Saturday, December 24, 2011

Entering the unfamiliar with the Unfailing God:

In less than 24 hours we'll have our first Christmas Eve service as the New Song church.  I'm excited at several levels.  It's amazing to me as we talked about plans for our candle light service the amount of Christians who have never been to a candle light service!

It will be an unfamiliar time, but it will be unforgettable.  Even though I'm impressed with what I've written down, and I'd like to say the brief thoughts I've put together for when we light our candles in unison are so radical and earth shattering people's jaws will drop in awe, the truth is how many different ways can we announce the the Christmas story?  Yet, we as families all have shared stories that never get old: How a favorite set of grandparents met, how our ancestors came to America, how we overcame a struggle, etc.  Our time together reflecting on the Birth of Jesus and sharing communion will speak louder than  my feeble voice.

God will be the focus as we gather in a circle for our candle light service.  We'll reflect as a community on the crazy method God used to reclaim us -- sending a helpless baby to overcome the evils of the universe... I hope you'll join us for a night of mediation and reflection, and to refocus on the true light.  
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”" (John 8:12 ESV)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Leaving Legalism requires an open mind...

One of the big blessings that comes with launching a new church with close friends is we don't have to worry about the shackles of legalism.  We can explore the Scriptures with an open mind; without fear of having to tow party-lines, or the maintenance of a status quo...  Our heritage within the Restoration Movement has one of the best catchphrases: We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.  To honor our heritage, being open minded and sincere enough in our personal study to see the Scriptures in new and fresh ways and to have an ownership of our beliefs, is liberating and exhilarating!  

For me there are three main reasons why we should avoid legalism like the plague.  BTW, here's my definition of "legalism": A nasty religious addiction to rules and laws which implies God owes you for your strict outward obedience, even if you're a hardhearted jerk.

Again, here's why I say ditch legalism: 
#1. Jesus' view of legalistic people in Matt 15.  
#2. Judgmentalism itself is a salvation issue.
# The roadblock to people in need of God's grace.

Let me break these three down:
1.  Jesus cracks down hard on the people in Matt 15:1-9 who "honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him."  When we replace God's principles with our own rules, or even put our rules on a higher plane than God's will, we might feel great about our abilities to make laws and keep them, but God isn't impressed.  

2. Jesus makes it clear in Matt 7:1-6 that whatever standard of perfection we hold people to, God will hold us to.  For example, if I think I'm doing everything right, and therefore "I'm" going to heaven because I did everything the right way, but I think you missed one point in the Bible and your soul is in jeopardy, I've just jeopardized my soul.  This is the scariest passage in the Bible to me.  In other words, when I sentence people to hell for their lack of compete perfection, then Jesus will hold me to absolute perfection...  In our devastating splintering in Christendom over matters of opinions, we better learn how to agree to disagree and embrace tolerance more.

3. I wonder how people outside God's kingdom reign will ever accept a message of Love from people who have a hard time loving the very people they are supposedly going to spend eternity with?   Jesus is expressly clear that our method of convincing people we are "authentic" is our mutual love, i.e., in Jn 13:34-35 Jesus says people will know we are His followers by our love for each other.  

If you are stuck asking yourself "Craig, are you saying anything goes?" you've missed the point.  God is clear enough in His Word to spell out what we need to know to follow Him, and to let Him be God... 
"Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?" (James 4:11-12 ESV)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finding new Bibles when you annually read through the Bible, in a different translation can be tough

IT's that time of year again, where I narrow down the English translation of the Bible I'll read through for the upcoming year.  I like to read through a different translation each year, though I have read a couple of them through more than once, because I really liked them.  For at least 10 years, maybe 12, I've dedicated the time to be a daily Bible reader, and from the get-go I've sought out different translations each year.

How do I select a new translation?  
Remember how your elementary school librarian told you, never pick a book by its cover?  Bibles usually don't have catchy covers, so that's not a big help...  So, in no particular order, here are several of the criteria I use when selecting the next Bible to read:

1. I like Bibles that have a varied translation committee.  Even though I really enjoyed Eugene Peterson's solo translation, "The Message" that's an outlier for me.  Well, there's one more solo effort I really like, and that's J B Philip's New Testament.  So, when I say "varied," what I'm referencing are the Bibles that have different scholars/ministers from different denominations represented.  In other words, I like to read the translation that has an ecumenical influence.  If 20 or 25 people from very different backgrounds can agree to an interpretative perspective, there's a good chance their debate has led the way to a nonpartisan truth.

2. I'm attracted to Bibles that have generated a lot of buzz.  For whatever reason, maybe Scot McKnight has blogged about it, a Bible prof mentioned it back in college, or the translation was recently mentioned in Leadership Journal, somehow I've heard about this new translation, it was plugged by someone I respect and now I'm interested in it.  Of course I'll look it up on Amazon and read through a few pages of it 1st.  Actually, this particular criteria is how I've chosen the translation I'll read through in 2012, The Common English Bible.

3. I like to read through translations that I hope to use in ministry.  If it's a translation that is being advertised as a good study Bible, or an easy to read version, or has some other nuance, I want to read it first before I endorse it or recommend it.

4. I look for translations that have a novel approach.  I like Bibles that help me see God's Word differently than I saw it before, Bibles that can catch my attention and make me wonder why I never "saw it" like that before...?  I appreciate translations that help me see God's Word in fresh ways, and help me see His Word in a way that enable me to gain a deeper ownership of my faith because I see His truth for myself.

Reading different translations isn't for everyone, I know.  But, I hope you'll read through your Bible completely, at least once in your lifetime, and perhaps try to read through your Bible more than once.  If we are trusting our eternity to the truths in the Bible, it only makes sense we read it for ourselves.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A leap of faith...

I'm excited, anxious, and at peace all at once.  Why? Lord willing we will launch a new church this weekend.  Check out our website, above, for more info.

For some, you'll ask why do we need another church in the South; there's a church on every corner...  Others will wonder if this the best time.  Certainly people will ask other questions.  My response: What if God guided us to this point, and, what if souls will be saved that otherwise might not have?

What do we hope to accomplish?
Spreading God's Kingdom influence, period.

Who do we hope to reach?
While everyone is welcome, we have a special heart for people who have drifted away from their faith or have never entered into faith in the 1st place....

What makes us distinct?
We are Christians only, but we aren't the only Christians.  Our focus is on the core of Christianity, i.e. unity of the essentials, while leaving a lot of open areas for us to not worry about; we do not have to agree on every point to have fellowship.  Another distinction, we'll partner with other groups in our community serving local needs; we want to bring glory to God and we don't have to reinvent the wheel.  Finally, what sets us apart, we'll strive to incorporate people of all backgrounds and genders in serving and worshiping God.  

If you are looking for a breath of fresh air with something new and different and you'd like to experience freedom in Christ, we'd love to see you Sunday at 10 am, room 239 in the Kingsport Renaissance center.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What Ministry couldn't provide Concrete can:

(Picture above: Jacob is brooming & I'm on my knees troweling cement)

I love ministry immensely, I enjoy devoting my life to it and feel it's my calling.  Yet, there's something that I get out of working in concrete that ministry can't provide.  I just finished up a driveway, one I've been fitting in on weekends and evenings.  As I looked over the final pour last night, I thought about a particular reward concrete offers that I never captured in ministry.

Working concrete, daily I enjoy the outdoors -- smelling grass, fresh fields and the earthy aroma of the broken ground.  I see the stars (I leave before the sunrises and get home after dark most of the time).  Working concrete has helped me to shed a few pounds too....  There's a great feeling of comradery when a crew is on the same page.  My awareness of the weather increases, and I'm taught to appreciate the days it doesn't rain so we can work, and the rain-days so my body can rest.  My body feels fatigue, a good fatigue, and so I hit the pillow drained but the endorphins flowing from a hard day's work trick me into thinking the physical stress is good.

All of these are nice, but these aren't what I'm talking about.

In ministry one never really has a sense of accomplishment, not in the sense of completion that is.  Concrete gives this type of peace of mind.  Ah, there's the start, middle, and end of the job.  We break ground, and in a certain time, we wrap up our tools and sweep up and we're gone.  Looking back, you can see the challenges, and see the project through.  You form up the pour, dump the concrete, finish it, strip off the boards, clean up and go.  In ministry, Sunday morning always comes around; sermons don't write themselves...  There's always another meeting to attend, a bulletin article to write, a visit to make.  A new believer needs more discipleship.  Building projects need to be paid off or maintained.  On and on... Again, I love ministry, but there's that element of the ministry where there's no end in sight.  One could literally work 24/7 and never finish all there is to do in congregational ministry.

I doubt I've really explained it well.  Think of this like you were on KP duty, forever.  You're in front of a five foot high pile of potatoes that no matter how hard or how fast you peel them, there will never be a day when you are done peeling...  BTW: I actually like peeling potatoes and making homemade mashed-potatoes too.

In ministry, which is a great way of life, people need nourishment from the Word, because we are all growing in our faith we have cycles of ups and downs, people are coming into the faith, others are struggling in their faith.  Faith is a living, breathing reality that is dynamic and, and, and, well you get the picture, serving in the realm of faith doesn't have a finish-line, there's no final culmination where everything is summed up.  Let's face it, everyone enjoys the satisfaction of either finishing a homework project or remolding job around the house some time in their life.

I think God enjoys a sense of completion.  He created the creation, then rested on the 7th day.  He commands a Sabbath rest for His people.  He has a day when He will bring time to an end.

I don't think there's anything wrong with the aspect of ministry that seems more like a treadmill than a marathon most of the time; it's part of the territory.  Still, I am human, and I really enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done...