The Hedging of the Bets

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We are getting ready to start a 5 week series on The Gospel and Islam. Here are all of my caveats and disclaimers…

  1. I am not an Islamic scholar. I am a pastor and a Christian leader. I do not for a second propose that I fully understand or can even grasp all the geo-political consequences of the profound tension between the Abrahamic faiths. My focus is not geo-political. My focus is how Muslims and Christians answer this question: How can I be close to God?
  2. Christianity is personal but not private. This truth is absolutely fundamental to understanding Jesus, the mission of the church, and the existence of Restoration. We believe that Christianity has a mandated place in the marketplace of ideas. We must lovingly, faithfully, reasonably, passionately engage our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family with the fundamental questions of life. This series is one more shot at doing just that.
  3. There are profound differences in religions, world-views, and faith traditions. This might seem obvious, but I want to be clear that although Islam and Christianity often talk about similar ideas and practice, they always end at different conclusions about who God is. I am very comfortable with that difference. I am not seeking to reconcile those differences. In fact, my goal is to lovingly and graciously highlight those differences so that people can make an informed choice about to whom they will give their life and allegiance.
  4. Talking monolithically about a world religion is fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding. Yep, that’s right.

The Gospel in the Marketplace of Ideas

Spiritual Disciplines in the Marketplace of Ideas.
During the season of Epiphany, I would like for our church to engage with one of the other Abrahamic faiths (that is Christianity, Judaism, and Islam–  who all claim Abraham as a spiritual father) that is rapidly growing around the world, Islam.

According to a Pew Forum study, there are currently 1.57 billion Muslims, representing 23% of the world’s population.

My hope is to focus on the spiritual practice of Muslims and Christians.

What we do flows from what we believe

The religion of Islam is organized around five pillars.  My aim is to take one week on each of these practices.  Since what we do flows from what we believe, we can understand what Muslims believe about Allah from the way they approach him.  For any religion, our sincerity is measured by how our belief shapes the choices we make.  How does Muslim theology affect Muslim practice and by corollary, what does Muslim practice reveal about Muslim theology?  Helpfully, Christians, are instructed to practice many similar disciplines.  The way Jesus talks about them and the way we engage in them also reveals what we believe about God.

My hope is that four things will happen by the end of the series:

  • We will all understand a little more about Islam, so that we can engage our Muslim neighbors and co-workers in meaningful dialogue.
  • We will all understand and love Jesus more as we engage with his instructions and teaching.
  • We will all think about the benefits of spiritual disciplines for our intimacy with God (especially as we prepare for the season of Lent).
  • We would all find that our zeal and passion to talk about Jesus and His Gospel would increase.

Check back tomorrow for all of my caveats and disclaimers…

Weekend Wrap Up

Just wanted to jot down some of the key moments for me from this weekend:

  1. loved Matt’s opening set.  creative, thoughtful, Adventy.
  2. The Terrys and Swishers did a fantastic job thinking practically about longing for hope.  Gabe, thanks for introducing your family.  Graham, nice reading.  Swisher boys, way to stand proud!  This is a fantastic new tradition.  Can’t wait to hear the other households who will share.
  3. getting to wear a purple stole 🙂
  4. the middle voice:  “The middle voice is critical to getting the sense and nuance of this passage.  If you use the active voice–  you are doing it:  I am filling.  If you use the passive voice–  it is being done to you:  I am continuously being filled.  If you use the middle voice, there is a sense of cooperation, you are doing it to yourself.  I am continually filling myself.  I am doing it, but I am also receiving it. So the most literal translation of this verse–  ‘continuously fill yourself with the Spirit.’  It is the middle voice that speaks volumes of dignity and worth. Because you are choosing something for yourself.
  5. Erin doing the welcome.  She is always so thoughtful and intentional with her words.  I liked the tension of darkness and light.
  6. The participle of result.  Realizing that if we choose to be filled with the Holy Spirit, these five participles come with the package (they aren’t upgrades or options, they are standard)–  Addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; Singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart; Giving Thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
  7. Putting others in line before yourself.
  8. Biblical submission is always for another person’s good, to serve them, to see them empowered, to see them mature.  Biblical submission comes from our Spirit filled capacity, not from our empty dregs.  It is from a posture of generous dignity that we can put someone else ahead of us.  Biblical submission out of reverent fear of Christ can never be demanded, it can only be earned, it can only be given.  It can only come from the middle voice–  I choose to fill myself with the Holy Spirit with the result that I choose to submit myself to others.
  9. If you don’t get that you are submitted to One who dearly loves you, who chose you, you don’t get the passage.
  10. singing the sanctus
  11. meeting so many grandparents and parents who were visiting for Thanksgiving.

Have a great week!  Thanks for worshiping with us.  Happy Advent!!

Marriage: submitting to one another

Quick heads up about the sermon on Sunday. I am going to take 2 weeks to talk about submission, headship, love, and respect. This week I’ll dig deeply into the phrase, ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ Next week I’ll talk about why men and women are given different instructions in marriage. I feel compelled to be as clear as possible on this and one week is not enough. For those who were looking for fireworks on 11/29, there will not be as many. Make sure you tee it up for 12/6…

In the meantime, here is a good quote that might get you fired up:

‘Marriage, like life itself, is both a giving and a taking away.  What is given in marriage is fairly obvious:  the love of another human being.  What is taken away is perhaps not quite so apparent:  the entire freedom to think and to act as an independent person.  If people understood exactly how radical is the curtailment of independence in marriage, there could never be any thought of divorce.  Divorce would be seen as a form of suicide.  But then, if people understood the true depth of self-abnegation that marriage demands, there would perhaps be fewer weddings.  For marriage too, would be seen as a form of suicide.  It would be seen not as a way of augmenting one’s comfort and security in life, but rather as a way of losing one’s life for the sake of Christ.’

See you on Sunday as we seek to submit our lives to our Kind Lord.


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We are going to spend Nov 15 and Nov 29 digging into the back end of Ephesians 5.  Here are some things to think about as you prepare for Sunday.

  1. First, we are a diverse community of people who have never married, people who are married, people who were married, and people who are married again.  All of us have strongly-held convictions about the institution in general and even this passage in particular.  Regardless of your marital demographic label, we all need to know what we think about marriage.  It is my hope to give you some tools to think Biblically and rightly about the covenant of marriage.  So if you are not currently married, don’t check out, this content is for you as well.
  2. Secondly, because marriage has universal impact (even if you are not married, you are touched by the institution), we all have emotions of sadness and emotions of joy that are connected to it.  I know.  It’s highly emotionally charged.
  3. Thirdly, 2 weeks is not enough time to unpack the riches of this passage alone, much less articulate a full Biblical theology of marriage–  I mean, Paul says it’s merely a metaphor for the entire way Christ relates to the church (for crying out loud!!)  So I will focus on 2 things:  What does it mean that a husband and wife are one flesh?  What are the roles/ instructions for wives and husbands. This week we will talk about the implications of cleaving of becoming one flesh.  In two weeks we will talk about submission, authority, love, and respect.
  4. Fourthly, as I have said before, ‘there is nothing new under the sun.’  Nothing I say in this series is original to me–  the apostle Paul took the first shot and lots of preachers after him have done a great job making these truths come alive.  I am particularly grateful to thoughts that were crafted by Tim Keller, Bill Hybels, Emerson Eggerichs, and Kyle Miller.  These guys have some fantastic insights.

All right, that’s all the caveats, disclaimers, and hedging I’ll do…  probably.  See you on Sunday as we get after it.

Monday morning for a pastor

Sunday Morning postmortem at Restoration

I usually run or swim on Monday morning.  I usually listen to music really loudly to try and drown out the commentators and arm chair quarterbacks that are talking about Sunday morning in my head.  Sometimes I win.  Sometimes the voices win.

Give this morning to the voices…  Three things I want to say about my sermon yesterday:

1.  As someone astutely pointed out, I really preached 3 sermons, yesterday.  That’s like the cardinal sin for preachers.  I wanted to talk about all three means by which we imitate God:  walk in love, walk in the light, walk in wisdom.  I could have spent a week on each of them and then followed it up with a fourth sermon (or sermons) on ‘be filled with the Spirit.’  But that would have kicked us to Dec 20th without having talked about marriage, parenting, or the armor of God.  So, instead I plowed through it.  Maybe after I’ve been doing this for 10 years, I’ll have the capacity to decide, ‘lets linger here for a bit’.  Maybe even put off the end of the series until February…  just thinking out loud here.  So thanks for hanging on tight while i talked about lots of stuff yesterday.

2.  I really wish I had nailed the illustration I gave about Laurel’s eye and walking on rocks in a stream bed.  The point of those 2 stories was to agree with v. 15–  ‘look carefully how you walk.’  But to also emphasize the end of v. 16–  ‘because the days are evil.’  We need to walk in wisdom, with careful steps, because there are branches and slippery rocks all over our work sites, our neighborhood, the culture, our day to day life…  We never want to run into a branch or slip in the water (hey let me try and scratch my cornea…), we just step wrongly.  So be very careful how you step–  walk in love, walk in the light, understand what the will of the Lord is.  Honestly, I think I was mushy on those illustrations and not as crisp as I would like.  I also missed a chance to give a big shout out to Dr. George Patterson who totally rescued Laurel–  picked her up after a sleepless night, took her to his opthamology office and helped her eye speed towards recovery–  it was the beginning of a great Restoration friendship!

3.  I totally forgot to talk about coarse joking at the 10am.  We’ll post the recording from the 8:30 on our podcast.  But I can’t believe I missed the third counterfeit to walking in love.  Paul gives three counterfeits:  sexual immorality, covetousness, and coarse joking (filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking).  Why does Paul include coarse joking as a counterfeit to real love? By definition crude joking is a joke that because of its language or its subject matter is not appropriate.  (totally fine to tell jokes, this is a specifically forbidden category).  When two people laugh about something that they would not want to broadcast to everyone around them, there is a secretiveness that could feel like intimacy.  It is the intimacy that develops between 2 people when they know they are doing something wrong.  However, it is false.  It isn’t REAL vulnerability.  Paul is encouraging this church to walk in love, to live in true intimacy.  So the contrast he makes is between love and sex outside of the marriage covenant; between intimate conversation and coarse joking.  In the heat of the moment sex outside of marriage can feel like love.  In the shared laughter of a coarse joke, it can feel like friendship. But they are not.

A lot of my friends were particularly disappointed that I forgot this part of my sermon–  because we all struggle with it to one degree or another.  We long for authentic friendship and we want to be careful with our words.

Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!  Psalm 141:3

So thanks for letting me do a public post-mortem on the message from yesterday.
I love our church.  My commitment to you is, by the grace and mercy of God, to discharge my calling to lead and teach as best I can.  You all are so encouraging to me.

I love this job and living this life with you.

How in the world??? Ephesians 5

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There are over 19 commands in verses 1-21 of Ephesians 5. Paul is just getting all up in that little church’s grill.

What do you think I’m going to say about this on Sunday?

List of Commands/ Imperatives in Chapter 5: 1-21

  • Be imitators of God
  • Walk in love
  • Do not even name sexual immorality, all impurity, covetousness
  • No filthiness, nor foolish talk, nor crude joking
  • Let there be thanksgiving
  • Let no one deceive you with empty words
  • Do not become partners with the sons of disobedience
  • Walk as children of light
  • Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord
  • Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness
  • Expose the unfruitful works of darkness
  • Look carefully how you walk
  • Do not be foolish
  • Understand what the will of the Lord is
  • Do not get drunk with wine
  • Be filled with the Spirit
  • Address one another in psalms, hymns, spiritual songs
  • Give thanks always and for everything to God…
  • Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

should be fun…

A Place and A Time

Picture 10One of the key applications of our series from Exodus was creating a deliberate time and place to interact with God.  Moses did it outside the camp in a tent of meeting.  We can do it almost anywhere–  a park bench, a specific chair in our home or office, a closet.  So choose a place and choose a time!  Check.

Once we are there, then the question becomes, what do we do?  For hundreds of years, faithful Christians have followed plans to read through the Bible and pray their way through Scripture.  You can google Bible Reading Plan and find scores of them.  My favorite is from Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne.  You can read a quick bio here.

His plan gives 4 readings a day (takes about 20 minutes) and takes you through the NT twice, Psalms twice, and OT once, every year.  I love it.  It’s nice to just show up in my place at my time and not have to figure out–  what do I do??

May Robert Murray Mc’Cheyne be a gift to you as well.

The Attraction of Idols

Restoration Anglican Church sermon on Exodus 32-34; IdolatryOver the next two weeks, we will be digging in to Exodus 32-34.  Here is some helpful background on why Israel (and we) love idols.  The information is from one of my favorite professors at Gordon-Conwell, Dr. Doug Stuart.

Idolatry is attractive because it is:

1.  Guaranteed: Presence of a god was guaranteed by presence of idol.  The idol image was like an ancient cell phone.  People believed that the offerings they brought before an idol of a god and the prayers they said the idol’s presence were fully and unfailingly perceived by the god.

2.  Selfish: Idolatry was an entire materialistic system of thinking.  The one ‘hold’ or advantage that humans had over the gods was the ability to feed them.  If you fed the god, it was obligated to use its power on behalf of the worshiper.

3.  Easy: Frequency and generosity of sacrifices were the sole significant requirements of faithful idolatrous religion.  Idolatry minimized the importance of ethical behavior.  As long as you kept the food coming, you could do whatever you want.

4.  Convenient: In contrast to the Lord’s command to come up to Jerusalem three times a year, idol shrines were erected on every hilltop and street corner.  You could drop by to offer a sacrifice at your convenience–  virtually any time of day, any day of the week, at a location of your choosing.

5.  Normal: everyone did it.  If an Israelite asked his Canaanite neighbor how to farm in these parts, the Canaanite would begin with an explanation for how to worship the local idol.  If you want to fit in, worship the idol.

6.  Logical: idolatry was polytheistic, syncretistic, and pantheistic.  It made sense to have a multiplicity of gods, each one covering a different facet of life.  It was enormously attractive to think one could gain assured access to those gods who had power over your greatest need simply by being in the presence of an idol.

7.  Pleasing to the senses, indulgent, erotic: The images of divinity were ‘beautiful’.  The worship ‘services’ were huge feasts.  The more frequently one ate meat and the more meat one ate, the more likely one could curry favor with the gods.  Heavy eating and drinking were encouraged.  Temple prostitution was common because it was believed that if you had sex in the presence of the idol, it would encourage the gods to have sex and provide what you need–  fertility, more crops, more cattle.  Ritual sex would stimulate things to be born on earth.

It is important to remember that Israel never struggled with belief in the Lord or even worshiping the Lord.  Their struggle was always to worship ONLY the Lord.  Even today, many of us would say that Jesus is Lord, but find it challenging to say no to the idols that compete for His worship.

I believe in God…

It’s been a real problem for me.

This week we are reading Exodus 20-24. You’ll notice there are a lot of rules. What do you think about God’s Laws– helpful? hopeful? capricious? mean? rigid? liberating?
I’m asking this question as I write: What do God’s laws tell us about God? What does He value? What’s important to His heart? What matters?

And then, what does it tell us about His people? If He gives this Law Gift to His people, how is that an expression of love, delight, and great care?

Shalom Auslander’s memoir is a well-written reflection on God as arbitrary, petty, and egocentric.

It breaks my heart.

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