Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Walking With Jesus During Passion Week: ‘Silent Wednesday’

Jesus and his disciples remain in Bethany

Judas makes arrangements for the betrayal

Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, "What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?" And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. – Matthew 26.14-16

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Walking With Jesus Through the Passion Week: Tuesday

Debates with Religious Leaders in Jerusalem and Teaching in the Temple - Mark 11.27-12.44

Olivet Discourse - Mark 13.1-37

Monday, March 29, 2010

Walking With Jesus Through the Passion Week: Monday

Cursing the Fig Tree on the Way to Jerusalem

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. 13 And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 And he said to it, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard it. – Mark 11.12-14
Cleansing the Temple

And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. 13 He said to them, "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of robbers." – Matthew 21.12-13
Return to Bethany

And when evening came they went out of the city. – Mark 11:19

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Walking With Jesus Through the Passion Week: Palm Sunday

Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 "Say to the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'" 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" - Matthew 21.1-9
Jesus Surveys the Temple and Returns to Bethany

And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. - Mark 11.11

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Walking With Jesus Through the Passion Week: The First Saturday

Traditionally, Passion Week begins tomorrow – Palm Sunday. But this first Saturday is a day of preparation. Here’s the texts for today. Let’s enter into the narrative…

Jesus arrives in Bethany

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. – John 12:1
Evening celebration, Mary anoints Jesus

So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at the table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, "Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me." – John 12:2-8

Friday, March 26, 2010

Walking With Jesus Through the Passion Week: Introduction

This is different! We’ve been doing the Friday Book Club for awhile, but we’re going to take a break for a couple weeks. That will help us catch up, but we’re also approaching the most significant week on the Christian calendar – Easter Week. Also known as Passion Week.

One of my professors in seminary, Mike Wilkins, gave us a handy little tool to help us walk with Jesus during Passion Week, beginning tomorrow. To find these materials in print, check out Matthew by Dr. Wilkins in the NIV Application Commentary, p. 708.

My hope for this series of posts through Easter is that we could engage the Scriptures and re-live that most significant of weeks – even just for a little bit of time each day. May we enter into the story and let it change us and live out God’s mission more fully in our lives.

We’ll get started tomorrow. I hope you’ll find it profitable.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hump Day History: St. Augustine’s City of God

We’re still working through some highlights of Book XXI. There isn’t necessarily an outstanding quote here, but there’s an important objection he addresses. I’m not sure I like his answer, but it’s close to how I think through it.

The objection to hell is that it is unfair that a punishment should last longer than the time it took to perpetrate a crime. Augustine rightly notes that one may murder in an instant, but that doesn’t mean the punishment should last a moment. It can go on for a long time – and justly so. That’s the extent of Augustine’s point (pp. 781-782).

I get it and it makes sense. Another way I’ve heard it framed is, “How can a finite crime be worthy of an infinite punishment?” I think I read this in one of John Piper’s books years ago. If I remembered which it was I would cite it. (And if it wasn’t him, my apologies to Dr. Piper if I’ve misrepresented him.)

The key to this concern is not that the offense is so great, but that the One offended is so great. Infinite, in fact. The nature of the offense isn’t the defining issue. It is the violation of the infinite holiness of the One sinned against – God. This makes sense on a human plane. For instance, if I were to threaten an ordinary citizen, I would/should be punished. But, if I were to threaten the President, I would/should be punished more severely. The offense is the same, but the one offended makes the difference.

The infinite holiness of God makes my transgressions infinitely punishable. And yet, hope is offered in the infinitely valuable sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mission(al) Monday: Missional Renaissance, Shift from Program Development to People Development

McNeal begins with a challenging story from a church plant he started twenty plus years ago. After a meeting, God spoke to him: “Are people better off for being part of this church, or are they just tireder and poorer?” It bothered him – because he thought he knew the answer. He didn’t know how way to measure people’s spiritual growth – only church involvement. This is the most difficult shift for leaders to make. We know how to cross programs and events off our calendar, but people are never ‘done.’ This is a trap for the missional church, not just the traditional. We can feed the poor, but that’s just step one. How do we mentor them or help them get jobs or whatever’s next.

The rise of the program-oriented church came in the wake of WWII with the rise of the service economy. People outsourced things they didn’t like to do, including spiritual formation. According to McNeal, the church isn’t supposed to be the center for spiritual development – “everyday living” is. In all our programming, the church is disliked by many because we have not loved like Jesus, despite all our programs.

McNeal isn’t calling for the death of programs. Rather, the issue is making peoples’ success the end, not the program’s success. The quality of people, not the programs is what we’re looking for. (Note: McNeal is quick to point out that this isn’t a mega-church vs. small church issue. Both have successes and disasters in their portfolios).

What does this look like? We’ll start this week with “Fostering a People Development Culture” and we’ll finish it next week. Like moving from internal to external, this is going to take some shifts in our thinking and behavior. Just one of these changes won’t work, but taken together, they can get us on the right track.

From Standardization to Customization
For a long time churches were like McDonald’s. You knew what you were going to get at a Baptist church all around the US (or any other denomination, for that matter). It started with the desire to target programs to people, but things were inverted in time. But just as the previous era was mass standardization, now the mode of operation is mass customization. You don’t have to buy a CD for one song or go to Bible study on Sunday only – with people others have chosen for you. This creates challenges for the program-oriented church, but opportunities as well.

From Scripting to Shaping
Pastors are trained to give people the script for growth, but people are less inclined to listen to experts and want more control over their lives. The role needs to shift to coaching, which people are more inclined to receive. Leaders should know what people need, but we need to help them participate in the process by coaching them. This is labor-intensive, but worth it. And this is a place where you can direct people to programs that will help them build their growth portfolio.

From Participation to Maturation
People can participate in a bunch of church activities and never actually be changed. They can tithe and still be as mean as ever. Go to Sunday School and still defend racist views, etc… The missional church focuses less on what people are doing and more on who they are becoming.

We’ll cover the rest in two weeks. Next week we’ll be walking through Passion Week.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Services

We're finally finishing the plagues in the Book of Exodus – following some issues thematically through them. Check us out – this week’s message should be posted by Monday or Tuesday. Click on Media in the left column and then launch the Sermon Player. I'm the one preaching this Sunday.

The highlighted church this month is Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Their weekly podcasts are not free, but here’s a link to a bunch of free sermons from throughout the years by their lead/senior pastor, Tim Keller.

What's God teaching you through your Sunday worship time?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

More Tozer

I just finished The Pursuit of God by AW Tozer. I was reading it in bits and pieces and kind of distracted – mostly when I could steal a few minutes here and there at work. I don’t think I read it thoughtfully enough. He’s a thoughtful writer and I need to take some time someday to give be a more thoughtful reader of his. Until then, I’ve mined a few great quotes and added them to my Quote Index on my computer. Here’s one for thought…

“Made as we were in the image of God we scarcely find it strange to take again
our God as our All. God was our original habitat and our hearts cannot but feel
at home when they enter again that ancient and beautiful abode" (p. 104)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Book Club Friday: Church Unique, Chapters 8

We’re back to our Book Club – or Nerd Club. We’re on chapter 8 of Church Unique. I skimmed it last night. I’ll give it a better look over the next couple days and expand on it. If you’ve read it and want to start the discussion, get us started…

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Go Dawgs!

... and Bulldogs, too.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: (Hump Day History Special Edition!)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! This holiday’s about more than drinking alcohol and dyeing the local river green. Check out some of these links (articles and videos) to find out about a real missionary who changed a culture … a culture that one author thinks saved civilization (link Cahill). The links…'s_Breastplate

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mission(al) Monday: Missional Renaissance, Shift from Internal to External (Keeping Score, Part 2)

Last Monday we looked at how People and Prayer can be reconsidered and reallocated in a ministry with Kingdom perspective – externally focused rather than internally focused. We’ll finish this new kind of scorekeeping this week. Remember, these aren’t just things to do, they’re things we should track that we might make, and communicate, a shift from internal focus to external focus.

Time & Calendar
Make engagement with the community part of the staff’s ‘performance measurement.’ Make the church calendar a community calendar. Put both on the calendar so people know you value what’s going on in the community (and have links to city websites). Begin church planning with the community calendar. Build around what they’re doing. Reduce the nuber of church events on the calendar so people can be engaged. McNeal: “The commitment to do this might just be the first sign of a true conversion to missional” (p. 79). Monitor the time spent working for community. Finally, (and I think this is great) help people see their community involvement and their paid work as “primary opportunities for ministry” (p. 79).

Facilities Resources
The first question should be “what kind of building, if any, do we need?” If you have a building, how can you use it to bless the community? How can you partner with groups who serve the disadvantaged? Count the number of people served through AA or feeding programs (even if they’re run by another organization!) in your church building. Allow your space to be used by schools for concerts, meetings, etc… Look for offsite facilities that can be used for the benefit of the community – renting space in a mall for tenagers, etc… And be sure to count these as a fulfillment of the church’s mission, not just things we do. In addition to caring for those in need, your church can be used as an art exhibit or coffee shops or venues for local musicians.

Financial Resources
This isn’t my strong suit, but some ideas here include having a community component to your giving and capital campaigns (examples: one church gives $2 to external measures for every $1 it spends on its own facilities, another tithes to the community), get grant writers and partner with businesses on community-friendly initiatives. Ask community leaders of their needs. Create accounts of venture capital for community-oriented initiatives within the congregation. Do local microfinance, not just internationally. Challenge the congregation to figure out ways to limit expenses so they can give more (we did this at Christmas with Advent Conspiracy). Finally, think of ways to give creatively to the community. One church figured out how much they’d get taxed if they were to get taxed and they give that much to the community. Again, keep track and celebrate it!

Technology Resources
The last thing we’ll look at is an external focus with technology resources. Make sure your website has service opportunities for church members to bless the community and even let people share their encounters as they’ve sought to bless the community. Take advantage of social networking on the Internet. Create podcast interviews with community leaders. Measure hits on ministry opportunities to discover interest and allocate resources accordingly. Blog about missional engagement. Post celebratory videos/podcasts on what God is doing through your community engagement.

Next week we’ll look at the next shift – “From Program Development to People Development”!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Services

This was our second week (of three) in the plagues in the Book of Exodus – following some issues thematically through them. Check us out – this week’s message should be posted by Monday or Tuesday. Click on Media on the left and launch the Sermon Player.

The highlighted church this week is Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Their weekly podcasts are not free, but here’s a link to a bunch of free sermons from throughout the years by their lead/senior pastor, Tim Keller.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Friday Book Club: Nothing new, catching up.

We're slowing down a little so we can have more interaction and everyone can get caught up with where we are in the book. Please post on the previous entries. Here's last week's post again so you can post on it. I'm shutting comments down on this one.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Hump Day History: St. Augustine’s City of God

Over the next few weeks we’ll hit the highlights of Book XXI. I wasn’t anticipating spending much time on this because it focuses on eternal condemnation – not the happiest subject. But it has some interesting points that are worth noting. This first one is a random thought that caught my attention. It’s near the end of a long argument on how eternal punishment, while it may not be totally understood, should be considered possible given all the mysteries in this world. That aside, there’s a concept of God’s role in the universe worth noting.

“So great an author as Varro would certainly not have called this a portent had it not seemed to be contrary to nature. For we say that all portents are contrary to nature; but they are not so. For how is that contrary to nature which happens by the will of God, since the will of so mighty a Creator is certainly the nature of each created thing? A portent, therefore, happens not contrary to nature, but contrary to what we know as nature” (p. 776).
I hadn’t intended that last sentence to be part of the quote initially, but it really is the central issue. I liked the idea of God being involved in the universe, but this seemed to neglect the apparent consistency of nature. His last sentence articulates our limited knowledge, the wonder of the created order, and God’s independence to operate in His creation however He sees fit.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Mission(al) Monday: Missional Renaissance, Shift from Internal to External (Keeping Score, Part 1)

The last couple Mondays we’ve looked at what it means to shift from an internal to an external focus. It’s a great discussion, but what does it look like, practically, to be successful? The subtitle of Reggie McNeal’s Missional Renaissance is “Changing the Scorecard for the Church.” That’s what we’re looking at today. How do we change the scorecard from an internal focus (how many = attendance; how often = attendance at church events; how much = offerings) to external? Before we check out some ideas, remember these are some of McNeal’s ideas and are intended to spur on creativity, not serve as a blueprint.

A starting point is to articulate external goals and successes that are both individual and corporate: meals fed, backpacks made, community service hours logged. Note: these shouldn’t be exclusively church initiatives. Rather, they should be done in partnership with all kinds of organizations. What are some other ways we ‘keep score’?

Look for (and track) ways the congregation can be externally focused in prayer. How? Prayer walking, prayer cards for families who receive backpacks for school, community prayer times, prayer booths/boxes, prayer for the lost, praying for the community in worship services, but my favorite is prayer-scaping. One church staff sent each of their leaders to a part of their city and they were to ask God, “Help me see what you see.” It transformed their staff so much that they sent their people out on a Sunday morning to do the same thing.

This is developing a member culture and turning it into a missionary culture. For leaders this might mean making a community ministry responsibility part of their job description, limiting the number of church offices/roles one can take so there’s community time, insist that every group have an external community service component, put offices somewhere other than the church to get community connection, and make staff available to serve other organizations in the community (coaches, mentors, advises, etc…).

For congregants, publish community needs alongside church needs, adopt a school, provide training for people who want to serve the community, track volunteer hours and celebrate them, and assign people as missionaries to apartment complexes, etc … and support their mission in those places.

This is plenty to chew on. We’ll hit the rest next week.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sunday Services

We’re continuing in Exodus. We’re covering the plagues upon Egypt for the next three weeks – following some issues thematically through them. Check us out – this week’s message should be posted by Monday or Tuesday. Click on Media on the left and launch the Sermon Player.

I’m also reading Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller. I think you have to pay for his sermons, but there’s a bank of free ones if you link here. I’ve only read a couple things by him and listened to a sermon or two, but God really uses him. Check him out if you’re not plugged into a regular place of worship.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Counterfeit Gods

We’re working through Exodus on Sunday mornings and, as we were having discussions about Egypt’s gods, an article about Tim Keller from Christianity Today came to mind. That led to the purchase of Counterfeit Gods, his newest book. I have too many other ‘designated days’ going right now, but this is a fascinating book that really probes the nooks and crannies of one’s soul to reveal our idols. A few choice quotes to think about this lovely Saturday…

Speaking of public officials who sacrifice everything (even when they say they’re doing it for their families), Keller has a fantastic line (among many in the two chapters I’ve read so far):
“They had sacrificed everything to the god of success, but it wasn’t enough. In ancient times, the deities were bloodthirsty and hard to appease. They still are” (p. xiii).
If you’re looking for something to read, check this book out. Money, Sex, and Power are the subtitles, but there’s a challenge for every kind of idolatry imaginable … and there are more idolatries than we can possibly imagine.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Club Friday: Church Unique, Chapters 5-7

I haven’t read them yet, but this week’s discussion on Church Unique will be Chapters 5-7 (they’re short!). While the first few chapters were laying the groundwork for vision-casting, this next section is “Clarifying Vision.” Be sure to share your insights/questions as we work through the process.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hump Day History: St. Augustine’s City of God

We’re still in Book XX of The City of God by St. Augustine. This is the second (or third if you count the intro) in a yet-to-be-determined series of thought-provoking or insightful (by my standards) quotes from St. Augustine. Go here for last week’s post and here for the introductory post.

St. Augustine is never short on opinions, but I like how he grapples with the challenges of Revelation:
“No doubt, though this book is called the Apocalypse, there are in it many obscure passages to exercise the mind fo the reader, and there are few passages so plain as to assist us in the interpretation of the others, even though we take pains; and this difficulty is increased by the repetition of the same things, in forms so different, that the things referred to seem to be different, although in fact they are only differently stated. But in the words, ‘God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, but there shall be no more pain,’ there is so manifest a reference to the future world and the immortality and eternity of the saints – for only then and only there shall such a condition be realized that if we think this obscure, we need not expect of find anything plain in any part of
Scripture” (p. 737)

While there are plenty of challenges when it comes to engaging Revelation, it’s good to stay focused on the things that are sure and, even if we can’t nail down all the answers, hope in those fixed points God has given that we might have hope.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Mission(al) Monday: Missional Renaissance, Shift from Internal to External (Part 2)

Check out last Monday’s post for the first half of this material on what it takes to move from being an internally-focused church to an externally focused one. This is one of three transitions Reggie McNeal sees as necessary in The Missional Renaissance.

From Proclamation to Demonstration
McNeal doesn’t believe preaching and teaching are wrong, but people outside the church aren’t going to engage with it as much as they do engage with people who are demonstrating their faith by blessing others. This shows a clear demarcation between internal and external focus. We can proclaim the truth, but we also need to live it outside the church walls.

From Institutional to Organic
Institutional is seen when the church runs felt need-based programs and people ‘support the church’ in a shift to the external, the people are the church and the church is working wherever they go. The focus is on what God is doing through people as they do life, hence the ‘organic.’

From Reaching and Assimilating to Connecting and Deploying
The goal of reaching people through events and assimilating them into the family means many new church members may end up being cut off from relational lines on which the gospel could best run. Externally focused means celebrating those relationships and those opportunities to live the gospel outside the church walls.

From Worship Services to Service as Worship
Oftentimes worship services set one congregation apart from another and serve as an attractional distinction among churches, but externally focused churches (rightly) see service as worship. They even take Sunday worship service events off the calendar to go out and serve their communities, understanding that serving others is indeed an act of worship. Missional worship services may have teaching, but it isn’t as central as sharing stories of what God is doing in the midst of the community.

From Congregations to Missional Communities
Many have suggested changes from the current congregational models of church and the missional community seems to be the change afoot. Whether they are part of a congregation or not, bands of believers are gathering with a focus on blessing others. This isn’t an either-or dichotomy and some congregations (smart ones!) are leveraging these communities that the congregation itself can be salt and light in their larger community.

From There to Here
Quoting one of his students, McNeal says this is about changing the world, not the church. There are a few things to remember in this shift. It isn’t either/or, change is possible. The point of this chapter is to give some ideas on how. Thirdly, are you personally opened up to the world God wants to bless through you? That’s what it means to be missional. Finally, new behaviors need to be implemented, including the scorecard for success. We’ll hit that next week.

Which, if any of these, are particularly challenging or encouraging to you? Or, if you’ve already ‘gone missional,’ share your experience in some of these areas.