11/22/2010

What Are You Teaching?

11/22/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , No comments
I ran across a great quote by D.A. Carson as I was reading Justin Taylor's blog.  It makes a great point about what people actually learn when we are teaching.

If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what I am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

If the gospel—even when you are orthodox—becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that—you won’t even mean that—but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

I find it extremely challenging to know that when I try teach others, it may not be my presentation or teaching skill that really makes an impact on others.  It is my enthusiasm and excitement along with repetition.  What I find most interesting about this is that second paragraph where Carson says we can inadvertently teach others that the gospel isn't really that important.  We do that by assuming they already know the gospel and so we focus our excitement on other areas. Typically these other areas are areas of gospel application.  What we inadvertently communicate is that actually knowing and understanding the gospel is less important than doing good things because of the gospel.  Unfortunately what happens when people skip learning the gospel to move straight to the application that should result from the gospel is that application becomes the focal point of their devotion to God.  By assuming the most important part of our faith, we make it less important to those who learn from us.

So here is the question:  What are you teaching?  What are you excited about?  What can you just not stop talking about?  Is it Jesus?  Is it the cross?

What are you teaching?

11/19/2010

Heavy Burdens

11/19/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , , No comments
A discussion in small group this past Tuesday night led me to a sobering reminder of exactly the type of culture we live in here in the south.  As we were discussing the difficulty of finding other people who really want to go deep with one another spiritually and really share their lives with you this comment was made, "It seems that in the south Christianity is spread everywhere but only about an inch thick."  It got me to thinking about another culture that was steeped in religion but missed the point completely.


You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. -- John 5:39-40 

These are Jesus' words to the Pharisees, who were the leading religious leaders in His day.  These guys knew the scriptures backwards and forwards.  Most of their children knew the scriptures better than we know them today as adults.  And yet, Jesus tells them they have missed the point entirely because the point of the scriptures is to point people to Christ.  Instead, the Pharisees had a created a culture of rule keeping around the laws of the scriptures and made keeping those rules the measure of righteousness.  They then made themselves judges over people and condemned those who did not and could not keep the rules as well as they could.

Now, take a look at the Bible belt here in the south.  We have created a set of rules that we hold people to and condemn them if they don't toe the line.  Don't drink, don't have sex before marriage, don't use bad language, don't smoke, don't miss church, etc.  There is nothing wrong with abstaining from these things (and we are commanded to abstain from some of them), but we have far too often made them the roots of  righteousness instead of the fruit and have judged those who fail in these things.

Here is what Jesus said to the Pharisees about this:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. -- Matthew 23:4

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you  neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. -- Matthew 23:13

Because they have missed Jesus in the scriptures all their religious posturing and insistence on rule following has laid heavy burdens on people.  Jesus said he came to give them rest, not add weight to their load (Matthew 11:28-30).  The Pharisees have actually shut the kingdom of heaven in the face's of members of God's own chosen nation.

Do we think Jesus would say anything different to us today?  He has called us out to be ministers of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) and we have, in our own ways, laid heavy burdens on people.  We have fallen into the trap of the Pharisees.  We teach the bible, expect people to be obedient to the bible, and often times judge them when they fail.  But we have failed to show them that the bible points to Jesus, that the commands are impossible to obey apart from Him, and that their righteousness will never be found outside the  cross.

Read your bible, learn your bible, love your bible.  But never, ever forget that your bible is meant to lead you to Jesus and a more intimate knowledge of Him.  Without Christ, religion is nothing but heavy burdens tied to your back and a closed door to heaven.

11/16/2010

The Death of Church for The Life of Kingdom

11/16/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
As some of you know, I have been meeting weekly with other pastors here in Rome to pray for one another and pray for our city.  We pray that God will do remarkable things here, things that we can't take credit for and things that people will be talking about for generations.  I think these are good, God honoring prayers and I hope that I am here to see it happen when God pours out His Spirit on Rome, Georgia.

One thing I have noticed in my own prayers that I need to be careful of is the almost unconscious assumption that when God decides to answer my prayers for revival, He will answer them by using me and my church.  Maybe that is His plan.  Maybe He intends to use me to begin a great awakening at Northside that will in turn lead to a great awakening in Rome.

But what if He doesn't?  What if He decides to move in a truly God sized way but uses someone else and another church to do it?  Would I be able to rejoice that lives are being changed and that revival is happening if I see none of it in my own ministry?

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. -- John 12:24
We read these words of Jesus and we know, at least intellectually, what He is saying to us individually.  He means that we must let go of our own hopes, dreams, and expectations of life and surrender them all to Him.  We must allow His hopes, dreams, and expectations for us rule us. We replace our ideas of success, usefulness, etc. with His.

I wonder, though, how often we think to apply this principle to our churches. Are we willing to sacrifice the plans, hopes, and dreams we have for our church at the foot of the cross.  This can be especially difficult for pastors because we put so much of who we are into our ministries.  But unless we allow our ministries to be poured out as offerings before the cross of Christ, then they will never become fruitful.  Unless we allow our expectations and dreams for them die, they will never be used to bring life to the Kingdom.

So, when we look across the street or across the city and we see a church that God is doing mighty works in, what is our response?

As pastors do we celebrate with them as God transforms lives and stay the course with the ministry God has granted us?  Or do we allow or competitive nature to kick in and try to change everything we are doing so that we, too, can be blessed?

As church members do we celebrate with them as God transforms lives and keep our hands to the plow at the church God placed us?  Or do we jump ship so we can get in on a move of God and a more successful church?

God uses us as individuals and as churches when we die to everything apart from Him.  When we surrender everything about us and everything about our churches to Him, then we will see life come to our cities, our churches, our families, and our lives.

Are we willing to see the dreams for our church dead and abandoned if that is what it takes for revival to come to our city?

11/15/2010

Focus

11/15/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
If there is one thing that we have perfected in this culture of ours, it is busyness.  By that I mean there are multitudes of options to be involved in something for everyone regardless of age, sex, aptitude, or preference.

Single?  Try online dating or speed dating or the singles group at church or clubbing or hiking or a book club or........

Married?  How about dance lessons or dinner parties or the theater or concerts or karaoke or.......

Kids?  There's karate or dance or football or cheerleading or baseball or gymnastics or music or........

Our culture has convinced us that if we are busy and if we are providing enriching opportunities for our kids then we are doing what we are supposed to be doing.

What I find interesting is the typical reaction of the church.  Knowing that our people are busy doing and going and being we try to provide them things to do and place to go and things to be that are better than what the world has to offer.  We advertise exciting church events or dynamic programs and we spread them out from Sunday morning to Wednesday night and every day in between and then ask our people to choose our options over the options the culture provides.  Of course what often happens is that our options are not consistently chosen and then we try to make them bigger and better and cooler.  I think sometimes the end result is that by having so many options, everything in the church becomes just something and nothing becomes the main thing.

What if, as the church,  instead of spreading ourselves around so thin we just focused in on one or two things?  What if instead of trying to lure people into our events, we furiously taught them the gospel and its implications at our Sunday morning services and in our small groups?  What if we freed them up to do ballet and dance lessons and hiking and book clubs and taught them to be ministers of reconciliation for the sake of the gospel to the glory of God while they were there?

What if we always made the main thing the main thing?


For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures,  that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures -- 1 Corinthians 15:3-4

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  -- 1 Corinthians 2:2


Does that mean that all church events are bad or useless or that anything outside of a worship service and small groups is a waste of time?  Not at all.  But I think we would do ourselves and our people a favor if, as church leaders, we were extremely intentional about the type of programming or events we create.  Have we created programs so people have a reason to come to our churches or have we created opportunities for people to hear the gospel, learn how it impacts every area of their life, and make disciples of other people?


Maybe it is time for a little more focus.

11/11/2010

"Gospel According to Jesus" by Chris Seay

11/11/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , No comments
I finished reading Chris Seay's book "The Gospel According to Jesus: A Faith that Restores All Things" a couple of weeks ago.  I waited to post this review because I wanted time to think through the main thoughts Seay presents before attempting to write about them.

"The Gospel According to Jesus" really hinges on one primary assertion:  that the church has misunderstood the righteousness of God.  This misunderstanding has led to a failure to accomplish what a proper understanding would have compelled us to accomplish, namely the mission to partner with God to restore all things back to Shalom or peace.  Naturally then, the main premise of the book is correcting the misunderstanding of God's righteousness and laying out the implications of that correct understanding.  This is, in essence, the totality of the book.  Chris Seay does a good job, I believe, of laying out the implications of the "correct" understanding of righteousness.  If his definition is the correct one, then I believe the calling of the church is as he suggests.

I have a couple of concerns.

First is that Chris uses a translation/paraphrase of the bible that he helped create.  Because "The Voice" (the bible version used for all biblical references in the book) is a paraphrased translation, it is highly interpretive.  So basically, Chris quotes a bible that uses his interpretations of scripture to validate his interpretation of scripture.  That seems a little circular to me and does not inspire confidence that what we are reading is anything other than his opinions as opposed to the truth from the word of god.

The second concern is the actual definition of righteousness that Chris proposes.

“The best simple translation of the word righteousness is ‘restorative justice.’ God is stepping into our brokenness and making things right, taking fragments shattered by sin and restoring them to fullness. The reality is that God is calling us to take part in his glory, which comes from heaven to earth, and to live in his abundance, together. Seeking his righteousness is about being an active agent for his restorative justice in all of creation.” (12)

My concern here is that this is about all the support the book offers for this definition of righteousness other than the author's own bible version.  If you are going to suggest that the church has dramatically misunderstood one of the most important concepts in scripture, then I think you should go to great lengths to back that assertion up.  Seay does not, in my opinion, do an adequate job of that.  The result is I spent most of my time reading the book trying to decide if all the implications Seay insists on are all built on a faulty premise.

Overall, I can't say that I would recommend this book.  I have too many questions to be confident that this would be a biblically sound addition to anyone's library.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

11/09/2010

Prayer

11/09/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , No comments
Of all the components of the life of a the disciple of Christ, prayer may be the one that has the greatest discrepancy between knowledge of and application of. (Money is probably right up there as well......)  I know that I do not pray as often or as intently as I should.  I also know I have no real reason or excuse for my lack of prayer.  We so often cite the imperative of prayer and then live a life that indicates that prayer is at best beneficial and at worst unnecessary.

I think the most glaring example of this disconnect is one that I have seen in my own life and ministry as a pastor at times.  We say that we believe the bible when it teaches that no one comes to God unless He draws them (John 6:44).  If that is true (and it is true) then shouldn't a crucial part of every ministry be intense, intentional prayer that God would draw people to Himself?  I have found that so often prayer becomes an afterthought compared to the logistics of the event in question.

How have we let this happen?

Pride certainly plays a part.  A belief, whether conscious or unconscious, that if we plan and prepare well enough that we will be able to accomplish what only the Holy Spirit can.

Misunderstanding of the gospel and salvation leads to a decrease in the importance of prayer.  If I don't really believe that God is totally responsible for every aspect of my and others salvation then there is less need to pray that He will save others.

Laziness also factors in.  Prayer is hard work.  Paul says Epaphras struggles in prayer  (Colossians 4:12) for a reason, namely it is work!

This is certainly not an exhaustive list but I know that each of these has played a part in my personal struggle to pray over the years.

What about you?  Do you pray the way you want or think you should?  Why not?

11/03/2010

American Idols

11/03/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , No comments
Tuesday night is small group night for me and my family.  One of the highlights of my week is getting together with the other families in our small group and studying God's word together.  We have been working our way through the book of Hosea for the past 3 weeks now and last night we looked at chapters 5 and 6.  As I studied these chapters in preparation for small group, two things occurred to me.

The first was that the list of grievances God has against Israel in these chapters looks eerily similar to what I imagine His grievances are against our society today.  God's primary problem with Israel is that they have abandoned their worship of Yahweh to run after idols.  In the time period of Hosea, Israel has taken up worshiping graven images of cows (you would think they would not have made this mistake again).  Our society today is perhaps the most prolific producer of idols in history.  We have placed everything from self-esteem, college football, the American dream, and even "good" things like social justice and church growth in front of our affection for God.  Not only do we produce and worship idols but we make it socially acceptable (and sometimes socially expected) to do so.

The second thought I had was that for the most part, we are blind to the fact that we do these things.  We seem to be incapable of realizing that we are just as much the adulterous people that Israel was.  We are told very clearly in James 4:4 that to befriend the ways of the world is to hate God, and yet we constantly rationalize and justify our dalliances with the world as though it were some thing of small consequence.  If Israel is called a harlot and a wife of whoredom, why do we think that somehow we will escape the same judgment for committing the same offenses against our God?  We somehow have bought into the idea that if a practice is culturally accepted or encouraged then God won't regard it as sin, or at least not as a serious sin.  At some point for too many, the bible has ceased to be the sole arbiter of wright and wrong, of what constitutes sin and what doesn't.

My prayer, for myself as much as for anyone, is that God would keep us humble, and that He show us the idols we have erected in our lives so that, empowered by His grace, we might cast them down and love and serve Him with all of our hearts.

11/02/2010

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself

11/02/2010 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
Every now and then somebody retweets someone or links to something that makes you glad you signed up for a Twitter account.  Such was the case for me last night when @laurenchandler retweeted a link to a blog by a woman named Jen Wilkin.  I have linked to the blog below and copied the post here.  I hope Jen doesn't mind but I would like as many people to read this as possible.




A Plea to the Mission Minded


There is a people group whose language you may not want to learn, whose customs you may find distasteful, whose dress may offend, and whose values may disappoint. They are worshippers of idols. They raise their children in poverty. Many Christians consider this people group either unreachable or beyond the sphere of their calling.

Why?

Because their language is that of white suburbia. Because their customs are as familiar as our childhoods, their dress as unremarkable as the sale rack at Old Navy, their values as fragile as their credit ratings. Their idols are money, possessions, and leisure. Their children starve not for food, but for relationship. And their faces? Their faces look a little too much like our own.

Behold suburbia, the mission field for whom our hearts do not break. We hold them in contempt as those who have heard and spurned the gospel. Their failing marriages, rebellious children, and quiet addictions stir in us weariness and wariness: This is their own doing. This is the fruit of their commonplace lives of capitulation and mediocrity. Suffering and loss may visit them, but they still drive to hospitals and gravesites in late-model SUV’s. Why should we pour out our lives on the rocky soil of suburban America when, for the price of a plane ticket, we can till the fertile fields of Africa, Asia, South America?

But who are we to say that one soil is more fertile than another? Perhaps this field is yours to till simply because you find yourself already in it. No plane ticket required, no bold geographical leap of faith, just a slow and steady determination to respond well to the call to “love your neighbor.” Literally. Even if their problems are messy, and mundane, and not the stuff of headlines or documentaries. Even if they never soften to the gospel.

It is good for our hearts to break for Africa, for Asia, for South America. It is good for seeds to be planted by passionate believers in the fertile soil of distant lands. But I pray that hearts might also break for the suburbs, and that God would raise up faithful men and women who will till where the ground is rocky and unforgiving, believing for a harvest that could only be reckoned as supernatural. Pray with me. Ask the Lord of the Harvest, who sows and reaps where He pleases – both far and near.

Isaiah 57:19 …”Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the Lord






Like I said in the title, couldn't have said it better myself.