find out what is going on inside my head. i know it is a little scary, but you will be safe. i promise.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Should My Church Be Missional?

i believe every church has a calling. it has a purpose. it has a mission. i am not talking about the organization's mission or purpose statement, necessarily. i am talking about the things that god has called that specific church to accomplish for the kingdom. i think there are some things that every church ought to be about. these certainly include, but are not necessarily limited to, preaching/teaching the gospel and discipling believers. but churches are to do more than just that. also, how to do that will look differently in different churches. i was in a church recently that sees their mission as reaching the next generation. they have had this mission long enough that they likely are reaching their second "next generation". in reality, this church is constantly innovating to capture the hearts of young men and women with the gospel of jesus christ. some churches are missions-oriented churches. there is a church in toronto that is known for their support of and outreach through missions. churches i an urban setting have long reached out to meet the physical needs of their community. they often do this by feeding and clothing the poor or homeless, providing shelter, and some financial assistance.

but none of this answers the question: "should my church be missional?" if you use the more commonly demonstrated model of the missional church, i have to say "no". this view makes the mission of the church too small. the local church is a body of believers that has a multi-faceted mission. we are reach out with physical help, but we are to reach out with the gospel. by the way, when christians say that we should meet physical needs so that we have the opportunity to meet spiritual needs, they are only partly right. we should do that. i love the concept of "giving people what they need (spiritual) in the context of what they want (physical)". but that should not be our only motive for meeting physical needs or doing other good deeds. jesus said that we should let our light shine before all men so they may see our good works, and glorify our father in heaven. good works bring glory to god. that is reason enough to do good works. paul wrote in ephesians 2: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." as followers of jesus christ, our salvation is by god's grace through faith. it is god's gift to us. no amount of works is enough and any attempt to work for it is an insult to god. but also, as followers of jesus christ, we are called to do good works. god has prepared these good works beforehand. if i want my children to wear a particular clothing outfit on a particular day, i prepare them beforehand. this should make it almost natural to wear these clothes. in the same way, god has prepared good works for us to walk in.

to truly be a missional church, it must walk in both parts of ephesians 2. it must show the way to salvation by grace through faith and it must walk in the good works that god has prepared for it to do. if that is the definition of mission, then the answer is, "yes, my church should definitely be a missional church.

What is a Missional Church?

there are an unbelievable number of labels for churches today. of course, there are the old stand-by denominational names. let's not forget names like conservative, liberal, fundamental, evangelical, etc. then there is the latest generation of monikers. these carry descriptors like purpose-driven, seeker sensitive, emerging, emergent, and - one of the latest names - missional. a church can, and probably should, be more than one of these. over the course of a few scattered posts, i am going to share some thoughts and answering some questions related to the term "missional church".

the term "missional church" is only about ten years old, but there are hundreds of thousands of hits on google for the term. with that many web pages related to the term, it is anybody's guess as to how many definitions there are for it. since everyone seems to be taking the liberty to define it how they see fit, i think i will do the same. i am finding it difficult to boil it down to just a few words. the origins of the phrase seem to be in discussing missio dei, or the mission of god. perhaps by the end of this post, i can cobble something together.

i wish i could avoid describing missional in negatives, but i am going to start there. one thing missional is not is missions. missions has been a program or a department within the local church. missional is a descriptor for the local church. it describes the whole church body.

there are many church leaders who describe themselves as missional. what they mean by that varies by leader. one hallmark of missional seems to be gaining consensus. this is the idea that being missional should focus on the kingdom message of jesus as recorded in the synoptic gospels. this does not take into account the other teachings of scripture. in the march issue of christianity today, todd billings describes it like this: "hearing (brian) mclaren and others, the kingdom often sounds like nothing more than a set of ethical activities in which anyone - christian, muslim, or atheist - can participate. the centrality of jesus christ himself can be eclipsed by the ethical 'message of jesus'." i love the idea of being missional, but not at the sacrifice of the truth of the word of god. it seems you can be in any faith tradition, keep that doctrine (or no doctrine at all), and be missional. many who claim the term missional say that traditional church has focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the rest of the mission of god. i cannot argue with that. most missional churches focus on the earthly aspects of the mission of god to the exclusion of evangelism, discipleship, and solid doctrine. the truth is that it is not an either/or, it is a both/and. i contend that you cannot be missional without embracing both aspects of the role of the church in the world. i would like to clarify something. i love the term missional church. i think it is what god has called the church to be. i do not like the meaning most missional churches give it. it seems to focus too narrowly on good works. if we are to truly be missional, we must be about sharing the good news of the savior, teaching true doctrine, and meeting the needs of those around us, both within and without the church. that is to be missional. missioal should be the sum of what the church is.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Balanced Life

there are several adjectives you could use to describe my life. balanced is not one of them. i wear a lot of hats. i am a husband, father, college student, and assistant pastor. i am in a small group, a men's group, and i serve in my local church. can that even be balanced? the balanced life. what does that even mean? i was reading through the blogs i read daily, when craig groeschel over at swerve really caused me to think about this. when asked how he balances his life, his response is, "i don't live a balanced life." the more we try to balance our lives, the more we fail at it, and consequently, feel like a failure. i do not know anywhere in scripture we are called to live a balanced life. i think that concept, for all its good intentions, i severly misguided. we are called to live an obedient life. we are called to follow jesus. we are told to live a life worthy of our calling. craig went on to say, "while following jesus, our life will often be out-of-balance. he may lead us on long stretches of ministry followed by a substantial season of rest. ministry will rarely be predictable." he obviously wrote that in the context of leaders in ministry, but i think it applies to all believers. i plan to spend some time thinking about this idea of balance and unbalance. craig will be blogging about it this week. rather than striving for a life of balance, i want to strive for a life of honor to god. let me know what you think about this. i will try to comment further on this idea later this week.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Message of Easter

this is from the book of john, chapter 20:

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. Then they went home.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my
God and your God.’”

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

i love the way this passage closes. mary tells them, "i have seen the lord!" and then she gave them the message. that very much sums up what we are to be about. we may not have literally see the lord in his bodily form, but we have seen what he has worked in our lives. we have seen evidence of his ressurrection. we have seen the lord! now, let's go give others the message. i hope god truly blesses you this easter. i hope you know the joy of his ressurrection. have a great easter!

A Fool and His Money . . .

my lovely bride and i -- really just my lovely bride -- have been known to sell an item on ebay from time to time. it is a good way to get rid of things that begin to clutter our home. it also usually pays better than a garage sale, especially since you usually cannot find your way around our garage. there was an news item on today that reminds me of some well known cliches:

  • one man's trash is another man's treasure.
  • a fool and his money are soon parted.
  • there is a sucker born every minute.
  • you can buy and sell anything on ebay. (i realize this one is perhaps a little less well known, but it seems to be true none the less.)

friday night, monty kerr of austin, texas, became -- for the low, low price of $1350 -- the proud owner of a corn flake. that's right, a corn flake. what makes this worth such a sum? why, it is shaped like illinois. of course you have to get out a map, because no one is exactly sure what illinois is shaped like. the wizard from austin did not actually buy the corn flake. apparently, it is against ebay policy to sell food, so mr. kerr bought a coupon redeemable for a corn flake shaped like illinois. i sure hope they honor that coupon. one per customer per visit, or something like that. mr. kerr owns a trivia website and he plans to add the cereal to the traveling museum he is assembling. it is to be a collection of pop culture and americana items. is this what even pop culture is reduced to? was no more hair available from brittany spears' shaved head? thankfully, the odds are good that there will be only one illinois-shaped corn flake -- and you missed it. don't loose heart, my friends, there are t-shirts, magnets, and the official collector's pamphlet; and any of it can be yours if you are almost as big an idiot as the guy who bought the real thing.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pedilavium: After the Event

tonight, at the church that i have the privilege of serving, we had a church picnic and followed that up with the observance of the washing of the saints' feet. i want to begin by saying that it was truly a great time. having the opportunity to see the body of christ in fellowship together is absolutely beautiful. families were gathered together. kids (and some dads) were throwing a football. some of the kids were sword fighting (see manly birthday party). that alone would make for a great time. then our pastor stood and spoke for a very few minutes about jesus washing the feet of the apostles and what that meant for them and what it means for us. he then gave some brief instructions. the youth pastor then washed my feet. i was moved, as i always am when observing feet washing, by his humility and grace. this also served as an example to our congregation, many of whom had never participated in anything like this. it was a great opportunity for us, as leaders, to model for the the type of humility christ modeled for his apostles, and ultimately, us. i will acknowledge that i had mixed feelings going into tonight. i had concerns regarding the appropriateness of men and women washing the feet of someone of the opposite sex, other than a spouse or relative. i must point out that i do not see this as a matter of right or wrong, it is a matter of conviction and opinion. i am happy to say it was pretty much a non-issue. there were very few instances of a man washing the feet of an unrelated woman. the exercise quickly developed into families gathering to let the father wash the feet of the others. there were husbands and wives modeling an attitude of humility and sacrifice for one another. there were men approaching other men and women approaching other women asking for the honor of washing each others feet. it was spectacular. this was the first time i had observed feet washing in this context. it was very different, but effective. i look forward to the next time we practice this symbol of humility. i especially look forward to seeing our church body model this attitude of humility and servitude in their interaction with each other and with the world around them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

It's All Greek to Me

tonight, as soon as i post this, i will work some more on my greek translation homework. i am pursuing a bachelor of arts in religion, which requires four semesters of greek. i am in semester number two. i still have a long row to hoe. while i do plan to work in ministry as a vocation, i am not completely sure what my pastoral role will be. while i do not plan to do in depth translation work, i do believe that it is important to have some knowledge of the biblical languages. for the pastor who is actively involved in practical ministry, what is the appropriate amount of language study? personally, i think that with the growth in technology, it is less necessary to be able to do direct translation. i think it is more important to know how to use language tools. i promise that i am not just saying this because greek is difficult, although it is. i prepare for teaching with the use of my computer. this is the same computer that i would use to research the greek and/or hebrew texts. that being said, during the last semester and half, i have gained more appreciation for the precision of the greek text, as well as the work done by the translation teams who have prepared the bibles that i rely upon. god certainly has blessed their hard work. i will climb down from my soapbox now. i have put off long enough my translation of 1 john. i am sure it will come out much like a combination of the new american standard bible and the english standard version.


isn't that a great word? the reality is, that word makes me sound smarter than i really am. that is just a fancy word for the ritual or ceremony of feet washing. some call it foot washing, but that just does not make sense. why would you just wash one foot? this is something that was practiced in the early church, as instructed by jesus the night of the last supper. a small number of christian believers continue to practice the washing of the saints' feet on a regular basis. it is usually associated with the observance of communion, or the lord's supper. the church in which i have the privilege to serve will observe this event tomorrow night (thursday). i have mixed feelings about this. my hesitancy does not come from the practice itself. i grew up in a denomination that practices feet washing and considers it an ordinance alongside baptism and communion. in fact, i sometimes miss the practice of feet washing. it is a very powerful moment when another man kneels before you to perform this lowliest of tasks. it is perhaps more powerful when you humble yourself and kneel before another man and wash his feet, following the example of our savior. it is an moment that bonds two men in a way that is difficult to ascribe words to. and that is where my mixed feelings come in. i have never been in a feet washing where men and women participated together. that is our plan, and i do not know if i am comfortable with that. i do know that as an elder and church leader, i am not comfortable washing the feet of a woman other than my wife. when i spoke with my wife about this, she seemed to understand. we have a few particularly close friends with whom our relationship is more like family. she seemed to think she might be comfortable with these men (in addition to me), but no one else. in the church tradition in which i was raised, we would take communion and then the men would dismiss to one room and the ladies would dismiss to another. the next few minutes were a time of closeness and bonding -- based on each man's humble act -- that is inappropriate for a man and woman who are neither related nor married to each other should feel toward each other. the response will be that it is unlikely people will feel that bond or closeness. my question then becomes, if the participants do not feel bonded by the humble act performed, have we missed a major point of the exercise?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week

as we begin holy week, or the week leading up to easter, i have been spending some time really considering what the death and resurrection is all about. this is the simple truth of the gospel. mark batterson summed it up beautifully in his blog today. here is what he said:

On a personal note, I went through a season in my early twenties when I explored lots of different religious traditions. And I was impressed with some of the concepts and rituals and practices. But it also cemented this core belief: Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one else lived a sinless life. No one else died for my sins. And no one else was raised from the dead. My faith isn't anchored in concepts or rituals or practices. My faith is anchored in a person who was fully human and fully God.

this is the power and grace that only god has the authority to shower on us. this is the jesus that gives us access to god the father. this is the god that saved me. this is the god we give our lives to. as the week goes on, i will plan to share more of my thoughts on its significance.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Happenings

today at the church of which i am a member, the pastor continued his sermon series teaching simultaneously through the books of ecclesiastes and ephesians. today he covered the first half of ecclesiastes chapter 3. this is the passsage that inspired (and essentially wrote) "turn! turn! turn! (to everything there is a season)" by pete seeger. the intent of seeger, and most of those who covered the song, was for it to be an anti-war anthem. that is clearly not what solomon meant when he wrote the words. i think he is talking about the natural seasons of life. it is how life ebbs and flows. i could go on and on, but i will not do so now. perhaps another time.

tonight was one of the highlights of my week. twice per month the small group my wife and i am part of met. it is the best time when we are together. we always enjoy a meal (thanks k & j) and then spend time with whatever we are studying/reading as a group. we have a rule that goes something like, "whatever is said at lifegroup, stays at lifegroup." i think i can share some of the discussion without violating that confidence. tonight we started a study guide from homebuilders called "building character in your children". it looks to be an interesting study and discussion. our group is made up of people with a variety of backgrounds and perspectives. tonight's discussion centered around legacy and character traits. as we talked about the legacy we leave our children, it was noted that your legacy is simply what you do and who you are. you cannot intentionally "build a legacy". your legacy is your lifetime of experiences and character. a good example of this in terms that are easy to grasp was given. consider president bill clinton. he spent his last year or so in office trying to build his legacy. he wanted peace in the middle east. what is his legacy? it is all the things he is known for and there is still unrest in every area of the middle east. your legacy is the remembrance of who you were after you are gone. you live your legacy. we all want our children to exhibit good character traits, to have a godly character. but where does that come from? ultimately, godly character comes from god. as we are filled with the holy spirit, we bear the fruit of that in good character. fathers display these traits to their children. children learn by example. one day, god can use that example to draw the children to a saving knowledge of himself. my prayer is that i will be an example of godly character to my sons.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Manly Birthday Party

today, i took my middle son to a friend's birthday party. i have three sons and have been to many different kinds of children's parties. i have never been to a child's birthday party like this one. it was for boys and their dads. it was a manly birthday party. we make swords and proceeded to engage in a variety of sword-fighting scenarios. it was totally awesome. i do not know if i or my eight year old son had more fun. the swords were a simple affair. they were just a length of pvc pipe with a piece of foam noodle -- like you would use in a swimming pool -- covering the area used as a blade. this was covered with a tube sock. the sock was secured to the pipe with black electrical tape, that was then wrapped over the handle like you would wrap a hockey stick or a baseball bat. we used colored sharpie markers to decorate our swords. each participant then named his sword so as to identify it as his. my son decided to display his usual creative spirit and refused to name or decorate his until we got it home. then he named it "terminator 3". i named my "the hammer". we had father/son sword fights. we had major battles with the kids against the dads. then we had arena matches. this is when one fighter is in the center of the circle and anyone can challenge him. it is purely winner stands and he has to fight anyone who challenges him. very cool. perhaps one of the best parts of the day is that we got to take our swords home. then the whole family got involved. we even had a tournament tonight in the back yard. believe it or not, grandma and grandpa (who happen to be here for a visit) won first and second, respectively. it really was a fun time. the most valuable part of the day for me was that it was a chance for my son to do something with his dad in the context of other fathers and sons. and it was a very, very manly thing.