Pentecost: The Original Launch Service

pentIf you are protestant, you may not know it, but today is Pentecost Sunday. It is about 50 days after Easter, and on this Sunday Christians all over the world celebrate the day of Pentecost, where Christ’s disciples were given the power Jesus had promised to them. And the world was forever (literally) changed. The day of Pentecost marks the beginning, or the birth, of the church, God’s people, predestined by the Father, redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice, and marked by the filling of the Holy Spirit. On this day, I want to share a two quick observations about this time, and its significance to me.

1. God will build his church. As a church planter, I cannot express to you how frequently I am tempted to think, act, and pray as though it is my job to build God’s church. That temptation easily overtakes men in my vocation, because we can easily blend our task of organizing and equipping God’s people with God’s promise to multiply His people. When I look at people in my community, I see sheep without a shepherd. The danger is when I move from compassion to action, because no action of mine will ever save anyone. Instead, I should look to the disciples as my standard. Even when I am fully confident of my calling and the needs of those around me, our job is to pray and wait upon the Lord. Because when he begins moving, the world begins changing.

2. God’s power > My action. Every. Single. Time. The disciples walked with Jesus, ate with Jesus, shared the same rock/bed with Jesus, and experienced the miracles of Jesus. But when Jesus left, he commanded them to wait. He gave them the most important mission the world has ever known – Go into all the world and baptize everybody, teaching them to be like me – and then told them to relax for a bit. The reason for waiting is simple. God was sending the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, and anything they did before they received God’s power was pointless. God’s power trumps our work every time. I think our desperation to do stuff comes from a good place, like when my four year old son brushes his teeth by himself. I walk in and see about a month’s worth of toothpaste squeezed out on the counter, water dripping from every solid surface in the room, and my proudly smiling son standing in the midst of it all. He worked hard to please me. But it would have been much easier, and I would have been equally pleased had he asked for my help in the first place. The disciples did not need a discipleship strategy, a three pronged outreach focus, or a solid digital presence (maybe this is more for myself?). They needed God’s power.

On this day of Pentecost, some 2,000 years removed from the day God launched his first church plant, I feel only grateful for the simple promise Christ gave along with the most important mission the world has ever known. “I will be with you always.” That was no Hallmark sentiment. Jesus made a declaration of war and sent out his army fifty days later, armed with some pretty serious firepower!

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Letting Christ Build His Church

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This is a copy of our latest Newsletter. I have changed the names of the people involved to protect their privacy. Please pray for them nonetheless.

This week is the beginning of a new chapter in our church planting efforts. Specifically, we are beginning to shift from building a network of relationships to building a church. Now, in case you don’t know, Christ is the one who promised to build his church, not church planters like me. Nonetheless, God uses people who are willing to help in the task of building his church. I want to share with you a story from yesterday, that shows what our work with Christ looks like.

Yesterday, I met Mark. I was at Starbucks, and he sat down next to me with his wife. I went back and forth with God over whether this was the time to start scattering seed, because I am not the type to start sharing the gospel with a stranger at a coffee shop. Finally, God won me over, and I asked him about the book he was reading. After that simple question, I spent the next three hours sitting and talking with Mark and Theresa.
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The Pastor as Doctor: A Reminder to Pastors

dependI once heard the story of a man who went into his doctor’s office. He told the doctor he needed help, because there was something seriously wrong. Everywhere he touched on his body gave him a shocking jolt of pain. The doctor asked him demonstrate, and watched closely as the man winced with every touch. After a few minutes, the doctor brightened, “Sir, you have a broken finger.”

It’s a silly story, I know. But I think it serves as a great illustration for one of the primary tasks of a pastor, we need to help people assess what is really happening when life is giving them pains. Far more importantly, we have to help them move towards the cure. Dependence upon God.

As I consider my duty to point people to the root of their issues, I think of a passage written by Eugene Peterson in his memoir, The Pastor.

In the secularizing times in which I am living, God is not taken seriously. God is peripheral. God is nice (or maybe not so nice) but not at the center. When people want help with their parents or children or emotions, they do not ordinarily see themselves as wanting help with God. But if I am going to stay true to my vocation as a pastor, I can’t let the “market” determine what I do. I will find ways to pray with and for people and teach them to pray, usually quietly and often subversively when they don’t know I am doing it. But I’m not going to wait to be asked. I am a pastor.

If we believe what we say we believe about who God is and how he works, we should be modeling, which is teaching, dependence upon God as the first step in any prescription.

Filler Jobs, Dream Jobs, and Ugly Girls: Guidance for Graduates

jobIf you are like me, you were taught that a college education was the key to your dream job, and your dream job was the key to everything else you want in life: a good salary, solid retirement, a happy wife, family vacations, and college funds for your kids. What everyone forgot to tell you is that going to college does not make you any more special than the other 1.8 million students who will graduate this year, which means your dream job may remain just a dream for quite a while. So how do you live life in the mean time?

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A Caricature of Modern Marriage

WeDOI imagine it would be difficult for a fish to describe the feeling of being wet. Assessing your own culture is a lot like that. We live in it, and it always feels like it has always felt.

I also once heard that if you put frogs in water on your stove, they will stay there as the water slowly heats to a boil, and they die, never noticing the deadly change around them. Assessing your own culture is also a lot like that. Because we are constantly adjusting to our surroundings, we are prone to missing dramatic change until it is too late.

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The Power of Reaching the Campus

collegeI heard something today that I wanted to share, because it highlights what I believe is the most untouched yet influential area of ministry undertaken by the American Church: the college campus. What follows is a quote from Albert Mohler, one of evangelical Christianity’s foremost thinkers.

[I]t’s hard for us to argue against that very fundamental assumption – that what happens on the American college and University campuses long-term far more important than what happens in Washington, regardless of which party is in control.

The reason for that is clear. On the American College and University campus, that’s where the issue of worldview is being hammered out. That’s where young people are developing the ideas that are likely to last for a lifetime. And if you win the battle there – the ideological, the worldview battle –you win battles that are far more consequential than anything that can take place in politics.

Ideas matter. I think of J. Gresham Machen’s quote: “What is today a matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires.” College campuses are the cage fighting ring of tomorrow’s cultural movement; it is long past time for churches to strap on the gloves and step into the cage.

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Why Minorities Think You’re Racist

eggsI recently listened to the most eye opening lecture I have ever heard on the issues of race and racial marginalization. In this post I want to distill one part of the lecture which explained why minorities continually level the charge of racism against the dominant culture of white Americans.

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The Reality of Oppression

In the past month, God has awakened me to my failure as Christian in issues of race and oppression. White people, hear me out. I think we have reached a point where we have to open ourselves to some very uncomfortable conversations. I am totally unqualified to speak well on this topic, so listen to the voices of wiser and more articulate men than me.

My only suggestion is that you take these voices seriously. Listen with ears willing to hear hard truths. In the safety of your home, at your computer, hear these voices crying out for justice, but listen more intently to the still small voice in your spirit. Ask God to search you, and show you any evil ways in you. I did. And I am still reeling from the violent shift I have experienced in my perception of my world.

What follows is probably the most eye opening thing I have ever heard or seen on the issue of power structure, systemic oppression, and the role of Christ in those issues.

You can download the audio here if you want to listen to it on the go.

These are posts from Thabiti Anyabwile, a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC. The first provides some rejoinders to the most common reactions of the white community to issues like Ferguson.

Four Common But Misleading Themes in Ferguson-Like Times

The second clarifies what justice really looks like, and begs the question of whether habitual police violence serves as an intensional definition.

One Man’s Justice Another Man’s Nightmare: It Really Could Have Been Me

Voddie Baucham does an excellent job of speaking as a black man, to the black community, which is to say that white people should be very cautious to repeat his arguments. You can laugh at your dad, but when someone else does, we come in swinging. So hear the voices of the black community without repeating their words.

Thoughts On Ferguson

Read this post from Russel Moore about Garner in New York. No matter what issues are brought up, a man holding up his hands and asking for mercy should never die over selling a pack of cigarettes. Watching the video of his death made one thing undeniable to me; race relations cannot be written off any longer.

Eric Garner and the Call for Justice

Lastly, I want to leave you with a personal story.

When Barack Obama was running for President in ’08, I was attending a Bible college in Louisville, Kentucky. I had a conversation with an African American student in my class, a man in his mid 40’s who told me he was voting for Obama, because being black meant more than voting for Christian values. When I challenged that idea, his response rocked my world.

He told me that I could never understand what it was like to see a man with dark skin leading our country. I pretty much ignored that statement, having heard it a thousand times before, but what he said next was a first for me. He told me that I could never understand him, because I never had a grandfather who was lynched on the Valhalla Golf Course, about thirty minutes away from where we stood.

He was right. I could not understand that. I had gone to that golf course for recreation, watching a Major tournament not long before.

My recreation spot was his grandfather’s instrument of torture and death.

The majority cannot understand the minority, but frequently the minority knows all too well the workings of the majority. And it hurts to hear the truth.

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The Restorative Power of Relationships

imageI am an introvert. This means that being around people feels like performing, and performances are draining. I am also a pastor, which means people are also my job/passion/calling. Therefore, I do a lot of draining things involving people.

And make no mistake, people drain my energy.

But there are some times where people are my restoration. And I think introverts everywhere need to hear this truth. Sometimes, when you have spent yourself in the daily pursuits of life – work relationships, family interactions, other parents at after school activities, your talkative cashier when the self checkout lanes are closed, that annoying neighbor who waits to pounce on you as soon as you open the door – you still need people.

You just need the right people.

You need intentional relationships, not just circumstantial relationships.

One of the worst decisions introverts can make is to sequester themselves from intentional relationships because circumstantial relationships drain them.

Last night I was reminded of the restorative power of people when my wife and I entertained 8 adults and 6 children in our little house. 14 people in a small space for three hours – an introvert’s worst nightmare! Especially when the previous two days were filled with phone calls and conversations with a lot of people. But the people coming over were not circumstantial relationships; they are my intentional circle. And God used them to restore my energy, not drain it.

Introverts, hear me, the right relationships have the ability to recharge you more than any amount of alone time could. Just make sure they are the right relationships.

We’re Planting a Church

plantFor the past 9 months, my wife and I have been exploring what we believed to be a call from God to plant a church. For the past four months, we have known where and a general when. But it is only since yesterday that we can speak openly and confidently about it. That is because yesterday, we went public. Yesterday, my sermon, to the church I have known and loved for the last half decade, was a testimony of God’s plan for my family to leave our church family.

It is a strange thing to look at a group of people you have prayed for, served, and loved for 5 years and tell them God has called you elsewhere. It feels almost like abandonment. I feel like a bad parent. I am telling my kids I have loved them, but God has given me a greater love somewhere else. It just feels like I should feel bad, but I don’t.

I know that God has called us forward. I also know that God will call others forward in our absence. This is how God’s kingdom works. God is the only irreplaceable person in any church.

SO in our movement forward, God is already moving behind us. He is good.

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