Monday, April 29, 2013

Preacher, Apostle, Teacher (2 Timothy 1:11)

“…for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher,”

This is an important verse for the “Universal Disciple” approach to ministry from Thom Wolf. This is where Paul lists his rolls as a sent out one. It also serves as a guide of sorts for anyone interested in living a missional life.

Paul lists the jobs of missional types as being (1) preacher, (2) apostle, and (3) teacher. The preacher task here is something that all followers of Christ have been sent out to do. We are all supposed to be proclaimers. We are to share the story of Christ, the gospel message.

The “apostle” literally means “sent out one” so we have also been given that marching order. We are to do the preaching as we go out in the world. However, the Biblical example of apostle is always one that is “sent” into new areas to start new work. A church planter in a sense. So, once Paul sees people changed through the message of the Gospel, he gets them busy being church.

Finally, he teaches, which—when understood contextually in the culture of the day—means he was about discipling the new believers in the new church. He trained them to obey the things that Jesus taught us. To do things the way Jesus did.

When you look at the great commission, this is a better outworking of the command than what you usually hear. That is to say, sharing, grouping, and discipling is more in line with what Jesus commanded His followers to do that “go make converts.” Even THAT would be better than our current practice of interpreting the great commission which has somehow become an elaborate justification for doing essentially nothing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Around this fan’s house the weekly experience with “Doctor Who” has gone from: exciting-appointment-television-watched-as-soon-as-it-is-available, to something-that-we-get-around-to-watching-eventually. Mostly this season we have only seen our fears strengthened, and they are not the sorts of fears one is seeking with this program. It used to be said of “Doctor Who” that it was “behind the sofa” viewing. It was a fun sort of creepy. Now we fear that the show is going to let us down.

This week’s episode was set up as being one of the truly scary episodes. Comparisons were being made with past thrillers like “The Empty Child,” “Blink,” and “Midnight.” It was anything but. It was actually quite boring and the story was the fluff that we have come to expect lately.

That was the worst of it. This whole episode existed so that the Doctor could ask the “emotionally psychic” character about Clara. That in itself ended up being a waste of time. Let’s hurry up and get this whole Clara mystery behind us so that we can get back to creative, interesting story-telling on a weekly basis!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Trade Shame for Suffering? (2 Timothy 1:8-14)

In this short paragraph, Paul delivers four (of some 24 total) imperatives to Timothy. “Do not be ashamed of the testimony,” “Join with in suffering for the Gospel,” “Retain the sound standard of words,” and “Guard the treasure entrusted to you.” Demanding words!

Paul begins by encouraging Timothy to trade shame for suffering. That hardly seems like an attractive trade. However, when you think about it these are the only two possible approaches to life in a world burdened by sin. When Adam and Eve chose their own way over God’s, we are told that their first and immediate reaction was shame. In God’s judgment for their sin we see that suffering would be a consequence everyone would face going forward. So the result of sin in the world has been both shame and suffering ever since. Here Paul is describing the Christian walk as one of overcoming shame and enduring suffering.

We overcome shame by accepting the forgiveness God offers. The forgiveness freeing us from guilt and the freedom from the penalty of sin that causes the shame in which we live. We endure the suffering that the world has to offer because we no longer merely suffer under the consequences of sin in the world, but rather for the cause of the Gospel. We endure suffering with the hope that the Gospel story brings.

Strangely enough, the approach most Christians take to life with Christ is to live in shame of the way that they are different from the world, and to do everything in life to hide that difference and the potential persecution it can bring. We live in fear and avoid suffering. Paul encourages just the opposite approach.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Further Thoughts on "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey"

Gandalf: You'll have a tale or two to tell of your own when you come back.

Bilbo: ...Can you promise that I will come back?

Gandalf: No. And if you do...

you will not be the same.

This is a great exchange at the start of the film that is original to this interpretation. It is not in the book, even though it does come on the heels of the story of Bilbo’s ancestor who defeated some goblins and invented golf at the same time, which is in there.

The theme is true to Tolkien, though. He discussed the idea later in “The Fellowship of the Ring” in the third chapter as the younger hobbits set out on a new journey. Frodo remembers Bilbo’s advice:

“He often used to say there was only one Road; that it was like a great river: its springs were at every doorstep and every path was its tributary. ‘It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,’ he used to say. ‘You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.’"

The poems in that same chapter “The Road goes ever on and on” and “Upon the hearth the fire is red” carry some of the same theme. I am not much of one for Tolkien’s poetry, but I do love these. (It’s April, National Poetry Month. Go pull out your copy of “The Fellowship of the Ring” and check them out. If you don’t own a copy, shame on you!)

This whole idea of adventure is something very foreign to us today. We design our entire existence around concepts like comfort and safety, predictability and planning. We are all hobbits at heart. We don’t like being reminded that life is risk and change and unforeseeable circumstances. We use things like calendars, insurance policies, and government regulations to give ourselves the false security of a life with all contingencies covered. We stay focused on ourselves and our needs and plan everything accordingly.

But all of that is a lie at best and a denial at worst. When we tell ourselves that happiness is the most important thing in life and that happiness is all about comfort and safety we lose sight of others, of the world around us, and its problems. We never discover that true happiness is found in laying our own comfort and safety aside and helping others, in making the world a better place.

We should lay aside our own pursuit of the lie of our culture and live the adventure life offers us. But beware, you start to think and live like that and it will change you. You might begin to be seen as weird to all the hobbits around you.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Doctor Who "Cold War"

In the old days of Doctor Who they would fill the serials up with a fair share of fluff. The four to six part storylines usually had an installment or two that didn’t really move the plot along any, there would simply be a lot of running—usually through corridors of some sort. That being said, the series endured for so long, and lived fondly in the memories of fans once it was gone, because the stories were usually about something. They had something to say or they explored interesting ideas.

In the new incarnation of Doctor Who we don’t have serials, we have episodes that are generally self-contained, outside of a rare two-parter here and there. That would seem to indicate that there are no more episodes of pure “filler.” Unfortunately that is not the case. We still have episodes that don’t carry much story, let alone interesting ideas or themes. Some, like last week’s episode, hide their vacuity in dazzling special effects and makeup. Others excite the fans with call-backs to the old days in the form of old enemies.

At least “Cold War” was not as bad as last week’s story. But let’s get back to some great Who soon please!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Power of Prayer?

This is probably more of an insight into the strange operations of my mind than an actual exposé of a problem in the culture of faith these days but here goes:

I deeply dislike the phrase “the power of prayer.” You here it all the time.

“Don’t underestimate the power of prayer!”

“That is just another example of the power of prayer.”

“I really believe that there is a tremendous power in prayer.”

Don’t get me wrong. I understand the intended meaning behind most of this type of talk, and even that there is a way of reading some Bible verses that would support the phrase. I just think it has the potential to communicate all the wrong sorts of ideas.

The fact is that there is no more power in prayer than in any other conversation save the fact that the conversation of prayer happens to take place with the God of the universe. (Assuming that [a] your prayers are directed at God and [b] your prayers are in fact a dialogue.) The power is not in the prayer, it is entirely with God. You may think I am nitpicking here, or that I am insisting on an inordinate amount of precision. I would argue that I am not.

The difference between power in prayer and power from God is the difference between a religious, almost superstitious world view and a relationship understanding of what it means to follow Jesus. Do you know which sort of Christianity you espouse?

Do you think prayers have to be worded a certain way to achieve results? Do you think prayer changes God’s plans, or your understanding of what God is planning? Do you think prayer is some sort of magic formula, and all you need is the right amount of “faith” to wield it effectively? Here is a big one: Do you think God determines His action based on the amount of people praying? If so, what is the magic number that tips the scale?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Something Worth Fearing

When terrorists attack their objective is to inspire fear. We are constantly reminded that we must not give into such fear. We cannot let the terrorists achieve their goals. So we go on with our lives. That is not the only way we respond to terror, however.

Another result of attacks like the ones suffered in Boston this week is sorrow. We hear the stories of the lives affected, and ended prematurely, and we grieve. This is a good response and even an important one. Sometimes we need to be reminded that the suffering in this world can be overwhelming when we don’t ignore it. We make ignoring suffering an art. We design our lives in such a way that we are sheltered from the daily and even hourly stories of suffering in the world. We have convinced ourselves that it is possible to avoid suffering merely by exercising common sense or perhaps some religious “healthy living.” That is a lie. However, when we do open our eyes to the suffering around us we might discover that we can do something to ease the sorrow around us.

The other response to terror is truly a scary one. It is the response we should fear. Hatred. It is a short step from sorrow for suffering to hatred for those who cause it, but that way lies madness. It is, after all, hatred that inspires the people who perform these acts. We do not want to allow room in our hearts for the same sort of motivation.

Do not allow the terrorists to succeed in their goals. Do not give into fear. Do not give into hate.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Kindle the Call (2 Timothy 1:6,7)

A calling to ministry—service to God—is something that needs to be cultivated and maintained. Actually there is a lot of good in life that is that way: health, marriage, relationships, etc. We are people that require discipline to maintain good habits. A call to ministry is no different. I have a long, long list of people I have known in life who have felt a call from God, had it confirmed by the fellowship of believers, but who are not doing what they were called to do. They are not merely inactive. They are simply not capable to fulfill their call any longer, if they ever were to begin with. They either never acquired the ability needed, or lost it somewhere along the way.

A calling is very much like a spark or an ember. It must be cared for and fueled or it will die out. If it is fanned and fueled it can grow. Here Paul is speaking to Timothy, who’s roll is one of leadership—helping and equipping others to fulfill their ministries—but this truth applies to all Christian activity, to all the tasks and ministries God gives to His followers.

And one of the strongest dampeners to any call is fear. Too often we do not act because we fear: failure, ridicule, persecution, embarrassment, etc. But our calling comes with a Spirit, the Helper, God Himself in our lives. He does not bring fear but rather the power to accomplish the task, the motivation to feed the call, and the discipline to grow and increase in the skills and abilities needed to perform the ministries we are given.

Friday, April 12, 2013

"Rise of the Guardians" (2012)

“Rise of the Guardians” was one of the better animated films last year, from a purely technical, artistic point of view. The animation was enchanting, the direction and design appealing and the story was very engaging. However, the ideas behind the story are rather troubling, especially because they encompass so precisely the way a lot of people exercise faith today.

The basic premise of the story is a battle against fear. The world of the Guardians is one in which people used to be ruled by their fears. To combat that situation, and free people from the rule of fear, the Moon—yes, the Moon—appointed or created beings to protect people from fear. As long as enough children believe in the Guardians, they will continue to exist and hold fear at bay.

There is so much that is ridiculous about that premise that one is tempted to laugh at it and go with the story for a bit of entertainment, but it really does encapsulate the way a lot of people approach faith. It is not what you believe about the world that they find important, but rather HOW you believe it. Basically, if it makes you feel good, if it appeases your worries and holds your fears at bay, then that is enough.

Reality says that we often do err in our fears. If we let fear control us it can destroy our lives. Too often we fear things that are mere potential problems, and we make mistakes or avoid things we should be doing. But fear can also be founded in real danger. On the other hand, faith is merely something we believe in such a way that it impacts our lives. If we believe in something that is not true it is no different, no better than fear.

So at its heart, “Rise of the Guardians” is asking us to trade our fears in for faith—any faith. To quote the movie “The next time the moon tells you something, believe it.” That is basically the new Animism or Neopaganism. The problem is that a lot of people today, even “Christians” have a religious worldview that is not much different.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Doctor Who "The Rings of Akhatan"

The latest episode of the series inspires a lot of self-reflection and examination. Not due to the religious themes of the show (more on that in a bit) but due to the vacuous nature of the story offered by such a beloved show. Sometimes “Doctor Who” is simply a guilty pleasure and not a ground-breaking, thought provoking, science fiction giant.

Qualifiers abound. The show has been around forever, through good times and bad, and since it resumed transmission it has amongst the best stuff TV has to offer. In its older days it was always a show about ideas often too abstract or imaginative to accurately portray by the limitations of the time. Since its return the visuals and production have improved but with higher expectations of quality the ideas have come down to a level that is presentable. Thus the quality overall has at times been lower than it should.

This past episode was a particular low. Merely from a production value it is rather dazzling. There are more creatures and aliens than ever before. But when one looks past the effects and the make-up something is missing. Namely originality and, more importantly, a story.

It starts out with alright. Good even. But once we get into the adventure proper we begin to ask ourselves, “Where is the plot?” It is more of a series of disjointed moments. That and we get the sneaking suspicion we have seen most of this before. (Namely in the episode “The End of the World.”) By the time we get to the end of the episode we realize they have pulled a fast one on us. They completely fail to show us the end of the adventure! The fear dawning upon us for this half of the season is that it will all end up being an exercise in nothing. Moffat has unfortunately done this before on his run of the Doctor. He loves to present us with a myriad of mysteries. Some he resolves and others he forgets. Let’s hope that the resolution to the mystery of Clara Oswald doesn’t end up being a fizzle rather than a bang.

One final note on “The Rings of Akhaten.” It does lack a plot, but it is rich on undeveloped concepts. One of these is a very lazy retread of a Doctor Who’s Philosophy of Religion. It is the typical (although interesting and even compatible with a Christian worldview) Sci-Fi idea that some religions worship false gods that are nothing more than creatures dependant on or exploitative of their followers. Here the Doctor confronts another of these idols, indignant that anybody would exploit people that way. In doing so, the show goes further than it ever has in saying that the Doctor himself is some sort of deity. More so than any other god the show has even encountered. This is something the series has played with since its return. The Doctor is not a god, but he is godlike at times, and unlike the other false gods of the Doctor Who universe, he rejects any religious following in favor of personal relationships with people.

It is an imperfect picture, but a better approximation to the way the God of the Bible has presented Himself. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Frequency of Netto and Church

On the way to our old pediatrician’s office there used to be two grocery stores, a Netto and a Plus. They were on the same street about 1 kilometer apart from each other. When Netto bought Plus out, they simply converted it into another Netto. You could literally see the one from the parking lot of the other. It seemed a bit strange to me, but then they were each on the edge of two neighborhoods.

These days on the route we run every other day we pass two Nettos as well, and these are a mere 550 meters from each other on the same street. In European culture, walking distance is an important measure of distance. Things like grocery stores and pharmacies have to be frequently distributed around town. Why is it that churches are not seen in the same way?

Some people struggle to see the need for more than one church—or one church of each stripe—in a large city of several hundred thousand people. The fact is that a church—a gathering or community of disciples—is as necessary to the life of a spiritually attuned person as food or medicine is. In a European city, one community within walking distance of every household would be a minimum.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Prayer on Facebook

Who are you praying to when you type out your prayers on a facebook status update? Can a tweet be a prayer, and if so to whom is it directed?

Prayer is the privilege—the gift—of an opportunity to take all our cares and thoughts to the creator of the universe. We can speak directly with the person in charge. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to be what we want. We want to speak to people who are a bit more tangible. By that I don’t mean prayers in the Catholic sense directed at a saint or the virgin as though they have more time for us than an omnipotent omnipresent God, but rather a desire to let the world know all our troubles. Sometimes we are more interested in fishing for pity than comfort.

This is nothing new. Long before the days of internet social media, we had those wonderful prayer chains. The idea of course is to get as many people praying about an issue. (And that is an interesting concept in its own right. Does prayer work in direct proportion to the amount of people praying?) However, nearly every prayer chain in the history of the church has a degree of abuse. Some I have known have been more gossip vehicles than calls to prayer.

The question is one of purpose. When we pray, do we seek God’s help or rescue, or a response from people to a circumstance in our life? If we want God’s help, He is right there with us in the moment. We do not need to go to Him via a computer interface. On the other hand, if our goal is a response from a lot of the people we know, then why couch our statement in the form of a prayer? (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Faithful Heritage (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

What a blessing a heritage of faith is! Paul begins his second letter to Timothy—likely the last letter we have from him—with his usual prayer of thanks. Here the thanksgiving is to those who have gone before us on the way with God.

It is a tremendous blessing when we have the example of a family of faith, people who have had a relationship with God and who raise us up in that way of life. Faith is often easier in a household of faith. My own example of faith would be unimaginable without the faithful examples I can point to in my parents, my grandparents, and even uncles, aunts and siblings. Of all the amazing gifts I can list that I have received from God in my life, the blessing of my family may be at the top of my list.

The truth is, though, that every follower of Jesus has a household of faith. Even those that don’t come to know Jesus until late in their lives; those who have grown up without any witness in their biological family. The church is not just illustrated by the comparison to a family; it is the family of God. We come to faith in a household. Some may try to point to people who hear the Gospel in an isolated instance and “come to faith” on their own, but the truth is that being a disciple of Jesus is something that occurs in community. We need each other.

Friday, April 5, 2013

"The Master" (2012)

It is really quite annoying to be duped again by Hollywood, despite a healthy dose of caution and skepticism. With film this is really quite a challenge, because one does not want to ruin a story by knowing too much beforehand. However, even risking trailers and a review here or there did not help with “The Master.”

This film sells itself as the story of a cult leader and one of his more enthusiastic converts, perhaps with a study of the disillusionment and disappointment placing one’s faith in such con-men ultimately leads to. At the very least it looked like an exploration of faith and the way we humans are so dependent on belief that we will follow anyone using this need to control us.

One could have known better too. The director’s last film, “There Will Be Blood” was one of the most overrated movies of its year, and this one did not fare so well amongst the critics.

What do we get if we give “The Master” a try? A mess. A plot less study of broken men leading broken men. A lot of needless nudity that does not make sense even from the perspective of the film. And a deep sense that we have wasted over two hours of our life, and that we have been taken for a ride.

Maybe there is a statement about radical cults in there somewhere after all?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"The Bells of Saint John"

Clara: “You going to explain what happened to me?”

The Doctor: “There’s something in the wifi. This whole world is swimming in wifi. We’re living in a wifi soup. Suppose something got inside it. Suppose there was something living in the wifi, harvesting human minds, extracting them. Imagine that! Human souls trapped like flies in the World Wide Web, stuck forever, crying out for help.”

Clara: Isn't that basically Twitter?

There is a pleasure in watching near future science fiction as we catch up with the visions being imagined. The TV show Doctor Who has been visiting the early Twenty First Century for decades now, and it is quite comical to see what the writers of the late sixties thought our world would be like. However, in our break-neck speed of technological advances these days it is also a bit entertaining to see what people less than a decade ago thought we would be like today. As the show re-launched in 2005 it quickly advanced the “present day” on the show into the teens and twenties of this century, but that world looked pretty much like the 00s only with a sudden awareness of a vast amount of aliens interested in Earth. They had no idea of how pervasive things like smart phones, social networking, and wifi would be.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Prayer in Daniel

In the book of Daniel, we read that Daniel discovers God’s plan for the exiled people by reading Jeremiah. He realizes that the time of exile foretold is nearing its end. It is almost time for the people of God to return home. What is his response to such exciting news? He begins to pray for God to fulfill His word. To stick to His plan.

This has always baffled me a bit. It is actually an aspect of prayer that has always been a hang-up for me. Why ask God for anything? If we trust that God knows best we should pray that He will do His will, that His plans be fulfilled. But then, God being sovereign, He will already do that. Won’t He? Some would think this sort of conundrum would kill the prayer life of a child of God, but it just hurts the asking part—the petition aspect of prayer. And I have always thought who likes a kid that is always asking for stuff?

There is still a whole lot we can talk to God about. We can talk about how we feel. Tell Him about our plans and ideas and see what He thinks of them. Ask Him to help us understand things of His nature and plans.

And that is where Daniel clarifies the petition aspect of prayer for us. In praying for God’s plans, in talking to God about the things we do understand of His intentions and plans, we grow to know God’s heart better. Why did Daniel pray for God to do something that he already knew God was going to do? To learn more about God’s plan. Why should we pray for things we know God wants, like the salvation of people around us? So that we can learn more about our Father’s heart.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I get a bit tired of all the complaining about the snow on facebook.

My favorite book of all time gets it right about weather. We all start out loving it, but learn to hate it with time, especially kids who are not allowed to go out in it. I have noticed my children developing this dislike, in regards to snow. We have had one of the longest, darkest, coldest, and snowiest winters in Germany this year, dating back to the late 1800s. My kids will get up, look out the window, and howl in rage at the daily flurries of snow! I can hardly imagine myself having a similar reaction as a kid. Of course, Germany does not do “snow days” but all the same. I love snow.

We all started out cheering the white world we were treated to back in October, and then in earnest beginning last December. By the eve of April and Easter Sunday, however, we have all gotten a bit tired of the stuff. It is a bit thrilling to be able to say we have survived the darkest winter in over 40 years, and the coldest March since the days of the Wild West, but we all long for spring.

Then, Easter Sunday night I popped my ear-buds in playing “The Easter Song” by Keith Green, put the dog’s leash on and set out to do our twice daily routine. It was snowing as it had been off and on all day, week actually. But somehow the size of the flakes, the lilt of their fall, and the magical effect the street lamps had in highlighting combined with the music and reminded me of how much I love, love, love weather. Especially this sort of weather.

I cut our walk short, headed back to the house and had my kids get dressed. (They were all in their PJs ready for bed.) We took a quick family night walk down the avenue. It was special.

I want my kids to keep loving weather.

Monday, April 1, 2013

2 Timothy Outline

[As Always, a work in progress.]

23 (1). II Timothy 1:1,2

I. The Charge: Endure in the Call to Ministry

A. Thanksgiving for Timothy’s Faith
24 (2). (II Timothy 1:3-5)

B. The Charge to Endure 1:

i. “Kindle Afresh” the Call
25. (3). (II Timothy 1:6,7)

1. “Kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”

ii. The Call to Ministry, Described
26 (4). (II Timothy 1:8-14)

2. “Do not be ashamed of the testimony of Christ.”
3. “Join with me in suffering for the Gospel”
4. “Retain the standard of sound words.”
5. “Guard… the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

C. Examples Good and Bad
27 (5). (II Timothy 1:15-18)

D. The Charge to Endure 2:

i. “Be Strong”
28 (6). (II Timothy 2:1-7)

6. “Be strong in the grace that is Christ Jesus.”
7. Disciple generationally, “the things which you have heard from me... entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
8. “Suffer hardship with me.”
9. “Consider what I say.”

ii. “Remember”
29 (7). (II Timothy 2:8-13)

10. “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.”

II. Contrast: Faithful Teaching vs. False Teaching

E. The Charge to Teach 1: Conduct

i. What to Teach; What to Avoid
30 (8). (II Timothy 2:14-19)

11. “Remind [others] of these things.”
12. “Charge them… not to wrangle about words.”
13. “Present yourself approved.”
14. “Avoid empty chatter.”

ii. The Illustration of the Vessels
31 (9). (II Timothy 2:20,21)

F. Conduct Compared

i. The Conduct of a Good Leader
32 (10). (II Timothy 2:22-26)

15. “Flee from youthful lusts.”
16. “Pursue righteousness.”
17. “Refuse Speculations.”

ii. The Conduct of False Teachers
33 (11). (II Timothy 3:1-9)

G. The Charge to Teach 2: Content
34 (12). (II Timothy 3:10-17)

18. “Continue in what you have learned.”

III. The Ultimate Charge: “Fulfill your Ministry!”

35 (13). (II Timothy 4:1-8)

19. “Preach the Word.”
20. “Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exort.”
21. “Be sober.”
22. “Do the work of an evangelist.”
23. “Fulfill your ministry.”

IV. Concluding Remarks

37 (15). (II Timothy 4:9-18)
38 (16). (II Timothy 4:19-21)
39 (17). (II Timothy 4:22)
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