Author Archives: John Mulholland
We know who “those people” are.
They are the ones who are different than us. They look different and they speak different. They’ve been married a time or two (maybe more) than we have. Their language is coarser than ours. They like to smoke, drink, and chew, and worse, they go with those who do. Maybe they’ve made some really poor financial decisions or their life seems like one emergency after another. They may not care that much about God or Jesus, and the concepts of church and religion are offensive to them.
Or maybe, they have everything one could ever want or need. Their lives are perfect and they are living the dream. Never divorced, 3 perfect kids and the highest moral character. They may even attend your church because that’s what good people do.
Yesterday in our staff meeting, we read from Philippians 3:12-21. As we reflected, we talked about how those who do not know Christ are headed for eternal separation from God (we call that “Hell”- but that’s another post), how we might minister to them and share the good news of Jesus Christ, then ultimately, we ended up with a conversation about “being in the world but not of it.”
This morning, I read from Matthew 9- specifically when Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector, to follow him. Jesus and the disciples would be invited over to Matthew’s home as dinner guests. Who else was there?
“many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners”
Now, I wasn’t there, but I know what happens when a bunch of disreputable sinners get together. Why? Because I used to be one.
Guess who else was there…the Pharisees. And their response?
“why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
Verses 12 and 13 from Matthew 9 are amazing. In verse 12, Jesus seems to placate the Pharisees, “healthy people don’t need a doctor-sick people do”. Surely the Pharisees loved this statement, in their minds they likely heard, “all of THOSE PEOPLE are sick and diseased…what’s wrong with them?”
Then, Jesus says this, “Check your scripture, especially this: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ I am not here for those who think they are righteous, but for those who know they are sinners“.
The narrow path calls believers to be in relationship with people. It’s actually ok to be friends with people who are not believers (I wrote more about this in a previous post).
The narrow path calls believers to be aware of their own sinfulness.
The narrow path calls believers to show mercy.
The narrow path calls believers to set aside our self-righteousness and be with those who are in need of the Doctor.
We begin this narrowest of paths by simply being with people.
Will you walk with me?
Just going to set this out there.
I lean for the separation of church and state.
While our nation was indeed founded upon the ideals of Judeo-Christianity, many of the men whom we call “Founding Fathers” were also greatly impacted by the Enlightenment- and a huge tenet of the Enlightenment was Deism. At it’s base, Deism is the belief in God as a divine watchmaker, He’s built the watch, wound it up, then let it run. No miracles. No intervention. No personal relationship.
Add to this one more thing- Western Philosophical Thought- going back to the ancient Greek philosophers and their ideals of heart/mind separation, from which we get Stoicism, Epicureanism, the separation between the sacred and the secular, and eventually Gnosticism.
Today is the National Day of Prayer– a time for people to come together and pray for our nation and it’s leaders. On this day, President Trump has created and signed an executive order about religious liberties.
And, because we are a rage culture, well, rage ensues from all sides- one side is angry and disappointed, with the other seemingly mocking their Christian brothers and sisters.
As I prepared yesterday for an upcoming message, I read Acts 3-4. Peter and John are out in the Temple, healing people and talking about Jesus. They’re arrested by the priests and brought before the council- the same ones who about 60 days before had killed Jesus. Since the guy that was healed was standing there, there was literally nothing the council could do except “command them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.”
The response from Peter and John is simple and should guide each and every person who claims the cross- “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.”
While legal religious liberties may indeed be governed, proclaimed, enforced, or legislated, there is a higher authority. In fact, it is this higher authority (the Creator alluded to in our founding documents) that allows (appoints, even!) this lower authority. It is to this higher kingdom that we are commanded to obey and live in.
While I’m thrilled beyond measure to live in a nation founded upon high ideals, even “Christian” ones, there’s a Higher Kingdom in which I, and everyone else on earth, truly reside and it is the law of this Kingdom to which we are bound.
Matthew 7 is disorienting- it begins with Jesus warning against the judgment of others because of our own sinfulness and inability to see past it. With a quick detour about faithfulness on prayer and treating others with an attitude of love, Jesus then talks about:
– the difficulty of even finding, much less living, in God’s kingdom- and how many are on the wide road that leads to their destruction,
– a warning against false teachers and the simplicity of recognizing them because of their fruit,
– the reality that not everyone who calls Jesus “Lord” really belongs to him,
– the real test of our relationship with Christ is what we do with his teachings- we either heed it in the power of the Holy Spirit, or we ignore it.
In a time where I’d rather judge the sinful actions and motives of others, Jesus calls me (and you) to look deeply within and confront the deep wickedness within, repent and live anew.
This is indeed the narrow path, one few find. And it’s why the people were awed by the teaching of Jesus.
May we be awed into obedience.
Reading Genesis 27 today- some days I’m really frustrated by the way God brings blessings upon people who are nothing but disobedient jackholes.
Jacob steals the blessing of his older brother (Jacob who will go on to be the father of 12 sons- the 12 tribes of Israel). Esau renters the scene and begs his father to give him a blessing as well. It begins…
“You will live away from the richness of the earth, and away from the dew of the heaven above. You will live by the sword, and you will serve your brother.”
Imagine the pain of Esau.
“But when you decide to break free, you will shake his yoke from your neck.”
Our story does not have to end with “disobedient jackhole.” Our story does not have to end with a curse because of the “disobedient jackhole-ness” of others.
In fact, our story begins when we decide to break free, when we shake the yoke off of our necks.
Thanks be to God for disobedient jackholes, of whom I am chief, and for the mercy he offers us.
Here’s a little info on “Jen Hatmaker situation“. This post is not about her, but a response to a recent Christianity Today article entitled, “The Bigger Story Behind Jen Hatmaker“. The other day on my Facebook page, I linked to that CT article with the following pull quote from Jen Wilkin, a minister at The Village Church in Texas:
The typical church organizational structure tends to segregate women’s ministry as an autonomous unit—a mysterious kingdom that operates according to its own set of rules.
Here are some thoughts on the CT article:
1- Church leadership has the responsibility of being aware of cultural trends and influences, especially those trends and influences that impact the churches that they lead. Jen Hatmaker has not been living under a rock- she has a platform as a speaker, blogger, writer, reality show “star” and spouse of a pastor.
- I wonder, when is the last time that church leaders have looked at the bestseller list provided by the Association for Christian Retailers? Me? I NEVER have. Until today.
- Forget the “Christian” market…how about the regular market? What music, movies, and television shows are those in our churches watching? How would we even know?
- Ideas: Create a survey and ask what media people consume. Read books, watch a few episodes, give music a listen.
2- The pastor in your church will NEVER out-preach Francis Chan, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Alistair Beeg, Beth Moore, Andy Stanley, or any other pastor that you listen to through podcasting. As much as I enjoy listening to Matt Chandler, he is not my pastor. Doug White is. I belong to a local body of believers that I am called into to be an active member. And, one of the things I appreciate about Matt Chandler is that at the beginning of EVERY video from The Village Church, he basically says that TVC is not a replacement for a local church.
- Idea: Stop comparing your pastor to these people. Instead, pray for him or her. Thank God for him or her. I read somewhere that God assembled the body as He saw fit. That “assembly” includes your pastor.
3- “The typical church organizational structure tends to segregate women’s ministry as an autonomous unit–a mysterious kingdom that operates according to its own set of rules.” This is 100%, absolute truth. It’s also not limited only to women’s ministry. This is a problem because church leadership bears the responsibility of knowing what is being taught in every single learning environment within the church. Why? They will be held to account for what has been taught.
- Idea: Create a scope and sequence for curriculum and content to be used. Review everything. Is it biblical? Do we agree with the doctrine being taught? Ask “Why this?” and “Why now?” and have people defend their choices. Ask, “How does this fit with the rest of what we are doing?” Be willing to say “No”. Why? It’s your job, church leaders. Paul warned the leaders at Ephesus that not only would people sneak in as wolves, but that the wolves were already present.
4- Have an honest discussion about the role of men’s and women’s ministries within the church. Titus 2 is clear, it’s to make disciples. Yep, you can be friends, eat snacks, make a craft, shoot guns, go fishing or shopping. You can do all of those things and still make disciples. You know what else? You can do every one of those things and never make a single disciple. Just because someone says, “We ARE making disciples in our ministry” does not make it so. Look. At. The. Fruit. Are the people involved more like Jesus? Are they living Matthew 5-7 lives?
- Idea: Sit down at your next ministry gathering and read Titus 2. Ask questions. Look at the fruit in the lives of those gathered. Challenge one another. Ask, “How?”. For every instruction given by Paul to Titus, ask specifically, “How is what we are doing in this ministry being faithful to Scripture?”
5- Know and understand that there were female leaders in the New Testament church. Priscilla. Junia. Mary. At least one of them, Phoebe, was a deacon. Yep. A girl was a deacon. We know this because in Romans 16:1, Paul writes, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon in the church in Cenchrea” (for those of you who feel compelled to argue- Paul uses the same Greek word here that he uses in 1 Timothy and Titus as well as the same word used by Luke in Acts 6- in verb form- for “deacon”). One of the roles of church leadership is to contextualize the scriptures- we read and study them, then teach and apply them to our specific contexts. The role of women serving is something that must be contextualized. How can we ensure that everyone within the church are utilizing their gifts for the good of the entire body?
- Idea: Ask and answer these questions: How many women attend your church? How many single moms? How many widows? And the big question…who is advocating for them? How does “what you do” as a church take into account the various dynamics of those who attend? When is the last time that church leadership met with the leader of your church’s women’s ministry team to learn about the issues facing females within your church? (Which means, that discipleship MUST be the goal- see #4, above.) What roles can women hold in the church?
Clearly, many (if not all) of these issues can be traced back to a healthy and biblical leadership structure. Leaders are called to shepherd the flock, this requires us to know our flock. Leaders are called to teach sound doctrine, this requires us to know scripture. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. Which is why James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly”.
Over the years, I’ve been asked about how I go about preparing a message. That’s a big question with a complex answer because no two messages or series are the same. Here are some of the obvious nuts and bolts, including-
- prayer and guidance by the Spirit,
- what I’ve been reading through Scripture on my own- praying through and studying the text using multiple methods,
- what topics, concepts or issues may be culturally relevant (like my series in July on compassion as our nation was, and still is, embroiled in racial turmoil),
- what is on my sermon/message list,
- is this a “one-off” message or will I be in the pulpit for more than one week,
- direction from church leadership.
With those things, and probably a great many others, there are other influencers on me. Family, friends, conversations, blog and Facebook posts, what I see on Twitter, the media I consume- music, movies and television, each of these things weigh in on messages that I prepare.
With all of that said, I’m in the pulpit at our church on November 6, just two days before our national election. And, I’m going to be speaking to that reality- my message title is currently, “Rendering Unto Caesar” based upon the instruction from Jesus found in Matthew 22:15-22 and Mark 12:13-17. I’ll be spending much time over the next few weeks reading, studying, praying and thinking about those texts. BUT…there are a great many other texts and resources that will be shaping this message. Some I will mention in the message, others I will not.
- From the Bible: Deuteronomy 17:14-20 (God’s instructions about an earthly king); 1 Samuel 8 (God’s instructions about an earthly king); 1 Samuel 24 & 26 (David refusing to kill God’s anointed leader); Daniel 1 & 3 (faithful living in the midst of a government that is hostile to them); Acts 4 & 5 (the apostles and the governing authorities); Acts 22 (Paul’s use of Roman citizenship); and Romans 13:1-7 (Paul describes the purpose of government); Ephesians 6:10-18 (who is, and who is NOT, our enemy).
- The October Christian Standard: “Can I Be a Christian and a Patriot?“. The articles are toward the bottom of the page and are well worth reading.
- Author Greg Boyd’s book: The Myth of a Christian Nation. When Greg preached a series (that became the book) in 2004, he had over 1,000 people leave the church where he was the pastor.
- Singer/Songwriter Derek Webb:
- Mockingbird album, specifically the songs “A New Law”, “A King and A Kingdom”, “My Enemies Are Men Like Me”, “In God We Trust”.
- The song “A Savior on Capitol Hill” from album “The Ringing Bell”
- Stockholm Syndrome album, specifically the songs “The State”, “The Proverbial Gun”, and “American Flag Umbrella”.
- Article: “How Should We Then Vote?“