Thursday, July 31, 2008

Permission To Be Free

I have a mentor that most of you probably don't know. As a matter of fact, he doesn't even know that he's my mentor, but he's been that for me for over twenty years. He's a man who lives his life behind a microphone, and for over twenty years I have listened to his daily 15-minute broadcast. His program used to be broadcast on my local Christian radio station until they decided that he was too "outside the box" for them, so they booted him. When I was working with Trans World Radio in Guam back in 1991, I proposed that they pick up his program on the local island-chain Christian radio station, and they did. He's been on that station now for 17 years. Now days, I have his program on my daily podcast line-up, and I listen to him pretty faithfully that way.

My mentor's name is Steve Brown, and his ministry is called "Key Life." He sums up the purpose of his ministry by saying that it exists to communicate to people everywhere that God is not mad at them. He speaks daily about the freedom that we have in Christ, and he desires to give Christians permission to be free.

2 Corinthians 3:17 says, "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." Steve takes this verse to heart and says that since we've been filled with the Spirit of the Lord, we ought to be living in freedom. He says, "Everybody wants to be free in Christ, but very few people realize it. So most of us play a game. We conform to what everybody thinks and what everybody says, and we end up in prison by our own fear."

I used to live in the prison of my own fear, and it nearly ruined me. Then, a couple of years ago, I hit rock bottom. My fear of failure, my fear of regret, and my fear of losing the things that were most precious to me had totally imprisoned me. I felt hopeless, afraid, and depressed. It was then that the Lord convicted me of the sin of my fear, and it was then that I began to realize that because of the work of Christ on the cross, God actually gives me - and you too - permission to be free. My mentor, Steve, had been telling me this for years, but it took me hitting rock bottom before I understood how locked-up I really was and how miserable I was making life for myself and my family.

1 John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." God, through the work of His Son Jesus (who is perfect love) on the cross, has removed fear from our lives and gives us permission to be free. Hallelujah!

Today I was listening to my mentor, Steve, on my iPod, and he said something to me that was really funny but really profound. He said, "All of Bible theology can be summed up in two statements: Cheer're a lot worse than you think you are! And cheer up...God's grace is a lot bigger than you think it is!" Now that's freeing!

I'm choosing to live in freedom today. Are you?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Today's Sermon Leftovers

In the Engage class this morning, we had an excellent conversation! For those who don't know, the Engage class is a sermon discussion class that follows the Sunday service. Today we discussed my sermon from 1 Samuel 18-20 entitled, David and Jonathan: A Picture of True Community. Allow me to recap the main points of the sermon, recap a couple of nuggets from the Engage class discussion, and then end with a couple of questions that were still left unresolved at the end of class. You'll then be invited to join the conversation and help us find answers to these unresolved questions.

Sermon Main Points:

True community happens when...
1. People love each other as much as they love themselves.
2. People make deep and lasting commitments to one another.
3. People faithfully defend one another.
4. People boldly protect one another.

And...maintaining true community requires a lifelong commitment.

Engage Class Discussion Highlights:

First, we talked about what things keep us from experiencing true Christian community today. We discussed things like our culture, fear, unwillingness to be vulnerable with each other, a lack of a desire to connect with one another, and not recognizing our need for community.

Then, we explored the idea that - as Christians - we are to be loving to everyone, but true community (like David and Jonathan's) will only be experienced with a few people in our lives. Those "few" should include spouses, children, and the close family/friends that God puts in our lives. We recognized that it is not our responsibility to live this way with everyone in the church, but we were hopeful that if each person sought to experience true community with a few people in the church, then the chances that most - if not all - people in the church would experience true community would be greater.

We then decided on a couple of action items for all of us to consider like being willing to take the risk and seek true community with a few people in our lives, evaluating how willing we truly are to connect with people on this level, and recognizing that we must first look inside our own homes to develop this kind of true community.

Daniel Hachez made a great observation. He said that if we're going to even have a chance at being successful in experiencing true Christian community with others, then we must strive to reduce "busy-anity" in our lives! I think I'll start using that word!

Now it's your turn!

After the class, Corrie Girdner came up to me and said she still had a couple more questions about this topic that she wanted to ask. With her permission, allow me to pose these questions to you...and then it's your turn to add to the conversation.

Do you think friendship covenants like David and Jonathan's should be entered into today?

How can we know who to enter into this deep kind of friendship with?

What about deep male/female friendship between non-married people? Is it biblically permissible for Christians to continue to pursue these type of friendships once they're married?

These are great questions! Corrie, Nathan, Michelle, and I talked about them for a bit after class, but we'd all love to hear from you, so it's your turn to take a whack at these questions. What say you?!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Do I Have to Go to Church?

I was thinking today about why people come to church. What motivates them to show up each week? This is something many parents are forced to deal with because the older their kids get, the more they seem to ask, "Do I have to go to church?"

I've been answering this question in our home for years now, but I have an advantage over most people. I just tell my kids that they have to go because I'm a pastor and my pay gets docked every time one of them doesn't show up. This used to work, but lately, this answer has not worked so well. My kids are getting older now and they're buying less and less of my lame answers to their serious questions. So, I now have to wrestle along with other parents with how to answer this question. And to be honest, it's one of those nagging questions that I've always wrestled with myself.

Do I really have to go to church? What's the point? Can't I just stay home, sleep in, and listen to a good preacher on the radio and fulfill my weekly church duty that way?

Well, I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately on the concept of worship. I told you a couple of weeks ago from the pulpit that the elders are wrestling with understanding what true worship is with the goal of reviving the concept of worship churchwide in the near future. Today I spent most of the afternoon reading the book Worship: Rediscovering the Missing Jewel by Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror. I've had this book on my shelf for years. As a matter of fact, I've been interested in reading it for quite some time as Gordon Borror was a professor of Del Walth (our former minister of worship) in seminary. Gordon actually came to Foothills and served on Del's ordination council back in 2000.

Anyway, I came across a quote in the book today that really helped me understand anew why I - and you too! - need to go to church on Sunday. Gordon quoted from another book called Jubilate by Donald Hustad. Here's what Hustad says about the Sunday morning worship service:

The worship service is rehearsal for life. It outlines the dialog which goes on constantly between God and believers, giving God's Word and suggesting the response He wants to hear - response which includes our adoration, our confession, our thanksgiving, our dedication, and our petition. Worship also offers us an opportunity to give ourselves to God in all of life; in token of this, in the worship service we give Him our praise and adoration, we give Him our offerings of money and also of our service in ministry.

Finally, worship is becoming like God in our total personhood - body, emotions, mind, and will. The worship service allows us to exercise every part of ourselves, in order that our bodies might be God's temple, that our spirit might be moved by His spirit, that our mind might be the mind of Christ, and that our will might be one with the will of God.

True worship then is really all there is to being a Christian, and the worship service is important because of what it represents as a microcosm.

Good stuff, huh? So the next time you wrestle with whether or not to get up and go to church on Sunday, remember that going to church is like going to a dress rehearsal for life as a worshipper of the Lord. And the next time your kids ask you if they have to go to church, tell them the same. But, if they're still young and gullible, have some fun and make something up.

See you Sunday!

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Tattoo for My Birthday

Today's my birthday, and I'm thinking about getting a tattoo. I've been thinking about getting one for several years and almost did a couple of years ago when Michelle and I were in Hollywood, CA together. We were walking along the "Walk of Fame" checking out all of the stars when we stumbled upon a tattoo shop. How cool would it be to say that I got a tattoo in Hollywood? Very bold. Very daring. Very cool. Very much unlike me to do so. We didn't get one that day because I couldn't decide what to get, and I couldn't talk Michelle into getting one with me.

Since then, I've been thinking off and on about getting one. My daughter, Emily, swears that I promised her that we would get one together on her 18th birthday (next May), but I have no recollection of ever making that promise.

The first time I ever really considered getting one was back in 1996 when I was at lunch with my friend, Brett Ray. I got to know him because I used to be in charge of a large summer youth conference in Ohio, and he was one of the speakers we regularly brought in. Brett is a phenomenal speaker who now does marriage conferences for Family Life Ministry with his wife, Carol. One day we were having lunch together and Brett informed me (now that we were becoming closer friends) that he had a tattoo. I had never seen it, but knowing him, I wasn't really surprised. I asked him where it was, hoping that it wasn't somewhere on his body that I didn't want to see. He unhooked his watch and revealed some letters tattooed on his wrist; letters that were completely covered by his watch band. Upon closer inspection, I saw that words "bleed grace" had been ornately tattooed on his wrist. He explained that someone once told him that he was a man who bleeds grace, and soon after being told that, he got the tattoo to always remind him to make sure his life is marked by grace. I thought that was pretty cool, and it got me thinking.

What do I need to always remember? What words are so important to me that I would consider having them tattooed on my body? In the years that followed, I really couldn't think of anything. I wouldn't mind having the name "Michelle" tattooed on my body, but I've always told her that if I did, I'd have it tattooed on my rear end. She's not really excited about that idea. And then there's this guy I know who has all the names of his kids tattooed on his neck. I'm not a big fan of that. It looks kind of weird, and it would be hard to cover up. Plus, it's not right to put their names on my neck when right now, I spend most of my time wanting to wring theirs!

And then, God revealed something to me. Something very profound. Something worth writing on my body. I have always been a worrier who struggles to keep everything around me under my control, and when I can't control things, I get frustrated and angry. This has caused a lot of damage to those closest to me: my wife and kids. They've lived with a man who loves them dearly but who is driven by fear. This fear leads to my need to control, and it's taken a toll on them. I used to think that my problem was anger, but the Lord has revealed to me (through some pretty rotten circumstances) that my anger is just a symptom of a deeper problem. Fear.

I'm not afraid of the dark (usually) nor am I afraid of my shadow, but I am afraid of a lot of things. I'm afraid of screwing up. I'm afraid of regret. I'm afraid of losing control. I'm afraid of losing the people and things that I love. I'm afraid to put my complete faith and trust in the Lord. And, I'm even afraid that someone will read this and think I shouldn't be their pastor anymore.

However, God is doing a work in me, and even though I'm afraid of it, it's been life changing, revolutionary, and really good. He's teaching me that He can be trusted, and He's teaching me that He's so trustworthy that I can relinquish my need for control over to Him...and He can handle it. I think I'm starting to get it. You know how I know? I'm not nearly as scared as I used to be, and as a result, I don't try to control things as much, and I'm not nearly as angry as I used to be. I think this is what it means to be free in Christ. It's a freedom I've never really understood nor experienced, but I'm starting to get it, and I like it...a lot.

So, what words do I think just might be worth tattooing on my body? I've thought about this a lot lately, and I think - for me - the words "no fear" would be a good choice. And if I feel really spiritual on the day of my tattooing, I may change it to "fear not" because when Jesus spoke in the King James dialect, these are the words he used.

The other day, I was driving and came upon a car at a stop light. I looked over and saw a very old lady driving. On her left arm was a tattoo. It did not look good at all on her. I'm sure it looked just fine when she was my age, but it kind of frightened me, to be honest. Made me think. I'm not getting any younger. As a matter of fact I just turned another year older today. Maybe getting a tattoo is not such a good idea for me. I guess I'll hold off until Emily forces me to consider the idea again in May.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Emergent Church Confusion

Ugh! I'm confused, so I thought I'd tell you about it.

Ever heard of the emergent church movement? It's a pretty big deal these days. It's a growing movement of people and churches that are attempting to figure out how to do ministry in a post-modern (post-Christian) context, which is the type of culture we're living in. I really don't want to take the time to explain in detail what the term post-modern implies, but in a nutshell, it implies that we are living in a time dominated by the transmission of massive amounts of information (via the Internet), the absence of absolute truth (relativism), and a pervasive sense of skepticism and cynicism (especially toward traditional Christianity). We are living in a post-modern, post-Christian culture here in America today, and because of this, our methods and strategies for reaching people for Christ must take this reality into consideration.

Well, the emergent church movement is trying to do this. On the surface, they seem to be doing a great job. Some of their thinking, questions, and conclusions are profound and have been very motivating and challenging for me as a Christ-follower and as a pastor attempting to lead others in following Christ. Brian McLaren is the recognized national leader of this movement in America. He is a pastor, author, and well-known speaker. I attended a 12-hour intensive training seminar hosted by him back in the late 90's on how to do ministry in a post-modern context. His book, More Ready Than You Realize, was instrumental in helping me understand how to share Christ (the Truth) in a culture where truth is not valued or recognized. In light of this book, I had him on my radio show (Parenting Teenagers) back in 2002 to talk to parents about how they could more effectively communicate their faith to their post-modern kids. It was one of my favorite programs...and I did 160 of them! I've even quoted McLaren from the pulpit, and on our recent vacation, Michelle and I listened to a couple of his podcasts. I really, really like him. He inspires me, and the compassionate way in which he communicates is very appealing to me.

So, here's the rub. He is a lightening rod for criticism among many evangelicals today, including some that I highly regard and respect. Some have gone so far as to call McLaren a cult-leader, and recently I heard John MacArthur (a pastor and Bible teacher that I have great respect for) even question whether or not McLaren was a true follower of Christ, suggesting that he is a false teacher that the Bible warns believers about. And it's not just Brian McLaren that is at the receiving end of such strong criticism. Other notables like Rob Bell (of Nooma video fame of which I've shown all his videos at The Foothills) and Mark Oestreicher (the leader of Youth Specialities which Jesse and I have and are still using their material in our youth group) have been named with Brian McLaren as false teachers who are wrong about some pretty major tenants of the Christian faith.

Here is what many mainline evangelical leaders are criticizing the emergent church leaders (namely Brian McLaren) for:

1. Allowing the current cultural climate to have too much influence on how they interpret the Scriptures. In other words, critics of the emergent church say that rather than allowing the Scripture to speak for itself or rather than allowing the traditionally accepted interpretation of certain Scriptural passages to stand, emergent church leaders are allowing the current cultural climate to heavily influence how the Scriptures should be interpreted today. Some call this the deconstruction of Scripture, and it has lead to some pretty nontraditional conclusions.

2. One of these nontraditional conclusions is their view on hell. Emergent leaders like Brian McLaren really struggle with this issue. They find it hard to believe that a God who - through Christ - ushered in a new kingdom (the Kingdom of God) could teach peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation and then at the end of a person's life practice the opposite of these things and allow a person to go to a hell that He created for them. Therefore, some emergent leaders really shy away from believing in a literal hell (like the one the Bible tells us about), or they believe that people may have a chance to come to Christ after death.

Tony Campolo (a friend of Brian McLaren and another man I think pretty highly of) recently said these very nontraditional words: "I’m not so sure that when this life is over that all possibilities for salvation are over. I read in Ephesians 4:9-10 a passage that can be interpreted to describe a Jesus who descends into “the depths below the earth” to bring captives up to God. I read in 1 Peter 3:19 about a Jesus who goes to preach to those in the prison house of death, and I believe these Scriptures show Jesus doing something for people after they are dead, as we understand death. This reveals Jesus to be the “hound of heaven.” Yes, I believe there will be people in hell eternally, but somehow, I believe from Scripture—note I said from Scripture—that in the end everybody gets a chance to choose."

3. They also have a different take on what kind of Kingdom Christ established. The traditional view of the Kingdom of God is that Christ came to establish a spiritual (other-world) kingdom where people are added to this Kingdom by making a decision to follow Christ spiritually. The fruition of this Kingdom comes when those who make the decision to be a part of the Kingdom of God while alive die and enter into the His Kingdom in heaven for eternity. The traditional emphasis of the Kingdom then is on the future (heaven).

Emergent leaders like McLaren, however, see it differently. They say that the Kingdom of God is not as much about heaven as it is about earth. They say that Christ came to establish a Kingdom where people love and care for each other while on earth, and our emphasis over the years on just saving souls is off. He says, "Western Christianity has been overly preoccupied with the question of who’s going to heaven or hell after death, and not focused enough on the question of what kind of life is truly pleasing to God here in the land of the living." While I do think that Christians do need to concern ourselves more with the needs of others here in the "land of the living", evangelical leaders like John MacArthur revolt against McLaren's words saying that the Scriptures say that life on earth is like a vapor and what Jesus came to do was NOT make this world necessarily a better place (or he would have done more about issues like hunger, corrupt government, etc.), but Jesus came to seek and save the lost...and save their souls for all eternity.

This ultimately comes down to understanding what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, and the emergent church leaders see it differently than do more traditional evangelical leaders. Leaders like MacArthur call McLaren's view on the Kingdom of God a "liberal social gospel" view.

So...the question becomes: Do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Just because we don't agree with someone, or even if they are off on some pretty major doctrinal issues, do we throw everything they have to say about faith issues out the window? I sure have a hard time with this because I believe that God has used Brian McLaren in a pretty profound way in my life and in the life of our church for that matter.

What do you think? Where do you fall on the issue of the emergent church? What have you read or heard about it, and what do you think? Should we throw the baby out with the bath water? I'm curious to know!