Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A Check I Don’t Want to Deposit

I have a check tucked next to my leg as I type. It’s the closest I’ve gotten to it since it came. I’ve been staying away from it.

When the nice cream envelope came from the lawyer's office I knew what was inside. I opened the envelope and read the brief utterly formal letter. It a was a letter only a legal professional that numbly (I realize by necessity!) traffics in the affairs of dead people every day could possibly write. With a few formal words it was clear that an era of my life was drawing to a close.

From the letter I turned my attention to the check. Surprising even myself I said quietly in my own heart, “So this is the end huh…”

This particular check is more than a piece of paper with print on it. Its denotation indicates an amount of money given to me upon the final settlement of the estate of a dear family friend. Its connotation indicates that this family friend (Bill) who I was privileged to know for over 25 years is no longer available to enjoy.

There are no more Christmas or New Years memories to be made, no more summer days to relax by the lake, no more frogs for my boys to catch in the creek. My daughter Joy won’t even know what we mean when we say “Bill’s cottage”.

Oddly that’s perhaps where my grief is most clear. Joy will neither know “Bill” nor the place that was so special to me that many years ago I convinced my future wife to visit it in the dead of winter when not even a roaring fire could warm us up. Joy not knowing Bill or his cottage ranks up there with my grandmother never knowing my wife as “one of the things I wish was different in the world.”

New memories with Bill can’t be made. I hope old memories won’t run away like the tears on my cheeks are at present.

I haven’t been able to sign the check yet. Like I said, we’ve been keeping our distance. To sign it seems to me to agree that it’s okay that Bill is gone. Though I trust God and His perfect timing of all the affairs of men, my keeping my distance from the check is a way for me to express that I don’t yet know how to be okay with him being gone.

It’s odd that although Bill’s death was over two years ago, it wasn’t real until the moment I looked at the check. Odd, I know. Grief is that way. It’s unique and individual hitting people seemingly randomly like a sucker punch from behind.

My mother had been the executor. It seems amazing that all the technical details we had discussed on settling the estate were now finished. Bill’s bills were paid, professionals remunerated, taxes satisfied, and now came the end when the checks were mailed out, one each for my brother and I. On the face of the check there in my mother’s own handwriting was the proof that indeed he was gone.

I had to write this before I could deposit the check. To deposit it without writing a lament seemed inappropriate. On the other hand, to not deposit a check revealing Bill’s love for my family and I would be effrontery, refusing his generosity. Appropriate to the man who got me started in technology, I’ll use a mobile app to deposit his last gift of love.

As soon as I post this and after few more big breaths blown through my lips, I’m going to pull out my pen and sign the check. I hope iPhone screens are okay with a few tears on them.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Ministry Leaders, Cynicism, and the Gospel

For those who don't know me personally, I'm 41. I admit at the outset that with only 20 years ministry experience (10.5 as an ordained pastor) I may not have enough experience yet to become cynical. I hope I'm wrong.

I write today because I'm troubled. I'm troubled because in the last couple of months two 50+ year old ministry leaders I respect have said in my presence that they've become cynical. One person I can understand. Two got me concerned.

Of all people the Apostle Paul should have been a cynic. And yet when you read 2 Corinthians 4:7-18, cynicism is the opposite of what exudes from his heart. Why?

Given that text and the rest of Paul's writings my default answer is "the gospel". A reader (a cynical reader...) could say, "Duh! Why don't you say something different or profound"? Even in our gospel-centered circles, I see this tendency towards cynicism. Why?

Cynicism occurs when our cursed world (including our own bodies and their frailties) and/or curse-struck people annoy and frustrate us to the point of temporary hopelessness. "There's no hope!" or "There no hope for him/her!" screams our inner voice. When that voice screams, we must do what Paul does in 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and step back and get the big picture again.

In the big picture, there's great hope because of the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and present intercession of Jesus. Today dawned because Jesus is bringing His Kingdom to bear more and more and (amazingly!) using frail and twisted yet beloved, adopted, and redeemed people to do it. The curse in all its manifestations will one day be gone having given way to an eternal weight of glory.

People certainly get cynical about life "under the sun". But that's not what leads most of us to cynicism. The curse gets hardest for ministry leaders when it comes in the form of critics, stubborn sheep, leaders who are challenging to lead, and those who "don't get it". Where's the hope in those kinds of scenarios? For me, I must turn to Jesus anew and reflect on how He has acted towards me. And when I do that, my hope is renewed, my patience is restored, and my attitude toward difficult people transformed.

As I reflect on the past 23 years of my Christian life, Jesus has been extraordinarily patient with me regarding my idolatry of work. Only in the last 6 months has that idol's promises begun to become null and void. The look on my wife and kids faces when I return home "early" from work is corroding that idol to nothingness. For most of those 23 years I fully believed that idol's promises to the detriment of my health and that of my family. Jesus has been extremely patient with me as I worshiped non-God. And that patience bore fruit as the persistent Spirit of Jesus broke through the idol's false promises with true life, joy, and increasing freedom yielding rest and less worry, fear, and anxiety.

The reader might rejoice in my freedom but wonder what pertinence this has for cynicism. 1 John 4:19 is the key. "We love because He first loved us." We reflect what we sense we have received. If I sense I'm loved despite great sinfulness for the sake of Christ, I love despite great sinfulness for the sake of Christ. if I sense Jesus' patience with me for a sin pattern that took years to turn around, I can be patient with one whose sin pattern is taking years to turn around. I know what it's like to "not get it" and so I can bear with and love one who is "not getting it".

Cynicism in leaders 10 years older than me scares me. It scares me that perhaps the gospel will run out of luster when I've experienced more hardship. I pray for myself and those whom I know that we find the gospel not to be diminishing with time and difficulty but instead growing in magnificence. I hope that instead of turning to cynicism we find ourselves experiencing grace increasingly which causes us to abound in thanksgiving (2 Corinthians 4:15).

May God gives us grace that this might be the case.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sanctification Flows from Love for God

There is a debate going on the circles in which I roam about the role of "effort" in sanctification. As an observer to the debate, I hadn't seen someone positing what I would call "my position" on this topic. Therefore I was tempted to write my own post as a goad to the debate. That is no longer necessary. Simply read this .

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The 10 Commandments, Idolatry, the Gospel, and Delighting in God

I had an epiphany during Sunday School this morning. Something that hadn't "clicked" before did today. Where is the intersection between the 10 commandments, idolatry, the Gospel, and Delighting in God? Probably, John Piper answered this question in Battling Unbelief (which is a light edit of the application chapters of an earlier work Future Grace). I'll reread Battling Unbelief this week to see but for now I wanted to put down a few thoughts while they are still fresh in my mind.

Why do we sin? We sin because we believe - in the moment, fleeting as it may be - that the sin will give us lasting pleasure. Thus, each sin - as Martin Luther taught long ago and Tim Keller recently wrote - is an act of idolatry. When we sin, we invest hope in what we're doing and as such we worship, trust, and serve something in creation thinking it will bring us lasting meaning, security, fulfillment, satisfaction and pleasure. But sin can never bring us that. It might bring us momentary pleasure (Hebrews 11:25) but cannot deliver lasting happiness.

Can anything deliver lasting happiness? YES! As Augustine said long ago, "God, you have made us for
yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their
rest in you." Sin is our trying to find rest in something other than God. However, when we believe the gospel we begin a lifestyle of turning from placing our hope in things other than God (repentance from idolatry) and instead placing it in God (faith in Jesus). As John Piper has put it well in God is the Gospel, the point of believing the gospel is not that we simply get "benefits" (great as they are!) like justification, sanctification, and eventual glorification but we get God again (1 Peter 3:18). The great war Paul writes of in Romans 7 is the war between our flesh which invests hope in created things and our renewed spirit which knows that we will be restless until we rest in God.

The 10 commandments provide a test matrix for our Christian lives and how we are doing integrating the gospel into our lives particularly as it relates to us turning from idols and delighting in God. Let me relate the commandments and delight in God briefly. I'm assuming here that how this works with the 1st commandment is obvious.

2nd commandment - if I'm delighting in God as He's revealed Himself in the Bible, I'm satisfied with how He's pictured Himself especially in Jesus and I don't need to produce an ill-fitting and necessarily distorted picture of God for my help in worship or comfort in life.

3rd commandment - if I'm delighting in God and thus in His Name that stands for all He is to me in Jesus Christ, then I can't possibly use His Name casually or callously. If God doesn't mean all that much to me I can bear to throw His Name around without much thought.

4th commandment - if I'm delighting God, resting in Him, and enjoying that I have been brought to God through the perfect life, death, resurrection, and ongoing intercession of Jesus, then I treat the Lord's Day as a gift where I get to especially spend time with God, His people, learning His Word, and doing the merciful missionary work He's called me to do as one of His children. If I don't really enjoy God, then I'll easily desire other distractions on the Lord's Day and find worship, fellowship, and service burdens rather than joys.

5th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I'll also rejoice in the structures God built into Creation including the authority structures. This will cause me to gladly honor Father and Mother as well as the other authorities (vocational, civil and spiritual) in my life. However, if I'm secretly upset with God (instead of delighting in Him) for seeking to exercise authority over me, then I'll resist His authority and the authority of those God has placed in my life as authorities over me.

6th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I'll also be submissive to and patient with His dealings with me as I come to know His providential will in my life. If I don't delight in God, I'll consider God unwise and I'll chafe against that which He brings to pass relationally in my life resulting in anger and perhaps even violence as far as murder.

7th commandment - if I'm delighting in God then I won't have my hopes set on sex as the solution to my sadness. However, if I believe sex will make me ultimately happy for a moment or a day, then I'll seek it even in the arms of another man's wife (or wife's husband) or virtually in pornography or romance novels.

8th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, then I don't have my hopes set on "stuff" as the solution to my unhappiness. However, if God isn't the center of my life, I'll feel empty and think that "stuff" can make me feel significant and happy and I'll go so far as to steal to get that which I think will make me joyful.

9th commandment - if I'm delighting in God, I won't seek to harm others by my speech because I won't need to bolster my self-esteem. Instead, I'll have a Biblical view of myself based on the gospel. That gospel teaches me that though I'm so bad Jesus had to come for me I'm so loved and cherished Jesus was glad to come for me. That Jesus loves and cherishes me (so I'll return to Him and love and cherish Him as He deserves!) will be enough for me and I won't need to tear others down so I can build myself up. Instead, I'll use my speech to build others up.

10th commandment - If I'm delighting in God, then I won't have my hopes set in something I don't yet have whether that is a possession, a worker, a tool, or another spouse. However, I will fall into covetousness easily if I'm not delighting in God because in my flesh I'll tend to seek something, anything, that will make me happy. Our culture is especially responsive to this idol as all advertising seeks to convince me that I'll be happy if I only have something I don't currently have.

That's the epiphany from Sunday School today. If I don't delight in God, I'll seek happiness elsewhere via idolatry expressed in sin. What is the cure for this? How do I delight in God? Tim Keller and John Piper have sought in their works to help believers regain this crucial insight from the Reformation especially as it was displayed in the Puritans. Thankfully they've put these insights into 21st century language that is a bit easier to read than the Puritans.

In short form, when I'm rehearsing the gospel to myself daily, I'm reacquainted with my sin, God's grace in Jesus, and thus God's worthiness to be worshiped, trusted, and served. Indirectly (and this is where I think I get in trouble because I don't draw this much insight into the moments when I'm tempted to sin), by preaching the gospel to myself daily, I become more and more convinced that idols and their fruit, sin (which I do because I think sinning will make me happy) can't make me happy. But this is a fight, a spiritual battle between flesh and spirit.

May God cause us to treasure the gospel, turn from idols (and their fruit, sin), and as result gladly keep His commands because we delight in Him.

Pastors Should Read Leadership Books

I have a confession to make ... I've learned more about team dynamics (and thus team leadership) from reading Pat Lencioni's Five Dysfunctions of a Team than anything written from a Christian perspective. And I'm not embarrassed. I've also recommended that book countless times to other pastors and shared my teaching notes of how I found the principles to actually have Biblical/gospel roots (not that this was the author's intention but he does wisely observe reality). By the way, I'm also happy to share those notes with you if you're curious.

Why do I share this confession? I find a great disconnect in pastors and ministries who are serious about Biblical exposition and that emphasize the ordinary means of grace. This disconnect is between "spiritual" things (like learning that is derived from the Bible and books written by Christians) and "pagan" wisdom. I'm happy to see a leadership book by a seasoned pastor like John MacArthur. However, this is an arena where plundering the well-meaning pagans can be useful.

While we may decry using "business" principles in church work (and I'd be on that band wagon!) the reality we face is a world where some of the smartest people (by God's common grace) are not on our Leadership Team at church. Instead, God chose to invest leadership smarts in people who don't yet know Jesus and don't have His glory in mind. But that doesn't make them any less useful when their insights are used rightly within a Biblical framework.

An illustration may help you understand what I mean. I'm a dedicated Biblical counselor in the CCEF tradition. However, that doesn't mean that sometimes the OBSERVATIONS that traditional psychologists and psychiatrists make aren't helpful. Sometimes - to our shame - they are better observers of human actions and the shaping influences of peoples lives than we are. This is the same vein in which I think an author like Pat Lencioni is exceptionally helpful. He's an astute observer of people and how they relate together in a team, in an organization, and how they react to leadership.

In the Five Dysfunctions of a Team Lencioni helps you understand that a team cannot function if the members don't trust each other. I know, not rocket science. But when was the last time you were in a meeting where everyone did trust each other? What happens when they do? How would you take a group that doesn't trust each other and help them begin to? How would you do that Biblically with the gospel and not just pragmatically (i.e. if you guys can't trust each other, these meetings are always going to be painful and we're not going to get anything done)? These are important questions and it is in the answer to these questions that real spiritual leadership is exerted.

To me, this kind of reading helps me understand the distortions of the gospel in the hearts of those I'm trying to lead. It's not that Lencioni can point me towards a Biblical solution, but he can help me understand the problem acutely. And understanding the problem accurately is at least 50% of the solution.

So as to not leave the reader hanging, let me give you a bit of sense as to how I've worked through the trust issue with my Leadership Team. From a Biblical standpoint none of us are trustworthy. We are depraved and unworthy of trust by anyone including ourselves. That especially applies to pastors who often think everyone should simply accept their wisdom and expect to be looked up to as "the authority". When we're trusting ourselves we are terribly insecure people who must either hold our opinions to ourselves (to protect our fragile egos) or we must display them strongly so as to make sure things go our way (and our fragile egos can be bolstered by winning).

So what can lead us forward? We must grapple with our inherent lack of trustworthiness and that of our team members. When we can own that we can begin trusting not based on past performance (good = "I can trust you" or bad = "I can't trust you") or present agreement with "my side" but based on the fact that the same Spirit of God that is at work in me is also at work in the one I'm finding hard to trust. This is a gospel answer to trust issues on a Christian Leadership Team.

When a team is growing in grasping the gospel, then they'll be growing in trust for each other. They'll find it easier to express their fears, concerns, disagreements, and quibbles because they know they aren't accepted with God or their team members based on performance but based on grace. That is, they aren't trying to gain their own security by how a particular conversation goes because they are already secure in Jesus. The practical effect of this is that "politicking" is unneeded. A back channel of communication is unneeded. Real conversations take place in meetings where everyone expresses and is heard and respected. Unsurprisingly, meetings like this produce better Biblical decisions. These decisions are well informed and wise because the all the members of the Leadership Team bring the riches of their wisdom unabashedly to the table.

This is one illustration of how a writer, who isn't writing from a Biblical viewpoint, helped me think through trust, an issue that faces every team. I think this is the virtue of reading books on leadership. God gave lots of people including some unbelievers great leadership insight that we ought to plunder placing those insights in a Biblical framework of spiritual leadership.

Thus, in my humble opinion, pastors should read books on leadership.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Can A Song Saying One Thing Prove Its Opposite?

My Ph D (in some kind of aesthetics which will be funny momentarily!) -seeking friend JK posted a link in FB today to this song. If you can't laugh at it, something is wrong with you.

But after laughing you should muse a bit about this song and your reaction to it. Think of all the uniquely human - created in God's image - aspects to our experience of that song. Harmony, synchrony, and the creation and appreciation of humor are all things animals don't do. If - as atheists say - we are simply the product of matter, time, and chance then the song could not have been created.

One author is known to say, the penguins in Antarctica are not judging their friends dives into the the water or their style in catching fish. Appreciation of another's creation is a shadow of us appreciating the Creator who made us and all things.

Atheists may want a song but even their yearning for a song and enjoyment of this song reveals a yearning for something far greater, a yearning for the God who made them creative and humor enjoying. Indeed a song saying one thing can prove its opposite.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Channeling Dr. Jones for a minute...

There's much that could be said about the Prop 8 controversy in California. This article helpfully lays out some of the potential issues for Christians. These potential issues are not expressions of "the sky is falling". All one needs to do is to look to Canada and some of the European countries to see that calling homosexuality immoral is now considered hate speech.

So where does Dr. Jones fit into this? For those who don't know Dr. Peter Jones you can read about him at (Fair disclosure: I serve as the Chairman of the Board for truthXchange.) One of the Dr. Jones' main points about homosexuality is that it is the outgrowth of a religious worldview.

The reader unacquainted with Dr. Jones' work might be saying "huh?". I thought it was objection to homosexuality that flows from a religious worldview. Indeed it does. But support for homosexuality (and thus gay marriage and a host of other forms of alternate sexuality) also flows from a religious viewpoint, that of oneism. See this blog post by Dr. Jones for assistance in understanding how oneism inexorably leads one to an embrace of all forms of sexuality.

So where does this leave us ... it leaves us in the unenviable position of attempting to explain to those who would push for gay marriage that they are also working from a comprehensive religious worldview. Moreover, we must patiently explain that they are being just as bigoted and exclusive in their claims as they say we are. it's not that some of us are religious, all of us must be. But which of the two competing worldviews (oneism or twoism) can explain our "need" to be religious?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

I love the PCA Strategic Plan AND the Alternative

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours getting up to speed on the PCA Strategic Plan and the debate surrounding it. Conveniently Wes White has compiled a page on his blog that gives readers easy access to much of what has been written on this topic. If you want to get up to speed on the proposed plan and with what speakers in the blogosphere are saying, it's a go to place.

Here's my brief take: I love both, the PCA Strategic Plan and the Alternative. Here's why ... I think Paul would like both. I think both embody PART of the way Paul thought about ministry and together they represent the best of the totality of the way Paul thought about how church ought to be done locally AND across diverse ethnicities and geography.

I've had the great privilege of being at a new call over the past two years and preaching through the book of Acts. If you haven't preached/studied Acts, you should. It  will challenge you to actually work out what Biblical ministry looks like in the midst of congregational life. One thing it has done for me is that it's given me greater perspective on the personal ministry of Paul and the more global view he held of the work of Christ's church.

Let me briefly comment on why I think Paul (and thus God since we don't see the things Paul did gaining God's disapproval but rather His blessing and ultimately it's been to our blessing as most of us - especially in Seattle! - live at the ends of the earth relative to Jerusalem) would be excited about both proposals, the PCA Strategic Plan and the Alternative. I figure if Paul could be excited about both, then it would be okay if I was as well.

First, let's take the Alternative. To my reading, the Alternative comes from and appeals to the "Ordinary Means" crowd in the PCA. I'm a proud product and member of that group. Some of you might even know of a podcast by that name. If Paul were evaluating the Alternative I believe he would say, "Right on! That's the kind of goals and means I used in my house to house ministry, when I helped plant a church, and when I sent out men to revitalize churches." The virtue of the Alternative is that it robustly reasserts what local church ministry should focus on and seek to inculcate in the sheep.

I believe Paul would also enthusiastically give two thumbs up to the PCA Strategic Plan. Why? Paul didn't ONLY do ordinary means ministry in local churches and encourage it. He saw a nascent 1st century church that wasn't facing it's ethnic struggles and ministry climate and he made sure both were faced (Acts 15 & Galatians 2 for ethnic struggles and cf. the variety of Paul's ministry approaches among the Gentiles). Paul wasn't content with a ministry that didn't also connect with the larger church in the world. He provided a connection point and encouraged others to pursue a love relationship with the broader church (i.e. the collection from the various Gentile churches that came to Jerusalem in a demonstration of the unity of the Body of Christ, cf. Romans 15:25 and Acts 21 for the delivery of the gift with representatives of what was then the global church).

Acts 15 is a fascinating study. Was it a safe place for dialogue on a sensitive issue pertaining to the question, "How do we minister given today's realities concerning a people of God that now crosses - and must cross - ethnic boundaries"? I believe it was. As I've taught Acts 15 to my leadership, it is evident that a tough question was wrestled through and one side didn't "win". It was a consensus with folks who were hardened on either side ultimately "losing" in the final analysis. And yet, because they were men who believed the Holy Spirit to be at work in their midst, they could say at the end in the letter that was sent to all the churches, " seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us..." And they said this when no one "won" in that I don't believe anyone had the solution when they gathered initially.

At this point I must give out a kudo to an old friend (in the ordinary means camp!). Near the bottom of Martin Hedman's second post on his analysis of the PCA Strategic Plan he helpfully points out that a large part of the problem as we process the struggles in the PCA (and really everything else!) is our sin. One of the sad ways sin works itself out in the PCA is that sometimes we don't "hear" each other. We talk past each other. In Acts 15 I don't see that. Frankly, they were better men than we. They were willing to "lose" and move from their entrenched position so that at the end the final product was a group product that was good to the Holy Spirit.

My sense of this debate is that we are actually in Acts 15 sort of situation in the PCA. If you watch the video of Bryan Chapell working through some of the longer version of the Plan, you'll see him simply be honest about how we evaluate each other in the PCA. The reason the Plan engenders so much debate is that both groups are "entrenched" and seemingly speaking past each other.

Let me perhaps try to move things a bit forward by asking a series of questions.

Do the drafters of the Strategic Plan think an ordinary means style of ministry is wrong? Not to the best of my understanding. I believe they "assume" that's what what we're all already doing and so they didn't feel a need to reassert those aspects of our common life.

Do the drafters of the Alternative Plan think we should be insular, only concerned with "my local church" and have no regard for changing culture in America and worldwide realities concerning the church? No. Some of those men and their churches are the most active in intentional local, regional, national, and international missions.

So what is the dividing line that is showing up? IMHO opinion the dividing line that is showing up is whether - as a denomination, a group of churches in a geography not unlike the 1st century - we should be concerned MOSTLY with our local ministry and BARELY with the rest of the situation in our country and world or whether we should BALANCE these concerns.

The Alternative plan puts the emphasis on solid, ordinary means, local church ministry and sees that as the "solution" to whatever ails the PCA. I believe Paul would say, "Amen!" and then he'd say, "But what about ..." And this is where I see the Strategic Plan coming in to fill out the other aspects of the Kingdom work Paul felt God wanted to see happen through his ministry.

The Strategic Plan (Theme #1) puts the emphasis on engaging with a changing ministry environment that needs us to pull together to do intentional ministry. That is messy to produce (Acts 15 was messy, but it was a "safe place" for the messiness to happen).

That Kingdom ministry (Theme #2) should reflect the kind of Biblical Kingdom variety we see Paul using in his ministry. Paul made good use of older men, contemporaries, younger men, women, and cultivated new leaders intentionally.

Last that Kingdom ministry should be concerned with the larger church and what we can learn from it and give to it. This was certainly on Paul's heart. (Theme #3)

To be honest I don't think Paul would be content with only the Strategic Plan or the Alternative. I don't think he would have recognized either as sufficient in itself.

Let me add one more layer to my analysis. I believe the Alternative plan is seeking to work out the implications of the gospel for local church ministry. I believe the PCA Strategic plan is seeking to work out the implications of the gospel for a denomination ministering in a changing ministry context at home and abroad. BOTH plans are seeking to lead us to gospel faithfulness but in different realms. The Alternative is concerned with faithful ministry in the local church. The PCA Plan is concerned with crafting what a faithful ministry would look like by our group of churches believing we are stronger together than standing alone. To return to Paul, I believe he was concerned about BOTH of these questions. Certainly his actions reveal that he was. Shouldn't our actions that flows from our plans?

Can I tell a story on myself as I move towards the end of this absurdly long analysis? Some years ago I had the privilege of becoming friends with a "missional" PCA guy. At that time I identified myself with the "ordinary means" camp (still do, hence the podcast name, but that's a longer story than I should tell today). When we began spending time together neither of us understood each other or where the other was coming from. We both assumed that "ordinary means" and "missional" were mutually exclusive positions. We assumed they were speaking about the same issues in a divergent manner. We were wrong and it took us a both a while to figure that out.

Let me explain what I mean because I think getting this right will help the PCA through the process it is in currently. "Ordinary Means" thinking relates to the ways in which we do ministry (i.e. we focus on preaching, the sacraments, and prayer as the ordinary means God uses). "Missional" relates to the "stance" we have as we go about doing ministry. That is, do we think of ourselves as missionaries even here in the US. A missionary has a certain "stance" as he approaches ministry. "Means" and "stance" are quite different things actually. A few years ago I heard Lig Duncan say something close to this, "There's no such thing as an uncontexualized ministry." And this from THE ordinary means guy in the PCA! This paragraph is a brief attempt to make the point that "ordinary means" (the focus of the Alternative Plan) and "missional" (the focus of the PCA Strategic Plan) are not enemies. Ideally, they are friends. This is the way Paul viewed them.

For my own ministry in Seattle and for my leadership here we have moved towards something we call "intentional faithfulness". The "faithfulness" aspect of this term embraces the kinds of things the Alternative Plan puts forward as the keys to renewal in the PCA. The "intentional" aspect of this term embraces the kinds of things the PCA Strategic Plan puts forward as key to our continued Kingdom fruitfulness.

Perhaps the way forward is to think about these two documents in tandem not in disagreement. Do we need reminders to stick to the "foolish" means God has ordained for the conversion of hardened sinners and their sanctification? Yes. Do we need reminders that we don't exist on an ecclesiastical island as individuals churches that can afford to not be intentional about our ministry context? Yes. These two documents together call us to "intentional faithfulness" and that's a good call in my mind.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Predictable Collapse

My old friend Drew Collins commented on FB on this article. The article is insightful and very helpful. When some have asked me how the emergent thing 1) got started and 2) it's future, I've repeated some comments several times but until now have never written them. With this helpful article in print today seems a good day to add my humble comments to this phenomena.

Before Emergent existed, some (mostly younger) folks felt Boomer evangelicalism (typically contained in megachurches that more resembled malls than churches) was shallow, lacking the spiritual depth church should involve. This resulted in a fork in the road.

To the left (and yes, the direction chosen here is purposeful) was a fork that ended up in Emergent. To the right was a fork that ended up in young, restless, and Reformed.

Combating shallowness, which results in a sense of disconnectedness from God, is the design of taking either of those forks. Emergent types thought evoking ancient practices that weren't content focused would help them connect with God. Instead it has only heightened their focus on "this world" and increasingly removing God and His Word from view except to evoke guilt.

The collapse of emergent into something which quite closely resembles early 20th century Protestant Liberalism was somewhat predictable to those with a historical perspective. As J. Gresham Machen made clear nearly 100 years ago in Christianity and Liberalism, liberalism in any form is really another religion. Dr. Peter Jones for the past 20 or so years has been documenting the resurgence of oneism (if you haven't seen Mark Driscoll explain oneism yet, you should) in traditional mainline Protestant churches and more recently in the emergent movement.

On the other hand those who chose the fork to the right (young, restless, and Reformed) are among the shining lights in not only American evangelicalism but evangelicalism worldwide. Instead of seeking to reconnect with God through content free practices, this fork in the road embraces deep Biblical and theological reflection centered on the gospel and its implications. The recent Together for the Gospel conference with 7000 attendees indicates this fork is taking the American evangelical scene by storm with positive results. Passionately twoistic, God and His Word is central among the young, restless, and Reformed crowd.

One might wonder though if those who took the fork to the right are doing any good in this world. Interestingly enough, they are. Rooted in the Scriptures which teach of a Jesus who was "mighty in deed and word" (Luke 24:19, ESV), these churches are as passionate to proclaim Jesus as the sole savior of mankind (thus showing concern for the 40 billion years - and that's just the prologue - of life that will follow ones short earthly life) as they are to bear the fruit of the Spirit through loving their neighbors (near and far, personally and institutionally) in practical ways. Thus the fork to the right produces two fruit: vibrant passionate connectedness to GOd AND genuine practical deeds towards men.

Published in 1920, Robert Frost's poem The Road Not Taken (while variously interpreted) seems helpful to conclude this analysis/commentary. For the past 40 years of American evangelicalism (some would say 100 or more!) the well worn path is the one the Emergents have taken with the well bent grass of experience at the forefront. But without any content to root the experience, the grass is dying on that path.

The young, restless, and Reformed crowd likewise seek an experience of God but one that is rooted in content. Well fertilized and watered, deeply cultivated and richly seeded, that road is less traveled but ultimately honors God and blesses people. May it become increasingly the well used path that doesn't wear as it is rejuvenated, stays green, and is increasingly resplendent by the outpouring of God's Spirit on His church.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Health Care Wisdom

Read this article (though some of the comments aren't as sharp as the article) for some excellent thoughts on the health care debate and how Christian should think about health care.

On Saturday I plan to interact with a horrible piece from 3/14's SF Chronicle on this same topic.