Sunday, January 31, 2010

Sunday Worship

I encourage you to reflect on what God is teaching you in your local congregation today. If you’re not plugged in to one. You can find the audio to our church by going here and clicking the Media tab on the left margin.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP (Part 8)

We want to finish this up with a painful reality for some people. For some of you this has been painful. First because I’m preaching, but for some of you, you’ve cried out for help and the worst still came. The marriage still fell apart.

You did everything you could.

You cried out.

And God was silent.

I wish I had a good answer, a helpful answer. I don’t. This psalm probably paints a good picture of your pain, but you may not be so in to the lack of resolution … even if it resonates with your pain.

I chose this psalm because it is the most referenced psalm in the NT. It is on the lips of Jesus on the cross – when He is bearing the weight of sin and the wrath of God, the rejection of those He created and loved. Hebrews says Jesus has been tempted in every way like we have. But Jesus has also walked through the depths of pain more deeply than most of us.

I hope, if nothing else, this encourages or comforts you this morning. Whether you feel it or not, Jesus knows your pain. He has felt the pain of rejection and physical suffering. You’re following in His steps. As alone as you feel, you’re not in uncharted territory. Jesus has been there before you and He’s waiting for you on the other end.

The psalm ends resolutely. Let’s read it again.
They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-- for he has done it. Psalm 22.31
He has done it. Similarly, on the cross, Jesus cries out, “It is finished!” He has done it. His death was not without purpose. It makes it possible for us to be with God, to have a relationship with Him, to be His friend. If you want that kind of relationship, talk to myself or Pastor Mike after service.

But it does more. It brings meaning to our pain. Because the most innocent man ever died and good came from it, we know from Romans 8 that God can use all things for good for those who love Him. Our pain has meaning in the present – or at least near future.

But there will also be a time when pain is no more.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Revelation 21.3-5a
It isn’t today, but there will be a time when we will be reunited with those who have suffered and those we’ve lost and there will be a time when that ache that never ends … will end. And it will happen because Jesus walked before you in the valley of pain and death – and came out victorious. He is risen and He promises a better future for all of us. May that day come soon.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Book Club: Quick-to-listen Leaders (Intro)

This is delayed a week because some of us don't have our books yet. I hope we get our discussion on Quick to Listen Leaders next week.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP (Part 7)

There’s a practical question that may seem silly in some ways. How will I know HELP! has come? That may seem like a stupid question. You’ll think the problem will be solved by disappearing. But in reality, there may be some things you need to do. First, Cry Out for HELP! often. Don’t stop. Don’t relent. Keep asking for God’s HELP!

But then we need to realize David probably did some stuff. David went to worship and he probably defended himself against his enemies to a reasonable degree. He prayed and he went to work. He was a man of action – praying AND doing.

Sometimes the answer to your HELP! cry will be taking advantage of those opportunities where people are trying to help. Finances in trouble? Take advantage of the myriad of financial resources available – Dave Ramsey, Crown Ministries, Saddleback did some good small group materials that our group used several months ago.

Marriage in trouble? Get counseling. HELP! is available. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Crying for HELP! isn’t just crying out. You may need to take some wise action.

On the flip side, it may be that we need to be committed to being the tools God uses to answer the calls for His help from others.

Haiti. They need help. There are a ton of opportunities to give to Haiti.

Fresh water wells. A village in India will likely have children alive this time next year because our church was used by God when they cried for HELP! (There will be tons of wells around the world because of Advent Conspiracy and Living Water. Check out this video.)

The homeless. Look for opportunities to care for those people forget … or ignore purposefully.

Adoption. Kay Warren and an associate were giving an interview online and they gave this statistic: If one family in every four churches adopted one child in America, there would be no more orphans in our country. None. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t adopt globally, but that’s a powerful way to think about it.

We can also be an answer in preventative maintenance. Get in a small group where you can build friendships that might pre-empt personal issues or relational conflict before they blow up.

As we experience HELP! from God, we experience His presence. And even if relief doesn’t come, as we cry out, God will eventually draw near to us and give us His presence in our pain.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP (Part 6)

As we jump into worship again, we need to remember something. As far as we can tell, HELP! has not yet come for David. Only God’s presence. But it seems that the presence itself results in some kind of expectation that God is going to deliver. It lifts David’s spirits, but it goes beyond that.

Worship changes us, but it also changes others.
before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him-- may your hearts live forever! Psalm 22.25b-26
These vows he’s talking about are offerings made where someone would promise a gift to God upon deliverance. Once God delivered, you’d give offerings to share with others so they’d know God’s goodness in your life. It’s like a potluck testimony time.

What’s telling is that David is planning on fulfilling his vows. David is anticipating deliverance. He’s going to party with God’s people and they’re going to eat their fill. This shows us something. Our suffering, our pain, our grief … and how we handle it isn’t just about us, is it? We’re part of a community – whether it be our church or in our network of relationships. We celebrate together. We weep together. We recognize God at work together. And it changes us – whether around the restaurant table, the kitchen table, or communion table.

But it doesn’t stop there. When we cry for HELP! and experience God’s faithfulness, the world is blessed. It starts with the ends of the earth.

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. Psalm 22.27-28
This idea of blessing being contagious was always evident in God’s calling of Israel. Read the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12.1-3) and Psalm 67 and it is, of course, central to the vocation of the church (Matthew 28.19-20).

But it moves beyond even this. There’s the leveling of economic differences as all worship at the feet of Jesus. The rich and those who are about to die – some think because of their intense poverty.

All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him-- those who cannot keep themselves alive. Psalm 22.29
So the ripples go through the local believers, across cultural lines, and across economic lines. That’s pretty intense. But crying out for HELP! doesn’t stop there. It ripples for generations. When we tell stories of God’s presence in our pain – even if it doesn’t result in deliverance – we build into the next generation a deep trust that will be caught by them and passed on for generations thereafter.

Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn-- for he has done it. Psalm 22.30-31
Let’s think about this psalm for a minute. Think about where we’ve come from. We’ve come from God forsaking David to David praising God in such a way that it ripples for generations. How?

We live in a self-reliant society. This psalm reminds us that there are times when we are helpless and God loves to help His people in His timing. And all through the process, it pushes us toward what we were created for … relationship with Him – whether we ‘feel’ it or not. And, as we keep crying out for HELP! – even if it seems He isn’t hearing, we’re drawing near Him and are preparing for something powerful in the future. Wherever you are in your pain, you need to keep – like the widow in Luke 18 – keep crying out to God for help. Don’t give up on crying out for HELP!

We’ve reached the end of the psalm, but there’s some practical elements that we want to follow up on over the next few posts.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP! (Part 5)

Now we’re moving on to our last section of the psalm and it is a huge turn. Where do we go next? Worship. David worships.

I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! Psalm 22.22-23
That’s nice, you may say. But get this. There is no indication at this point that anything has changed in David’s external circumstance. He’s still being pursued by wild beasts and his body is undone with the pressure. And yet David promises to worship even as he’s waiting for God’s deliverance – when he’s not even sure God is there.

There are times when you don’t feel like worshiping, but worship changes us. It shapes us. It reminds us of the things David has been talking about, but now they are rehearsed in community, not just in our own minds. This is why coming to corporate worship is so important and why being in a small group is so important. We remember that we’re not alone and we don’t just know stories of God’s deliverance long ago … we see them in our living rooms or at the donut table all the time.

Despite the lack of indicators that David has been delivered, the tone is different. Refreshed. I had assumed everything had changed. But look, David is still banking on the fact that God, generally, delivers.

For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. Psalm 22.24
Notice that this is what God does, not that David has been delivered yet. There’s no “I” here.

David is committed to praising – even as nothing external has changed. But when we move to v. 25, we see a subtle, yet significant change.
From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; Psalm 22.25a
This is cryptic verse has some answers. It’s pivotal. It’s how David moves from a kind of paralysis by God’s abandonment and his situation to praising freely. The translation here is uncertain. It is literally “From with you [is] my praise in the great assembly” [Wilson, NIV Application Commentary 420]. Got that? Of course not. It’s awkward. What does it mean?

It means more than a theme of praise. He would know that from knowing His Bible, which He does. There’s nothing David needs from God for that. Rather, it seems there’s some work of God that has changed the game. At the very least there’s been some initiative on the part of God to touch David’s life. The ESV is probably better than the NIV: “From you comes my praise in the great congregation.”

The bottom line is that this ability to worship amid pain and trial is a gift from God. And it is the answer to the question of that forsakenness that we started with. Even if the circumstances have not changed, God is with David now – and David senses it. The marriage can still be falling apart; the loss can be fresh; the job has not yet come … and yet God can still give you the ability to worship because He can restore His presence with you in worship. That’s a beautiful thing. It gives all of us hope.

And there’s even more to worship. We’ll get to that tomorrow.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP! (Part 4)

OK. We’re back to Psalm 22. Just to review: David feels forsaken by God, but he keeps crying out. Why? Because God helps His people. And yet, people will mock. Fortunately, God has always been with David … which also leads to the difficult question, “Where’d you go, God?” Well, we might think things are going to get better from here – this psalm going back and forth and all. Think again.

As we look to what’s next for David, we see … Ruin approaches. David has moved beyond the feeling of abandonment to mockery and to the despair and fear of actually losing his life.

Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. Psalm 22.11-13
This obviously isn’t a petting zoo. His enemies, or our situations, have taken on the personification of wild animals. Not domestic animals, not ‘wild’ animals that don’t actually terrify – like a sloth or a deer. We’re talking about wild animals that would ruin you. Remember, this is poetry. These aren’t real animals. They represent the opposition or situations that are crushing David and have him longing for God’s presence. These are the beasts that have Him crying out for help.

Have your enemies (personal or situations you find yourself in) ever seemed like terrifying beasts that are out to destroy you? Cry out for HELP! There are likely times you’d rather encounter a hungry lion than some of the people or situations you’ve faced.

In case you doubt this is a terrifying moment, David talks about how his fear has affected him physically. He’s physically coming apart.

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. Psalm 22.14-18
Let’s walk through this. His courage is ebbing away. He is dehydrated. He has no strength. The wild dogs have bitten into his hands and feet. He’s so skinny he can count his bones. Emaciated. On top of that he’s humiliated. As good as dead, people are already divvying up his clothes. He even says he’s been laid in the dust of death. Dead man walking.

Have you ever had fear or grief so deep, so gut-wrenching that it actually affects you physically? Terror. Grief. Dread. Migranes. Stomach aches. Nausea. Panic attacks. If that’s you, this psalm is for you. Cry out for HELP! God is neither ignorant, nor afraid, of your pain.

David is angry, hurt, desperate and yet he knows there’s only one place to go for Help. He goes after his God. What does David do next? We’re back where we started. Cry out for HELP!

Maybe that parable by Jesus in Luke 18 shouldn’t be about a widow seeking justice. It should be David. He’s suffering and yet He is relentless in pursuing God’s help.

But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. Psalm 22.19-21
Nothing fancy here. He’s in trouble, desperate, and he’s crying out. But it leads us to a turning point. There are three major sections in this psalm. V. 1 is an introduction and then the first major section is vv. 2-11, the second is vv. 12-21. Now we come to the last section and it is a powerful turning point. We’ll hit that point in the next post.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Worship

I encourage you to reflect on what God is teaching you in your local congregation today. If you’re not plugged in to one. You can find the audio to our church by going here and clicking the Media tab on the left margin. The message that I’m posting in pieces is up now if you’d rather listen to the whole thing than have it spread out for a week of blog posts.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP! (Part 3)

Sorry it has taken a few days to get back to this. So far, there’s pain, but God is faithful. But life isn’t tidy. It’s messy. The psalmist understands this and, while it seemed like we are crawling out of this pit of despair, we’re going get sucked right back in.

Despite hope, the psalmist faces mockery. We need to prepare for it. Some of you know this. You’ve trusted God and prayed. And your friends or your family think you’re crazy. You’re a fool for trusting God.

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." Psalm 22.6-8
What’s terrible is that this mockery ruins your psyche, your self-worth. You think you’re a worm, worthless, insignificant. The reality, however, is that you’re a bearer of God’s image, albeit tarnished. Sin has ruined us, but our value remains. You still matter to God.

The mockery could be from outsiders. But it could be the one with whom you’re trying to reconcile. It could be that those you most need support from think your reliance on God is foolish. This is huge. The worst kind of pain often isn’t the impersonal pain we deal with; rather, it’s the inter-personal pain. It’s the wounds of those closest to us.

The contrast is powerful. David has looked to others to strengthen his own faith. Now he’s mocked by others for having faith – even amid the people who are supposed to be following His God. These are presumably the people of Israel. That’s a deep, disappointing pain. That’s tough duty. Let’s keep moving. This is getting depressing.

The tension continues. God is faithful to God’s people. People will mock – and that hurts. So why cry out for HELP!? God has always been there for you from the beginning.

David has scanned the horizon of history. Maybe thinking about the great heroes of Israel’s history. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Joshua. Ruth. Having larger-than-life heroes is important. They take the lid off of what we think God might be able to do in us as we yield to Him.

But when we focus on the big heroes of history, we forget how God has been the Hero of our story all along. He’s been there for you since the beginning. Read this.

Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's reast. From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. Psalm 22.9-10
We look back at our own lives and see those previous crises that God carried us through. But David’s not feeling the love right now. Remember our context. He’s in trouble, but the title of the passage is this feeling of deep abandonment.

Now, if you take the psalm as a whole here, there’s likely some frustration with God here. “God, you taught me how to trust from the moment I was born! I’ve trusted You as long as I can remember. I’ve been faithful to You. Where are You?!”

The psalm cycles again here. God is distant, but He’s faithful to His people. People mock, but I trust God – always have. But, as we continue, there appears to be no benefit in crying out, trusting.

We’ll get back to this in a couple days.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Coming Soon ...

We're going to try something new here. I have a couple friends in seminary and Bible college and we don't get enough time to discuss what we're reading and what God is teaching us and challenging us with. So ... on Fridays we're going to open up a post on a chapter of a selected book and see how we're each processing it and how it can help our ministries. The first book we'll be going through is Quick-to-Listen Leaders. Anyone's welcome to pick up a copy and join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP (Part 2)

We introduced the issue of pain yesterday. What do we do? Cry out for HELP! This is the ongoing theme of this message. David cries out for help. He cries out early and often.

O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. – Psalm 22.2
By day and by night. And no answer. I don’t get the impression that this is one day and one night. It seems like it is a constant pursuit of God and His rescue and His presence. Jesus commends praying like this in the NT. In Luke 18 he tells a parable of a widow seeking justice from a judge that doesn’t care about justice. He finally gives her what she wants because he’s tired of her constant requests. Jesus is teaching us to be persistent in prayer through this. That lesson applies to crying out for HELP!

God doesn’t expect you to bear the weight of your pain on your own. You may think that proves something to God – or others. But that isn’t what He wants from you. He wants you to cast your cares upon Him. He wants you to ask for help. That’s what David is doing. He’s in pain. God isn’t answering, but he doesn’t quit crying out. Why?

God helps His people. David keeps crying out day and night because God has a track record. He takes care of His people. Always has.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. – Psalm 22.3-5
There’s an important aside here. The idea (see ESV = enthroned on the praises of Israel) is that this pain that David is enduring isn’t the result of Israel’s sinning. They did that plenty, but right now they’re in line with who God has called them to be. This isn’t discipline.

Many of you know this, but others may not. Your current crisis is not necessarily a result of your sin. It isn’t because you did something wrong. You might be doing everything right and bad stuff can still happen. I hope that lifts a burden for some of you. The faithful can (and do) suffer.

Now it’s also true that your issue may be due to foolish or sinful choices you’ve made, but it’s also possible that you’ve done everything right and you’re still suffering. We live in a broken world.

The overall point of this section, however, is that God has always taken care of His people. David looks back as a man who knows his history. God has created Israel and has taken care of her – even when she rejects God and sets herself up for ruin.

We can see how God has worked in the history of the church to move the church forward in great ways through historical turning points like world missions and revivals. We see in our congregation how God repeatedly delivers (including Dan Woolley) and is generally changing lives.

We hear how God takes care of those around us – healing them (naturally or supernaturally), restoring marriages, and helping people get back on their feet.

Here’s an exercise for you. Take some time and think about how you’ve seen the work of God in the lives of others. How does that encourage you in your pain?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Psalm 22: HELP (Introduction)

On Sunday I taught on Psalm 22. Our church is in the middle of a series called ‘simply prayer.’ Go here to listen – be sure to click on Media. It looks like the sermons are about a month behind so I’m not sure when the message will be up. But it seemed like it was helpful so I thought I’d break down the message into several blog posts. Since the psalm is fairly seamless, this will no doubt lose some effect, but I hope it will prove helpful along the way.

This is a serious psalm and, while I like to inject humor into my messages, this one didn’t have much room for humor. So this will be pretty steady stream (interspersed with Missional Renaissance posts) of posts that are serious and grapple with the idea of how we cry out to God – even when we’re not sure he’s there. So here we go …

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? – Psalm 22.1
Have you ever been there? I know many from Haiti are there right now. You don’t say this with small things. This isn’t a bad day at work; this is losing your job … and your home. You don’t think this after a flare up of frustration with your spouse; this is the ending of a marriage – either a long, slow deterioration or an instant flare up or betrayal. This isn’t a cold; this is getting the test results back and they’re devastating – even to the point of death. This is an earthquake that kills tens of thousands.

There is a deep, dark place where, in addition to the pain we’re drowning in, we feel betrayed by God. We don’t like to talk about that place, but we can be thankful that Scripture goes here. It gives us permission to be real in our pain, knowing God is real about it.

This is desperation that erases our distractions. Today we’re talking about the crises that focus our minds like lasers – whether we want them to or not. These are the events that, when they come upon us, dominate our hearts and minds. It seems like everything is coming undone. What do we do? Let’s look to the psalm.

Before we do, I want to be clear how we’re going through this. Much like ourselves when we’re processing pain and betrayal, we don’t walk through a systematic outline. This is poetry and it is the poetry of pain. Verse 1 sets the tone for where we’re going. It’s almost a title that the rest of the psalm explains. I want to walk through this psalm of David’s pain with you and let it speak to our pain as it has for so many for thousands of years.

Where do we start? It’s our prayer series, so let’s start with prayer. But before that, we need to recognize the assumption that is behind the psalm. Something terrible has happened … or is happening. Now we’re left wondering what we’re to do. We’ll hit that next post.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Missional Renaissance: Missional Manifesto, Part 3

Now McNeal lays out some basic plot markers for the way ahead. He states, “The missional church’s story sees the human drama and God’s saga intertwined, one incomprehensible without the other” (p. 34). Here are some things to keep in mind as we look at the Missional Renaissance and changing the scorecard of the church.

People are created in the image of God.
People matter to God and are deserving of blessing simply because they are image bearers, not just so we can witness to them.

God is on a mission.
He is pursuing relationship ever since sin disrupted the intimacy we had with Him. Jesus’ Incarnation is the high point in this pursuit.

God’s mission is redemptive.
God wants to restore relationships, but He also desires to restore the benefits of that relationship. McNeal: “He declared that he had come to give life, life to the full. This means that missional Jesus followers are engaged in all aspects of human experience – political, social, economic, cultural, physical, psychological, and spiritual – to work for those things that enhance life and to oppose those things that steal life” (p. 35).

God’s mission is always being prosecuted in the world.
God is at work all over the world and His rule is far beyond just the church.

God doesn’t postpone His mission, waiting for the church to ‘get it.’
The church is often playing catch-up to the Holy Spirit. It was that way in Acts. Some things never change.

God is up to something new.
This missional movement is gaining steam. People are saying the same thing even though they’ve never met. McNeal says they have the same ‘Source’!

The people of God play an important role in the mission of God.
If we’re the people of God, we need to participate in His mission. God’s people in Scripture are often rebuked when they become more concerned about themselves than the ones God desires to minister to through them.

The kingdom is a future that provokes a crisis.
We have to choose to engage and move beyond a church-age worldview. McNeal: “Kingdom agents have no other option than being subversive, attempting to introduce kingdom realities to every domain of life and culture, even the church” (p. 37).

The missional expression of church will require new metrics to measure its vitality.
We need a new scorecard that educates people on new possibilities for living out kingdom responsibilities.

Missional expression can grow out of the current church, but it is not limited to the current church.
This can be done by Jesus followers in any situation. Some are doing it in their current roles in a nonmissional church. Others are starting smaller monastic communities or house churches.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Missional Renaissance: Missional Manifesto, Part 2

Missional isn’t some new trend. Well, maybe it is; but it shouldn’t be. God is a missionary God and the Bible is testimony to His mission. In this next section of Chapter 2, Missional Manifesto, McNeal looks at the Bible through missional lenses. Here’s what he sees…

First the purpose of the Bible changes. In the church-centric world, the Bible is God’s gift to show us who He is and how we should live as His people. That’s good, but that’s not everything, according to McNeal. The Bible also communicates God’s story so we can understand His world and our part in it. It is a guide for us on how to live while on mission. He states, “By forcing us to see the disparities between the kingdoms of this earth and the kingdom of God, it becomes far more disruptive than informational” (p. 27).

He then hits just a few of the highlights (by his own admission). He starts with the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 12.1-3). God has created a people, through Abraham, for the purpose of blessing the nations. Then he hits some key characters that show God is comfortable working outside Abraham’s line: Melchizizedek (a mysterious priestly figure of Yahweh in Abraham’s story); Jethro (Moses’ wise father-in-law); Jonah (who was called to preach to the Assyrians); and even Jesus (whose genealogy, birth, and early childhood were filled with Gentile interaction and influence).

McNeal next tracks several passages that indicate God is concerned with blessing people globally, not just in the “church” or “people of God.” Some of the verses? 1 Peter 2.9; John 3.16; Matthew 27.37-40 (love your neighbor no matter who they are); Ephesians 4.13 (we need to do a better job loving as Evangelicals and Mainliners need to do a better job of speaking the truth of Jesus); 1 Peter 3:15b (we need to live in such a way that people ask why we’re different); Matthew 5:13-15 (salt & light are not neutral presences, they influence).

In John’s gospel, the church is ‘sent people.’ We like to be considered ‘called out,’ which is shorthand for being called out of the world into the church. McNeal says, “Missional believers of Jesus understand they’re being called out all right – called outside” (p. 34).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Blind Spots

I was reading my Bible this morning and it covered Genesis 38 – the Judah and Tamar episode. Grab your Bible or go online and read it. It’s bizarre. Most bizarre is that, upon hearing that Tamar is pregnant, he wants her dead. Yet, just a few verses earlier he’s flippant about figuring out how to pay a prostitute (Tamar). He relents in finding her because he doesn’t want to look crazy. He seems more concerned with looking silly than he is concerned about a corrupted soul. His corruption is most pronounced when he seeks to condemn Tamar to death for, not a similar crime, the exact same crime. She was no more immoral than he was. Actually less, as we learn from the context.

Judah was, until he was caught and called on it, oblivious to his sin. As I was journaling, I was wondering how often ‘we’ do this. We easily see and are eager to point out (even if in our own minds) the sins of others while remaining blind to our own. But I had to scratch some stuff out. I put an ‘X’ over the ‘we’ and started writing ‘I.’ That generalization is part of the problem. I need to spend more time in self-examination. And much more time in self-examination than in examining others and pointing out their sins – whatever the reason.

Not sure what else to do with this. The hypocrisy of Judah has always been clear, but I’ve never been so confronted with my own in this passage.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Missional Renaissance: Missional Manifesto, Part 1

In this chapter, McNeal sets out to describe what missional means. Specifically, that the church is a ‘who,’ not a ‘what.’ Wherever the church has been central in the society, it has come to be defined by what it does – sometimes it is what happens in a certain place, or as a ‘vendor of religious goods and services’ or a body of people on a mission (whether it happens to be God’s mission or not).

McNeal (and other theologians like Guder, Bosch, and Newbigin) argue that God is on a mission and we are to join Him in that mission. We are not intended to “do” church; we’re to “be” the church. The church is to be the local expression of the people of God for the good of those around them and be on mission to reach ever farther. It is a community-based ‘body’ that incarnates God’s presence wherever it happens to exist.

I love this concept. I love what we do at church, but I fear we consider what we do at church the most important, most spiritual things and minimize the importance what happens the rest of the week. If we’re to glorify God in all that we do, isn’t there something inherently ‘spiritual’ about how we work? How we use our free time? Might that be not just how we glorify God, but the means by which we fulfill the mission God has given us? Instead of focusing exclusively on people coming to church, what about the idea that, where God’s people are, there the church is? That’s a thought McNeal communicates and it is both exciting and challenging … and puzzling.

The next Missional Renaissance (should be two days from now) post will survey the Bible through missional eyes.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Missional Renaissance: Introduction

Wow! It’s been too long. I started blogging Missional Renaissance right before I hopped into the “Unnamed Luke Advent Thingee” and haven’t returned. Here’s the link to the Intro I already put up:

I'm going to try to be a little more consistent on the blogging. Hopefully covering this book every other day or so with some thougthts on prayer sprinkled in here and there as I prepare for Sunday's sermon on Psalm 22.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sports Break

There have been plenty of years to call Seattle sports boring. Two years ago was absolutely abysmal, losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City, the Mariners losing 100+ games, and the Seahawks only garnering 4 wins.

I’ve dealt with losing the Sonics and the Mariners made great strides last year. There was much to be optimistic about as baseball season ended and the Seahawks were expected to bounce back and contend. They didn’t. Another miserable season. But the offseasons for the ‘Hawks and the Mariners have not been at all boring.

The Mariners have been absolutely amazing this offseason. The Seahawks have decided to get in the ‘making-news-in-the-offseason’ fray.

They’ve sacked Jim Mora and it looks like they’re on their way to signing Pete Carroll away from USC. I’m not sure how much I like this move. I’m warming up to it a little, but there are concerns. He was barely .500+ as a pro coach, but he’s had great success in running the USC program for the last decade. Running a program, which is beyond just coaching, may help him run the Seahawk organization – because it seems he coming here to do more than just coach. I don’t know enough about what it takes to run a college program so I could be way off.

I’m not excited, but I wouldn’t know, unless it was a big name (Holmgren, Cowher), whether any move was good because I don’t know the lesser names. Here are some links to the Seattle response on the matter.

Steve Kelley (Seattle Times)

Field Gulls (Seahawk fan blog) Radio Seattle

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Prayer Challenge

Yesterday I mentioned I read a prayer book each year. We’re teaching on prayer at our church so I thought (since I’m preaching next Sunday and February 7) that it might be a good time to at least start the book. Maybe it will have some useful insight for the teaching series. My book this year? Experiencing Prayer with Jesus by Henry & Norman Blackaby.

I’d be lying if I said I’ve been reading carefully or even, dare I say it, prayerfully. Ironic, I suppose. But it really challenged me the other night. Enough so that I either need to put the book down or really prepare to be changed.

I often hear the challenge to believe what you pray. Believe that God can answer. That’s good and it makes sense, but they didn’t go there. At least not at this point. Instead, they ask this: “Have you resolved that no matter what God reveals to you and requires of you through prayer, your answer is an unqualified yes, even before He shows you?”

I know I’m always supposed to be obedient. I know God wants me to pray. I know He wants me to obey when He directs me in prayer. But there’s something about this that is particularly challenging to me. Maybe it shouldn’t be, but it is.

Do I go into prayer saying, “Yes, God. I don’t know what you’re going to ask yet, but ‘Yes.’ I’ll do it”? I don’t think I consciously do that and it seems like a risk to do so. But I agree that the cost of not doing it is greater.

Am I the only one that finds this challenging?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Keep on Praying

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here, but I’ve mentioned it in messages before. Prayer comes naturally to some people. They ‘connect’ in a meaningful and personal way when they pray. I don’t. At least I don’t ‘feel’ it. It is often a challenging discipline for me rather than a joy. One of the things that helps me, though, is that I read a prayer book each year – just to continue challenging me and keeping prayer in front of me so I do it more.

I’ve also re-started working through The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle. It’s a book of fixed hour prayers that is easier to navigate than the Book of Common Prayer. I did it a couple years ago and it became stale after a little over a year, but it was a tremendous help at the time. It’s helping again. Just by checking in – even if via borrowed prayers – helps me stay more conscious of what God is doing around me and has me closer to praying without ceasing than a little time in prayer in the morning and maybe a little more at night. Experience tells me it won’t last forever, but it’s helpful for now.

What about you? What do you do to keep a strong prayer life?

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

On the Reading List for 2010

The reading list always expands because I need to read stuff for work, but here’s the goals (always subject to change) for 2010.

Currently reading…
Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell
Bringing Up Boys by James Dobson
City of God by Augustine (probably several posts to come after I finish blogging Missional Renaissance).
Mentoring Leaders by Carson Pue

Notables coming off the shelf soon…
Show Them No Mercy edited by Stanley Gundry
The Lost Virtue of Happiness by J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler
Andrew Jackson by H.W. Brands
Announcing the Kingdom by Arthur Glasser
Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher Hall

I also hope to study the “New Atheism” and some of those who are engaging culture as they present the gospel (Tim Keller’s The Reason for God).

There are a few more, but I hope this will bring out some gems worth talking about throughout the year.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Best Books of 2009, Part 2

Here’s the back half of my favorite books of 2009 with some honorable mentions.

When God Says War is Right
I blogged this here (set link). It was an interesting walk through the just war theory. I’ve heard of it, but didn’t really understand it. This is a pretty layman’s level look at the issue and really helpful. Cole walks through recent American conflicts and discusses whether they were in alignment with just war theory. It

Missional Renaissance
There are a handful of books I wanted to blog, but I’m just going to have to bail on them so I can blog on the current books I’ll be reading. I’m deciding between blogging No Perfect People Allowed (check yesterday’s list) or Missional Renaissance by Reggie McNeal (I don’t think those others ‘on the bubble’ will make it – The Oresteia or Servolution). I think it will be McNeal because it is such a paradigm shifting book.

The subtitle is changing the scorecard for the church. We count bodies, offerings, and buildings, but this book challenges us to re-think what we should be about. It is a challenge to be an outward-facing church. I won’t get too deep into it because I hope to get deeper into it later this month blogging. Well worth the read, though.

The Tipping Point
This was likely my favorite book of the year and I didn’t even read it. My wife and I listened to it – with Pixar’s Cars showing in the back seats – during our trip to Seattle this summer. Malcolm Gladwell narrated his own book and it was full of interesting insight. I think I learn better visually than audibly so I haven’t soaked the book in thoroughly, but now I’ve started listening to it for the second time.

It had some insights on community (the rule of 150) and leadership (connectors, mavens, and salesmen) that I need to think through in terms of how church is/should be done. Gladwell is an interesting thinker. I’m not sure if he’s right, but he takes a different angle on basic research that is fascinating. I’m a fan. I’ve already bought Blink, trying hard to save it for my next road trip. I hope I can hold out that long.

Honorable Mentions
I liked these books this year and would encourage you to read them if they look like something you might need. Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus. Sticky Church by Larry Osborne. Servolution by Dino Rizzo.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Best Books of 2009, Part 1

Just to clarify, this is the best books I read in 2009, not the best books published in 2009. I have no idea what they are. I suppose I could say I’m not into ‘chronological snobbery’ as I’ve heard CS Lewis calls it – the idea that the only good ideas (or books) are new ones. It’s more that I’m so far behind in my reading that I’m working through books on my bookshelf that are fairly old. And yet, I still want to read them. So here we go …

I read 38 books last year and it wasn’t a particularly fascinating year of reading. A few of these books are re-reads that I’m going through with our group of interns. Of the 38 books, six distinguished themselves in my mind. There’s no particular standard and these are in no particular order. We’ll do three today, three tomorrow.

Compassion, Justice, and the Christian Life
Lupton’s (forgot the first name) was an interesting look at how the church can genuinely combat poverty in urban areas and how everyone, particularly businessmen, can use their gifts to move beyond handouts to genuinely helping people grow and take responsibility for breaking the cycle of poverty. A really short book (just over 100 pages) that is worth the read for those seeking to minister among the poor.

The Dip
Seth Godin’s little book is helpful and will be early reading for all my future interns. He says winners quit all the time. They just quit the right things. And when they find that thing they want to be successful at, they go for it and pay the price, knowing the payoff will be worth it. The key to quitting or succeeding is doing it before the dip … and sticking through the dip if you’re going for it.

No Perfect People Allowed
John Burke talks about how his team has sought to create a church that lives the culture of ‘no perfect people allowed.’ They are looking for people who are far from God, but moving toward Him. He talks about how they create the culture and help people move toward embracing Christ as their hope. I hope to blog it, but this book is so good I’ve loaned it out both my copies – and I’m not buying a third!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

Each morning when I get to the office I take a minute or two to read a brief devotional. I finished The Passion of Jesus Christ by John Piper. Two page devotions on the difference the cross makes. Lately I’ve been reading Ragman and Other Stories by Walter Wangerin, Jr. He has a story called, “Meditation on a New Year’s Day.” It’s a meditation on God’s greatness and how amazing it is that He loves us. One particular thought reminds me of the last few chapters of Job – some of my favorite chapters in the Bible. I hope they challenge/encourage you, too.
Who knows the beginning of the things which we can know? Theory! Theory! We chirp theories like chickadees, because ignorance is a terrifying thing and we need the noise. But when I can with courage know I do not know; when I admit that I stand with my back to a void, that I am indeed blind to the beginning of my own things, then I am silenced. Then I am chilled by my own triviality – some dust at the edge of the desert. Nevertheless, you kneel down, and find me, and tell me that you love me. (p. 7)
He loves you. Happy New Year’s.