Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Saving Star Wars

Advance notice: this is purely a nerd content blog post. Don't expect any bait and switch in the end where I try to find the gospel in Star Wars. The gospel is spelled out well enough in Scripture. Sure there are elements of the Star Wars movies that makes for good illustration in teaching the redemptive themes of the Bible but this is NOT that post. This is purely how I think the recent Disney acquisition of Lucasfilm and promise to continue the Star Wars franchise (which is very near and dear to my inner-10-year-old heart). Some are concerned Disney could "ruin" the franchise. Well if you've ever seen episodes 1-3 you know, damage done. This is a reclamation project and here's how they can do it right, even picking up what worked in the prequel trilogy.

1. For starters, issue DVD and Blu-Ray of the original trilogy, digitally-enhanced but free of all the Lucas tinkering. Let Han go back to being a bad dude- he shot first- that finds redemption. Let Yoda be a puppet. Let Vader stay silent in his self-sacrifice. Let Jabba stay mysteriously behind-the-scenes in episode 1. And for the love, get that dopey teen who played Anakin out of Endor!

2. Issue a "fan cut" DVD and Blu-Ray of the prequel trilogy. Streamline the dialogue. Edit Jar Jar way down. Close some loops... like the confusing Clone army and Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas. And well, it is a mess so good luck but really, the main problem: too talkly.

3. Now for Episide 7-9... have a simple story. No politics. No multiple story-lines. Have a hero, a quest, some likeable sidekicks, a wise sage to accompany the hero (maybe old Luke?), a really iconic bad guy (Darth Maul worked in episode 1 then they cut him in half and we got Saruman the White), R2D2 and C3PO, and a princess to rescue (no democratically elected queens).

4. There were four things about the prequel trilogy that were awesome: lightsaber battles, podracing, Darth Maul, and Ewan MacGregor playing Obi-Wan. It would be weird bringing back EM unless for some Obi-Wan ghost scenes but I'd avoid that. Bring back Darth Maul's people for revenge maybe-- lots of em... like Aliens lots of em. Amp up the lightsaber battles... old fat Mark Hammil should have trained him some new recruits by now. Now about podracing...

5. The podracing of episode 1 worked so well because it harkened back to the high octane space battles (or Hoth ice planet battle) of the originals. So kick this puppy into gear. Dazzle us. Make us feel 10 again and flying through the theater... not drudging through another lengthy and dull conversation between Anakin and whoever.

6. Bring back Han. Harrison Ford hasn't made a good movie since Air Force One. Pay him big bucks to crack-wise and be the widower (kill off Leia to give his story some gravitas) who just wants to fly around the galaxy in his bucket of bolts with trusty ole Chewbacca until some young buck Jedi recruits him for one last mission (at the urging of old Luke of course).

7. No Darth Vader suits. He's iconic and legendary. Leave that character alone. Don't mess it up.

8. No Ewoks or whatever Jar Jar Binks was. I get the Ewoks... powerful Empire toppled by underdog... sort of a furry Hobbit. I'm not as critical of Ewoks as some, but less is more. Don't shoehorn cute characters just to sell stuffed animals and bed spreads.

9. Admiral Ackbar. "It's a trap!" More of that please.

10. Keep John Williams score and bring him back to write new music. Don't mess with brilliance.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Things I'm Thankful for Concerning My Flock

The enemy always tempts us to look at the glass as half-empty. Rather, it is a good discipline to consider how that cup is actually overflowing. Every pastor has the temptation to get discouraged or frustrated working with people... just as every congregation has the temptation to get discouraged or frustrated working with their pastor. (I can speak for myself and say there are plenty of things in my life needing continued sanctification that could be causes to frustrate my flock.) So we need to continue to pray for those things in each other while recognizing the evidences of grace in each other. I'm continued to be amazed at Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:4-9 in view of a congregation riddled with serious sin issues. I'm thankful not to be pastoring the church in Corinth and it is a lot easier for me to identify things I'm thankful for concerning my flock, such as...

1. I'm thankful that my church hangs around and talks long after the worship service is over. (We're usually not home till 1-1:30pm and our worship ends by 11:45am or noon.)

2. I'm thankful that my church expects and anticipates Scripture to be opened and explained.

3. I'm thankful that my church is simple and content with being simple.

4. I'm thankful that my church members have developed friendship that extend well-beyond Sunday morning.

5. I'm thankful that my church is willing to learn and be confronted with where Scripture needs to be applied.

6. I'm thankful that my church is willing to be pushed outside their comfort zone-- from helping with each others' kids to getting more personal than they are accustomed to opening their homes to people they've not known very long at all.

7. I'm thankful that my church doesn't complain. They might think it but I just don't get complaints. It is rare and the exceptions are usually withdrawn quickly.

8. I'm thankful that my church steps up when needed. I put out needs and I get response. Not everyone can do everything but there is always someone to step forward.

These are just a few things that popped in my head this morning. It is a blessing to be the pastor of Cross Point. That doesn't mean every day is blissful. That doesn't mean we don't deal with sin. That doesn't mean we don't have room for growth. We are far from a finishing the race but I count it a joy to serve the Lord and share life with these brothers and sisters.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Don't be surprised at failure and DON'T QUIT.

1 Peter 4:12, 19 says, "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you... Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good." (emphasis mine)

This is a heart-piercing passage that humbles the soul. Trial will come. It comes in all forms and in all degrees of pain. All trial is according to the will of God and serves to test us. We respond in at least three ways.

Don't be surprised. Many "American Evangelicals" hold comfort, safety, and prosperity as core values and entitlements. There is simply no Biblical guarantee to these things in this world. So don't be shocked when those things are pulled out from under you.

Entrust your souls. Put your faith not in shifting circumstances but in the gracious God who gives all things. He alone is secure. As a pastor it is really easy to put your faith in your people, in your abilities, or in your resources. God has a sometimes shaming and piercing way of driving us back to faith in Him alone.

Do good in the meantime. Don't quit on faithfulness. Having served as a pastor of an established church for nearly 4 years and now of a church plant for nearly 1 year I can admit that I've often thought, if I just do the right things (preaching the Word, shepherd the flock, shepherd my home, pray diligently, share the gospel, etc etc) God will bless and the church will flourish. Well, first of all I constantly fail to do all those things consistently. However, even if I did all those things in an exemplary way as I strive to, there is still no guarantee that my local church will flourish. Sometimes missionaries get their heads lopped off, sometimes faithful pastors lead churches that decline, sometimes, sometimes godly parents have children who leave the faith, and sometimes faithful evangelists don't see any fruit.

We are tested. We must be faithful. We must continue doing good while believing in Him who is ever faithful and will be glorified.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Good Quote on Missional Community

“A missional community is a group of believers who live and experience life together like a family... They speak the gospel truth to one another, regularly building each other up in love. They also love the people around them as if they were part of the family, showing them what the love of the Father looks like and in so doing inviting them to experience life in the family of God.”

-Jeff Vandersteldt

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Is the Word of God really that important?

Over the last few weeks we've been "treated" to three presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate. Generally speaking I cannot stand watching these debates because they aren't true debates. It is a lot of empty rhetoric, grandstanding, and mudslinging. I'd prefer candidates engage in a true "Lincoln-Douglas"-formatted debate over a lot of talk with such little walk. Watching portions of these debates got me thinking how often I hear similarly empty rhetoric from fellow Christians. It all sounds so good when people talk about being gospel-centered and when they speak as though the Word is so central to preaching, worship, church life, and daily lifestyle but is it all talk with no walk?

If I had a nickle for every time I heard someone say "we just need to focus on the Word" or mock other Christians and churches for not "being about the Word" and then I see that person with the same kind of materialism as anyone in the world or with a fickle commitment to being present when the Word is taught or with a apathetic attitude toward sharing the Word with others... well I'd have a bank full of nickels. It is inconsistent and self-righteous. Having a high view of God's Word is essential but having a high view of His Word does not mean you can just quote some verses, or that you listen to a few podcasts of celebrity preachers, or that you can quote theological terms. Having a high view of the Word means that you take it all seriously and not just the parts that are convenient to American comforts and consumerism.

So if the Word is so essential and important to you-- as it should be-- then don't just pride yourself in saying that. Do it. Quit treating the church--the Bride of Christ-- like a hooker. Quit treating the gospel as something you earned and don't have to share. Quit treating your calendar as the idol by which God must conform to. Quit treating your job as a means to your gain rather than as an arena for God's glory. Quit treating your body as something outside God's concern (we're not gnostics). James 1:21-22 says, "Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

Church Growth Plan??

I was asked the other day about where my church was in its growth plan. Honestly I had no idea what kind of answer the person was looking for. To my recollection I muttered something about having about 20 or so on average in worship with new faces popping in and out pretty regularly. I'm sure my answer did not inspire any strategic genius. Do I care about attendance? Yes. I want our church family to be faithful in worship. I miss them when they aren't there. I want us all to be inviting and bringing guests with us to worship who need to hear the gospel (and I also expect us to be sharing that gospel on the other days of the week too).

At the end of the day though, I can't sweat attendance and church growth figures. The Lord has called me to be faithful in the study and teaching of the Word as well to be a man devoted to my family, devoted to prayer, devoted to personal evangelism and devoted to watching over my flock. I'll leave the growth up to God. Here's the reality... the Lord might add herculean numbers to our church like Jerusalem in Acts 2, He might add one or two like Athens in Acts 17, or He might permit that we get chased out of town like happened most places in Acts. That's up to Him... as for me, it is the faithful planting and tilling that is my charge to keep.

I say all that while at the same time battling the temptations to get frustrated when half my church is out of town every other Sunday, or to be discouraged when those we've shared the gospel with don't come to faith or those we've invited to worship don't show up, or to be embarrassed when I don't have a flashy answer to give to a church growth question. It is a daily battle to trust the Lord and not live to please man so the video below was a needed reminder and encouragement...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bread & Butter

I get asked a lot about what makes Cross Point unique. Usually the person asking the question wants to know what novel or creative ideas and strategies are driving our church planting. Well I'm not that creative and I'm leery of novelty. The "bread and butter" of Cross Point Church is the weekly expository preaching that happens on Sunday and the fellowship in the Word that happens in Community Groups. Money, sound equipment, buildings, chairs, cars, and couches are all resources that serve these essential components but the really important things are the Bible-driven preaching and small group gatherings.

So where are these Bible-driven groups driven? We like to say they are driven "up", "in", and "out" (I've been helped in this terminology and practical thinking by Mike Breen as well as the book Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis)...
  • We want to focus "up" by giving attention to God through the study of God's Word.
1 Timothy 4:13; Acts 2:42-43; Colossians 3:16; 1 Corinthians 10:31
  • We want to focus "in" by giving time to each other and building closer friendships/ accountability.
Hebrews 10:24-25; Acts 2:44-47; Romans 12:13; James 5:16
  • We want to focus "out" by giving hospitality and witness to those outside our covenant community.
Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 10:13-17; Romans 12:13; 2 Timothy 4:5

Now what does expository or Bible-driven preaching look like? Simply put, I take the point of a given passage for the point of my sermon. My goal is to study the selected text (working through one book at a time), explain the point of the text and how that point is "fleshed out", and provide application for our context. The Scripture provides me the outline and the content of my sermon so that those listening will learn the Word of God and learn how to read the Word of God so that they can live out the Word of God.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Missional Church

Missional Living is one of Cross Point's core values and simply means living every day and in every space as on mission to glorify God through the spread of the gospel. Simple enough right? Yet for some the term "missional" carries some unusual meaning and application so I want to be clear. I also want to be clear how an emphasis on being a "missional church" is different from an emphasis on attractional programs and events. This video helps.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Cross Point to Lower Calder!

In three weeks our church will (at 9 months old) will change locations for our Sunday gathering. We have been meeting at the Baptist Hospital's auditorium building which is a couple miles outside the neighborhood we're targeting and kind of off the beaten path but it has been a blessing. For nine months we've been able to gather together for worship (and often for Sunday lunch) free of rent costs. This has helped us save money so that when we needed to get a building ready for use we could do it in the black, financially-speaking. This has also helped us to focus on and develop the things that truly define us: drafting a confession of faith, training our core group to do Community Groups in their homes, and cultivating an understanding (through preaching and teaching) that the Word builds the church... not programs or buildings.

There's still much to work on and implement. We're still a baby church. In the weeks and months ahead we'll be formalizing church membership, beginning the process of drafting a Constitution, multiplying our Community Group network, identifying and training leaders, and of course, continuing to build relationships in the Old Town District of Beaumont. The latter will be helped greatly by our new location. The building has a rich history in the community and a unique look. Meeting in this building for weekly worship and opening up to the community for special events will help us establish a presence in the neighborhood and provide a more visible platform for our core values: 1. Treasuring Jesus, 2. Biblical Truth, 3. Gospel Growth, 4. Missional Living, and 5. Covenant Community.

With a lot of help from the members of First Baptist Church Groves, who came out last Sunday to get the building in shape, we are close to having this old building ready for new purpose. Lord willing, we will hold our first worship service at 2405 Calder Avenue on November 11, 2012 (remember: 11-11). Pray the Lord would use this building as a tool for spreading the gospel and building His church.