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?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Breaking the Missional Code: Spiritual Formation and Churches that Break the Code (ch. 9)

This chapter deals with discipleship, breaking it into three sections: “Go” … “Make Disciples” … “All Nations.”

Stetzer interprets the Great Commission, and I agree, as a “as you are going” fulfill God’s mission. The Samaritan woman (Jn. 4) is the paradigmatic picture of evangelism in the NT, according to the authors: “(1) people have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, (2) they go back to their own community or “oikos” and tell those around them, and (3) those who hear go and explore for themselves the things they have seen and heard” (p. 121). They go on next to show that new churches without evangelism churches grow faster than new churches with evangelism programs. That was fascinating to me. They think it is because the programs make it difficult for many to practice relational evangelism.

The church needs to build structures that welcome people into a journey. (There’s a great diagram that I can’t reproduce – get the book it’s way better than a few posts, anyway.) Stetzer talks about two kinds of conversion: One is to community, the other to Christ. The first often happens first so the church needs to know a few key things.

1. God is at work in the lives of those outside the church.
2. Those outside the church are open to spiritual matters.
3. Those outside the church are most often reached relationally.
4. Prayer is an essential part of the conversion process for those outside the church.
5. Those outside the church must overcome identifiable barriers in their journey toward the gospel.

Make Disciples
There is a process for discipleship from Stetzer’s perspective. It starts with Searching, which means the church has to overcome image and cultural issues and barriers. Overcoming these barriers means contextualizing our language and addressing the image problem (a book called unChristian is on my to read list, which addresses some of these image problems). From Searching, we move to Believing. This is where discipleship truly begins and it is central to discipleship. There’s no discipleship without it. Belonging is added to Believing. Key quote: “It is impossible to be in a healthy relationship with God and not be in a healthy relationship with others” (p. 132). Next, Becoming. This is interdependent with Belonging, but it is a transformation to looking like Jesus and overcoming lifestyle barriers in our lives. Finally, Serving, though it is possible that many who are pre-Christian will seek to serve alongside as they are converted to community. Under this Stetzer makes a statement that I think is wise and, in my mind, ideal for building church structure: “The major barrier to serving is often a structural barrier. It is not unusual for all of our energy to go into running the organizational church. Therefore, it is important that we develop simple expressions of church that free us up to serve, both those within the church and those who are yet to become a meaningful part of the church” (p. 134). In short, keep it simple!

All Nations
In this book it is people groups, population segments, and cultural environments.

The Breaking the Code Challenge
1. What does it mean to ‘be a disciple’?
2. What is your process for connecting with disconnected people and developing them into disciples?
3. What are the steps you need to make to develop a more holistic discipling process?

Friday, June 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, Eliana!

Five years old! What a big girl and an amazing gift from God to our family. A wonderful daughter and a fantastic double big sister.

Happy Birthday, Ellie!