Entries Tagged 'Ministry' ↓
June 7th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism
The benefits of the Internet are obvious and indisputable.
The costs of the Internet, on the other hand, are far less obvious to many and, I would suspect, far more likely to be disputed.
I would imagine most would grant that at least one of the costs is the kind of dodgy activity and degrading content the web puts within all our reach, not least our children. Thanks to the Internet, for example, everyone of us is only a single mouse click away from exposure to content that is, if not illegal, at least morally degrading.
But there are other costs as well. Costs that come not from the content itself, but from the kind of medium the Internet is, and the kind of mental habits (or lack of them) it encourages and impedes.
An increasing number of thoughtful, technologically-saavy people are sounding this note. One is Nicholas Carr, in a forthcoming book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
He’s expressed the gist of his cautions and concerns in a CNN article. Here are a few paragraphs:
As we rush around the web gathering little pieces of information, we seem to be training our brains to be quick but superficial.
Only a curmudgeon would deny the many benefits that our computers and electronic networks have brought us. The internet and related technologies have made it much easier to stay in touch with friends and family members, to discover interesting and useful information, to express ourselves, and to collaborate with others.
Since the World Wide Web was invented two decades ago, we have been celebrating these benefits — and rightly so. But we’ve been paying much less attention to the negative consequences of our online lives.
The time has come for us to take a more balanced view of the net, looking at its costs as well as its benefits. That’s particularly true when it comes to educating our children. Sticking a kid in front of a computer screen is probably not the best way encourage the development of a strong, creative, and supple mind.
Of course, there’s no going back to pre-Internet days. Nor, it must be said, would one want to – given all the benefits of the Internet. But precisely because of this we would do well as individuals and families and communities and a culture to reflect more soberly and critically on the negative impact of this double-edged sword.
A balanced view is what we need. For only then will we be able to use this tool with wisdom and thus to use it to promote rather than undermine human flourishing.
May 17th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Worship
Everyone’s had this experience. You set out to read your Bible for nourishment, yet finding yourself as cold and flat as a dead fish.
And you get nothing out of it: no light, no heat, no nothing.
What to do?
Talk to yourself.
Cajole your soul into a more attentive frame of mind.
Here’s Spurgeon’s advice on what to say to your soul before reading your Bible:
Come, soul, wake up; thou art not now about to read the newspaper; thou art not now perusing the pages of a human poet, to be dazzled by his flashing poetry; thou art coming very near to God, who sits in the Word like a crowned monarch in his halls. Wake up, my glory; wake up all that is within me. Though just now I may not be praising and glorifying God, I am about to consider that which should lead me so to do, and therefore it is an act of devotion. So be on the stir, my soul; be on the stir, and bow not sleepily before the awful throne of the Eternal.
February 22nd, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Theology
“When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things” (Mark 6:34).
This simple and oft-quoted verse captured my attention because of the connection, easily overlooked, I think, between Jesus’ assessment of the crowds situation as “sheep without a shepherd” and his being moved with compassion for them, on the one hand, and his beginning to “teach them many things,” on the other.
What I take away from this is that when confronted with a frazzled and shepherd-less flock, Jesus doesn’t resort to leadership tactics or visionary dreaming or group analysis. He turns to teaching. And precisely because they were in such a hapless state, he was compelled to teach them, not just some, but many things. Teaching is, then, I conclude, the means by which the shepherd / pastor cares for his flock.The word of God is thus the shepherd’s rod and staff, his tools for correction and protection and guidance.
It is also worth noting that the people of God are left shepherd-less and uncared for when her pastors fail to teach “many things,” as Jesus did, many things, no doubt, about the kingdom of God. Further, it is worth noting that compassion for people ought to overflow in teaching, as it did in the life of Jesus, whose compassion was unsullied by other motives and understanding of the needs of people perfectly accurate.
January 14th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Sermons, Theology
My mother recently sent me a great and challenging quote from A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy.
“If some watcher or holy one who has spent his glad centuries by the sea of fire were to come to earth, how meaningless to him would be the ceaseless chatter of the busy tribes of men. How strange to him and how empty would sound the flat, stale and profitless words heard in the average pulpit from week to week. And were such a one to speak on earth would he not speak of God? Would he not charm and fascinate his hearers with rapturous descriptions of the Godhead? And after hearing him could we ever again consent to listen to anything less than theology, the doctrine of God? Would we not thereafter demand of those who would presume to teach us that they speak to us from the mount of divine vision or remain silent altogether?” (p. 71).
January 11th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Theology
To insist much on those things that the Scripture insists little on, and to insist very little on those things on which the Scripture insists much, is a very dangerous thing (Religious Affections, p. 438; Yale Edition).
Two vitally important and revealing questions arise out of this statement: (1) What do you insist much on that Scripture insists little on? And, perhaps more importantly, (2) What do you insist little on that Scripture insists much on? And, if you’re wondering about a third, then how about this: In light of #1 or #2, do you find yourself in a dangerous position?!
January 11th, 2010 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Sermons
In his book, Whistling in the Dark: A Doubter’s Dictionary, Christian writer Frederick Buechner explains how the term “born again” now sounds in the ears of some:
You get the feeling that to [those who use the phrase ‘born again’] it means Super Christians. They are apt to have the relentless cheerfulness of car salesmen. They tend to be a little too friendly a little too soon and the women to wear more make-up than they need. You can’t imagine any of them ever having had a bad moment or a lascivious thought or use a nasty word when the bumped their head getting out of the car. They speak a great deal about “the Lord” as if they have him in their hip pocket and seem to feel that it’s no harder to figure out what he wants them to do in any given situation to look up in Fanny Farmer how to make brownies. The whole shadow side of human existence – the suffering, the doubt, the frustration, the ambiguity – appears as absent from their view of things as litter from the streets of Disneyland. To hear them speak of God, he seems about as elusive and mysterious as a Billy Graham rally at Madison Square Garden, and on their lips the Born Again experience often sounds like something we can all make happen any time we want to, like fudge, if we only follow their recipe (p. 24).
That this is the way being ‘born again’ sounds to some is unfortunate, first of all, because it is a wonderful biblical expression that we find used in several places in the New Testament, not least on the lips of Jesus himself (see John 3:1-10). But, secondly, and more importantly, this is unfortunate because being born again is a profound biblical experience – an experience that not only marks the beginning of the Christian life, but also provides a basis for wonder and worship in our lives. To be born again is the foundation of Christian living, as well as the wellspring of the Christian’s praise, as 1 Peter 1:3 reminds us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
June 17th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Sermons, Theology
This past Sunday, we looked at Titus 2:1-10 – a passage rich with personal challenge and application. However, in this post I would like to make a few observations about the implications of this passage for the teaching ministries of the church.
First, our teaching ministries must be firmly rooted in sound doctrine. We must not become slack or compromise on this point. For we cannot build strong Christian lives upon a shaky foundation. And sound doctrine is that foundation. So whether it’s men’s or women’s ministries, our Life Groups / small groups, or our Sunday school curriculum for our children, we must insist upon the fact that is it thoroughly biblical, robustly theological, and doctrinally sound. There’s plenty of superficial, not very substantive teaching material out there. We don’t need more of it. We need more sound doctrine coursing through our teaching curricula. So the first question we should be asking of curriculum or studies we might use would be: Is it firmly rooted in sound doctrine? And don’t just assume that because you found it at a Christian bookstore, or another church is using it to good effect, or its written by a well-known author, that its firmly rooted in sound doctrine.
Second, our teaching ministries must prioritize life-change. Paul said to Timothy that the goal of his instruction was love (1 Tim. 1:5); so too should it be the goal of all our instruction as well. We cannot be content with filling our heads with more and more and more knowledge. Knowledge is critical and foundational – don’t misunderstand me! Knowledge is just not sufficient in itself; it must lead to life-change. And so we must work hard to find out what “fits” with biblical teaching, and then teach it. Furthermore, we must do this from cradle to grave: from young to old. This is as important for our students as it is for our seniors; this is as critical for our kids as it is for our college-aged.
Third, our teaching ministries must creatively enable intergenerational, life-on-life interactions. The classroom is a necessary part of what it means to teach; but the classroom is rather limited. We need to think carefully and creatively about how it is that we can rub shoulders with one another on a more consistent basis so that the kind of modeling and mentoring happens. This is one of the primary reasons why our Life Groups at Calvary Memorial Church are not demographic or life-stage specific, but instead are multi-generational. So that this kind of life-on-life, cross-generational mentoring can happen on a more regular basis. We need to continue to think creatively about how to make that happen more and more and in other areas of the life and ministry of this church.
Fourth, and finally, our teaching ministries must be wholly reliant upon the grace of God. It is critical that we not forget this! It is all too tempting to come away from Sunday’s sermon with marching orders and try to man-handle the teaching ministry of the church. We must remember that it is the grace of God that trains us on the art of living Christianly in the world (2:11-12). It is reliance upon what God has done, not what we must do; it is resting in his provision for us, not the provisions we must make for ourselves; it is looking to his Holy Spirit for empowerment, not to ourselves for the necessary motivation to do what needs to be done. Unless we look to the grace of God and promote the grace of God in all our teaching, we may well end up in the predicament the Pharisees in Jesus’ day found themselves in: they were great teachers and holy, well-disciplined bunch, but they were miles and miles from the Kingdom of God because they didn’t understand the grace of God.
June 8th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Sermons
Because elder-leadership is so critical to the life and health of the church, and in light of a recent sermon I preached on Titus 1:5-16, I would like to draw out a few implications and offer several exhortations to you as it relates to engaging with the elders of your church. These comments were originally intended for the congregation of Calvary Memorial Church, but they apply equally well, I would think, in other church contexts.
First, obey your elders for your own spiritual good. Listen to Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” What this passage reminds us all of is that God puts leaders into our lives for our own good. We are to obey our leaders and submit to them because they have been entrusted with the care of our souls; and indeed they, as this passage says – a most terrifying thought – will be judged by God as to how well they did in keeping watch. So, the logic of this verse goes, make every effort to help this be for them a joy and not a burden, because you only stand to gain from their work.
Second, pray for your elders that they would have discernment. I’ve been reading through the Bible, as some of you have, and just this week read the passage from 1 Kings, where Solomon, as the newly installed king of Israel, prays to the Lord: “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9). The ministry of an elder within the life of the local church is a kingly ministry: a ministry of overseeing and governing and ruling and leading. There are weighty and difficult decisions to be made at every turn. There are complex issues for which there seems to be no easy answer. There are difficult circumstances that require careful navigation. All of this requires, therefore, “an understanding mind to govern,” as Solomon prayed; that is, the ability to discern between good and evil. So, as Solomon prayed for himself, would you pray for your elders: “Oh, God, would you give our elders understanding minds and discerning spirits that they would be able by your Holy Spirit to govern and lead and serve this church well.”
Third, take seriously the preparation and appointment of future elders. This is of course one of the main upshots of this passage in Titus: Paul is admonishing Titus to take seriously the preparation and appointment of future elders because the long-term health and vitality of the churches in Crete depend upon it. Similarly, he says to Timothy: “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). This is a call to be highly intentional about raising up and then deploying new elders-leaders within the church, faithful men who will be able to minister the word to others. This church, as with any other church, will only survive if there is a continual, fresh infusion of godly leadership. So it is incumbent upon us all – and especially upon me as the Pastor and the other elders – to be identifying, cultivating and training future elders. And it is incumbent upon you, the congregation, to encourage and support this work and then, when the time comes to nominate and appoint new elders, to engage the process both thoughtfully and prayerfully.
Fourth, honor your elders for their labor of love on your behalf. Paul says to the Thessalonians: “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thess. 5:12-13). And to Timothy Paul writes: “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor” (1 Tim. 5:17). We honor our elders in a variety of ways: with respect, by speaking well of them, by imitating their way of life, by heeding their instruction, by encouraging them in their work, by expressing words of thanks, and, most importantly, by praying for them.
June 6th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
As you may know, the term ‘missional’ has become something of a buzzword. It’s a neologism I personally quite like; it’s the adjectival form of the noun ‘mission’ and thus serves as a catchword for a certain way of both being and living in the world vis-à-vis the non-Christian society around us.
There’s a lot talk these days about being more missional. But in my experience these conversations tend, frankly, to focus more on form than substance. All too often I find myself left with the impression that being missional has more to do with lighting candles, playing cool music, growing a soul-patch, preaching in jeans, and generally being just a bit edgy – than it does with living a life that is “self-controlled, upright and godly,” as Titus would have us (2:12).
I’m sensitive to not overstating my case, so let me ask: When was the last time anyone attended a conference for ‘missional’ churches and church leaders and discovered there that the key to missional outreach is the renunciation of sin and the full-throttled pursuit of holiness?
Yet, as I read Titus, here’s the irony. According to Titus, the most effective missional and congregational outreach is a corporate devotion to good works. As New Testament scholar Gordon Fee has rightly observed, the letter of Titus is thoroughly evangelistic in its thrust: throughout this letter Paul encourages behavior that will be attractive to the world; thus good works are for the sake of outsiders.
So while I’m on board with the need to be more missional – that is, to take seriously the cultural chasm that has developed between contemporary forms of Christianity and the surrounding post-Christian culture – I’m nevertheless increasingly convinced that the most effective prescription for being and becoming truly missional in any recognizably New Testament sense is to cultivate zeal for good works within the life of the church of Jesus Christ. Zeal for good works is as missional as it gets.
Our study in the book of Titus will, then, help us as a congregation learn how better to do that most missional of things: “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). So that the gospel of God looks more attractive and beautiful and winsome and ultimately compelling to outsiders.
June 4th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
The second reason why we need to hear the message of Titus is because we as evangelical Christians desperately need to close the credibility gap.
I trust everyone is aware of the fact that evangelicals have what one might call a ‘public relations’ problem, a problem with our image, with how we’re perceived. The recent study by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons entitled, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity, has underscored this point sufficiently enough. As you are doubtless aware, the word on the street is that evangelicals are hypocrites. And, of course, in some cases, as I think we would all agree, the charge of hypocrisy is entirely (albeit regrettably) justified.
However, let me say plainly that I don’t believe our chief problem is hypocrisy. Rather, it’s credibility. At least my experience has been that for the vast majority of us evangelicals, our problem isn’t that we say one thing and then knowingly do another (i.e., hypocrisy). Instead, it’s that we say one thing and then unwittingly fail to let that shape the rest of our life; thus, we create a credibility gap between our professed convictions and our actual practice.
To use a metaphor: we don’t have a heart problem, but a circulation problem. It’s not that our heart isn’t pumping blood as it ought; it’s just that the blood doesn’t seem consistently to reach the extremities of our daily lives. Hence, our credibility problem. For we leave outsiders who observe our lives with that niggling question in their mind: “Do they really believe what they’re preaching, since it doesn’t really seem to penetrate the practicalities of their daily life? It’s as if they’re peddling a soda they themselves don’t really enjoy drinking?”
Despite the air of cynicism toward religion that pervades our culture, people are nevertheless surprisingly willing to give credit to a person who actually lives by his or her convictions, almost regardless of what those convictions are! In this day and age of virtual-this and virtual-that, where everything is accessible, but nothing is real, we’re increasingly hungry for just that: something real, something authentic, something credible, something – indeed, someone – believable, someone who actually practices his or her own convictions.
Here’s where the book of Titus comes in. For it is written to help the believers on the island of Crete, and the church of Jesus Christ ever after, to address this issue of credibility in the eyes of outsiders. For the burden of the argument of the book is that we are to devote ourselves to good works for the sake of outsiders, in order to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10) and thus commend the gospel in and through a life of holiness and godliness and gospel-centered consistency.