mt. 25.1-13; 1 Thess. 5.1-11). There is some tension when discussing the issue of imminence. On one hand, we do not know when Jesus will return and disciples should be ready (Mt. 24.42-44; 1 Thess. 5.2), but there is an indication that waiting is expected (Jn. 21.18; Mt. 24.2; 24.14). While it is a complex issue, I currently hold to a mid-tribulational rapture due to the broad expectation in Scripture that suffering is often part of the Christian life and there is no guarantee of escape from it (Rev. 12.17; 13.7), but we will not be subject to God’s wrath (1 Thess. 5.9). Jesus indicates a “shortening” of the time of suffering as well (Mt. 24.42-44). This is, however, a complex issue that ought not be a major issue of division within the church, but should, again, motivate us to godly living.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

And, aaarrrggghhh, it’s “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” too.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ordination #2, Art. 11: Eschatology

Escatology scares me. Not that I’m scared of the end of the world, but the study of it is such a maze of texts and perspectives. I went to college at the school Tim LaHaye built, which gives me more of a pretribulational rapture view of things, but I’m not so sure any more. Thankfully, in the ordination process we don’t have to nail down the rapture, though I’m sure we’ll be asked. And the other stuff, beyond that, seems fairly straightforward. Here’s the statement, any questions or clarifications are welcome and helpful to the grilling I’ll be receiving in a few months from the ordination board.

Article 11: In the personal and premillennial and imminent coming of our Lord
Jesus Christ and that this "Blessed Hope" has a vital bearing on the personal
life and service of the believer.
While eschatology can be complicated the biblical witness is clear that the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is certain (Mt. 24.30; Acts 3.19-21; 1 Thess. 4.15-16; 1 Jn. 2.28). In addition to its definiteness, it is going to be personal because He said He Himself would come again to take His disciples with Him (Jn. 14.3). This personal return will also be visible and bodily as Jesus said He would return in the same way He left (Acts 1.11).

His return will also be premillenial. Jesus will come to reign for 1000 years (Rev. 20.4-6). The millennial state is indicated in passages like Isa. 65.20 where the present age is surpassed in blessedness, but they fall short of the eternal state (see also Ps. 72.8-14; Isa. 11.2-9; Zech. 14.6-21; 1 Cor. 15.24; Rev. 2.27; 12.5; 19.15).

Next, His return is imminent and this “Blessed Hope” (Titus 2.13) has a vital bearing on the personal life and service of the believer. Biblical authors do not discuss eschatology for the sake curiosity, but to motivate the church to vigilant (Mt. 25.1-13) and diligent living (1 Thess. 5.1-11). There is a tension when discussing the issue of imminence. On one hand, we do not know when Jesus will return and disciples should be ready (Mt. 24.42-44; 1 Thess. 5.2), but there is an indication that waiting is expected. Peter would grow old (Jn. 21.18), the temple would be destroyed (Mt. 24.2), and the gospel would go to the nations (Mt. 24.14), and there are signs that should precede His return (Mk. 13.19-26). It is possible that some of these have been fulfilled, whether it be the definition of “all nations” (Col. 1.5-6) or the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish War of AD 66-70. Because the fulfillment of these signs are uncertain, we ought to continue reaching the nations with the gospel and living diligently as if He could return any moment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Breaking the Unbroken Code (ch. 16)

Finally! I’ve really enjoyed this book and I need to go back and put some of these principles into practice, particularly chapter 15. Given the cultural shift happening – modernity to postmodernity – there are some things we need to rethink in terms of being on mission in North America. How do we do this?

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires That We No Longer See Missions and Evangelism as Two Separate Disciplines
The world has come to us and we need to use missions approaches to reach our own culture. Stetzer says, “As we give up our rights and privileges as followers and engage those outside of Christ, we become the missionaries of God. …the mission of the church to fulfill the Great Commission does not get relegated to a program of evangelism, but it becomes intricately woven through the entire fabric of the local church” (p. 228).

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires that We Go to Unreached People
Few of them are coming to us. We need to go to emerging populations, 1.5 & 2 generation ethnic groups, those who are already “spiritual,” multihousing dwellers, urban dwellers, and college students.

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires that We Empower Apostolic Leaders
We need to send leaders into the North American field to “break the code.” These are essentially missionaries we need to support within our own culture.

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires the Development of Learning Communities
Dots need to be connected among those who are striving to, and succeeding, in breaking the code.

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires Preparing the Soil
There was a time when much of the plowing, sowing, watering and pruning were done for us as a culture, but now we’re in a place where there’s more soil preparation needed and it may take quite a while for a harvest of souls. It is going to take some patience in many cases, which is a challenge in our culture of instant gratification.

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires Seeing North America through a Different Set of Lenses
We need to keep learning and keep studying our culture. We need to continually approach our home culture as learners because it has changed significantly and it will continue to change.

Breaking the Unbroken Code Requires Approaching North America on Our Knees
We need to begin on our knees, not our feet and ask God to raise up code breakers and make disciples of all nations.

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. What code remains unbroken within your community?
2. What will it take to break that code?
3. How do you turn your church into an army for breaking the unbroken code?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Pitching Catcher

A pretty cool article on Sunday's M's game. Cool article unless you're Erik Bedard, I guess.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Why the King James Version?

I get a little nervous when people get rabid about the KJV (“It was good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for me!”), so I thought I’d comment on why I’m reading it these days. Quite simply, I try to read through the Bible each year. I’ve done it a few times and I tend to go on autopilot when I read stuff I’ve read before. Now I read a new version each year. New language will sometimes help me stop and think a second time. It’s the year of King James. And it is pretty interesting language along the way.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: The Process of Breaking the Code (ch. 15)

This is a great chapter that encourages me, hopefully enough to move me to action, to really know my community better. I’ll just hit bullets because this is a long chapter, but, more importantly, should be read by anyone wanting to do this. But the bullets are valuable.

Understanding Self
Confirm God’s call upon Your Life
Fall in Love with the People
Die to Yourself and Your Preferences (that’s really hard)
Examine Your Leadership Readiness

Understanding Community
Get Counselors from the Context
Identify Natural Barriers of Your Community
Review the Census Information
Study Demographic Information
Talk to the Experts
Move Beyond Demographics and Anecdotal Conversations (Get in the community and get a “feel” for it)
Do Prayer Walks
Identify Spiritual Strongholds
Review the History; Become the Expert
Understanding Networks (who influences the people God has called you to reach? Connect in those networks)
Understanding Where God is Working in Churches and in Cultures
Find All the Churches in Your Area and Map Them Out
Research Indigenous Churches
Determine Their Musical Preferences
Determine Their Dress
Determine Their Leadership Systems
Determine How They Learn
Identify People Groups in the Area that Are Within Your Mission Context

Breaking the Code Challenge
1. What specific passages of Scripture has God used to confirm and shape your calling to break the code?
2. How can you cultivate a love relationship with your community?
3. Describe the culture to which you are called to minister in terms of music, dress, leadership style, learning approaches, how people relate, etc…
4. Describe the culture within the church you need to create in order to effectively reach your community.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th!

Give thanks for the blessings of living in such a great country. May we use our blessings to bless others.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sad Day

I didn't think I'd care a ton if they left, but it is kind of sad to see them go.

Breaking the Missional Code: Best Practices of Leaders and Churches That Break the Code (ch. 14)

This chapter begins with the tension that the current church culture is dying, but God is moving among missional churches – whether they be seeker-oriented, purpose driven, or whatever – and there are consistent practices by the leaders of these churches.

Leaders Who Break the Code Are Forward Thinking
They ask the right things of the right people. The right people aren’t necessarily “experts,” but the people who are unreached and disconnected. That’s what Rick Warren did as he planted Saddleback, though the questions may be different in any given context. It’s easy to let insiders determine what we’re about as a church. If we want to engage the culture and the unreached, we need to engage them and not get trapped in our own echo chamber.

Code-breaking leaders also understand that the future is here. These leaders are either “paradigm busters” or “early adapters,” but they’re rarely late to whatever is going on in culture. They also “learn their way forward,” meaning they aren’t afraid of failure. They’re willing to risk to move forward.

Leaders Who Break the Code Are Willing to Pay the Price
This is challenging to me because I like ease and boundaries. They’re important. I’m reading the Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazerro and going through the workbook with a couple of staff guys to help us stay healthy, but there is still a price to pay for code-breaking leadership. I have to look deep inside and see if I’m willing to pay it.

Breaking the code will cost us dearly physically (there’s much work to be done), emotionally (“it’s always lonely on the front end of vision”), relationally (the leading edge doesn’t have a lot of people for your “spiritual umbrella” either as an individual or a family), financially, and spiritually (spiritual warfare is going to be intense).

Leaders Who Break the Code Build Great Teams
You don’t break the code on your own. You need to “build a team and achieve a shared vision” (p. 201). This is something I’m still growing in. At least I hope I am. I know I’m still not great at it. Stetzer mentions it takes charisma and skills. Maybe that’s why it’s a challenge for me. :)

Leaders Who Break the Code Have a Different Beginning Point
Many of the code-breaking churches, according to Stetzer, are starting from a different place. They’re searching the Scriptures, seeking to be what the church was and are willing to re-think what it should look like. When this is done correctly, it is not a blind backlash against what has gone before, but the desire to be what the Bible has called the church to be and to do so on mission in our world.

Leaders Who Break the Code Connect the Dots
Leaders have a vision, but it is based not on their own desires, but to do God’s will in their context. From there they have a clearly defined process for growth and discipleship. I just read the same in Simple Church by Geiger and Rainer. Finally, they stay focused on their vision and process – also proven by research by Geiger and Rainer.

Leaders Who Break the Code Are Constantly Working on It and Not Simply in It
This is good because it is so easy to be self-focused in ministry or want something to be your idea. But code-breaking leaders are looking around for fresh eyes and fresh ideas. They do so by reading, looking for leaders who are “getting it done,” they use technology, they visit others who are getting it done, take breaks from working on it, and have strategic meetings. Stetzer states, “Church leaders who break the code seldom live on an island” (p. 208).

Leaders Who Break the Code Are Interested in Kingdom Growth
They aren’t necessarily interested in just reaching their campus, but planting churches and continually revealing God’s goodness to other areas.

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. What Scriptures and/or experiences have most shaped you as a leader?
2. How do these Scriptures and/or experiences still drive you to break the code?
3. What do you need to do to continue to cultivate a passion for breaking the code?

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ordination #3f: Women in Church Leadership

Men and women are both created in the image of God (Gen. 1.27; 5.1-2), created for and interdependent upon one another (1 Cor. 11.11-12), equally receive the blessing of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.17-18 = Joel 2.28-29) and the gifts He gives (1 Cor. 12.7; 1 Pt. 4.10), and are full participants in Christ (Gal. 3.28). Women should clearly exercise their gifts within the church, including what seem to be general encouragements to teach one another as a church (Col. 3.16; Heb. 5.12), but there are some limitations to teaching and ruling (1 Tim. 2.12) based on order of creation rather than cultural elements (1 Tim. 2.13). Also, Paul gives directions to male elders, deacons, and deaconesses in 1 Timothy 3, but no reference to women elders. It seems appropriate that women have significant freedom within the church apart from the role of elder/overseer of a body of believers.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Simple Church Challenge

I’m picking up a book I started a couple months ago again about the most effective churches being “simple” - appropriately titled, Simple Church by Geiger and Rainer. The idea is that ministry and the disciple-making process is streamlined. (The idea of a clear path of discipleship is mentioned in Breaking the Missional Code, too.) Sometimes it seems like there is a dizzying flurry of activity and it can get exhausting. At the same time, I know what it is like to have a ministry dear to my heart and I don’t know what it would take for me to be willing to give that ministry up for the sake of simplicity – and overall effectiveness.

I don’t know that we’ll ever go the “simple” route at our church, but what would it take for you to be willing to give up that ministry that is dearest to you for the sake of simplicity? What kind of overall impact would you want to see?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Ordination #3e: Social Drinking

The Bible warns against the dangers of drinking throughout (Prov. 20.1; 31.4-5; Gal. 5.21), including leading to debauchery (Eph. 5.18). At the same time, wine is not inherently evil. It is seen as a gift from God (Ps. 104.15) and a legitimate element in feasting and celebration (Dt. 14.26; Isa. 25.6). Even if alcohol is permitted, care should be taken to avoid addiction (1 Cor. 6.12) as well as leading others into violating their conscience with regards to alcohol (Rom. 14.13, 20-21).

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Ordination #3d: Divorce & Remarriage

The OT Law gives some guidelines for divorce (Dt. 24.1-4), but it is clear that God “hates divorce” (Mal. 2.16). Even so, Jesus and Paul are explicit that there are appropriate reasons for divorce, but divorce is not required. Marital unfaithfulness is the only legitimate ground for divorce that Jesus mentions (Mt. 19.9) while Paul says a believing spouse is not bound by a marriage if they are deserted (1 Cor. 7.15). Remarriage for the offended party is acceptable in both cases. Remarriage is also allowed when one’s spouse has died, so long as the believer marries “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7.39).

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ordination #3c: Abortion, Infanticide, Euthanasia

The Bible is clear that the taking of innocent life is prohibited (Ex. 20.13) because people are created in God’s image (Gen. 9.6). Infanticide is clearly wicked in God’s eyes (Isa. 57.5). Abortion is relatively straightforward as well given that the unborn are considered persons in Scripture. They are called children (Luke 1.41, 44) and the unborn are personally known by God (Ps. 139.13-16). As such, they should be protected as innocent life. Regarding euthanasia, the Bible is clear that our lives are not our own (Jer. 10.23), but we are God’s creation and we are overstepping our authority to take our own lives or assist others in doing the same.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ordination #3b: Spiritual Warfare

Scripture is clear that there are malevolent spiritual forces that are created beings (Col. 1.16). These spirits intend to influence all people away from God (2 Cor. 4.4), though they are not outside of God’s sovereign control (Job 1.6-11). They can influence believers (2 Tim. 2.25-26; Gal. 4.9), but believers are to be alert to these spiritual forces, stand against them in the truth (Eph. 6.12-18; 1 Pet. 5.8-9) as well as resist them and draw near to God (James 4.7-8).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Ordination #3a: Homosexuality

These next Ordination posts have to do with "Contemporary Issues" in the church. Some are more contemporary than others, but here we go...

This is a tough issue to write on/blog on because it is such a heated debate on a broad cultural level. I'm looking forward to reading unChristian by Kinnaman and Lyons (I think), which deals with perceptions of Christians in the broader culture. One such view is Christians are anti-homosexual. Because of the sensitivity of this issue, we need to communicate lovingly, but we must communicate the truth as well. I think where we make a big mistake is elevating this issue beyond other sins that we have come to wink at in the church. Given the political intensity, I'm not sure how to stand for the truth in love, but it must be our goal. Disclaimer done. Here's the statement.
Sexual union is intended to be the consummation of a marriage commitment between man and woman (Gen. 2.23-24) and Jesus makes it clear that husband and wife are no longer two, but one flesh (Mt. 19.6). Sexual engagement outside of a marriage covenant is becoming one flesh with another, but it is an illegitimate relationship (1 Cor. 6.15-17). Given the man/woman bond that marriage is built around, the biblical witness is unanimous in teaching homosexual acts are illegitimate, sinful expressions of sexuality (Dt. 18.22; Rom. 1.26-27). It is not, however, a sin from which one cannot recover because believers are not slaves to sin (Rom. 6.1-2) and we are called to subject our bodies in service to God (1 Cor. 9.27).

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Breaking the Code Without Breaking the Faith (ch. 13)

I had a friend ask me about “emerging/emergent church” the other day. They had heard it did some good things at reaching out, but it was moving away from key theological doctrines. I told him it isn’t that simple. It is a vast movement and Stetzer notes that, while some key leaders have drifted theologically, the majority of young missional leaders have not given up key theological doctrines.

I’m starting at the end of the chapter, but Stetzers there are three streams from the emergent/emerging church. Some are relevants – those trying to explain the message in a relevant way. These guys are fully legit. There are the reconstructionists – those trying different forms like house churches and incarnational models. These can be good so long as they keep the Bible central, etc… Finally, there are revisionists – those who question key issues of theology along the line of some of the mainline denominations that have gone before. This isn’t good.

Before these streams, Stetzer talked about the challenge of faithful contextualization. This is the challenge of missions. Good contextualization, in my mind, should at times come close to syncretism. It shouldn’t go there, but we need to figure out how to speak the timeless message into our contemporary culture.

Good missional leaders need to ask key theological questions about the nature of the church and how it engages culture – like Paul did at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Paul was a missionary theologian. He wasn’t in an ivory tower. A key quote: “To be theologically faithful and culturally relevant we must be willing to engage in answering hard questions because the mandate of Scripture and the lostness of culture require nothing less” (p. 183). We have to avoid going too far (syncretism), but we also need to make sure we go far enough for fear of irrelevance. One more quote: “The missional church does not reject scriptural commands, only cultural barriers” (p. 184).

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. Describe the traditions in your context that may hinder your church from breaking the code.
2. Describe areas in your church and mission where you may be compromising truth.
3. What does it mean to be a biblically faithful and a contextually relevant church?
4. How can you help lead others to understanding what it means to connect with culture without compromising the truth?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Mariners need a new GM. I'm available...

... but here's a list of potential candidates from my favorite website/blog, USS Mariner:

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: New Paradigms for Partnerships (ch. 12)

Churches on mission are doing things differently. Networks are becoming more significant than denominations. Affinity is ruling the day, but this does not mean denominations are irrelevant. Rather, it means they need to work for the churches to maximize the missional impulse that forms these networks like Acts 29 and others. How? It starts, according to Stetzer, with denominations dealing with four core issues:
* How they define the basis for cooperation.
* How effective will they be at staying out of the headlines for things that do not matter?
* How effective are they at developing meaningful partnership with churches, networks, and parachurch organizations?
* How effective are they at adding value to the mission of the church?

To answer these key questions there are some prescriptions that they should be careful to do the following:

* Cast a vision for a new tomorrow by using their unique vantage point of the big picture.
* Lift up apostolic heroes.
* Conduct relevant research.
* Supplement the local church in equipping apostolic leaders.
* Network learning communities and reporting results (like Leadership Network does so well).
* Provide financial resources for apostolic leaders.
* Help leaders move beyond their own ethnic, economic model or other ghetto.

Breaking the Code Challenge
1. What challenges you the most about emerging networks and new paradigms of partnerships?
2. With whom could you partner to break the code?
3. What can you do to help your denomination remain viable in our emerging missional context?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Planting Missional Churches (ch. 11)

In this chapter Stetzer says the church planting picture is changing. Code-breaking church planters are understanding their environment before they make their plan, learning from others without copying them, and finding new methods and models by learning from those who have gone before – all of this in a culture where the ends of the earth have come to Jerusalem.

This was a fascinating chapter as I only have hunches on church planting without doing much research. It seems my hunches are a bit dated and I’m grateful for the wise people I serve with to keep me in line, particularly when we were starting our satellite campus. Stetzer talks briefly about some basic models and methods of church planting. Of particular interest was the idea that moving from a core to a crowd has the advantage of giving you a group of people to start with, the disadvantage is that it can take on the culture of the transplanted core rather than being indigenous and building a core from the crowd that comes. I hadn’t thought of it that clearly.

Most of the chapter focuses on Milestones that one should focus on in church planting. Each has several subpoints, but the quick version is helpful enough. If it isn’t, read the book – which I recommend anyway. What are the questions that need answering? Here we go:
Am I ready to plant?
Are my teams in place?
Have I solved the resource challenge?
Have I determined the right place to plant?
Do I have a clear vision?
Have I networked my community?
Am I ready to go public?
Do I have an assimilation process in place?

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. Identify people groups, population segments, or cultural environments in your community that will require a church plant in order to be reached.
2. How can your church participate in planting churches to reach those outside of your direct influence?
3. Where do you already have a ministry presence that could best become a church plant?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father’s Day

A little late in the day, but Happy Father’s Day. It is a tremendous blessing and challenge being a dad, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And I’m thankful for my dad and how he’s formed me and helped prepare me for life.

Again, Happy Father’s Day.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lessons from Vivian and the ‘Boys of Summer’

There was a big spider in the garage a week or two ago. So big that Vivian has been scared to cross the threshold from the garage into the courtyard that connects to our townhome. But she’s done it a few times. It’s great to see her conquer fear. And it challenges me to do the same in my life.

I’m reading The Boys of Summer by Roger Kahn. He followed the Brooklyn Dodgers for a couple years in the ‘50s and then followed up many years later on all the players. I was disappointed at first because I enjoy the drama of sports – even without the human interest – and he slammed through the two disappointing seasons for a team loaded with talent. The second half of the book follows the lives of these great ballplayers when they’re working in sporting goods shops, building the World Trade Center Towers in NYC, or working a family grocery store. Until recently I’ve been mostly just working through it slowly, but it’s growing on me. I was particularly encouraged today as I’m being introduced to Gil Hodges, the first baseman for the Dodgers. Hodges was the strongest guy on the team and, it seems, highly respected, but he seemed to really battle fear in the batter’s box. Kahn has some great words on courage for any of us…

Few of us are anxious to paint bridges; real risk exits and our sense of self-preservation asserts itself in distaste for high winds that keen through suspension cables. Conversely, the fearless bridge painter may himself be discomfited by tunnels or by ocean breakers. No one is a coward because he shuns suspension towers, or because he draws back from a baseball hurtling toward his head. Rather it is a measure of courage that Hodges fought his cringe reflex year after year. To take fear as he did and to choke it down and make a fine career is a continuing act of bravery.
Be brave.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ultimate Politics

I’ll try to post some more Missional Code in the next day or two, but I’m meandering through Philip Schaff’s third volume of church history and I got this little gem to remind us, amid the political buzz, who’s ultimately in charge – and our responsibility in the meantime. This is what one of the early monks, St. Anthony, said in a note to Contstantine who wanted to meet him sometime in the fourth centry, I think.

“Happy thou, that thou worshippest Christ. Be not proud of thy earthly power. Think of the future judgment, and know that Christ is the only true and eternal king. Practise justice and love for men, and care for the poor.”

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Revitalization to Missional Ministry (ch. 10)

This chapter is about existing churches becoming missional. If a church is not reaching their community, they need to be willing to change if they want to reach their community. Some powerful challenges Stetzer lays out for these churches is this: They need “to care for the lost more than they care for their own comfort.” For those who are unwilling, he claims, “They have chosen their traditions over their children.” Ouch.

So how do we make these changes within an existing church? First, it starts with passion for God and His mission. Next, find a worship style that honors God and connects with the community. How do we do this?
Make a list of the fastest-growing, biblically faithful, and culturally engaged churches in the area, and go visit them. (In short, reconnaissance.)
Lead the church to experience different kinds of worship.
Bring it home and discuss it (particularly after you visit other churches.) Some questions to think about:
· What are these churches doing and why is it working?
· What is our church doing and why is it not working?
· What can we learn from these churches?
· What can we try in our church that we saw them doing?

The next key to revitalization is “Partnering with Believers to Reach the Disconnected in a Safe Place.” The idea here is that believers need to be engaged with unbelievers and the church needs to be a place where people can explore faith. While he recognizes it is debated, Ed believes, “The church is the best place for evangelism to occur” (p. 145). This comes when there is a culture of “invest and invite” within the congregation – people invite their friends. This is usually personally, but there can be broad awareness within the community through mailers, etc… so long as one understands it isn’t a one time shot.

Finally, revitalization comes with a plan to connect disconnected people in a faith process. It starts by engaging guests and making them feel comfortable. Next, they need to be connected, which means getting them into small groups. That’s tough, but there has to be a plan. One possibility is to have them meet on Sunday mornings before they end up moving into homes. Next is assimilating attenders. This means clarifying what it means to be a Jesus follower in membership classes and make sure they are following Jesus and committed to the church. Finally, members need to be discipled – learning first what they need to know (basic theology, basic habits) then, possibly, what they want to know (eschatology, etc…).

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. Would you describe your church as a church with an evangelism strategy or a missional heart? Why?
2. Why is it important in today’s world to have a missional heart and not simply an evangelistic strategy?
3. Who are the people that can give you honest feedback from an outsider’s perspective?
4. What are your next steps for beginning a transitional process?