Category Archives: Uncategorized

Why Study Psalms?

Title Graphic

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
~Psalm 139:23 (NIV)

The book of Psalms is easily one of the most well-known and well-loved in the whole of Scripture. A collection of ancient praise songs, it has inspired poets and musicians to produce their own works of art in praise to God. Most recently, Bono, the lead singer of U2, shared his own love of the Psalms in a conversation with author and biblical commentator Eugene Peterson. They have been chanted, sung, and read devotionally by countless Christians down through the ages.

Yet, if I’m honest, very rarely have I heard the Psalms preached. Continue reading

Trust is Given

Trust is Given (1)

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the interwoven themes of accountability and community. If you talk to anyone in ministry, they would say that both are essential for having a growing relationship with God and with others. And one of the virtues at the center of both of these discipleship ingredients is trust.

Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Reflection: Five Months @ The Sem

With nearly two quarters behind us, I thought I would take some time to pause and reflect on what this experience has taught me thus far. As you may have guessed from my earlier posts, being at Concordia has been a cross-cultural experience. Unlike many of my fellow students I was not raised in the Lutheran church. There is a lot about this little subculture that is foreign to me. To be honest, the first month was brutal. Not only did I feel like an outsider, but I ran head first into many of the uglier stereotypes that I had about the LCMS. I heard more derogatory comments about evangelicals, women in leadership, non-liturgical styles of worship, and minorities in my first couple of weeks than I had heard in the last several years. By mid-quarter I was flirting with depression and wondering what I was doing here. To say that I was angry with God for calling us here would have been an understatement.

So what changed? Why am I still here? A couple of things. First, great faculty. There have been several professors who have opened their doors to me and let me talk, vent, and (yes) cry. These conversations have helped me see that while every denomination has its dark side, there is also lots of hope, especially when the leaders themselves are modeling the kind of pastoral care that they hope to pass on to their students.

Second, I realized that I am not the only one. As I’ve talked with other students I realized that many of the things that I have been struggling with are the same issues that they are facing. Having friends to talk, pray, and laugh with has changed how I approach the campus and, quite honestly, I now look forward to going to class.

Third, a deeper sense of calling. As hard as being here has been, I am more convinced than ever that this calling to leadership in ministry is exactly what God has created me for. I’m a theology nerd with the heartbeat of an evangelist and a passion to preach and teach the Word of God. I desperately desire to see people who are far from God come to know Jesus and to see those who are following Jesus continue to grow as disciples and missionaries. That has not changed since I have been here. Rather the desire to be a part of that mission has grown and sharpened.

Finally, my family. What would I do without my wife and kids? The kids remind me of how fun and goofy life is and Jenny is always present as my friend, confidante, and fellow missionary. Or marriage has grown stronger as we’ve been on this journey together and I’m so grateful for her love and friendship.

All this gives me hope and reminds me that, even in difficult seasons of life, God is still at work.

So thank you all for your prayers, your support, and your love. We couldn’t do this without you and we look forward to sharing more stories about our adventures in the weeks and months ahead. Thanks again and Good bless.

The Church Hunt: “Where is Scripture Being Studied?”

IMG_3758

This post continues the series “The Church Hunt”, which began this past week with the question:  “Where can I find community?”  This series summarizes insights from Rich Lamb’s book Following Jesus in the “Real World” and is based on a handout created by my former InterVarsity supervisor, Chris Swiney.

When searching for a church it is important to find one in which you can enter into and build community with fellow Christians.  But this is not the only thing that we should look for when choosing a church.  The second question that we must ask is, “Where is Scripture being studied?”  Here is what we mean:

Some degree of happy fellowship may exist in a church without a true sense of common convictions and common commitments.  Community itself should be based on a corporate life with God, including both prayer and Scripture study.  If there is no place in the church where Scripture is being studied in a way that can be transformative, then either you want to start that (if you plan to commit there) or else move.  Sermons on Sunday morning may be a part of the corporate Scripture element of the church, but hopefully not the whole thing.  Are people willing to spend time to study the Bible?  Is the Bible authoritative in people’s lives?

Many churches would like to have Bible study in small groups, Sunday school classes, or at other times.  Church leaders are not usually resistant to the idea of Scripture study but often have little idea about how to make it practical and accessible.  Often, the limiting factors are time and desire – people don’t value it enough to set aside the time.  You don’t need to think of yourself as the solution to the problem, but you can recognize that you may be part of the process.  If you desire to introduce your church to transformative Scripture study, then start small and invite people who will be willing to give the time it takes to do it right.  Over time this will win a hearing among others as people share about the experience they have.

Ultimately, if there is no hope for common Scripture study in the church you are considering, then what shapes that church is simply the opinion of its members.  If the church is not listening to God through his Word as a body, it would be better to keep looking for a church that is.

More than anything I think that this commitment to allow Scripture to guide the church is paramount.  Too many churches are led by the visions, plans, desires, or agendas of their pastors and leaders.  But churches that truly advance the Gospel and see lasting life change are those which draw their values, mission, and vision from God’s Word itself.  While community is great, community bound together by the Gospel is life-giving.  Anything less is simply a social club.

So what about your church?  Where are there places to study Scripture together with other believers?  How is Scripture taught and in what ways are people equipped to study God’s Word?

Let’s Do The Time Warp…

WARNING:  The following post is rated “Snarky” and may be inappropriate for people without a sense of humor.

I’m at orientation for Concordia Seminary and have realized while being here that I have entered a kind of time warp.  You see, they require different kinds of attire for various events during orientation and I’m realizing just how much of a language/learning gap I have.

When they say “church attire” I think this…

Image

But what they mean is this…

Image

 

Likewise, when they say “professional dress” I think this…

Image

 

But what they mean is this…

Image

 

Go figure…

*For the record I am wearing a suit and tie as I write this while the other guys are in slacks and polo shirts….oops…

 

Tagged , ,

We Don’t Need Another Manual

footprints

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20

Flavor the the Month:  Discipleship

If you were to survey the largest church leadership conferences in the United States from the past 12 months, odds are that the major theme of the conference had something to do with discipleship.  From Verge to Exponential, there is no doubt that discipleship is the flavor of the month.

I find this shift encouraging.  Having worked in a mission-minded college ministry for so many years, it is exciting to see churches operating less like corporations and more like indigenous missions agencies.  I believe that this shift in the Western church is a helpful corrective to the insular, institution-driven models which have, for so long, quenched the fires of evangelism and mission.  Furthermore, this renewed emphasis on discipleship and mission is so widespread that it appears to be less a part of the latest fad and more a reflection of the Spirit-driven nature of church responding to the call of the Great Commission.

Consuming Discipleship

However, one of the things that I am worried about is the increasingly consumer-oriented nature of this shift.  Nowadays I can’t turn around without running into another book on discipleship.  There’s David Platt’s Follow MeMike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture, and Francis Chan’s Multiply.  There’s Jim Putnam’s Real-Life Discipleship Training Manual and Greg Ogden’s Transforming Discipleship.  The list is large and continues to grow.  Leave it to us Americans to take an awesome idea, package it, and sell it for the greater glory of God.  (And yes, I did just link all of those to Amazon.  You are now free to indulge your shopping impulse).

Now I genuinely believe that these authors have a deep desire to help men and women grow to maturity in Christ and that these books are not written for personal gain.  However, what I see when there is this explosion of books is a mad dash to buy, read, consume and regurgitate without thought to the consequences and without critical reflection on Scripture and our own contexts.  We end up going and attending conferences with these authors, spending money on airlines and hotel rooms, eating out, eating in, and buying more books, all in the name of advancing the cause of discipleship.  Finally, if any of this is actually applied, it is applied by buying more books, giving them to more people, and telling them to go and do likewise.  The result:  cookie cutter disciples being cranked out by the latest book buying craze.

Now all of that sounds rather cynical, but for the record I write this as someone who has partaken.  I am just as guilty of following this model as the next pastor and for that I must repent.  The reality is that we spend so much time reading and talking about discipleship that we miss the point:  to help people to grow into full maturity in Christ.  And the truth is that we don’t need another manual to help us do this.  Why?  Because we already have the one manual we will ever need:  Scripture.

Spending Time with The Rabbi

What I find interesting about the vast majority of these discipleship books is how they all center around one simple idea:  look at what Jesus did the in gospels and do likewise.  That’s it.  Jesus not only came and died for us, but he also modeled for us how to live.  Furthermore, when he gives the Great Commission to his disciples he is essentially telling them to do exactly what he did with them.  “Go and make disciples…baptizing…and teaching them to obey all I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Jesus makes clear that his intention was for them to follow the example that he had laid down.  So, I think the challenge for us is to set the manuals down for a while and to just spend time with our rabbi.  Jesus shows us how to make disciples in the way that he taught, and he invites us to join in him in that process.

So here is a challenge for all of us:  before picking up another discipleship book or training manual, spend some time in the gospels and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did Jesus help people grow spiritually?
  • How did he help shape and form his disciples as people?
  • What were Jesus’ rhythms of life with his followers?
  • How did he teach, both in word and deed?

I think we will be surprised by what we find.  Furthermore, this approach puts us right where we need to be:  at the feet of Jesus, watching what he does and learning from him.  My hope is that this will be the key to our discipleship; that we will be trained in the way of and formed by Christ himself, and sent to help others do the same.

QUESTION FOR DISCUSSION:  As you read the gospels, what have you learned about how to make disciples?  What has Jesus taught you be his example?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Hello world!

Welcome to my new blog.  Check here regularly for updates about my ministry with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA at the University of Illinois at Chicago as well as for some of my thoughts on faith, culture, and the role of the church.

I also invite you to post some of your own comments to the articles and reflections posted here.  All I would ask is that you sign your name to anything you write.  It is nice to know who is a part of the conversation:)

For Christ and the University,

Nick aka ProdigalPreacher

%d bloggers like this: