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Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the breadth of worship - new devotional book release

I am working on a series of short devotional books suitable for personal or small group study and discussion.  The first in the series is on worship and is entitled, The Breadth of Worship.  You can order copies from my Lulu Storefront, or if you are in Charlotte, I have a short run and can sell them to you at a discount and save shipping costs.  The books sell for $8 locally (I'll discount bulk orders) and $8.95 + shipping online.

Chapters include:
Service as Worship   [sample chapter] PDF
Obedience as Worship
Yielding as Worship
Loving God as Worship
Worship in Community
Worship in Humility
Worship as Praise
Worship as Participation
From the back cover:
The Breadth of Worship is an eight-part study on the biblical meaning and significance of worship in the life of the Christian and the church.  Condensed from doctoral studies, then preached as eight sermons, this material has been compiled in a format that is accessible to the lay reader and organized as a devotional self-study on the vitally important topic of worship.

Chapters explore key worship principles and how we are to understand worship through service, obedience, yieldedness, love, community, humility, praise, and participation in Christ.  There is also a resource section for further study.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

the depth of worship - acoustic preview ep release

During and since my sabbatical in 2009 I have been working on recording a worship CD of hymns and original songs.  As a preview to this project, I have released an "acoustic preview EP" that features four hymns (with original choruses and arrangements) and one original song from the CD.  All the mixes on the EP are guitar/vocal arrangements while the full CD will feature full-band arrangements.  At this point, these CDs are only available locally at Good Shepherd, but I would willing to mail them if folks will cover the postage.  The cost is $5 locally or $6.50 to package and mail.  Please e-mail first and I'll provide details for ordering.  Or, if you are in the Charlotte area, stop by Good Shepherd for your copy.


Here's one of the tracks, which was inspired by C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle.  It is called "Home."


Monday, November 01, 2010

WNE yr 2 - groups

The first Wednesday I presented the 12 options, explained them, and asked people to write their top three on a slip of paper.  On the second Wednesday we set up group meeting areas for the six most popular groups and let people gravitate where they wanted.  We had directions like those I've posted for games, service, and headline news at each station.

As it has turned out, the groups that formed are as follows:

  1. Basics of Faith group: meets at the church for visitors and newer Christians
  2. Book Discussion group: chose "Same Kind of Different as Me" for their first book
  3. Service group: has already written notes to our shut-ins and college students and visited one of our shut-ins; has plans to put up flyers in the neighborhood for "Helping Hands" handyman services.
  4. Live Music group: several of us play live bluegrass music at the coffeeshop on the corner, and usually have several others come to chat.  This format really does a good job of inviting interaction with the patrons.
  5. Movies/Headline News: the same set of folks were kind of split between these two topics and have been a little hit or miss in attendance.  I'm still waiting to see if the group solidifies or not.
I'll keep you posted on how things go!

[Update: February, 2011]
6.  Group Home Guys: the small group with guys across the street has resumed.  They come over for dinner with their house manager and mix and mingle with us, then several church volunteers lead them in a small group study and prayer.
7.  Tutoring: some kids from down the street come before dinner and meet one on one with several church members (including one 5th grader!), who work on homework, reading, and other school assignments.  The kids have been staying for dinner and the children's programming, and their parents have come along a couple of times as well.  We are trying to recruit some more church volunteers so we can expand to some other children the elementary school counselor has indentified along with one of our chief school volunteers.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

WNE yr 2 - games

In this post and the previous two, I've shared the explanation/sample for three of the potential groups; in the next post I'll share a list of the actual groups that have formed.

Games

Feel free to discuss and modify the approach, but here’s one suggested approach which you can try out as a group tonight. Before you are done, try to agree about what you will bring (in terms of games/supplies) next week and where you’ll go.

1. TONIGHT: if you have enough people, have two people play some or all of a game of chess. Then do the same with Scrabble (with different people). Try to do all this in 20-30 min., even if you can’t finish the games.

2. Discuss the dynamics:
  • What did it feel like to watch the games?
  • Was it interesting? Dull?
  • How would it be any different if you were in a more public place like Caribou or Starbucks?
  • What differences are there between these two games (chess and Scrabble)?
  • Are there other games that might be more effective at inviting interaction?
3. Discuss potential “goals” of the game time:
  • Is it fun for you?
  • Does it invite observation?
  • Does it invite outside participation?
  • Does it invite conversation? With players? With other church “watchers”?
4. Discuss the best arrangement of people playing vs. watching and length of game, with your goals in mind.

5. Are there creative variations on a basic game you might explore? For example hosting a “tournament” after a few weeks? A “how to play this game” demonstration? Any other ideas?

6. Finally, see if you can decide where you want to meet next week and following; commit to timeliness in starting and finishing (esp. for choir members and parents who need to be back AT 8pm).

Friday, October 29, 2010

WNE yr 2 - service

In this post and the next one, I'd like to share the explanation/sample for three of the potential groups, then I'll share a final post listing the actual groups that have formed.

Service

Feel free to discuss and modify the approach, but here’s one suggested approach which you can try out as a group tonight. Before you are done, try to agree about what you will bring (in terms of supplies) next week and what you’ll do.

1. Brainstorm (and write down) some potential service projects your group could do, noting the size of the group. Keep in mind the following variations:
  • Spending the hour on Wednesday night “prepping” and then one or more delivering the next day/days. (ex: group making a meal in the kitchen and then one or two delivering afterward or the next day)
  • Each person prepping prior to Wednesday and then the group “delivering” on Wed pm. (ex: gifts/cards for the church staff, then placing them Wed pm)
  • An “all-in-one” project – something you could do on Wednesday night that is self-contained (ex: visiting a shut-in)
2. Given the makeup of your group, are there certain projects to which your gifts/interests lend themselves?
  • Cooking?
  • Cleaning?
  • Visiting?
  • Writing?
  • Tutoring?
  • Etc…
3. Are there creative variations you might explore?
  • Sharing stories with the congregation or beyond? A blog or Facebook page?
  • Engaging the congregation in your projects or similar ones?
  • “Bigger” projects around the holidays?
4. Finally, see if you can decide where you want to start next week; commit to timeliness in starting and finishing (esp. for choir members and parents who need to be done AT 8pm).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

WNE yr 2 - headline news

In this post and the next two, I'd like to share the explanation/sample for three of the potential groups, then I'll share a final post listing the actual groups that have formed.

Headline News

Feel free to discuss and modify the approach, but here’s one suggestion which you can try out as a group tonight. Before you are done, try to agree about what you will bring (in terms of newspapers) next week and where you’d like to go.

1. Prep (normally before you come): look through the paper and bring one or two stories you think would be good discussion pieces. For tonight, split up the local and national paper sections among your group and have each one look for one potential discussion piece.

2. Suggested ‘filters’ for helping choose a piece:
  • Choose a political piece, but don’t focus on your politics; discuss the role faith does or doesn’t play or bring to bear on the story.
  • Choose an entertainment piece to focus on values, culture, or influence
  • Choose a community piece to discuss the role our church or Christians could play in interacting with the need or situation
  • Choose a national headline as a prayer topic and discuss ways the group will commit to pray over the next week

3. Figure out a system for what to discuss:
  • 10 min. per headline
  • Draw from a hat and discuss until you’re “done”; draw another if needed
  • Pick a person to bring two (or however many fits your pace and time) any given week
  • Etc…

4. Consider additional ways to interact with the news:
  • Identify an ongoing prayer need from the news and create a scrapbook/journal and add clippings to update the situation and topic; do this individually or as a group
  • Start a blog or Facebook group around what you are doing

5. Be aware of politics and other divisive dynamics; our goal is to see how our faith intersects our culture, not pick fights with each other over political and other viewpoints. If you find that you have widely divergent viewpoints on a matter, consider making it a matter of prayer for a few weeks in preparation for discussion.

6. Finally, see if you can decide where you want to meet next week and following; commit to timeliness in starting and finishing (esp. for choir members and parents who need to be back AT 8pm).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

WNE yr 2

Last Fall (2009), I wrote about our Wednesday Night Experiment.  I wrote:

So, on Wednesday nights, instead of traditional church Bible study in the building and on the grounds, we are taking it to the streets.  We are going to take a simple program - conversations with each other about where we see God in our lives during the week, and rather than meet IN the church building, we are going to disperse in 3s and 4s into public gathering places in the neighborhood. We are not going to evangelize per se, but to simply go where people are and be who we are - at Caribou, at the pizza parlor, walking on the sidewalk, at the public library. My prayer is that God will open doors for us to meet our neighbors. It's definitely experimental; I'll let you know how it goes!
In my view, the experiment was a great success with many wonderful surprises (live music, group home ministry, housing project neighbors, prayer needs at the bookstore).  Amazing what can happen when we venture outside of the church walls with the eyes and ears of faith!  It wasn't just going to those places though, because we get coffee and drive through the neighborhood all the time.  It was making the intentional connection between the two worlds of church and life that we so often keep separated.

This Fall (2010), we are doing something similar.  We still have several groups going out from the church, but we've tweaked the content a little bit.  Last year all of the groups were given the same set of discussion questions, based on the previous Sunday's sermon.  This year, we had an organizational night and suggested about 12 potential topics or activities and let people gravitate toward ones in which they were interested, while bearing in mind that these would be suited for public settings.

Some of these topics/activities included:

1.  Sermon discussion (like last year)
2.  Book discussion
3.  Movie discussion
4.  Headline news discussion
5.  Service/hands-on group
6.  Games group
7.  Prayer/Accountability group
8.  Scripture study
9.  Prayer walks
10. Video interviews/documentary
11. Live Music
12. Basics of Faith (to be held at church for visitors or newer Christians)

In the next few posts I'll share some more detail on several of the topics or activities as well as to which groups people gravitated.
We are about a month into this year's "experiment" and my preliminary observations are that there is more interest because of the variety of topics, but less interaction with our neighbors.  The simplicity of last year's content only required minimal focus on faith (but in a good way), leaving ample attention and opportunity for interaction.  I'm hoping that we will work our way back to that once the groups settle into the new content.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

holy friendships, pt. 2

Is God Talking to Me?
Reflections on Nathan and David in 2 Samuel 12

What do I take away from this story?

I read a pretty thorough description of God’s story of creation, sin, consequence, and redemption, both in story form with the poor man and the lamb, and in David’s life as God redeemed him from his own self-destruction.

I recognize that it is not enough to know the story at arm’s-length. Just as God used Nathan to say “You are the man!” to David, God would have me recognize that I am the man! Likewise, if you miss this, you’ve missed the point of this text. You are the man; you are the woman; you are the boy; you are the girl.

God created you for goodness, for obedience, for a relationship with Him. You and I and every other human in history has messed up God’s creation like a three year old kicking over the tower of blocks I carefully built. But we cannot destroy God’s creation, just mess it up. God’s gracious invitation through Jesus Christ is to hear His Word and Spirit, and in our conviction that we (I!) have sinned, turn back to God with a broken and contrite heart and say, “Help me!” And God will rebuild our lives and give us life with Him.

That’s the promise; that’s the Good News. That’s the Word of hope that folks need to hear when they are turned or turning away from God. A friend who will speak that Word of hope – that’s a friend worth having and that’s a friend worth being. Amen.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

holy friendships, pt. 1

There are two kinds of people in the world.

There are those who are turned or turning toward God and there are those who are turned or turning away from God.

When Jesus commanded us to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he (among other things) enjoined us to holy friendships. That is, to friendships that weren't about "what I can get out of it" or even "what the other can get out of it" but "what God would do in our neighbor's life."

Barnabas was a good friend. In Acts 11 we read that the Jerusalem apostles sent him to Antioch, where a number of Greeks had believed when they heard the story of Jesus. Greeks! Not God's covenant people, but Greeks! So Barnabas went. And he demonstrated what holy friendship looks like toward those who are turned or turning toward God.

He saw the evidence of God's grace and he REJOICED. He was thrilled to see non-Jews believing in the covenant God through Jesus Christ. It didn't matter that it was "out of the box" or a little alien or a lot different than how things had been done. He was full of joy because it's what God was doing.

He ENCOURAGED these Greek believers, wisely exhorting them to hold fast to this exciting and young faith. He shows us that "running the race" is not a solo endeavor, but more like soccer, working as a team with the goal being Christ.

When God brought "success" in Antioch, he didn't set credit himself, but went to invite Paul to join him, adding Paul's gifts and strength to his own. He PUT GOD'S PLAN FIRST, even over personal ambition. And he and Paul were COMMITTED and PERSEVERING, staying for a year to teach the new converts in Antioch.

These character traits, flowing out of the Holy Spirit living in us, are all ways that we can spur one another on towards Jesus.

When others are turned or turning towards Jesus, a holy friendship like that of Barnabas can bring others to a closer relationship and obedience to Christ. That is true friendship.

[Next: holy friendship towards those turned or turning away from God...]

Friday, October 01, 2010

spend yourself for your neighborhood

I knew I liked this guy (James Kim)...     :)

Want Revival? Spend Yourself for Your Neighborhood

Jesus loves our cities.

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."

This is true not only for church going people, but for all people. We all know that. But what does this truth mean? Here's what I believe:

If we want to see our churches thrive and get healthy, our churches have to spend itself for our cities. The revitalization of our churches is directly related to the revitalization of our neighborhoods that our churches find themselves in. If the good news of Jesus Christ doesn't make a difference to our neighbors then what use is the church to a world who doesn't know and doesn't care about Jesus?

There is something wrong with churches that find themselves growing in numbers and dollars while their neighborhoods are declining and suffering.

Jesus impacts the world. And the way Jesus impacts the world is through the body of Christ - the church of Jesus Christ.

Do you want a revival in your church? Start investing and loving your neighborhood with the love of Jesus Christ!

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life not only for church going folks, but for the world! 

Check out James' blog: PRAXIS - God Revolution

  

Monday, September 27, 2010

silence

some say silence is golden
but rarely is it worn with
a gentle and precious sincerity
rather it is wielded as a shield
even a sword, and then
it is shown tarnished, not golden
even tho' it come from a friend

Robert Austell, 2007.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

rant about worship songs

Excellent, if sharp and pointy, post about worship music... do read thoroughly and leave a comment!

HT: Rant About Worship Songs by Jeremy Pierce

Here are some of the things I really hate in a worship song.

1. Too simplistic, banal, lacking in depth, shallow, doctrineless: Consider that one that just talks about unity among brothers that only mentions God in passing at the very end.

2. It’s so repetitive. I mean, come on, how many times can you repeat “His steadfast love endures forever” before you start thinking the song is going to go on forever? Examples: here and here

3. For some songs, the focus is too much on instruments, and the sheer volume leads to its seeming more like a performance than worship and prevents quiet contemplation.

4. There might be too much emphasis on too intimate a relationship with God, using first-person singular pronouns like “me” and “I” or second-person pronouns like “you” instead of words like “we” and “God”. This fosters a spirit of individualism, and it generates an atmosphere of religious euphoria rather than actual worship of God. Worship should be about God, not about us. Or what about the ones that use physical language to describe God and our relationship with him? Can you really stomach the idea of tasting God?

5. Some songs have way too many words for anyone to learn.

6. It patterns its worship on experiences that not everyone in the congregation will be able to identify with. If you’re not in the frame of mind or don’t have the emotional state in question (e.g. a desperate longing for God. Then what are you doing lying and singing it? Worship leaders who encourage that sort of thing are making their congregations sing falsehoods.

7. Then there’s that song with the line asking God not to take the Holy Spirit away, as if God would ever do that to a genuine believer.

8. Then there’s that song that basically says nothing except expressing negative emotions.
At this point I’m so outraged that people would pass this sort of thing off as worship that I’m almost inclined to give in to the people who think we shouldn’t sing anything but the psalms. Oh, wait…

Saturday, August 21, 2010

truth and error 12: enemy clarification, v. 26b

I left off the very last part of verse 26 in order to speak to it as its own topic. Paul finishes the description of the hopeful outcome of a repentant heart led to God’s truth with this additional phrase:
… [that they might] escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:26b)
Paul observes here what he does in Ephesians 6:12… that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but is part of a larger spiritual battle between God and His enemy, Satan. While other human beings can and do hold opinions and beliefs that are contrary to God’s Word, it is not enough to simply think of truth and error in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys.” Satan is the “Father of Lies” (John 8:44) and would deceive human beings any time and any place he can.

That recognition coupled with the qualities Paul describes here should cause a follower of Jesus not to see others as enemies, but as fellow human beings in need of God’s redemption and truth. Even conflicts of truth and error, which lead us so easily into quarrels, then become for us another mission field, a place to be salt and light, as carriers of the winsome and inviting Good News of Jesus Christ. This connection between truth, error, and mission, also provides some depth of understanding to what Jesus meant when he charged us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44ff).

Summing Up

This passage (2 Timothy 2:14-26) is rich. It is a challenge to all who would be followers of Jesus in a culture and setting where the Father of Lies would deceive and distract many from the Truth. Diligently study your Bible; guard your behavior and turn away from an immature and shallow faith toward a mature faith imprinted with the character of Jesus Christ. Let this faith be evident in word and deed, as even the confrontation of untruth becomes an opportunity to be salt and light for Jesus Christ.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Friday, August 20, 2010

truth and error 11: gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a

Paul holds out this gracious hope in the rest of these two verses:
… perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses… ~2 Timothy 2:25b-26a
God’s grace and His ability to transform the heart, mind, and soul of a person extends far beyond anything we can imagine. The hardest heart, the most stubborn spirit, the most entrenched position – it can all be changed if God is involved. This isn’t to say that my persuasive words will change someone, but that I do not want to find myself working counter to what God would do.

It’s interesting also to note that what happens in this hopeful scenario is not that my opponent would become convinced of the truth, but that my opponent would be repentant. That is, the one to whom I am being kind, truthful, and patient, would turn toward God in faith. It is that broken and repentant heart that then leads someone to know God’s truth.

I see this scenario played out and subverted all the time, from the embattled positions held in our local presbytery to my years in youth ministry to my own parenting. Attacking an opponent, even if we are “in the right” usually just pushes them further from you and from the truth. Cultivating kindness and patience in a relationship opens hearts to hear the truth and change.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b


Thursday, August 19, 2010

truth and error 10: able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth… (2 Timothy 2:24-25)
A second quality of a follower of Christ is the ability to teach. This need not be a Sunday school teacher for a class of 20, but lines up with v. 15 from two weeks ago. We need to be able to handle God’s Word accurately. A Christian should neither be ignorant of Scripture nor mis-handle it from lack of study. This is a re-iteration of the plea for regular study to train your mind, heart, and spirit so that God’s Word and will shapes your life, your speech, and your choices.

A third quality of one who would serve the Lord is that he or she is “patient when wronged.” This is getting into “turn the other cheek” territory and is evidence of some Christian maturity and what the Bible calls “fruit” of God’s Spirit. Again, this is set in the context of the internal church conflict in the Ephesian church, but it has broad application. A follower of Jesus starts to look like Jesus. One of the results of diligently studying the Bible and obeying God is that we start growing up spiritually and otherwise. Remember last week? Staying immature in faith is something to avoid. We are to grow; patience is a sign of maturing in faith, even in the face of being wronged.

The fourth quality of one who follows Jesus – a “vessel of honor” – really takes the first three qualities, combines them together, and puts them into action. When confronted with error, we are to correct that error with gentleness and the truth. This is kindness lived out in our speech. This is “able to teach” in the most applicable kind of way – that we aren’t just imparting knowledge, but leading people to God’s truth. This is “patience when wronged” because one of the hardest times to be patience is when one is verbally or otherwise opposing you. It is Christian maturity and the presence of Jesus that enables one to correct gently and not retaliate against angry words with angry words.

It would be enough that we are simply to reflect the character of Jesus in our speech and behavior, but Paul goes on to give an additional and important reason for exhibiting these qualities in our lives.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

truth and error 9: kind to all, v. 24

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged… (2 Timothy 2:24)
Having given three warnings or dangers to avoid in the previous verses, Paul now gives four qualities which characterize “vessels of honor” – those seeking to follow Jesus Christ and be approved by God. These qualities are set against the example of Hymenaeus and Philetus, and the damage being caused within the church as they use words like swords to harm and cut up the body of Christ.

First, the Lord’s bond-servant must be “kind to all.” There is the same danger here as with “meekness” – confusing kindness (or meekness) with being a kind of human doormat… getting pushed around by the bullies and never standing up for anything. But this is set precisely in a passage all about standing up for truth! The whole point is about HOW one stands up for truth. Do you do so by arguing, quarreling, lashing out angrily in truth? If you’ve ever wielded the truth in this way, you may have seen how ineffective it seems to be. I’m specifically tying this to the “word-wrangling” which means “to wield words as swords.” Truth and God’s word is indeed like a sharp blade, but more like that of a surgeon’s knife than a thug’s weapon. It only confuses and masks truth to wield it in anger. Here Paul is repeating his admonition from Ephesians 4:15 to “speak the truth in love.”

To illustrate the difference simply, consider the difference between me coming up to you and saying, “You’re wrong, you unthinking idiot” and “You’re wrong, friend.” Magnify those examples by mannerism, posture, tone, and attitude, and you can so deafen people with your posture that they will be incapable of hearing the truth, no matter how truthful it is. Contrast that with kindness, which opens the other’s ears, fosters trust and maintains relationship.

Paul’s advice here goes beyond confrontations about church teachings. It’s good advice for any conflict or confrontation you face. We’ll explore three more qualities in the next post.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

truth and error 8: false teaching, v. 23

Finally Paul describes a third danger that can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor”: false teaching…
23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. (2 Timothy 2:23)
From “word wrangling” to “idle chatter” to “spreading like gangrene” to several uses of “quarrel,” it is clear that Paul sees great danger in what was going on in Ephesus. It’s not just the false teaching in and of itself, that can lead one astray; it is also the arguing and fighting that can disrupt and damage a church community.

One of the real dangers I recognize is that we get so focused on righting the wrongs or fleeing the people with whom we disagree that we fail to focus on the primary and first order ministry and mission God has put before us as a church. We must try to find a godly priority and balance.

Paul advocates a grounding in God’s Word, which will help us avoid the quarreling that is primarily a fight between two people’s opinions. To return to scripture as the arbiter of truth is to seek God’s Word and will over and above our own. That grounding in God’s Word will also help us grow spiritually such that we can turn away from immature and ungodly behaviors and inclinations and be transformed by the power and presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives.

Paul is not done, though. Having warned against quarreling, he goes on to describe a means of engaging, confronting, and correcting those in error. His goal is not the purification of the Church, but the correction and redemption of people, outside and inside the human construct of the church. He also points ultimately to Satan as the source of this discord.


Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Monday, August 16, 2010

truth and error 7: immaturity and distraction, v. 22

22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22)
A second danger can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor” is distraction because of immaturity. Our pew-Bibles translate this verse “flee from youthful lusts.” Your first thought at hearing that probably is a warning against sexual immorality, and certainly that is part of the danger here. But, the original words are broader than that, meaning “youthful passions” or “distractions of the young.” This is a broad challenge to grow up in Christ. The breadth of this can be seen in the contrast with what follows. In the place of these youthful distractions, we are to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.” And we are to look for examples, mentors, and fellowship with “those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

This language is chosen, in part, because Timothy is so young. He may well have been an older teenager or in his early 20s. Elsewhere Paul encourages him to not let people look down on him because of his youthfulness. Here, Paul cautions him against the kinds of things that can distract a young person (or an immature believer of any age!): “Don’t get sidetracked by these men who are stirring up the church – I know you’d love a good fight – but keep pursuing godly character and draw to you those who are calling on the Lord from a pure heart.”

This is a very timely word for congregations as they ponder their ongoing role in the larger denominational context. This passage is such a helpful guide in recognizing both the calling and the dangers as one ultimately pursues faithful and obedient service to God.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Saturday, August 14, 2010

truth and error 6: empty talk, vv. 16-18

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
The first danger that can keep us as serving as “vessels of honor” is “empty talk” or “worldly and empty chatter.” In verse 16, we read that we should avoid this kind of talk, because it has at least three negative results. It will “lead to further ungodliness” (v. 16); it will “spread like gangrene” (v. 17); and it will “upset the faith of some” (v. 18).

A faithful Christian should speak truth with substance. This is one of the results of studying scripture. When our minds are soaked in scripture, it is far easier not to be characterized by “worldly and empty chatter.” Unfortunately, it is not simply a matter of braving the “worldly chatter” out there – but it is a danger within the church as well. We’ve seen that Paul cites a local example of men (Hymenaeus and Philetus) speculating and teaching about the resurrection in a way that did not accord with scripture. Their words evidently were wreaking havoc within the church and upsetting the faith of some believers.

Paul’s advice to Timothy and to us: avoid this kind of talk, whether it’s inside the church or outside. Let your words be full of truth and substance, bearing witness to Jesus Christ. Don’t engage in the chatter or add to it. Guarding the tongue is the best defense; grounding in the Bible is the best offense.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Thursday, August 12, 2010

truth and error 5: church pictures, vv. 19-21

Paul says several important things about the earthly church in v. 19…
Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” (2 Timothy 2:19)
First, the mixture and impurity – of right teaching and wrong teaching, the pure and the impure, the wheat and the chaff – does not threaten the foundation of the Church that God has established in Jesus Christ. Indeed, Jesus said that on the foundation rock of His name, even the gates of Hell would not stand against this Church. Secondly, that foundation is sealed with the affirmation that God is not confused by the mixture and impurity. God knows who are His; God can see the human heart; God is not fooled by words, arguments, or anything else. Nor, as one Presbyterian pastor commentator said of our own mixed, wheat-and-chaff denomination, is God surprised or somehow sucker-punched by the things we do.

Paul goes on to explore the nature of the mixed and impure earthly church, offering his own analogy for it in v. 20…
Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. (2 Timothy 2:20)
He compares the earthly church (particularly the Ephesian situation where Timothy is pastor) to a large house, which has gold and silver vessels, which are lasting and serve a lasting purpose, and earthenware vessels, which have a temporary and limited purpose. The language of “vessels” is interesting, for it is the same word used elsewhere in Paul’s writings to describe human beings, created for God’s purpose and glory:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves… (2 Corinthians 4:7)
It is the power of God, poured into us “vessels” through His Holy Spirit, which transforms us from clay pots into the “gold and silver vessels” of v. 20. Like a household, Paul analogizes, the church contains those who know and trust in Jesus Christ, are filled with His glory and Spirit, and serve the honorable purposes of God through “every good work.” The church also contains those who are “in the right house” but who do not know Christ or serve him – and are vessels of dishonor.

And yet, Paul is not ready to consign anyone living to be “gold” or “earthenware” as he did in hindsight with Moses and Pharaoh in Romans 9. While Paul would uphold God’s sovereignty and perfect knowledge and will, all we can measure and know while we live is our own response to God’s grace in Jesus Christ. So, Paul holds out hope for Timothy and others to repent and change and prove themselves vessels useful to the Lord. So he can write in v. 21…
If anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:21)
Look to your own life. Clean up your act. How do you do that? It is through conviction, repentance (turning to God in humility), receiving God’s gracious forgiveness, and responding to God’s invitation to serve Him.

And we will see at the end of this passage (in vv. 24-26) that Paul holds out hope, even for those who currently seem to be showing themselves to be vessels of dishonor.

What remains, though, in the verses for today, are some practical warnings against the kind of dangers that can distract a Christian from God’s calling and purpose. There are (at least) three dangers that can keep us from serving as “vessels of honor.”

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

truth and error 4: a local challenge, vv. 16-18

16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. (2 Timothy 2:16-18)
Paul is writing Timothy to prepare and equip him to lead the local church in ministry and mission. There are challenges and dangers all around – sometimes from without and sometimes from within. Here Paul describes a challenging situation with two men in the local church community where Timothy was pastoring.

I mentioned this situation last week, when we looked at the phrase “wrangling with words” in v. 14. That phrase literally means “to fight with words as with swords” and I noted that the false teaching about the resurrection was wounding and carving up the local body where Timothy served. That led to Paul’s charge to study and apply God’s Word carefully and accurately.

Note that these men were not outside the church, where there were also plenty of dangers and pitfalls for the mission-minded Christian. The surrounding culture of 1st century Greco-Roman culture was as over-sexed and appetite-centered as anything you could find today. But this passage reminds us that the church itself has never been pure and perfect on this earth. Because it is full of human beings, it is a mixture of “wheat and tares” (to use Jesus’ analogy). And Paul gives his own analogy for it in vv. 19-21. We’ll look at that in the next post.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

truth and error 3: study, v. 15

15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
How shall I be “diligent to present [myself] approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed?” How do I focus on the foundational truths and not get distracted or re-directed by word-battles? It is by “accurately handling the word of truth.”

Do you hear what is being said? These scriptures, this collection of words, are the “word of truth.” It is not wishy-washy or vacillating, or subject to bending to my own interpretation. Rather, it is God’s Word and God is Truth.

This verse also makes clear that human interpretation is involved, for it is we imperfect human beings who “handle” this Word in preaching, teaching, reading, and study. There is such a thing as “accurate” interpretation, so also “inaccurate” interpretation. To find God’s truth, though, we do not look within, to personal definitions, feelings, or even experience. Rather, we learn how to read, study, and apply scripture with consistency with itself.

Handling scripture accurately is not easy or obvious, but neither is it mysterious and out of reach. There are portions that speak clearly to the youngest child or simplest mind, and there are parts that will challenge the greatest intellect. It helps to come to scripture with an open mind and heart, but God’s Word can also penetrate the hardest heart. I would say, however, that to accurately handle God’s Word, one must trust in Jesus Christ – that is, be a Christian. For it is Christ himself to whom the Scripture witnesses. To read them apart from Jesus makes no sense at all.

In light of that, I would appeal to you to ground your children’s vocabulary and thoughts in the solid Word of God. And the need is no less for youth and adults.

In my own church Sunday school, worship, and Wednesday night studies offer a regular opportunity for study. And there are more opportunities above and beyond those – for prayer, study, service, and fellowship. But that grounding in God’s Word is crucial to a healthy faith. And, as the rest of verse 15 explains, that grounding in God’s Word also forms us into approved workers or servants of God.

God is on the move. If we ask the questions, “What is God doing and how can I be a part of it?” then we are asking to be used by God as a “worker.” That’s what is in view here. This is not an appeal to hole one’s self away from the world and study ancient manuscripts as the world passes by any more than the realization from Hebrews 11 that earth is not our home means we aren’t active, faithful disciples here and now. Rather, this passage describes the kind of men, women, and young people God delights to use in His mission to the world – those who are rooted in Scripture, committed to hearing, studying, and applying it.

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Monday, August 09, 2010

truth and error 2: word-wrangling, v. 14

14 Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. (2 Timothy 2:14)
What is “word-wrangling?” Some examples from Timothy and Titus show the church arguing about genealogies and the meaning of minute points of the Law, while missing the opportunity to display charity and love one another. It appears, in this context, that word-wrangling had even displaced or replaced a foundational belief in the resurrection.

I believe this practice is one of the pressing issues of our day. Perhaps the most glaring example in recent history is a former President saying “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is” while apparently dodging the moral elephant in the room. But one need not point the finger at so prominent a public figure. At every college and university in the country, and perhaps even amidst the high schools on down to elementary schools, the basic meaning of words is being challenged as never before. Distorting the technical philosophical approach of deconstructing a text, amateur deconstructionists simply vacate important words (even ‘is’!) of meaning and fill in the blank as they see fit. In many ways, we have become the masters of word-wrangling.

If the finger is still pointing too far away, let me come closer to home. Committed Christians can often find themselves nit-picking so much over words and concepts that they miss the forest – hours and hours wrangling over finer and finer sub-points of theology and missing what God is doing and inviting us to do all around us.

There is some balance, of course. It is important to study and understand words, particularly in God’s Word. But we must not miss the really foundational teachings of scripture chasing after secondary things. And verse 14 is talking about more than distraction; it is talking about fighting over such things. The word, “wrangling,” literally means “to fight with words as with a sword.”

Part of the real difficulty is also that, to some degree, we all have bought into the cultural assumption of personal interpretation. If you’re smart, you’ve learned to discover what another person means by a word – you can’t take it for granted any more.

Does that seem far-fetched? Consider our denomination. In denominational circles, I can no longer presume a common understanding of “gospel” or “evangelism” or “justice.” It is necessary to spell everything out with great specificity in order to be precise. With deeply held convictions tied to these words, we are at the point of wrangling over words.

So what to do? I don’t want to spend my days defining words with excruciating specificity, particularly when they are words that have been so consistently used by the Church. And what assurance do I have that my definitions are any more or less valid than the next person? The next verse points us in the direction we need to go…

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Saturday, August 07, 2010

truth and error 1: intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26

Truth and error are sometimes not easily discerned. This is one of the early lessons of childhood – children who are warned not to talk to strangers go ahead, explaining that “he was really nice.” Later along, we may hear the crowd of peers saying one thing, but sheer numbers do not create truth. We come to realize that our own feelings may mislead us, and wolves continue to dress in sheep’s clothing. What once seemed black and white only seems to come now in shades of gray.

In a world where truth is an elusive thing, how does one find it? How does one guard against untruth? If we are really going to be salt and light in a dark world, how will we do so without being swept away? In this series of blog posts, I will be exploring 2 Timothy 2:14-26, a text rich in answers to these questions and more.
14 Remind them of these things and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. 15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. 16 But avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness, 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.” 20 Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. 21 Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. ~2 Timothy 2:14-26
Before we focus on verses 14-15, we are first pointed elsewhere. Verse 14 begins, “Remind them of these things…” Well, we’ve got to know what “these things” are! The preceding verses (in 2 Timothy) provide a clearer picture of what is at stake.
11 It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; 12 If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; 13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
It IS a trustworthy statement – but why was it being made? It was being made because there were those who were denying the resurrection. This was a bottom-line, essential, and core doctrine of the Christian faith. To deny the resurrection was to deny Jesus himself. Added to this reminder in verse 14 was the charge not to “wrangle about words.”

Posts in this "Truth and Error" series:
1 - intro and core doctrine, 2 timothy 2.14-26
2 - word-wrangling, v. 14
3 - study, v. 15
4 - a local challenge, vv. 16-18
5 - church pictures, vv. 19-21
6 - empty talk, vv. 16-18
7 - immaturity and distraction, v. 22
8 - false teaching, v. 23
9 - kind to all, v. 24
10 - able to teach, patient, gentle, vv. 24-25
11 - gracious hope, vv. 25b-26a
12 - enemy clarification, v. 26b

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Band Camp, Banjoes, Bluegrass, and Jesus

I got back a week ago from Camp Bluegrass with my brother.  It was something he first mentioned 2-3 years ago and it sounded like the perfect opportunity to spend some good one-on-one time with him, commuting 30 min. each way daily while staying at his house in Lubbock, TX.

So he went as a beginner banjo player and I took my mandolin, thinking I could experience the most musical growth on it (and boy did I!).  That's all background to the story I want to share...

On the opening morning, the whole camp gathered (about 200 people) to meet the instructors.  There were about 20 instructors on the various instruments (guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, fiddle, dobro, vocalists).  After being introduced by name, they were introduced musically.  They all played unamplified and, as is the custom with bluegrass music, took turns improvising.

Several things struck me during this 10 minute "introduction."
  1. While the auditorium was AMAZINGLY equipped for amplification of this style of music, they played down on the floor (unamplified), which meant that when one of them soloed, the other 19 instruments played amazingly softly in order that each might be heard.  And each, in turn, was heard clear as crystal.
  2. I am fairly confident that the piece was unrehearsed, though it was familiar to each of them.  They just soloed in the order of the 20-person line they formed across the stage, and the handoffs were SEAMLESS.  As each neared the end of their improvisation, they "set up" the next, who often picked up a riff or sound from the one before and wove it into their own improvised solo.  And each nodded and honored their 'neighbor' (and even left space for the applause of the one who went before).
  3. There was very little ego up front, though these were world-class musicians.  This was borne out in class, when these virtuosos would patiently meet each of us at our level and help us grow.  These soloists weren't trying to upstage their neighbors, but build on, add to, support, and interact with what each had brought. 
As the week progressed, I came to appreciate bluegrass as a particularly humble and communal musical art-form.  While one can get written music, most tunes and chords and licks are learned from the community, around the circle or in friendly and willing collaboration off to the side.  The whole culture of bluegrass is family and friends sitting around swapping stories, tunes, lyrics, and encouragement - and is one of participation WITH rather than attention TO a performer.

Musically, all that was fascinating, compelling, and inviting - and plenty to marvel about, but I could not help but see and hear and share in all that as a Christian and as a pastor and think this is what the church should be like, from the humility to the participation to the invitation to the fellowship, with the Good News as our song.

Sound like a church you'd want to be a part of?  I sure would.


Monday, July 12, 2010

following aslan

One of my favorite passages from Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis.  Aslan (if you don't know) is the Christ-figure in the story.  I read this account on a blog today (used in another context altogether) and it struck me so powerfully in the context of having returned from the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly.  Out of character (I usually over-explain analogies), I'll just let the story speak for itself.

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Lucy.

“Where? What?” everyone asked.

“The Lion,” said Lucy. “Aslan himself. Didn’t you see?” Her face had changed completely and her eyes shone.

“Do you really mean—?” began Peter.

“Where did you think you saw him?” asked Susan.

“Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Where, Lu?” asked Peter.

“Right up there between those mountain ashes. No, this side of the gorge. And up, not down. Just the opposite of the way you want to go. And he wanted us to go where he was—up there.”

“How do you know that was what he wanted?” asked Edmund.

“He—I—I just know,” said Lucy, “by his face.”

...

Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.

...

“Lucy,” he said, “we must not be here for long. You have work in hand, and much time has been lost today.”

“Yes, wasn’t it a shame?” said Lucy. “I saw you all right. They wouldn’t believe me. They’re all so—”

From somewhere deep inside Aslan’s body there came the faintest suggestion of a growl.

“I’m sorry,” said Lucy, who understood some of his moods. “I didn’t mean to start slanging the others. But it wasn’t my fault anyway, was it?”

The Lion looked straight into her eyes.

“Oh, Aslan,” said Lucy. “You don’t mean it was? How could I—I couldn’t have left the others and come up to you alone, how could I? Don’t look at me like that … oh will, I suppose I could. Yes, and it wouldn’t have been alone I know, not if I was with you. But what would have been the good?”

Aslan said nothing.

“You mean,” said Lucy rather faintly, “that it would have turned out all right—somehow? But how? Please, Aslan! Am I not to know?”

“To know what would have happened, child?” said Aslan. “No. Nobody is ever told that.”

“Oh dear,” said Lucy.

“But anyone can find out what will happen.” said Aslan. “If you go back to the others now, and wake them up, and tell them you have seen me again; and that you must get up at once and follow me—what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

Hmm... just notice Aslan's invitation... can't be too coincidental that I've just started a series called "Follow Me" - looking at the invitations of Jesus.  Wake up, church; wake up!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

welcome and GAhelp

Welcome to my lighthouse/searchlight blog!  This commentary site exists primarily to chronicle and resource the local efforts of one Presbyterian congregation to explore our twin calling of being a gathered and sent expression of the hope and light of Christ.  Links on the left sidebar flesh out these ideas more completely.

As a congregation within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we also worship and work in a larger denominational context.  From time to time we this site also comments upon life in the PCUSA.  As the biennial General Assembly draws near (July, 2010), commentary will focus in this direction, but we invite readers to explore the full range of resources, perhaps starting with lighthouse/searchlight definitions and blog highlights in the left-hand menu.  Please also visit the church and sermon websites!

For General Assembly this year, I have created a "help site" described below.  If you are interested in the PCUSA or its General Assembly, I invite you to explore the help site in full, as well as any commentary offered here on this commentary site.  The help site is:

www.GAhelp.net (or just GAhelp.net)

Here's the explanatory letter I've sent out to a number of people:
Having served as a commissioner to GA in 2008, I realized that one of the greatest challenges commissioners face is not theological disunity, but technological challenges and information overload. I witnessed many, many votes and decisions rush by while almost all the commissioners around me were trying to locate what we were talking about.

I have created the help site in an effort to simplify the information gathering process, drawing from a broad range of theological perspectives to get all the information on the table in a way that commissioners and the wider church can comprehend, follow, and evaluate. I believe the site will continue to be a resource for commissioners (and others) as they return from GA to interpret and share resources with presbyteries, sessions, and congregations back home.

I believe the site speaks for itself, and hope you will take just a few moments to survey what is offered. If you find it of value, I hope you will share it widely with enthusiasm.

In God's grace,

Robert Austell
Pastor, Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church - Charlotte, NC
Chair, Ecclesiastical Affairs/Bills and Overtures - Presbytery of Charlotte, 2003-2008
Commissioner to the 218th General Assembly, 2008
Moderator - Presbytery of Charlotte, 2009
www.GAhelp.net        robert@gahelp.net

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

mission(al) as worship

I have written before (HERE and HERE) about an apparent tension between worship and mission.  And I still clearly remember a passionate "discussion" with one of my dear friends on whether worship or mission was more primary to our purpose and calling as Christians (I argued at the time for worship).

I have intuitively clung to both as significantly important to our purpose and calling, but the present sermon series has helped clarify for me the connection (and perhaps unity) between the two activities.

As Jesus responds in Luke 15 to the grumbling of the religious sort over his association with the non-religious sort, he tells three "lost" stories.  We rightly focus on God's seeking of the lost (missional!), which is the "hook" of each story, but I (at least) have failed to really absorb the "punchline" of each story, which is God's profound joy and rejoicing over those who are found.  Sunday's Luke 15 sermon HERE.

We believe that God created us to share in the joy of a "this is good!" creation.  We confess it as our chief end, and we see the lead characters in each of the parables in Luke 15 calling together friends and family to celebrate when the lost are found.  To participate in God's missional activity is to share in God's joy - and that is worship!  It is not the full extent of our worship, but it joins our sent-ness to our coming together and it draws a vital life-line between our love of God and our love of neighbor.

Just some Monday morning ponderings.... :)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

missional does as missional is

Though I don't use the term "missional" much in everyday conversation (I've stuck with the lighthouse/searchlight metaphor in our context), I do use it in conversations with others beyond my local context.

But both in my own context and in conversations with people outside it, I realize that many of us continue to struggle with BEING or BECOMING missional in our identity.  The default for American Christianity, even bombarded with missional teaching and resources, is to try to create one more new program - that is to focus on DOING "this missional stuff" and hope that makes us missional.

There is proverbial wisdom to "one is as one does" - (perhaps immortalized in the negative sense by Forrest Gump's "stupid is as stupid does").  Certainly if we repeat behavior, our identity is shaped and molded, whether for good or ill.  But when several generations of "mission and outreach" in our churches has resulted in a small handful of go-getters doing hands-on mission and most of us simply paying others to do God's work, I wonder if "missional is as missional does" is going to work out.

I have been wrestling with flipping that around: missional does as missional is.  As strong as the dynamic of behavior shaping identity is, the dynamic of behavior flowing out of identity is even stronger.  And we find so much more energy and LIFE in the latter (again, for good or ill - and even as I type this I realize the far-reaching implications of this observation beyond the scope of the "missional" conversation... but that'll keep 'til another day). 

The huge apparent challenge of primarily approaching missional BEING over DOING is that naming and re-shaping Christian identity so that it results in action seems (and is!) a humanly impossible task.  But in the same way that it is God's job to save people, so it is the declared work of Christ (so says the scripture) to give us a new identity.  My job as a pastor, and indeed our job as Christ-followers, is to declare what is already true in Christ.

Jesus said he came to seek and save the lost - to obediently serve the mission God gave him.  As believers, our identity is found in Jesus Christ, and as Christ followers, we follow him into mission.

We can create "mission (or missional) programs" or send money for people to "do Christ's work," and it is possible that doing so may begin to inform us as to our Christian identity.  But would it not be far more effective and LIFE-GIVING to root our missional activity in the missional identity we have in Jesus Christ?

Missional does as missional is.  What would that look like in your context?


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

grace so big

One of my favorite writer/bloggers, Jon Acuff, wrote a challenging post on grace on his site. Jon is hilariously funny as a friendly and comedic critic of evangelical Christianity. From time to time, he sneaks in a serious piece and I've found him to be piercingly honest, gracious, and Christ-filled. This is one such piece:

"Fearing We'll Out-Sin Grace"

I commented on his post:
I think we grow into (or shy away from) a deep understanding of grace.

There is grace we don't dare believe in.

There is grace we portion out and 'deal' for.

There is grace that we cut down to size (like you describe so well here).

There is grace that we take advantage of.

There is grace that is too big for us to possibly believe in.

There is grace that we brush up against like a toddler and the ocean, and every once a long while we glimpse the radically not-to-scale relationship of our sin and God's grace and are simply leveled by it... no words, no "how can I work this to my advantage," no fear of using it up. Just profound awe and wonder.
It is my own longing, as well as my prayer for others, that we have the opportunity to brush up against grace so big as this.
 

how to use twitter? - step by step guide (pt. 4 of 4)

In this series of posts I am focusing on the use of Twitter at the General Assembly. Accordingly, the explanations and applications I offer are not exhaustive, but directed toward that end.  The series is in four parts: 
1. An Analogy for the Non-Technical (and maybe for techies too!)
2. What is Twitter? - an introduction
3. Why Use Twitter? - 9 potential uses at GA 
4. How to Use Twitter? - step by step guide to getting started

HOW to Use Twitter? - step by step guide to getting started

1. Go to www.twitter.com – click “get started now” and fill in the info. Tip: choose a username that how you want to be known: maybe not “angry_Presbyterian”

2. You will be directed to your twitter “home page” – there you will see an option to “find friends” – this will help you identify what people in your usual e-mail contacts are on Twitter. Ordinarily, that would be a good starting place, but for purposes of General Assembly Twitter connecting we’re going to suggest something different:
a. Go here: http://twitter.com/breyeschow/ga219 - this is a list Bruce Reyes Chow has compiled and is maintaining of all people who will be using twitter at General Assembly.

b. Click “follow” – this will cause everything the people on that list post to appear on your home page. (In fact, you can now go back to your home page – log in to www.twitter.com and click “home” near top right of page or type www.twitter.com/__________ (fill in the username you created) to get to your home page. Now you should see posts from all your friends (which at this point will include Bruce’s ga219 list). These posts may have little to do with GA at this point, but will increasingly be relevant the closer we get to GA.
3. At this point, you can view the stream of posts to your Twitter account on your home page. There are, however, other ways of accessing this information.
a. Mobile phone: log in to www.twitter.com and click “settings” near the top right of the page. On the screen that opens, click “mobile” and follow directions to have all updates sent to your phone as a text message. **NOTE WELL: this may generate many text messages, so be mindful of costs if your cell plan charges you per text. You can turn Twitter notification on and off by texting ‘on’ or ‘off’ to 40404. TIP: Unless you find Twitter very helpful and want to follow it away from your computer, this probably isn’t an effective means of following the information.

b. Smart Phone or PDA: Blackberry, iPhone, and other smart phones may have dedicated “apps” for accessing Twitter. If you have one of these devices, you probably know what that means. If you don’t know what it means, you probably haven’t invested in one of these devices. Said another way, if you have one, you probably don’t need this tutorial. (But if you do and need help, let me know!)

c. Computer (free) program: this is what I would recommend to access the full potential of Twitter. There are several programs available for free download and installation. I am primarily familiar with “Tweetdeck” for Windows PC computers, but there are other options for PC or Mac. Tweetdeck and other programs don’t do anything you can’t do on the www.twitter.com website, but organize and present the information in a more concise and helpful way. Tweetdeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/desktop/), for example allows you to view multiple columns of ‘tweets’ organized by list, search term, contact name, and numerous other filters. On my laptop, for example, I am set up to simultaneously view tweets in the following columns:
  • Bruce’s GA219 list
  • all posts tagged with #GA219
  • a small group of Presbyterian friends whose posts I monitor (about 10 people)
  • all posts hash-tagged with #pc-biz OR #GAC OR #OGA (hash-tagging is a way of marking and sorting posts by topic)

**If you can't get set up with these instructions, please feel free to contact me at robert@gahelp.net and I'll try to respond to specific questions.

Monday, April 26, 2010

why use twitter? - 8 potential uses at GA (pt. 3 of 4)

In this series of posts I am focusing on the use of Twitter at the General Assembly. Accordingly, the explanations and applications I offer are not exhaustive, but directed toward that end.  The series is in four parts: 
1. An Analogy for the Non-Technical (and maybe for techies too!)
2. What is Twitter? - an introduction
3. Why Use Twitter? - 8 potential uses at GA 
4. How to Use Twitter? - step by step guide to getting started

WHY use Twitter? - 8 potential uses at General Assembly

Close to 1000 Presbyterians (and a couple hundred people going to GA219) are already on Twitter, commenting and looking ahead to GA. Ok, fine, what are the real world (and specifically General Assembly) applications for this digital means of conversation? In no specific order…
1. Breaking news with live coverage: multiple, live notices of events AS they happen
  • News will break at GA and across the country instantly with Twitter. While news sources can offer more well thought out reflection overnight, it will be those on Twitter who get the word out and have the first word. With the amplification of that word through Facebook and blogs, news will disperse very, very quickly. Further, while there is the 140 character limit on a single tweet, people will respond and have short conversations that can quickly add up to quite a bit of content, especially with many people involved.
2. Group commentary on a shared event
  • There will be a constant stream of commentary/conversation on everything happening at GA, from plenary to committee to hallway conversations. I think there are multiple implications for that commentary stream being public and real-time.
  • The best analogy I could give to this effect would be to huddle ten people together in the back of a room at a GA event on TV and have them all talk at the same time about what they see going on… except they are actually dispersed throughout the room, can all hear each other while they are “talking”… and instead of ten people, it’s 100 or more. The effect is fascinating and an exciting, dynamic conversation. Waiting for the analysis to come the next morning will be like a parent shouting instructions to a teenager flying by at 60 mph in a convertible with friends.
3. Direct communication with specific group
  • Whether set up ahead of time (or on the fly), one could send one text message through twitter and it would go publicly or (I think) privately to a preset list, like “Charlotte presbytery commissioners” or “Christian educators.”
4. Feedback, invited and otherwise
  • Prominent publications or events like GA lunches will get Twitter feedback whether they ask for it or not. This can be a good way to generate “buzz” though it is nearly impossible to manage – you get what you get. In many cases, those using Twitter will be alerted to a given article or event first by the online feedback, then trace it back to the original article or event.
5. Research
  • Want to check a quick Book of Order reference and you don't have yours with you?… put the word out.*
6. Polling
  • While I don’t think this will happen officially alongside advisory votes, I think it will happen informally and have at least as profound an impact on commissioner voting. It will be interesting to see what guidelines OGA gives commissioners with regard to looking for public opinion prior to voting.*
  • Moderator and my own technological Obi-Wan, Bruce Reyes-Chow has the definitive lists of Presbyterians and GA219 participants who are signed on to Twitter; his lists are currently public and accessible by anyone.
7. Marketing and Sales (esp. information in the case of GA): viral effect
  • Check out the newest article in the Layman here: http://bit.ly/cmhrhT 
  • “Get your free rainbow scarf; stop by the MLP booth.” Etc…
8. “Tweet-Up” and make new friends
  • Presbyterian Outlook lunch today; come to _____ to hear about today’s issues.
  • “Anyone who wants to meet for dinner and talk about _______, meet at Red Lobster at 7pm tonight.”

*The Stated Clerk's office is providing instruction and guidelines for commissioners on the appropriate use of social media during the Assembly - found on PC-Biz under the 'Resource' tab: open PDF HERE and duplicated on the GA219 website HERE.  In some circumstances, it would not be advised (or even possible) to seek this kind of information from "outside."

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