Monthly Archives: June 2014

How Does God Give an Understanding of Scripture?

Sadly, even professing Christian denominations find  themselves either ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture, or interpreting it in such a way that validates the sinful lives and worldviews in an effort to be ‘open and affirming.’  An openness to sin means you have closed your heart to God’s Word.

Many in our churches need a clear understanding of Scripture–so how does this happen?  How do we make sure we haven’t journeyed off the narrow, orthodox path that God lays down.  In his book Beyond the Battle for the Bible (GNP, 1980), J.I. Packer gives us some help:

First, God gives understanding through the Holy Spirit.  “Only through the Spirit’s illumination shall we be able to see how teaching applies to us in our own situation. . . .  That does not cancel the need for study, any more than  it invalidates the rules of interpretation. . . . The Spirit works through our diligence, not our laziness” (30).

Secondly,   God gives understanding through Christian community.  In looking at Colossians 3:16, Packer notes,

“Only as we gratefully share with others what we know and  receive from them what they know will the word of Christ (the Christian message) dwell in us richly (abundantly and enrichingly), in the way that  produces wisdom.  Many of us are at a disadvantage here; we have had it so drummed into us that the only sure way to learn God’s will from the Bible is to go off with  it into a solitary place anddig into it on our own that we cannot easily accept that  the interchanges of church fellowship, both institutional and informal, are the main channels of entry into spiritual understanding” (31).

What are the main means within the Christian community?

Scripture shows that the main  means of learning from God is to hear his message preached and to involve oneself in the give-and-take of Christian fellowship in exploring the contents of Holy Scripture. (32)

So what follows?

  1. “You and I should take most seriously the preaching under which we sit in our churches.”
  2. “We should take most seriously the value of group Bible study as a means to personal understanding, and make a point to involve ourselves in it.”
  3. “We should take most seriously the value of practicing fellowship with Christians outside our own circle by reading their books–including classic books from the Christian past, and  expository books written from standpoints other than our own within the Bible-believing spectrum.  (Thus Calvinists should sometimes read books by charismatics, and charismatifcs should sometimes read books by Calvinists.)  This will help us get some of our blinkers off, and see over the top of some of  the ruts we are in.

An excellent word from Dr. Packer.

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God Restoring Human Nature is More Wonderful Than Its Creation

Since it is fitting for that man to be God, and also the restorer of sinners, we doubt not that he is wholly without sin; yet will this avail nothing, unless he be taken without sin and yet of a sinful substance. But if we cannot comprehend in what manner the wisdom of God effects this, we should be surprised, but with reverence should allow of a thing of so great magnitude to remain hidden from us. For the restoring of human nature by God is more wonderful than its creation; for either was equally easy for God; but before man was made he had not sinned so that he ought not to be denied existence. But after man was made he deserved, by his sin, to lose his existence together with its design; though he never has wholly lost this, viz., that he should be one capable of being punished, or of receiving God’s compassion. For neither of these things could take effect if he were annihilated. Therefore God’s restoring man is more wonderful than his creating man, inasmuch as it is done for the sinner contrary to his deserts; while the act of creation was not for the sinner, and was not in opposition to man’s deserts. How great a thing it is, also, for God and man to unite in one person, that, while the perfection of each nature is preserved, the same being may be both God and man! Who, then, will dare to think that the human mind can discover how wisely, how wonderfully, so incomprehensible a work has been accomplished?

–Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109), Chapter XVI of Cur Deus Homo?  (Why God Became Man?)

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(Brief) World Cup Prayer Guide: Croatia

604px-Coat_of_arms_of_Croatia_svgThe World Cup is underway, with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1 in a thriller–and not without controversy.  Croatia played admirably against the home team, but some decisions went Brazil’s way.

Croatia is a country with a thick , rich history the dates back centuries. Here’s some info found on Wikipedia.

Croatia is located in Central and Southeast Europe, bordering Hungary to the northeast Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina to the southeast, Montenegro to the southeast, the Adriatic Sea to the southwest andSlovenia to the northwest. It lies mostly between latitudes 42° and 47° N and longitudes 13° and 20° E. Part of the territory in the extreme south surrounding Dubrovnikis a practical exclave connected to the rest of the mainland by territorial waters, but separated on land by a short coastline strip belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina around Neum.

The religious diversity in Croatia may surprise you from the statistics found below.

What may surprise you is how much the percentages of those who classify themselves as ‘atheist or agnostic’; as well as the small percentage of Protestants.  In reality, less that a 2% evangelical presence exists in southeastern Europe.

So we pray that:

  1. Pray that God would open up the eyes of those in Croatia to the gospel of Jesus.
  2. Pray for the safety of the Croat players while in Brazil.
  3. Pray in an informed way regarding the people in Eastern Europe through the IMB Europe website.
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World Cup Prayer Guide: Pray for the Nation of Brazil

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IMB Missionary Phil Kesler, sporting his Brazil jersey

Yesterday, I shared how the World Cup is a time when the eyes of the world will be on the world–to the tune of 500 million people across the globe watching.

Today, the 2014 FIFA World Cup begins, and so to we begin by taking the next 32 days and praying for each country.  Country #1?

República Federativa do Brasil–that is, the Federative Republic of Brazil.

By far, the largest country in South America,

Bounded by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, Brazil has a coastline of 7,491 km (4,655 mi).[12] It is bordered on the north by Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and the French overseas region of French Guiana; on the northwest by Colombia; on the west by Bolivia and Peru; on the southwest by Argentina and Paraguay and on the south by Uruguay. Numerous archipelagos form part of Brazilian territory, such as Fernando de Noronha, Rocas Atoll, Saint Peter and Paul Rocks, and Trindade and Martim Vaz.[12] It borders all other South American countries except Ecuador and Chile and occupies 47 percent of the continent of South America (Wikipedia)

Brazil was awarded the privilege of being the host nation due to its soccer (futbol) pedigree as well as having the 7th largest GDP in the world.  Yet, corruption kept rearing its ugly head, as protests started: why so much money into the World Cup when that money could be used to alleviate the economic struggles of the people who live there?  Over 84% of Brazil’s population is in the urban cities, and these cities are large, with Sao Paolo coming in with over 11 million people–and 20 cities having over 1 million.

They have a rich culture of literature and music (if you want a taste, then listen to the soundtrack of the movie Rio–no, I’m not kidding) and cuisine.  Each year at Carnival, these are put on display in rather bacchanalian ways–indulging in the most hedonistic pleasures right up until Ash Wednesday, when they fast from such revelries (much like Mardi Gras–Fat Tuesday–does for the people of New Orleans).

Pray for the religious climate in Brazil as well.  Soccer means much, but soccer won’t last into eternity–and soccer cannot redeem a soul.  Below is a chart about the percentage of those involved in certain religions.

Religion Percent
Roman Catholicism
64.6%
Protestantism
22.2%
No religion
8.0%
Spiritism
2.0%
Others
3.2%

Item of prayer:

  1. Pray for missionaries in Brazil, such as Phil Kesler of the International Missions Board, as he works to spread the gospel to the nation of Brazil.
  2. Pray for the nation’s leaders as they find ways to help alleviate the financial and medical suffering of the people of Brazil.
  3. Pray that the nation sees that soccer is not ultimate.  Last year, after a loss, the fans came onto the field and beheaded a referee out of unrest.  Beheaded.  A human being.  May God spare such atrocities during the next four weeks.

I have Brazil as part of my Final Four for the World Cup–but they must come to the top of the list as a matter of prayer.  Even if you don’t watch soccer much, tune in to the opening match on ESPN (4 Eastern, 2 Mountain).

May our hearts break for Brazil.

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The World Cup is Upon Us–Let’s Open Our Eyes to a World for Christ

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Some of you who know me know now I’m a big soccer fan.  Some of you who have known me for a while may find this surprising. 

Whatever the past, I’m here in the present–and I enjoy soccer immensely now that I’ve taken it on its own terms.  And I am most certainly looking forward to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. 

In case you hadn’t heart, the USA qualified.  And in case you hadn’t heard, they drew a tall order in their group–known as the Group of Death.  Here’s how this works:

First, they are one team out of 32 that qualified from around the world.  Each of these 32 are put into eight groups of four.  Brazil, the host country, automatically qualified, but they would have anyway–they are part of my Final Four pick. 

In the group stage, each team plays each other once in various locations.  In our group, we (the USA) drew Portugal (the #2 team in the world, according to FIFA–and who has Cristian Ronaldo, whom most people would recognize even if they don’t follow the sport), Germany (the #3 team in the world–also in my final four), and Ghana (a thorn in the side of recent World Cups for  the USA). 

How are the USA in the World rankings? #13.  Not bad, especially for us.  Yet, those are rankings based upon a number of factors, few of those factors have to do with head-to-head competition.  So we won’t really know how the USA will fare until they take the field (called a pitch in soccer world) against Ghana on June 16th.  And given that they have to travel over 8,800 miles for their three games in Brazil–well, I just hope their stamina and conditioning are what they need to be.

Now, you say, “I’m an  American!  What hath soccer to do with America? It’s not a real sport unless you use your hands!  We’re about scoring (basketball and football) and American tradition (baseball).”  I get it.  Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. 

But even if you’re not into soccer, you can use  the World Cup as a way to open your eyes to the rest of the world. 

With this, I turn your attention to an article I wrote for the Burgundy Wave, a Colorado Rapids blog for whom I started writing about a month ago.  The title of the article is, “Five Ways to Enjoy the World Cup–Some of Which Involve Soccer.”   During the World Cup, you will come across countries about whom we may not normally consider.  We will hear about their situations, their culture, their music, their history.  We can delve into some of their cuisine. 

And, we can know that over 500 million people will be watching those games. 

It’s a world event. 

As believers, we can most certainly be praying and thinking about these countries.  So, my aim is to put out a prayer post for each of these countries over 32 days, starting when Brazil and Croatia start things off on Thursday, June 12 at 4:00 pm EST. 

So again, consider the five ways, then consider praying for these countries–and get to know them a little better.  It may open your eyes to a world that needs Christ and needs you to show them.

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How I Plan to Navigate an Established Church Through Change

Change  in a church or any organization is scary–and not just for those of the older persuasion.  I mean, that’s the stereotype: the senior adults of a church usually take umbrage with change.  Not so!  Change is scary for many in the church.  The unknown is all that’s known during the process.  The younger generations wonder if the change will really help the cause of Christ, and become anxiety-filled in wondering if this process will really move things forward or find resistance to such a degree that it’s not worth it. 

Our church called me as Lead Pastor (I know, the title is ‘senior’ pastor, but, hey, I’m 42–I’m not a ‘senior’ anything yet) and for the first 18 months, I kept my word and didn’t change much.  I spent time loving and getting to know our people as best as possible (not perfectly, but that was my ambition), and preached the unvarnished Word of God being led by His Spirit in using this earthen vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7). 

Yet, all churches and church members need to grow (we can’t stay put, can we?) and all churches need to God (Christ said so, didn’t He?), and so we continually evaluate what we could do better, what we must begin doing, and what is an obstacle to what needs doing.  How do we navigate through change in a church?  Let’s use the acronym CHANGE to help understand this process.

Here’s my plan:

Christ and community:  Do the changes help us better connect with Christ  and connect with the community around us? 

Head and heart:  Do the changes connect with us personally in our head (yes, we need these changes) and our heart (are we emotionally and spiritually ready to make these changes, or do our spirits resist these? If so, why?  What challenges arise?  What threat do they pose?  Is the end result in our hearts worth the process of losing some of what we have now?)

Approachable and applicable:  Are the changes achievable (to use another ‘a’)?  Are they something that we can do?  Are there short-term, easier changes we can make now to gain momentum for changes in the future?  Are these changes for changes’ sake, or do they apply to a true obstacle or issue the church is facing? 

Navigable:  Are we as church leaders ready to communicate where we shall navigate?  Are we as church leaders ready to help you navigate through the calm and/or stormy waters in this sea of change–or are we as leaders wanting to stay docked in a safe harbor?  When we do (notice the word ‘when’) pull out of the safety of the harbor, will we as church leaders recognize the needed pace by which to navigate?  And will we all be willing to be led by the Spirit and have ears to hear what he is saying to the church (Revelation 2-3)?

Gradual with gravity:  Pace.  That’s the word.  Will we recognize the necessary pace, finding the tension between being gradual (not glacial) and conveying the gravity of needed change? 

Edifying and engaging:  Are we willing to grow on the inside (edify–which means to build up) to go on the outside (engaging)?  We’ve come full circle to Christ (growing in Him) and culture (going for Him, in His name). 

Whatever change takes place, may we do so by

(1)  Engaging His Word
(2)  Engaging Him in prayer
(3)  Engaging His people.
(4)  Engaging the lost. 

What think ye?  How does change in your church affect you? 

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Thank You, Cecil: The Persistance of a Patient Pastor

Thank you, Cecil, for taking me out of my pastoral legalism.

We live in a microwave society. What you want things immediately. If they don’t come immediately, then we go to the other extreme and become so despondent, that life becomes almost unbearable. And sadly enough, we don’t recognize the issues of our own heart that’s causing this impatience and, thus, start blaming other people for not moving in our timing.

It’s a form of legalism. How so? Legalism this when we began to impose a law on someone else in order for them to be righteous. The Pharisees expressed a form of legalism in which they took a diluted law of Moses , and impose it on the people for them to approve they’re righteousness before God and before them. If they did not rise to their standard, they would be mocked, ridiculed, and possibly excommunicated from the temple.

When pastors are impatient, they are usually impatient because they have a set of changes that they wish to implement quickly, but if this is too fast for the culture of the church, the impatient pastor does not look inside to shepherd the People at a good pace, but looks outwardly with chagrin that those who are not following his pastoral pace. Thus, impatient  pastor sees them as the ones to blame for not following his lead,, when the shepherds are to lead one step ahead of the Sheep, and not 10 or 100.

I visited my former church for a funeral recently. It has been two and half years since I’ve visited the church , and I had the opportunity to see my old church family and bring back some precious memories of that time. But I also remember my impatience coming out of seminary. I had studied under the finest theological minds on the planet. I was ready to use all of my knowledge and impart it on the very fortunate congregation that called me pastor.

I shudder to this day on my first two years there.  Early 30s and knew everything.

My friend Cecil Short, the one who lost his wife at that funeral, took me under his wing and showed me so much about being a pastor. Yes, he was a deacon. No he was not a pastor or preacher. No he wasn’t belligerent in how he taught me. He simply questioned, made me think, offered general advice when I came to his house almost in tears as to why the church wasn’t  following my lead. 

He showed me how to love, to be patient, and that pastor meant shepherding and caring, not just expecting others to follow my lead because I had the title.

Thank you, Cecil.  You are my friend who is over 40 years my senior.  Thanks for shaping that green pastor patiently and modeling a patience for me. 

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