Recently I attended the Northwest ministry conference in Seattle and the keynote speaker, Carey Nieuwhof, spoke about the importance of strategy. He suggested that a lack of strategy can kill vision. We can have good ideas but do not know how to translate them into reality. As he spoke I felt good about the ministry plan that Emmanuel has developed recently. We have done the hard work of looking at both vision and strategy. When he described the strategy that he developed at his church I realized that Emmanuel has problem. We have done a good job of creating organizational strategies, plans that guide ministry leaders, but we have not done a good job of inspiring the average person. When our priorities include developing welcoming teams and being more creative in worship services this offers good guidance to pastors and leaders but the average person can feel like they have no part to play.
This coming Sunday I want to introduce some strategies for the average person. I've come up with four strategies that each person can adopt, four ways in which we can all work together for God's glory at Emmanuel.
1. Pray that God will work among us with power.
2. Meet with someone to practice your faith.
3. Take the initiative to welcome newcomers.
4. Invest in friendships outside the church.
These strategies correlate with our organizational priorities but use language that include every person in the work of the church. This is my first crack at strategy for everybody.
I recently returned to the book "Keeping the Sabbath Wholly" by Marva J Dawn. This insightful book offers many ideas to stimulate Sabbath keeping as a positive spiritual blessing. She recognizes four aspects, ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting. We must be disciplined to both refrain from some things and include others. She unpacks each of these four perspectives in multiple ways. For example ceasing includes putting aside not only productivity and accomplishment but also our worries and possessions. Resting can include physical spiritual and emotional and intellectual rest. Embracing and feasting include filling our lives with beauty, peace, friends and worship.
While I cannot give you a full sense of this book I leave you with this quote: "First of all, it is foundational to decide that you want to keep the Sabbath. You can add, modify, even delete certain practices as your customs develop, but the important beginning point is to be adamant about the day – that it will be set aside for ceasing, resting, embracing and feasting...We are adamant about setting aside the day because we have freely chosen to observe it in response to God's grace, not because we have to fulfil an onerous obligation.
Being born again is to have God do a work in the heart that we cannot do ourselves. It involves coming to God seeking transformation rather than coming to him assuming that we have it all figured out. As I was preparing my sermon on John chapter 3 I decided to search YouTube for thoughts and illustrations around the topic of being born again. There I came across a song by Josh Garrels called "born again". I was immediately captivated by this artist and the lyrics in this song which speak about transformation through encountering Jesus.
Stumble out to the light
Raise my fist up to fight
Then I catch your eye
So full of love
Lord, what have I done?
I cry at your feet, wounded for me
And all of the monsters and men
But here in your light
We can begin again
I’m my mother’s child
I’m my father’s son
It took me a while
But my time has come
To be born again
Although I'm not totally sure I understand everything about this visual presentation I encourage you to check out this video and other work by Josh Garrels.
Here is a fascinating argument from Alvin Plantinga's book "Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion and Naturalism". He argues that if you hold to evolution and naturalism, then you have reason to doubt human ability to form true beliefs. The idea is that evolution only serves adaptive behavior and not necessarily true belief. It is possible that adaptive behavior could arise alongside false beliefs. As long as the behavior is correct, the truth or falsehood of a belief is irrelevant to natural selection. While we may commonly think that experiences create belief which motivate behavior, this is not absolutely clear in the animal world. Does a frog hold beliefs about a nearby fly or does the stimulus just create a response in the tongue. When it comes to human behavior it is also clear that false beliefs could be adaptive. I might falsely believe that the police are watching me and therefore slow my driving and avoid an accident. This is even more accurate when it comes to abstract or metaphysical beliefs. My belief about the ultimate nature of the world or the existence or non existence of God do not seem to be relevant to survival and reproduction. Therefore there is no evolutionary reason to think that human reasoning about abstract ideas is reliable. In conclusion, if you assume naturalism, then you have reason to suspect that your metaphysical belief forming processes are not reliable, therefore you have reason to doubt your belief in naturalism which is itself a metaphysical belief.
Indeed, Darwin himself expresses serious doubts along these lines: “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?*
*Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), vol. 1, pp. 315–16.
This week at Emmanuel we are taking on the topic of science and religion. You can check out my recent sermon on Genesis 1 where I conclude that the Bible is not contrary to science but only to naturalism. This coming Sunday evening, Jan 17th, we will be hosting a significant conversation on science and religion.
In this blog post I want to talk a little bit about whether science can prove or disprove intelligent design. As I survey the literature, arguments for and against design seem to hinge on the estimation of probability. Theistic thinkers typically argue that the series of small modifications over time required by evolution is significantly improbable given the complexity of life. Atheistic thinkers such as Richard Dawkins, make the point that given enough time every step along the evolutionary path may be small enough to not be improbable. It is concluded therefore that if every step is not improbable that the series as a whole is therefore not improbable. The difficulty with this thinking is that it is only applied to an imagined process. It is difficult to estimate the actual probability of a mutation or the probability that a given mutation is adaptive. We can only imagine a possible patway of change and have no way to know the actual path. How can we know that every step is not improbable? Perhaps even the small steps are improbable. How could we know?
It seems to me that both theists and atheists make their points by estimating probability. The scientific data cannot decide the case. The system is too complex. Although I am convinced that the complexity of life cannot be explained by unguided Darwinism, I would stop short of calling this a proof. In the same way however, I would challenge the atheistic conclusions. At best, evolution offers the possibility that the universe exists apart from design. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes" At best it would show, given a couple of assumptions, that it is not astronomically improbable that the living world was produced by unguided evolution and hence without design."* To say that something is not impossible is far from proof.
In the end science cannot provide the answer. Design or the lack of design are both possible. For me, I still find it difficult to accept that unguided natural processes can account for the forming of life form non life, the development of complexity and the arise of consciousness.
* Plantinga, Alvin (2011-11-11). Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (p. 24). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
These videos are well produced, theologically rich and easy to understand. I am thinking about using them as the basis of a discipleship program.
I have been very attracted to this picture which was inspired by Isaiah chapter 11.
Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Isaiah 11:10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
This is the family tree of Jesse and David. Notice how there is a root / branch that is coming out of a stump growing up to a woman who I take to be Mary presenting the child Jesus. Although David's dynasty was cut off, Jesus his ancestor has taken his place and God has done something new. This root has become like a banner and all peoples and nations are rallying to him. This is a beautiful portrayal of Christ's who is root, branch and banner. I'm not sure who the artist is. I found it online at http://concordiatheology.org/2014/12/o-radix-iesse-o-root-of-jesse/
In light of my recent sermon on Acts 15, it was suggested to me that because Jesus turned no one away for any reason. we should do the same and not discourage participation in communion. This has got me thinking about what we communicate at communion. As I shared in the sermom, love is unconditional, but relationship is conditional. God extends grace to all, but not all are in relationship with him. Relationship is conditional on repentance and faith (which will naturally result in good works). Grace cannot be understood to mean that all people are automatically justified before God, although it does mean that all can be justified if they repent and believe. Because communion (and baptism) are celebrations of relationship, they are only for those who have faith in Christ.
When it comes to communion, the scriptures do teach that there are valid reasons for non participation. The text that speaks about non participation in communion is 1 Corinthians 11:27–29
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 28A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. 29For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself.
It is possible to eat and drink in an unworthy manner. The phrase which describes this unworthy manner is "without recognizing the body of the Lord" (verse 29) This language is not clear but commentators understand it to mean not recognizing one's part in the church which is the body of Christ. To partake in communion is to recognize one's participation in the family body of Christ. To partake in this meal and to not be truly part of this family of faith is to eat in an unworthy manner. Communion is a celebration of faith and is therefore only appropriate for those who have trusted Christ. This is similar to baptism. We only baptize those who believe.
So in communion we need to communicate both that Christ receives sinners and that grace calls us to repentance. We must never communicate that one must clean up their life in order to participate. This table is open to all. Yet we must not imply that coming to Christ can be done without repentance faith or a desire to follow him.
We recognized that the example of Christ is one of nonviolence and a willingness to suffer in order to achieve victory. We affirm with Romans chapter 12:14 – 21 that we must never use violence as an act of revenge and that our responsibility is to overcome evil with good.
At the same time we note that Romans 13:4 regards government authority as God's servant to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. This suggests that at times God uses authorities and nations to exercise his judgment.
We recognized the tension in our own lives, knowing that it is possible that we would be called upon to intervene to protect the innocent even as we follow the nonviolent example Jesus. We concluded that violence may never achieve justice, but may be necessary to stop injustice. Ultimately justice must be left in the hands of God, for only he can see clearly and act purely.