Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 20, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I focus on the life of Moses through the lens of Psalm 90:1-2:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

In a confusing time we can often feel confused about how to come to a place of peace, rest, or belonging. If we are trying to squeeze that out of our circumstances in these times we will never get there. However, if we put the anchor for our souls in the eternal God we will be on the right track.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 13, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I reference 1 Thessalonians 5:17, one of the shortest verses in the Bible:

 pray continually… (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

The word behind “continually” in the Greek is also used of things like a persistent cough. We are to be persistent in prayer or, as the New Living Translation renders it, “Never stop praying.”

The life of hearing God must continue into our lives beyond set times and places. Some of the best guides on this are two men from vastly different times: Brother Lawrence, a 17th century French monk, and Frank Laubach, a 20th century missionary and worldwide ambassador for literacy. Both of these men learned how to cultivate everyday conversation with God, both speaking and hearing. I would encourage you to read their books, Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God and Laubach’s Letters by a Modern Mystic and Games with Minutes. Hearing God does not mean we withdraw from life but that we engage in life with God. We can begin to converse with God in the midst of our activities, work , and other conversations.

This serves as a counterbalance to set times of prayer, which I talked about last week in my video update. Fixed-hour prayer and Scripture reading overflows into conversational relationship with God in prayer, while conversation relationship with God in prayer fuels our fixed-hour meeting with God in Scripture and prayer.

Hungry Like a Newborn Baby: what do you desire in your spiritual life?

newborn baby

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Think of yourselves in this way, writes Peter, as a newborn baby, helpless and hungry, and with one sort of desire: to be fed. In the various cravings that exist in life, cultivate that one craving for pure spiritual milk; that is, the only nourishment that comes from God Himself that enables us to grow up in our faith. Unlike the other cravings, which can become poisonous to our spirits and stunt our growth (see the options mentioned just before this in 1 Peter 2:1), this craving is appropriate, necessary and leads toward health spiritually.

The craving for spiritual milk mentioned by Peter here precedes the activity of feeding, which precedes the growth that is to come. Do we want to grow in our life with God? Then it is important to be aware of what we are feeding our spiritual life with. Is it for our good or not? But no matter how important the substance of our feeding is, it is perhaps even more important to pay attention to the desires—the cravings—that motivate us in life. Our cravings can lead us toward soul-nourishment or to soul-poison.

So what do we desire at the deepest levels of our souls? May we invite God into that place today, letting Him shape our desires and then feed us with true spiritual food.

Senior Pastor Video Update in the Time of COVID-19 (May 6, 2020)

Here is my latest video update for Eastbrook Church as we navigate the time of COVID-19. I will continue to re-post these weekly video updates here at my blog for those who have not seen it or who are not part of our church but could use the encouragement. You can watch it here or at the Eastbrook Church Vimeo channel.

In this update I reference Mark 1:35 in reference to Jesus drawing away to a solitary place:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

This theme of Jesus’ engagement in solitude to meet with the Father pervades the gospel accounts. Here are a few examples:

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. (Matthew 14:13)

At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. (Luke 4:42)

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

If this piques your interest, you may also enjoy reading a few other posts here on my blog on these themes:

All Real Faith Involves Discipline: Albert E. Day on cooperation with God

sunshine-dust-motes

I encountered these provocative words from Albert Edward Day in Discipline and Discovery. While perhaps in some ways using exaggeration to make his point, Day strikes home the importance of cooperating with God in the process of spiritual growth.

True holiness is a witness that cannot be ignored. Real sainthood is a phenomenon to which even the worlding pays tribute. The power of a life, where Christ is exalted, would arrest and subdue those who are bored to tears by our thin version of Christianity and wholly uninterested in mere churchmanship

We have talked much of salvation by faith, but there has been little realization that all real faith involves discipline. Faith is not a blithe ‘turning it all over to Jesus.’ Faith is such confidence in Jesus that it takes seriously his summons, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’

We have loudly proclaimed our dependence upon the grace of God, never guessing that the grace of God is given only to those who practice the grace of self-mastery. ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for god is at work in you both to will and to work his good pleasure.’ People working out, God working in—that is the New Testament synthesis.

Humans, working out their salvation alone, are a pathetic spectacle—hopelessly defeated moralists trying to elevate themselves by their own bootstraps.

God, seeking to work in a person who offers no disciplined cooperations, is a heartbreak spectacle—a defeated Savior trying to free, from sins and earthiness, a person who will not life his or her face out of the dust, or shake off the shackles of the egocentric self.

Real discipline is not vain effort to save one’s self. It is an intelligent application to the self of those psychological principles which enable the self to enter into life-giving fellowship with God who is our salvation.

In all Christian literature there is no writer who had a clearer conviction concerning the salvation provided only in Christ than has Paul. His self-despair ended in that marvelous, ageless insight, ‘I thank God, through Jesus Christ, my Lord.’ ‘I know whom I have believed,’ he cried in an ecstasy of gladness, ‘and am persuaded that he is able.’ Paul was a salvationist, in the noblest sense.

But Paul was also a disciplinarian. ‘I beat my body to keep it in subjection.’ ‘They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.’ ‘So fight I, not as one who beateth the air.’ ‘Mortify therefore your members which are upon earth.’ ‘Laying aside every weight and the sin which so easily beset us.’ ‘No man that warreth, entangleth himself with the affairs of this life.’ These are not he words of a man who scorned discipline!

On might multiply such statements as these from Paul—all of them the almost spontaneous evidence of the disciplines which he, trusting in Christ, imposed upon himself in his eager effort to give Christ that co-operation without which not even Christ can save a soul and make a saint.

We must recover for ourselves the significance and the necessity of the spiritual disciplines. Without them we shall continue to be impotent witnesses for Christ. Without them Christ will be impotent in his efforts to use us to save our society from disintegration and death.

The Weekend Wanderer: 31 August 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.

91885“What Majority-World Missions Really Looks Like” – “Beauty Ndoro is part of a growing movement of international missionaries sent out from the Global South, which includes Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. According to Christianity in Its Global Context, 1970–2020, a report by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 66 percent of all Christians will be from the Global South by 2020, up from 43 percent in 1970. This could reach 75 percent by 2050. Christianity is surging in these regions, even as North America and Western Europe see the number of religiously unaffiliated growing at an increasingly rapid pace.”

 

91883“In Christ, Alone: Most Believers Say They Don’t Need Others for Discipleship” – Christianity Today reports on a recent LifeWay Research study on spiritual growth in the life of American Christians. The trend toward individualism continues in most American churches and Christians. However, it is worth paying attention to this: “Hispanic and African American churchgoers may represent an exception to the overall trend, showing even greater progress in discipleship while deepening community ties.”

 

Liz Dong“Confessions of a Chinese Dreamer” – Here is Liz Dong, sharing her story of faith, immigration, and God overcoming the idols of her life. “The summer of 2009 was one of the scariest times of my life. I should have been excited about heading to Northwestern University on a scholarship. Instead, I struggled to sleep. As a first-generation Chinese immigrant with a precarious immigration status, my future rested on my academic performance. I didn’t have safety nets if I fell short.”

 

McCarthy The Road“God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – As an undergraduate, I studied English literature at Wheaton College under the tutelage of some amazing professors, like Alan Jacobs, Jill Peláez-Baumgaertner, Leland Ryken, and many more. They taught me many things, including a love for a wide-breadth of literature, appreciation for the craft of writing, and savoring the intersection of faith and the arts. I read widely, yet there are a few books I return to often. One of those, for me, is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, which I just finished reading again this past week. While this book is intense and sometimes gruesome, the combination of carnage and beauty, death and hope, in the midst of the world that seems alternately godless and God-rich is marvelous. Here is an essay specifically on McCarthy’s themes of God, morality, and meaning in this outstanding novel.

 

college classroom.jpg“The Loneliness Crisis on Campus” – I started my full-time, vocational ministry career working with college students who attended the various campuses in the city of Milwaukee. Now I have my own college student attending a Big10 university. Here is an article from InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on the loneliness epidemic gripping students on university campuses, and what it means for ministry to college students today.

 

p07l27rv“What the Voice Inside Your Head Says About You” – From the BBC: “Psychologist Russell Hurlburt at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, has spent the last few decades training people to see inside their own minds more clearly in an attempt to learn something about our inner experiences at large. Though many individual studies on inner speech include only a small number of participants, making it hard to know whether their results apply more widely, Hurlburt estimates he’s been able to peek inside the minds of hundreds of people since he began his research. What he’s found suggests that the thoughts running through our heads are a lot more varied than we might suppose.”

 

Cantor-Dark-Side-of-the-American-Dream-683x1024“Paul Cantor and the Dark Side of the American Dream” – Titus Techera reviews Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies by Paul Cantor. “Paul Cantor has a new book on popular culture, completing his long-term project on the American dream. His previous book, The Invisible Hand In Popular Culture, established how real the American dream is and how it connects freedom and success. His new book, Pop Culture and the Dark Side of the American Dream: Con Men, Gangsters, Drug Lords, and Zombies, examines the dangers of individualism: apathy and violence; the yearning for success whatever the cost; and the ongoing failure of confidence in America.”

 

“Everything Is Waiting for You” – a poem by David Whyte from River Flow: New and Selected Poems.

 

Music: James MacMillan, “Seven Last Words from the Cross,” performed by the Dmitri Ensemble directed by Graham Ross.

[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.]

Notes on Church Growth

These notes came from my preparation for my message on Ephesians 4, “A Crash Course in Church Growth,” from a few weeks ago.

Church growth is founded upon the unity we receive from God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Church growth is something that happens to us over time and by God’s good grace, but not without intention and yielding to God.

Church growth involved God and other people, for it is the church who grow toward Christlikeness together, and not ideally alone.

Church growth is not all that much about building, budgets, and bodies in seats, but more about growth toward maturity in Jesus Christ.

Church growth involves those who Christ has appointed – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers – who actively equip, serve, and build up the church in solid faith and overarching love.

Church growth has a goal, and it is not some utopian human ideal but Christ, the Head, who descended and ascended, and who is the Highest Name.

Church growth lives in the “already, but not yet” of lived human existence. We live in Christ as His people and yet are growing through Christ to be more truly His people.