Rick Warren's foreword for Should We Fire God?
Below is the series description for our upcoming series at NLCF. Will you pray for us as we seek to engage some pretty tough issues?
Every culture, generation, and season has had topics that made people feel very strongly. Usually these topics are complex, where even wise and good people have come to different conclusions. Our culture, today; even now is no different.
The topics shift but the way that God calls his people to respond towards them doesn’t. He wants us to pay attention and to walk closely with him, to pray expectantly and then act with love and courage.
Our culture is facing the most divisive election any of us can personally remember, a refugee crisis in Syria that is causing pain at incredible levels but that also brings questions of domestic safety, and #BLM is bringing the issue of racism into the national spotlight with more focus than it has been in probably the last forty years.
Each of these topics is complex and the way that each of us evaluates the different levels and weighs the importance of the many different pieces is causing good people to reach different conclusions. So what do we do with that?
We are going to talk about it.
The church has historically been a place where these issues can be reasoned out, where God’s direction can be sought, action taken and where grace can be shown to those who arrive at different conclusions. We don’t enter these issues lightly and this isn’t some form of elaborate click-bait strategy to get people to come. The weight of these issues isn’t lost on us. But if our walk with Christ is more than just something we do in our spare time to try to become a slightly nicer version of the average person, if it is supposed to be something that transforms us and actually causes us to look at our world, in all its beauty and brokenness, the way that God does, then these are things we must talk about. We simply must.
Our goal with this series isn’t to tell you who to vote for or what you should specifically do or not do in response to the refugee crisis. We aren’t going to make you tell us if you think Black or Blue lives matter more. But here is what we can do and what I think we should do. All of us, and I mean all of us, should look deeply at these topics and seek the Lord to see what he would have us do in response to them. Christlike responding in a Christlike way. Then we must all courageously and lovingly step forward and engage.
We invite you to join us, whether you regularly attend NLCF or the idea of church is something that hasn’t interested you much at all.
Will you join us?
Here is another shift that is very exciting for us!
We are adjusting how we disciple our male leaders, apprentices and those who want to lead one day in NLCF. We are just doing this for the dudes this year, and this may be the only year we do it this way.
Why you may ask? You also might be wondering, why just the guys? Both are really good questions.
The first reason is that the church, across the board, is seeing a drop in guys – both numerically and in the level of their commitment to the church. Up until the past couple of years this hasn’t been our experience at NLCF but over the last few it has been. We love the guys that are with us and committed to following Christ with us, but we believe that we can reach more. By reach we mean see more guys come into God’s family and be adopted by him and see more guys demonstrate a deeper level of passion and commitment to the calling Christ has given all of us.
It felt like the Spirit was calling us to do things a bit differently, so that is what we are going to do.
It is so new we don’t even have a name for it yet! J So, if you want to shout one out to us, please feel free. I can tell you that Robbie Poff and I have come up with some awful ones. We haven’t spent much time on what it will be called, but we have spent A LOT of time on what it will do… So, here goes.
It will meet every third Sunday evening as a whole group. Robbie Poff and I will co-lead those times where we will worship, pray, and be guided together into a deeper understanding and life of passionate pursuit of the Lord. This isn’t going to be like some men’s groups that tend to revolve around bro-speak and getting away from porn, dating and sports.
I imagine all those things will come up, but this will get into how we develop an understanding of what God’s vision is for our lives, how we hear from him more clearly, and how our life of faith can look more like the way that Jesus lived.
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, “What is the greatest commandment?” They intended this to be a trap question that would get Jesus in trouble. In his answer, not only does Jesus side-step that trap, but he gives us one of the strongest creedal statements for our lives. Jesus answer was simple, and also so profound we cannot ever fully dive to the bottom of what it means. I will give The Messages transliteration of Matthew’s account from Matthew 22.
34 When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. 35 One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: 36 “Teacher, which command in God’s Law is the most important?” 37 Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ 38 This is the most important, the first on any list. 39 But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ 40 These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”
Again, super simple but very profound. Love God in as focused a way as you can and love those around you like you love yourself.
This group is open to anyone who has been in a huddle last year or who was asked to be in one this year. If you are new or don’t understand what a huddle is, it is the way that we disciple people in our church. Each huddle has a leader and three to eight members.
There are a couple of distinctives about this men’s group. It would be considered a high invitation and high challenge type of group. Essentially that means that if you are in the group, the leaders will be highly dedicated to you and walking through life with you. There is a strong invitation to share life with us. The challenge is that we would want you to feel the same commitment. That means you are willing to speak into our lives if you notice things that don’t glorify God. In our church, we don’t believe that just because someone might be a pastor or on staff that they have everything together. I, as one of the pastors/elders need you to care about my life as I care for yours. Another way the challenge plays out is that the group times we meet are critically important. We want you to prioritize all of them. Over the course of the year, something might come up, those things happen. But those that are in this group would commit to working so that almost never does. Additionally the participants would be in a huddle made up of guys in the group.
Together we will talk about the deeper issues in being men who walk closely with God, closely with others, and are dedicated to playing our part in God’s kingdom. Then we will have weekly “challenges,” think of them like Crossfit WOD’s or as weekly focuses. They will start pretty simply. Having a 10 – 15 minute time with God at least four days a week. If you haven’t been doing that consistently, you start there. From there the weekly challenges will become, well more challenging. Each week we will all publicly commit to the challenge that is next for us and the next time publicly talk about how it went. We will celebrate the successes and we will celebrate those that weren’t. What we find in the gym, with an instrument, with learning a language, in almost anything is that first you find your edge, then you push against that edge.
And then the edge moves.
I am extremely excited to walk together through this new, as-yet-unnamed adventure!
Cannot wait to see everyone who is coming back and meeting everyone that is new.
Many things are the same and some things are new…
One of the things that I do each summer, with many of our staff and leaders, is to reflect on what God has done and ask him what he wants to do. This almost always results in some adjustments or shifts as we just try to be like Israel during the Exodus, following the trail the Lord leads us in. There is a lot of time spent in prayer, seeking the Lord, talking to people, getting input, more prayer, seeking, talking, “inputting” … You get the idea.
And over that process, things start to take shape. As they do we look at them from every angle, pray, seek, talk… This is a difficult but exciting process, at least for me. Once something is solidified and dedicated to God, we look at how to share it. I am very excited to get to share some key things with you now.
The first, and probably biggest shift for this next year (and possibly only this year) is that we are merging the 11am and the 7.07pm gatherings together. They will both now meet at 11am in Colonial Hall. It may seem odd to many that have been going to the 7.07 that we would do this. This past year was one of the strongest the 7.07 has had. Great and growing community (both in depth of relationships and numerically), powerful worship, life-changing/profound/powerful/let’s just say life-changing again teaching J. It wasn’t shrinking, it wasn’t dying.
So why not have it this year?
At NLCF, we have been committed to trying to never burn out leaders. To not ask so much of them in ministry that their walk with God apart from their leadership dries up. So that plays a big role in all of this.
Over the past several years, our worship teams have graduated and sent more people out than new people have come in. It seems like over the past few years fewer people feel willing or able to play a part in this vital role in NLCF. Now I get part of that. It is tough to get in front of hundreds of people, and it is especially tough to truly worship God and not just perform when you are up there. I have always said it is a weird balance of focusing on the worship of God, but also being aware that you aren’t worshipping God solo, that you are helping others to worship him as well.
Fewer people seem to either believe they can do it, or want to over the past couple of years.
This has meant that our worship teams have been a bit more stretched than we would like them to be. And with graduating a big group this past Spring, it would have meant more stretching. Now we could do that, we have enough to do that. But two things would have likely happened.
So, possibly for only a year, we are bringing the two gatherings together, we will celebrate the Lord together, we will worship together, and we will continue to grow together. After this year we will do what we do: reflect, seek, pray, talk, get input about whether we bring the 7.07 back the following year. Personally I hope that is the way the Lord leads.
In the meantime, let us know if this shift raises any other questions for you (most people who would be most directly impacted have been spoken to already), come ready to celebrate and seek the Lord together on Sundays at 11, and let’s see what God has in store for us all!
Like so many people, my Wednesday was bookended by reading reports of two black men being killed by police. This morning, again like so many people, I woke to news about five police officers killed by protesters. This morning I was speaking briefly to a friend at a coffee shop and he said sadly, “seems to be a war going on and we were issued our uniforms at birth.”
The social media world is swirling with people making clarified statements about the things that will solve this once and for all. Then they, or others, deride the different solutions that others suggest. Bullet points gets tossed from one side to another, and more innocents are killed.
A very helpful thought I have come across recently from Ingolf Dalferth is that “The purpose of science is to explain things. The purpose of philosophy is the clarify things. The purpose of theology is to orient things.” As one who is focused on the study of theos, or God, my job – and truly the job of anyone who follows God- is to try to help orient things. As a follower of Jesus I need to look to him to see what is to be done.
I look to those who can lead conversations such as these well to do them well. To acknowledge the complexity of positions they dispute, to look for what is valid and good in those with whom they disagree. My experience is that everything looks more simplified when it is viewed from a distance, but the closer you get the more complications come into view. Especially for those engaging those conversations in the political realm, I will pray for you. I don’t covet your task.
My role as a local pastor/theologian is to orient things. My desire is to help our church and those we are connected to, move towards others, even those we disagree with. To follow the path of Jesus in sitting down, eating, having coffee or a beer with those whose life experience is different than ours. With those whose perspectives are different than ours. Not to convince them that our bullet points are better than their bullet points, but to learn from them. Not to automatically release what we believe to be true, or to think nothing is; but rather to listen to their experience and learn from them where we can as well as sharing our own.
To be sure, this is playing the long game. But hatred seems to only relent in relationship – distrust is the same. Far too often we look at the world and there are only two groups, us and them. This must stop. These cycles of violence must stop. The church is intended to be a community where glimpses of God’s peace glimmer everywhere.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5.15-21
I realize that this posting is “late.” The horrific massacre at Pulse in Orlando is nearly a week ago. I have struggled to wonder what I can add to all that has been written already. Some of it has been wonderful and some decidedly not. But as one of the pastors of a church that has a huge connection to Va. Tech and hundreds of students that attend, I would like to say this to our church that is dispersed all over the country (and globe) this summer.
We, unfortunately, understand a small part of what the LGBTQ community is going through right now. Only a small part, but we need to own the small part that we get.
Because we can understand this part of it, we must realize that the LGBTQ community is going to stagger under the weight of this for a long time – this won’t be wrapped up by the end of June. I think of Job’s friends that heard Job was suffering greatly. They stopped what they were doing and went to him, wept with him and simply sat with him. They were a presence with their friend who was staggering under the weight of what had happened.
12When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. 13Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great. Job 2.12,13
They stopped what they were doing, broke into their normal lives and were simply with Job, stepped into his suffering. Powerful words for us.
Yet we must also realize that there are ways that we DO NOT understand what the LGBTQ community is going through. After the shootings, I (even though I was right beside campus when the shootings happened) was not ever in greater danger because I am a Hokie. The LGBTQ community very well could be. It is fair that the LGBTQ community is more frightened after this attack. As a result we need to get busy with a few things.
Job’s friends, after sitting with him for seven days, began to speak. They started reciting the cultural script; if someone bad happens to you, God must be punishing you for something you have done. Now this wasn’t an accurate understanding of God, but it was a common one in their day. So they started running the script and as they did that, started making the mistakes that they are so famous for. Something larger was going on, and they missed it.
Our take-away should not be, “I can never say anything for fear I will be wrong.” Rather our take-away from all this should be a great sense of humility when we step into someone else’s suffering and a heightened sense of awareness for our potential knee jerk reactions.
To the LGBTQ community, hear this. We are desperately sorry for what happened to you. You were hunted at Pulse and this just adds another example of violence to the long history of it you have had to experience. It was wrong and we will seek to walk with you through it any way that we can. I think of the words of Brother Lawrence, whose letters were compiled into The Practice of the Presence of God. “You need not cry very loud; God is nearer to us than we think.”
These next words from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome might seem a bit cliché, as they are thrown around a great deal after horrible things like this. But to me they are my hope. I believe that as Jesus is more fully known in our beautiful but broken world, we will see them more fully realized.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12.21
Being the pastor of a congregation that is almost exclusively under 30 in a university town, this
However, as I have been talking to people, a couple of common themes emerge. One is that the focus is more on what is being given up than the reason or what people hope to gain through the process.
Now some of this is understandable. The questions about “what are you giving up?” roll out more easily and can be discussed in different groups more easily than the more probing questions sometimes.
On the other side of the discussion I seem to be running across more “web chatter” about why giving up for Lent is unnecessary, and to take the wording of some, even a bit dangerous to having a close and intimate relationship with Jesus. The idea is that Jesus never asked us to give up coffee for him, he asked us to follow him with our whole lives. As such, giving up coffee can produce a sense of false piety.
Probably unsurprising to many who know me, I see value in both concerns.
To handle the second, well first…
There has always been the practice of intentionally going without in scripture. Releasing what we could have access to, either to allow the kingdom of God to function as it should (the practice of landowners not harvesting wheat from the edges of their fields, and leaving some between the rows, so the poor could get this grain comes to mind) or for the purpose of drawing us closer to God personally (the practice of fasting as a means of remaining humbled before God and reminding ourselves of our daily need of him). The tithe… there are many more.
So, following God’s direction to take away something we could have and value, is a good and long-standing practice. Sure, it can produce false-piety, anything we do for God can. But that has much less to do with the process and more to do with the fact that we are the ones engaging in the process.
Now for the first issue, of putting more focus on what we are giving up than on what we are hoping to experience from God…
Again, this is an easy trap to fall into, happens all the time. Our challenge is to remember that just removing caffeine from our diet, or desserts, or just shutting down Facebook, or not watching TV at night is intended to remind us of our need for God and to give us more time to spend with Him or the people he is directing us to. So the giving up is the start, but it is only the start.
And for many of us, there are things in our lives we battle with daily, and these things seem to large, or have been too large for us to see victory over. Starting with giving up something that, while difficult, is doable, can be a great start. If someone who has rarely or never exercised wakes up one day and decides to become run the Ironman, that process will likely need to start with a little jogging, a little swimming and a little biking. Small starts, can lead to amazing things.
In this election season, where both sides are constantly looking for blame to assign and blame to avoid (and yes, the other side is always worse at it,) I love to hear a politician say, “I was wrong.” And we don’t hear it enough.
Well I need to say it now. If you have been following
Where I thought I had landed was on the idea that our plumber did good work, but was IMHO overly expensive. I shared that with him and with the facebook world; or at least my tiny part of it. I never shared any of it at any point angrily or in a jaded way, but it did frustrate me quite a bit. Then, as Tracy shared her opinion, which was different from mine (not the first time for that) I have started to realize that I was probably wrong.
Nope, I was wrong.
10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Cor 12.10
Now this section has Paul talking about the legitimate difficulties he had faced, and nothing that I am going through (plumbing or otherwise) rises to that level of difficulty, so I don’t quote this verse for that reason. I quote it because I believe God has shown me that for this next season of my life, to be stronger I need to focus on being weaker.
One of the ways I do this is my just being honest about when I am wrong. I have done this for years, imperfectly to be sure, but it has been a central concern of mine. And I also have believed and have tried to live the truth “the way you wrong someone should correspond to the way you should make it right.” So, I shared what I have come to see was a wrong thought via Facebook, so I will correct it via Facebook as well.
I now don’t think the plumber overcharged me, I believe he handled the issue we presented to him fairly and very competently. My sense that he was overcharging me was based on an understanding of the problem that I now see was likely false. So I was wrong.
Please know, this isn’t self-punishment, and I don’t feel guilty about what I did. I was just wrong and needed to fix that.
Hopefully, the saga is now over.
Except for fixing the ceiling…. Stay tuned. Drywall work should bring out some things I’ll be needing to apologize for 🙂
Love Va. Tech, love Blacksburg, love Montgomery County. The whole bit.
But I have really struggled with the Victoria’s Secret Pink Party that was held last night on the Drillfield. Possibly for some reasons you think, and maybe for others that you don’t.
Remember, I went here. I get it. A huge concert/party/Va. Tech community event like this? I like some of the stuff from Gym Class Heroes, and the chance to hit up a free concert and likely have a blast? I really do get it.
I certainly don’t object to students being able to decide whether or not they can attend the show.
What concerns me is how this impacts an already typically unhealthy sexual ethic. Please stick with me a bit here and try to ignore how poorly the last sentence was constructed. The healthiest development of our sexuality I believe is stated in the scriptures. Not arguing for prudishness (although some will undoubtedly disagree) here, just more reflection and restraint than I think we typically see. Allowing God to show us how to express our sexuality in the manner that he engineered it.
One final word, friends. We ask you – urge is more like it – that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life. Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity. Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body,not abusing it… 1 Thess 4
Please keep in mind that Jesus spent most of his time removing the extra rules that had been added by his religious compatriots. He seemed to want to free the pursuit of God from many of the restrictions that were squeezing the life out of that very pursuit. But in the Sermon on the Mount, probably in my opinion the most clarified teaching that he gave and the one that most helps me to understand the heart of God towards us, he actually tightens up the understanding of what sexual purity meant. He said it was not just about what you did, but about what was in your heart in the first place.
Now if Jesus was the prude that I thought he was up through my last year a Tech, that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. But he wasn’t. He was accused by the religious elite of being a drunk. Of hanging out too much with prostitutes, the untouchables of his day.
So, I guess my concern is that his concern just isn’t getting much play in our culture today. I don’t say this because I want to be seen as right or in the majority. More and more I wonder if followers of Jesus do better when we are the minority. I say this because I talk to hundreds of people each year and many have been hurt greatly by the sexually free culture we experience. That in our freedom we actually lose access to a part of who we were created to be.
As I am reading a bit of Socrates recently I will use his preferred method… Likely poorly 🙂
That is why I have struggled so much with this one…
Not. Even. Close.
Congrats to the University on becoming one of the true flagships in the country for campus dining.