Why I think you should join the Gospel Alliance

We are not forming this alliance for any other reason than this. We are tired of waiting. Our lives our short and our ministries even shorter. We want to be a part of something that matters. We also know from our many relationships and friendships that this is the heart of most in our denomination, so we take our stand.
Read the entire essay here: click here

My Presentation at Mid America Reformed Seminary

In this presentation, we will see how current ways of talking about sexual identity have discarded the rich biblical vision that God has given us concerning what it means to be sexual beings.read more Consider joining us as we explore the Scriptures concerning the meaning of sex and sexual identity, learn why ‘gay identity’ is an unhelpful category, and most of all be theologically equipped to give an answer of hope to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.

Trump, Clinton, Christian Lament and the 2016 Election

 

_89592907_compositeI am perplexed. Baffled. Confused. Throughout my life I have voted on both sides of the aisle. I love the United States and I love our political process. Usually this time of the year brings excitement for me as I watch this great country decide its next leader. There is no excitement this year. This year is probably the most important election of our lifetimes and one of the most disheartening moments in American political history. I honestly have no idea who I will vote for. And I think that I am part of a group of millions of Christian voters who find themselves stuck in the middle of a catastrophe in the making.

The Right Kind of Person

On one side is Secretary Hillary Clinton. To her credit, she is smart, serious, capable and probably one of the most qualified candidates for the office of the President ever to run. Her convention was beautiful, patriotic and inspiring. Her views on American diplomacy is consistent with both Republicans and Democrats for at least a generation. And the Democratic party seems serious about helping the, ‘least of these.’ It seems she is taking this very seriously and has the temperament and character to be President.  She is the right kind of person. But in my opinion she has two serious flaws. The first is that she moves her political views around as her party changes views. Because it is expedient to do so, she has embraced the Sanders reality of international trade and a very (almost socialist) progressive view of taxation. These views are fine to have if one truly believes them (as Sanders does) but she does not hold them deeply. She holds them because she had to have them to win the Democratic nomination. What else will she change her mind on for the sake of expediency?

Her second serious flaw is her views on social issues like abortion and traditional marriage. For all the talk the Democrats are giving on caring for children, they are the party that is spearheading the legal protection of killing millions of unborn children. It is no longer, “rare but legal” but now, “I will do whatever I damn well please with my body for the sake of convenience.” When one leader was speaking of abortion and the right to choose during the Democratic convention, there were cheers for abortions. I was left heartbroken. How can I say yes to a candidate that embraces such a callous view of human life?  If that were not enough, the Democratic party is seeking to marginalize the religious right and its voice on marriage, gender and sexuality. It seeking to paint an orthodox view on these matters as bigoted and akin to the racism of the old, deep south. I thought the Democratic party was the party of tolerance and inclusion. This no longer seems to be the case. Secretary Clinton might be qualified but the America she is seeking to build breaks my heart.

The Right Kind of Policies

On the other side is Donald Trump. To his credit, he is a successful businessman. He has amazing kids, and by all accounts works hard and never gives up. Those close to him say he is motivated by patriotism and I have no reason to doubt them. But he has such deep character flaws, I am not even sure how to express them. He is narcissistic, offensive, a bigot, a misogynist, plays to the worse of our nature and seems to have no sense that he is running to lead the greatest and most powerful country on the earth. He has only been a conservative for about the last 12 months and who knows if we can believe him. His convention was filled with all white folks and was something out a end-of-the-world, sci-fi movie. Do we really want this man to have the nuclear codes? Do we really want him deciding the future of our children? Do we really want him being our representative around the world? His reckless hubris scares me.

That being said, he promises to nominate conservative judges, reform the tax code, and carry the conservative political mantle.  His pick of Mike Pence as his running mate is a nod to conservatives that he is serious about being an advocate for a conservative world view. Trump has many of the right policies (though I do find his immigration proposals totally unbiblical and un-American). I have no doubt that Trump will unseat the political establishment and bring about lasting change. Though I am not sure if that is a good or a bad thing. To be honest, the system is very broken and maybe Trump can fix it.

A Two-Party System

And here is the other reality that must be faced; we live in a two-party system where voting for a third-party candidate is in a very real sense throwing your vote away. Much more could be said about this but by adding a third and fourth candidate into the midst, and if they get any level of support, will have the effect of helping one of the major candidates. 1992 is a perfect example of where this happened. Ross Perot got somewhere around 19% of the popular vote, did not win one state’s electoral votes and was a factor in the Republicans losing the White House that year. We are a two-party system and to vote means voting for one of the two candidates that can actually win. This means voting for either Clinton or Trump.

We Need Wisdom

I find myself filled with lament. Can we not have someone who is not just the right kind of person but also the one who has the right ideas.  I am very sad for my country right now.

This year Christians will need the wisdom of Solomon. We want a leader with personal character and mature temperament AND we want a leader that holds to our values. This year we cannot have both. This year we will have to choose one or the other. God have mercy on us all.

 

 

City Church, The Gospel & the regrets of one pastor

church-peopleI had lunch with Fred Harrell a few days ago. Fred is the lead pastor of City Church.  Last year, City Church–an RCA congregation–took a significant step towards becoming an open and affirming community (read story here).  This sent shockwaves through our denomination. City Church is a flag ship church in our denomination, partnering with one of our seminaries and helping to plant churches around the United States. Up until this moment, I had always been a big fan of what they were doing. In response to their move of becoming welcoming and affirming, a large group of RCA pastors, including myself, wrote a public letter to City Church. This too sent shock waves around our denomination. I provided the leadership to bring the letter together and gather the signatures.  Though I still strongly disagree with what City Church did, I made a significant, sinful misstep that I personally asked Fred for forgiveness.

In the process of writing our response to City Church, I sent a draft to Fred to let him know what we planned on doing. Fred asked for a phone meeting to process this through relationship. I declined his offer. This was sin on my part. In retrospect, I should have entered into relationship with Fred and then decided on a next step. I told Fred, at our lunch, that I am sorry that I did not do this and asked for his forgiveness. He gladly gave it.

All that being said, this is what I am learning as I enter into my fifth decade of life:

  1. As Christians we are called to love one another. This is a command of Jesus. I have decided that he actually means it. It is not enough to be right; we must be kind. Personally, I have decided that when I must say the hard thing I must do everything in my power to do it lovingly in relationship.  I am always tempered in my response when I am responding to a friend I love. I believe this is a good thing. Also to be a person of love demands that I actually listen to others. To see things from their perspective. I think the church would be much kinder if we intentionally entered into this kind of relationship with one another especially with those who are different than us. I am trying hard to live this way.
  2. If I am right on issues of sexuality, I should be able to be a calm, non-anxious presence among those with whom I disagree. Many times, I have been motivated by fear. Fear makes me defensive. What I am learning is that if God is my father, I can be present in love, share my opinions graciously and not worry about outcomes. I am deciding, as much as I can, to live this way.
  3. I might be wrong on issues of sexuality and gender. Now, I do not believe I am wrong. Actually, I am the most conservative that I have ever been in my life. I am happily complementarian, pro-traditional marriage, and deeply reformed. These are not just intellectual positions for me but these realities have profoundly shaped my life as a follower of Jesus. And as I read the Scriptures and have experienced God in my life, I know these things to be true. But usually when you are wrong, you do not know it. This one idea–that I might be wrong–moves me into a place of humility. It keeps me open and curious.  it causes me to keep searching for the truth wherever it may lead. It keeps my pronouncements modest. It allows me to be a conversational partner and not a dictator. Personally, this seems to fit better with how Jesus has asked me to live.
  4. I personally don’t want to be at war with those with whom I disagree. In the next few years, the RCA is going to see many churches leave the denomination over gay marriage and gay ordination. This splitting can be done with guns drawn and bullets flying or it can be done in lament and love. I choose lament and love.

 

I am thankful for Fred. I disagree with him on this and other issues. But I am thankful that he was willing to be in relationship with me even when I didn’t want to be in relationship with him.  Thank you Fred for teaching me how to be a better follower of Jesus.

 

 

My Thoughts on the RCA Special Council on Human Sexuality

IMG_3198-crop_0Last week I joined 70 other RCA leaders from across the country and our denomination to seek a way forward even as many disagree, fundamentally, on the topic of same-sex relationships and the ordination for gay men and women. You can read the result of that gathering, here.

What I wanted to share was what I experienced and some of my conclusions based upon our gathering.

First, I have some dear friends who are on the opposite side of this conversation around same-sex activity and ordination. I disagree with them openly and strongly, and I love them dearly. I think highly of them. I am glad that I know them. One of the things that I have learned is that the conversation around same-sex relationships and ordination is not just an issue but about real people–people who love God and want to follow him. And my progressive friends are serious about their faith (even though I believe they are seriously wrong on this central gospel issue). I never want to forget this; they are seeking to be faithful. I personally think that if we lowered our biblical rhetoric and entered into relationships with those we disagree with, we might do more good than what we could accomplish through arguing. I am not saying we should not stand for what is right, but I am saying that when Jesus said love your enemies, he probably meant it.

Secondly, We are at a lamentable divide. Words like inclusion, gospel, salvation, marriage, purity and covenantal responsibility mean different things to traditionalists like me than they do to my progressive friends. I am not sure there is a way to stay together and be biblically faithful when our understanding of Christianity is so different. Many folks were earnest in such an attempt last week but I simply am not sure that it is possible. I am still willing to try because our covenant relationship called the RCA is not something to toss aside but I am just not sure. Departure for some seems inevitable.

Third, the recommendations that are going to General Synod from this council is good, serious work. It is the effort of men and women seeking to do the impossible: find a way forward on an issue in which so many strongly disagree . I am sad that I hear many of my friends lambast the work of this council. The real decision is up to General Synod, 2016 and the classes that make up our denomination. Take this and do gospel good but don’t disparage the good work of those who put a lot of effort to produce what is being presented.

Fourth, I love Tom Devries. He is a good man and an amazing leader. We need to pray for him. He too has an impossible job. I respect him more and more as I see him in action.

Finally, I am so thankful for Jesus. There is no one like him. He has been so good to me in my sexual brokenness. I have been transformed by his love! I believe with all my heart that he is the hope of the world for the LGBT community. So, I keep standing, proclaiming and living Jesus. I pray that you will do the same.

 

 

Should we seek the presence of God and what happens if we find it?

Presence+of+the+LordIf you have been around Calvary at all, you know that I often say something like this, “what we need, what we should yearn for is the presence of God in our lives. We ought to make finding the Lord’s presence a top priority because if the Lord shows up, everything changes”. This statement is born out of my own journey and experience.  It is when I have been in the presence of God that my life has dramatically changed.

Recently, I received this email question from a wonderful leader at Calvary about the language I use and asking for clarification.

Hi Pastor Ron,

I wanted to raise my hand in service today and ask a question 🙂 …can you elaborate on what you mean by “when God shows up”? I (we) might be looking for Him to show up in the wrong places.  At first I was viewing this statement in a literal sense; trusting and waiting for God to show up to settle the chaos in our lives. Now I’m wondering if you’re meaning a deeper/non tangible, level.

So, what do I mean when I say that we need God to show up? What is the presence of the Lord and why should we seek it? So this is my aim in this blog post: first, I want to prove that we need to make seeking the Lord a priority; secondly, I want to show the good that can come from it; and third, I want to show you what are the signs that God is drawing near you.  My aim is one:  to show how the presence of the Lord in your life changes everything.

You Are Commanded To Seek The Lord

There is no doubt that the bible wants us to seek his presence:

         Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! (1 Ch 16:11)
You have said, “Seek my face.”  My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Ps 27:8)
But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Dt 4:29)
The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (La 3:25)
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Mt 6:33).
And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Lk 11:9–13)
So, based on these various biblical examples, I think you will agree with me that seeking the Lord is a priority.  I want to draw one logical conclusion from the scriptures above before I move on: these Scriptures above are to the people of God; this means that it must possible to be a follower of God and not live in the presence of God as described in these texts. This is an important point because these texts are not speaking about salvation. It is true that we are saved through the presence of the Lord but it is quite possible to be saved but not in the presence of the Lord in the way described above. The reason I want to point this out is because I want you to know two things:
  1. there is to be seeking as a Christian; salvation is not the end; it is just the beginning of a seeking-kind-of-life.
  2. there is a quality of life available to you that is eternal in quality.  But God doesn’t just give it to you. You must seek it.
Why Seeking The Lord is A Great Idea
I looked at the scriptures above and pulled the numerous reasons why the bible commends seeking the Lord. Consider these:
-If you want strength, seek his presence.
– If you want intimacy, seek his presence–“Seek my face” is a command to be in intimate communion with God.
-If you want to know the goodness of God, the Bible tells us to seek his face.
– If you need life change or circumstance change, seek his face–The kingdom of God that Jesus calls us to seek is the manifest (made real) reality of God among us.  The Kingdom of God is the goodness of God made real for his people (one just needs to read the gospel and read what happens wherever Jesus went–the lame walk, the blind see, the hungry are fed–this is the Kingdom of God.
So, seeking the Lord is a command and is the pathway to much good. One would be hard pressed to find something more good for a Christian than seeking the presence of God through Christ in one’s life.
But there is a final question, how do we know that the Lord has drawn near to us?
The Signs that God Has Drawn Near Us.
Ok, we know that the presence of God is something we are commanded to seek, and there is good in the seeking but how do we know that He is near us?  Below are some of the biblical and historical signs of the presence of God in your life (For more, consider reading Martin Lloyd’s book on Revivals):
  • A sense of your own sinfulness, God’s holiness, a desire for repentance and an experience Christ’s sweet mercy.  In John 16, Jesus says he will send the Spirit who will convict us of our sin and point us to Jesus (glorify him). This is not just a one time event at conversion but a way of life–a cruciform life. When God draws near, you realize that your most righteous deeds are, “as filthy rags” and you can do nothing to clean up the mess of your life. Then in the same breath you come to realize that Jesus alone is your hope and righteousness. It is not just an abstract understanding of atonement but an experience of it in one’s life. When this is happening, God is drawing near.
  • There will be power and you will have supernatural results in your life. Wherever the presence of God breaks through, supernatural things happen–healings, fear of the Lord, insight, amazing results, and the list could go on and on. The overwhelming testimony of Scriptures is that when God shows up things change.  People change; circumstances change; eternities change; things change! So, if amazing things are happening in your midst, God has drawn near.
  • Transformation. If your inner life begins to be transformed, if you begin to take on the character of Jesus’ life in your life, then God has drawn near.  The most profound mark of God’s nearness as it relates to our character is being a people of love. When you are more loving–a servant over a consumer–God has drawn near.
  • A season of dryness and trial. When Jesus was filled with God’s presence (the Holy Spirit) that very presence took him into the wilderness for a season of testing and trial…  It is where the enemy spoke. It was a season of weakness. Though Christ is unique and his victory secure, our times of trials and troubles are specifically allowed and designed by the Spirit so that we can grow and mature…  This is why Paul says we can rejoice in our trials in Romans 5 because the end of such suffering is our hope and joy. When trials are happening, God has drawn near.
  • Worship. When you want to make your life about his fame then God has drawn near. When you want to lay down your life so that His cause will be forwarded then God has drawn near.  Worship is the clearest sign of God’s nearness; it is the only response of the people of God when he draws near. If you ache to worship, then God has drawn near.

One final, important point: the presence of God is Not primarily a feeling. I think this is where we get confused. We are looking for some kind of emotional experience. Now, this might happen (it sometimes happened in the Bible) but this is really secondary to the signs I marked above.  Some people have emotional experiences and none of the above is evidenced…  This means whatever happened to them was not the presence of God drawing near. Other people have no emotional experience but these fruits of God’s presence are present…. This means that God has drawn near.

Conclusion With A Prayer

The presence of God is to be sought; there is good in it and the signs that God is near are obvious.

I hope this helps.

I guess I will close simply with a prayer. It is my prayer that we would seek the Lord. More than anything I want us to experience the life that comes from him alone.

This should be our aim, vocation and one desire as followers of Jesus. The good news in the midst of The Good News is that if we seek the Lord, he will reveal himself to us; then, everything will change.

 

 

An Invitation to Read the Bible Differently

This weekend I taught on why the Scriptures are central to the life of our church, Calvary. If you missed this weekend, I encourage you to listen to it: http://calvaryop.sermon.net/main/main/20585933 .

 

At the end of the sermon, I gave a model for reading the scriptures along with scriptures that I think should be memorized.   Both the list along with the model is modified from the teachings of Dallas Willard.  I hope it serves you as well as it has served me.

It is an invitation to read the bible differently.

1) Choose a few chunks of scripture to memorize.  Start with ones already familiar to you.  Here is a list that Dallas Willard thinks every Christian should memorize:

  • Psalm 23 & 27
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Colossians 1 & 3
  • Romans 5, 8 & 12
  • Philippians 2

Don’t be intimated by the list.  Choose one scripture text to begin with (the Lord’s prayer is perfect, most of us know it!).  Don’t believe the lie that you can’t memorize scripture.  You can and it will change everything!

2) Once you have chosen your scripture text, and have memorized it (or even a part of it), take time during your day to consider the text.  Each time you do this, decide that this is going to be a holy encounter with God.  Certainly, it will be.

3) After you read a part of your memorized scripture, practice the following process:

a) Information: what did the author mean to say in that text.
b) Inspiration: imagine what your life would be like if this were true for you.
c) Affirmation: declare that what this text says is true for you.
d) Invocation (prayer): pray for the specific places in your life where you desire to see this scripture text come to life.
e) Watch & Wait: watch and see expectantly, throughout your day, God answering your prayers to see the text come alive.

Here is an example:

The text I chose for my example: “The Lord is my shepherd” (from Psalm 23; notice it is short but believe me, you could do this process on this one phrase all day!):

  • Information: David saw the God of the Universe as a personal being who took a personal interest in his life.  More than that, David saw God as someone who cared deeply for him…
  • Inspiration: How amazing it would be if I could live in the daily, moment by moment reality that the God of the universe in the person of Jesus cared for me like a shepherd (shepherds love their sheep, feed them, protect them, know them, take care of them, and is close to them!).
  • Affirmation: This must be true; it is the witness of scripture!  Jesus is my shepherd.
  • Invocation:  Lord, I desire to experience you as my shepherd today.  I want to know that you care for every aspect of my life.  Give me eyes to see and ears to hear.
  • Affirmation:  Now, I get to wait and see expectantly throughout my day the ways that God cares for me as a shepherd does his sheep.

Here is one tool that might help you meet the living Jesus.  Know this: Jesus deeply desires to meet you.  When he does, everything changes!

I invite you to read the bible differently.

Alcoholics Anonymous, the Church and the Hope of Transformation

IMG_0501I am a big fan of Alcoholics Anonymous.  Much of my transformation as a person has happened because of their simple program.  It has changed my life.  It can take the most broken, addicted person and help them find sobriety and wholeness.  The program is simply extraordinary.  I am an old sober alcoholic and I can tell you that when someone is in the bondage of alcoholism they are dangerous and destructive.  To “find” sobriety is a miracle.  Real sobriety is the total transformation of a person’s life–from arrogance, carnage and mess to humble, clean and able to live life rightly.  And here is the amazing thing: Alcoholics Anonymous is audacious enough to promise sobriety for nearly anyone who will work the program:

Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves. There are such unfortunates. They are not at fault; they seem to have been born that way. They are naturally incapable of grasping and developing a manner of living which demands rigorous honesty. Their chances are less than average. There are those too who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, but many of them do recover if they have the capacity to be honest. (Alcoholics Anonymous, 55).

The reason I find this so interesting, convicting and provoking is that in many churches we would never dare to make such a claim (come to our church and whatever your issue, work ‘our program’, and your life can be radically transformed into the life of Christ in 12 steps); even if we did, I am not sure that many churches have actual pathways for that to happen for anyone who wants it.  And if we do have the pathways, I am not sure many churches actually are making large parts of their membership into people that look like Jesus.

If so, I would love to hear about it.

What we would constitute to be the program of the church–Sunday morning worship, devotional time and some serving–seems to leave many people’s lives untouched (many sociological studies have shown that American Christians have the same ethical behaviors as non-Christians). They might be saved for heaven but transformation seems to be a pipe dream.  How can this be?  Isn’t transformation the promise of the gospel?

2 Corinthians 5:17–Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Ezekiel 36:26–And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Luke 6:43-45–“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush.The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

Jeremiah 32:38-40–And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.

1 Peter 1:16–Be holy as I am holy.

So this is my question…  How must a church structure itself, what practices must it implement so that its members actually look like Jesus?

One of the things that I am praying about, thinking about and dreaming about with the leadership team of Calvary (consistory) is how we could become a transformational community.  I dream of a church where people can come, and ‘work the program’, encountering the living Christ, and find themselves immersed into an eternal-kind-of-life.  A place where if we do our part, we find ourselves transformed.