Monday, August 29, 2005

Ah! The History of the Church

For some reason I get really excited about Church History. In fact, my favorite class thus far in school has been Restoration History. Currently, I am in Church History and it is once again exciting. It's hard not to be excited with a teacher like Doug Foster.

So many students try to opt out of Church History because it is hard or seemingly boring. This is definitely a mistake. We must learn from our pasts and learn why we do what we do today. Too many youngsters don't know the reasons why we do the things we do and this can only lead to bad things. Either we will drop our valuable traditions or we will continue on in needless traditions for the sake of tradition alone. History is a vital study and a needed spiritual discipline in our lives.

You can expect to hear quite a bit about this subject this semester because I know it will get me excited and frustrated with our past. However, it is exciting that despite the good and bad in our past, God continues to use the church, his beloved, as his hands and feet in the world. I agree with Hybels, "The local church is the hope of the world," and this can only be so if we let Jesus be the head of it. Our conversation toward a post-modern, post-Christian church must not just look to the future. It must take into account our shameful and rich past. May our memories serve as springboards to our bright future!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Back To School

I am of a rare breed today. I am a senior college student excited to get back to school. Sure, there are many who look forward to getting back to see friends and that is exciting. But many seniors at ACU started today with a fear of today.

There are several reasons why a normal senior might be frightened with their last first day of school.

First, in the marriage factory called ACU, many are without the mates they came to school in order to find. I, however, have found the perfect mate and love every minute of my time with her. Thanks again Holly!

Second, many fear leaving school. That may sound silly at first, but it is true. It sounds great to get out of a situation that has hassled you for 16 years of your life. No more homework. No more getting ready for the future. The future is here and in your face. But at a closer glance, many seniors dread that step into the unknown mostly because it is.....the unknown. However, I have delayed this fear by committing to three more years of grad school. Even more incredibly, I have a wife who not only secured fear number one, but is going to help me get through grad school by getting a job. Thanks again Holly!

Third, most college seniors love the college environment and friendships but despise school. However, I once again am an anomaly. I love school and learning and dreaming about the church. Grad school is a bit exciting and scary but this semester is exciting.

Fourth, many college seniors have no idea what they want to do in life still after three years of preparing for something. I believe God has called me to the ministry of preaching. I pray that God will use me to help churches engage the world in dynamic ways in the future. It is all so exciting.

I am a rare breed. You may thank I'm strange. But I'm happy to be a college senior today in my last first day of undergraduate schooling. Back to school!

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Hope You Haven't Missed Me

I don't like it at all when my favorite bloggers fail to blog for days at a time. I am not a daily blogger, but I try to do it as much as possible. I have to say I understand and need breaks myself. This past week I went with Holly and the rest of my family to Disney World. What a needed time of rest before school gets started! Hope you haven't missed my thoughts too much. The seeming lack of comments must account for the lack of readers. Oh well. One day I will have a captive audience who will have to listen. Thank God for direct communication. Until then thanks for reading and thanks for allowing me time off.

By the way, thanks for the prayers for the funeral. No funeral is a good funeral. However, I did experience the peace that passes all understanding in this time of mourning. Continue to pray for the family. Thank you Lord for doing through me what I couldn't do myself.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Asking For Prayer

Today I am doing my first funeral. It's not the most fun one. No one minds doing the funeral of a great man or woman of God who has lived a full life of faith with a great expectation of heaven. That's somewhat easy, but God had other plans for my first and I need your prayers.

I am doing the funeral of a 9-day old baby today. Christian's parents are unmarried and unchurched and they are hurting. What do you say to a family who doesn't know about the hope of eternity? What makes them feel better? How can I help?

As I went over to their apartment earlier this week, it was tough. Here I am, a 21-year old minister without kids trying to comfort a family who has seen things I have rarely even thought about. Yet in this scary situation, God was faithful. People were praying for me and God gave me that peace that passes all understanding. I am pretty arrogant to think I can do many things, but this time I knew I had no business being there. It humbles you to know you are doing something you otherwise couldn't do without God. The young couple expressed a desire to make their spiritual life more of a priority after this. I was blown away. I was expecting questions about why God would do this, but instead they said, with a faith most churched people don't have, "I think God is trying to focus our priorities. We want to go to your church this Sunday." I'm pretty sure the Holy Spirit was working on this one way before I came to the doorstep.

Please pray for this family and for me. The service is at one o'clock this afternoon. God will be faithful.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

My Experience at Lakewood

I have to admit I have been conditioned through my experiences to be against most things at the Lakewood Church in Houston. Many in our churches are spending much of their time putting down churches like Lakewood for their megachurch theology and systems. I went to Lakewood this past Saturday with 1/3 of me looking to criticize, 1/3 trying to figure out what works to bring so many people into one church, and the last 1/3 praying that God would open me up to the see what he is doing at this church.

Through this summer, I have been in many conversations concerning Lakewood and most of them have been negative. Many are upset that Lakewood would spend so much on a building. Others disagree with Joel's gospel of positive thinking and abundance. There are so many things that can be critiqued at every church and it seems like even more at the big churches because there is so much more going on.

As I entered the building, I was greeted by so many people. But the most amazing moment came when I walked out of the lobby and into the arena. Thousands of people were already there and it was 20 minutes early. By the time the service started there were probably over 8,000 people. I really enjoyed the worship. It was energizing and exciting to worship with so many others in a former basketball arena. I expected more of a concert atmosphere with more people watching the performers on stage, but most of the people seemed to be deep in worship praising God. I came out of the service uplifted not for what I got out of it, but because the name of God was praised. Actually, I didn't come out of the service feeling like I had received as much as I felt like God was praised as Lord. Their prayer time was also very effective.

Then, Joel got up and he was positive to the core. There has been a lot of controversy over his interview with Larry King. Joel didn't come out very strongly on the issues of how one is saved in the interview. In fact, Larry King asked him point blank some important questions that he seemed to dodge. I don't agree with all of what Joel says. I don't think it addresses people who may never receive physical healing or success in a worldly kind of sense. However, despite my difference in theology, there is no reason for me to come out and condemn him. Luckily for me as well as Joel, God does not judge us on the basis of correct doctrine for who could stand? Our salvation never rests on what we do, but on what Christ has done. As long as Joel Osteen and Lakewood hold up Christ Jesus as Lord and proclaim that, I will not condemn and speak harshly about their ministry. If the amount of time that some have spent arguing over Lakewood's ministry had been used to spend time in the mission of God rather than bickering over correct theology and practice, God might would be more pleased with us. I will not accept anyone's message who denies Christ as Lord and our only hope of salvation. There is absolute truth when it comes to this, but I will not condemn others for a difference of opinion on theology.

May God bless the Lakewood Church. May he bring more people to a saving relationship through Joel Osteen. And may I begin to recognize that he is not the enemy that many make him out to be. The megachurch is not the enemy. Satan is.

Allow me to use a ridiculous analogy. I can assure you that we would work with terrorists and they would be happy to work with us if aliens from space tried to invade earth. We would do this because we could look past our differences in order to fight with those who share this planet in common. In churches, we must see the same thing. Though there are many differences in churches, we are all Christians if we proclaim Christ as Lord and Savior. Let's not forget who the enemy is and let us never forget the reason for our salvation. It is not in how perfect we work out our theology and practice. It is only found in the perfect Passover Lamb who was slaughtered in order that we might have forgiveness. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Monday, August 01, 2005

An Impressionable Young Man

I don't know about you, but I am a passionate young man. I believe God has given me passion as a spiritual gift. I'm passionate about my family, preaching, the church and God's kingdom, sports, and so many other things. It seems like every new experience I have and every book I read gives me a bigger vision of the world. But the problem is that every well written book and impressive experience is difficult for me to critique. Everything makes a huge impression on me and my vision for the world.

This is hard for some of you to believe. Mom and dad, you probably wonder who is writing this post because this doesn't sound like the same senior in high school who argued over and over again about what was wrong with everything with your parenting, with the church, and everything else in the world. I once had an eye that found what was wrong with everything. I could debate anything from either side of every issue just for the cause of argument.

I can also remember that during my senior year in Bible class at Dallas Christian, I argued with the Baptists in the class every day about doctrinal issues. We would argue about "Once saved always saved," the necessity of baptism, and other "crucial" issues. It's amazing to think now of how off based that was. But fortunately God is in the process of changing me. I'm still very critical of myself and my own work, but I have dropped many debates and arguments with others because they seem so illogical and harmful to me now. But now I wonder if I have gone too far the other way.

Maybe I have just read great books with nothing wrong in them, but it seems to me that I accept and get excited about every book about the church that I read. Every new book gives me more ideas about the church I will one day lead.

During my sophomore year, I became passionate about unity in the church. I saw the problem with our division and God gave me a passion for seeing how churches can come together despite their diversity under the name of Jesus Christ. We must seek to bind broken ties and seek the unity that Christ prayed for us. What a vision for the church!

But then came a new passion and vision. During my junior year, I began reading books from the Gospel and Our Culture Network about the missional church. This became a passion. We need more churches who see mission not just as another facet of the church, but as its lifeblood and purpose. What a vision for the church!

This summer God has given me yet another passion and vision. I've already talked about The Church of Irresistible Influence. It has made an impact on my vision. Now I see a church that works not for the name on the outside of its building, but to further the name of God in the corner of the world that church is in. The church should not build walls, rather the church must build bridges to the world. What a vision for the church!

Which is right? What does God call the church to? How does a church seek to do all of these wonderful things? All of these books have made impressions on me.

I've also had experiences that have been hard to critique. This past Saturday night, I went to a service at Lakewood Church here in Houston where Joel Osteen preaches. This church is the biggest church in America. They just moved into the old Compaq center and they average about 30,000 in attendance a week. Lakewood and Joel have received a lot of criticism for many things and I had many questions about some of the church's theology and ideas. I went into the experience asking God to open my heart and to help me understand what He is doing there. The church made an impression on me and it was difficult for me to critique. (I'll talk more about this tomorrow.)

Now I am passionate about everything and more confused than ever about what God wants for the church. I see many good ideas and discuss them with people wherever I can, but I don't know what God wants. Every experience and book makes an impression on me that will stay with me throughout my life. What is worth being passionate about? What kind of vision is worth putting a passion behind?

I come into my last semester of undergrad influenced by many good things, but unsure of everything. I have grown so much. I want to seek discussion, not argument; unity, not legalism; love, not pharisaical truth; mission, not programs; and kingdom, not the small vision of just "doing church." But in all of these things there are so many more questions I have. Where does God want me? What is the purpose of the church? How do we help God as He builds and furthers his kingdom? How does theology impact practical ministry? How do we stay truthful yet relevant in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-denominational world? Basically, how can the most people's lives be changed to live into a relationship with Christ in this world? These are some of my many questions I hope grad school can help with, but I know at the end of my masters, there will be more questions I can't even conceive of now.

How do I, a young man that God has given vision and passion for the church, fulfill God's purpose for the future? Everything makes an impression on me, but not everything is beneficial.

God give me a vision for your church bigger than ever before. Maybe not bigger in numbers. Maybe not bigger in budget. Maybe not even bigger as I conceive it now. But grant me passion for things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and admirable. Shape me into the man you need for the future through whatever that takes. In Jesus' Name, Amen!