Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Trellis and the Vine -- Can't Wait to Read This

I'm receiving a copy of The Trellis and The Vine: The Ministry Mindshift That Changes Everything in a few days, and I can't wait to read it!!

Here is a quick video blurb from Mark Dever discussing the importance of content covered in the book:



And here is the preview link at WTS of the first two chapters, in case you're also interested.

Gospel Growth = People Growth Conference

When I find about 8 or 9 hours to listen, I'll be checking out these audio files for Gospel/People Growth Conference

gospelgrowth


JT has posted the audio sessions from the recent Gospel Growth/People Growth Conference (held at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School). Here are the files:



Monday, December 28, 2009

Reflections II: Grace Gives Back

“As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” – Luke 21:1-4

“And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.” – 2 Corinthians 8:1-2

While everyone may not all be called into full-time church ministry as a vocation, we are all called to be the body of Christ together with one another. When we receive the mercy and grace of Christ through the ministry and members of the church, the Spirit that abides in us compells us to give to others in return. We can't wait to give back, first to those of the household of God, but also to those in our midst - in our family, our communities, and at work.


In my previous post, I wrote about two different views of spiritual gifts, which I labeled "Willowback" and "Caluther." In my conclusion, I stated a preference for the traditional reformed view of spiritual gifts, outlined in Luther's doctrine of vocation, whereby Christians are sovereignly placed in four estates or spheres of life to serve by using their gifts. Upon further reflection, I'm not fully satisfied with slicing up our lives into estates or spheres, or whatever you might want to call it, and leaving it there. In other words, I am not a fan of the Willowback style model, which tends toward creating synthesis on the theological side, and creating separatism from the other three estates or the culture and society on the practical side. Very often the resulting effect on parishoners/church members is burn-out and shut-down. On the other hand, I think in order for the doctrine of vocation to be fully effective, it is also important to further understand that the vocation doesn't end by dividing up and identifying our calling in the various estates. The equally important element is in understanding that vocation is not meant to be merely a one-to-one transaction: me and God, me and my neighbor, me and my brother or sister, me and my mom, etc..

Somehow, WE, as the body of Christ, walk together in all four spheres. My brothers and sisters in Christ are part of my callings, whether it be in the local church, or at work, or at home, or in my community. Prayer is the most demonstrable means by which God works this incredible group effort. Sometimes, we are physically ministering side by side, joining with one another in actual presence as we labor in our callings, but most often, we cannot physically "be there." Therefore, prayer and fellowship so that we know how we can pray for each other is the crucial link in HOW we actually are able to corporately be in the world, but not of the world.

Let me give you an illustration. When I was a brand new Christian, I attended a parachurch fellowship group. We met weekly for Bible study and worship, but we also had set aside time for members to come together and pray for each other. Each week, we would meet and find out about each others' spheres: what we needed prayer for at work, at school, at home, with family and friends, in our neighborhoods. We would pray for our own struggles, sin and temptations, and we would pray that our acquaintences and loved ones would come to know Christ. And each week at Bible study, we would have anywhere from 1-4 new visitors, which I am convinced was totally correlative. Enemies often became friends, but even more importantly, we watched together as they became believers. When visitors came to Bible study, there were plenty of open arms and hearts to welcome them, because they really weren't visitors. We already knew them. We had been praying for them for months. We already had a connection and relationship with them and cared about them, so when we actually met them for real at Bible study, we were just beaming that they were there!

Prayer is such an important means of grace and way that God uses to build His kingdom. I believe that when we simply relegate the church's prayer to phyical illness (which is very important and should not be taken for granted!), we can lose sight of the real power of prayer to break strongholds, to free the captives, and to enable us to walk rightly in the work that God has called us to and prepared in advance for us to do --- together.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

pics09

Here are the two cuties:






And here is my other niece with her fiancé:

He proposed to her last week and they are going to be married at his church! (he's wearing a long-sleeved, camo pattern thermal shirt -- no, those aren't tats :-))

Reflections on Christmas Gift Giving

Three Reflections on Christmas Gift Giving from Desiring God (12/26/09):

"Gifts and events can't fill the soul. God gives us such things to enjoy. They are expressions of his generosity as well as ours, but gifts and celebrations themselves are not designed to satisfy. They're designed to point us to the Giver. Gifts are like sunbeams. We are not meant to love sunbeams but the Sun.

Putting our hope in gifts will leave us empty. Many people live their lives looking for the right sunbeam to make them happy. But if we depend on anything in the world to satisfy our soul's deepest desire, it will eventually leave us with that post-Christmas soul-ache. We will ask, "Is that all?" because we know deep down that's not all there is. We are designed to treasure a Person, not his things.

It is more blessed to give than receive. What kind of happiness this Christmas felt richer, getting the presents that you wanted or making someone else happy with something that you gave to them? Receiving is a blessing, but Jesus is right—giving is a greater blessing. A greedy soul lives in a small, lonely world. A generous soul lives in a wide world of love.

It's just like God to let the glitter and flash of the celebrations (even in his honor) to pass and then to come to us in the quiet, even melancholic void they leave. Because often that's when we are most likely to understand the hope he intends for us to have at Christmas. " (Jon Bloom)

-----------------------------------
It is so true that giving a gift and making someone happy to receive it is much more fulfilling than just "getting stuff" or working to ensure that transactions are ruled by the principle of "fair trade." True, sometimes we need stuff and it is wonderful when others are gracious to give. But, each year, I go away from Christmas family celebrations feeling full, not because of what I get, but because of the joy I see in others who have received.

This is an important reminder for me, because (and most of you married folks probably are not in tune with this seemingly universal principal) as a single person, I give a present to each of my immediate relatives and their children, whereas each of the family units are able to combine everyone together and give one gift in return. Also, since the youngest and least able to "give back" are the ones who are typically given to the most, it is great to be reminded of what is true and to not be wrapped up measuring relationships by what we receive.

In fact, I think the children are a great example of what the Christmas "exchange" is about. As children they come to the day with their hands empty to receive gifts that are given without any expectation of a gift in return. Free Grace. They receive each gift with joy, excitement and surprise - grateful for the gift. And as a gift giver, my joy in this giving is complete without needing else in return. It really is a true and lovely reminder!

Today, I receive God's greatest treasure, His gracious, free gift of His Son Jesus Christ with joy, excitement, and renewed surprise, knowing that He sees me the same way I see my 8-month-old nephew or my 3-year-old niece; He doesn't need me to give Him a present in return. He is delighted because I am delighted to receive His free gift, like my little niece or nephew, open arms, bright-faced, amazed and surprised. And out of the abundance of what He has given me, I am able to share the same kind of grace to others. May His grace spill out from us as we are filled by His lovingkindness.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas as Experiencing Enlargement in Expectancy

excerpt from today's devotional:
"Today God has become one of us, not to erase every shadow or to undo the difficulties of humanity, but to be with us in the midst of it, to transform our spectrum of darkness by bearing a truer depth of light, and to enlarge us with the joy of expectancy until the fullness of time when every hope has come to pass."


and:
"Eugene Peterson writes, 'Waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.'"

HT: Slice of Infinity at RZIM

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas everyone!

I thought I'd share my favorite hymn:

O Holy Night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining.
Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees! Oh, hear the angel voices!
O night divine, the night when Christ was born;
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!
O night, O Holy Night , O night divine!

Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
O'er the world a star is sweetly gleaming,
Now come the wisemen from out of the Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friends.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

And a very beautiful rendition by Celine Dion:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

My Top 10 Reads for 2009

2009 Top 10:
1. The Praying Life: Connecting With God in a Distracting World by Paul Miller
2. Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
3. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
4. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters by Timothy J. Keller
5. Finally Alive by John Piper
6. The Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin (most of it anyway)
7 Jesus the Evangelist by Richard D. Phillips
8. Running Scared: Fear, Worry & the God of Rest by Edward T. Welch
9. Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerat by Jerry Bridges
10. Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller
(Note: The ordering of the books is not necessarily 100%.)

And the three that I didn't get to read yet, but should probably be on this list, if all the reviews I've seen are right:
1. Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy J. Keller
2. In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life by Sinclair Ferguson
3. The Vine and the Trellis: The Ministry Mind-set that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

Gifts: Willowback vs. Caluther

This article at IMONK brought to mind how my thinking has developed over the past few years with regard to spiritual gifting. My view is perhaps a bit oversimplistic, but I wanted to share some thoughts here and see if anyone else might have anything to add.

According to the writer and in my experience, there are at least two major ways of thinking on how we might use our spiritual gifts as members of the body of Christ.

One of the models is that of the Saddleback/ Willow Creek megachurch model (which I'll refer to as the Willowback Model) where every member is encouraged to volunteer for service opportunities in the church by using their strongest gifts as a way of becoming mature disciples. The other model is a reformed model introduced by Martin Luther as the doctrine of vocation, and adopted by other early reformers, such as John Calvin. I'll refer to this model as the "Caluther Model." If you are not as familiar with this one, think "Protestant Work Ethic."

Under the Willowback Model, the way church members become mature disciples is essentially by being put to work by the church. Based on their S.H.A.P.E. (spiritual gifts, heart, abilities, personality, and experience), members are 'plugged into' ministries where they can contribute to the mission of the church's voluminous programs. A member's spiritual growth and maturity is linked directly to his or her participation in or leadership of various ministry opportunities.

When the Caluther Model is practiced and taught, the emphasis is on church members living as members of four various estates: the church, the home, the state and work (initially work was grouped under state, but was later separated from the state and includes school and other such 'occupational areas.' )

Under this model, there are two significant differences with regard to church ministry and the understanding of "the priesthood of all believers." Under Caluther, the priesthood of all believers primarily means direct access to God for prayer and forgiveness through our Mediator and Savior, Jesus Christ. And even though the priesthood of all believers in the reformed model rebukes the idea of papal authority, it does not mean that every single Christian is called to (or trained for) ministry leadership. Some men are called and ordained to lead and teach and maintain the purity of the Church. They are responsible and hold the authority of these positions, whether in full-time or voluntary status. As members we gladly submit to their authority and their shepherding. This is very unlike the Willowback Model, where the "priesthood of all believers" defers teaching and leading within the church to essentially anyone willing to volunteer and commit their time.

The second outworking of the "priesthood of all believers" under the Caluther Model emphasizes the equipping of the members of the body of Christ to serve in all four of the estates where God has sovereignly placed them. Think about the radical nature of this concept in the context of today's pragmatic churches. For instance, when I think of utilizing my abilities, talents, and gifting to serve God, am I immediately thinking: "Maybe I should teach that Bible Study that I was asked to teach?" Or "perhaps I should say yes to that committee that I was asked to lead?" Or "Should I be going to the homeless shelter to serve with other members of my house church?"

NO. I should be built up in the faith by the gospel and the Word in order to be a steward of the grace of God in how I:
  • serve my family and at home.
  • perform, serve and honor my boss and coworkers in the workplace (or teacher and fellow students in class.)
  • participate as a citizen in the city, state and nation where I live.
  • participate in and support the mission of my church.
This may lead to me serving on a committee on church, but how I minister as a priest or ambassador of Jesus Christ is not limited to the activities that I do at church.

Unfortunately, the Willowback Model sucks energy and time from people to support all of the programs of the church and very often causes them to de-emphasize the other three estates of life, resulting in broken families, poor job prospects, and apathy with culture. Or, on the other hand, the model can also promote a program-heavy style of ministry that tries to take on all four estates, creating a sort of "Christian Ghetto" in the process.

I wonder (and this one is really out of left field, I know), has the Willowback Model perhaps actually created the conditions whereby ordaining women does look like a good idea? In other words, 1) if the priesthood of all believers means that every believer can and should serve and lead in ministry, why should only men be ordained? Or why should we even ordain anyone? And 2) if the church creates a subculture so that members have a place to exercise all of their gifts and talents, then it becomes a home away from home, a work away from work, a community away from culture, whereby leaders must be good at more things than just teaching the Word of God, preaching the Gospel, and administering the sacraments and church discipline. When that happens, why not ordain women? Who else is better at administering the affairs of the home, keeping the workplace running, and creating a lively society and community?

Rather, I think the Caluther Model is correct -- which stays focused on the Church's core missions and acknowledges their members are sovereignly called into all four estates of vocation where they are specifically placed to live as neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, and co-workers as they are built up in the knowledge of Christ.

Nuff ramblin' Thanks!! Off to shoveling more snow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Keep praying for Matt Chandler...

A prayer update at JT and reminder to keep Matt in our prayers as they continue to treat his brain tumor>>>

Contextualization 2 - from Church Matters

Contextualization: Let's Call the Whole Thing Love!
by Thabiti Anyabwile


excerpt:
"I believe this exhortation to love is at the heart of the conversations about contextualization or as you say, effective communication. Paul is concerned that the strong are not expressing love by potentially leading the weak brothers to go against their consciences by eating meat offered to idols. Love, Paul agues, should motivate them to forsake their rights for the purpose of building up the body. As it was, they were tearing it apart (1 Cor. 8)."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Contextualization -- from TGC

Excerpt from the Gospel Coalition blog:

What might contextualization look like for us?

First, we must identify, as much as Scripture allows, with the people we are trying to reach. A good illustration is when Paul circumcised Timothy in order that he would be not become an obstacle to bringing the gospel to Jews (Acts 16:1-5).

Second, we must realize that such identification requires that we forsake our Christian rights/freedoms in order to become a servant to all. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to forsake our personal musical tastes for the sake of the gospel. What of our personal clothing choices? Maybe even our eating habits? It all depends on whom we are seeking to reach.


In other words, any musical worship style may be permissible for you or me under the blanket of Christian liberty, but if our freedoms and liberties cause another to stumble, then it would be sin. For instance, if your worship service is heavy metal style, it may be attractive to some unbelievers, but to the believer in your congregation who has come out of the rock/drug/party culture and into the purity of the body of Christ, heavy metal music during a Sunday morning worship service could very well be a stumbling block. We must be responsible to one another.

Put another way, by missiologist Davids Sills:
Some mistakenly believe that contextualization means making Christianity look just like the culture. However, contextualization is simply the process of making the gospel understood. . . . In fact, much of what many call contextualization is simply an effort to be trendy or edgy..., but that is not contextualization; that is marketing.



And here is Dr. Don Carson’s message on 1 Corinthians 9:23-27, from The Gospel Coalition 2009 National Conference.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Examples of Courage (and a Prayer)

A courageous advertisement titled: "Once Upon a Time Men Wore the Pants" from Dockers (via Anne at PalmTreePundit). Look out! I expect the special interests will be all over this one!



Tiger Woods and Mark Sanford: A Surprising Contrast (An excellent article by Alex Chediak that sheds some light on the athelete's courage in the current situation, in contrast to the questionable response of the governor.)


And prayer that such courage will be accompanied by a realization that we all desperately need a merciful Savior and Substitute before the throne of the true and righteous Judge.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trust

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Prov 3:5-6).

Our human nature tends to lean toward pragmatism -- using whatever means available to us in order to succeed. We often also like to trust in our own abilities or even trust in other people to bring the success or satisfaction that we long for.

However, inward conflict arises when we place our total trust in ourselves or in other people instead of God. Our lack of trust and obedience to God versus placing an over dependence upon our natural skills and resources has created problems since Genesis, throughout the old and new testaments, and into the present day.

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the LORD" (Isa 31:1).

We are prone to build strong defenses to avoid failure and use all of our might to be successful in our endeavors. However, we must avoid trying to build resources and skills, hoarding stuff and accumulating knowledge strickly for the sake of insulating ourselves against any possible calamity. Such activity is rooted in fear and will fail eventually. We can never do enough to completely insulate ourselves from hurt, suffering, pain, and troubles in this world. And we should certainly not sin in order to avoid suffering. Often, our fear of pain can lead to a hoarding mentality and self-reliance.

Today, I lift my eyes to the LORD and call on Him for His goodness and trust in His sovereign hand.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Breaking the Bondage of Performance-Based Acceptance

"All the labor of man is for his mouth, and yet the soul is not satisfied" (Eccl. 6:7 NKJV).

I never really knew how I would feel about myself if I lost my job until it actually happened -- and in an extremely painful and deceptive way. Yet, God has provided various income opportunities that have blessed me and kept me from having to make any real sacrifices so far. The loss of my job and the feeling of devastation that accompanied it changed what I did everyday for a living. As a single person with no children, I can see now just how most my identity and worth was tied up in what I did for a living.

I believe that one of the schemes that satan has used in my life was to get me to view my value primarily based on the type of work I did and how well I did it.

This is clearly a mix of performance-based acceptance and fear of man. It says "As long as I have a good job and I do it well, I will have confidence, worth, acceptance, and identity."

This is a "slippery slope" and can be used by satan to keep our focus on our performance versus Christ. I love to give 100% and excel at my work. Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude in my undergrad studies, Summa Cum Laude in masters prgram. I'm an overachiever because I like to do well and be approved by people I respect.

Yet, I also know that we are not supposed to find our value in what we do - on our role or function. Instead, our value is solely based on who we are in Christ. This is a truth I have been wrestling with for some time now, especially after about 200 applications I've sent out, that haven't resulted in the kind of job that I believe I could and should be doing. Instead, the Lord has seen fit to leave me with a number of humble opportunities -- and His provision has been sure and steady through it all.

The apostle Paul wrestled with shedding his notions of performance-based acceptance after he came to faith in Christ. He had grown to the top of his field as a Jewish leader, and wrote this:

"If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith" (Phil 3:4-9).


I would have never really known the degree to which my identity and worth was rooted in my work and the approval of men, until my work was wrongfully removed. Combine this with the betrayal and abusive environment that I experienced by my supposedly Christian boss who I trusted and who lied to me and about me day after day, whenever she had the chance. I was so blinded by my belief that my hard work, dedication, and good performance would change her, would change the way she treated me, change my work environment, and that everything would turn out rosy. It was just like my thinking as a teenager, which went something along these lines: If I could be a good enough student or daughter or worker, then my mom would really love me. But, nope. God has other plans: teaching me that my trust in performance-based acceptance and the approval of man is a dark bondage that I must reject.

Contrary to the great tradition of the American dream, work IS not about what you do or how well you do it. It really is WHO you know that matters. And at the end of the day, when the bodies hit the floor, after the job has been removed and our 'filthy rags' (our righteous works) have been burned up as dross, the only thing left is knowing and being known by Jesus Christ alone. Yes, I'm learning...

Friday, December 4, 2009

Tim Keller Wants to Save Your Yuppie Soul

Great article and interview on Redeemer PCA and Tim Keller's ministry here at New York Magazine>>>

Excerpt:

The problem, Keller says, is a culture that values success above everything else. “There is an enormously sick pressure to perform and do well and make money. Companies essentially force people to make work more important than anything else.” Orthodox religious faith, he says, “is a hedge against the idolatry of success and what people are doing—almost selling their souls. I don’t have a Bible verse that says you’ve got to live the rest of your life in New York. But I say slow down and try to actually enjoy the city. People use the city to get ahead. And I’m saying no, have your life here.”


That message is as true for Newark, Delaware, as it is for New York city, and probably a good reason why I'm enjoying his newest book, "Counterfeit Gods." The book runs along the same theme.

Read more: Why Are So Many New Yorkers Flocking to Evangelical Christian Preacher Tim Keller? -- New York Magazine

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Article on Justification at CSM: "Here I Stand"

By Kevin DeYoung (author of "Why We Love the Church" and "Why We're Not Emerging"

The Protestant debate over justification: Here I stand.
Ignorance about how we get right with God has weakened the church. We must reassert that we're saved by faith alone.
)


And a quote from the article to pique your interest:
"The problem today is that the 'good news' is often replaced with good advice and good causes. Churches that should be talking about the work of Christ on the cross and the grace of God for sinners are stuck on recycled pop psychology, moral exhortation, or entertainment. But these fail to speak to the eternal question that haunts all of us: How do I know that I'm OK? We all want to know we are justified."