Monday, September 27, 2004

life is hard . . . God is good

My friend Adam, and his wife Maureen have really been through it lately, with health concern after health concern plaguing their extended family. It is almost comical how hard this has hit.

A few days ago, Adam wrote a great email asking for prayer (and I would encourage anyone reading this to pray for them). However, the thing that really struck me was his closing paragraphs. Having his permission to reprint them, here it is:
I am struggling intensely with all of this, so please keep me in your prayers that I would not be frustrated and overwhelmed. Just the other day I asked God, “Are you wanting to modernize the book of Job? Should I be jotting stuff down? Are my goats going to start dying soon? Should I try to order some sackcloth online? Maybe get a bag of Kingsford I can smear on my face when people start dying?”

But I trust Him. Day by day he gives me “the peace that passes understanding” which I have come to understand means that as far as you can see life is hard, there is sickness and death, and financial problems and cars breaking down and relatives in Afghanistan, but I am bigger than all that, and your peace is rooted in who I am, and not the things you see around you, so calm yourself.

I love Adam and Maureen and their heart for Him. I KNOW that God will not waste this pain in their lives. Life is hard...and God is good!!!

Friday, September 24, 2004

"Is your church characterized by love?"

This is the question that my friend, Dave, asked me as I was driving with him about 2 weeks ago. He lives in Rochester, MN, and made a suprise visit to me at about 9pm one night. He really wanted to see the building God had given to us, through the generousity of the previous owners, Central Free Church. So, we went for a late night tour of the building.

On our way in the truck, out of the blue, Dave asks, "So, would you say that your church is characterized by love? Is that the mark of Hope Community?"

I was shocked by the question. Is that what marks us? Is that what people would say about Hope? What are our 'marks'?

First, I would think they would say that Hope takes God very seriously, loves the Bible, and works very hard to be relevant to a society that has by and large thought that God is irrelevant. That would be a mark...

Next, a mark of our church would be community, the fact that we really desire to know one another deeply, and not just put on a religious front. We allow people to state where there are at with God honestly and openly. We desire to have people deal with their problems in life in a real way, even if it bring up ugliness. That would be another mark...

Another mark, would be the love of the grace of God - we are all poster children for grace - WE NEED JESUS! Our sin is a BIG DEAL! It separates us from a holy God - we are toast without the blood of Jesus on the Cross. This too, would be a solid mark...

However, are we a church that is marked by love? I had to answer him, "Not the way I would like to see in my life or in our church." I said this not because I don't think Hope is a friendly place, a place where people feel warm to one another, a place where life-long, authentic, God-centered friendship begin and go on. But, are we a people that is MARKED by love in a radical way? Have we maintained the level of love Jesus talks about in being 'lovers of our neighbors as ourselves'? Is this mark of love the first thing I think of in my life and in the life of this church? Not yet. I know I personally have a long way to go, and I think we can grow in this as a church. This is a good thing, a challenging thing, and it humbles me greatly.

This weekend, September 26th, I am going to preach on this subject, going into the causes of what makes us (starting with me!) so hesitant to actually be marked by love. I'll write more on this next week. Till then, pray with me that I would become a person, and we would become a church, that is marked by Christ's love.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The Cross of Jesus and Preaching

This fall I have been invited to teach a class of 14 pastors in the art of biblical preaching. Nothing could humble me more. I am such a puppy when it comes to this issue. I am such a newcomer to this whole area. Yet, I have a strong passion for biblically-centered, culturally-relevant preaching. I feel very strongly that preaching is a very important ingredient in reaching people, ESPECIALLY postmoderns! The heralding of God's truth, in a language and style that is relevant to those who have checked out of God, church, and organized religion is a huge part of our strategy to reach people here at Hope. And you know's working!

In teaching this class this fall, I have chosen to not teach techniques at first. Sure, that is important, and without proper skills, an educated, godly pastor will be a failure in the pulpit, no doubt. However, I have seen so much emphasis put on this, that the whole idea of preaching GOD has been lost! The whole concept of helping people to see God, to enjoy God, to worship God, to repent to God has been shaded over in our overuse of powerpoint, over-illustrated, over-pyschologized, over-entertained preaching these days. What young preachers need to hear is simple: PREACH GOD! PREACH THE WORD! RELY ON THE HOLY SPIRIT!

That is why I have started the first 3 weeks of this 12-week course to engage in nothing but Scripture and the reading of John Piper's "The Supremacy of God in Preaching." John was my pastor for four years, and now I consider him a colleague and a friend of our ministry. In fact, he is our neighbor, as Bethlehem Baptist is just 3 blocks away from Hope.

I love this book. It is a gift to the body of Christ, and a gift to preachers everywhere. It starts with the simple statement: People are starving for the greatness of God" (Preface, p. 9 - 1990 edition). The job of the preacher is to SHOW OFF CHRIST and to HELP THEM ENJOY HIM! That's it. Not to entertain, not to be slick, not to draw attention to them -- no, just be a hound dog that points to the game bird -- JESUS!

In one of my favorite passages in the book, John deals with what we have done to replace God in our lives and ministries. He says:
The goal of preaching is the glory of God reflected in the glad submission of his creation.

But there are two massive obstacles to the attainment of this goal: the righteousness of God and the pride of man. The righteousness of God is his unwavering zeal for the exaltation of his glory. The pride of man is his unwavering zeal for the exaltation of his glory.

What in God is righteousness, in man is sin. This is the very point of Genesis 3—sin came into the world through a temptation, and the essence of that temptation was: “You will be like God.” The effort to imitate God at this point is the essence of our corruption.

Our parents fell for it, and in them we have all fallen for it. It is now part of our nature. We take the mirror of God’s image which was intended to reflect his glory in the world, turn our back tot eh light, and fall in love with the contours of our own dark shadow, trying desperately to convince ourselves (with technological advances or management skills or athletic prowess or academic achievements or sexual exploits or counter cultural hair styles) that the dark shadow of the image on the ground in front of us is really glorious and satisfying. In our proud love affair with ourselves we pour contempt, whether we know it or not, on the worth of God’s glory.

As our pride pours contempt upon God’s glory, his righteousness obliges him to pour wrath upon our pride…

So is there any hope that preaching might attain its goal—that God be glorified in those who are satisfied in him? Can the righteousness of God ever relent in its opposition to sinners? Can the pride of man ever be broken of its own vanity and be satisfied in God’s glory? Is there a basis for such hope? Is there a ground for valid and hopeful preaching?

There is. In the cross of Christ God has undertaken to overcome both obstacles to preaching. It overcomes the objective, external obstacle of God’s righteous opposition to human pride, and it overcomes the subjective, internal obstacle of our proud opposition to God’s glory. In so doing the cross becomes the ground of the objective validity of preaching the ground of the subjective humility of preaching.

~ The Supremacy of God in Preaching, John Piper, pages 28-29 (1990 edition).

How much can we ever thank you for paying our penalty and for restoring the Father's glory in one prefect, ingenious act! You are AEWESOME! May my heart burn within me as you work in and through and in spite of myself. Use me for your glory and my joy in all the teaching and preaching you would allow me to do. Use these men who are taking this class to do great things in their ministries. Use my friends who are pastors as they preach you to their people. May we NEVER worship the shadow, but only you! Amen

Monday, September 20, 2004

Worship of God vrs. Worship of my Needs

For a long time, I have been frustrated by what I see as a consumer mentality in the church. The main idea in looking for a church is to find one that will meet my needs, as opposed to one that will help me to see, worship and know Jesus Christ better. The idea is simple:

We go "church shopping" until we've found the place where my needs are met, and where God ministers to me. If this church (and I primarily mean the worship service - music, message, artwork, how friendly people are to me) doesn't 'work', then off I go to the next church. I'll do this until I've exhausted several churches (and myself!) in the process, and finally come to the conclusion "the church isn't relevant to my needs!"

True, churches, including the one I pastor need to know and minsiter to the needs of our people. Yet, isn't there something fundamentally wrong with the premises: "I go to church to get my needs met" or "I go to _______church because I like the worship style (or preaching stlye, or children's ministry, etc.)" Fundamentally, isn't the main point and purpose of going to church to enter into a mystical, wonderful, worship relationship with the God of the universe!

I've seen it in my friends, in my generation and in my own church. In fact, I've battled it very severely in my own life, even being the pastor of Hope.

Doug Tappen of Relevant Magazine has just written a great article on this issue. You can click the title of this entry for the entire article or go to

He says:
There’s a larger problem involved, however, and I don’t believe it’s a problem that is uncommon to people (particularly twentysomethings, of which I am one) in the church today. You see, I walk in to the church service, sit down, cross my arms and expect God to do something in me. I expect the worship team to bring me out of my apathy. I wait for something the pastor says to catch my ear. What’s the problem with all this? It’s me. Nothing has changed in my church since the time when I enjoyed coming. I’ve changed. I’ve become more selfish. I’ve become more cynical. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where my girlfriend told me yesterday that maybe she should sit somewhere else during the service because she can sense that I don’t want to be there.

More than all this, I’ve come to expect the church to forge my spiritual development. Instead of working on my own prayer and devotional life, I want the church to do it for me. Please tell me I’m not the only one in the Body of Christ who has this problem. Please tell me there are other lazy people, who come to church on Sunday and expect to be filled up for the week ahead. Meanwhile, they have no expectation of giving anything. (I’m not talking about money either.) We aren’t willing to give of ourselves in worship. We aren’t willing to give of ourselves to each other, to minister to our friends who have hurts too (we’re not the only ones who hurt, even though we’d like to think so sometimes).

I’d like to blame all this on our American culture of selfishness. I’d like to say that I am this way because I’ve been socially conditioned by all the advertising and marketing that I’m encountered with day after day; advertising that says things like “Have it Your Way.” Well, I do want it my way. Don’t we all? Isn’t it true that if we don’t like how things are done at one church we can just go across town (or across the street, for some of us) and find a church that suits our felt needs better? Is that what Jesus intended for His church? Did He want us to forsake our churches just to seek “greener pastures” somewhere else? It’s true that the Church is flawed. No church is exempt from this. But instead of giving up (or becoming total cynics of every last detail) we should be working to change that which is wrong in our churches, but more than that—to change that which is wrong in ourselves. And changing what is wrong in us is probably the harder of the two. Selfishness doesn’t go away easily (trust me, I’ve still got plenty of it). How else can we work to change from selfish people to gracious and generous people other than asking for the help of the Holy Spirit? There is no other way that I know of (and I’m sure I’ve tried many) to deal with sin of every kind.

In the end, I can only blame my own sinful nature that allows me to become like I am. It’s my fault, not my church’s, that I think and act this way. Until I, and those like me, are willing to own up to this, we will continue to be unfulfilled Christians who take up space in the pews on Sunday mornings, but have nothing to contribute to the radical mission that the church is called to.

Holy God,

I am such a consumer. I so often am most concerned with "what's in it for me" when you said 'to lose your life is to find it.' My highest goal in life is to be a pointer to you, to let you be the focus of my life, and my ministry...and yet, I slip into so many of these dangerous patterns as this. Who can rescue me from this? Only you. Rescue me, rescue us, never let us be satisfied with anything other than a life-changing encounter with the living God, regardless of the forms it may come in. Come Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

the love of my earthly life...

steveandcarole.JPG, originally uploaded by stevetreichler.

I am hopelessly, carelessly, and wonderfully in love with the woman who said "YES" to me in March of 1987. To propose to Carole on that cold, March day, I fell to both knees (some guys need to beg!) at the site of our original DTR talk. For those of you not in the know, 'DTR' is couple-speak for that huge 'define the relationship' talk you have before you start dating. Very painful experience for most, strike that, ALL men.

During that first encounter at this park in NE Minneapolis, I stumbled around for the better part of an hour and a half to simply get the words out "I like you, what do you think about that?" In fact, I was so confusing in my speech, I am amazed she stayed there. When asked if I had any feelings for her, I said, "If I were to say to you that I wasn't interested in you, I would be lying..." Nice use of the old double negative trick there to figure out what in the world he is saying, eh?

After a few moments, as Carole took out her pocket "scared-guy-speech-translated-to-common-English" to figure out what this meant, Carole was pleased, for this entry means "I'm nuts about you, baby!"

In my favorite book on marriage, Larry Crabb writes about the joy of marital relationships. In it he states there are three main areas to marriage:

* Spirit Oneness: Trusting in Christ alone to meet your personal needs for security and significance; * Soul Oneness: Ministering to your partner in a way that enhances an awareness of his or her worth in Christ; * Body Oneness: Enjoying sexual pleasure as an expression and outgrowth of a personal relationship.

The goal of marriage, taking Crabb a bit futher, is for the two [individuals] to become one [intensely intimate and open and vulnerable] in EVERY area of their lives. Emotionally, Spiritually, Financially, Managerially (running a house with three boys and a dog), Time-wise, and Physically.

I have been blessed with an amazing life-partner who loves Jesus Christ from her toes, and loves me in spite of myself. She is my hero, and anything that can be said about me in positive way somehow can be traced back to her encouragement, support and love toward me. I love you babe!

Blogging to the glory of God!?!?!?

So, here it is. Today I have decided to start my very own blog. Why, you might ask? Is it because I think I am a good writer? HA! No way. Is it because I think I have such profound thoughts that it is necessary to write them all down for prosterity? Ah, no. So why does a guy who is busy up to his eyeballs start a blog?

The answer to me is simple. I'm doing it because I want to have more and more 'conversation' with many of the people of Hope that time just doesn't permit. Last Sunday, we had our largest service ever with just over 400 in worship. Something within me just thinks that is so cool! We've been studying the book of Acts, how the church just got completely 'out of hand' as it grew quickly. Hope is going through a similar, albeit smaller, time. God is in our midst! He is causing many people to trust him in ways that we’ve only dreamed about! To him ALONE be the glory. Trust me, it is NOT due to our slickness, or great marketing skills that Hope is growing. We are poster children for the "yes, you, even you can start a church and watch it grow" movement! God is so cool!

However, with this additional amount of people, I still have a longing to take each and every one of you out for a bagel or a cup of coffee and get to know you better. Can't be done anymore. So, my start to having a conversation with many of you is this blog. I would love for you to check it out whenever you feel like it, and comment away! All you need to do is create an account (only page 1 is necessary for you to comment - if you want your own blog, fill out pages 2-3).

Looking forward to blogging and having a cup of electronic 'jo with you!