Entries Tagged 'Ministry' ↓
June 3rd, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Sermons, Theology
At Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, where I serve as the pastor, we have recently begun a sermon series on that seldom-preached New Testament epistle, Titus. (Incidentally, I asked for a show of hands of who has ever heard a sermon series on Titus and don’t recall seeing any!).
In this and the following two posts I would like to mention several reasons why we need a series on Titus.
The first is our need to make-up for what I will call a discipleship deficit. It has become a well-worn cliché to describe North American Christianity, in particular, evangelicalism, as a mile wide and an inch deep. That is a rather unflattering way of acknowledging that even though forms of evangelical Christianity are widespread in American cultural and society, the actual depth and substance of our lives is rather thin. Although we’ve been good at winning converts, we’ve not been so good at making disciples. We can fill big churches, but we struggle to grow godly men and women. This is what I mean by our discipleship deficit.
For years Dallas Willard has been emphasizing this very point. In fact, listen to what he says in an article written in 1980 for Christianity Today (included in his Spirit of the Disciplines):
For at least several decades the churches of the Western world have not made discipleship a condition of begin a Christian. One is not required to be, or to intend to be, a disciple in order to become a Christian, and one may remain a Christian without any signs of progress toward or in discipleship.
He then concludes:
So far as the visible Christian institutions of our day are concerned, discipleship clearly is optional.
Why is this? There are doubtless a variety of reasons: some social, some cultural, some historical. But, ultimately, I believe the reason for our discipleship deficit is theological: too many preachers and Bible teachers have taught a truncated gospel, one that fails to draw any real link between faith and obedience, or between grace and good works. Again, I think Dallas Willard nails it when he writes: “Obedience and training in obedience form no intelligible doctrinal or practical unity with the salvation presented in recent versions of the gospel.” The effect is that we can “believe” the gospel but not live like Christians, or “trust Jesus” even though it has very little impact on our life.
The book of Titus, and I hope and trust this sermon series on Titus, will help redress this discipleship deficit by reminding us that the gospel is fully orbed and to embrace grace is to be transformed, necessarily and inevitably, into a doer of good works. For that is what grace does: trains us to renounce a life of sin and seek a life of righteousness (Titus 2:11-14).
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines
, p. 258.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines
, p. 259.
Willard, Spirit of Disciplines,
p. 259 (emphasis added).
March 2nd, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Sermons
After yesterday’s sermon on “Living Christianly,” and in light of the call to put off “others-hurting speech” from Colossians 3:8-9, a Calvary congregant handed me a a business card-sized reminder of the importance of “thinking” before we speak. Here’s the content of the card:
“God . . . help me to T.H.I.N.K. before I speak. My words must be . . .
- T – True (Psalm 34:13)
- H – Helpful (Eph. 4:29)
- I – Inspiring (1 Thess. 5:11)
- N – Necessary (Eph. 5:4)
- K – Kind (Prov. 15:1)
Colossians 4:6 is then printed at the bottom of the card: “Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Thanks for this simple, solid challenge to T.H.I.N.K. before we speak!
February 19th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Sermons, Theology
I’m preparing to preach from Colossians 3:1-4 this Sunday and I’m musing on the meaning of “things above” and “earthly things” in 3:1 and 3:2. We are, Paul says, to set our hearts and minds on “things above” and not on “earthly things”:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your heart on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
What are these “things above” to which Paul is pointing? And what are these “earthly things”? For example, is a computer an “earthly thing,” and an angel a “thing above”? So that if we want to follow Paul’s advice I must stop typing (since it leads me inevitably to think about an “earthly thing”) . . . and start meditating on beings that occupy another metaphysical plane of existence, not earthly but above?
And what does it mean to “set” our heart and mind on the one or the other?
February 16th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Personal, Sermons
What happens when it’s about the rules? What happens in your heart or mine when rules become the main thing? What happens in a family when a mom or a dad or a teenage child becomes preoccupied with rules? Or what happens in a church when its people are more intent on following rules than following Christ?
When it’s all about the rules, we begin to play certain roles. When it’s all about the rules, something comes over us, and we begin thinking and acting in certain predictable ways. This was true of those in Colossae, whom Paul is critiquing in Colossians 2:16-23. For some, it had become all about the rules, and Paul warns the Colossians about what happens.
You play the judge and condemn others (Colossians 2:16)
First of all, when it’s all about the rules, you play the judge and condemn others. When it’s all about the rules, you find yourself dressed in dark robes, behind the bench, gavel in hand, law-books open, holding court on other Christians. Evidently, some were doing this in Colossae, so Paul had to admonish and encourage the Colossian Christians: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival or New Moon celebration or Sabbath day” (2:16).
When it’s all about the rules, you interact with other Christians as though they were accused felons, and you assume it’s your job to decide their case in accordance with the law. “Are they guilty or innocent?” “Have the transgressed or not?” Oblivious to the planks in your own eyes, you eagerly and rather sanctimoniously look for little piles of sawdust in your brother or sister’s eye (see Matthew 7:3-5).
The biblical example of a life lived according to the rules and thus playing the judge are the Pharisees, about whom Jesus had a few rather blunt things to say. For the Pharisees, it was all about the rules, and thus they often assumed the part of the judge and felt it their moral responsibility to pronounce condemnation on others. Even the sinless Son of God came under their watchful eye and condemning gaze: “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:7). “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Mark 2:16). “Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” (Mark 2:24).
You play the umpire and disqualify others (Colossians 2:18)
Second, when it’s all about the rules, you play the umpire and disqualify others. When it’s all about the rules, you find yourself dressed in stripes, behind home base, playing the umpire on other Christians. When it’s all about the rules, you interact with the church and other Christians as though they were a baseball team, and you’re the umpire. And you view it as your responsibility to make the tough calls: Safe? Or tagged? Strike? Or ball?
There were some umpires in Colossae, evidently a real spiritually sophisticated bunch, who saw it as their responsibility to disqualify others. So Paul says to the Colossians: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (2:18). Don’t let them play the umpire on you! This is an ever-present danger within a congregation, when certain of its members begin donning the umpire’s apparel – and attitude!
You play the sergeant and call for submission from others (Colossians 2:20-21)
Third, when it’s about the rules, you play the sergeant and call for submission from others. When it’s all about the rules, you find yourself dressed in military fatigues, whistle clinched between your teeth, and a mean look on your face, playing the drill sergeant. The church becomes a platoon and you, the sergeant in command, barking out orders in commanding tones: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (2:20). Not only that, but you get irritated – sometimes downright offended – when your orders aren’t obeyed immediately and unquestioningly.
This is what happens when we are preoccupied with rules: we become judges or umpires or sergeants, condemning, disqualifying, calling for submission. We come to see other Christians and the church itself, not as people redeemed by grace and transferred into the Body of Christ, but as a group of convicts on trial, or a team on the verge of defeat, or a platoon needing to be disciplined.
Some of you have encountered others Christians like that. They’re brittle; they’re harsh; they’re edgy (in a bad sense!). Some of you come from churches like that: filled with drill sergeants or umpires or judges – and the consequences for the entire atmosphere of the church were devastating. Still others of you, to be blunt, have been guilty of acting like that; we all have. We’ve banged the gavel in condemnation of others too readily; we’ve blown the whistle and disqualified others too quickly; or we’ve shouted out orders at others too loudly; and, frankly, we’ve left a trail of human debris in our wake.
So let’s commit, by the grace of God, to not play the part of the judge or the umpire or the sergeant, either in our homes or in our churches. Let’s let God play those parts. Let’s let God be God and be the only judge with the wisdom required to justify and condemn. And let’s let God be God and be the only umpire with the authority to disqualify. And let’s let God be God and be the only sergeant with the right to call for submission to his commands. Let’s let God be God and play these parts, not us, because only God is holy enough to handle it!
February 15th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Sermons
It’s not about the rules. Yet, ironically, as followers of Christ we can sometimes, perhaps even often, slip into thinking that it is.
As we continue in our series in Colossians, we have come to Colossians 2:16-23, where Paul, in a variety of ways, drives home this fundamental point about Christian living: it’s not about the rules.
In fact, Paul provides, I believe, at least five reasons why continuing on in Christ and as a Christian is not all about the rules.
- Rules aren’t the point, they’re only pointers. “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (2:16-17). Shadows. That’s what rules and regulations and even laws and commandments are (see Hebrews 10:1). A fit metaphor, because shadows, not only are not the reality themselves, but they point to the reality. And in this case, the reality to which diet and days points is Christ himself.
- Rules tend to cut off connection from the true source of growth. This is Paul’s point in 2:18-19: “Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions.” As a result, then, Paul says in the next verse: “He has lost connection with the Head” (2:19), the only true source of growth.
- Rules don’t cause growth, God does. Paul says just this very thing at the end of 2:19: “He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.” Did you hear that? “As God causes it to grow.” Here we find an axiom or first principle of the Christian life and Christian living: God causes growth! Rules don’t cause growth. Regulations don’t cause growth. The Law doesn’t cause growth. Only God causes growth.
- Rules are for a world believers have left behind. This fourth reason why continuing in Christ and growing as a Christian isn’t all about rules is perhaps the most subtle, and yet the most profound. Listen carefully, then, to what Paul says in 2:20-22: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” If you are a Christian, you have died to that realm called the “world,” where rules and regulations reign supreme. Yet the reality to which the rules point is now realized in the transformation you experience because of the gospel and grace of God.
- Rules can’t ultimately restrain an unruly heart. Paul’s pretty blunt and straightforward here. And his point is right there in the final verse of this passage: “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (2:23).
But what, then, does it mean to live as a Christian, in this world, yet as though it were not all about the rules? It means, first of all, to let the rules be the rules – and not something they’re not! That is, let the rules in your life or even in the word of God be, not the reality upon which we feed, but (to change the metaphor) the guard rails that keep us from ourselves. “Thou shalt not covet” is a guard rail to protect us from ourselves and others. But it’s not life-transforming; only the presence and person and work of Christ is!
Which leads to a second point. Living as a Christian as though it were not all about the rules means, positively speaking, living like it’s all about Christ. Because it is!
But what does this look like in your life, in your home, in our church? In your life, it means relying upon the grace of God to affect the change you so desire rather than upon your own discipline and striving. In your home, it means pointing your spouse or your children to Christ and his authority, rather than to you and yours. In our church, it means being a place for the broken, not a place for the pious. It means checking the gavel and the umpire’s uniform and the sergeant’s whistle at the Information Desk in the Portico before you seek to “judge” (2:16) or “disqualify” (2:18) or call others to “submit” to your rules and regulations (2:20-21).
What, in short, does it mean to live a life that’s not all about the rules, but all about Christ? It means, as we’ll see in the weeks ahead, to live a life with your heart set on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God; it means to live a life with your mind set on things above, not on earthly things. “For you died,” as Paul says, “and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (3:3).
January 28th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Theology
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Certainly one of the crying needs of the church is the reinvigoration of the model of the pastor-scholar. While scholars are seldom pastoral in their orientation and aims, pastors are seldom theological, much less scholarly, in their thinking and practice. As a result, the church suffers from an overabundance of superficiality and a dearth of substance. What is needed for the long-term health and vibrancy of the church are pastors with scholarly heads and shepherding hearts.
January 27th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Theology
“And 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).
The local church is indispensible in raising up the next generation of pastoral leaders. Yet for far too long this responsibility has been abdicated to Bible colleges and seminaries. While such institutions have an important role to play in ministry preparation, the church itself needs to take the lead role in raising up its own leadership.
January 26th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Personal, Theology
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this, to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27).
Historically, evangelicals have struck a good balance between personal piety and social action. Recently, however, we’ve slipped to one side: stressing piety and purity to such an extent that in some cases we’ve even withdrawn from the world, thus leaving the gritty work of social engagement to the more liberal wings of Christianity. We need to return to a religion that is indeed pure and undefiled, balanced and holistic.
January 22nd, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Postmodernism, Theology
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
Without in any way diminishing the truth of the gospel to an unbelieving world, we must work hard to commend the beauty of the gospel. For the gospel offers a compelling way of living, not just a compelling way of thinking, because it is rooted in a beautifully compelling person, Jesus Christ. Beauty and truth – balancing these is the key to winsome gospel outreach, especially in postmodern times when beauty is often more appealing than truth.
January 21st, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Outreach, Theology
“[W]e have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations” (Rom. 1:5).
On the one hand, Christian discipleship needs to be understood as living the life of faith and fighting the fight of faith by daily relying upon the promises of God. On the other hand, Christian faith needs to be understood as inextricably tied to a life of obedience. Rather than being viewed as optional or secondary, obedience must be viewed as simply the visible expression of an invisible faith. For that is simply what faith does: it “works through love” (Gal. 5:6).