Sunday, November 28, 2010

Blogging Evolution

A week from Tuesday will be the sixth anniversary of this blog.

I have worked on this blog longer than I had been in any one job, longer than I have lived in any place since 5th grade, and about as long as I have owned my current automobile.

It is interesting to look over the posts that I have put together, and to see the ways that this blog changed, the way that the craft of blogging has changed, and how I have changed.

I really began my blog with three main purposes in mind. I wanted to develop my skill as a writer. I also wanted to have a place to store "fleeting thoughts" and quotes before they escaped my mind forever. Finally, I also wanted to have a place to vent. I was in a place where I was professionally isolated and spiritually beat down by mistreatment within the congregation I served. I needed a safe place to write about what I was feeling and thinking.

Writing a blog was very effective for these purposes. I was able to resource myself with thoughts and reflections that I could work into sermons. And for a time, I could sense I was becoming a more skilled writer.

In addition to these goals, I soon discovered that blogging was an early form of social networking. Before Myspace and Facebook had taken hold, those of us in the blogging world would seek out blogs that we thought were intriguing and follow them. Often, these blogs were written by people that we had not met before we started blogging. As the blogs developed readerships, some of the "subscribers" became acquaintences and friends.

Another similar benefit of blogging in those early days of blogging was professional networking. I was able to have formal and informal conversations with ministry leaders. At that time I was able to build some relationships with youth ministry leaders and those in the emergent church conversation.

As the blog developed, I began to share more of my personal life. For many, this was a chance to get to know me better. For some, my honesty was somewhat offensive. I managed at one time or another to offend friends and relatives, Republicans and Democrats, homeschoolers and minor Christian celebrities. Sometimes this ability to offend others complicated things in my life. I missed a work opportunity because of my transparency on this blog for instance. Other times it was helpful, because sometimes people would hear my voice on my blog when they would otherwise dismiss my voice when I spoke verbally and directly.

Eventually, the readership in this blog began to change. Those that used blogging primarily for social networking drifted to Myspace, and eventually Facebook. My blog, which used to have an international and diverse readership saw its readership shrink.

I have increased my readership a little in the last few years. Part of the way I have done this is to link my blog with twitter and facebook. Thing brings in many yet unreached casual visitors, but the blog does not have as many "subscribers" as before, and most of the readers of my blog are friends from other settings.

Unfortunately for me, because of the kind of readership I have now, and the ways that this blog has developed, the blog has become more public and less transparent. I say unfortunately because I grieve the opportunity to have a place where I can be as honest and raw and open as I had before with this blog.

I think part of this is that my personal life is much less open for public consumption because it is my family life.

I wonder if part of this is because I am a less reflective person than I was when this blog started.

These days, most of my blog posts center around ministry related writings, parenting experiences, and book reviews. Which is not all bad.

My blog posts have become less frequent, and less passionate. However, I think I will continue blogging, so that I can continue, at some point, to work on the goals I started with in this blog, and to watch my thoughts and life developed.

Sermon: First Sunday of Advent 2010


It does not seem, to me, like it should be Advent already. Didn’t we just begin the season of fall a couple of weeks ago? I think part of the confusion of my internal clock in relation to Advent might also have to do with Daylight Savings Time being moved back until November in recent years. It seemed by this time of year, with Black Friday and Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas ahead, that there would not be so much light.

It is strange for me, even though I have lived in Colorado for a number of years, to think about Advent starting this week when just a couple of weeks ago it was 70 degrees, and everything was still bright and cheery. Jennifer and I both grew up in more northern climates, and near larger bodies of water. Which meant that often by this time of year it was even darker, because it was further north, and it was also much greyer when the sun came up. Advent candles and Christmas carols went with big warm sweaters and hot cider, and rain drizzles or snow in the air.
Advent and Christmas have many symbols. Trees with ornaments. Wreaths. Gifts. Candy canes. Stables and babies wrapped in swaddling clothes.
But perhaps most prominent in the time of Advent is the presence of small flourishes of light in dark places. Lights on a Christmas tree and strung around a home. Stars shining to guide men to a room full of animals and a new born baby. Even the advent candles that we light ourselves. Each remind us, through the cycle of the seasons and the symbols that we choose, that God is at work when the air is cold, the trees are dormant, the lawn is brown, and natural light seems to be waning.

Advent reminds us that during dark times, light is present among us. It is coming soon again. Advent reminds us that God’s grace and truth are like a light in the darkness. Advent hat Jesus is invading our frightening, frigid and dark world with the light of his truth, and the hope of his presence. Advent reminds us to prepare for this coming light of hope, and to equip ourselves to share it with others.
So this year, we are looking at Advent and Christmas through the eyes of the gospel of John, who illumines us to the truth of Christ as Creator, Light of World, Gatherer of a New Kind of Family, and as one who dwells among us.

We will be repeating the text of John 1 often, in different ways, hoping that like light and truth it makes its way through the blinders we have put around our heart, and helps us to know, see, and understand Jesus anew again. And hoping that you sense the light of Christ more and more this holiday season, instead of just the neon lights advertizing sales, and the noise and business that calls us from one activity to another. Let’s read the first few verses we will focus on this morning



JOHN 1
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

In the beginning.

That is how the gospel of John starts: In the beginning.

Each gospel tells the story a little differently, the story of how Jesus came into the world. Matthew tells about who Jesus was related to. Matthew tells the lineage of a promised king. Jesus is the answer to the promise and hope for the Messiah that the Hebrews had been longing for and praying for.

Luke locates Jesus in a certain place and at a certain time. Jesus comes to the City of David, at the time of a census, during the reign of Caesar Augustus in a manger, nearby where shepherds graze their flocks. Luke is a very good historian. He wants to get the facts nailed down. He does not want anyone to mistake Jesus as some sort of mythical person.

Each of these ways of approaching how Jesus came to earth are factual. They are just telling us who Jesus is from a different perspective.

When John introduces us to Jesus, he does not want us to forget the big picture. John wants us to see cosmic, universal, global picture of who Jesus is and what he is about. He wants us to remember that Jesus in not just fully human, he is both fully human and fully God. He is God in human form. At the end of his gospel, John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31)

In the beginning.

These first words are shared by the book of Genesis, which begins all of Scripture, and the book of John, which tells us about Jesus.

In the beginning, John says. “In the beginning was the Word.”

From the start, John says, from the start of creation, Jesus was there. When the universe was formless and void, the Word was present. As the world was being born, Jesus was there. As the mountains were being carved out, Jesus was there. As the night and day were created, Jesus was there. When the first cat meowed, Jesus was there. When the first flowers sprouted from the ground, Jesus was there.

In the beginning, John says, “In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God”.

Interesting way of describing Jesus that John uses, this moniker, “the Word”.

It has several layers of meaning. When God creates the world, he speaks it into existence. When God wants to make something out of nothing, he uses a Word.

When John calls Jesus the Word, he is saying that all the power that created the world is present in his person. He is also saying something bigger. When John calls Jesus “the Word” he is doing the same kind of work as he was doing in creation. By showing up personally, in our flesh and blood world, he is continuing to create and recreate our lost and rebellious world.

When the Hebrews talked of the Law of God, they spoke of it as “The Word of God”
When the prophets shared what God had inspired them to say, they declared, “Hear the Word of God”And when the writers of Proverbs spoke of the way of wisdom and the way of folly, they spoke of wisdom as a person. A Living Word with flesh and bones.

So when we hear that Jesus is the Word we are hearing that when we see and hear Jesus, we are hearing the truth of God as set from the foundation of the world. Jesus’ words are God’s words. If we want to see what God is like, we can look at the person of Jesus. Jesus is the expression of who God is in a way that we can see and understand.

Pagan philosophers also used the word for “word” found in the gospel of John. The Greek word for word was “logos”. And for many Greeks, there was this idea that if they just found the right word, the right insight or idea, than all of creation and all of life would make sense to them, and everything would come together. John turns this idea on its head. He compels people not to look for some grand philosophy to guide their life, some amazing insight, some book like “the Secret” to have everything make sense. Because the “logos”, the word of insight that helps everything makes sense, was not a philosophy or an idea. It was a person.

So when John says Jesus is the Word, he is saying that all of creation was about Jesus and leading toward him coming in human form. And that when he came he came as the pure expression of who God is and what he says. When Jesus came he came as the one who was there from the beginning, and who makes sense of everything that has come before and come since. Everything comes together in this Word, who is the very person of Jesus.
In the beginning. John says. In the beginning was the word. And the Word was with God. And the Word was God.

You need to pay attention. Jesus was God. Jesus was not simply a great teacher. He was not just a moral example for us to follow. He was God.

Some people, like Jehovah’s Witnesses, try to say Jesus was “a god” with a little g. Jesus was not a God. He was THE God in human form. Or, as one lesson I heard put it, “Jesus was God in a bod”.

Some people, such as those in the Mormon church, teach that Jesus and Satan were brothers. They believe that we can all, if we are good enough, become Gods in the sense that Jesus is God, eventually being Lord over our own world and our own planet.

This says that Jesus was there in the beginning. That nothing was made without him. And that even the angels were made through Him. There is only one person that was God in human form, and that is Jesus. We will never become Gods. We were not there in the beginning. We are not the Word that spoke the world into existence. We are simply the creation Jesus came to save.

Some people, like many New Agers or Eastern Mystics, will say that Jesus is one of many gods that can be worshipped. That many spiritual leaders have divine insights. The Bible says that Jesus is THE WORD. Not a WORD. The Word.

Jesus is God. He is the final authority, because he is the author of everything that is. And when the fullness of time came Jesus took on human form and dwelt among us.

But what does this mean and why does it matter?

Well, it means everything to us and it matters more than everything.


We may think we are just this glob of cells and goo that somehow have sprouted up and made its way to this place.

This passage tells us that we were created. This passage tells us that we were created by this God who did not just make the world and take his hands off the wheel. We were created by a God who has spoken to us and continues to speak to us. A God who created us while we were in our mother’s womb, and who continues to create and speak to us even now.

We were created by a God who has a plan and a purpose in this world. We are created by a God who speaks, and keeps speaking to us. We may plug our ears. We may only be willing to hear what we want to hear. But God has spoke and continues to speak to us through creation, through the world around us. But most of all, God speaks to us through THE WORD. The person of Jesus.

The WORD who made everything in existence wants to speak to your heart. He wants to speak his truth into your situation. The WORD who created everything wants to create in you a new heart, and wants to make a new reality out of the tattered fragments of your life. He wants to speak new hope into those situations you find hopeless, and new life into those parts of your life that feel dead and broken.

He made the rivers and the trees, the mountains and the canyons. I hope you will let him make your life something even more beautiful.

Amen.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Not a Magic Trick--Sermon from 11/14


Simon, or as some called him, Simon the great, was an impressive fellow. He was able to do all sorts of things that looked miraculous. People thought he was amazing because he was able to astonish them with the sorceries that he was able to perform. He was able to do things that people did not believe to be humanly possible. Many people said that he had been endued with special power from God. And then, Phillip, and then the apostles, came into town.

Phillip came into town and preached the gospel. Simon believed and was baptized. Soon after Simon was following Phillip everywhere that Phillip went. What Simon noticed was that Simon had powers that he could not replicate. Phillip healed people. Simon could not. Phillip cast out demons. Simon the Sorcerer could not.

At some point, after making his living doing sorcery, doing supposedly miraculous acts that nobody could replicate, it must have seemed like a major strain for him when Phillip came around. All of the sudden throngs of people were drawn to Phillip, and his business was going down quickly.

Well, after Phillip was successful for a little while, the church sent in the “big guns” of the church to inspect and support his ministry. They discovered that Phillip had led many folks to Christ and baptized them, but that they had not received the Holy Spirit. So the apostles started praying with them that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are left to assume the reception of the Holy Spirit was evidenced probably by speaking in tongues. Simon the Great was impressed by this power.

Somewhere along the line, Simon decided he was going to ask these apostles a question. He asked them if he could purchase from them the power that they had, so that he could get people to receive the Holy Spirit as well.

When the apostle Peter heard Simon the Sorcerer say this he was livid. And the apostle Peter being the apostle Peter, he did not mince his words. In plain English Peter said, “You and your money can go to hell”. He went on to tell him to repent and to be freed from his poisoned heart that was full of bitterness, and his iniquity, or sin. A heart full of bitterness, in the Old Testament law, it seems, is a reference to being led astray by idols. So Peter is saying that Simon’s asking to buy the powers given to the apostles by the Spirit is sin and idolatry. As might have been much of his life up to this point. After that, Simon asks Peter to pray for him, and the mission trip in Samaria seems to come to a close. And this little snippet of history ends.
Very simply put, what God is teaching us through this short passage is three things. First, the gifts of God are not for sale. Second, the grace of God is not a magic trick. Third, we need to remember what Galatians says when it teaches, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.”

If you would bear with me, I want to focus primarily on the second point, that the grace of God is not a magic trick. I think as we explore this concept we might touch on the other two.

You see, I think a lot of time, to our detriment, we often mistake magical thinking for faith. And, I think we need to stop.

Will Willimon says that when we attempt to have a magical faith we choose to, “attempt to control God through certain techniques or formulas.”

A simple way to see this at work is to look at one of the stories that a man named Mark Twain created about a young boy in the middle of the 1800s named Huckleberry Finn. Huck Finn was a little ornery, and a free range kid of sorts. He was kind of looked after by his father, and various other people around town from time to time. One of the fun things as you read about the adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that he is a little bit of a trickster, and always looking for an angle to get ahead.

At one time he decided he would test out if he could really believe in prayer. What he chose to do was to get an empty shoe box. He would put it under his bed. And then, he would pray that God would fill it with gold. He prayed. And he prayed. And he prayed until he fell asleep. He woke up the next morning. He looked under his bed. The box was empty. He concluded that prayer did not work.

Huck Finn chose to treat prayer as a magic trick to make him rich. When he could not get what he wanted he concluded that it did not work. Huck wasn’t searching for Jesus. He was searching for a technology to fill his shoe box with gold.

The gospel does not work that way. But we do not have to look far to have people try and convince us that it does. Turn on TBN for a day, and you will find so called Christian workers convincing people that if they just send him a little bit of seed money, than he will send you his anointed prayer cloth that will give you all sorts of miracles that will make you healthier, wealthier and wiser. For a few measly dollars given in faith he will say, he will send you this cloth that can perform miracles. He is saying, in effect, that he will do a magical little miracle for you for the right place.
If you ever see this on television, I want you to do what Peter did. I want you to get your phone. I want you to call the number. And I want you to tell the people who answer that they and their money can go hell unless they repent. And then I want you to hang up.

But television preachers and Huck Finn are not the only ones to employ magical thinking in attempts to get what they want. We employ magical thinking to manipulate God to benefit us as well.

Sometimes we do this when we come forward on an altar call. We have no intention to submit our lives to Christ. We have no plan to spend our lives in a relationship with Jesus. But we come forward to say a little prayer that the preacher gives us to ask Jesus to come into our heart. And we leave church thinking that we said the magic words to make God happy. And now we can forget about God for the rest of our lives because our eternal destiny is secure.

Friends, the Bible says that there are many people who come to God and say, “Lord, Lord”, but do not enter God’s eternal kingdom. I think some of those people are people who treat the sinner’s prayer as a magic trick to get them out of hell instead of as a tool to surrender their lives to Christ and have an eternal relationship with him.

Others of us believe that if we do some Christian practice in some certain way than we can do just the right thing or say just the right words to make our lives better or easier or earn some blessing we are seeking. We think that if we just show up to church more that bad things won’t happen to us. We think that if we just pray in the right way, with just the right words, or for just the right amount of time that we will find the magic key to get God to give us what we want. Or if we tithe that somehow God will find a way to make us rich because we were so good to give God HIS 10 percent. It is like if we say abra cadabra, we will get what we request. Or like God is a genie who is exists to grant us unlimited wishes. This kind of thinking is also what passes for Christianity in much of the 21st century western world.

Often this not only works in getting something from God, we tend to use magical thinking to explain our hardship as God “getting” us for “getting out of line”. We get an unexpected bill in the mail, and we think it is God’s way of telling us he is mad at us for not showing up to church enough. We trip and sprain our ankle, and we wonder if we had our quiet time if God would have protected us from having that happen.


It is not only easy for individuals to have this mindset, it easy for churches to fall into this way of thinking as well. Churches often think that if they get just the right pastor, then everything will be well with their church. And when things go wrong, they think they must have failed in finding the pastor God wanted for them, or they are ready to send that pastor down the road for one with a bigger and better skill set.

Pastors think that if they implement just the right program, then God will bless them. Or if they make just the right decision, or do the ministry with the correct model, then they will cease to have attendance problems and never run budget deficits. Pastors, like Simon, want to be successful and have a good reputation for growing a church. So, Christian marketers set up “purpose-driven church” workshops or “break the 200 barrier” meetings where pastors can pay to learn all the tricks to make their church the biggest, most influential church in town. And pastors pay hand over fist to get through the door in the hopes that the workshop will make them the next local ministry rock star.

This kind of thinking where we hope to manipulate God to get what we want from him for our benefit is idolatry. It is not faith or trust. It is not worship. It is kneeling at the self-serving altar of me and mine. Nothing more, and nothing less.

When we seek to manipulate the Lord like this it is treating God like he is our servant instead of our master. It is acting as though God exists to grant our wishes, instead of us committing to serve his purposes. When we make faith in God about finding ways to convince the Lord to make us happy, healthy wealthy instead of us loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, we have sinned. We have put ourselves on the throne, and we have relegated God to the point of cosmic bellhop, our step-and-fetch-it, our errand boy. When we act this we are confessing ourselves as Lord, not Christ.

Peter told Simon he had attempted to purchase a “gift of God” which was, as was emphasized by the word being used three times in this passage, to be “received”. God’s blessings are not something we deserve. They are something we are given. God grace is not something we grasp, it is something we are offered as a free gift. When we use magical thinking in our spiritual life we reject God’s free gift, and we tempt to earn and purchase what can only be given.



You see here is the problem when we attempt to purchase God’s blessing through silver coins or saying just the right prayer or going through just the right ritual, or finding just the right program or leadership technique to get your church to go to the next level. We make faith in Jesus about treating Jesus as an object to be manipulated instead of a Lord to be loved. God wants a relationship with us, but we just want the resources we want from him.

Once God becomes the being you manipulate to get what you want, you cease to be in a relationship with Him. And what God wants, more than anything, is for you to have a relationship for eternity with Him. God want you to stop striving, and manipulating and seeking to earn God’s acceptance and grace and love. He wants you to accept and receive that grace as gift, a free gift, that you could never to do anything to earn, steal, or grasp, but which is there for the receiving if you come with open hearts and open arms.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Parenting Posts: Never Not Guilty






Now, to be fair to my critics, there are many in my family, and a few outside
it who believe that I have a talent for finding a way to feel guilty in about any circumstance. There is some merit to this assesment. Doesn't change the way I think or feel.




Most of my guilt has to do with time management. If I choose to focus on work, I feel bad I am not spending enough time taking care of Karis. When I am taking care of Karis, I feel like there is so much work that I should be doing or that needs to be done, but I cannot do it at the time because I am with my daughter.




This conflict furthers my guilt, because when I actually am taking care of Karis, I am not really present with her. I am thinking about the work that I need to do. And when I am working a day with a full-day of day care, like today, I feel unusually productive but feel like I should be with my baby, and I worry she will forget about me, and I will miss something about her.




Part of me thinks all of this is unavoidable. I wonder, though, if I would feel less guilt if I was not walking distance from day care, and if I did not work at home, or just a few steps away.




Part of me thinks if I wasn't committed to being with Karis half a day from the beginning I would not have this problem at all. When you parent a half-day, and spend the rest of the day trying to catch up with a full-time job, everything feels half-ass.




I want so badly to be an excellent parent, an excellent spouse, and an excellent pastor. And, whenever I give myself to one of these goals, I take away from the other. And that hurts.




I wonder why I never hear anyone else struggle with this juggling act. Everyone else seems to have negotiated this stage brilliantly with little stress. Several of my peers are able to juggle parenthood, ministry, and marriage more deftly than I. And they are able to support their families better financially. And they never seem to feel conflicted, overwhelmed, or wonder if they are really doing anything well.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Book Review of LEAD LIKE IKE by Goeff Loftus


LEAD LIKE IKE
By Goeff Loftus
ISBN- 978-1-59555-085-9
Thomas Nelson Publishers

There are several different kinds of books on the market to direct and inspire leaders to be better at their craft. Some leadership books use “parables” to tell a story to make their point and touch the reader’s heart at the same time. Other leadership books, like much that we read from people like John Maxwell, are books that give step by step prescriptive methods for growing as a leader. In between these two types of leadership books are books like Lead Like Ike by Geoff Loftus. Loftus uses the story of Dwight Eisenhower’s leadership of D-Day to guide leaders with both clear principles for leaders to implement, as well as exciting, true to life stories of a great leader at his greatest moment.

There are several things I liked about this book. I liked learning more about Eisenhower, which I knew very little about. I also loved looking at all the little sidebars and quotes as I went through the book. Much of the book moved chronologically, which added dramatic tension to the narrative of Eisenhower while the author made his points. And, the debriefing points at the end of each chapter helped the reader get a good summary of the whole chapter.

There were a few things I did not enjoy. First, I selected the book based upon glancing at the title. The title led me to think that the whole leadership career would be profiled. Instead, the author focused specifically on D-Day leadership, as the subtitle indicates. Also, I found the direct correlation of business terms to people on the field of battle, and effected by the war, to be a stretch at best. As a pastor-leader, making another translation to leading a church seemed laborious to me.

Lead Like Ike is a great book for some, but did not really resonate with me. Perhaps for those who love military history, and those who are in the midst of a leadership “battle” this book would be appropriate and well-received.
This book was given as a complimentary copy to me in exchange for an honest review of the book on this website

Article Share: Cam Newton scandal

Article that blames the system

Cheating scandal

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

My resources for study on the Psalms


Primary Resources




Psalms: Volume II by Charles Spurgeon; The Crossway Classic Commentaries


The Voice of the Psalms by The Ekklesia Project


Praise Habit by David Crowder


God's Prayer Book by Ben Patterson


Psalms by James L. Mays; Interpretation Bible Commentaries


Heart Aflame by John Calvin (edited by Sinclair Ferguson)






Bible Study Resources



Psalms: Prayers of the Heart by Eugene Peterson Lifeguide


Life Changing Lessons: Psalms Vol. 2 by Bill Hybels New Community


Encountering God: Psalms Vol 1 by Bill Hybels New Community


Meeting God: Psalms for the Highs and Lows of Life by Bill Hybels Interactions