Archive for August, 2009
This past weekend I concluded our summer series on the Kingdom of God. The lesson was based on the parable found in Luke 19:11ff concerning the ten minas. I concluded with describing three attitudes that people have concerning God and their resources.
The first attitude is that of the consumer. The consumer says “what’s God’s is mine and I’m going to take it.” The consumer does not believe that he or she is accountable to God for either their life or their resources.
The next attitude is that of the saver. The saver says “what’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.” In other words, everyone needs to just take care of themselves. Savers do not see their lives in light of the bigger picture of the Kingdom.
The final attitude is that of the giver. The giver says “what’s mine is God’s and he can have it.” The giver understands that their role in life is that of a steward. God is the owner of everything and the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). The fundamental issue of stewardship is ownership, and the fundamental issue of ownership is Lordship.
The two compelling questions from the parable are (1) What has God given to you? and (2) What are you doing with what God has given to you? The blessings, skills, talents, and resources God bestows are ways in which God informs our role in the Kingdom of God. As my friend always says, keep inventory of your blessings from God so you know what God expects of you. My prayer is that you will live life as more than a giver…that you will live your life as one who invests all in the present Kingdom of God.
One of the books I have been reading devotionally through the summer of 2009 is Longing for God by Gayle D. Beebe and Richard J. Foster. The book reviews the seven paths of Christian devotion as exemplified by people from the past who have pioneered the work of spiritual formation.
One of the helpful contributions was the following section titled “Twelve Degrees of Humility” by Benedict of Nursia. Best known for The Rule of St. Benedict, Benedict (480-547) developed a monastic order which sought to cultivate new communities of faith in the face of the fall of the Roman Empire. I enjoyed this section on cultivating humility. Even though his thoughts are 15 centuries old, they ring loud and clear to our contemporary Western culture.
1. Cultivate humility by always keeping the fear of God before us and express this attitude in a spirit of obedience. Obedience is crucial if we are to learn to follow God. It forces us to subjugate our ego to divine love and service.
2. Follow the Lord’s will and not our own. The greatest challenge to our life with God is our predisposition to be egocentric, to insist that life be seen and lived only from our perspective. The objective is to break out of our egocentricism and see the world and our life as God sees it.
3. Develop the ability to receive input from others. Specifically, we are to learn obedience by submitting to a superior. One of the leading indicators of humility is to accept the authority of others.
4. Accept the superior’s instruction in learning perseverance. Persevering in life’s circumstances develops constancy of character. It is rare for life to go exactly our way.
5. Full disclosure of one’s life to a spirit-led, trusted friend. To fully disclose ourselves teaches us how to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions in ways that hold us accountable. It is impossible to face this reality if we share only bits and pieces of our story.
6. Learn contentment in all things and consider everyone greater than ourselves. To be content in every circumstance means to accept willingly whatever life presents. Discretion helps us determine when to correct unbearable circumstances and when to be content with things as they are.
7. Put ourselves lower than everyone else. This teaching supports the belief that if we abase ourselves, others will lift us up.
8. Follow the clear lines of seniority. No one advances beyond their rightful place.
9. Speak only when spoken to. This discipline in meant to help us realize that our value lies in the community and not in ourselves. The hope is for our words to be thoughtful and true, resting on reflection and delivered in proper sequence and order.
10. Avoid laughter. This is not a suppression of joy. Laughter expressing a spirit of contentment comes from a deep contentment with God. Laughter that springs from ridicule destroys community.
11. Speak gently, using reasonable words and humane tones. Speech is the single most significant vehicle for communicating our noblest ideals or our most destructive motivations.
12. Always demonstrate a posture of humility, whether before others or before God. As we ascend each degree of humility, our spirit is refined until humility comes as an instinctive and immediate response.
According to Benedict, there are two outcomes of the work of humility. First, humility helps us understand and imitate the spirit of Christ, and second, humility works to express the highest ideals of the community. When done properly, the cultivation of humility will usher us into the presence of God.
I’ve been a fan of Scot McKnight for some time. He’s a solid New Testament scholar who is bringing some fresh air to some important biblical themes. His blogsite is one of about a half dozen that I routinely frequent. About the only problem I have with McKnight is his love for the Chicago Cubs. But I guess even God’s grace can cover that!
The Blue Parakeet is a simple book that serves those who occupy pulpits and pews. His goal is to help contemporary people deal with the ancient text of the Bible in a responsible way. He tackles some weighty issues such as divorce, homosexuality, and women in ministry to illustrate the present challenges we all have with understanding the Bible and its historical cultural context and bridging the two thousand year gap to our present cultural context.
I won’t wear you out with all of the positive elements of the book, but I do want to mention what I felt was his strongest point. McKnight advocates reading the Bible through tradition without becoming traditional. He writes that “we must learn to read the Bible for ourselves but must be responsible to what the church has always believed.” I felt this was his strongest point and appreciate his call for balance. In our egocentric society its easy to default to “my interpretation” or “my conviction.” Historical interpretations need to inform the development of our contemporary treatment of the text. However, we do need to value thinking for ourselves in light of our present culture. This is a difficult balance to find and I’m glad that McKnight invites the reader into the tension.
I recommend the book to you. It’s readable, clear, and helpful. McKnight won’t tell you what to believe, but he will suggest a helpful approach to figure it out.
at Central Missouri
Northwest Missouri St.
at Southern Illinois
at Central Oklahoma
Southern Nazarene (Homecoming)
Northeastern State (Okla)
at Ouachita Baptist
at St. Joseph’s (Ind)
NCAA D-II Playoffs (Round 1)
NCAA D-II Playoffs (Round 2)
NCAA D-II Playoffs (Quarterfinals)
NCAA D-II Playoffs (Semifinals)
NCAA D-II Championship
We are unapologetically fascinated by treasure. We attend movies such as The DaVinci Code, Angels and Demons, the National Treasure Movies, Indiana Jones Series and Pirates of the Caribbean that captivate our imaginations and foster a spirit of discovering treasure of incredible worth.
From the archeologist to the modern day treasure hunter to the Saturday morning garage sale addict, we bump into treasure seekers all the time. Who among us has never ripped open a new box of cereal and plumbed the depths of the box looking for the prize at the bottom?
All of life is seeking after value. People are fascinated by treasure. Sometimes it comes fortuitously. Some stumble upon it by accident. Sometimes it comes after a long and patient search. However one comes upon it, it is worthwhile. It is treasure.
In Matthew 13:44-46 Jesus told two parables about seeking and finding treasure. In these twin parables, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is valuable beyond estimation. Its value transcends all things and its acquisition merits the loss of all things.
What happens when one happens upon the treasure of the Kingdom of God?
Like a play, theses parables are laid out in three simple movements.
1. When the treasure of the Kingdom is discovered, the future is immediately and irrevocably changed. The kingdom opens my life to the possibility of new worlds, primarily that I will never be the same again. This is the essence of hope. True hope is not our ability to survive or sustain or even to prosper. True hope lies in the possibility of transformation. Hope does not lie in wishfully thinking that my circumstances can change. Hope lies in the fact that I can change.
2. This discovery causes me to change my present direction. In order to obtain the treasure, I must reverse my present direction and exchange all that I possess. This reversal is the key to the acquisition. No transformation in life is possible without a radical reversal.
3. This reversal allows for new possibilities for action that were not thought possible before. Having been freed from all other restrictions, I am enabled to reach their potential to live as God has intended.
The twin parables of the Mustard Seed and the Leaven, found in Matthew 13:31-33, describe the nature of the Kingdom of God. What is the nature of the Kingdom?
1. The Nature of the Kingdom is Unassuming
The initial appearances of the kingdom seem small and insignificant, but result in something large and significant. The seed is the smallest. The small leaven can be hidden. But tiny seeds eventually become big trees and lumps of leaven can affect entire bushels of flour.
The kingdom has come without fanfare. It is unassuming and unimpressive in its initial appearance. This is a principle true throughout the Bible, where
• Babies in baskets deliver nations from slavery;
• Shepherd boys become kings;
• Farmers become prophets;
• Fishermen become apostles; and
• Carpenters become Savior of the world.
Jesus is teaching us not to be hypnotized by size or appearances. He challenges our assumptions about size. Size can never be the measure of assessing the things of God or the work of God’s kingdom.
The seed, though tiny, is still the kingdom of God, and the yeast, though small, is still the kingdom of God.
2. The Nature of the Kingdom is Organic
The kingdom is organic, like seed and soil. The seed goes into the soil and it grows and we don’t know how, yet it does. It’s the nature of the seed to grow and become. As the seed is to the soil, the good news of the Kingdom is to your life. The kingdom produces ultimate consequences out of proportion to its insignificant beginnings. This calls for patience, for neither the seed nor the leaven yield instantaneous results. It takes time for the seed to grow and the yeast to rise.
3. The Nature of the Kingdom is Consuming
These parables are not really about how small things become big. They are about how the seed becomes a tree that overtakes the garden, and how the yeast eventually permeates the entire bushel of flour. The Kingdom consumes our lives. It pushes aside and eventually takes over.
The personal struggle we face is that our nature wants to resist the take-over. (cf. Romans 7) As our flesh resists the take-over of the kingdom, we naturally want to make it a sin problem.
But the problem is not your sin (or your personality, attitude, circumstances, or environment for that matter). The problem is control. So if the problem is not our sin, the solution is not self-restraint. The solution is surrender. You become what you give yourself to, or who you give yourself to.
The kingdom, given time and space, will suffocate the junk in your life to the point that your will become increasingly and reflexively partners with God and his work. It will take over.
Last month Iowa Governor Chet Culver made an impressive announcement. He shared that the state of Iowa ranked 5th in the nation for volunteerism. In 2008, some 886,000 people volunteered to serve their communities through civic organizations, churches, clubs, and organizations. In addition, the city of Des Moines ranked 10th in the nation among United States cities for volunteerism with a volunteer rate of 38.2%.
As a pastor, I work with volunteers everyday. So it would stand to reason that this story created immediate interest. Any leader of a not for profit organization understands the value of volunteers. At the same time, any leader of a not for profit organization is always looking for more!
In this month’s edition of Rev! magazine, Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee outline the seven deadly sins of volunteer recruitment.
Sin #1: Expecting public announcements or sign up sheets to get volunteers. Many churches, including my own, utilize this method of recruitment. We make announcements and hope people will respond. According the authors, volunteers don’t want to “volunteer.” They want to be personally asked to become involved in a ministry opportunity. When recruitment is made strictly through announcements or sign up sheets, we place the burden of response on the volunteer. And when we are non specific in our requests, we usually wind up with non specific responses.
Sin #2: Centralizing the enlistment process to an individual or a group. The article encouraged creating a culture of enlistment, where volunteer leaders are free to add members to their teams. This act shows that the leader is trusted to give direction to a particular responsibility, and also allows the volunteer leader the opportunity to build chemistry and teamwork within the ministry that the leader has been charged with.
Sin #3: Recruiting only those who are willing to make long term commitments. Sometimes people, especially new ones, are reluctant to make their first commitment to volunteer in church a long term commitment. In our particular church, Sunday School leaders are asked to commit for one year. Committee members are asked for a three year commitment. The writers encourage that churches develop ways to develop volunteers by providing them with excellent short term projects that will serve as first experiences. Short term success will yield longer term commitments.
Sin #4: Assuming that “no” means “never.” No can mean no, but it can also mean something else. For example, “no” may simply mean “not now” or “not yet.” This is a timing issue which means that the person needs to be followed up on at a later time. The word “no” can also mean that the opportunity is not the best fit for the volunteer. This is a passion issue which means the recruiter needs to help the potential volunteer find a better fit within the organization. Just because a person says “no” does not mean the answer is “no.”
Sin #5: Recruiting warm bodies. Effective enlistment includes presenting the volunteer with a clear and complete written explanation of the responsibilities of the position.
Sin #6: Asking busy people to do busy work. Many times volunteers don’t respond to opportunities because they don’t sense the significance within the request. Committed people need to feel as though they are being asked to make an important contribution. The moment they sense they are doing “busy-work,” they’ll excuse themselves from participation. Volunteers need to feel as though their contributions are meaningful.
Sin #7: Forgetting that a large part of church leadership is devoted to volunteer management. There comes a time in the life of a leader (paid or volunteer) when they have to discern whether they are leaders of people or leaders of leaders of people. Growth in inhibited when leaders do not work toward expanding their leadership base. After all, one can only do so much.
This past weekend my family enjoyed the 30th anniversary of the Adel Sweet Corn Festival in Adel, IA. Adel, the Dallas County Seat, hosts the annual celebration at the town square. The county courthouse was surrounded by vendors from near and far. The streets were filled with people of all ages. There was laughter as people paused to tell stories or catch up since their last conversation. One of the great features of the festival was the tasty sweet corn. Lots and lots of delicious sweet corn. And it was free!
Just off the southwest corner of the square was a tent where volunteers distributed the free corn. As my family approached the tent, a pleasant lady handed out paper plates, and we waited our turn.
My turn came quickly enough. As I approched the tong bearing volunteer I was required to answer one simple question. “How many?” I said, “two.” I eagerly extended my paper plate, and behold! Free corn! I made my way to the tables that were set up in the street which were lined with generous portions of salt, pepper, butter, and paper towels. I buttered my corn, snatched up a handful of paper towels, and commenced eating. It was good, and the price was right.
Having completed my corn, my curiosity overcame me and I returned to the line. This time I was armed with a question.
“How many ears of corn will you folks give away this weekend?”
“150,000,” said one. Then another chimed in, “We had 10 tons shipped in last night, and it took our volunteers two hours to shuck it all by hand.” It was certainly a point of civic pride.
“How many?” they asked.
Again I said, “two.”
Driving home that afternoon I reflected upon the experience and offer the following observations.
1. Know what you do well. Even if it’s nothing more than sweet corn. Many times in life we miss what we do best by chasing the things we’d like to do best.
2. Celebrate what you do well. Our fine neighbors to the west took their best and threw a party, making their best the central focus of the celebration. I like to eat as much as the next person, but this community genuinely celebrated sweet corn without apology.
3. Use your strength to bring you together. People of all ages were present, walking around with butter dripping from their chins. I was impressed with how this event possessed the power to bring a community together, regardless of age or status. One can’t help but wonder how many people had gathered the night before to hand shuck 10 tons of corn. But it stands to reason that there were several, given the fact they did it in 120 minutes.
4. Use your strength to reach out to others. The Adel Sweet Corn Festival was in Adel. But everyone was welcome. When groups come together around their strengths, it almost seems reflexive to reach out to others with what they’ve discovered.
Anyone who has observed lawns and landscaping is well aware of the ongoing turf battle with weeds. When we moved to Arkansas, we bought a house that had been unoccupied for two years. In a cost cutting move, the builder chose to lay sod around the structure of the house and to seed the rest of the lawn. During those two years, the house had nice, plush grass around its immediate circumference. The rest of the yard was another story. After several estimates we selected a company that came to our home and drenched the soil with weed killer. After the weeds were dead, we had very little grass to compliment our big dirt lawn. Two years later, we were finally in business.
Jesus’ second parable of Matthew 13 regards the wheat and the weeds, found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43. As the story goes, a farmer planted wheat in his field. Under the cover of darkness, an enemy came to the same field and planted darnel (like ryegrass) among the wheat. During the initial phases of growth, the wheat and the darnel looked the same. But as the grain heads began to set on the wheat, the farmer could quickly discern that everything was not as it seemed.
It was popular for some time to read this parable and interpret it as being directed toward people in the church who were not genuine Christians. But Jesus is not addressing this parable to the church. He plainly says, “The field is the world.” The point of the parable is that the Kingdom of God is being sown in tension. God permits the dynamic tension of the Kingdom coming in the midst of an evil world.
The presence of evil in no way discounts the arrival of the kingdom or diminishes the work of the kingdom. We should never be surprised at evil and its opposition to the advance of the Kingdom. (Matthew 11:12) The kingdom has come and is at work with limitless grace, but it is not purging the world of evil. The Jews believed that when the Kingdom would arrive under Messiah’s reign, evil would be eliminated. Not so. The good seed of the Kingdom is being sown and is to be fruitful in the midst of evil, not in the absence of evil.
As good seed in the Kingdom, we cannot be tolerant of evil. But the elimination of evil is not our task. We are not Christian superheroes with masks and capes efforting to stamp out evil. Many who make their task fighting evil end up becoming evil in the process.
On May 31st, 51 year old Scott Roeder walked into a church and murdered renowned abortion doctor George Tiller. When police caught up with Roeder 170 miles later, he surrendered without incident. When Roeder was brought before the judge to enter his plea, he pled “not guilty,” citing that his homicide was justifiable in face of the evil performed by Tiller in his Kansas clinic. As members of the Kingdom we are not fighting evil. God has not delegated that job to us. We are, however, to overcome evil by outshining evil. Evil is overcome by good (Romans 12:9-21). Our job is to be fruitful and to reflect the glory of God in and through our lives (Daniel 12:3).
Judgment will someday come where good and evil will be clearly separated. The consummation of the kingdom brings a sifting. The one who sows the seed is also the one who directs the harvest. But this final judgment will not come until the end of the age when evil will be destroyed once for all.
The plants are identifiable and distinguishable through their fruit. The farmer knows which is wheat and which is weeds. Members of God’s Kingdom are authenticated by their fruit. The evidence is our fruit, not our words. Fruit is what authenticates your life (Matthew 7:16-23).