David Was a Screw Up, and You Can Too!

Even if you haven’t been a faithful Bible reader or church attender you’ve heard about David.

At the very least you know about David and Goliath. You’ve heard a sermon, perhaps, about slaying the giants in your life. 

If you were in church in the late 70s and 80s, you experienced that story as I did–on the magical apparatus that was flannel graph:

Flannelgraph-Website

Just seeing that picture brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

But back to David. David was said to be a man after God’s heart, which as best I can tell means he was trying to draw near to God and mirror the character of God. But then you read David’s story and go, “Wow, if he can get that title, there’s hope for me yet!”

I say that because David’s family was jacked up. His family makes all of our families look like the Cleavers.

We’re talking rape, incest, mutiny, murder–these are some of the issues that arose in his family.

Then there’s David himself, the adulterer, liar, conspirator, coward, murderer, and again, liar.

…A man after God’s heart?

That’s why I say there’s hope for you and for me. The redemptive grace of God is such that no matter our yesterdays God is for us today. He desires to work in us and through us today and the next day and the next.

God’s arm of hope is not like that of a T-Rex…just a bit too short. No. He is called the God of hope. And if we are His children, what does that make us?

 

 

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“Healthy Things Grow” and Other Church Growth Half-Truths, Part Deux

I talked in the first post on church growth half-truths about the mantra “healthy things grow.” My response to that statement has always been, “Yep, and unhealthy things grow too.” Cancer, for instance, spreads faster than anyone wishes. Poison Ivy. Wildfires. Discord. Rumors. These things, generally agreed upon as bad, grow–usually quite rapidly.

I want to ask another question in relation to this half-truth, namely, what kind of growth are we talking about?

Those who use this rhetoric have in mind quantitative growth. In other words, that which is measured via counting horizontally–nickels and noses usually. How much is our budget? And how many people showed up–whether for Sunday service or our seasonal attraction?

So “healthy things grow” could easily be understood as “healthy things will increase in number.” More people will be attending. If more people aren’t attending, then what you have, dear friend or pastor, is not healthy.

Now that I am out of the mega context and pastor a rural congregation in a city of less than 2,000 (yes, less than), there is no reason to suspect that our city or church will experience an influx of people any time soon. That isn’t to say our church cannot experience quantitative growth, but if I measure my success or effectiveness by that, depression is my only logical destination.

Rather than focus on quantitative growth, I’ve been pondering more deeply qualitative growth, quantitative’s lesser known and somewhat marginalized 3rd cousin twice removed.

A dear friend and mentor advised me how to answer the inevitable pastor question, What are you runnin’? (Because that tells me nearly everything I need to know about you. Pastors young and old feel the need to explain why the numbers are lagging or aren’t as high as others; this I know from experience).

So should I be ashamed to answer 130? 150? 110?

He suggested I give them a real number (not some magically inflated number) and then nuance it like this: “We have 130 who call our church home, but we have 10 people who really get it.”

That is to say, there are 10 disciples of Jesus who truly believe Jesus demands all of us. To be Christian isn’t to go about life as normal and tag Jesus on when necessary. So however many that may be in your particular context, that’s more of a qualitative measure.

–> Now you can go about figuring that out in different ways. Perhaps you measure a combination of how many folks serve on Sunday and in their community, how many are in a community/small/life group, and how many exude a seriousness about the things of God. Somehow you’re trying to answer whether people are becoming more rooted in their faith as displayed in their lives.

Whatever measures we use, let’s viciously fight the long-standing notion that more = better and healthier. There are very sick churches with lots of people coming on Sunday. Conversely, there are churches with very few people by comparison who are pictures of health.

May we all be cognizant of the truth that numbers are never an adequate measure of health when talking of churches. Why? Because it’s nearly impossible to quantify soul-growth. That is proven over the long haul and becomes difficult to boast of–it also makes it harder to decide who should speak at all those conferences.

“You’re just bitter because you have a small church…”

…said the person who doesn’t know me.

As the apostle Paul said, God will look at our labors, not our results. Only He gives growth that matters (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

 

P.S. I do not think that a small church has somehow been more faithful to the gospel and the Bible thus resulting in their smallness. In the same way I don’t think that because a church is large it as sold out so-to-speak. We must be cautious in levying our judgments, for only God can judge one’s labors and motivations.

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“Healthy Things Grow” and Other Church Growth Half-Truths

I recall sitting in multiple staff meetings at large churches and hearing that mantra, “Healthy things grow. Healthy things grow. Healthy things grow.” Now you say it…

Great job!

At times in those meetings I wanted to shout, “Hey, cancer grows! Is that healthy?” But that would make too little of those suffering under the oppressive hand of cancer.

What I felt in those moments I would call righteous indignation…I modify with righteous so as to distract from the fact that I sinned more often than not in my attitude towards those espousing this half-truth.

The idea behind the saying is this, if a church is healthy, then it grows. Two questions I have that come to mind.

1. What constitutes healthy?

2. Should we assume that if a church grows it’s because of health?

When healthy is used to describe a church that should grow are we talking she barely passed her physical or she is an Olympic hopeful? There are certainly various levels of healthiness in the human body, as well as the church body. So to what marks are we looking to determine the condition of the church?

I would submit that in a majority of cases, the primary diagnostic factor is whether the church is and has been growing. A simple syllogism for this:

If a church grows, then that church is healthy.

Church X has grown. Therefore, Church X is healthy. (Who says logic isn’t fun?)

This isn’t to disregard other factors considered such as community outreach, missions involvement, care for the poor, etc. But primarily the aforementioned equation is used.

Let’s move on to question 2. Unhealthy things–organisms, rumors, diseases–grow. In similar fashion unhealthy churches can grow. Church staffs can experience significant internal discord and the overall numbers of the church increase. The primary leaders can be unhealthy in any number of ways and the overall church numbers increase. The church body, though more rare, can be unhealthy and numbers increase, at least for a while.

A church with mostly false doctrine and heretical teaching can grow.

A church that gives out ipads, ipods, and i-anything else, cars, motorcycles, sporting event tickets, guns, houses….those churches will probably grow. But is that healthy growth?

Why bother writing this post? To caution those out there who find themselves sitting in a meeting or in a congregation who may hear from someone up front, “HEALTHY THINGS GROW.” Be faithful to press that statement in a godly fashion, in private preferably. And unlike me, guard against self-righteousness in the process.

May the gospel guide our definitions of health and success. Truly this is an eternal endeavor made possible only by the Spirit’s presence and His prevailing in and over us.

In subsequent posts I will address other Church Growth half-truths. I look forward to your comments, questions, feedback, and especially your own experiences.

Grace and peace.

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The Field of Biblical Studies as Described by C.S. Lewis

I greatly enjoyed the bulk of my seminary Bible courses. I learned a great deal and was introduced to a variety of viewpoints I had never considered–that I didn’t know existed, in fact. Some of it, though, I found extremely unsatisfying and empty. I think Lewis captures it quite well as he communicates through Screwtape:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so…when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the ‘present state of the question’. To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge…would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded.

This method of historical criticism, says Screwtape, is how hell succeeded in creating a rather godless intellectual climate throughout Western Europe. I don’t think Lewis was talking explicitly about biblicists, but I imagine they were in view.

Lewis’ critique of modern scholarship and methodology is pointed, but not without point. We should heed the voice of this recently old writer. Why be suspicious of such methods?

Screwtape concludes: …it is important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.

Some of you will liken Lewis’ position to that of evangelicals or other conservatives. And you’ll dismiss it as I would expect. But be not fooled; if in the crusade for truth all things become untrue, then bananas running through lily field drowning puppies.

Life is senseless and your pursuits fruitless. All is vanity.

 

P.S. I will always have an appreciation for scholarly biblical studies and Bible scholars. I have friends who live in that world, and I am wowed by the breadth of their knowledge. But knowledge alone is not a goal of mine. Wisdom, however, is. Thus, I will try to learn from the old guys and their mistakes as much as possible, that I might walk in truth.

 

 

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Why Yellow Lights are Good for Your Soul

 

We all do it.

We calculate speed, distance, level of risk, and then make the decision…

With grit of teeth and a flex of the ankle we hit the accelerator and speed on through that yellow light.

Whew, made it. Look at those poor souls stuck at the red light. Of course they will catch you while you’re stuck at the next one, but it doesn’t matter because you made it through this one.

Yellow lights are quite helpful in the scheme of things, though. Could you imagine the lights changing from green to red with no transition? It would be chaos. A yellow light is one’s friend, preventing unnecessary pain, damage, and expense. They create a certain rhythm for driving, an in between if you will. Go. Slow. Stop. Go. Slow. Stop.

Now signaling the turn from illustration to application: I often feel as if I am either GO! or STOP! Fully accelerating or slamming on the brakes.

But God has been so kind as to build in some yellow lights, opportunities to slow down before stopping completely and having to accelerate once again. Sometimes I can even time it to where I don’t have to stop all the way but can keep a little momentum moving forward if I spy the yellow light far enough in the distance–you know what I’m talking about, especially if you drive a stick.

Summertime offers a litany of slow downs.

Vacation, for instance, is a red light for some. But I see it as a yellow light, a chance to take my foot off the pedal and pay attention to what God may be doing around me or what He might be asking of me. Sometimes what I notice brings me to full stop, and all I’m left with is Psalm 46:10 Be still and know that I am God. Yes, Lord.

The scenery of summer also has a yellow light quality to it. Lying by the ocean, boating on the river, floating on the lake, fishing in all the above. Water is a often a visual representation of chaos in the Bible. But summer offers a chance to tame the beast and enjoy its pleasures. It’s a chance to slow down and just be.

My yellow light of choice, however, is this: BeStillMountains are a slow down for my soul.

I live around mountains, but I don’t have a view of the mountains like this one (picture from my parent’s back porch this morning). I’m reminded of my smallness and God’s grandeur. I remember the length of my days as compared to the eternality of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Quite simply, I slow down.

The next time the light turns yellow and you start measuring and gauging whether you can make it, I encourage you to take your foot off the gas and appreciate the slow downs life affords.

 

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Should you say MY church?

It seems innocent enough.

I’ve said it a thousand times.

You’ve probably said it–if you attend a church.

And we’ve both said it in positive and negative terms.

With pride or bitterness/anger: “My church does ______.

With pride or bitterness/anger: “My church NEVER does _____.”

One of my professors, mentors, and resident granddaddy to our kids, Dr. Lee Magness, points out that before long, we’ll actually start believing it is MY church.

As if it’s not Jesus’ church. As if he isn’t the foundation, architect, builder, sustainer, and goal of the church. As if he hasn’t laid out what the church exists to do, we begin to believe it’s my church and, thus, my job to craft fanciful mission statements and the like.

I can’t help be think we complicate it so much. We end up stressed over financial commitments, building campaigns, faith promise pledges, boards of people that don’t exist in the Bible, worship styles, and on and on…

All the while, the most foundational reality of Christ’s supremacy is eclipsed. Why? Because, it’s MY church.

There is something formative about the words we use. In this case, ‘my’ denotes ownership of some sort, possession. Choose your words wisely.

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An Hour of Entitlement

Water Faucet

I got a text from Lindsey today: “Water is out and kids are not sleeping.”

The kids not sleeping I expect, but the water is out? Seriously? This just happened a month ago.

I got home at 5 only to find the water was STILL off. Can you believe it?

I was frustrated. I don’t know if you know how much of life requires water, but it’s a lot.

–> Cooking. Using the toilette. Filling the Brita pitcher. Washing clothes. Washing dishes…H2O.

I was home for one hour without it, and my sense of entitlement could probably have been picked up by Google Earth.

780 million people lack access to clean water every day. Every hour. Every minute.

3.4 million die each year from a water related disease. Of those people, a jumbo jet full of children die every four hours. That’s one child every 21 seconds closing his or her little eyes.

But hey, I couldn’t go to the bathroom.

It took the water being off to get me out of my entitled, rights oriented, American self-consumed self.

But I think I’m getting it back. The water is on again, after all.

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