Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Mission of the Church, mercy, and a Radical Life vs. a Plodding Life

This morning I posted on Facebook an article written by Reformed Pastor Kevin DeYoung. It's not perfect, but it is a very good article that pushes back on some of the trends we see in Christianity these days. A friend (and member of the church I served in Illinois) replied to the post; "Ok so this article popped up below the one you shared. I read both and now I'm confused. What do you think of this guy's opinion?"

This is a great question and I started to answer on Facebook, but it started to get WAY TOO LONG for a Facebook response, so I figured I'd address it in a more in depth way here. I highly encourage you to read the articles (linked above) before you read my blog post.

There's a lot to cover here, so I'll take it point by point.
1. The author of the second article clearly has a dislike of the writer of the first article (Kevin DeYoung). That's clear in his opening. It seems to me that McDurmon (the author of the second article) has a bone to pick with DeYoung from the start and doesn't take the post with the spirit intended, but is looking for a fight. 

The dichotomy of "Christ follower" or "the confines of the church" are not extremes that DeYoung embraces. Rather, he is reacting to a false dichotomy that he sees being pushed by others. His larger point is that it often seems more attractive to ditch the church, ditch ecclesiology, and go do your own thing as a "Christ follower" or to find others who want to do the same things you want to do and have them be your "community." DeYoung is pushing back against the idea that the only true and authentic Christianity looks radical. In many ways, he's doing exactly what Luther did during the Reformation. When Karlsadt led a peasants revolt, Luther spoke against him and commended people to do their vocations faithfully rather than revolt against authority.

2. The author's definition of "Church" in the second article is only partially correct, but is very incomplete. He writes, A group of “real Christ followers living in community” IS the church. That is true. The Lutheran Confessions (Smalcald Articles) say the same; That God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely the holy believers and lambs, who hear the voice of their Shepherd.

However, this definition has to be considered in the larger context. In 1 Corinthians (and elsewhere in the NT) we get the bigger picture that indicates that the church is both the local gathering as well as all believers everywhere. It also shows that we are not free to just do whatever we want as the church, but that we are to follow the lead of our head (Christ) and we are always to do things in light of our fellow believers. The local church always exists as a local manifestation of the lager whole, so we have a responsibility to have unity with our fellow believers.

Do we need a church building to be the church? No. But do we need to gather together? Yes. Is there to be a pastor who is in authority over the local church? Yes. Are we free to leave behind those who are "holding us back" so that we can be more genuine, authentic, followers of Christ? Absolutely not.

3. The author of the second article writes: Problem: social justice is a mission of the church. 
Actually, the mission of the church is to make disciples through baptism and teaching. The Church exists for the sake of delivering the forgiveness of sins won by Christ on the cross. 

Secondarily, the church is called to address social issues. But "Social Justice" is a loaded term that has a lot of baggage that Christians can not agree with. So, not to "social justice," but yes to addressing social issues like poverty (as you heard from Amos on Sunday and will again this coming Sunday), racism, abortion, euthanasia, marriage, etc. 

The Gospel of Jesus should (and does and will) lead to social actions. Many hospitals bear Christian names because Christians founded them. Women being treated well (as equally valued by God and society) came about because of Christianity. Child labor laws, the end of slavery, caring for the poor; all of these resulted from the gospel changing hearts and then changing their actions. (You can read about this in the great book "How Christianity Changed the World" by Dr. Alvin Schmidt. 

What does McDurmon mean by "Social Justice?" He doesn't define his term here, so I don't know. Does he mean things like this? If so, that's great! However, traditionally "Social Justice" has been used to speak of replacing the gospel message of Christ crucified and risen for sinners with social activism. It means using force (political or otherwise) to compel those who have money or power or opportunity to give those things to those who do not have them. This idea is not fitting with Christianity. Here is one pretty good overview of "Social Justice." 

4. To sum it up; I think DeYoung's argument can be aptly articulated by this sports metaphor. In football, every kid wants to be the quarterback or running back or a wide receiver. Those are the glamour positions. Everyone notices the RB who carries the ball for 100 yards in the game. The QB is guy who gets talked about the most. WR's make big plays that impact the game in an obvious way.
But the truly great teams know that the most important positions aren't RB, WR, or even QB. The most important position for the offense is that of linemen. The linemen seem to get talked about only if they miss a block. But without a good offensive line, the QB doesn't have time to make a good decision before the defense hits him. Without a good OL, the RB doesn't have a chance of gaining many yards. Without a good OL, the WR won't have a chance to catch passes.
Few kids say, "I want to be an offensive linemen." Yet they are the most important players for the success of the offense. 

In the church, there is a temptation to want to stand out. To do something big and impressive. But it is those who humbly and faithfully do the vocations given them by God, love the neighbors around them, and faithfully serve in ways that are not at all flashy (altar guild, counting money, Sunday School teacher, etc.) that often make the biggest difference for the church and the kingdom of God.
Do we need those who are willing to step out (when called by God) to do something that seems risky and scary? Absolutely. But before a person does that, it is good for them first to learn the importance and value of the "plodding" Christian life. 

It is much as Paul wrote about men who desire to be pastors. Before he is to become a pastor, first, He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (1 Timothy 3:4).

What DeYoung is emphasizing is much the same as what Paul seems to desire for Christians in 1 Timothy 2 also.
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
Peaceful. Quiet. Not drawing attention to ourselves or the radical things we're doing, but humbly and simply doing the work God has given us to do, which includes caring for the poor and addressing social issues.

Before we seek to do a radical thing for God, let us first learn what it is to follow Christ in the seemingly small things.

Hope this was helpful!

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Reformation Day is All About...

As a baseball fan, when I think of October, I think of the World Series.

As a Lutheran, when I think of October, I think of Reformation Day.  

October 31st means a lot more than trick or treating, because was on that day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Thesis (95 points proposed for theological debate) to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany; thus he started the great Reformation.

But what is it that we celebrate on Reformation Day? Is it just a day to say in true Pharisaical style, “Thank God I’m not a Roman Catholic?”  Is it a day to beat our chests as Lutherans and declare how proud we are to be Lutherans?  Is it a day that is all about the past and a reminder that the best days of Lutheranism are behind us?

Sadly, I’ve seen all of those attitudes in connection to Reformation Day.  But that’s not at all what Reformation Day is about.

Reformation Day is about the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is about right teaching, not for the sake of being right and proving others wrong, but because the right teaching of God’s law will lead sinners to know that they are entirely and thoroughly sinful and in need of a savior.  It is about right teaching because the right teaching of God’s Gospel shows that God has given that desperately needed Savior to us and that He has done EVERYTHING needed to make us right with God by taking the punishment we deserved for our sins and giving us His holiness.

Reformation Day is about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a day to be reminded of the means by which God delivers His great gifts of forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Through the absolution spoken to a sinner who has confessed his or her sin, God the Holy Spirit truly does deliver the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross.  Through Holy Baptism, God the Holy Spirit brings us to faith and delivers to use that same forgiveness won for us by Christ on the Cross. Through Holy Communion, God delivers the very body and blood of Jesus, under the bread and wine, to us so that we can know His presence with us and (again) deliver that forgiveness won for us by Jesus.

Reformation Day is about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is a day to remember God’s great love for sinners and how Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. It is a day to remember that God isn’t done seeking and saving the lost, but continues to work through us (believers, the church, pastors and laypeople together) to reach the lost and bring them into His kingdom so that they too can receive forgiveness, new life, and salvation.  Reformation Day isn’t a day to beat our chests and pretend that we’re better than anyone, but to humbly remember that God saved us when we were undeserving and be reminded that He would use to reach more people.

The great 19th century theologian Charles Porterfield Krauth was so excited about Reformation Day that he wrote this; 
"The Festival of the Reformation is at once a day of Christmas and of Easter and of Pentecost, in our Church year; a day of birth, a day of resurrection, a day of the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Let its return renew that life, and make our Church press on with fresh vigor in the steps of her risen Lord, as one begotten again, and born from the dead, by the quickening power of the Spirit of her God. Let every day be a Festival of the Reformation, and every year a Jubilee." 

As we come to the 499th anniversary of the nailing of the 95 Thesis this October 31st, may we be reminded that this is a day that is all about the gospel of Jesus Christ so that
·         We are reminded that we have received the gospel of Jesus Christ when we were undeserving.
·         We might be a people who are strongly focused on the gospel of Jesus Christ.
·         We would make known to the world the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Salvation unto us has come, indeed!

This was my newsletter article for the October 2016 church newsletter

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Evangelism, Apologetics, and Assimilation Resources

I thought it might be useful to put my things concerning evangelism and assimilation in one post for easy access.  Just click on a post below and off you go.


Evangelism in the Rural Setting: Part I, Obstacles

Evangelism in the Rural Setting: Part II, Advantages

Evangelism in the Rural Setting: Part III, Getting Started


Prepared: Ready to Witness in Rural and Small Town Areas (webinar)


Assimilation in Rural and Small Town Congregations (webinar)
Something I forgot to mention that I should have, is simply doing a time and talent survey that involves everyone in the congregation (especially new members) and then following up by making use of the information.

A Welcoming Congregation (a Bible Study I put together for my congregation).

A book I found particularly helpful in thinking about assimilation is "Inviting Community" which is edited by Kolb and Hopkins.  Each chapter was written by a seminary professor. I cannot overstate how helpful this book was to me. 

You are free to adapt and use any of the material here for in your congregation and need not attribute any of it to me. If any of this is useful to you, please use it in the name of the Lord and for the good of His kingdom.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Football Video Games of My Youth

In my last post I covered some of the classic baseball games I loved to play when I was a kid.  Here's a follow up on some of my favorite football games.

1. Realsports Football 

The Atari was not a great system for sports games, but this game was my introduction to playing a football video game.  My older brother Seth and I played this quite a bit.  It was primitive, but it was the best game going at the time.

2. John Elway's Quarterback

This was far from the most sophisticated game, but it stands out to me for two reasons.  First, growing up in western Colorado, John Elway was the man. Colorado is Broncos crazy, so it was cool that the Broncos QB had a game.  Second, if you used "reverse play" or "normal play" and throw a bomb to a receiver, the receiver would become crazy fast and you could literally run around the field and use up the entire quarter, scoring with no time left on the clock.

Not a great game, but it was fun.

3. Tecmo Super Bowl

This is the best game ever made.  It takes the original Tecmo Bowl and improves on it greatly.  It is simple, yet sophisticated.  It is everything video games should be.
Some of the things that stand out about Tecmo Super Bowl are...
  1. This was the first game I remember keeping stats for each game and for an entire season.
  2. This was the first game that allowed you to change your playbook.
  3. Player health was taken into account in how they played.
  4. Lawrence Taylor was absolutely unstoppable and could block every extra point and FG attempt.
  5. The 49ers were so good that it was considered cheating to use them.
  6. If Bo Jackson was healthy, there was no stopping him. 
  7. There was a flaw that allowed the nose tackle to dive and sack the QB pretty much every time.  No self respecting player would lower himself to use this move in a game against another player because it was acknowledge to be cheating. 
I could go on.  As stated above, this is the best game ever made. 

4. Bill Walsh College Football
(and the EA Sports college football games that followed)

I remember walking into KB Toys and seeing this on display.  I had to have it.  I saved my money from mowing lawns and plunked down what was an enormous amount of money for me at the time.  I was not disappointed.

This was the first football game to have real college teams.  It tried to mimic what each team did well.  In the original game, each team had the same playbook, but over time they tailored the playbook to be more team specific.  While many guys my age were in love with the Madden games, I always loved the college versions. 

A few things that stood out...

  1. This was the first game to allow the option play.
  2. The numbers matched real players.
  3. There were historic teams included. 
  4. This game laid the groundwork for the NCAA College Football games by EA Sports that I wasted a lot of hours playing during my college days.

5. Mattel Football

This was the first handheld game I ever played.  It was simple, just dashes that moved up, down, left or right, but it was fun.

So there you have it.  That's my list. I'd love to hear what your favorites were too. 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Baseball Video Games of My Youth

I rarely blog about things not related to my call as pastor.  Usually I write for Christians about things that are of eternal importance.

This post is not at all like that.  This is just me reminiscing.

Recently I've been introducing my kids to some of the video games I grew up playing. I played a lot of different types of video games, but sports have always been my favorite genre.  So, without any further introduction, here is my list of top baseball video games from my childhood.

1. Atari Baseball

This was a terrible game.  Truly awful.  But it was the first baseball video game I ever played and for that reason it deserves to be mentioned.

2.  RBI Baseball

This was the first game I remember using real baseball players.  It was a blast to play, but it had a major weakness in that the starting pitchers would fatigue quickly and there were only 4 pitchers per team. You reasonably needed to use all 4 pitchers to get through a game, but if you played a season, your starting pitchers would both be tired for the next game.  So this was a great game to play against another person, but lousy for playing a season.

3. Bases Loaded

Now this was the game of my childhood.  I easily spent more hours playing this than any other baseball game.  I knew the rosters through and through, including bench players.  My brothers and I had specific teams we liked to use (though we did use all of the teams).  Seth used Boston, Matt used Utah, and I favored DC.

This game stands out for several reasons.

  1. This was the first game on which I could actually play a full season in a somewhat realistic way.
  2. This was the first game in which a player could get ejected (one player on each team could be ejected if you hit him when he came to bat after his first plate appearance. 
  3. The players looked somewhat realistic, unlike RBI Baseball or Atari. 
  4. When you changed pitchers, the new pitcher was brought out in a baseball shaped golf cart. 
  5. There was a glitch that allowed the first baseman to throw the ball away (down the right field line) after getting an out at first base.  Done right, you would be charged with an error (even though no runners were on base).  So collecting the most errors in this way became a game within the game.
  6. There was a glitch (I think it only happened if you struck out with the bases loaded) where the ump would say, "You bum! Out!" 
I spent a lot of hours playing this game against my brothers and still love to play it, even though it is quite simple.

4.  Bases Loaded II

I loved Bases Loaded and so was thrilled when this game came out.  The game play is a little more challenging, but not terribly difficult.

Some of the things that stood out about this game were...

  1. It was the first to have players vary in their performance.  It used "biorhythyms" to show if a player was feeling well or poorly, which would effect their play. 
  2. It had clearly defined roles for pitchers (starters, middle relief, and closers).
  3. Players were more realistic than in the original Bases Loaded.
  4. There were several different pitching styles.
This was probably my favorite baseball video game to play because it was quite realistic for the time. Unfortunately this was the last quality game in the Bases Loaded series. 
Bases Loaded III was an abomination and I don't think I've ever seen a copy of Bases Loaded IV.

5. Baseball Stars

This game was revolutionary.  The game play wasn't all that realistic and the players looked like cartoons, but this game changed everything. 
  1. This was the first game where money comes into play.
  2. There were female players (and even full teams of females).
  3. You could create a player and improve him little by little.
  4. You could create a team, choose its uniforms, and run it in a similar way to running a real baseball team.
  5. You could trade players.
  6. There was a 10 run mercy rule. 
  7. There were historic players included.
This wasn't my favorite as far as game play, but it stood out for the reasons listed above.

There were other games along the way and that came after these, but these were the ones I'll always remember (and am going to collect again to share with my kids)!

Monday, December 28, 2015

Some Biblical Wisdom for an Election Year

Hey, in case you didn't know, 2016 is a presidential election year (of course you knew that).
This means that you need to be prepared for...
  • commercial breaks dominated by political ads (use your DVR and skip commercials and listen to your mp3 player or CD's if at all possible to avoid the ads).
  • politicians appearing on every platform possible (comedy shows, sporting events, making a Christmas album...okay let's hope they don't make a Christmas album).
  • bumper stickers and bumper sticker style politics, which is among the lowest forms of political discourse. 
  • disagreeing with friends and fellow Christians concerning political issues.
That last one is a biggie, because when it comes to politics, Christians have often been as bad as non-Christians when it comes to attacking others.

So here is some Biblical wisdom to apply in this election year.

  1. Don't take offense at what others post on Facebook or say about a candidate or issue.
    The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.
    (Pro 12:16)

    It's okay to disagree with them and it's okay to have a civil discussion about things, but if you're taking offense, you probably need to drop it and go do other things.
  2. Don't insult others.
    There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
    (Proverbs 12:18)

    "This is stupid."
    "Only an idiot would believe that."
    "You support that moron?"

    Just a few of the choice words I've seen posted on Facebook concerning politics, politicians, and issues.  Such words are inexcusable for a Christian...especially for a Christian who is actively serving in ministry.

    Peter tells Christians to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame."  (1 Peter 3:15-16)  If, in the defense of our faith, we are to treat others with gentleness and respect, how much more when it comes to other (less important) issues?  Insulting others, whether or not you intend to do so, hurts your Christian witness and damages the likelihood that others will listen to what you have to say about matters of faith.

    Those who are in ministry must understand that often it is better to sacrifice your "right to speak" on a given topic so that the message of Christ can be heard more clearly.

  3. Seek to understand the perspective and opinion of others.
    A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.
    (Proverbs 18:2)

    This means that you need to listen more than speak.  This means that you need to read articles written by people with whom you disagree.  If you normally watch Fox News, watch some CNN (or vice versa).  If you normally listen to NPR, tune in to conservative talk radio a little bit.  You get the picture.

    You might not change your mind, but you will be better informed and have better understanding than if you remain in the echo-chamber.
  4. Don't share/say/post things that you don't know to be true.
    A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.
    (Proverbs 14:5)

    It happens far too often.  An article that happens to support your view gets shared and without fact checking, you share it too.  This again hurts our credibility as Christians and is a violation of the 8th Commandment.  Check the credibility of information before sharing it.  Be leery of articles from websites you haven't heard of before.
  5. Correct fellow Christians when they share false information, but do so in a loving way.
    A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
    (Proverbs 15:1)

    So you've noticed that someone shared an article with false information, biased information, or dated information.  You have a choice.  You can...
  • put up a passive aggressive post about said article.
  • post a rant about the article.
  • comment on the article posted by your friend/fellow Christian in such a way as to shame them.
  • privately call or message them to inform them of the false information so that they can take down the post or update what they have written about it to reflect the facts. Christians we really need to do the last one whenever possible. 
     6.  Recognize that people of good will can disagree on many issues.
         "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
(James 4:6b)

  • There are issues (abortion, assisted suicide) on which God has spoken clearly in His Word and we are to abide by His teaching.
  • There are other areas where God has spoken (care of the poor), but since God hasn't specified the role of government in said areas there can be many approaches that can still be faithful to God's Word and our call as Christians.  
  • There are other areas (gun control, immigration laws, tax rates) on which God is essentially silent in His Word and in these areas Christians are free to hold a wide range of beliefs and still remain faithful to God's Word.

    What we are not free to do however, is belittle those with whom we disagree on these issues. Be humble enough to admit that while you think you have a better way, you could be wrong. 

This is far from a complete list, but the ideas here are important, so please keep them in mind as you engage in political discourse over the coming year (and beyond).

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas through the eyes of Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" 
(Luke 2:8-14)

As a child and in my years as a pastor, I have always heard this account through the lens of the shepherds.  Probably because I can readily relate to the shepherds as one in need of a savior and who rejoices as the announcement of the angels that God has given us the Savior we needed in the person of Jesus.

But it wasn't until a few weeks back that I first considered this account from the perspective of the angels.

Angels are created beings, but they also are immortal beings.  So consider this...

The angels were there to see the perfection of Eden.  They saw the world God had created and declared to be very good (טוב  מאד).  They witnessed the perfection of God's creation before it was shattered and warped by sin.  The angels knew just how good things were for Adam and Eve, because they had witnessed it.  They were witness to a world in which man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. God, and man vs. himself was non-existent. Death and pain were unknown in this perfect creation.

The angels had seen this perfection and how good it was for man.

The angels had also seen how badly sin had wrecked everything.

The angels were there to witness how difficult and dangerous farming and childbearing would be because of sin.  They saw how sin resulted in in death.  But they had also been there to hear the promise from God that He would send one who would make things right again. 

They were there when Cain murdered his brother Abel.  They saw the rise in wickedness in the world as people turned away from God and how even after God sent a flood, mankind returned to wickedness in no time flat.  

The angels had seen God raise up a runt of the litter shepherd boy to king of Israel, establishing a strong kingdom.  They had also seen how the descendants of David had bungled things so badly that the kingdom receded so greatly that it was unrecognizable.  Yet they were also there to hear God's promise that He would give David a descendant who would rule eternally. 

The angels existed when the prophets first spoke as they were carried by the Holy Spirit and foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Savior of mankind.

Considering all of this, I don't doubt that the joy of the angels was greater even than that joy of the shepherds to whom they brought the message.  For the angels knew far better than the shepherds just how much the birth of Jesus meant for mankind.

You can imagine the great joy of the angel who got to tell the shepherds the good news as he did what he was created to do (angel means "messenger").  And you can imagine the great joy of the angel army who couldn't wait to glorify God as soon as the good news was announced.

I picture the angels, who knew Eden and knew that Jesus had come to restore Eden for mankind, bubbling with joy and excitement as they glorified God saying "Glory to God in the highest!" and rejoiced for mankind at the good news of great joy that Jesus was born. 

This Christmas, as you hear that familiar account from Luke 2 again, consider the joy of the angels.  Then joyously join them in singing "Glory to God in the highest!"

Here is a link to the message this post is based upon.