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  • My Day After Election Day Prayer

    Our church happily participated in Election Day Communion, sort of. We decided to offer (Day After) Election Day Communion because we have a regularly scheduled prayer and communion service every Wednesday at noon. We offered communion the day after the election for the same reason churches offered communion the day of the election: we feel partisan politics are dividing Christians and we believe this division deeply grieves the Holy Spirit. I certainly understand that Christians deeply committed to Christ are simply not going to agree on who they vote for. I accept this. What I do not accept is the hate, mockery, acrimony, and hostility experienced in the church over political ideologies. When we enter the voting booth (or sit at a table with our ballots as I did at my polling station), we may divide into categories: blue/red, liberal/conservative, Democrat, Republican, but we cannot bring that division into the body of Christ.

    The solution: communion.

    At the Lord’s Table, when we come to partake of the body and blood of Christ, we are united. We leave all of our distinctiveness behind when we come to the table. We come to Jesus’ table to find our unity, which is in him. We do not divide into righteous and sinful people, when we come to the table. We come as sinful people to the only Righteous One. At the table we find what unifies us is not policies, candidates, or political platforms, but Jesus Christ himself. In receiving communion we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes; we proclaim our true hope is in the Crucified King who is ruling now and will come again.

    In our (Day After) Election Day Communion service, I was asked to read John 17 and pray a prayer in response to this reading. I was planning on praying something spontaneous, but 10 minutes before the start of the service I wrote the following words. I offer this as a prayer for Christians the day after the 2012 Presidential election:

    A Day after Election Day Prayer

    Holy Father,

    We are grateful to be your children, invited into your family, called by your name. We believe you have sent your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ who has defeated sin, death, and principalities and powers through this death, burial, and resurrection. We thank you that while Jesus humbled himself in his incarnation and remained obedient even unto death that you raised him up and have exalted him to a position of power and authority over the nations.

    May his rule and reign by known here and now among all of us who are baptized into his name. May his prayer for us be answered by you. May we who live in this fallen world be made one, just as the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit are one. May we no longer be divided by race, gender, class, or political ideology  but may all of those who put faith in Christ be made one, united in faith and love, that the world may see the glory and beauty of King Jesus.

    For the glory of God the Father, by the power of the Spirit, and in the name of Jesus we pray.


  • Why I am not Emergent (By a Guy Who Should Be)

    I have been asked questions recently about the emergent church, specifically whether or not I am “emergent” and whether or not my church is becoming “emergent.”

    The simple answer is, no. I am not emergent and the church I serve is not an emergent church.

    My answer is simple, but the issues surrounding the emergent church are not. I was surprised when I was asked recently about the emergent church, because I thought the emergent church / emergent movement / emergent conversation was pretty much over. I remember hearing about the death of this movement back in 2010. (Read more here.) I suppose some people are still engaged in this conversation, but I haven’t heard much about it until recently. I took the title of this blog post from a book I read about four years ago, Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. In re-reading their introduction, I agree with their title. I am not emergent, but it seems like I should be.

    I wear jeans when I preach and I wear typical hipster black-framed glasses. I drink coffee and listen to Johnny Cash (not to mention Bob Dylan, The Civil Wars, Mumford & Sons, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and The Black Keys). I own an iPhone. I spend way too much time on Twitter. I read theology. I read church history. My reading list includes N.T. Wright, Stanley Hauerwas, Dallas Willard, and Wendell Berry, among others. I use the language of story. I distrust some of what modernity has given us. I dislike people talking about going to heaven and prefer to speak of heaven coming to earth. So maybe I should be “emergent,” but I’m not.    

    What is the “emergent church”?

    The difficulty here is in nailing down exactly what “emergent” is. It seems to me that “emergent” has become a label―a derogatory label critics use to mark people they don’t agree with and simply dismiss them as false teachers or heretics. These kind of attempts to pigeonhole people saddens me. The way forward, when we find ourselves in disagreement with other Christians, is not labeling and dismissing, but conversation. Jesus said:

    “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:22-23)

    Later Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell your brother his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). If you have something against someone in the body of Christ or if someone has something against you, say it is a disagreement in beliefs, don’t just label them and dismiss them, but go to them, ask questions, listen to them, seek to understand where they are coming from.

    Nevertheless, “emergent” is a label that is apparently still out there; so what does it mean?  Roger Oakland of Understanding the Times International wrote an essay on his ministry website entitled, “How to Know When the Emerging Church Shows Signs of Emerging in Your Church,” where he lists at least 14 signs of the emergent church. I have no indication that Oakland is an expert in this field, but I will use his 14 descriptions as a working definition of the emergent church movement. With the assumption that this description is an accurate picture of the emergent church, I will add some commentary explaining point-for-point why I am not emergent.

    Signs of the Emergent Church (according to Roger Oakland)

    1) Scripture is no longer the ultimate authority as the basis for the Christian faith.
    I hold to the textual authority of Scripture. I believe the Bible is uniquely inspired by God and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). When I say textual authority, I mean the Bible is the ultimate written authority in forming Christian doctrine, ethics, and mission. The ultimate authority is Jesus. Scripture is not Lord; Jesus is. The Bible is the most authoritative witness to the life and teaching of Jesus. In this regard, I believe Scripture is sacred and therefore I read it and study it and teach it with a serious mind and reverent heart.

    2) The centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ is being replaced by humanistic methods promoting church growth and a social gospel.
    I do desire the church (both my church and the global Church) to grow, and I do desire the gospel to have a social effect, but for me, the gospel is central to all of my life and work as a pastor. The good news that Jesus is Lord, that he became the Savior of the world through his incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension occupies my thoughts, fills my prayers, drives my preaching, and shapes how I help people grow in the Christian faith. My intention is to allow the gospel, and not methodology or pragmatics, to be the unchanging center everything else revolves around.    

    3) More and more emphasis is being placed on building the kingdom of God now and less and less on the warnings of Scripture about the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a coming judgment in the future.
    I do not work to build the kingdom of God, because the kingdom of God is not something to be built. The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God through Christ over his creation. I see myself as more of a messenger and servant of his kingdom. I pray for his kingdom to come, but Jesus has already pronounced the coming of the kingdom in his public ministry. Therefore, I hold to the presence of the kingdom now and the anticipation of the kingdom coming with the return of Christ. I do not know if I emphasize living in the kingdom now or anticipating the kingdom coming, but my desire has been to help Christians live in the tension between the “already” and “not yet” of the kingdom.

    4) The teaching that Jesus Christ will rule and reign in a literal millennial period is considered unbiblical and heretical.
    I do not call a literal interpretation of the 1,000 year reign of Christ mentioned in Revelation 20:2-7 unbiblical or heretical. I would say it is not the best interpretation of the text. There have been numerous theological discussions regarding the “millennial reign” of Christ for a long time and Christians have not always agreed on the best way to interpret it. I do not believe this 1,000 year period is a literal amount of time, but rather a symbol. However, I will not call someone who believes in a literal thousand year reign of Christ a heretic. This is one of those secondary, non-essential doctrines Christians can (and do) disagree on and still remain within the biblical, orthodox Christian faith.  

    5) The teaching that the church has taken the place of Israel and Israel has no prophetic significance is often embraced.
    I wouldn’t say the Church has taken the place of Israel. I would say the Church has fulfilled the vocation of Israel to be a blessing to all the “families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3). Ancient Israel, as the covenant people of God, has now been expanded to include the non-Jewish (Gentile) nations. Jesus has expanded what it means to be the people of God shifting the sign of the covenant from Jewish ethnicity, circumcision, and observance of the Torah to faith, baptism, and obedience to Jesus as Lord.

    6) The teaching that the Book of Revelation does not refer to the future, but instead has been already fulfilled in the past.
    As mentioned above, there are many interpretive approaches to the Book of Revelation. Jack Hayford, in his introduction to Revelation in the Spirit-filled Life Bible, describes eight different major interpretive viewpoints of the Revelation. The two most dominant schools of thought are called “premillennialism” and “amillennialism.” The amillennial approach to understanding Revelation does interpret the book as a symbolic description of God’s present triumph through the church. I find the amillennial approach to be the most helpful way to understand Revelation, understanding the book not as a revelation of the “end times,” but a revelation of Jesus Christ. (See my sermon “A Traveler’s Guide Through Revelation” for a more detailed description of how I read Revelation.)

    7) An experiential mystical form of Christianity begins to be promoted as a method to reach the postmodern generation.
    The Christian faith does have an experiential dimension. God has come to us in Christ and makes his grace known to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said we will know the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, because “he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). We are able to know God by direct personal encounter, and not just know about God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. I do not promote this experience of the Spirit as a way to reach people. I teach this mystical expression of the faith as part of the normal Christian life.

    8) Ideas are promoted teaching that Christianity needs to be reinvented in order to provide meaning for this generation.
    Christianity does not need to be reinvented, because it is not a faith we create or recreate; it is a faith we have received. We contend, writes Jude, “for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). My interest in reading church history underscores my desire to rightly understand this faith I have received. We do need to constantly rethink our methods and language in communicating the faith to the people in our world. In other words, we need to be good missionaries where we are, understanding our culture, so we can communicate the gospel in culturally-appropriate ways.  

    9) The pastor may implement an idea called “ancient-future” or “vintage Christianity” claiming that in order to take the church forward, we need to go back in church history and find out what experiences were effective to get people to embrace Christianity.
    I find great wisdom in learning from church history, as I stated above. My reading of church history is not so much a study of the experiences of those who have gone before, but the teaching (or theology) of those in the historic Church. I do not always agree with the various thinkers, leaders, and teachers in church history. (How could I when there is so much diversity over 2,000 years of church history!) Reading church history has been an act of repentance for me, because I have confessed my arrogance in thinking my generation of Christian thinkers and teachers have the entire Christian faith figured out.

    10) While the authority of the Word of God is undermined, images and sensual experiences are promoted as the key to experiencing and knowing God.
    I do not undermine the authority of Scripture, but I do believe the Holy Spirit plays a role in leading us into all truth. John Wesley taught that tradition, reason, and experience play a role in rightly interpreting Scripture. There are limitations to the role experience places in our understanding of the faith, because subjective human experience can easily lead us off track. I tend to rely much more on tradition and reason to understand the Scripture, but I cannot deny the role of experience in knowing God.

    11) These experiences include icons, candles, incense, liturgy, labyrinths, prayer stations, contemplative prayer, experiencing the sacraments, particularly the sacrament of the Eucharist.
    I still consider myself a novice in the school of prayer, but “contemplative prayer” to me is nothing more than thoughtful prayer, that is meditating on God’s word as a part of prayer. I do not see how this undermines the authority of the word of God, when it is a meditation on Scripture. I also pray the Psalms, the Lord’s prayer (both from Scripture) and well-crafted, biblically-rich prayers from The Book of Common Prayer. The sacrament of the Eucharist (i.e. communion) is the central piece of Christian worship and it has been that way since the beginning. Christians have disagreed on the proper understanding of communion, but a sacramental view has been most dominant. By sacramental, we mean that receiving the communion elements connects us in a mysterious way to the real presence of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16).

    12) There seems to be a strong emphasis on ecumenism indicating that a bridge is being established that leads in the direction of unity with the Roman Catholic Church.
    I believe in the communion of the saints. This confession is from the Apostles’ Creed. It means, in part, that I have a “common union” with all of those who are baptized into Christ. If you are a Christian (as defined by the Apostles’ Creed) then we are in the same family regardless of your denominational affiliation. I believe Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, Protestant, Evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians are members of the same Church, although we will have disagreements. I want to build bridges of conversation with Christians in other denominations (including Orthodox and Catholic), but this does not mean I agree with all of their teachings and practice, nor does it mean that I intend on joining their denomination.  

    13) Some evangelical Protestant leaders are saying that the Reformation went too far. They are re-examining the claims of the “church fathers” saying that communion is more than a symbol and that Jesus actually becomes present in the wafer at communion.
    I do not agree with all points of doctrine taught in the Protestant Reformation, but I do believe the Reformers were re-examining the church fathers (church leaders and writers from the first four centuries of the Church) in order to bring correction and reformation to the Church. Martin Luther, one of the Protestant Reformers, spoke of the “real presence” of Christ present in communion. This is the view I hold. I do believe communion has symbols, but it is more than symbolic. Jesus is present in communion, not physically, but “spiritually” by the Holy Spirit.   

    14) There will be a growing trend towards an ecumenical unity for the cause of world peace claiming the validity of other religions and that there are many ways to God.
    I believe Jesus Christ is the only way to God. Other world religions may contain some elements of truth. I believe other religions contain people who are sincere and authentic in their expressions of worship and devotion, but ultimately fall short of God’s glory. Jesus, as he said, is the way, the truth, and the life, the only way to the Father (John 14:6). I believe in the exclusivity of Christ and I believe in living in peace with those of a different faith. Jesus calls us not only to love God, but to love our neighbor, regardless of their ethnicity, social status, religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation.

  • N.T. Wright Sings Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In”

    I am a huge fan of Tom Wright. I am a huge fan of Bob Dylan. So this video pretty much blew my mind!

  • The Comforts and Commands of Christ

    Jesus rose from the dead. We believe it, but now what?

    We are now in the second week of Easter. The celebration known as Easter is not just one day, but it is a season, a seven-week celebration of living life in light of the resurrection. We celebrated on Easter Sunday. We got dressed up. We went to church. We sang songs about the empty tomb. We reflected on resurrection Scriptures. We met the living Jesus through communion. We went home, ate our chocolate bunnies and marshmallow peeps (my personal favorite). We rightly celebrated on that one day, but where do we go from here?

    In Matthew’s account of the resurrection of Jesus, the two Marys met the resurrected Jesus after they saw the empty tomb. Jesus instructs them to go tell his disciples to meet him in Galilee. When Jesus appeared to his disciples there, they worshiped him and he said:

    All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20)

    After his resurrection, Jesus tells his followers to go. This command answers the “now what?” question for us, his followers some 2,000 years removed from his resurrection. Once we have celebrated, it is time for us to go and do.

    Jesus intended there to be movement in the new community he was building. He has declared to us that he has received all authority in heaven and on earth. This authority is not spiritual power, but civic power, not religious power, but political power. In raising Jesus from the dead, God has made him Lord and King. Jesus is now the planet’s new reigning ruler. The first bill he signed into law in his new government was one to get his citizens up and moving and “back to work.” And the work we are called to do is to make disciples. This call and command to make disciples is not for a select few ministerial professional; it is for all of us who are following Jesus. It is for all of us basking in the light of the resurrection. We have entered into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus through baptism. We have experienced (and are experiencing) forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, healing, and all the other benefits received from this resurrection life, but we cannot receive the comforts of Christ without following the commands of Christ.

    Jesus commands us to make disciples, but he doesn’t stop there.He even helps us with how we are we do carry out this disciple-making mission. We go and make disciples by baptizing them and teaching them. Baptizing and teaching become the two pedals propelling our disciple-making mission forward. We baptize people into the Jesus story of death, burial, and resurrection. We baptize people not just IN the trifold name of God, but we baptize people INTO the life of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God himself is a holy community of persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. When we baptize people, we are immersing them into a community of self-giving love, which is why we celebrate at every baptism. We are celebrating and welcoming people into the life of God (Trinitarian community) and the life of the church (humanitarian community).

    Following baptism we teach. Certainly, we do more in church life than teaching, but the ministry of teaching is foundational to making disciples. We are to teach the newly baptized to observe everything Jesus has commanded. We do not teach in such a way to help people “apply things to their lives.” Jesus did not ever say that he was giving us “biblical principles” that we are to teach so people can apply them to their lives. He gave us commands; he gave us proclamations; he gave us descriptions of the kingdom of God, and then he told us to go and do. His teaching does not have application, but it does have motivation. We are not to try to figure out how we can fit his teachings into our lives, but we are called to adjust our lives and orient ourselves around his teaching. This uncomfortable re-adjustment we call repentance is not merely an intellectual exercise, but it implies action, rethinking things in order to live differently.

    In the end, Jesus gives us a promise. He does not just give commands, but he gives commands with a promise. He promised to be with us, to help us, to guide us. Every Sunday we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. He is present as we gather in his name. He is present as his word is proclaimed. He is present at the table in the bread and in the cup. He promises to be with us by his Spirit, so we have power to carry out his command. So we as the community of faith living in the light of the resurrection carry out his instructions by make disciples. We do this by his empowering presence in the light of his resurrection.

  • Why I Have Started Reading Fiction

    Check out my blog post on, where I explain Why I Have Started Reading Fiction: In the post, I describe how the call to read fiction both shocked me and helped me as a Bible reader and a Bible teacher.

    In the post I talk about reading Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of short stories. I finished it this week and it certainly did not disappoint. I am finishing a few other books (non-fiction books, but keep that on the down low…I don’t want Eugene Peterson to find out!), but when I finish those, I plan on reading Berry’s novel Jayber Crow next, probably over the summer.

  • Thinking God’s Thoughts After Him

    It is day 26 of Lent. We are more than half-way through our journey to Easter. During this Lenten season I have done a lot of thinking. In a curious sort of way, I have been thinking about thinking or the lack thereof in many pockets of evangelical Christianity. Perhaps my thinking about thinking was sparked by Mark Noll’s scandalous opening to The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, where he writes: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Or maybe it was Christian Smith’s The Bible Made Impossible (I have added this book to my Lenten reading list) that has been challenging me to think about how I view Scripture. Maybe this thinking about thinking has come from N.T. Wright who is causing me to think about Jesus in his historical context in Simply Jesus. Or maybe it is because Lent is a time to reflect (thinking backwards) on the suffering of Jesus.

    Maybe it is just me.

    I admit that I have an intellectual bent. It is the sacred pathway I feel most comfortable walking down. Loving God with my mind stands out in the command to love God with all of our heart, soul, MIND, and strength. I have a bias towards an intellectual approach to the Christian faith; I admit it. I like books. I like books with footnotes. I like books with footnotes and big words that I have to look up in the dictionary. I like being challenged with thoughts that undermine my assumptions. I like connecting ideas in a new way. Engaging the faith with intellectual fervor is natural for me, but it is also a necessary component in following Jesus Christ. We are challenged in Romans 12 to allow our minds to be renewed:

    Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

    Paul was not a detached, professional theologian disconnected from the life of the church or the life of the Spirit. He experienced spiritual gifts such as the ability to speak in tongues, but he said he would rather speak five intelligible words in the church so those who worship Jesus could mature in their ability to think:

    Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)

    All of this talk about thinking is not simply to make people smarter or more educated, but to make people more devoted to Jesus Christ:

    But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:3)

    So here are my somewhat disconnected, somewhat related, thoughts about thinking.

    • Thinking about God is the Christian art of meditation, an ancient Christian practice.

    • Thinking about our own soul is subordinate to thinking about God. When we think about ourselves we do so with a lowly mind. We think of others as more important than ourselves. We call that “humility.” And humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

    • As our minds are renewed by the Spirit, we begin to change our way of thinking. The Spirit enables us to set our minds on things above where Christ is seated.

    • The 17th century German astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote, “I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature, it benefits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.”

    • Thinking good thoughts about God is not worship; worship is something we do. However worship proceeds from and leads to fruitful thinking.

    • Thinking is an internal monologue, a way we talk things out within ourselves. Is this a reflection of God’s inner dialogue within himself, the eternal conversation between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Maybe.

    • Our ways of thinking form a worldview, a lens by which we interpret the world around us. When we awake to our thought life we can begin to understand the difference between perception and fact, and begin to see things from another person’s point of view.

    • “The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – Wendell Berry

    • When we think in reverse we tap into our memories. When we think forward we tap into our hopes.

    • When listening to others we can choose to accept the information we are receiving, but this requires little thinking. We activate our thinking when we ask questions, when we challenge assumptions behind what they are saying, when we weigh the merits of the evidence they offer to make their point.

    • Jesus challenged us to think with his oft-quoted phrase: He who has ears to hear, let him hear. He very easily could have said: He who has a mind to think, let him think.

    • Thinking allows us to sort out truth from rhetoric, that is the “way things are” from the “way we would like things to be.”

    • To grow in your capacity to think requires you to expand your vocabulary. Learning new words increases your ability to think and understand. This is hard work.

    • “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness is giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

    • There are limits to our thinking, no doubt about. We are finite beings dependent upon the Infinite One to reveal truth to us. Our thinking can only take us so far, but it can take us much farther than self-assured ignorance.

  • Reading Ideas for Lent

    Ash Wednesday is tomorrow! We are just about 12 hours away from beginning our 40-day journey through Lent. I have been spending the day getting ready for Ash Wednesday. We are hosting services at Word of Life Church at 7AM, Noon, & 7PM in our Upper Room Prayer & Worship Center. We are using the Book of Common Prayer as our guide, a prayer book dating back to the time of the English Reformation. In reading through the instructions for Ash Wednesday in this prayer book, I was reminded that we observe Lent “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

    Lent is not just a season of prayer and fasting, but it is also a season of reading, spiritual reading, holy reading. As you join us on this Lenten journey, I encourage you to read in addition to fasting and prayer. Here are some reading ideas for Lent:

    1) Scripture
    Our pastor has complied 40 Meditations on the Holy Week. This guide gives you Scripture reading from the last week of the life of Jesus in the gospels, a short passage for each day during Lent.

    2) Books by N.T. Wright
    It has been my tradition to a read book about Jesus during the season of Lent and two out of the last three years I have read a book by N.T. Wright who is perhaps the most important living theologian writing and lecturing and preaching on the person of Jesus Christ. This year I am reading Simply Jesus.

    3) The Church Fathers
    During my first Lenten journey, I read selections from the writings of the Church Fathers, who were early church leaders in the first 300 years or so of the Church. The wonderful people at have created an easy to follow guide through the writings of the church fathers. I suggest you follow the “New and Shorter Alternative,” the “LITE plan” as they call it. You can download the complete text here.

    4) Other Good Christian Books
    There are numerous other books you can read in addition to what I have mentioned above, but adding another book may make your reading list a bit long. In addition to Scripture, and N.T. Wright’s book, I will be reading The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind by Mark Noll. This book was published in 1994 and has been on my reading list for a long time. I picked it up yesterday, so it has been added to my Lenten reading.

    May God bless you on your Lenten journey this year.

    This is the prayer I am offering tomorrow at the end of our Ash Wednesday Service. It is from the Catholic Church’s International Committee on English in the Liturgy:

    Father in Heaven,
    Protect us in our struggle against evil.
    As we begin the discipline of Lent,
    make this season holy by our self-denial.
    Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ
    who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit
    one God, for ever and ever.

  • Why I Practice Lent

    I have been a follower of Jesus for 26 years, spending all of my time worshiping in churches not known for observing the church calendar, not known for following many of the ancient traditions of the Church. The truth is that all local churches have traditions they keep. Traditions, in and of themselves, are not bad. We are after all habit-keeping creatures. We all form patterns. To some degree, we all find comfort in routine. “Lent” was not a part of my vocabulary until about five years ago. If you would have mentioned “Lent” to me ten years ago, I would have quickly thought of that foreign substance in my belly button or that soft material collecting in my dryer vent. In recent years, I have been making an effort to practice Lent and I want to invite you to join me in this Lenten journey.

    Lent is forty-day season of prayer and fasting leading up to Easter, Resurrection Sunday.

    Followers of Jesus gather every Sunday for worship to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. This is true. We particularly worship on Sunday because this is the day Jesus rose from the dead. The earliest follower of Jesus were nearly all Jewish and they purposely moved their time of worship from Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath) to Sunday because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday. However, the ultimate day of Christian celebration is Easter. Every Sunday is a mini-celebration of the resurrection leading up to this ultimate day of celebration. So the days of Lent are counted Monday through Saturday. During Lent we do not fast on Sunday. Every Sunday is a feasting day.

    So why do I practice Lent?

    I did not grow up with this practice. Lent was not a part of my early Christian development. Lent is not a requirement by either Scripture or my church. So why do I invest forty days of my life in this spiritual journey of fasting, prayer, self-denial, and extra attention towards Scripture and devotional reading? Here are my thoughts:

    Lent is about Jesus.
    The traditional Lenten fast is not merely about the tradition itself. My participation in Lent is not about the novelty of doing something different. It is not a matter of “sticking it” to my evangelical upbringing that devalued the ancient traditions of the faith. Lent, and my participation in it, is about Jesus, plain and simple. (Which is why I am reading Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright during Lent in addition to other Scripture reading.) Lent is a way to identify with Jesus who fasted forty days in the wilderness. (I will not be going without solid food for forty straight days. I will be fasting for complete 24-hour periods and certain meals during the forty days of Lent.) This tradition allows me to share in the sufferings of Jesus, in a small degree, so I can celebrate the joy that comes with resurrection.

    Lent creates contrast.
    It does not seem to me that we can experience joy without the contrast of some suffering. If all of our Christian experience is “happy-happy, joy-joy” all the time, then Easter rolls around and becomes more of a time for Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies. Please do not misunderstand me. I am pro Bunny. The Bunny, the Bunny, o I love the Bunny! As much as I am pro Bunny, the over-indulgence of chocolate and marshmallow Peeps is a momentary, superficial kind of joy. It is not the same joy experienced after forty days of self-denial. We cannot experience the joy of the resurrection without enduring the sorrow of the cross. We cannot experience the joy of Easter without the sorrow of Lent. Human beings simply require this kind of contrast.

    Lent gives me a structured way to focus on less popular spiritual disciplines.
    I hate fasting. I can confess this without a hint of guilt. I detest fasting. In all honesty, I enjoy it as much as I enjoy a trip to the dentist. So Lent helps in this regard. It gives me a structured and focused way to fast during a specific block of time. By fasting, I mean abstaining from solid food. On the days (or during the meals) I fast, I continue to drink water. I have also allowed myself to drink coffee during my fast days. Some people choose to give something up for Lent as a form of self-denial. “Giving something up” is a great practice, just remember Sundays are not fasting days. On Sundays you are free to eat and participate in whatever you have given during Lent.

    Lent allows me to connect with the ancient roots of my faith.
    I find a richness and a sense of depth to my faith by walking down this well-trodden Lenten path. Followers of Jesus for hundreds and hundreds of years have walked this path on the road to the resurrection. For far too long, I was arrogant and self-absorbed with my narrow evangelical world. I would willingly receive the Scriptures from the ancient church and some doctrine, but I had zero desire to receive any of her practices. I was wrong. The traditions of the ancient Church are gifts to the contemporary Church. According to John Wesley, our faith is rooted in a quadrilateral of Scripture, tradition, reason, & experience. I need the traditions, the traditional practices of the Church, to live a faith that is less superficial and sentimental.

    Lent allows me to repent.
    Followers of Jesus are a stranger mixture of sinner and saint. I am no different. If I only claim to be a sinner, I undervalue the work of the Spirit in me, transforming me to look more like Jesus. I certain have grown in Christ, but I have not arrived. If I only claim to be a saint, I tend to ignore my sin, especially those sins that so easily knock me off course. Lent is a forty-day time to repent, that is, to turn from our sins and turn in faith to Jesus. The need for repentance is why we begin Lent on “Ash Wednesday,” which is February 22 this year. (There is a Jewish practice of covering yourself with ashes as a sign of repentance, which is where we get the title Ash Wednesday.) With or without literal ashes, Ash Wednesday, and the forty days of Lent, expose my sin and lead me to repentance.

    So join me, join us, in this Lenten journey. I will be leading three, identical, 30-minute Ash Wednesday services at Word of Life Church in St. Joe next week. Services will be at 7AM, noon, & 7PM. I hope you can join us if you are in the St. Joseph area or find a church where you live and participate in their Ash Wednesday service.  

  • Introducing Primal Credo

    I am starting a new series of blog posts focusing on the release of my new book Primal Credo: Your Entrance into the Apostle’s Creed (2011) which will be released this week. Each post will focus on a chapter from the book. With 13 chapters, 1 introduction, and 1 epilogue, I have committed myself to blog at least fifteen times in the next 21 days.

    I do not come from a tradition that gives much attention to the creed. Honestly, in my teens and early 20s I had a prideful bias against the creeds of the church. I proudly chanted: “No creed but the Bible” along with all the others. I assumed at 18, 19, and 20 years, I had it all figured out—God, truth, salvation, humanity; oh yeah, I had it all figured out by the time I was 21. I had no use for the creeds, I had the Bible and the Holy Spirit after all!

    This was not passion for the Word and Spirit. This was youthful arrogance.

    As I have grown in faith over more than two decades, I have repented of my arrogance and accepted that there is a whole lot out there I do NOT understand. What I have come to see is how important the creeds are, particularly the Apostles’ Creed. Now I can see how the creeds help keep me grounded in the rich soil of historic Christianity.

    What is a “creed” you ask? The historic, orthodox Christian church has complied a certain set of Christian beliefs to establish a standard for what we believe as followers of Jesus. There are many different creeds, but the oldest, the most ancient, is the Apostles’ Creed. There is no exact form of this creed. Different Christian denominations have adopted different versions of the creed, but they all say essentially the same thing.

    The creed we call “The Apostles’ Creed” gives us the DNA of our faith as believers in Jesus Christ. This new book, Primal Credo, guides you through this creed. Each chapter in the book leads you through a new section of the creed giving you footholds and places to grip as you continue to explore and grow in your faith. Here is an excerpt from the “Introduction”:

    The more I have grown in the knowledge of God, the more I have discovered my lack of understanding. I do not have it all figured out. These days it seems I have more questions about God and his work upon the earth than answers. If I am being completely honest, I am less comfortable with my faith today than when I was a freshman in college. My thought dreams about the God we worship typically leave me asking for more and wanting more of God’s truth and grace. The Apostles’ Creed has become one of the stabilizing agents in my spiritual journey. While I still serve in a church where we do not recite the creed every Sunday, I have come to see the wisdom of my college advisor. The Apostles’ Creed serves as an extremely useful confession of the essentials of the Christian faith. The ancient church has given the creed to the modern church as an indispensable gift. We would be well-served to spend some time unwrapping it. I have written this book to help us do just that. (Primal Credo, pg. 3)

    Primal Credo uses the form of the Apostles’ Creed used in the Common Book of Worship, a prayer and worship guide used by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Here is the creed, our creed, our first and primal credo:

    I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

    I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.

    On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.


  • Why We Are Being Sent

    This morning I announced to our congregation that our family looks to be the next family sent out from Cornerstone Church. We are, after all, a sending community.

    Cornerstone Church, based in Americus, Georgia, is a large family with people all over the world. Sending people has become a part of our congregational DNA. People come to our church for a certain season of their lives and then they are sent out to various parts of the country and around the world. We believe we have become the kind of church where people are sharpened, shaped, and then sent out by God design. Our time to be sent is coming soon.

    I have accepted a staff position at Word of Life Church in St. Joseph, Missouri, which will begin in June 2011. The Vreeland family will be sent out from Cornerstone Church sometime in May next year.

    So why are we being sent?

    Let me explain by backing up a bit. Cornerstone Church was founded by faithful people who desired an “Ephesians 4” kind of church—a local church free from denominational constraints, a church free to worship Jesus in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, a church where leaders equipped the saints for ministry. Cornerstone Church was and is a church that Jesus is building. I have been thankful to serve and grow with this congregation over the last eleven years. This church has been my family and my church home. We have laughed together and cried together. We have worshiped, worked, and played together for over a decade and sadly our time together is coming to an end.

    For over eighteen months, I have felt that a time of transition was coming. During this time, I shared with our elders that I was open to exploring ministry opportunities outside of our church if God was opening the door. I did explore a few opportunities at other churches during this time, but they all ended up as closed doors. My prayer has always been for God to send our family and use us wherever he desired for us to live and work and serve.

    Our elders have been, and continue to be, completely supportive of me. I thank God for that, because as Cornerstone’s pastor, I have felt completely free—free to go or free to stay. There is absolutely no dissatisfaction in my heard regarding our church. I love our church. Cornerstone is a great church to lead and be apart of. It is a church of leaders, members, and attenders who love God and love one another with authenticity. We would love to gather up everyone in the church building and tie about 10 millions ballons to the roof, like in the movie Up. Then we could float the church on up to St. Joe with everyone at Cornerstone with us.

    The primary reason I was open to other ministry opportunities was an ongoing and unshakable sense in my heart that I had fulfilled God’s calling for me in this church. The work of the local church is never done. There is always a new generation of Cornerstonians growing up in the church. There are always new people coming in and new believers who need to be discipled. There are always stagnant Christians who need to be transformed and mature saints who need to be mobilized in ministry. The work of the local church is never done, but it seems my specific calling in this local church has been fulfilled.

    It took me a long time to understood why God called me here eleven years ago. For a long time, I thought it was a mistake. Either I misunderstood his calling or God called the wrong person. I didn’t understand why God wanted me to stay in 2004 amid the upheaval in our church after the previous pastor resigned. But God’s providence is easier to see the rearview mirror. Looking back, I can see God’s hand at work in my own heart and in the heart of our congregation. I am humbled, really humbled. There is no sense of false humility here; I am truly humbled that God was able to work through my failures, mistakes, sins, blunders, ignorance, and misguidedness at times to create something beautiful in this congregation.

    Reminds me of the chorus from Gungor’s “Beautiful Things”:

    You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of dust.
    You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of us.

    Our church is far from perfect, but we are becoming beautiful as a congregation. We are church without strife, backbiting, and fighting, where people love one another. We are people who worship God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are a congregation formed by the Scripture. We are those who confess Jesus is Lord and live with him at the center of everything. It seems that my calling here was to lead our church into a season of health. When I was ordained in January 2000, the minister speaking at my ordination challenged me to leave churches better than the way I found them when I entered in. I can honestly say Cornerstone is a better church, a healthier church, a more beautiful church, than it was when I arrived in 1999.

    And now it is our family’s turn to be sent. Today is not the day for tears and goodbyes. We still have seven months of ministry here, seven months to continue to do what we do, which will now include laying the ground work for the next chapter in Cornerstone’s history.

    Bonus: ” Beautiful Things” by Gunor