A poor in Spirit church

In my last sermon I preached on the first beattitude, Matt 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” As a point of application, I pondered what it might look like for Redeemer as a church to be poor in Spirit. We would not be proud of ourselves because we believe that we preach grace and every other church doesn’t. We would not be proud of ourselves because we believe in discipling kids, not entertaining. When our bible studies lead us to compare ourselves with the world, instead of loving the world, or think about sin generally instead of particularly, we’re not spiritually broke.
But the question then remains, should someone not take some pride in what his/her church does when their church preaches the gospel and many others in the area don’t? Or if not “pride,” how should we think of churches who are faithful to what they feel God calling them to do? Is there place a for confidence and critique of other churches?
Of course there is a place for critique, provided critique is not ALL you do. But 99% of your critiques of other churches will accomplish nothing, and sometimes that may be a good thing. Here are some thoughts which can inspire a God-centered confidence and joy without looking down on other churches who do things differently, or even at times, perhaps glaringly unfaithfully.
1.) Boast in the Lord (II Cor 10:17). We don’t boast in our philosophy of ministry, our theology, our ______, but only in the Lord. He has saved, delivered, and directed us to where we need to be. The church as a whole boasts in the Lord for what He’s done for them, and how He’s allowed us to apply biblical principles to our church ministries. Boast of what the Lord has done at your church and have confidence that He is at work.
2.) Being poor in Spirit (Matt 5:3) allows us to re-visit policies and programs when we need to do so. It allows you to say, “We could do this better in the future,” or “Maybe this isn’t the best use of our gifts and resources at the time.” If you are proud of what you do, you will find little room for evaluation. If you boast in the Lord, you are always looking to Him who may want you to tweak or nix some policies, programs, ministries, etc….
3.) If you boast in the Lord, not simply in your church, you will be aware of what others churches are doing. This allows you to learn from them.
4.) Boasting in the Lord lets you recognize we really don’t want all churches to look alike. We want them all to preach the gospel, disciple kids, do missions and mercy, etc….,but each church will probably play a niche in its community. Boast in the Lord for churches who may reach drug addicts, others single mothers or homeless, still others folks with disabilities or divorces.
5.) Being poor in Spirit does not eradicate the opportunity to critique others, but it does eradicate even the need to judge others. It is Jesus’ church. And yes, we judge those within our own churches. But Jesus may surprise us someday with how he thinks of mega, mini, or multi-site churches. Perhaps we need them all. Regardless, we don’t get a vote. So be careful not to overvalue your own critiques or convictions, or you may just be undervaluing Jesus’ bride.

You should obviously commit to, plug in, and serve the church you feel most responsibly preaches, teaches, and applies the gospel. But remember to boast in the Shepherd, not the shepherd/s, or the sheep.

On heresy and humility: you don’t have to be a thelogical jerk

Here is a post from Justin Holcomb on dealing with heresy and what it is not. The whole thing is well worth the read, but here are some snippets.

If a believer authentically holds to the Nicene Creed, we should not call them a heretic, no matter how strongly we believe they are gravely in error on the details or on other doctrines. A good shorthand for heresy, then, is to ask, “Can they say the Nicene Creed and mean it without their fingers crossed?” If the answer is yes, they may still be wrong, and they may be heterodox, but we cannot call them heretics, because they fit within the bounds of historic Christianity.

For the grammatically anal, it should “if a believer holds….we should not cal HIM (not them) a heretic.” But that’s beside the point. I love his winsome and humble attitude, which I think is what Paul is driving at in Phil 4:8 in “whatever is lovely.” This attitude is an absolute necessity, though rare, in theological dialog. This guy went to Reformed Theological Seminary (where I went) and is doing a fine job at being “winsomely reformed,” as they taught us down in those parts. You don’t have to be a jerk to question, challenge, discern, or dialog with those of differing theologies-even bad ones.

Such an attitude of humble, charitable engagement stands in stark contrast to the spirit of the blogosphere today. Rather than being fundamentalists who turn disagreement into division, we should contend for the truth with humility and grace. That’s how Jesus treated us.

On Kyle Williams and Manning-up/Womanning Up

There were some great football games this past weekend for the divisional championship round games (winner goes to Super Bowl). Unfortunately for both losing teams, their losses are mired in the mystery and misery of mistake ridden final moments.
The 49ers lost to the giants in OT because kick-returner Kyle Williams fumbled the ball on his team’s side of the field. As a result, the Giants kicked the game winning field goal. Unfortunately for him, he actually received death threats via twitter (unfortunately its not just soccer where that happens).
The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Patriots due to a missed field goal in the final moments which would have sent the game into OT. 
Two games. Two goats. 
But each responded a little differently. 49ers Kick Returner Kyle Williams owned his own mistake. Ravens kicker seemed to do just that. But then he began blaming the New England scoreboard for not putting the correct down causing him and his teammates to rush. Given New England’s penchant for cheating, I’m sure that it was intentional.
However, two games, two goats. Two different responses. As Jim Rome said on his radio show today, “One guy manned up, and owned it. That’s macho.”
I’m always interested in what folks consider masculine, or in other words, what “real men do,” because even “Christian” masculinity seems to be cut and pasted from respected cultural norms. Then you can just throw a verse or two on top of it and canonize it.
But because man is made in the image of God, we shouldn’t expect everything held high in our culture to be completely devoid of biblical truth. Rome is on to something here. In part.
Right: It is “manly” to confess when you screw up. Men often run from their problems. We blame. Adam did it. But redeemed manhood does confess. And this can be hard because men are designed to lead and saying you screwed up seems to get in the way of leading. But part of leadership is being able to say, “I screwed up. I own it. It’s not YOUR fault. It’s mine.” People like that. Kyle Williams’ teammates did too. Of course this really can only be accomplished by a deep belief in the gospel that says, “I screwed up, but God loves me the same as He did before I screwed up. I don’t lose my opportunity to lead, but have the opportunity to recognize my need for grace. Ideally others will also see their need for grace too.”
Perhaps not as Right: While it is “manly” to confess when you screwed up, I don’t know that is is uniquely manly. Men do need to take the lead in this because, well, they are to lead. So maybe there is a primacy…Yet you could also just as truthfully deem this quality “womanly,” or feminine. You could just as easily say, “Woman up, own this, and move forward.” Adam blamed Eve. Then Eve followed his example and blamed the serpent. Just like the natural man, the natural woman, is prone to blame shift. But the redeemed woman, can also believe the gospel, and “woman-up,”  and display this “manly” or “womanly” quality.
Owning your mistakes and shortcomings is both masculine and feminine, if you have to put it in those terms. But truthfully it is simply living out the gospel. It is Christ-centered more than anything. 
The fact that some people appreciate this characteristic is but another example of the ways man/woman still images God. While I don’t know that this is SPECIFICALLY masculine, it is still part of godly masculinity. And it’s great to see this quality praised as opposed to what passes as “macho” in beer commercials. Maybe folks like Jim Rome will take the next step and say, “I screwed up because that’s what I do. I’m a screw-up. But Jesus loves screw-ups who recognize their need of His grace.”

Hard work?

This year’s Heisman (giving to nation’s top/most influential football player) trophy winner was Robert Griffin III. I didn’t watch the Heisman award ceremony, but heard just a snippet of his speech. But I think the snippet spoke volumes. So did ESPN.
He took a few long strides up to the stage and let out a laugh when he got there, making a joke about the Superman socks — complete with capes on the back — he was wearing before going into his acceptance speech.
“This is unbelievably believable,” he said. “It’s unbelievable because in the moment we’re all amazed when great things happen. But it’s believable because great things don’t happen without hard work.”
What I did notice was an emphasis on the role of hard work and how it enabled him to achieve this goal. Here are my takes on how Griffin’s acceptance speech differed vastly from Tebow’s.
1.) Praise. One praised His God for the drive, opportunity, skill, and ability to put in the hard work necessary. The other praised himself for his hard work, and his teammates’ for their hard work in enabling him to win the award. It is interesting to me how it is more offensive to give credit to someone’s God than to take credit and praise oneself. Usually in life, we call people who praise themselves arrogant, self-absorbed, or sometimes narcissistic. Yet most people were clearly more offended by Tebow’s humility and deflection of praise.
2.) Credit where credit is due. The Heisman trophy winner is about perception. Again I didn’t hear the whole speech, so he might have credited the media who threw its support behind Griffin the final few weeks. I tend to doubt that though. Most athletes don’t recognize the media for giving them their fame but only for the media’s not granting them fame or coverage. Without much of the media’s coverage and backing, a QB from Baylor does not win out over a big name quarterback or running back at a big name school like Stanford or Alabama.
3.) Hard work? Whatever we do, whether playing football or operating a toll booth (that seems like one of the harder jobs), we are to work at it with all of our hearts; for in such cases, as in all cases, we are ultimately serving the Lord  (Col 3:23-24). Are those who win necessarily those who work the hardest? Did Griffin work harder than others with known ‘work ethics’? Despite hard work, let’s remember this is football. Each game can bring out a career or season ending injury. Peyton Manning, known for being one of the hardest working quarterbacks in the NFL, couldn’t outwork God’s providence. He didn’t play a down this year because of neck surgery. Providence can always trump hard work when someone hits you below the knees like someone did to the seemingly untouchable, hard working, Patriots QB Tom Brady several years ago.
4.) Opportunity knocks. No matter the amount of hard work, there still comes a time where the opportunity, or lack thereof, will more often than not, trump hard work. For instance, if you had been born in some small village in India, undernourished, and lived in poverty, you would not be playing QB for the NFL. You would be fortunate to work hard and hope to eat and feed your family. Last time I checked, we didn’t have a say on who our mothers and fathers would be. We didn’t have a say on where or when we were born. We didn’t have a say on our DNA make up. We didn’t have a say on how athletic we would be, or how much IQ we would possess. If you have risen to the top of your profession-whether it be mother, athlete, real estate, medicine-hard work obviously played a part. But it only played A part. Your station of life, what you have to work with, plays A part as well. Whether it’s an acceptance speech, or simply a prayer each night before you God to bed, don’t forget the God who grants you the plethora of opportunities that allow your hard work to pay off.

A Rays Celebration of Redemption

Last night I witnessed perhaps the most improbable comeback in baseball history (well, if I’m recording it). The Tampa Bay Rays, down 7-0 in the bottom of the 8th inning, came back with 6 runs, then a 1 run homer in the 9th with two outs and two strikes to a hitter only batting .120. Dan Johnson had one homer in April, then stunk so bad they sent him down to the minors. Then, after a shaky 12th inning, where the Rays allowed runners to reach 1st and 3rd with no outs, the Yankees followed with three consecutive outs. Finally, Tampa Bay slugger Evan Longoria closed out the game with one of the shortest home runs Tropicana Field has ever seen. Sportswriters sum up the game here and you can watch highlights if my vivid writing falls flat to you. A home run that was only a home run because they shortened the height of the wall a few years ago.

To top that all off, only 3 minutes earlier, the Red Sox had blown a 3-2 lead with 2 outs and 2 strikes on the batter. Crazy. The script could not have been written any better. What I thought was so fascinating is that the Rays won in such a way as they could celebrate freely, yet humbly. They were remarkably humble, but that only added to the celebration. Here’s why.

1.) They played like garbage against a rookie pitcher making his first start and continued to play like garbage for 7 straight innings. They couldn’t boast in their play.

2.) While Longoria did come through with some clutch homers, it would have all been for naught if Dan Johnson, the unlikely hero-who had no plans of even getting into the game-didn’t hit his home run in the bottom of the ninth. With 2 outs and 2 strikes. Their star pitcher David Price gave up a grand slam. In the end, it took an unlikely hero. For the most part, the stars could not boast.

3.) The Yankees, either sensing that the Rays couldn’t come back from 7-0, or that they just didn’t care, didn’t use their stars. They couldn’t simply boast that they beat the best team in baseball. They beat the bench of the best team in baseball.

4.) It took several more innings, and a rookie base running mistake by the Yankees, for the Rays to finally capitalize. They couldn’t boast in someone else’s mistakes.

Now none of these things took anything away from the celebration. In fact, I happen to think they added to it. The celebration comprised a bunch of unlikely victors who depended upon a ton of factors which were out of their control. They were 9 games out of first place when September started. Even if they played well, the Red Sox had to play poorly. Impecuniously-if I may say-poorly. And they had to lose that night as well.

So in the end, it wasn’t simply a celebration of how good they were, but a celebration of a number of fortunate events like guys who aren’t very good making great plays, and timely decisions/guesses. That kind of celebration is much more special than simply winning the division because of your skill, then and resting players. I think that celebration would probably have been less special because it was a celebration of self achievement.

I don’t know how Yankee fan felt after they clinched the division. But I doubt the celebration was as great. And I don’t think its simply b/c they just want to win it all. Celebration in your own goodness pales in comparison to the celebration that comes with needing someone else to be good for you.

In God’s story of Redemption, he uses the Dan Johnson’s, the dependence upon factors we can’t control, and the goodness of the Redeemer. We can’t boast in anything except in Him. And as a result, the rejoicing in heaven is that much greater. And it should be just as crazy down here on Earth. Don’t ever forget to pop open a bottle of the bubbly when you think of the gospel. The celebration starts now, but remember this is just the beginning.