“I believe that the challenge of living with popular culture may well be as serious for modern christians as persections and plagues were for saints of earlier centuries” – Ken Myer, All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes
I’ve been preparing some messages to teach next month in Russia at a conference for some pastors and church workers. The plan is to teach through most of 1 Peter. I came across Myer’s quote in my message notes from a 1990 sermon. I think this may be even more true 17 years later. The church today encounters a culture that is pervasive, shallow and subtly dangerous … and the church today still seems to have little power to make a difference.
Possibly because we have forgotten who we are and what we are to be doing as believers in this world. Peter addresses this when he calls his readers to be radically different than the world around them – living out our unique identity in Christ – an identity he labels “aliens and strangers”. We are pilgrims, travellers, sojourners but not residents of this world. Ever since God “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingodom of his beloved son” (Col. 1:13) we have not belonged to this world. We became divine defectors with a citizenship that is now in heaven (Phil. 3:20). As the old song says “this world is not my home.” This brings to mind several practical thoughts:
- We should not expect that the citizens of this world will fully accept us for who we are. Yet so many never seem to stop trying?
- We must never forget that we represent our new king and kingdom. That’s why Peter tells us to keep our behavior excellent.
- We must not become too at home in this world.
- We need be prepared to “travel”; to be able to respond to God’s call on our lives. How bogged down are we with the things of this world?
I’ll let you know how well this translates into Russian.
Our church is going through a lot of changes. Not necessarily bad changes, but changes none the less. We have had some staff turnover. Some leaders are in new positions. We are hiring new people to new positions. We have some new programs and some new ways of doing programs. All of that change brings new challenges. Then there is growth. Growth brings change. New people in the church brings change. New relationships bring new changes. And when we think that there could be no more changes, we find that God has other ideas. Change is inevitable … and today change seems to be constant – everywhere we turn. I was considering all the change around me the other day and jotted a few thoughts into my journal and then shared some of them with the support team at Crossroads. In brief:
In the midst of change it is imperative to remember that God never changes – Jesus is the same today, yesterday, and forever (Heb. 13:8). God uses change to develop our character – hopefully through our cooperation.
- Paul indicates that he learned contentment as his circumstances changed, and discovered that he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him – even go through changes (Phil. 4:10-13).
- We learn to trust God deeply in times of change – especially when we know things are changing but don’t fully understand what will result.
- Change tends to expose our weaknesses, our fears, our insecurities, our lack of trust, our vulnerabilities. This is a good thing because we tend to gloss over them or try to hide them, stunting our spiritual growth in many cases.
- We learn to be peaceful as we are forced to depend upon God when we are pushed away from the stability we tend to prize. We cast our anxieties on him, our cares and worries on Jesus, knowing that he cares for us. (1 Peter 5:7)
- Change helps us see the depths of our sinfulness as we try to make things work the way we want.
Some things I’ve discovered while going through change:
- Making myself the focal point of pain in the midst of change is not productive. It is usually (always) selfish and “off-putting” to others.
- Guard your heart in the midst of it all. Every change impacts people. Some you will like, some you won’t. Take care that you don’t get angry or bitter with “what is being done to you.”
- God, who doesn’t change, will be in the midst of the process – even if you think the change is wrong-headed, unfair, stupid, or bad.
- Work to make the changes work as best you can. It rarely serves any good purpose to try to undermine it.
- Don’t become Euodia or Syntche … griping with others about changes.
- Don’t exploit vulnerabilities in others, or in the organization, for your own personal gain. When change happens selfishness and self-centeredness so easily comes to the surface.
- If change involves new people coming on a team (in our case our staff), don’t blame them for the changes.
- Prayer is important. Pray a lot … even about the smallest changes and their impact on you and others.
32 murders for no apparent reason. It makes me angry. It makes me sad. It makes me wonder. I heard about this while in the office this morning. On the way to lunch I listened to the news. While eating lunch I watched the TV news from CNN. And I got even more frustrated! On the way home I listened to more. Just a few hours after this horrendous event the “let’s-make-up-the-news” casters were already pointing out who was to blame for the large number of deaths – and not one talking head on 3 radio stations or CNN pointed the finger at the shooter. They were angry with college officials who they felt did not react; with police that were clueless; with a “system” that allowed the kind of frustration to grow (the shooter must have been bullied as a kid?!).
I know that there will be a huge debrief on this tragedy. And there will be lessons learned and better ways of responding may be discovered. I also know that not every news station will be so inane. But let’s keep in mind that 32 young lives were ended because of evil in the heart of another young man. In his timely novel, The Last Jihad, Joel Rosenberg has one of his characters remark that Americans don’t really believe in evil. I think that may be true. Why else would so many try to explain it away. Jeremiah wrote that The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (17:9, ESV). We would be wise to believe this. It won’t bring back 32 lives. It will remind us of the battle we fight. Therapy won’t win it. Better systems won’t help. We must remember that only in Jesus will evil be conquered. Thus we must make the cross known.
This article by Daniel Radmacher in the latest Biola Connection magazine poses an interesting question. Can a worship leader’s desire for the presence of God in worship actually cloud our understanding of that presence? It is an article very much worth reflection. Radmacher suggests that some of the confusion is created by importing Old Testament ideas and language about God’s presence into the New Testament era in which we live. He also says that “our desire for His “manifest presence” in worship might have more to do with our appetite for experience than with His glory or our growth. ”
His conclusion? God is already in our worship. He indwells us and does his work in us – at least he does if we are truly saved. that will impact our worship.
While God will occasionally empower our worship in an exhilarating way, making us all aware of His presence in a more dramatic fashion, I believe that the work of His Spirit is usually quiet and internal — a still, small voice inside. It is this kind of “manifest presence” that I desire and expect to see on a regular basis and, I believe, is the manifestation that we should pray and hope for in our gatherings.
There are those that have determined that Amy Grant can offer nothing to the church these days. Tim Smith, a Mars Hill Church pastor, found that glib assumptions might not always reflect reality. Maybe the Lord is still working in her despite some failure?! I read something like that in the Bible – God used one or two people even after they messed things up. I trust that is true of me as well. I mean that in two ways. First, that God might use me despite my failings. Second, that I might remember that God seems to like using messy people (he has to, I don’t think there are any other kinds of people). I don’t think that means God just glosses over sin – repentance is a vital part of the process. And I tend to be a bit skeptical about the heart of those who seem to revel in their messy-ness and failure, sometimes using it as an excuse to continue in sin. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who has failed and experienced the loving discipline of God who is proud of the situation – they seem truly amazed at the grace and mercy of God and seem compelled to live well in response to such a great forgiveness. I’m not suggesting that fallen leaders can always be restored to leadership, nor that there are no consequences to sin. But God just might surprise some of us with what he does in and through someone who isn’t perfect.
God’s grace is unmerited by definition. What an amazing thing that he extends it to messy sinners like me. And Amy Grant – even if you don’t like her music.
I’ve always liked the idea of pastoral sabbaticals. I’m thankful our church allows for them – even for associate pastors. I was thoroughly refreshed and encouraged when I took one – and still reflect on what I learned. Yet like most church leadership teams we tend to struggle to understand sabbaticals and have re-written our church policies at least three times. This article by an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. shares some well considered insights for churches and leaders considering the sabbatical option.
Whoever wants to live Christianity that’s not a sham must reckon with a little noted peculiarity about life: It is a dish served up one moment at a time. Failure to reckon sufficiently with this fact renders faith an abstraction, and there is no such thing as faith in the abstract. There is faith or there is sentimentality.
This is the opening statement by Andree Seu in her in the April 7, 2007 essay in World Magazine. It fit well with the theme I have been encountering in my life and work lately – constant change and how God works in the midst of it. Seu writes that “because life is a new thing every moment, faith must be new every moment too.” It struck me that maybe God is most at work in developing my life and character in the midst of change. Change requires us to renew our faith. Constant change requires us to do so constantly. That sounds like an interesting growth plan. And we don’t often get to know what the change is really about, or why we face it. If we did know then faith might not really be required. Seu’s quote from Francis Schaeffer adds practicality:
“This morning’s faith will never do for this noon. The faith of this noon will never do for supper time. The faith of supper time will never do for the time of going to bed” (True Spirituality).
Change and faith go hand-in-hand, or so it seems this season. I’m thinking that I like Andree’s self-diagnostic of faith quality. The anxiety in my heart at any given moment, over any given circumstance might be the best indicator of whether I am trusting in God’s care, believing His promises … or not.