My New Christmas Tradition

Whether it’s ugly sweaters, epic outdoor light displays, Christmas baking (yes, please),watching “Elf,” “Home Alone,” “A Christmas Story,” or (for you traditionalists) “It’s a Wonderful Life,” everybody has some holiday traditions.Jimmie-Johnson-in-Ugly-Christmas-Sweater

The consistency of doing something the same way or in the same location with the same people year after year embeds memories of what is important to a family. My family has lots of Christmas traditions, but for some reason, celebrating Advent has not been one of them. I don’t know why, but it was never a part of my church or family experience. A few of the churches we attended while I was growing up lit an “Advent Candle” every Sunday in December, but I don’t remember them ever explaining what they meant. (Read more about making sure our memorials have meaning here).

We have always done something to prepare for Christmas. When the kids were younger we had a countdown calendar that told the story of the birth of Jesus by adding one character to a nativity scene every day until Jesus was added on Christmas morning. We also used the great resource “What God Wants for Christmas” to share with the kids about the birth of Jesus during the week of Christmas.

But, I have never intentionally set aside the month of December to contemplate the coming of Jesus and prepare my heart in worship of him…until this year. Now my question is, “Why haven’t I done this before?” This year, at the encouragement of my awesome wife we are using John Piper’s free eBook, “The Dawning of Indestructible Joy” to lead our family through Advent devotions. I am reading the daily entry in the morning during my quiet time and then we are reading them together as a family at night.

Here’s why I think Advent will become one of my traditions:

1. Priorities – It is easy to get sucked into the materialism of Christmas. Focusing on daily worship of Jesus has kept me from putting too much emphasis on the wish list side of Christmas.
2. Connection – Reading the same devotion daily and then sharing with one another at night unites our family around our faith.
3. Perspective – Advent devotions help me to not just focus on the Bible stories centered on the event of the birth of Jesus (Matthew 1-2; Luke 1-2, etc.) but to see how every part of the Scripture points to the coming of the Messiah or looks back to his coming.

So, if you’re feeling as uptight as Clark Griswald when cousin Eddie shows up for dinner, relax! It’s not too late for you, either. Here are a few Advent resources you can use with your family.

The Dawning Of Indestructible Joy by John Piper

The Expected One by Scott James (Great for young families)

Multiple Advent Reading Plans available on the YouVersion Bible App.

Turning Toward Mission, Step One

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lel4nd via Compfight cc

Last week I wrote about the need for churches to turn outward and amplify the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I also promised practical steps for making your church systems a megaphone for making disciples. We are all seeking effective approaches. Everyone is seeking the steps that will lead to success. I am always reluctant simply to give a pragmatic answer. The books, articles, seminars–and blogs–offering the step-by-step approach are legion. But no matter what system or steps one chooses to implement, I believe true missional realignment in ministry or in your personal life comes from two key ingredients. The first is spiritual renewal. The second is disciplined, hard work. I want to focus on step one. [Read more…]

Funnel or Megaphone?

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Stig Nygaard via Compfight cc

Funnels and megaphones are essentially the same shape. The difference is in application. Most church systems-even the coolest and most progressive-operate like funnels. Churches plan outreach strategies, attractional services, or events designed as entry points to gather people from the masses. Maybe they even inspire church members to “invest and invite,” but the outcome can be the same. People are “poured” into the big end of the funnel and collected into the church’s systems. This is referred to as assimilation. It’s a noble enterprise. The intention is to gather people as the church and develop them within the system to become disciples of Christ. Too often, though, the means becomes the end. [Read more…]

9 Steps for Self Examination

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Photo Credit: nathanmac87 via Compfight cc

“The hardest person to be honest with is yourself.” I don’t know who said it, but it certainly rings true for me. Honest self examination, though, is an essential spiritual discipline. In order to plot a course to where we are going, we have to know where we are starting. I’m really talking about confession – acknowledging our sin and our need for God’s grace in our lives. We know confession is essential, but many times we limit confession to our actions. In Mark 7:14-23 we find Jesus teaching His disciples that what really defiles a person comes from within—from the heart. Growth in Christ necessitates times for personal reflection, admission of faults and failures, and repentance. Here are 9 steps to help you in practicing the art of self examination. [Tweet “In order to plot a course to where we are going, we have to know where we are starting.”] [Read more…]

Shaped by Mission

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: timtom.ch via Compfight cc

Should the church shape the mission or should the mission shape the church? It sounds like a “chicken and egg” comparison, but if you are a Christian your answer will determine your trajectory as a disciple of Jesus.

Christopher Wright reminds us that, “It is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission–God’s mission” (The Mission of God, 62).

In other words, mission should define church. Church should not define mission. In The Forgotten Ways, Alan Hirsch puts it this way: “Christology determines missiology, and missiology determines ecclesiolgy…It is Jesus who determines the church’s mission in the world, and therefore our sense of purpose and mission comes from being sent by him into the world” (142). We must start with what we believe about Christ, which determines what we believe about our mission, which in turn should determine how we form and practice church.

Consider these words of Jesus about our mission:

“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

Consider these words about Jesus and our mission:

“So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

Not only should mission define church, it should shape church. Conventional churches conform the mission to the shape of the church. This looks like hosting evangelistic events and expecting the spiritually unconvinced to come, like that trunk or treat scheduled for later this month. It looks like encouraging (or shaming) church members to bring their unconvinced friends to the building, campus, or event. It looks like a visitation program that fits evangelism into the church schedule at the convenience of the church member with little consideration for the schedules or privacy of the one visited. It looks like a calendar so filled with campus-located activities that members never have margin to be around the people that Jesus went outside the gate to die for! This is a church-shaped mission.

[Tweet “What if we stopped inviting people into our buildings and started inviting them into our lives? “]

What if we conformed church to the shape of the mission? This would be unconventional church. What if we looked at the culture and the context of the people we are trying to reach and tailor our mission to living among them – just like the missionaries we send overseas do? What if we stopped inviting people into our buildings and started inviting them into our lives? What if we started introducing them to the truth of Jesus on their turf instead of trying to get them onto ours?

What if, once they embraced the claims of Christ, we planted the church among them? What if this new church was shaped by an ongoing mission to reach deeper into their culture instead of ripping them out of their mission field and assimilating them into our programs? What if we stopped spiritually neutering new believers by busying them in our buildings instead of equipping them to bear fruit in their own communities?

What if we, in the words of the author of Hebrews, got outside the camp? That’s where Jesus is!

What if we, in the words of Jesus, lived as if we were sent by him into the world? That’s how he told us to live!

Here’s my confession: Lately I’ve let the conventional church encroach on my mission. No more. By God’s grace, I vow to let mission shape my view of church.

What would that look like for you?

We’re All Broken

One of my college pastors used to say we that we should treat everyone we meet as if they have a broken heart because they probably do. That statement has hit home lately as I have encountered lots of brokenness in the lives of those around me. This brokenness includes grief over the death of a parent, a young mom suffering with cancer, parents with a teenager in crisis, friends whose adoption process was short-circuited, a marriage in jeopardy, abuse, addiction, even suicide. And I think I’ve forgotten some.

Here’s the truth: It hurts.

Another truth: Brokenness is a common denominator. Some of these friends that I am thinking of are very far from God while others are some of the most mature Christ-followers I know. Brokenness touches everyone regardless of faith, class, race or tax bracket. And, do you want me to be honest? I’m broken, too.

[Tweet “We’re all broken. No matter your faith, class, race, or tax bracket.”]

We’re all broken. We may try to act like we have it all together, but each of us is damaged in some way. We live with the scars of wounds inflicted by our own choices and the choices of others. We live in a fallen world. We are fallen people. In the words of recording artist Lecrae, “We some broken people, came from broken homes, broken hearts inside of a broken soul.” Reality. [Read more…]

For My Father

Note: My dad passed away from the effects of lung cancer on June 16, 2000, the Friday before Father’s Day. The following is from a journal entry I wrote on August 18, 2000. I post it here in memory of him and to encourage every one of you who has lost a dad too soon…

I want him back. I want to talk to him about golf or NASCAR or Sunday school or anything else. I want to share a meal with him. I want to go back to being little and go to work with him on a Saturday and draw pictures of police cars at his desk. I want to just be with him. [Read more…]

How To Make Disciples Who Make Disciples

I’m passionate about the Why and the What of disciple-making. I can talk about the theology and philosophy of disciple-making all day. Yet, I’m also aware that there is a rising awareness and conviction among people about the importance of making disciples  (see #3 in my denomination’s recent report on declining baptisms) and they’re asking the next question after Why and What. They want to know How. The fact is we won’t create a disciple-making culture until we are making disciples and teaching them to do the same!

Here’s one approach to disciple-making, called the triad model, that I have used effectively in both established church and missional settings. [Read more…]

A Thought on Defending the Faith

I’ve been reading through 1 Peter in my devotional time lately. This little letter in the New Testament grips me because it addresses the early church as it is beginning to encounter the full-on assault of a hostile culture. The Holy Spirit, through the pen of Peter, is answering the question – “How should we live as Christ-followers when it seems like all elements of society are opposed to us?” At the time he was writing, persecution was becoming a reality for the early church, starting with social marginalization. These first-century Christians were facing job loss, neighborhood shunning, and even violent attacks because of their claim that Jesus Christ is Lord and a lifestyle that matches the courage of their convictions. Sound familiar?

Right in the middle of that context I discovered a verse that I am guilty of taking out of context. In fact, if you’re a Christ-follower who grew up in the youth groups of the 1970’s and 1980’s you probably have heard or used the verse out of context, too: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). It is the “Apologetics” verse. Apologetics comes from the Greek work in that verse that we translate “defense.” Clearly the verse (really a part of a verse) is telling Christians that we have a duty to be able to give a verbal defense as to why we believe the things that we believe about Christ. During my crisis of faith in college, the Lord used books that were classified as apologetics books to help me really understand why I could trust the Bible and why the claims of Christ are true. I am grateful that in His providence and grace God directed me to such helpful material.

But when I read the bigger context of this call for apologetics, I get a bigger picture of what Peter is suggesting about defending the faith:

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:14-17 ESV) 

Do you see it? Peter is suggesting a posture that is far greater than just knowing facts about the reliability of the Bible or the different theories of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Peter is saying this: Your conduct is your greatest apologetic. When you suffer as a consequence of your faith, earn a hearing for what you believe by how you behave. This is sobering!

Recently, James Emery White said “Old school apologetics are out. New school apologetics are in.” As one in the old school his words caused me tension. Yet I believe he’s right. Too many times I’ve been more concerned about winning the argument about Jesus than winning the person to Jesus. As we face more opposition by the norms of culture and the laws of our governments, Christ-followers will have more opportunities to show the difference that being a disciple of Jesus makes in our lives. It’s what an increasingly non-religious world needs to see before they will want to hear.

As Christianity becomes the minority culture in America we will have more opportunities to defend our beliefs. We will do so by faithful conduct in the midst of opposition that an unbelieving world will find unbelievable. Now that’s really old school!

 

 

Doing Evangelism Differently

I live in a small subdivision in the suburbs. In an effort to stay informed and communicate with one another, our community has a Facebook group. Three times in the past three months there have been posts on our Facebook page about strange people going through our neighborhood. In each case words like “beware” or “heads up” were used to alert us to the danger of these people, letting us know how they were dressed and that they were carrying books that looked like Bibles, and that they were probably “religious.”

 No Soliciting
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

In the last of these instances, earlier this week, my neighbor politely asked them to leave because our neighborhood has a sign clearly posted at the entrance that says “No Soliciting.” The visitors were, by my neighbor’s account, very rude to him. It turns out that these visitors were Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing our neighborhood with invitations for an upcoming event. [Read more…]