"Dead or alive, you're coming with me."

- Robocop
How YOUR Good Fits Into HIS Purpose!

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

The preceding passage is referred to ALL THE TIME by people who are trying to have a positive outlook on their circumstances or who are trying to encourage others going through tough times. It's comforting to think that everything is working together for our good, that there's a "good" outcome to some of our most trying experiences.

There are a couple of points I want to make about this passage. First, I believe it's talking about followers of Christ ("those who love God"), redeemed by His blood, saved by grace through faith in Jesus alone. This point will hopefully become more credible when I present point two. I only mention it because I fear that people often use Scripture to encourage unbelievers that was meant to encourage the Church. Please don't interpret that as a selfish form of "keep away." Look at it this way: if all the passages in the Bible that are only true for believers are presented as applicable to unbelievers, there would be no need for salvation. So, it is dangerous to encourage a lost person as if they are alive in Christ. Rather, we should communicate to lost people that they are in need of Christ.

Secondly, the "good" or advantage that Paul is talking about is conformity to Christ's image. It's right there in verse 29! We know all these things work for the advantage of believers because ("for") God has determined that we be conformed to the image of Christ (this is the "His purpose" that we've been called to). Becoming more like Christ is our "good!" It is to our advantage to be like Jesus. Paul isn't trying to encourage us by saying our tough times and low points will lead to our idea of happiness sometime down the road and we just don't see it, yet. He's saying that we can become more like Christ through our trials and that very conformity is our good!

This perspective is what allowed Paul to rejoice during tribulations (Philippians 3:10) and is the key to our joy in tribulations, too! If you've been struggling to find joy in suffering because you can't see the "good" that you've been hearing about in Romans 8:28, take heart! KNOW that suffering in the lives of God's children allows us to become more like Jesus and there is nothing better or more "good" than that! It's for His (God's) purpose that we've been called, not our own!

He's risen and He's still alive!

Not exactly sure where I want to go with this post, but I've had some thoughts coming off of Resurrection Sunday that I'd like to try and unpack.

Mostly fueled by the Paschal Greeting, "He is risen!" To which the traditional response is something like "He is risen, indeed!" I did not know that this was a historically traditional greeting, but I thought as much. People at my church have said it for years so I knew it was tradition. I just didn't know it was Tradition. So, I looked it up and found out it even had a name.

Regardless, and with no intended slight on the historic tradition, I believe you can still "properly" celebrate the resurrection without correctly answering the prompt...

I was corrected Sunday when I responded with "Yes, He is!" I think I responded to someone else with, "And He's still alive today!"

As with many posts in the blogiverse, I'm sure I'm making a mountain out of a mole hill, but I think we had church members "quizzing" guests to see if they'd respond correctly. Not cool.

Like with most church traditions, we need to be careful to not lose sight of the meaning behind them. On Easter we celebrate not only that Christ defeated sin and death, but that He is STILL alive and seated on His throne! "Hallelujah!" is a perfectly acceptable response to "He is risen!" in my book.

The accompanying thought I had about Easter was to remind us all, two days after Easter "proper," that He's still risen! To draw a crude parallel, it's like the University of Texas tradition of announcing the current time while someone else responds with, "And OU still sucks!"

I hope we walk in the victory of Easter every day. That's why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that our preaching and faith are not in vain. We stand in the gospel, he says.

Let's not treat Easter (or Christmas) or any of the accomplished truths of the gospel as "fingers-crossed-hope-it-comes-true" stories. Some of these things should take less faith to celebrate than we're trying to muster...

They are recorded, past-tense, historical (and theological) actualities. Maybe I'm alone in this, but I often find myself acting/living in disbelief even as a believer! Probably a remedial reminder for most of you, but I was convicted this weekend of the truth we walk in already!

Embrace and trust in the completed work of Christ, beloved. Thanks for letting me ramble.

a proselyte's progress

The reading plan I'm working through has me in Exodus right now, and a week or two ago I was in Exodus 18.

I've read this passage before, but this most recent review made me think of it in a new way. The chapter begins with Jethro (Moses' father-in-law) and Moses' family reuniting with Moses (and the Israelites).

Moses testifies to Jethro about the things God has done (v. 8) and we see, what I believe, is Jethro's conversion!

Jethro believes in the one true God because his heart is convinced and then he confesses his faith (vv. 9-11). The next thing he does is praise and worship God with offerings and sacrifices (v. 12).

Shortly after that, Jethro gets involved in ministry (vv. 14-23). Then he returns to his homeland. I ASSUME he continued proclaiming the truth about the Lord from then on, and we know he was in community with those around him already!

I just thought this was a cool snapshot of the progression that happens in the lives of those who are saved by God. I know the order of things might come a little differently post-conversion, but many key elements are present: conversion, worship, community, service and proclamation!

If Exodus 18 had only included Jethro sitting down for a Bible study, we could package this system as "Jethro's Journey: What To Do Now That You're Saved!" Heh

"How's that cross feel?"

I was having a conversation with some fellow seminarians recently that got me thinking (believe it or not). This group of classmates was a mix of vocational ministers and laypeople and we were all discussing a recent trip to one of Houston's megachurches.

During our trip to this megachurch, the senior pastor led some sessions on how and why they do church the way they do. Many of his points were discussion worthy, but the one that I want to address here is his statement(s) about small groups in homes. He, if I understood him correctly, basically said that studying the Bible in homes does not work on a big scale.

I think the heart of his argument was that it's difficult to provide quality Bible teaching in an environment that is conducive to learning on a convenient schedule that fits the lives of SEVERAL families. (Enough qualifiers there?)

What seemed to stand out to me and some of my classmates was the idea that groups in homes are hard, so they "don't work" and we shouldn't pursue them. At least one of my classmates echoed the "megapastor's" sentiments that home groups pose too many problems logistically to be very effective.

This made me wonder, "What about Acts 2?" and "When did anyone ever say discipleship would be easy?" The message of Scripture, and especially of Jesus was that following Him would be difficult, painful and most likely inconvenient. Where did we lose that along the way? (Maybe I should remember from Church History...)

It's as if we've become tailors fitting Christians for the crosses they're to bear, "How's that feel? Nice and snug, but not too tight? Let me know if it's uncomfortable and we'll change it. We want you to feel the support and comfort of the cross, but not the suffering or persecution."

Hear me, I'm not arguing for self inflicted pain or asceticism. But it seems like a lot of church "strategy" is focused on making discipleship easier for people to embrace and fit into their lives. I know that we need to find ways to engage the culture, but I also know that we're not called to easy street in Luke 9:23.

Hear me again when I say I'm guilty of the very thing I'm indicting here. I just sense a dangerous trajectory in ministry that I'm sure has been around for years.

And I don't want people to lose sight of the fact that ministry and discipleship will probably be messy and will often be hard.

Jesus warned us:

Luke 14:25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

I know I haven't experienced a fraction of the persecution that I've read and heard about, so I hope to not offend those who have from where I sit. I simply wanted to put out a reminder and a caution.

When Jesus said "My yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:30), I believe He's referring to our Spiritual efforts. The work there is finished (John 19:30)! Hallelujah! Jesus has done the heavy lifting for us!

But following Him while on Earth isn't an effortless piggy-back ride as we seek to proclaim His great gospel with our lives. The commandments to love God with all that we are and our neighbors as ourselves aren't just mental exercises (Luke 10:27).

love is a choice, but it's not an option

I’ve had a lot of thoughts about love recently, because of several factors. Namely because I’m engaged to be married in March, I’m taking a seminary class that is covering marriage and family, and Valentine’s Day just passed. With this “perfect storm” of love-related activities, my sensitivities to “love” in the world around me have been heightened!

For instance, I heard a brief portion of a song on the radio the other day that was celebrating the frivolous escapades of youth and it made me laugh at (and probably self-righteously judge) what many people label as “love.” The relationships I am talking about are not lasting. There is no real substance to them and definitely not any real commitment. And yet, the parties involved feel that their emotions are so strong and real that it must be true love!

I know that when I decided to propose it was because I had a peace and strong conviction that I was ready to commit my life to my now fiancée. It’s a choice, but it’s also a commitment (meaning the choice is a final say, not to be rescinded). I believe this mentality is lacking from most of the world today. Not that I’ve cornered the market on covenant-keeping, but I understand the theory of the responsibility.

In the class I’m taking that deals with marriage and family, an idea from Gary Thomas’ Sacred Marriage really stood out to me. Thomas writes that if a person ever says they cannot love their spouse any more, they are basically choosing disobedience to God’s commandments. In Scripture we read that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25, 28, 33) and we read how wives are to love their husbands. In addition to these direct remarks on marriage, my wise professor pointed out that ALL believers are called to love one another (1 John 4:7), their neighbors as themselves (Mark 12:31) and, even if the marriage is really in trouble, their enemies (Luke 6:35).

So love, for the Christian, is not an option. It’s a command. Even, or dare I say especially, in the marriage relationship, because it’s a vow made in the name of God Himself.

I hope I’m not talking out of turn because I’m inexperienced, but I hate to see broken marriages. I know that God is a God of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19), and He demonstrates this in His great plan of redemption for sinners. His love is not conditional (Psalm 100:5 & Romans 5:8). He is committed to loving us and desires that we commit to love others. He loves us when we don’t deserve it and we should love others in the same way.

I’ve heard of real-life couples where one spouse suffers a great tragedy and the other spouse chooses to either stay in or leave the relationship. In fact the recently released movie and preceding book, The Vow, are based on a real-life couple like that. You can see in the trailers that the husband commits to trying to save the relationship even though his wife doesn’t remember him. He commits to woo her again because he vowed to provide for and support her and love her. Apparently the real-life couple was really disappointed that their faith wasn’t highlighted or even mentioned in the film (WARNING, there are spoilers in this article).

There are other very strong examples on both sides of this. I know of people who have stood by their disabled spouses and some who have chosen not to. I can’t imagine being in their situations, but I am always encouraged by those who remain and disheartened by those who do not. I think those that stay very powerfully demonstrate the faithfulness of God by living out faithfulness on earth.

On a different note, too many people try to justify breaking their vows because they “fall out of love” or “drift apart.” But wedding vows shouldn’t be subject to those kinds of emotions or felt needs. They should be cemented in a commitment to love others because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

It’s that overarching principle that supersedes the marriage relationship. Consider your “ability” to love others. Is there anyone in your life that you think you can’t love? Scripture doesn’t give us that option. This is particularly true within the Church (Galatians 6:10).

Think about this (and I know I've written this before):

If the Holy Spirit of God indwells every believer, how can He NOT get along with Himself? God has given us a spirit of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). If we find ourselves “incapable” of love, then, it’s because we’re lacking that spirit or just being disobedient.

Like I said, I don't have this down pat, but I am SO thankful that God’s love for me is unconditional and eternal, and I hope that I can become a more consistent reflection of that love toward others.

sleeping with the enemy

in 1 Samuel 27, david is on the run from saul (again) and decides to take refuge in the land of his (and God's) enemy, the philistines. he cozies up to them and finds favor with them.

now, david does some scheming against the philistines while there, but the fact that he sought refuge (protection, comfort, etc.) in the land of the philistines got me thinking about what believers do when we fear earthly threats and stop trusting God.

we run into the arms of our (and God's) "enemy." we run to sin. and sin is desirable. it's pleasurable. to an extent, it's comforting. that's one of the reasons that it "so easily entangles" (Hebrews 12:1).

it's comforting because our flesh has been trained by our sinful nature. our flesh takes comfort in sin. paul rants about this in Romans 7:16-25. he says that he keeps doing the thing he hates, but that it's not him that does it. how can this be? well, i believe he's referring to the truth that, in Christ, he's a new creation. he has a new nature. his sinful nature is gone. so it's not really "him" that is desiring sin, because the real him is a new creation in Christ. his flesh is the sin "in him" that he refers to. it's the flesh, conditioned by our old nature, that desires the things contrary to righteousness.

this is the constant battle of the Christian walk, denying the flesh and submitting to the Spirit. paul prescribes that for us clearly in Galatians 5:16-17.

so when we are in need of protection and comfort we should rely on the promises of Deuteronomy 33:27 and Psalm 46 where we read that God is our refuge. this is where our comfort and protection truly exist.

(un)great expectations

i'm currently reading gary thomas' sacred marriage. i had hopes of reading it because of my impending marriage, but it is also required reading for a class i'm taking in seminary!

my fiancée and i often joke about my constant "warnings" for her to lower her expectations about our marriage, so i thought it was funny when i went to tell her what i've found the main theme of the book to be, early on.

thomas sets the foundation for the book in the idea that we shouldn't seek fulfillment in our spouses, because only God can ultimately fulfill us. the gist, you see, is to lower your expectations of your spouse, ha! (in the godliest sense, of course.)

in all sincerity, i am simultaneously excited and marked by what i hope is a healthy fear. i am super excited to be marrying danielle, but i don't want to enter this commitment lightly.

going from living alone for the last 10 years to marrying someone is gonna turn my "fortress of solitude" lifestyle upside down! i am definitely excited for the changes and trust that the Lord will give us both the necessary patience as He uses us to sanctify each other for the rest of our lifetimes! (whenever i do something stupid, i just remind danielle that i'm aiding in her sanctification! i kid, i kid.)

just like salvation and my calling to ministry, i do not feel worthy of the blessing i've received in danielle. alas, i proceed with great expectations!

plus, just think of all the sermon illustrations i'll get out of this!

some thoughts on student ministry

i took a one-week class in january about ministering to families with teens, and the majority of the research we discussed makes it clear that there is a problem.

the problems we often assume with teens and religion, however, were debunked by the data we reviewed. it would seem that we typically think large numbers of teens are drawn to "foreign" religions or even atheism/agnosticism, but, according to the numbers, this is pretty rare. the overwhelming trend is that students claim beliefs that are in line with their parents. practice and fervor aside, ideals seem almost hereditary. an interesting side note to this trend is that teens, for the most part, don't believe their parents have that much influence over their ideology. teens like to claim individualism in thought, but conversely, largely all held true to their parents' beliefs.

this may not be news to you, but it seems to fly in the face of popular opinion. another debunked idea was that teens don't want anything to do with adults, specifically their parents. research actually showed that teens desire more interaction with their parents and trusted adults.

when looking at ministry to teens and teens who have walked away from the church, it is often speculated that their is a huge turning point or event that "burns" the student and turns them off to church. this was the minority reason for teens leaving the church. the most common reason was basically a lack of a reason... not a beef with the church.

another eye opener was the fact that MOST self-proclaimed "religious" teens who were active in churches could not articulate their faith and most didn't hold strongly to crucial tenets of the faith (salvation in Christ alone, reality of hell, etc.). personal spiritual disciplines were also lacking. some of the skew here is because of the vague label "religious," but the numbers were representative of many churched students.

this is a reader's digest version of everything we looked at and talked about, but it led to some great discussions on the role of families in shaping their teens' faith walks and how churches should go about ministering to teens.

i know the old adage kept coming to my mind when considering student ministry: "what you win them with is what you win them to." i couldn't help but think that if students couldn't give a specific reason for leaving the church, it's because they weren't given a specific reason for staying in the church.

if a church/ministry ONLY meets teens' (or any age group's) emotional or social needs, the dependence on church goes away when the emotional/social needs change.

i think this is one of the main reasons we see such a huge drop-off from high school church attenders to college church attenders. people are able to fulfill those emotional/social needs outside of church and no longer see a need to go. OR they continue to look for adult ministries that will entertain them like when they were younger and can't find them, so they leave.

(another big factor is genuine conversion, but that is a topic that demands more time/space than i am committing to in this post!)

what we need (and i think we're seeing in many cases) are churches that will convey the importance of doctrine and gospel life-change to people of all ages. that way, believers will see and cultivate a need for community life with a local church body. this need travels with you across geographical distances and withstands the natural maturation process from child to senior citizen.

this need in believers coupled with churches that foster that need will keep people plugged in (by the power of the Holy Spirit, of course!).

there is also MUCH to be considered from the parenting/family aspect of all of this, but i'm much less experienced in that area and have not given it as much thought.

i'd love to hear from any current/former "church teens" or parents of churched teens on this subject.

(most of the discussion was based on research conducted by the National Study of Youth and Religion.)

is worship only for services rendered?

merry christmas! (this post might be a little scatter-brained, but cut me slack. it is christmas, after all...)

something that hit me the other day when contemplating the christmas account in luke 2, was the reaction to Jesus' birth.

luke 2:8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid ; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people ; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." 15 When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, "Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us." 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.

celebration and worship! this might seem like an obvious reaction to jesus' birth, but you have to realize that we look at it backwards through history. we see the ascension, resurrection, cross, miracles, ministry, etc. and most likely celebrate Jesus' birth in light of what He went on to do.

the angels and the shepherds and mary and joseph did not worship and celebrate in light of Christ's finished work. they worshiped in anticipation of it. they celebrated God's faithfulness in the incarnation, but we have the finished resume to prompt us.

i wondered how much of our worship is based on what God has already done, while those in the christmas account are worshiping mostly for what God will do.

have we reduced christmas to simply another day honoring a man who did noble things like presidents day or mlk day? these are holidays instituted, after the fact, in light of what men did . "christmas" was instituted in light of what a man would go on to do.

yes, He went on to do AMAZING things that should be worshiped and celebrated. but the wonder of God's faithfulness coming to fruition sparked the praise at Jesus' birth with anticipation of fulfillment, not completion of it.

i have to confess, i don't think i worship or celebrate with anticipation as much as i do in retrospect for work accomplished. while the Bible often speaks of future truth as if already accomplished, i think many believers (myself included) suffer from a "wait and see" mentality. we believe in the second coming, but because it's "not yet" our worship is slightly muted.

however, the believers in luke 2, i think, believe in the salvation that baby Jesus would grow up to secure.

no sermon on the mount. no miracles. no cross. no empty tomb. just a swaddled infant, but a promise unfolding! and worship and exultation!

because, in one sense, He didn't have to come to earth as a man. but He did if men were to be saved...

Galatians 4:4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

Hebrews 2:17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.

we obviously don't have the opportunity to celebrate christmas with the same mentality as it was celebrated in luke 2, but we can learn a thing or two about hope and anticipation in God's faithfulness. and we can certainly keep celebrating christmas in light of what was accomplished! just don't forget to worship God for what has yet to unfold!

Hebrews 10:23 "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful;"

A: a shepherd boy and horseshoes

A: a shepherd boy and horseshoes.

Q: name two things that can prove the sovereignty of God.

just wanted to share a few thoughts on God's sovereignty. some cool reminders have popped up recently, so i thought i'd write them down.

the first reminder that caught my attention was an aside of sorts spoken by matt chandler at a conference in maine last month. it caught my attention because it was a fresh take on a passage i have heard quoted NUMEROUS times in my life. i know that a healthy caution should be employed when anyone has a "fresh take" on scripture, but i see much truth and insight in what matt said. he referred to the story of esther, specifically mordecai's famous "such a time as this" line in esther 4:14. instead of taking the oft-used angle of "if you don't do this, it won't happen" or "if not you, who? if not now, when?" as a means of motivating people to action, matt talked about how God's sovereign plans will be executed because they are up to Him, not us. mordecai even emphasized this thinking in the same verse ("relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place").

it was an invitation for esther to, as matt says, "come and play." how humbling and encouraging that we get to take part in what God has planned! yes, we should be motivated to action by this thinking, but the emphasis is on God controlling the results, not us.

a much less significant reminder of God's sovereignty, that i "have" to mention because i put it in the title, occurred at our annual cys fall retreat. we were playing horseshoes and when i would toss a shoe that seemed like it was going to hug the stinking pole, it would crazily bounce off of the ground at some ridiculous angle and land several feet away. i needed my uncle phil's magic touch, apparently. anyway, it was laughable and made me comment, "if you don't believe in the sovereignty of God, play horseshoes."

fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. we are going through 1 samuel on sunday mornings and the account of david's anointing came up. i was reading in the preaching the word commentary series (which i have found a great teaching resource, btw) and came across another "fresh perspective" on a familiar passage.

this perspective is a bolder statement and, remember, i am not a hebrew scholar (or any kind of scholar, for that matter). the commentary on 1 samuel 16:7 mentioned that the phrase "the Lord looks at the heart" could better be translated "the Lord sees according to the heart," meaning God sees with His heart, not His eyes.

this translation would then also affect the meaning of "a man after His own heart" in 1 samuel 13:14. rather than taking this to mean that david has a heart like God's, it means that God has set His heart on david. to support this perspective, in 2 samuel 7:21, david prays that God has "according to [His] own heart" accomplished great things. apparently, the phrase "according to your own heart" is the same expression that is used in 1 samuel 13:14.

mind you, this was all presented in a commentary, i didn't come up with it!

it struck me as greatly encouraging, though! david being chosen for God's purposes was based on david's place in God's heart more so than God's place in david's heart! how much more secure and unwavering and faithful is God's heart than man's!

the Lord invited esther and david to "come and play," and He invites us, as well! and, praise God, the results of His purposes rest confidently on His will and ability, not ours!

we waver. we retreat. we balk. God doesn't.

i'm not a betting man, but considering God's will and mine, i'd go "all in" on the Almighty.

take heart, believers. God's purposes and plans for you are set in His heart!

all in the family

i'm not talking about archie and edith, but there are a lot of us acting like meat heads.

i know i don't post often enough and i really don't know why i'm not compelled to write more often. i do know that one of the reasons that i'm ok with not having a super popular and highly commented on blog is the "discussions" that seem to arise.

maybe i'm too squeamish, but when i see tremendous brouhahas erupt like the current soul surfer back-and-forth happening at the thinklings, i get a bad taste in my mouth for blog "conversations." i'm not necessarily trying to argue for or against the merit of blogs and subsequent comment discussions (i do blog, obviously... occasionally) but the tone and fervor of some of the disagreements disheartens me.

assumed Christian brothers and sisters up at arms and going off half-cocked by not reading the entire thread or by honing in on one little phrase here or there (often out of context). it smacks of division and barriers and walls.

again, maybe i'm too sensitive and it's all just good healthy discussion, but it doesn't always feel like it. it feels like us versus them. i know i'm not the first person to think these thoughts, and there are much smarter and stronger people than i who have committed to writing and discussing via this medium. and they obviously have little to no problem with its nuances and consequences. but i'm still a little gun shy about it.

i've been burdened recently with the convenience of "clique-ation" that can be found in modern american churches. we have options to worship where we like and, even within those walls, with only those Christians we want to be around. let us not forget, believers, we are all one body and one family in Christ. when we build walls and avoid our fellow brothers and sisters due to any difference of opinion or preference, we make it easier to lose sight of the unity we are supposed to foster.

i see a lot of Christian blog conversations lining up with that multi-camp mentality. is there a way to disagree heartily and maintain unity? over some things, yes. i, personally, am not very good at it. but it doesn't look like i'm the only one.

peter writes that we are to "fervently" (strenuously) love one another and we are to be "hospitable" (loving towards strangers) (1 Peter 4:8-9). new testament believers didn't have the luxuries that we do to pick and choose which worship center had the most comfy chairs or which young marrieds shared their affinity for coldplay. their unity was in Christ and by the Holy Spirit. and peter acknowledges that it takes effort to cultivate the unity we're supposed to portray. is it wrong to gravitate towards like-minded believers? no. but it is wrong to lose sight of all the other believers around us. and it is definitely wrong to set them in our minds as adversaries. remember that by our love for one another (Christians loving Christians), the world will know that we are Christ's disciples (John 13:35).

i'm just hoping more believers will consider what the world knows them for, even if only based on our interactions with fellow Christians.

and if i might suggest, pick your battles. and continue discussions and disagreements with grace, patience and love. (reading more thoroughly doesn't hurt, either!)

good, clean fun ain't cuttin' it

God has recently been impressing upon me that Christian community is so much more than Christians being together and having good, clean Christian fun (in the name of Jesus, of course.) that's definitely part of it, and it's a part that i think believers have just about perfected.

BUT Christian community has to be something that non-Christians can't do. not so believers can take pride in the exclusivity of it, but because they are to grow "into the fullness of Christ" and "spur one another on to good works." our unity comes from the Holy Spirit, not just from our similar interests.

if the extent of my Christian fellowship can be fully experienced by a non-Christian, it isn't the fulfillment of Christian fellowship. we have to be intentional about this. getting lazy in this arena is what leads to cliques within the church, Christian bubbles that lose perspective on the lost world around them and stagnate Christians who think they're participating fully in community/fellowship but are really just staying out of trouble.

a true biblical perspective on fellowship and community won't allow us to think we can only hang out with people just like us. a passion for Christ and His Church is evidenced by a willingness to get to know people that aren't in our demographic, people who don't DVR the same shows as us, people who are too old to know what DVR is, people who aren't yet married, people who are formerly married, people whose family tree isn't rooted in north america, people that we wouldn't have eaten lunch with in high school, etc.

if we allow consumerism to drive our fellowship, we only perpetuate the idea that church is about us and what we can get out of it, taking what we like and avoiding what we don't. i'm pretty sure heaven isn't segregated.

that's not to say that Bible studies and groups formed around affinities and demographics have no place in the church. but if you allow yourself to develop the attitude that you don't need/want to be around people who are not like you... red flag!

i've said it before and i'll say it again: the Holy Spirit can't not get along with Himself. if you refuse to pursue diversity in the church, you're not walking by the Spirit.

as usual, i don't speak as someone who has mastered this, but i recognize the need for it in my life. and church, i hope you do, too.

taking me back

was just listening to the incomparable keith green while working on a paper and this song came on:

it always takes me back and rekindles fond memories... so grateful for the heritage of faith in my family.

the song that wrecked me

so, i had the opportunity to preach in my church's second service this past sunday (if interested, message audio can be found here). thanks to all who prayed for me, offered kind words, etc. i really appreciate it.

at the beginning i mention being "wrecked" by the song that preceded the message. i had almost lost it singing this song in the early service and was overcome during the second go-round. the aspect of "victory won" (PAST TENSE) was a big part of what i was about to speak on and i just couldn't help it. and then i had to get up and speak. ha

anyway, here's the song:

hope it blesses you as it did me.

thoughts on honduras

i recently returned from a mission trip to honduras. it was a great week and i was blessed, as always, to be a part of God's kingdom work.

i enjoy ministry in general so i knew i would enjoy the trip. when it comes to missions i'm open to hardships, discomfort, etc. going in, though i've never experienced REAL persecution or suffering, so my "openness" hasn't really been tested. regardless, i try to keep the right perspective and remember why i'm there and what i signed up for.

our trip was multifaceted. we had a couple of pastors teaching a Bible institute where pastors were being trained, a handful of women holding a women's conference, a couple doing a marriage/parenting conference and a big group doing general street/park evangelism. i was on the general evangelism team (and got to preach in a few churches!). we got to minister in the local park, a couple of schools, the mall, a colonia (lower class neighborhood) and in local churches. it was really cool seeing people work in their areas of giftedness (teaching children, singing, playing guitar, serving, etc.) across cultural lines. and it was cool seeing people step up into areas that weren't as comfortable for them (public speaking, FTW!).

there were two main things that stand out to me the most from this trip. the first thing that i was impacted by was seeing first-time mission trippers fall in love with ministry/missions. there was a pair of teenage siblings with us on their first trip and while it was definitely a learning/growing/stretching process for them, they both were fired up to go on another trip by the end of the week.

the second thing that stood out to me was the need to continue ministry in places like honduras, even though they are "reached" nations. i had an inner tension with me on this trip because of a conversation i had with a good friend (and missionary) several months ago. when i told him we were going to honduras he basically said, "everyone goes to honduras. why don't you come serve where i am? it's staunchly muslim and really lacking for missionaries."

his comments really stuck with me. he's right in many senses. we saw several missions groups at the airport, on the plane and even in the town we were serving in! honduras is well reached in comparison to many places in the world. i found myself wondering if our work was really that impacting.

here's why i believe it was: because honduras is well reached, not only has the gospel been proclaimed widely there, but FALSE gospels have been proclaimed widely there. we saw mormon churches and seventh day adventist churches, etc. so i believe it's still crucial to proclaim the true gospel in honduras. and i think the pastor training our team did is invaluable so that they can make disciples with a clearer understanding of biblical truth.

i know my missionary friend doesn't think we should ever stop preaching anywhere, so this IS NOT A COUNTERPOINT TO HIS STATEMENTS. but his thoughts stuck with me and i wrestled with them. and i think we do need to send more missionaries to under-reached muslim countries. but it's ok to keep sending them to honduras, too!

where is YOUR treasure?

our church has taken the month of march to discuss stewardship, based on randy alcorn's book. all of the sunday morning classes are studying the same principles and the sunday sermons are on texts that point to different stewardship principles, as well.

part of this emphasis included a challenge from our pastor to illustrate the parable of the talents.

i'd really appreciate it if you'd take a few minutes to check out the college and young singles ministry's treasure principle site. and if you give, you can even register for the chance to win a prize!


why i'm anti-bieberian (featuring obligatory rob bell mention)

fyi, this post was sort of inspired by this post. so you may want to read it before moving on, but you don't have to.

just hear me out. i'm not hating on bieber in the sense of "i hate his music and teeny-bopper culture." i don't have strong issues with those who are fans of his, really, either. what i don't like (and i'm not calling shrode out on this, i'm just reminded of it by his post) is people trying to tout bieber as a good Christian influence amidst a sin-filled environment. (from what i read, shrode was hopeful that bieber could stand for something other than the world and that bieber came from a faithful family that he was rooting for to direct justin in the right direction.)

this has probably been addressed at stuff Christians like, but i know that Christians like to root for famous/successful Christians. heck, i praised tony dungy and kurt warner on this very blog for the confusing contentment they've demonstrated in their post-nfl lives.

on a minor level, the danger here is promoting a celebrity as Christian in such a way that they become models in the faith when they shouldn't be. on a an extreme level, the danger is following a "Christian" celebrity so that we can label our idol worship as something much more tame, like "support."

back to what spurred this line of thinking... in the thinklings post referenced above, bieber's faith-walk was wondered about and certain evidences were given in hopes that he might be a believer who is working hard at keeping his nose clean and sending out good clean, positive vibes. (i really hope i'm not misstating or misquoting anyone.)

in the comments, someone mentioned that bieber's rolling stone cover was already a sign that he was headed for or already on a slippery slope. i went looking for said photo because i had seen things of bieber on SNL that already concerned me. i really didn't think he was a Christian role model, anyway, based on the fact that he's a secular artist. shamefully, it's the cynic in me that doubts a believer who is serious about their faith can really be wildly successful in the entertainment industry.* to me, you have to sell out to some extent to be THAT successful. at the very least they aren't characterized by their faith in Christ. i could be wrong. please remind me of examples where i am.

anyway, what i found on rolling stone's site was not the cover photo in question, but a picture of bieber flipping the bird to some paparazzo. granted, this does not mean he isn't a believer. but it is evidence that we should be extremely careful in promoting any human as a role model who isn't characterized by imitating Christ.

i don't doubt that bieber is talented. i don't doubt that his music is positive. i don't doubt that he's a generally good kid. BUT what that all adds up to is as eternally significant as charlie sheen's recent tirades. beyond that, it might even be more dangerous than sheen's "words of wisdom" because bieber is safe, cuddly and encouraging. sadly, anything short of Christ just makes for a safe, cuddled and encouraged journey to hell (unless you side with rob bell (oooooh, booyah, didn't see THAT coming did you? obligatory rob bell reference: check.)) basically, #tigerblood is just as God glorifying as #bieberfever.

so, to sum up: i don't mind if you're a bieber fan. i really don't. shoot, continue to pray for him, hope he stays out of trouble, etc. but please don't try to champion him as a Christian role model or put him on a pedestal. it's ok to enjoy secular music, really it is. as long as we don't glory in it and don't idolize those who represent it. and whatever we do, we dare not label it as "Christian" so we can embrace, stomach and parade our worship of anything/anyone other than Christ.

looking for role models? look for this attitude: "Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ." 1 Corinthians 11:1

wondering what to worship/promote: "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God." Psalm 20:7

"But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." Galatians 6:14

*i believe pro athletes are different because their profession/success is based more on their athletic ability than their image or message/brand.

as great as it gets!

i taught from luke 2 this past sunday as we finished a mini-series heading into Christmas week.

aside from teaching the narrative and trying to highlight some of the context surrounding the incarnation, the thing that hit me the most is why we tend to miss the true meaning of Christmas.

and by "we" i don't mean people, in general, i mean believers. it's one thing to remind the world that Christmas is about Christ and celebrating His incarnation. it's another thing for believers to lose sight of the significance of the incarnation because we're focused on a cultural campaign or moral life.

let me try to 'splain myself: i think it's really easy for Christians to boil the incarnation down to a political platform or a fairy tale. many of us love to champion the causes of "keep 'Christ' in Christmas" and "i don't say, 'happy holidays.' i say, 'merry CHRISTMAS.'" we also love to reduce the advent of Christ to a folk tale about Jesus' birthday. are those angles wrong in and of themselves? not necessarily. but we need to focus on the impact of Christ's birth.

without the incarnation atonement is impossible because the curse of sin is on mankind and must be paid for by a man... but the man has to be without sin because if his blood is shed for his own sin, it cannot cover ours. in order to be a perfect man, divinity and humanity were placed in one person, Jesus Christ.

that's why Christmas is "good tidings of great joy!" it's not just to celebrate the birth of a great leader. and it's definitely not for a political party to rally around. it's dawn breaking in preparation for the sunlight that is the greatest news ever told.

in preparing for the lesson, i was burdened with the thought that many Christians act as if we're waiting for greater news to come along. we get merrier at Christmas... we try to remember the "reason" for the season... but we run the risk of missing the great truth of the incarnation.

and when we do, the joy fades when the decorations come down. could it be that we've dressed up "Christian" Christmas so much because we've forgotten what we're actually celebrating? our neat little nativity sets, our "better than the neighbors" light displays, our amazing musical performances (none of which are wrong, inherently)... just make sure they aren't efforts to create joy in yourself because you aren't really exulting in the truth of Christ's coming.

THERE IS NO GREATER NEWS! the angel of the Lord will not bring you a greater Gospel than has been revealed, so celebrate the greatest news that has ever been and ever will be delivered. and it's a Gospel you can celebrate every day, because Christ has come! and we don't simply look back and celebrate a Christmas that occurred 2000 years ago, we celebrate a Christmas that has impacted every day in history since!

Merry Christmas! and remember, the Gospel is as great as it gets!

covenant and lovin' it

DISCLAIMER: this post has not been triggered by any specific persons or events, but simply by the need for content at the institute.

we wrapped up a mini-series on the church a couple of weeks ago with our college and young singles class. the first three weeks looked at three metaphors used in scripture for the Church. the Church as a bride, the Church as a building and the Church as a body.

for some reason, even though (or maybe it's BECAUSE) i'm single, i have a strong interest in the concept of marriage. i think it's mainly because, spiritually, we see in scripture what a great proclamation of the gospel that covenant marriage is intended to be. we also see how serious God takes covenants, especially when His name is attached to them.

now, i cannot pretend to know what it's like in other people's shoes nor do i claim to have the solutions to their situations, but it strikes a nerve with me to the point of anger and grief when marriages break down. i'm sure that's not unique to me, but i feel like we all have our little soapboxes and this is one of mine.

anyway, here are my thoughts from "the Church as a Bride:"
(i even used pastoral alliteration!)

-We're Picked: Ephesians 1:1-12
God has chosen us for no other reason than He loves us! i'm sure this truth resonates more with the ladies (especially in light of the marriage analogy) but it is still a profound biblical truth for ALL believers that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (romans 5:8) and that He loved us before we loved Him (1 john 4). God has picked us out of love and set us apart for His purposes.

-We're Protected: Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-30
Christ as the bridegroom protects the bride. He has our best interest at heart. He laid down His life for the Church, so that we might live. i know a lot of unbelievers (and many believers for that matter) have issues with the idea of submission to authority. but a true, loving authority can be trusted to lead for our good. it's not just His right but His role and responsibility to lead and protect. i, for one, am thankful for that!

-We're Purified: Ephesians 5:26-27
we're made perfect and spotless! Christ does what we cannot do. He cleanses our sin and we receive His righteousness. the Church is a spotless bride! the Church wears white on our wedding day! how amazing is this?! when i consider my sin (not to mention the sins of others) and think that in Christ we're set apart for the holy purposes of worship and ministry to the glory of God, i can't fathom it! do we have issues? you bethca. do we mess up? uh, yeah. does Christ wash us with the Word of God and free us from condemnation? YES!

-We're Promised: Revelation 19:7-8
we've been promised a faithful groom! no matter what, the Church will be joined to Christ. in all of the weddings i've been in (always the groomsman, never the groom) the groom always says "i do." no matter what. no matter how nervous the bride is or how anxious she is about everything being "just right," the groom always receives her. it's an unconditional acceptance that Christ has promised us. and He is infinitely more faithful than any human groom.

notice that the Church has "readied herself" in anticipation of the groom. the Church is partly responsible for presenting herself to Christ, but our efforts don't earn us His faithfulness. it's already been secured. our efforts are the love response prompted by our affection for Christ.

i'm thankful

i'm thankful...

...for the blood of Christ.
...that God can transform regret over the past into peace in His promises.
...for faithful friends.
...for cooler weather (FINALLY.)
...for a loving family.
...that i've been reconciled to the Father through the Son
...that i've been tasked with a ministry of reconciliation.
...that i don't play fantasy football for money.
...that i get to minister with and to great brothers and sisters in Christ.
...for laughter
...for the opportunities God has given me, despite myself, to take part in His kingdom work.
...for a church and pastor that are faithful to God's Word.
...that God provided the opportunity for me to buy a house (at a ridiculous price) a little over a year ago.
...for chocolate pie (and a mom who makes it for me every year.)
...that the end of the semester is near (even if the end of my degree isn't!)
...for good health.
...that i get to see my brother's fam over Christmas... it's been a while!
...for great memories of the aforementioned family, friends and ministry... i am beyond blessed!

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