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Tricks & Tools of the Day

If you’re anything like me, then you are constantly looking for better and/or more efficient ways of keeping up with the regular tasks of day to day life and ministry. Being that I was raised with technology, that typically means that I am looking for apps and services that make my life and ministry a bit easier. With that in mind, I’d like to share twelve of the tools (some you probably know/use and a few you may have never used or even heard of) that I use on a daily basis that just work.

Dropbox

dropboxDropbox is an essential tool for me. I’ve had an account with Dropbox since it became available, recommended it to dozens of people (which has increased my free storage) and purchased more storage (even though there are potentially cheaper or free alternatives) because it just works great. For more than two years now I’ve had nearly all of my data stored across all of my devices via Dropbox. I know that some people will decry potential security issues to this way of working, but I’m not majorily concerned. All the projects I am working on a always backed-up and up-to-date on each of my devices (laptop, desktop, phone and iPad) and accessible on any computer.

iCloud

icloud2I’ve been a Apple/Mac user since I was in second grade. At that time it was all 3.5” floppies, Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego, but every year (in my opinion) Apple gets better and better at adding exceptional features. That’s definitely the story with iCloud. If you’ve been around Apple long enough then you’ve been through the growing pains of iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and even the early days of iCloud. But today iCloud is a major contender, and one I use constantly.

Besides synced contacts, calendars, notes and reminders across all of my devices, iCloud offers me the ability to easily work on documents anytime, anywhere. iCloud enables someone—like me—that uses Apple iWork exclusively (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) the ability to be typing notes in Pages on my iMac at home, edit them on my iPad or iPhone on the go, have the most current version available later on my MacBook Air (while at Starbucks no doubt), and then finish them up on my iMac at the office.

Yes, I know… I have an Apple disorder. People call our office “The Orchard.” If you’re an apple user too, iCloud is a no-brainer.

Google Drive

google_driveThere is certainly some redundancy in these first three (perhaps even with the 4th too). Google drive can do many of the same things that Dropbox and iCloud do. One could make the case that Dropbox is unnecessary if you are using iCloud or Google Drive and that you should choose between iCloud or Google Drive. That’s for others to fight about. For me, I like all three for differing reasons and have found all of them to be helpful to my regular work flow and habits.

If you work with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (i.e. most churches and para-church organizations) then you really should look in to Google for Nonprofits (http://www.google.com/nonprofits/), which makes Google Apps freely available to your whole organization. At our church, Cross Connection, we’ve had an authorized Google for Nonprofits account for several years, and we use it extensively.

Our office uses shared calendars and Google Drive/Apps daily. We regularly collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and share project files and folders. Google Drive has also been a huge help in the work that I do with ministries outside of our local church. Whether it’s the Church Planting Network, our Online School, or individuals that I am mentoring or working with in the church. It is becoming more and more essential.

Evernote

evernoteI started this post in Evernote on my laptop, and now I’m continuing it on my iPhone. I use Evernote constantly throughout my day. When an idea comes to mind or a new thought for a message or article, I reach for my iPhone and jot it down in Evernote. If I’m readying an article that of like to tag and save for later, I email a copy of it to my Evernote account from Safari on my iPhone, iPad or computer. The ability to attach pictures/files, tag, geotag, search and gather notes into notebooks makes Evernote my goto notes app.

Evernote is such a paradigm changer for some that books have been written entire websites dedicated to and seminars held on how to more effectively get things done using it.

Kindle App (for iOS)

kindleI don’t think I’ve bought a “real book” (unless it was not available as an ebook) since the Kindle app came out for iPad. I’m the type of person that reads several books at one time. Kindle makes this all the more easy. I love the ability to have my entire library with me everywhere and at anytime. And to have highlights, notes and bookmarks synced across devices is a huge plus!

 

 

Goodreader

goodreaderThere are many reader/annotation apps for the iPad/iPhone (and other sub-par handheld devices), but I prefer Goodreader. Although I use it for all kinds of document files (PDF, Doc, XLS, PPT, etc.), my primary use of Goodreader is as my teaching notes tool.

The final draft of my teaching notes is always saved to Dropbox as a PDF. Then, when I’m ready to teach/preach I download the file from Dropbox in Goodreader, make any final highlights and annotations to it and step up to the pulpit.

Like I said, this is just one of many such tools, but it has a ton of features I’ve not seen in others.

Mantis Study Bible & Blue Letter Bible

mantisOk, so this is really two different apps/services, but they accomplish the same task, so I’ve grouped them together.

I downloaded and purchased add-ons for Mantis Study Bible the first day I had my very first iPad. Although there are (now) other options available (even at a better price), I’ve stuck with Mantis because it works great, and I have got a bit of money invested in it. The only downside is that I wish there was a MacOS version available to use on my laptop/desktop, but that’s where Blue Letter Bible comes in.

I have Logos study bible, but I rarely open it. It has some great features and tools, but it has just never really fit into my workflow too well. I began using Blue Letter Bible as my primary Bible study tool more than 10 years ago. Thankfully they updated their user interface in the last year, but even before the update it was a topnotch tool that is totally free. I like it so much I’ve happily donated to the ministry of Blue Letter Bible. While it doesn’t have near the features of a fully featured Accordance or Logos, it’s spectacular for getting a study done.

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Mailchimp

mailchimpLike several of other apps/services, Mailchimp is one of many options available to send mass emails to a large list of subscribers.

We use Mailchimp both at Cross Connection and the Calvary Church Planting Network. Each Friday I send out an email to more than 500 subscribers at the church to update them about what’s happening at our weekend services or about what’s coming up the following week. It’s a no-cost (for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month), easy to use tool, that returns great metrics/reports.

Mailbox App

mailboxSpeaking of email…

It’s a first-world problem that all 21st century first-worlders share… too much email (Yes, I know, with Mailchimp we’re contributing to the problem). I have way too much of it on way too many accounts. On average I get 100-200 emails a day (during the week). In all honesty, only about a quarter to a third of them are of much importance (side note: I’m testing sanebox to deal with the other 66%).** Not only do I have too much email, but I check my email mostly on my iPhone and I routinely see emails there that need more attention than just a quick response from the phone. The problem is that those emails often get buried by the time I get back to my computer and then, they get are missed… which is a huge problem.

Enter Mailbox App. With mailbox, when I see an email on my phone, I can swipe to the left and bring up a prompt to (essentially) hide it till later today, this evening, tomorrow, next week, etc.

[one_half][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5396″ caption=”slide left…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half] [one_half_last][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5395″ caption=”slide right…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half_last] A swipe a bit further to the left and I can easily move the email to a designated folder (CCPN, Cross Connect, etc.).

A partial swipe to the right immediately archives the message and a full swipe to the right deletes it. Don’t understand? Watch the video…

Expensify

expensifyExpensify has made my (and our Cross Connection Staff’s) life so much easier! Expensify has a very clear and simple statement about what they do… “Expense reports that don’t suck | Simple, hassle-free expense reporting.”

In the past (until about 6 months ago that is) all of those on our staff that have credit cards would receive their monthly statement with something like a spreadsheet attached on which they would identify what each expense was and which ministry/account it was attached to. In addition they would attach their receipts to it and return it to our Quickbooks master in a timely manner. Problem was, it never actually happened that way… in a timely manner.

Lets face it, I lose receipts, and I’m terrible at getting things done that I just hate doing. But Expensify has completely transformed that. Now, when myself or one of our staff members make a purchase with their church card, they take a picture of the receipt with the Expensify App on their iPhone, record the info of who the payee was, how much it cost and which accounting category it falls under. Then at the end of the month, what use to take me a couple of hours has been reduced to minutes. I just check the statement with the data on Expensify’s website and if everything checks out I hit send and it emails a PDF expense report to our Quickbookie. AWESOME!

img_Expensify_laptopphoneExpensify is mostly free for the first 2 people on a team and then $6 for each additional individual. Well worth the cost, at least for us.

The Table

tableMany churches use church management software (CMS) like Active Network’s Fellowship One, ACS Technologies or Church Community Builder; some prefer a church social network like The City (which is now owned by ACS). All of these are great services. Each of them have their own pros and cons, and all of them come at a cost. If your church is not using anything for administratively managing the work, you should at least look into it. We (at Cross Connection) have looked at several and are in the process of implementing Fellowship One. The only problem was that we wanted something that would also decentralize certain aspects of administration, community and church life. Facebook is a definite option, and many churches use it effectively, but for us Facebook has too much noise. The City offers some great features, but (1) doesn’t integrate with our CMS and (2) it would be an additional cost on top of our management solution with F1. Which is why, about a year ago, we implemented The Table at our church.

The Table is a church focused/oriented social networking platform. It’s free, easy to setup and use, and has proven super useful for us. Also, The Table integrates with Fellowship One and shares user data across the platforms. So, when Joe Average updates his contact info on The Table, it is updated in our church management records.

1Password

1passwordIt’s another 21st century, first-world problem. We have accounts for Amazon, Google, iCloud, Blue Letter Bible, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, The Table… and that’s just the apps and services mentioned in this post. At present I have 198 accounts with individual logins and passwords (I know, that’s insane). Enter 1Password.

Like Apple’s original Keychain (which I could never get to work properly) and now iCloud Keychain (which works pretty well), 1Password offers saving and syncing (using Dropbox) of your login and password information for your many accounts. Then, with a simple hotkey (Command+) it prompts you for your single 1Password password (only once while logged in) and then inputs the unique username and password for whatever site you are on.

iCloud Keychain is accomplishing the same basic functionality… I’ve just become accustomed to using 1Password over the years, so for now I’m still using it.

What apps or services are you using that are a help?
Share them in the comments below.


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logo-sanebox-2013-blue-fac53d24ba90186c66c7db3c260609f1**After a few days using SaneBox I can say for certain that it’s worth a look! Although there’s a monthly cost for the service, it does a great job of reducing the clutter in my inbox. Check out the 14 day free trial, you may find that you like it.

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Can we tolerate intolerance?

At this moment, just days from Christmas, a whole lot of noise has been stirred up in American pop-culture, resulting from the “Duck Commander’s” words that are to be printed in the January issue of GQ Magazine. The Twitter-sphere, blogosphere and mainline newsosphere are all a buzz, which of course means I have something to say too 😉

Two blog articles have stuck out to me in the last 24 hours. One, a post from Brandon Ambrosino at Time.com and the other from Andrew Sullivan on his own site, dish.andrewsullivan.com. Interestingly, both men are openly gay. Thus, their views are particularly interesting.

Both writers essentially agree that Phil Robertson’s firing is unfounded. Sullivan rightly observes that A&E has fired the reality star for doing the very thing that has made the network a boatload of money, speaking his stereotypically southern, redneck mind. Ambrosino closes with a great question, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” Amidst all the chatter I find myself continually landing upon the same reoccurring thought: can we tolerate intolerance?

The collective voices of progressive pop-culture tell us “fundamentalist Christians” that we must be more tolerant of the LGBT community and lifestyle. By tolerance I can only deduce that they mean accepting and in many cases celebrate too. At this moment—barring changes that will likely come in the future—the definition of tolerant (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my MacBook Air) is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

As far as I can tell, myself and most of the Christian pastors and church goers that I know, have been (according to the above definition) doing their best to be tolerant of the Homosexual lifestyle, whether they want to be or not. We’ve tried to show a willingness to allow the existence of opinions and behavior that we—and we believe the Scriptures—do not agree with. However, it does not seem that groups like GLAAD and others within the LGBT community are willing to offer the same tolerance to fundamentalist Christians like Phil Robertson.

My answer to the question is “no.” I cannot tolerate the LGBT and progressive pop-culture’s intolerance of our opinions that they do not agree with. I wish that they were a little more tolerant, and something tells me that Sullivan and Ambrosino would probably agree.

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Santa Claus and Chrisitans

How should Christians handle Santa Claus?  Answering this question could start a fight…which I have no intention of doing.  I’m certain that your personal background shapes how you answer this question.

Personally, I really enjoy Christmas.  There are a lot of things I like about Christmas that really have little to do with Christmas Day.  I love Christmas Carols.  I’m not too embarrassed to admit that I look forward to rocking out to Elvis’ Blue Christmas for most of the year.  I love seeing colorful Christmas lights everywhere—the more the merrier!  I love decorating the Christmas tree.  I love seeing the lights on the tree.  Who doesn’t love seeing gifts under the tree?  I love my family’s tradition of Christmas Eve dinner, the opening of one Christmas gift, going to our church’s Christmas Eve Service, and ending the night by watching Elf (yes, you read that right).  I love the laughter and joy this season brings.

I share the previous paragraph with you so you know that I really do like this holiday.  I’m not opposed to having fun through imagination.  I’m not bunkered down teaching my kids that “Santa is just Satan spelled differently.”  However, I am very careful with how we’ve handled the issue of Santa Clause with our children and with my teaching at the church.

I love the imagination and creativity that God has given us.  I’m not looking for a history lesson on the origin of Santa Claus—I’ve already checked out his Wikipedia entry.  I’m fine with telling stories and having fun with creativity.  However, I don’t understand when parents push the line from fantasy or imagination to reality and outright deceit to their children.  I know, I know, that sounds really harsh.  I need to lighten up, right?

Have fun with your imagination.  I’m all for imagination.  I’m not suggesting that Santa can’t be a part of the Christian’s holiday plans.  God gave us creativity and imagination.  Use it, have fun with it.  Children have a special connection to the make believe that I wish I were better at reconnecting with as an adult.  I love that my kids help me tap into my inner child—my wife may not be as thrilled with this as I am.  Just leave Santa here.

Protect your children’s trust.  I have never lied to my kids about Santa.  They have always known that he is make believe, just like the tooth fairy, and any other make believe people.  I will not intentionally deceive my children for a number of reasons, but I want them to know that they can trust me no matter what.  There is nothing greater than anyone’s trust, especially your children’s.  Why would we jeopardize this trust by pitching something as truth when we ourselves know it’s just in fun?

Why this matters to me?  I’m a Christian.  I have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe through Jesus Christ my Lord.  I didn’t come to know Christ until I was an adult and when I did, I came to understand the overwhelming historical evidence concerning His prophetic coming, His life, death, and resurrection.   In hindsight, I see that during my youth, I’d begun to lump Jesus with Santa Claus, the Boogey Man, and Tooth Fairy.  Jesus has nothing to do with fairy tales and I want no part in deceiving my children or confusing them about who Jesus is.  This is ultimately why I take the matter of Santa so seriously in my home.  We can get our pictures taken with Santa, threaten coal for gifts if they’re naughty, but let your kids know that it is all make believe.

For the skeptics out there, I encourage you to really investigate the gospel.  My prayer is that this would be the greatest Christmas of your life.  Jesus came and died for you so that you might find life in Him.  This grace of God is indescribable and is truly the greatest gift one can receive.  Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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The Christian and Halloween

This post certainly isn’t a slam on Christians who do the Halloween thing—I’m all for you dressing up, eating candy and having fun!  Personally, I’m just not really into holidays.  They sort of come and go around here—with exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I hold more of the “to each their own” when it comes to celebrating holidays.

Halloween was nothing more than dressing up for some candy when I was growing up.  Not much has changed since then—other than the fact that I am a Christian now.  I’ve heard a lot of people claim that the celebration of Halloween has become far darker than it was 10+ years ago.  I’m not sure if that is true, or if I’m simply running with Christians these days that are more sensitive than my old SEAL buddies.  Maybe a little of both?

I’m preaching on Romans 14:1-12 this Sunday.  This passage deals with how Christians should relate with one another concerning issues of opinion and conviction that the Bible doesn’t explicating touch on.  I find that Halloween is one of these issues of opinion and conviction.  I can’t tell you the origin of Halloween, nor I am interested in you telling me either.  It is what you make of it.

That being said, I’ll never forget a Halloween when I was in Bible College.  I had class that day and the church where the seminary is located was having a Harvest Festival—you know the Christian alternative to Halloween.  I wasn’t upset that I was missing the holiday for class, but I was pretty annoyed that all the parking was taken up walking to class.  When I arrived in the classroom, I was met with an uncomfortable situation.  There was a middle-aged lady in the room weeping.  Man, I wanted to leave the room as quick as I could, but she saw me—I was stuck.

I asked what was wrong to discover she was heartbroken that the church was doing a Harvest Festival for Halloween.  Inside I thought she was making a big deal over nothing and should just grow up.  Of course I didn’t say that, but I was thinking it.  As the conversation unfolded, it turns out that this lady was raised a Pagan (literally) and Halloween was a day where they did a bunch of evil stuff.  I was shocked to hear her tell her story.  I learned the holiday was far more than pillaging candy to her as it surfaced very dark memories and the present reality for many in her family.  This conversation changed my feelings on Halloween dramatically.

Fast-forward about 11 years to today.  I still don’t make a big deal about this day.  I’m not vocal about it…just sort of slips by without commentary on my part.  I have an almost 8-year-old daughter who just hates this holiday.  Where does it come from?  I don’t know other than I believe she has a deeply sensitive conscience to spiritual things.  Yesterday she came home from an event where the teacher said the kids could wear their costumes to class next week—which falls on Halloween.

I was sitting in my office when she approached me in anguish.  She explained that she had a real problem and wasn’t sure how to handle it.  The issue was that she didn’t want to get dressed up, she didn’t want to lie about why she won’t dress up, and she doesn’t want to condemn her friends.  What should she do?  I must pause to say that as a dad I am so proud of this little girl and her genuine walk with God.  Seriously, these moments are super special for me to help her navigate life in this world.  Nothing greater than being pastor-dad!

After she explained the problem, I shared with her the passage I was studying—Romans 14:1-12.  I found it very relevant to the problem at hand as it gives some insight to how we as Christians should handle things like Halloween.  Here are some points that I told her and I believe these apply to all Christians, regardless of your stance on Halloween.

Pray.  First and foremost, I explained that she should pray and ask God for wisdom on how to handle this.

Heed your conscience.  One’s conscience is a super special gift that God has given us.  It’s not always right, but we shouldn’t make a habit of violating it because we can damage it.  We laid out a bunch of options from going dressed up, not dressed up, not going at all, or making other plans.  My main concern is that I want my daughter to recognize her conscience and to develop a plan on how to listen to it.

You answer ultimately to God.  We so desperately want to fit in and be accepted by friends, but ultimately we must recognize that we cannot make others happy.  So the best option is live your life in a way that you think pleases God the most.  As this relates to Halloween, I can see a case for both sides.  Whatever you do, it should be for God’s glory.

Be sensitive to others.  You want to get dressed up?  No problem, just be sensitive to others.  This holiday may not be to them what it is to you.  You want nothing to do with this holiday?  Fine, don’t get dressed up, but be careful not to condemn others as it probably isn’t to them what it is to you.

There is some debate whether or not Augustine actually said these words, but I think they are an appropriate way to end this post, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

Why I’m optimistic for the future of Calvary Chapel

Calvary Chapel, a ministry and movement I’ve had the privilege of both growing up in and serving with for more than 20 years, is now facing the most significant transitional changes that it has in all the time I’ve been associated with it. With the passing of Pastor Chuck Smith a week ago, the changes will [now] be far more apparent, but they have actually been going on for the better part of the last two years.

Just over a year ago, the internal leadership structure of the Calvary Chapel changed with the creation of the Calvary Chapel Association, and as of yesterday, Pastor Brian Brodersen was chosen to be Pastor Chuck’s successor as the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. While it remains to be seen what this change at Costa Mesa will mean for the larger Association, I find myself very optimistic about the future of Calvary Chapel. Why?

First, Pastor Brian is (in my humble opinion) the right man, at the right time. He has faithfully served as an associate/assistant to Pastor Chuck for the last thirteen years. In addition to his faithfulness to Pastor Chuck and CCCM, Brian has a genuine passion for foreign missions and a clear commitment to the younger generation of leaders coming up in CC. In my experience—primarily at conferences domestically and abroad, and on occasion at Costa Mesa—Brian has proven to be one of the most approachable senior leaders I’ve encountered in Calvary. He takes the time to be available to those seeking counsel and prayer, and has thus proven himself a pastor, not only to the members of CCCM, but [also] to the missionaries and pastors of the greater Calvary Movement.

The second reason that I am optimistic grows out of an observation I had from outside of Calvary this week.

This week Exponential held its first West Coast Conference in Orange County. I had the privilege of meeting with some of the Exponential and Leadership Network leaders to discuss church planting and the Calvary Church Planting Network prior to the conference; and then I’ve tuned in (online) to several of the sessions throughout the week.

The theme for Exponential West has been DiscipleShift, and while the sessions from pastors such as Miles McPherson, Larry Osborne, Rick Warren, Robert Coleman, and many others have, been substantive, I have found it interesting that much of what is being presented as the new discipleship paradigm in American Christianity, has been standard Calvary Chapel practice for 40+ years. No, it has never been branded, packaged and promoted by Calvary, but for more than 40 years, it has been our practice. Thus, Calvary Chapel is, in a number of ways, still ahead of the curve and continuing to reshape American Protestantism. And, if Calvary can maintain the consistency of simply teaching the Word of God simply, loving God, loving others and making disciples, it will do so for many years to come.

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Misericordia Por Favor

Those illegal aliens are driving me…

How did you answer that question?  I have a rant that’s been brewing in me for a while.  I really don’t know where I’m going with this blog, but I have some things that I feel need to be said from a biblical perspective.  I also think this post may get me into some hot water, but that’s okay.  I am a patriot of this country, but my allegiance is to Christ first and foremost.

I feel that racism is growing in my part of the United States towards Hispanics.  From my perspective it seems that the majority of Hispanics are viewed as being illegal regardless of their actual status in the United States.  I’m not sure that the things I hear and the attitudes felt towards Hispanics is glorifying to Christ.

I understand that this is a complex situation.  Don’t let your mind run wild.  I am not speaking of those trying to enter our country to do us harm.  Citizen or not, we must defend and protect the innocent from evildoers.  Period.  The irony is the terrorists who have done us harm in recent years have all been here legally, but I digress.

Yes, I agree that laws should be obeyed and honored.  We see this throughout the Bible.  We have a difficult political and financial situation on our hands.  I have no intention on trying to resolve these problems in this blog.  I resist bringing up the history of how we obtained California or how we treated the Native Americans securing our land.  I don’t have the answers, but I do believe there are two issues here: 1) How should this situation be handled politically with laws?  2) How we as individuals should treat other human beings.  This, in large part, is the part that has been bugging me.

How should a Christian respond to this difficult situation?  I like what our Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  I believe this statement applies to all humans regardless of their citizenship.  Quite frankly, the illegal immigrants that I have met are extremely hard working and are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.  I don’t blame them and I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes.  It pains me to hear Christians speaking poorly towards these people just trying to survive.

One passage that has planted itself in my heart is Leviticus 19:33-34, “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong.  The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD you God.”  Interesting passage as it relates to this subject.

One complaint I hear often relates to immigrants and the medical system.  First, I would encourage you to go to a community health clinic.  View the conditions and care they are receiving.  Hardly world class treatment and certainly not better than any American citizen would receive.  I like traveling.  I like experiencing other cultures.  I’ve never been really hurt in another country, but I certainly hope that I would receive the care I needed because I am a human and not based on my citizenship.  I hope that we as a people would care for other people in need to the best of our ability, yet sadly, in our nation people seem to care more about animals than people.

My prayer is that we who follow Christ would be a merciful people.  For it was Jesus who said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Matt. 5:7) and “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).  I don’t know about you, but I’ve received a ton of mercy from God.  May we come to see people as God sees them (2 Cor. 5:16-21).

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Serving in Light of the Trinity

Why should Christians serve in the church? Some will say it is because we are supposed to. Others will say that is how we show gratitude. Without denying these answers, I think there is a fuller answer and this is grounded in the very nature of the God we serve. We serve because of the Trinity.

Have you experienced the frustration of volunteerism in the church? They go on holiday and do not honour their commitment, or they are not punctual whether because they didn’t set/hear their alarm or simply didn’t think it was more important than what they were doing at the present moment. I’m not writing as a grumpy ungrateful pastor, though if I’m honest, my heart’s default is exactly that. How can service in the light of the Trinity inform our service?

The triune God works.

In Genesis 2:2 we read that God finished his work of creation. Creation was a triune work. In the beginning God created. As the old hymn says, “This is my Father’s world.” God the Father created (Gen 1:1; Rev 4:11). God the Son created, for without him nothing was made that was made (John 1:1-3; Col 1:15-17). God the Spirit created (Gen 1:3; Psa 104:30). Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17 ESV).

The God in whose image we are created is at work. He is faithful in his work. In the person of the Son, we see that the work was even excruciating.[1] Jesus’ work of service was not based upon whether or not it was easy or fun.  Jesus’ excruciating work was to the Father’s glory.

The triune God works with joy.

God is the joy giver. He is the joy giver because he is the possessor of all joy. Fred Saunders calls God in Himself being “within the happy land of the Trinity”. There is an ecstatic[2] working of God. We see this “fleshed out” in the Son during the horrendous beauty of the crucifixion. The author of Hebrews tells us that joy motivated the crucifixion (Heb 12:2). True, Jesus despised the shame of the cross, but that didn’t diminish the joy in the work of redemption.

The God we serve works joyfully and ecstatically. If we are to reflect God as those made in his image, our attitude in service should reflect the One who served us. This is also where I preach to myself, for when others fail in their service, I can easily become frustrated, and although my service may be diligent, at that point it is not joyful, and thus not Trinitarian.

The triune God works diversely and inter-dependently.

The Trinity is one God in three distinct persons. They are not symmetrical. In other words, the Father is not the Son. The way the Father and Son relate to each other in their roles is distinct. The Son never becomes the Father. It was Jesus, the Son who incarnated and was crucified, not the Father or the Spirit, although God (the Father) was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). Their work was distinct, but the work was not independent.

In our service of the triune God, we need to understand that we do not serve alone. We serve with the people of God. We serve the same high goal. However we serve that goal diversely. As a body’s purpose is to obey the head, the heart and the hands work out that obedience in a different fashion. They are gifted to do different things. We work unto the one God with various gifts, services, and activities (see 1 Cor 12:4-7, notice the triune emphasis). However, we do our part in harmony. In other words, God has written a symphony, and every instrument plays it’s part according to the Conductor’s movements and the Composer’s manuscript. The second violin gets to play it’s part for the glory of the music, just as the first violin does. By the way symphony means a togetherness of sound.[3] In joyful, diligent, diversity there is beauty in our service when conducted unto the common goal.

The triune God works selflessly

Within the Trinity there is no fighting or debating about who does what. There is a perfect harmony of self-giving. This can be seen in the incarnation of the Son. Philippians 2:1-11, clearly shows the humility of the Son and the Father’s exaltation of the Son.

Our service should not be for self-promotion. Whether that promotion is to advance to another ‘level’ of service, or the promotion is to promote the way others view us. If the Triune God, who is worthy of all glory and honour exhibits outpouring service. How much more should we the creature serve for his honour and not our own? This means we can be content with where we serve instead of longing for another’s position or opportunity. We can serve God fully with the opportunities that the Triune God has placed before us.

There is a lot we can learn from the Three in One, regarding how we serve God through the Church. It may go a long way to encourage our people in light of the Trinity. Oh yeah, and one more thing. If we are actually becoming like God instead of simply working for God, then we are discovering something about the partnership of the Spirit (2 Cor 13:14), and that is, in part, experiencing the glorious Gospel.


[1] Latin excruciatus, past participle of excruciare, from ex- + cruciare to crucify, from cruc, crux cross, or literally “out of the cross”

[2] ek-stasis meaning to go out of yourself. Each Person in the Trinity is giving unto the others.

[3] From the Greek symphonia = syn- “together” + phone “voice, sound”

 

is-calvinism-biblical

A Few Thoughts on Calvinism

Dear reader: the following article was impressive to me, so I decided to pass it on to you. I hope your love for and trust in the Lord increases as you read; that’s the effect it’s had on me. ~ Bill Holdridge

A Few Thoughts on Calvinism

By Pastor Doug Hileman

First Christian Church of Marysville, CA

In the churches I have attended through the years, Calvinism has been viewed with suspicion and even scorned (“Once saved, always saved.”)  Consequently I have never been exposed to more than a brief mention of the subjects of election and predestination in sermons or Bible studies conducted in a non-Calvinistic setting.  As these two doctrines are major recurring themes in the New Testament, I view their virtual dismissal by those of my persuasion as misguided censorship.  I suppose this should come as no surprise—once you have developed a loyalty to a doctrinal point of view you tend to lose a measure of objectivity—viewing any “opposing” texts or concepts through the filter of your own settled convictions.  This tendency cuts both ways, of course. Calvinists exhibit their own reluctance toward thoughtfully considering the other point of view; I think it is fair to say that within their ranks their own conclusions are rarely examined with fresh eyes.

My intention in writing these thoughts out is mostly to help me sort through my own frustration with the knee-jerk responses associated with this area of study.  Obviously, I do not write from a neutral position— I strongly disagree with Calvinistic teaching.  However, I have had good fellowship with a number of Calvinists, and have accepted that we will probably have to agree to disagree.  And so in my musings here, I really only intend to pursue a single question—why would an interpretation of scripture that seems to me to be so unreasonable have such a strong appeal to people who seem to be at least as reasonable as I am?

To begin, I consider the probability that there are motivations on both sides of the issue in addition to simple love of the truth.  From an insider’s point of view, it’s fairly easy to understand the lack of enthusiasm for Calvinism which is held by most non-Calvinists, as well as virtually all non-believers. Calvin’s view of predestination is a maddening thing to consider:  A view that says that in spite of the soul’s desire to be at peace with God, and to enter into a relationship with Him; no matter how willing one might be to fulfill whatever conditions are required of them to draw near to God and believe the gospel and thereby receive mercy; unless they are the object of a divine election that has no reference whatever to anything they might say, do, or believe, they are lost— without remedy, hopelessly and eternally.  Such teaching is acknowledged by Calvinists to be—“hard”.  James Black, a Calvinistic pastor from a previous generation authored a book that is a classic on the subject of preaching.  But along with some wonderful insights regarding the art of creating and delivering sermons, the book also provides some valuable insight into the mental workings of a faithful Calvinist.  I will have occasion to quote from Rev. Black a couple of times in these notes, first of all regarding the hardness of Calvinistic doctrine. 

“Our Scottish Calvinism may have been a hard, unbending, even logically cruel thing: but what gave the Calvinistic church its unfailing dignity and power was its prostrating sense of awe—wonder at the decrees and sovereignty of God and wonder at His unmerited mercy.”  (The Mystery of Preaching, pg. 130)

Again, I can easily understand why the average non-Calvinist shrinks back in apprehension from Calvin’s view of predestination, but I remain mystified by the behavior on the other side of the aisle:  what is it that compels Calvinists to embrace such a “logically cruel” notion, and reject out of hand the idea of full access to a salvation offered freely to all men?  Aside from their obvious answer—“That’s what the Bible teaches” (an answer I would contest)—I am inclined to look further than that.

Certainly there is an appeal to being one of the chosen ones, the “in” crowd so to speak.   But that does not seem to be the motivation behind the attraction, for Calvinists seem to be as humble regarding their own lackings as they are suitably awed by the glory of God. No, I feel the issue is more fundamental than that.   Lately, as strange as it might sound, I have begun to wonder if the awe-stricken worship referred to so often by Calvinists might be where the “hard and unbending” nature of this system has its roots.  I have heard and read professions of fear and awe from Calvinists many times before.  It is striking how much more frequently that type of sentiment is expressed in Calvinistic writings when compared with the works of others.  I had always assumed such statements were the spontaneous, personal expression of their reverence for God, and thought I would do well to learn from their example.  But through the years as I have read more of their material, I have begun to wonder if this is an acquired sensitivity, perceived to be obligatory;  not an affectation, but something along the lines of a theological tradition or culture, passed down from one generation to the next.  This mindset of fear and awe is not improper, of course—far from it.  But along with the teaching in Scripture to relate to God in that particular way, there are other biblical examples of individuals who had a degree of relaxed familiarity with God; not from presumption or disrespect, but of an “Abba Father” nature.  The “Calvinistic Awe” that James Black refers to smacks more of Sinai than of Zion.  The Israelites— including Moses himself— were certainly shaken by fear and awe of God at Sinai.  But that is not the pattern which we have been given to follow in this present age.  (Hebrews 12:18-24)  The view of God at the foot of Sinai contrasts dramatically with the perspective gained on the slopes of Zion.   And needless to say, so do the covenants they represent.

Consider the concept of God for a moment—what is God like?  Christian thinking in the first several centuries after the Apostolic Age leans very heavily on Greek philosophy, especially in regards to the nature of God in His perfection.  The view of God held by virtually all Christian leaders at that time mirrored the Platonic one.  As a perfect being, God was untouched by emotion, passion, or change.  Based on this assumption, one view of Christ developed as having a “compartmentalized” dual nature, because His divine nature would by definition be incapable of suffering.  With this non-Biblical model of divine nature at the headwaters, the understanding of everything downstream became subject to a nagging, polluting influence, which causes confusion to this day.

So what if, in a parallel fashion, Calvin embraced a narrow view of God; while ostensibly based on the Scriptures, it is a view that is inconsistent with the full revelation of God as recorded in the narrative of Scripture. For the picture he draws of God in the exercise of sovereign election seems to be one of unfeeling intellect—His is a merciful intelligence to be sure—but of a cold and detached sort.  For in Calvin’s estimation, all that really matters is God’s sovereignty expressed through His decrees.   The eternal bliss or misery of humanity are not really considered for their own sake, and are viewed only as a means to an end—to glorify God.  Now, when examined as individual components, each of the aforementioned concepts would be considered orthodox to most Christians. There is nothing of higher value than the glory of God, His sovereign will is the ultimate good, both heaven and hell will be used to demonstrate His glory, etc. But something is missing in the overall picture when we view these particular teachings in isolation from the narrative of scripture: the revelation that the Bible gives us of the personality of God. Calvin attempts to give something of the machinery but nothing of the heart; and Calvinism has a very mechanistic feel to it. Could it be that, having embraced a one-dimensional view of God as the whole, (in terms of election and predestination, at least) Calvin’s theology in all its “hard, unbending, cruel logic” is the inevitable outgrowth what seems to me to be theological tunnel vision?

There is much to be said regarding what might be termed “the reasonableness of God” in the Bible.  That emphasis seems to be entirely absent from the Calvinistic perspective.   God demonstrates this side of His nature rather frequently in His dealings with men, and appears to respond to their perceptions of justice, explaining Himself and even reasoning with them on occasion.  Some examples:

  • Cain, and his appeal that his punishment was too hard to bear. (Gen. 4:13-15)
  • Abraham, and his attempt to bargain for the lives of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. (Gen.18:20-33)
  • Moses, interceding for Israel when God wanted to destroy them and start over.  (Ex. 32:9-13) (This case is especially notable, as God exclaims to Moses at one point in the conversation, “Leave Me alone!”)
  • Jonah, pouting about God not destroying Nineveh, and God gently reasoning with him so he would see His perspective on the matter.  (Jonah 4:9-11)
  • And in the New Testament—The Gentile woman who came to Jesus and asked for deliverance for her demon possessed child.  Initially Jesus refused, but she won Him over with her reasoning.  (Matt. 15:22-28)
  • Throughout scripture, God is revealed as possessing a willingness to talk things over and reason things out.  He makes a distinct offer through Isaiah along these lines. (Is. 1:18)

My point is this: much of the “hardness” in Calvinism seems to emanate from the unswerving reliance on the teaching in Romans 9 alone to absolutely define the nature of predestination and election, without reference to other passages of scripture.  This is where Paul is defending God’s right to make one person a vessel of mercy and another a vessel of destruction—any way He sees fit, no questions asked.  (Or no reasoning allowed, if you will.) And so the conclusion is drawn that everyone’s eternal destiny is determined on that basis alone.  Now pause for a moment and consider that there are several examples of biblical teaching that initially appear to be contradictory to other scriptures.  When two such views seem to be at odds with each other, we generally look for the balance between them.  As an example, the doctrine of the Trinity when viewed alongside the submission of the Son to the Father.  Or the view of justification by faith in Romans in conjunction with the same doctrine in James.  I submit that Romans 9 taken alone will give an imbalanced view of the workings of predestination and election.  Let me quote once again from James Black as he instructs his students on the function of isolation in preaching:

“In this connection may I add—do not be afraid of exaggeration.  Isolation of any kind is exaggeration: and when you isolate a text or subject from the whole coherent body of truth, you exaggerate it in the very process.  State your main truth, in the distinct and even limited aspect you have chosen, and trust to the correcting influence of your whole ministry.  There is nothing so futile as aiming at a foolish completeness.”   (The Mystery of Preaching, pg. 51)

In a nutshell, he says that examining one aspect of a doctrine in isolation may give a false impression of sorts (imbalance or over-emphasis), but you can and should supply the balance over the course of your ministry.  He says it is often quite impossible to give the whole picture within the framework of one solitary sermon.  This wonderful advice for preaching the Bible seems to be overlooked by Calvinists when it comes to interpreting it.  Rather than look for a balance between the teaching in Romans 9 and other portions of scripture that strongly indicate man’s free will and a universal opportunity to come to Christ, it seems to me that Calvinists firmly shut the door of further inquiry with these familiar words—“ But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? ” (Rom. 9:20) In doing so, they believe they contend for the faith, and take a firm stand in defense of God’s sovereignty and glory.  But I contend that Calvin taught a view of God that is not wholly biblical.  As a result he unwittingly ended up with a duality of his own—the God of love revealed to us in the Person of Christ, and the God of ancient mysterious “wisdom”, that predestined some to glory, and the rest to damnation.  This second side of God is not talked about openly, especially to non-believers.  It is a thought too terrible to consider at length. Martin Luther alluded to it, but did not like to ponder it himself. The Calvinists will never state the doctrine of election in all its stark reality to a congregation.  They will focus on hope.  On the “lighter side” of God, if you will.  But in the background, under the surface, in the darker corridors of theological imagination lurks this image of an inscrutable and severe Intelligence in eternity past who determined to cast millions and millions of humans into hell—why?— because it made sense to Him.

Calvinism has an overarching design to it—to “protect” the doctrine of God’s glory and sovereignty.  The urgency and zeal which Calvinists exhibit for this mission remind me of the man named Uzzah who lived in David’s day.  (II Sam. 6:1-19) The Ark of the Covenant was being transported on an oxcart on one occasion, when the cart hit a pothole and the Ark began to tip.  With the best of intentions, Uzzah reached up to steady it, and was struck dead instantly.  David “was afraid of God” that day, and immediately put a safe distance between himself and the Ark.  He later discovered through a study of the scriptures the reason for this God’s behavior—the Ark was being transported contrary to the pattern given by Moses, who taught that it was never to be touched by any man who was not a Levite.  Using the oxcart to transport the ark seemed logical enough, but it was a mimicry of the unbiblical method adopted by the Philistines when they returned the Ark to Israel just prior to this incident.

David’s fear on this occasion was based on what David perceived as unpredictable behavior on God’s part.  It is also significant that David was, “…angry because of the Lord’s outbreak against Uzzah.”   I don’t think it is stretching things to say that at that moment David thought God was unreasonable, and anger is a very logical reaction to unreasonableness. However, once David understood and practiced the teaching of scripture (I Chron. 15:1-15), God wasn’t so scary after all.  He understood God’s actions and intentions and felt safe enough to draw near again.  David began to worship with tremendous joy, and God’s presence at last came to rest in Zion.  One of the many lessons contained in this account is this: every time the church relies on the wisdom of the world to interact with God, it causes problems—in particular, problems with man’s perception of God. It seems to me that most of the difficulties Calvinists have with their interpretation of predestination and election have more to do with logic than with scripture.  They pose questions like, “If God doesn’t control all this absolutely, how can He really be considered sovereign?”  Or, “How could Christ die for someone and that person still end up lost? Wouldn’t that mean His death was in vain? Wouldn’t that mean that the purposes of God are subject to the will of man?”  Nevertheless, the Scripture seems pretty clear on these two points;  that God has given man a free will, and Christ died for the sins of the whole world. Logic notwithstanding.

Having shackled themselves with presuppositions that have no mandate in Scripture, Calvinists have embraced a system of theology that is neat, tidy, marvelously logical, and paradoxically, quite unreasonable.  They have fallen prey to the same temptation as the early Church Fathers—leading with logic rather than scripture.  As a consequence, they have ended up with a similar dilemma.  I must conclude that when Calvinism is embraced there is an unavoidable tendency to compartmentalize God.  He is eternally loving toward us, and eternally not towards the non-elect.  The contemplation of God’s love for the elect is cherished and gratefully viewed from every conceivable angle by Calvinists, as it should be.  His supposed lack of love for the non-elect, however, is stated flatly, and then for all intents and purposes, promptly ignored. This is understandable, because if Calvinistic theology is pursued relentlessly to its logical conclusion, the serious hindrances posed are inescapable (despite the denials of its adherents).  Calvinism produces a sense of hopelessness in potential converts; while seeking to defend the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, it holds forth a twisted, monstrous view of His heart toward mankind.  Christian workers are affected as well, for the good news of the gospel has been replaced with a formula that is fatalistic, logically reducing the efforts of the church for the evangelization of the world to little more than posturing.  All that work is to be done, it seems, to glorify God through obedience, but not really for any actual effect on the eternal destiny of others.  Here is the bottom line: if any effort of individual believers or the church can be said to the slightest degree to have any bearing whatever on the outcome in an individual’s response to God, then the whole system of thought erected to protect the sovereignty of God comes crashing down.  It seems to me therefore that to be a Calvinist one is forced to live in a “pretend” world.  You must pretend that your efforts actually make a difference, and you must pretend (at least in front of others) that everybody has a chance to be saved.  The whole system is so unnecessary, and so unnecessarily complicated, that I wonder why it has gained as much acceptance as it has. No doubt the attraction is “the security of the believer.” But that is a topic for another time.

spiritual

Personal Spirituality

In the day in which we live, “religious” has been replaced with the term “spiritual,” which is both ambiguous as well as hard to define. That said, it is clear that religion and spirituality play a roll in the lives of every human being, as we were created to worship. Therefore, as individuals imaging the divine, we all have what might be termed “personal spirituality;” and in the protestant evangelical Christian tradition, personal spirituality is relational and not merely religious. Thus it is common to hear evangelical Christians say, “I don’t have religion, I have a relationship.” But if “spiritual” needs definition, then the concept of a relationship over religion certainly needs clarification.

As a pastor, I have regularly been confronted with the dreadful reality that it is far to easy to default to a pattern of life and ministry that is overly religious. By religious, I mean that daily life and ministry can have an appearance of spirituality and devotion, but be terribly devoid of genuine godliness and sincere worship. In other words, ministry, for the minister, can become inordinately professional. The task of sermon preparation and the sacerdotal functions in the ministry are inherently spiritual; or at least appear to be. Consequently, the minister and those ministered to by him, might wrongly assume that the one doing such things is inherently spiritual too. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Christian in general, and those called to Christian leadership specifically, must never allow the daily disciplines of Christianity (i.e. prayer, Bible reading, memory, etc.) and the functions of Christian ministry to become heartlessly mechanical. As an instrument of worship, the disciple of Christ must aim to worship through these activities and not simply do them by rote. Therefore, enjoying the relationship of Christianity demands Spirit directed devotion and worship; not just a codified ethic.

knight

Gospel Conflict

Conflict and the Gospel go together. You might think this is an odd pairing, but it’s an inescapable truth.  I recently read an article by Winston Smith entitiled, “Getting the Big Picture of Relationships.”* This gospel conflict was highlighted by this article. Pastorally, I found this concept extremely helpful.

Conflict began in Genesis 3 when humanity sins against the Creator. There is a promise of an ultimate conflict in Genesis 3:15, where Jesus would go to battle against the devil and though he would be bruised, the devil would be defeated. Winston points out that conflict exists because of sin, which we all know. He also points out that the gospel enters into conflict for reconciliation. Sin makes conflict unavoidable. We cannot get away from it being in a broken world. Conflict exists between us and God, between one another, and within each one of us.

It is important then to view God’s activity in conflict. Jesus came and endured hostility from sinners (Hebrews 12:3), but also with the Father (Isaiah 53:10), in order to bring about our redemption. As Jesus is the ultimate display of love, we see that love will enter into conflict. Some love conflict, and so they look for opportunity to enter conflict wrongly. Some love the absence of conflict and avoid it at all costs. The gospel calls us to love God and thus be willing to fight against sin for God’s glory, and to love our neighbour, bringing us into godly conflict against sin with others for their good (Matthew 22:36-40).

Such conflict as Winston puts it “is a God ordained opportunity to participate in the triumph of God over sin. Biblically speaking, peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of sin. Until sin is completely destroyed, there will be conflict, not as a curse on man, but as a curse on Satan. It is a promise of redemption and a sign of God’s grace that Adam and his descendants are to be instrumental in the destruction of evil.”

Here in the U.K., the culture is an anti-conflict culture, which means anything goes. But conflict motivated by love and a desire for God’s glory and people’s joy is redemptively waging war on sin.

So let us love our Lord, and love our congregations.

*The Journal of Biblical Counseling: Volume 22, Number 3, Spring 2004 (Glenside, PA: The Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, 2004).