Category Archives: Current Thoughts

Liturgy – Whether you know it or not

A recent article by Ed Stetzer raised a question I had only asked in my head. Aren’t ALL of our worship services full of liturgy? In this article, Ed interviews Mike Cosper who is the author of Rhythms of Grace. This looks like a great book and I hope to read it at some point.

About one year ago I was asked to take over the structure and organization of Sunday mornings at Lakeside Community Church. The basic ‘schedule’ of what happened was already set, we just needed a point person to take care of some of the details. One of the things we were able to put in place is a basic structure of Prepare-Preach-Participate. We prepare our hearts with singing and giving, we hear the Word preached, and we participate with more singing and corporate prayer. This is our liturgy. What’s yours?

Here’s the deal, I have visited many many churches in New England in my lifetime. The bottom line is that  your bulletin is the same  as every other church in New England right down to that very same font that I can see from a mile away. The announcements are basically the same. The songs are basically the same. The order of service is basically the same. Yeah we have a cool three section rubric for our services but it is basically the same.

Every church has that person, you know the one, a strongly liturgical background that freaks out every time anything formal is spoken. Every person also has the other person pulling everyone towards daily liturgical readings from 500 years ago. Whether we realize it or not, our services are liturgical. They SHOULD be designed to point us to Christ. Some services point us to man. That is a horrible sin.

That is our liturgy. What’s yours?

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What Stories Do

This was sent to me in response to my last post. What a great follow-up to that idea. Thank you Lori.
The original story can be found here.

What Stories Do

by 

Almost overnight, my eight-year-old niece went from being a vivacious little girl who sang her way through life—as if she were singing the soundtrack of her own life the movie—and became a frightened, withdrawn child who spoke so softly you could barely hear her. It was as if she were literally losing her voice, losing herself. And then we found out she was being bullied at school.

Later, she told me that she thought she wouldn’t get in trouble if she tried not to be herself. It broke my heart, and I wished she had a book to read before school to hear what God says about her, not what those bullies were saying about her. So I thought I better write one—it’s called Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, and it has become a book of hope for children.

Children look to us for everything. But in all that we’ve given children, have we forgotten to give them hope? Have we left them in despair, looking at what they should do but don’t? Looking at who they should be but aren’t? How, then, do we give hope to children?

By helping them take the focus off themselves and put it back on God where it belongs. By telling them truths such as these:

God holds the oceans in the palm of his hand. If he can hold the oceans, he can hold you. (p. 106)

If God cares for the tiniest sparrow— how much more mus t he care for you, his child? (p. 152)

If Jesus can calm a storm on a lake, he can calm the storm in your heart. (p. 181)

God sees not just who you are— but who he is going to make you. (p. 145)

We give hope to children when we tell them what matters most.

They don’t need to be told to try harder, believe more, or do better. That just leaves them in despair. Taken by itself, the moral code always leaves us in despair. We can never live up to it. We don’t need a moral code—we need a Rescuer.

When I go to churches and speak to children, I ask them two questions: First, “how many people here sometimes think you have to be good for God to love you?” They tentatively raise their hands. I raise my hand along with them. Second, “How many people here sometimes think that if you aren’t good, God will stop loving you?” They look around and again raise their hands.

These are children in Sunday schools who know the Bible, and yet they have somehow missed the most important thing of all. They have missed what the Bible is all about. They are children like I once was. I thought God couldn’t love me because I wasn’t doing it right.

How, then, do we help them? What can we do? We can teach children that the Bible is not about them.

The Bible isn’t merely about them and what they should be doing. It’s about God and what He has done. It’s not merely a book of rules telling you how to behave so that God will love you. It’s not merely a book of heroes that gives you people to copy so that God will love you.

Most of all, the Bible is the Story—the story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. And in spite of everything, no matter what, whatever it cost Him— God won’t ever stop loving His children with a wonderful, neverstopping, never-giving-up, unbreaking, always, and forever love. Are we telling children the Story—or teaching them a mere lesson?

My niece didn’t need another lesson. What she needed to know was that she is loved—with a wonderful, never-stopping, never-giving- up, unbreaking, always, and forever love. What she needed was to be invited into the Story. What she needed was to meet the Hero and become part of His magnificent Story. That is because the rules don’t change you. But the Story—God’s Story—does.

How, then, do we instill a love for God in children? Simply by telling them the Story—the Story of how God loves His children and comes to rescue them. By telling it well. Telling it faithfully. Telling it simply. Telling it without dumbing it down. Telling it without explaining it to death. Telling it without drilling it down into a moral lesson.

Stories don’t tell the truth confrontationally. They don’t coerce you. They don’t argue with you to believe them. They just are. The power of the story isn’t in summing it up, drilling it down, or reducing it to an abstract idea. The power of the story isn’t in the lesson. The power of the story is the story.  (Emphasis mine)

When God sent the prophet Nathan to King David (2 Sam. 12:1-4), Nathan didn’t confront David with a sermon about his sin but told him a story. David didn’t see it coming. The story got by his defenses.

That’s the thing a true story does—it doesn’t come at you directly and raise a wall of defense. It comes around the side and captures your heart.

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What if we are all wrong?

42% of the population in Maine is functionally illiterate. I heard that statistic from Keith Lawrence last night at a Southern Maine Church Planting meeting. That statistic hit me pretty hard. If we assume a population of 1.3M people in Maine, we end up with a staggering 546,000 people in Maine that will not comprehend what we teach, whether from the pulpit or in living rooms across the state. I would also make the bold statement that most pastors don’t care based on their actions. Let me make a case for a second.

A typical sermon includes 5-10 minutes of introduction where an illustration is used or a word is explained etc, to get the people ready to hear the message. This could be a witty little story about the CEO of a company who prayed before every meeting or a quick run down of the ways in which we misuse the word love. This would be followed by a verse by verse or even word by word explanation of the text. We explain the text for 15 minutes or so making sure we pull out the nuance of the Greek or Hebrew word used only once in this very verse. We follow all of this up with the climax of application where we give examples of what we can all do differently as a result. At the end of the service the pastor dutifully stands at the door of the church listening to all the people ooh and aah about the sermon. Most weeks however, there are always a few people who seem to never “get it.” Sometimes it comes out as a simple, “That one didn’t speak to me.” A more common explanation is, “I just don’t get much out of it.”

What is the first reaction? I know what mine was/is. “Well, they just don’t get it.”

EXACTLY! They don’t get it. And instead of figuring out why, we do more of the same with better illustrations teaching them more about  Winston Churchill or Football than Jesus.

There are four levels of literacy accepted by most countries. Level 1 is the inability to read or write. This would be described as being illiterate. Level 2 is the ability to read very basic groups of words such as medicine doses and States/cities. Level 3 is the ability to fill out forms with a basic understanding of vocabulary. The ability to fill out a job application or other similar type of forms. These two levels are considered functionally illiterate. Level 4 is reading and writing comprehension. There are levels of reading comprehension however, and the basic rule is that a level 4 literate person could pick up a book written at an 8th grade level and understand it. This is the level at which most pastors in Maine preach at. Listen to sermons from all over the state and you will hear level 4 sermons. Sermons based on the information gleaned from not only research/theology books, but the very version of Scripture we read. What grade is your version written at?

If 42% of Maine is level 3 or below then you are correct, they DON’T get it. If 42% of Maine CAN NOT read at an 8th grade level, then why are we surprised when we hand them a Bible but they don’t seem to read it? I have been known to whack a bee’s nest or two in my day so it won’t come as a surprise for me to ask, “If the KJV is written at a 12th grade level, how many people are we saying that we don’t care about in our KJV only churches?”

So what needs to change? If we are going to try to reach the people of Maine by planting churches, what are we going to do about the 42% of people who will automatically be left out. I don’t want to shoot off a few flares then run away so my first answer is this.

When was the last time you told the gospel as a story? Was it the last time you substitute taught in Sunday School? When was the last time you started your entire sermon by just telling the story of the text in 5-10 minutes BEFORE you dig into the significance of each individual word. I am 100% guilty of this. I have preached to those seminary students in the seats while ignoring those who want to learn but just don’t get it.

I am not advocating that we simplify everything and go with felt boards every week, but I do wonder if we could take 30 minutes out of our week and craft a section of our sermon in order to reach more than 52% of the people who could walk into a service on any given Sunday. ( That was a long sentence but I’m not cutting it in 2 Tracy! ) Another reaction of yours could be similar to mine when I assumed, “I bet that number is lower than 42% in my church.” I bet I’m right, and I bet you are too! We designed it that way. We preach in a way to keep the 42% out.

Please take this information and be challenged to reach more people. This new information has certainly altered my mindset. I am note sure how it will end up playing out in my life specifically but if we truly want to reach Maine with the Gospel, we might need to rethink our delivery.

Selah

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The Morning After

Yesterday was not a dream. It seems that the whirlwind that was my April 5 is now gone. Dad is sleeping more peacefully and soundly then he has in more that 2 weeks. The people here at the Gosnel House are great as they care for the families and patients alike.

There were quite a few people in here last night and I know that my father appreciated it.

The question “why us” briefly popped up in my head last night after I was left here alone with my Dad. The Holy Spirit quickly answered with, “why NOT you?” Darrin Patrick quoted Elizabeth Elliot yesterday when he said, ” God will not protect you from anything that will make you more like Jesus. ”

When we view every situation as good or bad, we tend to leave God out of it. When God’s grace shifts our thinking on these matters, we see every situation as not good or bad, but as an opportunity to give God more glory for what He alone has already done.

My father showed me the importance of daily communion with God. He showed me the importance of a local church body. He is currently showing me how to ” go out on top ” by taking care of the things to be cared for and not focusing on self. Up until his last coherent moment, he was trying to make sure Mom was taken care of.

In the world that we live in, it is not often that a man like me can look back at such a constant role model in his father. For that I am grateful. God deemed it necessary to be born unto Donald L Coldwell and I thank God right now for that decision of God’s.

I love you Dad. Soon you will be free of all disease and will be in your new body throwing the many crowns you have earned at the feet of Jesus.

Selah

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Hiking in 2012

In 2012 I am going hiking.

“Brilliant post Don, absolutely brilliant!” Yeah I know. Here’s the deal. I started Bible college in 2000 because no other school would accept me. One semester into it, I wanted to be a pastor/teacher/student of the Bible. My life has been a working towards that goal. Every job I have had was a step towards that goal, not a place of ministry. Sure I shared the gospel with people I worked with, but it wasn’t ministry to me. My life has been the pursuit of vocational ministry and until recently, that was my calling. Well, I say calling but it was actually my idol. You see, anything we put as ultimate other than God is idolatry. I sacrificed my family at the altar of vocational ministry. I sacrificed my jobs at the altar of vocational ministry.

In Genesis 22:2 God calls Abraham to climb a mountain and sacrifice his love. His son that he had waited for. God promised that he would raise up a nation from his offspring Isaac, and then asked Abraham to kill him.

God is calling me to go hiking with my idol vocational ministry and kill it. This year I’m going hiking.

Here is the hard part.

He might not provide a ram in the bushes.

Sometimes it is easy to act when we see a picture in the Bible already. We hear preachers ask us if we are willing to give up that which we love the most and we always say yes. We might nod in the affirmative as we hear the Word preached, but it is only because we know how the story ends…Abraham didn’t end up having to do it. There was a ram in the bushes.

Some of you need to go hiking with me. Pray about it. You might not find a ram.

 

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You Can’t Out-Give God?

I read Malachi 3:6-12 and couldn’t help but wonder what I could take from that passage. There are clearly passages that should not be taken as word for word commands and others that can not be understood in any other way. Husbands are told to love their wives in Eph 5:25 and there is no wiggle room. David worshiped in his underwear…we should try to avoid that here in the US.

Malachi 3:6For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. 7From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say how shall we return? 8Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say how have we robbed you? In your tithes and contributions. 9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. 11I will rebuke the devourer for you, so it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. 12Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts.  (ESV)

Can we take this passage to be directed at us? Is this for Israel and not Don Coldwell? Does this mean if we give, we get? This book was more than likely written during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and we can bring a few things to the table as a result of this.

1 – This would have been written for the nation of Israel. Vs 9 states that the ‘whole nation’ is robbing God. The nation is coming back from exile and they have been robbing God for years and probably a while even here since we read that Ezra leads a revival when they get bogged down. The assumption is that the blessings would be national as opposed to individual.

2 – He isn’t talking about the US but is He speaking to the Church? If the Church is the new Israel then it is a bit of a different answer than if not. Hard-line dispensationalists would more than likely say that we are not ‘new Israel’ so therefore we can not claim any part of this passage. Our good friends who are a bit more reformed might look at us as the ‘new Israel’  so we need to take a quick peek which brings me to …

3 – I wonder why there were specific provisions for the poor if God is going to give us back more than what we give Him? If He is going to bless them to the point of having ‘no more need’ then why would there still be need? Is Malachi leading us to the new covenant of Jesus? It sure does point to Him but it is clearly OT in function.

In Luke 21 a woman is praised for her giving of her two copper coins. Her last two. We don’t get to see the next week of her life. Did she get a check placed under her door for the exact cost of the electric bill as s many stories would suggest? Did she end up dying of starvation for giving here only money to the church?

Is the tithe right or wrong? No.

Is this a promise that if I give to God, He’ll give me more? No.

In the end I think that the trite sayings that “You can’t out-give God” and “God’s shovel will always be bigger than yours” don’t end up doing people any good.

If we see what God has done for us every day and we can see and teach people to understand the gospel in a way that shows that we are already sitting in God’s shovel; we will then be able to give in a way that will not cause God to bless us but will allow us to see all the ways in which He already has.

How’s that for my 100th post?

-Cheers

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Prepping

Well. Nothing like a good ole’ seizure to liven things up. On March 13, 2010 our lives were made a bit more complicated by my wife’s aneurysm. Things have changed for our family as we have adjusted to the side effects of all the things that happened. There are many manifestations of these  changes but one thing remains the same. God is great – So we don’t have to be in control.

This week L had a seizure. It is nothing she had ever experienced before and it happened (once again) in front of the children while I was not with her/them. She knew something was happening and tried to text me but her fingers and her brain could not communicate enough and as she handed the phone to my oldest, she slipped out of her chair and into a seizure. I had absolutely no control over that yet God is still great.

These are the times that make us react in such a way that make us say,”God must be getting us ready for something big!” Well, what if that was the something big? What if your whole life was in preparation for tragedy? What if all you went through culminated in you being made weak?

All my life I have believed that God was preparing us for something and this was/is our way of having us feel important. This thought preys on our desire to self-glorify. “God is going to use me for something big!” we tell ourselves and each other. We must be something special we tell each other. So what did L’s time in the hospital get us ready for…a seizure? Is that what the BIG thing was?

What if I never do anything at all that is big?

Then to God be the glory as it is all His!

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