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.