Archives For Omaha

It is the Thursday before Good Friday. I can’t wait to preach tomorrow night and then Sunday morning. I love preaching Christ every week, but there is something about the Resurrection weekend that is particularly special.

However, when I woke up this morning I was drawn to think about someone I don’t often think about: the liberal pastor. By liberal I am not referring to political affiliation but theological conviction. In particular, I am talking about those who either deny the reality of or diminish the priority of the cross of Christ and his resurrection.

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There are many factors that make evangelism difficult. There is the internal spiritual alienation from God that renders the unbeliever unimpressed by God and therefore unresponsive to him in worship (Col. 1:21; 2 Cor. 4:4-6). Then there is the fog of worldliness that reinforces the heart’s unsubmissiveness to God and his Word (1 Jn. 2:16-17). We see this with the ongoing marketing of personal autonomy, self-discovery, and satisfaction in created things.

But there is another contributor to the fog that is very unhelpful. I am talking about the authority of personal experience. Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.

Earlier this week I was talking to a number of unbelievers about Jesus. In the midst of the conversation one told me that he can see the future. He said that he has, on a few occasions, been able to see what was going to happen. He pointed to his buddy for confirmation and, as you’d expect, got the requisite head nod. I know that in this conversation I cannot slash the tires of his experience. If I even pull out the knife of reason or testing he will shut me down. Personal experience and our interpretation of it is the authority. We might call it Sola Experiencia. 

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If you read this blog then you very likely are rejoicing in the resurgence of church planting. This rejoicing leads to increased burden for gospel ministry to advance in all areas–rural and urban, affluent and poor. The gospel is for all people.

In our context, God has called us to plant a church in an urban, diverse context of Omaha. As we endeavor to be faithful we are reaching out to friends for help. This is why we at Emmaus are excited to welcome our friends from 20schemes to come for a Saturday morning training session on ministry in poor contexts. Mez McConnell will also preach on Sunday morning at Emmaus.

The details for the event are listed below. But here is the truth: it will be very helpful and very free. If you are anywhere near Omaha for the weekend of April 5th, then please come an join us. If you need a place to stay message me via the contact form.

Please register here.

here is the info—

Every ministry that endeavors to be biblical will ask the question: “How should we faithfully minister in our poor communities?” The question can be answered on multiple levels from the perspective of the individual Christian to the local church.

On Saturday morning, April 5th, Emmaus will be hosting 20schemes to consider how to faithfully minister in a lower income is a ministry based in Edinburgh, Scotland that is committed to seeing the poorest communities in Scotland transformed through the revitalization and planting of gospel-preaching churches. In Scotland a “scheme” is a housing project. The ministry is aggressively pursuing this effort by recruiting, training, supportimng, and sending church planters, female outreach workers, ministry apprentices and short term interns to work within Scotland’s housing schemes.

At Emmaus 20schemes founder Mez McConnell will speak on this topic and then lead a discussion on church planting in urban, poorer contexts.

This would be a strategic event to invite pastors, leaders, and others with whom you would like to cultivate a gospel-centered, missionary focus. It is open to both men and women.

Here is the schedule:

0800-0900 Breakfast & Coffee

0900-1000 Principles for Working Among the Poor

1000-1015 Break

1015-1100 Discussion on Church Planting and Mercy Ministry

Register for this event here

I was greatly impacted by a meeting that I had nearly 15 years ago with my pastor at the time. During the meeting I was talking about my desire for ministry and a great burden for the gospel to be clearly preached and central to all that we do.

In the midst of the conversation the pastor got annoyed. His annoyance seemed to be connected to my burdens and how they communicated a referendum on his ministry.

At one point in the conversation he said something that left a tremendous impact on me. He said baldly:

When you get old you come to see that things don’t work out so neatly. We’ll see if you have the same passion in 10 years.

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A couple of days ago we had to turn on the air conditioner in the house. The temperature outside was over 80 degrees and the temperature inside was nearing the same. This I did even though it bristled against my prideful resolution to wait until May to hit activate the arctic cool. Less than 48 hours later we were in a Winter Storm Warning. You can’t predict this stuff.

I read where someone said this is like Narnia before Aslan, always winter and never Christmas. Well, maybe not quite that bad. This type of thing is not unprecedented in Omaha (or other cooler climates). It actually snowed 2″ on May 9, 1945. I heard recently of a town in Colorado getting snow on the 4th of July.

This type of exaggerated fluctuation helps to remind us of the instability of the world around us. Paul tells us that the creation groans (Rom. 8.22). We witness unpredictable wind, floods, hurricanes, tornados, heat, and cold. Amid the weather whiplash of the last few days we join the chorus with creation awaiting the final liberation and restoration through Christ. Until then we groan in the slush alongside of the wilted tulips.

This past weekend our local newspaper (The Omaha World-Herald) ran a story on some of the things happening in our church, Emmaus Bible Church. As you can imagine it was a great encouragement to us to have our paper take interest in what we are doing. But it was a double surprise to see the the article on the front page of the Saturday paper, on Easter weekend!

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Without giving away the article, here is one of the lead quotes:

As Easter approaches, a youthful congregation marks the end of its first year in a striking church — 103 years old.

As the saying goes, what’s old is new again. But not too new.

“We practice cutting-edge, 16th-century Reformation theology,” quipped Pastor Erik Raymond, 36. “We’re very old-fashioned, but we try to do it in a fresh way — engaging, compassionate and authentic.”

The funny thing was that this question was in response to the writer’s question, “What new things are you doing to attract this growth?”What a blessing to testify to the enduring power of God’s Word to change lives and the beauty of Christ to captivate hearts. In a pragmatic, subjective culture, this is a fresh gust of the gospel breeze (on the front-page no less!).

Another interesting note. On Wednesday nights our kids come together for Bible memory, devotions, singing, and games. My wife teaches the kids music. One of her most successful methods in teaching the kids to participate and memorize Scripture has been Christian Hip-Hop. In particular Shai Linne’s song “Holy, Holy, Holy”. The kids love it. When the photographer came out she took some pics of the kids and then the front page of the paper noted that my wife teaches hip hop to young kids. We smiled at that in light of the previous quote about the 16th Century.

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As some of us at Emmaus talked about this we said it is like our Dad owns the paper. No not Warren Buffet. But our Heavenly Father. He allowed us to be featured on the front page to promote gospel growth and renewal. This greatly encourages us as we remember that everything is truly about him and his fame. May God use the article to this end!

It has been said that in order to be polite in conversation one should not speak of politics, religion, or money. What are the three taboos are for churches? I suggest, money, sex, and race. It is this third topic that I want to discuss in this post.

Why is the issue of race something that a gospel-centered church should deal with? Simply put, it is because the gospel deals with racial reconciliation through gospel reconciliation.

How do we get there and why is it necessary?

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What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?

My friend and fellow Omaha pastor Bob Thune is extremely helpful when he writes in his book The Gospel Centered Life:

Churches often obscure the glory of the gospel by reducing it to something less than it is. Some understand the gospel only as doctrinal content to be believed. Others diminish it to a personal, subjective experience of God’s presence. Still others see it as a social cause to be championed. The gospel is none of these, and yet it is all of these. A truly gospel-centered church understands and embraces the fullness of the gospel as message, community, and mission.

GOSPEL MESSAGE

The Gospel is a message that is to be preached or proclaimed (Mark 1:14; Acts 14:21; Rom 1:16; 1 Peter 1:12). It is the story of God’s redemption of his fallen creation. It is the good news that God has acted in history to conquer evil, rebellion, and sin and reconcile sinners to himself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (1 Cor 15:1-12). A gospel-centered church is one where the gospel is proclaimed clearly, consistently, and compellingly and applied to every aspect of life (1 Cor 9:16-23).

GOSPEL COMMUNITY

The gospel is not just a message to be believed, but a power to be experienced (Rom 1:16). The gospel shapes a new community as those who were formerly God’s enemies are reconciled to Him (Rom 5:10) and adopted into his family (Gal 4:4-7). The church is not a place, but a people – a community that is continually being reformed and renewed by the transforming power of the gospel (Col. 1:6). This new family becomes the conduit and vehicle for God’s mission in the world (Acts 2:42-47).

GOSPEL MISSION

The gospel is a call to mission – a declaration that “the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). Just as Jesus became a missionary in his incarnation, he sends us into the world as missionaries: “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21). We are sent to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and to work for the restoration of all of creation to its original “good” (Gen 1:31; Rom 8:19-22). A gospel-centered church will train people to live on mission in the practical rhythms of everyday life.

Scene 1: The Muslim world is rocked by protest and violence following the release of the film The Innocence of Muslims. The short film mocks Islam and in particular the prophet Muhammad. As a result, many Muslims are calling for the death of the filmmaker.

Scene 2: A guy in his 30’s comes home from work and to find his wife telling him that he has dropped the ball on several things and that she feels like she can’t talk to him. He gets angry and tells her that she is nit-picky, oversensitive, and hard to talk to herself.

Scene 3: A high-school kid shakes up his can of spray paint and angrily begins tagging the City’s graffiti removal truck. The City worker was painting over this kid’s work.

What do all of these scenes have in common? The need to protect and preserve something. What is that something? Honor.

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This is a question that seems to come up quite often. It is also a question that we as a church have attempted to answer. In our setting we are a newer church plant who is committed to planting more churches. As a result we need to equip and send leaders. We also are in a military community, this results in only having guys for a few years at a time. You can sense the priority.

As far to our process we identify a guy as a potential elder spend time with him to sync up philosophically, interview him and then work through an appointment ordination process where there are various examinantions of theology and life.

As far as how we get there, here is something of the process:

  1. We have begun a program to train leaders called ELI – Emmaus Leadership Institute. It is not necessarily “elder training” though it can be. More, it is a men’s discipleship and training program. Here is the link and the schedule. We just finished the first class and are writing as we go.
  2. As far as potential elders we want to make sure they are theologically sound before taking them to the interview stage. Therefore, as pastors we are trying to spend the time on the front end to assess guy’s theology and its application (life) as we go.
  3. I am very concerned about philosophy. I want to make sure the elders get it. I take them through Trellis & The VineWhat is a Healthy Church-Member? and  The Shepherd Leader. This helps construct the big picture of discipleship, shepherding and local church priority. We do this before interviews or examinations. These are the initial steps.
  4. I am also very concerned about tone. I take guys through A Bruised Reed, and some historical accounts of praying pastors like Taking Hold of God and The Secret Life of Prayer. 
  5. Once they seem like they are qualified, synced up philosophically, and hitting the appropriate pastoral tone, then we bring them in to be interviewed, proceeding on with ordination.

Let me give this disclaimer: we are young and trying to work this out. We have not ordained a ton of guys. However, we now have this process in full swing with a number of guys identified and/or in the process. I think it is wise to move slowly and ensure that potential elders are on singing from the same sheet of music. This framework seems to help achieve that end.

Hopefully this is helpful on your end. Feel free to add your own contributions to make it better.

One of my favorite aspects of my “job” as a pastor is my weekly lunches with men in our church. I try to do this at least two days a week and work through the list of members and newer guys. In this practice I feel like I am the one who comes away blessed. I know there is some aid to the ministry and hopefully some personal encouragement to them but the reality is I benefit greatly.

Here are some basic priorities for pastors in their meetings with guys.
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I am frequently asked why we at Emmaus are so committed to church planting. Is it a biblical conviction? Should all churches be doing this? Is it just a fad? What’s the deal?

While I am thankful for the resurgence in church-planting we are not comitted to it because it is popular but because it is biblical. I really believe that it is right and that it is effective. As leaders we have attempted to create a culture that prayerfully and purposefully longs and plans for church planting. Below are some of the reasons why.
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Yesterday after a lunch meeting with a friend downtown I was approached by a young artist. He asked me to listen to his music through his headphones and see if I like it. Since the headphones looked less than clean this was not much of an option. Instead I asked him to break out one of his favorites there on the corner. The young hip-hop artist obliged and got loose with his rhymes.

As he got going three things were clear: 1) He was good, 2) He was smart, 3) He was angry. And I don’t mean angry in the “gangsta” sense but in the anarchy sense. My man wanted to “occupy” something (or someone).
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“Why was that big guy hugging you and Mom in the middle of the road?”

That was the big question from our kids before bed last night. The story that answers it tells us something about us as image bearers.

After picking our son up from baseball practice last night we were headed home. In the grassy median of a busy four lane road I noticed a woman abruptly fall down. We made a quick U-turn and headed back up onto a side street. My wife went out first and then I followed after parking. We were quickly joined by another family. Upon further inspection the lady who fell was clearly out of it and pretty highly inebriated. She was also cut up, bleeding and bruised all over the place. Myself and the other guy were attempting to keep the woman from walking back into the oncoming cars. She certainly would have been hit if we weren’t there. Our new friends joined together with us to be the physical barriers for this woman until the ambulance came. This proved to be a challenge, but we worked together and got it done.

Our kids, watching this scene unfold then saw a perfect stranger, an African-American big enough to be confused with an NFL offensive lineman, hugging Mom and Dad in the median. They asked “why?”

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Every May about 30,000 people come to visit us in Omaha. The people are great; they’re friendly, happy, and help the local economy. We like them. However, we may not even notice them if it were not for their lanyards and large badges. So we do see them; and people like me, locals from behind a pair of Oakley’s out walking our kids, we watch them. I also try to learn.

I am talking about the great multitude that comes to Omaha to attend the Berkshire Hathaway (“Berkie’s”) shareholder’s meeting. They come to visit with Omaha’s own, Warren Buffett and hear his perspective and plan for the company (and anything else he might happen to say).

One perennial observation that I make is with regard to these badges. The people wear them everywhere. Now part of this is economic-shareholders get discounts at the business in town that Buffet either owns or has significant influence over. So I get why you would be wearing the badge at Borsheim’s jewlery store, but why do the Berkie’s rock the lanyard as they de-board the planes, walk in the parks, go to the rest rooms, or hit up a local coffee house?

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People operate with inconsistencies and even contradictions in their world views. This is perhaps no more apparent then when sports writers and reporters attempt to weigh in on moral issues. I experienced this first-hand the other day as I listened to ESPN-Radio.

Jeremy Schaap, the reporter from ESPN’s Outside the Lines, has become known for his documentaries on controversies within the sports world. In his recent commentary on The Sporting Life: Parting Shot he took aim at discrimination. Schaap’s point was that on the 65th anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball we are reminded that discrimination is alive and well today.

Schaap used words  like “hatred,  bigotry, prejudice, racism, intolerance and discrimination” to make his point.

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It has been said that if you want to make a Christian feel guilty you just need to mention prayer or evangelism. This is because we innately know that we should be doing more of both.

This Saturday Emmaus Bible Church will be hosting a conference on Evangelism. This will be our first conference as a church plant and we are thrilled to have Jesse Johnson come to help us think and act biblically in response to Christ’s great commission (Matt. 28.19-20). Jesse is the outreach pastor at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also blogs at The Cripplegate.

If you are local, we’d love to have you come and join us. Here is the schedule:

9am Session one: The Foundation of Biblical Evangelism
10am Session two: Presenting the Gospel
11:30am Lunch
1pm Session three: Handling Objections
2pm Q&A

We will be meeting at Cornerstone Church in La Vista, NE (map).

We’d love to see you join us.

Register online.

I  get to take in a lot of interesting and, quite frankly, surprising, sights while running in my city. Here recently I’ve seen some unique correspondence pattern between families and pets.

1. The Dog Park vs The Human Park:

On one of my routes I run through an area that has a couple of nice parks for kids as well as a large park for dogs. Without exception, when I run by the dog park it is full of people and dogs but when I run by the human parks they are empty or at least very scarcely populated.

Why is this? After all, I live in Omaha, Nebraska, not say, Washington D.C. But, the truth is, pet owners in our area come home and feel the obligation to take their dogs out for some exercise and socialization. However, many parents in the same community, do not.

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Through a series of interesting works of providence I recently sat down for coffee with a local pastor of a very large evangelical church. His church is very much a proponent of the popular church-growth philosophy. As one who is opposed to much of what this movement is based on, I was hoping to learn more about where he was coming from and hopefully, since he is a professing Christian, learn from and be edified by him.

Some Good Things

I learned right away that he loves Jesus. He talked a lot about him and his desire to see him known. He spoke with passionate clarity about how Christ has saved him. This is was very moving. I was blessed to hear his testimony of grace.

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Here are a couple of recent pictures I have snapped on my iPhone as I am out and about. I seem to encounter funny things regularly and it’s been suggested that I share them on here.

The first was at HyVee Grocery in Omaha. The marketers of this beer apparently think that polygamy is attractive to beer drinkers. I thought Mormons didn’t drink?

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This is a real product that I saw this at a cloth diaper store. Apparently it is for a diaper rash. I don’t get the connection to monkey flatulence, however, I am sure that some family thinks it us quite funny.

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Since we are expecting another little niño and will now have 2 under the age of 2…we need a double stroller. It basically is like putting a Volkswagen in your trunk. The engineering is amazing, but at the end if the day, it is huge. Anyone else relate?

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