Our new church, The Exchange Community is starting its weekly gatherings this Sunday, September 8th, at 9am. We’ll be meeting at The Creative Edge, at 160 N Enterprise Ln, Jackson, Mo 63755. I think we are going to cook a brunch afterwards for anyone who would like to stick around. More will come as we solidify plans for the meal.
- What is the common perception of the church today?
- What do you see that’s wrong with the church?
- What is good about the church?
- What do you think the church should be like?
Today’s headline read, “27 dead, including 18 children, in elementary school shooting” in Newtown, Connecticut. Parents, children, brothers and sister are not coming home to their families this afternoon. They won’t be with their families this Christmas. Like most parents, I couldn’t help but hug my daughter and pray for the families of the dead. How could such a thing happen? Why does it keep on happening? When will it stop?
More and more people are self-proclaimed atheists. Many others are functional atheists as they live as if God doesn’t exist. Yet if you reject God, you must reject the idea of right and wrong. You have to accept that death created us. Death becomes your god of sorts because through the death of billions of life forms the fittest survived and passed on their genes and evolved into us. So if you reject God, even the kind of death we saw today, is what created us. It’s nothing more than the “weak” being removed so the “fittest” can survive. You have to accept this if you reject God and accept evolution.
Yet when such a tragedy strikes, many suddenly get religion. Their worldview doesn’t provide the answers to the questions of their hearts or they close their eyes to what their worldview actually says about death. So when something horrible happens, suddenly God is alive and real…and to blame for allowing such tragedy. Yet is this really God’s fault? Is it really his will? If someone asked me what I thought about today, I’d respond by telling them the story.
While evolution says death created us, the Bible says God never created us for death. Death was never part of his plan. We were always meant to live. God created us to live in a perfect world, where we had a perfect relationship with Him. Because we were in a perfect relationship with God, we were at peace with one another. There was never any violence like we see today. God never designed us to suffer and die. Rather we were meat to live forever by his side.
Yet this world isn’t perfect, not anymore. You see our first parents thought they could improve on God’s creation. They were tempted by God’s enemy into believing that they’d be better off if they were in control of their own lives. So they rebelled against God and His ways. Suddenly their relationship with God was broken, and just as quickly their relationships with each other fell apart as well. Now sin, suffering, wars, famine, disease, aging, and death hold the world captive. People even kill each other now. Yet this wasn’t part of God’s plan and God didn’t want to leave us this way.
God continued to pursue His children. He continued to call them back to live a life close to Him, in His ways, under His rule and protection. Yet his children kept rebelling. All of us keep rebelling. Yet God keeps calling us. Finally, God sent his Son who was called Jesus, which means “The Lord Saves”, and Immanuel, which means “God with Us.” He lived perfectly as His Father always created us to live. Yet he died the death we deserved, because of our rebellion, on the cross. As we believe and are baptized in Him, His perfect life becomes our perfect life. Our relationship with God is restored. His death then becomes our death, so death will not hold us because death could not hold Jesus. We then have hope, on days like today, that death does not have the final word.
One day, there will be no more death. The peace that the angels sang about on the night of Jesus’ birth will be realized. God’s enemy, and all who chose to follow in his ways of rebellion and refuse to be cleansed, will be locked away forever. The world will be perfect again. God will raise all those who trust in Him, will give us new life, and never again will there be any anger, fighting, wars, sickness, pain, or death. Such things won’t even be remembered. Even days like this day will be forgotten. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes and we will live in joy, true joy, in a perfect world forever more.
Today something horrible happened. Yet if someone asks me why such tragedy happens, I’ll share with them the truth and “good news” of God’s story. We still mourn today, we pray fervently for the families of those who were killed, because we’re still awaiting the Restoration of things. Yet we have hope because one day God will make everything right. We sing, “Come, O Come, Emmanuel!” We pray come quickly, Lord Jesus! And we look to the day when He comes again to make everything right.
Picture found here
This is a video from Tim Keller’s talk at the Gospel Coalition conference in 2007. Keller shares in this video how the story of the Old Testament is really a story about Jesus. Since we are big in story telling through the Bible, I figured I’d share this post on how a number of the figures and stories in the Old Testament really point forward to Jesus. When you think about Jesus being central to all of the Biblical Story, it helps make sense of everything in the Old Testament and New Testament. It gives a much greater take away than just lifting up an OT figure as a hero or example and keeps you from simple moralizing a story.
This could have been a much longer video, but Keller kept it to a few key points of where Jesus is seen in the Old Testament. What other people or events, in the Old Testament story, point forward to Jesus? How could knowing how Jesus connects to the Old Testament story help you in sharing the faith with others?
For more on Jesus in the Old Testament, I highly recomend getting a Jesus Storybook Bible, by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Its even a great resource for adults to understand the biblical story. The subtitle of the book is: Every Story Whispers His Name. Every story points to Jesus in some way.
Are there perfect people in this world, in Church? Have you ever been in a church or a crowd where people acted or seemed better than you? If so, how did it make you feel? Did you feel rejected or accepted? Did you feel like there was hope or did you feel hopeless?
Below is a video that was very popular earlier this year entitled, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.
After watching this video:
- Was the speaker saying, ditch the church and be spiritual on your own? Or was he drawing a different distinction between religion and Jesus?
- How does this speaker define religion? Is he right in doing so? What are your thoughts?
- If there really are no perfect people in church and this world, what should it look like when Christians gather as the church? How should we act in relation to other sinners?
- What hope do you have in a church that is a hospital for the sick that tells people “come as you are no matter what you’ve done or how messy your life is”? What fears do you have?
- How does the Gospel address the fears that we have about showing our sin and about allowing sinful people to be part of our lives and in our church?
As Christians we tend to cloister, separate, ourselves from people who are caught in sin. It’s like they are sick and we want to keep them out of our lives in fear of being infected as well. Yet the truth is, we are all infected. We’re all sick with sin. We all need a doctor, we all need healing to differing degrees and in different ways. Jesus said in Mark 2:17,
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
In our new church we will encounter many people who “don’t have life together” but it’s okay because we don’t have life together as well. We’re all messed up. We’re all sick. We all need a doctor who is well and who can heal us. We all need him. And when we recognize that, we don’t have to hide or pretend. We don’t have to fear other’s judgment, because Jesus was judged on our behalf. We can be open about what we’re struggling with and allow Jesus to serve and to help us through our fellow Christians. And we can help others as well and we can show them that Jesus accepts, loves, and can help change them too, because he’s healed and is still healing us.
No perfect people are allowed in our Church except Jesus because only Jesus is perfect. We can’t pretend we have it all together, and if we think we do we deceive ourselves. Rather, we can all admit we are all sick and we can rest in his healing perfection.
For more about religion and the Gospel check out The Difference between Religion, Irreligion, and the Gospel.
picture found here
Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Pr 23:17-18
I’ve been reading through Proverbs over the last week and this verse seems to sum up the theme of proverbs: to be wise is to see that God is better and the only lasting good. How often I’ve envied sinners in my heart. How often I’ve wanted what was forbidden me because I doubted that God had something better in store. When I’m tempted to secure my own good and pleasure, when my heart starts to yearn for that which it wasn’t meant for, I need to remember that, “God is Good so I don’t have to look elsewhere.”
The brokenness and emptiness that we often feel in this world will never be cured by attaining some other broken and empty thing. This world is fading. This world will one day end and my life here will end as well. Yet while my life will end here, there is surely a hope for me. God sent His Son, Jesus, into this broken world. He repaired my broken relationship with God by paying the debt I owed Him because of my rebellion. One day he’ll also repair this broken world, my broken body, and my broken soul. I’ll experience the ultimate good when God restores all things and I’ll see him face-to-face and live with him forever.
God is Good. I don’t have to look elsewhere. I don’t have to chase fleeting pleasure I can never keep. Rather I can be zealous for God’s good, because his good will last. My hope in His good will not be cut off. There is surely a hope for me. There is surely a hope for us.
picture found here
Two of our Missional Communities are starting the Story-Formed Way this week. The Story-Formed Way is a 10 week discipleship course consisting of interactive storytelling and dialogue through the major narratives of Scripture from Creation to Restoration. Below are some tips on how to prepare to lead the Story.
At the beginning of the lesson, there are big picture points that focus on the gist of what the lesson is leading towards. That is for your knowledge as the leader. Read through the Story out loud multiple times. Learn it. Ingest it. Meditate on it. Think of the tone in which the characters would be speaking. You want to story tell, not just read a paper to people. However, remember that the Story has been crafted to accurately convey the biblical story. Don’t change the words. If you misspeak, reiterate what you meant by saying what was written.
- To prepare the manuscript I’m telling the story from, I find it helpful to underline and highlight places where I want to emphasize something important that appears in the dialogue.
- Look through the questions at the end and try to answer them yourself. If there are no answers provided for a specific question, make sure you at least think of what that answer could be.
- When it comes to the dialogue, I look over the questions before hand and try to answer them myself. The leaders guide provides answers, but I try to pinpoint the key answers. If I can think of any others, sometimes I write them down as well. If the question is difficult or unclear, sometimes I’ll write down an alternative question just in case people don’t understand the question that was written
Setting the Tone
- The contents of the bible were originally told, retold, and passed down from person to person, from generation to generation, orally. Ancient Jews, as well as the church up until the 16th century, all learned the biblical story communally through story telling. This didn’t just leave them to try to make sense of the bible on their own, but they had a whole community to help interpret the bible and to retain the accuracy of its telling and interpretation. Two-thirds of the Bible is a narrative. One of the benefits of learning the narrative is that it opens the door to understand everything else in scripture.
- I often relate the Story to being a smorgasbord or a potluck. If only one or two people bring a dish, it isn’t much fun. Likewise, every voice is valuable and contributes. Our discussion is a smorgasbord. The more variety of voices and perspective, the greater the feast.
- Ancient Jewish people would say that there are “70 Facets” to the Bible. It was like a giant diamond with so many facets that at every turn you get a slightly different perspective and insight into the diamond. Likewise, One can study the biblical story over a lifetime and still learn new insights. It’s like an onion. You can keep pulling it back and find new layers of meaning. Each person present is like that facet of a diamond that the Holy Spirit uses to teach us of the beauty within God’s Story.
- Relax and have fun. Make sure that the tone matches the other activities done that night so it seems natural. We want sharing God’s word and applying the Gospel to each other’s lives to feel natural so when we gather officially to do that, we want it to seem like a very natural thing as well.
- After the first week, When you start the lesson, you can ask if someone is willing to review the last lesson or the whole story leading up to the current one. This reinforces the themes of the greater Story of God so that they are more easily connected to the story you are covering. Once the full story is remembered, then you go into telling that night’s story.
Telling the Story (This should take 2-5 minutes)
- When telling the story, I find it helpful to have already underlined or highlighted the most important phrases that are brought up in the following dialogue. This helps me know what is most important, and also helps me keep track of my place so I can look at people when I speak. I practice the story 3-5 times. I try to get to the point where I’m not reading the story, but speaking it and using the manuscript to keep me on track. The Key is to Stick to the Story.
- Stick to the Narrative. Don’t interpret on the fly. Don’t add things from future stories.
- This is where the Story begins to come alive and shape your community. The purpose of the dialogue is to help draw out the truths from the Story.
- Remember set up the expectation that all answers given are to come from the night’s narrative or a past narrative in the greater Story. If someone tries to quote Luther, Calvin, Billy Graham, Buddha, or Deepak Chopra, Joyce Meyer, etc, say, “I don’t remember them being in the story” or “where did you hear that in the story.” This is helpful even when someone starts saying, “I don’t think God would do that!” or “I think God is more like this…” We’re here to learn the biblical story and his truth as the story is interpreted through the individuals of the group.
- If you’re leading the dialogue, you’re job is to keep discussion going through asking questions. It is NOT you duty to answer the questions or to preach. The Holy Spirit works through hearing the word of God. The Spirit will work through the people present to lead the group into the truth.
- It is not necessary that you ask all the questions. There’s usually too many questions to focus on. The questions are meant to spur discussion. Remember, this isn’t a Q and A session. The best questions are often, “What did we learn about God in this story?” “What did we learn about human beings?”
- Make sure you spend some time near the end on some life –application questions. If the group hasn’t already naturally gone there with some of the previous questions, ask questions about how the story parallels their lives, informs their lives, is seen in aspects of their life, etc.
“It’s a dangerous business,” Frodo shares with his fellow Hobbits as they are about to leave the Shire in Tolkien’s The Lord of The Rings. Filled with excitement and trepidation at leaving home for the first time, Frodo shares the wise and whimsical council of his beloved Uncle Bilbo:
He used often to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep, and every path was its tributary. ‘It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step onto the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.
It’s a dangerous buisness, opening your mouth, as well. The conversation can bring you anywhere. James says, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). Our words will often flow into curses of our neighbors and God. They can set the course of our life on fire. Yet, God didn’t create words and speech for that.
Every word and conversation is really meant to flow through the tributaries of casual conversation to the deep and powerful rushing waters of theology. That great river of the Gospel flows into a river of life, it’s the road to God. Every conversations was meant to point there, every road meant to lead to Him. Why? Because we were meant to “live, move and have our being” in Him (Acts 17:28). We were created to find all our joy, purpose and meaning in our God and Father. In the Fall we ran away from God, yet in the Gospel, God Redeemed us and calls us to to Jesus, the way and road home (John 14:6). He desires for us to be prepared to share the faith, to season and frame all our conversations with God’s Story and Love, and to trust the Spirit to guide in showing the way to others.
Since we have been redeemed, since we’re on our way home, we have something to share, something to talk about. We’ll run into many people on our journey home. We’ll have the opportunity to invite them along, to tell them where we’re going. Just as “it’s a dangerous business” in going out your door in the uncertainty of where the day will take you, there’s always uncertainty, every time a conversation starts. We don’t know what paths words will lead us down, but what we do know is that God desires to use our words and our path to lead people home. God’s called every person we meet to intersect with our path so that somehow, the direction and ultimately the destination of their life might change. God’s Spirit will present opportunities to speak and give us words to say to lead others home.
Picture found here.
As we’ve gone through the Story Formed Way, some of the members of the core group have had questions about what we specifically believe on certain points of doctrine. This is understandable. As dedicated Christians, many of us have read books or listened to Christians speakers or radio programs that all are given from different theological backgrounds. If it has been years since your confirmation class, you might have forgotten some of the finer points of Lutheran Doctrine.
Martin Luther actually created his Small Catechism as a tool for the common Christian to be able to learn true doctrine. Originally, the Catechism wasn’t something a 13 or 14 year old child would open for the first time in a church building as they began confirmation class. Rather, it was something a Christian Father used to teach his family the true faith and to help them memorize scripture. Martin Luther intended for you, as scripture exhorts us in Deut 6:1-9, to take every opportunity to teach your children the ways of God throughout the entire day. I encourage all you fathers and mothers to start teaching your children the faith daily through the help of the catechism.
Our core group for the Church Plant would be well served in going back to the catechism as well. It covers what we believe as Lutherans on major points of doctrine such as The Ten Commandments, The Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, The Sacrament of Holy Baptism, Confession, The Sacrament of the Altar, etc. Yet it’s not just Luther’s understanding that is recorded in this book.
Included in the Catechism are many bible verses that are the source of what we believe and teach as Lutherans. This will come in handy as you engage with unchurched friends. They’ll want to know what we believe, but they won’t care much at all about Luther’s words. They’ll be more interested in what the bible says. Luther’s words will simply guide you to truth taught in all of the bible verses that are referenced.
A PDF version of the Small Catechism can be found here for free. It is a good reference for Luther’s explanation of our understanding of each doctrine. However, it does not reference all of the Bible verses that are in the hard copy of the Catechism
The ESV version of the Catechism can be purchased at CPH.org. I recommend that each member of our core group dig out their catechism or purchase a new one.
The above image was found here.