Archive | April, 2014

Reports CD, Books, Mug – The Monday Messy Office Report – April 28, 2014

28 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

1. CD with Reports for EC National Conference – I know that for many the word denomination is a really long four-letter word. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience with the institutional nature of the church.  Maybe you’re a part of a denomination that you’re not proud of.  Maybe you question that denomination pretty much equals disunity.  Maybe you have another reason for not feeling so happy about a specific denomination or even the idea of denominations.  If any of those “maybes” speak to you, I don’t blame you.  A lot of junk has happened in the name of denominationalism.  Junk happens in mine too.  But I also want to share that I love my denomination, the Evangelical Congregational Church.  Well, except how long of a name it is.  When we changed our church sign a few years ago, people asked me how our church handled it when we changed our name. I said “Great!”  Because we didn’t actually change our name.  Saying “Faith Evangelical Congregational Church” is such a mouthful, that amongst ourselves we have always shortened it to “Faith Church”.  Our byline on the sign still says, “an Evangelical Congregational Church”.  We’re thankful to the Lord for our denomination. We were planted by the EC Church in the late 1960s, and we are proud to be a member of the EC Church.  Every year in May delegates from all EC local churches gather for a national conference, something I come away from every year inspired and excited about what God is doing.  Some years more than others!  Like I said, the EC Church isn’t perfect, but it is passionate about the mission of God’s Kingdom.  Take a look for yourself at the EC Church website, and you’ll see what I mean.  So today I popped the CD in my laptop and read most of the reports of what God is doing in and through the EC Church.  It is exciting!  I can’t wait for conference to hear more, to connect with friends, and be inspired to worship and serve the Lord.  I love conference.

Mission-Drift-cover2. Mission Drift & The Searchers – These are two books given to me that I recently read.  My father-in-law gave me The Searchers: A Quest for Faith in the Valley of Doubt by Joseph LaConte, a book intended for those who are, as the title suggests, searching for the meaning of life.  If you are reading this and not a religious person, maybe searching, maybe not, would you do me a favor and read the book?  I’d be interested in your feedback.  Personally, while it included some good stories, I was only so-so about it. But that’s me.  Maybe some other people would have a different opinion.  The other book was given by a friend from church, Jonathan, as his brother, Chris, is the co-author, along with Peter Greer, both of HOPE International, an organization doing amazing work in the area of micro-finance.  I thought Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches was excellent.  I just saw Jonathan at the church a few minutes ago, and told him that while it is the accessible kind of book that a person could read through in a couple days, Chris & Peter loaded it with so much thoughtful and applicable material that I can see it having a lasting impact for years. I copied the chapter on board members and gave it to Faith Church’s Ministry Council at our strategic planning meeting this past Saturday.  Though the book is written primarily for non-profit Christian organizations, its principles are broadly applicable to churches, and leaders of all kinds.

3. CEF Mug and brochure – Because our church sponsors a Good News Club (GNC) at our local elementary school, and because CEF (Child Evangelism Fellowship) oversees GNCs all over our county, some of our people went to CEFs 70th anniversary banquet over the weekend.  They brought me back a mug and brochure from the evening.  At home our coffee mug cupboard is packed, so I think I’ll put this one in the church kitchen.  A couple weeks ago we finished our spring session of Good News Club at Smoketown Elementary. I’m very grateful for all the volunteers from our church, and a couple from other area churches, that work hard to run GNC.  7 weeks in the fall and 7 in the spring.  About 40 kids participate, and it has been wonderful to see God at work in their lives.

Now it’s time to clean up this mess!

This sermon gets an M rating

25 Apr

Join us this coming Sunday at Faith Church as Phil Bartelt continues our series in 1st Corinthians.  This past week, being Easter, we jumped ahead to 1 Corinthians 15, which focuses on the resurrection.  In two days when we gather for worship again, Phil will return to 1st Corinthians 6, finishing up a hard-hitting chapter with a section about sexuality.

That’s why this sermon gets an M rating.rated m

Mature audiences only.  We have our children’s programs, so if you join us, preschool and elementary kids will not be listening to the sermon.  We feel it best that parents be the first ones to talk with their kids about sexuality.

But the rest of us will be talking about it.

A church worship service might seem to be the last place you would expect to hear people talk about sexuality.  But we need to talk about it!  No surprise here: we live in a society that is inundated with sexuality.  I can look out my kitchen window as I type this and see my Amish neighbors’ bake stand.  The community we live is incredibly beautiful, and especially this time of year, with green grass, plowed fields, and a rainbow of flowers popping up all over.  But here, too, amid the gorgeous wonder of springtime in rural Lancaster County, we are swimming in the waters of a culture awash with sexuality.

Having said that I realize I could come across as equating sexuality with evil or as bad or not pristine, not gorgeous wonder.  Please know my intent is anything but that. Instead I want to ask you some questions in preparation for Phil’s sermon:

Is sexual expression always bad?  Should there be limitations to it?  What is a healthy, beautiful expression of sexuality?  What does the Bible have to say for how God wants his disciples for express their sexuality?  How should Christians interact with people, with a society that might have different ideas about what is the best way to express sexuality?

From the Puritans to Miley Cyrus, and everything in between, and many other expressions of sexuality more strict or more open, our society has changed greatly when it comes to expressing our sexuality.  Through the decades, not just our culture, but also religion and the Bible have had a significant impact on how people understand and express sexuality.  I encourage you to join us on Sunday as Phil teaches through this passage.  You might be reading this thinking that you couldn’t care less about what the Bible has to say about sexuality.   Perhaps you’ll be curious enough to hear it out.

Resurrection NOW

23 Apr

resurrectionIn 2nd Corinthians 5:17, Paul writes to the Christians in the Roman city of Corinth: “If anyone is in Christ, he is new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.”  What he means is what I said in last week’s sermon intro post: we can be, and in fact we need to be, resurrected now, before we die.

On Easter Sunday, we looked at what Paul says in 1st Corinthians 15 about resurrection.  At the beginning Paul reminds them of the good news that he preached to them. Good News is often called gospel. That’s what “gospel” means? “Good News”.

The amazing good news is that there is no one that cannot be reached. There is resurrection hope for everyone…NOW!

But what is the scope of that resurrection hope?  Like I said last week, just pie in the sky when we die?  So often churches and Christians through ages have talked about the good news as salvation from hell.  No doubt that is good news!  Resurrection means we have hope of rising from the dead as Jesus did, so that we can be with him.  But what we see in the pages of the New Testament is that God is very much concerned about the situation of our lives NOW.

The shocking good news that the resurrection tells us is that we can begin to live the new life of Christ now.

The old has gone, the new has come.  The words are in in the present tense.  We can be changed NOW.

I think this is what is so powerful about the words that Paul shared in the verses that we studied a week ago. Remember what he said in 1st Corinthians 6:11?

After listing a bunch of vices, he says “that is what some of you were!”

You were changed.

Think about the junk of your life. God wants to lift you up out of that and help you experience his abundant life now.
This new abundant life gives us the idea of Jesus’ kingdom come now. Like he taught us to pray in the Lord’s prayer: Your kingdom come, your will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven!

One way to understand this concept is to see that the resurrection so changes us that we make it our life’s passion to usher in the Kingdom now, in all its various forms.  This is why we as a church have given so much time and attention to the needs of our community. Serving the poor through CVCCS. We want them to understand that God’s Kingdom matters now, that resurrection is available now!  I love seeing the display in our building’s lobby, asking people to donate items for the food and clothing bank. I am so proud of Faith Church for having Church Has Left The Building Sundays where one Sunday per year, instead of having a worship service in our sanctuary, we the church leave the building and worship by serving the community. We want them to see that God’s Kingdom matters now, that resurrection is available now.

And so we need to be resurrected now. When we trust in Christ, when we believe in him as the savior of our sins, when we give our lives to follow him, he tells us that we are being made new, right now.  Do you need to be resurrected now? I’d love to talk with you.

Black Extension Cord, Connection Cards, Avon Catalog – The Monday Messy Office Report – April 21, 2014

21 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:

black extension cord1. Another extension cord!  Two weeks ago in my Monday Messy Office report, I told you that I found a brand new white 12 foot extension cord. Today there was another brand new extension cord in my office, but this time it was a black 3-prong cord.  I could get all excited and say “What’s with the mysterious appearing of all the extension cords???”  This time, though, I think I have it figured out.  My laptop battery only gives me about 45 minutes of life, so I need to have it plugged in almost all the time.  Unfortunately, my power cord is on the short side.  In our conference room on Thursday mornings we have sermon roundtable, a Bible study where anyone from the church can discuss sermon passages before I preach…and I love it and depend on the shared wisdom and experience of the people who attend.  It has enhanced my sermon preparation process immensely.  The only problem is that our conference room barely has any electric outlets.  Often my power cord is hanging across open space like a clothesline, which is not the safest arrangement except for the high hurdlers who attend roundtable!  Seeing this, one kind and generous roundtable participant bought me the white cord!  It was super cool of them.  But because my computer power cord is 3-prong, and the white extension cord was 2 prong, I couldn’t use it. Now I’m going to venture a guess that they also got the black 3-prong cord, which I will carry with my computer.  Thank you!  In the meantime, I’m also using the white cord as an extension for my phone charger.

2. Connection Cards.  To be fair, these cards are in my office pretty much every week, but I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned them before.  Inside our Sunday worship bulletins, we include a card that asks people to fill out their contact information.  On the back of the card we have space where they can ask questions or write prayer requests.  We totally ripped the idea off another church.  Our family was on vacation visiting Michelle’s cousin and his family in Cincinnati a few years ago, and we went to church with them.  They used Connection Cards, and we thought it was an awesome idea, so we started it up.  Just about every week we get a few prayer requests, and we pray for them on Wednesday evenings at our church prayer meeting.  We also get contact info from guests and we send them thank-you letters for visiting.  Later in the week a lady from our church gives guests a call to talk further.  We LOVE guests at Faith Church!

3. Avon Catalog.  If you’re thinking “Why would you have an Avon catalog in your office?”, there is a reason.  We have an Avon sales rep that goes to our church, and every so often she puts catalogs in the mailslots of ladies in the church, in case they might be interested in purchasing some products.  My guess is that one of my kids or my wife collected the mail in our mailslot and then deposited that mail in my office, only to forget to bring it home with them!

Now it’s time to clean this mess up!

Pie in the Sky…and other half-baked resurrection ideas

19 Apr

pie in the sky

“Pie in the sky…in the great by and by.”

“Eternal life.”

“Pearly gates and streets of gold.”

What does resurrection bring to your mind?

Here’s another phrase to consider: “You’re so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good.”  Are you? Could your understanding of the resurrection have misled you to be so heavenly-minded, you’re of no earthly good?

Normally when we think of Easter, we’re in Springtime-mode, and we think of new life.  As I type, the grass is growing (and needs to be mowed!), and the tulips are in bloom.  Spring is abundant with new life.  We are right to connect resurrection with new life!  Resurrection is the idea of that which is dead coming to life .  At least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, we are blessed with the natural symbolism of Easter coinciding with Spring.  New life is all around us.

But what concerns me is that when we think of this new life, we’re so heavenly-minded that we’re of no earthly good.  What I mean by that is that resurrection causes us to think about pie in the sky, eternal life in heaven on those streets of gold.  We are joyously grateful that Jesus died for our sins and rose again, because that means we, too, will rise again in new life and be with him in paradise, kinda like he said to the thief on the cross.  Resurrection is for us the hope of eternal life, new life in heaven!  We are right to praise the Lord about that.

So why would that concern me?  Well, is that all resurrection was intended to mean?  New life after death.  Is that all?

Some might respond and say “Isn’t that enough?”

Good question: Isn’t it enough that we should have the hope of eternal life, of heaven, of being resurrected and with Jesus?

If that was all that Jesus said should be enough, I’d say “Yeah, that’s enough.”  If all he taught was that he would die and rise again so that we could have new life after we die and be with him in heaven, then I’d say the discussion is over.  I’d say that pie in the sky in the great by and by is all we need to concern ourselves about!

But Jesus didn’t stop there.  Neither did the other writers of the New Testament.  While they were very excited about new life in heaven made possible by salvation, by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they also talk about the amazing fact that resurrection begins now!

Think about that…you can be resurrected before you die.

In fact, let me go so far to say that unless you are resurrected before you die, you haven’t understood what Jesus was all about.  The resurrection matters now.  The resurrection is vital now.

Sound impossible?  That is what we explore tomorrow during our Easter Celebration at Faith Church.  Join us!


Is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 really about homosexuality?

16 Apr

It was easily a Top 5 Most Nerve-Wracking sermon for me.  This past Sunday, as I mentioned in last week’s intro post, I came to 1st Corinthians 6:9-11 in our sermon series through the letter of 1st Corinthians.  In these verses, Paul mentions homosexuality.  That’s what made me nervous.  No matter what I said, I thought, I’m almost guaranteed to tick someone off.  I kinda feel the same way about this post…

But why?  Because this passage is not really about homosexuality!  Because homosexuality is such a live issue in our culture, though, I knew I couldn’t just skip past it.  Paul only briefly mentions homosexuality in his list of vices in 1 Cor. 6:9-11, so I could have given it as much attention as the other vices in the list, about two sentences each.  I knew I couldn’t do that though.  The church needs to talk about homosexuality.  But again, that wasn’t Paul’s chief concern, and I hope I did justice to what was his concern, namely, to remind the Corinthian believers “that is what you were!”  A habitual lifestyle pattern of sin is what they were, but no longer.  Jesus did such an amazing work of renewal in their lives, they are new creations, living a new way. His way, something he called the abundant life.  Paul’s words are an amazing reminder and encouragement to us.

Also, this sermon made me so nervous because, not just in our country (and world), but also in the evangelical subculture, there is a wide range of perspectives on homosexuality.  What I have found is that it seems people have a very hard time holding their positions with grace and love.  Instead I have seen lots of hubris, vitriol and judgment.  Blame and guilt all around.  It is rare that I have seen people navigate this minefield with humility and a heart for unity.  In fact I have seen people claim to be justified in their disunity and arrogance.   I truly I hope I did better than that.

So as I share some further thoughts in this follow-up post, I want to start with a comment about audience.  This blog is surely open to anyone to use as a forum for discussion.  But the audience is primarily the people of Faith Church.  I want to be clear that I am not attempting to make any political or societal proclamation here about homosexuality or marriage.  While I believe that a society should have good governance and there are principles for such good governance found in Scripture, I am not making a pronouncement about that in this blog or in the sermon.  Personally, I wish government would get out of the marriage business and leave that to the church.  I want to distinguish that because I don’t see Paul as making political pronouncements in his teaching either.  His audience was the people of the church in the city of Corinth.  That’s who he is talking to, and by extension, to Christians.  In the same way, my sermon and blog posts are to my church, and by extension to Christians.

I would love to hear your feedback.  Please write your questions in the comments below.  I would especially encourage you to read Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting.  I was deeply convicted reading this book, and I recommend it for any disciple of Jesus. Hill’s conclusion matches that of my own and that of my denomination, that sexual expression is to be contained to marriage, and that marriage is only between a man and a woman.  Hill is a Christian and a homosexual.  He’s also a top-notch scholar.  Though he is not attracted to women, Hill has decided that he will still take God at his word, and God’s call for him is to be celibate for the rest of his life.  That kind of sacrificial commitment is an example to me.

Others look at the biblical material and interpret it differently.  They find a basis for seeing scriptural prohibition of homosexual acts as time or culture bound, or perhaps not applicable to monogamous homosexual relationships or marriages. I have to believe that purveyors of these views are not acting maliciously. I believe a guy like Justin Lee, that when he says he loves the Lord, he means it.  But I humbly disagree with his hermeneutics.  I believe there is probably a lot of theology and biblical interpretation Lee and I would agree on.  I hope that in future conversations and ministry partnerships with those who agree with Lee, I will be able to emphasize those agreements.  I find this article to very helpful in this regard.  Unity is vital. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity.  We can lovingly disagree about things, a lot of things.

But I will say that Lee’s hermeneutical method concerns me. He may be right. I may be wrong. I respect Lee’s heart and mind, and he does evidence a sharp mind.  Read the book and I think you’ll see that.  But I’m concerned that he has allowed himself too much leeway to veer away from an appropriate interpretation of Scripture.  Again, I don’t think he does so maliciously.  Instead I believe he is wrestling with his deepest impulses, how a loving God could give him impulses that seem so right, and yet declare them as wrong.  Imagine with me that the tables were turned.  What if Scripture declared that heterosexual expression of sexuality was a sin, that sexual expression was reserved for marriage between people of the same gender?  You know all those attractions that the majority of you feel toward the opposite sex?  What if you were told you were never allowed to act on those impulses, even in committed monogamous heterosexual relationship?  Yet you felt these attractions and impulses always raging within you.  But you are told that expressing those impulses, acting on that attraction, is against God’s Kingdom.  That would be exceedingly painful to deal with.  I bring up this argument to help people understand the emotional depth of anguish, even if just a bit better intellectual understanding.  I admit I’ll likely never come close to an emotional understanding of what those with same-sex attraction are dealing with.  In the end I believe it is possible to hold to the traditional biblical standard of reserving sexual expression in marriage, and marriage as only between men and women, and to hold that standard with gracious love.

I would love to hear what Hill has to say about Lee and Lee’s hermeneutics.  Hill clearly disagrees with Lee.  I also wonder what Hill has to say since the publication of his book and how our society has changed over the last few years.

I would also love to hear your thoughts.  I’m not interested in a mean-spirited discussion, so I will not allow those comments to be posted.  I hope you’ve heard my heart.

And let me say a few final words.  Faith Church, we need to be there for our brothers and sisters who have same-sex attraction.  We need to love them and express that love in genuinely loving ways.  For those who choose celibacy, and we do recommend this as the option that best honors the Lord, leading to that abundant life I mentioned above, the church needs to provide great support.  Imagine not have the companionship of your spouse.  We need to provide that to celibate disciples of Jesus.  Remember that this passage was not about homosexuality exclusively.  Paul reminded of a kingdom lifestyle of holiness that we all need to hear about.  This week what sin do you need to surrender to the Lord?


Box of crackers, Books about homosexuality, Sojourners magazine, Apostles Creed handout – Monday Messy Office Report – April 14, 2014

15 Apr

My Friday tidy office is mysteriously messy by Monday.  Here’s what I found today:


1. Box of Crackers – A friend in our church is in marketing for his company, and so he often receives samples from other similar companies.  On Sunday he brought in a box of crackers, hoping that a needy family in the church could use them.  A few of us were hanging out in the office getting ready to head home after worship and elective classes, and my daughter asked if she could sample the crackers.  He generously gave her a small pack, and asked what she thought of them.  “They taste like cardboard.”

2. Books about homosexuality – As I mentioned in last week’s post introducing this past Sunday’s sermon, we came to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 in which Paul mentions homosexuality.  So I spent time reading what a number of writers had to say about the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality.  Two of the books were still in my office: Torn by Justin Lee, and Homosexuality and the Church by Richard Lovelace.  The third, Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill was my favorite, and that one is loaned out already.  I was impressed by all three writers, and I encourage you to check them all out.   More on this topic tomorrow when I write a follow-up post to the sermon.

3. Sojourners magazine – I’ve had a subscription to Sojourners for a few years now, and the most recent issue came in the mail over the weekend.  I hardly knew anything about Sojourners, until a trip my wife took six years ago changed that.  Michelle traveled to Cambodia at the invitation of Aiyana Ehrman, and there they looked at the problem of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual slavery. Six years later, I’m amazed at what the two of them have accomplished.    One thing led to another, and our eyes, hearts and minds were opened to God’s heart for the oppressed.  Then in 2010 a group from Faith Church spent a week with our sister church, Kimball Ave, in Chicago, where they taught about serious injustices in their community: poverty, housing, violence and so on.  Michelle eventually got a copy of the Poverty & Justice Bible, which highlights in orange all the passages in Scripture that relate to God’s heart for the oppressed.  They used a lot of orange ink printing that Bible.  How did I go through four years of Bible college and through most of my seminary degree without seeing that, without being taught that?  Sojourners is an excellent organization that brings solid biblical teaching to issues of justice.  I would encourage you to check them out.

4. Apostles Creed handout – I think one of my teenage boys left this in my office.  They are attending our elective class that is a video series about the Apostles Creed. How many of you can recite it: “I believe in God the Father Almighty…”?  Growing up, I barely knew about it, but after marriage, I became a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Lancaster.  Michelle had grown up there, and in worship we recited the creed just about every week.  What a thought that Christians around the world can audibly express their faith and unity by saying these few short lines!  What’s more is that Christians have been saying this creed for hundreds and hundreds of years.  I encourage you to memorize it!

Now it’s time to clean this mess up!