January 7th, 2009 — Church, Ministry, Personal
At the start of a new year it’s always worth reflecting biblically, prayerfully and self-critically on one’s commitments and convictions. So over the next several weeks I thought I’d post twelve (what I call) biblical priorities that guide my life and ministry.
So Priority #1 forthcoming shortly . . .
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).
October 29th, 2008 — Ministry, Theology, Worship
I’ve been reflecting lately on the issue of church architecture and the extent to which the space we inhabit as a church informs our understanding of God or the church’s mission in the world or the Christian life or Christian community. Of course, there is a sense in which the New Testament reflects a movement away from sacred space (temple) to sacred person (Christ, and those “saints” gathered in his name), from spiritual building to spiritual body – the body of Christ (see Ephesians 2:14-22; 2 Corinthians 316; 6:19). But does this mean, as one architectural historian has observed of certain forms of Protestantism, that “The temple of stone or wood is no more than an insignificant shell surrounding the living congregation of the faithful which assembles within its walls”?