Archive | July, 2014

How and Why we surprised our congregation on Sunday – 1st Corinthians 11:17-34

30 Jul


We surprised our congregation during worship on Sunday!  It was great!  At the beginning, I set up the congregation for coffee break.  Once or twice each month, after worshiping God through singing, instead of having our open mic sharing time and prayer, we open the folding divider between our sanctuary and fellowship hall and ask people to grab some refreshments and share a bit of life with one another.  Then they return to the sanctuary for the remainder of the service.  This past Sunday, we had a surprise in store during coffee break!

Instead of returning to the sanctuary for the rest of the worship service, we invited everyone to stay in the Fellowship Hall.  There we had a brief sermon, we had communion around the tables.  We had never done this before, and it was so good to experiment, so get even a sliver of a feel for the kind of worship going on in Corinth.

In some ways, what Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians 11:17-34, is pretty cool to get a glimpse into the life, admittedly the messed up life, of the early church at worship. But what does that matter for us? We don’t ever have out of control celebrations of communion. It is always very orderly and respectful.

True. But there is much that we can apply to our lives: the principle of self-examination, of self-judgment is vital. Anytime we come to worship, especially including the Lord’s Supper, but anytime we worship, we can and should have a spirit of self-evaluation.

This is an important spiritual discipline Paul is teaching the people. It is a discipline in which we say to the Lord “I need you.” Much like Jesus taught us to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” It is an essential attitude to the disciple of Jesus. An attitude of humility, an attitude that embraces self-examination, an attitude that invites the Spirit to do the work of examination.

David would pray in the Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”  Disciples of Jesus have hearts that beat for that kind of holiness. Disciples of Jesus have hearts that beat for restored relationships. Disciples of Jesus are quick to admit their faults.

They want others to go first. They want to cross over the cultural boundaries that divide us. They want church to be the most inclusive place in the world. They want Sunday to be the most integrated day of the week. In Christ there is no man or woman, no slave or free, no rich or poor, no black or white, unlike the Corinthian church whose messed-up communions seem to have been motivated by Greco-Roman socioeconomic traditions that had infected the church.  When the Corinthian Christians met they most likely had a full meal, only one part of which included The Lord’s Supper.  What happened, though, was that the haves got all the good food and wine in the special room, while the have-nots got the leftovers or none at all out in the foyer.

And so disciples of Jesus search their hearts for prejudice and ask God to help them eradicate it.

Disciples remember what Jesus did, how he crossed over the boundaries of eternity into mortality, how he did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on servitude, and was even willing to lower himself to death. Disciples remember how he gave his body and his blood. Disciples remember how he gave of himself so sacrificially, and they want to give of themselves the same way.

As Paul would say in Romans 12 “Therefore, in view of God’s mercy, offer you bodies as living sacrifices, this is your spiritual act of worship.”

By doing that, this little symbol, this bit of bread and small cup remind us that we proclaim Christ’s death until he comes. This little, but incredibly powerful, symbolic ritual launches us forward into the mission of God. It refocuses us to think about our true calling. That we carry in our actions and in our words the good news that the one who gave his body and blood in death for our sins did not stay dead, but he rose again victoriously! And he wants everyone to experience the power of resurrection new life in their lives as well. What a message!

If you’d like to discuss further, please comment below.

Garlic, $10 bill, Baha’i info – The Monday Messy Office Report – July 28, 2014

28 Jul

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

1. Garlic – I found a plastic grocery store bag with a garlic in my office.  My wife mentioned that this was from friends at church.  They had a garden and were sharing!  Pretty awesome.  This time of year a lot of that goes on in the church.  Our family garden is about ready to yield an abundance of tomatoes, and many of them will be making their way to the Share Table at our ministerium summer lunch program, one location of which is Faith Church.  The sharing combined with the emotional peace of working and tending our garden has become very meaningful to me.  Maybe you know the feeling.  I strongly encourage people to grow their own food as much as possible.  Doing so brings amazing benefits on many levels.

ten_dollar_bill2. $10 bill – An anonymous donor left this in my office with a note saying that it should be used to help our Faith Church campers going to Twin Pines this summer.  Each year Faith Church budgets funds to help send campers from our church to our denomination’s summer camp, Twin Pines.  This year we had more campers go to Twin Pines that what we planned on!  That is a great problem to have.  So we’ve been asking our congregation to give a bit extra to help those campers.  It is wonderful when people respond.  For many, it is a request they love giving to, because Twin Pines has a special place in their hearts.  For 50 years Twin Pines has faithfully served the Lord as place where kids head to the Pocono mountains, have a blast, and learn about faith in Jesus.  My kids LOVE Twin Pines.  The staff does an amazing job caring for and reaching out to the kids.  My oldest son has spent the last two summers serving on that staff, he loves it so much.  And my wife and I are deeply grateful for how the full-time staff invests in the lives of the summer staff.  Since coming to Faith Church in October 2012, I don’t know how many times I’ve been to Twin Pines, mostly for retreats.  I love it there too.  And I pray that God continues to bless Twin Pines, to use it, and to send a lot more $10 bills it’s way so that Twin Pines can continue to make a great impact of many people.

3. Baha’i brochure – A friend from church attended a local Baha’i gathering in recent weeks, and he brought back information.  I am very thankful that he did so, because he knew I would be interested in learning more.  I very briefly studied Baha’i doctrine and practice in a college class 20 years ago, and I had forgotten much.  I was glad to hear that my friend was warmly welcomed at the Baha’i gathering.  Interestingly I came across an article in the last month or so that also mentioned Baha’i.  You can read it here.  Believe it or not, Baha’i is the second-most numerous faith in South Carolina!  While Christianity is the #1 faith in all 50 States, have you ever thought about what faith is number 2?  In every State the #2 faith is a tiny percentage compared to Christianity, and as the article mentions, it doesn’t take much to be the #2 faith in South Carolina, which is massively Christian.  But it is compelling nonetheless to think that Baha’i is second.  The essence of Baha’i teaching is that all faiths lead to the same destination, and thus we should love all people.  I respectfully disagree with the first part of that sentence, and I wholeheartedly agree with the second part.  In the pamphlet they say that, of the great religions, none of the Divine Teachers claim to be first or last, as evidence that all faiths lead to the same place.  Then they quote Jesus saying “if you had believed in Moses, you would have believed in me, for he wrote of me.”  I take issue with this because Jesus’ intent was not to place himself equally in a line-up of famous teachers, and thus that all faiths are equal.  In this quote he is actually doing the opposite, saying that Moses was pointing to someone greater.  Moses was writing about the Messiah, the Savior, of whom no one is comparable.  The Jews to whom Jesus was speaking knew what Moses meant, they knew what Jesus was insinuating, and they didn’t like it.  What I am referring to is the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, that he was the promised Messiah. He said without hesitation that he and God the Father are one.  Again the people in the crowd that day knew what he was saying because they picked up stones to kill him, as stoning wsa the punishment for equating yourself with God.  He lived to teach another day, but not for long.  Just hours before his crucifixion, he would tell his disciples “I am the way, the truth and the life…no one comes to the Father except through me.”  That kind of exclusivity is hard for some to swallow.  I admit that it can come across as harsh or unrealistic, but Jesus was trying to be hopeful and helpful.  When you take into account that the very next day he gave his life for us because he loves us, his sacrifice puts the statement into a different color.  And then when you think about his resurrection, his victory over sin, death and the Devil…and how he wants to see his new life work its healing in all of our lives…Wow.  What is available in Christ is amazing.  I am not here to knock on Baha’i.  I’m here to say that new life in Jesus is the only faith that truly makes sense to me.

Well…now it’s time to clean up this mess!

Have you ever thought communion is a bit strange?

26 Jul

Recieving Communion #2A little tiny piece of bread.

An equally small cup of juice. 

Most often, that is how we take communion at Faith Church.  We also practice intinction, where people rip off a piece of bread and dip it in a cup.  Since I am usually holding one of the cups, I have to admit that it is humorous when people, trying to make sure there is enough bread left for others, rip off the smallest flakes of break you ever saw.  When they attempt to dip their crumb into the cup, the realize it is too small, and they accidentally dunk the tips of their fingers.  Then the juice starts dripping on the hands, shirt, floor, and they get quite embarrassed.  To avoid this, I have taken to whispering “it’s okay…take a big chunk!”

Have you ever thought that communion is strange?

Is this what Jesus really intended that ominous Passover night when he at the Jewish Seder with his disciples, and he said “Do this in remembrance of me”?

Christians through the ages have debated what is the appropriate meaning and practice of communion.  Confusing words like transubstantiation and consubstantiation get flown around, along with memorial, spiritual presence, mass, Eucharist, and a curious one…viaticum. (That is actually one of my favorite!)

As we continue our series in Corinth, we’ll see that the Christians in Corinth were quite confused about the meaning and practice of the supper, and they had allowed themselves to make a mockery of it. I very much wish I could have witnessed that scene with my own eyes!  It was wild.

Want to get a sneak peak?  Check our 1st Corinthians 11:17-34

I personally have thought that communion is strange, but the more I look at it, the more compelling it becomes! 

Join us tomorrow at Faith Church to learn more!

Jesus & Paul were feminists? – 1st Corinthians 11:2-16

23 Jul

This past Sunday my sermon was about 1st Corinthians 11:2-16, where Paul talks about women in worship.  After giving the sermon, we had an excellent time at sermon discussion group.  I want to review some of the questions we talked about.

As I mentioned in the intro post last week, I’m concerned that bringing up the topic of women in worship could lead to divisiveness, but that is not my intent.  The moment I decided to preach through 1st Corinthians, I knew that the study would take us into some difficult territory.  But since Paul knew he needed to address it, we should too.  I’ve been regularly astounded at how often Paul’s words from nearly 2000 years ago speak so powerfully to us today.  This section about women in worship is no different.  Hear my heart: I want to raise some questions, and perhaps even challenge your thinking, but in so doing, my intent is to promote love and unity, even with those of you who disagree.  So here goes:

If I could summarize what Paul says about the role of women in the church it seems that he is teaching egalitarianism in complementarian clothing.

What do I mean that I think Paul is teaching egalitarianism in complementarian clothes?  Because the culture in Corinth, and really in the whole Roman Empire, was extremely patriarchal, women were most often viewed far below men, sometimes as possessions, sometimes lower than animals.  So when the women in the church at Corinth started behaving in an extremely counter-cultural way, perhaps removing their veils, perhaps cutting their hair to look like men’s hair, Paul knows that this behavior could marginalize the church and it’s influence for the mission of Christ.  Basically, if the church gets the reputation for having out-of-control women, likely very few people would want to be a part of the church.  Therefore Paul tells the women to act in a way that is in keeping with cultural norms.  But he doesn’t stop there.  Right in the center of the passage, verses 11-12, he clearly explains that men and women are equal in God’s eyes, a radical notion for the men of that culture!

Do you see what Paul does there?  By asking the women to maintain a complementarian approach to worship, Paul preserves the deeper teaching of egalitarianism for the future!  It is a move of genius that lays a foundation for a very different approach to the role of women in the future.  We see Paul’s teaching bearing fruit in our country today.  In the USA we believe that men and women are equal, though we still have work to do!  One issue, for example, is women not receiving equal pay for equal work.

Going back to what Paul was teaching, I think Paul was a radical feminist. Look at the place he gives to women in Romans 16.  I think Jesus was a radical feminist.  Look at the all the ways he dignifies women and includes them in his ministry.  One person calls Christianity the best thing that ever happened to women.  When we look at Jesus and Paul from the vantage point of our culture, it can be very easy to think that they could have done a lot more to enhance women’s rights.  Why didn’t they teach more clearly that women should rise up and take their freedom?, we wonder.  But seen from the viewpoint of the Ancient Near East in the first century AD, Jesus and Paul were egalitarians, pro-equality for women, in their teaching and ministry practice!

jesus feministWhat this says is that Paul’s teaching to the women to cover their heads, to have long hair, and to learn in quietness in the church, was intended as temporary, for that church in that culture to maintain its viability and thus to advance the Gospel.  Clearly in Romans 16, Paul refers with gratefulness to the women who were serving well in various roles in the church.  This is evidence that perhaps even Paul didn’t feel his teaching to the Corinthians (and similar things he would say to the church in Ephesus in the letters to the Ephesians and to Timothy who pastored there) was universally applicable.  Therefore, if a church is located in a cultural situation such that men and women are considered equal, for example a cultural situation like ours in the USA, we can, and I would say should, practice egalitarianism in the church.

The battleground is whether or not Paul’s teaching here in 1st Corinthians is for all time, all churches everywhere, or just for the Corinthians in their time.  I believe Paul’s was complementarian teaching for the specific situation of that time, while laying an egalitarian foundation for very different cultural situations then and in the future.  If that is true, is it possible that complementarian teaching and expression might actually be a hindrance in our egalitarian culture?  Given the godly, deeply scholarly evidence for egalitarian approaches to ministry and the church, why do some people hold on to complementarian approaches, approaches which by their nature lower women?  I have read numerous complementarian approaches by men who love their wives and want to promote equality for women.  I give them credit.  Deep down they are trying to be faithful to how they read the Scripture.  I’m not trying to tear them down.  I know women who hold to a complementarian approach as well.  They love the Lord and are deeply passionate about serving him.  So please know that when I ask the questions above, I ask them in a spirit of love.

What hits me in the gut about Paul’s teaching is the motivation behind it.  I see Paul as lovingly, passionately concerned that this church, this group of people he has great affection for, was jeopardizing the mission of God’s Kingdom.  That means we disciples of Jesus need to ask ourselves, is there any way that we are being a hindrance to the Gospel?  How might our church be a hindrance to the Gospel?  At this point the sermon discussion group had some great ideas!  Here are some examples of how we can potentially be an hindrance to people becoming disciples of Jesus:

  • Our desire to get people to come to us, rather than us going to them.
  • Being so busy about our lives that we have little or no time for neighbors and friends.
  • An expression of church that is legalistic, rule-based.
  • Asking people to conform to our rules before being a part of our fellowship.

What other ideas can you think of?

The Monday Clean Office Report – July 21, 2014

21 Jul

My Friday tidy office has been miraculously clean on Monday!  For two weeks in a row.  While I enjoy writing these posts as I enjoy being surprised with what I’ll find in here on Monday mornings, the last two Mondays have been slim pickings.  Nothing to write about.  So there you have it.  Just thought I’d let you know in case you were wondering!

The role of women in church

18 Jul

I was very nervous a couple months ago when our sermon series in 1st Corinthians took us to the topic of homosexuality.  I’m nervous again. 

In our passage for this coming Sunday, Paul brings up a situation in the church at Corinth about women and their role in worship.  It seems to me that the role of women has been one of the most discussed and most debated issues in recent years.

I’m not interested in taking sides or being negative about one side or the other.  The way I see it, both of the primary two points of view are motivated by a heart to honor the Lord.  Or at least I think their foundational motivation could, and perhaps should, be understood that way.  Of course, plenty of people carry their point of view like a weapon, and use it as such.  I don’t want to perpetuate that kind of damage in the least.

Here’s a brief description of those two points of view:

  1. Complementarianism – Women are to complement men.  God ordained this.  Both are equally loved in his eyes.  In marriage and in the church, though, men are to lead.  We might not understand why God would want one gender to complement another, but we can trust that God’s way are best.  This view stems from reading certain New Testament passages as universally binding.  Thus, if this view is held, it should be held humbly and lovingly by the men and women who hold to it.
  2. Egalitarianism – Men and women are equal in every way. God created both equally in his image, and he loves both equally. In heaven this expression will be the norm, and so now on earth we can and should work toward gender equality, in society, marriage and in the church. This view stems from seeing certain New Testament teachings as only pertaining to certain first-century churches.  This view should also be held humbly and lovingly.

gender-rolesAs you can see, proponents of either side can have a heart of love for God in their view.  I think that is very important to see.

Paul was writing to a society steeped in patriarchy. Women were seen as possessions. What would he say, when he heard reports of women exercising a freedom that was counter-cultural?  Would he cheer them or chastise them?  What is the main concern Paul has for the Christians in Corinth?  Might there be a principle that could carry over to our church, our era?

So, trepidatiously, I invite you to hear a sermon about 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 this coming Sunday at Faith Church.


On taking a sabbatical to get ripped abs… – 1st Corinthians 10:14-22

16 Jul

I debated talking about American Idols in this post. Not the show American Idol, but the idols that we Americans worship, no matter if we are Christians or not. Money, consumerism, material things.

I think it is important to mention those, but I’ve talked a lot about them already.  Might there be other forms of idolatry that we need to think about.  Admittedly, idolatry can be a bit confusing.  We American Christians aren’t tempted, for the most part, to offer sacrifices in pagan temples to false gods made of stone, wood, clay or metal. In our area, those kinds of temples are pretty much non-existent.  So when we hear Paul talk about idolatry, as we did in this past Sunday’s sermon from 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, it can be kind of hard to identify with.

What comes to your mind when you think of idols in our culture? Do you know if you yourself worship an idol?  I posed this question to some of my pastor friends this week, and I got a number of great responses.

We start with a definition of idolatry. When you can’t point to a statue in a temple and say “That! There is an idol”, you have to look at the principle of idolatry. Idolatry can be a concept and idea, as much as it is a physical statue.  One pastor said this: idolatry is so often “When a good thing becomes a god thing, that’s a bad thing”.  I didn’t make that up. Can’t take credit for it. But I like it.

There are so many things in our lives that God has blessed us with that are good things. But those things can become gods to us. Lower-case g. False gods.

That pastor said that they knew someone who had idolize movies. Movies are a very good thing. But someone could start to expect more of those movies than they should. They can go to the movies to escape life. The big screen (or better yet IMAX!), exciting filming, intense music, great stories and acting all come together to give you a wonderful feeling. The experience of seeing a movie can be so cool. But we can start to expect more out of a movie than what we should expect. We can put movie in a place of God. For example, we can want it to ease the pain of life, take us away to another place. And for a moment in time it does. But the credits roll, the lights come up, and we walk out of the theater, the experience over, with an empty feeling that slowly seeps back in. We’ve made a god out of the experience. That is Idolatry.

We should be participating with Christ and Christ alone. We should be finding our fulfillment in him alone!

Another pastor friend said: “The Bible, worship service, family, I realize these are all counter intuitive and in and of themselves are not idols but they can become idols when they are substituted for trust in and obedience to Jesus.”  That one led to some lengthy discussion in our sermon discussion group!  But all those good things can become god things, and that is a bad thing.  How can the Bible become idolatry, you ask?  Good question.  Think about it this way: the Pharisees in Jesus’ day would say that they were dedicated followers of the Bible (the Old Testament for them).  But Jesus confronted them strongly, and said repeatedly that they were way off base.  Why?  Because they worshipped a Bible of their own making.  How many times did Jesus say things like “Guys! Do you read the Bible?  How is it that you don’t know what it says?”  Pretty harsh, but true, words to the religious elite who were supposed to know the Bible inside and out.  Instead they were following something that they called the Bible, and maybe that they even thought was the actual Bible, but, as Jesus pointed out, wasn’t anything like the Bible.  They idolized their own version.  Can you think how we evangelical Christians do something like this in our day?  At sermon discussion what came up was Sabbath rules, like forbidding mowing the lawn on Sunday.  There are many other more serious examples we could point to, examples of so-called doctrines that Christians are taught to be adamant about, but are not justified when doing serious study of Scripture.  I think it would be very helpful to talk more about this, so please feel free to comment.

Another pastor friend said: “The greatest idol is the one looking back at us in the mirror. As long as we keep saying things like “God has a perfect plan for MY life”, the idol gains more power. Once in control, it won’t allow us to even consider the wisdom of humility, repentance, and sacrifice for something so much bigger than “me”. The idol in the mirror must die.”


For me, exercise and body image easily could become an idol. We see pictures all the time, on TV, online, of people with perfectly toned bodies. Here’s where the crazy comes out. I actually had this thought the other day…I have a pouch down there on my belly.  I started working out in late 2009, and while I lost a lot of weight, I have done sit-ups days upon days and the pouch remains. It is frustrating, but to be honest, I know what it will take to get rid of it. I read an article about Hollywood actors who get toned in a short period of time.  You know what I mean: the ladies who have a baby and three weeks later it looks like they were never pregnant? How do they do it? The article interviewed a famous Hollywood trainer who said, it’s simple…kinda: just work out hard 3 hours per day, eat 2000 calories or less per day, and sleep 10 hours per day. In other words, your full-time job needs to be getting in shape. Who has that time though? If I tried that now, it would be easy to see how a good thing became a god thing and that’s a bad thing.

Watch the crazy come come out: so I thought, what if I took a sabbatical to do this? Our denomination suggests that churches give pastors sabbaticals…

But before you start to think that I seriously entertained that suggestion, a sabbatical so I get ripped abs, you see just how quickly a good thing becomes a bad thing in our minds.

What about you? Have you let anything take the place of God in your life?