Entries from November 2008 ↓
November 26th, 2008 — Church, Personal
This Thanksgiving I’m taking stock of everything for which I am thankful, and topping the list is the Body of Christ at Calvary Memorial Church, Oak Park, where I have the privilege of serving as Pastor.
My own gratitude for the community at Calvary was especially stirred-up after reading some choice sections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. May they have a similar effect on your own heart this Thanksgiving.
Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily. And is not what has been given us enough: other believers who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing of God’s grace?
Thankfulness works in the Christian community as it usually does in the Christian life. Only those who give thanks for little things receive the great things as well. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts prepared for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith – and if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations – then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
And a final word that really struck a cord with me, a rather direct word to pastors:
Pastors should not complain about their congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. Congregations have not been entrusted to them in order that they should become accusers of their congregations before God and their fellow human beings. When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God. And if they find that to be true, let them thank God for leading them into this predicament. But if they find that it is not true, let them nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser of those whom God has gathered together. Instead, let them accuse themselves of their unbelief, let them ask for an understanding of their own failure and their particular sin, and pray that they may not wrong other Christians. Let such pastors, recognizing their own guilt, make intercession for those charged to their care. Let them do what they have been instructed to do and thank God.
Humbled, prayerful, and grateful this Thanksgiving for the Body of Christ at Calvary!
November 20th, 2008 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology, Worship
At Calvary Memorial Church, we’ve been reflecting for the past several weeks on Paul’s prayer that the Colossians live a “fully pleasing” life (Col. 1:9-14). Many of us were struck by the fact that for Paul the leading aspect of a fully pleasing life is . . . good works. Paul prays that the Colossians would be “bearing fruit in every good work” (1:10).
But what might this look like in concrete, doable terms for you and me? Well, you can read about one great example (involving some Calvary folks!) in this week’s Wednesday Journal, in a piece by Abigail Cramton’s entitled, “Pouring Love, Breaking Through: Tutoring on Chicago’s West Side Benefits Tutors and Students.” As the tag-line suggests, Ms. Cramton highlights the mutual blessing and benefit of serving others through tutoring.
Her encouraging and thoughtful piece, in turn, got me to thinking about not only what bearing fruit in every good work might look, but why bearing fruit in every good work is commanded and commended in the Bible. Here are some of my thoughts:
- Good words adorn doctrine. Doctrine, or truth, is a beautiful thing, even when naked. But what’s even more beautiful is doctrine, or truth, dressed-up, as it were, in a life of good works, conviction clothed in good deeds while tutoring somewhere on the West Side. That’s why obedience is commanded and commended: “so that in every way [we] will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:10).
- Good works encourage others to think highly of who God is. Good works point – ultimately not to themselves or to the doer, but to the One who enables and receives them. So we are told by Jesus to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Good works are beams of light that radiate out from a magnificent Source.
- Good works enliven one’s own life of faith. Ms. Cramton’s article contains a wonderful line in which she points out that the tutors she featured in her article “serve out of a conviction of faith and believe that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive.” This is an allusion to one of the only statements of Jesus outside the Gospels; it’s found in Acts 20:35, where a follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul, says that when he was with a church in the ancient city of Ephesus, “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” More blessed to give than to receive? A truly stunning and even paradoxical thought: the one who gives actually receives more than the one who receives. And yet that’s precisely the mystery – almost, you might say, the magic – of obeying and serving in Jesus’ name: it enlivens one’s own life and faith. One finds that in the act of giving, one receive far more.
- Good works meet real needs. Of course, good works are designed not only to showcase the greatness of God or enliven the faith and life of the one who does them; they’re also designed to meet real, practical, concrete needs in our communities. Which is itself a good in itself.
- Good works will be met with a real reward. One of the more terrifying and yet terrific passages in all the Bible is Matthew 25. In that chapter in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus paints a rather sobering picture of when he will one day return to earth to judge humankind according to their good works – according to whether they have fed the hungry, given a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked and needy, cared for the sick, visited the oppressed and suffering (25:34-40). And as that passage makes clear, as do innumerable other passages in both the Old and New Testaments, these good works will be met with a very real reward: the kingdom itself. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (25:34).
So may we continue to abounded in every good work, for the good of our communities, the good of our souls, and the glory of God.
November 17th, 2008 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology, Worship
Have you ever heard of a Leyden jar? Originally invented in 1745 by Pieter van Musschenbroek at the University of Leiden, the Netherlands, it was a device used to build and store static electricity. You can find the following description (with pictures) at the Sparkmuseum website:
A Leyden jar consists of a glass jar with an outer and inner metal coating covering the bottom and sides nearly to the neck. A brass rod terminating in an external knob passes through a wooden stopper and is connected to the inner coating by a loose chain. When an electrical charge is applied to the external knob, positive and negative charges accumulate from the two metal coatings respectively, but they are unable to discharge due to the glass between them. The result is that the charges will hold each other in equilibrium until a discharge path is provided. Leyden jars were first used to store electricity in experiments, and later as a condenser in early wireless equipment.
Why do I bring this up? Because it provides greater color to an already wonderfully colorful quote from one of my favorites, Charles Spurgeon, who had this to say about churches serving as Leyden jars.
It should be our ambition, in the power of the Holy Ghost, to work the entire church into a fine missionary condition, to make it like a Leyden jar charged to the full with divine electricity, so that whatever comes into contact with it shall feel its power (Lectures, p. 191).
The challenge, of course, is to understand, first, how to build a charge within a congregation, that is, how to preach and lead and serve and pray so that the church does indeed become filled with divine electricity; and then, secondly, how to to provide appropriate discharge paths so that this divine electricity might flow out of our life together and into the surrounding neighborhoods and beyond.
November 13th, 2008 — Ministry, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
Am I unChristian? It’s a question I’ve been mulling over recently, especially in light of some recent reading I’ve been doing in a book by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, Unchristian. The subtitle clues you in to where the book is headed: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity. What the authors have provided is the results of extensive polling research of perceptions of Christianity by ‘outsiders,’ those who do not identify themselves as Christian.
Through their research, they identify six broad themes or common points of skepticism raised by outsiders (here I’m quoting from pages 29-30):
- Hypocritical. Outsiders consider us hypocritical – saying one thing and doing another – and they are skeptical of our morally superior attitudes. They say Christians pretend to be something unreal, conveying a polished image that is not accurate. Christians think that the church is only a place for virtuous and morally pure people.
- Too focused on getting converts. Outsiders wonder if we genuinely care about them. They feel like targets rather than people. They question our motives when we try to help them ‘get saved,’ despite the fact that many of them have already ‘tried’ Jesus and experience church before.
- Antihomosexual. Outsiders say that Christians are bigoted and show disdain for gays and lesbians. They say Christians are fixated on curing homosexuals and on leveraging political solutions against them.
- Sheltered. Christians are thought of as old-fashioned, boring, and out of touch with reality. Outsiders say we do not respond to reality in appropriately complex ways, preferring simplistic solutions and answers.
- Too political. Another common perception of Christians is that we are overly motivated by a political agenda, that we promote and represent politically conservative interests and issues. Conservative Christians are often thought of as right-wingers.
- Judgmental. Outsiders think of Christians as quick to judge others. They say we are not honest about our attitudes and perspectives about other people. They doubt that we really love people as we say we do.
As they note earlier in the book:
“Our research shows that many of those outside of Christianity, especially younger adults, have little trust in the Christian faith, and [little] esteem for the lifestyle of Christ followers is quickly fading among outsiders” (p. 11).
Unfortunately, however, this is not just the sketch outsiders would provide; many young adults within the church would provide the same sketch.
“Among young adults who participate regularly in a Christian church, many share some of the same negative perceptions as outsiders. For instance, four out of five young churchgoers say that Christianity is antihomosexual; half describe it as judgmental, too involved in politics, hypocritical, and confusing; one-third believe their faith is old-fashioned and out of touch with reality; and one quarter of young Christians believe it is boring and insensitive to others. These are significant proportions of young people in Christian churches who raise objections to the motivation, attitudes, and image of modern Christianity” (p. 34, emphasis original).
This is all pretty sobering stuff, isn’t it?
My response, as a self-identifying Christian?
- Repentance – turning away from attitudes and actions that might unnecessarily perpetuate negative perceptions that detract from the beauty and truth of the Gospel.
- Prayer – praying that God would indeed so fill me with a knowledge of his saving will in Christ Jesus that I would in turn “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that [I] may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified [me] to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:10-12).
- Courage – courage to continue to bear witness to the “grace and truth” of the Gospel (John 1:17), courage to “declare the praises of him who called [me] out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9), courage to continue to “follow the Lamb wherever he goes” (Revelation 14:4), courage to go “outside the camp, bearing the disgrace [Jesus] bore” (Hebrews 13:13).