I have heard people acronym that the B.I.B.L.E. stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” But that description bothers me for a number of reasons.
First, is it really basic? If it is so basic, why do we have so much trouble understanding it? Why do we so often disagree on a fundamental level about what it says or what we should do about it? The Bible is actually a very complicated library of books that tells stories to get its point across. It is not basic.
Mark 15:34- And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is a difficult passage. Does God the Father forsake Jesus in this moment? How can we understand these words?
In order to understand them, you have to take a look at the Psalm that Jesus is quoting from. Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22. This is a Psalm attributed to David. It includes instructions with it—To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. These comment is marking the tune that the Psalm is meant to be sung to. It is a Psalm that was sung by the Jewish people in worship. It would be like saying “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…” or “Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father…” Continue reading →
26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to ahis own home. (John 19:26-27 ESV)
This is a great moment of compassion and reconciliation. At its most basic level, this saying of Jesus is not hard to understand. Jesus is trying to take care of his mother. They have not always had the best of relationships. You can imagine that it was not easy to be the mother of Jesus. Continue reading →
It is the day before the 2016 presidential election. I don’t think there has ever been a more divisive or worry-filled election. Tomorrow, some people will be exited that their candidate won and relieved that the other lost. Others will be devastated that their candidate lost and terrified that the other won. There will be Christians in both groups. I am not here to tell you who you should vote for, or who I will vote for. I want to remind us all of a few things to remember in the next several days. Continue reading →
I have been thinking a lot about identity of late. I have come to believe that how you and I view ourselves has a huge impact on how we act and react in different situations. If I see myself as passive and a victim in certain situations, then I am likely to get pushed around. If you see yourself as powerful and in control, then you would react totally in the same situations.
There is a lot of research that has been done into the idea of identity. We have different kinds of identities. Personal identities are ones that you and I hold for ourselves. Role identities related to jobs or responsibilities. Social identities are ones based on our relationships such as who we know or who we are related to.
This means that we all have multiple identities that we move in and out of in different contexts at different times. Have you ever mixed your social groups? Have you ever mixed your college friends and your church friends? It may have been awkward because you have different identities with each of these groups and you don’t know who to be when they mix.
These identities change over time as we change, our contexts change, and as we test out our identities in real life. For example, if I see myself as the boss but nobody listens to me, then I have a problem. Either the people supposedly working for me are losers or I have to adjust my identity to acknowledge that I am not the boss I think I am.
While Paul does not talk about identity in our modern psychological terms in his letters, I think it is an underlying theme in his works. He writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Paul’s theology of identity relates to the resurrection of Jesus. He lays it out in Colossians 3 that we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ. We are considered to be new in Christ. Yet we still have some of our old self in us. We need to put to death all thee selfish actions and destructive behaviors of our old selves. We cannot walk in them anymore. Paul does not think that you are earning your new status. Actually, as Christians we are supposed to become what we already are in Christ.
The idea of Christians finding their identity in Christ is especially difficult in the world we live in. We live in a world where everything is an identity. I know people who find their identity in their job, their kids, who they hang out with, the car they drive, the neighborhood they live in, their sexual preferences, the color of their skin…
We make anything and everything an identity today. But the problem with all of these things is that they cannot hold up to the pressure of life. Identities quickly become idolatries, and idols always let you down because they cannot hold the weight of your life.
The only hope is to find your identity in Christ. That is the only thing that will hold up to the pressures of life. That does not mean that you lose all of those other aspects of your life. They are reordered to less importance. They are less defining when your identity is truly found in Christ. They are arranged to fit around Christ’s purpose for your life.
But all of these parts of your life also become more beautiful in Christ. I am not my kids and should not find my identity in them, yet when I look at being a father in Christ the value of that work and the purpose of that responsibility takes on a whole new meaning. Your job is not a good identity, but it can be a holy calling if you see it in Christ.
Your life because so much more in Christ. If you are finding your identity in anything other than Christ, then you are selling yourself short.
We are all going to die and everyone we know is going to die. Can you feel that tension in the pit of your stomach when you read those words? We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to think about it. But death is an inevitable part of life.
We keep it at bay. We don’t talk about it. We avoid the words death, dead, and die. Instead we say things like passed away and gone on to a better place.
It used to be that when someone died they were laid out in a room in your house called a parlor. Neighbors and friends would come to do viewing hours there. Eventually, a new business was started called a funeral parlor. Now you could pay to use someone else’s parlor instead of your own. Nobody has parlors anymore so these locations are now called funeral homes.
When you died you were often buried on the family property. When you used a cemetery it was usually at the church or in a prominent place in the community. Much of the community would attend funerals. Very few people come to funerals anymore.
Why do we fear death and try to stay so far away from it? First, it is so far out of our control. We don’t know when, where, or how it will happen and the unknown is always scary. Also, we don’t like any changes. We even have a grief reaction when changes are good. But death is the ultimate change. I think that another part of the problem is that death points to a larger reality. There are things going on beyond what we tend to notice and experience every day and that is difficult deal with.
Ultimately, however, I think we avoid dealing with death because it hurts. It stings. It sucks. It tears us apart.
But this is not the final word on death for Christians. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”  “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, death stings. But death is also defeated. We don’t have to fear it or avoid it. We can deal with it and hope in the day when it is no more.
To hear my sermon titled Death, Where is Your Sting? CLICK HERE.
On September 22, 2015, Phyllis Tickle passed away. Phyllis was a great lady and an important person for Christians today. She studied a lot of what is going on in the faith today and she was a very important figure in developing Christian publishing. Phyllis Tickle has had a big impact on my thinking. I even got to meet here once and found her to be a very kind and wonderful lady. I think she influenced me in 3 very big ways.
First, Phyllis Tickle taught me the value of structured prayers and particularly praying the Psalms. Other traditions from Abraham pray throughout the day. Muslims and Jews both stop multiple times a day to pray. Many Christians, however, do not realize is that the early Christians also did this. It may be surprising, but the idea of stopping at fixed hours to pray throughout the day a found a number of times throughout the Bible. (See Ps 119:164, 55:17; Dan 6:10; Acts 3:1; Acts 10:9)
The early church continued and developed the hours. It was used extensively as the church developed monasteries. They continued throughout the Middle Ages. But at the Reformation they were lost except in certain traditions such as the Episcopal tradition. These prayers have been around a long time and, until recently, seem to have been a regular part of the Christian faith.
These prayers are called many things—fixed hour prayers, the daily office, the divine hours, the liturgy of hours. Phyllis Tickle wrote the most accessible version that I have found called The Divine Hours. Here version follows the annual calendar and are very ecumenical and easy to use. A couple times a year I still go back to those books to give my faith some structure and consistency.
A few years ago I wrote Divine Hours with my dad for our churches to try during Advent. (Download it Here). This is actually how I got in touch with Phyllis. I emailed her my work and she was complimentary of my efforts. A couple of months later I got to meet her at the Festival of Homiletics.
Beside the Divine Hours, Phyllis taught me the value of studying what is currently going on in Christianity. She saw that new expressions of church and faith were emerging. Phyllis tried to study this movement and report on how it was working. What are the questions that are being asked? Where are the challenges? Where is there new life springing forth? I believe that here books The Great Emergence and Emergence Christianity will go down as critical works for the church in the next 20 years. The first is an overview of what is happening. The second is like a field report for this new faith that is emerging.
The final thing I learned from Phillis is an extension of her analysis of the current emergence. When she wrote about what was happening she wrote with a historical perspective. She taught me Tickle to not just look at the present or future of the church but to look through the lens of the past. Her large point was that about every 500 years human culture goes through a major upheaval where the worldview and structure of nearly everything changes. Think about the Enlightenment and the Reformation 500 years ago. When you look back, you can see consistent elements of each of these “turnings.” For instance, every time these periods come up new forms of religion form and old forms are adapted. They are always accompanied by changes in technology. Also, they are always accompanied with questions of authority.
The specifics of her analysis are not near as important as the fundamental basis for her thinking—that we should look backwards as we look forward.
It is very sad to lose Phyllis Tickle. She joins a list of important Christian leaders who have died in recent years—Brennan Manning, Chuck Colson, Dallas Willard, Robert Schuller, Lyle Schaller, Fred Craddock, and Gardner Taylor. These are all people who not everyone will agree with, but they were important contributors to the faith. I wonder who will step up and be the leaders of tomorrow’s church?
I conclude with one of my favorite verses to use at funerals:
 And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13 ESV)
I don’t know if you have ever had the experience of reading a book or blog or listening to a talk or sermon and thinking—“This is the conclusion to something I have been thinking about for a while.” It is almost as if the authors knew what you were thinking and were able to take it to its end and flesh it out for you. The teacher of my Doctor of Ministry Program Len Sweet has an uncanny knack for both writing and assigning books that do this to me.
At the same time that we have not developed followership the world has increasing demanded it. More work is being done in teams. These teams require a growing amount of collaboration as individual members of the team have unique contributions to projects. This is even more challenging when the team has to function over distance.
I loved how the authors talk about leadership and followership. They say that leaders set the frame of the work. They are responsible to set up the goals, constraints, and timelines for the work. The follower do the work within that frame. I loved this because I think this is a great way to frame leadership. Leaders don’t control all of the work but actually help those they are leading to do the work. This also emphasizes the importance of good followers.
How many bosses really help their employees do their work? How many employees really work to help their bosses get their goals accomplished?
I think the idea of followership is especially important for Christians. As Len Sweet discussed in his book Summoned to Lead, Christians are first and foremost followers. Central to our identity and work is the reality that we are followers of Christ. Sometimes God summons us to the front of a group of followers, but we are always still following Jesus. How are we doing at following?
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth. John 1:14
Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It is much more than forgiveness. It means that God is for us and not against.
Truth is reality. It is facts. It is honest but more than that is means being true to what the world is really like.
Jesus is full of grace and truth. He is not all grace. There is a reality to Jesus coming that makes some people run and hide. Jesus is truth that we do not always want to hear. But Jesus is not all truth either. Yes, staring into the face of Christ may mean that you have to change or may have to confront a truth you don’t want. But God is also for you, on your side, and in your corner. God wants the best for you even when you, like a child at Toys R Us, don’t know what is best for yourself.
Grace are not opposites. They are two sides to the same coin. And we need them both. We need the support of knowing that those around us are for us and we need others to speak truth into our lives when we are off base.
Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all grace and no truth? Here you are great, special, perfect the way you are. It feels good, but people in these contexts are never challenged and never grow.
Have you ever been in a church or on a team that is all truth but no grace? Here you are not doing this right, not living up to this standard, or not doing enough of that. These contexts do not feel good and many people think this kind of feedback will force growth. But in the end people in these contexts are not supported enough to really step out and grow.
We need a balance of grace and truth in our lives over time to see growth and change. Jesus was full of both. I think that Christ’s churches and Christ’s followers ought to be full of both as well.
(For more on grace and truth, please devour the works of Henry Cloud and John Townsend)
I admit it. I am tired right now. Not just tired. I am a little bit down and depressed. I don’t have a lot of energy. I am a bit grumpy or at least closed off. I am not normally like this. I am normally a pretty upbeat and positive guy. I just find that sometimes in ministry I don’t feel 100%.
When this first happened in ministry I fought it. After all, I was doing God’s work and God would sustain me, wouldn’t He? But the down-ness came back every once in a while.
At some point during one of these times I picked up the book Lectures to My Students by Charles Spurgeon. Lecture 6 titled “The Minister’s Fainting Fits” has been a constant companion for me in ministry ever since. In that book, Spurgeon taught me 5 really important things about pastoral depression.
1. Down times are normal. Spurgeon says, “The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.” Pastors are people and nobody is excited all the time. But the work of ministry also offers unique demands and stresses. I find it very comforting to know that what I am going through is normal.
2. Down times come for different reasons. Spurgeon covers a number of them. Ministers faint because of physical ailments. The weight of the work makes us carry ourselves with more importance and our position lends itself to resistance and conflict. The ministry can also create bad sedentary habits. We also often feel like fainting before and after times of great success, when we are working without a break, or when troubles pile up. Sometimes people also betray or wound you.
3. Sometimes down times come for no reason. This one bothers me. What I would like to do is figure out the cause and fix it. Sometimes, however, no direct cause is there to be found. When this happens, Spurgeon says “it is all the more difficult to drive it away.” In my own language, it just has to be patiently waited out.
4. Down times do not mean you are unfit for ministry or failing. The first couple of times I got down and depressed in ministry, I got worried that maybe I was not cut out for the work or was doing something wrong. Sometimes I do need to pace myself better. Ministry is more of a marathon than a spring. Still, feeling down does not mean your are failing. Spurgeon says, “Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness.”
5. God uses down times.This is where Spurgeon seems almost off his rocker. He insists that these ‘fainting fits’ are actually helpful.
“Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. Live by the day—ay, by the hour. Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone, and lean not on the reeds of human help.”
In fact, Spurgeon thinks we should praise God for down times:
“Glory be to God for the furnace, the hammer, and the file. Heaven shall be all the fuller of bliss because we have been filled with anguish here below, and earth shall be better tilled because of our training in the school of adversity.”
For Spurgeon, God blesses us with adversity and depression so that we will trust God and not ourselves, we will live by faith and not by feelings, and so that we can be sensitive to experiencing adversity as we care for others.
How have you dealt physically and spiritually with depression in your life?
In my previous blogs about the Sabbath I have argued that we really need the Sabbath today. I also said that the Sabbath cannot just be a bunch of rules but needs to be based on grace.
I am not sure that it is feasible to do Sabbath the same way that ancient Israel did. If you can then great, but I don’t think that way of doing Sabbath works in 2015. So, here are 10 tips to think about for doing Sabbath in 2015:
Schedule it. Whatever your Sabbath habit, it will not happen if it is not on the calendar. Put God in first and schedule the rest of your life around that date.
Sabbath does not have to be Sunday. I am a pastor which means that for me Sabbath is not just A workday but it is THE workday. I have to rest at other times. Our culture does not treat Sunday as a special day anymore so many people have to work on Sunday. Find other times to rest.
Piece Sabbath together. I have 4 kids so I almost never get at 24 hour period of Sabbath. I have actually found that it fits me better to piece together my Sabbath throughout the week. There is something special about longer periods of rest, but sometimes resting a little every day is just as important.
Don’t half-way Sabbath. It may not be Sunday and it may not be a 24 hour period, but a Sabbath must be focused on rest. You cannot rest and kind-of work. If you are working then you are not resting. Put the work away. Otherwise you are not effectively working or resting.
Write down what you have to do. I find it easier to really rest and stop worrying about work when I have a good list of what I have to get done. I also find that when I Sabbath I start remembering things I have to do. I Sabbath with a piece of paper handy so I can capture those and then not worry about them. This lets my mind relax.
Try different activities. Sabbath is a time of resting and refreshing. You have to experiment to find what activities (or lack of activities) does that for you. Sometimes you need fed spiritually. Sometimes you need sleep. Sometimes you need a distraction. Take a nap, play a game, go for a run, watch a movie… Your Sabbath may look different at different times. Try different things and see what works.
Have a deadline. One of the secrets to Sabbath is the deadline. If you have a clear time that your Sabbath begins then you can get motivated to get housework and work-work done by that time so you can fully rest. I don’t know about you, but I always work hardest right before going on vacation. I don’t want to have to worry about things or be working on things while I am away. If you have that kind of weekly deadline for Sabbath it will help both your productivity and your rest.
Think Sunset to Sunset. We tend to think of the day starting in the morning, but I think that the old way of thinking about the day starting the night before is helpful. If you only have a morning of Sabbath on a certain day then start your Sabbath at sunset the night before. It will add to your rest.
Cook meals ahead. Cooking (especially in big families) can be a lot of work. Put a meal in the crockpot or prep a casserole the day before so that you can easily share meals together on your Sabbath. This particularly helps mom to Sabbath.
Live a life of Sabbath. We tend to see Sabbath as a break from the important things of our lives, but that is not Sabbath. Sabbath is the recognition that God is the most important thing. Live the other 6 days of the week with a focus on the Sabbath. It can change your life.
This is the 4th in a 5 part blog on Sabbath. So far I have tried to develop why we need Sabbath so badly. With this blog we take a step toward the practical. What should Sabbath look like?
Perhaps a good place to start is to consider what Sabbath has looked like. For Israel, the Sabbath was a day when no work was to be done. Not only could you not work, but your servants and animals could not work either. You could not have another person work for you.
Days were calculated from sunset to sunset, so all the work for the week had to be done by sunset on Friday. This included meals to be eaten during the Sabbath. Everything was ready for the Sabbath to start. This also included the candles and readings for family celebrations on the Sabbath. The day normally included family meals and trip to the temple if you were nearby.
In our lifetimes, Sabbath was more of a social construct. Do you remember when nothing was open on Sunday? There were laws that said businesses could not be open. You could not go out to eat because nothing was open. And you did not dare mow your grass on a Sunday.
The challenge with these Sabbath styles is that they have a tendency to be contrary to the true idea of Sabbath. If Sabbath is a bunch of rules then you inevitably end up working to follow the rules. It is hard to rest in that kind of system.
The reality is that we barely do anything like Sabbath anymore. Sure, we go to church if we don’t have something else to do, but the rest of our Sundays are slammed with activities and projects.
Why don’t we Sabbath anymore? Maybe we are just so busy. Maybe we don’t see the need for Sabbath. Maybe we don’t know how. And the way we have experienced Sabbath is legalistic and does not lead to true rest.
If we are going to develop a Sabbath, it has to start with a clear sense of why we are doing it. It will need structure, but not an overbearing one. Perhaps it will not be on Sunday. Perhaps we won’t be able to do a 24 hour period. Perhaps it won’t be Sunday.
Here is my big point: a Sabbath of true rest has to be based on grace. It can’t be based in shame or in rules.
So far in these blogs about Sabbath I have made the case that Sabbath is a symbol of commitment between God and God’s people (a wedding ring) and that Sabbath is a sign of resistance to the world’s view of people and life. But it is more than just a symbol and it is more than just resistance. Sabbath is also a major tool that God uses to help us love our God and love our neighbor.
Consider the place and role of the Sabbath in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. There are 3 commandments about God—no other Gods, no idols, and no taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are 6 commandments about neighbor—honor father and mother, don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness against neighbor or lie, and don’t covet.
Sabbath sits in the list right between these 2 sets. It is by far the longest commandment and it is the hinge between the two sets. Sabbath is how we start to take our relationship with God and live it out. It is the mechanism God uses to help us live out our faith with our neighbors.
But how does Sabbath help us love God and love neighbor?
Sabbath keeps us connected to God. In Psalm 46:10 God tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” How can we stay connected with God if we are never still? We need to Sabbath so that we can stay connected with God. Otherwise our lives will tend to crowd God out.
Sabbath keeps us aware of our neighbors. If we are busy few tend to lose sight of others. I don’t even see my neighbors when I am rushing to get somewhere. Sabbath gives us space to notice the needs around us.
Sabbath helps us to not stop coveting. Coveting is last commandment for a reason. It is often coveting that leads to the other sins listed, and it is Sabbath that helps us to deal with it. When we are satisfied, we can trust God and there is no need to harm others. We need the Sabbath to help us stay connected to God so that we do not covet.
Sabbath keeps us rested and at our best. Have you ever noticed that if you are really tired or really stressed you tend to have a shorter fuse? Sabbath gives us rest so that we have the ability to choose our emotional responses to situations instead of just reacting to life.
Do you have trouble trusting God? Do you have trouble having empathy for others? My first question for you is—what is your Sabbath habit like?
God for whom a year is but a moment, I thank You for this new year. I thank You that I get this gift of life for another year. For another chance to serve You. The year past was filled with ups and downs, highs and lows, smiles and frowns. I thank You for being with us. The New Year is filled with giant possibilities to be excited about and scared of. I thank You that You already know what is coming.
I pray for a sense of newness in the New Year. Let it be a fresh start for me. Help me to do things I have left undone, to reconcile old relationships, and to make great new friendships. I also pray for a sense of oldness in the New Year. Help me to connect with an ancient faith, to be guided by Your Word, and to be a little more old-fashioned in a world that is far too fast paced.
I pray for big things in the New Year. Please do impossible, giant, and world changing things. Shake up social issues, overturn financial crises, and rock lives that seemed un-rockable. I also pray for little things in the New Year. Do all kinds of ordinary, everyday, and simple things in our live. Give me eyes to see Your daily grace for me.
Help me to know You better and follow You more closely in 2015. May You- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- receive all the glory in all my life and world. Amen.
This is a little Advent devotional that I put together for this year. It is scriptures about who Jesus is from the Old and New Testaments with brief introductions that I wrote for each text. I hope it is helpful for you on your Advent journey. Click here to download: Who is this Baby- an Advent Devotional
You would not go out and run a marathon after not working out for a year.
You would not expect a car that has been parked in the garage for a few years to drive well across the country.
So why do so many people expect their faith to be there when they go through difficult times when they have done nothing do develop or strengthen their faith.
I see it over and over again. A person talks to me about having a faith crisis after a difficult time in their life and I wonder–when was the last time you were in church? How is your devotional life? Tell me about your prayer life? I don’t think that we can control God. As if God will be nicer to you and go easier on you if you are in church more often. But I do think that faith is like a muscle. It needs to be stretched and worked out regularly. That way when life throws you into a marathon you have the muscles in place to do the work. Sure, you might still get sore. You might still pull a muscle. But you are better off if you have been working those muscles regularly.
Prayer, Bible reading, spiritual conversation, worship… All of these aspects of the Christian faith are like tune-ups and test drives on the vehicle that is your faith. If you haven’t used a car in a while then things don’t work right. These things might be mundane– like getting an oil change or going to the gym– but you want to do those things before you need them.
How is your faith doing? Do you need a trip to the gym? Where do you need a tune-up and a test drive?