“Do you I believe?”

(Photo by adam morse on Unsplash)

In Michael Lawrence’s book, Conversion: How God Creates a People, the question, “Do I believe?” comes up. This is certainly a question we should all ask, and frequently (see 2 Corinthians 13:5). The Church faces a danger in her presentation of the Gospel. At times we present Christ as one choice among many, a relativistic mentality in which one chooses based upon his or her own preference. In this case, it is like choosing a favorite flavor of ice cream. While others present following Jesus as a mere reciting of a prayer. If you pray, “God, I know I am a sinner. I know Christ died for me. I believe.” then you are right on your way to heaven! It does not matter if you actually believe it. You said the prayer!

Of course, these two are not the only ways in which we skew what conversion is, and Lawrence notes those throughout his book. However, in his chapter titled, Assess Before You Assure, he offers eight ways in which the Church can help answer the question, “Do I believe?”

  1. “First, slow the membership process down.”

    This one is tough, especially for pastors. Imagine telling someone who wants to join your church, “Wait, let’s have a conversation and see what God is doing in your life.” His numbers would decrease! Yet, as Lawrence writes, “It shouldn’t be hard to join a church, but unlike the churches I grew up in, you shouldn’t be able to join the first Sunday you visit.” (Lawrence, 104)

    If we take the time to get to know one another, we may actually learn that one’s understanding of the Gospel is inaccurate. We may learn that they are able to articulate the Gospel, but their life does not match it. Hopefully, however, we learn that they know the Gospel and live by it, which will help confirm, in their own heart and mind, the affirmative answer to our question.

  2. “Second, have pastors or elders conduct membership interviews.”

    This is an area that I believe many churches could benefit. God gave the church pastor-teachers for several reasons. Ephesians 4:12-16 gives a good overview:

    “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (ESV)

    One way to help answer the question, “Do I believe?” is to be interviewed by an elder or pastor. They are gifted in the areas of biblical teaching and insight, maintain high moral character (through the grace of God, of course), and are given by God for the very task of answering this question (among other duties). In the churches of the United States, we are too easily satisfied with a quick conversation that goes something like this:

    1. Pastor: So, why have you come forward?
    2. Prospective member: I want to join the church.
    3. Pastor: Sounds great! Have you accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior?
    4. Prospective member: Yes I did when I was a kid!
    5. Pastor: Amazing. Welcome to the church!


Of course, this is a simplification. However, I do not believe its too far off. Lawrence notes, “The point is to take the time to hear a person’s story in safety. There’s only so much you can learn in the hallway after church.” (Lawrence, 105) A discussion with an elder or pastor will help confirm one’s conversion, or it will open the door to discussion what conversion really is. Either way, the pastor-teacher is able to help develop the “knowledge of the Son of God” in the life of that individual (Ephesians 4:13).

  1. “Third, reconsider your practice of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.”

    The Scriptures have much to say on these two ordinances. I believe the Church, in general, has reacted toward the Catholic understanding of sacraments too much. For example, when someone is baptized we stress that it is merely symbolic, it just represents the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Or take the Eucharist. We are simply doing this “in remembrance” of Him. We have down played their worth and benefit in order to avoid a wrong understanding. It is a good motive, but one that needs a little correcting. I believe Michael Lawrence’s words are best: “Other than on the missions frontier, as with the Ethiopian eunuch, the apostles had no category for a baptized Christian who wasn’t part of a local church. Devote time in the morning service to hear baptismal testimonies—not of prayers prayed, but of lives changed. When it comes to the Lord’s Super, don’t say, ‘The Tables are open.’ Take time to explain to each other who should participate in the Supper: baptized members of gospel-preaching local churches.” (Lawrence, 105)

We will save the other five for another post. Might I encourage you to ask yourself, “Do I believe?” One assistance is the local church. Are you a part of believers? Have you covenanted together? Perhaps you have never experience conversion. I would love to help you answer the question, “Do I believe?”

 

You can check on the book Conversion: How God Creates a People by Michael Lawrence here.

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Ministry Downloads: A Great Ministry Resource

I have recently read Terrace Crawford’s #Going Social, which I reviewed in a previous post.

In a follow up to that, Terrace has just unveiled his newest help, Ministry Downloads.

Ministry Downloads Image

Go ahead and check them out!

Here are a few people who will benefit from this: Senior Pastors, Student Ministers, children’s workers, and even small group leaders!

The amount of help on this site is incredible. One of the neat aspects of this hub is that people can contribute to it! Have you ever taught a series and it was spectacular, but you weren’t sure how to share it? Well, Terrace handles that problem for you. In fact, you can actually profit from your work. Head over to their website for the details on that.

Also, if you have some cash to spare, go get Terrace’s book. Even if you are familiar with social media, you can always learn some new tools for your life and ministry.

God bless!

 

Convictions or Preferences? Help for the Holidays from Tripp

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I highly recommend Paul Tripp’s book Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens. The book is so helpful. And in connection with Thanksgiving and the approaching holidays, some issues may arise about our standards. Merriam-Webster Online defines standards as “ideas about morally correct and acceptable behavior.”[1] Each family develops their own standards based on a variety of influences (family background, cultural influences, religious observances, etc.). But with the meeting of families differences become apparent. Sometimes questions may arise on the part of our students such as, “Why does so-and-so get to do that?” or “Her parents allow her to go to that movie! Why can’t I?”. These questions have to do with our standards, what we have come to believe to be morally correct or acceptable, and consequently what is not.

“Real convictions are based on…truth. Preferences are based on…desire.” Tripp

Being with family presents many opportunities to discuss differences in standards. But there is another aspect that would behoove us to both learn and develop: preferences versus convictions. Tripp writes, “Real convictions are based on revealed truth (that is, Scripture). Preferences are based on personal desire….Our teenagers need to understand the difference between a conviction and a preference.”[2] Thus, as parents/guardians, we need to develop a deeper understanding of a conviction. This will allow us to present truth to our students while at the same time allowing differences in standards and a willingness to acknowledge the validity of others’ views. The opportunities afforded by interacting with families are invaluable.

<a href=”http://ctt.ec/b9Gb5″><img src=”http://clicktotweet.com/img/tweet-graphic-1.png&#8221; alt=”Tweet: Conviction or preference? How to handle differences…
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But how do we determine a conviction? Some people may do so for emotional reasons. A family member may have developed an addiction to drugs by spending time downtown, and so the parents decide their students will never go downtown. Or a guardian might have had an issue with gang related violence and so vehemently avoids a particular color of clothing. But is this really a conviction? If a conviction is really based on Scripture, then it must be based on a well-developed, researched, and thought-out investigation. Here are six aspects to help us determine whether something is a conviction or just a preference.

  • A biblical conviction is always based on a study of, submission to, and application of Scripture.
  • A biblical conviction is always predetermined.
  • A biblical conviction will not change with the circumstances.
  • A biblical conviction is inflexible.
  • A biblical conviction is bold.
  • A biblical conviction is always lived out.[3]

It might be helpful to sit down with your student and discuss this. In fact, what a great way to help develop their critical thinking skills by applying it to the study and living out of Scripture! This truly is an age of opportunity. I cannot image sitting down with my four-year-old daughter London and attempting this. I am sure the conversation would be amusing to say the least! But imagine sitting down with your thirteen-year-old student and working through why it is best to wait for God’s chosen spouse for sex. How might this empower them? How might this help them develop of love for God’s grace in their lives?

So as the holidays approach, spend time determining what is your conviction and what is your preference. Learn to communicate this with your students. Conversations will come up about what other people do and allow. Hopefully this will help give you food for thought!

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving! And…

 

“The LORD bless you and keep you;

the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

(Numbers 6.24-26, NIV)

[1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/standard accessed 23 November 2016

[2] Paul D. Tripp, Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Phillipsburg, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: 2001), 131-132.

[3] Tripp, Age of Opportunity, 132-133.

Lectio Divina: A Wonderful Experience

“Situated between life as we know it and life in its hoped-for fullness, spiritual practices are imbued with a sense of our relatedness to God, others, and the earth.” [Griffth and Groome, 2012]

That is how the editors Colleen Griffith and Thomas Groome begin their section on ‘The Nature and Purpose of Spiritual Practices’. In my recent reading of the book Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus author Mark Yaconelli writes about “two basic, traditional forms of contemplative prayer to parents and people who minister with young people: lectio divina and centering prayer.” [Yaconelli, 2006] The practice known as lectio divina is of great spiritual value to those who can mine its wealth. Certainly there is wisdom in approaching this carefully, weighing each thought and prayer in balance with the Scriptures. Having that as an understanding, let us move into the practical benefits of lectio divina and the methods.

Yaconelli defines lectio divina as “holy reading”. [Yaconelli, 2006] There is a brief mention of this practice in Scripture (see Acts 8.26-39), and Schneiders describes it as “a rich practice of biblical spirituality of transformative engagement with the Word.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012]

Schneiders continues, “Lectio divina is a four-step process that begins with the slow, leisurely, attentive reading (lectio) and rereading of a biblical text. Often the text is committed to memory in the process. By internalizing the text in its verbal form, one passes on to a rumination or meditation on scripture bear witness to both the spiritual depth and the imaginative breadth to which the process could lead.” [Griffith and Groome, 2012] Schneiders description is brief, and unfortunately does not provide much practical advice.

This is where Yaconelli comes in handy. He provides a five-step method which I shall reproduce for you.

  • Preparation- find a passage of Scripture that can be meditated, contemplated, mined for its wealth. Set the ambiance, light a candle, place a cross or crucifix before you. Use bread and wine. breadwine-63ed983aThese are all symbols (and there are much more) that can bring to mind a thousand thoughts and accounts from Scripture.
  • Silence- Yaconelli recommends finding a quiet place in which you can communicate with God without noise or distraction. The Psalmist recommends being still (Psalm 46.10 uses a word that denotes a complete cessation of activity), so this is the first step.peaceful-place-park
  • Reading- This one seems to stand without saying, but lectio divina requires reading. This reading is different than our normal reading. Sometimes we read for information, other times for leisure. But for this we are “seeking to be with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006] So a short Psalm, a few verses in an epistle work perfectly.
  • Meditation- This step allows the truth of the Scripture to speak through the Holy Spirit about your life, your thoughts, your successes, your failures, you.
  • Oration- This is where you begin to speak to God, you thank Him, beg Him for help. “Honestly express your deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires in a dialogue with God.” [Yaconelli, 2006]
  • Contemplation- I love how Yaconelli describes this last step. “Finally, allow yourself to simply rest in God, like a child resting in her mother’s lap.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

There is a mystical beauty in this practice. Sometimes it may be hard, especially for our western, fact-based thinking. But I close with the story he offers as a magnificent description of lectio divina.

“My wife and I dated in college before the days of e-mail. During the summers, when we were apart, we would write letters to each other. I still remember the excitement of running to the mailbox after each workday, hoping to see a letter with my name written in Jill’s handwriting. Each time I received a letter from my beloved, I would run down to my room, close the door, and then slowly pore over her words. When I read a letter from Jill, it was very different from other forms of reading. I wasn’t seeking to catch up on the news as much as I was seeking to experience Jill. I was seeking to meet her in her letters, to receive her love, to feel her presence and be with her in some way.” [Yaconelli, 2006]

God’s Presence…When You Can’t Feel It

That feeling is all too common to the believer. That feeling, where once a closeness with God was enjoyed, that God’s existence is questioned. If you have been a believer for any length of time, you know exactly what I am talking about right now. Perhaps you are even experiencing it at this moment.

If you are like me, you go through seasons where this is the case. Something that I have found encouraging is the fact that many individuals in the Scriptures also have the same experience. In Thomas A Kempis’s work, The Imitation of Christ, he speaks on emptiness. He describes it as “When you no longer feel the comfort of God’s presence…” [Thomas A. Kempis, The Imitation of Christ (Notre Dame, Ave Maria: 1989), 74]

I love what he writes next. Though it is long, it is well worth your time to read it.

“This is nothing new or strange to those who know God’s ways, for the great saints and prophets of old often experienced such changes; whence, the Psalmist, feeling grace present in him, declared, ‘In my prosperity I said I shall never be moved.’ But when grace was withdrawn he added what he felt inside, saying: ‘You hid your face from me, and I became troubled.’ Yet, in the midst of this, he did not despair but prayed to the Lord all the more earnestly and said: ‘To you, O lord, I shall cry and shall beg forgiveness of my God.’ Finally, his prayer was answered, and he testified that he was heard by saying: ‘The Lord heard and has had mercy on me: the Lord became my helper.’ But how? ‘You have turned my sorrow into joy,’ he said, ‘and surrounded me with gladness.’ If it happened in this way with the great saints, we who are weak and poor should not despair if we are sometimes burning with desire and sometimes not. The Holy Spirit comes and goes according to his good pleasure; whence, blessed Job says: ‘You visit him at daybreak, and you suddenly test him.'” [Kempis, 74.]

Job says it this way,

 

But if I go to the east, he is not there;
    if I go to the west, I do not find him.
When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
    when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
 But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.
Job 23.8-10 NIV

So take heart today, though you feel not His presence, He is there. His name, after all, is EmmanuelGod with us!

Following the Leader: When You Should Get Help

This morning I read Exodus chapter 18 for my devotions. I love the book because I am very much like Moses. Neither one of us really desire to speak in front of people (Ex. 4.10, while I love preaching and teaching, and the Lord has greatly helped me, I still get so nervous and feel inadequate). We both have some anger problems (Ex. 16.20; 32.19-20). And one last thing is that we both try to do things alone (Ex. 19.13).

 Moses was attempting to make decisions for the entire nation. He would be at it from morning until evening, literally all day. Can you imagine how tiring this would be?

And yet, you and I try and do many things on our own. We try and lead a good life, we try to succeed at work, we try to do really well in school, raise kids, keep a house clean, and the list could go on forever.

We, like Moses, must have this odd belief that we are the only ones that can accomplish certain tasks, do certain things, and say what needs to be said. But we were never meant to do things alone. When God created us He created us to be with Him and with others (see Genesis 2.18-25). We need help, as Moses needed help! Jethro offered Moses incredible advice and when Moses followed through magnificent things began to happen. He was resting! And one of the benefits of us enlisting help is that we rest.

Another amazing consequence of getting people to help is that it allows them to use their gifts, callings, and abilities to help someone else. We are a community, and as such we are able to help and to be helped. 

I hope that we, like Moses, have Jethros in our lives to help give us sage advice. And I also hope that we actually take the advice.

“What you are doing is not good. You and the people will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you.” Jethro

Be You. Do Good. A Review.

Be You. Do Good.

A Review

I was privileged to receive an advanced copy of Jonathan Golden’s new book, Be You. Do Good. The subtitle, “Having the Guts to Pursue What Makes You Come Alive”, really captures what Golden is attempting to help his readers accomplish.

I love reading. I love reading academic books that help grow my intellectual capacity. I also love reading books that have soul. By this I mean the author communicates his passion, his story, his very life. Very few books do this; Jonathan Golden’s book does.

His twelve steps function as the chapters of his book. Each chapter weaves part of his own amazing story of founding the coffee company Land of a Thousand Hills and how he implemented each step. He also includes stories of different clients, parishioners, and family members that connects the academic side (the twelve steps) with the practical side (the life and call of people).

The introduction contains three sentences that convey the heart and the power of this work:

  1. “God calls us to himself”
  2. “God calls us to be ourselves”
  3. “God calls us to do good”[1]

These thoughts are quite amazing when examined in their own right. But they are the spring board that catapults the reader on a wild ride.

Rather than working through the entire book, I want to offer some highlights that were personally inspiring to me. I hope they inspire you, and I hope you purchase the book for yourself!

 

Personal Highlights

 

In chapter one Golden deals with some myths that plague people from finding and doing their calling. The first myth is one that I have personally struggled with and one that Golden captures perfectly. He writes, “If you try to find all of your meaning or purpose in something you do from 9:00 until 5:00, you’ll be disappointed….We need to remember that our life’s work is more than our job. One’s calling is more than what one gets paid to do.”[2] So often we get caught up in what we do (a fast food job, retail work, etc.) that we forget that it isn’t our calling, and it definitely does not represent us.

In another chapter Golden brings up the idea that our lives, “our stories”, are used by God for a purpose. In contrast to the thought that God is not interested in our day-to-day lives, Golden builds on the fact that God is incredibly interested in our lives and desires to use our different backgrounds, experiences, failures and successes to do good.[3]

It’s hard to focus on only a few aspects of the book, but I must limit it a little! One idea that Golden addresses is the fact of God’s will. One only need browse the Christian bookstore or search the web and countless works, sermons, and all kinds of different communications will come up. Some people think it’s difficult to find, but as Golden writes, “I want to suggest that God is much more gracious than that. God is not interested in hiding anything from you.”[4]

Another thing that stuck out to me is the Scripture Golden uses. Some works can overload the reader with thousands of references, bogging them down by endless page turning. This is sometimes necessary (in systematic theologies, for instance). But for people wanting to seek God’s call and accomplish it in their lives, a few verses suffice. Golden does an excellent job of incorporating incredibly pertinent passages that illustrate the point he is drawing out. And then he provides his own story to flesh out the skeletal system of Scripture.

A Book Worth Reading

I underline when I read. And when I say I underline, I mean I underline. If it is a good thought, a challenging quote, or something that inspires me, I underline it. After a few pages into the book, I had to stop. It is one of those books that you just read. There is no need to underline because it’s all good. Are you struggling with your calling? Do you sense God leading you into a certain direction, but aren’t sure how to get there? Then this book is for you. Are you confused as to why God gave you certain desires and different goals, accomplishments, and failures? Then this book is for you. Are you adventurous and want to start that next exciting journey? That’s right. This book is for you.

Jonathan Golden did an excellent job writing this book. I hope that you purchase it and let it inspire you, as it did me.

You can purchase it here on January 19th!

http://bakerpublishinggroup.com/books/be-you-do-good/375530

[1] Jonathan David Golden, Be You. Do Good. (Grand Rapids, BakerBooks: 2016), 16.

[2] Golden, Be You. Do Good., 26-27.

[3] It is quite a fascinating story. It is on pages 33-34.

[4] Golden, Be You. Do Good., 114.