Category Archives: Religion

How we view the Bible matters

How do you view the Bible?

A manuscript of nothing more than old-school laws and senseless stories?

Something that was forced upon you as a child?

God’s perfect Word?

A sword?

A book written by people in their day, and in their own way while  under the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Everyone has some sort of a view when they see, touch or read a Bible.  But not all views are healthy or even correct.

This past Sunday at Redwood Hills we began a new teaching series as we try an engage with the Scriptures as God’s unfolding story for his creation.  Why a series of this?  Because many of us who read the Bible often find ourselves asking the question…”what am I supposed to do with this?”  While we can’t possibly answer that in a four week series, I think we can build a good foundation.

One of the most common questions people ask me as a pastor is, which translation is best to read?  It’s a good question as there are plenty of them to choose from today.  In fact, Scot McNight is blogging right now on how Christians are becoming way too tribal in their view of the Bible.  You can read part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE.  He’s an authority on the Bible and shares some wisdom that we should pay attention to.

It’s funny that last week two people asked me about translations and I referred them both to try out the TNIV.  The next day Zondervan (the TNIV publisher) announced they will no longer print it and that they were too gender-inclusive with their translation of the original languages.  Personally, I think we can find fault in every translation and their announcement came as bad news to me.

Sometimes you have to just let the Bible be the Bible.

If you happen to be in a place where the Bible is something you desire to read more of, or would like to understand it better as God’s story and not just a book of laws, blessings, and promises…then I recommend taking a peek into some of these resources which might help you along your journey.  Or if you want, take a listen to our podcasts as we talk about how we view the Bible, the importance of listening to the Bible, and living the story of the Bible in the 21st century.

Blue Parakeet: Re-Thinking How We Read the Bible, by Scot McNight

How to Read the Bible for All its Worth, by Gordon Fee

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, by Christopher Wright

Out of the Question.. Into the Mystery: Getting Lost in the God-Life Relationship, by Len Sweet

 

By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. Psalm 119:105 (The Message)

Love and Peace.

empty chairs at church

Years ago when I was a youth pastor, there was a particular summer night where the usual youth group crowd was really low.  I wasn’t surprised as it’s just something that tends to come with church attendance during those two brief months in the Seattle area when the sun comes out and people make the most of the warm, long evenings.

I remember the night well as I stood on the stage and my first words of the service were, “hey, where is everyone tonight?“.  Just then a 12 year old girl said, “What about us? Were here!”  Immediatley I realized how rediculous and hurtful my words were to those students who had taken the time and effort to join us for our gathering. 

A 12 year old girl helped change me begin to re-think church growth, my insecurities, and empty chairs.

It was Charles Spurgeon, the famous British preacher from the late 1800’s who once said, “when we focus our attention on the empty chairs, we do a disservice to those who fill the chairs”.  This is a brilliant statement which many people and pastors in today’s church need to think about and wrestle with!

Spurgeon’s words should force pastors to confront their motives, insecurities, and approach to growing healthy communities of faith.  I’ll be honest…empty chairs sometimes make me feel like I’m failing in leading the church.  I’ve learned to catch myself when those thoughts or feelings arise, as they force me to alter how I lead and what I believe about growth.  Even worse…it often means that I fail in being the shepherd God’s called me to be to those God has brought to us.

My particular pastoral training tells me to do whatever I have to do to fill the seats, yet the message of Scripture tells me to make disciples. Thus, the tension of filling chairs on Sundays and growing a church through the long and sometimes messy journey of disciple-making.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a rant against mega-churches or growth plans that many pastors adhear to…it’s more or less me sharing the truth of Spurgeon’s words, and how they’ve impacted me over time.

Living in a culture where high-achievement, dynamic leadership, and numerical results are often the gauge for success, it can be hard to lead the church in a way that I believe I’m supposed to.  I find myself always asking God for the strength to lead with conviction, be odedient to His mission, follow Jesus through a life of faithful serving, and pastor my church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not sure if much of this makes sense, but I think people would be surprised by how many pastors are both discouraged and distracted by the “empty-chairs”. 

Pray for your pastors today.

Love and Peace.

much needed renewal from a family trip

So it’s been a while since my last post.  The summer brings with it a schedule that I sometimes have difficulty keeping up with and things like the blog get put on hold.  That, and I’ve honestly not had much to say lately.  It’s been a few weeks of hard work, planning for the fall season of ministry, struggling to find financial solutions within the church budget, and there always seems to be the theological wrestling that can at times consume my mind.

Yesterday, I returned home from a five day family trip to the Oregon coast. We rented a small beach house in Seaside and did nothing but play on the beach, walk the promenade, ride bikes, and just play as a family.  We even spent some memorable time with good friends who were staying in a beach house just 10 miles away.  Best family trip yet!

Windows Photo Gallery Wallpaper

After being home for a day I’ve had time to think about how this trip brought some much needed renewal.  By renewal, I more or less mean, re-learning.  I thought I would share some of my renewal and ask you to pray for me as I really dod desire that these thoughts evolve into action and habit. 

1. Playing hard as a family accumilates memories that are far more valuable than my hard-work earnings.

2. There’s a balance in “reflection” and “action”.  I need slow down more for reflection.

3. I’m too damn scared to fail and so my dreams will remain small.  Not enough faith in the Holy Spirit.

4. I disrespect my family by not turning off the phone and computer more often.  Need to set more boundaries.

It’s only four thoughts, but this presents me plenty of work, practice, and prayer.  I’m so thankful for the opportunity to travel with my wife and kids and will cherish the memories we made.  If you haven’t vacationed in a while, maybe its time to re-think your schedule and priorities a bit.  It’s well worth the financial investment!

Do any of my shared thoughts resonate with you?  Feel free to share…

Love and Peace.

Fog of War

Seems like everyday someone famous is dying.  It’s really too bad that a great man like Robert McNamara who died this week at age 93 isn’t being talked about because of America’s need to worship the King of Pop.  McNamara, who defined the role of Secretary of Defense in the US and played a huge role in involvement in the Vietnam War. 

Like so many people do when they reach their later years, McNamara deeply struggled with how he lived his life. His particular struggle was over his beliefs and participation in war.  It was about year ago that my close friend, Ian shared with me a documentary called, “Fog of War”.  Both of us had spent a lot of time discussing the tension of what exactly is patriotism and where does it fit in the life of a Christ-follower.  It’s not that we didn’t want to love our country…but how do we love our country and reject some of the many things that seem to define patriotism?

I went home that afternoon and rented “Fog of War”.  It’s a chilling, honest, and heart-wrenching documentary on the life and career of Robert McNamara.  My eyes were opened to how our military system works, the kind of power the Sec. of  Defense has, and just how easy it is to make a mess of this world.

But why the film remains one of the most important I’ve ever seen, is because of how McNamara looks into the lens of the camera and pours out every emotion and struggle that he was left to live with.  Questions…regrets…shame…

Have you seen it?  What were some of your thoughts from it?  Did it change any of your beliefs about war?

Love and Peace.

from the book of common prayer

I have been giving prayer a lot of thought lately.  Why? Because prayer is a spiritual discipline that requires the participant to be thoughtful about it.  In fact, I pray the least when my heart and mind aren’t engaged in a healthy struggle over my surrender, trust and relationship to God. 

I have the great challenge and privilege of being the pastor to a wonderfully authentic church!  Redwood Hills certainly doesn’t have it all figured out, and that’s not really our goal either.  We’re a simple community whose vision is to be a church who seeks “Hearing…Being…and Serving“, and while this is requires a long journey, I’ve been thrilled to witness so many people engage in this vision and make a point of really exploring what it means to follow Jesus in our culture.

Our current teaching series has been one on Prayer.  We’ve used Jesus’ model for prayer (Matthew 6:4-9) as the back drop and I must say that I’ve both loved teaching on prayer as well as finding myself learning so much for myself.  It’s been a worthwhile challenge to explore prayer and its effectiveness in my relationship to others and God.  I’ve also been reminded of some of the most simple truths about prayer that sometimes we lose track of.  For instance…”God has a knack for wanting to answer our prayers”.  Simple…true…easy to forget.

Last Sunday I read a sentence from Thomas Cranmer’s “Book of Common Prayer”.  

“Almighty God, to whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.”

In NT Wright’s book called, “The Lord and His Prayer”, he makes the reader stop and focus on the words…”all desires known…” and asks the question, how do we respond to this?  Is it a promise, or a threat? 

Think about that for a moment.  If you believe God knows all your desires, then you must also consider how that truth affects the way you approach prayer.  If  we see it as a promise than we’re more likely to be authentic in our prayers, willing to let God’s spirit transform our hearts and minds into His likeness.  But, if we react to this truth as if it’s a threat,well then we’re much more likely to keep prayer a surface level and gaurded one-way conversation. 

This brings me back to the need to be thoughtful about prayer.  It’s our thoughtfulness that forces us to wrestle with these truths and how our inner-most being is responding to them.  I’m trying to see it as a promise that I may pray openly, honestly, and not be afraid to sort through the crap in my heart that desperately needs to be healed, freed, or completely given up.  The funny thing is, that with the extra effort and thought given to how and why I pray, I want to pray more and it all seems to be more simple than before. 

I guess you could say there’s a certain freedom in knowing your heart is completely exposed whether you intend to expose it or not.

Love and Peace.

My appetite for soul slurpees

There are those who say they don’t believe that the Bible contains metaphors.  I’m not one of those people.  The Scriptures are full of metaphorical messages and many are extremely difficult to understand.  If you struggle with understanding the scriptures and wish that they were maybe more literal, then hopefullly you’ll find some comfort in Richard Daulhstrom’s interpretation of  some rather difficult words spoken by Jesus.

“If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink…” Of course, it’s a bit of a rhetorical statement, offered as it was at a time whenon demand faucets and indoor plumbing hadn’t yet been invented, and offered in a place that regular saw temperatures above 100, (or 30 if you’re Canadian). Of course they’re thirsty. The words of Jesus aren’t really words about thirst; the thirst part is presupposed.

 
The real heart of the statement is that when you’re thirsty, you’re to come and drink of Jesus. Now, I love metaphor as much as most people (save some geeky poet friends), but there are times when Jesus’ words frustrate me no end. He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What’s that supposed to mean? When His mom comes looking for Him, he turns to the crowd and says, “Who is my mother?” as if He’s forgotten what she looks like. And now this: “if you’re thirsty, come and drink of me.” Unlike some of the most popular parables, Jesus never took the disciples aside in the back room and explained this thirst metaphor. He just hung it out there for us to embrace and practice without offering a stitch of explanation.
 
While this frustrates me, it’s also true that these open ended statements are part of what makes the Bible livefor every generation. Because everything’s not spelled out, we need to wrestle with it, pray about it, talk about it, contextualize it, and hold our answers with enough boldness to explain why believe them, and enough humility to discard them when more light shines on our convictions and shows us we need to shift. So, realizing that we don’t have the privilege of Jesus sidebar interpretation, here’s how this living word has been speaking to me lately:
 
First of all, I reiterate that the issue isn’t whether or not I’m thirsty; thanks be to God I am, and most of the time. I thirst for intimacy in my marriage, meaning in my work, healing of my soul, authentic relationships with my adult children. I thirst to be informed by truth and grace as I fulfill my responsibilities of a shepherd. I thirst for sanity in world, peace, justice, beauty, hope.
 
If those were the limits of my thirsts then learning to drink from Jesus would be simple because these are good thirsts and a good drink will quench a good thirst. My problem, though, is that interwoven with those few noble thirsts are lots of other things, uglier things. I thirst to be adored, to be left alone, to be comfortable, to be so wealthy and secure that I need never depend on anyone again, least of all God. I thirst for relational autonomy way too often. I thirst for the stimulation of the city, and the beauty of the mountains. I thirst to expand my sphere of influence, and to move to the middle of nowhere, where I can fish, cook, climb, and be the master of my own universe.
 
What a mess of thirsts! And herein lies the hope of Jesus words, the point for me at which they begin to make sense. It’s encouraging that Jesus doesn’t moralize about my thirsts, casting judgement on my desires. I can already hear some of you accusing me of heresy here, but don’t light the fire yet. For too many centuries, the church has wrongly assessed that our problems stem from our desires. But I can’t find Jesus running around ranting about our desires anywhere in the gospels, even the non-canonical ones!
 
Instead, His invitation is related to what we do when the pangs of any thirst are born in our hearts, never mind whether the thirst comes from our wounded, rebellious soul, or our deepest longings for the world God created. In both cases the admonition is the same: if you’re thirsty, come to Jesus. This is profoundly liberating for me because I’m learning to link my relationship with Jesus with all my thirsts, not just my healthy ones, but the unhealthy ones too.
 
It’s also counterintuitive. The gnawing unhealthy thirsts tell me that they won’t be satisfied with anything less than an unhealthy beverage, the soul equivilant of a monster slurpee when what I really need is fresh squeezed OJ. Of course, this is where faith comes in. This is where I’m learning to interact with Jesus and find some measure of satisfaction in Him, both when I’m thirsting for healthy intimacy, and when I’m lusting for pleasure or escape. Somehow, the turning to Christ in the midst of my unhealthy thirsts has the effect of changing my appetites; not instantly, and not entirely, but subtly and slowly. Thanks be to God, I’m slowly losing my appetite for soul slurpees.
 
The methodology Jesus had mind for “drinking of Him” remains a mystery because I don’t think He had a methodology in mind. He wants us to wrestle with this stuff. For me, a born and bred Baptist, it’s taken nearly half a century to discover that this “drinking of Christ” works best for my sould when I pray daily prayers from a book like this one, which is a decidedly non-Baptist practice. “Coffee with God” is what I call it, and it’s become increasingly important to my mornings, not in a legalistic way, but in some sort of better way. It entails brewing a pot of French Press and then sitting (outside or in, depending on seasons) with Jesus as I pray the daily prayers, drawn from the Psalms, and pour out my heart. I do this because of all my thirsts, and for this reason, I’m learning to thank God for this holy and unholy juxtaposition of desires because together they lead me to the water of Christ I’d never have found if I weren’t thirsty.

These are some wise and relevant words that really encouraged me as I read them early this morning.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Can you relate to this? What do you find yourself thirsting for? 

Love and Peace.

When rocks and fists matter…

If world history isn’t evident enough, the current events in Iran should prove to us that there are two essentials to humanity: Freedom and Voice…

In following the history-making protests that occupy our global media this week, I have found myself reminded of one thing, while wondering about another.

I’ve been reminded that the human spirit can’t live in fear or oppression forever.  All of humanity are created to be free!  Iran is a perfect example of this as hundreds of thousands are running to the streets in protest of the current election results. 

stone

While I can’t exactly support rock throwing, or any form of violence…I love the fact that freedom in Iran is being talked about more than nuclear weapons, which not only fuels fear in the minds or the people of Iran, but here in the U.S.! 

While I’ve been reminded of freedom, I’m also wondering why America has become so quiet.  Why is it that the democratic nations are often the most quiet and last to protest? What has happened to our voice?  What might we learn from the people of Iran as they raise their fists and speak their voice?

voice

I find myself both confused by what’s happening in Iran, and yet challenged by it…

Love and Peace.