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passion recap #3

February 11, 2011

let’s say a father wants his son to clean his room (the son’s room, that is). i know, i’m the only one actually saying it, but we’ll just run with this. anyway, the father tells his son, “son (okay, he might be a little detached), clean your room.” and the son walks off. about an hour later, the son walks out and the father says, “well?” and the son responds, “you said, ‘ son, clean your room.'” overjoyed, the father runs to his son, picks him up, and roars, “well done, son! you actually memorized what i said!”

this illustration from Chan the Man communicates the attitudes of many Christians nowadays. the clarion call of many teachers is to know what the Word says and not do what it says. many have the misguided notion that Bible study is an end in itself, but it is in fact just the beginning of a path that leads toward glorifying God. it doesn’t matter how many passages you memorize or how often you read your Bible if no fruit comes from it. the greatest evidence for that is in the fact that you can know more than anyone about the words of the Bible and still have no idea who God is. serving the Lord and having a relationship is about pursuing knowledge of Him with the intent of benefiting that service and growing in that relationship. so when we study and memorize, it can’t be just for the sake of knowing stuff, or as the case is with me sometimes, to show off our knowledge. i’ll tell you right now, it’s one of the worst things in the world to do the right “Godly” things in pursuit of your own glory. however, when we study and memorize in order to keep God’s word in our hearts and give Him the glory, He will bless that action like we wouldn’t believe.

i’ve just decided that this post will be a two-parter because i just thought of a related topic:

“unquotables” (aka clichés are stupid) #6

“fake it until you make it”

if you ask some people, they will tell you that the best way to become deep and passionate in the Word is to just read. even if you don’t feel it and your heart isn’t in it, just read, because if you just do that enough, eventually you’ll actually want to do it. that’s what i like to call grade A bolog-na. God doesn’t work with empty actions, He works with a willing heart. empty actions don’t turn into genuine passion, they either die away or just become more empty. either way, all you have in the end is wasted time in God’s word. i know because i’ve tried it. i’ve been that guy who just read his Bible for the heck of reading it and is just bred more phoniness.

don’t fake it, mainly because you won’t make it. pray.

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Young Dudes Must Preach at Funerals

January 22, 2011

It is a unique blend of honor and misfortune to preach at a funeral.  Though I have not performed the ceremony of nearly as many memorials as most preachers, I am currently within a span of ten days in which I will preach at three different services.  Each will and have proven to be significant and special.  However I believe that there is a common bond of privilege and sadness within each.  As a young preacher I have come to embrace this rare combination of pain and hope as a necessary piece of my own spiritual formation and as a instrumental part of my development as a herald of Christ.

Often within this guppie stage of ministry I am inclined to see things as black and white.  A particular message may bring a specific kind of passion out of me and another a particular angst.  Usually I can determine whether a specific Scripture should be delivered with joy or sorrow; indictment or encouragement; “come on man!” or “atta boy”.  Actually I pride myself in this.

Curiously preaching at funerals are never as clear to me.  I am honored to have been asked to speak from the Word in the midst of such a trying time.  It is humbling to be called upon by a grieving family for gospel encouragement.  Combined with such a humbling honor is the stark reality of death and loss.  Funerals are not simply times for celebrating as many Americans would like to believe.  Death is hard, painful, evil, sad, complicated, frustrating, and inevitable.  So while I am honored to preach the hope of Christ, I am also pained and sobered by the reality of death.

This is a very good thing.  Every gospel message should be laced with the tension of life and death.  The complexity which is clear at funerals must be clearly felt in every sermon.  Unfortuantely the tension is more vivid in a house of mourning.  Perhaps this is why Solomon said it was better to be in that house rather than a party house.  Truth is more apparent.

I would encourage any young preacher to preach at funerals, as often as you have the misfortune, so that every message we preach may be more aptly seasoned with the reality sin and the grace of God.

Theological teenagers shouldn’t preach

January 15, 2011

I began reading a very short little book that was a gift from my wife for Christmas.  It is a rather obscure book that I had on my wish list from seminary.  It is called “A little exercise for young theologians” by Helmut Thielicke.  In this book he discusses for both the lay person and trained minister how to approach theology.  So far it has been great.  But this one really hit me.

There is a hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena. (p. 10)

He depicts a first semester seminary student who before his formal training, teaches or preaches with what little he knows and his full of life.  It is good because of its liveliness even though it may lack theologian depth and exegetical precision.  However, they then become a student and now become filled with knowledge that often stifles and intimidates the lay person.  The problem is they lack spiritual maturity to match their knowledge.  As the scriptures say, “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Cor 8:1-3).

The caricature he lays out I found all too true and convicting.  Seminary students often are all too ready to offer their profound insights and are simultaneously blind to their own lack of character.  They identify with a particular theologian, or great saint of the past, assuming they have shared their experiences and know what they are talking about.  It often makes the faithful Christian with no formal training feel inferior because they do not possess the same “knowledge,”  as if you can only grow in Christ if you have been to school.  Unfortunately, those with vast amounts of knowledge are sometimes allowed to teach and preach in churches.  And this is where Helmut Thielicke offers his penetrating conclusion.

“Speaking figuratively, the study of theology often produces overgrown youths whose internal organs have not correspondingly developed.  This is characteristic of adolescence.  There is actually something like theological puberty.  Every teacher knows that this is a matter of signs of natural growth over which there is no need to become excited.  Churches must understand it and must have it explained to them in every possible way.

It is a mistake for anyone who is just in this stage to appear before a church as a teacher.  He has outgrown the naivete with which in young people’s work he might by all means have taken this part.  He has not yet come to that maturity which would permit him to absorb into his own life and reproduce out of the freshness of his own personal faith the things which he imagines intellectually and which are accessible to him through reflection.  We must have patience here and be able to wait.  For the reasons I have mentioned I do not tolerate sermons by first-semester young theological students swaddled in their gowns.  One ought to be able to keep still.  During the period when the voice is changing we do not sing, and during this formative period in the life of the theological student he does not preach.” (p.12)

Oh Lord forgive me for the times I have taught without true knowledge!  I have often taken pride in my own intellect and failed to see where my life does not correspond.  Forgive us for living off of the faith of saints we admire.  May we live by your very word and may our love exceed our knowledge.  Let your Spirit sanctify us and conform us to the likeness of Christ, that by your grace we may teach as ones with authority.  Amen.

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Helmut Thielicke. A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962.

passion recap #2

January 13, 2011

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3

imagine a scale. not the kind you step on, but the kind you always see Blind Lady Justice holding with the two countering plates. on one side is the life which Jesus has called us to, defined by Grace and centered around the glorification of God’s Name. the other side holds the life you are currently living (or “walking”). if you’re anything like me, that scale is way off kilt.

no, i can’t take credit for that analogy, that was all Francis Chan. he literally brought a scale on stage, put it on the podium, and asked, “is your life of same worth as your calling?” that question was like an arrow of conviction straight in my chest. i know my very attitude doesn’t match up with my calling most of the time. the first thing that struck me was that i often don’t show the kind of joy that should be defining my life (i actually had someone think i was depressed not long ago). if i have been reborn and remade in Christ’s loving sacrifice, i should not be able to contain that joy and it should be evident to everyone around. the same goes for the Love, Hope, and Grace that we receive in order that we may be stewards of those very gifts.

in Romans 8, we read that we have been called according to God’s purpose. our calling is defined by the Sovereign God who created time. who invented music. who hand-crafted the creases in my forehead. this is the greatest call imaginable because it is, in fact, unimaginable. if we serve the greatest call known to man, it should look that way. how does that look? just look at verses 2-3 above. all humility and all gentleness, bearing with one another in love. are you eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit?

is your life worth it?

January 10, 2011

quick proviso: Passion is an annual conference where thousands of college-age folks (plus a few more aged peeps) gather to see several speakers and musicians as well as worship together. these popular figures include Louie Giglio, David Crowder* Band, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, John Piper, and a few more. it is also an opportunity for said college folks to contribute to causes championed by the Passion organization and also learn about these causes. this series is simply my retell of my personal take and experiences while at the conference.

i have the worst habit when it comes to worship. oftentimes, i cannot keep myself from overanalyzing and overthinking about, well, anything,. whether its whatever song i’m supposed to be singing, the decor of the room or just what i’m supposed to do next, my mind always seems to be any where but where it’s supposed to be. the worst thing, though, is when i analyze how everyone else is behaving at the time. whenever i see someone raising their hands in praise, i always have to think, well, they might be genuine, but they could also be faking it, but that is how some people worship, all i know is that if i did that it wouldn’t be genuine…blah, blah, blah… all the while not realizing i’m the one being fake.

overtime, i have discovered that distraction is a huge problem for me. i am so easily distracted, i often don’t even realize it’s happening until my time is completely wasted. during the worship sessions at Passion this year, my thoughts were getting in the way more than any time i can remember. the most damaging thing was that many of my thoughts seemed “legitimate.” they were things like, what exactly is this song saying? or, am i really being genuine? or, what kind of product does Crowder put in his hair? trying to get these thoughts out of my head just made me think more. trying to keep myself from thinking proved to be one of the most frustrating things i’ve ever attempted, because that in itself made me think. the whole time i just kept thinking, i just want to worship. let me worship! finally, within a desperate prayer, i forgot about all those things and just sang. i sang to God as loud as i could. any time some analytical thought tried to creep into my consciousness, i just pushed it back and sang even louder. in that hour, i defeated an enemy i didn’t even know i was facing-myself.

and yes, i lifted my hands in worship. and it was awesome.

unthinkable grace

December 15, 2010

i had an interesting crystallizing moment the other day. it started when i (rather foolishly) started thinking that i was not good enough for Grace. as i thought more, Satan reminded me of all the horrible things i’ve done and just how ridiculous it was that Christ would actually still accept me.

thanks be to God, though, that i quickly remembered Romans 11:6: “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” how dumb it is to think that i am not good enough for Grace! it was for all those wretched acts of mine that Christ died; if i was “good enough,” i wouldn’t even need Grace.

as foolish and short-lived that little bout was, it was still rather thought-provoking. i actually was a little right; while i don’t need to be good enough for Grace, i don’t come the slightest bit close to being good enough for Christ to even give me the time of day. that’s just how truly amazing His Grace is. it’s beyond amazing, really, if you think about it. many people believe in it, so it certainly isn’t unbelievable, but i think it must be as close to unbelievable as can be while still being believable (perhaps ‘unthinkable’ is the word). we humans, marred by sin, in very nature wretched and rebellious, have been given the most valuable thing conceivable; access to the Creator of All Things, the Lord of Heaven and Earth. if you think that someone has wronged you, no matter what it was, it is no match for what any of us have done to God. not only so, but we are so small and insignificant compared to God, it would be preposterous just to think that He would give us a second thought. even as i type, my words are constrained by the flimsy and ridiculously feeble English language. not only is this grace unthinkable, it is ineffable (notice how i can only definitely say what it is not?).

i think John Newton was right on: amazing Grace! how sweet the sound! …i once was lost, but now i am found; was blind, but now i see! you could make a list longer than an orangutan’s arm with phrases like that; was broken, now mended; was cast out, now reconciled; was separated from God, now bonded, you get the drift. Grace does so much for us that we do not come even close to comprehending. we have an unthinkable God with unthinkable Love who has given unthinkable Grace.

New Book Idea

December 9, 2010

Yesterday at our Downtown Location staff meeting Pastor Chris, Mikey (downtown worship leader), and I began to summarize what we have been learning over the past six months since launching the downtown service.  Our experiences have been all over the map from confrontations about our lack of welcome in the neighborhood to giving fifteen families food for Thanksgiving.  It has been an adventure.  The following is simply a title, subtitle, and chapter titles for our book idea.  It goes without saying that the book would be complete with front and back cover praises from Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, Max Lucado, and Jim Caviezel.  And we might even include a general quote from Dan Kimball about community…that would be cool.  I hope the follwing will be found with a great amount of levity and encouragement.

How to Plant a Church: The Necessary Ingredients of Culture, SubCulture, Climate, Rhythms, and Worship Missionality that Lead to Vibrant New Faith Communities

Introduction: Planning to Plant

Chapter 1: We don’t know what we are doing.

Chapter 2: We still don’t know what we are doing.

Chapter 3: We read some books, by some guys, who thought they knew what they were doing.

Chapter 4: They didn’t.

Chapter 5: If your honest, you don’t know what you are doing either.

Chapter 6: How to read your bible when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Chapter 7: How to pray when you don’t know what you’re doing

Chapter 8: Being okay with not knowing what you’re doing

Chapter 9: God knows what he is doing and Jesus will make sense of everything at the “parousia”