Month: July 2016

Transformation Inside Out

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As a reminder, over the next 8-10 weeks, I have joined with fellow church leaders and bloggers in a summer blog tour. We will be exploring the idea of Christians and faith communities living inside out. I hope and pray that you will be blessed by these posts, and that you will check back often and participate with your comments. At the end of it all, there will be a winner selected from those who comment and they will receive a copy of the workbook Church Inside Out by Timothy Archer. Leave a comment below and then click here to enter the giveaway. 

And for the next stop on the tour, it’s me! Don’t let that scare you away 🙂 Here is “Transformation Inside Out”.

As I observe the Christian world around me (or maybe the entire world around me for that matter), it seems that extremes win the day. I grew up like many Christians have over the past 30 or more years in a faith tradition that was steeped in legalism. God was seen as this angry God who really did not much like his people, but he could be “bought off” with good deeds. As a reaction to that, we lean over into a world of “justification by faith” to talk about the gospel in such a way that it seems like simply an endeavor of the mind. Believe this, think that, say these words, be immersed in water, and you are “good”. The goal is simply to think certain things and confess certain things with your mouth, and then go to heaven when you die. For some reason, we never settle in the middle of these extremes with the biblical view that you are loved by God simply because, and that you are saved by faith alone. Therefore, live out your salvation and embark upon a journey of following Christ. We love the extremes it seems.

There has been a lot of scholarship over the past 30 years that has led us to believe that Paul wasn’t plagued with guilt when he wrote Romans, like  say Martin Luther was when he read it. It seems that Paul’s goal was not simply to help get people to heaven when they die (though that is important), but it was to get heaven inside of Christ followers. The gospel was not simply something to be believed, or a formula for salvation from hell at death, but it was a good news event that should dramatically alter the life of those who believe it and follow after this Crucified Christ. To follow Christ is to orient one’s life toward Christ and begin a journey of being formed into His image. It is why Paul would say things about us being transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So I don’t know if you are like me, but I find myself often frustrated. I want to be more patient, loving, kind, gentle, generous, and self-controlled. I want to react differently, or perhaps be less reactionary at times. I wish I was less impatient, less rash, less compulsive, less…well, you name it. It is a bit like my golf game.

I love golf. I don’t think my swing and my game are that bad. In my head, I know how to play the game really well and I can see myself playing well. However, I continually am amazed and frustrated when I go play and I’m not much better than the last time I played. Yet I never think that part of the problem is I don’t practice. And so it is with my faith. I wish I saw more of the fruit of the Spirit pouring forth in my life, but I do nothing toward that goal.

As Paul is concluding his theological masterpiece, he says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2 (emphasis mine). Paul seems to believe we can be different, and that we can be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds. The gospel can and ought to transform us now, not just at the end. The deal is though, it isn’t a magic formula that you believe and confess and all of the sudden your life is dramatically changed. Sure there are these monumental moments in our faith, but more and more I think it is about the daily process of pursuing Christ. And it is into this thinking that I believe the spiritual disciplines call out to us. The spiritual disciplines are no magic formula, but they can position us for the Spirit to do its work.

I love the teaching of people like Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. They have a holistic and full view of salvation that it isn’t simply a one time conversion moment, but it is a journey or a process of transformation. Both of these guys also believe that the spiritual disciplines are the “practice” so to speak of the faith. If we want to see transformation in our lives, if we want to be less compulsive and reactionary and more patient and kind, perhaps we ought to do things that position us for the Spirit to make these changes in our lives. Maybe we incorporate into our daily lives what St. Benedict called a “rule of life”, or “rhythm of life” that practices the spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, hospitality, submission to others, etc. If the goal isn’t simply to get to heaven one day, but to get heaven inside of us, to become people who begin to look and act more like Christ, then maybe these spiritual disciplines are a very practical tool for this inside out transformation, or what Paul calls the “renewing of your mind”.

The western story of Christianity has been hijacked into one that sounds like Jesus came into the world so we could get out of it. The problem is, that is not a very biblical picture of faith. Rather, what if we let go of that story and began seeing that Christ came into this world to get His image inside of it, or inside of us. No we don’t want to conform to the ways of this world, but neither do we want to hide from it. Rather, let us be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of our minds, and through this bear His image to a lost and broken world.

I can guarantee you that practicing the spiritual disciplines will position you for this transformation because I have seen it in my own life. The deal is though, no one can teach you into this change. Rather, you will have to try it. We can talk about the disciplines, but if you really want to see how it might could work in your life, then do it. Slow down, carve out space in your life, and lean into these disciplines. And don’t be surprised if you notice yourself reacting a bit differently, perhaps a bit more like Jesus would react. The Holy Spirit wants to transform you into the image of Christ, but this can only be done from the inside out.

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Church Inside Out

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As a reminder, over the next 8-10 weeks, I have joined with fellow church leaders and bloggers in a summer blog tour. We will be exploring the idea of Christians and faith communities living inside out. I hope and pray that you will be blessed by these posts, and that you will check back often and participate with your comments. At the end of it all, there will be a winner selected from those who comment and they will receive a copy of the workbook Church Inside Out by Timothy Archer. Leave a comment below and then click here to enter the giveaway. 

And for the next stop on the tour, we turn to Tim Archer and his thoughts on “Church Inside Out”.

I’ve come to love the story of Basil the Great. He was bishop of Caesarea in the late 4th century. Basil earned his fame as a staunch defender of the Nicene creed, what most of us know as the traditional teaching about the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He worked tirelessly to oppose the teachings of those who saw Jesus as a created being. One of these opponents was the Roman emperor Valens, who banished Basil from the Roman empire on several occasions (though Basil paid no mind to the decrees).

Important though such work was, Basil’s greatest legacy was the Basiliad, the huge hospital/orphanage/hospice/poor house that was built outside of Caesarea. When Emperor Valens came to Caesarea to confront Basil face to face, he was so impressed by Basil’s work that he donated imperial land for expansions to the Basiliad.

When Basil died, Gregory of Nazianzus declared, “His words were like thunder because his life was like lightning.”

I love that imagery. I’d love to have it said of me. I’d love to have it said of the church. Words like thunder backed by a life like lightning; that’s what the church needs.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16)

Far too often our churches are cloistered within four walls, living godly lives that are seen by no one. We become consumed by inward-focused ministries. With all of our energies directed at one another, cabin fever sets in, and the church fights and feuds over minor matters. As we distance ourselves from our communities, we come to fear and distrust the outside world. In the end, having no significant relationship with outsiders, we content ourselves with trying to convert our young people.

That’s not how we were called to live! Peter told his readers:

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)

Our lives are to be lived out in the open. Non-Christians should see our lives and respect them. This is true of us as individuals; it’s also true for the church as a whole.

We’ve got to be the church inside out… insiders going out in order to help outsiders come in.

Jesus has gifted his church with gifts and with leaders to equip her for works of service (Ephesians 4:7-13). One of the main tasks of Christian leaders is to help members find and use their gifts in service to others. Leaders should be aware of the needs of the community around as well as knowing how to help members discover their own giftedness. Elders and ministers need a mechanism for communicating those needs to the body, be it through social networks, phone trees, Bible classes, small groups, or announcements from the pulpit. They also need an awareness that no church can meet every need. It’s possible that some needs will only be prayed about for now, trusting that God will raise up people for those ministries at a future date.

Leaders should be open to proposals for new ways of serving, for new ministries that better fit the current membership and contemporary needs. In the same way, some ministries should be allowed to fall dormant or cease to exist; there is no shame in moving on from a ministry that is no longer bearing fruit.

Church members should be creatively looking for ways to use their gifts to serve the community around. Where giftedness meets need, that is the Christian’s calling. Sometimes those gifts fit within existing structures in the church; sometimes new ministries will be developed to minister to the community in more appropriate ways.

It’s important that we encourage our members to experiment with new ministries. Leaders should be positive and affirming when faced with ministry proposals, especially “outside the walls” ministries. People need to know that they can try something, evaluate it honestly, and make necessary changes (including suspension of that ministry for a time). As churches step outside of themselves, they will find more unpredictability and a need for more flexibility.

But step out we must. The church needs to be seen by the community, seen as a force for good. We will never be able to speak like thunder, until our lives shine like lightning. Others will never praise God because of us until they see deeds that are truly praiseworthy. I’ll close with a quote from my book Church Inside Out:

As the old refrain says, they won’t care what we know until they know that we care. The world does not want to be preached at. Outsiders don’t want Christians standing inside church buildings pointing fingers out at the rest of the world. But when they see transformed lives reflected in a Christian body that serves its community, they’ll want to hear the message.

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Timothy Archer has coordinated the Spanish-speaking Ministries for Hope For Life / Herald of Truth Ministries since 2006. He has spent three decades working in Spanish ministry, including 15 years in Argentina. Tim preaches for the bilingual ministry at the University Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, where he attends with his wife Carolina, and their two children, Daniel and Andrea. Tim has co-authored three books with Steve Ridgell: Letters From The Lamb, Hope For Life and More Hope For Life, as well as a history of the churches of Christ in Cuba that was co-written with Cuban preacher Tony Fernández. Tim’s latest book, Church Inside Out, helps churches motivate their members to be actively ministering to the community around them. You can read Timothy’s blogs at http://www.timothyarcher.com/kitchen/

Inside Out

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Over the next 8-10 weeks, I have joined with fellow church leaders and bloggers in a summer blog tour. We will be exploring the idea of Christians and faith communities living inside out. I hope and pray that you will be blessed by these posts, and that you will check back often and participate with your comments. At the end of it all, there will be a winner selected from those who comment and they will receive a copy of the workbook Church Inside Out by Timothy Archer. Leave a comment below and then click here to enter the giveaway. 

And now, on to the first blog in the tour by my friend Peter Horne.

Blog Tour 2016

We live in a consumeristic world. The engine of our capitalist economy is founded in the thought that more is better. Newer is better. Faster is better. And to the extent that you accept this thought and participate in this market, you are better. You are cooler. You are smarter. Your life is easier. And you will be happier.

Our culture repeatedly encourages us to “try this, taste that, buy these, go there, experience this, watch that, try these”. Whether we realise it or not, this worldview is oriented from the Outside to the Inside.

This philosophy of life begins with the perspective that goodness, joy, completeness, and purpose are “out there”, outside of ourselves. They exist for us to grasp, or at least to pursue with the hope to grasp.

As I write this, the Cleveland Cavaliers have just won the NBA Championship. It represents the team’s first ever championship and the city’s first professional sports championship in 52 years. I wonder how many fans long and dreamed of this day. They pour into the streets to greet the players. They throw the team a parade. They feel on top of the world. Then in a few days, a week, perhaps a month they begin to wonder… “When will the Browns win the NFL championship?” or “When will the Indians bring home the MLB championship?” The euphoria subsides and life goes on.

Jesus taught us a different way of viewing the world. He introduced us to the worldview “Inside Out”.

In Mark 7 Jesus addresses a crowd of people who concerned themselves with ritual purity. In this particular instance the discussion revolved around washing hands before a meal. While our mother’s told us this for health reasons, these people believed it would help them maintain purity before God. God himself had earlier given Israel detailed instructions about clean and unclean foods and lifestyle practices. For the people accusing Jesus however, rather than pointing them to God, these instructions had become a goal of their own.

Jesus then makes this astonishing statement to this crowd, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” (7:15) At the end of this conversation Jesus provides a list of sinful behaviours and concludes “All these evils come from inside and defile a person.

Jesus knew that the state of our hearts determines our outlook on life and our standing before God. Joy or grief. Hatred or love. Generosity or envy. These attitudes may be influenced by events outside of us, but ultimately the state of our hearts, our character, determines how we live our lives and how we respond to our circumstances. With this worldview in mind, as Jesus prepared for his death he comforted his followers with this promise,

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth… You know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.  (John 14:16-17)

Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will be IN his followers. From that point on we consciously live Inside Out. We can find all the peace we need in the Spirit within us. We can find all the joy we need in the Spirit within us. We can find all the courage and all the purpose we need in the Spirit within us. When we find ourselves seeking fulfillment in food, books, pornography, relationships, busyness, or the pursuit of wealth or security, we should recognise that we’re no longer living in the Spirit.

It’s great to have life goals that we pursue, but they don’t define us. Our identity and self-worth has been gifted to us by the presence of the Holy Spirit, and we now travel through life from the Inside Out.

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Peter Horne moved to the United States from Australia in 1999 to pursue training for ministry. Having filled the roles of children’s minister, youth minister, and college minister in various locations around the US and Australia, he now happily serves as the minister for the Lawson Rd Church of Christ in Rochester NY. You can find more of his writing on his blog: www.aussiepete.wordpress.com.

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

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My heart has been overwhelmed the past couple of days. The videos (particularly the one of Philando Castile) have been playing through my mind and causing me much grief. Such sadness, such heartache, such fear, such violence, and from what we can tell without knowing all of the details, such senseless violence. And then, when people are protesting peacefully and doing things the right way, retaliation and revenge rings out, and violence strikes again. It’s enough to make you want to curl up in tears and prayer for the weekend.

All of this got me to thinking about how our church worked through the story of Genesis this year. With that of course we heard again the story of Cain and Abel. I always read this story and was taught important lessons about bringing your best to God, about the need to follow the way of Abel and not Cain, and all of that is true and good. However, I never stopped and really pondered the question, “Why did Cain kill Abel?” It seems that murder and violence are so commonplace in our world, we almost gloss over that fact, but I think the question is worth some contemplation. You don’t just kill your brother. That’s not normal.

Ever notice how the Bible sets up a brother issue? All throughout we see brothers at odds with one another. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, David and his brothers, the prodigal son and the older brother, and then I think of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5 where you go to offer sacrifices and there remember you have an issue with your brother. There is a a brother issue all throughout the Bible, and I think that is what is underneath the Cain and Abel story.

I have read that in the ancient world, there were herders and keepers of livestock (Abel) and then there were those that worked the ground, farmers (Cain). In this context, the herders tended to look down on the farmers. One was better than the other they thought and they liked to make it known. Today, we are further removed from Genesis and even farther from the garden in Genesis 1 and 2, but we still have a brother problem. Herders vs farmers quickly went to Jews vs Gentiles, and now it is republicans vs democrats, blacks vs white, rich vs poor, women vs men, etc. Brothers still fight, humanity is at odds with one another, we still kill each other, wars still rage, divisive walls are still built. All the while the words of prophets like Isaiah and Micah ring out that our church services and pretty songs we sing mean nothing when we step over others, neglect those in need, and murderous rage is crouching at our doors like Cain.

We throw around jokingly Cain’s phrase, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, but I wonder if the question needs to be taken more seriously. Aren’t we our brother’s keeper? Because the gospel keeps calling us back to a vision that started before the murderous Cain story, a vision of the garden. It is a vision of unity, equality, and genuine loving of God and neighbor. Brothers and sisters, can we love God and not truly love our neighbor? The two go hand in hand, and the very gospel we proclaim and live into is one of tearing down dividing walls of hostility and hatred. I want the violence to end. I want the hate to end. I want to see the gospel take root in the world and heal this brokenness, but I think if that is going to happen, we have to answer yes to Cain’s question. It is time to be our brother’s keeper and stand in solidarity with each other.

Today, I hurt and pray for my black brothers and sisters who are hurting. I don’t have the answers, but I do see there is a problem. I don’t know what you have been through, and I can’t say what you ought to feel or do. I don’t have the words, but I stand with you and I want the world to be the way God envisioned it to be, and I truly want the dividing wall of hostility to come down. Forgive my silence when I don’t have words, and forgive my ignorance when I speak stupidly. Know that I love and stand with you. To my white brothers and sisters who read this and tend to roll their eyes (as I used to), sit with a black person and hear their experiences before you judge.

And to the law enforcement, thank you for what you do. We know you are not all bad, and we know your job is hard and the pay isn’t good. But we thank you that you are willing to serve and protect us, and we refuse to label you all based on those who misuse their power. The violence in Dallas isn’t the answer to overcoming the problems, and we pray for you as your brothers and sisters in blue are hurting today. To my black brothers and sisters who read this and tend to roll your eyes, I encourage you to befriend a police officer. Reach out a hand even if you think it isn’t deserved.

Friends, we have a brother issue. It’s high time we say yes. Yes, we are our brother’s keeper. We can continue down the path of Cain. It is a path of murderous hate and revenge. Or we can truly embrace the gospel. Not a mental understanding of Jesus with a confession and a baptism, but much more. We can let the story of Jesus get down into our very DNA and change who we are. This gospel has invited us into a ministry of reconciliation, not drawing lines. This very gospel message is one of crashing dividing walls, and forming a new humanity in the image of Christ. Let’s join together today and say yes, we are our brother’s keeper.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility… – Ephesians 2:13-14