Church

How the Church Can Stop Eating Its Own Tail

How the Church Can Stop Eating Its Own Tail

It was our youth pastor, Dustin Tramel, who first made the pitch to me. I had just recently come on staff at New Life and he encouraged me to consider attending the Tucson Pastors’ Prayer Summit. He guaranteed it would be one of the most important things I did. He was right.

A couple of weeks ago I attended my fourth Pastors’ Prayer Summit on Mount Lemmon alongside Pastor Greg and Ryan Paonessa. It’s a three-day event that gathers forty pastors from around Tucson to pray for the city and one another.

In many eras of the church our theological disagreements have divided us. Those disagreements still persist, but I believe stronger even than those theological disagreements are our own competitive impulses. More than ever it is the fine and elusive line between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of [insert your church’s name here] that has created division in the church. It’s impossible to build unity in the Kingdom of God when we subconsciously believe our local church is the Kingdom of God.

This, of course, is a monster that is almost impossible to stop feeding. Christians float in our doors from other churches, wooed by our children’s program or music, and then float out to another church, wooed by its student ministry or preaching. We are the Ouroboros, the snake eating its own tail, pastors and parishioners swapping out positions as mouth and tail. We consume one another with an insatiable appetite.

And this is why I need the Prayer Summit.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      8 Reasons Young Adults Leave Your Church (And 8 Reasons They Stay): Ben Trueblood reflects, "There simply isn’t an understanding of what the church is, how it functions in their life, and how they are meant to be function as part of it.”

2.      May She Be My Delight: Greg Morse reflects on Christ's love for the church and our call to love our wives with that same delight, "God does not tolerate his church. He does not ignore her. He does not wake up in the morning thinking he married the wrong girl. Familiarity does not dampen his passion."

3.      Behind Every Good Woman Stands a Good Man: Courtney Reissig concludes, " Our gifts both in the marketplace and in the church are not for ourselves, but for others. So when I free him to work and serve, I’m part of that work, too. And vice versa. Behind every good man, stands a good woman. And behind every good woman, a good man stands, too."

4.      Secularism is Boring: Nicholas T McDonald's long and dense post is well worth the read. He dissects the layers of problems of our secularist world, "'Irony tyrannizes us.'...Most likely, I think, today’s irony ends up saying: ‘How totally banal of you to ask what I really mean.’”...Because we are a plotless people. We’re banging our heads on the nothing wall." 

5.      Belief in Hell and Psychological Health: David Briggs Arda compiles some interesting studies on belief in hell. He shares,"The findings, some of which even surprised research team members, included: The more religious an individual was, the less likely they were to display hell anxiety. Unhealthy fears were not related to dogmatism or religious fundamentalism."

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Most Teens Drop Out of Church When They Become Young Adults: There is a lot of important stuff in this recent study by Lifeway. Among the information uncovered is that, " Two-thirds (66 percent) of American young adults who attended a Protestant church regularly for at least a year as a teenager say they also dropped out for at least a year between the ages of 18 and 22." "The five most frequently chosen specific reasons for dropping out were: moving to college and no longer attending (34 percent); church members seeming judgmental or hypocritical (32 percent); no longer feeling connected to people in their church (29 percent); disagreeing with the church’s stance on political or social issues (25 percent); and work responsibilities (24 percent)."

2.      When Money Gets Between Family Members: This is perhaps one of the most pastoral responses I've ever read, and it's not only not written by a pastor, it's written in a secular forum. What an incredible model of speaking the truth in love.

3.      I Grew Up Hearing My Grandfather was a War Hero. Army Records Say Otherwise. Dan Chrisinger tells about his search to understand his cantankerous grandfather that ends with surprising insight: " The only truth I can feel certain of now is that Hod had once been a young man who went to war, and that he died an old man who never found a way to make peace with what he had experienced... he remained trapped alone in his cover story. In discovering this about my grandfather, I encountered the man on a more human level: a man who was damaged and hurting — and ultimately, I now feel more closeness and connection with that man than I could possibly have felt for an untarnished hero of the battle for Kakazu Ridge."

4.      Awe in the Ordinary: I love this invitation from Cassie Watson, "Over my holiday, I wanted the feeling of wonder to keep going on and on. The good news is that it can—and I don’t have to wait until my next holiday to experience it. The true object of my awe is with me all the time. I don’t need to recreate the circumstances of that sunset, but instead run back up those beams to the one who is truly worthy of adoration."

5.      Higher/Wiser: I like this song both musically and lyrically that is from a band that is new to me, The Silver Pages.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.     Do You Treat Church Like a Cruise Ship? Or a Restaurant? Trevin Wax considers just how powerful the consumerist mindset is among American Christians: " The problem with viewing the church as a restaurant is that it amplifies the cruise liner mentality in that the service is all directed one-way. The attender pays with time or money and expects a religious service. This is consumerist, not missional. But the bigger challenge is that the person isn’t even committed to the cruise."

2.     Breaking Down the Living Organisms By Weight: Among the fascinating factoids here are that there are three times more viruses by weight! than human beings.

3.     What is the Rapture? David Chapman concludes that the best interpretation of the "rapture" passage is, " This would imply that, at Christ’s appearance, Paul expects the dead in Christ to be raised, followed by the lifting up of the living believers to welcome Jesus in the air, before Jesus descends to earth with his people in order to judge the world and establish fully his kingdom on earth."

4.     The Seven Bitter Fruits of SinColin Smith considers what happens when we live a life in rejection of God, "What you believe about sin will shape your convictions about missions and evangelism. How we engage in this work, and what we think needs to be done, will in large measure be shaped by what we believe the human problem really is."

5.     Aerial Tucson: I love our city and I love these videos.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Are you Raising a Narcissist? Steve Cornell offers a helpful inventory. Among the many gems is this one: "Don’t be the parents who overindulged a child’s sense of personal beauty or talent. This will lead to self-deception, narcissism and social dysfunction. It’s also a sure path to marital misery!"

2.      5 Things Every Newly Wed Needs to Hear: Daryl Crouch with wisdom for couples. In reflecting on what the role of those witnessing the wedding is, he shares, "The purpose of this kind of public declaration of loyal love is more than grandstanding. When you mailed your wedding invitations, you were also asking these loved ones to stay involved in your life and your marriage. A wedding includes people who know you, love you, and care about your future success. They’re not only witnesses who observe the moment you exchange rings, they’re people who will pray for you, counsel you, and invest in you. They’re the people who will help you keep the vows they’ve heard you make."

3.      What do Evangelicals Believe? This survey of evangelicals by the Ligonier Ministries is disconcerting to say the least. Perhaps the most concerning response came to this statement: " God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam." 51% of evangelicals agreed with that statement."God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam." A majority of evangelicals agree that God can be worshiped by those who haven't put their trust n Jesus Christ. 

4.      5 Myths About Calvinism: This helpful article by Greg Forster debunks including "God saves us against our will," and "God does not love the lost." On the former, Forster explains, "The role of the Spirit is to remove the power of sin and instill new powers of belief and trust, which do inevitably result in saving faith–but this is done without violating the will’s freedom. In fact, the work of the Spirit enlarges our freedom."

5.      Greenland-Land of Ice: What a gift to be able to see remote places of the world in all their beauty.

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

Our Secular Age edited by Collin Hansen

The premise of Our Secular Age doesn’t have strong curb appeal: evangelical Christians grappling with the contribution of a contemporary philosopher’s nearly 900 page tome. Despite the fact that one of my favorite authors, James KA Smith has been significantly influenced by Charles Taylor, I still have yet to pick up Taylor’s A Secular Age.

Despite the less-than-enticing premise, Our Secular Age is a book that should be broadly read by Christian leaders. Even for the reader (like myself) who has no first-hand experience with Taylor, his theses are laid out clearly and the wide-ranging impact of his thought is explored and at times critiqued.

Taylor’s central thesis is that the secular world is a world that has turned its focus on the self and lost its sense of the transcendent. Collin Hansen says that Taylor traces the beginnings of this age to Martin Luther: “Taylor faults the Protestant Reformation and modern evangelical Christianity for disenchanting the world and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through and turning the focus on the self rather than on God through shared religious rituals.”

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      New Study Reveals That Millennials Prioritize Owning a Home over Marriage: In fact, it's worse than that. For Millennials, owning a home and travel both are more important priorities than getting married or having children. 

2.      Ancient People Lived Longer Than You Might Think: This is an interesting article that concludes that, for those who made it to adulthood, the average lifespan was about what it is today. Pretty surprising read.

3.      The Chocolate-ness of Chocolate and the Coffee-ness of Coffee: Jared Wilson reflects on the power of the gospel to enjoy things in the fullness of what they are, and not ask them to be something else, " If I don’t believe the gospel, I will miss out on the joy of the it-ness of things. I will be looking to these things as drugs, as appetite-fillers, as fulfillers, as powers, as gods, as worshipers of the god of myself."

4.      3 People Harmed by Misplaced Compassion: Eric Geiger reminds us that, " Under the banner of “kindness” or “patience,” leaders can fail to care for the overall health of their ministries or organizations."

5.      National Geographic Photography Contest: Scroll through all of the categories. You won't be disappointed.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Why the Angels Were Speaking to You, Too: Jan Shrader reflects on the thrice-repeated words of the angels, “Do not be afraid,” at the first Christmas and reminds us that “There is a heavy price to be paid when you begin listening to fear.”

2.       Why the Tithing Challenge Isn't a Good IdeaYou may have heard of certain churches offering a "money back guarantee" with their challenge to tithe. Aaron Earls made a good case for why that isn't a wise practice, "A tithing refund distorts God’s design for giving by presenting people as owners with nothing to lose, rather than as stewards who sacrificially engage in spiritual investment."

3.       Why You Should Go to Church Even When You Don't Feel Like It: These words from David Sunday are so good, "That’s why we meditate on the teachings of God in Scripture day and night. That’s why we gather in the house of God with the people of God week by week. We don’t do it just for the immediate benefit. We take the long view. We cultivate these rhythms of grace, we practice these disciplines of worship, so that when the years of drought come, we will remember: we will recall when our souls pour dry the days of praise within God’s house. And the very remembrance will sustain us."

4.       6 Ways to Make Yourself Marry-ableI'm not a fan of the title, but if you re-frame this as helpful advice for young adults, then I like it quite a bit. Lisa Anderson concludes that in preparation, "You will no doubt realize you have some things that need to change. We all do. We’re all carrying baggage that was either placed on us by the generations before us or picked up of our own free will. Now’s the time to dump it. Now’s also the time to identify addictions, outrageous debt and spending pitfalls, past or present abuse, bad family patterns, and anything else that’s holding you back from spiritual, emotional, and relational health. Get counseling if you need it."

5.       5 Myths About DepressionMichael Lundy packs a ton of truth in this post. Please read it not only for your sake but for those who struggle with depression in your life, "Gandalf, one of my favorite quotable characters who exists only but no less vividly in the minds of readers, said “despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”6 It is a temptation to think that we do when we do not, and to see an evil end when God has something quite different in mind and in store. Yet, it is a temptation to which most—if not all—of us are vulnerable."

6.       The Thief and the FriendJason Upton might have my favorite voice in Christian music. If you haven't listened to Upton before, try this song.

The Villains of Christmas: Herod

The Villains of Christmas: Herod

Christmastime is here. It’s a time for joy and generosity and hope and celebration. But Christmas is not without its threats. Over the next four weeks we will consider four villains of Christmas. The name of the first villain is King Herod. King Herod exemplifies power. The yearning for power in our own hearts threatens our experience of Christmas.

Herod was the villain at the first Christmas. He was a politician’s politician. He was oily and underhanded, vicious and cold-hearted. Born in 73 BC, Herod rose to power quickly (in his mid-twenties) by maneuvering his way through the Roman political machine and given the title “King of Judea” by the Roman Senate.[i] Upon rising to power, Herod decimated anyone who might be his rival, including three of his sons and his first wife, Mariamne.

Herod’s paranoia served him well and allowed him to rule for 37 years—far longer than most. His political savvy extended well past his paranoia. A half-Jew himself, Herod was a master of alliances, eventually taking ten wives, each gaining him a strategic political advantage. And he knew the power of tangible change. Herod took on massive building projects throughout Judea including the construction of the port at Caesarea Maritima, the Second Temple, the fortress at Masada, and Herodium. Many of these can still be seen in Israel today. In fact, most beautiful ancient buildings that remain are Herod’s handiwork. To fund these projects, Herod levied massive taxes on the people that created animus between him and the people (and also helps us understand just how hated the tax collectors we meet in the Bible were).

One day in the final years of Herod’s life, a group of Magi from the East requested an audience with Herod.

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.       Most Women Who Had Abortions Were Pressured Into It: Every line of this brief article is important. The Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Reports, "73.8% of women who had an abortion felt pressure to do so.  And that 58.3% got an abortion to make someone else happy, not themselves.  And that 30% were afraid that they would lose their partner if they didn’t."

2.      What do Americans Think About Abortion? The current state of what America believes about abortion is complicated, "The latest Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, taken right before Kennedy announced his retirement, found most Americans don’t want to see Roe v. Wade changed. Two-thirds say the Supreme Court should not overturn the decision. Three in 10 (29 percent) say the court should overturn the decision. But a recent Gallup poll shows many Americans want to see at least some restrictions on abortions. Half say abortion should be legal only under certain circumstances. One in 5 (18 percent) says abortion should be illegal in all circumstances."

3.      America's Churches are Becoming More Diverse: We still have a long way to go, but Aaron Earls reports, "A Baylor University study found the percentage of multiracial congregations in the United States nearly doubled. From 1998 to 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, multiracial churches grew from 6 percent to 12 percent of all U.S. congregations. Multiracial congregations are places of worship in which less than 80 percent of the congregants are of the same race or ethnicity."

4.      How Not to Fight PornographyDavid Briones challenges us with this hard truth and then offers some helpful suggestions, "Many who “struggle” really just want to be assured of God’s love for them as they enjoy a love-hate relationship with pornography. Like so many spouses in abusive relationships, they hate pornography, but can’t imagine life without it. They hate what it does to them, but love what it provides: a short-lived moment of escape, a false sense of worth, an unsatisfying feeling of love. But after giving in, guilt sets in. They realize they’ve been dehumanized. Longing for pleasure, they run back to their lover again and again and again. Love never felt so wrong. If that describes you, then you first need to realize that your “struggle” is no struggle at all."

5.      National Geography's Photographer of the Year: Stunning, just stunning.