Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Thoughts about the Future Post 2020

 I shared this earlier on Facebook and thought I might expand on it here.

Just a few thoughts I have had about the future as we approach the end of 2020:

1.  Historians will use 2020 to make the beginning of the end for the United States. I think in the next 15 years we will see at least one successful secession movement, which will change the make up of the country. The United States will continue to be a major player in the world, but things like debt and division will cause things to start to fall apart.

2. A viable 3rd party will emerge. Not from the place you expect. The Republican Party will become more conservative as it looses the Neocon wing of the party. The Neocons will join the Democrat party which will be viewed on the centrist party (and dominate elections). The progressive wing of the Democrat party (Bernie Sanders, AOC, and company) will break away and form a truly progressive/socialist party.

3. The average church size will continue to decline. There will be a time of transition for many local churches as they try to discover how to do ministry in a post-COVID reality. This isn’t a negative, because it will force churches become more creative in how to make disciples, but it will be difficult to say good bye to programs and ministries that we have come to believe are essential for church.

4. Denominational lines for churches will become increasingly irrelevant. There will be a greater emphasis and on “what the Bible says” and “Mere Christianity” with a diminishing emphasis on systematic theologies, Calvinism, etc.

5. Bivocational pastors will become the norm. Because of smaller church sizes most pastors will have to look for multiple streams of income to sustain their ministry. This can be a benefit as pastors get creative in how they leverage their “day job” for ministry.

6. The Church will have to be prepared to deal with ever evolving questions concerning sexuality, gender, race, and even things like transhumanism.

We are going to look back on 2020 as the year that everything changed. Some of those changes were already happening, they were accelerated because of what happened. Other things will change as a direct result of what happened this year. 

Whatever the case, it is time to accept whatever change the future has for us and remain faithful to the calling God has given to us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Way of Jesus



We are told that we are living in a divided nation.

The corporate press tells us about the extreme differences of the right and the left and how it is impossible for them to see eye to eye.We hear about one group of Americans is telling another group that they are racist and sexist because of the way they voted. We hear the other group of Americans respond by saying the new president elect is corrupt and will further destroy the foundations of the country.

The deep divisions that make up the very soul of American political life are on full display. There is no getting around the reality that there are two vastly different visions for the United States.

On the one hand you have people on the left who declare that equality is the value that must guide us into the future.

On the other hand you have people on the right who declare that we must remain true to the principles and traditions that the United States was founded on.

Each side views the other with skepticism, derision, and intolerance.

If you have spent any time on social media you know the names and the accusations that are being flung back and forth: “You are ignorant!” one side screams and the other side fires back, “You are a bigot!”

It it is a fruitless exchange as nothing gets resolved and blood pressures rise.


All you want is unity, but you are told that unity is impossible because those people on the other side are terrible people.

What are followers of Jesus Christ to do?

As simplistic as it might sound we are to follow Jesus.

It may sound simple, but it is not simple to do.

There are going to be people on both sides of the aisle declaring that this or that is the most important thing and that is what deserves our attention. Many of these people will invoke the name of Jesus to try to convince us that their side is the one we must choose.

When we pick a side in this political war we simple give into the hate and the division that continues to tear apart relationships, families, churches, communities, and countries.

There is a better way, and that way is the way of Jesus.
For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God's promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-29; NLT)

Unity is possible. It is the product of people who are rallied around a common idea, purpose, or person. Unity is achieved in football stadiums and concerts. People brought together because of their shared love for a team or a band.

This type of unity is flimsy and cannot survive the constant threat of division. This threat comes from the powers that constantly look to divide people into different groups.

There is only one power that is great enough to overcome these wall building powers, and that is the power of Jesus. According to the Apostle Paul, Jesus is to be the rallying point that brings true unity.

Jesus came to tear down walls. That can only be accomplished when we have our faith in him.

Within his small group of 12 disciples Jesus had at least two men who were on the opposite ends of the political spectrum. There was Simon the Zealot who wanted nothing more than to fight against the Romans and restore Israel's independence. There was Matthew the Tax Collector who believed that compromise with the Romans was the best policy.

Jesus united these men with a common purpose.

How did he do that?

Jesus rejected the politics of the world.

Satan offered Jesus the keys to all the kingdoms of the world, but Jesus held fast to God's way to bring redemption to creation (Luke 4:5-8). After his miracles of healing and feeding the crowd wanted to make Jesus king, but Jesus withdrew to the wilderness (John 6:15). The crowd shouted hosanna and proclaimed Jesus king as he rode into Jerusalem, but Jesus stopped and wept over the city because they missed his true identity (Luke 19:41-44).

Jesus came to establish God's Kingdom, but he rejected politics as the way to accomplish this task. He called his followers to make disciples of the nations, not by the power of the sword (the true power behind politics), but the power of sacrificial love.

The way for the Church to be the starting point for unity is for Christians to follow the way of the Lion, who became a lamb, who was slain (Revelation 5:5-6).

We are saddened by the deep divide that exists in our country.

Healing can only happen if we reject politics and follow Jesus.

Will you join me?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Missing the Forest for the Trees


 I don’t understand this type of thinking at all.

Listen, I am not a supporter of President Trump. As I have said before, policy wise he has been a pretty typical president. He has done some good things and he has done many bad things.

To see President Trump and his supporters as uniquely evil seems bizarre to me. What makes President Trump and the support he has received different?

Rather than being something new, I think what Donald Trump and his presidency revealed is the divided loyalty many American Christians have. The loyalty that we have is often split between Jesus (and his church) and Nation (and political party). 

I believe one of the big questions the American Church, in all of its different flavors, needs to wrestle with coming out of COVID and the 2020 election cycle is: "Where does your loyalty reside?"

“Trumpism” isn’t any more dangerous than all the other ways our loyalty gets divided, and to act like it is means we downplay the more seductive and subtle ways Christians loose their first love.

I know for me, as a libertarian, one of the things I need to be on guard against is the idol of personal liberty and individual rights. It is easy for me twist those ideas with what it looks like to follow Jesus. 

We need to heed the warning of Revelation, to come out of Babylon, and remain loyal to Jesus.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees. 

American Christians have a loyalty problem, and those of us who serve in leadership in various ways in different Christian communities need to continually call people back to their first love as we continue to resist the urge give our loyalty away to lesser causes.

Monday, December 14, 2020

War for Truth

 I recently saw the following on Facebook:

"We're losing the war for truth. There's no bigger crisis for media, politics and society than the growing number of people who don't believe facts and verifiable figures. If we don't collectively solve this, we are all screwed."

Truth is important. 

People, and I think Christians especially, should strive to be on the side of truth.

Yet, that goal is not always as easy as we make it out to be. I believe we need to think about how we come to know truth. 

Ask yourself the question: “How do I know my beliefs are true?”

For most of us, what we believe to be true we have received second hand, from a source that we trust. The problem really isn’t a “war for truth,” but a disagreement on what sources can be trusted. 

Let me also say I dislike the use of the word “war.” We tend to use this word to show there are two distinct sides that are at conflict with one another. So we have things like the drug war, the war on poverty, the war on Christmas, and the war on Terror. On the one side you have the “good guys” and on the other side you have the “bad guys.” 

Do you see the problem with this belief?

Consider this tweet:

No seriously, when you think you need to “deprogram” friends and neighbors because they don’t think like you, you have lost the chance to have a civil conversation. 

You can’t take the moral high ground if you want to cast other people (people who are often friends and family) as your enemy. No meaningful conversation is going to come from that.

After all, who gets to decide what is true and what is not true? Why should I accept your version of truth?

Everyone believes they know what the truth is, but their versions of truth differ because they have chosen to trust different sources for the information that makes up that truth.

Again, this is the key issue: “What sources can I trust to provide me with true information?”

While you may trust what is printed in the newspaper or is on the evening news, not everyone does.There is a significant percentage of people in the United States who believe they cannot trust what comes out of the corporate press. 

Last month Michael Malice tweeted:


If you don’t understand that the corporate press, the source of information many Americans trust, has lost the trust of many other Americans, then you are going to see this as a “war for truth.” 

It is not. 

Therefore, rather than treating it like a war, we need to have a discussion about why we trust the sources of information that we do.

Why would some Americans not trust the information offered by the government and the corporate press?

Thaddeus Russell tweeted this:


This is just one example of why many people don’t trust the same sources of information that you do.

The problem isn’t that there are Americans who are ignoring “facts and verifiable figures,” rather the issue is that they don’t think those facts and figures can be trusted. In other words, it is less about the information, and more about the source of that information.

So Michael Malice’s question is a good one: “What can the corporate press do to regain the trust of the public?”

Rather than starting a war, maybe you should ask that simple question first.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Christmas Devotional: One Night in Bethlehem

Several years ago I wrote a short devotional for Christmas. 14 devotions leading up to Christmas Day.

Here is a link to download a PDF of it: One Night in Bethlehem.

 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Our Responsibility



Followers of Jesus are called to be be ambassadors and missionaries to the world. We are to represent God in this world.

As much as we would like to, we cannot escape from that responsibility. It is woven into the fabric of what it means to be a Christian. 

It is a huge and important calling to be sure and most of the time, if we are honest with ourselves, we feel inadequate for the task. We lack the resources, the talents, and the opportunities we think are necessary to bring God's message of hope and love to the world.

We feel inadequate, not only for the things we lack, but also for what we have: sin. 

Sin makes it impossible for me to properly represent God. That is one of the things the Apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 2:23; ESV). 

The presence of sin my life makes me inadequate because sin distorts the image of God in my life. 

This is compounded by our lack of knowledge about the world, the Bible, and the circumstances of other people's lives. 

So let us pause at this point and confess that we are inadequate for the task for making disciples.

To this reality of being inadequate, let me add two important truths.

The first truth is that citizenship into God's Kingdom begins with being "poor in Spirit." Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with this line; "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3; ESV). 

 To be a follower of Jesus requires the realization that we don't have what it takes to truly represent God and demonstrate His character in this world. We need to depend on God to provide us with everything that we need; from our daily bread, to patience for helping difficult people, to the words to say to those who are searching for truth.


The second truth is to be true to who God created us to be. The Apostle Paul wrote:
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:3-8, ESV)
We need to come to terms with how God created us, to be grateful for the talents and abilities that we have, and then use those skills in building for God's kingdom. It is by using our unique set of talents for God's Kingdom empowers us to make a difference in this world.

Remembering these things is important because the only person we have control over is ourselves.

While God has given us the responsibility to take His message of love and hope into the world and make disciples; He has not given us responsibility to change the hearts of other people. 

That responsibility lies with God Himself.

Therefore we do not need to worry about how people will respond to our message and service, we just need to focus on the best and most effective ways to use our talents to make disciples. 

This reality should give us a sense of relief. It isn't about the number of disciple we made, but it is about our faithfulness to God's calling.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Take Time to Rest




We love to talk about how busy we are. 

In fact, for many Americans, being busy is how we convince ourselves that we have worth. It means that we are needed and that we are valuable.

Yet, not only does being busy add to our stress levels, busyness also robs us of the time we have to do things that we enjoy and that truly matter. We put off time with our families, volunteering, and celebrating because we have that deadline to make or that meeting to attend.

In God’s economy busyness is not worth all that much. 

God desires that His people take time to rest and to celebrate. 

One of the 10 terms of the covenant God made with Israel was the command to observe the Sabbath, to rest. 

When we intentionally take time to rest, even when work is piling up and things need to be done, we are admitting that God is the one control. He is the one that makes the world go around, not us. Sabbath rest is an act of faith in God.

Not only did God give Israel the Sabbath, but He also provided them with different times of celebrations throughout the year. Ceasing from work and taking time to celebrate, to be with friends and family as we thank God for what He has done, reorients our lives to God. It reminds us of God’s faithfulness to us and calls us back to a life of faith.

Work is an essential part of life. Our work is how we join God in renewing and restoring His creation. It is important.

Without periods of rest and celebration we will lose sight of what our work is about and why we are doing it. Our rest reminds us that our work is important and provides us with motivation to keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Perception and Truth



In our search for truth it is important to recognize that most of our beliefs that we hold on to as truth are just our interpretation of the data that we have. 

I am not saying that truth doesn’t exist or that it is impossible to discover truth, but I am saying that truth isn’t as objective as we sometimes would like it to be. 

We realize that two people looking at the exact same data can come to two different conclusions. 

Some of that is based on first principles, for example, believing in God is going to shape our interpretation of the data about the origins of the universe.

Some of that is based on our experiences, for example, whether you have a positive or negative experience with church growing up is going to shape your opinion on the importance of being part of church family as you grow older.

This is what Erwin McManus wrote in his book Soul Cravings:

In other words, for something to make sense to us, it cannot remain outside of us. We do not simply study information and then come to a conclusion; we absorb it and come to a personal interpretation of what is real.

I was listening to a lecture in which the speaker referred to studies in neuroscience that describe the process from which the human brain gathers and holds information. He explained that when the human brain absorbs information, that information is one part data and six parts emotion. Now that’s a fascinating thought--that everything we remember is wrapped around everything we experience. When you reflect on this, it makes perfect sense. (Meaning; Entry #12: It’s All in How You Look At It)*

What Erwin talks about here explains why, for most people, their relationships with the fathers affect their view of God. 

It also accounts for people who leave Christianity after a personal tragedy in their lives. Their view of God and the Church affected by their experience.

In the United States there is a significant amount of people who are not buying the version of truth being offered from the corporate press and politicians.

Why are they skeptical?

They are skeptical because they believe they have been lied to, overlooked, and stabbed in the back by these people who now say, "Just trust us." 

When we remember that perception is reality for people, it should not surprise us that there people who do not hold to your version of what is real. Their experience is leading them to a different conclusion.

It really doesn't matter how many experts, studies, and facts we believe back up our point-of-view because another person will put all of that through their filter of experience and emotion. This is why facts are weak persuasion. 

All of us like to believe that we rational and that the beliefs that we hold we arrived at through following the facts. The reality is that the majority of the time we arrive at our beliefs for emotional reasons and we use facts to justify our positions afterwards. This is why these facts seem so obvious to us.

If we want to change someone's mind the best thing to do is not to throw a bunch of facts and figures at them, but to offer a listening ear and show that you understand what they are saying. Without listening and seeking to understand other people there will be an ever growing divide between people who hold different points-of-view.

* Soul Cravings is a book without page numbers. For reference I provided the title of the section and the entry number and title. I believe the McManus discussion on truth is worth the price of the book.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Perspective and Commitment



Our perspective on the world is limited. 

Even if we stayed plugged into the news we would still be limited to those stories they decided to run. 

As you can see, this is not an ignorance of choice or laziness, but of reality. The body in which we live is confined to one place in time, our minds can only absorb so much information, and what we do know is colored by other people’s perception.

This reality makes it impossible for us to fully understand what is happening in the world and the best way to precede. What seems like an insignificant act in the moment might effect our lives for years to come.

Take for example Joseph. We read about this man of faith in the Old Testament. 

 Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, but his bothers hated him. That hatred changed the direction of Joseph’s life. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, and years later Joseph is made a leader in Egypt.

When Joseph as a slave he was a handsome young man. He was trustworthy and the things he did were successful. These things caught the attention his master’s wife. She tried to convince him to sleep with her. This wasn’t a one time proposal, but a constant request. 

Joseph was alone in Egypt, no family, friends, or accountability partners. From his point-of-view what did he have to look forward to? Would he get married? Would he have a family? Would he ever move above being a slave?

It would have been easy for Joseph to rationalize the affair with Potiphar’s wife. There is no guarantee that he marry and this type of relationship was expected for slaves to engage in, it just needed to be kept secret. 
From a certain perspective it made all the sense in the world for Joseph to give into her request.

What stood in Joseph’s way was his commitment to God. 

Joseph was operating from a different perspective.

It might have been in Joseph the Slave’s best interest to sleep with the wife of Potiphar, but it was not in Joseph the Chosen One’s best interest. 

Side note: this is pure speculation, but I believe that if Joseph choose the path of having an affair he would have remained a slave. He may have remained a favorite slave, but he still would be a slave.

The immediate consequence of Joseph’s decision to reject the advances of Potiphar’s wife brought a new set of hardship: Joseph went from being the head slave in Potiphar’s house to prison. He went from having a great deal of freedom, to no freedom. 

Wouldn’t that be enough to make us question our decision?

Yet, this was the route God chose to prepare Joseph for his task. 

At the time Joseph had no idea of what God had in store for him. All Joseph had was his commitment to God. That commitment allowed Joseph to trust God, even when the circumstances of life did not make sense.

We will never discover what God wants us to do if we never commit ourselves to following God. 

Our vision is limited by time and space. We don’t know what will happen in the next hour, let alone what will happen a year from now. God knows what is going to happen, that means we need to trust Him and the guidance He gives to help navigate the ups and downs of life.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Keep My Eyes on Jesus




Hebrews 12:1-4 (NLT)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin.

Heavenly Father, thank You for all those men and women who have come before me. Their lives serve as a testimony to faithfulness: Your faithfulness to us and our ability to be faithful to You.

I need Your help to keep my eyes focused on Jesus. The responsibilities, frustrations, joys, and sorrows of life all threaten to take my attention off of him. I am like Peter walking on the water, tempted to concentrate on the wind and the waves rather than on Jesus. I want my eyes on Jesus.

Empower me with Your Spirit so I am able to be faithful in every situation, demonstrating Your character to the world around me. Let my life speak of Your goodness.

In Jesus' name, amen.


Friday, November 20, 2020

Move in the Direction of Who You want to Be


Change is constantly happening. 

That is why we can say the above quote shared by Dave Ramsey on Instagram is incorrect. Time, experience, and other forces of life are at work in and around us. No one stays the same.

Yet, these forces are often indifferent to who we would like to become. They are simply the result of life.

The point of the quote and what I think we should all consider, is that we are not going to become the person we want to be without intentional effort. If we just go along with the flow of life, we will experience change, we will be different, but we probably aren’t moving closer to the goals we have for our lives.

Two of the greatest influences we have in life that are able to determine that direction of our lives are what we learn (reading was the primary source of learning a generation ago, it is not longer the case) and the people we are around.

Reading books, listening to podcasts, watching lectures, and hearing sermons all have the power to direct our thoughts and to get us thinking in ways that we wouldn’t on our own. When we seek to go in a specific direction in our lives it pays to hear from people who have already gone done that path. To neglect the discipline of learning means we will miss out on reaching our full potential.

This is why the New Testament tells us direct our thoughts (Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:8, Colossians 3:1-4, 1 Peter 1:13). To change our worldview and our behavior we first have to change our thoughts. 

We are going to be thinking, it is one of the things God designed our minds to do, and so we have a great responsibility to direct what we are thinking about. Don’t just passively allow the news, social media, and entertainment direct your thoughts. Instead, be intentional about what you put into your mind to think about so we can become more like the person you want to be.

If you are looking for a good book to read here are some recommendations:
  1. Reading the Bible: When it comes to reading the Bible, here are two books I have found helpful: Scripture and the Authority of God by N. T. Wright and The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight. They are similar books in that they challenge us to examine the ways in which we read and interpret Scripture. N.T. Wright wants us to see Scripture as the way God works in and through us. Scot McKnight seeks to have us read through the lens of the Bible being God’s story.
  2. Productivity: Here are two books about productivity/getting the most out of your time. Deep Work by Cal Newport and the Slight Edge by Jeff Olson. Deep Work (which is in my top 10 books people should read) focuses on the importance of regularly working distraction free, because distractions prevent us from truly getting the most out of our mental energy. The Slight Edge has a lot of content that is transferable to task of discipleship. The key is to develop little disciplines that help you accomplish your goals.
  3. Church ministry: Wondering how the church can enter into a new time of ministry after Covid? Two books I have found helpful are Recalibrate Your Church by Dr. Troy Jones and Analog Church by Jay Kim. Recalibrate Your Church looks at the necessity of creating a church culture that is willing to evaluate and change the ministry of the church to impact the community. Analog Church, which is in the top 5 books I have read this year, looks at the importance community and relationships in following Jesus.
  4. Leadership: Leadership is a tricky thing and we constantly need teaching and encouragement on how to do it. Ruth Haley Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership is a good book for pastors, because it reminds us that our leadership requires a connection with God. John Maxwell’s Developing the Leader Within You is a classic book that focuses on the practical things we should pay attention to in our leadership.
  5. Following Jesus: Here are three short books that provide a greater insight into what it means to follow Jesus. Imminent Domain by Ben Witherington looks at God’s Kingdom and our place in it. Life in Christ by John Stott explores how we are connected to Jesus. Following Jesus by N. T. Wright explains what it means to follow Jesus.
  6. Prayer: How about prayer? Here are three I have benefited from reading: With Christ in the School of Prayer by Andrew Murray (one of my favorite authors), Moving Mountains by John Eldredge, and Seeing is Believing by Greg Boyd. With Christ in the School of Prayer is divided up into 31 lessons (a month long) that conclude with a sample prayer. Moving Mountains provides an encouragement to pray as well as some ideas of how to pray (Daily prayer, praying Scripture, Warfare Prayer). Seeing is Believing focuses on using our imagination in prayer, especially as we seek healing and restoration.
Start being intentional about the person you are becoming. Read a book, listen to a lecture, and hang out with the right people. These are intentional actions that will point us in the direction we need to go.

The Discipleship Road: Providence

 I am preaching a sermon series called The Discipleship Road  at Bethlehem Church. The series is loosely based on Eugene Peterson’s book A L...