Wednesday, April 02, 2014

No Church is Better Than a Mean Church

I appreciate this article by Rachel Evans. I believe God has raised her up to speak to the church in these days. She addresses the recent fiasco with World Vision that I mentioned last week in a Facebook post (see March 27).
Along with Rachel, I'm really concerned about the mean-spirited portion of the evangelical church. I know they are only a portion, but because they often speak so loudly, people tend to see them as THE CHURCH.
Dialogue and Dignity
The church today needs to learn to promote dialogue over dogma...or more simply, relationship over rules. That doesn't mean we abandon our beliefs but it means we prize the dignity of people right behind the worship of God. We may not agree with what others think or how they live, but as God's creation, they have inherit dignity/value that we must honor if we are to honor God.
Let's Listen More, Speak Less
Whenever there is controversy it tells me we all need to listen more and speak less. Christians are too quick to take a stand on an issue they haven't fully thought through. But feeling the need to defend God and the Bible, they "take a stand," often polarizing the discussion into a no-win scenario. We need to find a third way to approach whatever the problem is because clearly what we are doing isn't working.
Respect Means Safe
We've worked hard through the years to make Cedarbrook Church a safe place to disagree and ask questions about faith. I don't expect everyone to agree with us but I always want people to walk away feeling respected and heard. I'm just writing to reaffirm my commitment to this and let people know that as we help Jamie Staples start a church in Eau Claire, we will work to create the same environment there.
As Rachel says, there is a new generation of believers and they won't tolerate the mean spiritedness. They will choose no church over a mean church. Here's to a church that not only preaches salvation by grace but living with grace for others.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why We Don't Say the Lord's Prayer on Sunday

I taught on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount on Sunday. I gave a sweeping overview of his Sermon to help us see that Jesus was calling us to a kingdom lifestyle NOW to start the process of bringing heaven to earth, as Jesus will do fully when he comes again.

I touched briefly on the Lord's Prayer. I had written the following comments as a part of my message but then realized that they weren't relevant to my point, so I deleted them. I pass them on here to simply answer the question: Why don't we say the Lord's Prayer on Sunday?

People often ask me why we don’t pray the Lord’s prayer in church for our Sunday services. Many people grew up praying this in unison as a part of their church service and feel it missing in their Cedarbrook experience.  

There are two reasons for this and they are both rooted in the very text where the Lord’s Prayer is mentioned. One reason is: Jesus didn’t give this prayer to pray in public services. He mentions that just before the prayer:
When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:6

I think it’s ironic that Jesus told us to not pray this in public but now it’s a standard prayer in a lot of church services.

The other reason we don’t pray this prayer is something Jesus also said here in context:
….And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6:7,8

In other words, some people seem to think that there is value is saying the prayer, all on its own…like the words have some kind of magical power, even if they don’t mean anything to them. But that’s the last kind of prayer God wants to hear. He wants us to be praying prayers from the heart. Prayers that we mean.  Prayers that mean nothing are what pagans do. They are more like incantations…magical word formulas to manipulate the gods.

I don’t have anything against people saying the Lord’s Prayer in public, as long as the words are heart felt expressions of how God’s people corporately feel.

I hope this helps answer the question. Of course, for creatures of habit, this answer might not satisfy. The Lord’s Prayer just “feels right” and no answer will change that. I’m okay with that too. I just want to let people know my reasoning. Peace.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Six Weeks in Chile

You may have heard that our LEAD team has granted me a three month sabbatical.  Sabbaticals are often offered to pastors after seven years of serving a church. Sabbaticals are a time of refreshing and rejuvenation to help refill the emotional and spiritual tank of pastors. 

Why do pastors get a sabbatical when most people don't?  Professors also are granted sabbaticals. It has to do with anyone who is in a continual role of teaching. It's very draining on the mind. Teachers inevitably get stale after a while and need refreshing.

When I asked our Operations Team for what they thought might be a good idea for a sabbatical, they said, "Get as far away from Menomonie as possible. Have experiences that you can draw on for your messages."  One person suggested I go to a language school.

I liked their ideas. So Lisa and I will be heading to Chile, South America for six weeks this summer. (I decided to split my sabbatical into two six week sessions to have less of an impact on the church). Here's what we have planned:

  • Week One and Two: Language school in Vina del Mar. We'll live with a local family and be in class four hours a day for two weeks.
  • Week Three: We'll meet other Cedarbrookers in northern Chile (Calama, the driest region in the world) for a ten day mission helping the local Covenant church build a community center and minister to their people.
  • Week Four and Five: Alejandra, from the Covenant Missions office, will join Lisa and me as our guide and interpreter. We will visit the Covenant churches in southern Chile to offer encouragement and direction.
  • Week Six: We will find a quiet place to be refreshed before returning home.

I'm looking forward to this, as are Kyle and Sten as they will be speaking in my absence. We went away for a short retreat this week to plan the upcoming sermon series through this summer.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Friday, November 29, 2013

God Meets People on the Cedarbrook Prayer Trail

I love our prayer trail. So many people have stopped to thank me for the crosses and what the trail means to them. Just this week I got an email from someone that was touched by God on the trail so I want to share it with your here.

One day in June, I was driving by the church and something pulled at me to stop by and check out the prayer trail.  I had never been on the trail. You need to know that I am not a spontaneous person and always have a plan for my day. But I drove into the church parking lot and pulled up close to the prayer trail entrance. 

I was the only one in the parking lot.  No one else was on the trail. I got out of my car and started to walk towards the gates of the trail.  I was in jeans and a light shirt.  It was warm and sunny.  Great day to check out the trail and take a little walk. 

I've been very stressed out with my marriage and proceedings with divorce.  It was not going to be an easy road and there was a lot that was very heavy on my shoulders that day.  However the experience on the trail was amazing! Gods great grace was present that day. 

As I started to walk I told myself that I really wanted to clear my head, slow down, and take in all that the prayer trail had to offer.  But MY head is ALWAYS busy and thinking about what needs to be done and what do I do next and all the problems the world is experiencing and what a mess life can be......

I read the first plaque~  "Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
OK I thought, I will try. I took a deep breath. 

As I walked along the first section of the trail, I began to cry. I started to think about all the problems that I was facing and the fears that were very deep within my heart. 

I read the second plaque~ "God will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away ever tear from their eyes."  Rev. 7:17
OK I thought, I need to lean on Him and trust Him. He will comfort me. 

I continued up the hill on the trail.  I started to pray about what should I do.  I have no idea which way to turn.  No one was providing direct answers to all my life questions.  I am so confused what to do, what to think.  I need help! Someone help!

I read the third plaque~ "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go."  Isaiah 48:17
OK I thought, this is starting to freak me out a little bit.  It was like He was right there with me.  He was directly talking to me.  Never have I ever experienced that before. 

I continued...a bit more slowly now.  My mind began to worry about how I was going have enough money to continue to provide for myself.  I have no one in my family that can help me, so how am I ever going to be able make it.  I am scared about the future.  Help me to understand what to do so I will be ok. 

I read the fourth plaque~ "God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." 
Wow!  Tears ran down my checks as I stood there in awe.  I could not believe what I was reading and how I was feeling.  God will provide.  I need to stop worrying and lay it as his feet.  All of it! 

I head so full of things I could hardly keep my thought pattern in line.  It was like a thousand people all talking to you at once.  I tried to quiet myself and focus on the beauty of the plants and flowers. 

I read the firth plaque~ "I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord."  Jer. 30:17
I continued up to the top of the hill where the three crosses are stationed.  As I was walking, I felt like someone was standing right next to me.  Holding me.  I looked up at the crosses, tears running down, and it began to POUR.  Not just rain a little... I mean in two minutes I was drenched.  Where did that come from?  Where is the bright sunshine that was here just a few minutes ago. 

I walked as fast as I could back down to the parking lot.  I scooted under the front door entry of the church to seek cover from the rain.  I began to laugh.  I was really soaked!  Never got to the last plaques. 

God had my attention!  I thought that no one would believe my story of what I had just experienced on the prayer trail.  It is almost like I made it up.  I stood there for some time and prayed.  Tried to dry off a bit and headed back to the car.

I started the car, began to drive out the drive way and again something told me to turn around.  When I did, there was a beautiful rainbow over the prayer trail entrance.  I have attached the photo.  

- - - - -
God will speak to us when we seek him. The Prayer Trail is not magic. It's just a means to help you focus on God. I hope you will take advantage of the trail and tell your friends about it. - Remy 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Update from Grace Outreach Church

On Sunday we got an update from Touger Tao, one of two church planters we are supporting in the Twin Cities. Paul Robinson sent me this update about his church that will be launching in early January:

Worship is going really well; the praise team is rocking and the experience itself is uplifting and engaging based on what members and visitors are saying.  We are getting a steady flow of visitors each week and a few of them are repeat visitors.  

I am following up with visitors during the week following worship with a note, phone call or in some cases a one on one.  We're adding people to the Core group (6 in the last 45 days).  Last month we added a bi-monthly "Core Development Team" meeting.  This has been helpful in planning our evangelism, gathering and special events.  We are working toward a January 5th launch service.  

Last Saturday at our harvest gathering we served chili, hot dogs and hot chocolate to our neighbors, hosted games and crafts and visited with those who stopped by.  We had about 50 people participate.  One man and his two sons said he noticed our sign advertising the event but still had some difficulty finding us.  He said he persisted because his "family was low on food."  It was great to see them get their fill and enjoy making arts and crafts together.  

Another Spanish-speaking family stopped by (a mom and two teens).  They too seemed to really enjoy themselves.  The mom couldn't speak English, but one of our members speaks Spanish and made her feel comfortable.  This family showed up at worship on Sunday and our member translated the service for the mom.  I learned very late on Sunday through my wife that this family was brand new to town from California.  We also learned that they had no furniture.  Our crew got busy and found them some free furniture on Craigslist and delivered it!  As I write this some members are working on beds for the family as they are sleeping on inflatable camping mattresses. I am encouraged that the outreach in Grace Outreach is happening.  

Things to pray about right now in addition the usual church planter list is getting our children's ministry off the ground.  We have a space challenge, but need to get something going even though the space is not optimal.  One idea that we're toying with is to use technology to engage the young people.  If we had 5 to 10 Generation I iPads or similar devices we could load them with bible-based applications were youth could learn God's word in an age appropriate way.  

We want to stay in this location until we pack it out, but we can't wait any longer to bring the children's ministry online.  That's about it for now.  I will send you our Fall-Winter calendar and a copy of the logo.  Let me know if you need any pictures as we have them.

Pastor Paul Robinson
Grace Outreach Church
New Brighton, MN

Friday, November 01, 2013

Bring Jesus With You Into Old Testament Stories

I just wrapped up my four week series on Samson. I got more feedback on Samson than I've gotten in some time. I think people came to know his story AND God better through this series. I closed by talking about how God enabled Samson to make a comeback in the last moments of his life. 
One thing I never got to was the issue of how to interpret a story like this from the Old Testament. If you go out on the internet and read other sermons on Samson, you might get a totally different slant. Some people present Samson as the hero all the way through the story and even justify the atocities committed saying that God anointed him for those acts. Since they were committed against the Philistines, they were justified. 
Be careful with that kind of thinking. When you read the Old Testament, you need to remember that Jesus had not yet been revealed. People didn't have a full picture of God. They communicated God in ways that made sense to them.  A strong military leader who crushed his subjects was their view of a great leader. God is often cast in that light. 
But when Jesus showed up, we got a better picture of who God really is. He contradicted many of our concepts in some striking ways. If you want to do a little digging, compare Psalm 110 to Samson's story. The psalm plays off of Samson's killing spree to present the coming messiah in the same way.  The nations are his footstool (literally, a pile of dead enemies are a place to prop his feet).  
But we know better now.  Psalm 110 is true in that God's messiah rules the nations, but not in the way thought.  Jesus even warned his disciples, saying that the Gentiles lord it over others but it is not so with them.  Jesus called them to influence people by serving them. one ever saw that coming. I like what Abraham Lincoln said about overcoming enemies: Don't I overcome my enemies by making them my friends?  I think Jesus would agree with that. 
I've compared reading the Old and New Testament to one of those "connect the dot" pictures. In the Old Testament there are very few dots. You have to be very careful how you connect the dots. It's easy to create a picture of God from those dots that doesn't reflect the true nature of God. 
In the New Testament, there are many more dots, much closer together. Jesus gives us a full picture of who God is. When you read the Old Testament, you need to bring your picture from the New Testament to help you see what God was actually doing.  There is so much more I could say here, but it's enough to get you headed in the right direction. 
I hope you'll listen to all of the Samson series.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Reflections on THE FIGHT

I just got back from THE FIGHT event, featuring Craig Groeschel, at Cedarbrook. It was a special event for men promoting his new book about Samson. I thought it was good and a lot of guys were challenged in very positive ways. 

But I need to be honest, I had a cringe factor listening to Craig. Craig is a "mans man" kind of guy. I think he plays that card a lot to relate to men. That's fine. It's not my style, but it's an okay approach.

But a common practice with Craig and others' like him is to make fun of women to get a laugh and bond with men. Quick example, the book of Judges talks about how Delilah nagged Samson until he gave in. Insert joke here. You could see that coming for miles. But it only reinforces a negative stereotype of women that subtly gives men the right to ignore women rather than pursue a constructive conversation with them. If he wants us to FIGHT, call us to FIGHT for that. He blew an opportunity in my mind.

Real men, godly men, are sensitive to others. Real men, godly men, honor all people and don't take cheap shots. It merely undermines their integrity, but they don't always realize it because it got them a short term reward (a laugh). 

I feel a strong responsibility to make sure Cedarbrookers follow Jesus in EVERY way. I'm really grateful for Craig Groeschel's heart to challenge men.  He's clearly reached a lot of people. I don't want to take anything away from him. But if he is going to challenge men to step up and radically follow Jesus, then I think he should offer the full challenge. Challenge men to respect everyone and not play the "macho" card to excuse themselves from being sensitive to both people and important issues.

Men, we can do better. A lot of women have thanked me for posting similar thoughts on Facebook. But I'd love for just as many men to thank me too. We should all be concerned about giving dignity to everyone.

Coincidently, I came across a blog post of a man who attended a men's conference who had similar reservations. Check it out. I'm not looking to spark a debate. Just throwing it out there to get you to think. Integrity means "wholeness." Our faith should effect our whole being, not just the parts we want it to.