A Glimmer of Good News

2016 has been rough. So much bad news, so much confusion, so many instances where we’ve seen humanity at it’s worst. So many people I know are dealing with pain and loss. On top of that, this election is about to do me in. So I’m on the lookout for good news these days, maybe more than any time in recent memory.

So yesterday I was really encouraged by the lunch I shared with an old friend. Tobias (or Tobbes, for short) was a student of mine at when I worked as a campus minister / Bible teacher at the local Christian school over a dozen years ago. Tobbes came to the school as a foreign exchange student from Germany. My earliest memory of Tobbes was during the first few weeks of school. He had my class at the end of the day (8th period) and when we finished taking notes, he’d put his head on his desk and immediately fall asleep. After a few days of this, I asked him if he was okay; he replied that he was simply exhausted from the act of translation. He’d hear a statement in English, translate it into German, formulate an answer in German, and then have to translate it into English…and tens of thousands of these daily transactions were absolutely wearing him out.

Eventually the conversation became easier for Tobbes and we began to talk about faith. I can still recall some of our conversations after more than a dozen years. Following that year, Tobbes went back home to Germany where he studied at the university level. Thanks to Facebook, we’re able to stay in touch somewhat and he always gives me a call when he’s in the States.

Yesterday we caught up over TexMex (his dining choice, which was surprising) and I witnessed a vibrant faith in action, which struck me as good news for several reasons. For one, Tobbes is absolutely brilliant – he has graduate degrees in physics and aeronautics and is currently working on his PhD research in physics. In the highly academic environments in which Tobbes lives, faith is often viewed spuriously, yet Tobbes is unabashedly faithful. Also, much has been written about the Millennial exodus from the church, yet Tobbes sees much value in being a part of a local church. In fact, he teaches the discipleship / Christian growth class in his church. He was honest with me about some of his doubts — doubts that I hold as well — but none of these doubts were so great as to choke out the faith that holds his heart. Truly Christ is alive in my brother, fashioning him into a force for the Kingdom.

I needed that bit of good news today.

Posted in Blessings, Church, Culture, Faith, Friends, Jesus | Leave a comment

2016 MLB: Season In Review

Back in April, I made a post with my 2016 MLB predictions. Now that we’re winding down the final week of the regular season, it’s time to take a look back. This has been the most ho-hum September in recent memory, with only the NL Wild Card really holding any excitement as we enter the regular season’s final weekend. Here’s hoping October provides a little more drama.

In the AL East, I picked Baltimore to win, which wasn’t a bad choice. They’re in contention in the Wild Card and still might make a deep October run. I noted that the O’s could legitimately have 8 players with 20+ homers, which was close; they have 7 regulars with more than 15. I pegged Tampa Bay as a dark horse, though, and I was on the record saying I didn’t really like the Red Sox. 92 wins later, that looks like a lousy pick.

In the Central, I paid lip service to the Indians pitching staff, which has carried them to the division crown. But in actuality, I picked the Royals as the most complete team in the division and I really thought they’d be more competitive. This has to go down as a disappointing season for Royal fans.

Out west, I put my money on Texas, which turned out to be the right call. I also noted that they’d need to add some bullpen help in order to push toward October. A deadline deal helped address this need, putting the Rangers in contention for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I also liked the M’s and their season has to go down as a success, too, even though they’ll just narrowly miss a Wild Card berth.

In the NL East, I went against the grain and picked the Nationals to win the division and the Mets for a Wild Card spot. After the Mets World Series run last year, they were the popular pick for a return trip to the Fall Classic. But it’s always dangerous to count on young pitching; the risks of injury and regression are high and the Mets experienced a bit of both this year.  As it is, I’m thinking the Nationals are the one NL club that could really challenge the Cubs in the NLCS.

NL Central: the Cubs. They’re the toast of baseball as well they should be. Of course, I won’t root for them, but they have to be the odds on favorite this October. They’re the best and most complete team in the majors. I played with my heart and picked the Cards to win the division and the Pirates to lock up the second Wild Card. While the Cardinals are still in the thick of the Wild Card chase, not picking the Cubbies was my worst call back in the spring.

In the NL West, I took the Giants, which was a solid choice. I still feel as if the Giants could make a deep run if they make it out of the Wild Card play-in game. But the Dodgers really separated themselves from the pack in the second half, coinciding with the Giants late season fade.

So in retrospect, I nailed a couple of picks and completely whiffed on a few others. Pretty typical.

My World Series pick was SF vs. KC, a 2014 rematch. Clearly that’s not going to happen, but that’s the fun of preseason predictions.

AL MVP: I went with Mike Trout (duh), which is always smart. And he might win another MVP this season, but personally, I’d give my vote to either Jose Altuve or David Ortiz. Altuve has asserted himself as one of the most complete players in the game, adding a power element to his already tremendous hit tool and game-changing speed. And Ortiz has had a season for the ages in his swan song. Don’t be surprised if voters award him with MVP honors.

NL MVP: I picked Paul Goldschmidt, but this is a no-brainer. Kris Bryant is the deserving choice. For a while there, I thought he and Rizzo might split the vote, but Bryant has really distinguished himself in the second half. This one might be unanimous.

AL Cy Young: I went with Chris Sale and he might end up winning the hardware. But this is one of the more wide open races. Honestly, voters might decide to reward Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, or even closer Zach Britton for their excellence this season. Sale’s midseason temper tantrum might cost him the Cy Young.

NL Cy Young: I went with Madison Bumgarner and he still has an outside chance at the award. But this is another wide open field and Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, or even the recently deceased Jose Fernandez have rightful claims to the award.

AL Rookie of the Year: My choice (Byron Buxton) never asserted himself. Meanwhile, another AL Central rookie, Michael Fulmer, has pitched brilliantly all year. I think he’ll hold off the late charging Gary Sanchez to bring home the award.

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager. Hands down.

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Public Faith in Action

"Public Faith in Action" by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

“Public Faith in Action” by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz

I just finished an insightful book entitled Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity by Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz. This volume is a companion piece to Volf’s 2011 work A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. In A Public Faith, Volf examines “the place and the role of followers of Christ in pluralistic societies” by arguing “against both exclusion of religions from public space and saturation of public space by a single religion,” (Public Faith in Action, p. ix). This companion piece is intended to spark critical civic-minded (and civil!) conversation among Christians, particularly in light of the looming election.

Although some of the positions Volf and McAnnally-Linz lay out here are bound to be understood tendentiously by those who disagree, I appreciate the theological consistency with which the authors approach these “hot button” topics. The text is laid out in three parts: an introductory section entitled “Commitments” that provides out a Christo-centric lens through which the ensuing dialogue is framed; a lengthier section called “Convictions” which provides the bulk of the text, focusing on a variety of public issues such as education, marriage, borrowing and lending, war, torture, and immigration; and a concluding section on “Character” which provides a brief treatment of five core virtues (courage, humility, justice, respect, compassion) for Christian engagement in the public sphere.

Volf and McAnnally-Linz provide theological and biblical underpinnings for their engagement with each of these topics. And although they do not shy away from drawing their own conclusions on these subjects, I believe they fairly recognize potential areas for continued dialogue as well. Each chapter concludes with a “Room for Debate” section for more nuanced engagement on the given topic.

I benefitted from reading this book and I believe most discerning Christians would as well. I would highly recommend this as a text to be read in community, either in a small group setting or with a few trusted friends. The conversation this text sparks will be a blessing.

Posted in Books, Culture, Politics, Social Issues | Leave a comment

A Discipling / Missional People

discipling-missional-peopleBefore His ascension, Jesus left His followers with a mission to make disciples. We’ve spent much of this year discussing what it means to be missional. When we talk about being missional, we’re not referring to one particular activity or church program. Rather, missional people orient their whole lives toward the mission of God. As Reggie McNeal puts it, “To think and live missionally means seeing all of life as a way to be engaged with the mission of God in the world.” Our mission is to be Good News people. Our mission is faith, hope, and love. Our mission is to love God and love others. These are concepts we worked through earlier this year.

But today we’ll be thinking specifically about our missional call to be a discipling people. The ministry of Jesus was a disciple-making ministry; and His followers participate in the same work. As we follow Jesus, we continue to lead others to follow Him as well through the power of our influence.

We make disciples when we share the Good News of Jesus with others. But we call others to discipleship when we share our lives with them as well. We see this in the video when the people go out of the church building and into their community, when we get into the lives of our neighbors. And we also see this in what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 2.

1 Thess. 2:6-8, We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Paul writes to these believers in Thessalonica to defend the truthfulness of the Gospel. Along the way, he gives us some tremendous insight into the nature of the church. Not only did he and his companions share the Gospel with the Thessalonians, they were also delighted to share their lives as well. One translation reads, “We were delighted to share with you not only the Good News of God but also our very souls…” Paul is one of the world’s foremost experts when it comes to Christian discipleship. And his discipleship pattern in Thessalonica is twofold: 1) share the Gospel and, 2) share life together.

We know that the church is a community shaped by the Gospel, but it is also a place where we share our lives with one another. J. Hampton Keathly writes, “To give the gospel without the willingness to give of ourselves to others … is a contradiction because the gospel is a message about the giving of God’s Son and the giving of His own life for us.

Two questions emerge that help shape us as a discipling, missional people:

  • Am I sharing the Gospel with others?
  • Am I sharing my life with others?

Discipling, missional people should be generous in sharing both the Gospel and their lives with others.

Discipleship is a life-on-life encounter with Jesus and with fellow disciples. That’s why I love this picture of Jesus around the table w/ disciples. In accordance with the common practice of the Jewish rabbis of his day, Jesus invites his disciples to share life with him, to live in community in order that they might learn from his example. (Think Simon Peter leaving his nets on the shore; Matthew leaving the tax collectors booth to follow Jesus.) More going on here than simply the dissemination of information from teacher to student. Jesus forms his disciples through holistic life-on-life encounters. Author Alan Hirsch notes that the discipleship model of Jesus occurs “in the context of life and for life.” The disciples of Jesus are transformed by their proximity to him rather than classroom lectures. As respondents to the call of Jesus, disciples are formed through what scholar Hans Weder calls “a life relationship to him.”

With Jesus at the center of Christian fellowship, His disciples share in life-giving relationships with one another as well. The “life relationship” we share with Jesus extends to our relationships with our fellow disciples.


In his ministry, Jesus calls the disciples into relationship with him and relationship with one another. In this way, discipleship flows from the two commands Jesus holds up as normative: love for God and love for neighbor. As a church family, we’ve committed to these principles in the form of our mission statement: We seek to follow Jesus by loving God and loving others.

Again, when we say we want to be a discipling, missional people, we’re saying we want our lives to be shaped by the Gospel but also that we share our lives together. But too often, that’s not our experience in church. Sure, we would agree that we share the Gospel of Christ in common. But I’m afraid too many of us are missing out on the lively experience of fellowship God intends for us to experience with our fellow disciples of Jesus.


Science writer Hope Jahren shares an interesting fact about plants in her best-selling book “Lab Girl.” Jahren notes how a tiny seed starts to put down roots – the most essential thing for a plant’s survival. She writes:

No risk is more terrifying than that taken by the first root. A lucky root will eventually find water, but its first job is to anchor … Once the first root is extended, the plant will never again enjoy any hope of relocating to a place less cold, less dry, less dangerous. Indeed, it will face frost, drought, and greedy jaws without any possibility of flight.

She calls taking root a big “gamble,” but if the seed takes root it can grow down twenty, thirty, forty meters – and the results are powerful. The tree’s roots can “swell and split bedrock, and move gallons of water daily for years, much more efficiently than any pump yet invented by man.” If the root takes root, then the plant becomes all but indestructible: “Tear apart everything aboveground – everything – and most plants can still grow rebelliously back from just one intact root.” That’s how strong those roots can become once they’re anchored.

How anchored are you relationally? Your answer to that question is proportional to how much of your life you’ve been sharing with others.

One of the most powerful discipling tools God has given you is your life story. We know this because we know that we’re wired for stories. We love to watch, read, and hear good stories. Sermons that we remember — usually because there was a compelling story told. Last week — my microphone went a little haywire and for about 5-10 seconds, I sounded like I was demon-possessed. “I am Legion, for we are many.” We remember that sort of thing because it’s funny — it makes a good story.

Our relational roots grow deeper every time we share a part of our story with our brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly our spiritual story. I wrote my doctoral thesis on the efficacy of spiritual autobiography as a tool for discipleship – and I’m telling you, it’s one of our most potent resources. Not only does spiritual narration anchor us together more firmly, but it also draws us more closely to the center, to Christ.

When we share our lives together that means we can laugh together, we cry together, we join together in times of celebration and praise yet we also band together in times of tragedy and sorrow. For quite a while now, I’ve been drawn to Romans 12:15 as a way of thinking about life in the church: Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

I’m a Christian today because of the influence of my parents. They taught me the Scriptures, taught me the Gospel – but I wouldn’t have believed it if they hadn’t also shared their lives with me. My mother was just the sweetest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known. And my Dad was just hilarious. He was a masterful story-teller. I’m a Christian today in part because of the way I saw them deal with adversity. They modeled faithfulness for me in seasons when we were doing okay but even more importantly, during those seasons when we weren’t doing okay. Their story continues to be a powerful discipling tool, an anchor that roots me deeply. To this day, God uses their story to shape me into a better follower of Jesus.

Who is discipling you?

And who are you discipling?

With whom are you sharing the Gospel?

And with whom are you sharing your life?

Posted in Church, Devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Gospel, Kingdom Values, Scripture | Leave a comment

A Grateful People

This post is part of a series on Mayfair’s Core Values preached in the summer of 2016.

In March 2004, the Cape Times reported a news story about a South African man who walked in to find nine men robbing his home. Eight of the robbers ran away, but the homeowner chased the final thief into his backyard and shoved the robber into his swimming pool. After realizing that the robber couldn’t swim, the homeowner jumped in to save him. The homeowner dragged the robber out of the pool and the wet thief laid there for a while, wheezing and gasping for air. Once he composed himself, the robber began yelling for his friends to come back and pulled a knife on the homeowner.

This is the quote the homeowner gave to the Cape Times: “We were still standing near the pool and when I saw the knife, I just threw him back in. But he was gasping for air and was drowning. So I rescued him again. I thought he had a cheek trying to stab me after I had just saved his life.”

The American essayist William George Jordan once wrote, “Ingratitude is a crime more despicable than revenge, which is only returning evil for evil, while ingratitude returns evil for good.”

grateful-peopleAs we continue our series on Mayfair’s Core Values, today we focus on being a grateful people. The elders have identified this as one of our Core Values, stating, “We are defined by an attitude of gratefulness for what God has done in our lives, and we share with the world what we have been freely given.” We want to be known as a grateful people.

Gratitude is the natural result of a life shaped by the Gospel. This is God’s word to us in Colossians 2:6-7: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. To receive Jesus as Lord is to live “in him” – to be immersed in Jesus so fully that He becomes the focal point of your life. Our roots run deep “in Christ” which produces a strong faith. And one of the evidences of this faith is a sense of overflowing thankfulness. Our lives should be brimming with gratitude.

Are you stingy with your thankfulness? Or does gratitude overflow in your life?

I was talking to a friend of mine recently and he was telling me that one of his pet peeves is when he holds the door open for someone and they don’t acknowledge it by saying “Thank you.” Some people are just miserly with their thankfulness, doling it out only occasionally. But it shouldn’t be this way for followers of Jesus.

There is a recognizable link between gratitude and grace. Grateful people are deeply aware of the grace they’ve received and that awareness prompts them to be thankful. A grateful person recognizes the grace extended to them – as in, “I was drowning in a pool and the homeowner rescued me,” or “That gentleman is being very gracious by holding the door for me,” – and they respond in kind. There can be no awareness of grace without gratitude, no gratitude without an awareness of grace.

The Gospel of Jesus forms us into a people of overflowing gratitude. This is the teaching of this next passage of Scripture I’d like us to look at, Luke 17:11-19:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

On his way to Jerusalem, Jesus passes through a border town and comes across a colony of ten lepers. In the ancient world, there was no known treatment for leprosy. Lepers were expelled from the community and often resided together, situating themselves near major thoroughfares to beg for alms. As Jesus approaches this village, the lepers cry out, Have pity on us! But this translation is a bit misleading. We use the term “pity” as a way of saying we feel sorry for someone. But more precisely, these lepers cry out, Have mercy on us! To have mercy is more than feeling sorry for someone; it is to relieve someone’s affliction, to alleviate the torment of another.

And this is precisely what Jesus does as He sends them to the priests. Leviticus 14 required that a priest examine a leper before declaring him to be clean. So this is really interesting: Jesus sends the lepers to the priests as if they are already healed; and in their obedience, this healing is actualized. As it says in v14, And as they went, they were cleansed. It’s as if Jesus sees not only their present affliction, but He also sees their future restoration. He sees these lepers for who they are already but for who they’ve yet to become as well. And I like to think that Jesus sees us in the same way.

If the narrative ended at v14, we would have a powerful word about Jesus’ power to heal even the worst of our afflictions, the things in our lives we are powerless to overcome.

But the passage continues, zeroing in on one of the healed lepers who returns to thank Jesus. Before we get to him, a word about the other nine. It seems that Luke intends for us to contrast this man’s actions with the inaction of the nine. When the one man returns, Jesus makes a point of noting that the other nine are nowhere to be found. He says, Where are the other nine?

We should note that this passage doesn’t indict the nine for being ungrateful. I try to put myself in their situation. Imagine that you have a highly contagious virus. The Center for Disease Control has quarantined you way out in the county somewhere. You’ve been ostracized from your loved ones for months, maybe even years. And one day, you’re suddenly healed. If I were in that situation, I’d be rushing to get home to my wife, my kids, to let my loved ones know that I’d been healed. And if that’s the case for any of the other nine, they have my understanding.

But that doesn’t change the fact that unexpressed gratitude is really no gratitude at all. No matter how you slice it, the other nine come off as ingrates here. If you’re truly thankful for what someone has done for you, that gratitude needs to find expression. You need to let them know. Gratitude is like good news or a great joke or Wifi…it’s meant to be shared. If our lives are to be overflowing with thankfulness as it says in Col. 2, then we should seize every opportunity to express gratitude to others. Don’t be miserly with your gratitude; instead, let it overflow from your recognition of the grace you’ve received.

This passage also reminds us that ingratitude abounds but gratitude is uncommon. So we probably shouldn’t be very surprised when we hold the door open for someone and they breeze right past us without any sort of acknowledgement. (The next time you rescue a thief from drowning and he tries to stab you, don’t be surprised!) Gratitude is an uncommon virtue. But it’s one we need to embody.

Let’s close by looking at the one man who returns to thank Jesus. It says that he comes back praising God in a loud voice. In an act of humility, he throws himself on the ground at Jesus’ feet, assuming the posture of meekness and servitude. And it says that he thanked Jesus. Luke uses the Greek word eucharisteo to signify this action, a word that was later used as a proper name for the Lord’s Supper. In the Eucharist, we give thanks for the body and blood of Christ. As we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we should think of ourselves as the healed leper, throwing ourselves before Jesus in humble gratitude.

From these simple actions, we find the recipe for gratitude. The ingredients for gratitude are praise, humility, and thanksgiving.

The best way I know to grow in gratitude is to start listing all the things for which you’re thankful. I say “start” listing them, because you’ll never finish with this kind of list. But I’ve found this to be a helpful exercise. It’s also biblical. Eph. 5:20, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. One way to be faithful to this teaching is to list the things for which you’re thankful.

It’s the same idea communicated in that old hymn we sometimes sing, “Count Your Blessings”:

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,

When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

There’s some real truth to these words. If you feel yourself lacking in gratitude, take some time to list your blessings and I’m willing to bet that you’ll respond with praise.

Humility is another key ingredient for gratitude. Of course, the opposite of humility is arrogance, pride, and entitlement. It was reported a few years ago that the San Francisco Giants were being sued for giving away Father’s Day gifts at the ballpark. Their crime: the gifts were given to men only. If that story is true, it demonstrates how ingratitude, arrogance, and entitlement are interrelated. At the other end of the spectrum, we find this healed man falling on his face before Jesus. When you’re aware of the grace that has been extended to you, humble gratitude is the natural response.

And the final of these ingredients, thankfulness, is practically synonymous with gratitude. Luke has a final bit of information about our healed man, but he saves it for the very end: v16, He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. As a Samaritan leper, this man would rank at the very bottom of the Jewish social strata. Either of these conditions individually would have been enough for the 1st century Jew to view this man as vile and unclean. But to be both Samaritan and leper was to be subhuman, grotesque, freakish. Perhaps this is the reason our man returns. Perhaps he, more than anyone else, is aware of the magnitude of the gift he has received.

He cried out, Jesus, have mercy on me!

And he was made whole once more.

So he must return to say, “Thank you.”

Is that your story? Have you been made whole by the mercy of the Lord? If so, praise Him today! May gratitude overflow from your life!

Jesus says to the man, “Your faith has made you well.” Literally, the text reads, “Your faith has saved you.”

Are you grateful for the salvation that is only found in Jesus?

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An Accepting People


This post is part of a series on Mayfair’s Core Values preached in the summer of 2016.

We aspire to be an accepting people. All people are created in the image of God and therefore the church must be a place that loves and values others just as God does.

Beneath the surface, we are all looking for acceptance. Every human being is created in the image of God and therefore has a desire to be known in community, because the Triune God exists in community. Acceptance in community fosters unity, compassion, and patience. In the NT, we find instruction to accept one another just as Christ Jesus has accepted us.

Romans 15:7, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

This might make for a nice soundbite, but the context of Romans reveals that this teaching emerges out of some real life struggles within the early church.

Romans 14:1-4, Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

The church in Rome is divided over a matter of judgment. One group of Christians (perhaps Jewish Christians, although they aren’t specifically identified as such) objects to eating meat. If these were indeed Jewish Christians, then we have an entry point for understanding; since kosher fare would’ve been difficult to find, a reasonable solution would be to avoid eating meat altogether. Another faction, quite possibly Gentile Christians, do not live with this level of restriction. Faith allows them to eat anything without violating their conscience.

Paul refers to these two groups as those who are weak in the faith and those who are strong. Faith here does not refer to one’s belief in general. Rather, it points to the convictions about what one’s faith allows him or her to do. We’re talking about the application of faith. This is an important point to make. The weak in faith here are not lesser Christians. They are simply those who do not think their faith allows them to do certain things that the strong feel free to do.

Differences of opinion have been a part of the church since the beginning. In this particular case, both groups have freedom to follow their conscience, but neither has the right to disparage the other. And that seems to be the real issue. It appears that the weak in faith are at fault for condemning the strong. “That bunch of crazy liberals! I can’t believe what they’re over there doing. They ought to be ashamed.” And likewise, the strong are at fault for looking down upon the weak. “Boy, they sure do have a backwards way of thinking. I guess they’re just not as enlightened as we are.” Both groups are crossing their arms and judging the other side.

This poses many problems but the greatest is this: when we judge one another, we put our authority above the authority of God.

In response to all of this, Paul says, “Stop it. Accept one another just as Christ has accepted you.”

We live in a time when tolerance is held up as our cardinal virtue. Our proclivity for tolerance can potentially color our understanding of acceptance. We are led to believe that true acceptance is unquestioned consent of that person’s behavior and lifestyle. To question any portion of someone’s behavior and lifestyle is to be labeled as intolerant and, therefore, unaccepting.

But that’s not the biblical teaching. Paul’s response to this controversy in the early church wasn’t to simply tell the believers to “tolerate one another.” In truth, tolerance doesn’t go far enough. The word simply won’t hold up for what Paul has in mind. Writing to the community that has been profoundly shaped by the love of God, Paul tells the believers to accept one another; in some English Bibles, the word is also translated welcome one another. This is not what tolerance requires; this is what love requires.

The biblical teaching acknowledges that there will be significant differences of opinion within the body of Christ. But because we have been shaped by the love of God, it’s not enough for us to simply tolerate each other, to “put up with one another.” The church is to be the place of mutual acceptance, a place of welcome, a place where we are received in spite of our differences. According to the word of God, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. If we’re inseparable from His love, that means we’re inseparable from one another, too.

The word Paul uses means to welcome someone as if you’re bringing her/him into your home. It’s seeing the new kid sitting by herself at lunch and going over to sit with her in an age-old expression of acceptance. We model this kind of acceptance and welcome because this is the way Jesus Christ has received us.

But what if someone, even someone in the church, doesn’t see things exactly the way I see things? We have all these silly labels to identify ourselves and disparage each other: conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive. We’ll wear these labels like badges of honor and we’ll use the contrasting label to smear a fellow brother or sister. These words have sewn as much division within the body of Christ as any others.

When we embrace labels, what happens is the conservatives eventually insulate themselves deeper among fellow conservatives; likewise with liberals. And eventually, they split off and form their own group or they just stay cloistered together so tightly that they might as well have formed their own group.

But this isn’t the way God intends for it to be in the church. We are to be a fellowship marked by mutual acceptance. The only label that counts in the church is Jesus Christ. We’re not called to wear the badge of “traditional” or “progressive”; we’re called to be clothed in Christ. We’re not called to disparage a brother or sister with language like “conservative” or “liberal”; we’re called to accept one another just as Christ accepted us. Beneath the surface, we are all looking for acceptance.

There’s a sense in which we should be attuned to the way that we welcome others into our churches. For over 1,500 years, the Benedictines have emphasized the importance of receiving the stranger in their midst. Centuries ago, the monastery functioned as a safe haven for the sojourner. So it would be common for travelers to seek shelter at the monastery. In the Benedictine tradition, one of the most important tasks falls to the porter in charge of answering the door. He is to sleep near the entrance to the monastery so he can hear and respond in a timely way when someone knocks at any hour, day or night. The porter is instructed to offer a welcome “with all the gentleness that comes from reverence of God,” and “with the warmth of love.” Upon hearing the knock on the door, the porter is to reply through the door, “Thanks be to God! A blessing!” He is to say this before he even knows who is on the other side of the door. And the porter is to welcome the stranger by offering food, drink, and shelter as an expression of the acceptance of the Lord.

For the Benedictines, the way they answer the door is the way they deal with the world.

Beneath the surface, we are all looking for acceptance.

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A Worshipping People

gods-people-no-bkgrdThis post is part of a series on Mayfair’s Core Values preached in the summer of 2016.

We aspire to be a worshipping people. Because God is worthy of our worship, we seek a life that gives Him glory in all we do.

Worship is the act of being attentive to the presence and activity of the Living God. Worship fosters healing, transformation, and holiness. It is the human response to God’s initiative. When we recognize what God has done on our behalf, our response is worship. As a Christ-centered people (which we discussed last week), worship should be second nature for us. I like the way Richard Foster describes worship in his book, Celebration of Discipline: “To worship is to experience Reality, to touch Life.”

To worship is to ascribe value to something. In the English language, the etymology of “worship” is traced back to the word “worthy.” To worship is to deem something worthy of acknowledgement and praise. So when we worship God, we are declaring His worth, His supreme value to us.

In this sense, there is an economic component associated with worship. It has been said that if you want to know who / what you worship, take a look at how you spend your money and how you spend your time. We are making a value statement when we declare that God is worthy of our worship, which makes worship a rational, intellectual process.

Of course, the Bible wasn’t originally written in English, so this definition can only carry us so far. It is helpful for us to look at the biblical sense of the word.

In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, there are many words that are frequently translated as worship. These words are used to express a whole range of activity: singing, bowing down, serving, seeking, and working. When we see these words used in the Scriptures, our understanding of worship moves beyond the intellectual process of calculating worth. These Hebrew words point toward whole-bodied activity. These words connote real physical action. In order to worship this way, one needs to commit one’s whole body to the endeavor.

One of these Hebrew words for worship is abad. Abad has an interesting usage pattern. In some places in the Old Testament, it means, “to work” in the sense of laboring in the field, etc. Here are just two examples:

  • Exodus 34:21, “Six days shall you labor (abad) but on the seventh day you shall rest…”
  • Psalm 104:23, “Then man goes out to his work (abad), to his labor until evening.”

But in other places, abad is translated, “to worship.” Again, two examples:

  • Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my household, we will serve (abad) the LORD.” In most English versions, Joshua’s statement is translated with “serve”, but the issue at hand is the contrast between worship of idols and worship of the LORD.
  • Exodus 8:1, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship (abad) me.’”

In Hebrew, there is a strong link between work, service, and worship. These ideas play off of one another in the Old Testament. And here we see that proper worship of God requires more than mere intellectual acknowledgement. It is more than the cognitive process of ascribing value. Worship is a whole-bodied offering, living and breathing service. Jesus affirms this when He teaches us to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength,” (Mark 12:30).

And this background comes to bear upon the teaching on worship in Romans 12:1: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

The word translated “mercy” here is actually plural. Paul calls to mind the “mercies” of God he has delineated over the first eleven chapters of this writing. In response to God’s mercies, we should offer our bodies as living sacrifices. This is a theme Paul has already highlighted elsewhere in Romans. Romans 6:13, Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life. Rather than offering ourselves up before the altar of sin, we offer ourselves to God, the one who brought us from death to life.

If we synthesize the teaching from these two sections of Romans, we’re instructed to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices. Why? Because that’s who Jesus is – He’s the ultimate living sacrifice. So we follow His example. And this part is key: offering ourselves in this manner is our spiritual act of worship.

When we think of worship, our minds immediately focus on Sunday. We think of these acts we’re engaged in this morning: singing, reflecting on God’s Word, praying, taking the Lord’s Supper – we think of the worshipping activity of the gathered church, as well we should. But the Scriptures teach us that worship is also the activity of the scattered church, as we operate as living sacrifices in our homes and neighborhoods and schools and places of work. In this way, our worship on Sunday “spills over” into the rest of our week. Even our service, our labor, and our work can be seen as an expression of worship if it is offered in the manner of a living sacrifice. So we seek to be attentive to the presence of God, not merely for an hour on Sunday morning, but at all times. This is what it means to be a living sacrifice.

Foster notes that one of the features of biblical worship is a sense of “holy expectancy.” When people gathered for worship in the Bible, they believed that God was present. Moses went into the tabernacle understanding that he was entering the presence of God. At the commemoration of the temple in 2 Chron. 5, the presence of God was so thick that the priests could not perform their service. In Acts 4, the building they were meeting in actually shook while the early church prayed. When some dropped dead and others were raised from the dead by the word of the Lord, the early church knew God was in their midst.

Do we live with the same sense of holy expectancy?

When we gather together for worship, do we expect God to show up?

  • Do we expect to encounter the same God who spoke to Moses from the embers of a burning bush and declared the ground to be holy?
  • Do we expect to encounter the same God Elijah prayed to from Mt. Carmel, the God who answered with fire from the heavens?
  • Do we expect to encounter the same God whose presence was so heavy in the Temple that no one could do anything other than to be still and acknowledge the He is the True and Living God?

I suspect that for many of us, the answer is no. If that is the case, how can we cultivate a sense of holy expectancy?

In order for us to enter our time of corporate worship on Sunday with a sense of holy expectancy, I believe we must be nurturing such a view throughout the week. It requires that we are attentive to the presence and activity of God every day, not merely on Sunday morning.

Brother Lawrence lived in France in the 17th century. Born into poverty, he entered military service as a young man, primarily because this was the surest way he could have three square meals a day plus a stipend. While serving in the army, Brother Lawrence experienced a profound revelation. In the middle of winter, he found himself staring at a dead, barren tree, stripped of leaves and fruit, waiting patiently for the hope of spring. In that moment, Brother Lawrence realized his own barrenness; he himself was seemingly dead, but he felt strongly that God had life waiting for him. He said that the leafless, lifeless tree “first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,” and a love for God that never after ceased to burn. After an injury in the Thirty Years’ War forced his retirement from the army, he decided he wanted to serve God with the rest of his life.

He arrived at a monastery in Paris and asked if he could serve. Because he lacked the proper training to teach others, Brother Lawrence was assigned a menial role in the monastery kitchen. It was tedious work, and Brother Lawrence spent the final 55 years of his life cooking and cleaning and scrubbing pots and running errands at the constant bidding of his superiors. But for more than five decades, Brother Lawrence labored at these tasks – no matter how great or insignificant – as if they were being conducted in the very presence of God Himself. And the result was a life of keen spiritual insight.

Brother Lawrence once wrote, “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” Brother Lawrence lived with a profound awareness of his identity as a “living sacrifice.” He taught that even the most menial tasks – when motivated by the presence of God – could become expressions of worship, expressions of “living sacrifice.”

Such a perspective transforms our “everyday” life into an encounter with God. It’s not just the grand things that count here. Brother Lawrence writes, “We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” This is an example of one who lives with holy expectancy, an example of a Romans 12 “living sacrifice” kind of life.

In Brother Lawrence’s life, as in ours, worship fosters healing, transformation, and holiness when we are attentive to the presence and activity of God.

To live life as a “living sacrifice” is to live a life of worship. It is a life patterned after the words of Heb. 13:15, Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name. As living sacrifices, we offer the sacrifice of praise through Jesus.

In Christ, our whole lives become a sacrifice of praise to God the Father.

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