4 Things to Pray For Today

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When I was a Campus Minister, one of my duties was to lead a prayer over the school’s intercom system every morning. If you think you feel inadequate or inarticulate when it comes to praying, I promise you that praying over an intercom will amplify, not just your voice, but your anxiety as well.

If you are anything like me, you desire to pray and connect with The Father through this amazing avenue of prayer but sometimes prayer gets difficult. I get distracted. I get frustrated. I forget. I just flat out don’t know what to say some days.

In our Wednesday Night Men’s and Women’s class we are challenging one another to go deeper in our relationship with Jesus, one another, and the world around us. Prayer isn’t about getting things from God but about getting into relationship with Him. Just as your relationship with your spouse or family members grows through communication, your relationship with God grows as you spend time speaking to and listening to The Father.

If you are struggling with prayer or don’t know what to pray about, here are 4 Things You Can Pray For Right Now:

God’s GLORY
If there is one truth that will change your perspective on prayer it is this: Prayer is not about you. Prayer is all about God. Spend time praying that God will receive all the glory that is due Him. Pray that He will receive glory through your life, your decisions, in your relationships. When Jesus prayed that God’s will be done, he was praying that God would be glorified through his life and sacrifice.

In what areas of your life or this world would you like to see God glorified?

PERSONAL life
Jesus tells his disciples pray for their “daily bread.” Jesus isn’t just talking about carbs and calories here. He tells us that we can come to God to ask Him to provide for us whatever we need for each day. Some days I need God to give me rest. Some days I need help with my depression and anxiety. Some days I need more wisdom. Whatever I need, I know God provides. Here’s a list of things you can talk to God about:

– your joys
– your struggles
– your spiritual life
– your relationships
– your emotions
– your intellect
– your health
– your home
– your work
– your rest

What do you need to make it through the day today?

PEOPLE we know and love
Prayer doesn’t just change your relationship with God. It also changes your relationship with those that God has put in your life. Praying for others is one way we live out the golden rule – do for others what you would want them to do for you. When you pray for others, you move your focus off of yourself and on to another person. Your family, friends, and even your barista at Starbucks are all dealing with the same “daily bread” needs in their own lives that you are dealing with. Don’t close out your prayers today without praying for the people God has put in your life. If you don’t know what to pray for, send them a text and ask them. Chances are they will be quick to give you something from their heart that you can pray for… and they may even pray for you!

Who will you pray for today?

THE WORLD around us
A great Irish poet once said, “It’s no secret that the stars are falling from the sky / It’s no secret that are world is in darkness tonight.” Ideed the world around us seems to get a little darker every single day. Prayer is a small candle that you light in defiance of that darkness. With each candle, the darkness goes away a little more. With each candle, the world gets a little brighter.

What big issue going on in the world could use your prayers today.

I hope that these 4 ideas give you a little encouragement and provide for you some content to take into your prayer time with The Father today. If you want to dive a little deeper into your prayer life, I’ve listed a few suggestions for prayer resources below. Also, if there is any way I can pray for you today, hop over to Twitter or Facebook and send me a message. I would be honored to pray for you.

RECOMMENDED READING
Too Busy Not to Pray by Bill Hybels
The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson
The Autobiography of George Müller by George Müller
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Armchair Mystic by Mark E Thibodeaux
The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard
Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster
The Book of Common Worship, Daily Prayer
2000 Years of Prayer

Is there a book on prayer that I left off? Do you have another suggestion for a resource on prayer? Leave a comment below and help us all learn a little more about growing our relationship with God.

The Listening Heart: A Book Review

Well, my friends are gone and my hair is grey
I ache in the places where I used to play
And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on
I’m just paying my rent every day in the Tower of Song.

– Leonard Cohen, Tower of Song, verse 1

On October 18, 2016, poet and singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen released his 14th studio album, You Want It Darker, which is quite possibly the most perfect title for a Leonard Cohen album. At 82 years old, Cohen has effectively been writing, making, and recording music longer than Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Britney Spears combined. What might be the secret to Cohen’s endurance in an industry that is known for one-hit wonders, flash-in-the-pan stars, and fly-by-night raconteurs? What might be the lessons or principles one might glean from asking this question for others who seek to extend the shelf life of their own careers? Perhaps Cohen himself gives us insight into how he understands his own life and what sustains a long career in one of his most captivating songs.

Tower of Song” was released on 1988’s, I’m Your Man album which came nearly two decades into to his career. One can understand the song to be an autobiographical narrative of the innerworkings of the heart and mind of The Singer – all the longings, joys, pains, and triumphs one must endure to become an artist and to truly live as one. In the song, The Singer, grizzled and alone, looks back on his long life (Well my friends are gone / and my hair is grey / I ache in the places where I used to play) living in the Tower of Song. The Tower serves as his description of the life that The Singer has been resigned to. The Singer tells us that he was compelled to live in the Tower of Song because he “was born like this (and) had no choice.” After all, he was “born with the gift of a golden voice” and “27 angels from the great beyond” subdued him, tying him to a table in the Tower of Song. It was not The Singer’s will that brought him and confined him to the Tower, it was a calling from beyond himself and outside of his own power that compelled him there and sustains his life. The Tower provides for him armor and protection to enable him to withstand enemy fire. Inside this place are other singers and artists, apparently also consigned to live within this framework of the Tower as well. Specifically, the Singer hears Hank Williams coughing “all night long” and he feels a connection to the haunted and saintly country western crooner that lives “a hundred floors above.” His songs serve as “mighty judgements” – prophecies and revelations meant to free the oppressed and marginalized “have-nots” and shame the rich who exploit them. For The Singer to remain he must continue paying rent – writing songs and singing regardless of how he feels at any given moment (I’m crazy for Love / but I’m not coming on) – and it is his songs that will endure long after he is gone. The Singer will be continue speaking sweetly forever “from his window in the Tower of Song.” Does this song really unravel the great mysteries of the universe, as Cohen has claimed while performing this song live, and give answers to how we might go about living a life filled with lasting meaning?

In The Listening Heart, author AJ Conyers attempts to give the reader a theological, sociological, and historical understanding of something that that is necessary for the flourishing of all mankind and the thing that Cohen’s Tower of Song captures so wonderfully – the power of meditating upon and attending to one’s vocation in life. Conyers argues that it is not in exercising free will, making individual choice, or even incorporating oneself into the societal milieu that produces a life of meaning. It is in responding to a vocation – the divine call and the human response to that call – that infuses life with meaning and purpose.  Conyers laments that it is the universal loss of a sense of vocation that has given rise to the modern sense of listlessness, purposelessness, and selfishness that plagues our modern life. Although the Enlightenment has been sold as a instutition-questioning, nation-building, and wealth-producuing enterprise marked by the freedom of individual choice and the ability to understand the world around us as it it really is. Conyers argues that it has essentially accomplished the exact opposite. Rather than give insight into the mystery of a vast and beautiful universe (from deep space all the way down to the smallest human cell),  the effects of the Enlightenment have tricked mankind into believing that it can master and control the world around us. By removing God (and in effect, the community of believers in the church) from the public square and relegating religion to a private matter, the State is now the one that is free to compel men into labor rather than call men to a life of service for the benefit of others and society as a whole. Rather than champion the uniqueness of each individual, the rise of the African slave trade, arguably the greatest export of the Enlightenment, reduced men and women to livestock or replaceable cogs in the machine of industry.  Modern culture is essentially distracted and disconnected from God, moral character, creation, and community. Today, life is less about human flourishing (individually and as a community) and more about merely surviving.  Conyers believes there is a better way. He succeeds in articulating what Jacob Shatzer calls a “grand vision of theology and ethics, rooted in the Bible and shaped by the Great Tradition of Christian theology” that reawakens this lost idea of vocation for the 21st century. The Listening Heart is not a diatribe against what has gone wrong in the past as much as it is a clarion call for the community of God to rise up and lean into what the Father may be calling us toward.

For Conyers, understanding and living out one’s vocation means giving attention to God as well as the people, the place, and the purposes for which he has called you to. Throughout the course of the book, Conyers attempts to give an equation for Vocation and how one might come to lean into God’s call their life. The equation might read as Attention + Tolerance + Place + Rest = Vocation and Community.

Attention

The purpose and end of attention is a transformation in which reality awakens within us, pushing aside the unreal and selfish dreams which had kept us subdued in unwakefulness. “Attention” of the sort we are discussing here, and which is related to the biblical idea of “watchfulness” or “alertness” always has this quality about it. It centers not on the self, but on something outside. Its power is in its honesty, in its reflection of the truth outside the observer.

For Conyers, the “appropriate response to vocation” is attention. Our ultimate attention is to God but one must also give attention to the people, places, and things God has given to us so that we may give Him glory and attend to the work He has given us to accomplish. No doubt the 21st century is a time filled with great distraction. From devices with non-stop notifications buzzing and blinking and beeping to the age old temptation to overlook the good life in front of us in favor of what might be a great life “over there,” our age is an age of diversion and distraction. Stephen Pressfield writes about The Resistance in his book, The War of Art. It is the Resistance that distracts and derails men and women on the road to living out their calling and a life of meaning. The Resistance, he says, stands between the “life we live, and the unlived life within us.” Conyers gives counsel in overcoming distraction through practices of attention such as prayer, perseverance in the face of trials (again, Pressfield would argue that suffering and trials are part of The Resistance’s bag of tricks), perceiving truth, and the willingness to face pain all require our attention if we are to experience the life god would have us live. To be present, in the midst of everything that the world may throw at you, is to attend to God’s calling on your life.

Tolerance

The modern doctrine (of Tolerance) has therefore obscured what might properly be called the practice of toleration. I decline to call it doctrine because it is not so much the statement of something true as it is the preparation of the soul for that which is true. It is more akin to silence than to discourse. It is the habit of not cutting off your interlocutor before listening to what he or she has to say.

Conyers makes a great distinction between Tolerance as a doctrine and Tolerance as a uniquely Christian practice. For a society to function well, a free exchange of ideas marked by an “openness to the experiences and thinking of others” is needed so that all may “wrestle with the foundational questions of what it means to be human and to live in community.” The doctrine of Tolerance produced by the Enlightenment, alive and well in today’s world, actually seeks to undermine this free exchange of ideas but creating the false teaching that all ideas are equal and valid. By relegating religious and moral thought to the private, personal spheres of life The State, and by extension, the Individual was now free to live and move and create their own state of being free from accountability and criticism. However, the practice of Tolerance is something radically different and finds its roots in the Christian, not secular, tradition. Whereas the doctrine of Tolerance proclaims that each individual can arrive at and capture their own truth, the practice of Tolerance is the pursuit of truth. “It is an openness towards what is true, recognizing the truth of God is true for all people,” says Conyers. It is a drawing out of truth wherever truth may be found – in the sacred as well as the secular.

Place

Real people belong to real places, and places, like people, have a character. Vocation is directed not to some pure spirit, or an abstract personality, but to persons who are rotted in a particular setting, and who can be known in part by the setting in which they are found or came to maturity.

Missing in today’s culture is a true sense of place. For Conyers, Place isn’t just where one may find themselves at this given moment. It is also the place where one comes from, “the place from which we proceed.” These places have a profound affect on us and flavor not only our lives but our work as well. In the Garden, God placed man and woman and gave them a work and a place to “cultivate, build, and improve on” right alongside The Creator Himself. Place is the essence of the Incarnation. Christ left one place, Heaven, in order to live in the midst of another place, Earth (specifically, 1st century Palestine). He fulfilled His calling from God and is now calling each of us to a place, The Kingdom of God. Our culture places a high premium on moving up the ladder of success and moving from place to “more significant place.” Ferris Bueller once remarked that “Life moves by pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you could miss it.” For us to fully appreciate God’s calling on our lives, we must attend to the Place where we came from, where we find ourselves now, and ultimately, where God would have us be.

Rest

In the ancient and medieval mind, the contrary of this inexorable ruin to which all things run in time is the notion of “rest,” which means that time runs toward a goal or purpose – an eschatological goal, a telos – that is secure against the ravages of Chronos. Thus St. Augustine could say, “We were made for Thee, O God, and our hearts are restless  until we find rest in Thee.” Rest is not idleness, but as Thomas Merton said, “the highest form of activity.” Nor is it obliteration in death. That is why the Christian prayer, Rest in peace,” is not a concession to death but, in fact, a invocation against death.

In what is probably the most interesting chapter of the entire book, Conyers describes Rest, not as a Sabbath rest or a lazy, summer nap, but as telos, or the ultimate object or aim of life. The Enlightenment has caused our modern sensibilities to be obsessed with Motion for the sake of movement and Change for the sake of change. According to Conyers, “The biblical idea of ‘rest’ contains within it the assumption that the motion of people and things and events anticipates a time of ‘rest,” a time in which their motion is complete, will find its end.” No wonder we are a restless people in a world marked with much chaos and little peace. We are so obsessed with moving on to the next chapter in life that we fail to be attentive to the moment.

Reclaiming Community and Vocation

What is necessary for the world to begin to reclaim the idea of vocation? The answer might be Humility. For an individual to begin to aspire to something greater, a posture of humility is needed. To acknowledge that there is a God who is the one in control, who invites human beings into a relationship with Him, to co-labor beside Him in bringing truth, justice, and love into the world necessitates humility. To acknowledge the complexity and vastness of the creation and universe as well as our inability as mankind to control or coerce creation to our will, takes an understanding that we are not even half as powerful or in control as we think. To realize that each of us are called to serve the world around us rather than use others for our own purposes, requires that we let go of our pride and recognize that we “belong to Another” and to one another. To live out one’s vocation means saying “no” to our will and “yes” to the will of the One who has called us to this time and this place to serve these people to His purposes to His glory and to the benefit of others. That is how we will pay our rent in The Tower of Song.

The Listening Heart
AJ Conyers
217 pages
Spence Publishing Company
2006

Leadership Thoughts

“Leadership is stewardship. It’s temporary and you’re accountable.”

This quote by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point Community Church, kicks off one of my favorite podcasts. I have it memorized by heart and I think I do a pretty good Andy Stanley impersonation as I mimic his cadence and inflections each week as I listen to the introduction.

More than just a great quote or motivational saying, Andy is right.

Those of us in leadership – whether it is in the church, in the workplace, or at home – have been given our position by God and he expects us to steward each moment to bring Him glory and honor.

Leadership is temporary. Solomon declares that there is a time for everything under the sun including the time we have been given to serve and lead. One day we will transition to a different role, the kids will leave the nest, and for some, retirement may come sooner than we would like. Like Steve Miller says, “Time keeps on slipping into the future.”

We are accountable to God for our leadership, too. One day, if we steward these gifts well we will hear Him say, “Well done good and faithful servant” or we will be confronted with a reality that because we were afraid, failed to plan well, or just were just plain lazy we left some things undone or missed opportunities God had in store for us.

I think that those of us who find ourselves in leadership positions inherently understand these truths but sometimes we struggle with how to connect our orthodoxy (right understanding) with real, tangible orthopraxis (right practices).

More than anything, I want to help you steward your leadership well by challenging you to honor God in everything you do in every area of your life. The Hebrew word for Honor is kabed and it has a weightiness to it. It can be translated as honor, renown, and glory. When the Psalmist says in Psalm 86:9,12, “I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever” he is honoring God with everything that he is.

I love how Colossians 3:23–25 reads in The Message. Paul says, “Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being Christian doesn’t cover up bad work.”

A person of honor always gives their best effort in every area of their life. Are you stewarding the life God has given you to glorify Him in every aspect inside and out?

I also want to help you lead well during the time God has given you to lead. The day in and say out grind of leadership will test your faithfulness. There is always another person to visit, always another phone call make or email to send, another task to complete, and another project to begin. The problem for most of is not that we have to make choices between right and wrong or choose between good and bad. Tensions arise because we become paralyzed when we have to choose between right and almost right. We procrastinate because we have to choose between good and great. Leadership take discernment and wisdom. To me, wisdom isn’t knowledge. Wisdom is applied knowledge. We are faithful to our calling when we apply the knowledge we have obtained to make the most out of every opportunity presented before us.

Ephesians 5:15–17 (NLT) challenges us saying, “So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do.”

A faithful leader is wise in how they use their time to accomplish the tasks God has given them to serve His people. Are you being faithful with the time and opportunities before you?

Finally, if we are to be accountable we must humbly submit our lives to God. The higher we climb in our leadership and the more things we accomplish the greater the temptation becomes to take full credit for everything good that happens in our lives. Of course the opposite is true. Sometimes things do not work out how we planned. The vision that we had for our lives and the people we serve can go off the rails. When this happens we can be quick to take all the blame. Some call this the Superman theory where leaders begin to believe that they are Superman and must take on every task, burden, pain, joy, celebration, and failure. A wise teacher once told me, “Don’t be quick to carry all the blame when something do not go the way you planned because that same attitude might cause you to be quick to take all the glory when something goes well.” That’s sound advice.

I’ll let you in on a secret that you already know… You are not Superman. Neither am I. We have no way of controlling every outcome of the decisions and choices we make in our leadership. However, we serve the One who knows all, is in all, and works all things – good and not so good – to His glory and the good of those who love Him.

Proverbs 3:5–8 ESV) says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.”

An accountable leader humbly submits to God and trusts Him with every aspect of their leadership. Are you trusting in the Lord with all your heart or are you leaning on your own understanding?

Time to Shine

In my sermon yesterday I tried my best to address some of the problems we see happening around us as it relates to issues of race, divisiveness, and hateful rhetoric.

Recently, Rasmussen revealed the results of a poll that said 60% of likely voters believe that race relations in America are worse than ever before. The poll was clear that “We the people” are deeply divided. We are even divided on the solutions for how to address these divisions with some advocating for more Governmental laws and oversight and some wanting to see more personal responsibility and a strengthening of the home.

Obviously, I believe that what the world needs more than anything is the Good News of Jesus. The results of the pain and hurt that we see daily on our television screens and read about on the internet are indicative of what happens when a culture removes God – the author of life, liberty, and freedom – and attempts to pursue these things apart from Him. We pay lip service to the Father and we offer up hashtag prayers and then the world continues on its own way searching for peace that it cannot find outside of God’s will and ways.

What God wants is for us to TURN from our sin and our ways of living on our own, to ABIDE with Him in relationship, faith, and trust, to EXPERIENCE forgiveness, grace, and love in Christ Jesus, and be transformed by His Holy Spirit.

Two thousand years ago, the churches in Galatia were dealing with the same divides that we are dealing with today. Fighting over race (Jew and Gentile), arguments between the genders (male and female), and class divides (slave and free) were all causing pain, disunity, and frustration. In Galatians 3:26-29 Paul boldly issues this statement:

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The Word of God is crystal clear… No matter our differences – skin color, economic background, or sex – we are ONE in Christ. Jesus has leveled the playing field. Jews are not greater than Gentiles. Men are not better than women. Freemen and Slaves can share in table fellowship with one another because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Admittedly, this is the ideal of the Kingdom and we aren’t quite there yet. This is one of those “already/not yet” realities that we are still striving to achieve. We’ve seen progress though. I believe that the power of this statement was used mightily by abolitionist to once and for all break the chains of slavery. The scriptures were never meant to be used to declare “men good, woman bad” but thankfully this passage flies in the face of that backwards thinking. The last year or so has tested our resolve to be a “post-racial” society. We, like Dr. King, still dream of a day when we will judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

So what can we do? How can we work toward making Paul’s declaration about unity applicable to our lives today?

Yesterday I made the case that in order to be RECONCILED to one another we must REFLECT God in RELATIONSHIP.

God is One yet He is also three. This is the majesty and mystery we call The Trinity. God is One and God is relationship. He exists in relationship as The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit. Stephen Saemunds in his book Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service draws from the Gospel of John to unpack the loving and working relationship that exists between The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. He says that 4 things are evident in the character and nature of the Trinitarian relationship:

Full EQUALITY
The Father, The Son, and The Spirit each have separate identities and roles but each of them treat one another with full and mutual equality.

Glad SUBMISSION
We see glad submission to one another in the way that The Son “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage” but submitted to the will of the Father and willingly went to the cross.

Joyful INTIMACY
John 1:18 declares that Jesus is Father’s only Son and is “close to the Father’s heart” and in John 10:30 Jesus says that he and the Father “are One.”

Mutual DEFERENCE 
John 3:35 tells us that The Father loves the Son and, even though He created all things, The Father “has placed everything in (Jesus’) hands.”

All of this to say:

The way that God exists in relationship has great implications for how we ought to live in relationship with one another. 

Imagine the impact in our churches and in the culture if we reflected these characteristics in our relationships with one another. Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we have been made in the image of God. What if we really lived out this calling embedded deep within our DNA by the God of relationship who exists in relationship?

Imagine if we treated everyone around us with Full EQUALITY seeing everyone as a person created by God in the image of God.

Imagine living in Glad SUBMISSION to one another and doing away with selfish living and self-serving decision making.

Imagine what Joyful INTIMACY would look like as we draw closer to the ideal of enjoying unbroken and joyful fellowship together.

In a world devoid of honor and humility, imagine what would happen if we lived in Mutual DEFERENCE to one another setting aside our own preferences for the sake of others.

There is hope.

Recently Barna released results from a survey that said 73% of US adults believe that the church has a role to play in racial reconciliation. 73% of the country is looking to God’s people to reflect God in relationship and point the way to life in the midst of a desperate and dying world.

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2 Corinthians 3:17-18 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

It is time for us to reflect to goodness and the glory of The Father, The Son, and The Spirit and to make a difference in this world.

It’s time to shine, Church!

Auntie Anne’s & How You Got The Bible

Have you ever been to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels in your local mall? The next time you are there follow the delightful aroma of fresh baked pretzels and hot butter to their storefront and get a hot, fresh pretzel. If you watch the baker at each store you will see they measure, roll, and twist the dough to form a beautiful, perfect pretzel every time. On each counter in every Auntie Anne’s store you will notice a measuring line. The baker uses that line to measure the length and width of each piece of dough cut. There is also a pretzel shape drawn on the counter top that the baker uses to ensure that their pretzel, once twisted, matches all the others ready to be baked. It doesn’t matter if you are in LA or New York, every Auntie Anne’s Pretzel looks and tastes the same due to these measuring lines.

While making pretzels and determining the doctrine of Scripture are two entirely different things, they do share this idea of using a measuring line to determine consistency, create uniformity, identify mistakes, and define authenticity. The measuring line to identify, determine, and define Holy Scripture is called the canon of Scripture.

The Formation of the Canon

The canon of Scripture is the collection of writings that has been recognized as having divine authority over matters of faith and doctrine for the Church. Canon comes from two words meaning “a rule” or “measuring rod” (the Hebrew word qaneh and the Greek word kanon). Today, the canon of Scripture includes 66 books – the 39 books of the Hebrew Scriptures and the 27 books of the New Testament.  The canon of the Hebrew Scriptures was largely in place by the time of Christ. These texts written between the fifteenth and fifth century B.C. are traditionally divided into three sections: Torah (the Law – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers), Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). Jesus and the writers of the New Testament “quote Old testament passages almost 300 times, and every quote is from the thirty-nine books that have been handed down to us.” 1

The 27 books of the New Testament canon were not finalized until the 4th century but the process of canonization started almost immediately as the church began. By the end of the 2nd century, Christians, facing persecution and requirement to burn their holy scriptures, had already begun making lists of writings that they considered authoritative and beneficial for church doctrines and practices. Books that were considered authoritative were believed to have been divinely inspired, written by Apostles or their companions, handed down and received by the church. 2

Scholar F.F. Bruce makes clear that these books are not considered authoritative because they are recognized as part of this canon, they are considered in the canon because they were recognized as divinely inspired by God and supremely authoritative for the Church.

One thing must be emphatically stated. The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. The first ecclesiastical councils to classify the canonical books were both held in North Africa—at Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397—but what these councils did was not to impose something new upon the Christian communities but to codify what was already the general practice of those communities. 3

The Doctrine of Scripture

While the church was able to experience growth in the face of external persecutions from Rome it was the internal fight against heresies that most threatened to tear the church apart. The Doctrine of Scripture was born out of this need to circle the wagons, not to protect the church from state sanctioned violence but, to circle the church around the truth of the Gospel and the true practices of God’s people. According to William J. Bennett, “the church’s settlement of what books were to be included in the New Testament canon proved to be one of the most powerful instruments for refuting heresy.” 4

Irenaeus, the first to coin the phrases Old Testament and New Testament, wrote a scathing description of the damage that heretics were doing and would continue to do to the church if left unchecked: “By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wickedness and in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions.” 5

Whether it was the Gnostics enticing disciples to seek out the “secret knowledge” of the spiritual world or Marcion’s teaching that the OT God was not, could not be the Father of the NT Jesus and throwing out the OT altogether, these heresies and others like them were put down, largely in part, due to the formalization and recognition of the Doctrine of Scripture.

Translation

Translation played important part in the canonization of scripture starting with the original languages that scriptures are written in. Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are common languages of the people the scriptures are written by and to which they are directed. The Septuagint sought to bring the Hebrew scriptures to the Greek speaking world, thus giving access to the foundation of Christianity to Gentile delivers outside of the Hebrew people.  One of the best examples in antiquity of how Greek and Hebrew translations can aid in the reading and understanding of the texts in their original languages stands Origen’s Hexpola:

Origen compiled the entire Old Testament and laid out in six columns (a) the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament; (b) the Hebrew language redone phonetically in Greek, so that readers of Greek could better comprehend Hebrew sounds, even if they didn’t read the language; and (c) four different translations of the Old Testament in Greek, including the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament). 6

The theologian and historian Jerome went a step further than the Septuagint and translated scriptures into Latin, the common language of his time. This idea of translations taking a foreign language and bringing it to the people in a way that it can be understood and read leads directly into the significance of interpretation.

Interpretation

Once the Scriptures can be read, they must be synthesized into understanding and then applied to the lives of God’s people. Interpretation has played a huge role in, not just the canonization of which books to include in Holy Scriptures, but the “canonization” of church doctrines and practices. Mark Noll, in speaking about the history of interpretation says that “we may view the Christian past like a gigantic seminar where trusted friends, who have labored long to understand the Scriptures, hold forth in various corners of the room.” 7

Interpretations that have stood the test of time and impact the church today such as the Nicene Creed, discourses in Trinitarian theology, and the nature of Christ can be understood largely due to the work of those in early church history seeking to give God’s people the clearest understanding of God’s Word and Will. Many interpretations though failed to catch on, not because they were unpopular, but because they were weighed by the interpretive church community and found wanting. Heretics such as Marcion, Aries, and the Gnostics along with heresies such as the belief that Jesus had a human body and a lower soul but a divine mind (Apollinarism) were weeded out by the church and the church is, arguably, better for it. Noll sums up the great inheritance and gift we have received for these early interpreters saying:

If a contemporary believer wants to know the will of God as revealed in Scripture on any of these matters, or on thousands more, it is certainly prudent to study the Bible carefully for oneself. But it is just as prudent to look for help, to realize that the question I am bringing to Scripture has doubtless been asked before and will have been addressed by others who were at least as saintly as I am, at least as patient in pondering the written Word, and at least as knowledgeable about the human heart. 8

The Church universal owes a great deal to the early church and those who sacrificed time, talent, treasure, and their lives in order to identify, preserve, translate, and interpret Scripture. May we never think that we have reached the end of this process because generations, potentially millennia from now, will rely on how diligently and faithfully we undertake this responsibility.

Footnotes:
1. Rick Cornish. 5 Minute Theologian: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time (p. 63). NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO. 2004. Cornish also goes on to use the extra biblical witness of the Dead Seas Scrolls to highlight that the canon of the OT was in place before Christ saying, “Likewise, many of the five hundred Dead Sea Scrolls are commentaries and they comment only on books in our canon.”
2. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1-2.
3. F. F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 22.
4. Bennett, William J. Tried by Fire: The Story of Christianity’s First Thousand Years (p. 35). Thomas Nelson.
5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 1.8.
6. Bennett, William J. Tried by Fire: The Story of Christianity’s First Thousand Years (p. 77). Thomas Nelson.
7. Noll, Mark A. (2012-07-01). Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity (p. 6). Baker Publishing Group.
8. Ibid.

Run Into The Storm

Run Into

Icons is a series of posts dedicated to images, ideas, music, and art that stirs my soul, tells great stories, defines a part of who I am, or illuminates a core belief in my heart.

ICONS: Run Into The Storm

I have a buffalo tattooed prominently on my right forearm. My wife surprised me a few months back with a date night to the tattoo parlor and I walked away with a piece of art that I see everyday and is pretty conspicuous when I’m wearing short sleeves.

I chose the image of the buffalo, not because it is the mascot of my alma mater (a fact I only remembered about…oh, 30 seconds into the tattoo), but because of a significant part of my spiritual journey and a core belief that I desire to live out of in my life and ministry.

Over the last few years, I have been coming to terms with the fact I struggle with anxiety and depression. Everyday God pours his grace out and I learn how to, not just cope, but work through and get the better of the Resistance in my head and heart.

While listening to one of my favorite podcasts, I heard Pastor David Craig said that the battle with depression is like “being caught in a buffalo stampede.”

He continued by saying, like a buffalo stampede, you don’t know what started it, you can’t predict how long it will last, there is really nothing you can do to stop it… you’ve just got to ride it out.

I remember thinking, “YES! That’s exactly it! That’s what it feels like when a cloud of depression come on me. Someone gets it!”

If you’ve ever dealt with depression, my guess is that this definition of a buffalo stampede rings true to your experience as well.

(I actually contacted Pastor Craig and we had a substantial conversation over the phone. He was extremely kind and compassionate and listened to me share my story.)

So the tattoo on my arm represents a visual reminder of my struggle with depression. There have been and will continue to be seasons where depression will bear down on me like a thunderous herd of bison. There may be nothing that I did to cause it and there may be no way to bring it to an abrupt end… I’ve just got to ride it out. I’ve come to see that’s the nature of the beast.

There is a second, more positive reason for the buffalo tattoo as well.

The story goes that when a storm comes across the great plains bison and cows react differently. A cow will turn and run away from the storm. What ends up happening is that the cow can not outrun the storm and as it catches up to the worn-out, exhausted cow, the storm overtakes them and their are now stuck in the middle of the storm – cold, wet, and used up.

The buffalo has a different reaction to the storm. Instead of running away from the storm they run into the storm.

Let me say that again: Buffalo run into the storm.

It seems crazy and counterintuitive until you consider how as the animal runs toward the approaching storm only to have the storm pass over them. In effect, the bison cut the storm in half by running into it and then through it.

In life and in leadership, when we see a storm on the horizon – relational conflict, difficult seasons, tough decisions to make – we have 2 choices:

We can run away from the storm but the storm will eventually overtake you – you will have to deal with the difficult person at some point, you will be forced to make a decision and the longer you put it off the few choices you will have, etc. When the storms of life overtake us we usually find ourselves like the poor, wet cow – tired, exhausted, and used up.

I don’t want to be a cow. I want to be a buffalo.

It has been my experience that when I move toward conflict, when I head into the storm, the outcome is more positive than when I’ve avoided it. In the church world, whenever we engage in conflict resolution we engage in discipleship. Don’t be afraid to run into the storm.

So, my friends from college might find it strange that I decided to tattoo the school’s mascot on my forearm for the world to see.

The truth is the buffalo is more about who I am, the journey I’m undertaking, and the kind of leader I want to be.  

Exit Question:
Do you have a tattoo with an interesting story behind the ink? Tell us your story in the comments. I can’t wait to hear from you.

See Something, Do Something

“That’s not my job.”

If there were an award for The Most Frustrating Sayings That Cause Me To Bang My Head Against The Wall this one would make it past the swimsuit competition and into the Top 5.

This phrase makes my skin crawl. It is one thing to here it from a kid who doesn’t want to clean up the mess caused by another kid but it is a whole different level when it is coming from an adult leader.

The problem is… I thought it earlier today. 

I was in the Men’s Room at our building and I reached for the soap dispenser and it was empty… just like it has been for the last 2 weeks.

“Why is there still no soap in this dispenser?!?” I thought. “Someone needs to replace the empty cartridge. Someone besides me. That’s not my job.”

One of the maxims I try to live my life by is See Something, Do Something. It means that if you see something that needs to be taken care of… Take care of it. No fuss. No blame. Just do it.

Trash on the ground? Pick it up.
Batteries dead? Replace them.
Gate left open? Close it.
No toilet paper? Get a new roll.

These aren’t tasks that you have to ask permission to take care of. They aren’t jobs that require you to blow a whistle and announce what you’re doing either. Sometimes things slip through the cracks and the person responsible overlooks it or is unaware of the problem.

Sure, if it becomes a chronic problem or a habitual nuisance it needs to be address with the one accountable. However, more often than not it is a one-off mistake or simple oversight.

When you See Something, Do Something you are living out some fundamental virtues needed in the world today such as INITIATIVE, TEAM WORK, and SELFLESS SERVICE. When you ignore something that has been left undone and get upset about it you simply are being LAZY and SELF-CENTERED.

Next time you come across something that needs to be taken care of, don’t ignore it. Don’t make a phone call or write a memo. Don’t get huffy and flustered.

Go to the storage room, pick up the new soap cartridge, and cheerfully, gladly, and with a song in your heart replace the empty one.

Now, excuse me while I head off to the storage room.

The Difference

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I want to write.

There I said it.

I want to write books and challenge people’s thinking and encourage their hearts to live lives of greatness and significance.

I want to write to challenge and change.

There is a difference in saying and doing. In wanting and producing.

The difference is in the DISCIPLINE.

The discipline to get up early and bang out some paragraphs.

The discipline to put down the phone and pick up a pen.

Tbe discipline to turn off the tv and turn on my imagination.

The discipline to quiet my mind long enough to cull through my thoughts.

The discipline to quit consuming that news story about the election or that that article about some far off tech or that article about stupid cat photos.

The discipline to create.

The discipline to do the work.

The discipline to put something out there. Regardless of wether it is good, mediocre, brilliant, mundane.

I can say I want to write.

I can say I want to create.

I can say whatever I want.

So quit just wanting. Quite just saying.

You want to be a runner… RUN.

You want to be a singer… SING.

You want to be whatever… so do whatever that is.

The DIFFERENCE is in the DISCIPLINE to actually DO.

I want to be a writer… so I’m going to WRITE. That’s what writers DO.

I Need Wednesday Nights

You will not find the warrior, the poe

Last Fall I made a decision to have our Wednesday night Men’s Class meet in my office. As offices go, I’ve got a really great space. It is big. I’ve got a couch, glass panels that serve as dry erase boards. and a couple of FLÜRNGS (funny Swedish sound I call my IKEA chairs). The space can easily hold about 10-12 guys comfortably.

I was tired of having a conversation with a handful of guys stretched out across from one another in auditorium. Proximity leads to familiarity. You can’t get to know one another, trust one another, and do life with one another if you aren’t physically present with one another. Now, there is a different atmosphere and conversation happening during our times together.

This semester we are diving deep into this passage of God’s Word:

1 Corinthians 16:13–14 ESV
Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.

To act like men, God calls us to live out these 4 actions:

Be Watchful
Be Faithful
Be Strong
Be Loving

I need other men to help me do these things – personally, in my family, and professionally. I don’t know about you but I’m not content to just sit across the room from other guys and just stare at one another.

I’m looking for men that I can…
Fight Beside…
Read With…
Argue With…
Pray With…

Wednesday night classes can be a pain in the butt, I know. We are all busy, we’ve had a long day, and we probably have more work to do once we get home. However, Wednesday nights can be formative.

Wednesday nights can be an opportunity to grow in your relationships – with God, our friends, and other men who need Jesus as much as you do. Wednesday nights help us fulfill our responsibilities to one another. I don’t know what you’ve got on your plate or what might be holding you back from being with your Brothers in Christ tonight.

Don’t give in.

Get to church. Be present and engaged. Pray. Leave equipped to ACT LIKE A MAN… in the name of Jesus Christ.

See you tonight, brother.

Parents, It is YOUR iPhone

Ok parents,

It’s Christmas afternoon. The living room is still a disaster. It looks like Hallmark threw up with tinsel, ribbons, boxes, and wrapping paper strewn all over the place. You’ve been sitting on the couch basking in that “I’M THE BEST PARENT EVER” glow, patting yourself on the back for getting your kid the thing every kid wants… A new iPhone!

They’ve deserved it. They made good decisions this semester. They were good to their little brother, brought home decent grades, and you’ve really gone back and forth with pulling the trigger on finally getting them their own iPhone. Good on you.

Except one thing… it isn’t their iPhone.

You’re Mom. You’re Dad. It is YOUR iPhone that YOU are allowing them to use. Your responsibility to them didn’t end when they flashed you that smile, hugged you tight, and put in those white earbuds and ran upstairs to set it up.

An iPhone (or any smartphone/iDevice) is a powerful tool and a huge responsibility – for both your child and for you.

Do you know how it works?

Do you know what content they have access too?

Which apps they are loading on to it, right now? 

Will you keep tabs on what they are viewing, listening to, and sharing with their friends?

If it is primarily for music (an iTouch), how much access do you want them to have online?

Have you given them some expectations, limits, or guidelines?

You are the parent. You are ridiculously in charge! Don’t make excuses like, “I don’t do technology.” & “I don’t want to cramp their privacy.”

If you don’t show them how to use it properly – with wisdom, discretion, and responsibility – I promise you, someone else will show them how to use it any which way but loose.

So, check out the articles that I’ve linked below and get familiar with the amazing, powerful, potentially great, potentially dangerous device you just handed your pre-teen.

Sit them down and work with them on setting it up, laying expectations out, and, if YOU decide, enable restrictions and forbid certain content from being installed or viewed.

It could get a little uncomfortable for you. Warning: You will sound like your own parents at some point during this discussion. It. Will. Be. OK. I promise.

You’re the parent. It isn’t their iPhone. It is YOURS.

You call the shots. You are ridiculously in charge.

Apple’s Built in Parental Controls

Parental Controls in 2min Video

Keep Your Child Safe on the iPod Touch

Beginner’s Guide to iTunes

The Complete Guide to Transferring your Content to a new iPod touch

To My 13-Year-Old, An iPhone Contract From Your Mom, With Love

Example of a Social Media Contract

The Goal Is Soul