Jonathan’s new blog

•January 15, 2010 • 1 Comment

the location for my new blog is:

http://blogs.nsb.org/jonathanalexander/

thanks for checking it out, and I look forward to connecting with you…

jonathan

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“You Asked For It” series launches this Sunday!

•January 4, 2010 • 2 Comments

This Sunday, January 10, we are launching an 8-week message series called “You Asked For It.”  Throughout December many of you sent me great questions that you wrestle with, are perplexed by, and want further clarity.  Thanks for taking the time and effort to send me these questions.  I received questions about God, the Bible, theology, church, science, culture, and life in an imperfect world (plus many, many more).  I selected the top 8 categories of questions since many of the individual questions really fit within a larger question.  And here are the top 8 questions (drum roll please):

January 10 – “How can I trust the Bible?”

January 17 – “What’s the rub between the Bible and science?”

January 24 – “What is sin and why do I still struggle with it”?

January 31 – “Do I choose God or does God choose me?”

February 7 – “What’s going to happen in the end?”

February 14 – “What’s the Church’s role in culture and politics?”

February 21 – “How can a good God allow suffering?”

February 28 – “What makes Jesus Christ and Christianity unique?”

As you can see, many of these questions are wrestled with and through by folks that are churched and unchurched alike.  Look through the different weeks of the series and think about a friend or family member that you could invite on a particular Sunday.  Every week, we will bring it back to the centrality of our faith… Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.

A couple of final thoughts and “ground rules” about this series before we begin on Sunday:

1) This is going to be a great series to ponder more deeply the things of God and how we as the Church are called to respond to the things of God in a world that does not operate the “way it’s supposed to be.”  When we ponder the things of God, there will always be mystery.  We’re limited to a finite perspective because God is infinite and we’re not.  Therefore, we will approach each of these questions and attempts at answers with great humility.

2) I cannot and likely will not answer every question to everyone’s satisfaction.  I will give an overall theological and biblical “answer” to each question by wrestling through the larger question(s), by taking us to appropriate biblical passages, and by giving us the “boundaries” of what is appropriate for an evangelical theology.  I will attempt to address further issues in my blog after each message to share further insight, possibly more questions to wrestle with, and other resources to explore.

3) As much as I would like to answer every question that each of you sent me, time does not permit.  So if your questions were not picked in the top 8, please be gracious and don’t expect me to individually answer each one.  I would love if there were 48 hours in a day, but there aren’t.

4) Some of you will not agree with the conclusions that I come to… and that’s okay.  Once again, each week, I will give what I believe to be the boundaries that are appropriate within an evangelical, theological framework.  Another way to say this… we will not split Northshore over any of these issues.  There is “room at the table” within the boundaries.  I trust that any further dialogue and conversation that extends from each Sunday will be done with respect, civility, and humility… that goes for any discussion in person, in emails, on blogs, and Facebook posts and notes.  I’ll be a stickler on this one!

Thanks in advance for making this a great series, and may Jesus use our time each Sunday to show us more and more who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing “for His glory and our good.”

~ Pastor Jonathan

merry CHRISTmas… the tree of glory

•December 24, 2009 • 1 Comment

As I have been saying to and praying for Northshore throughout the month of December, my great hope is that we don’t miss Jesus on Christmas day.  In the midst of all of the family, friends, and festivities, let your heart be drawn to the Christ of CHRISTmas.

This past Sunday, I preached on Isaiah 53, the Suffering Servant.  We began our time in the word together with a clip from A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Charlie Brown and Linus go and pick out that little, undesirable, unattractive Christmas tree.  And as that little tree makes its not-so-grand entrance into the auditorium, it (along with with Charlie Brown) is met with mockery, disbelief, and disappointment… the same reception that Jesus receives as He comes to this world, puts on flesh, and brings the rescue mission of God to us.  And this world receives Him with mockery, disbelief, and disappointment.

So… back to that little tree.  It’s the “tree of shame.”  There’s another tree of shame… the cross of Christ.  “and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  And in the same way that the little Charlie Brown tree gets beautifully decorated at the end of the show, taking center stage as the kids and the singing fade out, so this Christmas and forevermore, the cross of Christ, the tree of shame and death, takes center stage and becomes glorious and beautiful as it is forever the symbol and reminder of Jesus giving His life for ours… bearing our sin fully so that we might be brought back to Him.  The tree of shame has become the tree of glory.

Don’t miss the Jesus who put on flesh to die on the tree for you.  And may His great grace and love carry you into this New Year!

merry CHRISTmas,

jonathan



what do you desire?

•December 17, 2009 • Leave a Comment

as I watched A Charlie Brown Christmas and Charlie Brown and Linus go search for the “perfect tree” for their homespun Christmas play, I couldn’t help but think about Jesus and Isaiah 53.  the lights, the glitz, the pizazz is all pointing to those shiny, colorful, aluminum trees, and there in the midst of it all, is this little, undesirable, unattractive Christmas tree.  perhaps Charlie Brown is beginning to get the real meaning of Christmas.  and so does the prophet Isaiah as he heralds the coming of the Suffering Servant…

He has no stately form or majesty that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (Isaiah 53:2-3).

so Charlie Brown returns with that bedraggled little tree, and he is ridiculed and mercilessly mocked… and so is his tree.  apparently that little tree didn’t meet the modern standards.  apparently the crowd desired something much more grand.

john oswalt in his commentary on isaiah (new international commentary on the old testament) writes this:

…a baby born in the back-stable of a village inn.  This would shake the Roman Empire?  A man quietly coming to the great preacher of the day and asking to be baptized.  This is the advent of the man who would be heralded as the Savior of the world?  No, this is not what we think the arm of the Lord should look like.  We were expecting a costumed drum major to lead our triumphal parade.  Our eyes are caught and satisfied by superficial splendor.  This man, says Isaiah, will have none of that.  As a result, our eyes flicker across him in a crowd and we do not even see him.  His splendor is not on the surface, and those who have no inclination to look beyond the surface will never even see him, much less pay him any attention.

two questions for you this CHRISTmas season: (1) will you miss Him as you’re looking for something else; and (2) what do you truly desire?

the glorious inefficiency of team

•December 10, 2009 • Leave a Comment

there’s the old saying, “if you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”  I would add (and I know this is incredibly brilliant): “if you’re going to do it yourself, you’re going to be doing it by yourself.”  i’ve been leading teams of people for 20 years, first in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and then in ministry as a college/singles pastor, worship pastor, small groups pastor, executive pastor and now as a senior pastor.  and over the years, i’ve experienced (and still do) the tension of the glorious inefficiency of team.  the bottom line… team takes longer.  it takes more energy to collaboratively develop vision, strategy, and execution.  it takes a long time to involve the different “layers” of teams on a church staff and lay leadership.

at northshore baptist church where I pastor, we’re an “elder-led, staff-driven church.”  our elder team (of which I am a part along with our executive pastor) discerns and develops the “30,000 ft.” vision, our senior staff team (we call it our ministry management team) develops the “20,000 ft.” strategy, and then our pastor/director team develops the “10,000 ft.” implementation plan along with their ministry leadership teams.  but all along the way, there are the circles and spirals of collaborative conversations, brief-backs, check-ins, and mid-course re-alignments.  and the bottom line again… it takes much longer to do this.  but the glorious bottom, bottom line… there’s often much more buy-in because everybody has had some hand, heart, and head in the process.

here’s a theological thought on inefficiency and team.  think about God’s “divine inefficiency” as I like to put it.  think about how “inefficient” it is to use a bunch of broken, sinful people who He’s redeemed to get the word out there about the glory of the Creator God and His glorious gospel.  couldn’t He build His kingdom much more efficiently?  couldn’t He make a much more effective “delivery” system to spread the gospel?  many a day, I can’t believe that God would involve me (and others) on His gospel-spreading team… the glorious inefficiency of team.

but back to some praxis on team.  here’s a brief snapshot of how we do team and vision/strategy planning at northshore (with a calendar of our planning cycle during the year… our ministry year runs september to august):

  • november – elder retreat to determine vision points for the following ministry year (so in november 2009, we’re thinking at the 30,000 ft. for 2010-11 ministry year and beyond).  we’re determining the big things that we see, hear, and discern God calling us to do.  before this retreat, we’re hearing from Jesus… from our leaders… from our people… from our community on where Jesus is calling us to go, truly for His glory, for our good, and for the good of our world.  a lot of listening happens before, during, and after our fall elder retreat.
  • january – the senior staff team (ministry management team) goes on a retreat and takes the elder team’s vision points and begins to put some flesh on the bones… begins to hone in what this looks like in terms of strategy and goals for the following year’s ministry action planning process.  we typically come out of this retreat with 3-5 major “headline” goals for the year that we’ll take to the rest of our staff
  • march – the pastor/director team goes on a retreat, taking the 30,000 ft. vision points for the following year and the 20,000 ft. strategy and begins to talk about how it specifically impacts their ministry areas and how we’ll all share in the big goals together.  necessary adjustments and tweaks are happening here… feedback is going “up and down” the leadership channels.
  • may – after the pastor/director team retreat, the pastors and directors  take everything that we’ve collaboratively done together to their ministry teams (which includes their lay leaders) and begin to collaboratively develop specific, concrete ministry plans (with metrics, timelines, teams, people, budget, etc) for that next ministry year.  in the middle of may, each pastor and director on our staff brings that “collaborative” ministry action plan and presents it to the ministry management team for the final “thumbs up.”  it’s a collaborative process where we speak into each others plans, making sure that we’re all moving in the right direction together.

all along the way, there’s continual and intentional communication and feedback “up and down” the pipeline of leadership teams… making adjustments along the way… getting feedback from the different levels of leadership.  it’s a blend of organic/structured leadership and ministry/mission development.  and for right now, it’s working… we’re all heading in the same direction together (imperfectly, of course).  silos are slowly disappearing… teams are having to work together… people are sharing larger goals together.  we’re completely willing to change and adjust as necessary.  it takes a long, long time to go through this process… and some days it feels very inefficient… but in the end, when we’re executing together in the best of what team is supposed to be and lives are being changed by the power and the glory of the gospel, it’s a joyous experience.

i’d love to hear how you do and lead teams to accomplish what God is calling you to in your world.

“meditations” on francis chan’s crazy love

•December 9, 2009 • 1 Comment

as a pastor, i’m usually the one “pouring out” myself to other people whether it’s preaching, praying, counseling, leading, etc.  and in the process of that “pouring out,” Jesus is so gracious and kind to pour Himself back into me… whether it’s through His Word, solitude and prayer with Him, or the love and grace of His people in my life.  and one of the “tools” that Jesus uses in my life is other pastors… especially books they have written.  as of late, Jesus has used oswald chambers (who died in 1917) and pastor francis chan (who’s very much ALIVE with a great passion for Jesus, the church, and the world).  i just finished chan’s book crazy love.  here are some of the things that Jesus used in chan’s book to work me over and to encourage me to keep going…

1) full surrender to Jesus… in the introduction, chan writes, “I hope read this book will convince you of something: that by surrendering yourself totally to God’s purposes, He will bring you the most pleasure in this life and the next.”  this so resonates with what Jesus has been doing in my life over the past couple of years.  treasuring Jesus Christ above all else, desiring Him, delighting in Him, longing for Him, seeing Him, savoring Him… this is the greatest joy we can experience.  As we see Him for who He fully is and as we surrender our lives (every aspect of our lives) to Him, there is much joy, love, and grace that we experience.  pastor john piper puts it this way, “God is most glorified in us as we are most satisfied in Him.”

2) profile of the lukewarm… here’s what Jesus says to the lukewarm (revelation 3:15-19):

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.

chan has an intense list of attributes and profiles of what it looks like to be lukewarm…

  • choosing what is popular over what is right
  • caring more about what people think than what God thinks
  • giving money to charity and to the church as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living
  • not really wanting to be saved from sin, only the penalty of sin
  • people who are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet do not act.
  • lukewarm people call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers

3) profile of the obsessed.  “obsessed = to have the mind excessively preoccupied with a single emotion or topic.”

  • people who are obsessed with Jesus give freely and openly, without censure.  obsessed people love those who hate them and who can never love back
  • people who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else.  obsessed people care more about God’s kingdom coming to this earth than their own lives being shielded from pain or distress
  • people who are obsessed with Jesus live lives that connect them with the poor in some way or another.  obsessed people believe Jesus talked about money and the poor so often because it was really important to Him
  • obsessed people are more concerned with obeying God than doing what is expected or fulfilling the status quo
  • people who are obsessed with Jesus do not consider service a burden.  obsessed people take joy in loving God by loving people

if you get this book, be prepared for the uncomfortable call of transformation.  read it slowly.  meditate on the Scripture passages chan includes.  spend time to stop, pray, repent, rejoice… whatever and wherever the Spirit leads you.  I truly want to be obsessed and not lukewarm.

Lord Jesus, help us to love You back with the crazy love with which you love us… for Your glory and kingdom… for our good… and for the good of a world that desperately needs to know and experience Your crazy love!

You Asked For It!

•December 3, 2009 • 21 Comments

If you’re anything like me, you’ve got all of these questions about everything swirling around in your noggin. We have questions about God, about culture, about church, about theology, and about life in an imperfect world. And it’s hard to get adequate answers that satisfy our curiosity or our soul. And oftentimes it’s hard to have a good dialogue with anybody about these questions we wrestle with and ponder.

So… here’s an experiment that we’re going to try together. Throughout the month of the December, you are going to send me the questions that you wrestle with and think about, and I’m going to pick the Top 8 questions and spend one week per question each Sunday, January 10th through February 28th. Ask anything… and I’ll tally the results and pick the most popular and “ponderous” questions that you have. I want to help us figure out how to wrestle with difficult and deep topics with a Christ-centered, biblical, and theological worldview. It’s going to be a bit crazy and a lot of fun.

So you can send in your questions no later than December 31st in one of three ways:
1) email your questions to youaskedforit@nsb.org
2) ask a question through commenting on my “You Asked For It” note on Facebook (if we’re not “friends,” send me a request via Facebook)
3) ask a question through commenting on this “You Asked For It” blog post

This will also be a great series to invite family, friend, neighbors, co-workers, and students to. We’re going to wrestle with some deep stuff that most people in our world think about… and we’ll always take every question and every person to Jesus Christ.