Devastating

January 27, 2010 1 comment

I’m reading the DMin dissertation of a friend of mine who has completed his Beeson program at Asbury Seminary.  I’m enjoying it.  That’s a strange, strange thing to say about a dissertation, but he is writing on something I’ve never heard anyone talk about before: the spiritual discipline of preaching.  Without recognizing what was happening, I’ve been encountering this in my life over the last few weeks.  Sadly, I’ve relied on my knowledge and my ability to prepare messages throughout the course of my 6.5 years in ministry.  Recently, however, I’ve been running up against the Bible as I prepare to preach.  The only way to describe it is to say I’ve heard the Spirit say, “You must preach this gospel to your own heart first!”  That’s discomforting to the one who has become comfortable.

My dissertation writing friend quotes United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon in saying that a preacher’s preparation is “a weekly willingness to allow the Word to devastate the preacher before it lays a hand on the congregation.”  Wow.  As I understand it, Willimon says the Word of God must first lay waste to my idols, to my pride, before I can proclaim the gospel in such a way that the Word does the same in the lives of my people.

As a personal example of the truth behind Willimon’s statement – and evidence that God is working in my own life – before I read this statement and even before I had a conversation with my dissertation writing friend, I encountered this devestation last week.  I was preparing a message on one verse, Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  I was preaching on what it means to be crucified with Christ and how the gospel shapes us.  I prayed and prayed more than I have in some time over a sermon and this time I actually asked God, “What are you saying to my heart in this verse?”  That’s a bad question to ask God for someone who really doesn’t want to know the answer.  I heard, loud and clear, “My most besetting sin is my ruthless determination to protect my fragile ego.”

Woe to me, for I am undone.

Here’s the reason I know that devestating nugget came from the Holy Spirit: it’s 100% true.  When I guard my heart from my wife, I’m protecting my ego.  When I am tempted to or am successful in telling a “white lie”, I’m protecting my ego.  When I pretend to be someone I’m not, I’m protecting my ego.  When I lack transparency and vulnerability in ministry, I’m protecting my ego.

This caused a lot of tears for me in the last week, but I am so very grateful.  For one, since God disciplines those he loves, I know that my Father is working to mature me.  For another, instead of pushing me away, this discipline is causing me to experience a sweet and joyful communion with Jesus in ways I have not before.  Don’t be afraid, preacher, to be open to the devestating work of the Word of God in your preparation.

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Craziness

January 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Festus told Paul, “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”

Not his great learning – the gospel.

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Joy to the World

December 24, 2009 1 comment

I’ve been more than a little grouchy this week. I’ve had some kind of allergies/cold thing that’s not only stopped up my nose but I sense my ears getting fluid in them as well. Oh, and then there is the whole matter of Christmas and the end of the year – worrying about travel, family, church (including making budget!). Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy.

A little while ago I saw one of my colleagues had written “Joy to the world!” as his Facebook status. I almost typed in, “What’s so joyful about it?” In my Grinch-like heart, all I can think about is all of the snow about to be dumped on us and what that means not only for our Christmas Eve service tonight, but also our travel plans to see my family tomorrow.

So, why should I be joyful?

What comes after “Joy to the world!” in that Christmas hymn? Oh, right. “The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King”.

The sad part is, this isn’t the first Christmas I’ve been tempted to forget that Christmas is about the earth receiving her King. I found something I wrote on Christmas Eve 2005 that was a helpful reminder today:

On the surface, this was the worst Christmas Eve of all time. My wife vomited three times. My daughter, well, I don’t know what is wrong with her. She’s crying and obviously in pain. Sleep has not come for her for any great period in over 24 hours. No family around to help and we’re looking at a three and a half hour drive to my mother’s tomorrow. Arguing over petty things when I know better than to provoke a sick person. Not exactly our finest hour. We might as well forget about Christmas Eve and maybe even Christmas.

A little melodramatic, I know, but sometimes when life gets a little messy, the last thing I want to do is celebrate the birth of Christ. But, something inside tells me I am wrong. What is the incarnation if it isn’t God entering into the vomit, diahrrea, sickness, and death of humanity? The incarnation isn’t sterile, it’s not above the filth of life. To think otherwise is to fall into the trap of docetism. No, God entered into human flesh, born bloody and screaming, pooped and wet his clothes. He might have even got sick and puked.

I’d laugh if I hadn’t just realized how short of a distance I’ve covered in four years.

I’m reminded both by Christmas past and Christmas present that Jesus didn’t come to meet any of my expectations. He didn’t show up to be Buddy Jesus who should don a Santa suit and meet my holiday expectations. He came to save the world and as I sit at my desk, waiting for a winter storm to ruin those holiday expectations, I’m thankful that Jesus ignores what we think we want in order to be exactly what we need – a Savior.

Joy to the world, indeed.

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Primal by Mark Batterson

December 21, 2009 Leave a comment

Primal – Mark Batterson

I enjoy looking back to see where God has been at work in my life in ways that I didn’t notice at the time. I seem to have a lot of those moments lately and they have served to expose a deep spiritual issue that I have – a bad attitude. I’m usually one of the most optimistic people I know and I don’t tend to dwell on the negative as much as some people I know but as the year end draws nearer and nearer, I get cranky. Ask my wife.

Sometimes a collision of my cranky attitude and God’s seemingly covert work in my life collide and I’ve nothing left to do but chuckle, repent, and thank God for his providential ways. That’s where I am as I type this review.

A month and a half ago I had lunch with a friend of mine who is doing the crazy non-traditional thing in life and is preparing to lay it all out to be a full time photographer. A catalyst for this Spirit-movement in his life was a book by Mark Batterson titled In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day: How to Survive and Thrive When Opportunity Roars. He suggested I read it and I did. Now I can’t shake the sense that God is calling me to greater trust and faithfulness. It’s a scary thing. In the process of acquainting myself with Batterson I find out that I can get a free copy of his newest book if I write a blog post about it (here it is!). Now, I love free, I enjoy writing, and I figure if Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity gets me more engaged in God’s work in this world, well then, sign me up.

So, here’s where the intersection of God’s work and my understanding of it come into play: there were pages and chapters of this book that I 100% without a doubt needed to hear. The book itself is a call for the church to remember the primal elements of following Jesus which often gets crowded out by “101 leadership tips for growing a church like a business but forgets the gut-wrenching call to deep, deep, self-denying, hard dying to self” discipleship. Batterson reminds us that we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and live out that love by loving our neighbors.  This is what’s missing from the practice of our faith and it’s time we recover it.  Quickly.

Sounds simple, right? Except that if it were so simple we’d be doing it.

The book is divided into heart, soul, mind, and strength and the corresponding chapters focus on what it means to love God in each of those ways.  For example, the “heart” section reminds us that loving God cannot be separated from loving our neighbor and that what the church deeply needs is a “coup de compassion”.  The section on “soul” was convicting as it moved me to consider how well I am doing in connecting to God in private and public worship.  It’s never a fun exercise to check out how I’m spending my money like Batterson challenges us to do (“If you really want to know how I’m doing spiritually, all you need to do is look at my checkbook.”  Ouch!).

We also have a look at loving God with our strength which considers our service to the world in inspiring ways, some of which I intend to use in challenging my church.  If you think I skipped over “mind” you’d be wrong.  There were two chapters dedicated to “mind” but I found the whole book to be a challenge to the mind.  Batterson has a unique curiosity about scientific things which made the entire book a joy to read.  One can definitely see that Batterson loves God with his mind and the scientific observations he makes challenged me to be a more observant person who sees in creation the glory of God.  He reminded me of a passage I wrote in the front of my Bible from John Piper’s 1998 address to the Evangelical Theological Society: “Plead with God that he not leave you unmoved by the glories revealed everyday in the sky and in the Scriptures.”  Batterson helped me see both in this book and I think you will see God’s glory, too, if you pick it up.

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Values

October 23, 2009 2 comments

I mentioned in my last post how Twitter, among other things, has really been messing me up lately (in a great way).  One of the first places I began to notice this was one night last month when I read this tweet from Steve McCoy.

Screen shot 2009-10-23 at 9.58.15 PM

I immediately teared up.  It was kind of sad and silly but the more I thought about it the more I realized that 1) I wouldn’t have reacted that way and 2) I want to react that way.  I’ve read Don’t Waste Your Life.  I’m theoretically on board with the “war-time lifestyle” Piper talks about.  I want to live that way.  But it was something more than that.  The word “value” kept pounding me in the head, asking me “What do YOU value, Matthew?  What does your family value?”  I had a very hard time with this because A) I value myself more than anything else.  It’s pretty evident in my actions.  B) We’ve NEVER had a discussion as a family about what we value.  More than that, we’ve never had a discussion about what we want to value.

I’ve followed Steve on his blog and Twitter for some time.  I know what he and his family have gone through with his wife’s health problems.  No, I take that back – I don’t know what they have gone through but as I follow him on-line I do know what they value.  More specifically, I know where their treasure is and this is really where I started to get uncomfortable in my own skin.  When sickness, disease, or death comes my way, where is my treasure?  Is it the unsurpassed value of Jesus or is it the junk bonds of my own heart?

I know what the answer was.  I know what it is growing into more and more every day.  Shortly after the referenced tweet, I asked my wife to sit down with me and talk about what we value and want to value.  We’re striking from that list all that doesn’t find Jesus as our treasure.  This is probably the most difficult journey I’ve ever been on in my life because it’s causing me to let go of that which makes me comfortable and safe and grab hold of the mane of the Lion of Judah.

We’re not done with our list.  In fact, we haven’t touched it in a couple of weeks, but we’ll be back to it.  In the mean time I’m trying to be more comfortable in exposing myself (my heart!!!) to the woman I’ve been married to for 8 years (sorry it’s taking so long, sweetie!).  It’s kind of scary, but you know what?  I’ve not felt this alive in a very long time.

Thank you, Jesus!

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Terribly excited

October 22, 2009 3 comments

I keep pretending like I’m going to get back into blogging at this site. I haven’t spent much time thinking about the stuff that I want to write but I’ve been getting my butt kicked by the Holy Spirit lately and that’s provided a ton of things to think about and write. So, maybe.

I have been disciplined enough lately to write a weekly reflection post at the blog I use for church. Maybe there is a chance I’ll discipline myself to write. There’s also the fact that for the last two weeks I’ve been waking up before 6:00 AM. That’s odd because I’m not a morning person. I never have been. I’ve always wanted to be. I’ve prayed for some miraculous intervention by God Almighty that would change my personality and make me a morning person. Begrudgingly, it’s starting to happen. I’ve been waking up. I’ve been reading the Bible consistently. I’ve been praying.

I’ve been watching my flesh try to slap fight Jesus because it’s far more comfortable to breeze through life than to ask “WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO FOR YOU, JESUS?”

It seems like lately the people on Twitter that I follow have been writing about things I’m dealing with in my heart. I’ve been writing my heart out in my journal only to find that some person I’ve never met has Tweeted my struggle. Then I turn around and have lunch with a friend who reaches into my heart, pulls out my fears, and makes me come to grips with them.

What a terrifying and exciting time in my life!

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Thoughts on Pastoral Leadership

These are a couple of links from the Resurgence by Mark Driscoll on pastoral leadership. I like Driscoll but these are especially great.

Leadership is Lonely Pt. 1

Leadership is Lonely Pt. 2

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