St. Patrick’s Prayer

From the famous prayer of St. Patrick (aka the Lorica or Breastplate of St. Patrick)

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Why is he called “pope”?

Interesting stuff from Joe Carter’s “9 Things You Should Know About the Papacy”:

1. The most well-known title for the head of the Roman Catholic Church—”pope” (from the Latinpapa, a child’s word for father)—does not appear in the official list of titles given in the Annuario Pontificio (Italian for “Pontifical Yearbook”). The Pope’s official list of titles are Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, and Servant of the Servants of God.

Read the rest of his list here.

How my position change is leading to a change on this blog

What changed

Just over a year ago, with the retirement of our long time senior pastor Don Shoemaker, my role at Grace changed to a hybrid of “Young Adults/Teaching/Vision Pastor,” though it was always thought to be temporary, since we were in the search for a new senior pastor, and my assumption was that I would (at some point) go back to focusing primarily on young adults. But since Steve Williams was promoted from Associate to Senior Pastor here at Grace last November, I’m starting to accept that there is no “going back” – I’m firmly in the “Associate” role, at least for the foreseeable, God-willed future.

Why now

This is becoming especially “real” as we hire a new “Director of Student Ministries and Global Mission” who will take over college ministry, among other responsibilities.  I’ll still be involved with young adult ministry in a post-college context, and will still be around college students in a general pastoral sense, but my days of surveys and on-campus outreach seem to be in the rear view.

What’s next for this blog

Therefore, I think it’s time to re-calibrate what this blog could be. Last year, as part of our transition process, we went through the immensely helpful resource, Church Unique, by Will Mancini. To sum up the process in one sentence, “How has God built your church to make disciples of Jesus and bring glory to himself that is unique from 10,000 other churches?” In that journey, our leadership identified 5 core values that we think make us “Grace Community Church of Seal Beach”:

Biblical Worldview

Faithful Compassion

Known by Name

Participatory Worship

Missional Life

It’s these five values that I want to focus on writing about in this blog. I’ll still have an eye toward how it connects with young adult ministry, of course, but my main focus will be asking how to do more of these five things here in Seal Beach and in the greater Seal Beach area.

How our life group tries to build authentic relationships

One of our values at Grace Seal Beach is being a church where we are “Known by Name.” The best place for that to happen is in a Life Group.  How can your life group grow as a place of community? 

Here are a few things we do in the life group I lead: 

1. Highlight/Lowlight of the week – We want to know the good and the bad going on in each other’s lives, not just the pretty things that go on facebook. Sure, it’s a bit contrived – we go around the circle, and everyone says something, whether it’s deeply emotional or off the cuff. But we’re asking the questions: what made you rejoice this week, because we want to rejoice with you; what made you weep this week, because we want to weep with you. 

2. Dia de Bob (or Joe, or Jane, or whomever) – Like every group, we like hanging out together. But rather than go for the lowest common denominator every time (blockbuster movie, beach day, etc), each person takes a turn inviting us into his/her world to experience something unique to them. So, we’ve gone to ice hockey games, drawn anime cartoons, even dressed up as TV characters and gone to dinner together. Who are you? Let us see the real you, and enjoy that together. 

3. Sunday lunch – After church on Sunday we go to lunch together. Okay, not the most unique idea in the world, but it still works, especially when you want to make new friends in a new place. 

4. Serving together – While some of the people in our life group serve in a variety of different ministries throughout the church or community, we also try to serve together. For our group, that’s meant adopting Precious Lamb Preschool (or rather, letting them adopt us). We help with childcare, mailers, Christmas parties, whatever they ask for.  It helps us grow together as a group, gives us a common mission together, and develops trust. 

7 questions I ask while writing a sermon

Once I have an idea of what the biblical text says and what that means for us today, it comes time to fill in the outline. Here’s how I do it:

1. What objections should I address? Are there aspects of the biblical  idea that are hard to swallow? Let’s talk about them. These could be theological objections (“Doesn’t it say in Romans…?”), textual questions (“How did you get that from this?”), cultural questions (“Would God really say that today?”), or application questions (“How can I be expected to do that given my everyday life?”)

2. What key words or phrases will make this memorable? Long sentences are precise, but oral communication needs to be clear and memorable. How can I make this complex theological idea simple without being simplistic? Is there a word-picture I can use? Is there a hook word I can use throughout the sermon?

3. What illustrations or metaphors would be helpful?  What can I do to “shine light” (literal meaning of “illustrate”) on the idea the biblical text is presenting? These could be true to life narratives, news items, video clips, historical examples, biblical cross-references, metaphors, or personal stories.

4. Can I use an object on the platform? For the visual learner, is there some “thing” I can bring on the platform that will drive the point home? This could be a ladder, an apple, a guitar, a baseball glove… whatever.

5. How does this sermon create or reinforce vision (“we”)?  Our church has five core values (Biblical Worldview, Missional Life, Known by Name, Participatory Worship, and Faithful Compassion). Is there an aspect of this sermon that can reinforce or encourage ministry in those areas? Is there a “win” we can celebrate in our church that’s tied to the text and our values?

6. How can I encourage the congregation to pray in response to this? I want us as a church to wrestle with the biblical text during the week. Is there a prayer project I can suggest that will help the people to do this?

7. How can I use transitions well in this sermon? This is more mundane than the others, but not unimportant. The sermon needs to feel like a whole, not a series of points. How can I transition well throughout the whole thing?

Hope these help you as you prepare or listen to sermons!

Five questions to ask when reading the Bible

I love good Bible interpretation, and want to know what the original author meant to communicate when I read the Bible. Sometimes, however, that can lead to me neglecting the personal application aspect.

Based on content from Tim Keller, here are five questions you can ask when you’re reading the Bible to make it personal to your life: (Thanks to Steve McCoy

  1. How can I praise God? Since the Bible is fundamentally about God, what does this passage I’m reading tell me about Him? How can I worship as a response? 
  2. How can I confess my sins on the basis of this text? What does this passage tell me about living under God’s authority? Where have I rebelled against that? 
  3. If this is really true, what wrong behavior, what harmful emotions or false attitudes result in me when I forget this? Every problem is because you have forgotten something. What problems am I facing?
  4. What should I be aspiring to on the basis of this text? How does this give me a vision for what God wants me to experience, live out, or enjoy about Him? 
  5. God, why are you telling me this today? Is there a connection between my life circumstance and what I am reading? Why? Is God speaking in a direct way to a decision I need to make? 

How to respond to the open chairs

One of the most difficult parts of college and young adult ministry for me is the open chairs. I don’t just mean when attendance is less than I hoped it would be for a weekly meeting.  I mean the people that aren’t there.

Open chairs exist for a variety of reasons. I can think of individuals in my life right now that would fill those chairs that are:

1. Avoiding God because of youthful rebellion

2. Struggling with doubt to the point of apathy around their faith

3. Experiencing schedule conflicts that exist for a season

4. Living away at school

5. Wracked with guilt about lifestyle choices

6. Have left our church to join another one

7. Broke-up with someone and left our church as a result

I would estimate that during my six years at Grace, there are probably 300 young adults that were on my radar in some meaningful way as potential members of either the college or young adult group (and to be honest, that number may be low). Of those, about 40 are currently around in a given week. Whether my batting average is higher or lower than other pastors, I don’t know, but here are some things I’ve found to be helpful.

1. Don’t assume that I know why the chair is open – It might be that my sermon stunk last week, but it’s probably one of 20 other things. If you are going to ask them why, give them space to be honest and expect to get involved in their real life, not just reprimand them for their “absence.”

2. Be open to their absence as God’s will – It is not possible or good for every young adult to be a part of our church. In fact, some of the students who have grown up here would probably benefit from leaving our church as a part of healthy differentiation and development.

3. Guilt isn’t Christian – Don’t give a guilt trip to the students and young adults about not being there the week before.  They don’t owe me their presence at a Bible study. And even if they did, guilt is unhelpful and unnecessary in light of the gospel.

4. Enjoy pastoring the people that are there – Would a college brag about their large class sizes? Of course not! If you have the chance to mentor a group of 4-6 students, think about what a better teacher of the Scriptures you can be!

5.Practice church membership – Call it something else if you like (stakeholder, owner, co-laborer, etc), but having some idea of which of these people are “yours” and which are just passing through helps a great deal.

6. Expect pastoring to have an element of burden – At the end of the day, though, I’m the pastor of these people, and I love them, so it hurts when they fade away, get burned, neglect God, or have a relational fall out.

Who do we have to beat to move on?

Today I was listening to a sports podcast (The BS Report by Bill Simmons) when the guest (Mike Lombardi) said a truism about sports that’s applicable to ministry as well: A wise sports team thinks about who they have to beat to move on in the playoffs.

In basketball, for example, that means that if you’re an up and coming team (such as the OKC Thunder) that knows you’ll have to beat a team with a strong interior post game (like the Lakers or Spurs), you better get a post defender who can excel (hello, Kendick Perkins).

Here’s how it applies to a church setting: What competition are our ministries positioned to “beat”?
– Clubs or social co-operative organizations?
– The Devil?
– Alienation from God?
– The flesh?
– Biblical ignorance?
– Loneliness?
– Self-centeredness?

Complimentary questions are:
– How many opponents can you plan for?
– Which opponents are you most concerned with beating?
– What’s the scorecard that tells you who you are beating?
– Which “wins” do we have to earn and which are already won by Christ?

What is Marriage? (Wedding Sermon 2/25/12)

Your relationship at it has come to this point is a testimony to the goodness of God.  He has blessed each of you in the giving of a partner, mate, lover, and friend.  And no one who is looking at both your faces right now could deny that He has done that.  God has been very good to both of you, and we join with you in thanking Him for that, and we thank you for showing us His goodness in a new way.

But you now move into a new relationship, unlike what you have known before.  As husband and wife, you bind yourselves to one another until death separates you.  Much is said about the sacredness of marriage, and rightly so, because today is a sacred day.  But I want to speak of the opportunity of marriage.

 

As was read a moment ago, love is patient, kind, trusting, and others-benefitting.  In your best moments, Alex and Eunice, you will display that sort of love for one another.  You will be people that reflect 1 Corinthians 13 to each other, and the rest of us will delight in your love.  In those moments we may be tempted to ascribe to you individually or as a couple a special quality that is behind that love – as if you have created it from nothing – but Scripture reminds us that God is love, and it is from his first loving us that enables us to love another.

 

This brings us to the amazing reality of marriage, what you are entering into today. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a symbol representing Christ and the church.  You will have the opportunity over the rest of your lives to tell us, through your marriage, what the love of Christ is like for the church.  As your friends, your family, and, if God wills, your children watch you submit to one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to love unconditionally, and to forgive each other, we will have a living, breathing example of the sort of love that Jesus has for each of us.

You have a great opportunity before you, a high calling.  Having a great marriage (one of intimacy, vulnerability, strength, and passion) has personal fulfillment, certainly, but it can be even more than that.  It can point us to the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And I pray that will be the case for you two.  May your marriage be abounding in love, that you may know God, who is love.