Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dwell Conference: "How do you like your meal?"

Last night, we had 'table talk', which was a table discussion of some of the ideas raised by the speaker (in last night's case, a fine message by Mark Driscoll).

Our table was talking about Preaching. I introduced the model I was raised on: When preaching, show your exegesis of the text. (John Stott?) We were talking about some of the limits of that model, as well as some of the great strengths.

Someone at our table offered this insight on preaching from his seminary professor:
We (preachers) are there not to take them to the kitchen, but to serve them a meal.
Ok. That insight is certainly the model of many preachers here in the States. They (presumably) do the hard work of exegesis at home, but not (primarily) in the sermon. That would make it labored and less interesting and less applicable.

I responded by saying that the model that I received was the opposite- that we are precisely to 'take people to the kitchen', in order to teach them how to cook and serve a meal on their own, and rely less on the chef.

I'm still processing this. So, over to you:

Do you want to be taken to the kitchen, or would you prefer the meal already served and with dessert?

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Pic by Mikeautry1.

Dwell Conference: "Am I easy to correct?

Just got back home from Dwell. Long day. The conference was held at a Universalist Church on Central Park West (pictured)

A lot of good things were said. Too many things for me to say. But let me share with you the main Bible passage from this morning that will stay with me for a long time: (1 Timothy 4:15-16)

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Three observations were made:

  • Our character must be more persuasive than our speech. (Spurgeon).
  • There is no pastoral exemption of sin for the pastor.
  • You can't effectively watch yourself by yourself.

A devastatingly simple question each person needs to ask is this: "Am I easy to correct?"

This evening, we were encouraged to spend quality time in the Bible. One 'take home' for me is that I will spend a day a month away from any desk in a quiet space simply reading my Bible.

But, yesterday, I said that I'd introduce you to some of the workers that I met...

I want you to know about Gavin McGrath. Gavin came to the conference with a team from the Co-mission initiative in London (A group of creative and vigorous church planters). Gavin shows me that there is only one response to pain in ministry: Grace. Grace and humility. Gavin is, right now, where God wants him to be: planting in London. But the path that God took him was a long one. There was pain in the process, but Gavin has taken that path with only grace and humility. Like his Savior.

And Rob Karch -- Rob was raised in Oregon, and married a French Canadian woman and moved to Canada to plant churches. I met Rob at the beginning of the conference, and he was speaking English. After the first session, I overheard Rob speaking in fluent French. I asked him over lunch 'Did you grow up speaking French?' The answer: 'No'. He has been learning it for the last 2 years. I asked him about it, and he replied that this is exactly what you have to do if you want to be missional: learn the language of the people you are with. A good model.

Daniel Montgomery -- Daniel is a pastor at Sojourn Church in Louisville, KY. Daniel and I spent some time talking in the subway waiting for the Downtown A Train. We had met 2 years ago, and we have had the same conversation both times: how to preach Christ while putting strong boundaries around your families. Daniel obviously cares deeply about his wife and family.

These are all men who keep a close watch on themselves and on their teaching.

Will hopefully tell you about a few more tomorrow night.

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Pic of 106 Central Park West by Philocrites.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Our Son

Do you have you a moment to pray for this soul before he is born?

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139:14-16

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[Ultrasound taken this morning].

Monday, April 28, 2008

Live Blogging the Acts 29 Dwell Conference

I'm going to live-blog a conference, but I'm going to do it with a twist. You can read my thoughts HERE.

I am registered for Dwell here in Manhattan on Tuesday and Wednesday. I am taking the Intern at our church (like an MTS Trainee). So Clint and I are going to hang out, learn, pray and spend some time asking all the hard questions that come with evangelism, church planting and reaching Urban Centers.

Live-Bloggers normally live Blog the talks. I am looking forward to the content, and I may Blog about some of the insights that we hear there. But I am going to leave the Blogging of the talks to others.

Instead, I am planning on introducing you some of the 'laborers in the harvest field' -- to some the hard working brothers and sisters who are planning, struggling and dreaming of reaching the lost for Christ wherever they are. I'm going to tell you a few of their stories, leaving the talks to others. (I'll link to their sites if I find them.)

Hopefully, I'll have the time to get to know people and their prayers...

(PS I will have my 'phone on in case #3 arrives early!)

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Baby names that are guaranteed to be nixed...

Should the Lord spare us, we will have a baby son in a few weeks. Or sooner. Here are some names that I have suggested that The Wife nixed without a hearing:
  • Ferris
  • Forest
  • J├╝rgen
  • Jesus
  • Beowulf
Can you believe it??? They seem perfectly reasonable to me.

Have you any other name guaranteed to be nixed by an otherwise sensible person?

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Please Explain...

Can someone please explain to me "The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina"?

I read about it again in CT today. I have heard more and more people in the evangelical tradition suggest that it is a valid way to know God and to hear from God in the Scripture.

But it is totally lost on me...

Can someone out there please help me?

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Pic on Flickr by Depone.

People at my Church...

Not all these people go to my church. In fact, only me and Karen do. Karen is in the center of this picture. Let me tell you about her...

A few weeks ago, Karen invited me to her 'colloquium'. Karen is in our congregation, and is about to graduate as a student at NYU. She is the President of NYU InterVarsity (Read EU), and she has become our friend. Karen has been so faithful in our church, and we have very much been blessed by her presence.

So it was a privilege for me to be invited to her colloquium. She had chosen 4 academics as the 'panel' to quiz her, one of whom is the President of NYU, John Sexton. She added her pastor in for good measure. Dr Sexton (pictured on the far right of the photo) hosted the colloquium in his stunning office overlooking Washington Square Park. It was a privilege to be included among them.

I assumed (since there was more brain power in that room than I or my progeny for a thousand years will ever muster) that I would be silent. But it turned out very differently than I thought.

Karen's work is on justice, faith and international relations. Karen has spent time in Rwanda and other places learning from the victims of extreme injustice. She had read, and was defending at her colloquium, academic writings on the place of the Christian to speak out and defend the vulnerable.

Now, here is the interesting thing: the other three in the Colloquium mostly wanted to know about Karen's faith and how it played out in her studies: How she handled suffering and disappointment; how she processed the Problem of Evil; how she viewed her contribution as a Christian. We spoke about Jesus, and about 'other religions'. We spoke about what motivates and sustains her. Karen was there to defend her understanding of the readings that she had chosen. But we all wanted to know her testimony!

That's not to say that she wasn't grilled. But it was interesting how a real, humble and engaged life is more compelling than theory.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sermon Audio: From Timothy to New York City.

Thanks for your help last week on 2 Timothy 2. You helped me to work it through. Paul says to Timothy:
Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.
Click HERE should you wish to listen to the sermon.

And Here is the text. Please don't listen if it takes time away from your work or evangelism. Please don't listen at the expense of your own Bible reading. (And Yes, I know that Paul doesn't call Timothy his 'Father'. Yes. Yes. My wife thinks my brain works in opposites. What are you gonna do, huh?)

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Pic on Flickr by KT Lindsey.

Do you really want to be compelled by the Spirit?

Just now preparing for my Home Group Bible Study on Friday. In the process, I read Acts 20:22-24. Says Paul:
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
I used to think that one could determine the presence of the Spirit of God by three things:

1. Some level of being sure about the path God had me on.
2. That things work out well for me.
3. That I feel good and at peace about my life.

But here, Paul says that, constrained [NIV 'compelled'] by the Spirit, he:

1. Does not know what will happen to him in Jerusalem.
2. That things do not work out 'well' (The Spirit tells me that afflictions and imprisonment await me)
3. That his life has no value or 'preciousness to myself' outside of finishing the ministry of testifying to the gospel.

Of course, depending on how you look at it, my old reading of the work of the Spirit wasn't entirely wrong. It's just that God's Spirit leads us to a deeper experience of life in a fallen world: less about me, and more about the good and hard work of the Gospel of hope.

I find that encouraging.

Perhaps.

Or maybe it's just plain scary.

In the goodness of God, perhaps it's both.

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Pic on Flickr by HalonaCoast.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sermon Help: From Timothy to New York City?

My sermon text for this Sunday is a private correspondence from an older Apostle (Paul) to a Young Pastor (Timothy). Specifically, my text is: 2 Timothy 2. Read it. Lots of great stuff in that text. Here is how it begins:
You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
My three main questions are:
  • How do you synthesize so many ideas? There is so much in there. So many imperatives. Can you boil it down to a couple of ideas for me?
  • What are the 'must include' things in the text for a sermon?
  • How do I apply it to a congregation? I mean, it is a Pastoral Epistle. It is the Apostle Paul to Pastor Timothy, which would make it great at a Pastor's conference; less obvious for church. How do we eavesdrop into a private correspondence and apply it to a church of NON-pastors/elders?
Go ahead, do my work for me...

Justin.

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Pic is probably NOT Timothy, but from wiki instead.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Church: First Aid for a Disillusioned Heart.

I have been talking to a few friends offline about Church. And in particular, how to handle your own heart when you are feeling disillusioned with your community. There are lots of complex reasons why we feel disillusioned, but here is my Top 3 quotes on feeling disillusioned. (From Eugene Peterson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and C.S.Lewis.)

So click here to open a Word Document called: "Battling with Church: First Aid for a Disillusioned Heart."

Have I missed anything?

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Pic on Flickr Nellee100.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Evangelical Trading Cards

So get this. I took maybe 10 minutes trying to find the right graphic for that last post, and the Gulf War battle Ship was my best possibility. I had not realized that Christians in Context had already got a corner on the Trading Card idea. And only just recently, too. Of course, these guys are more positive than I am...

There is the two above (Luther and Melanchthon, and Karl Barth), as well as Augustine and Sproul.

You know what they say about great minds...

Or fools...

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Monday, April 14, 2008

A Lead Balloon: Trading Cards for Evangelicals

The 'Lead Balloon', for the uninitiated, was a column in The Briefing. It was always a bit cheeky, but behind it was always a serious thought. The tag line for a Lead Balloon was 'A idea slightly too outrageous to be taken seriously'. Gordo, in a rare moment of nostalgia, tried to revive the Lead Balloon in March 2007. On the back of my previous posts about Fan-Clubs within Christendom, I offer you my first ever Lead Balloon. Hope you like it...

When I was in short pants in the 1980s, we swapped "Trading Cards". Trading Cards were the size of a normal card. But on the front they showed a color picture of someone or something (baseball or cricket players; monster trucks; racing cars; vintage cars; fighter jets; cruise ships and the like). And on the back, they listed various impressive statistics belonging to the person or thing.

You could just look and collect them. Or you could play a game with them: You would shuffle the 'deck', hand out the cards, and as each card came to the front, you'd nominate the strongest of the statistics on the back. And if your person or thing was better in that particular statistic, then you'd take their card. The winner was the one who collected all the cards by nominating the strongest, fastest, greatest winners in their class.

Do you remember?

Well, here is my suggestion: We ought to resurrect 'Trading Cards for Evangelicals'!

I should tell you right now the catalyst for my idea: It came from Dallas, Texas (of course!). William McKenzie wrote an Op-Ed in December called: "Celebrity worship in evangelicalism a risk to the soul". McKenzie says:

If you spend any time within evangelicalism, you hear people speak in reverential tones about the pastor at this church, the seminar led by this speaker or the book by this author. It's easy to feel as if you need to hear that speaker, attend that church or read that writer to establish your credentials as a believer.

The number of icons and rituals within one of the nation's most influential movements is actually surprising. Evangelicalism prides itself on being decentralized. Whereas Catholics put a premium on popes, bishops, saints, stations of the Cross and various forms of hierarchy and rituals, evangelicals see themselves as needing no mediator between themselves and God.

That actually isn't the case. Evangelicalism suffers from a worship of icons.

Now, you may not agree with everything McKenzie warns about, but there certainly is an elevation thing going on with lots of pastors and preachers. Just go to a conference with a great speaker, and look at their Bio.

So I thought we could all come clean about our culture, and put together these 'Trading Cards'.

We wouldn't have to go very far for the pictures: there are professional shots already circulating because of all the conferences we get our heroes to speak on. These pictures are distributed widely in the Blogosphere: Every time a hero is quoted, we post a picture of that person. So pictures would be not be hard to find.

But what about statistics? What would the categories be? I have some thoughts:
  • Size of person's Church
  • Rate of Growth ('Fastest growing')
  • Emergent Quotient (How Missional'?)
  • Pagan Quotient (How 'Unchurched' is the city?)
  • Charisma Quotient (How attractive is the person?)
  • Ratio of Dogs to Christians in the City
  • Number of Podcast downloads
  • Number of churches planted
  • Number of books published
  • Number of books published each year
  • Number of Fans on Facebook
  • Rating in the 50 Most Influential Churches
  • Rating in Time's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals
  • Theological degrees and Doctorates
  • Number of visits to the White House
Have I missed anything?

I guess my fear in the game would be this: It is not the way of the Cross. In the Scriptures, whenever a person is elevated this way, that hero almost always fell. But the 'way of the Cross' means that we will not elevate them in such a worldly fashion in the first place. They will have nowhere to fall, because we will not have elevated them.

So what does the Apostle Paul boast in? Galatians 6:14
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
And what is on the back of the Apostle's 'Trading Card'? 2 Corinthians 11:30, 12:9-10
If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. (...) Christ said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
The problem with the game: it almost always ends badly.

So... will my balloon float?

:)

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Jonathan Edwards and Tacos...


Kudos to Stan the Man (a friend at NYU) for this insight on my previous Post:
I think at the core, it is not even about the personality around whom these people flock it is the comfort of having a community around this unifying element.

"Hey, do you LOOOOOVE John Edwards? I LOOOOOVE John Edwards too! Let's get tacos!"

"Hey, isn't John Piper like the best theologian EVAH?!?!!1! Yah, totally brah. He's such an awesome guy. Let's play video games."

And it's ludicrous because all of this is ignoring the one person who had the right to start a personality cult around himself, Jesus.
I have a few more thoughts about this topic. I even have a 'Lead Balloon' for you'all (Let the Reader understand). Just for fun. If you want...

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Pic on Flickr by Ephemeron.