one thing

the continuing saga of a follower of Christ
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17
May

bigger is better?

Please note: The following is not intended to be a personal criticism of Dr. Talley. This is, for better or worse, a public response to a public letter, and it is intended to spur further conversation on the issue of the mission of the church.

Dr. Doug Talley, the State Pastor of the Church of God in Indiana, just wrote his monthly letter to ministers and churches in Indiana. It’s worth a read; take a minute to give it a once-over.

Dr. Talley makes it very clear that he’s not interested in churches getting bigger just for the sake of getting bigger. But I disagree with his reasoning in this letter.

I believe churches should be transforming society, not conforming to it. In many – perhaps most – communities churches could close and no one would notice. That must break God’s heart.

Yes, churches should work to transform society, absolutely. But an attempt to pull God’s heart-strings (and, hence, ours) isn’t the best kind of argument to make. Besides, take your typical mega-church; if it closes, the community at large might notice – and might rejoice that the opulent, Starbucks-drinking Christians have finally left town. The issue isn’t size; the issue is the type of lifestyle that believers are living in the context of their local communities. If church is a social club rather than a point of personal contact with the community, then we really are missing the point.

While I love churches of all sizes, the larger a church is, the more impact it can have on a community. I want the church to maximize its community impact. That is part of why I want to see churches reaching people for Jesus Christ – because each person needs Christ and because as people are won to Christ, churches increase in size AND IMPACT!

Impact should not be defined by size of parking lot. I would argue exactly the opposite point: the larger a church is, the less impact it can have on a community. Of course a larger church has a bigger budget (or it should, anyway), more people, more ideas, and so forth. But with increased size, I believe, comes a certain amount of separation from the local community. One goes to church as an event, not as a means of interacting with the local community, not as a means of being rejuvenated by the Spirit for service in the community. And the local community becomes less visible in a large church; instead, the church forms its own sub-community, and it is much easier for everyday believers to slip through the cracks and miss out on serving the Lord with their lives outside the walls of the church building.

Besides, there’s always the empirical test. Which church has more community impact: the mega-church with its 40-acre parking lot (filled with people who drive 30 minutes to church), or the small church nestled in the local community (even partially filled with people who walk (or drive) 5 minutes to church)?

Take your 3,000-member church, train a few dozen new ministers, and plant thirty 100-member churches in different parts of the community. Tell me that won’t create more community impact.

For me it is much more about impact than the size of the church. Yet, if a church is really impacting its community, chances are it will be increasing in size. I believe the church is the hope of the world. And our world needs more hope.

Bad logic. “Chances are” is not a convincing argument. Also, hidden here in Dr. Talley’s words is a subtle yet dangerous idea: that if we do the right things, if we practice the right kind of religion, then we are guaranteed success as we have defined it. Is it possible that a church can impact its community in tremendous ways and yet people remain resistant to the gospel of Jesus Christ? Could Jesus heal ten lepers and only see 10% growth on the deal? Could his own hometown reject him altogether? Surely Jesus was no failure… or was he?

And no, Dr. Talley, the church is not the hope of the world. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. We do agree, though, that the world needs more hope.

Lest you think that I am advocating that small churches remain small, I’ll conclude with one more thought that has been rolling around in my head lately. I wonder if the kingdom of God is hindered by small churches that have become content in remaining small. Once a typical 50-member church has established a core set of relationships, are they really willing (or able) to expand those relationships to include 50 new members, even just a few at a time? I wonder about these things.


22
Oct

The Verdict: Guilty

Desmond Turner’s trial is over.

http://blogs.indystar.com/crime/2009/10/turner_ruled.html


12
Oct

The trial begins

It’s been over three years since the Hamilton Street murders. We remember. The trial of the primary suspect began this morning, in front of a judge but no jury in exchange for no death penalty, should he be found guilty. It’s expected to last around two weeks.

A reporter from the Indianapolis Star is covering the courtroom scene. Keep a close eye on the Star’s crime blog for updates from the trial.

This is a time not only for justice and fairness. It is also one of praying for peace in our neighborhood. You had better believe that the neighborhood sees this as a racial crime, and if Mr. Turner is not convicted, many, many people will be upset. But many other people will similarly be upset if he is convicted. Can we win?


29
Sep

Baptism for the Dead

I’m doing some research for tomorrow night’s Bible study at church. We’re going to study 1 Corinthians 15:20-34, which includes that thorny verse 29 about people being baptized for (or on behalf of) the dead.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) practice this openly, so I was looking at websites of theirs that might explain why they do what they do. One website, which I will blatantly plagiarize so as to avoid poking fun directly, said this:

[Baptism for the dead] provides powerful evidence that Joseph Smith really was a tool through whom Christ restored the fullness of His original Church.

I can’t help it… but all I saw when I glanced at that line of text was this:

Joseph Smith really was a tool.

Well, anyway, tomorrow night we’re certainly not going to agree with the LDS and start getting wet on behalf of the dead (so they can choose to accept it if they want to, whatever that means).


03
Jul

a difficult sermon

This Wednesday, I attended the final worship service of the North American Convention (Not A Campmeeting) of the Church of God in Anderson. It was my first time to be in the sanctu – I mean, auditorium of Madison Park CHOG, by the way, so that was an interesting experience. I’ll say this: it looks bigger on the outside. The feel of the inside is more intimate than I expected.

Note: I did not attend any of the other worship services at this year’s convention, so I cannot compare Wednesday night’s sermon to any other sermon (nor should I). But there were a few things in this sermon itself that got me thinking… a lot. (Disclaimer: This post is not intended to reflect on the speaker either as a person or as a preacher. I’m looking at the sermon, not at the person, and yes, I know how hard it is to distinguish those two.)

First, the speaker said that he had been given one verse as his sermon text —

Now, wait a minute. What kind of church convention gives its speakers one verse from which to preach? I know in previous years, speakers have been asked to preach on successive verses of a single passage, night after night. How in the world do you preach on one verse, without ignoring the literary context of that verse? Oh, right. Let’s carry on.

First, the speaker said that he had been given one verse as his sermon text, but he told us that he chose to expand that verse to include the full story surrounding it. For your reference, the verse in question was Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'” He expanded it to include verses 34 through 40, an appropriate expansion. The story is that the Pharisees heard that Jesus silenced their buddies the Sadducees, so they took a shot at trying to bring him down theologically/rhetorically. A teacher of the law tested him with the question about which commandment was greatest. Jesus’s response, you might recall, was two-fold: Love God (as in verse 37) and love neighbor (as yourself). And he said that “all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (verse 40). The textual, biblical, theological, practical, and ethical implications of this short passage are, in a word, astounding to me. This is, perhaps, the most significant teaching of our Savior that has been recorded for us. It fundamentally reshapes the religious and moral expectations of those who would follow the God of Israel, not because Jesus came up with something new (because he didn’t), but because Jesus pointed out that these are more important than all the other Jewish laws in existence.

Huge text. I was almost giddy when Wednesday’s preacher expanded his one verse to this passage.

But then … he never referred to it again. His sermon had absolutely nothing to do with Matthew 22:34-40. He read it, he agreed with it, but he talked about something altogether different.

The first third of his message dealt with questions like “What do I think about myself?” and “What does God think about me?” Basically, he said that we need to have an appropriate self-image in order to follow Christ in this world. God loves you and me, and our faulty, negative self-images need to be reconstructed around the much more positive way in which our God sees us. This is as touchy-feely and fuzzy-wuzzy as it sounds. (Idea: to make it less … whatever, maybe we should think about how God sees us through the image of Christ, whose blood washes away our sins.) I was about to give up altogether on this sermon. Matthew 22:34-40 was a distant memory at this point. And I didn’t (and don’t) think that a feel-good message is appropriate for a worship service, let alone the final worship service of a national convention. (It could work for a youth group, perhaps. And yes, of course it’s important for us to have healthy self-images. But preach the Bible, man.)

The second third raised the question “Who’s in charge?” Clearly, God should be in charge of our lives. Self, others, petty gods, idols, etc. should not be in charge. Ok, so this is moving in a helpful direction, but it’s still unrelated to the scripture passage. And it’s more campfire than campmeeting, if you get my drift.

The third third caught me totally by surprise. It changed everything. Suddenly, this man was preaching, not just giving a feel-good message. He was actually preaching. The guiding question here was “What’s next?” What comes next, he said, is, in a word, suffering. He quoted various New Testament verses that illustrate the need for disciples of Jesus to participate in his sufferings. He said that being a Christian is not about living an easy life; it’s not about getting what you want or even need; it’s about being undone through suffering for the sake of Christ. Take up your cross and follow Jesus. This was powerful stuff. And it was strange, but the atmosphere changed in this final move of the sermon. People were “amen”-ing less, clapping less, responding less. I think most weren’t expecting this as the conclusion.

I wonder if the speaker intended to create this sort of one-two punch: feel better about yourself, then experience a call to suffer. It was powerful, in any case.

But it still didn’t have anything to do with the story of Jesus and the two greatest commandments. Where does biblical preaching begin? With a passage of scripture, or with an idea that must be backed up by scripture?


02
Jul

candlelight services

Ok, ok, so first things first, these are not my favorite worship services ever invented. But I was in Anderson yesterday evening to sing with the seminary chorus at the beginning of the final North American Convention (Not A Campmeeting) service of the year. So I figured I might as well stick around for the whole service, especially since I had a great seat.

The service was remarkable for a number of reasons: (1) The worship music, led by a team of people older than me, seemed to be directed toward a crowd younger than me, and most of it was unfamiliar to me. Huh. (2) The sermon, which I will discuss in a future post, was simultaneously very frustrating and very satisfying for me. Rather, I should say that two-thirds of it were frustrating, but the last third was surprisingly strong. And yet it seemed that most of the people there did not appreciate the strong part. Maybe that’s why it was strong. More on that later. (3) The candlelight service.

All right, so it was really just a normal, convention-ending candlelight service. It seemed like all the others I’ve ever attended. (By the way, read this satirical article.) But I was struck with a new take on the symbolism of the service, one which I’ve never heard taught or explained before. I’m filing this under the category of “If I have to do a candlelight service, I’ll do it this way”:

The flame represents holiness. Fire destroys its fuel, and it eliminates the impurities from metals like gold. Fire has a certain cleansing property, but it cleanses in a relatively painful way – by tearing down the object to be purified. In the same way, the Holy Spirit cleanses and purifies those who follow Jesus Christ by eliminating impurities and by establishing a new way of life. The old self is burned up (painfully, at times) and is replaced by something pure and holy.

The flame also represents unity – in the same way that the bread of the Lord’s Supper represents unity. Ideally, the Lord’s Supper utilizes one loaf of bread from which each person takes a piece. In this manner, each person expresses his or her identity in Jesus Christ (which the one loaf represents) and his or her unity with the other believers (who also share in the one loaf). Similarly, a candlelight service can begin with one candle, representative of Jesus Christ. Each person then shares in the life and light of that one candle… you see where this is going.

This second expression can quickly become cheesy or trite (from a certain perspective) unless the first concept is kept firmly in mind. The unity we experience is not fuzzy-wuzzy, feel-good stuff (see future discussion of sermon). Instead, the unity we experience is grounded in the purifying, consuming holiness we receive from the Holy Spirit, which is based on the purifying work of Jesus Christ (which consumed him entirely).

Holiness and unity. Get it?

Many early Christian martyrs were burned at the stake. I wonder… how would a candlelight service have been interpreted and understood by their fellow disciples?


01
Jul

maybe next year

From this week’s Sports Illustrated:

  • 66-32: Margin by which the last-place Indians have been outscored in the eighth inning this year.
  • 364-357: Margin by which the Indians have outscored their opponents in all other innings.

Enough said.


17
Jun

one thing

Well, I’ve done it. After five years, I finally graduated from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. I feel greatly relieved to have reached this milestone. If you’ve been following me lately, you know I have kind of dropped off the face of the planet for the past month… there are lots of reasons for this, but mostly I’ve just been relaxing, taking a serious break, doing work on and around the house, giving my mind and my soul a rest.

Five years ago, I wrote these words:

I am excited to begin. I am hopeful for what will come. I know very little of what I will be in four or five years when this phase of the Journey is complete. I trust that God will take care of all my needs in this span, and I hope to be readily dependent on his grace and love in the coming months and years.

God has been faithful to me – to us. The Lord has seen us through a wedding ceremony, three moves, a new home, job losses, new living arrangements for new jobs, and a new car (out of necessity). And never have we had to worry about where the mortgage payment will come from, nor how we will find our next meal. All of our needs have indeed been provided. If nothing else I realize how much more “dependent on his grace and love” I will need to be in the next few months and years, as compared to the past five.

Since my time in seminary has come to a close, it’s fitting that this blog be renamed to something more appropriate. In a recent meeting of a small prayer group which I attend, I was reminded of this prayer of the psalm-writer:

The LORD is my light and my salvation — whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid? When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall. Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident. One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27:1-4)

One thing. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what has happened in the past, only one thing truly matters: seeking the face of the Lord and dwelling in his house forever.


18
Mar

poor Jake

This week is my Spring Break from the seminary, but not from CPE, so that means I had this Monday and Tuesday off from class. Since Tara still works up in Lafayette these days, we decided that it would be fun if I came up and spent the days/evenings with her while I was on my break. So we put the dogs in a doggy day care that we’ve used in the past; nice people, the dogs get worn out from barking and playing nonstop, everybody wins.

Well, when I arrived this afternoon to pick up the dogs, the owner of the place came up to me and asked if I had talked to Tara yet. I hadn’t, because I had been in CPE all day. It turns out that some other dog picked a fight with Jake … and bit him. Twice. The lady assured me that Jake did not need stitches, but that she had already taken him to our vet across town to have him taken care of. Since I was already out and about, I told the lady I’d be glad to go pick up Jake at the vet to save her a trip (and me some time). So Lindy and I packed up in the car – she knew something wasn’t right, and she was looking for Jake everywhere!

The vet gave me some antibiotics and some pain pills for Jake to take over the next several days. They had to shave about one square inch of his fur around each puncture wound, of which there are three. But they said he should be fine in the long run. (Oh, and the day care owner payed for all the vet fees and medicines, which was nice. I sure wasn’t going to pay for them myself.)

I kind of wonder if this will be a defining moment in Jake’s life… I wonder if his personality, especially toward other dogs, will change. He looked pretty miserable all night tonight, but some of that might be the medicine. 🙂

Here are the pictures you’re all expecting to see right about now:

Jake's head wound

Jake's head wound. The other dog gave him a pretty good bite on the top of his skull. Ouch!

Jake's shoulder wounds

Jake's shoulder wounds. It looks like he was bitten by some half-crazed vampire-dog!

Jake in his crate.  Doesn't he look pitiful?

Jake in his crate. Doesn't he look pitiful?


27
Feb

Christian unity quiz

Pop quiz! When was the following quote written?
(a) 1928; (b) 1948; (c) 1968; (d) 1988; (e) 2008

A feeling of brotherhood is fast growing among Christians, and this will become more pronounced. Creeds as a test of fellowship are being repudiated and will doubtless be less in favor as time passes. Christians will recognize and accept the truth each other has held. Denominational lines will gradually fade out as they are beginning to do now and rivalries will consequently cease. All Christians will feel free to worship together and to help each other in Christian work. Cooperation in Christian work will be common and is now becoming so. True Christians will gradually come to the true basis for unity by God’s working in their consciousness. They will eventually wake up to find themselves in loving fellowship with division walls gone.

Answer will be in the first comment, so as not to spoil the fun. (Sorry, Facebookers, I mean the first comment on my blog. Dig around, you’ll find it.)

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