Friday, September 28, 2007

Answering Jesus' Prayer

I'm having a blast at the Willow Creek Ancient-Future Conference. I'm being challenged, inspired, frustrated, and energized. I'll try to get all my session notes in at some point, but my battery died on me half way through the day yesterday.

I had a thought yesterday morning: Biblical community is the answer to Jesus' prayer. In John 17, on the night when Jesus could have justifiably and understandably been concerned with only himself, he prayed that his disciples would be "one." That we would experience the same unity that he experienced with his Father. As we live in community, we become the living, dynamic, manifested answer to that prayer. What a privilege to become the answer to Jesus' prayer!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ancient-Future: Ron Martoia, "Leading Change"

Wow-- mind blowing talk from Ron Martoia in the point leader breakout Leading Change.

“The biggest barrier to progress in human history has not been ignorance, but the illusion of knowing.” (Daniel Boorstin, former Librarian of Congress and author)

This idea that “we’ve got everything figured out” is incredibly dangerous. We’ve got to open to the idea that there might be ways of doing churches, ministry, and discipleship that no one has thought of yet. Most of us think that we have it all figured out. That idea causes us to have deep reservoirs of resistance to everything. (Changes to service times, what seats people are sitting in)

Enormous shifts in the church today- theological, organizational, etc.

Evolutionary Change tends to be what we think is incremental, step by step and what new change is made is somehow connected to and organically tied to what has gone before it…in other words this is change based upon the past.

Revolutionary Change is change that I will argue isn’t built on incremental changes from the past, may appear discontinuous with the past, and almost always leads to something that looks quite different from anything in yesterday…it is change from the future brought to the present.

What we think about leadership will greatly determine what we think about how to implement change

In other words, a better model of change will required an augmented view of leadership.

Different process and different endpoint will require a different kind of leader.

The Old Model of Change:

Identify and Call Out the Destination—strategically plan and cast the vision

Find the Process to Transport the Troops- get on the diffusion of innovation curve

Work the Process- slowly slug it out till you take the summit

Most people don’t want the cake baked, decorated, and delivered to them. Most people want to bring an ingredient and help you make the cake.

What kind of model of leadership does this indicate? Powerful communication, charismatic leadership, persuasion, CEO model of leadership, vision casting. Puts a ton of pressure on the leader and a lot of pressure on the people. If there’s not a lot of buy-in, there is discord among the troops.

Blind Spot in Our Leadershhip

Think about a painter….

Painting- final canvas with paint

Process- oil with palette knife or watercolor board with wet on wet technique

Source- from where does process choice and final picture emerge?

We talk a lot about the painting and the process, but we rarely talk about the source. It’s the blindspot of our leadership. If we want to see a new model of change happen, we need to talk about the source from which these things arise. And talk about them from the context of an organism of community. When asked about the source, we give the “right” religious answers: prayer, God, etc. But how do we mine that source. “Be still and know that I am God.” But what exactly does David mean, and how do we execute that? Does it mean don’t talk, stop all thoughts, etc?

Most of us have been caught in building on incremental changes from the past. That is in our blind spot. What we don’t realize is we operate within the box of yesterday because we don’t know how to do it any other way. We rarely stray very far from what we know.

How do we let people help us bake the cake, bring them into the process, and keep moving forward?

One size does not fit all. We have to become experts at context.

The blind spot is place within or around us where our intention and attention originates. It is the place from where we operate when we do something. The reason it is blind is because it is an invisible dimension of our social field of everyday experience and interactions.

When we operate from this place where the past informs and guides the next steps this is what is referred to as downloading and it is the primary way we have been taught to learn. Many of our changes in our churches then originate from downloading.

Reactive learning—when we hear something new, we first try to find our cubby-holes to fit the new information into. If what we hear doesn’t have a cubby hole, then we either open our minds to something new or immediately begin to construct our rebuttal.

These changes are therefore often 1) programmatic and therefore often unsubstantial and shallow, and 2) lack mental models

Programmatic Change? What is the alternative?

Strategies- Actions- Results

When we don’t see the results we want, then we spend a ton of time trying to tweak and adjust the strategies. However, we are finding that more strategies are NOT fixing things.

What we think about “church” is in drastic flux.

We need to discover the Hidden “P.”

Paradigm- Strategies- Actions- Results

We have a paradigm of attraction, so self-preservation keeps us adjusting strategies. What if we killed this paradigm of attraction and changed to a paradigm of incarnational? Are we about self-preservation or are we about changing the world and making disciples?

Mental Models? What are those?

The way we think things should be done. It is our view of the world run rightly. We do reactive learning the older we get so we can confirm our mental models. It is harder to adjust mental models as we get older.

What are our options?

A new definition of leadership. Let’s move away from “leadership is influence. “

The Indo-European root for lead is “leith.” The word leith literally means “the crossing of a threshold.” The crossing of a threshold most commonly associated with death.

We need a model of leadership that creates the conditions of letting go of what is back there (acknowledging its value then and honoring the role it played in God’s plan at one time) and helping people cross the threshold to a new place, new time, anew thing potentially a whole new world. We have to help things die a graceful death. We have to let go of one trapeze bar before we take hold of the other—and that is scary.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Our identity is rooted in our remembrance. By going over and over the story of their history, they had boxed God into Red Seas and manna.

If you are being constrained and contained by the way it was done yesterday, then you could be camping at an old place for a long time.

“There are ways of doing small group ministry that we have not dreamed up yet.” That must become a part of our DNA.

Our goal is to meet the future as God brings it fort and for us as leaders to start from the quiet center space that enables that direction to emerge in us first then through us and the team or congregation we are working with.

Our previous change management models have focused on the painting and the paint process but have strangely omitted the source from which the painter decided what process to use for the painting or why the image painted was the image selected.

Ancient-Future: Scot McKnight, "Recovering Community"

Great kickoff with Scot McKnight! My notes are here but the formatting is a bit muddled.

Five Themes in the Teachings and Practices of Jesus – Group Life for our world today

How do we move from strangers to friends? How do we move people into our “group.” Jesus was missional. He saw others. To be missional means to be other-oriented rather than self-shaped. Concerned more about how others are doing than how we are doing.

1. Shape group life by the principles of the Jesus Creed. Recited the shema. Mark 12:28-32—this is the shema. But then he pulls a text from Leviticus—it’s not from any other ancient religious writings. He amends the Jewish Creed by adding love your neighbor as yourself. Torah is about loving God and loving others. They are not to love the Torah but understand that the Torah is love. Book- The Jesus Creed. Begin living by this. Recite it. C.S. Lewis- “Forgiveness is a great idea until you have someone to forgive.” If you want to become missional, you have to shape your group life on the principles of loving God and loving others. Say the Jesus Creed.

2. Table fellowship is not about a technique but entering the presence of Jesus. A missional group life is not about a table that is a technique but about life with Jesus. Table fellowship. Map of Peter’s home- table fellowship in the first century. Our goal is not imitation of a technique but being where Jesus was. Jesus taught from boats, mountains, etc. Table fellowship with Jesus was not sitting at a table with him but being wherever he was. Luke 10:38-42- Presence is what it’s about. Don’t think in terms of techniques. Think in terms of entering the presence of Jesus. As the followers of Christ—the Church-- we are the presence of Jesus in this world. Matthew 10:40

a. We need to regularly invoke the presence of God’s Spirit in all that we do.

b. We recognize that every person we run into is an icon of God—we are made in his image.

c. As the presence of Jesus, we must follow Jesus everywhere we are.

d. We need to talk about Jesus everywhere we go. Jesus is the only thing the church has going for it—so why are we embarrassed to talk about him?

3. In the Jewish world, outsiders were not welcomed to the table. Pharisees said, “Be clean and I’ll eat with you.” Jesus said, “Eat with me, and I’ll make you clean.” Are there people in our groups who are different than us? Or are we all alike?

a. We must see people

b. We must hear people. We must hear the voices of those different from us.

c. We must learn how to meet the needs that we see and hear.

d. We must begin locally in our neighborhoods—not at our church or overseas. We must begin with our next-door neighbors. “Tell me something I can do for you.”

e. We must link locally—we must jump in and get completely involved. This is messy work. Sometimes people need things that we are not skilled at or comfortable doing. Matthew 11:16-19. Jesus was a missional person—looking for those who were different—the morally questionable—and inviting them into community. Luke 7, Luke 14. Invite people that no one else invites and the people that won’t/can’t invite you back. A missional life finds the need.

4. Group life has to be a safe place. Jesus hung out with the wrong people and everyone knew it. He attracted the “emerging” and “marginalized” Galileans of his day. Your group may be the last frontier of safety in the world. We need to be a safe place for three different things:

a. Genuine criticism

b. Appropriate confession.

c. Tough questions. We need places where we can ask questions. Serious questions lead to serious study which leads to robust faith. We must allow people to ask questions so they will become more confident in their place.

i. How did we get the Bible? And why are there so many offensive stories in it?

ii. If evolution is not true, why did God create a world that looked like it?

iii. Why are so many Christians mean and so many non-Christians loving?

iv. How can a good God send people to hell when they’ve never heard the Gospel and never had a chance?

v. Why does my pastor get so uptight about my lesbian friend who loves Jesus?

5. Group life must be a sanctifying place. There is nothing in the NT that shows the power of transformational group life like the apostle John.

a. He complains about people doing ministry who aren’t with it

b. Mark 10- I want to sit at your side in your kingdom.

c. Luke 9- John preaches to Samaritans and asks Jesus to destroy them because they didn’t respond to the Gospel.

d. By the time he writes 1 John, however, he has turned into an apostle who is consumed by love.

John 13:23- John was reclining next to Jesus.

John 1:18- “closest relationship” comes from the same Greek word that he used in John 13:23 to describe his relationship to Jesus at the table.

If we want to be missional we must be loving.

4:00am Thoughts

I don't usually sleep well on the road, so I was in and out of sleep this morning. At 4am, I had the thought: Information without relationship is not Biblical discipleship. It seemed so profound at 4am. Now it just seems like...uh, yeah.

But...I do fear that we sometimes try to shove information down peoples' throats thinking, "If this sticks, they'll grow." However, a relationship must exist in order to nurture that spiritual growth. It's forcing me to think through how we do our core discipleship groups in a more relational way. They already operate through our small group community, but some of them are more "academic." Alpha and Crown have always been very relational. Journey is very relational. I'm not sure Theology 101 was very relational.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heading Back to the Future

I'm heading out to the Willow Creek Ancient-Future Group Life Conference. Really excited to connect with other folks who are passionate about community and discipleship and looking forward to learning some new things. I'll try to find some time to blog some reflections. And you can follow along Willow's group life blog if you are interested in what's happening.

Lots of great stuff happening in the Zempel world which I'll announce later...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Evangelism and the Front Porch

Ryan and I are in the process of buying a house, and I am really excited about the prospect of getting a front porch. I've never had a front porch, but I always enjoyed sitting on the swing of the front porch of my grandmother's house.

Joseph Myers has a great post on front porches here. I totally agree with his front porch vs. back deck view of our contemporary evangelistic practices. How do we do front porch kind of evangelism? Do our evangelism efforts require someone to have made it to our back deck? Or do we allow them to peer into the windows of our faith from the front porch?


Just a few random thoughts:
  • Is it wrong to listen to "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" while researching/writing for sermons?
  • LSU Football is awesome! Way to geaux, guys!
  • The Chase the Lion small group curriculum seems to be flying off the shelves. One of my old small group buddies from LSU is leading his youth group through it this fall.
  • Four people left our 11:30 service this weekend when I started preaching. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they all had emergencies. But there's always this notion in the back of my head that it's because I'm a woman and I'm exegeting the Scriptures. I don't really blame them; I totally understand and appreciate their views. This weekend, people left during the video service, but I've seen them leave when I've been preaching live. And dang, it's distracting.
  • I'm having a blast leading The Story at a women's Bible study in Georgetown.
  • I love hanging out at the National Cathedral. I get inspired every time I go there and encounter God's presence in new ways.
  • My sister is about to pop with my niece. Can't wait!


I had the opportunity to speak at WorldVision's chapel service this morning. It was a blast! There are about 150 people working in the DC offices of WorldVision, and that office focuses a lot on government affairs and grants. NCCer Stacy Proaps works there.

If you aren't familiar with the work that WorldVision does, check out their website.

Alpha Rocks!

We had over 100 people at our Alpha Kickoff Dinner last night. WOW!! And 98 guests have signed up to attend the group through the Fall Semester. Double WOW!! Big thanks to John Purcell (Alpha Director) who masterminded the entire experience. Big shout out to Domenic for serving as site coordinator, Lora and Hyla for running registration and hospitality, JR, Joyanna, and Renee for cooking food, and two dozen more Alpha greeters, prayer team members, and small group leaders.

Alpha works. We believe in it 100%. I'm not a big fan of telling other churches what to do because I feel like every place is different and needs their own unique spiritual formation environments. But Alpha is an exception to the rule. I think every church should at least give Alpha a shot.

Here's some more on how we do it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Repair and Remodeling is our online community for small group leaders at NCC. It's a blog format that we utilize for ongoing training, spiritual development, Biblical teaching, news and announcements, and community development. On Thursdays, we run an series of articles called Thursday Leadership Lesson that are designed to help our leaders grow and develop their leadership gifts. Each semester has a different theme, and we just kicked off a new series called Repair and Remodeling that will focus on how to make repairs and changes in your groups. Some of the topics will include the following:
  • Developing the Heart of a Shepherd
  • Evaluating Your Leadership and Your Group
  • Repair: Navigating Problems in Groups
  • Repair: Providing Care in Groups
  • Repair: The River/Healing
  • Repair: Resources and Support for Leaders
  • Remodeling: Leading Change
  • Remodeling: Blowing Up Your Group
  • Remodeling: Starting Over
  • Remodeling: Stepping Down
You can check out today's post here. Mixing metaphors a bit, but to bring healing, restoration, and change to the lives of people, we must have the heart of a shepherd.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Upward Bound

We are gearing up for our Upward Bound retreat. We do Upward Bound every other fall, and it is a retreat that focuses on spiritual disciplines. Two years ago, the Tabernacle was the organizing metaphor for the retreat, and we set up prayer stations reflecting different components of the Tabernacle. We talked about prayer, Bible reading, communion, silence and solitude, and journaling. And we had a baptism service in the ocean.

This year, we are heading to the mountains instead. We are withdrawing to the wilderness for a weekend of spiritual experimentation. We want to create a laboratory environment where people can explore different spiritual disciplines from the familiar (like prayer) to the ancient (like the Ignatian Examen or Lectio Divina). It should be a great opportunity for everyone to get out of the craziness of DC and spend some time connecting with God.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Anyone Heading to Ancient-Future?

Is anybody out there heading to the Ancient-Future Community group life conference at Willow in a couple weeks? If so, I'd love to connect with you.

Unleash the Lion Chasers

I was in the Lifeway store earlier today to pick up some resources and saw the new Chase the Lion leader kits and workbooks on the shelf. So cool to actually see them in real life. I'm really excited about the thought of small groups all over the world chasing lions together. It's a lot more fun to chase lions in community. Big thanks to the Threads team for being so great to work with and for doing such a fantastic job.

Order copies here! You can also read a sample chapter here!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cricus Elephants

I'm going to be preaching one of the sermons in the Elephant in the Church series, and it looks like I'm going to be hitting on the Circus Elephant. It's the idea of consumer Christianity- feed me, clean me, scoop my poop, etc. I'd love to get some feedback and ideas.

Some thoughts I've had include shopping and hopping (looking for the church that fits us instead of how we fit the church), griping (always complaining about what's wrong instead of doing something about it), sucking (wanting the church to feed milk or not wanting to invest their own time into feeding themselves), surfing (riding the waves of the excitement of church without investing in it). I might talk about Labels vs. Lordship-- identifying with the brand of Christianity without taking up the cross. I'm thinking about using this video or something similar.

What are your ideas? What do you think of when you hear "consumer Christianity?" What is the appropriate balance of the church "feeding" the congregation and people learning to feed themselves? When is appropriate to sit on your butt and soak and when it is time to start investing? How well are we being the Church that Christ had in mind when he started it? How do passages like Colossians 1:10, Luke 14:25-34, Luke 9:23-25, Hebrews 5:11-14, and Ezekiel 33:30-32 apply?


I witnessed a miracle this weekend. Ryan and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of some very good friends of ours- Garry and Melissa. Ryan and I developed a friendship with Melissa in the early days of NCC life. We met her at a small group and she quickly became one of our best friends. We met Garry several years later when he and Melissa began to date.

So what's so miraculous about this wedding? I guess you could argue that all weddings are a demonstration of the blessing of God and they certainly are miraculous in the sense that a marriage reflects the glory and image of God. But there was something especially miraculous about this particular wedding. Several years ago, before Garry and Melissa met, they were each sucked into the current identity and gender confusion that pervades our culture. They rejected their God-given identities and sought to re-create themselves outside of the guardrails of God's perfect plan for their lives. Plain speak-- both Garry and Melissa lived for a season within homosexual lifestyles. But God rescued them, restored them. and gave them to one another in a miraculous way.

I had a front-row seat to witness God's healing power in the life of Melissa as he restored her to the woman that he created her to be, and I am so thankful for the strong and amazing man of God that Garry has become and the way in which he has reflected the strength of God in their relationship. This weekend was a time of rejoicing to see God's healing work and the way he brings order and beauty out of our choices of chaos and confusion. Blessings to Garry and Melissa! Thanks for being models of grace and truth to the lives you have touched!

Theology 101 Curriculum

I just finished uploading all of our summer Theology 1o1 curriculum. You can find notes on the following topics:

Doctrine of the Bible
Doctrine of God
Doctrine of Man
Doctrine of Christ and Salvation
Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
Doctrine of the Church
Doctrine of the Future

Theology 101 Notes: Doctrine of the Future

These are notes from Week 7 of our Theology 101 group, Doctrine of the Future.


The Final Judgment
There will be a final judgment in which the dead will be resurrected and judged according to their works (Matt. 25:31-46 & Romans 2:1-9). Everyone whose name is not found written in the Book of Life, along with the devil and his angels, will be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). Those whose names are written in the Book of Life will be resurrected and stand at the judgment seat of Christ to be rewarded for their good deeds (I Cor. 4:5).
- From National Community Church Statement of Beliefs

Some Definitions

Eschatology: the study of the “last things,” or future events. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)

Eschatology: the study of what happens in the afterlife and what happens at the end of the age and in the final state of both the righteous and the wicked. (Horton, Systematic Theology)

In Theology for the Community of God, Grenz encourages us to understand the word “last” in the sense depicted by the Greek term telos, which means “goal.” He explains, “In the doctrine of last things we speak about God’s goal or purpose for his activity in the lives of individuals, in human history, and in creation.” Thus, Grenz offers the following definition:

Eschatology: the study of the Christian understanding of the glorious future God has for his creation. It is the systematic-theological reflection on history as the narrative of God’s activity in bringing humankind to God’s intended goal. Corporate eschatology is reflection on history from the perspective of the consummation of the human story in accordance with God’s plan. (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

A distinction can be made between personal eschatology and general eschatology:

Personal Eschatology: the quest to know what lies beyond death (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God), it is the study of future events that will happen to individuals, such as death, the intermediate state, and glorification. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine)

General Eschatology: the study of future events that will affect the entire universe, such as the second coming of Christ, the millennium, and the final judgment. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine). It is the quest to understand God’s intention for humankind and for human history. It seeks to answer the question, “Is our corporate story going somewhere?” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

Why Study Last Things
Because the apocalyptic writings are so difficult to understand and there are so many interpretations, one may wish to avoid the study of these things. If the timing and purpose of these events is largely irrelevant to our salvation, why should we consider their consideration important? Grenz offers three reasons:

Evangelism- the imminence of Christ’s return should move us to evangelism
  • Mark 1:15, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  • Matt 24:14. “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
Holiness- the imminence of Christ’s return should move us to arrange our lives for holy living.
  • “Eschatology is not a projection into the distant future; it bursts forth into our present existence, and structures life today in the light of the last days.” (G. C. Berkouwer)
  • “They (New Testament writers) did not so much intend to offer data for charts depicting the chronology of future events as to produce proper conduct in the present” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
  • Romans 13:11-14, “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is near Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave properly as in the day, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”
  • 1 John 3:2-3, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Steadfastness and Courage- the imminence of Christ’s return should summon us to live life with a steadfastness and courage that is built on the firm belief that Jesus wins.
  • 1 Peter 4:13, “but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.”
  • 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
Elements of Final Things
The following events are mentioned in the Bible and they are components of the last things.
  • Christ’s Return
  • Tribulation
  • Millennium
  • Resurrection of the Dead
  • Final Judgment
  • Creation of the New Heavens and the New Earth

The debate revolves around when, how, and why these things occur.

Christ’s Return
“And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”
(1 Thessalonians 4:16)

“The goal toward which all history is rushing is the return of Christ, which will mark the establishment of community and hence the ultimate realization of God’s will, which is his reign.” (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)

What we know about Christ’s return:
  • Christ’s return will be sudden, personal, bodily, and visible.
    • Matthew 24:44, “For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.”
    • Acts 1:11, “They also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.’"
    • Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen."
    • See also John 14:3, Hebrews 9:28, James 5:8, 2 Peter 3:10, and 1 John 3:2.
  • The timing of Christ’s return is unknown.
    • Matthew 24:36, "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”
    • Matthew 25:13, “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.”
    • Mark 13:33, "Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come.”
  • Christians should eagerly expect Christ’s return.
    • Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
    • James 5:7, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.”
    • Titus 2:13, “looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,”
    • See also 1 Thessalonians 4:16, Revelation 22:20, and Matthew 24:30-31.

The Millennium
“Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.” (Revelation 20:4-5)

This passage in Revelation is the only time that the Millennium is referenced in the Scriptures. Throughout church history, theologians have debated the interpretation of John’s millennial vision. There are three primary views:
  • Premillennialism- Jesus returns prior to the thousand-year reign and he will be physically present on the earth to reign during these thousand years.
    • Pessimism: “The world gets worse.”
    • A type of premillenialists, called Dispensational premillennialists, divide human history into distinct periods or “dispensations.” They assert that there are two different plans for the church and for Israel, and they believe that a pretribulational rapture will remove the church prior to the tribulation and the millennium. Dispensational premillennialists tend to take the most literal approach to prophetic Scriptures
    • Proponents: Don Carson, Wayne Grudem. John MacArthur is a dispensational premillennialist.
  • Amillennialism- there is no future millennium. Rather, Revelation 20 is now being fulfilled in the present church age. All major future events (Christ’s return, resurrection, judgment, and establishment of new heaven and new earth) will occur at once.
    • Realism: “The world is what it is.”
    • Proponents: Louis Berkhof, John Calvin and other Reformers
  • Postmillenialism- Jesus returns after an earthly golden age which is brought about by the work of the Church and the Holy Spirit.
    • Optimism: “The world gets better.”
    • Proponents: Augustine, B.B. Warfield
For further reading, see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 17: The Millennium Debate. See also Theology for the Community of God, Chapter 22: The Consummation of History.

Final Judgment
"But when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on His glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.” (Matthew 25:31-33)

Judgment is a recurring theme in the Scriptures. New Testament passages that refer to the final judgment include Revelation 20:11-15, Acts 17:30-31, Romans 2:5, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24, Matthew 12:36, Matthew 25:31-46, 1 Corinthians 4:5, Hebrews 6:2, 2 Peter 2:4, and Jude 6.

Scripture leads us to three definite conclusions concerning the final judgment:
  • Jesus will judge.
    • Acts 17:30-31, "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
    • 2 Timothy 4:1, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom.”
  • Unbelievers will be judged.
    • Revelation 20:5, “And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
    • Romans 2:5, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.”
    • Hell: a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine) Passages that speak of hell include Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46, Mark 9:43, Luke 16:22-24, 28, and Revelation 14:9-11. Hell is a place of burning fire (Matthew 18:8, Matthew 25:41, and Jude 7), but it is likely a metaphorical picture of the “anguish generated by the awareness that a person has invested his entire life in what is perishable rather than imperishable and eternal (Matthew 6:19-20, Luke 12:16-21) (Grenz, Theology for the Community of God). Hell is a place of isolation, estrangement, and loneliness (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30)
  • Believers will be judged.
    • Romans 14:10-12, “…For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God...So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
    • 2 Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
    • Heaven: the place where God most fully makes known is presence to bless. It is in heaven where God most fully reveals his glory and where angels, other heavenly creatures, and redeemed saints all worship him. (Grudem, Bible Doctrine) Scriptures that speak of heaven include Acts 1:9-11, Acts 7:55-56, and John 14:2-3.
Other Views of the Fate of Unbelievers:
  • Universalism- ultimately, all will be saved and hell exists as a means of turning sinners toward God.
  • Annihilationism- punishment is eternal in consequence but not in duration.

For further reading on annihilationism see Across the Spectrum, Chapter 18: The Hell Debate.

Creation of News Heavens and New Earth
Revelation 21:1, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away.”

Romans 8:19-21, “For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

The new creation will be a place of God’s presence (Revelation 21:3), a place of community (Revelation 22:2-3, Isaiah 65:25), and a place of glorification (1 Corinthians 13:12, 2 Peter 1:4, Revelation 21:4-5)

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)
“This is eschatology at its Biblical best. The message about God’s future provides the foundation and motivation for proclaiming the word of God in the present. God reveals to us his promise for the future consummation in order to call us to proper attitude and action in the present…

As the study of God’s overarching purpose, the doctrine of last things forms the proper climax of systematic theology. Eschatology leads us back to where we started. It brings us to the God who desires that all creation share in the community of his presence and thereby participate in the eternal glory of the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “(Grenz, Theology for the Community of God)
Does the vision of God’s eternal glorious future compel you to live differently?

Psalm 119:26

"I told you my plans, and you answered. Now teach me your principles."

I wonder what God answered to the proclaimed plans of the Psalmist? The answer could have been a "yes," a "no," a "not now," a blank stare, a laugh, or a multitude of other reactions. I've heard before, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans."

I'm all for goals, plans, and strategies. I truly believe God honors that. However, we always come to a place where we have to leave those plans on the table and recognize that the most important thing we can do is to learn God's truth and apply it. That's why we try to train our leaders first and foremost to lead themselves well and to become leaders worth following. If we follow hard after God, many of the issue of leadership will fall into place.

I think there are some areas of my prayer life where I need to table my plans and focus more on listening to and learning what God is saying.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Psalm 119:25

"I lie in the dust; completely discouraged; revive me by your word."

This verse opens the 4th stanza of Psalm 119. I don't recall ever lying in the dust completely discouraged. But I do remember lying in the snow in the middle of a blizzard completely discouraged. During my first trip home with Ryan to Oregon, we went cross country skiing at Crater Lake. Remember that I'm an Alabama girl. About 10 inches of snow was the most I had ever seen in my life. We were cross country skiing and it was snowing. I didn't think much about it. Later, I discovered it was a blizzard-- complete white out. Southern girls don't know any better; it's all just snow to us.

I did fine on the way out to the rim of the lake, but on the way back my energy was completely depleted. At one point, I fell in the snow and couldn't muster the strength to get back up on my feet. Ryan's form of encouragement at that point was, "If you don't get up, you'll get buried alive in the snow." That gave me the boost I needed. Later, I discovered with had covered about 7 miles. That may not seem like a lot, but for a first time attempt at cross country skiing, I was pretty proud of myself.

We all need different types of encouragement at different times, and God's word contains all the wisdom, encouragement, challenge, and stretching that we need. The Psalmist asks God to revive him at least 9 times in Psalm 119 alone. Discouragement is a natural part of life, and we will all find ourselves lying in the dust from time to time. Discouragement will come; it's how we respond to it that counts. When we are discouraged, we need to dig into his Word to find the revival that we need. It may not come in the form that we would like to hear it, but it's there.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Next Year in Jerusalem

Two years ago at this very moment, I closed my laptop, loaded it into my backpack, and headed to NYC to prepare for one of the greatest experiences of my life. I had been selected to participate in an ecumenical pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On the steps of St. Bart's, I met up with an Episcopalian, 2 Presbyterians, a Southern Baptist, a Lutheran, and a rapper named SaulPaul-- it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, doesn't it?

My weeks in Jerusalem changed my life. It's hard to describe because I've blogged and written so much about the experience, but words have never seemed to fully capture the impact and significance of that trip. I just spent a few minutes reading back over my online travel journal and re-living it. The trip is being turned into a documentary, and you can view the trailer online here.

I am now a big proponent of pilgrimage. It's a spiritual growth opportunity that the evangelical church needs to support and facilitate. Personally, I can't wait to get back over there. At the Jewish Passover Seder, the participants declare "next year in Jerusalem" to signify their hope and desire to return to the Promised Land and their prayers for the coming of the Messiah. I echo that hope and prayer-- "next year in Jerusalem"-- as I wait expectantly and excitedly for my next trip to the Holy Land and desire to introduce people to Jesus the Messiah in his homeland.

We Need More Tour Guides

We need more tour guides in the body of Christ. People who are willing to go on the journey with people. A lot of leaders like to play the role of travel agent-- telling people where to go, how to get there, what to do once they get there-- all from the safety and comfort of sitting their butt in a chair behind a desk. On the other hand, tour guides accompany people on their journeys. A level of vulnerability and transparency is required. You get dirty and people see you more clearly. But it also means a better experience and greater learning for all involved.

I constantly think about this in my leadership. Am I being a tour guide? Or simply playing it safe and acting as a travel agent?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Elephant in the Church

We are about to launch a new series at NCC called The Elephant in the Church to talk about topics that are obvious issues in the church that everyone wants to ignore. Check out Mark Batterson's blog and throw in your own ideas. There's a lively discussion.

Book Reviews

One of the things that I love about August is the opportunity to read. I've actually scheduled "reading time" into my calendar for the fall because I believe that leaders are learners and should be constantly stretching themselves with new ideas. But if you're not intentional about it, reading time will never happen.

In August, though, things slow down significantly and I'm able to catch up. I just finished Girl Meets God and Simple Church, and I may throw up some reviews of those later. For now, you can find reviews here:

Organic Community
Go Big With Small Groups
Why Didn't You Warn Me?
They Like Jesus but Not the Church
Ancient-Future Evangelism
Making Small Groups Work
Across the Spectrum

Here are some more from the Archives:

Confessions of a Pastor
Why Small Groups
Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts
Humility (C.J. Mahaney)
Humility (Andrew Murray)
Sacred Travels
In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day
Small Group Outreach
Sacred Rhythms

I Hurt

Ryan and I went to Harpers Ferry over Labor Day to celebrate our anniversary (I was preaching on our actual anniversary weekend). We did a little hike on Sunday afternoon and then paddled 13 miles down the Potomac River yesterday. Our anniversary trips always seem to involve lots of physical exertion and Civil War battlefields. Two years ago, we went to a bed and breakfast near Luray Caverns and hiked the New Market Battlefield. Last year, we went to ride roller coasters at Hershey Park and saw For the Glory at Gettysburg. Some day, we may come to the conclusion that a beach vacation would be a perfectly acceptable anniversary trip. But for now, that just seems boring.

So here's why I hurt. It's not from the climbing or the paddling. It's from the sun. The tops of our legs got fried. We thought about staying home from work today and calling in sick...or better yet, calling in stupid...for not using sunscreen. I grew up in Alabama, so I've experienced my fair share of sunburns. This is the worst I've ever experienced.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Apple Jacks

I've entered into some weird phase where I am eating lots of kids cereals. Unless I'm not remembering correctly, I didn't eat a lot of kiddie cereals as a kid. If I'm wrong, I'm sure my mom will correct me. I remember thinking that Lucky Charms were gross and that Sugar Smacks and Cap'n Crunch stunk. I still think all three of those are yucky, but I've been eating a lot of Frosted Flakes, Fruit Loops, and Apple Jacks recently. This week, it's Apple Jacks. I also enjoy Golden Grahams and Honey Comb.

Two years ago, I swore this blog would never turn into one of those "what I ate for breakfast" kinda blogs. Oh well...sorry.