Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

Read any book on “healthy churches” and there will be a chapter on the importance of small groups.  I feel like I’ve read every one of them.  And when I hear “small groups”, this is what I hear – “blah blah blah blah.”  This is my pastoral confession.  I believe that every Pastor knows they are important, and the hidden secret is that a lot of Pastor’s hate them.

At the Living Stones Church (and even previously as the Donmoyer Ave. Church of Christ) we have tried to do small groups with every known method to man!  We’ve done classic Bible studies, groups based on demographics, groups based on your geographical location, gender-specific accountability groups, the cell-group model (and the cell-group model that was rolled out every year at a conference to be the “new and improved” cell-based model), the semester-based/short-term growth group model, etc.

There are pros and cons to all of those methods.  But in November of 2011 when we had a leadership meeting and we began discussing our small group ministry, I personally felt apathetic, and I didn’t sense a whole lot of excitement in the room of among the other leaders at LSC.


We started applying some principles we had read in a series of blog posts that challenged how churches typically structure themselves for spiritual growth and transformation.  And by the time we were done talking, dreaming, and planning – the whole room lit up with excitement about a new way of thinking and experiencing small groups at Living Stones Church.

Over the next two weeks I want to share that discussion with you and tell you about our plans for small groups and how they are intertwined with spiritual transformation and community (two topics we have talked about for a very long time).

As a hint – the author of the blogs we read, who happens to be a diehard CrossFit coach – used CrossFit as a working analogy and paradigm for the spiritual realm.  I’ll tell you more about it on Sunday!  I’m very excited about it…like uber-excited!

Beware the Bible Answer Man

Posted: January 20, 2012 in faith

I do not know this man.

I threw out a challenge to the Living Stones Church a few weeks ago to read through the entire Bible in 2012.  We want to engage Scripture daily and get an overview of the entire Bible in the year.  I also encouraged people to have a notebook or a journal with them to write down questions, confusion, struggles, etc.

Because…when you read the Bible…you’re going to have questions, confusion, and struggles!

Yesterday one of our Living Stoners posted on her Facebook that she was reading through the Bible and enjoying the history of Israel in the Old Testament but came across a question in regards to Noah’s flood and the amount of rain that is says rose on the face of the earth (Genesis 7:20).  It is a good question.

What was interesting, however, was to see the responses to her status.  There was one in particular that posted like seven times on her status to explain the passage, offer links to answers in Genesis, reconcile the numbers, and defend the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.  It felt like he was almost panicked.  He was desperate (at least as it seemed to me) to resolve the issue so she could continue her reading knowing that there wasn’t a single question or difficulty that couldn’t be answered.

I had a few things I could have offered to reconcile the difficulty of the text.  But honestly, I think it is good to wrestle with questions and not build a faith on having a picture of the Bible like a balloon that if it has one single prick to it – the whole thing blows up.  And when I see Bible answer men (and women), or people who get very nervous at the idea that there is something in the Bible that can’t be explained or reconciled or clearly understood I think they are promoting a balloon-kind-of-faith.

If you have some questions in Genesis…just wait until you get to Leviticus.  I have a lot of questions.  And honestly, I have more faith struggles reading through that book than any other (…and yes…I know that Rob Bell started Mars Hill with a year-long study in Leviticus).  But my faith isn’t based on having a perfect understanding of everything in the Bible.  My faith isn’t threatened by having a an unresolved question or an issue that seems hard to reconcile.

My faith is in Jesus.

A great assessment tool and challenge from the Living Stones Church’s Stewardship Team.  They are encouraging everyone to grow in their faith, generosity, and commitment to stewardship by asking everyone to identify where they presently live and consider taking up the challenge to move one category to the right!

The Gospel in Poem

Posted: January 12, 2012 in Confession, Doctrine, faith


Posted: January 11, 2012 in Culture, faith, Ministry
Tags: ,

USA Today had an interesting article (you can find it here) at the end of last year that highlighted a growing trend in regards to the role of faith/religious belief in society that I’ve wondered about, and maybe even at some level, have sensed as a new reality.

In the article, the writer was sharing stories and statistics that revealed a growing trend in our culture to “care less” about the idea of God.

While many Christians are getting animated over what appears to be a much more bold fundamentalist form of atheism (ironic huh?) perpetuated by individuals like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, & Richard Hawkins, the truth is, the percentage of atheists in the United States isn’t really going up.

But what does seem to be rising, statistically, are those who Hemant Mehta of the blog Friendly Atheist calls the Apatheists.  These are individuals who don’t know whether God exists are not.  They are unattached and unaffiliated with any religious institution.  Not because they are atheists and don’t believe.  But because…they simply don’t care.  They never think about the possibility of God and don’t seem inclined to ever do so.  They are living their lives day-by-day without any existential thought of “greater purpose” or “meaning” or “life after death.”

In a recent survey the statistics revealed this:

•44% told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19% said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”

•46% told a 2011 survey by Nashville-based evangelical research agency, LifeWay Research, they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

•28% told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18% scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

Of course, this has radical implications for the church.  It seems the task is not to provide an apologetic for the existence of God; nor to show the “truths” of our faith claims; nor to convince someone they are a “sinner” in need of “salvation” so that they can go to “heaven;” nor even to demonstrate the “church in action” at its best.   Why?  They don’t care.  And they aren’t interested in those questions nor the resulting answers.  When a conversation about “religion” comes up, they mentally check out and politely change the topic.

The challenge seems to be to get people who could “care less” to “care.”

And that, to me, seems the most daunting task.  How do you help people move beyond steep spiritual apathy?

Dealing with Hermeneutics

Posted: September 28, 2011 in Culture, Doctrine, faith

There are two great challenges in reading the Bible:  1) exegesis and 2) hermeneutics.

The task of exegesis is to uncover what the text meant to its original hearers (remember…the Bible was written over 2000 years ago to a different time, place, language, and culture).  It may take some work to uncover, but the assumption is that the text cannot mean to us today, something radically different from what it meant to its original readers.  Likewise, the original intent of the author is relevant to us today.

But perhaps the most difficult task of reading the Bible is in the task of hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is dealing with how to actually interpret and apply the Bible to our current time and place.  And there is a lot of difficulty and at times controversy in that.  For example, 1 Corinthians 11:5-6 clearly (meaning no grey area) states that a woman should have her head covered.  Most faithful Christians no longer practice head coverings for women because we recognize that “head coverings” in the 1st century had significance in a way that it does not today.

Hermeneutics has a lot of challenges with it.  It has to ask questions of Scripture like:  What is concrete, forever, black and white, commands?  What is situationally-specific instructions?  What in the Bible is just coincidentally mentioned?

I think every Christian needs to think through and have an understanding and answer to some of the most relevant hermeneutical issues in our day.  Take for example the issue of homosexuality.  We often quote the Old Testament texts, but there is a rightful issue of hermeneutics.  I want you to hear some of the hermeneutical questions that are thrown out (albeit in a mocking tone…but they are still issues nonetheless) in the midst of the conversation.

The following is a letter sent to Dr. Laura Schlesinger, a radio host and observant orthodox Jew, who brought up Leviticus 18:22 and the issue of homosexuality.  She then received a letter (side note:  The letter was signed, but ultimately proved to be a false name, so its author is unknown) from a listener questioning her use of Leviticus and her hermeneutical methods.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination… End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness – Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord – Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath.Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination – Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there ‘degrees’ of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle- room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging.

Your adoring fan.

I have some answers to this letter.  🙂 But the questions themselves are a great challenge to the reality that we have to interpret the text for today.  And that process is called hermeneutics.  And hermeneutics is often a very difficult task.

We All Begin with Faith Assumptions

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Confession, faith

If you are a Christian, when you read this, how do you feel?  Do you get upset?  Angry?  Defensive? Does it make you anxious?  Does it, even for just a moment, make you question your faith or wonder if what you believe is really as crazy as this description makes it sound?  Can you feel emotions in you rising up?  Interesting how that happens isn’t it?

If you are an Atheist, when you read this, how do you feel?  Do you have the same  intensity of emotions, anxieties, or defensiveness?  Do you immediately want to begin to make a case for the rationality of atheism over-and-against Christianity (or any other religion)?  Can you feel emotions in you rising up?  Interesting how that happens isn’t it?

Everyone is telling the story of reality through assumptions based on faith.  Everyone.  Christian as well as Atheist.  What that means is no one has the upper-hand as if one is based purely in science and the other is based on some mystical voodoo.  Science, when pushed, has to concede that it, too, is based on faith assumptions.

What is important to me is whether or not there is honesty in regards to this reality.  Whether it be from Christians or Atheists, who is willing to admit the variable of faith?  Who is willing to say, “I believe what I do because of these faith assumptions”?  On either side you have voices that want to proclaim that there is no faith about it.  It is “truth” (or “science” or “facts” or “evidences”) and anyone who sees it differently is _________ fill in the blank (e.g., stupid, insane, a fool, ridiculous, etc.).

I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the one and only Living God who created and sustains all things.  I believe that he came to the earth and inaugurated the Kingdom of God, that he was crucified, that he was buried, and that three days later he was raised from the dead.  And now I believe that he sits at the right hand of God and will one day return to the earth to make all things new.  

I believe this based on some rational evidences and proofs.  But ultimately, I believe this because I have encountered and experienced the resurrected Lord Jesus and have chosen to accept it based on faith.  And now my invitation is for others to stand where I stand; to see what I see; to experience what I experience, and see if this same faith takes hold in their own heart and mind.

Things That Disturb Me in the Bible

Posted: January 5, 2011 in faith

I have a long list.

I’ll just give you one this morning.

Genesis 12.  Abram (yea…the famous one who God chooses to bless the whole earth and who is the Father of our Faith) goes to Egypt because of a famine.  The problem:  He has a hot wife and he thinks the Egyptians will kill him to get his wife.  Solution:  lie and say she is his sister.  Then they will treat him well.  And that is what happens.  Sarai ends up living with Pharoah (doing what…I don’t know…but Pharoah married her so I can only assume..) and in return Abram scores sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels, and servants – both male and female.

So – did Abram pimp out his wife?  Looks like it to me.

The only thing that stops this situation is when God sends plagues on Pharoah (who only took Abram at his word) for taking Sarai as his wife.

This disturbs me.

If you missed Sunday’s message STOP what you are doing and go right here right now and listen to it!!

This past Sunday we began a two-week message series entitled The End:  Exploring Life after Death.  I believe there are two great acts involved in the afterlife.  Week one was about Act 1 – what happens immediately after death (including a conversation about hell, purgatory, communicating with the dead, the confusion among religions…and especially the confusion that exists just among Bible-believing Christians).  This Sunday is Act 2 – Life…after life after death.  I’m excited!  I’m talking resurrection, glorification, new bodily existence, new heaven/new earth, and the affirmation that what we are doing HERE AND NOW for God is not in vain but will continue on for eternity!!

So…if you ever wanted to know what happens after death.  Listen to the podcast and show up Sunday and I’ll tell you!  All of your questions answered and the great mysteries of the afterlife solved!! Yea…I’m a genius like that! 🙂

Go here and read this post.

Then…what do you think?  Do you feel more like a “why” or a “how?”