Category Archives: CotN

Ashes to Fire…

http://www.discovernewhope.org
Ashes to Fire series now through May 19th
Palm Sunday Worship: 10:30am March 24, 2013
Good Friday service: 6:30pm March 29, 2013
Easter Sunday Fellowship Breakfast: 10:00am March 31, 2013
Easter Resurrection Celebration: 10:30am March 31, 2013
Pentecost Event: 10:30am Sunday, May 19, 2013
Church fellowship meal: 11:30am Sunday, May 19, 2013

I’m thinking today about how God works in the world. It seems like there’s no end to the variety and depth of God’s work. The physical creation is mammoth and beautiful. The human spirit is deep and amazing. And people trying to live together can inspire or destroy. For Christians, the gospel is the story that pulls all this together. The season of Lent is a time set aside to make sure that gospel story is defining the boundaries of our story.
There’s no question that brokenness defines our world as it is and to some extent all of our lives, individually and together. That’s why we need the gospel. God says the brokenness is so deep that only God’s love can heal it. God says the creation groans and longs for salvation, so God has invited us to care for it, individually and together. God says people are meant to share life together, to be on a journey that’s going somewhere.
Life on our own has left a valley of ashes that clog us up, threaten our world, and hide our potential. God is calling us to be alive with a cleansing fire that brings warmth and light. God is calling us to walk in that transforming light together.
So let us leave behind the valley of mediocre living in the cold, filthy, dark. Let’s leave behind coming together to build the empire of “us” vs “them”. Let’s leave behind using up this world so that it’s resources feed our temporary wants.
Jesus entered our world  to serve us, to call us together, and to send us out to serve the world. In Lent, we can identify the sources of ash in our life and trade them in for the sources of fire. We can lay aside our own control and submit to holy discipline. We can lay aside false goals and false stories and embrace God’s vision for life. We can lay aside our independence, choosing to be in relationship with God & others.
All of this gets us ready to celebrate the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We celebrate it best not with a holiday. We celebrate it best by living into this new reality, which can fuel a holy fire that lights this world with love. Lent comes before Easter because repentance comes before new life.
I’m thankful to be part of a church family on a journey together to live Jesus’ continuing mission in our world. I’m thankful to be part of a huddle of fellow pastors who love and pray for each other. I’m thankful for a family I can serve and love. These all make me thankful for the cycle of Lent->Easter->Pentecost. It’s an opportunity to live on purpose. Lent=Repentance, Easter=new life, Pentecost=living God’s mission in God’s power. This continual process eventually writes me fully into the gospel story and helps me invite others along. Ashes to Fire. It’s the story of our faith. Come truly live your life, if you dare!

Hurricane Sandy aid distribution struggles to meet demand

Hurricane Sandy aid distribution struggles to meet demand | Press Releases | News | NCM ~ Compassion as a Lifestyle.

The hurricane Sandy recovery need continues on the East Coast. Nazarene Compassionate Ministries is there serving. Donations can make a huge difference as workers race against the arrival of winter…

Update: Deep & Wide

Well the third fifty pages has proven faithful to the pattern of the first two. A few things Stanley has said come off as completely arrogant and angered me to no end. But then again, most of what he said resonated pretty deeply with my ministry experiences. On the positive side, his approach to spiritual formation is not about a system of classes. It’s about creating an environment where people have the opportunity to grow in faith. He zooms out to a bigger picture than most people writing about spiritual formation. The most fascinating element of his 5 Faith Catalysts is the last one: Pivotal Circumstances. He shares that life-altering circumstances are always opportunities for faith to grow or shrink. The difference is how we interpret them. I’ve found this to be true in ministry. As a result I am often trying to help people develop a way of looking at their circumstances through the lens of Scripture. But for many years I tried to do this as people were walking through life-altering events. I eventually figured out it’s often too late. Either they were ready for it and able to draw near to God for strength, or they were caught off-guard and rarely able to recover gracefully. But Stanley is the first person I’ve seen bring this issue right out onto the table as a ministry focal point. I like Stanley’s approach and I’ll urge you to read it and take it to heart. His example with Jesus and John the Baptist is just excellent! It’s worth the cost of the book. All 5 of his Catalysts have value and I like the way he makes it clear that a cookie-cutter approach is too simplistic. This section is very worth reading.
In my humble opinion (and people are almost never actually being humble when they say this, but I’m trying to be) I think when Stanley talks about culture he’s at his weakest. He goes too far. He says people are far more interested in what works than what’s true. Andy often sets up these kinds of either/or conundrums when he knows there isn’t an obvious biblical or theological principle involved. And what’s more, he almost always says, take it or leave it. You’re living in a fantasy world if you don’t fully buy-in to his view that the wants and desires of people should drive the packaging of our truth. He even hijacks the Beatitudes to do it. I don’t buy it. When it comes to preaching over the long haul, if we always start with what people are interested in and then try to make the Bible relevant we are fighting an uphill battle we will never win. Not that we should never do it. But if we always do it the price might be too high. The implication would be: ultimate reality is defined my experience and curiosity. The Bible then remains an interesting secondary reality that might “work” for me or might not. We think we know what is broken in our lives, but the Bible shows us that it’s actually much more serious and only God can help us. So at some point we have to help people submit their desires and dreams to what’s really true. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Of course, nothing works long-term that isn’t true. So it’s a false dichotomy. That’s my opinion. Start with the Bible and encourage them to discover their story in its’ pages. It works with what’s really broken. The Bible is good stuff. Interesting stuff. Sometimes even sexy and exciting stuff. We don’t need to apologize for it or dress it up like a clown.
I tend to think people are pretty smart. If they make it to church they are usually looking for something true. We should give it to them. Not in a boring package, not without handles, and not without next steps to put it into practice. But all the time helping them see that what is true is what works. On these last parts I’m fully agreeing with him, just not that we should always start our sermons one way.  I always start informal conversations with people with what they’re interested in and curious about. But preaching should be different. Not boring but helping us make our lives relevant to ultimate reality, not the other way around. Sometimes even the order in which we talk about it communicates a lot.
I hope I’m hearing it wrong, but what I possibly hear him saying on page 115 seems arrogant and ugly, implying that the only two options are his way or zero impact on the world. Such a scenario might exist, but many who disagree with his priority have much more impact than he implies. And to me he’s too crass in how he says it.
So I love 90% of this section of the book. It’s deeper than some would give him credit for. It has some fresh insights and good wisdom. If he would rewrite pages 113-115 I’d love it all. I’m going to keep reading. But I may Tweet him about page 115…

VBS, yes!

This was just a great week of ministry. I’m so glad our church still does VBS. Kids are dealing with so many heavy concerns these days. And their parents have less time to help them sort it out. A whole week of many caring people surrounding them with support and faith does a world of kingdom good. It reminds the church just how much life change is possible when we come together to focus on the next generation. We get a clearer picture of our community as well. Everything else we do this year will be better because of this focused ministry week. It’s that important. Other stuff is important too, even more important. But this was a very good thing once again.

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A Commandment, A Commission, and Sandwiches

Matt. 22:36-40 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Right now it seems that we are surprising each other with how different our perspectives can be on political and spiritual/moral issues. It can be shocking and uncomfortable to realize how differently others view the same things. I fear it drives us apart because we crave commonality. But sometimes we’re mistaken if we assume that our faith is more genuine because we came to a conclusion with which we’re more culturally comfortable. Others may be diminished in our eyes if we find we don’t agree. We assume that the way we processed a question is “the Christian way”. Different conclusions must come from false or worldly methods. But is that really always true? I’m not suggesting there’s no right or wrong. But maybe the good news can’t fit into one political perspective. Maybe it’s bigger than that.
In the case of the Chicken controversy we’ve split things even more. It’s not your view on marriage, it’s whether you totally support or strongly oppose the political activities of a restaurant chain. This is now the litmus test for both “sides”. “Eat mor Chikin” vs boycott the chicken. As I said in an earlier post, I’m putting the chicken on probation. Ate there a few days ago, but not on the big chicken day. Probably gonna wait a bit now to see how they handle the new attention. Dan Cathy and I agree on the definition of marriage. I support what I’ve seen of his interview. But I don’t support absolutely everything about what he’s done. And I’m not going to be pressured into doing so.
Matt. 28:18-20 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I for one wish the Christian community was half as organized for the Great Commandment and Great Commission as we are for culture war responses. I’m glad we care about something. Do we care enough about the most important things? Have we reconsidered “who is our neighbor”, lately? How do we live truth before them? What’s the BEST way to show the world what we value? The goal is not a world with more fried sandwiches and fewer comfortable gays. The goal is more truly transformed Christ-followers serving up the good news to their neighbors. It may seem more fun to eat mor Chikin to make a statement. It takes a lot more than that to make a disciple. We have one commission. We are under one holy commandment to love. Truly, it’s not about the chicken. Let’s please not make it about the chicken. There’s so much more to be and to do.

The Platt Controversy and Salvation

Platt: How to Lead Someone to Christ Without the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’.

An Alabama pastor caused a firestorm earlier this year when he challenged the validity of the classic Sinner’s Prayer as an evangelism tool. Platt rightly points out that a lot of so-called Christians have combined the Sinner’s Prayer with a very loose understanding of Eternal Security into an easy-believism, guaranteeing them a “seat” in heaven, but placing no responsibility upon themselves to change. These people seem like hypocrites to the culture, damaging the credibility of the church.

To a certain extent this is a Reformed tradition issue, not being quite as common  Nazarene/Wesleyan circles. We don’t emphasize Eternal Security and do emphasize life-change. But we have traditionally used the Sinner’s Prayer as a starting point.  As I have used it, I’ve included the need to commit to following Jesus daily, leaving your old patterns behind.  But maybe it creates too much energy around the moment of decision, leaving potential gaps in understanding and creating the impression that things are settled. I completely agree with Platt that we need to count disciples instead of decisions. In the link above he expounds a bit more, but the more he talks the less clear he becomes. I also don’t like his singular focus on wrath in the atonement. It’s limiting to what the cross accomplished. But at least he’s started an important conversation that needs to happen.

So what do you think? Is the Sinner’s Prayer too compromised to be a viable tool? Have we relied on it too much and failed to develop a disciple-making environment in our churches? What do you think of Platt’s alternative? I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below!

Sex, Sin, and Christian Public Discourse

The recent explosive arguments on sexuality in our culture are polarizing. Issues like contraception and same-sex marriage have brought a lot of harsh rhetoric from all sides. None of it is helpful. CNN’s Belief Blog has put out some of the most biased posts I’ve seen. My most recent attempt at a comment about the National Day of Prayer was not allowed, but dozens of slanderous and obscene anti-Christian attacks by atheists were all allowed unedited. Equally bad and more deeply saddening have been Christian attacks on other Christians of different opinions and on non-believers. If we don’t have love, we have nothing in the Christian community. We should be wise in our comments, which need to be “full of grace, seasoned with salt.” We should not further victimize members of marginalized communities like LGBT with angry mean words. But neither should we leave an ambiguous picture to our children of what loving, biblical Christians believe. Our morally conservative Christian children also face a confusing and harsh world, increasingly unwelcoming of their lifestyle and convictions.
So, my views are as follows:
I begin with a quick look at biblical passages in this debate.
Genesis 19 shows God condemning certain violence and all illicit sexuality, most specifically male homosexual and heterosexual rape. Not a definitive passage on homosexuality, but hardly supportive of it either.
Leviticus 18:22 calls the mutual homosexual male sex act an abomination. While Leviticus has quite a few strange and unique laws, this one is in a list of bedrock prohibitions which protect family relationships and the sanctity of sexuality. It cannot be dismissed without undermining sexual purity. (Leviticus 20:13 is similar)
Romans 1:26-27 condemns all illicit lustfully-inflamed sexual activity, specifically highlighting lustful homosexual acts among men and women as unnatural and provoking judgment. This would also cover orgies, all sex outside marriage, and even selfish unbridled lust within marriage-using another person purely for one’s own pleasure.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 presents the most complete image I would like to put forward. It clearly identifies homosexual offenders as wicked. But it also lists more common sins like greed, drunkenness, heterosexual immorality, and even slander as worthy of the same judgement by God.
Yet, it goes on to say that many righteous believers used to live this way, but now have been cleansed and sanctified by the Spirit in the name of Jesus. Therefore none are beyond God’s saving. This is the Radical Optimism of Grace we Nazarenes believe in. God can and will transform every repentant, fully-surrendered life. But slander is just as bad as homosexuality, so some of the so-called Christian response this week will fall under judgment apart from such repentance.
The post-modern idea of same-sex marriage is interesting, but in my view cannot overcome these biblical statements for believers. So, I’m against same-sex marriage and would probably vote against any bill proposing to support it. Yet I’d be careful about voting in favor of legislation to ban it which I deemed to be carelessly or unjustly written. We live in a free society. One which I seek to influence in biblical ways, but one which I refuse to rail angrily against at every turn. I respect the laws of the land unless they attempt to force me to go against my Christian conscience. Then I would seek peaceful and respectful methods to overturn such laws and consider nonviolent protest if called for. My highest goal, however is to win hearts and minds to Christ. Biblical prohibitions are mainly for believers. Reaching more people with love’s transforming message is more important, and in the long run more effective, than publicly arguing our beliefs.
On the contraception issue I’m thankful to Robbie Bender http://lovelifeministry.blogspot.com/2012/05/trouble-with-onan.html for pulling me into deeper reflection on this issue than I’ve done in a while. There is a great discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/RobbieBender1/posts/263828007049689?comment_id=1211118&notif_t=like .   I will say that Genesis 38 has a plethora of potential applications for believers. It speaks to the intimate nature of marriage and highlights perhaps dozens of ways even married Christians can by their selfishness, deceit, and lust get sex wrong. I don’t think it could be used to oppose contraception mutually agreed to by both spouses for practical reasons. But perhaps it does contradict the unthinking use of contraception as a means to avoid praying about God’s will for children in a marriage. If it separates us from considering God’s will that’s not good. But if, after prayer, Christians conclude together that it “seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us” then it seems more supportable. But I have respect for Christians who take another view and don’t think anyone should be forced to use it, nor should laws force Christians to pay for it.
Sexual clarity is being lost. Sexual purity matters more than we may sometimes remember in this pluralistic society. Yet I want to support these views with gentleness and respect, for the sake of how the world views Christ and his church. Let’s be humble admitting all of us were lost in sin before God saved us. Even now, none of us have achieved absolute perfection. But then lets be bold in clarifying truth and grace to our kids. Don’t cave or be silent on key moral issues!
So repenting of our own sin, let’s love all people, introduce them to Jesus, teach them to follow Him, and together seek to build a society that better reflects His Kingdom of truth and grace! We can stand firm without forgetting to love even our enemies.

Disaster response continues in Ohio River Valley – NCN

 

Disaster response continues in Ohio River Valley – Nazarene Communications Network.

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World Water Day

This link is worth checking out! Learn more about the problem and how to help. Thanks NCM! (Nazarene Compassionate Ministries)

The Inherent Value of Preaching the Good News

Today’s Ashes to Fire readings included the following from 1 Corinthians 9:10b, 14:
It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop … In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
This serves as a reminder of the inherent value of preaching the gospel…May preachers, congregations, and seekers never take it for granted. Any time the Word of God is opened and proclaimed by one who has prayed, studied, and prepared it is a supernatural event. I’ve told my preaching students: as preachers we want to remove all barriers to clear communication, being stewards of the Lord’s message and servants to our people. But we should not become arrogant so that we notice the flaws and mannerisms of other preachers rather than being in awe of the Word that is being proclaimed. May preachers count it a sacred privilege both to proclaim the gospel and receive it, whenever possible. May we study to show ourselves approved and rightly divide the Word of truth. And may we preach the gospel every week, not just isolated sermons on passages. Let the passage of the day be set in the context of the whole good news: the radical optimism of grace. May it provide food for souls and energy for kingdom living.
In the same way, may congregations never view preachers as hired hands who do religious tasks or run spiritual errands for them. May the preacher be paid. But may the preacher’s highest priority be to faithfully study and proclaim the gospel. This gospel must be proclaimed in a way that creates an environment for disciple-making. And may the life of the congregation be shaped around the disciple-making mission created by that good news. And may preachers lead the way in making disciples.
The passage above mentions paying preachers enough to make a living. Pastors can do their best work when the church feels a burden to take care of their needs. In this way the gospel is honored. And honor is important. When finances are slim, churches can be creative; finding ways to share the sacrifice and support the ministry.
The gospel is the foundation of our salvation. It is the very form of our life together. May all who preach proclaim it faithfully. And may the church always honor those who give their lives to it as God receives all the glory!

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