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Monthly Archives: January 2010

Tabernacle

Saturday night I was able to attend two different worship services at two different churches. I already wrote about the other experience (that was less than inspiring) and now some thoughts on my second experience.

This experience was at Tabernacle, a ministry of Trinity Covenant Church in Manchester. This was actually my second time at Tabernacle.  The first was back in the Fall.  The pastor who leads this worship service (it is branded as an alternative, contemporary worship service and meets once or twice a month)  remembered my name. I was impressed by that.

Let me skip all the logistical observations… this was a great worship service where I encountered God in a significant way. In fact, it is easily the best worship experience I have had in months — pretty much since I last worshiped at my previous church.

The music team was sharp, tight, excellent, well-rehearsed — and yet not pretentious in any way or performing. They were worshipers who were worshiping and thus leading others into worship. The sound mix was excellent as was the lighting and video tech stuff. Nothing distracted from my worship, which is really all I ask for.

The preaching was excellent. Passionate, Biblical, intellectually interesting, spiritually deep, relevant and heart-touching. In a tweet, I described the preaching at the other service I was at this way: The pastor is screaming and sounds angry. I’m not sure why. I can’t follow his sermon. But he is definitely very worked up, lol.”

In contrast, the pastor at Tabernacle was equally passionate and at times intense in his preaching (both are traits I tend to like), but with a totally different tone/feel/posture as the other pastor. Simply put, the teaching was excellent (and that is not something I easily say — I can be pretty critical of preaching).

There were also a couple of things that really elevated the whole experience. I think the difference between a good worship experience, a great worship experience and a transformational worship experience, can be very slight.

To go from good to great, you need to focus on planning and transitions. Tabernacle’s service felt like a continual 90 minute journey, not just disconnected parts (we sing, we listen, etc etc). It was woven together well.  The music selections were perfect for the message, there was a “Big Idea” that connected everything — music, teaching, application, response, symbols, set-up of the room, etc.  The big idea focused on water as a symbol, and particularly Jesus as living water.  Because the church is doing baptisms tomorrow, the baptismal was already set up and we were able to use it in the service and reaffirm our own baptismal vows.

So what takes a service from great to transformational? Attentiveness to the Holy Spirit and a willingness to follow His lead and get out of the way. And they had that at Tabernacle.

I don’t tend to get super emotional in worship, but this service both led me to my knees (literally) and to tears (literally) — while also connecting with my heart and mind. 

It was really good to be in a great worship environment again. A real blessing to me.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Just Visiting or Welcomed Guest

Saturday night I had the chance to go to two different churches for two very different worship experiences. I will share about the first experience here and the second in a later post.

The first church I went to was about as close to a mega-church as we get in New England. A big, modern building with all the fixins — big video screens, stadium/theater seating, full-service cafe, etc. Some people have strong negative reactions to these buildings and others love them. I am somewhere in between. Done well, I think they are great. Not done well… a whole other story.

This blog post isn’t about architecture, but if it were I would have a list of issues with the design of the facility. A couple of quick observations:

– The building is a classic example of what my friend Mel McGowan would term “mooning the community”. Nuff said on that.

– Despite being big and modern, it was actually not very obvious where the main entrance was. As a first time visitor, it left me confused in the parking lot.

– The worship space has been designed more as theater than sacred space. A lot of churches do that these days and I have seen it work well. This did not work well. The issue I had with the space is that it was designed to look bigger than it was and to emphasize passive watching of a performance. All the sight lines are designed so that you don’t have to see the people you are worshiping with — only the main stage. I have seen big spaces like this one that feel intimate and smaller than they are.  This space felt cold and not intimate at all.

Now a few observations about being a visitor:

– First, the language they used was always “VISITOR” — and that is what it felt like. The bulletin referred to me as a visitor, they referred to visitors from the stage, and the “connection card” was labeled as a “Visitor Information Card”.  There is a big difference between a VISITOR and a GUEST.  A visitor is a bit of an intrusion, not really expected. A visitor is just there to check things out and decide if they want to come back. A guest, on the other hand, is someone you are expecting and planning for. A guest is often treated in a special manner — welcomed, introduced to people, etc. When you host a guest, you go out of your way to make them feel at home.  I felt like a visitor, not a guest.

– On the positive note, the church was filled with young people, the worship team was solid, the greeters and ushers were friendly, and most of the technical aspects of “doing big church” were done well.  But that was the problem… you were well aware that they were trying to do “big church”. I have been to some really big churches (Willow Creek, Saddleback, etc) and they do a great job of trying to hide the “big church” stuff. That was not true here.

– I thought the worship was pretty good, but the sound mix was distractingly bad. I am not super-sensitive to sound mix issues, so it has to be really bad to be distracting to me. This was. (In their defense, they are in the middle of a major play production so this may not have been their A sound team or they may have been dealing with some reconfigurations on the sound board due to the show. On the other hand, you only get one shot at a first impression…)

– Not one person introduced themselves by name from the main stage. Not the worship leader, not the pastor doing announcements, not the pastor who preached. This to made me feel like an observer/visitor and not a guest. When you have guests, you introduce yourself. Seems pretty simple, but so often missed. 

– The service was about 2 hrs long. That is a long service. As a visitor, I did not expect this. There was nothing on the website indicating the length of service. That information would have been helpful.

Those are my “first impressions” thoughts. I also have some additional thoughts on the sermon, but no need to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that I would describe the sermon as something I easily could see on TBN.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

What Do You Think About #DADT?

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I usually blog about faith-based and personal issues here on this blog, not politics and broader national issues. That said, I am curious about WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT “DON’T ASK, DON’T TELL” as a policy for the US military?

I am looking for honest answers from multiple perspectives… so let’s try to be respectful of those we may disagree with. I would love to hear from many of you who read the blog regularly, but haven’t gotten into commenting yet. I’d also love to hear from some of my military friends? Or even any gay or lesbian folks who have served or want to serve in the military?

Do what do you think of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?”

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The Hermeneutical Center

[Part 7 in our series on Hermeneutics]

This past Monday in this series we talked about hinges and how Jesus is the central “hinge” of history and therefore interpretation of scripture. As a Christian, coming in with a posture of faith, committed to the whole story, Jesus is the center of our interpretive method. This means that Jesus is the rule by which we interpret all things. The question WWJD (“what would Jesus do?”) is actually a pretty solid hermeneutic.

Jesus is the Word of God. Listen to the Gospel of John:

 1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.

 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it… 14The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1-5, 14)

What do we learn here? Jesus is the Living Word. The written word is a reflection and revelation of the Living Word. The author is the interpreter of His written word. We understand the written word through the Living Word — not the other way around.

Jesus talks about himself in relation to the written word often throughout the Gospels. One of the primary tensions in the Gospels is between Jesus and the Pharisees. A central component of this conflict is between literal reading and interpretation of the scriptures (Pharisees) and interpreting the scriptures through the heart of the Father and the over-arching story (Jesus).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this:

17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)

There are a number of implications of this teaching. First, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law. Second, Jesus is not a new law-giver (as some contemporary Christians seem to think). Third, the standard Jesus sets for meeting the merits of the law is perfection in following the law. Fourth, to fulfill the law is to “satisfy” the requirements of the law. To satisfy the requirements of the law requires either perfect adherence to the law or alternatively “paying the fine” for law violation. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifice fulfills the law (that is, satisfies the requirements of the law); in the New Testament, Jesus satisfies the law — once and for all — with his death and resurrection.  This is what Paul teaches in Romans when he talks about Jesus being the “second Adam”. It is worth reading all of Romans 5 to get a sense of Paul’s argument. Here is one part of it:

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us… 18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:6-8, 18-19)

Paul makes the same argument in 1 Corinthians 15:21-22 —

21For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

All of this points to the idea that Jesus not only created the law but also fulfills it for us. This is what justification is all about.

Given all of this, it is fair to ask, “well then, what are we supposed to do practically?” — or in other words, “which is the greatest commandment?” This is the question that a Pharisee asks Jesus —

 34Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:

 36“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

A couple of noteworthy things about Jesus’ answer… 

First, he answers by quoting the sh’ma — the most foundational prayer in Jewish life, found in Deuteronomy 6. Theologian Scot McKnight has called this the Jesus Creed.  

Second, Jesus is asked to “what is the one thing” and he answers with “here are two”. Did he misunderstand the question? I don’t think so. The sh’ma is the obvious answer.  Love God with everything you’ve got. But how? I think the second statement is not a second command, but an explanation and application of the Greatest Commandment. In other words, simply put, the whole of the law is summarized as LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS. Everything else is commentary.

In fact, much of Jesus’ teachings are commentary on this teaching — the Good Samaritan (“who do I really have to love?”), the lost parables (“Am I loveable? Do I have to care about lost people?”), etc.

One of the most powerful teaching sections of the Gospels comes in the latter half of John’s Gospel — especially John 13-17.  This is Jesus’ last teaching the the disciples before his passion and death. In many respects, this represents the most important teaching of Jesus… that which he needed to tell them before he left.  Here is what he says:

34“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)

And then, by way of application and commentary:

15“If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”

 22Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

 25“All this I have spoken while still with you. 26But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

 28“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. 30I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on me, 31but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me. (John 14:15-31)

And the New Testament confirms this basic teaching. John writes in one of his epistles:

 16This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 3:16-24)

Conclusions?

– Jesus is The Word and is the center of all faith and life (and interpretation of the scriptures).

– Jesus is not a “new law giver” but the fulfiller of the law.

– Jesus summarizes all his teaching and commands in the Great Commandment: Love God, Love Others.

– Therefore, everything in the Bible must be interpreted through this lense: Loving God and Loving Others.

So in one sense, interpretation is not that difficult. Love is the central ethic of the Bible and Jesus commands us to love God and love others. So in every case we must interpret passages — and apply them — in light of that rule, that standard.

The challenge, though, is knowing what is the loving thing to do? 

The love of Jesus is always a Holy Love.  

Love without holiness is mere sentimentalism. Holiness without love is soul-killing legalism. Jesus models and calls us to holy love.

So this is the interpretive challenge: the achievement of holy love.

THOUGHTS?

 

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I’m Caught Up in Another Scandal

It is true. As much as I have tried to avoid getting myself into another scandal, I have to confess that I am caught in another one.

I really thought I could avoid it… run from it… stay out of it.  But now I find myself smack dab in the middle of it — and there is nothing I can do about it.

Some context before confession…

If you are a regular reader of this blog you know I go to a men’s small group bible study Monday nights. This group is focused on healing and accountability, especially around the issues of sexual sin and addiction. We are all pretty much there because of scandal or to avoid public (or marital) scandal. 

Recently one of the men in the group was sharing about his own addiction to porn. He is married, in his fifties, 2 teenage boys, a leader in his church and successful professionally. He shared that he was concerned that if he were to die today he would not get into heaven because he has persisted in his sinful addiction and use of porn. 

That is when I was moved to confess the truth about me. He already knew about the scandal at the church… what he didn’t know is that I am caught up in a never-ending and on-going scandal… a scandal of GRACE.

GRACE IS SCANDALOUS. The Gospel is scandal because the Gospel is grace.

Grace means:

– There is nothing I can do — either good or bad — to change how much God loves me right now. (And the same is true for you!)

– That while still a sinner… and unable to be otherwise… Christ died for me. (And for you too!)

– That on the cross, my sins have been forgiven — past, present and future.  Yes, that means my future sins have already been paid for and forgiven!

– That no one is beyond the reach of God’s grace. No one! (And I promise, you are not the first).

– That there is always a second chance — at least in God’s eyes.

– That not only have I been forgiven, my sins have been wiped clean, made white as snow… and God remembers them not!

– That if I did the exact same thing tomorrow that I did in the past… God’s grace still covers me.

– There is nothing I can do to escape God’s grace. There is nothing I have done to merit it either. He owes me nothing yet gives me everything.

If you think about these things long enough you too will see that they are scandalous.

“But that means I can keep on sinning if I want to and still go to heaven,” my friend said.

“Yep.”

“But that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Nope.”

“I mean what is the point then? If I say I love Jesus but keep doing this crap, then do I really love him?”

“Maybe.”

“Stop it with your one word answers!”

“OK.”

“Seriously…  I don’t get it.”

“I know you don’t. That’s the problem.”

Grace is scandal. It is amazing. It is unbelievable.

My friend asked two really good questions.

First, what if I die with unconfessed sin?

We confess our sins not so that we may be forgiven, but because we already have been! The power of grace is that it covers us even before we sin. And understanding the power and cost of grace — for it is costly… it cost Jesus his life — should lead us to want to confess and get flat on our faces before God and be transparent with him. Our confession is the result of grace, not the cause of it. And we confess not because God doesn’t know what we did (He does!) but because we need to name it, own it and then unload it. You see, grace means we don’t have to carry around shame and guilt anymore.  And we don’t need to have secrets anymore either.

Second, if this is true, why should we be obedient to Jesus? Why not just keep on sinning?

Because of worship.

As forgiven followers of Jesus, our obedience is not to earn His love but because of it; it is not to warrant salvation but the outpouring of gratitude for the reality of salvation. In other words, obedience is our most foundational form or worship (see Matthew 25:31-46 and Romans 12:1-2). Because Christianity is not really about religion or rules or rituals — it is about a real, dynamic and personal relationship with God — we are not stuck in a system of religious functionality administered by religious functionaries. No! We are in a real relationship with Jesus who is indeed our friend, but also the Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  And we honor him and love him and worship him with our lives! Not so that he will, but because he has. We live a responsorial life!

And that is part of the scandal!

Grace is all-sufficient.

Grace is endless and without limits.

Grace is abounds even when abused.

Grace covers your worst thoughts, deeds or proclivities.

Grace means not just that I get a second chance, but that I have been declared NOT GUILTY! There are no charges against me. They’ve been dropped. Without prejudice. Period. No double jeopardy. No probation. Not guilty! This is the theology of justification — it is amazing grace. It is scandalous and unjust and more than we can comprehend. It is unreasonable and dangerous and scary and irrational.

But it is.

And that is the scandal I find myself in today. And if you are a Christ-follower, it is your scandal too. And if you are not a Christ-follower, let me invite you to join the scandal as well — for it is as much for you as for me.

Amazing grace… how sweet the sound!

 

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Compensation Problems

I have been working a ton of hours lately. Between work (2 jobs) and school, I have been putting in 60 hour weeks in the kitchen lately. There was one week recently where I put in over 80 kitchen hours!

I have to be honest — I have never worked so physically hard in my life. Every job is a dynamic of both physical and mental work. Pastoring was pretty much 90% mental/thinking and 10% physical. Professional cooking is more like 50% – 50%. I am physically wiped out at the end of a week — and mentally tired too.

One of the things I have noticed is that the pains in my body as a result of 12 hour shifts on my feet can be intense — and the pain moves! It usually starts in my left foot. This is the foot I broke as a kid and I get pretty significant pain right where the break occurred. But then I will notice that the pain will move to my right knee… and then my lower back… or shoulders… it keeps moving!

Why?

Because I am compensating for the pain.

When my foot is aching, I tend to put more pressure on my other leg and even “lock it” — hence the pain in my right knee.  And then to compensate for that, I will stand in such a way as to aggravate my back… you get the idea.  Now you don’t have to worry about me.  It is nothing that some advil doesn’t take care of… but I think there is a spiritual lesson in all of this too.

When we are hurting in one place spiritually, we can over-compensate and cause pain/issues to develop elsewhere. We can keep doing this and end up managing our pain/issues… but never dealing with them.  They just keep moving around.

I have been told (and am taking the advice) that the best thing to do for the pain is (1) lose some weight; and (2) work on my core strength/posture/stretches/etc.  In other words, get rid of some bad habits and lifestyle issues and add some physical disciplines.

The same is true spiritually.

As opposed to just compensating for spiritual weakness and issues, we need to shed bad habits or unhealthy things — and then add some good spiritual disciplines.

THOUGHTS?

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

The Danger of Relevance

Earlier this week I posted a video clip from Andy Crouch about “creating culture”.  In response, my friend Nathan reminded me of this great clip from Erwin McManus about the “danger of relevance”.

Check it out and let me know what you think…

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 
 
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