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Monthly Archives: May 2008

We want more God

“We want more God, simply more looking for God’s face.”

As I read through the evaluations of a recent seminar for pastors held in Moscow, Russia, this comment jumped off the page. It was in answer to the question, “What is the best thing about the seminar?” It expressed the longing of one person’s heart.

I attended a gathering this past week of pastors in the Pacific Northwest. One of the questions on our agenda was, “What helps you grow in your relationship with God?” Several pointed out that their primary source of spiritual nourishment was the time spent in preparing their weekly sermons and lessons. Others spoke of the benefits of listening to music and keeping a journal.

As I pondered the comments from these two gatherings, I was reminded of the apostle Paul’s statements in Philippians–”For to me, to live is Christ” (1:21). “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (3:10).

Am I satisfied with the current state of my relationship with Jesus Christ? How well do I know God? How thirsty am I for more knowledge? How hungry am I for a deeper relationship with God? How fervently do I pray and long to see God move in my life, family, and ministry? How much do I depend on his power rather than relying on my own strength? How much do I risk, trusting God to step in and work in those around me? How much time do I invest in strengthening my faith? How intentional am I about my own spiritual growth? How diligently do I seek God?

I’m afraid my answers to these questions embarrass me. I think my Russian friend’s comment needs to become my prayer, “I want more of God.”

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2008 in Passion, Personal growth

 

Get a life!

I just finished reading Get a life! It is all about you, by Reggie McNeal, and found it to be helpful and thought-provoking in a self-discovery sort of way. The focus of the book is on intentionally examining your life on a periodic basis using five questions–Why am I here? What is really important to me? What is my scorecard? What am I good at? and What do I need to learn?

Having gone through the LEAD program at Dallas Theological Seminary several years ago, I felt like I already had a fairly accurate understanding of my gifts, abilities, and passion. McNeal’s questions served to reinforce and confirm what I had already discovered about myself. The thing I benefited from the most what his chapter on “What is my scorecard?” It served to make me think through how I measure effectiveness, significance, and fruitfulness. How do I know if I am making progress?

While it is an easy read, it is not a book you want to skim through quickly. It will only be beneficial if you take the time to think through the questions and do the exercises.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2008 in Books

 

An atrophied faith

In Philippians 2:12, the apostle Paul makes the statement, “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” I wonder how many people are only Christians from the neck up, or at best, from the chest up. Many believe the message of the gospel. It changes their way of thinking. Many have given their hearts to Jesus. Their values have been transformed. But I would guess that far fewer people have a Christian faith that goes all the way to their hands and feet. While many believe, only a few serve. Many claim to have the mind of Christ, but far fewer walk in humility.

How often is my faith like a gym bag that sits by the door? It is packed full of useful equipment, but it is seldom taken to the gym and actually used for exercise. How often is my Bible or testimony covered up by busyness, much like the treadmill in the corner that supports the laundry basket and dirty clothes piled on top?

I need to get back in the gym and exercise my faith. If Christ is real, I should allow him to penetrate and permeate every area of my life, not just my beliefs and values.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2008 in Personal growth

 

The detergent church

I like the statement Doug Giles  made in an interview when he was asked about the emergent church:

“I was being interviewed on talk radio a couple of weeks ago when the ‘talent’ turned the discussion to my faith . . . what I thought the church could practically do to heal itself and help our nation and what my thoughts were regarding the emergent church. I told mi amigo I didn’t know much about the ‘emergent church’ . . . I prefer a Detergent Church . . . what we need is a ‘movement’ that would purge the skid mark that sin has left on man’s soul and our society.”

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2008 in Church, Quotes

 

Curiosity cornered the cat

I think my cat may have finally forgiven me, though “may” is still the operative word.

I had gone into the garage this morning to put something away, and unbeknownst to me, Mittens snuck in behind me. It was several hours later when I opened the garage door that she bolted out with a glare on her face and her tail looking like a bottle brush. Now before you think I am either cruel or cluelessly unobservant, it is quite normal for Mittens to disappear for hours at a time. In the morning, she will often crawl off to a quiet corner for her post-breakfast, mid-morning, and/or pre-lunch nap. (I always get them mixed up.) When I did not see her for 3-4 hours, it was nothing new. But when I heard a plaintive cry, I told my daughter that we needed to find her. Sure enough, we checked the garage, and out bolted the cat. After a thorough bath, several snacks, and a glaring look or three, I knew I would be in the dog house for quite some time. To hear her tell the tale, I had deliberately banished her to the dark. So what if we have chased her out of the garage before and told her she doesn’t belong there.

I wonder how often I treat God that way. Through my own curiosity and willfulness, I wander off and get into trouble. I get trapped by my own wrong choices. My sinful actions start demanding payment. When I cannot seem to worry my way out, I finally come to my senses and call for help. But when God delivers me, I either blame him for my troubles or glare at him for not rescuing me earlier. How much better would it be if I avoided the open doors of temptation that I already know lead to danger and disaster?

Perhaps Mittens and I need to learn the same lesson.

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2008 in Personal growth

 

90 minutes in heaven

A friend gave me a copy of the book, 90 minutes in heaven, and asked if I would read it. She was bothered by what she read and came away with more questions than answers. After reading it, I would have to concur. I too came away with grave concerns and certainly would not recommend it to others.

On the one hand, it is an interesting story and a quick read. On the other hand, it left me very skeptical. The book is the account of a Baptist pastor, Don Piper, who purportedly died and went to heaven for 90 minutes, and then came back. The bulk of the book, however, is the story of his car accident and his recovery back to health. Very little of the book actually deals with heaven. In that sense, the book is mistitled. It is a book about recovering from depression following a trial and putting your life back together.

The thing that bothered me the most about the book is that it is all about “me.” It is a book of personal experience. As such, you cannot debate, deny, or validate it. All you can conclude is that it is Don’s experience. Whether or not it is true is yet to be determined. But his experience doesn’t seem to fit with what Scripture teaches.

I kept thinking about Hebrews 9:27, that it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this comes judgment. Does this mean that Don is an exception and will die twice? His death and return doesn’t fit with Scripture. I was reminded of 2 Corinthians 5:8, where Paul said that to be absent from the body was to present with the Lord. In his brief time in heaven, Don never actually saw Jesus or God. He only saw family and friends on the outskirts of heaven. That doesn’t seem to fit with Scripture either.

After reading it, I was left shaking my head. Books of this type require a healthy application of 1 John 4:1, testing the spirits to see if they come from God. For a fuller description of the book, check out the review in Discerning Reader.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2008 in Books

 

The Shack & the danger of Christian fiction

I have several stacks of books in my life. There are books that I am currently reading. There are the volumes that I want to read. There are ones that I think I should read. There are a few on my wish list that I hope to someday read. And then there are the books that people give me that they think I should read. On occasion, like this evening, I will read from that last category.

A couple of weeks ago, someone gave me a copy of The Shack, which they raved about and felt I should read as well. Initially I resisted the impulse, but was drawn to it out of curiosity. After doing some research, I discovered it is a highly popular Christian novel. I also discovered that the reviewers either love it or loath it. After finishing the book, I fall into the latter group.

On the one hand, I found it to be an interesting story about forgiveness. It is a very fast read, and the author pulls you into the narrative and doesn’t let go until the end. On the other hand, I was dismayed how subtly he weaves in poor theology and presents a distorted view of God, revelation, and authority. I tend to agree with the summary made by one reviewer, “The Shack is a theological novel that teaches far too much unbiblical theology.” For more details, read the reviews in Discerning Reader and Tim Challies. Even USA Today has an article describing the weaknesses of the book, as well as giving some insight as to where the author got his perspective. The book was published by Windblown Media, which was started by a man who has given up on the local church and encourages people to discover God on their own or in a house church. All of this to say that the book must be read with a great deal of discernment.

Of greater concern to me than this book is the danger of Christian fiction in general. People would never presume to make political policy decisions based on a Tom Clancy thriller. No one would assume they know everything about criminal justice from reading Patricia Cornwell or medicine by reading Robin Cook. Very few would claim they understand the legal system just because they have read every book written by John Grisham. We don’t judge church history on the basis of what appears in Dan Brown’s books.

So why is it that Christians think they understand spiritual warfare simply because they read Frank Perretti? Why do we think we are experts on the end times because we read the Left Behind series? The danger of reading The Shack is that people will now think they understand the Trinity and how God reveals himself to people, when in reality it presents a distorted view of God.

As entertaining as a novel may be, it should never become a substitute for the Word of God. Novels may inspire and encourage, but Scripture promises to transform our lives.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2008 in Books

 

Is it a sin to be average?

In a world of bigger and better, new and improved, 25% more for free, upwardly mobile, and 7 habits of highly successful people, is it a sin to be average? Is it ok to take a regular math class and drop AP Calculus? Is it acceptable to live in a 1,200 square foot tract home rather than move into the 4,000 square foot “Street of Dreams” house? Does it meet approval to drive a beater with 200K miles rather than a Beamer with 20K miles? Is it acceptable to be a line worker and turn down a promotion to management? Is everyone expected to appear on the cover of Money magazine as the newest rich person? Is it acceptable to try out for American Idol and be so nondescript you never make it into the “best of” or “worst of” highlight shows? Is it ok to be so-so?

When I came to my current church, they were averaging 240 people in two Sunday morning worship services. After four years with me at the helm, I have “grown” the church to 190. I long ago stopped checking the mailbox for my invitation to speak at the church growth conferences. Since I haven’t built the newest or largest mega-emerging-seeker-prayer-movement-small-group-centered-contemporary-worship-charismatic-purpose-driven-missional-church, maybe it is a sin to be “just” an average pastor of an average church.

I take comfort and encouragement from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-30. Jesus told the story of a man who left town on a journey. Prior to leaving, he called his three trusted servants together and gave each one a portion of his estate to manage. One received five talents, one received two, and the other received one. Each one’s responsibility was tailored to their respective ability.

When the man returned from his trip, he called the three servants in to give an account of how they had managed his property during his absence. Two of the men returned with different amounts of profit. And yet, they both received the same words of praise. The only one who was criticized was the third servant who did nothing with what he was given. For all three, the amount of their reward was not based on their results, but rather on whether or not they were faithful.

If being average means performing at the best of my level of ability, then being average is acceptable. But if being average is an excuse for laziness and not using all that I have been given, then it is a sin to be average.

If I am faithful in using all of my gifts, abilities, and resources in the task God has given me, then the attendance in the worship service or the size of the offering is not an accurate measure of my success. My task is to be faithful with what God has entrusted to me. It is up to God to determine the size of the harvest and the season it comes in.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2008 in Personal growth

 

Finding the grain of truth in the pile of sand

What does it mean to be teachable? Do you have to listen to and accept everything you are told, even if you disagree with the person’s opinion? Must you be open to every critic and assume that they are sent by God to correct your flaws? Are you allowed to stand your ground, defend your views, and ward off uncomfortable evaluations? How do you sort through the pile of sand to find the grain of truth when people back up their truck and dump the contents of their opinions on you?

I began contemplating those questions this week after being on both the giving as well as receiving ends of correction and criticism. On one occasion, I had to wave a warning flag and deliver a stinging rebuke to an individual–”if you continue down this road, danger awaits.” Some of what I said was heard, but much more seemed to be discounted and disregarded as the person spent more time defending their actions. On another occasion, I passed on some “here are some areas you need to grow in if you want to be more effective” type of information to a different person. The individual initially was angry, but later asked for clarification on what I meant. While there was discussion and dialogue, there was still resistance to what I was trying to communicate and suggest.

After spooning out the correction and criticism, I had to drink a dose of my own medicine when an editor returned a book proposal and said, “Your writing is just not there yet. You could really benefit from hiring an editor to help you polish your thoughts.” While I did not like what I heard, I had to consider if it was true, and whether or not to act on it.

I began to ask myself, “How open am I to instruction and criticism? Am I willing to listen to those who point out uncomfortable issues and challenge my progress and maturity? Do I really consider the words of those who try to correct me? Do I spend too much time trying to explain my actions and defend my failings, or do I say, ‘I need to think and pray about what you just said’? Do I ask, ‘God, is there something here that I need to change and address?”

How teachable am I?

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2008 in Personal growth

 

Fighting straw men

I recently finished reading David Murrow’s book, Why men hate going to church. To be honest, I came away with mixed feelings and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else. His basic thesis is that the church has become too feminine and that if it wants to draw men back in, the church needs to “adjust the thermostat” and embrace the masculine spirit. On the one hand, I agree with his thesis and many of his points. On the other hand, I felt he spent too much time arguing against a straw man or a caricature of the church. Many of his “biblical” examples seemed either taken out of context, or were ones where he read his bias into the passage. Chapter 23, “Every man needs a spiritual father,” and Chapter 24, “Every man needs a band of brothers” were the strength of the book.  But I was decidedly underwhelmed by the rest of the material.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2008 in Books

 
 
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