Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God is Great, God is Good...

"God is great,

God is good,

let us thank Him for our food,

by His hand we must be fed,

give us Lord our daily bread.

Amen."

Author unknown


Over the course of our relationship, my wife and I have attended a few Steven Curtis Chapman concerts. At each he talked about how it is important to know that God is great and God is good.

The simple prayer above, variations of which are myriad, starts with two very profound statements, rightly pointed out by Chapman. We often conflate the two, but really they are distinct.

God is great. God is powerful, mighty, able to save. God is above our complete understanding, and had to reveal Himself so that we could even have a partial (albeit sufficient!) understanding.

God is good. He loves, He is gracious, He works even the bad things out for good. He is holy, just and righteous; God is purely and definitively good.

Being great is one thing. But if God were not also good, we would serve a tyrant who would oppress His creation. It is good that God is, well, good, but if He were not also great His best intentions wouldn't be able to overcome the evil in the world. Were God not both good and great we'd be faced with a God who's a monster, or a God who's impotent in the face of evil.

In scripture this past week I've seen both attributes described within a few pages. Starting in Job, we see God's greatness. In Job 40-41, as in other places in this ode to God's greatness and sovereignty, God challenges Job by explicitly reminding Job of how far above Job God really is. (As an aside, I like seeing how people react when faced with the reality of God. In this case, Job responds appropriately in chapter 42, that is with humility.)

Turning a few pages over, in Psalm 16, we read, "I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing." This is a psalm of rejoicing and steadfastness because God is good: faithful, providing, with us. (Aside here: David responds to God's goodness with joy, peace, praise and assurance. Again, a model response.)

God is great and sovereign, and we are in no position to judge Him. We can question Him for understanding; David did this in the Psalms. But we are not able to judge Him. But we need not judge Him, because He is good. He is good, He is great - and this leads to Him being trustworthy.

We can trust Him because He is good and able to do things to work things for good. You can't trust someone who doesn't have your best in mind (i.e., who isn't good) or who, despite wanting to, can't help (i.e., who isn't great.)

Let this be an encouragement in this time of financial strife, political discord and myriad other social ills. We have someone to whom we can go, someone who is both good enough to, and able to, bring good from even the direst circumstances.

God bless,
Ron

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Preach It Bro'

I'm a PK, a pastor's kid. It's an ... interesting thing, with an interesting set of pressures. I wouldn't change it for the world, but it wasn't an easy thing to deal with at times.

For this reason I have a great deal of empathy and care for the families of pastors. Few things in church life break my heart, or are harder to deal with, than when a pastor's family has to go through some form of turmoil, whatever that may be. On the board at our church I've found discussion and decisions regarding our pastoral staff the most difficult to deal with objectively. I always picture the staff member's kids or spouse.

In general, I think that churches need to pay better attention to the pastor's family. Don't put unrealistic expectations on the kids, don't demand so much of your pastor he has no time for his family, don't expect the pastor's wife to be his ministry assistant or Sunday School attendant and pay him enough to keep his family well.

These are some of my soap box items on which I'll gladly expound for any interested. Maybe I'll even write about them more here someday. But I want to step off my soap box and point you, today, to another PK.

Nathan Stewart attends Anchor Point Community Church in lovely Duluth. He recently shared his experience in his first sermon at Anchor Point, and I think I am none too biased to say it is a very powerful story. It is powerful to me not because of my relationship to him - Nathan is my younger brother - but because it is a redemption story; it's a tale of a life that should not be turning into a life that so very much is. Set aside 45 minutes and take a listen here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Mission

Last time I talked about what the church is. There's a difference between the big-C universal body of believers in Christ, to use the common analogy, and the little-c local church. There is a difference between the two, which I'll get to, but as a general rule the local church has the same mission and purpose of the Church writ large.

But what is that mission? This question divides churches almost as often as does the question of what carpet to install in the sanctuary, or what color to paint the kindergarten room. It's an important one, and in answering the "mega" question, needs to be addressed. The Church's/church's mission is the foundation on what the rest of the series will tackle.

A mission, or purpose, is what gives an organization its reason to exist. It answers the "why" much as my first post answered the "who." It is often cast in terms of vision (i.e., what we see ourselves becoming) or mission statements. Many businesses use such statements to focus employee efforts, and set themselves apart in the minds of the community or marketplace. Teams will work long hours to define the "why" question for organizations of all stripes.

For the church, though, the mission has been defined for us. Jesus Himself gave it to us when He returned to Heaven. The mission of the church, quite simply, is to make disciples. This Great Commission is what Jesus left us on earth to do.

English translations often make the Great Commission look like we have a multi-part mission: go, make disciples, baptize, teach. This is slightly misleading, though, as the focus of the Greek is specifically on "going, and making disciples."* The real sense of the Great Commission is, to paraphrase, "go and make disciples by baptizing and teaching." It isn't to "go, make disciples, baptize and teach." It's a minor distinction, but it's important because there are some who believe the mission of the chuch can be subdivided into four categories, and we are fulfilling it if we are only teaching (or being taught.) Or if we are baptizing those who come to us, but we don't "go" to reach others. That is, some act as though the Great Commission isn't about leaving our comfort zones and reaching out to people who have yet to become disciples.

There are those who may argue that the mission of the church can be expanded to include helping the poor, or to corporate worship. One might say the church is for fellowship and communal learning or growth. And these are certainly good things, things which churches should do. But they are not the mission of the Church. If all church was meant for was fellowship, say, God would call us to Heaven as soon as we believed in Jesus. We could have all the fellowship we need there.

No, we are left here as representatives of God's kingdom explicitly to go and make disciples. Everything else (baptizing, teaching, fellowship, service, giving) is a part of disciple making. They are the "how" and the "what" - but not the "why." This does not make these things unimportant. That would be like saying the mission of the baseball team is to score runs, but practice and strategy don't matter. The "how" and "what" are vital questions, and to those we turn next.

The mission of the church, the "why" we are here: because Jesus gave us the job of going forth to make disciples. That is why the Church, and why churches, exist.

God bless,
Ron

*Yes, I realize the Greek is such that some say the only verb is "make disciples." I think the Wallace quote on the post I linked to addresses that sufficiently that I hold the two-verb view. More here.