Thursday, May 28, 2009

Book Review: Community that is Christian

Community That Is Christian by Julie Gorman is a thorn in the flesh of American culture and American evangelicalism. Julie Gorman presents a picture of community that purposely attacks and tears down our preconceived notions of community as just small groups getting together only to rebuild it to its proper state in God’s eyes. The book is clear and concise in how it defines Christian community, its purpose from a Biblical and theological perspective, and how to create and nourish it through the use of small groups. Here is a synopsis from the book of the Biblical and theological rationale for the use of small groups in our churches today.

The biblical & Theological rationale for small groups: A proper perspective
Small groups should be viewed as a means to an end. The goal of every small group should be to foster and build genuine Christian community amongst believers. Despite the potential to foster Christian community, small groups can also hinder and/or destroy community if a proper perspective is not kept. To keep the destruction of Christian community from happening within small groups we must see and understand Christian community from a Biblical perspective.

Small groups according to Jesus
What does Christian community look like within a small group? Our best starting point for understanding this is with God’s Son, Jesus, the full revelation of Himself to us. Jesus depicts Christian community as:
o Reciprocal. “For God so loved the world He gave His only Son.” (John 3:16). The Son in turn reveals the Father to us (John 17:6).
o Sharers of everything. “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.” (John 17:10).
o Totally dependent upon one another. Jesus can only do what He sees the Father doing (John 5:18). Everything He does is a direct result of what the Father has done.
o Bringing glory and honor to one another. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)
o Seeking the others best interests. Jesus’ mission was to do the will of the Father (John 8:28). The Father’s mission was to send us His Son (John 3:16). The Spirit’s mission is to be our counselor and guide (John 16:7).
o Obedient to one another. There is a desire to obey the Father displayed in Jesus Christ. “I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38)

Jesus displays Christian community as something that is others-oriented. Should our small groups be any different? Christian community is really a fulfillment of the commandments to love God with all our heart, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). The growth and development (spiritual formation) occurring in our individual lives within small groups is a by-product of our love for God and others. In summary, small groups are a means to creating Christian community among believers. However, there is a problem.

Trouble in paradise
The first small group consisted of Adam, Eve, Jesus, the Father, and Spirit living in perfect fellowship with one another in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1 – 2). This is a good picture of community as it was intended to be. After making Adam, God declared him incomplete and lacking something. He was lacking another of his own kind. So God created Eve; this gave them the opportunity to build their own community through the family…the true apex of God’s creation. Hence, God’s picture of community was complete. In the next chapter (Genesis 3), Satan shows up and tempts Eve to become independent and reliant upon herself rather than her husband and God. Both Adam and Eve gave into the temptation and a separation between the perfect community (God and mankind) emerges.

From then on, we see God actively pursuing restoration of the relationships and community broken by sin. In the Old Testament, God chose Israel by making a covenant with them. They were to be His community, His people. He then gave them the Ten Commandments. The Commandments were to teach them how to relate to God and each other. There was some progress towards the community God hoped for but the failures outweighed them. Israel failed to keep the commands of God and authentic community was marred and blemished. It was only a shadow of what it used to be.

Because of this, we must realize we can never create Christian community on our own. It must come from an outside source stronger than us. This is why God took on human flesh and lived among us (John 1:14). Because of this (the Father sending Jesus to earth to die and atone for our sins, and then resurrected, and then sending the Spirit to live in us), He has repaired community between Himself, us and each other. This is the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ. This is the kingdom of God. When the Spirit arrives in the second chapter of the book of Acts we have the birth of the restored community of God. We see in the church the quality of community we saw in Jesus when He took on flesh (Acts 2:42-46, 4:32-35) and Adam and Eve before the Fall.

When small groups work
Small groups assist individuals in finding and growing their life in Christ by connecting them to others and God through togetherness. Our togetherness reflects God. How? God is three Persons (persons are capable of having relationships) living harmoniously together in perfect love as one God. Community originates with God and is, therefore, distinctly Christian. Living out Christian community is the heart of Christianity. The quote from Robert Banks (p. 38) said it best, “Union in the Spirit involved union with one another.” We cannot underestimate the role the Spirit plays in establishing and using small groups to form the type of community God desires we have with one another. Our job is to receive the Spirit and obey His leading to love God and neighbor. Then we have the opportunity to participate in the fellowship of the Trinity and experience Christian community. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

New Book!

A new book is out that follows in the line of Every Man's Battle. It's called Hero (click to see). Here's a summary:

You already know it’s not easy being a single man in this culture today. But it is easy to be overwhelmed, to feel helpless and hopeless about living by God’s high standards for singles. It’s easy to cave in to the pressures of this sex-soaked world and accept defeat—blaming the media, the culture, even girlfriends who don’t know how tough it can be.

But many men have read books like Every Young Man’s Battle and Tactics and have committed themselves to stand strong and pure in the power of God, and to go on the offensive against the onslaught of negative stereotypes. Some have suffered. Some have fallen. But many have experienced victory—and you can be among them.

What makes those committed men so desirable to women? Be Her Hero is their motto. From best-selling author Fred Stoeker, along with his son Jasen, come the straightforward insight and real-life examples you’re looking for to help you take personal purity to its logical conclusion. Here’s straight truth with irrefutable evidence of what makes an ultimate hero to women who long for men of faith—men who stand by their convictions and make their world a safer and better place.

Are you ready to accept the challenge? If so, this book is for you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Spiritual Growth & Development

Season finale of Lost last night (it was crazy!). I'm a big follower. Anyways, here's some thinking on human and spiritual development.

Human & spiritual development
What is the link between human development and spiritual development? Is there a link? Are they connected? Is it possible for a person to develop humanly and not spiritually? How much do these two have in common?

Where God starts in human and spiritual development
In the Old Testament the Israelites demanded a human king to govern and rule them. Saul was their chosen king but God had regrets in giving him that position and even rejected him as king (1 Sam 15:35, 16:1). So, God sent Samuel out to instate a new God-chosen king. Samuel met several fine-looking and well-qualified candidates (e.g., older, strong, wise, good looking, intelligent, men of high stature). Samuel himself was even enthralled by these potential kings. But, God says to Samuel, “You’re making a mistake in judgment. Forsake outer beauty and stature, because I don’t look at that. I look at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7, my paraphrase) This advice led Samuel to choose a young shepherd boy by the name of David to become king of Israel.

God reveals to us in this passage of scripture that His greatest area of concern in human beings is their heart. Why is that? Jesus revealed and continues to reveal to us that we live from the heart. His teachings throughout the Gospels (especially the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7) reveal this truth to us. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and pierces as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 NASB, emphasis mine) Christ is the only Being capable of reaching to where we truly live from, the heart. Without Jesus Christ we assuredly will continue to develop (spiritually, mentally, and physically), but it will be as a child not given proper nourishment to grow. Our growth will be stunted, our bodies weak, and we will be lacking something that has the ability to make us complete.

So, what is the heart? The heart, biblically speaking, is the place our daily choices stem from. Heart seems to be used synonymously with will and spirit. All the different aspects of our lives are decisions made from our heart. How we work, how we play, how we interact with each other, how we spend our free time, how we think, and how we feel come from the heart and are a matter of choice. There are outside factors that we cannot control and they can have an influence over us (e.g., our background, where we are born, where our parents choose to live when raising us, who our parents are, how our parents raise us, how and what our parents teach us, etc.), but the choice of who we become is a choice we get to make from the heart. Of course this is a choice that is given to us by God through His gracious gift of free-will. So, you begin to see the intertwining of human development and spiritual development.

Growth & Development
Scripture reveals the link between human and spiritual growth. Luke 2:40 describes the child Jesus as growing strong and increasing in wisdom.
- Growing “strong” requires proper nourishment and activity.
- “Increasing in wisdom” requires proper mental nourishment and activity.

The key word in Luke 2:40 is the word “grow”. This is the Greek word auxano and it means to increase or add to something. Growth we know takes time. Jesus had a tight grasp on this and it is why He spent several years with His disciples teaching them about the Kingdom of God. It rubbed off, because Peter later wrote that we are to crave the spiritual milk of the Word, that by it we may grow (auxano) in respect to salvation (1 Peter 2:2, my par). He wrote in 2 Peter 3:18 that we should grow (auxanoi) in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (NASB). Paul reminded Timothy to be nourished on the words of the faith (1 Tim 4:6, NASB). Paul also points out in Philippians 1:6 that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

As humans, our minds and bodies take time to grow. Should our spiritual side be any different? Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:15 that as your faith grows (auxano), we shall be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you. What is constant throughout the Bible is the growth and development spiritually of individuals (bad and good examples are given of this: Contrast Saul with David or Judas with Peter).

After Jesus’ resurrection He sent Another to live in His disciples. Who is this “Another”? It would be the Holy Spirit who continues the role of the master Teacher Jesus in that He continues to teach and guide God’s children (John 16:13, Acts 2) in all Truth. The Holy Spirit ministers to the place where human and spiritual developments take place, the heart. This is why and how God can look at the heart of man and woman.

Why Christian human development and spiritual formation is important
Romans 1:18-32 is a key passage to why an understanding and implementing of Christian human development and spiritual formation is necessary and relevant. As fallen creatures we tend to look to ourselves for the solution and answer to our problem. We end up acting like a broken toy that tries to fix itself, an impossible task. Because of this we have become fools (Rom 1:22). Jesus’ challenge for those around Him and us today is to look to Him for the answer. “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He tells us. He is the maker of the toy. He knows how it works and how to put it back together. Paul points out in Romans the danger to follow for those who try and do it on their own and constantly reject God; an unclear and distorted picture of reality. But for those who receive God’s Son reality is tasted and freedom from the chains of sin follows (Romans 8:1-2). One then experiences and grows in the type of life Jesus came to offer to those who would surrender to Him. Using big churchy words we call this “sanctification,” a God-driven process that leads to a better quality of life and allows us to experience life in the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

How to prepare a sermon in 5 hours

(This does not include time given to finding a passage to preach. I start assuming you have already found a verse, passage, or book to preach.)

My college preaching class was appalled to find out that pastors were only averaging 3-5 hours in sermon preparation. How could they? The ideal picture was 15-20 hours of time spent in sermon preparation. However, the more time I serve in ministry the less I hold to the idea of spending 15-20 hours in sermon preparation. It would be nice, but is it really feasible? So, instead of becoming bitter and griping about it I put the ol’thinkin cap on and tried to come up with a way ministers can prepare a sermon in 5 hours. This is something I have put into practice (the few times I’ve preached) and it worked. I’m open to suggestions and criticisms of this too. So please comment and help me develop this. So, here we go.

Hour 1 – Letting the Scripture speak. In this first hour you do nothing but read, re-read, pray over, meditate upon, read again, think about, and ask God to reveal to you the Scripture you are planning to preach (I’m assuming you already have your passage selected). God wants us to know Him and He wants others to know Him too, because of this, He helps us understand His Word. His Spirit really can be our ultimate Teacher. Shut the door and lock it, get away to a quiet place where you won’t be bothered, a place where you can be alone with God and His Word for this step. Put up a sign on your office door telling others you are “In prayer” or “Spending time with God”. This isn’t a lie, you are actually doing this. What’s wrong with letting others know and protecting this time?

Hour 2 – Observations. In this second hour you will begin making initial observations about the particular verse or passage you are going to preach. This is where basic questions are asked as you observe the passage. Here’s a list of questions that will help lead you to understand any passage better:
- What’s going on in the story?
- What are some key words in the story or verse?
- What is the context to this particular verse or passage?
- Who’s the author?
- When was it written?
- Who is the audience?
- Why was it written?
- What is the overall theme of the book this passage comes from?
- What are other verses that connect to this?
- How does this particular verse or story break down in you were to make an outline of it?

Hour 3 – Finding answers. Hour 2 leads right into hour 3 because here you begin looking up answers to the questions you are asking of the text. Study Bibles are priceless here. They can eliminate the need for Bible dictionaries, handbooks, lexicons, and commentaries. In other words, they can save you time. If used properly you can find basic context questions to a particular passage or verse in just seconds! A good study Bible will have introductions to a book that will tell you who authored it, when they wrote it, why they wrote it, who they wrote it to, an outline of the book, etc.

Before study Bibles, pastors would have to look through several other books to find this basic information. Now you can have it right there with God’s Word (you can even have it on your computer too). There’s no excuse to not have a study Bible, they are an invaluable resource in sermon preparation. What are some good ones? I love the NLT Study Bible (personal fav!). The NIV Study Bible is another good one. I would avoid study Bibles that are from a certain theological persuasion (e.g., ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Scoffield Study Bible).

Of course I’m not saying you can’t use other resources. By all means do! Some of your questions may not be easily answered, so you may have to wrestle with them for a while and do some extra reading.

Hour 4 – Applying it. You’ve done the basic research and now it’s time to start thinking about how this passage applies. What does God want you to apply to your life from this passage? Pray plays a key role here. Ask God to help you apply this and His Spirit to teach you is essential. I recommend starting with you. How do you apply this to your life? What are some examples from your life of how this applies or how this should have been applied (these can later become illustrations). After you finish the introspection you can begin to think about others and how they would apply such a truth.

Hour 5 – Sharing the truth. Imagine you are sitting at the table eating a meal with some of your closest friends. You want to share with them what you’ve just done. How would you do that? Would you start by reading them the passage of Scripture? Maybe you want to retell the Bible story in your own words. Once the story is read, you would want to share some of the context to the particular passage so they could understand it better. From there you would talk about what God revealed to you through this passage and how it applies to your life. As you are doing this try and imagine what kind of questions your friends would ask. Would something be confusing to them? Would they connect your application of the Scripture to the Scripture? Make an outline or type up a manuscript in this last hour of all your thoughts (this will become your sermon).

Now if you take Mondays off and do this exercise on a Tuesday morning, say from 8am to 1pm, you can have the rest of the week to think about, review, and develop this sermon. Hopefully you can come up with extra illustrations and stories to explain it polish the message off as you have time to think about it. Just carry a notepad with you so when you’re out calling and visiting you can write down your ideas and any changes you would make.