One of my first tasks when I started my new pastorate three years ago was helping our church get up to speed with our use of technology. When I walked into my new office on the first day, I found an old metal cart with stacks of multi-colored VeggieTales VHS tapes. On the bookshelves were boxes containing cassette tapes from 1995 which claimed to offer “the latest and best method for small groups for your church!” Other rooms had old VHS players(!) and printers sitting in the corner collecting dust, as well as several piles of old cables that nobody could remember what they belonged to.
Those early days were a lot of fun, not only clearing out all of the old, unused technology, but also helping our church embrace new technology to minister in this technologically advanced world. It took some time and effort, but three years later we finally have a social media presence (which now is really firing on all cylinders thanks to the newest member of our staff), domain name email addresses, online giving, a church management software, electronic children’s check-in, and now…well, like everyone else, livestreaming.
What I learned about our church in those early days wasn’t so much that our members were resistant to technology. Technology wasn’t ignored because it was feared, but because gathering in person was valued so much that new forms of technology just hadn’t really been thought about. In other words, our church so prized the embodied gathering of the saints that technology was always thought of as something that would be nice to have, not something that was essential.
Churches across the globe are finding themselves in a really interesting place. Now that Christians can no longer gather in person (and for good reason), technology has never been more essential to keep ministry going. Yet the real, tangible, and embodied gathering of the church has never been more valued in this generation.
Why? Because we really miss each other. Continue Reading
For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)
The last several weeks have been a whirlwind of developments as the Coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. In just recent days, many of us in the United States have been deeply impacted as events are canceled, schools are closed, work is suspended, and stores are emptied of nearly every basic supply. Almost every church or other religious gathering in the DC-Metro area has either shut down or moved entirely online. Those who are most vulnerable: the immunosuppressed, the elderly, and those with other serious medical conditions – have to live in a heightened state of fear and precaution. My wife and I, expecting our newborn any day, can’t help but worry about how these circumstances might impact our stay and care at the hospital.
As these events unfold, I have turned to God’s Word as a source of comfort and strength. God has not left us without his voice and instruction for us during these difficult times. In particular, 2 Timothy 1:7 has been helpful for me in my own meditation and I want to share some reflections that I hope might be of benefit to you as well. Taking a posture of encouragement, we have the power to be his witnesses, the Source of love, and the ability to model self-control. Continue Reading
J.I. Packer famously said in his book Knowing God, “If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child, and having God as his Father.” The significance of the doctrine of adoption cannot be understated. In fact, the Bible teaches that our spiritual adoption is the height of all our privileges of being in Christ by faith. Our adoption tells us not just that we are loved by God, but what kind of love with which we are loved by him (1 John 3:1). This love is not generic kindness or niceties; it is the love of a heavenly Father richly lavished on his children whom he delights in.
Yet for many of us the experience of adoption is one that remains impractical and ineffectual in our day-to-day lives. We understand the doctrine rightly, yet our relationship with God still feels cold and distant. When we sin, we are prone to an anxious temperament and feelings of shame and condemnation. When we go through seasons of little prayer, we convince ourselves that God probably wouldn’t want to hear our prayers anymore. We are crushed by failure, regularly doubt our own significance, question whether or not anyone could actually love us, and push others away out of fear of exposing our true selves.
Such behavior is common to all of us. While we may still believe that God once did a work in our lives to save us, it is now up to us to remain in his good graces and convince him to keep on loving us. This is very similar to the problem the Christians in Galatians faced in the Apostle Paul’s letter. Having begun their life in Christ by faith, they were now seeking to perfect themselves and remain in God’s favor through their own effort (Galatians 3:3). As a result, they too had a very cold and distant understanding of what it meant to be in Christ.
In the climax of his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul digs deep into the doctrine of salvation to reveal the precious crown jewel of the Christian’s spiritual adoption (Galatians 3:26-4:7). Through a careful study of Paul’s description of adoption, we can discern at least three practical ways for us to deepen our own experience of adoption and God’s fatherly love and care. Continue Reading
I finally completed one of the goals I’ve had for the last decade: to read through Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy in its entirety. I’ve owned the books since I was a small child – it was a gift given to me by my older brother. I avoided the books growing up because they intimidated me (I wasn’t much of a reader). I fell in love with the movies as an adult which has made reading the books challenging (since I had basically memorizing the extended editions of the movies).
But once I got about a third of the way through the second book, the distinctions between the books and their film adaptations started to become more apparent to me. I was able to more easily visualize the books apart from the movies and appreciate many of the new insights as well as the differences in characters and events. While I had come to really value how the movies depicted deep friendships, the books display friendship in a profoundly intimate way.
As I was reading these books, I happened to listen to a sermon by Dr. Tim Keller who used Lord of the Rings to illuminate the emphasis the Bible places on friendship. Keller pointed out how the main story Tolkein’s trilogy is entirely about friendship. If you want to read anything about romance, you nearly have to wait until the very end of the book, and even get into the appendices. But in the Hollywood treatment of the story, they move romance and romantic character motivations to the center of the story.
Keller’s point was this: every culture is going to suppress the value of friendship. In a Western, liberal, and individualistic culture like ours, romance is elevated because it is a means of self-expression. Thus, the importance of friendship tends to be minimized. In traditional and eastern cultures, family honor is elevated to the primary position (think of the well-known lyrics from Mulan: “She’ll bring honor to us all…”). Whether liberal or traditional, every culture will suppress friendship. Continue Reading