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Northern 'burbs blog

Ruminations, commentary, remarks, thoughts and contemplations from some guy on the north end of the Twin Cities.

Updated: 2018-03-06T02:52:36.145-06:00


Values of the Church 5: Scripture


Obligatory "it's been awhile" noted - for those involved in the series, my apologies. Life, etc. We'll see what I can come up with as far as more time is concerned. I really don't like having a year plus go between posts :)
So last time we gained ground toward the end of this series on the church, specifically the mega-church phenomenon. We've covered a number of values & ideas that I think are pertinent in answering the question of "are mega-churches okay?" Going back a few years, at the start of this, I was interested in looking at (what was then) significant criticism of the mega-chuches of the U.S. This has morphed a bit into a series which can also apply to other churches & church models. That's one of the advantages of letting things stew for a long time between posts :) The values we've looked at to date: love, unity, freedom, selflessness. Now I'd like to list the final value I think most pertinent: scripture. This is the first value outside ourselves. Love, freedom, selflessness, unity - these all come from within us. We choose to love, we pick unity, we seek freedom, we practice selflessness. Scripture comes from outside us. But it is crucial to evaluating a church or church model. Why? Because scripture is where we find the origin of the church. It is where Jesus tells Peter that Peter would be the one on whom He'd build His church. It is where the early church is described in Acts, where leadership instruction is provided via the Pastoral Epistles. It is where we find Jesus' words to seven churches. Scripture is the word of God by which we get our ideas about what church ought to be. It is therefore the standard by which churches should be evaluated. And it is the lens through which we view the first four filters too. So the five values I'm using to evaluate the "mega-church" model are in place. Next up? The review. Then hopefully on to new material :) God bless, Ron

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. - What It Means To Me


I picked up Galya from school today for an appointment. This is not unusual; with her adoption history (read the afore-linked blog for history) and medical issues, she's pulled from school for short appointments more than your average student. Between this and my wife's involvement in the local PTO, we know the office staff of the school well enough. They are great people. We're blessed to have our girls in this school.Which is probably why, for the first time at this particular school, I felt a momentary temptation to discipline another parent's child. It fled, primarily as the word "liability" followed the temptation.There was a student there who had been sent to the office. I don't know (or, frankly care) why. I suspect I wouldn't have to stray far into my imagination to figure it out though. For one thing, in front of me, this student told the wonderful (and abundantly patient) secretary to, "shut up!" He wandered the office & halls, making the secretary get up and follow. Later, when I signed Galya back into school, I heard more of the story. Apparently the "shut up" was followed later by an, "I hate you!"My parents are not violent people in the least, but I suspect had I said this to any adult whatsoever when I was growing up, those would have been the last words spoken by me until the wires came out of my broken jaw.I am not advocating violence as a discipline. Not at all.I am observing, though, that we live in much different times from the ones in which I grew up. We were taught to address adults through honorifics & last names (e.g., "Mrs. Smith") instead of by their first names. We were told, no, we were fully expected to respect adults before we knew anything about them. Authority wasn't necessarily to be feared, but it was to be respected. The phrase, "you will act better around them than you even do at home" rings familiar to my ears.This is not so nearly as much today. I don't know when it happened, and I'm not a social scientist with studies to back up my opinions on the matter.But I miss respect being more ubiquitous in our culture. It's not just with kids who lack respect for teachers (a problem I blame squarely on the child's parents). I have to fight it with friends who want my children to call them by their first names. We see it in the Tea Party and Occupy movement and their lack of respect & trust in the culture's elites. There is evidence of it aplenty in the dishonest bickering & (nearly) slanderous discourse of politics. Athletes equate their earnings with respect, and we hear "respect is something that is earned, not just given."Hogwash. Respect is something that should be given as a matter of civility, as a matter of common decency. Adults have "earned" the respect of children by living a life that has gained them experience and (hopefully) wisdom. Children should respect that. What is the appeal of raising kids who think respect is money & fear instead of, well, just being treated honorably? What is the appeal of lowering one's status of adulthood to be on equal footing to children yet to learn to drive let alone live on their own? Why must we assume that those with whom we disagree are evil, stupid, corrupt or hateful?Respect should be given, honorable treatment extended, automatically. It should take an nearly abhorrent act to pull it. I may lose respect for your accomplishments were I to find out you lied on your resume, but I ought still treat you with respect as a person.The less we respect, the more we fight, the more we divide. The less we use common courtesy & the more we dimish honor, the faster we decline as people.And teach your kids proper respect. I can't teach your kids, or the kid who used foul language to address our awesome school secretary. Respect, all due of it to our education system, is not, can not, and will not be learned at school if the parents decline to instruct in its importance. It shouldn't take a wallop upside the head, but parents please - PLEASE - respect your kids enough to teach them what respect [...]

Letters to Hitchens & Friends


I liked Christopher Hitchens. As something of a logophile, I enjoyed his use of language. He could turn phrases like few others. He was passionate, widely read and politically interesting.I was first introduced to Hitchens a number of years back when I caught a dialogue between Hitchens, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, and Hugh Hewitt on the radio*. I started paying attention a bit more when he released his book, "God is not Great." He asked questions and made statements that made me think more about my faith. This, to me, is a good thing. A faith unexamined is a faith easy to have ripped from one's grasp.Yet fundamentally I have some very serious disagreements with what Hitchens believed and argued when it comes to many (most?) aspects of religion and faith. He was a devout atheist, even "evangelistic" in his zeal to convert the, um, converted. Hitchens' debates and lectures on YouTube are popular, as are his books. His eloquence being what it was, I understand why.Hitchens was persuasive too. In this, I think, he was most dangerous. Frankly I wish he had marshalled his talents in favor of the faith rather than against it. When he resorted to polemics, he diminished. When he argued, he changed minds. Because of this, I took care when reading his work, or listening to his voice. In many cases, his eloquence covered up some significant flaws in his arguments - but the eloquence alone was sufficient to influence those who didn't pay close attention to the arguments.As much as I respected Hitchens, I always wished I could have talked with him. Going back through some of his writings of late, I would like to start a new feature here, inspired in part by some of the challenges he gave me in my thinking. It's not the same as debating him live, but he asks some questions which deserve answers - and makes some arguments which deserve refutation.I'll call this 'Letters to Hitchens & Friends' and address, primarily, arguments of his that seem to be cropping up most frequently amongst those of a non-theistic bent. I think, though, that he would also say others argue against faith, so while titled for Hitchens, it will really be aimed at skeptics in general. It won't be a series in the sense that I'm going to rip out a string of these posts and be done; they will be here and there as I feel most compelled to address a given argument and as I have time to do so.Will I change minds? Possibly, but just as possibly not. Hitchens himself would not even know who I am. In humility I would absolutely say I may not be correct myself. Yet when more theists are becoming atheists, I would like to outline why it is that I am not following in their stead.For my non-theist friends: if there is a question you'd like to have answered, you can always post it to the comments. Just realize I will address one question at a time, and while I will try to get to every question, my schedule (as you'd see from looking at my archives) and my own sense of priorities may not permit fast replies.For my theist friends: if you are struggling with your own answers, you can ask questions too. I do not claim to know all the answers; what I'll be posting are my thoughts & reasons for holding a particular belief, and why I find a specific argument unpersuasive. It is almost certain that others can answer better than I. Just take it as my own thinking out loud in response to questions that challenge my beliefs.I hope you find this idea interesting. I certainly do, and since it's my blog I'll give it a shot; please join the conversation and add your voice.God bless -Ron*Confession: I generally dislike political talk radio, finding it increasingly unsatisfying in terms of completeness, fairness and kindness. Hewitt is one of the few exceptions, and I listened to his show more for the guests he seemed to attract - like Hitchens, Mark Steyn and James Lileks, all master communicators who bring wit, intelligence and passion through words. Even when I disagreed with them, they were (nay, are) interesting. I highly recommend f[...]

Values of the Church 4: Selflessness


Selflessness is hard. Everything in our society screams at us to take care of #1, to procure what we "deserve." Take care of yourself first, it is said, buy this product to make yourself happy. Spout off your opinions, and if others disagree label them intolerant and attack them rather than contend with ideas (the Interwebs may have something to do with this).

Our environment pushes us to selfishness. That's the easy path.

That's not what we're called to in the church. As we get to the evaluation phase of this series, we need to also remember that selflessness is a necessary value of the church.

Paul would describe selflessness of the type required as "submission." (Note: there could be an entire series - taking 8 years if I write it, hardee-har-har - talking about submission vis a vis the role of women in marriage. My concern with the term is more limited - yet general - in scope for the purposes of this series.) It is placing the needs & desires above your own.

Ephesians 5 talks about this. In verse 21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Or as he states it in Philippians:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves 

Submission is a dirty word (in large part, but not solely, because of the aforementioned debate related to the role of women) in our culture. Yet if we are to call ourselves Christians, "little Christs" we ought to strive to be like Him most of all. He was selfless, not just giving His life (not that I'm diminishing that!) but also in his daily life on Earth.
There are more episodes of submitting to others - in healing, in acknowledging the place of leaders, in dining with the outcasts.

We ought to be like this. It is hard, but in church especially we should be looking to benefit & bless others, even before ourselves.

Next up: scripture, then the evaluation.

God bless,

Values of the Church: Freedom Redux


Back to the topic of the church, at least of the mega variety. As I continue in this series, I'm going to touch on another aspect of freedom, not quite the same as the one I shared last time.

As I'm laying a foundation for the evaluation portion of the series, namely the values we should bring to the discussion, freedom is third in line behind love and unity. In the first post about freedom, I noted that our freedom in Christ is freedom from sin, and should be exercised humbly, for the good of others - especially the church. In this post, I'm going a bit of a different direction with freedom (exercising some freedom in doing so!) and talking about freedom in our relationship with God.

God created us each uniquely. I am wired to like certain things, to be passionate about certain things, and to connect to certain things. You are wired differently, even if you are wired similarly. That is to say, even if you also like Third Day you may not like The Princess Bride or softball, and so on. Eventually, our interests will diverge. Or, were we to like exactly the same things, to be moved by exactly the same things, the extent to which we are moved, or the importance we put on each thing will be different.

This is not a bad thing. As my wife says, if we're all the same life gets real boring, real quick. We are unique. This should be celebrated. How creative is God to create over 7 billion unique people? Pretty creative. Part of this creativity extends to our own expressions of worship, and our own preferences.

So how does this apply to the discussion? We need to value that insofar as we have freedom to worship God through our own unique tastes, preferences or styles, so do others. If I see a choir, for instance, as being a performance-oriented group and a worship band as being more interactive, I need to understand that others will flip those two perceptions around. If I think having a pastor who wears a suit shows respect for God, I need to also realize that a pastor who wears jeans whilst preaching can be expressing the important truth that, while we look at externals, God cares about who we are behind the apparel. In short, our freedom to worship is not to be kept only to ourselves; we all have the same freedom.

These values all interact with each other, and there are two more to come before we get to the evaluation/critique of the megachurch (and churches in general): selflessness and scripture. So if you are already reading ahead, you may want to hold your fire until we get through those values. But as I'm not one to limit conversation, have at it as you feel led:)

God bless,

Galya's Tale



Values of the Church 3: Freedom!


Over the past couple of years, in bits and drabs, I've been looking at some topics related to the church, building toward what was originally intended to be a response to the too-common blanket critiques of megachurches. While my end game has changed a bit, I think the values discussion retains merit. Christians can be a little too good at intra-faith bickering, so I want to continue laying the groundwork for the evaluation part of my argument. To that end, having already looked at love and unity we're going to turn our attention to the value of freedom.

What's that? Freedom? Isn't that too "American" a value? Aren't we still slaves to righteousness? (An odd phrasing to say the least, the unspoken implication of the question being that Christians are not "free" because they are bound by all our moral rules.) Doesn't freedom become license, which then becomes grace abuse?

Good questions, glad I asked them for you. Don't let anyone say this blog is not proactively and imaginatively interactive. I would answer all these questions as "yes." Freedom is an American value - but differs from what I'm addressing in that our culture's view of freedom is not of the same type as what I'm going to talk about. And yes, we're to choose to serve righteousness - but the option is to choose to serve sin, meaning that one way or the other we're bound to something. And yes, yes, a million times yes freedom taken too far can easily become license. So let's tread carefully here.

The type of freedom I'm speaking of is deeper than mere social liberty. Freedom as offered by Christ is based on truth. Deceit holds people in bondage; truth sets free. In essence, Christian freedom is the freedom from sin, which permits us to be who and what God intended for us to be. We have the ability, now, to choose to pursue holiness rather than sin.

So how do we use our freedom in a way that applies to this discussion? Looking to scripture as our guide, we note that Peter instructs us to use our freedom as servants of God. That is, with the heart of a servant: humble, seeking to do what gives God glory instead of looking after our own desires. We shouldn't use our freedom as a "cover-up for evil."

So our freedom, in the context of the church, is to be exercised humbly and for good. And quite frankly, for the good of others above ourselves. Ephesians 5 (among other places) has some things to say about that - use your freedom to submit to one another, to think of others more highly than you do yourself. If the church is a community, we should value the freedom we have within that community to do what is good, to do what is beneficial, to do what is selfless.

Next up, another twist on freedom.

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Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 1/24/2011 Edition


More fun and frivolity. Or, at least, more links.

For fans of "Dead Parrot" and geeks, I refer you to this (warning: some comments have some less than uplifting words)
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Ever want an interactive tool that shows you how large, and how small, stuff is? Well now your wish has come true.

Okay, I love Poe, but I'm not sure if that's the feel I was going for in my last post.

I write like
Edgar Allan Poe

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!


Is your life average too?

And finally, my first recipe recommendation: Yum.

God bless,

Values of the Church 2: Unity Part Three


Last time I looked at this subject here in the ol' northern 'burbs, I left off with a promise to talk about my view on the "valid" reasons for disunity. Intriguing concept, that, as up until then I'd been promoting the (very biblical) notion that unity is of utmost importance in a church. do I reconcile the idea that unity is paramount, but disunity may be permissible? Basically, I expand the definition of "disunity." Disruptions, divisiveness, and unloving behavior have no place in the church. And when disunity exists, it must be repented of and relational restoration must be restored.

But what if it's not? What if the divisive person is unrepentant? What if he or she persists in sowing the seeds of discord?

Then "disunity" must happen. The divisive person has to be, for the good of the church and of the divisive person, be removed from the church. The divider must be, ironically, divided from the body.

In Matthew 8:17 Jesus tell us to treat the unrepentant "as you would a pagan or a tax collector." Paul instructs in Titus 3 that we should "warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned." Harsh.

But necessary. If unity is so vital (and it is), then we must be willing to break off the divisive.

We do so, of course, with eye toward our highest value: love. The separation of the sinner (in all cases) is done with the hope they will repent and be restored to relationship. As Mark Driscoll writes in his excellent book Vintage Church, "There is a sense in which you never really let the unrepentant sinner go. Though you don't associate with him, you keep calling him back. He is put out for the purity of the church but is always admonished to come back." Indeed. We separate, but pray, love and admonish in order that one day redemption of unity is attained, and that God is glorified by making whole what was divided.

Next up, freedom, then selflessness. After that, the series moves from the values guiding our discussion into the actual issues surrounding the "megachurch" question itself - the "how" questions.

God bless,

An Overdue Christmas Thought


It's getting toward late January, I know, but I still wanted to share a lesson God impressed on me this past Christmas.Christmas is a somewhat strange time for me. I love the season, the lights, the tree, the music (except for the most horrid Christmas songs ever written) and the uptick in church attendance. I'm bored, though, with the commercialism, the kitschy movies, the materialism and the ever present battle over Christmas. The intellectual side of me (yes, I have one) even thinks we fight too hard over this one day when it's not even the date on which Jesus was really born. I like the simplicity and the Christmas message: God incarnate, Immanuel. Anything on top of that is unnecessary.But I also fight boredom, at times, with the Christmas story. The boredom of which I speak is not about the story: it's endlessly beautiful. Nor is it about the truth of it, which is something I'm happy to ponder and discuss at any time. It's the routine of it. We read the same passages, in the same services, with the same C&E Christians every year. And that's fine insofar as repetition helps us remember. But I find it hard to glean new insights in oft-traversed material.So the last few years I've tried to make my Christmas devotionals about the more obscure, less talked about passages. This past December, God used that to remind me of the following.God's story unfolds through people - flawed, imperfect, diverse people.Start with the aforementioned obscure scripture. In Matthew 1 we find that often ignored, usually skipped, fairly shiny from all the glossing over genealogy of Jesus. To modern readers such lists of names seem like a prelude to the real story, something of minimal importance. It's not something recited by Linus.But the list is very important, and a crucial part of the story. Every name on the list is part of the story of Jesus. Every person was selected to be part of the lineage of the creator of the universe. That's kind of a big deal, no?And oh what a list! The names range from the somewhat obscure (Hezron, Ram) to the well-known (David, Solomon, Ruth, Mary, Joseph.) Virgin (Mary) and prostitute (Rahab.) Men & women. Jews and a gentile. Carpenters, widows, kings. Adulterers, the semi-incestuous. A man after God's own heart. The wise king. A remarried widow.God worked through all of these lives. He redeemed the wrongdoing and set a line of ancestry through imperfect people who needed a savior - all the way to the very savior they needed. It is a family tree which culminates in the very person his predecessors most needed. Suffering, sin, tragedy, success, power - you find all of these in the list - and all of these were used by God to become one of us. The creator, born. Every name is a person, a life, a story. Every name is someone Jesus loved enough that He would die to pay his or her debt. Every name matters to God so much that Jesus came to earth, that Christmas happened.Through these names we find a savior. Through the savior, we can find our own names written in a list in the book of life.Next time you read the genealogy, think for a bit about the names, the stories. Be amazed at how God used the frail to bring the incarnation. And rejoice that you can have your name in such a list too; not a boring list to skip over, but a list of those saved by God.Merry (late) Christmas[...]

So, How've You Been?


Been a while, eh? Time flies when work is insane. It doesn't quite seem a year has passed, but passed it has. Some updates as to that last year have been posted at Galya's Tale. And I know I owe Rachel a conclusion to my church series - which is setting blog records for longevity. Plus there's a Christmas themed post or two I'd like to get written...but for now it's time to figure out what to do with the too-many cookies the girls left for Kris Kringle, and to get some sleep. Just didn't want you to think I'd completely forgotten you:)

God bless,

Impossible Night


New post up at Galya's Tale.And, for your post-Christmas musings, this is a devotional I gave at church at our Christmas Eve service with a few edits for the blog format. ***We hear so often about how Christmas is a silent night, a holy night. I'd like to add another adjective to our thinking of Christmas: impossible night. We have a God who is so big that he plays in the realm of the impossible. We see this when He demands of us the impossible. Jesus told people to "go and sin no more." (Jn. 5:14, 8:11) Not, go and sin less. Sin no more. Impossible. "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church." (Eph. 5:25) "Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:48) God asks of us the impossible, we fail, we sin - we separate from God because we can't do the impossible. But God can. All things, it says in Matthew 19 when speaking of salvation (something impossible for us to achieve on our own), are possible with God.The Bible starts with this very thing: In the beginning God created. God was there when time began and created. How? By the impossible task of creation through speaking. I can't get my daughters to turn off the lights in their room with my words, but God said, "let there be light." AND THERE WAS LIGHT! Not just a 50w bulb here; there was LIGHT. From His voice! The Psalmist says God breathed out stars and gathers the waters of the seas into jars. (Ps. 33:6-7) And this is just the start. God is so big he deals in the realm of the impossible.And so it's no surprise that Christmas is an impossible night. Let's turn to John 1, starting in verse 10:He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.Impossibly, God the creator entered into His creation at Christmas (well, technically, at Jesus' conception.) The world was made through him (Jesus), and He became flesh and made his dwelling among us. As our pastor, Jason, reminded us this morning [12/20 sermon], God did not just drop in for a visit. He was born into our world. He became one of us. God became a man: impossible. He was born to a virgin. Impossible. He came that we might be saved. Impossible.Impossible for man, but with God all things are possible. Angels appeared to shepherds. Angels appeared to Mary & Joseph. Sages from far away read Jesus' birth in the stars. The creator God of the universe who is big enough to breathe out stars became a baby, wrapped in laid in the humblest of mangers. Proclaimed by angels, worshipped by shepherds and foreigners - Jesus entered His creation, became Immanuel: God with us. He made it possible for us to become born again, something which again is impossible - without God. A little baby displayed the glory of God. The smallest of infants demonstrated, through His impossible birth and through the bigness of who this baby was, the immensity of God's grace, His mercy, His love.This is why Christmas is a reason to worship, to celebrate, to be in awe of this GREAT BIG GOD who came for us who deals in the (what is for us) impossible in impossible ways – that’s the message of Christmas and it’s what we rejoice in at Christmas.[...]

Update on Galyna


Galyna update posted too...

Values of the Church 2: Unity Part Two


In the last post we started looking at what unity is (and isn't.) Unity is a high value, extremely important to Jesus. Unity is to be concerned with mission and purpose. Unity is not, though, uniformity or unanimity. God created us as individuals. So while unity is a value of the community of Jesus followers we call the church, it is not necessary that unity be expressed through a robotic uniformity, or expressed without some level of disagreement about particulars. As my wife says, "if we're all the same, why do I need you?" We can find some sense of clarity about unity when we look at marriage. In the marriage relationship we give of ourselves for the greater good of the marriage -- but we never lose our distinctive identities. The picture this presents demonstrates a unity between two individuals which is instructive for those of us in the church.In both the church and a marriage unity keeps things on the right track. A marriage of unity grows deeper and stronger. On the other hand, disunity stalls or reverses growth. I can't grow closer to my wife if I'm walking a different direction from her.Why is disunity such a problem? Frankly, it's because disunity is always a matter of flipping the Kingdom upside down. The church - as with all our relationships - is to be characterized by humility and looking to the betterment of others above yourself. In disunity we find instead pride, arrogance, self-concern. People don't humbly serve others by trying to force their way. Disunity brings about the exact opposite of what we're looking for.In marriage, this manifests itself in selfishness, adultery, secrets, mistrust and/or anger. When spouses have competing goals and purposes for the marriage, the relationship cannot move forward. This is one reason that Paul instructs us to "be careful of marrying those who don't follow Jesus. Relational disunity causes pain, and relational unity is so very difficult when you don't share that common mission and purpose. When we're talking about marriage, we're talking the most intimate of human relationships - ideally. Disunity disrupts the ideal and breaks it.In the church, disunity manifests itself in judgmentalism, gossip, slander, disobedience and/or deceit. We look at others and judge them not as spiritual as us. We disobey our leaders when we don't like the way they lead. We gossip about and slander those in the church when we don't see eye to eye. And we try to deceive the world that this is all okay.There are so very few valid reasons to separate fellowship with other believers, or to fight amongst ourselves, and yet we do this all. the. time. And this disunity is so very wrong. It ruins our witness, breaks our relationships and makes it impossible to follow Christ. Yes, I said it is impossible. I didn't say it merely "made the mission more difficult." As soon as we turn our eyes off what we're here for (i.e., Jesus) then are no longer following Him. And you can't keep your eyes where they need to be while simultaneously disrupting the unity of the church.Next time in this space, God willing, will be the third part of the unity topic where we touch on those "few valid reasons" for disunity. As a tease, disunity is never the goal, but when it arises over valid things it is to be used for restoration to unity. When it arises over the small things, it needs a good stamping out.God bless -Ron[...]

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 11-17-2009 Edition


More recent randomness, just because I can.

Really, who just doesn't appreciate a good cloud now and then? I prefer mine spinning but there are other cool pix on this site.

Ever had one of these days?
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Can they kill off spam too?

Just another reason to avoid Twitter.

That's so sad.

Come one, come all - if you're local, come watch the Northern 'burbs' blogger's eldest daughter in Santa Claus, a community theater play. Don't find yourself regretting missing the launch of a wonderful new career!

Finally, some people have too much time on their hands, but you know I'd do this if I had too much time on my hands.
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Values of the Church 2: Unity


The last post in this series introduced to our discussion the notion of values. We all have values, and we use those values when making decisions. Some value money and possessions, then decide to work hard to obtain same. Some value family, others value solitude. You can tell the values of someone by the decisions he or she makes. Regardless of what one says, what one values is what guides most decision making.So in looking at the church, we've looked at what the church is, and what the church is to do. Now we're looking at the values which inform the remainder of our conversation about the "how" questions of the church. The first value is love: we need to do all things with love for our brothers and sisters in the family of God. Today we are moving on to unity.Unity is, according to the dictionary (dot com version) "the state of being one; oneness". Scripturally speaking, unity is being "of one mind" regarding our mission. Unity was so important to Jesus that it was on His prayer list even when He was mere hours from crucifixion. He taught that "a house divided will not stand." A lack of unity is nearly as damaging to the church as a lack of love. Unity is a very high value, and when we discard it we always (not sometimes, not occassionally - always) harm the church.In the essence of clarity, sometimes we better understand what something is by contrasting it to what something is not. There are two things which unity is not, although these are often confused with unity.The first thing unity is not is unanimity. We do not ever have to agree on all aspects of life, or even faith, to be part of the church. People will have different views on some of the methods and forms used within a church to spread the Gospel. We all bring different experiences, wisdom, knowledge and talent to the table, and this is a good thing. For many, if the church is not unanimous in a given pursuit, that is proof that the Spirit is not in the work, and therefore it should not be pursued. This is a false ideal, and a very real danger as an idol. There are myriad reasons why not everyone may fully agree with a given decision, many of which are valid. Holding up the movement of the church in the name of "seeking unanimity" is something against which we should stand firm guard.The second thing unity isn't is uniformity. God is a creative God who made us individuals for a reason. When we demand other Christians worship the same way, singing the same songs, praying the same prayers, reading the same books by the same Christian gurus...this is a denial of what God created us to be. We have different gifts, personalities and circumstances. God gave them to us for the use of the church, not to be stifled by the church. To see what happens when we raise uniformity to a value, look no further than the example of the Pharisees who sought to judge Jesus because he did not follow their rules.In unity we need to be all behind the mission of the church. We all need to know and understand why God has instituted the church on earth, and we all need to be passionate about doing the things Jesus commanded His church to do (i.e., love God, love people and make disciples.) But we all, being unified in our direction and passion, are made unique individuals who are gifted to best take part in different ways. As long as the main things of mission and purpose are the main things, a lack of uniformity and unanimity in the small things is actually a way to celebrate God's created diversity.The next post, probably as long as this one, will continue the discussion on unity, touching on why disunity is such a problem. After that we'll touch briefly on the hills to die on, or [...]

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 9-22-2009 Edition


Okay, some randomness is called for as I get back to this blogging thing.

Guess I need to update my blogroll. I have a number of friends on the Web, from Leah in India to college buddy Keith in Ohio. Also, a bunch of folks from church: Rachel, Dustin, Mandy, Allison, Andrew, Adam and Shannon. I'm partial to that last one, as it's my wife's blog of nature observations and meditations. You'll notice she shares my family trait of infrequent blogging.

Long-time readers know I'm agnostic on AGW. The biggest problem I have is the general hypocrisy of those who live high on the energy hog while calling for others to sacrifice. I won't mention names. But I appreciate Julia Stiles' advocacy. (If you want to know my other reasons for remaining agnostic on AGW, ask in the comments. I don't want to get into it here.)

Ukraine's Got Talent? Yes, yes it does. Way powerful.

Last but not least, new post up at Galya's Tale.

God bless,

We Interrupt This Blog...


...for an update to another blog! Just posted a note about Galyna's surgery over at Galya's Tale. During the next couple of days I should have some time to continue the church series, as well as (perhaps) pontificate about a couple of other things rolling around my noggin of late.

Galyna Update


I've posted the latest on Galyna over at Galya's Tale. Stop over if you want to see what's going on with the latest addition to our clan.

Trippin' 'Round the 'Sphere - 6/17/2009 Edition


Heh. Haven't been here in three months. Since someone (cough)Rachel(cough) missed me, I'll try to do better. While I'm working on the unity part of the current/long-running/slowly-developing series, here are some items I found noteworthy on the 'net, or in the blogosphere of late.

I think I've been fairly clear and consistent in my concern for life. I'm unashamedly for speaking out on behalf of those with no voice of their own (yet): the unborn. This doesn't mean I'm at all unsympathetic to women facing difficult circumstances. This story, for instance, is easy to understand from the woman's point of view. My concern is there's precious little regarding the child's point of view. Related to the topic, albeit with a bit more skewer to the tone: this post.


They don't really think this is the solution do they?

Speaking of sports solutions, I don't really see the problem with inter-league baseball, but I do like the idea offered up here. I think it'd be fun to watch pitchers hit here in an AL park.

Interesting concept. Not sure I'd want to put my fund management prowess out there, but then again I don't manage a fund. In this economy, not planning to start doing so either.

I would have expected this to have happened in Wisconsin, not NJ.

Behold the power of technology?

Have a great week...I'll get to the unity stuff soon, I promise. I just won't tell you what "soon" means:)

God bless -

Values of the Church


I've looked at the "who" and the "why" questions related to church. The answers to these questions are the foundation that sets us up to start talking about the "how" and "what" questions. How do we do church? How are we to behave? What are we to do?

I think these are where we start getting controversial. It's generally accepted that the Church is made up of those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior (although there are disputes about exactly what that means), and it's commonly held that we are commanded to make disciples. What gets tricky is how we go about doing this.

Since these can be treacherous waters, I'll lay out the foundational values which will guide my thinking. The first, and greatest, of these values is - of course - love. I'll talk about this one today.

In the Gospels, Jesus tells us the greatest commandments sum up all of the law. That is, if we follow these two commandments, we are obeying the law. The commandments? Love God, love people. Jesus says in this passage that, "[a]ll the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Wait, you might say. Don't these commandments apply to everyone, not specifically the church? Great question; glad you asked. Yes! These commandments apply to everyone. However, the church is a subset of "everyone." If everyone is to follow these commandments, then certainly the Church must.

In fact, the church is to be known for love, especially for each other. What this tells me is that most of the discussions we have about church fail immediately when they descend to a non-loving way of communicating. Regardless of our feelings on the best way to "do church" we must never, ever lose sight of the fact that we are to love our fellow believers. This precludes such things as ad hominem attacks, rumor, gossip, slander, hate and deceit from ever entering our discourse.

So when talking about how to do church, value #1 is to do so in a loving manner. And "doing church" is also to be done in a loving manner. If a church is doing something that is not loving, that church is doing something it ought not do.

Above all else, love.

There are other values to which I'll move next. Unity, freedom and selflessness are the ones that come to mind. Any values you think should drive the discussion? Chime in (lovingly!) in the comments below.

God bless,

God is Great, God is Good...


"God is great,God is good,let us thank Him for our food,by His hand we must be fed,give us Lord our daily bread.Amen."Author unknownOver the course of our relationship, my wife and I have attended a few Steven Curtis Chapman concerts. At each he talked about how it is important to know that God is great and God is good.The simple prayer above, variations of which are myriad, starts with two very profound statements, rightly pointed out by Chapman. We often conflate the two, but really they are distinct.God is great. God is powerful, mighty, able to save. God is above our complete understanding, and had to reveal Himself so that we could even have a partial (albeit sufficient!) understanding.God is good. He loves, He is gracious, He works even the bad things out for good. He is holy, just and righteous; God is purely and definitively good.Being great is one thing. But if God were not also good, we would serve a tyrant who would oppress His creation. It is good that God is, well, good, but if He were not also great His best intentions wouldn't be able to overcome the evil in the world. Were God not both good and great we'd be faced with a God who's a monster, or a God who's impotent in the face of evil.In scripture this past week I've seen both attributes described within a few pages. Starting in Job, we see God's greatness. In Job 40-41, as in other places in this ode to God's greatness and sovereignty, God challenges Job by explicitly reminding Job of how far above Job God really is. (As an aside, I like seeing how people react when faced with the reality of God. In this case, Job responds appropriately in chapter 42, that is with humility.)Turning a few pages over, in Psalm 16, we read, "I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing." This is a psalm of rejoicing and steadfastness because God is good: faithful, providing, with us. (Aside here: David responds to God's goodness with joy, peace, praise and assurance. Again, a model response.)God is great and sovereign, and we are in no position to judge Him. We can question Him for understanding; David did this in the Psalms. But we are not able to judge Him. But we need not judge Him, because He is good. He is good, He is great - and this leads to Him being trustworthy.We can trust Him because He is good and able to do things to work things for good. You can't trust someone who doesn't have your best in mind (i.e., who isn't good) or who, despite wanting to, can't help (i.e., who isn't great.)Let this be an encouragement in this time of financial strife, political discord and myriad other social ills. We have someone to whom we can go, someone who is both good enough to, and able to, bring good from even the direst circumstances.God bless,Ron[...]

Preach It Bro'


I'm a PK, a pastor's kid. It's an ... interesting thing, with an interesting set of pressures. I wouldn't change it for the world, but it wasn't an easy thing to deal with at times.

For this reason I have a great deal of empathy and care for the families of pastors. Few things in church life break my heart, or are harder to deal with, than when a pastor's family has to go through some form of turmoil, whatever that may be. On the board at our church I've found discussion and decisions regarding our pastoral staff the most difficult to deal with objectively. I always picture the staff member's kids or spouse.

In general, I think that churches need to pay better attention to the pastor's family. Don't put unrealistic expectations on the kids, don't demand so much of your pastor he has no time for his family, don't expect the pastor's wife to be his ministry assistant or Sunday School attendant and pay him enough to keep his family well.

These are some of my soap box items on which I'll gladly expound for any interested. Maybe I'll even write about them more here someday. But I want to step off my soap box and point you, today, to another PK.

Nathan Stewart attends Anchor Point Community Church in lovely Duluth. He recently shared his experience in his first sermon at Anchor Point, and I think I am none too biased to say it is a very powerful story. It is powerful to me not because of my relationship to him - Nathan is my younger brother - but because it is a redemption story; it's a tale of a life that should not be turning into a life that so very much is. Set aside 45 minutes and take a listen here.

The Mission


Last time I talked about what the church is. There's a difference between the big-C universal body of believers in Christ, to use the common analogy, and the little-c local church. There is a difference between the two, which I'll get to, but as a general rule the local church has the same mission and purpose of the Church writ large.But what is that mission? This question divides churches almost as often as does the question of what carpet to install in the sanctuary, or what color to paint the kindergarten room. It's an important one, and in answering the "mega" question, needs to be addressed. The Church's/church's mission is the foundation on what the rest of the series will tackle.A mission, or purpose, is what gives an organization its reason to exist. It answers the "why" much as my first post answered the "who." It is often cast in terms of vision (i.e., what we see ourselves becoming) or mission statements. Many businesses use such statements to focus employee efforts, and set themselves apart in the minds of the community or marketplace. Teams will work long hours to define the "why" question for organizations of all stripes.For the church, though, the mission has been defined for us. Jesus Himself gave it to us when He returned to Heaven. The mission of the church, quite simply, is to make disciples. This Great Commission is what Jesus left us on earth to do.English translations often make the Great Commission look like we have a multi-part mission: go, make disciples, baptize, teach. This is slightly misleading, though, as the focus of the Greek is specifically on "going, and making disciples."* The real sense of the Great Commission is, to paraphrase, "go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching." It isn't to "go, make disciples, baptize and teach." It's a minor distinction, but it's important because there are some who believe the mission of the chuch can be subdivided into four categories, and we are fulfilling it if we are only teaching (or being taught.) Or if we are baptizing those who come to us, but we don't "go" to reach others. That is, some act as though the Great Commission isn't about leaving our comfort zones and reaching out to people who have yet to become disciples.There are those who may argue that the mission of the church can be expanded to include helping the poor, or to corporate worship. One might say the church is for fellowship and communal learning or growth. And these are certainly good things, things which churches should do. But they are not the mission of the Church. If all church was meant for was fellowship, say, God would call us to Heaven as soon as we believed in Jesus. We could have all the fellowship we need there.No, we are left here as representatives of God's kingdom explicitly to go and make disciples. Everything else (baptizing, teaching, fellowship, service, giving) is a part of disciple making. They are the "how" and the "what" - but not the "why." This does not make these things unimportant. That would be like saying the mission of the baseball team is to score runs, but practice and strategy don't matter. The "how" and "what" are vital questions, and to those we turn next.The mission of the church, the "why" we are here: because Jesus gave us the job of going forth to make disciples. That is why the Church, and why churches, exist.God bless,Ron*Yes, I realize the Greek is such that some say the only verb is "make disciples." I think the Wallac[...]

What is This Church Thing?


Having been properly chastised (thanks Rachel!) for creating this series sans flow, I humbly move forward with my thoughts on church. This is the start of my view of ecclesiology. There are others, and if you have differing views please chime in with a comment.Having taken on the task of going through the question of megachurches, I find myself needing to start back a bit before getting to the specifics of all things mega. Before getting into the size of a church, I need to cover my view of what the Church is, what it is tasked to do and how we should "do church." This should lead to an inevitably clear view of how I see megachurches before I even get to the question, but that's fine. Really, the mega-question as I posed it is about how we should "do church" and what a Christian church really should be and do.So let's start at the very beginning. (A very good place to start!) (Or so I've heard.) The beginnings of the Church, in my mind, are found in Matthew where Jesus tells Simon that he (Simon) will be called Peter, and will be the one on whom His (Jesus') Church is built. The Church is the movement that began when Jesus gave Peter a mission.(Sidebar: Interestingly, the mission wasn't given to Peter until later on. When Jesus first tells Peter that Peter's going to be the one on whom the Church would be built, He didn't start laying out the tasks and vision. In fact, the first thing Jesus says after breaking the news is "not to tell anyone that he was the Christ." This is counter to what the mission of the church would end up being, but the time for the mission wasn't right. There's a lesson in leadership here: give people a vision for what they'll do, and then prepare them for it. Jesus laid out a vision for His Church, then spent the last days of His life instructing the Apostles for how to fulfill that vision. After the preparation time, before He was to return to Heaven, Jesus finally gave them their mission statement. I think those of us in leadership roles, whatever they may be, can learn from this example: vision, preparation, mission. Mix up the order you can end up with confusion.)Zoom ahead a while, and we see the beginning of the movement that Jesus said was coming. In Acts 2 we see the first church sermon, as it were, on the day of Pentecost. And the first church started with Peter and the Apostles seeing "about three thousand ... added to their number that day." The Church was, and is, those who respond to the Gospel, accepting "in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of [their] sins." (Acts 2:38.)Paul, in many places but notably in I Corinthians 12 identifies the Church as the "body of Christ" of which all those who were baptized by one spirit into relationship with each other. The Church is also described as the bride of Christ, and a priesthood. There are other biblical (and some extra-biblical, or non-biblical) metaphors used to describe the church as well.What it boils down to, to me, is that the Church is made up of anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior regardless of culture, gender, race, age or social status. This definition is probably too broad for many fundamentalists (or my fellow evangelicals) as I do not lay forth a specific set of criteria on which to judge whether someone fully accepts "the minimum" standards required to be called Christian. It's probably too limiting to others who may think that Jesus need not be Lord and/or Savior [...]