Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Packer Family of 5

On Thursday, April 24th, Holly and I welcomed our third child into the world. 

This time, we decided to wait until the birth to find out the gender. 


HER name is Brooklyn Kate Packer.
Everyone is doing great. It was a healthy pregnancy and smooth delivery. 

I'm so proud of Holly. Her pain tolerance is about 1,000 times mine. She has handled everything without any complaint. 

I find myself outnumbered. Holly and I are outnumbered. We've moved from man-to-man defense to zone defense. And Maddox and I are outnumbered by the girls. 

As a minister, I've learned not to take these kinds of moments for granted. So many parents have been through so much heartache as they try to start a family. We have been so blessed and we thank God for his special gifts in our lives.

Brooklyn, our hearts have been torn open once again. God has miraculously opened our hearts to feel the same kind of love we have felt for Maddox and Addison.

I can't wait to discover your unique personality, hear the words "I love you daddy" for the first time, and work multiplication tables with you.

But more than anything, I prayerfully await the day when your sweet lips will exclaim, "Jesus is Lord" at your baptism. Your mother and I will do everything we can to see that day become a reality. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Both/And Gospel - The E Word - Part 5

We live in a world of either/or. Ours is a world that demands choices.

Pepsi or Coke?
Democrat or Republican?
Catholic or Protestant?
Baseball or Football?
Apple or Microsoft?
SEC or Any other Conference?
Fox News or MSNBC?
Colbert or Fallon?

It's no different when it comes to the gospel?

Social Gospel or Personal Gospel?

We like to think that our reading of Scripture determines our view of the gospel. But more often than not, our worldview determines our understanding of the gospel.

What do I mean? (Here's where I venture into dangerous territory and ask you for grace with my generationalizations.)

In the political realm, Democrats and Republicans have different perspectives on issues such as military spending, size of the government, rights of mothers and newborns, health care, etc.

But underneath these issues we tend to focus on during election season, liberals and conservatives hold underlying worldviews that silently inform their views. And we rarely talk about the deeper differences.

At the risk of oversimplification and generalization, Democrats and Republicans differ in their perspective on human ability. Democrats tend to have a pessimistic view of human ability. Republicans tend to have an optimistic view of human ability.

For example, why do Republicans tend to desire smaller government and Democrats desire a larger government? Well, if you have a positive view of human ability, you tend to think people have the ability to improve their lives without an institution calling the shots for them. If you have a more pessimistic view of human ability, then there's little hope that people will take care of one another without the aid of a government working to ensure care for the underesourced who cannot provide for their families.

Take whatever issue that divides liberals and conservatives and you can see how one's view of human ability impacts one's policies.

In the same way, liberal and conservative Christians hold very different views on what the gospel is.

Conservative churches have focused on a gospel of personal salvation and transformation. The good news is that Jesus came to pay the debt that individuals owe to God as a result of our sins. The good news is framed as the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life with God.

This is the gospel I've grown up with. I knew the gospel changed my life, but I wasn't sure what to do after salvation. Once I was saved, I knew I was supposed to share this good news with other people so that they could experience the same salvation I had known. But other than the calling of evangelism, I wasn't sure what else my salvation had to do with life on this earth. My eternity was sure, but as a 13 year old with a lifetime ahead of me, it seemed like earth was a holding cell until death called me home.

Liberal churches have focused on the social gospel. The social gospel emerged in the early 20th century as a response to the pietistic Fundamentalist gospel of conservative churches. Leaders like Walter Rauschenbusch believed that the gospel is not just good news for individuals. It should be good news for the world. This movement has sought to live out the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6:10: "May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

And so, liberal churches sought to make a difference by bringing social justice to the world. Liberal Christians focused their efforts on issues such as economic justice, poverty, child labor, and warfare.

It's easy to find what's wrong with the "other" church. But often our beliefs about wrong and right are defined by our worldview. What is the nature of human ability? Your answer to that will often undergird your gospel.

And so liberals and conservatives have divided into separate churches that support our worldview. And we share our gospel (personal or social) without any comprehension about why anyone else would hold onto a different gospel.

But I believe each of these gospels are incomplete.

A personal gospel is not the entire gospel.
Personal Gospel - Social Gospel = Religious Country Club

A social gospel is not the entire gospel.
Social Gospel - Personal Gospel = Politics

Our gospel is both good news for individuals and good news for the world.
Personal Gospel + Social Gospel = The Kingdom of God

It's time for us to stop holing up in conservative and liberal churches with "our" half of the gospel and start hearing the gospel again as Jesus shared it.

The gospel is good news for every person and all of creation.

Let us move from an either/or gospel to a both/and gospel. There's no need to choose because both personal salvation and societal transformation are included in what God has promised.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Repent! - The E Word - Part 4

I can't remember the first time I met the "Repent!" Guy. 

You know the guy, right? 

Bullhorn in his hand.
Spit flying from his mouth.
Clenched right fist in the air. 
Cardboard sign that matches his words: REPENT!
Crowd of silent listeners and hecklers surrounding him.

Surely you've seen him too. He makes the rounds at sporting events, on boardwalks, outside of concert venues, and at political rallies. 

I might not remember the first time I met him, but I remember one incident from my childhood. It might have been my first encounter. I was on my way to the San Diego Chargers game and I heard him yelling with a snarl on his face, "Sinners will go to hell. REPENT!" 

He said the name Jesus somewhere in his presentation, but I'd never heard the word Jesus uttered with the kind of anger and vitriol he spewed from his mouth. 

The word "repent" carries all kinds of connotations depending on your experience. 

Most often I hear it associated with feeling sorry for the sins we have committed. But repentance is not just about feeling sorry. It's so much bigger than that!

In my last post, I suggested that it's impossible to obey the gospel. How do you obey a piece of news? Instead we welcome, receive, and celebrate news. We can obey God, but it's seems difficult to obey information.

And yet, Peter and Paul command us to the "obey" the gospel in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 and 1 Peter 4:17. The word obey has several translation options. Most translations translate the word in 2 Thessalonians as "obey," but it can also be translated "to respond" or "to accept."

I still stand by my premise that it's impossible to "obey" good news.

But I believe it is possible, and expected, that believers will "respond" to the good news. And our response to the good news should be repentance. But the kind of repentance I'm referring to is bigger than the "REPENT!" guy on the street corner offers. 

Check this out...

In the Gospel of Mark, the first words out of Jesus' mouth are, "The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news."

It's this exciting announcement that something new is breaking into the world. Things are not as they once were. Jesus has come to bring God's reign to earth. He has come to make things on earth as they already are in heaven. And that's why he doesn't just preach the good news about their spiritual condition. He comes healing people and changing their physical condition.

And what are we to do because of this announcement? Jesus tells us. He says, "Repent and believe the good news." In other words, we are supposed to respond to the good news through repentance and belief. 

As I've said, we usually associate repentance with feeling sorry or asking forgiveness for things we've done wrong. And those things are certainly part of repentance. But repentance comes from the Greek word metanoia, which means "to change one's mind" or "to change one's behavior."

Saying sorry isn't enough. 
Repentance is a change of mindset and direction.

Jesus isn't just trying to make us feel sorry for our sins. Jesus' first words are an exciting announcement about a world on its way that we can live into now. 

In other words, to repent is to imagine the way things will be with Christ returns, and to align our future with God's future. Jesus wasn't wanting a bunch of sorry people to follow him. He wanted to give us a vision of his future and to let us know that the Holy Spirit would empower us to live a life in tune with the way things will be when he restores all things. 

Now, that's good news! 

Good news doesn't demand obedience. Good news demands repentance. Good news demands realignment. Good news demands a new way of life. God is ushering in change and he needs change agents who will join him in putting on heaven on display right here on earth.

And if you don't think good news demands repentance, then you've never had a child.

Holly and I are days away from welcoming our third child into the world. That's right; we're moving from man-to-man to zone defense. 

We announced the good news months ago to our friends and family. No obedience is needed, but you better believe repentance is needed.

Because things are about to change in our lives. Any of you who have had a child know what I'm talking about. It's not enough for us to celebrate the birth of our child. We will have to change quite a few things about our current schedule to live in tune with the good news of a third child.

In other words, our world is about to get rocked whether we want to admit it or not. To repent, in our situation, is to prepare to live in a new way as a result of another child. We have to adjust our budget. We're catching up on sleep now. We moved to a new place so our child would have a room of his/her own. The announcement of good news of a third child has changed everything!

The kingdom needs fewer people calling for repentance with scowls on their faces on street corners and more people calling for repentance with balloons and birth announcements in hand ready to usher in a whole new world. 

The call to repent isn't bad news. 
The call to repent is good news. 

It's a call to align our lives with the world God is going to bring. 
It's a call to practice resurrection. 
It's a call to give people a vision of what their lives could be like.
It's a call for the church to live as a colony of heaven as ambassadors on earth. 
It's a call to live the abundant life. 

So, what are you waiting for? 
Repent and believe the good news. 

Repentance isn't something we yell from street corners. 
Repentance is something we show people that they can't resist. 

It's a call to "Produce fruit in keeping with repentance." 
And that's far better fruit than Eve ate in the Garden of Eden. 
It's the fruit of the kingdom.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Can You Obey the Gospel? - The E Word - Part 3

There's this strange phrase that I've come to despise the more I get to thinking about evangelism. You may have heard it before.

"Have you obeyed the gospel?"

It's the language I've grown up with. It made sense at one point in my life. But not anymore.

Let's think about that phrase for a moment: "Obey the gospel"

Have you ever read a birth announcement from a couple who struggled to have kids and thought to yourself, "I need to obey the good news."

No! Tears flood your eyes. You probably utter a word of thanks to God for his answer to prayer. And you celebrate!

Have you ever prayed to God for a job after a long season of unemployment? When the long season of suffering is over and you agree to take that job, has it ever entered your mind to "obey the good news"?

No! You call your spouse and you say, "Put on something nice. We're going to celebrate at our favorite restaurant. No expenses spared. I got the job!"

The gospel is good news. And good news is not something you obey. It's something you celebrate.

You can't obey the gospel. You can respond to the gospel. You can receive the gospel. You can welcome the gospel. But it is impossible to obey the gospel.

We seek to obey the gospel when we misunderstood the gospel.

At one point in my tribe, the gospel was thought of as a 5-step process of being saved.
1) Hear
2) Believe
3) Confess
4) Repent
5) Be Baptized

It's possible to obey a process.

But those five steps are not the gospel. They might be a response to the good news. But they are not the good news. The good news is not about what we are to do. The good news is about what God has already done in Jesus Christ.

The gospel is an announcement. The gospel is the good news.

As I said in my last post, evangelism is not figuring out a way to break bad news to people. Evangelism is about getting to share good news with people who are in need of good news.

The good news will need different emphases for different people.

And that's why a packaged set of 6 Bible studies won't necessarily reconcile the world with God.

Jesus shared the good news of the kingdom of God in several different ways. At different points in his ministry, he compared the kingdom to a pearl, a treasure, and a mustard seed. He told parables about a lost coin, a lost sheep, and a lost son to reveal the good news of the kingdom.

Evangelism doesn't start with a prepackaged set of lessons.

Evangelism must begin with relationship. It is a good idea to get to know someone before you share the gospel with them.

What is his story?
What are her experiences with God?
What are her experiences with Christians?
What are his wounds?
What are his doubts?
What are her interests?
How does her culture impact the way she hears the story?

Your telling of the gospel should have some consistencies. The story is the story.

But I would imagine the emphasis of your telling of the gospel would change based on a person's answers to the questions above.

The gospel should be shared differently with a man on his deathbed and a teenager with her whole life ahead of her. The gospel should be shared differently with an American in New York City and an African who lives in the bush.

Missionaries intuitively know this kind of thing. They face cultural challenges that force them to tell the good news in ways that will make sense in the cultures they seek to reconcile to God.

Guess what? Missionaries aren't just people who leave their home country and share the gospel in a different culture.

You are a missionary.

Get to know the Bible. But while you're at it, get to know your culture. And share the gospel in relevant ways.

I am grateful for the gospel. I welcome the gospel.

The gospel doesn't need obedience. The gospel needs to be shared, heard, received and celebrated.
April 17, 2014

After the feedback of several friends about this post, I became aware of a couple of passages that directly mention "obeying" the gospel. I appreciate that feedback. That's what a blogging community is all about: Communal Discernment and Wisdom. 

Paul talks about the need to "obey the gospel" in 2 Thessalonians 1:8. Peter uses the same language in 1 Peter 4:17. 

Part 4 of this series, "The E Word," continues the conversation. You can read that post here.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Is It Really Good News? - The E Word - Part 2

Evangelism comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means good news. But originally, euangelion wasn't a religious term. Euangelion was a political term.

In the first century, when Caesar had won an important military victory, an evangelist (messenger) would brig the euangelion (good news) back to the city of the emperor's victory in battle. In the same way, when one Caesar succeeded another, gave birth to an heir, or achieved another act worthy of celebration, messengers would spread the euangelion.

The early gospel writer co-opted Caesar's term in order to bring the euangelion of another king named Jesus. Evangelism comes from a tradition of sharing good news.

But the method of evangelism most of us grew up with wasn't exactly good news. At least, it didn't start that way, did it?

Most of you remember the first question you were to ask. I mentioned it on the first blog post in the series.

"Do you know where you would end up tonight if you were to die?"

That sounds more like bad news. Because what we hoped the person would say is "I don't know" or "Hell." Because if they responded with either of those answers, you were right on track. Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, and Acts 2:38 were in your arsenal and sure to give hope to your unsuspecting "friend."

We knew the well-worn, fail-proof Bible study process.

But as I think about it, I'm uneasy about that whole method.

Here's what I mean...

When I have good news to share with my wife, I don't have to determine a fool-proof way to break the good news to her. I don't have a strategy for sharing good news with her. And even without a strategy, she celebrates the good news with me.

The only time I have to determine my approach to sharing news with my wife is when it is bad news.

Which makes me wonder why we spend so much time trying to deliver the euangelion (the good news) in a such a strategic, step-by-step way. Why does it have to be so difficult? Why do we have to rehearse our telling of the good news?

Are we sure it's good news?

Is it good news?

Karl Marx once said, "Religion is the opiate of the masses." It was his way of saying that religion is a way for those in power to maintain the status quo in this world. If the upper classes could convince the lower classes that a better world was on its way, perhaps they would be content to live a less-than-abundant life now.

But Jesus did not come to give us "pie in the sky when we die by and by."

Jesus promised us eternal life. Not eternal life that begins after a life of misery. Not heaven after the maintenance of status quo on earth.

Look at what he said.

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (John 10:10b).

Jesus came to announce a kingdom that would change everything now. He said, "The kingdom of God has come near" (Mark 1:15b). He prayed, "your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).

That makes it sound like Marx misunderstood Jesus.
That makes it sound like we misunderstood Jesus.

Evangelism isn't about sharing bad news that will eventually turn into good news in another lifetime.
Evangelism is about sharing good news that has already begun affecting our world and will one day fully affect our existence forever.

There is a hard edge to evangelism. The proper response to the good news requires repentance. It requires tuning our lives into the world that God is bringing. But it is a beautiful world that needs more messengers. It's the best news you could possibly share.

We've all been the bearer of bad news. We've all been in the position of carrying bad news to someone who was unaware that the conversation we were about to begin would alter their lives forever.

I've been in hospital rooms with people who have lost family or friends who are close to them. It's hard to lose someone you love. But I've noticed the most difficult expression on their faces often comes when they realize that they have to deliver the message that "Daddy isn't coming home" to the kids.

No one wants to deliver that message.

But I've seen people fight over delivering good news. I've seen my kids fight over getting share good news.

Have you ever seen a young child give a gift picked out for a parent? The gift is wrapped in a way only a mother could love. And before mom can even pull out the tissue paper (Hey! There's nothing wrong with gift bags!), the child ruins the surprise and tells her what the gift is.

The good news doesn't need to be packaged. The good news doesn't need a strategy for "breaking the news." The good news is good news on its own, without our help.

And in that sense, evangelism doesn't sound like a chore. It sounds like a privilege.

You are a messenger of the king. He gives you the honor of announcing his reign. And that reign is better than anything Caesar could conceive of.

Caesar's euangelion might be good news for some.
But the euangelion of Jesus is good news for all.