Showing posts from July, 2015

"I have no intention of stepping foot in a church. Ever. For any reason."

"I have no intention of stepping foot in a church. Ever. For any reason." That's the conviction of an increasing number of people in Western culture. Europe is a little ahead of America in secularization, and in many ways we can look at Europe to see what America is on its way to becoming. With that in mind, what J. D. Greear writes in his new book Gaining by Losing is arresting (p. 30):
A British friend of mine, Steve Timmis cites a recent study in Great Britain in which 70 percent of Brits declare that they have no intention of ever attending a church service for any reason. Not at Easter. Not for marriages. Not for funerals or Christmas Eve services. For more than two-thirds of the people in Great Britain, nothing will carry them naturally into a church. In light of this, Steve comments:  That means new styles of worship will not reach them. Fresh expressions of church will not reach them. Alpha and Christianity Explored courses will not reach them. Great first impres…

The most important biblical key for thinking about heaven

Jesus once said that the love of money is the root of all evil. Can I be so bold as to wonder whether evil might have more than one such root? I keep bumping up against a recurring thought pattern that I think is as much of a root of evil as the love of money. It is:
Thinking we human beings are the center of everything, and that everything revolves around us. I mean, what is our favorite subject to talk about? Us. What do we think God is most concerned about? Us. What do we most want to talk about when praying? Us. What do we demand other people care about more than anything? Us. All I have to do is step back and look at the conversation I have had with God so far this morning, and I am confronted with plenty of evidence that I have been concerned with me/us more than anything else.

Obsession with "us" has plagued humanity since the fall, but we need to keep in mind that never has the love of "us" been so pronounced as it is in today's exceedingly narcissistic …

N. T. Wright on taking Jesus seriously

Two days ago I referenced a Patheos post by Drew Dyck (@DrewDyck) of Leadership Journal in which Drew argues that the church of tomorrow will be "stronger, smaller, and stranger" and will be populated by "upstream swimmers." Yesterday I commented further that upstream swimmers are people who take Jesus seriously as King not merely the Great Suggestion Maker.

Among influential voices urging us to take Jesus seriously is theologian N. T. Wright:
What would happen if we were to take seriously our stated belief that Jesus Christ is already the Lord of the world and that at his name, one day, every knee would bow? (Surprised by Hope, 144) If Jesus is Lord/King now, he will be Lord/King in the future -- and "then" means him appearing as judge over all the world. Jesus is to be taken seriously.

What difference does it make? A lot. When I was a kid and was home from school for summer vacation, knowing that dad was coming home from work around 5:00 affected everyt…

What would happen if we took Jesus seriously? Creating a church of upstream swimmers.

Yesterday I commented on a post written by Drew Dyck (@drewdyck) on Patheos that as American culture drifts further from Christianity, the church will get "stronger, smaller, and stranger." It will necessarily be populated by "upstream swimmers" who aren't afraid to think and act differently.

But differently how? What will be the drift-or-swim-upstream difference maker for the church of the future?

The more I preach and teach about Jesus, the more I become convinced of one thing:
The church in America simply doesn't take Jesus seriously If the church in America has a potentially fatal flaw, that's it.

I first noticed that we tend to take Jesus with a rather large grain of salt when I read over the Great Commission for about the thousandth time. But this time I heard a key word: Jesus said "everything."
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obe…

A "stronger, smaller, and stranger" church is in your future

The number of self-professing Christians in America is continuing to decline. The number of "nones" (people who are affiliated with no particular religion) is on the rise. Should Christians be alarmed?

In a post on Patheos that's worth your time, Drew Dyck (@drewdyck), managing editor of Leadership Journal, says no. In fact, the trends in American Christianity are actually encouraging. It's counterintuitive, but I agree with Drew. let me explain with some personal experience.

In 1992, Susan and I moved from Southern California to Dallas, Texas so I could begin my doctoral studies at SMU. We found life in the Bible Belt to be drastically different from what we had known before. In SoCal, it is not to one's social advantage to profess being a committed Christian. There are fewer "nominal" Christians (people who are Christian in name but not lifestyle). Contrast that with Dallas, where being a professing Christian was the social norm (I assume it still is)…

Most of what there is to know about God in two sentences

Are you ready for most of what the Bible says about God to be summed up in two statements?
One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard;
that you, O God, are strong,
and that you, O Lord, are loving
. (vv 11-12a)You, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving. This lyric is compact but loaded with meaning.
When the ancient Hebrews spoke of God as "God," they were often thinking of him as God over all creation. When they used the word "Lord," they were talking about how God had chosen to adopt them and walk with them specifically. "Lord" is a highly relational term, a title made possible because God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants. "Lord" tells a story. Psalm 95 says that the Lord is not just God but "our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care."
You, O God, are strong, and you, O Lord, are loving. If God is strong, he can do anything. If God is loving, he is for us. He wants us to th…

What would you most and least want Jesus to say to his friends about you?

Jesus said to his friends, "Beware the yeast of the Pharisees" (Mark 8, Matthew 16, Luke 12). For years I have puzzled over what he meant. Until today.

I think Jesus was essentially saying two things. One comes from the word "yeast," and the other from the word "beware."

"Yeast"... When Jesus said that the Pharisees had a certain kind of yeast, he was essentially saying that the Pharisees made a difference in that society. They were influential. Other people looked to them for answers. The ethos of the Pharisees permeated the rest of society the way a little yeast permeates a whole batch of dough. The Pharisees had a shared worldview, and it shaped the worldview of many people.

You have a certain yeast too. You make a difference in the lives of others. Your ethos permeates the world around you. Your worldview influences the worldview of others.

The same goes for your family. It has a certain yeast.

And your church. It has a certain yeast too. Its…

The American church is seeking the wrong people

Barking up the wrong tree. That's what most American churches are doing (and ours has been no exception). We try to fill our church communities with the wrong sorts of people.

In Matthew 19, a rich and upstanding young man approaches Jesus to see what he should do to inherit eternal life. By the end of their short conversation, Jesus tells the young man to sell what he has, give it away to the poor, and join the band of traveling disciples. The young man declines and goes away sorrowful that Jesus would ask such a thing of him. In essence, he chooses wealth and success over following closely after Jesus.

The Rich Young Ruler is just the kind of person you would want around. He is successful, well connected, and upstanding. He is followed by a track record of good deeds. But his love of his own lifestyle is his fatal flaw. And the thing is, most American churches are out to fill their rolls with just this sort. In fact, many churches are run by Rich Young Rulers who grow older and …

How to tell a loving insult from a sinful insult

Is it Christian to insult people? That was the question I raised in yesterday's post. I want to comment on it a little further.

We get a lot of help from Merriam-Webster, where 'insult' is defined as:

to do or say something that is offensive to someoneto do or say something that shows a lack of respect for someone Jesus openly insulted people on almost a daily basis, but he did so in sense #1. To call the Pharisees "white washed tombs full of dead men's bones" was one of seven ways Jesus offended them in Matthew 23. Speaking to the general public, Jesus offended their sense of righteousness all through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus told it like it was, and some of what he had to say was offensive.
To insult someone in sense #1 is not a sin. It is sometimes necessary.
By the same token, just because you are offended doesn't mean someone is sinning against you. It may be what you need to hear.
On the other hand, I can't think of any circu…

Is it Christian to insult people?

What would you do if you got to enjoy a few minutes with a famous celebrity, and he/she took to insulting you without provocation?

When I was in college, my summer job was working in the pro shop of a local country club. Free golf all summer -- I was in hog heaven. At this club, we hosted an annual weekend tournament in which famous senior golfers played along with club members. For the members, this was a great thrill. However, it didn't always turn out so well. I remember standing alongside one of the tee boxes one morning when Sam Snead's foursome was about to tee off. One of the members, a respected man at the club, had worn pink slacks and a pink shirt that day. No doubt he had picked the outfit especially for his big day with Snead, one of the greatest golfers the world has ever known. On the tee box, Snead mocked the man's outfit and said, "Go ahead and hit, Pinkie." Those of us within earshot of this exchange cringed and felt sorry for the member, who had…

A case for commuting to church on Sunday mornings

I pastor a church of commuters. In fact, I'm a commuter myself, and it's something I've been thinking about recently. Here's a partial case for commuting to church on Sunday mornings.

By the way, I'm bucking the most prevalent counsel in today's church world -- that you should go to church close to your house. There's certainly a lot of wisdom in weaving together your church community with your school, neighborhood, social, and recreational community. However, Jesus never subscribed to that recipe.

In Luke 11, Jesus lauds the "Queen of the South"  (i.e., the Queen of Sheba according to 1 Kings 10:1) because she came from "the ends of the earth" to hear the wisdom of Solomon. That is, the Queen traveled from present-day Yemen some 1400 miles to hear Solomon's legendary wisdom. That's being intentional!

We might ask, what would have been the most convenient, comfortable, and face-saving thing for the Queen of Sheba to do? Stay home…

They were happy when Jesus left

How someone leaves makes a lasting impression on others. Picture spending the evening with a group of friends and at some point, everyone looks around and says, "Hey, where did Josh go?" Exiting unannounced leaves everyone wondering whether Josh was angry or hurt or something.

How we exit communicates a lot to our friends. Disappearing destabilizes the group. The slam of a door and loud cuss words creates conflict. Hugs and fond farewells bestow peace and love.

Let's think, then, about how Jesus exited and what it communicates.

In Luke 24 and Acts 1, Luke describes the ascension of Jesus. Between the two accounts, here are the facts:

A few weeks after his resurrection, Jesus was with a gathering of friends outside Jerusalem.He told them what their divine mission was. They would be his representatives there in the city and elsewhere even to the ends of the earth. And he told them how they would be equipped for their mission: the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they w…