I’m reading Jeremiah in one hand, and daily editorials in the other. Jeremiah’s context of misguided idolatry, false hopes and confused leadership is uncomfortably relevant to our culture’s looming crises. Of course, Jeremiah was specifically challenging the spiritual condition and leadership of his day. Israel and Judah, the chosen nation, had so slipped away from truth and faithfulness that God’s prophet is called to warn them. He is braced for his task by the Lord telling him that his message will be resisted. The people never did listen to Jeremiah! Yet, he spoke and lived faithfully among them. As you dig deeper into this prophet’s words, pray for discernment to see how they can be applied to our moral, political, and spiritual context. May God fortify you, as he fortified Jeremiah, to know and speak the truth in love in this day, and at this time.
The slightest glance at the news reminds us that we don’t live in Camelot. Trouble, suffering, injustice and trauma are everywhere. And so it was for those who wrote the Psalms, were called to be prophets, and founded the early church! These are not just devotional tidbits dreamed up at the lake. They are the unvarnished experiences of people living in the real world. Welcome to the Fall Bible Reading Challenge! I’m having you start by reading some of the Psalms because they acquaint us with how we can talk to God in all circumstances, and in every emotional state. Then we will journey through Jeremiah, a prophet called to speak against the hurricane winds of the culture. Finally, we will catch the revolutionary wind that propelled the early church, and watch it spring to life. If you don’t currently have a Bible reading discipline, join us. Below is the schedule. Let it be an invitation, not a straightjacket. Above all, listen to the living voice of God, reflect on it throughout your day, and respond with fresh obedience.
You have crossed over the summer continental divide. We came to the half-way point in our Summer Bible Reading Challenge on Wednesday. But we are staying in the high country. Nehemiah gives us so many personal lessons and memorable verses: for example 4:20 “Our God will fight for us,” and 8:10 “The joy of the Lord is our strength.” Nehemiah’s example of leadership is an intricate tapestry of spiritual sensitivity, discernment, political courage, tactical savvy, financial sacrifice, and proactive planning. I feel miniaturized by his insightfulness, but then I remember that he was simply being obedient day by day. God was his counselor and the Word his standard. I have the same weapons and tools, with the Holy Spirit added! So, keep reading. in just a couple of days we will conclude Nehemiah and move into Luke (Monday, July 29). The Master himself will teach us.
From any angle we approach him, Nehemiah is fascinating and motivating. First we see that he is a man who lives expansively, beyond the borders of his occupation, his location, or his limitations. He knows that God is working in history because he believes the prophets. Then, in chapter 1 we see his dislocated heart. He has a God-implanted longing to see a people and a place he has never visited restored to strength and honor. So, he prays in deep humility and helplessness.
As we follow the ensuing movements, it is evident that Nehemiah is riding a wave of God’s sovereign intervention. The scripture compresses what must have take many months before Nehemiah finally arrives in Jerusalem. But, then we see another facet of this man: his humble leadership. Nehemiah is unafraid to make a fearless assessment of the true situation. He walks through the rubble alone with God. He must have felt utterly helpless and out of his depth, but this is the foundation of his leadership brilliance. He knew he was a steward of the project and the opportunity which God had assigned him. He never forgot who he was working for, nor the impossibility of the task if God did not bless it. Keep reading! There are more leadership and life lessons in this amazing, true, historical account of a real man.
I have been away on a great family vacation, but I haven’t been away from the Word. Just about four weeks ago I gave you the SUMMER BIBLE READING CHALLENGE. I have aimed this in the direction of men, but it’s a great exposure to key biblical content for anyone. As of Tuesday (7/9/13) we finished up the book of Joshua.
I was again reminded of the power of God to do the impossible, both against Israel’s enemies, and within the hearts of the faithful. I love the story of Caleb in chapter 14. Though he was much older than me (!) he asked for a big, bold, challenging assignment: “Give me this hill country!” (14:12) His courage nourished my mind and heart as I think about transitions in my own life. I don’t want to settle, or coast. Like Caleb I want to pursue the work, the battle, and the adventure for which I was made. Did you read the wonderful story of conflict and resolution in chapter 22? All conflict is a result of such unexamined assumptions. It’s a great illustration of God keeping the nation unified by simply asking questions and really listening to each other.
Today we begin Ephesians. It is all about the miracle of grace—where it originated, how we receive it, and how we live it. Here in midsummer, keep soaking your soul in the Word.
Hollywood tries to get us into theaters in the summer for its action-packed thrillers. But you are diving into the action of the Bible. Can you imagine anything more amazing, spectacular, and heroic than the path the Israelites took as they advanced into the Promised Land? Crossing the Jordan at flood stage on dry ground, the walls of Jericho falling down, defeat and victory on the battle field, the sun standing still. . . .Wow! Don’t forget God’s promise to Joshua: “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” God is showing off, and using the special effects we call miracles. And, that promise is reiterated throughout scripture for God’s people, including you and me. He is always with us, and fights for us. Strengthen your resolve to face your Jerichos, Gideonites, and long battles. God is going ahead of you, and keeps his promises.
Welome to the Summer Bible Reading Challenge! There is nothing original about a pastor encouraging his people to read the Bible. However, I’m excited that you have begun to read a chapter a day as a new summer discipline. I know you will find it rich, informative, and regularly surprising. We are beginning in Joshua, which I have always found to be fortifying to me as a leader. Joshua is repeatedly admonished to be “strong and courageous.” In other words, it doesn’t happen in an instant. Any form of leadership will require fresh infusions of courage every day, and instruction for a reliable source. Joshua shows us that effective and bold leadership at work, in the family, or in the church, is produced by faithful obedience to the Lord and His Word every day (Josh. 1:8-9). What an incentive for all of us to continue the reading of this life-changing book every day this summer.
I was asked to speak as one of the defenders of marriage at a rally conducted at the State Capitol on March 7, 2013. Several other speakers gave clear, biblically grounded reasons for marriage being the union between and man and a woman. I certainly share that scriptural foundation for marriage. However, on this occasion I appealed to the unconvinced and skeptical to consider the negative consequences of meddling with words and their clear meanings. Here is the text from which my remarks were excerpted:
Minnesota for Marriage/ Capitol Rally 3/7/13, Roger Thompson
Today I speak as a Christian pastor who has spent much of his ministry life seeking to strengthen marriages and families. I believe that marriage is designed by God as a lifelong union between a man and a woman. But, you don’t have to share my biblical convictions to recognize the flawed reasoning behind the redefinition of a word as important as “marriage.”
I appeal to your reason and common sense. Redefining marriage is not just a semantic game. It is not a harmless broadening of a definition. It would be nothing less than a monumental, unnecessary and untested social experiment resulting in much societal harm. You don’t have to believe me, or the Bible. Just look at history.
History is the living laboratory for testing and proving the outcomes of social experiments. The results of those experiments are displayed in the health of societies, the strength of families, and the vitality of persons to live productive lives. Or not! History also shows that many of these experiments have had ghastly, unintended consequences. This should give us pause and produce humility about wagers with our society’s future.
In our living memory some of the most destructive social experiments began with the seemingly benign redefinition of words. But, with the stroke of a pen, and the change of a definition, millions of lives were devastated. Here are three examples:
1) The Soviet Union redefined the word “ownership” by simply adding an adjective: “collective.” Collective ownership and its enforcement under communism was a social experiment that ushered in a century of untold economic hardship, political oppression, poverty, and personal hopelessness. It was an unrealistic vision that crushed the human aspirations of four generations. It began with redefinition.
2) The Chinese government slightly redefined the word “family” by simply inserting the restriction of “one child.” History now shows that the one-child policy as a social experiment has produced a demographic time bomb. Selective abortion, even enforced abortion, is widely practiced. Girls are aborted and discarded, while boys are valued and kept. The social welfare of parents and grandparents now rests on that one child’s future productivity. Tragically, over 100 million Chinese men will never be able to find a wife due to the imbalance created by favoring boys over girls. This unimaginable suffering began with the redefinition of the family.
3) Human life itself has been redefined. The result of human conception is pregnancy and a child. But the “child” in the womb of a mother has been redefined as merely the “product of conception.” That redefinition of a child launched a social experiment that has cost 55 million children their lives over the past forty years. The loss of these lives and their God-given potential, plus the post-abortion traumas of millions of women give evidence to another failed social experiment. It, too, began with little things like words and their redefinition.
We must not let marriage be subject to the same kind of social experimentation. The definition of marriage matters because the health of our society depends on a vision for the family and the policies that support it. Words have meanings, and meanings matter. When definitions are arbitrarily changed, no matter how well-intentioned, it is not merely semantics or academic trivialities that are affected. All subsequent actions, including the policies and laws of a society, are dependent on words and their meanings. When definitions are blurred or evacuated of meaning, unintended, negative consequences accrue. Freedoms are eroded and the common good is compromised. The redefinition of marriage as yet another radical, untested social experiment, would unleash unforeseen changes at every level of government and family. It is a proposal previously unheard of, and untested, in the vast sweep of human history.
The definition of marriage as the union of male and female is not an academic construct. It is not just a religious scruple. It is woven into the very fabric of humanity’s existence. Nature and nature’s God makes us undeniably male and female. Our gendered creation has always been recognized in the establishment and protection of marriage. This is a reality proven in the laboratory of history in every viable society. Long before there was Christianity, American political parties, or the Supreme Court, Greek, Roman, Asian, African and European cultures recognized the inherent value of a strong family structure for the good of the next generation. These values were implemented in disparate ways, but always with the recognition of the inherent maleness and femaleness of humankind. All cultures, throughout all of history, bolstered by every major religion, have ensured that men and women who marry were supported by its laws and policies. Thereby the next generation was nurtured to contribute to a healthy society.
Today, we are confronted with two very different visions of marriage. Only one of these visions will meet the demands of reality in the laboratory of real human life . Our future viability as a culture depends on a definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. The other vision is an untested experiment. It blurs the created and obvious distinction of male and female in marriage and as a result will bring a host of downstream consequences. Redefinition of marriage will change every school’s curriculum. It will erode parent’s rights to teach sexuality to their child at an appropriate age. It will introduce not just so-called same sex marriage, but provide no guardrails against any number of polyamorous and polygamous ensembles of consenting adults being called a marriage. Those who disagree and resist this redefinition will be—and are--labeled as bigoted, resulting in viewpoint discrimination, job loss, lawsuits, new laws, hate speech legislation, and the resulting loss of religious freedom.
All enduring cultures throughout history have recognized the uniqueness of male and female united in marriage to build a stable and vital society. A genderless and arbitrary definition of marriage is an invention of the last few years of human history, and completely without evidence or precedent. To wager our future as a society based on this unprecedented redefinition is a social experiment of the gravest magnitude.
Neither ill will nor bigotry motivates a clear-headed advocacy to protect the definition of marriage. I appeal to your sound reasoning. Let’s not be participants in another untested social experiment. People, voters; Senators and Congressmen; Do not redefine marriage in Minnesota!
I have never figured out this church, and I’m OK with that. Not only does my mystification encourage humility, but it enhances the mystery of God’s moving and prompting in each individual heart. The latest thing I don’t understand is how many people are averse to having their picture taken! (Really, you look good, and we can help you look good!) As we launched the bold request to retire our mortgage by the start of our 50th anniversary (April 14, 2013) with the “Bigger Picture” initiative many responses have surprised me. Just this week I was asked: “Can we still give to the Bigger Picture mortgage paydown if we don’t have our picture taken?” It was asked in a hushed whisper as if having one’s picture taken was equivalent to a spinal tap. I didn’t ask if the hesitancy was a desire for anonymity, or just camera shyness. The picture is not the point; it’s the encouragement to others through mass participation that we are trying to convey. But that obviously is not the primary motivation. Many more have given than have put their pictures in the frame. Go figure. Something else is stirring your hearts, and that’s a good thing.
You are a mystery. The folks of Berean march to the beat of their own Master, and that isn’t me or your leadership. How else do you explain that, without any hype, and with only a few slight references throughout the year, you give over $150,000 to our Benevolent Fund? We decided long ago not to meddle with your motivations, which are obviously from the Holy Spirit’s prompting. God works. We watch. We give it away in the name of Jesus. Another example took place in the 90’s and early 2000’s. We used to ask for a “Faith Promise” for Global Outreach so that we could plan our budget. Year after year we received lower and lower commitments even though we worked harder than ever to communicate. Yet, the amount actually given kept going up even without any specified commitments! We tried to figure out some formula to help us forecast, but then we finally gave up! You just keep giving to meet the challenges to spread the Gospel to the world. We no longer go through the brain damage of asking for these commitments. We just pray and trust the Spirit of God in the hearts of His people to supply the need.
So, just keep confounding your Pastor. Do what God prompts you to do. Serve as you have done with energy and commitment. Give until it feels good. March to the heartbeat of God. Respond above and beyond the visible and practical motivations we lay before you.
I hope I can provoke you to think. Is there any ministry or gifting where mentorship, coaching, or simple imitation would not be encouraged? My answer is "Yes!" When it comes to giving and generosity few of us have any models, or have ever been specifically coached. This is because Spirit-led generosity has been shrouded in utmost anonymity and secrecy in the evangelical church. The hardest testimony to find is the one that honors God by telling of the blessings of giving. For good reasons. Yes, money and giving can so easily be mutated into pride and blowing one's own trumpet. And, even when the giver is explicitly humble and God-honoring, there is nothing to stop the observer from feeling guilty when he/she compares their own giving.
So, yes, this area of our spiritual lives and our common life together is fraught with fleshly stumbling blocks. So, most of us never talk about it. We don't even mention our intentions. We don't speak even in general terms about our practice, or our blessings that derive from biblical stewardship. We don't "spur one another on" in our Small Groups or classes, or even in our families. There can be equally prideful stumbles about evangelism, or service, or teaching, but that doesn't stop us from pursuing those graces in humble but transferrable ways. When Paul admonishes the Macedonians to "be sure you excel in this grace of giving," is he not well aware of the prideful or false-guilt pitfalls? Of course he is. But, just as with any gift or opportunity, giving can be blessed or abused. This should not stop us from telling a friend about our practices, our disciplines, and our blessings in generosity. This is not a push to broadcast your giving numbers on facebook, or announce your tithing totals in your Sunday School class. But, it is meant to stir you out of isolated silence about one of the most needed, and seldom modeled, graces in the Living Church. What do you think?
Beginning this Sunday, and over the next several weeks, I’m going to be asking you to take a step of faith. I want to brace you and prepare you for what that might feel like.
When we feel that God has spoken, or has prompted us to act, we are faced with a stark decision. We can follow or we can flee. Fight or flight, scrimmage or scram, dodge or do. This is the contest in the heart when fresh faith is required. Though faith has many dimensions, it’s impossible to bleach it of risk. It’s risky to take steps into the unknown. It’s risky to go where we haven’t been before. It’s brand new territory and we have no map; only a compass heading. So, when we feel that divine nudge it always comes with conflicting emotions. It’s a contest between self-preservation and trustful obedience. But this is the walk of faith, and the experience of the faithful.
If God is asking you to respond in faith, don’t be surprised if there is strong resistance, multiple hesitations, and plenty of common sense to oppose this step. Take courage that faith is more than a temporary feeling. It is the trust by which we live pleasing to God. It is grounded in the reality of His existence, and fueled by the joy of what we cannot yet see. (Hebrews 11:6)
Don’t let the initial turbulence of doubt and resistance stop you from the true, timely, and trustful step of faith. God will be honored, and you will be strengthened.
We do not pride ourselves on busyness. There is no spiritual depth to be gained by incessant activity. But that said, this past ten days has been a remarkable burst of intense ministry. Across the ages, and in strikingly different venues, Berean has been deployed in significant ways:
--Epic Students Ministries departed for Lake Beauty Bible Camp over the MEA weekend. It looked like the Normandy landing as almost three hundred students and volunteer staff took to the buses. Mark Gold was the speaker, and many lives were touched and changed forever.
--Dozens of Berean volunteers lent their backs and muscle to a Habitat for Humanity project in South St. Paul. Soon a family will live there, thanks to the hard work and expensive time joyfully given as a sacrifice to the Lord.
--“Kid’s Closet” this past Saturday saw hundreds of our neighbors coming for food, free haircuts, breakfast and clothing. What a generous give-away! It’s all done in the name of Jesus by a team that works year round for these splurges of love to our community.
--“The Lodge” was a major men’s event this past Friday. Ben Utecht shared his story, especially how he came to points of surrender which changed his life. Among some deeper spiritual decisions, many of the men signed up for small groups and other ministries.
--Pastor Ken Parker and his Christian Arts Ministry mounted three performances of “Favored Nation” at the Burnsville Center for the Performing Arts. Many of the cast and choir were from Berean. An audience from across the Twin Cities heard how God has been woven into the fabric of our nations founding and preservation.
--Lori Anderson, our new Director of Women’s Ministries, joined our team officially! We rejoice in her coming to us, and eagerly watch for the Lord’s deployment of her gifts and service.
Whew! There’s more, but I won’t mention the hundreds who regularly serve, teach and encourage. The sheer liveliness and vitality of the Body of Christ is a wonder. I do feel awe as I realize that all of these ministries are simply expressions of the life of Christ in his children. We ARE the living church!
I've been back in the saddle for just over a month after a twelve-week sabbatical. The time away from pastoral responsibilities was delicious, and most needed. However, I was eager to return because this is not a job; it's a calling and a joy. What has been most striking to me upon returning has been the LIFE that exudes from every pore of this church. As I have gone from the on-ramp, onto the freeway, and now back to the fast lane, the remarkable thing is how alive, dynamic, and Spirit-saturated are the many ministries that thrive here. I don't find dull-eyed volunteers just filling slots. I find servants who care about the details, but also about the high purposes of their ministry. I see creativity, innovation, and joy in our staff team. I witness a four-generation church living in unity of purpose while enjoying disparate tastes in dress, music, and activities.
Now, it's not that I'm viewing perfection. We all know that will never happen this side of eternity. I just want to reflect that the Spirit of God is prompting, empowering, guiding and making fruitful the many, many ministries of this local church. When I step back, as I did this summer, and then re-engage, I am struck by the liveliness and sacrificial joy in God's people. Sometimes we get so close to the dilemmas, the details, and the disappointments that we don't see that God is building his church. I am so grateful for the privilege of pastoring Berean. Thank you to all of you who give, and give of yourself, to contribute to the genuine life of the body of Christ.
All the ills, misconceptions and lethargy of the modern church could be overcome with the practice of genuine christian hospitality. You may think that is an overstatement, but let me try to back it up.
First of all, if there is any ill or weakness of the modern church, especially the larger church like Berean, it is the segregation of ages and life stages. There is incessant pressure to stay relevant to every group. When we gather on Sundays we are segmented into age-groups. I affirm this because of the age-appropriate teaching of the Word. However, this is only a tiny portion of the time we could spend building community. Age-ism isolates young from old. Sub-cultures within the body of Christ are insulated from the needs of others. But, hospitality in the home brings everyone back together. Children are treated as real people. Adult conversation is overheard. Youth and serve and enter into the conversation. Laughter is shared along with the satisfaction of everyone's common physical hunger. Life rubs against life. Deep impressions of values, commitments, and safety are lodged in the heart of a child. Adults find a place to slow down. Life is absorbed, not just observed. We call it simple hospitality.
How is the Christian community perceived? The media portrayal is one of angry, ungenerous, intolerant ideologues who are afraid of the larger society. Christian hospitality, as practiced throughout history, proves this perception to be totally false. Opening homes, and making homes for the stranger has been the fire beneath the Salvaton Army, the Red Cross, homeless shelters in every city, and the heroic rescue of slaves. Hospitals, half-way houses, hostels, nursing homes and benevolence funds are all the product of Jesus commanding us to love the neighbor who is often a stranger. How much differently would Christ-followers be viewed if our love for each other, and our hospitality toward the stranger, were as passionate as our political views? This is strategic hospitality.
There are lonely people right inside the church. This is a tragedy for those who call themselves the family of God. A greeting in the commons is one thing. Inviting someone into your apartment or home is an act of generosity of a completely different magnitude. This is not just the practice of niceness! This is the "stirring up" of one another that sustains Gospel witness and spiritual maturity. How many believers have gifts left undeveloped because no one knows them? Who among us doesn't need to feel valued and affirmed so that our faith is stirred into courage? Who doesn't need refreshment and encouragement when we have spent ourselves in ministry or service? The simple, but generous offer of a cup of coffee, a shared dessert, or a meal around a table does more to fan the flames of joyful service than a hundred sermons. This is essential hospitality.
Could my opening statement be true? What other practical Christian discipline could make a bigger change in the life of the Living Church?
We need to have a conversation. It’s a dialogue about marriage, the direction of our culture, and how to speak the truth with grace. Believe it or not, preaching about the biblical gift of marriage is the easy part. The hard part is answering questions and countering slogans that are coming at us in a flurry of sound bites. “Why limit the freedom to marry?” “How is same-sex marriage harmful to your marriage?” “If I was born this way, why would God not want me to express who I really am?” “Many churches and denominations are opposed to the Marriage Amendment. Don’t you want to be on the right side of history?” “This is the 21st century equivalent of the Civil Rights movement. Will the evangelical church be missing in action?”
In your school, workplace and family these are some of the questions that can leave you flustered and even doubting your own assumptions. We are engaged in a battle that is multi-layered. Sometimes the issue is a perceived lack of empathy. Sometimes it’s political. Sometimes we are clinging to a relationship with a friend or family member. Sometimes we are debating the meaning of scripture passages. I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t inhabit the workplace, family or school where you live your life. That’s why we need a conversation. Come and add your insight and wisdom as we equip each other to be IN the world but not OF the world. This is much bigger than an issue on our November ballot. The living church must be able to articulate the “reason for the hope” we have in Christ.
The Conversation will be Sunday evening, October 14 from 7-8:30pm in Room 114.
These are words I wrote to our Elders in July of 2011: "If my sense of things proves to be true, the next eighteen months will be a defining season for our state, our culture, and this church." I was contemplating what would happen during this election season when the the Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman would come to a vote. Who would have guessed, even five years ago, the vilification directed at Chick-fil-a and its owner simply because they uphold this traditional family value? Who could have predicted the speed with which the upholders of life, marriage and religious freedom would be marginalized and caricatured in the media, and coerced by government policy?
But here we are. We stand at a crux of history when moral absolutes defined in scripture are intersecting with public policy and politics. We cannot be silent. However, I am primarily concerned with the living church. Though the political contest is significant, the essential battle is spiritual. Will we--will you and I--choose obedience no matter what the political or legal outcome is? Is my spiritual allegiance to Jesus Christ greater than my passion for my way of life? This Sunday I will be challenging the church to return to its source of authority. Without this solid stance everything is up for grabs. When even self-evident truths like the design of male and female are being questioned, we need to return to solid, immovable foundations. God has revealed himself to us for such a time as this.
Pastor Roger’s view:
Last Sunday close to two hundred people of all ages crowded to the front of the worship center to express their desire to rededicate their lives to obey Jesus Christ. No one knows all the reasons for those decisions except God alone. Many, many others chose not to make their commitments visible, but prayed for rededication where they sat or stood. This is the living church responding to its Lord by turning away from self and sin and turning toward his will. The Bible calls this repentance. It is the doorway to joy, power, courage, and hope. It is the kind of deep change that brings each one closer to displaying the image of Jesus Christ in his or her life.
I don’t often give an invitation of this type, but I have a deep sense that we are walking into a crux of history when the real church is going to be severely tested. We in the west have largely been immune from persecution. However, the forces of political correctness and raw godlessness in our society are making the most fundamental pillars of biblical morality targets of hate and derision. We are not looking for a fight, nor to provoke political squabbles. But, just by standing on the solid teaching of scripture the living church will incur the wrath of relativism.
This is why I’m calling us to understand and practice the biblical pattern of repentance. The only thing we know for certain about the future is that Christ has called us to become more and more like him. This is a daily realignment to His will and a relinquishment of mine. Don’t dread it. Run to it!
Please pray for this week’s message as I lay out the true Gospel and invite all those who have never received Christ to acknowledge Him.