December 31, 2009

Top 5 Posts of 2009

Here are the top 5 posts people checked out in 2009 on A Journeyman's Catalog. If you had a particular favorite, let us know. Thanks so much to all of you that take a moment to read my thoughts along the journey, I look forward to hearing yours and connecting with you even more so in the upcoming year!

Happy New Year's!!

1. "I Am the Vine"

2. Secular Music in Worship

3. 2 Questions: Part I

4. By Your Bootstraps

5.
Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality

December 29, 2009

"Unwrapped"

Here is the text from my sermon entitled "Unwrapped" which I gave on 12/27 at our Castleton campus. Feel free to share any thoughts, comments or questions.

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Well, here we are, a few days after another Advent season and Christmas day. Many of you had the chance to spend some time with family and friends, I hope you found it to be meaningful and enjoyable. Tai and I had a chance to make it up to Holland, MI to visit with my family and over to New Lisbon, IN to visit hers. We had a good time and were reminded of how blessed we truly are. Now, two days after Christmas, here we sit and if you’re anything like me, you begin to take inventory now that everything has been opened and unwrapped. I can usually break down my Christmas gifts into three categories: things on my list that I asked for and actually got (which sometimes end up not being as cool as I thought they would be); things I asked for but didn’t receive; and the third category of “thanks?!?”.

Now, I don’t know about your family but both of ours are notorious for using boxes from one thing to put another thing in, so you're not quite sure what you’re getting until you get it unwrapped and out of the box. The classic story of this from my family is when we were all at my grandparent’s house and all the aunts and uncles were opening their gifts from grandma and grandpa and my dad starts opening his…at the time, for whatever reason, my dad was really into bowling…so unwrapping his present he reveals a shoebox with a picture of what appears to be a very nice pair of bowling shoes on the front. My dad gets excited and says, “Whoa alright, new bowling shoes”…opens the box and says, “No, I got these...” as he lifts up the work light that I’m not sure he has ever actually used.

This kind of thing happens to us all the time doesn’t it, whether it’s Christmas or not? We picture something in a certain way, it's wrapped in shiny paper with a nice bow, then we get it out of the box and realize it’s not what we thought it would be.

Perhaps it’s a job or title or degree we think will make all the difference but once we get it unwrapped we find it falling short of our expectations. Or maybe your perfectly wrapped gift is to have a family that looks a certain way, but then your kids do something stupid, your parents do something hurtful, you or your spouse do something to hurt each other or maybe you’re not able to have a family at all. The list can go on and on of things we think will make everything perfect but once we get it unwrapped we find it isn’t what we had in mind.

And then we read of this gift...
Isaiah 7:14
Isaiah 9:2-7

When we begin to unwrap the gift of God’s Son lying in a manger we see this is a gift that will not disappoint, not only this but we notice a couple things about this special gift…

It is a gift of His presence (Isaiah 43:1-3a)
-God promises to be present with us in the midst of the storms, trials and fires of life.

It is a gift of family (Galatians 3:23-4:7)
-God gives us the right to be called His children (John 1:12).
-You and I are connected as the family of God through the community of the Church.

It is a gift of hope (Hebrews 10:23-24)
-The gift of Jesus gives us hope in a world that can often seem hopeless.
-This is a gift we can and must share with others as we undoubtedly know people who abandoned, hopeless and alone.

Closing Prayer comes from 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24:

"May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it."

December 24, 2009

A Voice of Reason

We have all heard plenty about the unfortunate decisions Tiger Woods has made in recent years and can add his name to a growing list of celebrity types who have fallen, in one way or another, as a result of choices each of them has made. I can't help but be reminded of the importance of accountability in one's life and wonder if Tiger would have had someone to confide in and hold him accountable, that just maybe an individual like that could have been the voice of reason Tiger so desperately needed to hear from before making such poor choices resulting in hurt, shame and embarrassment for him and his family. I think this whole tragic situation can serve as a reminder of a couple important things...

1. Do not think you are above doing something stupid that can cause hurt, shame and embarrassment. The moment we convince ourselves we are above or incapable of a particular sin is the moment when we make ourselves the most vulnerable. This is precisely the plan satan has in mind and exactly why he is called the Father of Lies. This is the curse of having a sinful nature and if we think otherwise we become liars ourselves (1 John 1:8).

2. Do not think you can stand up to, avoid or resist temptation and sin on your own. God created us to be in community with Him and each other, use that community to your advantage. Avoid as much hurt, shame and embarrassment as possible with the help of your brothers and sisters. Satan is described as a lion that prowls around looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). It only takes a couple hours of the Discovery Channel to know that lions love to prey on the isolated animals of the herd, the ones that fall away from or are somehow get disconnected. You and I on our own are easy pickings to be chewed up and spit out.

3. Find someone to be your voice of reason. In Christianese it's called "an accountability partner". Find someone in which you can confide so that you can share your deepest struggles and most vulnerable weaknesses so that s/he can help you avoid them, that's the whole point of accountability!! You can't do it alone and you don't have to! You and I need people to speak truth and reason into our lives so that when our judgment gets clouded we have someone there to give us spirit-filled guidance and clarity. If you don't have this in your life, you need to ask God who that person might be for you and for whom you might be the very voice of reason that might keep someone from making an unfortunate decision that results in hurt, shame and embarrassment.

If you have questions about what an accountability relationship might look like, how weekly meetings go, or I can be of help in any way just let me know. Comment or email: matt@castletonumc.org

December 23, 2009

Style or Substance?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey from 2007 talked about how a growing number of people "church shop"; meaning they move from one church to another as if grabbing lunch at a buffet-style restaurant picking what they like and leaving what they don't. More recently Outreach Magazine came out with their report of the 100 Largest and Fastest Growing Churches in America (the list) and I thought it was interesting to note that the vast majority of the churches on this list tend to have more of a "the special is your only lunch option" type of theology.

I kept riding my train-of-thought into this depot......

There are a couple of larger church pastors whose podcasts I listen to on a fairly regular basis (if you are ever curious who that might be or want to check them out just shoot me an email) and got to wondering if people enjoy some of the popular ones like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan or Matt Chandler because of their preaching style and obvious passion or because of their theology. Are people aware of the substance of the pastors they listen to or is it simply a matter of style? I happen to find the theology of these three guys that I listed to be pretty solid but I know there are plenty of other large church pastors that have little to no theology at all and yet people listen to them by the tens of thousands. Why is that?? It seems as though our culture is so prone to consume that many would choose a pastor that preaches with misguided passion, void of any substance, over a pastor with solid substance and less style. If you find one with both, you better make sure your church holds on to them.

The Trappings of Tradition

I bet your family has some crazy traditions that have either already happened or are about to during this time of year. Care to share any of those? Only a couple came to mind for me and my family...

...my family always goes to church on Christmas Eve and then orders Chinese takeout. We eat that with sparkling grape juice in fancy glasses.

...my wife's family all gets the exact same pair of pajamas on Christmas Eve, wears them to bed and wakes up Christmas morning to her mom making crepes. They proceed to wear matching pajamas throughout the majority of the day.

Thinking about this over the past couple weeks has made me wonder if traditions have actually trapped the real meaning of Christmas. I don't think traditions are a bad thing, but I do think they need to point us to something bigger than the tradition itself. Is it possible that we have made Christmas more about traditions and less about God's gift to mankind? If Christmas is simply about traditions, we should call it "Traditiomas", dress-up like elves and give ourselves another excuse to go door-to-door asking for candy.

December 18, 2009

'Outside the Walls'

Be on the lookout for Outside the Walls, an online place designed for study & discussion to start in the next couple weeks. The purpose is to create connection and conversation around the study of Scripture and other relevant topics that impact our faith outside the physical walls of our churches. Right now it looks like studies/discussions will be Tuesday and/or Thursday evenings starting around 7 or 7:30pm EST.

Please drop a comment w/your feedback concerning topics for study & discussion, suggestions for days & times, and any other ideas or suggestions you might have. I would also be curious to know how many, if any of you might be interested in something like this or plan on joining us. Hope to see you there in a couple weeks.

http://livestream.com/outsidethewalls

December 16, 2009

Mercy and Justice

I just finished writing my last essay for this semester at Asbury Theological Seminary on the topic of Mercy and Justice. Parts of that essay are included below but what I really wanted to share was this video I came across and especially highlight the thoughts from Dr. Ben Witherington III ("Ben") talking about the same issues...



It is apparent throughout John Wesley’s ministry and theology that he was quite passionate about issues of mercy and justice. Wesley’s desire to preach the good news to the poor, reaching not only their spiritual needs but their physical needs as well, is what led him to the fields and marketplaces of his day seeing that his own church, The Church of England, was making no effort to do so. This is precisely why the majority of Wesley’s hearers were made up of poor laborers such as miners, quarrymen, iron smelters and soldiers. When speaking of the ad populum (the bulk of mankind) Wesley wrote in a letter to Dorothy Furley dated September 25, 1757, “I love the poor, in many of them I find pure, genuine grace, unmixed with paint, folly, and affectation.” The passion and love that Wesley had for the poor of his day is undeniable.

The issues of mercy and justice demand a response from us today, especially those who would consider themselves to be disciples of Jesus, regardless of denominational tradition. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39) and when we stop to realize that everyone is our neighbor we can no longer ignore the injustice, persecution and poverty that is present all around us. This is a love that displays itself through actions of justice and gestures of mercy to “the least of these” as described by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46, which typically are individuals who have no means of seeking justice and are often times shown no mercy. It is this “way of love” we must seek because without it “all we know, all we believe, all we do, all we suffer, will profit us nothing in the great day of accounts” (John Wesley, The More Excellent Way, 4.).

December 10, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

The United Methodist Church has, at various times, been described as the via media or the "middle way" when it comes to its place on the denominational spectrum. With its emphasis on grace it often times finds its ministry dwelling in the gray rather than the black or white. I believe this is one of the main reasons people are attracted to the ministry of the UMC (I know this is true for me as a pastor in it) because it creates a sense of openness and inclusiveness but I can also see where the emphasis on the "middle ground" could become a curse.

There are times when I wonder if the UMC has gotten stuck in the middle causing us to lose connection to some of our foundational beliefs, which is where the via media might become a curse. Has our focus on the middle made it seem as though we have no beliefs we are not willing to compromise on? Is it possible that one of the reasons for our decline in membership and worship attendance is that we've gotten lost in the gray as a denomination?

Having spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months reading a large number of John Wesley's sermons I can't help but see that he was clearly passionate about a number of issues which he saw as being black and white. It would be difficult to deny Wesley's emphasis on the presence of grace in an individual's life and the power of the Holy Spirit moving believers along in the process of sanctification and yet, how often do we talk about these things? Grace takes the "black" of accountability and the "white" of the expectation of holy living and mixes them together to make gray...but gray cannot exist without some black and white.

A Prayer of John Baillie


O Holy Spirit of God, visit now this soul of mine,

and tarry within it until eventide.
Inspire all my thoughts.
Pervade all my imaginations.
Suggest all my decisions.
Lodge in my will's most inward citadel and order all my doings.
Be with me in my silence and in my speech,
in my haste and in my leisure,
in company and in solitude,
in the freshness of the morning and in the weariness of the evening;
and give me grace at all times to rejoice in thy mysterious companionship.


~From A Diary of Private Prayer by John Baillie

December 5, 2009

A Time and A Place

I graduated from a small, evangelical, Christian liberal arts school called Taylor University located in Upland, IN in 2001. As an alumni, I receive in the mail an alumni newsletter about once a quarter. As I was reading the most recent issue I came across an article highlighting this past fall's Spiritual Renewal Week and the spontaneous "avalanche of student confessions that lasted for more than six hours" (Taylor, p. 9) which started after a student began confessing his sins to the assembled student body. All of this took place on the very first night of Spiritual Renewal Week.

I know that these types of public confessions are not specific to Taylor as my younger siblings, along with my wife and a number of our friends have had similar experiences at the various smaller Christian schools they currently attend or have graduated from but I wonder if there is an appropriate time and place for such a confession. Don't get me wrong, I believe in the importance of confession and its ability to bring about healing, forgiveness and freedom but I will say that I am not convinced confessing one's sins of various addictions to thousands of peers is the best avenue for such healing to begin.

Of course God can use such a time of confession but I can't help but wonder the long term implications of such public openness, not only for the individual confessing but the audience who is forced to do something with the sins that are confessed. Why does this seem to happen in a setting like this on a college campus but we hardly ever hear of this happening inside a church in front of a congregation? Is it possible that confession in a small group or even one-on-one setting might provide a healthier more intimate level of accountability, encouragement and support? What happens to the college student who confesses to a crowd of her peers about an addiction to drugs or porn and then walks off the stage? It would seem hard after hours and hours of an intense time of confession not to have 1, 2, 10, 20...50 students fall through the cracks of intentional follow-up, accountability and discipleship but maybe my personality causes me to avoid things like this.

December 2, 2009

The Third Space

There are plenty of discussions, studies and books around the idea of "The Third Place" and more specifically how the church fits into this idea of community. The main premise around the third space or place is that it is the place people come together to experience community outside of the home (the 1st place) and the workplace (the 2nd place).

One of the ways churches are creating a third place for people to experience community is by creating some sort of online experience. Some of these experiences include live streaming worship services, live chat features, and the use of social networking (ie. twitter and facebook groups). A couple churches that I think are doing this pretty well are Granger Community Church and The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection but of course there are many others which you may have checked out (if you know of any that do a good job of this please let us know). Our church is also live streaming a couple of our Sunday morning worship services and I'd say it's decent with the understanding that we've still got a little ways to go.

What I would be curious to hear is your thoughts on the idea of church online and if you think it can effectively serve as a "Third Place"? How willing would you be to "attend" a church online? Or maybe a virtual Bible study (something I have actually thought about starting)? I would love to hear your thoughts on this if you have any to share.

November 30, 2009

The Perfect Spot

We're in full holiday season swing which, if you attend a church, can mean two things (of course many more but I just want to highlight these two to make a point):

1. More than likely your church will see an increase in the number of first-time visitors on Sunday mornings. The Christmas season, like no other time during the year (minus Easter maybe) turns peoples' attention toward spiritual things. A lot of these people have no idea exactly what they mean when they think "spiritual" but if they haven't been misled by Oprah they might actually end-up at your church, so be ready!

2. Part of being ready for first-time visitors is NOT taking the BEST and CLOSEST parking spots in the church parking lot. What a simple and yet profound way to show your visitors hospitality. If you are physically able to park "far" away, you should seriously consider doing so during the Christmas season. What better time of year to do a simple thing that can make a HUGE difference for that single mom visiting your church for the first time who is trying to keep track of her kids. To think that her worry of them getting hit in the church parking lot could be that much less because she is that much closer to the door. HUGE! Do not underestimate the message this can send to your local community and guests that not only do you have a spot for them in the parking lot but in the church family as well. I know winter is cold but so is a church that doesn't have a place for visitors.

November 26, 2009

Giving Thankfully

I hope that you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and a chance to spend it with family and friends. If you're Thanksgiving festivities have been anything like mine they involved a generous amount of turkey, starches in various forms (mashed or perhaps candied with marshmallows), some things we call "salads" that few people would find in or put on an actual salad, hanging out with family that you don't get to see often enough and watching awful Detroit Lions football. Oh yeah, while being reminded to be thankful.

What if we were thankful for more than just today and instead it became an attitude we carried with us through the entire holiday season? Just taking a look at the word itself we see that it is about giving thanks, which of course makes sense because we have a ridiculous amount to be thankful for. The more I thought about this today the more I started to wonder if Thanksgiving might be a way to challenge us to give thankfully? Think about what a huge difference this could make on your perspective and mine during this time of year.

There are countless reasons why you and I can be thankful; the biggest reason is God's willingness, in his grace, to send Jesus on our behalf. Out of this deep sense of gratitude we become willing to "cheerfully" (2 Corinthians 9:7) give of ourselves because God has given so graciously to us. This is not simply about money but time, talents, service, prayer, relationships...our very selves...things that you and I can thankfully give as acts of giving thanks. Might be something to try this season and see what happens.

November 23, 2009

American Music Awards

First, let's not forget about the likes of artists such as Cher, Madonna, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Shakira, etc etc that have repeatedly pushed the envelope in live performances on various award shows before we get too wound-up about Adam Lambert's closing act of the American Music Awards last night.

Of course I found Lambert's "in the moment" choreography to be not only played out but offensive though what may have offended me even more (or at least the same amount) was the fact that he sounded awful. It's one thing to dance around "all suggestive-like" and sound decent, but it is a completely different thing to do so (quite poorly I might add) and sound horrible. Typically there is some sort of redeeming aspect of a performance that can be pointed out but in this case, everything was bad: costumes, set, theme, music, lyrics. I found myself wondering two things as I watched this disaster unfold; 1) Why in the world is this guy performing at the AMA's on the same stage as people like Whitney Houston? 2) Does he really have an album coming out?

As best I can remember, this is the first AMA's I've ever really watched and I must say that overall it was pretty bad. Most of the performances were not very good and everything sounded the same, whether it was the live performances or the nominees. I guess I never realized that the AMA's were so lame or maybe that's just because I'm picky about my music.

November 21, 2009

By Your Bootstraps

I know it's been a while since I've posted, my apologies. Work at the church combined with my schoolwork has kept me pretty busy the past week or so. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to the down-time that is coming along with Thanksgiving.

6 weeks ago a person walked into our church on a Sunday morning for the first time. This individual was very different from the majority of the congregation, in more ways than one. He did not have a job, a car, a valid driver's license, a computer, a phone, money or friends. He was living with his parents and had no idea how to use a computer, let alone navigate the internet to find a job. He did have a felony record and a past that went with it from 20yrs of street life.

I've had the opportunity (and honestly the blessing) to befriend him and witness firsthand some of the things God has been doing in his life over these past 6 weeks. He recognizes that the life he was leading is not the life he wants anymore and he's been willing to do what it takes to become "legit", not only in the way he earns money but in his relationship with Christ. I am being reminded how significant even baby-steps can be...

...but this is not the biggest thing that has hit me so far from my relationship with him...

...I think I have come (or am quickly getting there) to the conclusion that the cycle of poverty, speaking specifically about the United States because that is where I live, is virtually impossible for an individual to break unless someone else steps in to help. How can we tell someone who not only has nothing in his favor but actually has things stacked against him that he has to "get out there and make it happen"? So many people don't even have a way to "get out there". We are telling people to pick themselves up by their bootstraps when in fact THEY DON'T EVEN OWN BOOTS!

Sure, my friend made some bad choices but so did you. Last I checked, the meaning of grace is getting something you don't deserve and if I remember correctly, that is exactly what Christ has called the Church to be about. We as Christians must step in the gap and be that grace by finding ways to break the cycle of poverty. James (2:14-18) reminds us that it is no longer enough to simply say "Good luck!" or "I hope that works out for you." because acknowledging someone's need is not the same as helping him fill it. This is a perfect time of year for God to remind me of exactly this.

November 14, 2009

The Weight of it All

Have you ever taken a moment to think about the crushing weight of sin that is present in our lives? It is a humbling thing to experience even just a portion of this burden which can instantly paralyze. I'm not sure how someone could think about the impact of sin in his or her life and not feel the gut wrenching sickness that being held in its vice-grip can bring. Sin has a destructive force that we cannot overcome on our own, which many of us know and yet, we still try. It is impossible to stand up on our own under this crushing weight and yet, we still try, leaving us to piece a fragmented life back together.

I was thinking about this the other day and was humbled by how far short I fall in trying to be like Jesus. Humbled is just a watered down way of saying that I could relate with Paul when he says, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24). I don't know about you but I am sick of sin in my life and the feelings of emptiness, guilt, and shame that come with it.

In steps Jesus.

Paul answers his own question, "Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25). Jesus fills our emptiness, erases our guilt, takes our shame. It is Him and only Him who is able to pull us out from under the weight of sin and allow us to be truly free and completely whole. The One who is willing and able to bear the weight of it all desires to do so for you and I. Sin doesn't have to weigh us down anymore.

November 11, 2009

The Avett Brothers

I just can't seem to get enough of these guys right now.

November 9, 2009

"rethink: Salvation"

This is the outline of my sermon from Sunday (11/8) around salvation. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions.

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rethink: Salvation

A few weeks ago I gave a message challenging us to rethink a couple things, they were: sin, grace, church and evangelism. If you remember, the idea to "rethink" something is to either think about it again, as if maybe we haven’t thought about it in a while or to reconsider something in an entirely new way. I realized after having some conversations in the office over the past couple weeks that it's possible that not many of us ever think about salvation. We really don't use the word much, if at all and so I thought it might be good to rethink it.

I don't know where you are in your relationship with Christ but I would guess that you fit into one of these three generalized scenarios:

1. You would say that, for whatever reason, you do not have a relationship with Christ whatsoever. I'm also going to assume that you might be interested or at least open to the idea of what that might look like for you because you are sitting in a pew, in a church (or maybe reading my blog?).
2. You would say that you have a relationship with Christ but it is nominal at best. You could say that you are a Christian but that is about as far as it goes.
3. You would say that you have a relationship with Christ and that it is strong and growing as you attempt to be more and more like Him each day.

My hope is that regardless of whichever scenario you might consider yourself to be in, you will find some benefit from taking some time to think about salvation as I highlight these three points...

1. what Salvation saves us FROM
-Sin (Matthew 1:20-21; Romans 6:17-18)
*this is the power of sin over our lives
*we no longer have to be slaves to sin
*we can even be saved from the guilt of past sins
-Ourselves (1 John 1:8; Romans 3:23)
*in the first chapter of James he talks about a pattern of sin that starts with our own evil desires, which when full grown gives birth to....
-Death (Romans 6:23)
*notice the word "wage"...this is something we've earned
*this is a spiritual death that pervades every aspect of our lives: relationships, attitudes, and even our very soul

2. what Salvation saves us FOR
-Freedom (Galatians 5:1, 6; Matthew 11:28-30)
*each one of us clearly have things we need to be set free from
*Jesus is the only one that can truly set us free
-Now (2 Corinthians 6:1-2; Ephesians 2:1-10, 13; 3:17b-19)
*salvation is not some ticket to heaven that we simply hold onto while we sit in this "waiting room" we call life
*it saves us now to make an impact today
-Forever (Romans 6:22)
*it also saves us for eternity
*there is more to this than just the "here and now"
*salvation secures our eternity

3. what makes Salvation POSSIBLE
-Christ (Romans 3:22-24; John 3:17)
*the price that Jesus paid that day on the cross and His victory over death three days later
*the righteousness of Christ
-Faith (John 1:12; 3:16)
*not "good" works or being a "good" person because we'll never be good enough
*an act of faith that Christ really did pay the price for my sins
-Repentance (Acts 3:19; 1 John 1:9; Romans 10:9-10)
*which involves confessing we need a savior
*the idea of repentance is to turn in the opposite direction, to do a 180
*John Wesley said, "Whatever your sins might be, "though red like crimson," though more than the hairs of your head, "return to the Lord, and he will have mercy on you, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."
-Acceptance (Romans 6:23; Revelation 3:20)
*like any free gift, you have the option to accept or reject
*for some of you, Jesus may have been knocking on the door of your heart for some time
*the question you have to deal with is whether or not you will open the door and let Him in?

November 8, 2009

James 5

The 5th and final part of our five week study through the book of James. I have always enjoyed the book of James because it is short, to the point and extremely practical. I hope you have found this study to be helpful in some way as you spend some time studying this book of the Bible. Don't hesitate to share any questions, thoughts or comments you might have.

James 5

Vs 1-6: this passage is addressing issues of equality and fairness while keeping in mind the dangers of wealth and possessions. More than likely James is addressing rich non-believers as they abuse power and authority by taking advantage of others in order to maintain a certain level of living or lifestyle. (2:5-6) This also serves as a reminder to the believer not to get caught up in wealth or "things". (1 Tim. 6:10; Rom 12:1-2)

Vs 7-11: early and late rains remind us of the need for patience as we go through "seasons" in life that will eventually change (2 Pet 3:8-10). This is not a passive form of patience but rather James is calling us to action by having courage and strengthening our hearts which can bring about peace and justice. Grumbling against one another is not living in patience.

Vs 12: (Matt. 5:34-37) the oaths that James is talking about are oaths that people would make verbally and then back out of through some legal loophole. Similar to the fine print we come across in various legal documents, warranties, etc. This really becomes a matter of honesty and goes back to the words we use and the power of the tongue, as James mentioned in chapter 3.

Vs 13-18: prayer is a powerful tool in the good times and bad. Confession can bring about healing, as well as praying for each other. Looking back at 4:2-3, we see that our motives going into prayer really do make a difference.

Vs 19-20: the power that you and I have to bring back a lost believer is humbling and yet also a significant responsibility. (1 Tim 4:16)

November 6, 2009

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Extravagant Generosity

The fifth and final part in our series through the book by Robert Schnase entitled, Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. The topic is Extravagant Generosity. If you have any thoughts you would like to share, comment below.

Extravagant Generosity

"The money talk"...no really likes to do it or have to listen to it. Part of me wonders if it's because we aren't really sure how to address the issue. Schnase says that generosity is how a Christian demonstrates his or her unselfishness in a way that makes a positive impact for Christ (112). I think giving should be talked about in a way that helps people see it is simply one aspect of what it means to follow Christ. "Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God's call to make a difference in the world" (Schnase, 107).

Giving of ourselves (time, treasure and talents) helps us prioritize our lives. Being willing to practice giving provides us with a perspective that is outside ourselves, that sees others needs before our own. Just as Jesus did. It also helps us value the things that are truly valuable, to make heavenly things our "treasure" (Matthew 6:19-24). Paul tells Timothy that generosity helps us to take hold of "the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:6-19).

So often when we talk about money, we put a heavy emphasis on tithing. I wonder if we are missing the point by doing that. I'm not saying giving 10% is wrong or bad but I'm not quite convinced that is the model we should be shooting for. The word "tithe" doesn't really show up in the New Testament and yet clearly Jesus emphasized the importance of sacrificial giving. What would happen if we focused on the idea of sacrificial giving instead of a certain %? Jesus doesn't tell the rich young man to give 10%, instead He tells him to give all he has (Matthew 19:16-24). I'm thinking this might be another post for another time...

November 3, 2009

James 4

Week 4 of 5 in our study through James. Post your thoughts, questions or comments below.

James 4

Vs 1-6 "Friendship w/the World": notice that the conflicts are a result of what is inside us, the desires that lead us away and into sin against God and one another (1:14-15). Paul talks about this struggle in Romans 7:14-20. James goes on to talk about "wrong motives" and I can't help but wonder if this is something we should be challenged by when it comes to our prayer life. There is a strong statement made about friendship with the world and how it leads to becoming an enemy of God and the jealousy with which God desires to know us and us to know Him. What types of worldly things have you and I allowed to compromise our friendship with God?

Vs 2: in the Greek "conflict" = make war

Vs 3: in the Greek "wrongly" = badly, wickedly

Vs 7-10: one of my favorite passages of Scripture. We see another pattern here that James is presenting which leads to God lifting us up...submission > resisting the devil > drawing near to God > repentance > live with humility > God not only lifts but sustains. I LOVE the idea that you and I can actually resist the devil to the point of making him actually wanting to flee from us. This, of course, is not done on our own power but through the power of the Holy Spirit, helping us not only resist the devil but to draw near to God. The other idea I LOVE is that God would actually be willing to draw near to us. The thought that the pure and holy God would even want anything to do with me let alone come close to me is mind-blowing! We've got to ask ourselves what we are doing to draw near to God, it takes action. "Drawing near" is not a passive thing, it is a deliberate act. How deliberate are your acts of drawing near to God?

Vs 11-12: we are reminded again of the power and importance of our words. Again, how much hurt could be avoided if we would simply be "slow to speak" and "quick to listen".

Vs 13-16: we deceive ourselves if we ever think that our time is actually our own. As if somehow we could ever do anything to bring about or get back any moment. C.S. Lewis writes in his book The Screwtape Letters, "Man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift".

Vs 17: might be one of my favorite verses. Simple. Clear. Real.

October 29, 2009

Britney Spears, MGM Grand & Sin

For some unknown reason, Britney Spears' new song "3" ended up on the radio in my car the other day. Despite a tired beat, forced rhymes and being a pretty horrible song overall musically (in my humble opinion), what really disgusted me was the message of the song. While the topic is played out, there was one particular line of lyrics that stuck out to me...

"Are - you in
Livin' in sin is the new thing (yeah)"

Fast forward to later that same day (or maybe it was the next) and @andrewconard makes me aware of an article through Twitter from MediaPost Publications entitled "MGM Twitter Campaign Asks People To Tweet Sins". The point of the article is to have people tweet their sins and MGM Grand will randomly select a winner of a free night stay in Las Vegas each day for the next 30 days. The sins that people tweet will be displayed on their website as well as the sides of buildings like the Staples Center and the Nokia Theatre in LA. Does this seem crazy to anyone else or is it just me?

So let me see if I've got this right...living in sin is actually the "new thing" that all the cool kids are doing and can even get you a free night stay at a hotel in Las Vegas?!? Since when have we made such a joke of the concept of sin that we've decided it just isn't that big a deal anymore? Paul tells us that sin results in nothing but death (Romans 6:23) but hey, at least we might get a free hotel room out of it.

I wrote an earlier post talking about sin you might want to checkout entitled "rethink: Sin"

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Risk-taking Mission and Service

The fourth part in our series through Robert Schnase's book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations brings us to the topic of Risk-taking Mission and Service. Thoughts, questions, comments? Share away

Risk-taking Mission and Service

Schnase describes this as the thing that can initiate change in the life of a church by encouraging its members to look outside themselves by attempting to make a difference in the lives of others for the purposes of Christ, regardless of whether or not these individuals will ever be a part of the community of faith (83). It is this idea of service that connects us with others and with Christ. It is being willing to step outside our comfort zones and risk the possibility of uncertainty, discomfort, resistance, or sacrifice (87). Schnase also notes, "The life of service flows naturally and inescapably from the teachings of Jesus Christ, and no congregation or disciple can avoid the direct gift and demand of God's call to love and serve others" (87).

When it comes to living risk-taking mission for you and I on a daily basis I think it comes down to being willing to love those who are not easy to love. I would not be surprised if someone came to mind right now as you thought about how hard it is for you to deal with him or her. Maybe, for whatever reason, there is drama between you and someone else, what an opportunity to live risk-taking mission. Sometimes the opportunity for this kind of mission and service is extraordinary like giving up a week of vacation to rebuild houses after a disaster or traveling to a developing country to provide assistance in some way. Other times, well most of the time really, the opportunities for this kind of mission and service happen every single day. What are you risking to step out of your comfort zone to share the love of Christ with someone?

Jesus never said it would be easy following Him, risk-taking mission and service is one of the main reasons why. There are plenty of people out there, many we know, who are in desperate need of help. We receive a stern reminder from James that if our faith is not accompanied by action, it is worthless (James 2:14-17). I think Schnase says it well when he says, "Christ moves us closer to suffering, not farther away" (100). Its not necessarily that Christ is going to cause us to suffer, though I think suffering is a very real part of discipleship, but that as you and I are willing to be involved in risk-taking mission and service we find ourselves becoming more aware of the suffering around us and it draws us in as we attempt to share the hope that is in Christ.

Have you had a mission or service experience that has somehow changed you or made a deep impact on the way you view others or the world? Would you be willing to share?

Are you involved in a local mission or service that you are passionate about? What is it and why are you involved?

October 26, 2009

For the Record...


Growing up, I was not a big reader, unless of course I was working on getting a gold star toward my Book It! pizza but when I would checkout a book from the library, it was not uncommon for it to be one of the "Calvin and Hobbes" (created by Bill Watterson) comic books.

I feel as though I need to say something in defense of your friend and mine, Calvin. I was driving downtown the other night to go duckpin bowling and couldn't help but notice a giant truck in front of me that had the sticker of Calvin peeing on *fill in the blank*. Of course, like you, I have seen this image countless times plastered on the back of this or that vehicle (usually some sort of pickup truck, though I don't want to create a stereotype) but for whatever reason this time I started thinking about how Calvin is getting a bad rap. For the record...through all of my time spent with Calvin and his pet tiger Hobbes I do not recall a single time when Calvin, or Hobbes for that matter, ever peed on anyone or anything.

So, I think it should be known that though Calvin would find himself in some occasional trouble, he would never go so far as to pee on something or someone. These images are an inaccurate portrayal of a boyhood friend. That and they are simply rude.

James 3

Sorry for the delayed post...here is week 3 of our 5 week study through James. Feel free to share any thoughts, questions or comments.

James 3

Vs 1-2 "Teachers": in James' day there was a lot of respect and authority that came with being a teacher, especially one who taught of spiritual things. Because of this, some people were striving to be teachers that should not be teachers and that is the reason that James tells many of us that we shouldn't presume to be teachers. This also goes along with him pointing out that teachers will be judged more strictly, similar to what Paul mentioned to Timothy (1 Timothy 3:1-3). This is one of the reasons I believe it is necessary for leaders to strive for a higher standard.

Vs 3-12 "Taming the Tongue": it is crazy to think about how small the tongue is and yet how big an impact it can make on our lives and the lives of those we come in contact with. Our words have the ability to inflict a considerable amount of damage, as a "small spark" can completely destroy a "great forest". Our words also have the power to bring about healing and reconciliation (Proverbs 15:1). I wonder how many of us have had the experience of having our words get us into a situation we never intended to be in or doing things we never thought we'd do. As James mentioned in vs 6, our words can set the "whole course of [our] life on fire". If only we would take James' advice his gives us in chapter one to be "quick to listen, slow to speak" (1:19). And the thought that we talk trash about people and praise God with the same mouth is something we need to take some time to think about, as we are reminded that "this should not be" (3:10). Do your words bring about healing or hurt?

Vs 13-18 "Two Kinds of Wisdom": we must determine if someone is wise by the life they lead and be reminded that the life we lead shows people where our wisdom comes from. There is heavenly wisdom or earthly "wisdom", they are quite different from one another and fairly easy to figure out which one people are living by, including ourselves. Heavenly wisdom has to do with things like humility, service, mercy, purity, peace, sincerity whereas earthly "wisdom" gets caught up in greed, envy, selfishness, and disorder. So, which wisdom are you choosing to live by? Sure, you and I respond by saying, "The heavenly kind!" but in reality, which one do our actions and words testify to? Have you ever had someone tell you they think you are wise? Why do you think they thought that?

October 19, 2009

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Intentional Faith Development

Week three of the series based on Schnase's book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations brings us to Intentional Faith Development. As always, feel free to share your thoughts, questions and comments.

Intentional Faith Development

This is my favorite of the five practices because I really like the word "intentional". It conveys the message that we must decide whether or not to make our faith development a priority and be disciplined to follow that priority up with action. "Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action toward an end, and high prioritization" (Schnase, 68). If we desire to see our faith grow then we must be deliberate in doing things to see that happen. We cannot passively sit in the pew on Sunday mornings and expect our faith to magically develop. Schnase points out that the Christian faith is not static but dynamic (64), it is always moving, either closer to Jesus or away from Him but never stagnant. That's why the cultivation of our faith is so important.

Another crucial aspect in the intentional development of our faith is community. Christianity is not intended to be lived out in solitude, we need to be part of a community of believers that will encourage, challenge, support and hold us accountable. We read things like "as iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17) and accounts of the early church community of how they "devoted themselves to...fellowship" (Acts 2:42-47) and see how important community is for faith development. Being involved in community is a way of "placing ourselves in the hands of God so that God can sculpt our souls and recreate us in the image of Christ" (Schnase, 78).

When I read how Paul is "imploring [us] on Christ's behalf" to "be reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:16-21) I begin to see the importance of faith development. The idea that you and I could help reconcile someone to God is HUGE! I must first be reconciled to God in order to help someone else be reconciled to Him and in order to do that, I have to take the development of my faith seriously.

So, honestly, how important is your faith to you? How much of a priority is your relationship with Jesus? Who are you learning from and who are you teaching? I don't ask these questions to make you feel guilty but to have you honestly think about where your faith is, where you want it to be and how you are helping the community of believers grow in their faith.

October 15, 2009

New vs. Renew

I know this is a question that has been around for a long time. Is it better to start something new or attempt to renew something that has been going for a while? Whether it's a brand, a business, a ministry...it's a tough call to know when to scrap something and start over or when there is enough of a foundation in place that renewal is the way to go.

I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately as I hear about more and more new churches that are starting when there are a large number of churches that currently exist but are dieing. Hence the question, is it better to start something new or attempt to renew it? I can see value in both but I wonder when is one approach better than the other especially when it takes so many resources to build and start something from scratch. Where is the line between fulfilling the mission of the Church and filling our egos? Is the reason that it is "easier" to start a new church/ministry rather than renew an already existing one enough?

I certainly do not claim to have the answers as I can clearly see how both options could be viable but I do believe we need to be checking our motives as we ask ourselves this very basic question. I also understand that each situation/church/ministry is different and can be unique but it seems like the general philosophy of people (church leaders) is to opt for the 'new' option over the 'renew' one. I'm not saying this is necessarily wrong but I'm not convinced it is necessarily right either.

So, what do you think...whether you are a church leader, pastor, someone who attends church regularly or not at all, what makes the decision for you to go New or Renew?

October 13, 2009

James 2

Our five week study through the book of James continues by taking a look at chapter 2. (I am using the NRSV)

James 2

Vs 1: once again we see James coming out swinging. Notice that he calls into question the very faith we claim to profess if/when we show favoritism. This is clearly not to be taken lightly.

Vs 3: in the Greek "take notice" = to look on with favor, have regard for
Vs 4: in the Greek "distinctions" = to pass judgment

Vs 12: what does it mean or look like to you to be "judged by the law of liberty?" A couple passages to checkout in regards to the "law of liberty": Luke 4:17-19; John 8:31-32; Romans 8:1-4; Galatians 5:1, 13-15.

Vs 14-26 "Faith and Works": it is often misunderstood that James and Paul are in disagreement about the relationship between faith and works. Some read this passage from James and hear him saying that one is saved through works while others see passages from Paul (ie. Romans 3:27-28; 5:1-2) and read that salvation comes through faith alone. From this point of view it does seem like there is a contradiction between the two but when one takes a closer look one can see that they are actually on the same page just talking to different groups of people at different stages in their faith journeys. Paul is addressing a group of people who are new to the faith whereas James is talking to people who claim to have been believers for some time. Paul is pointing out that no one can earn their salvation by doing good works but that salvation comes through faith in Christ alone. James is not denying this fact but rather is challenging those who have been Christians for a while to start living out their faith. He is making the point that if our faith does not change the way we speak and act then it is dead. Paul is talking to "young" Christians about salvation and James is talking to "older" Christians about living out that salvation. James is challenging us to make faith not just an intellectual exercise but a way of life. We are not saved by good works but for good works. The question comes down to who do we trust for our salvation, God (faith) or ourselves (works)?

Vs 20: in the Greek "senseless" = without any basis, without truth or power

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Passionate Worship


This week was the second week in our church's five week series around the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by Bishop Robert Schnase, with Passionate Worship as the focus. Feel free to share your thoughts or comments.

Passionate Worship
Schnase mentions that worship is not merely an attempt to fit God into our schedules but rather a seeking to meld our lives into God's (34). He goes on to say, "Worship bends hearts toward God as it stretches hands outward toward others" (35). I like the idea of worship as laying our hearts before God while being aware of and sensitive to the needs of others, to the point where it helps shape our worldview. Schnase describes it as seeing things "through God's eyes" (39).

As I spent some time preparing to lead a study on Passionate Worship I came across something I thought to be pretty interesting. One of the words used in the Greek for "worship" is proskuneo which is derived from the meaning "to kiss the hand, like a dog licking his master's hand". Now, minus the dog licking part, I think this could be a powerful image of what worship might look like; allowing our hearts to fall prostrate before God while kissing Him on His outstretched hand. When viewing worship this way it becomes a blessing for us to bless God.

Sometimes I wonder if we have put worship in a box. What I mean by this is the tendency we have to think of worship as something that only happens on Sunday mornings (or maybe an evening depending on how "contemporary" your church is) and no other time throughout the week. We have squeezed the whole idea and concept of worship into a 60min block of time. I think this is to misunderstand what worship truly is. Does worship happen on Sunday mornings, of course (at least it should) but does it only happen on Sunday mornings, NO. Paul describes worship as being "living sacrifices" (Romans 12:1-2) so that in everything we do we have the opportunity to "do it all for the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). That sounds like a lot more than just 1 hour a week.

So, as you think about your Monday or your Thursday or Friday, are you finding ways to worship God even on those days? The act of worship is not confined to a particular time or day, it is a part of who we are everyday as we follow Jesus. Don't wait until Sunday to do what you should already be doing today.

Google Wave

Some of you have seen or noticed the talk about Google's new collaboration suite called Google Wave. You may have also noticed that I have been trying to beg an invite, because at this point Google has made it "invite only". So, if you want to float an invite my way, I'd be cool with that.

If you're wondering what exactly Google Wave is, here's a video I saw on a friend's blog that does a good job of explaining it.



Let the invites begin.

October 8, 2009

James 1

Last week I started leading a five week study through the book of James. I will be posting thoughts, questions, and comments from our discussions that happen each Wednesday night throughout our time with James. (I would have posted sooner but just recently recovered from a scratched left eye that had me operating with just one eye, quite poorly I might add.) Please feel free to use this as a place to share your thoughts and questions through our study of James as well.

Background context of James
A couple things to point out before we jump in...

-the author of this book is James, the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:18-19) also known as "James the Just"
-initially James did not believe Jesus was who He and others said He was and it was the Resurrection that convinced James otherwise (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
-not long after his conversion James was chosen by Peter and John to be the leader of the Church in Jerusalem and even met with Paul and Barnabas over the Gentile controversy (Acts 15:1-21)
-James wrote his letter sometime between AD 47-49 more than likely from Jerusalem

James 1

Vs 2-12 "Trials": notice the pattern that is described, trials > stronger faith > perseverance > develops maturity which includes asking and receiving wisdom from God.
Vs 8: in the Greek "unstable" = restless...is it possible that when we find our minds being split between the things God wants and the things we want we find ourselves getting restless?
Vs 12: James' reference of or to a Beatitude (Matthew 5:10-12)

Vs 13-18 "Temptation": notice another pattern that is given, self desire > lures us away > deceives us (Greek impregnates) > sin > attempts at justifying > full-grown sin > death. This image of being impregnated, giving birth and allowing sin to "grow-up" is a powerful image to not only childbirth but raising the child. If we allow this pattern to continue in our life we will be forced to deal with the pain and hurt that "full-grown" sin produces, which eventually leads to death.
Vs 14:
in the Greek "desire" = longing, craving or passion...

Every thought-seed sown or allowed to fall into the mind, and to take root there, produces its own, blossoming sooner or later into act, and bearing its own fruitage of opportunity and circumstance. Good thoughts bear good fruit, bad thoughts bad fruit.

~from As a Man Thinketh by James Allen
Vs 19-21 "Anger": not so much another pattern as it is a sort of formula, listening (to understand) + silence + patience = an aspect of a righteous life. How much drama could we avoid in our homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, churches, schools, etc. if we would actually do this?!? If only we would be more willing to listen to someone in an attempt to understand where they are coming from or their perspective instead of always wanting to share our opinions or "advice" we might actually be able to accomplish some things. Someone brought up in our discussion the idea of reacting vs. responding. We are ready to react but when it comes to being willing to patiently respond, that's another story.

Vs 22-25 "Doing": here a connection is made between faith and practically living it out. The deception comes when we fail to enact the things we learn from the Word. It is not the Word that deceives but ourselves when we fail to live by it.
Vs 25: "law of liberty" brings about freedom. It is only by continuing in this Law of Love that true freedom is found. The Greek for "continues" is = persevering, to remain beside, or abide. What a powerful thought of abiding in God's Law of love...loving Him with everything we are and everything we have; and our neighbors as ourselves.

Vs 26 "Tongue": the Greek for "rein" = hold in check. The power of the tongue cannot be ignored or overlooked, it can even deceive our hearts to the point of making our faith "worthless" (Greek = idle, empty). Think of the difference that could be made in the world if we would actually check the things we say while being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry". This stuff has the ability to transform lives and relationships.

Vs 27 "Treating the Unfortunate": in the Greek "distress" = difficult circumstances. If we think this means we only need to care for orphans and widows than we are sadly mistaken, they happened to be the most neglected individuals in James' day, especially in the life of the Church. It's clear that those who are neglected in our day, inside and outside of the Church, include more than orphans and widows, though many of them are still neglected today.

October 1, 2009

Drive Much?

I'm sure you've heard recently that the Department of Transportation is hosting a Distracted Driving Summit in Washington D.C. yesterday and today with one of the main topics being the issue of texting and driving. I must confess before I go any further that I have been guilty of texting and driving but a few weeks ago decided I would not do it again for two main reasons; 1) safety and 2) annoyance & frustration.

1) Safety
Clearly I am not being as safe a driver as I could be if my attention (and eyesight) is taken off the road because I am texting. I think there is a significant difference between talking on a cell phone while driving and texting while driving. Talking on my cell phone requires very little attention from my eyes resulting in them remaining fixed on the road whereas with texting, I have to keep looking at my phone as I type and not at the road as I drive.

2) Annoyance & Frustration
I am originally from Michigan. It has been said that Michigan drivers are more aggressive than others. So, my second reason for not texting and driving might have something to do with my motherland but I think it also has to do with the fact that, on an almost daily basis, I encounter an individual who's driving is annoying and frustrating to say the least. Whether I'm heading into the office or going home it is almost a given that I will be driving the speed limit (or at least around it) while listening to NPR and have to either a) hit my brakes or b) go around an individual who is messing with his/her cell phone. I do not experience road rage but this drives me crazy! I refuse to be one of those drivers who drives under the speed limit because I am distracted by my phone or drifts from lane to lane because of that all-important text I just got or sent (which probably looks something like "omg nw. idk my bff jill?")

So, if you drive around the Indianapolis area and could do me a favor, stop texting and driving because I would feel really bad if I got annoyed or frustrated with you. Don't make me a bad guy.

September 29, 2009

Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality


Our church this past Sunday started a series based upon the book by Robert Schnase entitled The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. In conjunction with the sermon series our Sunday morning class is studying through the five practices that Schnase talks about as well. The topic for this past Sunday was "Radical Hospitality". Over the next few weeks you will see posts talking about these five different practices as we discuss them in class. Feel free to share your thoughts, questions or comments as we go.

Radical Hospitality
Schnase talks about hospitality as a distinguishing mark of a disciple of Christ. It would be hard to deny the outward focus of Jesus' hospitality. You don't have to look far to see example after example of this throughout the Gospels. My favorite story of this is when Jesus interacts with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26), what an incredible picture of hospitality.

"Jesus' example of hospitality demands an unceasingly invitational posture that we carry with us into our world of work and leisure and into our practice of neighborliness and community service" (Schnase, 14). As a Christian, we are required to be hospitable but never as an end in itself. Hospitality is simply a means by which we might help connect people to the person of Jesus. See, it's by being hospitable that helps others see that you and I are not only approachable but actually care about them. This gives us the opportunity to build relationships, relationships which can lead people to begin a relationship with Christ.

This book is targeting congregations and suggesting five different things they might practice in order to be fruitful. What I am hoping to do is make these five practices extremely personal. My thought behind this is that if you and I practice these things as individuals, for example when we are hospitable, our churches can't help but be places of hospitality because it's a part of who we are. We have got to help people see that they are not in this alone. With all of the mess so many of us must deal with in life, imagine how much of a difference it can make for someone when they realize there is a community waiting to invite them in.

September 25, 2009

The Beatitudes Part 5

This is the final post in "The Beatitudes" series.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9)

The thought of being a "peacemaker" (or a "repairer of the breaches") is both exciting and humbling to me. Exciting because it means that I can really make a difference by the way I treat others and humbling because at times it seems nearly impossible to think that I could ever bring about peace. Chances are not likely that I will bring about world peace but that doesn't mean I can't bring about peace in the little world that I live in. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:16-18 and even says, "as far as it depends on you" which means that though I can't control other people, I can control what I do when it comes to making peace.

In what ways can you bring about peace in your world? Who do you need to repair the breach with?

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:10)

The first thing we need to take note of is that the persecution comes "because of righteousness" not because we are jerks, judgmental, or condemning. The reason for the persecution is critically important. This is persecution that comes as a result of trying to follow Jesus, nothing more and nothing less. Like when following Christ goes against the grain of society, culture or even our family and friends and we catch flack for it. Jesus told us it would be like this because it was like that for Him and to think that He was persecuted but we won't be is naive. It is hard to follow Jesus, to believe otherwise is misguided but blessed are those who continue to try even when it hurts for the gain is great.

September 23, 2009

"Self Help"

Our culture provides us with so many ways of dealing with stuff before we end up leaning on God. It's as if society wants to keep us from realizing our desperate need for God and make fools of us by tricking us into thinking that we can somehow take care of things on our own.

Take the whole concept of "self help" for example. I mean, if you really think about it, it doesn't even make sense. The idea that we can somehow help ourselves get out of the mess that we more than likely created in the first place but didn't help ourselves get out of before we realized we could "self help" ourselves out of is absurd.

Even when we look at the two words separately...

Self - What would ever make us think that we would have the ability to get ourselves out of certain situations, habits, patterns, etc.? We've already seen what happens when it depends on us, we end up in some sort of messy situation, habit, pattern, etc. When left to our own devices, we're only going to experience despair, frustration and sorrow.

Help - Isn't the very notion of 'help' getting assistance from somewhere or someone else other than ourselves? Otherwise we wouldn't need 'help' in the first place. If we truly think we can help ourselves than we're only going to experience disappointment, confusion and pain.

I don't think it's until we realize that we can't make it on our own, that the only thing we really have to fall back on is the strength and grace that God provides, that we'll begin to experience the kind of help that will make any sort of difference in our lives.

September 22, 2009

Backspacer

Pearl Jam just released their ninth studio album entitled "Backspacer". As some of you might know, I am a fairly big fan of PJ and have seen them live a total of six times (so far), the most recent in Chicago a few weeks ago with my brother (@JLipan). Despite all of this, I would like to think my review of their most recent effort will be fairly objective but I guess you can be the judge of that.

The first few tracks on the album come with a distinctively upbeat feel to them with a hint of punk which seem to echo band frontman Eddie Vedder's lyrics, "I'm gonna shake this thing, I wanna shake this pain before I retire" from the first track Gonna See My Friend. This followed by Got Some and The Fixer, both of which I got to see performed live at their Chicago show. The energy is high right out of the gate and the music is in your face without being obnoxious.

The remaining tracks on this album sustain the level of energy but seem to really showcase Vedder's vocals, not unlike his solo work for the soundtrack "Into The Wild". This sounds especially true on the tracks Just Breathe, Amongst The Waves, Unthought Known and Speed Of Sound. These tracks are intermixed with songs like Supersonic and Force Of Nature which lean back to the punk/rock side of things.

Overall I have really enjoyed the album, apart from the album cover art. I was honestly not expecting to like this album very much but am finding the more I listen to it, the more I really like it as a whole. Of course there are some songs I like much more than others but there isn't one on "Backspacer" that I particularly don't like, which is cool. I think it really has "play all the way through" value. I'm having a hard time deciding whether Just Breathe, Amongst The Waves or Speed Of Sound is my favorite track on the album so feel free to help me out by giving this album a listen. I would recommend checking it out.

September 20, 2009

The Beatitudes Part 4

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." (Matthew 5:7)

Like forgiveness, mercy is one of those things that if we're honest, we want and even expect people to show us unconditionally but then when it comes to us showing mercy to others, we like to hold onto it like we have the power to give or take. It becomes pretty clear throughout scripture that if we want to be shown mercy, showing mercy to others would definitely be in our favor. James 2:12-16, 1 John 3:16-18, Matthew 6:14.

I think the James passage gives an interesting perspective on showing mercy. So, what opportunities do you have to show someone mercy? Family, friends, co-worker, neighbor, stranger...? If you expect to receive mercy, can people expect to receive mercy from you?

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matthew 5:8)

First, I've got to ask what "pure in heart" means to you? Is it even possible? In the discussion about this Beatitude in our Sunday morning class someone brought up the thought of being "of one substance, not a mixture or contaminated." A pretty powerful description if you think about being one in will, purpose and desire with Christ and not allowing ourselves to be "contaminated" by other things.

Feel free to share any thoughts, questions or comments you might have on "Beatitudes Part 4".

September 15, 2009

The Beatitudes Part 3

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." (Matthew 5:5)

Webster's Dictionary defines meek as: "1. enduring injury with patience and without resentment; 2. deficient in spirit and courage; 3. not violent or strong". None of these sound particularly attractive. The word that is used in the Greek is 'praus' which is a "mildness of disposition" or "gentleness of spirit", which sounds much better than a deficiency of spirit if you ask me.

What does meek look like to you? The idea of being meek flies right in the face of current culture and yet it seems like there might be some wisdom in Jesus' idea of having a gentle spirit. How often have you and I wished that some of the people we have encountered had treated us with a gentle spirit? How many times have you and I had the opportunity to treat others with gentleness but instead acted selfishly one way or another?

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." (Matthew 5:6)

While I'm on the Greek kick...hunger = 'peinao' as a metaphor means "to seek with eager desire" and thirst = 'dipsao' figuratively means "those who painfully feel their want of, and eagerly long for, those things by which the soul is refreshed, supported, strengthened."

I can't help but look at these definitions and think to myself if I am really seeking with eager desire those things that will refresh and support my soul. I believe that it is only Jesus that can refresh and support my soul and so I must make it a point to desire Him. Do you and I have such a thirst for righteousness that nothing will quench it apart from spending time in God's Word, on our knees in prayer and in community with the Body as we strive to be the hands and feet of Christ to a world that is feeding its appetite with things that will only make it sick?

Jesus tells us that if we seek, we'll find (Luke 11:9-10)...so for the sake of those we encounter we must continue to seek Him and nothing less.

September 11, 2009

9/11

I was on my way in this morning to play basketball with some guys (at 6am! if you know me, you should be impressed by that...i'm just sayin') and saw a sign that was hanging off one of the overpasses on I-69 that read, "All gave some, some gave all." with the date 9/11/01 in the middle.

I'm wondering now 8yrs later, how we have changed as Christians and as the Church. Like other times of crisis in our lives did we fall on our faces before God seeking His presence and guidance only to have Him see us through so we could get back to "our" lives? The Church was reminded of its relevancy by people who were in need and despair. The need and despair still remains, does the relevancy of how we meet those needs and calm the despair?

I would be curious to hear about how the events of exactly 8yrs ago from this morning impacted your faith. Are there stories of how your faith was shaken or strengthened as a result? Did it cause you to have feelings of doubt and despair? Or was your faith solidified because you were able to see God's presence through it all? I think it could be meaningful and helpful for others to hear how the tragic events of 9/11/01 have impacted your faith, possibly even still today 8yrs later. Thanks for sharing!

September 8, 2009

rethink: Forgiveness

rethink forgiveness

Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” What if we rethink:forgiveness in a way that sees it as something to receive and give. Have you ever taken a moment to think about what it really means to forgive “just as in Christ God forgave you”?

Forgiveness is such an interesting thing. On the one hand we want and need it for ourselves and on the other we can find ourselves not wanting to forgive someone for the hurt they have caused us. When I rethink:forgiveness in light of the forgiveness I have been given in Christ, I am struck by the responsibility I have to forgive those who have hurt me. Not only that but as I read Jesus’ words in John’s gospel, “If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (20:23) I realize the weight of deciding to forgive or not to forgive. Jesus also said, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14-15).

You and I have the power to forgive because we have been forgiven, so why don’t we more often? If I hear Jesus’ words correctly, we’ve got to forgive if we want to be forgiven. We have got to rethink:forgiveness to the point of seeing that we have no place to condemn and instead are called to forgive.

To forgive, really forgive, means convincing ourselves deep down that we merited the wrong done to us. What is more, it is good to suffer in silence. Jesus taught that the beatitude is reserved for those who are persecuted for the sake of justice.

~From Letters from the Desert by Carlo Carretto