Author: Peter Englert (page 2 of 21)

The Deeper Reality of Politics

How have you felt about the upcoming election? One week from today millions will cast their vote for president. Messages of fear, anxiety, angst, and anger have come to the forefront of each commentary on the candidates. Fact-checking gets more and more difficult with the vast amount of information.

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Faith in Jesus does not dismiss our fears, anxieties, and frustrations, but rather responds to it differently. The deeper reality of politics has to do with one of the greater narratives of Scripture; Jesus is the hero of every story.

Scan the pages of the Old and New Testaments. You will find deeply flawed political leaders. David, the most heralded of Jewish kings, commits murder. Solomon exploits his riches to feed his pleasure. Xerxes operated out of insecurity. Nebuchadnezzar had an enormous ego out of his gain. Pilate cared about the polls before they even existed.

I wonder what those followers of Jesus would say to us today. Perhaps, they would empathize with our plight. Even more so, I think they would remind us to look beyond the power systems to see God at work. They had lived through their political chaos to see that Jesus works in the storms.

How do you live out the deeper reality of Jesus in the midst of this political mess? Eugene Peterson in Reverse Thunder, a book about Revelation, has a chapter called “The Last Word on Politics.” Peterson describe living in the deeper reality called the “Politics of the Lamb” or the politics of Jesus:

The politics of the Lamb takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal. The politics of the Lamb, by showing that the plainest of details of our daily faith are significant facts in a cosmic drama, protects us from hubris and guides us into maturity that pours intelligence and energy into what is before us, make a work of a holy art out of the ordinary.

Radically following Jesus in this political climate can look ordinary. Our faith lived out goes well-beyond who will become president. You live out in your practices.

It exchanges the constant fact-checking of policy and insults with the truth of Scripture. It calls us to identify our anxiety and bring it to prayer. We watch our words and thoughts because we recognize each person created in the image of God. Faithfully, we gather with the community of believers sharing in the greater story of grace.

Today, live in the deeper reality of Jesus. No matter who becomes president, He is the hero of every story. Let your faith become practice.

Photo credit by Augusto Navarro.

Just a Little More

“Don’t wear your cleats to practice. Bring your running shoes.” Coach Jamie, my high school soccer coach, would announce these dreaded words. It signified what he lovingly termed, “Conditioning Practice.” As opposed to a regular practice, these practices meant running and sprinting. Followed by more running and sprinting. A few ab workouts and pushups rounded out our session in the humid August weather of Upstate New York.

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We loathed these practices. Coach would press us to compete against ourselves, putting in just a little more effort and energy every drill. By the end of practice, each of us had experienced a small degree of satisfaction in making it through this conditioning. When the humid August sun turned into the cool October breeze, our team could run with any opponent we face.

Grace reminds me of conditioning practice. The moment we think we have sufficiently exercised grace, we find ourselves in relationships and circumstances that need just a little more than we thought.

Consider what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:41, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” It’s as if Jesus says, “Just when you thought you gave enough, double it.” Not necessarily the Bible verse we stitch onto pillows or make into bumper stickers.

Jesus calls to exercise an unnatural amount of grace. We do not extend it by sheer willpower or gritty determination. It comes from experiencing the forgiveness and acceptance that He has given us. The more we realize the grace we have received through Christ, the more we can come to extend it to others, even when it’s a little more than we think.

So today, you might encounter opportunities to offer a little more grace…
Listening to a person who needs five more minutes in a conversation.
Answering ten more additional questions.
Waiting fifteen more minutes than you would like.
Perhaps, even walking a literal extra mile.

Grace like conditioning practice prepares us to offer more each opportunity with the realization that Christ has given us infinitely more than we can ever think or imagine.

Who will you extend a little more grace today?

Photo credit by Christian Widell.

7 Tips for Listening to Sermons

I sat across my wife, Robyn, at Sunday lunch a few weeks ago. As we started to eat, she turned to me and asked, “Could we talk more about the sermon this morning and each week?” The question seemed straightforward. Then she added, “I would like to hear what you think and some Sundays we rarely mention it after service.”

Recalling the last few Sundays at lunch with Robyn, my mind raced from the morning sermon to the next part of the day. She rightly pointed out a missed opportunity. We could share about areas God challenged us to grow in a setting both of us experienced.

Listening to a sermon invites to a community conversation and can deepen our understanding of a passage. It allows us a chance to talk to each other about spiritual matters in our lives because we can respond to a shared experience. It calls on us to process how the Bible relates to our lives.

You may want to understand the Bible in deeper and more significant ways. You might desire to have a more meaningful dialogue with others about following Jesus.  Listening to sermons can bring these opportunities to you. Here are seven tips to for listening to sermons:

1. Take Notes.

In the last couple weeks, I have started taking notes on YouVersion. This app allows churches to input the points from the speaker. I have found myself focusing on what the speaker says about the point, rather than trying to write out the point. Other people using the app like having online storage rather than paper.

Whether you use paper and pen or an app, you retain more by taking notes. You can go back to your notes during the week or in conversation.

2. Focus in on the Reading of the Passage.

When the speaker or pastor begins to read the Scripture, follow along. You may want to highlight or underline verses that you have questions. Certain words or phrases might jump off the page. I like to add a date of the sermon in the passage, so when I come back, I can recall it.

3. Recognize the Cues.

At certain points of the sermon, the speaker might signal an important insight in understanding the passage. Here a few cues to identify:

Definitions – The speaker unpacks the original meaning of a word in Greek or Hebrew.
Biblical References – Note the additional passages mention and the idea associated with them. You can go back later and re-read the passage.
Context – Consider the back story of the passage and what other events surrounded it. Why did the author write this? Who is the audience? These insights can help a passage become more relevant.

When you hear these cues, make note of it. You might even want to highlight the verse associated with it.

4. Utilize a Group Guide.

Often, churches will provide group guides for small groups. You may want to have one with you during service looking at the questions. After the sermon, you can even answer the questions personally before going to a group.

5. Post on Social Media.

Social Media invites us to a further conversation. A point or Scripture passage might have come alive. Posting can reaffirm the same point that others have heard. It adds to the community element. Share a picture on Instagram. Use the series #hashtag in a Twitter post. Check-In to the church with Facebook.

6. Re-Listen to the Sermon.

Take time to listen to a podcast or watch the video. You can do this in the office or when driving in the car.

7. Discuss the Sermon.

Just like Robyn encouraged me to do, talk about the sermon. You might listen to the sermon with a family member or friend. Use this opportunity to share and hear from them. Small groups give you an opportunity process the passage together. You can use these two questions to start a conversation:

What questions did you have?
What point stuck out the most?
What challenged you?
How will you respond to this passage?

What tip would you offer for listening to a sermon? Share in the comment section below.

Photo by Aaron Burden.

Looking for God in the Wrong Places

He sat at his wits’ end in a cave. As quickly as his success had entered the scene, rejection banished him to the wilderness. We can easily discern God’s will when all the pieces line up. It becomes a different story in the face of opposition coupled with our exhaustion and burnout. There he sat debilitated by his fear and loneliness.

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I remember reading this passage as a seventh grader. That awkward time when nothing falls into the middle; you experience life in the extremes of elation and despair. Looking back to those experiences seem mild today but critical at that present moment.

Elijah at his wits’ end and the seventh grade me wonders how God responds. Then God asks a question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9)

He let’s loose. He reminds God of his loneliness in the cave. It seems that with all the activity from the previous passages – the miracle on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:16-45) and the banishment from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-2) – had caught up with Elijah.

Have you been there? The circumstances of life leave you alone at a cave. When you finally have a moment to stop, you look for God. Hoping for an answer, He asks a question. We really want God to fix our circumstances and radically change the situation. Most times God moves a little slower than we would like.

Questions allow us to share what’s really on our mind. Then again questions frustrate us when we want answers. Perhaps, in the moment of crisis, God knows we need less impetuous action and more thoughtful waiting. If anything, questions slow us down.

God asks Elijah to wait for His presence. Not the invitation that a seventh grader in crisis wants. Not the direction an exhausted prophet hopes to receive. Not the command exasperated parents desire in the chaos of child-rearing. Not the advice for those in conflicts within relationships. Not the professional consultation to implement in our jobs. Waiting seems so unnatural in these moments.

Then God sends an earthquake, but He’s not in the earthquake.
Then God sends the fire, but He’s not in the fire.
Then a whisper. Yes, a mundane and ordinary whisper. He’s in the quiet (1 Kings 19:11-13)

Elijah, seventh grade me, and the rest of us can look for God in the wrong places – we want the quick and efficient miracle to our crisis. Often, His best work comes when He asks us to wait. Examine our motives. Recalibrate our hearts. Then we can begin to see clearly.

As we begin the week, you might find yourself in a cave like Elijah. Take the time to wait for Him. Perhaps, He wants to work in you before working in your crisis.

Have you ever experienced a time like Elijah, when God called you to wait? What was that like and what did you learn from it? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Ksenia Kudelkina.

The Beatitudes of Church & Social Media

Today’s guest post comes from Benjamin DeCastro. He lives in Warren, RI with his wife Susan, and is a Marketing & Social Media Strategist.  He spent 15 years working for the largest furniture retailer in Southern New England as the Director of Promotions, Events & Media Relations which included marketing, creating ads, media planning & buying as well as the company’s spokesman.  Ben is also a musician, having played drums, keyboards & accordion for a number of bands – presently the drummer for the 2016 New England Music Awards Country Act of the Year – The Annie Brobst Band, based out of Boston, MA.  Read more about Ben at benjamindecastro.com or follow him on Facebook.

If you’re a small group leader, media volunteer, elder, pastor or staff person at a church you already know that Social Media is a great tool to use for connecting and outreach, however – there needs to a strategy behind how it’s implemented. It’s something that takes time. Regularly scheduling 2-3 hours per week to manage your various social media channels will keep your pages looking fresh, exciting, and inviting.

When I was thinking about this recently, I came up with this list of helpful tips that you can use to improve your Social Media plan.

Blessed are those who Like, they and their organization shall be liked.
Logistical Note: This can only be done via your laptop or desktop computer. For a page you want to like as your Church Page, right click over the “three dot photo” on the far right of the pages cover photo and select the option to “Like as your page.”
If you’re going to like a photo, status, link or event – you’ll need to select who you’re liking by clicking on the small image on the right side of the item you wish to like and change who you like from there – specifically for that event.

Blessed are those who respond to comments and messages on Facebook, for they shall be considered responsive.
Thoughtful, appropriate comments are always great! Jokes that need an explanation just don’t work, so don’t waste your time.

Blessed are those who regularly post, for they shall inherit engagement.
But remember – it’s got to be part of the plan – too much and you’ll get blocked!

Blessed are those who take photos for Facebook and Instagram, for they get the picture.
Be sure parishioners in the photo are ok with having their image posted in social media.

Blessed are those who Tweet relevant content, for they shall receive retweeted.
I know they’re important, but 10 individual tweets of each of the 10 Commandments has been done, many times before… just saying.

Blessed are those who utilize Facebook live during a Sunday morning service, for they shall be considered not-dead.
Be sure the person who does this uses a stand for the device they’re going live. Save people the trouble of purchasing motion-sickness pills.

Blessed are those who create events on the church Facebook page, for those events will be remembered and attended.
Even if you’re not getting a ton of RSVP’s – it will show up in the notifications of those who follow your page – it’s like the weekly bulletin you can’t throw away!

Blessed are those who boost posts thoughtfully and responsibly, for they shall see growth in a multitude of ways.
Be a good steward of the financial gifts that God has entrusted to you and strategically plan if you’re going to boost. Also, before you boost, be sure you take the time to review all the details before you place the order- this will help you maximize the potential for the budget you allocate as well as the audience you reach!

Blessed is the Pastor, who encourages check-in’s on a Sunday Morning, for he challenges people to virtually open the doors to their network in a very real way.
Not everyone will do this, but some will – and that helps boost the organic reach your page has!

Blessed is the multi-media team who actively recruits those of the congregation to share a testimony on video with permission to share it on the various platforms, for they shall be seen as approachable and not considered “Apple Geeks”
Do I really need to go into detail on this one?

I hope you found these both humorous and helpful. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and almost every other social media platform can certainly be useful tools for outreach and ministry. Take the time to formulate the guidelines of how you’re going to utilize social media and seek out help from trustworthy sources when you need it!

Stay Social!
~bigBEN

Photo credit by Jaelynn Castillo.

Remedying Short Attention Spans

Short attention spans come easier and easier. The headlines of last month can get lost in the urgency of today’s news. We move from story to story at an alarming rate, sometimes without taking any time to reflect on the larger issues. Opinions get debated without little nuance or thoughtfulness. It can seem more information brings anxiety rather than peace.

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Remedying short attention spans begins with recognizing Christ’s grace. It requires us to redirect our focus to a greater reality rather than succumbing to distractions. In a world where everything seems urgent, the Gospel constantly reminds us of the resurrection of meaning. We can live life as those created in God’s image and restored by His forgiveness.

A new way of looking at engaging Scripture includes the habit of having a longer attention span. We need this simple practice and reminder of seeing God’s grace. Consider what Eugene Peterson says in Run with the Horses:

We live on the gossip of the moment and the rumors of the hour. It is not as if we never hear the truth at all, but we don’t realize its overwhelming significance. It is an extra, an aside. We have no sense of continuity. We respond to whims, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Then Scripture is placed before us. Words are assembled and arranged, and powerful patterns of truth become visible…Amnesia is replaced by recognition. Distraction gathered into attention.

Engaging Scripture has to do with cultivating an attentive heart to seeing God’s presence in the world around us. Not falling into the trap of worry, today’s headlines, and ventilated opinions, but coming to the place where we discover the Gospel in real life; seeing God’s grace in the everyday.

So today, read the Bible seeing the continuous work of God’s grace in the world around you. Take time to reflect on His faithfulness of yesterday. Slow down at a verse that stops you rather than reading for a quick self-help fix. Keep the Scripture as a reminder by writing it down or saving it on an app.

How can you recognize God’s continuous work rather than living with a short attention span?

Photo credit by Seth Doyle.

Breaking Bread

My Grandma grew up in New York City during the Great Depression. She developed a toughness in speaking her mind and defending what she considered right. Her life changed when she began to follow Jesus; radical grace complemented tough, gritty truth.

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The church I grew up attending had a special communion service. Fresh loaves of bread sat out in the front of the sanctuary. The pastor gave instructions to take the bread and find a person who you might have offended or needed to forgive. It became a tangible way for the church to practice forgiveness as Jesus taught.

On that particular night, Grandma approached the front. She took the loaf and turned to the pastor, “I have felt bothered and upset at you, and I would like to ask for forgiveness.” As they broke bread together, tears began to roll down their faces.

I have heard that story from my Grandma a dozen times. When she talks about that pastor, I can hear her admiration for him. It has become a powerful picture to me of forgiveness.

Consider the night that Jesus gave communion to His disciples. He broke bread with a man who would betray him. Another person would deny him. Almost all of them would abandon him. After Jesus had resurrected, he broke bread with these very same people for their reconciliation. The Savior, who taught on forgiveness, practice it to the people who hurt him.

The Gospel motivates us to break bread because Jesus has graciously broken bread for us. Breaking bread means putting aside our desire for revenge. It moves us from bitterness to compassion. And in a simple act of eating to stay alive, we come to see that we all need grace from our Savior.

Imagine a community of people who sought reconciliation instead constant bickering. People would see the love of Christ at dinner tables and perhaps the literal act of breaking bread like my Grandma. Sometimes before our tough conversations, we simply need a meal together.

Who has God called you to break bread with today? Maybe, you can take the first step of reconciliation like what Jesus has done for you.

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

Bridge Building & Wall Building

Embrace your critics. You may have heard several iterations of this axiom from books, articles, and speakers. We desire to grow in how we interact with difficult people, our opposites, and even enemies. Then the conflict comes, or the blunt feedback hits us from them. Rather than looking to embrace, it seems easier to exclude.

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You and I have a choice when we come to these relationships, will we build bridges or walls?

No matter what the current best practice resources say, our natural tendency can desire to shut these people out of our lives or ready ourselves for an unhelpful argument. In the moment, we want to take revenge or find justice. Rarely does this help in the long run.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says in Matthew 5:44, “…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” You may have heard this verse a thousand times, but take a moment to consider it with fresh eyes.

The audience listening to Jesus’ teaching faced the injustice of the Roman government, especially taxation. In the previous verses, Jesus calls them not to retaliate and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). Not an easy task in the midst of mistreatment. Jesus called these people run against their natural tendency of building walls and build bridges towards other people.

Not only did Jesus teach this verse, but He lived it out. His death and resurrection provided us grace as a bridge to Him. That’s the Gospel, the Good News.

So when we face the critics, difficult people, and even enemies, how can we build bridges rather than following our natural tendency to build walls? Here are three ideas.

1. Wall building assumes the worst. Bridge building assumes the best.

Conflicts can result from us placing assumptions on other people. We think that they are out to get us, or they intentionally want to thwart us. At times, it can happen. Many times people have acted with positive intentions that they did not mean to affect us negatively. Looking to assume the best of a person allows us to see their perspective and then have a dialogue to share our perspective.

2. Wall building focuses on disagreements. Bridge building finds common ground.

People have different beliefs, convictions, and personalities. Before we go on in an argument, find the common ground. What areas can we agree? Starting from this place can encourage reconciliation and a mutual resolution.

3. Wall building pleads a case. Bridge building seeks personal blind spots.

When we plead our case, it becomes an us verse them. You and I will vent to others hoping they agree with us while continuing to increase the distance from the other person. Building bridges means asking, what do I not see about myself? We can begin to pray seeking God’s help see our motivations of our hearts.

You might find yourself in the midst of a challenging relationship. Consider the example Jesus and ask Him for wisdom. Find a trusted friend to help you recognize your blind spots.

What other ways can you build bridges instead of walls in your relationships?

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Comfortably Uncomfortable

What seasons of your life have you experienced the most growth? I had graduated from college and embarked on a journey to Springfield, MO. My brother and sister-in-law had graciously provided me a place to stay as I began graduate school. Flying out on New Year’s Day, I had an idealistic view of hitting the ground running.

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The first few weeks did not go as planned. It took more time to get connected to a community than I thought. The job search ended with me at a school cafeteria and catering service. I found myself wandering and at times floundering asking God, “Why am I here?”

Comfort comes in various forms and fashions. Some find comfort in control, the ability to create predictable circumstances. Others tend to see comfort in equilibrium, situations and relationships at peace without any conflict. Each of us has our definition and image this kind of security and exportability.

Most of our growth comes in seasons of uncomfortableness. Those moments when we have to work towards a resolution to a conflict. It arrives in the midst of the unexpected changes and unforeseeable detours to our plans. We look for every way out finding no escape only to look back to see the grace of God transforming our hearts and lives.

Following the first few weeks in Springfield went from uncomfortable to comfortably uncomfortable. In that time, I started to connect with friends and embraced the opportunities. Christ began to humble my heart. The transformation that needed to occur needed to happen within me. Not the ideal vision I had thought, but the exact season I needed to mature.

Tod Bolsinger in Canoeing the Mountains makes a compelling insight about leadership, but also applies to each of us personally as we follow Christ:

The art of leadership is helping the system override the instinct of self-preservation and replace it with a new organizational instinct to be curious about and open to the terrifying discomfort of asking, Could God be up to something?

Our default responses to uncomfortable predicaments range from fight, flight, dismissiveness, stubbornness, and often blame shifting. What we might find is growth that would never occur unless we got outside of our comfort zones.

Today, I hope you can embrace the comfortably uncomfortable. The next time we face one of these moments or seasons we can ask the question, “Could God be up to something?”

In what uncomfortable season have you experienced growth? How might God cause growth in your life during a current uncomfortable moment?

Photo credit by Jared Erondu.

The Imaginative Gospel

I sat across from two friends at coffee. We updated each other on our lives and current reading list. The conversation began to turn towards how people grow. He reached for his coffee cup and made a powerful observation about following Jesus.

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He said to both of us, “We tell people what not to do, rather than giving them the imagination of what life in Christ could look like.”

We can become fixated of what we need to stop or quit. Dallas Willard in the Divine Conspiracy called this the “Gospel of Sin-Management.” This gospel lives in the present without the future vision of how Christ’s grace transforms our lives. It becomes our constant anxiety of checking out lists and earning God’s grace.

The Gospel gives us the optimistic imagination for growth. God’s grace causes us to see His presence at work in us. He invites us to have a vision for our lives in His likeness and loving people as He has.

When Jesus encounters people in Scripture, He sees the reality of who they are and who they can become through believing in Him.
Peter, despite his faults and failure, receives a vision from Jesus to shepherd God’s people (John 21).
The woman at the well moves past her reputation in Samaria to communicating to people a vision of Christ’s grace (John 4).
The woman caught in adultery moves from experiencing shame to the radical acceptance of Jesus (John 8:1-11)

The Good News of Jesus Christ gives us the reality of our need for a Savior, but also provides us a vision of life-change through His grace…
Worry can transform into faith in Christ.
Judging others can turn towards compassion.
Shame gets exchanged for the radical acceptance of a Savior.
Materialism and greed can be swapped for contentment.

The list could go further. The question for you is where has Christ given you imagination for life-change? What one area might He call you to have a radical vision for His grace?

Ask God about these questions. Then share it a with a trusted friend. Grace grows our imagination with the assumption of God at work in our lives.

Imagination and faith are the same thing, giving substance to our hopes and reality to the unseen – Bishop John V. Taylor

Photo credit by Kamesh Vedula.

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