Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals

I love this prayer. It comes from a devotional that my friend showed me called Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. I was glancing through the pages and discovered it at the end of the July 11 reading which was Acts 18:12-28.

“God, make us bold enough to question tyranny, impassioned enough to submit ourselves to good teachers, and discerning enough to know when it is our turn to lead. Amen.”

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My Top 5: Books…

I was recently asked about my biggest influences in ministry and I began to think about all the books I’ve read while at Fuller. Fuller is unique in their attempt to create a diversity of ethnicity and gender by choosing texts which represent many voices in academia. I am incredibly grateful for this and have often said that Fuller’s diversity was an education in and of itself. All of the texts I read have influenced me over the last four years but some stuck with me, challenged me, and changed my views with long term impact. Many of the books are ones I would not have read on my own which stretched me to think outside of the norm. I don’t necessarily agree with all of the views inside of them but they each had something unique and powerful to bring to the table. If you have been around me for any part of my time back to school, it is likely you heard me talk about and quote one of the following authors. Here are the top books that I recommend that every Christian should read…in no particular order:

img_0304.jpg#1 The Epic of Eden by Sandra Richter. Richter pulls together an amazing overview of the Old Testament by giving powerful insights into the cultural contexts. There is consistency and beautiful poetry to the overarching narrative in the Bible. Richter brings this to life without losing theological depth. This book helped me make sense of the O.T. from the perspective of convenient relationships.  This concept plays itself out beyond what I thought was possible even into the new creation account in Revelations.  This book caused me to spontaneously praise God while reading it for God’s incredibly brilliant authorship as He writes the gospel story upon the medium of human history.

#2 The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins. Thinking about the future of the church tends to be a hobby of mine and Jenkins gives a well-rounded and well-researched look into the next few decades. While the direction of Christendom may seem bleak in the west, it is giving way to bigger and (I would say) better result for the global state of Christianity. As a byproduct, this book confronts the Western leaders who have led much of the global Christian efforts in the last few hundred years to consider what they need to learn from the global majorities success.

#3 Churches, Cultures, and Leadership by Branson and Martinez. This text cultivated some of the most difficult questions in my mind during my time in seminary. There is so much to be learned about leadership from the plurality of cross-cultural perspectives! This book is stacked with applicable leadership development suggestions and ideas but it also has a cultural twist to it. While I am still trying to make my way through all of the cultural baggage I’ve picked up along the way, I have recognized my own need to combat tendencies towards ethnocentrism in church leadership (which often lives underneath the surface). This is a must read for any church leader, elder, pastor who is alive and breathing in the 21st century. The fallout from our inability to see past our own cultural bias’ will hit like a tidal wave in the next few decades and we need to be able to recognize it and be a part of the solution so as not to participate in the problem.

#4 Center Church by Tim Keller. Keller’s efforts are best understood as bringing the reader up to speed on the different veins of Christianity over the last few decades with all of it’s twists and turns. His intention is to create a “center” target for church leadership to aim at while navigating the many trends, fads, and buzz words thrown around. It was a little daunting at parts because it feels like a textbook (because it is) but serves as a great overview of trends and ministry perspectives to gain a comprehensive understanding of the modern state of ministry. It works well to fill in the gaps for those who don’t have time to keep up with everything that’s happened in the last major movements of ecclesiology.

#5 Reconciling all Things: A Christian Vision for Justice, Peace, and Healing by Katongole. Zeroing in on issues of justice in our culture today, Katongole shares a wonderful perspective on bring peace and healing to those who have been caught up in systemic oppression, poverty, and marginalization. This text does a great job at untangling incredibly complicated situations which are pertinent to modern ministry issues. It’s hard not to see the influence of Walter Brueggemann in his writings (which I am not complaining about). The end goal is to land on a theological outworking of Shalom as opposed to temporary fixes. His insights were invaluable for someone like me who wants to get at root issues but needs the wisdom and perspectives of those closer to the situations than I am.

All books are available of Amazon and regular book outlets.  There were many more books that I couldn’t mention in this post. Maybe I’ll have to make another post with the next 5…

APEST: To Equip The Saints

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WHAT IS APEST?

Over the last few years, an emphasis has been placed on the Five-Fold gift of Christ (or the acronym APEST) listed in Ephesians chapter 4. It says:

…Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and the teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph. 4:11-13)

I use these 5 gifts (separate from the other gifts because they are the “gift” of Christ) as a way to identify and activate others to work effectively as the Church. Each aspect of Christ brings a valuable component to the Ecclesiological table:

  • Apostles (lit. “sent ones” for the Kingdom)
  • Prophets (Kingdom hearers and heralds)
  • Evangelists (recruiters for the Kingdom)
  • Shepherds (Kingdom caretakers)
  • Teachers (Doctrine keepers for the Kingdom)

Each aspect is necessary for Christ’s Bride to thrive as she accomplishes the mission set before her by King Jesus. Representation of all 5 aspects diversifies a leadership team and allows a divine “checks and balances” to occur amongst the body of Christ; this creates synergy between pioneering into new territory for the Kingdom and cultivating Jesus’ followers into “maturity.”[1]

WORKING TOGETHER.

Each role complements the other but there will be tension just as you see with any collaborating team.  The struggle is worth it though because utilizing one or two over the others creates an imbalance in local church expressions. In fact, I think denominations are largely a result of imbalances in these 5 areas. For example, hyper-charismatic churches are overly prophetic/apostolic driven, doctrine hammering churches are led by unchecked teachers, and evangelists make just leave to start non-profits and mission organizations. It would be humorous if it wasn’t so divisive. Furthermore, the purpose of each one is not to be the representation of their role on behalf of the church. The purpose is to equip everyone else to become better at each one in order to build the “saints” up into the fullness of Christ who possessed all five!

GOING DEEPER.

If you want to learn more about APEST, I spoke on Eph. 4:1-16 here (Click on the Sept. 10, 2017 sermon) and created a PDF handout with a little more information.

Which one are you and how do you develop the use of the five-fold ministry in your organization? You can dig further with these resources. Each have similarly defined the roles but added a personal twist and all of them have influenced my use of the “APEST” model for ministry. Check them out:

[1] Breen, M. (2017). Building a discipling culture: How to release a missional movement by discipling people like Jesus did. Pawleys Island, SC: 3 Dimension Ministries.

Quiet Waters

When we are walking through difficult seasons we often conjure up images from Psalm 23 and cry out to God: “…lead me beside quiet waters!”  Serenity is the goal when life is filled with busy-ness, chaos, striving, and conflict. These things have inertia and it is difficult to run at 100 miles an hour and downshift to 15.  I have found that, when God leads me to quiet waters and gives me rest, my mind is still pacing, I am unnecessarily battle-ready, and don’t know what to do. Think of those in the military who come off deployment and have to re-acclimate to civilian life. It takes time to adjust and to re-engage in “normal” life.

Over the last few years God has taken me through a challenging season and now He has stilled me. I am able to focus on 4 things instead of 40. I am not sure how often you get seasons like this but want to rest well while I am here. I do not want fill my life back up with empty things-to-do nor do I want to become idle and lazy in the midst of the calm. So, I asked God, “what do You want me to do?” My mind was drawn to a book I read years ago by Bruce Wilkinson called The Dream Giver. Wilkinson wasn’t writing a fine piece of biblical exegesis but a beautiful parable that maps out the journey of faith for those who follow Jesus.

In chapter 5 the protagonist gets out of the barren “WasteLands” (which are never a waste by the way), the “Dream Giver” brings him into the “Sanctuary.” Wilkinson writes:

“Come to the water, he heard the Dream Giver say.
Ahead of him in the clearing he saw a small waterfall that fed a pool of still waters. He walked to the edge, then slipped into the purest water he had ever seen. He floated and splashed, sending diamonds of light spraying through the air
Time passed. But it didn’t seem to pass at all.
When (he) emerged from the pool, the last traces of the WasteLand had been washed away.” [1]

We often take remnants of the Wasteland (the dirt of frustration/bitterness, the thistles of bad habits, the sunburn of anger, the pride, striving, doubt, cynicism, arrogance, etc, etc, etc…) and we bring it out with us when we leave.  God invites us all into His quiet streams to listen, to rest, to heal, and to be washed clean of everything that doesn’t come from Him. Shedding these things can only happen when God brings your awareness to the wounds, to the walls you’ve put up, and to the sins you’ve committed so that you can heal, tear walls down, and confess. I have been asking God to speak to me and surface the things He sees that I don’t. This has been difficult but restorative work to do.

Embracing a season of “quiet streams” means sitting in the pools of God’s word and allowing it to wash over us.   2 Timothy 3 says the scripture is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It’s hard to believe that moving forward means stopping and listening but God’s word is so powerful and pure.

There is an art to accepting the Quiet Streams that is both difficult and therapeutic but worth every part it has to offer because, when you do emerge, you are cleansed from the remnants of desert with a renewed spirit, a fortified strength, and the wisdom of the WasteLands to continue into the next leg of the journey.

[1] Bruce Wilkinson. The Dream Giver: Following Your God Given Destiny (Multnoma, Colorado Springs, CO ). Page 43.

Walk With You

What an incredible expression of unity from The Village Church!  I love their ability to step into the difficult conversations, appropriately challenge instead of running from them or be unnecessarily inflammatory.  This kind of humility and repentance will be the future of the church…everything else will burn like chaff.

Lyrics:

Our sovereign King gave a dream to Martin Luther King Jr.
A concept so beautiful hard to belive it could be true
But that dream was just a glimpse, like a flicker in the night
From the northern star pointing to where the freedom is
This dream it spoke of revelations of a nation
That no longer operated under a hierarchy of different races
Justice, unity, equality were realized
Like you could see it with your real eyes
Wake up! We’re so far from that in real life
And right now you and I are in this real fight
There is work to be done, starting with the household of faith
Created, saved to lead the way, to hesitate would be a grave mistake
(I’m sayin’)

Broken mirrors give us all a false perception
Broken systems teaches us all false lessons
And the evil one so crafty in all of his deception
To keep us divided is to keep all of his lies protected
So you can’t see that your treated as superior
While I’m left fighting off the lie that I’m inferior
We’re the precious children born into this world where lies are taught as truth
Father, we need our minds to be renewed by You
Cause it’s a daily fight to remind myself that I am worthy
When microaggressions lie behind every other corner lurking
We been hurting for a long time, weary souls
Why’s it seem like my brothers in Christ can’t understand it though?
(I don’t know)

Oh Lord. I didn’t know what I didn’t know
Looking through my own eyes
But now I know what I didn’t know
Help me see. Help me see through your eyes

I will walk with you no matter what it takes
Keep in step with truth by the gospel of grace

Our God is a God of justice on the cross that was displayed
If we live for just us, we don’t do justice to His name
It’s like a shoulder shrug at our debt that Christ already paid
Like saying Lord we’ll keep the comfort and you can keep the change
But imagine every tribe and tongue singing God how great thou art
Then I look at my sister and say God how great is thou art
And she can look at me and proclaim the same
Because we’ve learned to stop comparing and start celebrating
That we’re all His workmanship created for amazing things
Distinctly different on purpose, equally made in the Imago Dei
We won’t be perfect ’til He returns to make it right
But how we steward what He’s given us, thats up to you and I
(let’s walk)

Transitions

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Hello, we are entering into a new season as a family and we wanted to send out an update to our friends and family.

As many of you know, our family spent six years in New Orleans after Katrina devastated the gulf south. During our time there, we helped a church plant, worked with mission organizations, and partnered with a house church network. We developed a love for the city, a passion for diversity in the church, and a desire to advance God’s Kingdom in missional formats.  However fruitful, it proved to be difficult to balance bi-vocational ministry initiatives and sustain our growing family. In 2012, we moved back to the Phoenix area to accept the Young Adults Pastor position at Faith Bible Church and, since then, Erik has become the Pastor over all adult ministries. It was helpful in stabilizing our family which is now six people strong! During our time here, Erik went back to school at Fuller Seminary. It’s been a long but rewarding journey and he will be completing his Masters of Divinity this Spring.

As we end our time with Faith Bible Church, we have been praying about our next season of ministry over the last year and asking God to lead us to a place where our passions and gifts are best utilized. God has used the last few years to affirm Erik’s gifts of preaching and leading in a local church context. Though we are not sure where we are heading, we trust that Jesus is preparing us for this new endeavor.

At this point, we are anticipating remaining in Arizona and prayerfully considering the options that God opens up. We ask for your prayers as we move forward into the next chapter of life and ministry!

– Thien family

The Weight of Glory

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C.S. Lewis

On June 8, 1941, Lewis took to the pulpit at Oxford’s University Church of St. Mary the Virgin. He delivered a prolific and powerful sermon called The Weight of Glory.  The sermon was masterfully crafted from both sides of Lewis’ mind: the imaginative and the reasoned. The room was electric as Lewis delivered his sermon to a packed house in a time when the pressure off WWII was bearing down upon the staff and students on campus.

The Weight of Glory wasn’t simply a lecture of biblical content, rather, it was a poet’s creative account of biblical truth as it interacts with the longings and desires of humanity. He designed it like an architect to inspire the hearts of the listeners to feel heaven calling out to them and to bring it into their daily life. Every detail of the sermon was intentional and every word was precisely chosen. Lewis wanted his congregation to come to the realization that all earthly objects, albeit good, are false in their attempt to ultimately satisfy the human longing or desire. Instead, they are merely symbols serving as a medium or vehicle to point us toward something greater – something that ultimately satisfies the cravings of the soul. Lewis didn’t want them to understand their longing; he wanted them to feel it.

You can get a copy of the sermon in PDF here.

You can listen to a dramatic performance of the sermon here.

His words were palpable and had a sensory effect on those in the room. Alister McGrath writes, “his 1941 sermon “The Weight of Glory,” which speaks of this desire as “the scent of a flower we have not found” or “the echo of a tune we have not heard.” [1] Considering the words and images invoked by Lewis’ descriptions of desire and glory, it’s easy to see that he wanted the audience to get caught up in his “spell.” He wants to cultivate their hunger for heavenly things so they would get swept up in wanting to satisfy their craving while listening to his words. Just as their mouth was watering for the reality of heaven’s otherworldly appeal, Lewis throws a twist into the plot! When the romance of his visionary prowess is at its height, Lewis snaps the congregation back into reality by turning them toward “Monday.” His transition is abrupt, “Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” [2]

It is as if he was attempting to use his words to create an object lesson out of the sermon. He was seducing the congregation by invoking their imaginations to see a glimpse of heaven and to taste a morsel of the heavenly feast, only to sweep their feet out from underneath them with the reality that nothing on earth can satisfy. The aroma of such imaginative wandering was meant to stay with the listeners as they went back into the earthly realm. How should the weight of glory affect our lives here on earth?

Lewis leads us into a perspective shift. As a people who are far too easily satisfied by earthly offerings, may we heed the words of Lewis and raise our standards to heavenly heights. May we place our hope in that which is everlasting, immortal, and eternal.

[1] McGrath. C. S. Lewis – A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet (Tyndale House Publishers, 2013). Page 290.

[2] McGrath [224].