January 30, 2010

A Prayer of William Barclay

O God, we thank you for all those in whose words and in whose writings your truth has come to us.
    For the historians, the psalmists and the prophets, who wrote the Old Testament;
    For those who wrote the Gospels and the Letters of the New Testament;
    For all who in every generation have taught and explained and expounded and preached the word of Scripture:
We thank you, O God.

Grant, O God, that no false teaching may ever have any power to deceive us or to seduce us from the truth.
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would encourage us to think sin less serious, vice more attractive, or virtue less important;
Grant, O God, that we many never listen to any teaching which would dethrone Jesus Christ from the topmost place;
Grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which for its own purposes perverts the truth.

O God, our Father, establish us immovably in the truth.
Give us minds which can see at once the difference between the true and the false;
Make us able to test everything, and to hold fast to that which is good;
Give us such a love of truth, that no false thing may ever be able to lure us from it.
So grant that all our lives we may know, and love, and live the truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


~From Prayers for the Christian Year by William Barclay

January 25, 2010

Pub Theology

I know it's been around for a while, church sponsored small groups that meet in local pubs or bars to discuss theology, the Bible and issues of faith. I understand one of the points of doing small groups in a setting like this is to engage individuals who otherwise might not join a small group to discuss theology, let alone enter a church building. I personally have never participated in a group like this (not because I'm against it, simply because I just haven't) but would be curious to hear your thoughts...so, what do you think about small groups that meet in pubs to drink beer (I'm making an assumption that some type of fermented beverage may, on occasion, be consumed) and talk about God?

Is it a cool idea?
Could you care less?
Would you ever participate in a group like this?
Is it wrong?
Have you ever participated in a group like this, if so, how was it?

What questions do you have?

January 20, 2010

"Learning To Play"

This is the text outline from my sermon this past Sunday at our Sunrise Campus. It was the 3rd of a 5 part series entitled "It All Goes Back In The Box" (inspired by the book from John Ortberg entitled "When The Game Is Over It All Goes Back In The Box").


Joshua 1:6-9

Play By The Rules:
-Play with integrity

-Integrity is not the same as reputation or "sin avoidance"

-Matthew 18:8-9

-Be aware of sins of commission and sins of omission (so often we get focused on not committing sin that we sin by neglecting the things we should do, remember these words from James 4:17)

Play With Gratitude:
-The events of recent days in Haiti should serve as a poignant reminder of our need to do this

-Please checkout UMCORHaiti.org for more ways to help

-Luke 17:11-19 (live as the one that gave thanks)

Play With Your Mission In Mind:
-Your mission starts where you are

-Your mission is not about you

-Your mission will use your strengths (Exodus 4:1-5...God used Moses staff, the very thing he knew and drew strength from)

-Your mission will be connected to a deeper need
*Frederick Buechner writes that "generally the kind of work God calls you to is work a) that you need to do and b) that the world needs to have done. The place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet."

-Your mission means that God wants to use you
*Don't forget that Jesus chose a couple raggedy fishermen and a couple tax collectors as his closest disciples, he not only can but wants to use you

January 16, 2010

On Suffering

Driving back from my week long intensive 'Sacramental Theology' class at Asbury Theological Seminary with Dr. Stamps yesterday I was able to catchup on some recent podcasts that I haven't had a chance to listen to. One of those comes from The Village Church in Texas (of which Matt Chandler is the lead pastor) and happened to be a message from John Piper talking about the issue of suffering. In this particular context, Piper was talking specifically about the suffering the Chandler family and The Village Church was going through as Matt has recently begun a battle with cancer. In light of the devastation that has taken place in Haiti, the topic of suffering seems, as always really, to be quite timely.

The main text for Piper's message was Romans 8:18-25, a passage where Paul talks about the suffering of all creation and the future glory that will be revealed. It also helps, as Piper mentions, to put suffering in a global context which often times we can forget as we tend to focus on individual sufferings while also helping us see that suffering is a sort-of prerequisite for glory, which makes our present sufferings not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed (vs 18).

Piper spent time focused on vs 20-21, which is what really got me thinking. He came at this "subjection to frustration" from the perspective of God passing judgment upon humanity for sin in the form of disease, natural disasters, fragility and death. He points to The Fall in Genesis 3 and said, "God judiciously sentenced the world to what it is today, it was a judgment on the world in response to sin." Piper goes on to say, "God subjected creation to futility not because we wanted it but because it was right. All disease, tornadoes, floods are dramatic statements from the Creator of how serious sin is." Like Piper, I believe Paul was saying that God is the one subjecting creation and that it was right but I'm wondering if it was in judgment or love?

I absolutely agree that sin is detestable to God and that He is the Divine, Holy, and Just Judge of the universe. I guess I'm wondering if the subjection of creation to frustration was an act of love rather than judgment. I'm not saying that I disagree with Piper but maybe what I mean by this is that God as Love gave creation the freedom to choose, which opens up the possibility for making the wrong choice resulting in being subjected to disease, natural disasters and even death. We clearly made the wrong choice and as Love, God had to allow us to make that choice, even if it was the wrong one, and as a result live with the suffering consequences.

When I think about things like a tsunami that kills 250,000 people or an earthquake that kills possibly 50,000+ or even acts of murder and terrorism, I'm not sure I think of them as God causing them as a means of passing judgment upon His creation for our sin. Instead I think I see them as the aftermath of sin with God being the first to shed a tear at the hurt, loss and destruction.

Does God hate sin, YES! Will God judge His creation, YES! Are we found righteous because of Christ, YES! Is God Love, YES! Will we continue to experience suffering until creation itself is liberated from its bondage to decay (vs 21), YES! Is this hard for us to understand when we only know in part (1 Cor. 13:12), YES! Can we trust and hope in the One who is faithful, YES!

Welcome to the tension that is the Gospel.

January 11, 2010

Some Thoughts on Multi-Site Ministry

The context for some of my thoughts on multi-site church ministry comes from being an associate pastor at Castleton UMC that currently has 2 campuses located in Indianapolis about 6mi apart. I also had the chance to attend a mini-conference our church hosted this past Saturday for other multi-site UMC's in the area and hear their experiences doing multi-site.

The Pros
-multi-site provides additional space when the main site is full
-multi-site provides a venue for a different style of worship than what takes place on the main campus
-multi-site provides the opportunity to reach more and different people
-multi-site can provide the opportunity for churches that are growing, vibrant and effective to duplicate themselves and their ministry

The Cons
-multi-site can be extremely expensive (ideally look for a space that a current church member owns and will allow the church to use rent/lease free)
-multi-site can stretch church staff extremely thin
-multi-site can cause tension within the main campus congregation because they are not on board with the vision or ministry of the 2nd site
-multi-site can become misguided when the focus becomes a building and not a ministry

Thinking about this a bit more after our mini-conference on Saturday and working at a church that has been multi-site for about 5yrs now I've realized I still have some questions about the best way to make multi-site work. Of course I know there are some great churches that are doing the multi-site thing almost to perfection (Community Christian Church in Chicago or The Village Church in Dallas for example) but I think I'm questioning the process by which most churches become multi-site. It seems to me that the upfront planning and visioning is crucial to a successful launch of a 2nd site especially but also for a 3rd, 4th or 5th as well. One of the big hang-ups for me is the endgame of an additional campus, what is its purpose or goal? The more I wrestle with this the more certain or uncertain I become depending on the specific site. I will be sharing more thoughts on this idea and its relationship with the UMC specifically in an upcoming post.

Care to share your thoughts and/or experiences of multi-site ministry? Are you a church leader with a multi-sites? Do you attend a church that has multiple sites? Do you move between them? Why or why not? I'd love to hear any thoughts on this topic you have to share.

January 10, 2010

"Getting Things Set Up"

This is the text outline from my sermon this morning at our Sunrise Campus. It was the 2nd of a 5 part series entitled "It All Goes Back In The Box" (inspired by the book from John Ortberg entitled "When The Game Is Over It All Goes Back In The Box").


Philippians 2:1-11 will serve as the groundwork for our conversation this morning. From here we'll talk about 3 different things to keep in mind as we look at getting things set up in this game we call life.

One of the first things we want to know when setting up a game is How To Keep Score:
-We are by nature scorekeepers

-Our sense of the score influences the decisions we make, the attitudes we keep, and the perception of ourselves

-Examples of score keeping from scripture include: Cain & Abel; Leah, Rachel & Jacob; Saul & David

-We tend to keep score by comparing, competing and climbing

-Ortberg writes, "The problem with spending your life climbing up the ladder is that you will go right past Jesus, for he's climbing down" (p 45).

The Game Pieces:
-The two main pieces consist of the outer you (physical body, reputation, etc) and the inner you (character, spirit, soul)

-The outer is temporary, the inner is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:7-12, 16-18)

-Ortberg writes, “You look down at your hands one day and realize you’re looking at your parents’ hands” (48).

-There are plenty of ways to measure the development of the outer you, we must find ways to develop the inner you. A couple suggestions...
*self-examination and confession
*find friends that love you enough to speak truth into your life (in Christianese we call this an accountability partner, which I wrote about here)
*find time to be alone and listen to God
*examine your calendar and your checkbook

-A practical place to start is by spending as much time caring for the inner you as you spend on the outer you being reminded that the inner you is going to be around for a long time (Romans 8:35-39)

When It's Your Turn:
-Remember you don't control the game
*The story of Joseph & his brothers is a great example of not being in control (Genesis 37:12-36)
*When we not only recognize but embrace this, we can truly experience the freedom to love, to hope, and even relief from anxiety
*Galatians 5:1

-Remember that what you did in the past doesn’t determine the outcome of the game
*whether you won or lost the last game doesn’t matter
*free yourself from the guilt, habits, past mistakes or failures that are weighing you down
*”Sometimes we would rather complain about our ropes than untie them.” (56)
*the action doesn’t have to be amazing, just a concrete action

-Remember you can’t pass
*like Daniel, you and I have freedom to make choices though we don’t always get to choose the situation
*avoid falling into the “would haves” of regret: I would have loved more deeply, laughed more often, given more generously, lived more bodly
*Evaluate your convictions and your commitments, ideally where you commitments are is where your convictions lie
*Jesus makes it very clear that God and people are what matter

January 8, 2010

Shake It Off

Luke describes in the 10th chapter of his gospel (Luke 10:1-16) how Jesus sent out about 70 people into the "harvest field" of ministry. Their lone purpose was to tell the towns and villages they traveled to about the Kingdom of God. If the Good News of the Kingdom was welcomed there was peace and healing, if the message was rejected the disciples were instructed to tell the people, "Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near" (vs 11).

This passage (and a conversation w/a friend) got me thinking about the ministry involved in "shaking the dust from one's shoes" and moving on. It seems to me that there are times in ministry when we must shake the dust off and walk away. A couple important points to make about this before going any further...

-Notice that the 70 (or 72 depending on your version) made an attempt to engage in ministry before walking away.

-There are clearly some who will respond to the message of the Kingdom and others who won't. We must remember that this is not about you or me but rather about the news of God's kingdom.

-The kingdom of God is coming whether people accept it or not.

Has there ever been a time when you needed to walk away from ministry with someone? Do you think it's possible that shaking the dust off and walking away from a particular ministry situation is ever the best option? The more I think about it, the more I begin to see how the ministry of walking away could certainly be a powerful thing for everyone involved.

January 6, 2010

More Than Meets The Eye

One of the things that God has reminded me of over the past few months (and more recently the past few days) is that you and I often have no idea what kinds of things people are dealing with in their lives. This lack of knowing the whole story can result in doing or saying something that is unintentionally hurtful and insensitive or cause us to feel an unfair sense of frustration and anger toward someone.

The store clerk that seems to hate you specifically...just found out someone in her family is starting a battle with cancer.

The driver who cut you off and follows it up with a flip...is trying to cope with a relationship at home that is falling apart.

The individual at your church that seems to have everything put together...is working through an addiction that is on the verge of taking over his life.

Remember the story of Jesus talking with the woman at the well (John 4:1-26)? Jesus interacted with this woman in a way that was sincere, respectful, and full of grace...despite the fact that He knew the rest of the things this woman was doing and dealing with in her life, things that were not worthy of respect or grace. Think of the difference it could make if you and I were to approach people, conversations and situations with an attitude of humility and grace because chances are, we don't know the rest of the story.

January 4, 2010

The Wisdom of the Wise Men

The second chapter of Matthew's gospel tells us the story of the visit of the Magi (Wise Men) from the east to see the child Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Taking a closer look at the story shows us how wise the Wise Men really were and gives us some things we should be thinking about in the year 2010...

1. They were paying attention.
a. The Magi had clearly been watching the sky because they not only noticed the star but knew there was something special about it.
b. The first thing they did when they arrived in Jerusalem was to start asking questions, not just any questions but being aware of what was happening, they were able to ask the right questions.
c. They stayed focused on what mattered, recognizing that Jesus was worthy of being worshiped. Is Jesus your center?

2. They remained persistent.
a. King Herod was a well known tyrant and murderer but any fear the Magi might have felt when he asked to meet with them privately did not deter them from seeking and finding Jesus.
b. They continued to trust the star of Christ as their guide and were not swayed by the wisdom of the world. Are you allowing Christ to guide and direct your steps?

3. They worshiped with joy.
a. They allowed themselves to experience the joy that comes from worshiping Christ.
b. These men of great stature and prominence approached Jesus, as a baby, with humility and awe. How often do we do that today?
c. They did not leave their encounter with God incarnate unchanged. The fear of King Herod's wrath did not have a hold on them, they were overjoyed by this experience and nothing could take that from them. When we encounter the Spirit of Christ, do we come expecting to leave different? How often do you allow the joy that is yours through Christ be taken away by the cares of this world?

January 1, 2010

Something To Look Forward To

Not only have we started a new year but I happen to be turning 31 tomorrow. Now, I've been hearing lots of excitement and expectation about 2010 and while I can't explain it, I am finding myself feeling the same way.

A couple things I am looking forward to in this new year:

*I am looking forward to getting that much closer to finishing up my studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in pursuit of my Master of Divinity. It is a 96 credit hour graduate degree that I'm estimating after this new year I will have completed 83 of the 96 required. The light at the end of the academic tunnel is getting brighter and brighter.

*I am looking forward to another year of ministry as a pastor in the UMC. I believe that this year holds a lot of potential for the local congregation I serve, the Indiana Conference, the UMC as a denomination and the Church as a whole. I believe this year could serve as a point of reference. If we fail to step up to the challenges that face us and do not look for new ways of addressing these issues we will remember this new year as the year we missed it. The time is ripe for change, and not simply change for change sake but change that will bring about renewal, rejuvenation, and revival. We, as leaders in the Church, must recognize the need for new approaches, ideas, and styles in our ministries as well as our leadership. I'm looking forward to being a part of this exciting time of growth and change...or not?

*I am looking forward to meeting and connecting with you and others through my blog and different forms of social media. Connect with me on my Twitter account so I can follow your tweets. On Facebook? Shoot me a friend request. Riding the Google Wave? Hit me up at matt.lipan@googlewave.com. I am also working on putting together a live online streaming Bible study and discussion group called "Outside the Walls". I would love to have you join in on the study and discussion. I'm really hoping to get into a regular blogging routine because I think 2010 will be all about making connections.

Of course there are other things I am looking forward to in the year 2010 as a 31yr old but these were a couple that came to mind. What about you? What are you looking forward to in this new year?