25 April 2007

why American Christians are restless in their churches

USA TODAY had an article about people being restless in the church they are attending that made me think. You can check this out here.


20 April 2007

good news for a change

There's an article in the Oakland Press this morning about the clean-up effort that took place last Saturday at WCC. It's nice to read a story that reports good news as this one does. The reporter, Carol Hopkins, was very nice. When we spoke on Monday, she was delighted to hear all of the good things that so many people did in response to so many bad things done by just a couple of guys. In fact, we calculate 484 man-hours of labor were donated Saturday! A few of the facts are slightly off--several pizzas were more like 30! A few of the quotes are loose--one of which I'd clarify: God is the One who used this event to accomplish good through bad. We give Him all the credit, and thank Him for what He's done.

And, we pray that it would continue. Later today I'll be meeting with some family members of one of the young men who were involved. And, when able, I'll be trying to meet with the two young men directly. This has been good in the life of our church family. I hope it will be as good for both of them and their extended family.


19 April 2007

how to not waste your life reading blogs (but read them anyway)

If you're reading this, you obviously read blogs (at least this one...Thank You!). I read blogs--76 as a matter of fact on a regular (almost daily) basis. "How!?" you ask?

I use a free Google service: Google Reader. There are other readers, but I generally like Google's stuff and find it works pretty good together so I stick with it. You'll need to start a free Google account if you don't already have one. Just follow the directions--it's pretty straightforward.

Here's the beauty of a reader: you subscribe to all of the websites and blogs that you like (if they have a "feed"...what you might think of as a "broadcast signal") through the reader. Whenever something new is posted on those sites, it pops-up as a new entry--pictures and all--in your reader. This means that you don't have to spend any time going to the sites to see if there is new content or viewing that content.

The bottomline is that it makes it incredibly easy to survey vast amounts of information online that you find helpful or interesting. I should note that I still visit some of the sites "the old-fashioned way" because I'm interested in the photo album links that they've updated, or because I want to see exactly how old my nieces are on my sister's blog counter. But for the routine day-to-day stuff, it's a great way to master the information superhighway rather than getting run over!


17 April 2007

Vandalism/Recovery Photos

We've been compiling photos from this past week and weekend to give a quick look at what's taken place. You can view these photos here.


16 April 2007

Wings 2-0 in Playoffs

After this long hard week, the final hurdle was a brief Q&A with church leadership after NextWorship regarding the events of this week. Everyone was, thankfully, on the same page about what had happened and satisfied with how we'd handled things and were going to be proceeding.

I got home just in time for the start of Game Two of the first round of the playoffs. It was exactly what I needed after the week--a great release (I scared Aryssa half to death when I shouted at the goals!). Of course, I was on fumes when it was over and bailed on the first Waterford on Wheels ride (sorry Sandie Domagalski and all of the other cyclists--see you in two weeks for sure!).

The Red Wings manhandled the Calgary Flames. It was, for much of the game, almost embarassingly painful. A 3-1 victory puts us at 2-0 in very physical games--and all of this without big man Todd Bertuzzi. We outshot them in game one 46-20. In game two, it was 51-15. That adds up to 97-35 over two games for a 7-2 goal differential. If their goalie, Mikka Kiprusoff, hadn't at least shown up to play, it would have been much worse.

Best of all, every part of our game was good. Five Calgary penalties in the first 8:13 of the first period gave our hot power play the opportunity to post two goals. Dominik Hasek was solid in goal when called-on. Emerging star Pavel Datsyuk, criticized for lack of post-season production previously, scored his second goal in as many games (after signing a 7 year $47 million contract with the Wings). Stalwarts like defenseman Lidstrom scored despite playing approximately 30 minutes matched-up against forward Jarome Iginla. And, new unproven players like Valterri Filppula have come up big scoring his second goal in as many games.

I'm excited. This looks like the charmed Wings teams of the last decade. There's absolutely no sign of a collapse or anything other than an appearance in the finals. I'm motivated enough to stay up late and watch game 3 in Calgary at the Saddledome (10 pm Tuesday). Go Wings!


15 April 2007


Friday, Saturday, and Sunday were remarkable days for Waterford Community Church. Let me share at least a few of the cool things that happened.

On Friday, Montgomery & Sons Restoration Company went to town on this place with 30 very professional and friendly people doing amazing work. By the end of the day, most of the replacement glass had already been installed--amazing! Meanwhile, we fielded tons of phone calls expressing concern, offering help from individuals, businesses, and churches, as well as making calls ourselves to coordinate restoration efforts. The news reporters and camera crews really kept us hopping. We appreciated their coverage. Once that hit the airwaves (noon, evening, and night news) the website (
www.waterfordwired.org) was also innundated with 400 hits. This blog got about 300.Also on Friday, I got a call from an extended family member of one of the guys who did this. They had been under arrest since the day before when crime scene fingerprints were matched in the computer system. Both had confessed and given us the location of stolen property hidden in garbage bags outside in the woods by the train tracks which we were able to recover. They were arraigned on Friday. Each was charged with three felony counts of breaking and entering, malicious destruction of property, and (I think) intent to commit a felony. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. This family member tearfully told me that the entire family was very sorry. They explained that this was completely random--neither guy had had any prior interaction with our church that we know of. Both were crystal-meth addicts who had also gotten drunk that night. They were high, hungry, and bored. In talking, this church-going relative also gave some backround on one of the boys that helped me understand that long before he ever became a victimizer, he'd been a victim. Though we recognize that there are appropriate consequences for their actions, we forgive both of them, holding no ill-will and hoping that this will be the wake-up call that they need.
Saturday morning, the restoration people were back in full-force. Joining them were approximately 130 volunters from our church, other area churches (special thanks goes to the men's group from Clarkston Community Church and their Pastor Dan Whiting, as well as the Brethren Church here in Waterford), the neighborhood, and friends (Mark Ballard and Shawn (Shellnut) Spry were alums from Southfield Christian that showed-up--THANK YOU!). We dispatched teams to rooms hoping to cover 10 key areas that would make the facility functional enough for Sunday. We had so many hard-working people that we were able to wipe-down virtually the whole building.

The work really was meticulous. I watched the restoration people wipe down each individual CD in our Creative Arts Director's heavily fire extinguisher-sprayed office. In children's rooms, plastic toys were run through the big kitchen's industrial dishwasher. Carpet was stripped in rooms used by small children were there was heavy glass breakage. The techie guys went through all of the damaged electronic components establishing their condition, salvaging key components like hard drives, and disposing of broken stuff. In the midst of all this, one family from church donated 30 pizzas to feed people. Another family donated beverages for the day. A donated dumpster sat outside in the back from a business in the community. And, throughout the day, people stopped-by to make donations ranging in size from $100 from an elderly lady in a rusted-out car to $500 from a family here at church, to $700 the Restoration Church (?) in Pontiac. People brought cleaning supplies from home. One family got our tax-exempt ID certificates and went to local stores to see if they'd be willing to donate toys to our nurseries. A group of Middle School kids got the idea to write thank-you notes for everyone who came to help work. They sat there and industriously wrote all of them!

We started at 8:30 am. At 10, I raced over to Community Prebyterian Church to conduct a funeral for Sherrie Lee Carlton--a 25 year attender at WCC who has been homebound and suffering with COPD/severe emphysema for years. She was a beautiful loving woman who left her own words for me to share--a true privilege. Her husband Fred is a prince of a guy--nicest guy you'd ever want to meet. Our prayers go out to them, and the rest of their family throughout these coming weeks. Not only was the church nice enough to let us use their santuary for the service, but they let our team use their kitchen for the meal afterwards too. They had five or six of their members there to help cook and serve! After a graveside interment at White Chapel Cemetary, I headed back to the clean-up effort winding down. The place looked and smelled great! Only two rooms were out of commission--rooms we could work around.

Throughout the end of the week, I kept thinking how awesome it would be if we could have this kind of connectedness as believers, this kind of coordination working together for a common purpose, this kind of freely expressed care and concern for others in our communities on the normal days where there is no crisis to galvanize us to action. I'm still thinking about that. It felt like the kingdom of God kept making itself known in powerful and creative ways. I'd love to have that sense more often!

On Sunday, 387 of us gathered--many in the building for the first time since all of this happened. We studied Luke 9:18-50 as had been planned, as the passage speaks about what the core identity and destiny of a disciple of Jesus is: to follow, to take up your cross daily, and to deny yourself. It seemed appropriate. Then, we spent some time talking about what had happened--the bad, and the even greater good--while we showed before and after photos. You can listen-in if you like at this link that takes you to the church website (link will be active once message is posted). We're compiling a photo album that I'll post a link for when it's completed.
While work will go on this week, and the focus will shift to working with our insurance company on ruined or damaged contents, our church wasn't hurt this week, only a building was. If anything, our church was strengthened and improved--"an Extreme Church Makeover" as Kellie Rittenhouse termed it-- as we came together in unity, had our faith deepened out of necessity and our character made more Christlike in the process. Through all of this, we are grateful to our God who didn't let it be any worse, and who led us through the worst. Thank you so very much to all of you who were a part of helping Him do just that. May He get all the credit, even as we give you our thanks.


13 April 2007

Additional Media Coverage

A quick FYI: Channel 7 News was here and will be broadcasting the story during the Noon newscast (live broadcast link here under "Church Vandals." Channel 4 will be here at 12:30 pm (link to video here).


Restoration Underway

Dear WCC & Visitors,

Our sincerest thanks to everyone for their concern and offers of assistance over the last couple of days. It has been overwhelming. People we don't know calling or stopping-in offering their labor or services. What a great thing to be able to say. It gives you something to ponder: What if we were all like this to each other in the normal everyday times, not just in times of crisis--what a world THAT would be! Nonetheless, it is fabulous to receive all of these kind expressions--from within and without our congregation. On behalf of the entire Waterford Community Church family: THANK YOU!

There's a front page article in the Oakland Press giving some information on what's happened. And, we just finished interviews with Fox News (Channel 2) that will likely air during the 11:00 broadcast and later during the day.

As I write, there are 8 big Montgomery & Sons restoration trucks outside, 3 Aladdin Carpet trucks in front, approximately 30 people all over the building cleaning, and replacement glass deliveries anticipated later today. Honestly, for those who come to help tomorrow, you're going to be disappointed in how little of the damage and mess that were visible just yesterday is left. Our biggest ongoing clean-up item will be the fire extinguisher exhaust residue that is very fine and acrid. It keeps reappearing everywhere even after being cleaned.

Late this afternoon, we'll be assessing our need and work assignments for tomorrow morning (see the post below for general information on Saturday morning's work day). If there's anything specific to report, we'll post again (along with an all-church email) sometime during the 4:00 pm hour.
Pastor Chris


12 April 2007

The Red Wings' Season Begins

The Red Wings ARE the Spirit of Detroit

Tonight, the Detroit Red Wings begin their season. "Yawn." This is the 16th consecutive season that they've made the playoffs--the longest such run for any professional sports league team in America. Three Stanley Cups in the last decade come from this dominance. The so-called "regular season" is just our extended training camp. And this, despite the loss of star forward and team captain ("The Captain") Steve Yzerman and power forward Brendan Shannahan, as well as a salary cap. At the beginning of the year, we were told that we were in a rebuilding year--even making the playoffs was out of the question. But, here we are: first place in the Western Conference and the Central Division. Good things we're playing a team that goes down recorded as "the Flames." Join the red wave as we go for Cup #11!


Critical WCC Newsflash Update

Dear WCC,

The last twenty-four hours have been a whirlwind!
Following yesterday’s crime scene investigation (which took most of the day), we’ve met with our insurance adjustor to begin documenting damage and losses. Montgomery & Sons Restoration Company has been busy, boarding up broken exterior windows, removing all broken glass inside, ordering replacement glass and doors, and making the logistical arrangements for further clean-up. First thing tomorrow morning, a twenty man crew will be on-site to continue the initial phase of clean-up.
Though things have moved quickly, WE WILL NOT BE HAVING A CLEAN-UP TIME ON FRIDAY! We’re grateful for any of you whom may have been planning on coming, but we’re simply not going to be ready for that. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you. PLEASE CONSIDER THE BUILDING CLOSED UNTIL SATURDAY MORNING unless you absolutely need to be there for some reason.

WE WILL HAVE A CLEAN-UP TIME ON SATURDAY FROM 8:30 AM – 2:00 PM. We’ll be working alongside of the crew from Montgomery & Sons on areas of the building that are safe and clean enough for us to do further clean-up. If you can be there, the help will be great!

Here are a few important points to keep in-mind for Saturday:

-- DO NOT BRING YOUNG KIDS (mature teens are welcomed to come and help)
-- NO ARRIVALS AFTER 12:00 PM (everyone will be sent to a specific area to work on specific tasks)
-- LOG IN & OUT so that we can get monetary credit for the labor we’ve provided to offset our deductible
-- Wear clothes that can get dirty
-- Bring a mask or bandana if airborne dust bothers you
-- Bring any cleaning supplies that may be helpful for wiping surfaces such as walls or cabinets or disinfecting surfaces

With all of this help, we expect to be able to run a safe, clean, normal Sunday morning (all three hours) with only a few minor room location changes (we’ll be talking to these teachers tomorrow). Repairs and deeper cleaning will occur over the next couple of weeks.
All of this activity has also included cooperating with the Waterford Police Department Detectives handling the investigation and has resulted early this morning in the arrest and confession of the two individuals who did this. They will be arraigned before the end of the week. I’ll let you know what we can Sunday about any association with WCC or motive behind this vandalism. Thank you to all of you who made suggestions about possible perpetrators to consider.

One additional note: the funeral for Sherrie Carlton, which was supposed to be at WCC Saturday at 10:30 am, will instead be held at Community Presbyterian Church of Drayton Plains on Sashabaw Road (directly across the street from Coats Funeral Home). The meal, following interment at White Chapel Cemetery, will also be there as well. Since Coats was busy, we appreciate the church’s gracious use of their facility.

The damage to our building was extensive (initial educated guesstimates place it at or near $200,000). But, the damage to our church? . . . . Well, if we respond the right way, it may have even made our church—the people who are in-fact WCC—even better, as our character is refined, our trust deepened, and our unity increased. May God make it so! May you be a willing part of that!

Don’t forget, all updates are available at
www.waterfordwired.org or on Pastor Chris’ blog OUT OF MY MIND (http://outofmymind-etocspace.blogspot.com/), as well as email updates we have been sending. If you know someone at church that doesn’t have or use email, please pass the word!

In His hands,



11 April 2007

Critical WCC Newsflash

Dear WCC,

Some time after midnight last night, the building was broken-into and heavily vandalized throughout the entire facility. Waterford Police, along with the K-9 and Crime Scene Units from the Oakland County Sherriff’s Department are processing the scene. The building is closed to the public and the staff is confined to an unaffected office.

We have been in contact with church leadership, our insurance company, and a restoration company that will come to remove all of the dangerous broken and hanging class as soon as the police are done. But, we’re going to need to do further clean-up later in the week. Virtually every surface in every room will need to be wiped down, and there is a lot of debris that will need to be disposed of. Timelines hinge on these companies we’re working with, but to ready the facility for Sunday, we’re anticipating having a work time on Friday and/or Saturday. If you have the ability to be here, we’re going to need a LOT of people to deal with this.

Here’s how you can help:

- Don’t come to the church or call unless you absolutely need to until Thursday or Friday

- Help-out this Friday or Saturday cleaning (NO young kids!)

- If you have cleaning supplies (dusters, mops, brooms, shop-vacs) bring them Friday or Saturday

- Let us know if you’ve had a bad/difficult interaction with someone recently that might have prompted this

- Keep your ears open—especially if you have teenagers—and let us know if you hear anything. We have reason to think that this was likely someone young.

- Pray for the investigators—that they’d be able to identify who did this

- Pray for the people who did this—you don’t do something like this unless you’re hurting or angry inside

We’ll be sending another email as soon as we’ve confirmed days and times. Thanks for your concern!

Pastor Chris


30 March 2007

Wings News

Last night, the Wings played Nashville (a game I got to see part of) and won 2-1.

AP Sports Writer Teresa Walker writes:

“The Predators has Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya and Jason Arnott on the ice, the goalie pulled for the extra attacker, and a man advantage on a power play. And still they couldn’t push the puck past Chris Osgood to force overtime. That sums up their struggle to end Detroit’s run atop the Central Division and the Western Conference—only to keep coming up short head-to-head.”

This makes Detroit the winner of the season series, taking five out of seven games and tying one against the Preds. Both teams lead the NHL (as well as Buffalo) with 105 points, but Nashville has played one more game. A much more satisfying and just outcome than the game I watched them lose at Joe Louis Arena Saturday (thanks to Ken & Kellie Rittenhouse—thanks again guys!), which was stolen by bad officiating.

Whether we place first or fourth is still uncertain. To take first, Nashville needs to go undefeated in its last five games and have Detroit lose at least two of its last four. Whatever happens, we are in the playoffs. The “real” season is about to begin. I should mention that this will make seventeen straight years of playing in the “real” season—approaching the legendary twenty year run between 1939-58.

Tonight, they play a game that I’ll relish having lived in Dallas and endured the upstart Stars winning a fluke cup during that stay. A win against them would be a good step toward winning a third consecutive President’s Cup for the most points in the season, as well as making a clean sweep of the four games against them this season. Dallas is tied for fifth place in the West.


29 March 2007

weekend happenings

A quick couple of notes about what's been happening at WCC over the weekend:
  • Saturday morning we had almost all of the Cell Group Leaders get together for training by Mike Workman, the Cell Group Coordinator. Mike did some great teaching about how to effectively use questions to further group discussion. And, he had a large assortment of study resources for everyone to checkout. To you leaders: thanks for investing the time to improve your ability to effectively lead. To you Cell Group members: your leaders care enough about you to invest themselves in this!
  • Sunday night we had 13 people (2 adults and 11 kids) in our first youth-focused Roadmap Class. Kind of funny to have a kid who's been here 17 years and an adult who's been here two months talking about being a church together. Thanks to all of you students who participated. Thanks for laughing at Mr. Bean, even if it was just to humor me!


new focus for message handouts

On most weeks, there is a handout that corresponds to the message in The Weekly. When I started doing these, my intent was to walk you through a process of getting into the text for yourself. Thus, the handout usually includes observation, interpretation, and application sections. My experience, and your feedback, was that this was marginally valuable to going deeper because much of it was a repeat of what we'd covered in the message.

As of last week, I've got a new focus for these. First, I'm thinking of our Cell Groups and individuals in the church. While we'd said that you could use the old format in a small group, it really didn't work for that. My goal is that this format, while still effective for an individual, is good for a group. Second, the emphasis will be on issues raised in the text and applying it to your life rather than going through the text all over again.

I really do hope that some of you Cell Group leaders use this sometime. The Scriptures are meant to be read, studied, wrestled-with, and lived in the context of community. Taking a Sunday morning message and "growling" over it further in the realities of individual's lives is a faithful expression of what God intends. If you do use it, I'd love your feedback on how it works.

NOTE: There will not be handouts on 04.01 or 04.08 during the Easter series.


Part 15-Luke 8:22-9:17 "power & authority"

In our last section of Luke (8:1-21), Jesus issued a call to understand what He was saying by responding to it with action. It is action—not mental understanding, intellectual assent, verbal profession, or even heartfelt desire—that is the only true response to what Jesus is saying. He is looking for this message to “produce a crop” (v.15) over time. Without that, can it really be said to have been anything? Without that fruit evident, perhaps the message never really took root.

In Luke 8:22-9:17, Jesus implicitly claims authority over every part of creation and explicitly demonstrates His power to control it. This is important because He is ready to send His twelve closest followers out with His power and authority. They need to understand that if you are following Jesus, there is nothing to fear. The Jews’ past illustrated this thoroughly.

Here are the handout responses:

What does it mean to fear God with an appropriate fear?

Dt 10:12-22 What motivates fear of God? Fear (or reverent respect) is motivated by God’s awesome power and justice. In an age of competing local deities, Moses distinguishes his God as above all other Gods—“God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God” (v.17). A step beyond that, Moses identifies Him as “mighty and awesome,” taking pains to express the ways in which He shows His power mercifully for His people. “He is your praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes” (v.21). Appropriate fear of God comes as a result of coming to an accurate understanding of who God is and how He deals with us.

Ps 25:1-22 What does fear of God do? Fearing God means that you recognize who God is. You have a sense of the way in which He is beyond anything that we can possibly know or comprehend. The more you know of God, the more that reverent respect increases; the more you learn about Him the more it leaves you in stunned awe. “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust” (v.1). In turn, the more you understand who God is and are filled with awe, the more you want to know Him more—you are drawn to Him by what you know of Him. “Show me your wars, Lord, teach me your paths” (v.4). This self-feeding cycle is what stokes and deepens the relationship that you have with God.

Ex 20:1-26 What does fearing God not mean? Fear does not mean terror, dread, or anticipation of harm. Though “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Ps 111:10), God usually comes to mankind with this phrase: “Do not be afraid” (cf. Ge 26:24). God wants us to understand who He is and what immense power He has. But, God does not want this to scare us of make us flee from Him. He approaches us mercifully out of His love for us. “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 Jn 4:18).

How can we handle our fears by avoiding giving into our fear?

Neh 2:1-20 What ultimately keeps us from fear? It is precisely who God is and the manner of His approach toward us, that should keep us from fear! He is not out to get us. He is the God who told Israel “I know the plans I have for you…plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jer 29:11). Why fear the God who wants the best for you—even more of what it truly best for you than you want for yourself!? “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Ro 8:31).

Ge 15:1-21 Can we count on this? Yes. God promises to protect and bless those who follow Him in faith. As He told Abram, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great” (v.1). God will get us through any fear-prompting circumstance and bless us in the process.

Jos 1:1-18 What can we do to keep from fearing? The great challenge that we face in avoiding fear is remembering all of this—essentially, not leaving God out of our response. As Joshua prepared to lead God’s people into the occupied land that He had pledged to give them, God reminded him of the key imperative: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jos 1:9). The critical issue was whether or not the people would remember God’s caring presence with them and thus be strong and courageous, or whether they would forget and be discouraged. Their mindset was nearly as important as the unchanging reality.

Pr 29:18-27 How do we keep this in perspective? We have to be convinced, and live according to that conviction, that our reverent respect for God is far more important than any other fear that we could have—greater than any fear that stems from other men. “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety” (v.25, NLT). It’s easy to get lost in our concerns about what others think, how they will treat us, what could happen at their hands. But it is only God who can ultimately threaten or preserve our well-being. If we’re going to place our focus anywhere, that’s the place that has a real payoff.

God calls His followers to have courage.

Ex 1:15-22 What marks the exercise of courage? If you fear God only, you will have courage to do what is right—to live by God’s direction regardless of consequence. The Hebrew midwives in this passage knew that Pharoah’s directive was wrong, yet defying a king of Egypt was a fearful thing. “The midwives, however, feared God and did not to do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live” (v. 17). Simply put, they feared God more than men. They were convinced that God was capable of protecting them. They courageously did what was right.

Lk 23:50-56 To do this, what is a courageous person willing to risk? One of the things most precious to us is our reputation—what others think about us. People have even been willing to die for their honor—giving away their life in exchange for preserving their reputation. Like Joseph of Arimathea, courage in the life of the follower of God compels us to willingly yield even our good-standing with people for the sake of following God (vv.50-51).

Ac 4:23-31 This courage seeks to do what? The point of courage as a follower of God is that it is for His (God’s) sake, not ours. We’re not talking about going for the gusto for what we want, for what’s best for us. We are talking about going full-bore, flat-out for what is best for God—for what He wants. One of the most powerful examples of this is when men who had been hiding in seclusion and fear after Jesus’ death at the hands of the authorities become powerful public proclaimers who “spoke the word of God boldly” (v.31) despite the fact that this could still cost them their lives. The simple fact was that they were now courageous enough to do what God wanted regardless of the personal implication.

Dt 33:26-29 This courage is reaffirmed as growing how? The amazing thing is that your courage grows each time you take a chance on trusting God and find that He has come through for you. Each moment of risk is a moment that we take by faith. But when God proves Himself faithful, it becomes that much easier the next time to take that risk. “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (v.27). Take advantage of that refuge, fall into those arms, and you discover that they are worthy of your trust. Courage grows by our active faith in God’s active faithfulness.

Jn 16:17-33 This courage is real because of whom? That’s really kind of obvious, for it is God’s faithfulness exhibited in Jesus that set us upon this road as followers. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (v. 33). “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” God has said (Heb 13:5). We choose courage over fear because God has chosen to be near us.

If you’re going to follow Jesus, making what He says what you do, you need to know that there is nothing to fear. You can courageously follow Him regardless of what threatens you.


23 March 2007

?: the story of the Bible in one sentence

I'm going to try something new and just ask a good question that I hope you guys will offer your anwers to by commenting (or emailing me so that I can post them if you can't). Here it is:

How would you summarize the storyline of the Bible in one sentence?


the dream of pastoral leadership

Previously I've shared thoughts from William Willimon, United Methodist Bishop in Birmingham, Alabama. "United Methodist" often equals "barely evangelical" in our circles. Not so with this Pastor. What follows is his recent thoughts about pastoral leadership based on reading the book Ducking Spears, Dancing Madly: A Biblical Model of Church Leadership. It's worth reading and thinking about.

Most contemporary accounts of leadership imply that the leader is the one who asks questions, moves toward answers, and clarifies where we are and what we are doing. However, Lewis Parks and Bruce Birch note that the Christian leader may be the one who helps us live with mystery, to follow the Dream, to find meaning and direction, even when our final destination is left up to God:

By most contemporary accounts the leader should ask the sort of questions that clear up the fog and reveal a clear path forward to a specific destination. What traits do I need to be successful? Where are the models of excellence? What information must I process? What corporate culture must I penetrate? Where are the landmines? How accurate is our feedback system? What nostalgia is holding us back? What vision will propel us forward? What may we extrapolate from the present to prepare for our future?

According to the books of Samuel leadership is not about clearing up a fog or, to use a preferable word, a mystery. Leadership is about learning to accept that mystery and to live well within it. In the fecund language of William Cowper’s 1774 hymn on providence, leadership means being absorbed by the questions arising from one overriding fact: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Are the ominous clouds on the horizon actually “big with mercy,” and will those clouds “break in blessings” on our heads? Can I stop projecting the fears of “feeble sense” on the Lord long enough to glimpse the “smiling face” that lies “behind a frowning providence”? Am I strong enough to break rank from those who “scan his work in vain” because of their unbelief? Will I allow God the courtesy of interpreting what God is up to because I hope that one day God “will make it plain”?

Leaders are normally consumed by action. By one well-known contemporary account the daily activities of a chief executive are characterized by “brevity, variety, and discontinuity.” Barely half of their activities engage them for as long as nine minutes. They may average 583 activities in an eight hour day, mostly collecting, processing, and transmitting soft information; negotiating potential or actual conflict; and attending the rituals and ceremonies of the organization.Only 10 percent of these activities will last as long as an hour.

Yet every leader carries some ultimate interpretation of who they are and what they do. It is a portable inner vision of self in the world. It is the stash of the pieces of their lives and the weaving together of those pieces into a narrative that gives perspective to the relentless daily practice. For some church leaders the interpretation of self in the world is still beneath the surface of speech. All they know for sure is how much they are not like the persons being described in some of the most popular literature of leadership and management. They hunger for an interpretation that has more to do with mystery and drama than those glib profiles of success.

For most leaders the interpretation of self in the world is a positive exercise of the imagination, even if only carried out at the edge of consciousness. It has the character of what one prominent writer on leadership calls “the Dream,” a vague sense of self in the world that generates energy and a sense of life as adventure. The Dream is “more formal than a pure fantasy, yet less articulated than a fully thought-out plan.” For the church leader this might mean viewing herself or himself in such a character as a rescuer, defender, mover and shaker, midwife, wizard, gardener, or coach.

For church leaders the Dream must be placed within a narrative of providence, the fabric of God’s larger purposes and movements. The Dream is more than a self-referenced project of determination and action. The Dream is a gift of experience and reflection that arises out of the drama of leading the people of God. It is God who gives to church leadership its integrity, and God’s actions in real time that give to church leadership its weight. To be a church leader is to theologize; to lead well is to theologize incessantly. The books of Samuel have modeled the practice throughout. What power behind the stars responds to social chaos by sending a leader? Who ultimately calls leaders and coaxes them toward their futures? Who finally judges leaders when they err and holds them to account when they repent? From whom do leaders receive their visions for a just society and their inspirations for compassion? How shall leaders manage their hungers and order their loves? [Here] we raise the God question once again, this time as the ultimate factor in the practice of church leadership.

-- Excerpts from Ducking Spears, Dancing Madly: A Biblical Model of Church Leadership, by Lewis A. Parks and Bruce C. Birch, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 149-151.

Blessings upon all you pastors as you attempt to help God’s people to live the dream.
William H. Willimon


22 March 2007

a workday prayer

I recently came across these short but sweet lines of prayer that are Celtic in origin. I love their simple plea for our workdays, but profound sentiment.

May the virtue of our daily work
hallow our nightly prayers.
May our sleep be deep and soft
so our work be fresh and hard.


global God, global Christians

Dr. Ben Witherington III is a New Testament Professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. On Monday, Ben posted on the importance of remembering that we are global, not tribal, Christians because we serve a global, not tribal God. It’s a great post that is worth reading to remind yourself that as Christians we’re first and foremost the worldwide family of God. Everything else is secondary.


16 March 2007

but don't ever take sides with anyone against the family again ... ever.

A friend from seminary, Eric Hartman, the Pastor of Providence Church in Garland, Texas, has posted these great thoughts about how the family and church are increasingly at war with each other in believers' priorities on His blog SEMPER REFORMANDA (always reforming). I completely share his thoughts. It's a good read that I encourage you to checkout--especially you parents. Click here for the post. (By the way, before you dismiss him because of the picture, I will confess that I too wore bow ties in seminary and may have even led him into such folly).


Part 14-Luke 8:4-22 "call"

Sunday’s teaching was a call to understand what Jesus is saying and respond to it with action. It is action—not mental understanding, intellectual assent, verbal profession, or even heartfelt desire—that is the only true response to Jesus’ message. He is looking for His message to “produce a crop” (v.15) over time. Without that, can it really be said to have been anything in our lives? Without that fruit evident, perhaps the message never really took root. To listen carefully by responding is the heart of Jesus' call on our lives. This line of though is evident throughout the New Testament. Consult the following passages to see how they help us understand this truth.

Hebrews 6:1-12

What parallels do you see to Luke’s record of Jesus’ teaching? A notoriously difficult passage, at least a couple of things become clear in this passage. Verses 7 & 8 in particular utilize the exact imagery to the call to “leave the elementary teachings about Christ” (v.1) and produce a crop “useful to those for whom it is farmed” (v.7). Land (or hearts/lives) that does produce such a crop “receives the blessing of God.” When it does not, it “is worthless and is in danger of being cursed” (v. 8). In view through all of this language is the outward evidence—“things that accompany salvation” (v.9). As the writer notes, “God is not unjust; He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them” (v.10). Leaving the elementary truths about Jesus, we are called to actively live the evidence of our salvation in loving deeds directed to others on God’s behalf. Luke’s call is similar—that we “hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v.21).

What does the text note is reason for confidence of their salvation? This is important “in order to make your hope sure” (v.11). In other words, if you’re looking for certainty and assurance of your salvation, there’s not better basis for it than examining the evidence of your own life.

James 1:22-25

How is listening to the word without doing it described? Merely listening to the word without doing what it says is described as “deceive[ing] yourselves” (v.22). In other words, you may have heard it, but you are not listening. Don’t confuse these two very different things.

In what way does blessing come from the word? If you look into the word and see yourself clearly portrayed by its clear reflection, but walk away forgetting what you look like, the word has not left a lasting impression. Looking intently into the guidance of God’s word is supposed to set you free of your sin. If you don’t leave it with a new degree of freedom, you have not had the word really impact your life. It is by “doing it” that a man “will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25).

James 2:14-26

What is the quality of belief that does express itself in action? James describes faith that is “by itself,” that “is not accompanied by action” as dead (v.17) and useless (v.20). Faith is revealed by what we do, not by what we say (v.18).

How does the examples of demons and Abraham qualify what Jesus means when He talks about belief? According to James, Christians and demons have at least one area of commonality—they both believe there is one God (v.19). In other words, they are both willing to acknowledge that this statement is true. The distinctive is what they do in response. The demons “shudder” for they oppose God (v.19). Christians are to respond as Abraham did as “his faith and actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (v.22). Properly understood, our works are the necessary expression of our faith. Neither faith without works or works without faith can stand alone. “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone” (v.24). This is why I would suggest that Christians and churches should pay as much attention to their acts of faith as they do the basis of their faith.

James 2:12-13

Who are these verses addressed to? James writes to fellow believing Jewish Christians (1:1,2).

What are they to anticipate? They are to anticipate coming judgment: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged” (v.12).

What reaction is to flow out of that? The nature of this judgment will be that it is merciful (v.13). Their salvation is that God will not treat them as they deserve, but rather out of love (v.8)—that standard by which they are in-turn called to treat others. If they choose to love others, who likewise don’t deserve that love or merit merciful treatment, they will find that they are acting in character with God. The threat that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” is a way of making the point that this is to be the normal dynamic of a believer’s life.

Consider the following passages that expand this teaching:

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 God’s judgment is best understood as “perfect assessment.” God will, for all human beings, perfectly assess the motivations and value of what they have done. No human will earn a passing grade based on what they have done (Ro 3:23, 6:23). But, those who have Jesus to have done what only He could do have been rescued from the consequence of falling short (Ro 3:24-26). Nonetheless, even trusting Him and being saved from ultimate death, Christians still face a perfect assessment of their actions as God determines what we have done—“his work will be shown for what it is” as God “will test the quality of each man’s work” (v. 13). If they have believed and acted faithfully, “what he has built survives” and “he will receive his reward.” If they have not believed and acted faithfully, though saved from destruction, even much of a Christian’s life may be found to have been wrongly motivated or lacking in value—“he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” The clear picture is that the quality or strength of their faith, as seen evidenced in their actions, has left them precariously close to not being a saving faith. It is as if they were singed by the flames as they were just barely rescued from the fire. We often talk about Christians being judged to be rewarded. This passage clearly conveys the element of peril and shame at a life wasted that will also potentially be a part of this judgment—even for Christians.

2 Corinthians 5:10 Paul makes this teaching explicit in this very clear verse: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”

Revelation 22:12 Jesus issues these final words at the end of John’s vision of the end: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” Even for the redeemed, there is a personal reckoning, a face-to-face encounter with Jesus in our future, in which He responds to the way in which we have lived our lives based on our faith in Him.

Personally, I think I tend to be too comfortable with the fact that “Hey, I’m family! God is my Father. Jesus is my brother. How bad could it be? I’m saved.”

But, as my childhood memories remind me, knowing that you’re securely part of the family does not remove those uncomfortable, even painful, points of confrontation and reckoning. Likewise, my married life tells me that it is possible to be intimately and inseparable connected to another person, and yet look at them across a wide, deep gulf of disappointment, shame, regret. My point is that a relationship can be secure and unshakable. But the interactions within that relationship may be affected by what each person does. In the end, Jesus may overcome our failures that potentially diminished the relationship. However, it seems clear that we will first have to squarely face those perfectly assessed failures and shortcomings as we look our Savior and friend in the eyes. That’s a sobering point of reference for striving toward active expression of faith.


15 March 2007

Wings are, in fact, #1

I haven't posted about the Red Wings nearly as much as I'd thought I would. Then again, I haven't caught nearly as many Red Wings games as I'd hoped to. But, this is one of those times that you have to talk about.

Last night, in their second win in back-to-back games against the Nashville Predators, the Wings took first place in the Central Division and in the National Hockey League with 99 points. The playoffs (i.e. "the real season" for Wings' fans) is just a month off, and we're sitting in President's Cup territory once again. This, despite the many new young players on the team and called up occasionally from the Grand Rapids Griffins, not to mention a large number of injuries among key players like Henrik Zetterberg.

I did not see the game (Wednesday night . . . church), but AP Sports Writer Larry Lage described it this way: "Both teams competeed with postseason-like intensity and that led to plenty of checking, shoving, swinging gloves and trash talk." In other words, real old-fashioned hockey as God intended it to be played. Here's to this season turning-out the way God obviously intends it to ends, with Detroit taking home yet another cup.


14 March 2007

fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom

My Dad just got back from six weeks in Florida. He was about an hour south of the big tornadoes that raked across central Florida in the dead of night at the beginning of February, killing at least 19 people. This photo was taken of one of these by a local resident . . .


kids talking theology

Why can't adults have good theological conversations like this one my nieces Baileigh and Mckenna had, compliments of my sister's blog ORGANIZED CHAOS...

I was asking the girls about their day at school on the drive home. Today's letter was "R" and Mckenna had made a rocket ship with construction paper. That led to the following conversation:

Mckenna: "Mommy, can Daddy build me a rocket ship someday so I can go up high, high, high, in the sky and see where the rain comes from?"

Baileigh: "Daddy can't build a rocket ship...you have to fly up in the sky in a plane...Daddy could fly you in the plane though because he is a pilot and that is what he does. He flies planes."

Mckenna: "Yah, and we could go on a rainy day and see rain. And maybe rainbows. And maybe heaven."

Baileigh: "No, you can't see heaven. That is even higher then the clouds. And we can't go there anyway Mckenna."

Mckenna: "Why?"

Baileigh: "Because we have sin and there is no sin in heaven...so someday when it is time to go to Heaven we can go because then we won't have sin. That is why Jesus died on the cross."

Mckenna: "Yep! But we won't have sin when we move to New Jersey!"

Baileigh: "Yes we will, Mckenna, we only won't have sin when we go to heaven."

Mckenna: "Maybe we can go to heaven after New Jersey."


13 March 2007

200,000 legos, 352 lbs., & +$10,000

I'm of today watching Aya & Arys while Cami serves on jury duty (a.k.a. jury "doody" for all the fun it entails. So, its the perfect time for this gratuitous post about a guy who spent over a year building a 16.5 foot model of the Nimitz-Class aircraft carrier the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman (CVN-75). This thing is stunning, built to-scale even on the inside! It has electricity for lights and motorized catapults! The inner geeky boy in every man has to delight in this. I make only one request--don't ask me how I stumbled across this! An extensive gallery with more amazing photos is available here.


10 March 2007

Update: Pray for Ben Roberts

Ben was discharged Friday from Hurley Medical Center Friday afternoon. Tests not only confirmed no internal injuries, but no cervical damage either. So, Ben's at home loaded-up on Vicodin, Ibuprofen, and muscle relaxants. He has a full torso brace that he has to wear while moving around or vertical, but can take it off when laying down. His friend Cameron was over helping Ben keep the XBox 360 and PS3 humming. Cameron was, thankfully, behind Ben when the accident occured and watched him go off the road. He was able to stop, help Ben get out of the totaled car, and call 911. We gave him a hard time for having no video to post on YouTube. We also concluded that the problem here that led to the accident was that Ben did not have a fast enough car to complete a pass before oncoming traffic. Fred and Robin now understand why I'm not a youth pastor. Anyway, by God's grace, Ben will wear the brace for the next three months and be back to normal. If all he loses from this is the end of the hockey season at Lapeer East where he plays, sounds like a pretty good deal. Thanks for praying.


09 March 2007

Pray for Ben Roberts

Wednesday night after going to his youth group, my 17 year-old nephew Ben Roberts (son of Cami's oldest sister Robin and husband Fred) was involved in a near-fatal car accident. Ben lives in Metamora where the accident took place. He was transported to Hurley Medical Center in Flint where he is now stable and in the Pediatric unit. He suffered a compresion fracture of the L-2 vertebrae in his spine and is wearing a brace. They're still evaluating him for cervical damage. Thankfully, concerns about abdominal injuries and the need for surgery have been ruled-out. Already, the past 36 hours have brought better news than expected. We'd love to keep hearing more--that Ben will have no complications or impairment and make a speedy recovery. We'd appreciate your prayers to that end. Thanks.


Leaders Discuss Broken Plaster

Last night approximately 30 leaders (board & committee members + ministry leaders) participated in a Leadership Workshop that was hosted by the elders as part of our effort to have mechanisms to identify potential leaders and enhance the abilities of our leaders. The evening centered around role-playing a problem (fictional of course and involving broken plaster in the sanctuary. We were attempting to problem-solve, but as is often the case, we were creating greater problems as we acted dysfunctionally. In our big group session, Gary Johnson led us into an exploration of the relationships between leaders and the trust issues that are present. Back to our small groups, we explored the biblical guidance that relates to these issues. It was an educational night that actually proved to be enjoyable too. My thanks and gratitude go to Gary for shepherding this, and to the elders who participated in leading small groups in effective discussion. If you heard about it, maybe even got an invitation, but did not go, it was your loss. I hope you'll make it a higher priority to be there next time.


07 March 2007

Ordinary Attempts by Exceptional Students

I want to tell you about two young WCC adults who are worth looking to as role models for how they’re making ORDINARY ATTEMPTS to actively live-out their faith. Both of you have encouraged me to do the same. I know all about Darfur, but can’t say that I’ve done anything. Lois’ passionate response is convicting. And, I’m already looking to see what cycling events I could participate in as fundraisers. Imagine that—something that you enjoy being good for others too! Thanks Mike!


While visiting Georgetown University last summer, this Oakland Christian School Senior was struck by the conversation taking place about the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. “It’s so dire there and it’s so obviously evil,” Lois said. Her outrage over the deaths of as many as 400,000 people and the displacement of as many as 2.5 million people led her to mobilize others at OCS to sponsor a fundraiser, with proceeds going to World Vision’s work in Darfur.

If you’d like to support Lois’ efforts in response to what she learned about the crisis in Darfur, here are five ways to do so:

1- EDUCATE yourself on the tragic situation in Darfur, Sudan by clicking
2- CONSIDER prayerfully whether God wants you to do something in response
3- PARTICIPATE in Lois and OCS’s fundraiser (6 pm, March 17 at Petruzzello’s in Troy. For $35 you will have a 3-course dinner and have the chance to listen to Mindy Belz, World Magazine journalist. Contact OCS at 248.373.2700 or
info@oaklandchristian.com for more info.
4- CONTRIBUTE directly to the effort by sending a check to OCS (Payable to: “Oakland Christian School, Student Council” – Darfur, 3075 Shimmons Road, Auburn Hills, MI, 48326) or by donating directly to World Vision (info


Mike is attending
Kettering University where he is studying to be a mechanical engineer. He is raising money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society by participating in a triathlon on June 24th in Philadelphia through Team in Training (a fundraising sister offshoot). What’s really cool is that completing a triathlon started out merely as a personal goal for Mike. But, he realized that it could be about others and something more important. In his own words: “I hope not only to raise the money and get in better shape, but also to learn that I should not always to things just because I want to but look at the bigger picture of how it affects other around me.” Mike is working to raise $3,900 to participate in the triathlon.

If you’d like to support Mike’s efforts to accomplish a personal goal in a way that benefits others, here are ways to do that

1- EDUCATE yourself about Leukemia and Lymphoma by clicking
2- CONSIDER prayerfully whether God wants you to do something in response.
3- PARTICIPATE in Mike’s efforts by praying for his safety in training and racing
4- CONTRIBUTE directly to Mike’s effort by clicking


Lent Reflections & Questions

O Son of God,
Do a miracle for me
and change my heart.
Thy having taken flesh
to redeem me
was more difficult
than to transform
my wickedness.

Irish Prayer, 15th century

Lent refers to 40 days of devotion and discipline leading up to the celebration of Easter. The purpose of this period of time is to examine yourself and seek a greater conformity to the mind and heart of Christ, as well as giving yourself over to more effective service to the world on His behalf. Typically, people will enter into some kind of fast, giving something up in recognition of this time of sober self-assessment. The point is to take Jesus’ Good Friday death and Easter Sunday resurrection seriously enough that we make it the central defining point of our year and character. We actively seek to alleviate the blockages in our lives that prevent God from acting freely in and through us. Toward that end I share these questions for reflection:

What progress am I making in sharing gladly what I have with others, particularly with the stranger and the poor?

What attitudes do I convey to those who irritate me? How can awareness of my own ned of God’s grace enable me to be more gracious to them?

How has my sense of interconnectedness in corporate worship grown of late, and how can I move ahead in appreciating the contributions and needs of other members in the congregation to which I belong?

Am I as charitable and thoughtful to family members as to others? Or do I “take it out” on my family when life at school or work gets hectic or difficult?

Can I redistribute my long-range personal budget in order to have more money to give away?

When I hear someone being unjustly maligned, do I speak up to correct the record, or am I a silent accomplice?

How can I more effectively and consistently support legislation and social programs that help the disadvantaged rather than hurt them?

In devotional acts of prayer and reading, am I increasing my attention span and discovering new ways of listening rather than of talking, of giving thanks rather than of complaining?

As I uncover and attempt to deal with one level of prejudice in my life, what other levels do I find lurking underneath, and how can I confront them?

In addition to intercessory prayer, what habits can I develop that allow me to be more responsive to the sick, the distressed, and the bereaved, particularly when their needs emerge suddenly and require immediate attention? Can I plan spaces into my life to allow for such unanticipated opportunities to minister to others?

Am I, by consistent attendance at worship, a witness to others of the worthiness of the God I follow? Or am I, but my sporadic attendance, suggesting that God is worth serving some time, but not others?

Taken from Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey (Abingdon Press, 1996)


06 March 2007

what I really want to know from the candidates before I make my choice

Gordon MacDonald is a pastor, author, chair of World Relief, and editor at large for Leadership Journal. He's emerged as one of the elder statesmen who buck the standard line, skillfully harmonizing the wisdom of the past with the cultural currents of the present in the hopes that the church of the future will be what it should be.

As you and I listen to the myriad of voices seeking the presidency in 2008, MacDonald offers
this list of good questions that he wants to know before choosing. They're worth considering.


top 10 billboard advertisements

Ever since living in Texas and seeing the award-winning creative billboards from Chick fil-A (world's greatest chicken sandwiches!), I really hate it when I'm subjected to boring billboards and signs. The ten listed here really are good ones.


changing the world, one cup at a time

Have you ever heard of Pura Vida coffee--a fair-trade gourmet coffee? They aim to "change the world, one cup at a time" by "create[ing] good by using capitalism to empower producers, motivate consumers, inspire business leaders, and ultimately serve the poor." The inspiring story of one of the co-founders, John Sage, tells of how his Pastor motivated him to wed capitalism, compassion, and coffee at the heart of a new kind of company. "I've landed at a great intesection," he says. "In the words of Frederick Buechner, the Presbyterian minister, that's 'the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet.' " Checkout this month's US News and World Report article here.


01 March 2007

What is a mature Christian or a successful church?

Lately, as a result of some conversations and reading, I’ve been giving a lot of thought and prayer to these two questions that I think really point to one reality:

First, how do you know when a church is successfully being a church?
Second, what do we really mean, or how do we know, when a Christian should be called mature?

Willow Creek Community Church recently did an exhaustive survey of their church that mirrors what I’ve heard from other churches (not seeker sensitive) and experienced myself. The finding of this survey? “What they found was the most satisfied church members were those who were new believers or early in their faith--and the least satisfied were those who were more "mature" in their faith.” Bill Hybel’s assessment was that Willow had really missed the goal which is to slowly (ultimately?) make believers independent. Not independent of a relationship with a church or other believers altogether. Not independent in the sense of going off and doing your own thing. But independent in the sense that they are self-feeding and self-regulating in their spiritual growth and life, allowing them to transition from being a “consumer” of the church’s resources to become one of the church’s resources that introduce unbelievers to Christ and help them grow into mature independence. Independent in the same sense that a grown child is still part of an extended family, but no longer relies on mom and dad, but can lead and support a family of their own.

I agree wholeheartedly with this assessment. And, I think we’d find similar results in our own church. Part of what I think this means is that we have to be clearer about the goal. We need to help “right-size” people’s expectations for what they should expect from the church--about where this is all going. The reason that “mature,” seasoned believers are often more dissatisfied with the church is that they are still expecting it to feed them, rather than having accepted the responsibility and grown to a sufficient degree that they have the ability to do it for themselves and others (cf. Heb. 5:12-6:3 and Rom. 14).

There are a lot of different opinions on this out there. There are a number of different ways that you can approach this.

Here’s the framework I’m wrestling with so far that I think addresses both (I’ll be writing about this more in the future):

We gather people together as new Christians into a church around our DEPENDENT need. People become Christians when they recognize their dependence on God for forgiveness and life. They become a part of a church when they realize that their sustenance and growth is dependent on a community that God has created. Worship is an acknowledgment of this dependence.

As individual Christians and together as a church, we grow through our INTERDEPENDENT interactions with each other. Growth through discipleship, encouragement from our fellowship, service expressed through our ministry to each other is necessary because we need each other and God working through each other. There is an interdependence that is at the heart of our interaction together.

The measure of a mature Christian and a successful church is INDEPENDENT believers who are able to feed themselves, others, and self-regulate their spiritual lives as they evidence the fruit of the Spirit. We exist to bring others into a relationship with Jesus (evangelism/outreach, missions) that is like the relationship we have. That implies that we can personally, directly, engage in that relationship without the help we needed at first when we were young, immature believers.

What do you think? Does this framework make sense? Is this the goal of personal maturity and corporate ministry that you share? That you’ve been taught? That you’re working towards?


Part 12-Luke 7:1-8:3 (B) "questions"

Here are my responses for this week’s Luke study guide. Click the link below to read the rest.

OBSERVE // what does it say?

Who has initiated this dinner meeting? The Pharisee named Simon is the one who has extended the invitation to Jesus to come eat with him (v. 36).

What is revealed about the intent of the inviter? Revealed may be a strong word—“suggested” may be more accurate. Luke has already revealed that the Pharisees have generally turned against Jesus and actively working against Him (6:11). The text suggests that this Pharisee is trying to decide for himself who Jesus is. Is He a prophet? This invitation may have been given to allow him a chance to see for himself (v.39). The fact that Jesus does not seem to have been treated with special warmth, or perhaps even customary etiquette (vv. 44-46) may be a further suggestion that this Pharisee was seeking, albeit skeptically.

What does Jesus note in the differing receptions He has received? Jesus notes the aforementioned contrast. This woman, who is not the host, goes out of her way and beyond convention to make Jesus feel welcomed, valued, loved. The host, Simon, has not.

What does Luke’s list of supporters (8:1-3) tell us? Women were actively supportive of Jesus—beyond the sinful woman that we have just seen attending to Jesus. Like her, these women are supporting Jesus in tangible ways—whether by presence (v.2) or resources (v.3) as a result of the impact that His ministry has had on them (v.2). These women range from the obviously needy sinful women such as Mary Magdalene, to women of stature and some means such as Joanna whose husband is Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household. It was not uncommon for women in this time to support a teacher. It is, however, very uncommon for them to be traveling with a Jewish rabbi. Most Jews would view this as highly inappropriate.

INTERPRET // what does it mean?

What does Simon’s response to Jesus’ story about debtors suggest? Simon appears to be hesitant or reluctant as he concedes the answer that appears to be correct (v.43). He may already see Jesus’ point, or at least be wary of what an interaction with Jesus may lead to. Typically, it’s not good for the religious leaders who seem to come out looking pretty bad.

Is Jesus aware of this woman’s numerous sins? Does it matter? Jesus is aware of the woman’s past. The story He tells presumes the presence of many debts or sins (vv.41-42). As he talks to Simon about her, he makes this explicit in noting “her many sins” (v.47).

Is the creditor in Jesus’ going above and beyond what was normal? Yes. Under the law, he had the right to see them prosecuted and punished for the debt that they could not repay. At most, he might set-aside the punishment they were due and forestall collecting the money that he was due to some later time. Instead, he wipes the slate clean forgiving their debt altogether (v. 42). This is an incredible act on the part of the moneylender—not at all in-character for someone who would be in this line of business.

What is the biggest driver of how you respond to Jesus? Jesus talks about the woman’s love (v.47) and her faith (v.50). These two elements are described as being linked to her being forgiven from her sins (v.48), having been saved (v.50), and going on in peace (v.50). Faith and love are linked…interchangeable?...both necessary?... to the interaction that she has had with Jesus and the way that she is responding to him. Could it be that these two are inherently inseparable (spend some time pondering 1 Cor. 13—in particular v.13) in how we respond to Jesus if we’re really fully responding appropriately? Her actions in response to Jesus equally express faith and love, as Luke makes clear, but it would not be a stretch to see it as also expressing future hope. The question may be: Is your response to Jesus full on each of these dimensions?

Why is Jesus’ statement of forgiveness so inappropriate in their minds? Telling a person that their sins were forgiven was not unheard of. In the past prophets had pronounced on God’s behalf that people’s sins were forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13; Is. 40:2). But Jesus’ statement is direct. He speaks for Himself, not on God’s behalf. Priests routinely told the people that there sins had been forgiven (Lev. 4:20, 26, 5:10, 13), but it was after they had done the necessary prescribed sacrifices and religious observances. In their eyes, there was no way that the expressions of love that she had just lavished on Jesus met these requirements.


28 February 2007

Pray for Philip Yancey

Two of our missionaries with CROSSWORLD, Bill & Lois Zeeb, are stateside from Brazil. They sent an email this morning informing me that the author Philip Yancey had been in a near-fatal car accident Sunday. I know many of you, along with me, have read Yancey's books and been greatly encouraged in your faith by his writing. There is a write-up on what happened and how he is doing on his website http://www.philipyancey.com/ (click on the link "Tour Accident").


24 February 2007

Living in a Consumer Culture

Sometimes we hear about numbers that try to capture the size of our consumer culture, but they're so large that it's hard to really comprehend what they represent. To get a visual of it, check out photographer Chris Jordan’s art series “Running the Numbers” which depicts this stuff in a remarkable way.


22 February 2007

Part 11-Luke 7:1-8:3 (A) "questions"

Here are my responses for this week’s Luke study guide. Click the link below to read the rest.

OBSERVE // what does it say?

What is the emphasis of 7:1-10—the miracle healing or the centurion’s faith-filled quest for help? Who takes the initiative? What does this reveal about faith? The emphasis is almost totally on the Centurion and his initiative. Jesus is responsive to the man’s faith. The extent and confidence of his faith leaves Jesus amazed and commenting on it to those around Him.

What does Luke reveal about this gentile’s relationship with the Jews? This gentile has a good relationship with the Jews—even having a favorable assessment of them as a people and actively supporting their institutions. The Jews had as much disdain for gentiles as gentiles had for the Jews. It’s interesting to note that here, it is the Jews willing to plead the case of a gentile because he had acted to tear down the barriers that existed between them. It’s ironic that that Jews were unwilling to be the active force in that reconciliation and serve as the bridge to the Savior of the world. Paul will call this to mind and make this a prominent part of Jesus’ followers’ agenda (cf. Gal 3:26-29; Eph 2:11-22)

INTERPRET // what does it mean?

In 7:11-17, who takes the initiative? What does this reveal about faith? In this incident, Jesus is clearly the one taking the initiative. The mother gives no indication of faith before or after. Jesus acts of His own accord. It is clear that Jesus is not subject to faith. He can act in miraculous ways when He wants to whether or not the person has faith. Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear that it is through faith that we have been graciously saved by God. But even this faith is not something that comes from us, but “is the gift of God.”

What does Jesus risk in His interaction in this incident? Jesus is willing to risk being viewed as ceremonially unclean (cf. Nu 19:16), not to mention having violated the norms of behavior for a funeral. Jesus repeatedly asserts that something being unclean or not is an internal matter of the heart, not an external condition (Mk 7:14-16).

In 7:18-35, why does Jesus respond to questions about who He is by noting what he has done (vv. 20-23)? While anyone could claim to be the Messiah and people could argue about their opinions regarding whether John or Jesus were the Messiah, it’s hard to argue the evidence. At the very least, the things that Jesus is doing speak to an undeniable power. More, the power they reveal is a power that is doing good—healing, restoring, giving hope to the hopeless. The Jews had many prophetic descriptions of what reality would accompany the coming of the Messiah. While the element of present judgment is absent, it is hard to miss that these things represent the positive element described in those passages.

What point is Jesus making about John in the verses that follow (vv. 24-29)? Jesus appears to want the crowd to understand the nature of John’s questions. He points out that John’s original ministry was one that was based on being willing to say the unpopular thing regardless of the public’s response. John was not a “reed swayed by the wind,” a politician who says what people want to hear and follow the guidance of public opinion. No, from the beginning, John was a strong messenger who said what God wanted him to say because He believed it and would be faithful to that task. The implication for the crowd is that they should not view John as a fraud, or think less of John because he is now struggling with confidence in the face of his imprisonment.

What point is Jesus making about the religious leaders (vv. 30-35)? The religious leaders had not been open to John’s message or manner of responding to it by being baptized as a sign of repentance. In this, it was evident that they had “rejected God’s purpose for themselves.” As he goes on to note, their rejection cannot be explained by faulting the approach or nature of the messenger’s ministry. John was a prophet living a hard-scrabble existence of deprivation and isolation, with a demanding message of impending judgment and a fitting response, yet some dismissed him as demon-possessed. Jesus, on the other hand, has a ministry characterized by extensive interaction with the crowds, often in the setting of eating and drinking with those of questionable character. Yet, some reject Him too asserting that He is a “glutton and drunkard” (in our language: “Jesus is a pig and a lush”). Such harsh negative responses have little to do with the style of the ministry, but are rather a response to the substance of God’s message. Those who are spiritually wise can see past the style to the substance because of the outcomes of both men’s ministries.

APPLY // how do I respond?

As I studied this week, the thing that really hit me was the way in which I often fall prey to the lie that God’s ability to work in my life hinges on my degree of faith. God is not limited by anything, least of all me. The reality is that, even when my faith may be described as shaky, God can do whatever He wills in and through my life—even regenerating life. Thank God for the gift of faith!