Monday, August 15, 2011

Re|Train - Disciple

I figured this blog would be a good place to give my re-cap of ReTrain as I move through the program and share what the Lord is teaching me through the process. It lets others in on the main ideas and highlights and keeps me accountable to actually do something with what I’m learning... so here goes.

This first leg of the course was titled “Disciple” and was taught by Pastor Bill Clem from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Pastor Bill has taught this class the previous 2 years here at ReTrain and out of that has come a helpful BOOK with the same title as the course. In prep for the class I felt as if I wasn’t learning these new and revolutionary ideas but rather there was a stripping away of some of the secondary issues that surround what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and getting to the core idea that a disciple of Jesus is one who gets his identity from Jesus. This shaped the approach to the whole week. Pastor Bill masterfully shepherded the students (about 120 of us) through what it means to be a Disciple.

I was able to connect with a group of guys who will make up the corhort of which I am a part for the duration of ReTrain... the Wallingford Lead Pastor’s Cohort! Its a mix of guys from Mars Hill, a couple of Acts29 guys and a bunch of guys from different backgrounds all seeking to be equipped to serve the flock to which God has called them! They are a great group of guys and I am very much looking forward to getting to know them better as we wrestle through ReTrain over the course of the coming 10 months!

Big Take-Away...
As part of our time this month we were trained in “Gospel Coach”... a process developed to help church leaders to really shepherd the flock of God...

As part of that training we got some time to practice coaching and digging into each others lives. I worked with a guy named Brandon from my cohort who took his turn in “coaching” me. Brandon is a pastor of a church in Northwest Washington and we paired up for this exercise. He was gracious and direct and about 20 minutes into our practice, empowerd by the Holy Spirit, he landed a very well-placed left-hook on my pride:

“Perhaps your heart isn’t as inclined to Jesus as you think...”

You see as we were talking about things that I feel that I struggle with I wanted to talk about how I felt inconsistent in the different areas of my life that require discipline. If my discipline is moved or directed by anything other than a pure affection for Christ then it becomes a burden and then I am prone to justify myself and take the easy path or neglect that area needing discipline entirely.

In that moment I had the option to push back and say, “well... its not that bad.” or “I don’t know if I would say that...” but the reality was plain as day... as much as I do love Christ and desire to know Him and worship Him, my affection for him gets crowded out by my love for myself far too often.

It was a great picture of “iron sharpening iron” and my hope is that this would be normative for our cohort as we traverse this material through ReTrain.

I was blessed by my cohort and on top of that I am rooming with a great guy named Paul from Squamish, British Columbia (Eh?) and we are hosted by a GREAT family (Rick & Elizabeth James) who are expecting their first child in January and attend Mars Hill at Shoreline.

Please pray for Rick and Elizabeth as they prepare for baby & pray for my new friend Brandon, his family, and his church (Brier Church).

Overall... great, fun experience and very challenging to both my head and my heart... now to do my homework...


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We need the Gospel Every Day

Another reminder that the Gospel isn't something we hear and respond to once to get saved and them move away from it. We need it... I need it every day. Apparently Martin Luther needed it too...

"I myself have been preaching and cultivating [the Gospel of grace] through reading and writing for almost twenty years and still feel the old clinging dirt of wanting to deal so with God that I may contribute something so that He will give me His grace in exchange for my holiness." - Luther (Commentary on Galatians - as quoted by Scott Thomas in his book Gospel Coach.

Preach the Gospel to yourself.

"... we can say that the Gospel is just for non-Christians who don't know Jesus yet, and they need the Gospel. But for me, for us, those that are Christians, we need the Gospel every day." - Andrew Loewen [emphasis mine]

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Worship Theology - "Absent from Flesh" (and a rant about christian music)

If you are around River City it might seem that we have some sort of fascination with Sojourn music. In fact... we do. Sojourn (Louisville, KY) has done a great job reviving some great hymn texts with really excellent music!

Tangent/Soap box: If you've spent any time with me you know that sometimes I can be a bit critical... and you may have heard that criticism leveled at the current crop of Christian music and worship songs out there. I think that we too often promote some (most) of the music on Christian radio as the next best song because the lyrics say something inspirational or mildly relating to Jesus or God or something close... when in reality it is not that great (either lyrically or musically) and comes across as a bad knock-off of the Top 40 Pop music we have to endure on the radio... My hope would be that we would, out of devotion to Christ because of His accomplished work on our behalf, strive to do everything (sing, write songs, mop floors, fulfill our callings) to God's glory and not because autotune on 20-something female singers with quasi-dance beats is IN now so we should sing about Jesus to those same dance beats and call it "good" music, art, whatever. It smacks of a worldly perspective on our lives as followers of Jesus instead of an eternal perspective (Col 3:1-4) ... and reminds me of a line from Norm MacDonald when he was once hosting SNL's Weekend Update,

"Kenny G announced today that he'll be releasing a new Christmas CD. Happy Birthday, Jesus. Hope you like crap!"
**(my appolgies to Kenny G... and my mom... because I think she owns that Kenny G. Christmas CD)

So... where was I? Oh yes... that is why I so MUCH enjoy what I'm hearing out of Sojourn, and a number of other folks who are incorporating rich Biblical theology with very compelling music (folks like Bifrost Arts, Indelible Grace, as well as a number of churches who are writing and arranging their own music... some of which can be found on NoiseTrade for download)!

Ok... on with the Song - Absent from Flesh
Written by Isaac Watts and revised/arranged By Jamie Barnes

Absent from flesh, O blissful thought

What joy this moment brings

Freed from the blame my sin has brought,

From pain and death and its sting.

Absent from flesh, O Glorious day!

In one triumphant stroke

My reckoning paid, my charges dropped

and the bonds 'round my hands are broke.


I go where God and glory shine,

To one eternal day

This failing body I now resign,

For the angels point my way.

For the angels point my way.

Absent from flesh! then rise, my soul,

Where feet nor wings could climb,

Beyond the sky, where planets roll,

And beyond all keep of time.

CCLI Song #5918890 CCLI License #1888971 © Sojourn Community Church

I think this is a great song of celebration for what Christ has done in making us new creations IN Him! Now... Watts, as a hymn writer is poetic in his word choice and, in a few places, isn't the most clearly understood theologically. There are two areas where people have asked questions about this song and I'd like to address them.

1 - in all the language about being absent from flesh are we saying that the mortal/created world is bad and only the spirit/immaterial is good? Isn't that gnosticism?
2 - what the HECK does it mean that the angels are "pointing my way" to glory? Where does it say THAT in the Bible?

Good questions...

1 - Revised gnosticism?
One of gnosticism's main ideas is that the material world is bad and the way of salvation from the material is some from of esoteric or intuitive knowledge or understanding of self, god, or the universe. That is FALSE teaching... AND that is NOT what Paul is saying when he talks about denying the flesh (or, what Watts is referring to here in this hymn text). Romans 7 is a great reminder that our flesh, even as Christians, is at war with sin even while we are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit in Christ. Not only that Paul realizes that although God created everything (1 John 1:1-3) and that it was created good (Gen. 1), it is marred by sin (Romans 8:20-22) and that while God's creation is glorious and bears his marks it is only temporal now... and thus the present sufferings are not worth comparing to the Glory that will appear at the consummation of all things (Romans 8:18)! So we are then able to resign our mortal bodies and all their failings in hope of life NOW in Christ and the life to come in Glory! It is, I think, a very hopeful part of the song and encouraged me when I feel tired, broken, and weak.

2 - What about all this angel talk?
The Bible tells us some things about angels (they are God's servants - Luke 4:10, they are God's messengers - Luke 1:11-13; 26-33 & Luke 2:9-12, and they are worshippers and heralds - Rev. 5:11-14, Revelation 21 & 22). Now, we need to be carful to not attribute things to angels or our experience that aren't in the Scriptures as Truth without discernment... so, we are not building a theology that Angels literally stand and point to heaven in front of us. BUT, as we read in Revelation 21 & 22, John is being directed, by an angel to behold the glory that is the New Heavens and the New Earth and God unveiling His glory and making all things fully new! So, the use of poetic license to paint a picture of that final and glorious day is, I think, allowable and, in fact, aligns well with the picture of John's Revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit to be written into the Scriptures!

What this DOES mean is that perhaps it would helpful (and I should do this more often anyway) if I took a little more time to explain some of the songs we sing when we gather for corporate worship. If I take my responsibilities seriously... which I do... as a teacher of God's Word (even in song) then it is incumbent upon me to make sure I am truly helping those whom God has placed in my care hear and understand, by the power of the Holy Spirit, who it is that we are worshipping and, in this case, truly understand the glorious picture of the already/not yet... that as we wrestle against our flesh (and we should) we can also rest in God's finished work in Christ... already accomplished... not yet fully revealed... but it will be one day when Jesus returns in all His glory to claim those who belong to the Father! Good stuff.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Love Lustres at Calvary - The Valley Of Vision

Christ was all anguish that I might be all joy,
cast off that I might be brought in,
trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,
surrendered to hell's worst that I might attain heaven's best,
stripped that I might be clothed,
wounded that I might be healed,
athirst that I might drink,
tormented that I might be comforted,
made a shame that I might inherit glory,
entered darkness that I might have eternal light.
My Saviour wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,
groaned that I might have endless song,
endured all pain that I might have unfading health,
bore a thorny crown that I might have a glory-diadem,
bowed his head that I might uplift mine,
experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,
closed his eyes in death that I might gaze upon unclouded brightness,
expired that I might for ever live.
O Father, who spared not thine only Son that thou mightest spare me,
All this transfer thy love designed and accomplished;
Help me to adore thee by lips and life.

Puritan prayer, from
The Valley Of Vision

Monday, March 14, 2011

Japan, God's Sovereignty, and Hope

Unless you've been under a rock this past weekend, it is likely that you've at least heard some report of the effects of a MASSIVE earthquake near the coast of Northern Japan that sent a violent and devastating Tsunami that battered the coast of Japan. Its effects were felt (albeit much less damaging) on the western coast of the United States hours later...

There is no doubting that this is a significant 'natural' disaster.

If you are like me, you've likely seen photos and video of some of the damage and have had to pick your jaw up off of the table...

Here is one of the more amazing videos I've seen:

Also - Here are some images from above - Before & After Photos

One of the most astonishing things I have read is that this particular earthquake (5th largest ever in terms of scale ratings if I'm not mistaken) said that it moved the coastline of Japan as much as 8 feet! ARTICLE


By all accounts it is heartbreaking. As with most tragic situations many people wonder what they can/should do? How does one make sense of all of this? For the Christian... where does God come in here?

John Piper posted a prayer for Japan that rocked and resonated with my heart...

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.

A Prayer for Japan

I too have been asking a couple of questions:
1 - What should I do?
2 - What does this mean for me as a follower of Jesus?

To answer the first I think it is prudent for Amy (my wife) and I to consider how we might be able to make some room in our finances to give some funds to The Salvation Army or another organization that will put it to good use to meet the needs of those who find themselves homeless and broken and grieving. I think we (my wife & I) should also set aside some money for organizations like Churches Helping Churches ( who stepped in to help the local church in Haiti meet the needs of the people around them in a time of disaster... and perhaps serve the local churches in Japan to help them to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless for the people of Northern Japan.

Those are some practical things that I can do from my cold but rather comfortable place here in Fargo, ND.

But what about the other question? In some ways... this one is deeper. Not more important that meeting the physical needs of those in distress BUT more significant in that it informs and directs our response to this need and every other need (both small and great) that comes our way.

I think Jesus gives us some insight in Luke 13. (Luke 13:1-5)

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.'"

So what does this mean? The people were asking a question about the wrongness of what Pilate had done. Man's sin against man. Jesus' answer is something like, "do you think that they are in worse spiritual condition because this happened to them?"

Then Jesus goes on to reference natural disaster... "or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you..."

This terrible thing happened to them... a tower fell and crushed them... but were they killed because they were worse sinners? Of course not. Jesus' answer is no... and he continues... "but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

All of these things point us to the truth that we all deserve to be overtaken by the flood... and crushed under the weight of sins tower topping on our heads. And yet, God's kindness is extended to us in Jesus... and we repent of our sin and call out for salvation. He is our hope.

For the follower of Jesus, these things should cause us to repent and it screams to a broken world the kindness of God... that his mercy is extended... To quote Piper's prayer, "
And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head."

Pray for Japan. Pray for the latent sin in your own heart to be rooted out as God has granted you and I a new day of life to trust in Him for our salvation...

That is where I find myself today... Soli Deo Gloria.


(p.s. I have found this sermon particularly helpful in working through the reality of God and His sovereignty in the midst of tragedy! Difficult but helpful. --Where Is God?--)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gospel Fueled Worship - Tullian Tchividjian

“Our main problem in the Christian life is not that we don’t try hard enough to be good, but that we haven’t thought out the deep implications of the gospel and applied its powerful reality to all parts of our life. Real spiritual growth happens as we continually rediscover the gospel.

The same dynamic explains the primary purpose of corporate worship: to rediscover the mighty acts of God in Christ’s coming to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. We gather in worship to celebrate God’s grip on us, not our grip on God."

–Tullian Tchividjian, “Worship: It’s a Big Deal,” in Don’t Call It a Comeback: The Old Faith For a New Day, Ed. Kevin DeYoung (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 222-223.

You can read Pastor Tchividjian's whole blog post HERE.