Monday, October 31, 2011

Ember Monday

We had our Trunk or Treat yesterday, and it was a lot of fun. Lots of folks from the neighborhood came out, and we gave away a ton of candy. I have to say, my costume was pretty amazing. Yes, Ember, that's your pastor, wearing a giant whoopie cushion. Be proud, friends. Be very proud.

So many people did such great work to pull this event off, and Tim Evans is at the top of that list. What he and Jenny did to their car was amazing: Strobe lights, smoke machine, and a tunnel of darkness. It was incredible!

We had our usual service immediately after the Trunk or Treat, and we finished up our 12 week series on the book of Jeremiah. The passage we looked at was from Jeremiah 44, the final recorded prophecy of his life. Sadly, it was essentially the same message he had been preaching for 40 years. The people refused to listen to him or heed his warnings, even after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Idols have a stranglehold on our hearts, and most of us don't repent of our idolatry after the first message. The point of the sermon was to say this: If we don't repent of our sin, we're doomed to repeat it.

The band played a song that I hope will become a regular one in our rotation. Kelly sent me a video of the song to share on the blog. (This is not our band.)

Next week we start up a new sermon series on the book of Titus called Further the Faith. I'm really looking forward to getting into a New Testament book, and am excited about what God has to say to us through Titus!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trunk or Treat

This Sunday at Ember is our first public event (besides worship services). We're having a Trunk or Treat, which I've never done before. It's going to be a lot of fun, and I'm hoping we get a good response from our neighborhood. We hung over 500 door hangers in the homes around our neighborhood, so hopefully the word will get out a bit.

Hanging door hangers was an interesting experience for me. I felt like I was trespassing at every home I snuck up to and stealthily placed the door hanger over the front door knob. I felt as though I was violating a bit of my idealism, that we shouldn't have to "stoop" to door hangers or other such marketing devices to get the word out about Ember. But in the midst of it, I felt the Lord challenge me with this question: Are you willing to compromise your idealism in order to fulfill my mission? Ouch.

Because maybe it wasn't simply about my idealism; maybe it was about my pride and my fear. Maybe I thought that what we were doing at Ember was so overwhelmingly awesome that the word would just get out and the masses would flock to our church. And maybe I was so afraid of rejection that I didn't want to put myself or Ember on the line by doing any kind of marketing in the first place. Double ouch.

But God's question to me haunts me, and I suspect that it won't be the last time he asks me that particular question. Am I willing to compromise my idealism in order to fulfill God's mission? I am. Especially when my idealism is just a cover for my pride and fear.

Well, with all that introspection aside, we're having a Trunk or Treat Sunday afternoon at 4, right before our worship service. We're giving away free candy, and it's going to be a lot of fun. Also, I have an epic costume, though I haven't yet decided to preach in it. Come Sunday and find out. 4pm, 401 E. Schrock Rd.

Friday, October 28, 2011

New Books

Make no mistake about it; I am a huge nerd. I got a small book order in the mail yesterday, and I am so excited to dive into these books! Check them out:

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight is one of the books I've been waiting to get my hands on for a while. Though it did come out this year, I wasn't able to pick up a copy right away. But now that I have it, I'm very much looking forward to reading it. McKnight is, for me, a breath of fresh air. So much of contemporary evangelicalism has been bifurcating between the emergent church (Brian McLaren, Tony Jones, Chris Seay, and you could throw Rob Bell in there as well) and the neo-reformed movement (Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan, David Platt, with John Piper playing the role of the Godfather). I don't identify with either of those groups--the former because they seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and the latter because they've made the tub so small the baby doesn't fit in it anymore. While I don't agree with all of McKnight's views either (for example, I'm not a pacifist), I find that he is a reasonable voice of Arminian centrism within American evangelicalism, and perhaps the only one. All of the popular-level, American evangelical pastor-theologians seem to be coming from a Calvinist perspective. I'm beginning to feel like an evangelical without a place in American evangelicalism, and I'm curious to see what will happen to believers who, like me, reject reformed soteriology. Will there be an evangelicalism for us? This is why I'm so excited to read The King Jesus Gospel.

Ember's next preaching series will be through the book of Titus. Because I somehow managed to make it through seminary with barely a commentary to my name (thank you, Gordon-Conwell library!), I try to purchase the best commentary for each book and rely on the work of that scholar. Towner's commentary on the Pastoral Epistles comes highly recommended from several sources, and is a part of an important commentary series, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, which is edited by the brilliant Gordon Fee.

When I get a commentary, I try to find one that's been written recently. This is not because I'm a cultural snob (though I probably am), but because the newer commentaries, at least the good ones, will deal with the most important, relevant, and best material from the older commentaries. Biblical studies is a field that has developed and changed over time, and methods of interpretation have evolved since the Bible was first written. A good commentator will give you the best thoughts of those who have written before him, as well as adding the best of his own research and thinking.

I am a huge, huge fan of N.T. Wright. His books, particularly The New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, The Challenge of Jesus, and What Saint Paul Really Said (as well as his more popular level works like Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, and After You Believe) have dramatically changed the way I think about and live out my faith. For so long I had been hoping that he would put out a translation of the Bible, and here it is! I'm so looking forward to adding The Kingdom New Testament to my devotional reading, as well as to my study, particularly for the upcoming Titus series at Ember. I've had a chance to briefly scan through his translation, as well as read the introduction, and I think it's going to be very good. I'm particularly interested in reading his translation of Romans, because he once quipped that if you've only read Romans in the NIV, then you've never really read Romans. I have been reading the new NIV this year in my reading plan, but that's already taken me all the way through the New Testament, so I'm going to substitute The Kingdom New Testament on the second go around.

And then there's this last book, Simply Jesus. It's also by N.T. Wright, and I don't know anything about it. I had no idea he was writing about Jesus again; but I suppose this could also just be an updated version of The Challenge of Jesus. Whatever it is, I'm very excited to dive into it, as I'm sure that anything Wright writes on Jesus won't disappoint.

I don't know what kind of a value you place on reading, but I can honestly tell you that I would not be where I am, who I am, or doing what I'm doing right now if it weren't for the books I have read in the past decade. Reading is my primary form of learning. I take in information, process it internally or here on the blog, and then it slowly integrates its way into my life, forming me and shaping me. I believe this process is taking place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it is a part of what he is doing in and through me to conform me into the image of the Son of God. Not only that, but as the pastor of a church, I take it as my responsibility to engage with serious thinking regarding Scripture, Theology, and Doctrine on behalf of the congregation, and then to translate that information in such a way that it works into their hearts as it has worked into mine. That is part of what I try to do in my preaching, and also, in a freer way, here at the blog.

Before I can get to these books, I have to finish King's Cross by Tim Keller, which is also an excellent read. I hope to get back into the habit of doing book reviews here. Lord knows I've got plenty of good material to work with!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Your New Clothes

A couple of days ago I blogged about Paul's prayer in Colossians 1 that was, for me, quite timely. Yesterday my devotional reading took me to Colossians 2, which is amazing, but about which I didn't have time to blog because I was doing home school with my son and passing out door hangers for our Trunk or Treat this Sunday. (By the way, if you live in central Ohio, you should definitely come to our Trunk or Treat. There will be candy, and the candy will be free. Do you need another reason?)

So today I came to Colossians 3, which is also thoroughly amazing. (You know what, maybe you should go read the whole book of Colossians. It's really great.) Here is a portion of what struck me today:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
What are you wearing today? I'm wearing my favorite Ohio State zip-up; but am I wearing compassion? Are you wearing kindness and humility in such a way that people notice the quality of your character the same way they notice the clothes on your body? When they see you coming, do they see a red shirt and blue jeans, or do they see a person who is gentle and patient?

I'm not trying to guilt you; I'm trying to change your perspective about the person you could possibly be. You really could be a person whose compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (all held together by agape love) is as evident to others as the clothes you wear. You really can possess these qualities of character because this is exactly what God is trying to do in your heart. He is remaking you--reclothing you. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and by faith in Jesus Christ, God is slowly but surely remaking your character so that you possess these qualities.

Your responsibility is to put on the clothes. Sure, it may not feel natural at first. Yes, you may feel like a hypocrite in the beginning. But the only way to live into this new character God is forming in you is to actually try it. You've got to give it some effort. (Remember, you're saved by grace, but you're changed by active cooperation with God.) Because compassion et. al. don't come naturally to us, we have to choose to live that way. So put on your new clothes; they look much better on you than what you were wearing before.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Paul's Timely Prayer

My devotional reading today brought me to Colossians 1, which is so full of amazing stuff that it's hard to pick one thing to share, but I wanted to share this part of Paul's prayer with you.
We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.
Isn't this one of the most amazing prayers you've ever read? Don't you wish somebody was praying this for you?

The part that stands out to me, at this point in my life anyway, is this: Being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience. More than any other season in my life, I need "great endurance" right now, but endurance does not come naturally to me.

In 8th grade, my friend convinced me to join the track team. At the first meeting, we were given a piece of paper with all of the track and field events written on it. We were told to sign up for the events that we were most interested in. I checked the boxes for the shortest races. I wasn't fast, I just knew I didn't want to run for a long time. (The funny thing is, I probably would have done well in the distance races, but I was too big of a wuss to try.)

In order to live the life God has called me to live, I need access to that which I do not internally possess. I need strength from God so that I can have great endurance. I need the power of the Spirit within me so that I can please God. I do not naturally possess these qualities of character, so I need them to be infused into my life from above. I need Paul's prayer prayed over me.

What about you? What part of this prayer resonates with you? Do you need this prayer prayed over you?

This week I'm going to pray this prayer over the people of Ember, and I urge you to pray it over those you love.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ember Monday

I really, really love my church. This is probably a good thing, since I'm the pastor. But I just can't emphasize enough how much I enjoy coming to Ember every week. The people are amazing. I encounter God in worship. The sermons are a bit long, but no church is perfect.

The message last night came from Jeremiah 39, which is the story of the fall of Jerusalem. One of the lessons we can learn from Jerusalem's fall is this: Those who embrace the culture of Jerusalem, with Jerusalem will perish. The culture of that city had become one of sin and idolatry. It became normal to worship other gods and oppress the poor, to corrupt justice and break God's sexual commands. Jerusalem's idolatry brought about God's punishment. Our way of life, as Christians, ought not to be defined by the culture in which we live. We have a new culture, a new way of life, that is defined by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can listen to the sermon in the sermon player, or you can get it on our podcast, which I'm not sure is up on iTunes yet or not.

The music was, as always, awesome. It was so good to see our most faithful attender Travis Somers playing with the band last night. They had another great set of outstanding songs, including Jesus Paid It All, Jesus Is the Lord, and Our God. It was another night of intimate worship as the band drew us into the presence of God through song. And I've got to give props to Bryce on the soundboard and Erica on the computer; neither of them had ever done what they're doing now before Ember started 11 weeks ago, and they're total pros!

This coming weekend is our first big public event. We're having a Trunk or Treat in the church parking lot before the service. If you've never been to Ember, this is a great week to come because you can get free candy and worship Jesus! What's better than that?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Glorious Appearance of Bexley

Last week Breena and I welcomed our fourth child into the world. Bexley came at 5:13pm on October 10th, the first of our four children to come without the aid of an epidural. Bexley was also the biggest of our babies, by almost a full pound. (And we have big babies.)

We had been waiting a long time for her to arrive. Three weeks earlier we were in the hospital, expecting to deliver that night. But we were sent home, hoping that we would be back in just a few hours. Well, a few hours turned into a few days, and then a few days turned into a few weeks. We thought she'd never get here! We were hoping that everything would happen naturally, but we wound up scheduling her delivery on Monday the 10th.

We got to the hospital at 10am and waited...and waited...and waited. Our induction had been pushed back because of an emergency. I don't know what it was or who was involved, but there was a couple that came in right after us, and the mother-to-be looked very distressed, and not pregnant enough to deliver. I prayed that everyone would be okay, and didn't mind waiting anymore. We were about to deliver our fourth healthy baby in four tries. We are so blessed.

Finally, we were escorted back to our room and began preparations for Bexley. Breena decided to forgo the petosin, hoping instead that her body would go into labor naturally, which it did. She did a great job of breathing through all of her contractions, and she never even thought about getting any drugs to take the edge off, much less getting that epidural. I could see on the digital chart that every other woman on the floor giving birth that day had gotten an epidural. My wife is tough.

The labor grew very intense for about 15 minutes, but then there was Bexley! The doctor's first words were, "Whoa! I think you've got your ten pound baby!" The nurses could barely lift her to clean her up and give her to Breena. They weren't used to such big babies, I guess.

When I saw her, I cried. I cried for joy at the birth of another healthy child. I cried for pide in my wife going totally natural, like she had hoped to do. I cried because this is the last time we'll do this, and Bexley is the last Holt baby we'll add to our family.

As you can see, she's beautiful. And she's very greatly loved. I love you, Bexley Holt.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Ember Monday

Last night was the first time I wasn't at an Ember service. Well, I suppose I was, technically. Last night I served as a "children's pastor" in the children's ministry. I missed the service, but got to spend time with a bunch of really great, energetic young kiddos--three of which were mine.

Children's ministry gets a bad rep. Everyone who hasn't done it is terrified of it, and thinks it sounds like a nightmare. This, of course, is ridiculous; if you haven't done it, how do you know what it's like? You don't. And it's awesome! If you let yourself be used of God, you will be built up just as much from shepherding kids as you are when you're in the service with the other adults. If you engage with kids you will be amazed by them. I may be the senior pastor of Ember Church, but I'm proud to say that I'm also a children's pastor to our little ones.

Last night was also the first time I've opened the pulpit to someone else from within our congregation. Travis Ell spoke from Jeremiah 20, and if you weren't there, you can listen to it the same way I will--through the sermon player right here on the blog. Travis is a young man that I've been building into for the past three years, and he is an outstanding man of God. I'm proud to call him a friend.