Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Understanding the Church

The church is not what we do to continue the work of Jesus in his absence; the church is the creation and continuing work of the Holy Spirit. Pastor, Eugene Peterson, 128. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Mission of God as the Organizing Principle of the Church

I am reading several books on discipleship and the mission of God as part of my DMin program.  It is creating much angst in me on our lack of discipleship and the mission of God as the center of our lives and church.  I am re-reading a book that impacted my thinking and helped to shape our mission statement ten years ago.  We have done little to make a shift so that mission rather than ministry is the central driving force of the church.  There is much written about the difficulty and viability of transitioning a traditional church to a missional one.  I came across this statement today again and think herein lies one of our issues:
He [Crosby] noticed that in over 60 years of significant ministry, he had observed that no groups that came together around a non-missional purpose (i.e. prayer, worship, study, etc.) ever ended up becoming missional. That it was only those groups that set out to be missional in the first place (while embracing prayer, worship, study, etc. in the process) that actually got to doing it. This observation fits with all the research done by Carl George and others that indicate that the vast majority of church activities and groups, even in a healthy church, are aimed at the insiders and fail to address the missional issues facing the church in any situation.

If evangelizing and discipling the nations lie at the heart of the church’s purpose in the world, then it is mission, and not ministry, that is the true organizing principle of the church. Mission here, is being used in a narrow sense here to suggest the church’s orientation to the ‘outsiders’ and ministry as the orientation to the ‘insiders.’ Experience tells us that a church that aims at ministry seldom gets to mission even if it sincerely intends to do so. But the church that aims at mission will have to do ministry, because ministry is the means to do mission. Our services, our ministry, need a greater cause to keep it alive and give it is broader meaning. By planting the flag outside the walls and boundaries of the church, so to speak, the church discovers itself by rallying to it—this is mission. And in pursuing it we discover ourselves, and God, in a new way, and the nations both ‘see’ and hear the gospel and are saved. The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch, p.235.

God, help our leadership to grasp your mission as the mission of our church and make the necessary changes to align ourselves and our ministry to your mission.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Consumerism and Discipleship

We can’t seem to make disciples based on a consumerist approach to the faith. We plainly cannot consume our way into discipleship. All of us must become much more active in the equation of becoming lifelong followers of Jesus. Consumerism is detrimental to discipleship.  Alan Hirsh, Forgotten Ways, p. 45.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Elder Care Advice

Our elders review our church directly ever time we meet to address needs of the members of our body but this method is more intentional and deliberate.  From the 9Marks blog.

Dear 9Marks,
As I understand it, the elders of your church keep a list of people who are in need of special care and oversight. This list includes people in a variety of circumstances: in health crises, in process of being confronted over unrepentant sin, in need of deep encouragement because of certain struggles, etc. And the purpose of this list is to make sure the elders have “eyes on” and are kept in touch with the condition of the individuals.
So, some implementation questions:
1) How does someone get on the list?
2) What info goes on the list? Name + situation + elder taking some primary oversight? More information? Less information?
3) Who sees this list? I presume elders only, but are there exceptions to that?
4) If a person gets on the list, are they notified? If so, what’s that conversation like?
I’m sure there are other aspects of this practice that would be good and helpful to hear about. It seems like an excellent thing for us to begin doing at this stage of life in our church. Are other ways of thinking about it that you would commend to us?
—Joshua, California

Dear Joshua,

Thanks for introducing the “internal elder care list” so that I don’t have to. You describe it correctly. It’s our list of those sheep who have wandered off from the ninety-nine, or who for some other reason are in ongoing need. To your questions:
  1. During the executive session portion of our elders meeting (when there are elders only, and no pastoral interns or other guests are present), the chairman asks if anyone has an addition to make to the care list. At that point, any elder can recommend adding so-and-so for such-and-such reason.
  2. The list includes the person or couple’s name(s); the name of the elder(s) primarily responsible for interacting with the individual and keeping the elders informed; as well as a phrase or two update. We all receive a copy of the list in our “elder packet” four or five days before the elder meeting (packets also include minutes from previous meetings, any memos to discuss, the list of the members’ names for whom we will pray, member applications and resignations, etc.).
  3. Only elders see the list. No exceptions. We do talk through the list during elders’ meetings when others are present. But we don’t refer to the individuals by name in that setting but by number. Every other elders’ meeting, the chairman will lead us through each name. “How’s number 1 doing?” The elder(s) responsible for number 1 will then provide all of us an update. “And how about number 2?” When a person’s status has improved, we remove him or her from the internal careless.
  4. No, no one is notified if his or her name is on the internal care list. The care list is just our way of reminding ourselves to pursue regular updates on hurting or straying sheep. The only time people find out their name is on the care list is when we inform them that we are putting their name on the “public care list.” This latter list consists of the names we announce to our members in our members’ meeting, either to request special care and prayer, or as a preparatory step toward excommunication. Our public care list will, at most, only have a few names on it. Our internal care list tends to have anywhere from 5 to 15 names. And we’re a church of just over 1000.
Well, that was some serious insider baseball. Or more like a pastor geek convention. Either way, I hope helps you to care better for your sheep.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thoughts on Church Disicpline

Some helpful thoughts on church discipline from the 9MArks blog, especially the ones on sin as a result of weakness versus sin as result of rebellion.

Dear 9Marks,

If a church member marries an unbeliever (against the counsel of the elders), would that be ground for excommunication? If not, to what extent would you practice church discipline?

Dear Dan,

Here’s the most important thing for you to take away from my answer: I don’t have more Bible than you have. There is no “extended cut” version that says “always do this; never do that” for most of the pastoral situations we find ourselves in.
What that means is, with just about any sin, the question of whether or not we “should” excommunicate (remove from membership and the Lord’s Table) will almost always be, “It depends.” Oh, Lord, give us wisdom.
To your scenario specifically, the first thing I’d want to know is, did he or she act more in weakness or more in open rebellion? Paul envisions different pastoral responses to different kinds of people (1 Thes. 5:14). The fact that he or she refused the counsel of the elders should weigh into your answer. But I can still imagine both scenarios, and the more a person seems to have acted in weakness, the slower I will move.
Second, how does the person talk about what he or she did. Justify it? Confess it as sin? Now, you and the member are both in the position of wanting the marriage to succeed. So don’t go fishing for a disavowal of the spouse, and always speak respectfully about the spouse. Still, your member was just given a choice between Jesus and marriage—based on God’s command to only marry in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39)—and he or she chose marriage. Does he or she recognize that fact. Does it cause any grief?
More than that, you’re searching for any note of repentance. Christians sin. We all sin. The difference between Christians and non-Christians, however, is that Christians repent of their sin. They fight against it. Your member happened to choose a life-altering sin, so repentance doesn’t require him or her to “undo” what was done, like asking a thief to give back stolen money. But do you see any brokenness, any grief, any willingness to confess, any desire to do what’s right, any longing to hear the consolation that comes from the good news of the gospel?
Now, the person might be reluctant to say any of that because it will feel dishonoring to the spouse. You will have to help him or her separate the two things (honoring the spouse; the question of sin) by expressing an “as of this moment!” support for the spouse and the marriage. Still, that’s what you want to discern.
Assuming you believe the person is repentant, no, you should not excommunicate. But you probably need to inform the church, simply because a marriage is a matter of public record and a very visible part of a person’s life. Telling the church also gives you a chance to affirm the person’s repentance and to counsel the congregation on how to best care for the individual.
Assuming you don’t believe the person is repentant, then, yes, you might move toward excommunication.
I pray this is useful.

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Beast in the Beauty

Do you remember the Matrix movies?

You should. For one simple reason:

The media is our matrix.

Todd Gitlin, one of the leading thinkers on media and our lives, says that “the torrent of images, songs, and stories streaming has become our familiar world.” This “torrent” determines what we see and what we don’t, what we think about and what never enters our mind.

Marshall McLuhan, an earlier thinker on all things media, warned that: “All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered.”

But like the matrix in the movie, most of us aren’t aware of it.

We don’t see how immersed in it we are.

Gitlin offers a parable about a customs officer who observes a truck pulling up at the border.

Suspicious, he conducts a thorough and painstaking search of the vehicle but finds nothing.

This begins a pattern where week-by-week, the driver approaches the border, the truck is searched, and nothing is found.

Yet the customs officer is convinced that there is contraband.

Finally, after many years, the officer is set to retire.

Once again, the driver pulls up, and the officer says:

“I know you’re a smuggler... don’t bother denying it. But... [I can’t] figure out what you’ve been smuggling all these years. I’m leaving now. I swear to you I can do you no harm. Won’t you please tell me what you’ve been smuggling?”

And the driver says, “Trucks.”

Point of the parable? What the media have been smuggling is the habit of living with the media.

And being shaped by it – knowingly or not.

For example, think of MTV. As MTV’s founding chairman, Bob Pittman, stated in a 1982 interview: “If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”

And nowhere does media own us more than in regard to our sexual lives.

Did you know that most children aren’t exposed to sexual content on the internet as much as they are through television and music?

And it’s quite an exposure.

Just think about Friends, which ran for ten years between 1994 and 2004, and is now one of the most popular shows in syndication.

Funny, right?

But not innocent.

A survey of all 236 episodes of the NBC sitcom found that the characters had a total of 85 sexual partners – and that’s only counting those who appeared on screen.

What does that do to us?

More than we realize.

This is important. What the media does is normalize things. If you see likable characters on TV having sex outside of marriage enough times, it becomes not only acceptable, but desirable. That’s why Fred Fedler, author of one of the most widely used college textbooks on the mass media, writes that “the media may constitute the most powerful education system ever known to man.”

And not just education, but indoctrination.

The real power of media is how it makes you feel.

If I can get you to feel a certain way, I can get you to think a certain way and to act a certain way.

I can make something that was once condemned approved of.

I can make you oppose something you used to support.

If I can get your emotions – your feelings – I own you.

And that’s exactly what media does.

What made homosexuality so culturally accepted in such a rapid period of time? That’s easy. It was Ellen, followed by Modern Family.

(It began even earlier with Billy Crystal and a show called Soap, but I don’t imagine many of you will remember that. But it was probably the first volley that softened any defense.)

Now we have the final cultural stake in the heart of any last resistance. Disney is putting its first “exclusively gay moment” into its new live version of Beauty and the Beast.

Yes, Beauty and the Beast.

It’s not the first time Disney has tried to introduce gay characters and situations. But this is the first “official” entry into the media mix.

I’ll be honest… I have no doubt it will be an amazing movie. But I also hope that it bombs, and that the reason the media picks up on is because of Disney’s gay agenda.

Maybe that will slow things down a bit.

Not stop the slide, mind you…

… but maybe just long enough to see the beast in what is being put forward as the beauty.

James Emery White


Todd Gitlin, Media Unlimited: How the Torrent of Images and Sounds Overwhelms Our Lives.

Marshall McLuhan with Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Message: An Inventory of Effects.

“‘Friends’ Cast Had 85 Sexual Partners Over 10-Season Run,” Fox News, July 28, 2011, read online.

Fred Fedler, An Introduction to the Mass Media.

Hannah Furness, “Disney’s First ‘Exclusively Gay Moment’ Hits Screens in Beauty and the Beast,” The Telegraph, March 1, 2017, read online.

“The Secret - and Not So Secret - Gay Disney Characters,” The Telegraph, March 2, 2017, read online.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Do You Handle Staff Mistakes?

Helpful advice on staff mistakes from Pastor Rick Warren . . . 
I’ve said many times that I want everyone on my staff to make at least one mistake a week.
Through Saddleback, I’ve learned that if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying anything new. If you’re not trying anything new, then you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning, then you’re already out of date.
I want my staff members taking risks and making mistakes. That means they’re being innovative, and it means they’re not afraid to try.
Now, I don’t want them making the same mistake every week — that means they’re not learning. But I tell them, “Make a new mistake each week.” I also tell them, “Show the innovation and creativity to do something that you’ve never done before.”
Nothing great is ever done without talking risks, and I want a staff full of leaders. Leaders take risks. There’s another word for risk-taking: faith. Faith is a critical element in the success of your ministry. Will you believe God for big things?
One day I asked my staff to flip to Mark 10:27 in their Bibles. It’s the verse that says, “All things are possible with God” (NIV). I asked my staff to circle the word “all” and then to write the letters “NSD” next to that verse.
NSD means No Small Dreams. We serve a big God, and he says the size of your faith will determine the size of your blessing in life: “According to your faith it will be done to you” (Matthew 9:29b NIV).
In Matthew 25, three servants were given different talents. One was given 10 talents, and he went out and doubled it. Another servant was given five talents, and he went out and doubled it. But the guy with one talent dug a hole and essentially said, “I didn’t want to lose it. I didn’t want to take any risks.” The master said, “You wicked, lazy, unfaithful servant.” Why?
Because by not taking risks you are being unfaithful.
So what are you going to do to take risks in your ministry? If you’re not taking any risks in your ministry, then you don’t need any faith. If you don’t need any faith in your ministry, you’re being unfaithful.
Please, go out and make a mistake this week.
In the meantime, would you pray for the staff? They’re taking risks each week as they reach out to serve you.

Monday, March 13, 2017


A new post by Trevin Wax on the consequences of ideas and the Christian life . . . 
I can’t forget the shoes. Piles and piles of them filling the room. Of all the gruesome images I saw at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the room filled with shoes from Jewish victims is the one thing I can’t forget. I think about the people who once owned those shoes, and I mourn the human lives that were lost in a vortex of unspeakable evil.
The tragedy of the Holocaust reminds me of something I heard as a high school student—Ideas have consequences. Adolf Hitler did not come out of nowhere. Before there was the Holocaust, there were decades of philosophical theories advocating superior races, nationalistic laws, and the use of eugenics to weed out inferior peoples. Throw in a dash of “survival of the fittest” from Darwinism and perhaps the pursuit of raw power from Nihilism and eventually we arrive in the concentration camp—a horrifying concoction of various falsehoods.
Ideas do indeed have consequences. But sometimes those consequences are beautiful, as in the early days of Christianity when plagues would sweep through cities in the Roman Empire. While many Roman citizens chose to abandon family and friends and flee the city to escape contamination, early Christians stayed behind to nurse the sick. Because of their belief in a Savior who sacrificed Himself for others, they were content to give their lives as well.

Caring About Ideas

Christians should care about ideas because we care about people. We recognize the power of imagination to alter history and change culture. One of the ways we stand out from the world is by having a freed imagination to think and live differently than the world, in ways that cultivate beauty and grace.
Paul’s counsel in Romans 12:1-2 is important:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (CSB)
In light of all that has gone before, in light of God’s promises and the salvation He has provided through His Son, Paul says: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
You may be thinking, Bodies? Aren’t we talking about ideas? Our minds? Yes, we are. And notice how spiritual transformation includes both. In verse 1, Paul wrote that we must offer our bodies. In verse 2, he wrote that we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Mind and matter. Physical and immaterial. Thinking and behavior.
Paul didn’t just say, “Think rightly.” Neither did he simply say, “Behave rightly.” Paul knew the gospel transforms both our thoughts and our actions.
What does it look like to be conformed to this age? To think in a worldly fashion? The Bible has the answers. It shows us not only what a Christian worldview looks like but also wrong beliefs and how they lead us astray.

Bad Idea #1: Suffering Is Always the Result of Sin

In the Book of Job, we see how a false worldview results in false comfort.
Job was a righteous man who went through a severe trial. Along the way, he was “comforted” by his friends, each of whom accused Job of having sinned. Job’s friends had a worldview that said, “Everything happens because of cause and effect. Do bad things and bad things will happen to you. Do good things and good things will happen to you.” This worldview was the lens through which they viewed Job’s suffering. The Book of Job challenges this perspective in light of an all-powerful, all-wise God who permits things to happen that are beyond our understanding.

Bad Idea #2: There Is No Meaning to Life

Consider the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. Much of this book expresses the worldview of “life under the sun,” a life without meaning and purpose in the face of death. The author does end the book with an affirmation of a biblical worldview, but much of the poetry is written with the perspective that all we can look forward to is death.
Though he had amassed great wealth and power, the author knew everything was indeed meaningless apart from the existence of God. And in reflecting on “life under the sun,” he wrote a book that helps us understand the mind-set and worldview of someone who lives as though this life is all there is.

Bad Idea #3: The Purpose of Life Is Pleasure

Or consider the apostle Paul’s lengthy discourse on the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15. “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” he wrote in verse 32.
In other words, a life of hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure—is acceptable unless the claims at the center of Christianity are true. If Christ has been raised, then there is something more important than immediate pleasure and comfort. Paul contrasted a hedonistic philosophy with Christianity.
The Bible consistently presents a Christian view of the world. Along the way, the biblical authors interacted with and contradicted unbiblical worldviews. We ought to be skilled in doing the same. Developing a Christian outlook on life will keep us from being conformed to this world.

Discerning the Perfect Will of God

Knowing how to apply the Bible in specific situations is one of the goals of developing a Christian imagination.
We see an example of this in 1 Chronicles 12, where we find a list of King David’s supporters. As the author listed the soldiers, he wrote of one tribe, “From the Issacharites, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (v. 32). In the context of this passage, this tribe’s understanding was that David should be made king over all Israel. They knew what Israel should do because they understood the times and who was the rightful king.
In a similar way, we as Christians must understand the times in order to know what to do. (This is the heart behind This Is Our Time.) We believe Jesus is the rightful King over all the world. And this truth necessarily influences our actions. A Christian worldview is developed in light of who God is and what He has done to reconcile the world to Himself.

New Identity, New Imagination

What does it mean to live according to our new identity in Christ?
First, we must demolish strongholds and false ideas as we cast down the idols we make of ourselves (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Then, in ongoing repentance and faith, we seek to view the world through biblical eyes.
We are the citizens of Christ’s kingdom. We are those who have been reborn by His Spirit and are inching ever so slowly toward maturity, driven by our hope of the final resurrection.

Friday, March 10, 2017

What Happens after Death (and before Resurrection)

The elders of our church discussed this very issue last night as we are reading Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.  It is an argument against soul sleep.This post is adapted from Kim Riddlebarger’s chapter, "Eschatology," in Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary edited by Matthew Barrett.

"On the Sleep of the Soul"

John Calvin’s first published work of theology was the Psychopannychia (“On the Sleep of the Soul”), published in 1542, although the first draft of the manuscript was written as early as 1534, and Calvin revised it several times before publication.1
Ironically, even as Calvin took issue with those Anabaptists who held that the soul is deprived of consciousness after death, this view was quite similar to Luther’s “soul sleep.” Calvin never mentioned Luther’s view, and both Martin Bucer and Wolfgang Capito (1478–1541) urged Calvin not to publish the Psychopannychia so as to avoid exposing any differences between the Reformed and Lutherans and thus keep Roman or Anabaptist critics from pouncing.2

Distinguishing Body and Soul

In his critique of the doctrine of soul sleep, Calvin began with philology. He pointed out that Scripture uses the words “spirit” and “soul” in different ways, while the creation account in Genesis 1 clearly affirms that the image of God in man must be identified with the human spirit. Furthermore, if one follows the course set out by the church fathers, Calvin argued, the interpreter of Scripture must distinguish between the soul and the body, something Anabaptist writers were apt to confuse.3
Calvin contended, “We, following the whole doctrine of God, will hold for certain that man is composed and consisteth of two parts, that is to say, body and soul.” He continued, adding, “What is the estate of the souls after the separation from their bodies? The Anabaptists do think that they be asleep like dead. We say they have life and feeling.”4
The great irony is that the doctrine of soul sleep affirms the very thing Paul disparages: “For the Apostle [Paul] himself says that we are miserable if we have Christ in this life only.” Calvin added, “True, there is the declaration of Paul, that we are more miserable than all men if there is no Resurrection; and there is no repugnance in these words to the dogma, that the spirits of the just are blessed before the Resurrection, since it is because of the Resurrection.”5 The soul is created immortal and lives on after death, but the body is mortal and must be raised imperishable to undo the consequences of the curse.

Immortal Soul, Resurrection Body

For Calvin, the very idea that the soul “sleeps” until the resurrection made no sense, given the unique properties of the human soul. As a creationist, Calvin affirmed that the human soul is not eternal but is uniquely created by God at the moment of conception and possesses independent and immortal existence apart from the body.
Although the soul is the primary location of the divine image in humanity, nevertheless, “the state of man was not perfected in the person of Adam; but it is a peculiar benefit conferred by Christ, that we may be renewed to a life which is celestial, whereas before the fall of Adam, man’s life was only earthly.”6 Even though created innocent, human nature must be perfected. This made perfect sense in light of the fact that redemptive history culminates in the resurrection of the body and the renewal of the heavens and the earth, for this is what God had decreed and had then revealed in the person and work of Christ.

After Death, Consciously and Contentedly Waiting for Resurrection

Redemption from sin and the overturning of the consequences of the fall on human nature (death) are therefore necessarily eschatological in their orientation. The redeemed soul has been given eternal life through the work of Christ, by the Holy Spirit, who is the “earnest of our inheritance, that is, of eternal life, unto redemption, that is, until the day of this redemption comes. . . . And we who have received the firstfruits of the Spirit . . . shall enjoy it in reality, when Christ shall appear in judgment.”7
The nature of the soul and the divine purpose in the resurrection mean that “earthly life from the beginning is destined to eternity” and that “the delivered soul that is conscious after death awaits its consummation of the day of judgment.”8 According to Balke, in contrast to the Anabaptists,
Calvin held that the soul in its essence is immortal. The rest after death consists of complete fellowship with God. . . . The Bible assures us that we already have eternal life here on earth and that cannot be interrupted. To say that the soul sleeps is tantamount to saying that God forsakes his work.9
1. For a discussion of Calvin’s early contact with Anabaptists and a literary history of the Psychopannychia, see Willem Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, trans. William J. Heynen (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 17–38; see also Quistorp, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Last Things, 55–107.
2. Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, 31.
3. Ibid., 304.
4. John Calvin, A Short Instruction for to Arm All Good Christian People against the Pestiferous Errors of the Common Sect of Anabaptists (London, 1549), 113–14; quoted in Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, 305.
5. Calvin, Psychopannychia, 471, 472.
6. Calvin on Gen. 2:7 in John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis, trans. John King (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1984), 112–13.
7. Calvin on Eph. 1:14, in CNTC 11:132.
8. Quistorp, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Last Things, 67, 87.
9. Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, 307.
10. Calvin, Institutes, 3.25.2.
11. Calvin, Psychopannychia, 490

Kim Riddlebarger (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church, and is cohost of the  Horse Inn radio program, which is broadcast weekly on more than fifty radio stations.