The Bible is not a Microwave Instruction Manual

Can we as Christians just all agree, right here and right now, to give up the metaphor of an instruction manual for the Bible.

First of all, when is the last time you read an instruction manual? Have you ever poured your morning coffee, sat down on the porch, and did quiet time with the manual for your microwave? No. You only read an instruction manual as a last resort. You microwave is smoking and you find the dusty manual to find out what is happening.

Second, if the Bible is an instruction manual then we need to admit that it is horribly written. You can’t find easy answers. Things are not laid out clearly. Even core Christian doctrines like the Trinity and the dual nature of Jesus as fully human and fully divine take 300 and 400 years respectively for the church to decide on.

Can you imagine if your microwave instruction manual was written like the Bible?

In the beginning was the microwave, and the microwave was with the manufacturer, and the microwave was the manufacturer…
In him was popcorn, and the popcorn was smelled by all men. The smell flowed in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not…
There was a man, sent from the manufacturer, he was called the salesman… He was not the microwave, but was sent to bear witness about the popcorn.

The Bible is not strengthened when we try to make it an instruction manual. It is weakened. The Bible at full strength is a book of stories and poems that shock you and make you think. Let it be what it is.

God’s Will–Fuzzy before Clarity

In Acts 9, Paul is threatening the church, and gets letters so that he has legal permission to arrest these new followers of the way and bring them bound to Jerusalem. He is on a self-righteous crusade against what he feels is a threat to Judaism.

Then, on the way to Damascus, BAM! He is stopped in his tracks. He is surrounded by light. Light is a great symbol in the Bible, and even to this day. When someone learns something, it is said that they are enlightened. In cartoons, when a character has an idea, a lightbulb turns on. Light was a symbol of good in the darkness, and direction in the darkness, and new ideas. Continue reading

Pray and Prepare- Learning Life from Nehemiah

I have been preaching the book of Nehemiah, and it has been very insightful for me personally. Nehemiah finds out about the challenges in Jerusalem and prays for months. Then he gets to talk to the king about it. It seems like a fortuitous conversation, until you realize that Nehemiah knows the supplies he needs, the permissions that he needs, and even how long rebuilding the wall should take. He has not just been praying. He has been planning.

This is a major theme in Nehemiah. He prays and prepares. He prays and plans. He asks God to help and then takes action. He trusts God to work it out and then works on it. He is the same way with the people he is leading. God will build our walls, and here is your shovel. God will protect us, so grab your swords. Continue reading

Render Unto Caesar: Seek the Welfare of the City

This sermon is the final sermon of a 4-week series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics. You can listen to audio of the sermon HERE.

Today I finish my 4-week sermon series on faith and politics. I have tried to speak truth, but not give my own opinion. I wanted to give background to change how you approach politics as a Christian. It has been funny, as the series has gone on, that a few people have come up to me and said something like, “Jordan, I wish you would just tell me who you think I should vote for?” Now, I don’t think that everybody wants me just to tell me who to vote for, and I am guessing if I told you then you would just ignore it anyway unless it confirmed what you already wanted to do. Continue reading

Render Unto Caesar: The Politics of Jesus

This sermon is the third of a 4-week series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics. You can listen to audio of the sermon HERE.

I have been shocked in my own work to prepare for this sermon series at how political the Bible is and, particularly, how political the life of Jesus is. Maybe I have just never looked at the text from this perspective before, but as I have been thinking and reading this month, I can see political realities and political implications on every page of the scriptures. Today, for this sermon, I want to explore how faith and politics mingle and move in the Bible and especially in the life of Jesus. Continue reading

Render Unto Caesar: Two Kingdoms

This sermon begins a 4 week sermon series I am doing on faith and politics. My goal is not to tell people what to think or who to vote for, but rather to address some of the underlying spiritual issues at play in our national and global politics. I want to help Christians learn how to think about politics.

You can listen to audio of the sermon at http://jordanrimmer.podbean.com/e/render-unto-caesar-two-kingdoms/

One of my life verses comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32, which is in the middle of a list of the people that were in David’s mighty men. It says, “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, 200 chiefs, and all their kinsmen under their command.” I see myself, as a pastor and also in my own personality and wiring, to be called by God to be of Issachar—to understand the times and know what the people of God should do. Continue reading

Communion Thoughts: Blogs about the Lord’s Supper

Here are the links to my blog series on communion, all in one place.

Communion Thoughts #1- What is Communion?

 

Communion Thoughts #2- What Happens During Communion?

 

Communion Thoughts #3- Traditional Practices of Communion

 

WHY I AM NOT DOING INTINCTION ANYMORE

 

Communion Thoughts #5- Seven Great Images for Communion

 

Communion Thoughts #6- Tips for Making Communion More Meaningful

 

THE SEARCH FOR CONSISTENCY

Before I went to work in the church I was the director of a company that did experiential education to teach leadership, teambuilding, and character development. We worked with school groups and businesses but most of our work was with athletic teams. Basically, I led groups through a series of challenges and games that would test their group dynamics. Because it was away from the sport, teams had an easier time seeing their chemistry (or lack thereof), and because there was no score teams felt comfortable trying on new behaviors.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I have worked with hundreds of teams and still do some of that work to this day. For all of those teams there was one issue that came up more than any other and one issue that every coach wanted help with—CONSISTENCY! I have found that:

  • Some teams would play good against good teams but then turn around and play poorly when they play a bad team.
  • Some teams would play bad when they played a good team that they thought would beat them but then play really well when they were expected to win.
  • Some teams played well to start games while others started slow and finished strong.
  • Some teams played well with leads, others blew leads, and still others did not play with urgency until they were behind.
  • Some teams you just never knew which team was going to show up because their play was so inconsistent.

I don’t think this struggle is only true of athletic teams. How many times do we live our lives by responding to how we feel or what is going on in the world around us? Are you trying to work out more, write a book, develop a business, or pastor a church? Then you need consistency. Working with all of these teams, I found that it takes 2 things to be consistent—an incredible amount of clarity and resolve.

CONSISTENCY REQUIRES CLARITY. Great teams know how they like to work. They know what they want to accomplish and have a clear sense of why. They are crystal clear not only about their goal but also how they need to play to attain their goal. This includes the pace, the style, the roles that the players take, and the balance of focus and relaxation. Great teams and athletes try to impose their will on the game and play it in their style.

This is why you never wanted to play Michael Jordan when he was sick. When he knew his illness was going to bring down his play he stepped up all the more. He was not competing with the opposing team as much as competing with his own picture of what he need to do.

CONSISTENCY REQUIRES RESILIENCE. If a team or athlete has a clear sense of what they want to do, then they need to find the resilience to play that way in different circumstances. It is easy to play your game when you are winning or when things are going right, but what about when you lose, when you have an injury, or when a ref makes a bad call? Great teams have the grace to not fall apart but still be there together in the bad times. They also have the truth or the accountability to call each other back to what is necessary.

Rescue 05I worked with a women’s college basketball team one time that had a new coach who was trying to change the culture and take the program to the next level. As I worked with the team, I noticed how often they said “sorry” to each other and how slow they were to help each other. I asked them about this and they said that they did not want to offend each other or step on each other’s toes. I challenged them to rethink their view because in a game they needed to be more direct. Not only was it faster but they needed to be able to hold each other accountable. They were able to hear that. They coach had been making the game plan very clear. Now it was time for them to be more resilient.

If you want to be consistent, find a way to be crystal clear on what you have to do and build systems and find teammates to make you resilient.

5 Things to Remember as the Holidays Approach

Christmas is upon us. Wow, that came fast. As we move into the holidays, let me remind you of five things:

  1. Invite someone to church. This is the time of year where people are most likely to visit a church. Statistics show that a good statistical number of people would consider going to church if someone they knew invited them. So…invite them.
  2. Welcome people to church. This is the time of year when we get more guests. Ask them questions about themselves. Be kind. Be welcoming. Forgive them if they sit in your seat.
  3. Remember those who have a “blue Christmas.”   While Christmas is a celebration for many, it is a painful reminder for others of those who have been lost, of empty chairs at the family gatherings, and of stocking that do not need placed over the fireplace anymore.
  4. Pray for your church in this time. December is very busy. We do get new visitors. Ii is also the most important financial month of the year as people give end-of-the-year gifts to the church. A good December can mean a lot to the overall spiritual and financial health. Pray for God’s blessings this December.
  5. Don’t forget Advent. Advent (Latin for coming) is the period of waiting and expectation that leads up until Christmas. Traditionally, no Christmas carols were sung until after Christmas. Instead, the church sang Advent hymns that are slow and solemn—often written in minor keys. That way when Christmas finally came you could be excited. It was a time of reflecting on our need for Jesus who came as a baby, comes into our lives, and will someday come again. Take some time to get into the Advent spirit before you get into the Christmas spirit. It will make your Christmas so much sweeter.

Wednesday Book Recommendations: Church Finances

Like most pastors I graduated from seminary knowing little to nothing about church finances and stewardship.  Unfortunately, this area is critical to leading people and leading the church.  Many churches are not in good financial shape.  This area is perhaps the most important area for seminary graduates to read about.  So here are a couple of good places to get started.
I was blessed early in my ministry to have gone to a workshop with author and consultant J Clif Christopher.  It was a one day workshop that blew me away.  I have shared what I learned there with many people, pastors, and sessions.  Christopher has written three main books on stewardship.  All three of these books should be required reading for pastors.

Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship– This is Christopher’s dismantling of today’s stewardship practices.   In its place, Christopher paints a picture of church finances that is well thought out, mission oriented, and effective in today’s world.

Whose Offering Plate Is It?: New Strategies for Financial Stewardship– This book is a set of practical answers to questions spurned by the previous books.  He deals with things like how to get stewardship stories, deal with campaigns, and how to make stewardship a more open topic in the church.


The Church Money Manual: Best Practices for Finance and Stewardship
–  This is Christopher’s newest book, just put out a few weeks before this writing.  It is the most compact and accessible resource for all things church finances.  It is now my go-to recommendation to pastors and church dealing with stewardship issues.

 

After reading J. Clif Christopher’s stuff and deciding to take these issues more seriously in
my own ministry, I also decided to talk about stewardship and preach about stewardship more regularly.  Two books have been helpful in this regard.  First, Preaching and Stewardship: Proclaiming God’s Invitation to Grow (Vital Worship Healthy Congregations) by Craig Satterlee is a great resource for preaching stewardship sermons.  He gives a lot of examples and even highlights opportunities for stewardship topics throughout the lectionary.  The other resource that I have used is One Minute Stewardship Sermons by Charle Cloughen.  This book is great for taking advantage of the call to the offering.  This is a natural place in the service to shape the congregation’s views about money and stewardship.

For a final recommendation, Developing a Giving Church by Stan Toler and Elmer Towns is a good general overview of developing stewardship in a church.  It covers all the basic elements of healthy church finances and even includes some sermon ideas.

 

5 Ideas for Discerning God’s Will in Groups

I have been blogging about discernment recently.  For this post, I though I would reflect specifically on discernment in groups.  It is challenging enough to discern God’s will, but a lot of times we have to discern in a marriage, as a team, or as a church.  Here are 5 ideas for discerning God’s will is groups.

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1. The goal is to figure out God’s will- Often group discernment makes the process of discernment very unspiritual.  It is easy to break decisions into choices or options.  Think about how easily a decision becomes about “my way” versus “your way.”  Even the way we vote in groups betrays this:  “All those in favor signify by saying ‘aye.'”  When we vote we are saying publicly that our goal is to vote our opinion.  The goal of discernment is to find God’s will.  Graham Standish at Calvin Church in Zelienople has changed his vote to the following: “All those who sense this may be God’s will please signify by saying ‘aye.'”  This is much truer to the goal of discernment.

2. The Holy Spirit can speak through anyone and anything- The key to discernment in groups is learning to listen to one another.  Since the Holy Spirit is within all of us, God can choose to speak through any one of us.  Debate limits true listening.  We need to be willing to hear what God is saying to the group.

3. Do not rush the decisions- Hurry is the opponent of good discernment, but this is especially important in groups.  When we feel the need to rush decisions, we tense up.  This limits listening and puts pressure on the decision.  Sometimes our own tension can increase the tensions in others.

4. Make all decisions reversible- It is important that there not be too much pressure to make decisions final.  This is what Graham Standish’s above vote call does so well.  It says that this “may” be God’s will.  That means that we believe it may be God’s will but it might not be.  Sometimes decisive decision making is necessary, but sometimes groups like churches or families need to have the freedom to change their mind in order to be free to discern God’s will.

5. Be open to other options- We like to try to make decisions about choice– do you want option A or option B?  We all understand that having a 3rd or 4th option makes the decision harder.  But a 3rd alternative is sometimes the best choice and sometimes God’s perfect will.  Sometimes there is an answer that solves the concerns of option A and option B.  We cannot narrow our view to a small number of options but should widen our gaze to whatever and wherever God is leading.

5 Misconceptions about Discernment

In an earlier post I talked about the difference between decision making by analysis and decision making by discernment.  I believe that Christians are called to discern God’s will rather than analyze our choices to make the most logical or beneficial one. As I continue this series of posts, I want to share 5 common misconceptions that people have about discernment. two-choices

Misconception #1 Discernment should be obvious.  Most people believe that when God shows us His will that He will make it really obvious.  That is simply not true.  One time, as I was looking at seminaries and got a scholarship in the mail.  It was like God was saying, “Jordan, here is $30,000.  Is there any doubt anymore?”  That was really the only time God’s will was so obvious.  Every other time that I have had to discern God’s will it has been a slow and messy process.  Perhaps God does that so that we can rely on Him instead of on ourselves.

Misconception #2  Discernment  should be logical.  We like things to add up and make sense.  God does not care about that.  In fact, God has a tendency to not make sense on purpose.  He picks younger brothers, small armies, and broken people.  He gives His work to fisherman.  God likes the underdog and the illogical because there can be no doubt who the source is.  Discernment is not very logical.  God asks us to do crazy things sometimes.

Misconception #3 Discernment should feel right.  People that I talk to about discerning God’s will almost always want a certain feeling to go with the discernment.  They want a sense of peace, contentment, or joy when the right decision is made.  That feeling is never promised us in scripture and rarely if ever happens.  From the Bible it might be more accurate to expect that discerning God’s will should be accompanied by a certain amount of freaking out.

Misconception #4 Discernment should be an open door.  Most people believe that when God has a door He wants you to walk through He will swing that door wide open.  If there are multiple paths to choose from then people expect the open one to be God’s will.  Christians will sit passively and wait for God to open that door.  My experience, however, is that there are often many choices and options available in a time of discernment.  My theology of discernment is one of closed doors.  I am going to knock on any door and travel down any path and expect God to close the wrong ones.

Misconception #5 Other people should agree with what I see.  We do not like to feel alone, weird, or outside of the norm, so it makes sense that we want others to verify our discernment.  The challenge is that this affirmation is not always promised us.  Job’s friends tell him to curse God.  Jesus’ friends tell Him not to die.  Sometimes God’s will does not make sense to other people.

Be the kind of Christian that will boldly follow wherever God leads you.

Are you making decisions by analysis, or discernment?

In the last few months I have had a number of conversations with people about how to discern God’s will. Several people in my life have been looking at big decisions and trying to ask what God’s will is.  In the midst of all of these conversation, I had N. Graham Standish come and do a training with my church on how to be a church based on discerning and following God’s will.  Since issues related to discernment have been on my mind and people have questions about it, I will be doing a few blog posts about finding God’s will.  Today we begin with a basic understanding of what discernment actually is.

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Most of the time we make decisions by analysis.  The word means to cut apart or dissect.  We take decisions and divide them into choices, arguments, sides, or parties.  Think about learning to write book reports in school.  Or debate.  Or make decisions using Robert’s Rules of Order. They are all based on dissecting arguments into pro’s and con’s and making a decision based on which side makes the most sense, is the most coherent, and has the most upside.

Christians are not really called to decisions by analysis. We are called to discernment.  Discernment means to separate or sift out.  This way of decision making assumes that God has a plan and that it is our goal to sort out what that is and follow.  Imagine mining for gold in 1849.  You  move a pan or rock around and watch for gold and the larger rocks move to the outside of the pan.  That is how Christians are called to make decisions.Which_way_home._-_geograph.org.uk_-_1607215

Think about the early church in the book of Acts.  When they need to make a decision they stop and pray and ask God to guide them.  When they give a reason for their decisions, sometimes all they can say is that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”  (Acts 15:28)

God’s will does not always make sense.  It does not not always have the best upside for us.  In fact, if you think back to all of the Sunday school stories that you learned from the Bible, you will find that most of them were not the most logical choices.

I am convinced that a lot of the problem in our churches and in our denominations today stem from a fundamental confusion between discernment and analysis. Many christians are trying to make decisions with analysis and wondering why they seem distant from God’s will.

We will be exploring how to discern more in the next few posts.

 

 

Thanks to Graham Standish (website) in his talks and in his book Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose,Presence, and Power.  He has really helped me to understand this topic.