Church Inside Out: Talking About Service

churchinoutOne of the key themes in my new book, Church Inside Out, is the need for the church to be serving the community around. To give you a flavor, here are a few quotes on the topic:

One of the ways to identify the core values of your church is to look at the things that are talked about. In a church with a healthy outward focus, the conversations are about people that are being ministered to, about service projects that are meeting needs, about lost people that are coming to the Lord. (p. 27)

Time resources. Financial resources. Leadership resources. Resources of time and space. In a healthy church, these things have an outward vision, a plan for serving and teaching the surrounding community. In the inward-focused church, resources are for the consumption of church members. (p. 28)

We’ve been selected as representatives of God here on earth. Priests. Ambassadors. Sent from the kingdom of heaven to the kingdoms of this world with a message about who God is and our need to get right with Him. Aliens and strangers, foreigners and exiles, separated from the evil things of this world, but living “among the pagans” so that our lives may serve as testimony to them. We aren’t called to cloister ourselves away in Christian colonies; we are sent out into the world as ambassadors. (p. 70)

In John 13, when Jesus is getting ready to wash His disciples’ feet, John says that Jesus knew “that he had come from God and was returning to God.” (John 13:3) Such an awareness empowered Him to perform the tasks of service He was called to perform, from washing feet to dying on a cross.
If we, as a church, can recapture the sense of having come from God and being on a return trip back to God, we will find the power to do the necessary things to promote the kingdom of God on this earth. (p. 76)

That’s why one of the first steps for turning a church inside out is to see who is in our neighborhood. To whom are we reaching out? Who are the people that need our service? Who are the people who would want to come serve with us? (p. 81)

Too often we attempt to sway the world with thunderous words, but without the lightning of a life of service, our words carry no weight. (p. 107)

As we look to our cities and towns, we shouldn’t be seeking ways to control others; we should be looking for ways to serve. (p. 110)

Where giftedness meets need, that is your calling. (p. 114)

Christians who serve others and do good deeds in their community announce good news through their actions. A presentation of the gospel is merely an explanation of what our friends and neighbors have already seen. (p. 155)

Some thoughts on politicians and bathrooms

Bathroom-gender-signIn no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the bathroom hubbub going on these days:

  • Sheesh! Don’t we have better things to spend our time and tax money on?
  • Most laws governing who can go to what bathroom are silly. They are. If you start trying to legislate these things, you create more problems than you’ve had before. As we’ve seen.
  • At the same time, the national government’s intrusion into states’ affairs on this has only made things worse. Any time the federal government appears to be bullying the states, the states are naturally going to fight back. Especially if the political leanings of state officials go against the current administration.
  • Most of this furor is political. At lower levels, there are many school officials very aware of what’s going on with their kids. (And frankly, they can handle it better than any legislature can) As you move up each level in the governmental chain, the issue becomes more and more about power and politics.
  • In particular, state officials need to focus more on improving schools and less time debating bathrooms. This is especially true in Texas. (I highly recommend reading the Facebook post by the Granbury (TX) ISD which addresses this issue)
  • There is only a small portion of our population dealing with gender issues. For the most part, there haven’t been major problems in this area. Most transgender adults use the bathroom of their choice and the rest of the population isn’t aware of it. There would be more problems caused by a Caitlyn Jenner entering the men’s bathroom than he/she discretely going to a stall in the ladies room.
  • There is much more danger of male-on-male sexual abuse than that of people taking advantage of the “chance” to use a different bathroom.
  • Christians need to focus on how we are dealing with people. How we talk to our kids about what’s going on. How we deal with kids who are dealing with emotional issues like gender confusion. How we teach everyone to deal with bullies, both in the school and in government. (I highly recommend the article Seven things I’m learning about transgender persons)

That’s probably enough to make everyone mad, right?

Links To Go (May 25, 2016)

Undocumented Ph.D. Makes History at UC Merced

Yuriana Aguilar says she hopes to open her own medical research lab. She’s got faith that somehow she’ll find a path to citizenship. But even then, she won’t mind working in the fields sometimes — or even buying a lot of land to farm someday. You have to do every job with dignity, she says, and with your heart.

In defense of Trump (and Sanders and Clinton)

We may be called to disagree with someone, when we consider the core tenets of our faith. But let our disagreement be substantive and only chosen after a truly intentional desire to listen to what the candidate actually believes — not just the media’s picture of the candidate.

I Think We Have This Whole Christianity in America Thing Confused

It makes me angry that people are going out giving a bad name for Jesus’ church. This gives people the impression that Christianity is a hateful religion when it should be just the opposite. Instead of using energy to decide who we will not associate with or which business we are boycotting, why don’t we use that energy to think of new ways in reaching the lost, even if those lost are inside Target?
If want this country to change let me assure you that the change will not come from the top down. It is up to you and me. But the goal should not be restoring a “Christian Nation.” The goal always has been and should be to make Christians, to spread the love and grace of God as far as we can. We have to roll up our sleeves and get busy making disciples (Matt. 28:18-20).

The Book of Revelation: A Different Kind of Apocalyptic Text

Oh, and one more thing. People often comment on the violence in Revelation. But it’s very important to note that it’s deferred, especially the vengeance to be meted out to the wicked; and believers have no role in executing that vengeance. Instead, it’s “the armies of heaven” (apparently angelic forces) that ride out in Revelation 19, not an army of believers. In that sense, Revelation is also different from texts such as the “War Scroll” from Qumran (1QM), which appears to portray “the sons of light” (the righteous of the Qumran community) joining in a final battle against “the sons of darkness” (the wicked). In short, Revelation actually provides no basis for believers themselves exacting vengeance or making war against others, even against those who persecute them. Instead, it’s all left in God’s hands and deferred to God’s own time. There again, Revelation actually reflects a striking kind of religious stance.

Pastors: The End of the World is Complicated

McConnell says it’s not a bad thing that pastors disagree on the details of the apocalypse. Most agree on the main teachings about the Second Coming. The rest of the details don’t affect the day-to-day life of most Christians.
“The big picture of Revelation is clear—Jesus returns, people must be ready, evil is defeated,” he says. “With the rest of the details, there is room for disagreement.”

Are You Flexible For The Gospel?

The more a gap opens up between the culture of the church and the culture of the surrounding society, the more important it is to know how to bridge it. But the concern must never be to prove how cosmopolitan and sophisticated and flexible we are. The aim must be “to win as many as possible.”

Is Meek Weak?

Meek is not weak. The pastor who feels the need to power his church to greatness through the exercise of his own gifts underestimates the power of the gospel. The pastor convinced he must be the most insightful, the most incisive, the most forceful, or the most commanding has missed the most basic of spiritual truths: God delights to use the meekest of men because they are the most obviously dependent upon him. This does not mean a good pastor is quiet, reticent to lead, or skeptical of his own judgment. Not at all! Yet it does mean a pastor is “quick to hear, slow to speak, [and] slow to anger” (James 1:19).

Preacher, teacher, Sunday entertainer?

I am certainly guilty of expecting the Bible to be all religious and austere. So does your congregation. When we expect it to be boring and conservative, we don’t really notice when the Bible contains humour, irony and hyperbole. We won’t notice Paul including a bad joke about Cretans in Titus, or that the story in Judges about Micah’s idols is supposed to be a farce. We will only notice those things when we ask “Why?”
All this hard labour aims to clarify what God said, so that when you stand up in front of your audience, you can speak God’s words—the most important words in the world—instead of trying to make your generic theologisms more interesting by being a Sunday morning entertainer.

Avoiding Mistakes in the Application of Scripture

Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid when applying Scripture:

    li>Imagining a spiritual meaning in a narrative text that is not embedded in the text itself.
  1. Taking historical narratives as prescriptive rather than descriptive.
  2. Using an application that is not connected with the actual meaning of the text.
  3. Reading your own theology into the text.

It’s Okay To Say No

You are the parent now, and you make the rules. If you don’t want your child having an app on their phone (or having a phone in the first place!), it is your Godly duty as a parent to say no. Forget what “all the other parents” are doing. If you believe it’s right, and right for your child, tell them no.
It’s okay to say “no.”

The Backside Blessings of Blogging

  • Thoughts are clarified.
  • Camaraderie is developed.
  • Creativity is cultivated.
  • Discipline is encouraged.
  • A body of work is collected.

New poll finds 9 in 10 Native Americans aren’t offended by Redskins name

Nine in 10 Native Americans say they are not offended by the Washington Redskins name, according to a new Washington Post poll that shows how few ordinary Indians have been persuaded by a national movement to change the football team’s moniker.
The survey of 504 people across every state and the District reveals that the minds of Native Americans have remained unchanged since a 2004 poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found the same result.

The legal mumbo jumbo on popular mobile apps can take over 24 hours to read

The Norwegian Consumer Council also has a grouse against these long and abstruse statements and to prove its point the consumer group has downloaded the terms of service and privacy policies for apps found on an “average” mobile, and are streaming live as guests read out the documents.
“Together they exceed the New Testament in length – and would take more than 24 hours to read out loud,” the group said on their website. They point out that few if any have the time to read when they click ‘ok’ when they sign up to use an app.

Links To Go (May 19, 2016)

Thoughts from other people that made me think… Tim

Empathy Isn’t Theology

“The struggle is real,” is not theology. It is many things–even positive things–but it does not change what is actually true. Empathy and experience become our enemy when they form a funnel or filter through which any truth must fit. Of course this all assumes we Christians really do care about the truth.

“Say Among the Nations” (Psalm 96:10)

Amidst the anxiety and angst of the political season as well as the distress that fills the world with terror, violence, and economic pain, we affirm the sovereignty of God, the stability of the earth, and the certainty that God will set things right when God comes to judge the earth.

Hospitality and Proclamation: A Lesson from My Middle Eastern Friends

Our Arab brother and leader would roll down his window and simply inquire of the man we felt led to ask. He said, “I have Americans. Would you like coffee?” Eight times he inquired and eight times an invitation was immediately accepted. Middle Eastern Arabs have hospitality in their DNA. Every household is ready at any time to welcome guests. So 12 Americans and an Arab missionary would have Arabic coffee, olives, pita bread, and spices and talk for hours.
In that time, we learned of each other’s cultures, our love of family and our fears and hopes. It was the linking of widely diverse cultures that are unified in hopes and fears. God even allowed us to gently and lovingly speak of our love for Isa (Arabic for Jesus). We planted seeds that the Arab missionaries will now water and someday, harvest. The dream is a house church of Muslim background believers in Jesus in all 124 villages.

Obama chides Rutgers students for pressuring Condoleezza Rice to back out of commencement speech

“I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or this country would be better served by not hearing a former secretary of state or not hearing what she had to say — I believe that’s misguided,” Obama said. “I don’t think that’s how democracy works best, when we’re not even willing to listen to each other.”
He added:

If you disagree with somebody, bring them in and ask them tough questions. Hold their feet to the fire, make them defend their positions. … Don’t be scared to take somebody on. Don’t feel like you got to shut your ears off because you’re too fragile and somebody might offend your sensibilities. Go at them if they’re not making any sense.

Tim Duncan is a true champion and NBA’s ultimate franchise player for his Spurs-first approach

That’s what made him so refreshingly unique. In a world where the AAU culture encourages players to think of themselves as a brand and where NBA superstars wield enough power to get coaches fired and teammates traded, Duncan was the quintessential franchise player.
He sacrificed money, minutes and shots to keep the Spurs a legitimate contender for two decades. That’s a real superstar.
If this was indeed Duncan’s last game — and several friends of his I spoke with believe Duncan will retire this summer — he leaves on his terms. Kobe Bryant embraced his over-the-top farewell tour while Duncan departed quietly.

‘An amazing way to go’: Jane Little, world’s longest-serving orchestra musician, collapses and dies performing ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business’

The symphony was performing a pops concert called “Broadway’s Golden Age,” according to its schedule. A spokeswoman said the players were about 30 seconds from the last measures of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” from Irving Berlin’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” the encore to the concert when Little collapsed and was carried backstage by her fellow bassists. She never regained consciousness.

Why write a book?

churchinoutChurch Inside Out is a book designed to help churches get outside of their own four walls in order to help others find their way in. Why write something like this?

  • I’ve been blessed to be able to visit many churches in many different places. Big churches. Little churches. Churches in areas with lots of Christians. Churches in areas with few Christians. I’ve been able to observe, and much of what I’ve written comes from things I’ve observed.
  • I’ve grown in understanding about some things. Doesn’t mean that I know more than others, but I definitely know more than I used to. And I’m sure I know more than many Christians about some things, just as others know more than I do about certain topics.
  • I’m blessed to be able to read and study widely. My life situation, my field of study in college, the jobs I’ve had over the years, the availability of materials on the Internet… all has worked together to allow me to glean ideas from Christians I’ll probably never meet. In this book, I try to share some of those ideas.
  • I firmly believe that God wants to work through his church to bless this world. I firmly believe the church can do great things through the power of God. No church is doomed to be what it has been; every church has the potential to do great things with God’s help.

Those are some of the reasons I decided to write this book. I remember a quote from a Keith Green album jacket:

If I’m worthy, let me be heard. If I’m heard, let me be worthy.

That’s not exactly how I feel. Mine would be:

Lord, please use me, what I say, and what I write, to allow others to hear you. Not me, but you.