A Crash Course in Spiritual Conflict (Ephesians 6:10-24)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook, I concluded our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity.” I explored Ephesians 6:10-24 through the message: “A Crash Course in Spiritual Conflict.” This is the well-known “armor of God” passage, with a lot of attention to the principalities and powers that we as Christians face in our earthly sojourn.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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A Crash Course in Christlike Living (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

Ephesians

As I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” last weekend we turned to Ephesians 4:17-5:20 for the following message: “A Crash Course in Christlike Living.” I structured the message around four comparisons that Paul brings to the Ephesians believers around: living holy, living love, living light, and living wisely. Underlying it all is Paul’s call not to grieve the Holy Spirit but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Why I’m Not Giving Up on the Church

Leaving-the-church.jpeg

Six years ago, I wrote this article for Relevant, and in light of my recent message from Ephesians 4 and my posts earlier this week, I think it is still as relevant as ever. It begins this way, but you can read the entire article here.

In 2011 the largest denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the results of a survey showing a significant decline in baptisms and church membership. Ed Stetzer, a missioligist and researcher with Lifeway Research, commented at the time: “This is not a blip. This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”

In the very same year, across the Atlantic, a report on the Church of England highlighted the challenges it was facing: aging congregations, faltering clergy recruitment and waning attendance. While church leaders used words like “crisis” and “time bomb,” the report predicted the church would likely be extinct within 20 years.

More recently, the Pew Research Center released a study on the state of religion in the United States entitled “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” The study brings into focus the increasing growth rate of those who do not identify with any religion at all. Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population—and one-third of those under the age of 30—identify in this way; an increase from 15 percent just 5 years earlier.

For many people, these are signs that the church is, if not already dead, steadily moving toward the grave. And many have been calling for followers of Jesus to return to the original vision for our faith.

I have lived within the inner workings of the church for the past 15 years, and I will be one the first to agree with many who point out that the Church is full of brokenness.

When you stand on the inside of the church, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. I have been disheartened by the hypocrisy within the leadership of churches. I have experienced disillusionment when it seems like the church is more about ‘nickels and noses’ then it is about real life transformation. To be even more honest, I have seen my own failings and weaknesses as a supposed leader and wondered if this thing called church is truly real or worth it. There are times when I have wanted to give up on the church and ministry altogether.

But I’m not ready to sound the death toll for the Church. Here’s a story to tell you why.

[Read the entire article here.]

Facing Failings in the Character of the Church

Crying in Church

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

If, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2, Christ is our peace, who has reconciled us to the Father, then the calling upon us as God’s people is to walk in humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and love with one another. This will happen as we yield to the Holy Spirit, who is the deposit of our salvation and bond of our peace.

Yet you may say, “But, Matt, the church doesn’t look like that. I see pride, fierceness, impatience, discord, and lack of love at times.” I know. I see it too. When we see that in those around us, it should lead us to deeper humility and intercessory prayer on behalf of our local church and the church around the world. It should also lead us into meaningful conversations with others about areas of deficiency from our calling, not in judgment, but in the desire to grow together.

However, if we only see it in everyone else around us, but never in ourselves, it might be good for us to hold these characteristics up against our own lives for consideration. It might be good to ask: “Am I completely humble? Am I gentle? Patient? Am I bearing with others in love? Am I upholding the bond of peace?”

If we answered “yes” to all those questions, then it’s probably time to let the Holy Spirit bring us into a more honest self-assessment. Not any of us will perfectly live out our faith. As Paul says in Romans 3:10, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” This is not an excuse for sin and brokenness, but it is our reality. The revelation of our shortcomings is painful. Yet, that revelation is also a gift from God to push us back to God in repentance from our own sin and turning in greater reliance upon Him for power to walk worthy of our calling.  It is a return to the heart of justifying faith: “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph 2:8-9).

So let the words of the Apostle lead us into the humility of our human inadequacy and the exaltation of God’s superabundant grace in Christ.

Moving Beyond Church Idealism: Bonhoeffer on the Gift of Disillusionment with the Church

Bonhoeffer

In my sermon this past weekend, “A Crash Course in Church Growth,” I paraphrased some thoughts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together about how disillusionment in the church is a gift from God. I mentioned the need to give thanks for the gift of disillusionment with the church that God gives to us. Here are Bonhoeffer’s original words:

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping it illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.

God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily….Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 26-28.  A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]

A Crash Course in Church Growth (Ephesians 4:1-16)

Ephesians

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” by looking at Ephesians 4:1-16 with the message: “A Crash Course in Church Growth.” The message aims to recalibrate our understanding of what church growth is all about by focusing on the direction of growth outlined by the Apostle Paul in this chapter. Along the way, I spend some time discussing what it means to walk worthy of our calling, what is the fivefold ministry and what does it mean now, and a little bit around the topic of individual versus community spiritual growth.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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The Weekend Wanderer: 22 June 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

 

smartphone-usage“The Greatest Enemy of a Leader (And What to Do About It)”J. R. Briggs writes about his own personal grappling with what a recent interview mentioned as the greatest enemy of a leader. This parallels some of my own journey with distraction, technology, and recovering focus in my life. “Several months ago I listened to a fascinating podcast interview on the importance of focused work. The leader being interviewed said one of the greatest enemies of leaders today was distraction. I stopped to listen more intently—this was not the answer I was expecting him to say. He went on to share that our phones are the single greatest factor to distraction in the life of a leader.”

 

90982“Pro-Lifers Aren’t Hypocrites” – Here is Tish Harrison Warren addressing the hype around anti-abortion campaigns around the nation and claims of hypocrisy that have been leveled against pro-life advocates. “In any debate about abortion, someone will eventually say that pro-lifers only care about babies until birth or only care about children in the womb, not outside of it. The pro-choice advocacy group NARAL even uses this ubiquitous cliché in an ongoing public campaign that encourages supporters to share memes spotlighting ‘pro-life hypocrisy.’…This cliché distorts our picture of the pro-life movement and is often used to dismiss the larger moral argument that a person in utero is a human being who deserves legal protection. Its invocation allows pro-choice advocates to hold their opponents to abstracted standards of radicalism in order to sidestep substantive debate.”

 

transgender-protest-erase“A Kind of Experiment, Separating Gender and Sex: Why the Church Says No” – Since we’re on the run with hot topics, why not take a read of Kevin D. Williamson’s sharp critique of current gender theory and the recent Vatican release of “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education.” Williamson writes: “For this reason, the Catholic Church’s education committee, the Congregation for Catholic Education, formally, has turned its attention to one of the peculiar and destructive ideas of our time, what it describes as ;’the theory of a radical separation between gender and sex, with the former having priority over the latter.’…The stakes here are high, as the Church sees it, employing language that will be entirely familiar to American conservatives: ‘Similar theories aim to annihilate the concept of nature,’ the document reads, ‘that is, everything we have been given as a preexisting foundation of our being and action in the world.'”

 

lost worlds.jpeg“Longing for lost worlds won’t convert America” – And in case reading some of these articles gets your blood boiling and ready to amp up the culture war, then you might benefit from reading Matthew Schmitz’s essay. Schmitz, a conservative and Senior Editor for First Things, writes: “Converting America begins with love, not contempt. We should cherish our nation’s variegated traditions, its multi-racial people, its habits of piety and liberality. Anyone who presents America as irredeemably ‘commercial’, ‘Protestant’, ‘liberal’ or ‘decadent’ has conceded the territory for which he should contend. Those who dream of defending the Church against 20th-century Spanish anti-clericals should be equally eager to protect her rights in 21st-century America. Those who lament the fall of Austro-Hungary should also resist those who would tear apart the United States.”

 

NL-2-300x199.jpg“Are All White People Privileged?” – Cultural competence consultant, David Livermore reflects on white privilege from a cultural intelligence framework in this provocative article. “You can’t have an honest conversation about cultural intelligence (CQ) without addressing white privilege,  the idea that white people inherit certain privileges simply by the color of their skin. But privilege is not an easy topic of conversation. People on all sides of the issue quickly become emotional and defensive. People of color are fatigued by having to prove the point to white colleagues while many white people feel anything but privileged and experience what Robin DiAngelo refers to as white fragility.

 

Historical Document US Constitution“The Pursuit of Happiness Rightly Understood” – “On the day C.S. Lewis died, his last written work was already in press with the Saturday Evening Post. ‘We have no “right to happiness,”‘ Lewis declared in the essay, by which he meant that we have no moral right to trample the rules of justice to gratify our impulses.”

 

Crying in Church“Crying in Church” – Here’s Martha Park in Image: “When I first started attending church again, I found myself crying at some point during every service. It could happen any time: at the start of worship, when my dad stands in the hallway ringing a hand bell, the signal for us all to settle into our pews; or at the start of a hymn I have not heard in church for years but find myself humming even now; or when my father baptizes a baby and asks us all to promise we will ‘nurture one another in the Christian faith and life.'”

 

king-kong-story“Data from a Century of Cinema Reveals How Movies Have Evolved” – Okay, so I have to admit that I’m a cinephile. I love film, even if our family has agreed to forego movies for the summer to take advantage of the beautiful Wisconsin summers. But in this article, Greg Miller at Wired explores how shorter shots, different patterns of shots, more motion, and changing light has shifted the way that movies are developed and our experience of film.

 

MusicHenryk Górecki, Symphony No. 3 [“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”], Op. 36

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]