All posts by rschmidtberger

Thinking about Lent, again.

Lent is just around the corner. It begins on March 5th, which is Ash Wednesday and ends with Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Lent is a season that belongs to the Christian calendar, just like Advent or Epiphany. But it’s different. Advent, on one hand, is about waiting upon the Lord to act and work in our lives. Epiphany, on the other hand, is when God shows up. Both seasons look back to historical, biblical events, and looks ahead to how God is going to act in our lives. Lent, in a certain way, anchors the Christian calendar in the frustrations of life. It is a season where we are reminded of our humanity, of our mortality, of the need for complete and total dependence upon God.

Lent is a season that looks back to Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness. He was sent there by the Holy Spirit. After he fasted and prayed for 40 days, he was met by the Devil who challenged and tempted him. Jesus resisted the devil, who in turn fled from him. In the end, when Jesus died, all Satan did was put three nails into his own coffin. Lent is a season for us to journey alongside Jesus in the wilderness.

But it’s not for everybody. It can be a very sobering, frustrating season. But it can be very rewarding.

Here is the tricky thing. If you are going to observe Lent, then you must be sure of your secure identity and standing before God. Jesus secured your sonship and standing before God. Lent gets you no brownie points with God. It does nothing for you. All the season is, is a discipleship tool for you to, in a very intentional way, live out your union with Christ. So Lent is not about proving your love for God or trying to get God to love you. He already does! This is a season for you to see God at work in your life.

So I made a 40 day bible reading plan, complete with questions and prayers, to guide you in this task. Here is the PDF — Lenten Devotional.  I hope it is a blessing to you and glorifies God in your lives.

PS. You should really read Sam’s take on Lent. His counsel is brilliant. I love his last point:

Don’t forget to feast! No church tradition which practices Lent, ignores the fact that every Lord’s Day is meant to be a celebration. Every Sunday is a chance to gather and celebrate what God has done, what he is doing and what he will one do. Lent is not meant to be an Emo kid’s favorite time of year. Remember if you are in Christ, everything has been paid for. It is finished!

Sermon Recap: Moses and the Weakness of Leadership

Sam, this past Sunday, kicked off a new sermon series on leadership. He is laying the foundation for our leadership training which begins Sunday, January 19th. Thankfully leadership is something that we all grasp and understand. Leaders surround us – at work, in school, our communities and families, and our government. Yet, All of us can think of failed leaders. And, perhaps, some of you have read books on leadership.

We need to ask a question: How does the Bible shape and challenge our understanding of leadership?

Sam started with the major biblical figure of Moses. Moses is the central prophetic figure in the Old Testament; he wrote the first five books of the bible; and he led the Israelites out of Egypt during the first exodus. To put it mildly, Moses is a big deal. But he had a problem – he could not speak clearly. Maybe he had a speech disorder or impediment. Perhaps he just lacked the “Steve Jobs” showmanship that Egypt required.

We want our leaders to be scandal-free, to have a clean record and just, and put-together. If that is the case, spiritually speaking, then no one can be leaders. Brokenness and estrangement is pervasive in our families and communities. Yet there is a wonderful redemptive element here in Moses’ story. God provides a speaker for him, Aaron. Aaron is going to be Moses’ lieutenant who speaks for him. God helps and sustains Moses by providing for him.

God does the same for us. He cares and provides for us through Jesus’ completed work upon the cross and the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. God cares for his church by raising up leaders. These leaders have baggage in their past and they are not scandal free. Instead they are made whole by God. It is through these men that God cares for his church.

Introducing Advent (and a Devotional)

I have a love-hate relationship with the holiday season. I love the celebrations, the food, the friends, the family, and the shenanigans that ensues. Yet I hate the hurriedness, the commercials, the guilt-trips, and pushiness. Shopping is not fun, so the celebrate tone of gift-giving has a “you better like this” essence to it. Tis the season I guess…

Wait a moment. Why do I let that season dictate the tone of my life? Consumerism is not healthy nor sustainable.  There is another season within the Christian tradition that is a better alternative – Advent. Advent is a season full of longing, hoping, and expectation. It’s a season that begins on December 1st and ends on Christmas Day. It is a season that asks of us, ‘what do you really, truly want in the depths of your being?’ Advent is a season where we find that God supplies more than we could every truly want in his Son Jesus Christ. It is a season that says there is more to this life than right now.

So this Advent season, consider ‘what do you truly want?’

To aid you in this introspective quest, we’ve made a devotional reader to be a guide for you. And it is something that we can go through together, where you can share your individual insights, so that we can learn from each other. The devotional begins on Sunday, December 1st and ends on Christmas Day, December 25th.

Here are the link/title for the reader: Final Advent Devotional. (It is a pdf.)

If you want an e-book, compatible with ibooks, just email Robbie.

 

Sermon Response: Gathered as a Family

Sam, in the third installment of our DNA series, preached on how God, “gathered us as a family” in Christ. God, when he saves you, always brings you into his family (and then sends you out together, which is next week’s sermon).

Community is incredibly important to God. He wants his people to share their possessions (homes, tools, cars, food, etc.), time, love, energy, stories, and relationships together. God wants us to have all things in common with each other. But a community is different from a family. We tend to be tribal. We associate with people like us. Most of our friends dress like us, enjoy the same media, and share the same values. But that is not the community that God designed and continues to bring together. God’s people are different – in past, in culture, in ethnicity, in age, in gender, and much more. The church ought not to look like a tribal community. Instead the church must reflect the family of God in all her diversity and unity. God brings together different people and unites them in Jesus.

I love my church family. I enjoy each other’s company, the fact that we pray together, eat frequently together, and much more. But the hard truth that we, as a family, must face is that while we want to be a biblical family… we sinfully are inclined to be a tribe.

Not too long ago I read a short book by Leslie Newbigin. He pointed out that “those young kids” are essential in churches as they point out old, dry answers that don’t satisfy their hearts, minds, or imaginations. This is so true. We need youth – kids and teenagers – to challenge our established answers. But on the flip-side we need age. We need sages who can guide our marriages, instruct us as parents, lead us through vocational decisions, and journey with us as we fight sin, temptation, and the wiles of the devil.

Pray with me. Pray for youth to come into our doors. Pray for age and maturity so that our kids would have spiritual grandparents. And look for opportunities that enable and allow people to speak into our lives.

Sermon Response: Formed by the Gospel

Last night Sam kicked off our latest sermon series on the DNA of Grace and Peace. Over the next few weeks (5 total) Sam will be preaching on what things define us as a spiritual family. Our first core value, that is non-negotiable, is the fact that we are a people “formed by the gospel.”

Gospel literally means ‘good news.’ Biblically speaking the gospel is the good news that even though this world is broken, which is not how God meant it to be, God decided to repair it. But repairing this world was not cheap. In fact this entire concept of “saving” the world is foreign to how we go about life in the first place. You don’t see TV repairmen anymore because it costs too much to simply repair a TV. It’s cheaper to go out and just get a new one. But God ways are different than ours. But the cost to fix this world came with a price – the death of Jesus upon the cross. God made things right through Jesus. But it’s a process. God’s victory is sure and complete in Jesus, but we do not see it fully yet.

Now this good news has implications for life. God is in the business of renewing everything – individuals, communities, societies, and everything. The promise that Sam read last night is: “Behold, I am making all things new.” God is transforming everything, including ourselves. And we have received a role in this work of transformation by ‘joining God in the renewal of all things.’

So consider your own life – how is God at work within you? But also consider your relationships – how is God at work in your friendships, family, and acquaintances? And lastly, you ought to consider how God wants to transform your industry?

Because the good news is this: God loves you and gave himself for you. He cares about everything.

Basics: Prayer (pt. 2)

We know it’s hard to pray. It is especially hard to speak to a person when we do not see the person. Yet at the same time we do not find it challenging to interact with strangers, people we’ve never met, on discussion boards, websites, or in business dealings. Yet prayer is unique. There is something different about it. Mainly because we don’t hear a voice “on the other end” speaking back to us.

When we say that prayer is talking to God, we do not mean that you have a heart-to-heart phone conversation with him. So prayer is disappointing when we don’t hear: “Go and do ______ .” We approach prayer with the wrong expectation and understanding. The truth is: God does speak back to you, albeit in a different way.

God speaks to us, not as a voice through the clouds (although that has happened in the past), but through his word – the Bible. There is a reason why the historic Christian faith has connected prayer and the Bible. It is because the Bible is God’s word written down for you. The Bible is not primarily a manual on how to live life, it is not a book full of laws and regulations to live by, nor is it a book full of moral examples (i.e. be like David).

Scripture is two things that we hardly think of. It is a story with an introduction, setting, tension, climax, falling action, and an end. It is a story written for our benefit. We must not miss this truth, especially in light of prayer.  Scripture is also God’s word to you, written for your benefit, so that you can have a relationship with him. God reveals who he is through Scripture. It is through the Bible that we know who Jesus truly is. It’s in the Bible where we see the love of God displayed. Scripture provides the ‘eureka’ for who God is. So when we find certain stories of Scripture boring, ask God to reveal himself to you in that particular passage. Prayer, in light of this perspective, is fueled by reading Scripture. So the two go together. When you are not sure what to pray about – pick up the Bible and read it. And the same is true the other way around. When you do not know where to read in the Bible, spend some time in prayer.

Sometimes neither activity seems easy, in those times, there is nothing wrong with simply sitting in silence with God and saying “God, I need you to show me what to do,” or, “God, who are you? Show me who you are.” (If you wrestle to get things out of reading the Bible. This post may help you.)

Basics: Prayer (pt. 1)

Prayer is weird. Perhaps, in a restaurant, you have seen a group of people bowing their hands in relative silence while a person mumbled a few words and you wondered what they were doing. If you are familiar with the praying act, you possibly think: “well that is dumb.” Secretly many Christians believe that as well. Christians struggle to pray. We wrestle with the cynicism of unbelief – “God’s not really going to heal so-and-so. He doesn’t do that anymore.” We think we are so far lost and without hope that God cannot deliver us from our addictions: drinking, drugs, sex, or pornography. Our prayers tend to be little more than polite platitudes: “God you are good. Thank you for this day and food. Amen.”

There are two ways of looking at all this mess. Either prayer does not really do anything, or, the problem is with us. God tells us again and again in his word that prayer does do something, and that all we need is to have a little faith. Faith with regards to prayer means that God will work his will, that God will heal if he pleases, and that God will deliver us from our sins, temptations, and addictions. But how God will do all the above, will surprise us. He will not do it in ways that we plan, expect, or want. God wants us to depend on him, and if he is predictable, then how would we learn to depend upon him.

All of this challenges us. Are we going to believe that God is going to do something or not? Perhaps he already has, and we’re too dense to recognize it. If you’ve been praying for deliverance out of sin and temptation, then use the people of God around you. If you have been praying for opportunities to witness, then invite your neighbors and friends and simply hang out together with a few of God’s family. Prayer, is many things, but one thing prayer is, is a reminder to the way that things really are.

Basics of the Faith: Building Community

Some of us are introverts, where we find ourselves drained by being around lots of other people. Others of us are extroverts, where lots of people actually give us energy and bring us to life. But despite this personality trait, we are all united by a universal longing for relationships – for love, acceptance, and fellowship. God designed us to have that longing after all, but due to our rebellion against God, relationships are hard… and they can be incredibly challenging. Yet God provides hope, and it is incredibly easier and more encouraging than you may think.

There is no magic formula to build community and have relationships. Ultimately to be in community, all you need it to share one’s story, one’s life, and one’s work with one another. What this means is:

  • Small talk is important. Guys and gals must talk shop and reminisce about one’s past in order for you to know that you can, and do, care about each other – if you do not listen and care about the small details, how will you know if the larger issues actually matter?
  • As you discover common ground in each other’s stories, you must celebrate and share them even more. I met a man while we were on vacation last week. He walked around with a Cleveland Indians baseball cap on, which is a dead giveaway that he is NOT from Florida, as only certain Ohioans cheer for the Indians, and he went to Pittsburgh Technical Institute! Now common ground could be a similar geographical hometown, a shared historic event (9/11), heritage (Irish perhaps?), or just a fact that you share similar quirks and interests.
  • Learn about each other’s differences, and enjoy learning about someone and something new. Do not let these differences be an obstacle to enjoying each other.
  • As you converse with one another, listen for each other’s values, struggles, dreams, and ambitions.
  • But don’t focus on what separates you. The biblical truth is that we are all unique, and there is only one of us. But if we would focus on our uniqueness, then we would actually push ourselves away from the people who would push us to grow, change, and image God more fully. Instead focus on what brings you together: it will most certainly be faith, it could be family, or education and your workplace, or your passions, virtues, and values.
  • Probe yourself and look for that thing or reason that is holding you back. You have nothing to fear from this other person, as your security and identity is in Jesus. God will never abandon or condemn you. Therefore it does not matter what I or they think. Whatever it is that is holding you back, is part of a larger issue tied to your rebellion against God.
  • Probe into each other’s lives
    • How is God working in your life – past and present? We often treat our stories of grace as private things, only for our close friends and family, and those church elders, but shouldn’t these be the primary stories that define us and illustrate our identity in Christ, and not our jobs?
    • What challenges are you both currently facing?
    • How can I pray for you?
    • Is there any other way that I can serve you? (help moving, watching the kids, shoveling some snow, mowing a yard, etc.)
  • Celebrate your relationship by doing things together for fun (dinner, movie), be there for each other for when you’ll need a shoulder, and show your affection for one another – high fives, pounds, bear hugs, etc. Whatever is culturally appropriate for your relationship. Paul did tell us to great each other with a holy kiss. One of the best things about community is the ability to laugh with one another and lovingly at each other.
  • Serve together. (We’ll talk about that in the next post, which will be on mission.”)

Basics of the Faith: Love

Love is important to the Christian faith. If you do not believe me, then just do a search within the Biblical text. Love is a subject that comes up a lot, and very rarely does it emerge as the feeling that we all equate love to be today. Love is something very different than a feeling or a word. Love is an action, and for the Christian, it is a general disposition that will lead to action. The great “love chapter” of Scripture describes love as virtue in action – “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast, etc.”

How does love play out in the Christian faith?

A lawyer once asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. Jesus replied: “Love God with everything you have – with all your emotion, with all your intellect, and with all your energy.” But what does it mean to love God with your entire life? When you love someone, you want their betterment above your own. So for us to love God, means that we live for his name and fame instead of our own. We live for his popularity and success instead of our own; for his triumph, status, recognition, and cause instead of our own. This is no different for God. We live for God’s name, fame, and cause.

Jesus added a few more words to his reply. “The second commandment is like it: love your neighbor as yourself.” We are to live in such a way that helps other people out. Not just the people we like, or meet in our gatherings, or workplaces, or homes, but everyone we meet. Jesus demonstrates the radicalness of this call in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. To love your neighbor is to act for the betterment of anyone around you by investing in their problems – to improve their physical well being while speaking the truth of God into their lives. Christians are the hands and feet of Jesus in this world, and Jesus uses us to help others as he did. But as you serve other people by speaking truth in love to them, you will push them off their balance, and as you do so, they must never doubt your love for them.

But why don’t we do this?

We all give excuses to not love people. Perhaps we are afraid. Afraid that we will get hurt, lose our comfort, break our bubbles, and not be able to control life. Perhaps we think we are above serving others because of our class or status. Or perhaps we are cynics and think that loving others will not do any good. The gospel reality is that when your control is only an illusion as you’ve never had it, and the hurt is a good kind of pain – like when you take a splinter out of your hand – but when we love others, we must do it for God’s name and fame – not ours, or Grace and Peace’s, or anything else.

Think about how Jesus loved and lived.

Go back to Corinthians. Paul says if he has everything but not love, then he does not have anything. Imagine what it would be like for you to be loving…. to be patient…. to be kind… not envying or boasting…. not being arrogant or rude… not insisting on your own way… not irritating or resenting other people… not rejoicing at wrongdoing, but celebrating in success and rejoices in the truth… Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…Love never ends.” Jesus did just this.

Imagine if everyone was like this. Imagine if you were like this. Imagine if the church was like this. This would be an attractive agent for the gospel cause. To be loving, to love God, neighbors, and family, is to be living your life for the name and fame of God. Jesus said as much when he said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

 

Basics of the Faith: How to Read the Bible

At the center of the Christian faith is the Bible. The Bible is God’s word. It is the collection of God’s revelation of himself, his plan, and this world to his family since the beginning of time. No wonder it is so important to Christians! We can easily view the Bible and God in such a way, that when we go to read God’s word, well, we do not get anything out of it. We think that we are so messed up that we are beyond redemption, that God could not possibly love us. Or, we think incorrectly of God, that he is “the big guy up there” – too distant to really interact with us. But both ideas are totally wrong. Continue reading Basics of the Faith: How to Read the Bible