Author: tylerramsbey

I am a Christian, Husband, Pastor, and Scholar. I desire to know Jesus and to make Him known.

The Danger of Mission Drift

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One of the greatest dangers facing the Church today is mission drift. It is not unique to the Church but it is especially devastating when it poisons the community of God’s people.

Mission drift is something every organization experiences; it’s slowing drifting from your core mission over a period of time and through a variety of circumstances. It leaves people asking the question, “How did we get here?” – and causes many people to abandon the organization because the reality is disconnected from the vision.

Consider the Church.

We began 2,000 years ago as a small group of people following a crucified (yet risen) Savior who ascended to be with the Father in heaven. It has morphed into a religious empire that spends millions of dollars on branding, marketing, and building campaigns while people around the world die without every hearing the name of Jesus. We have forgot the reason we exist; we have lost sight of our core mission.

Unfortunately, this was already happening BEFORE the Church officially started! After Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, he spent a period of 40 days teaching His disciples about the Kingdom of God. At the end of this time, they ask him this question –

“Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” (Acts 1:6)

Jesus, not impressed with their questions, offers them a sharp rebuke and correction –

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.(Acts 1:7)

They make two dangerously wrong assumptions:

1. They assumed the Kingdom of God correlates with their political interests. 
In the 1st century, the Jewish people were subjected to the sovereignty of the Roman Empire. As a result, many Jews were longing for the advent of the Savior. The reason many Jewish people rejected Jesus is because they expected the Savior to be a military king (following the example of David) who would overthrow Rome through force and set up a Jewish theocracy on earth. Instead they got Jesus – a crucified king who inaugurated the Kingdom of God through his unjust death by the very empire they expected him to overthrow.

Now that Jesus has risen from the dead, the disciples thought he was going to overthrow the Roman Empire and establish them as leaders of the great Jewish nation. They wrongly assumed that the Kingdom of God was the same thing as their kingdom in this world. We do the same thing when we seek to politicize the incredible message of the Gospel. When we wield our influence in the culture to wage a war on political ideologies rather than spiritual enemies, we are falling into the same trap.

The Church’s goal is not to make American great again. Our mission is to make Jesus famous and show how following Jesus supersedes the influence of every nation on earth. The day is coming when the United States of America – as well as every other nation – will only be a footnote in the pages of history. The only Kingdom that will last into eternity is the Kingdom of God. The same Kingdom that was established through the crucifixion of Jesus; not a 1st century cultural war.

2. They assumed they could know when the end of the world would be. 
The second assumption in their question is that the timing of the end was knowledge available to them. This belief still poisons many Christians groups (especially cults). I remember one specific example from an evangelist named Harold Camping who predicted the world was going to end on May 11th, 2011. His organization spent millions of dollars on billboards and marketing to get their message out.

Guess what – he was wrong (as was every false teacher that predicted the end of the world before him).

If you are the type of Christian who carries your end-time chart around, studies the significance of so-called blood moons, and tries to identify every world leader as the anti-Christ – you are focusing on the wrong thing. To paraphrase Jesus’ teaching – it’s none of your business. Instead, seek to witness to your co-workers, neighbors, and community that God’s love has been displayed to sinners through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Do all of this from the power of the Holy Spirit; not the pseudo-power of your own wisdom.

If their assumptions are wrong, what exactly IS the mission of the church? Here’s what Jesus says in this same passage:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus makes it clear – we are called to be Spirit-empowered witnesses to our community, our nation, and the entire world. A witness in a courtroom is simply a person who testifies about what he has seen, heard, or experienced as it relates to the case. Being a Spirit-empowered witness means we testify to the world about what we have seen, heard, or experienced in our time with Jesus. He does not send us into the world to win arguments – he sends us into the world to witness to the radical message of the Gospel.

Let’s put down our picket signs, end-time charts, and political bantering. Instead, join me in praying for the power of the Holy Spirit to give us an all-consuming passion to know Jesus and make Him known in every sphere of life.

 

 

What is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit?

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This past Sunday we begin a brand new teaching series at Renovation Church through the Book of Acts. For the first message, I had the honor of teaching through Acts 1:1-8. In Acts 1:4-5, Jesus makes a remarkable promise to His disciples: “While he was with them, he commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the Father’s promise. ‘Which,’ he said, ‘you have heard me speak about; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days.’

Jesus’ promise that they would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit” has sparked considerable controversy in the Christian church. Entire denominations have split – and been born – from differing interpretations of this promise. It is clear from the immediate context that the event Jesus has in mind is Pentecost which happens in Acts 2. Nevertheless, it is also an event that continues to happen to people today (which all Christians agree on).

So, what do Christians argue about?

Mainly, is the baptism of the Holy Spirit what happens at conversion when a person calls on Jesus for salvation? Or, is it a “second blessing” that is accompanied by a sign gift (such as speaking in tongues)?

In my experience, it seems that there is a deep divide in the church between those who faithfully teach the Scriptures and those who rely too much on spiritual experiences. Those who focus on accurately expositing the text tend to downplay the experiential role of the Holy Spirit and conclude that many of the miraculous gifts ceased with the close of the apostolic era. Other Christians who emphasize the experiential aspect of the faith often veer from sound doctrine in their attempt to experience the miraculous.

What if both ways are wrong (and right)?

Let me explain.

First, we need to understand what the Bible means by “baptism.” This is the Greek work baptizo and it literally means to immerse. Picture for a moment the example of the Titanic. After striking the iceberg and when the ship was completely submerged under the water it was “baptized” in the literal sense of the word.

Keeping that in mind, when a person becomes a Christian, it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the church in Corinth (who just happened to over-emphasize spiritual gifts) that no one can call Jesus Lord apart from the work of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). Therefore a person truly is “baptized” or “immersed” in the Holy Spirit at the point of conversion – the evidence is their new faith in Jesus.

Yet, I think Scripture also makes it clear that we should not only seek “second blessings” but third, fourth, fifth, and more! I get this understanding from Paul’s admonition to the believers in Ephesus not to get drunk off wine but instead to be “filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).” In the original language, this verb has the sense of “continue to be filled” with the Holy Spirit. If the word “baptism” means to be immersed, we could paraphrase Paul’s word accurately if we say that his command is that we should continually be baptized – immersed – filled – by the Holy Spirit in order to grow in spiritual maturity.

So, I agree with both the conservative Christians but also with the Pentecostals – but with one major caveat. This teaching becomes divisive because many Pentecostal churches teach that the sign of having the Holy Spirit is speaking in tongues; therefore, if you do not speak in tongues you are not a truly “spiritual” Christian. Although I do believe in the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit, a litmus test such as this one breeds self-righteousness and division.

It’s the same exact problem that plagued the church in Corinth. This is what Paul had to say about all of this –

1 Corinthians 12:29-30
29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in other tongues? Do all interpret? 

One Pentecostal teacher I listened to made the claim that Paul expects the answer to each of these questions to be “yes.” That’s simply a gross misinterpretation of Scripture. In the wider context of this verse, Paul is making the point that the Church is the Body of Christ and like the human body, we all have different gifts that must be used together for the glory of God. In other words, there is no one person who has all the gifts. You need the Church and the Church needs you.

If it’s not tongues, what is the evidence that a person has been baptized by the Holy Spirit? This is what Paul says – But the fruit (i.e. evidence) of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). The baptism of the Holy Spirit should transform your character to look more like Jesus – only then will you be able to faithfully use spiritual gifts to build up the Church. 

Finally, how do we pursue this baptism of the Holy Spirit? Do we need a special teacher with a so-called “anointing” to lay his hands on us to transfer the Spirit to us like it’s a super power?

No.

We are baptized – immersed – in the Holy Spirit when we faithfully practice spiritual disciplines such as studying Scripture, gathering with your church community, remaining persistent in prayer, and partaking of the sacraments (such as communion). The Father has graciously given us these “means of grace” that we might position ourselves in such a way that we are transformed by the Holy Spirit rather than the spirit of this age.


What have you been taught about the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Do you find this helpful? What are some other questions you still have? Let me know by leaving a comment!

P.S. – If you want to watch the full message from this past Sunday, you can watch it below:

How To Interpret the Book of Acts

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This past Sunday at Renovation Church, we started a new teaching series through the Book of Acts. We will continue preaching verse-by-verse through this fascinating narrative on the early church, take a short break for a Christmas series, and then return to the book in early January.

One of the major things we must comprehend to faithfully read and apply the Book of Acts is the difference between “descriptive” and “prescriptive” when it comes to Biblical narrative. Unfortunately, time did not permit me to explain this concept on Sunday morning so I decided to write a short post to help you understand this in a way that is (hopefully) relevant and less scholarly.

First, let’s talk definitions. A “descriptive” event is, as the name implies, simply a description of something that happened without the intent of setting a new principle or practice. For example, when we see an event such as the early church choosing a new apostle through the casting of lots, it is not advocating that we should always and forever select church leaders by rolling a dice. Instead, the text is simply showing us how it was done in that particular situation.

A “prescriptive” event is a reality or principle that should remain true regardless of the circumstances. An example of a prescriptive event in the Book of Acts is the message found in Acts 4:12, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved.” The “name” being spoken about is the name of Jesus. This is not simply a description of a sermon in the early church; this is the reality of the Gospel. Failure to believe this claim means you are not an orthodox Christian.

Simply stuff right?

Not really.

It gets difficult when we try to teach on the gift of tongues, baptism in the Spirit, leadership roles for women in the church, etc. – These are all topics that good and Bible-believing Christians disagree on – often due to a misunderstanding of “prescriptive” and “descriptive” texts.

Truthfully, there is not a fool-proof way to discern whether a text is descriptive or prescriptive. One helpful thing we must keep in mind when we approach the Biblical text is the genre of the writing. Acts is a history (Yes, I understand it is different than a modern history text) and the primary purpose is to provide the history and story-line of the early church. For this reason, the bulk of the text is going to be descriptive and we must prayerfully discern the principles and underlying realities the Holy Spirit wants us to understand and apply from the text. Many of the Epistles (such as Romans), on the other hand, are prescriptive. There are clear commands to do and not to do certain activities. These moral and doctrinal commands are clearly rooted in the character of God and do not change with the circumstances surrounding them.

I write all of this with the primary purpose of getting you to begin asking these kinds of questions as we study the Book of Acts. I will try to make it clear in my teaching when I am touching on topics that good Christians disagree on and why I take a certain stand on the text. Nevertheless, there is room for loving disagreement. As a church, I want to encourage us to strive for this ancient ideal: “in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”

I pray and hope each of you are off to a good week. As always, if there is something I can be praying about or if you’d just like to talk, reach out to me. If you do not have my number you can send me an e-mail at tyler@renovationchurchsd.com – Have a great week!

 

How To Survive a Lion Attack

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Tomorrow marks the 8 year anniversary of one of the craziest stories I have read about.

It begins in the small town of Zanesville, Ohio. A retired school teacher named Sam Kopchak left his home to check on a horse he recently purchased. When he saw the horse he noticed something was wrong – the horse was extremely skittish. He probably assumed this was due to the horse’s new home but as he looked out the window he saw an even stranger scene. He spotted a small black bear surrounded by a group of horses in his neighbor’s pasture.

As Sam left the barn to walk back to his home, he spotted a dangerous and terrifying sight – on the other side of the fence there was a full grown African Lion looking back at him.

This was the beginning of the infamous exotic animal escape in Zanesville, Ohio. It began with Terry Thompson, an owner of many exotic animals, releasing his animals to terrorize the Zanesville area before taking his own life. Terry released 18 tigers, 17 lions, 8 bears, 3 cougars, 2 wolves, and 1 baboon.

Imagine for a moment you lived in Zanesville and received a notification that there were hungry lions and tigers on the loose. If it was me, I would quickly make sure my family is inside my home and keep my focus outside so that if I spotted one I could warn others of the danger.

This is the type of mindset Peter is encouraging us to have at the end of 1 Peter. He is writing to Christians experiencing immense and unjust suffering as a result of their faith in Jesus. In order to encourage them to stay strong in the faith, he pens a small but powerful letter. He closes this letter with a lion warning:

1 Peter 5:8-9
Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing that the same kind of sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.

In this passage, Peter shares with us two ways to survive a lion attack. First, we must remain vigilant and second we must learn how to fight.

1. Remain Vigilant
If you have ever watched an animal documentary, there are two things you will notice about the tactics lions use to attack their prey. First, they are most successful when they attack under the cover of darkness. They can quietly sneak up on the prey, pounce on it, and then suffocate it by gripping around its throat with their teeth.

In a similar way, this ancient lion often attacks when we are experiencing the darkness of suffering. He attacks our faith and encourages us to walk away from God when we go through the shattering effects of divorce or the shame-inducing experience of unemployment. When we are walking through the darkness, we must stay close to Jesus and focus on His Word rather than the lies of the enemy.

Second, lions never attack an entire herd of animals all at once. Instead, they pursue the weaker animal that gets separated from the rest. When the animal is separated, it becomes ideal prey for the lion.

Likewise, one of Satan’s tactics in our suffering is to separate us from the people of God by giving us a myriad of excuses why we do not need to be committed to a local church. The moment you disconnect from the local church is the moment you become ideal prey for the enemy to consume. When we experience the darkness of suffering our natural reaction is to isolate ourselves and avoid community – that is the absolute worst thing we can do. The Church is called to be a hospital for sick people; recognizing your sickness is the precise moment you need to run to the church body for help, healing, and encouragement!

2. Learn to Fight
Peter says it this way, “Resist him, firm in the faith…” What does Peter mean when he commands us to resist Satan? Well, if we keep in mind the lion imagery, one of the worst things you can do if you are attacked by a lion is turn your back and run! The natural instinct of all cats (even your house cat) is to pursue people and prey when their back is turned. It’s important that Peter does not tell us to run from Satan or to pretend as if he doesn’t exist. Instead, he says to resist him and remain firm in the apostolic faith.

So… HOW do we resist him?

Roughly 30 years before Peter wrote this letter, we see a battle between two lions in the Scriptures – the Lion of Judah and the Lion of this World (see Matthew 4). Immediately after Jesus’ baptism he is thrust into the wilderness to battle with Satan for a period of 40 days. Each of Satan’s temptations is an encouragement for Jesus to become self-dependent and achieve the glory of the Resurrection without the brutality of the cross. If anyone could stand toe-to-toe with Satan by his own authority, it would have been Jesus.

Nevertheless, do you remember how Jesus responds to each of these temptations?

It. Is. Written.

Jesus resists the Lion of this World by meditating on and quoting the Scriptures (specifically, the book of Deuteronomy). Elsewhere, the Bible is referred to as the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) by which we fight against the spiritual forces of darkness in this world. The reason so many of us have disconnected from the local church and fallen prey to the enemy is because very few of us study the Scriptures on a daily basis. The only time many American Christians open the Bible is on Sunday morning and the vast majority of the pulpits across our country preach malnourished messages full of life-tips and empty of sound doctrine and real teaching.

Hearing the teaching of the Bible one day a week and expecting it to sustain you is like having one meal the entire week and hoping it will give you enough energy for the other 6 days. It is foolish and will leave you malnourished or dead. Likewise, refusing to study the Scriptures on a regular basis will leave you spiritually malnourished and ideal prey for the enemy of your soul.

You have an enemy who is hunting you.

He hides under the cover of suffering and seeks to separate you from God’s people. Learn to fight against Him by being so consumed with Scripture and the message of the Gospel that it flows out of you in your marriage, your parenting, your friendships, your workplace, and your community. It is time to reject the Americanized version of Christianity where we sit and listen for one hour a week. Instead, let’s pursue the radical discipleship that is evident throughout all of the New Testament.

It is through the words of God (the Bible) that we encounter the Word of God (Jesus). It is through the Word of God (Jesus) that we experience the work of God (salvation and sanctification). 

Research… Dissertation… Transformation

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It has been awhile since I have written a blog post. In the last month alone we have moved into a new home and welcomed a new baby into the world. In the midst of all this (good) busyness, I took a 2-month leave from my doctoral work at Sioux Falls Seminary. Now that things are moving towards a new normal and I am able to focus on some long-term goals, I am back to working on my doctoral work.

As many of you know, the purpose of my current study is creating a vision for small church pastoral ministry that is biblically sound, historically faithful, and practically helpful. A vision of ministry that defines success by faithfulness to God and formation by His Spirit rather than the false success of higher attendance, bigger budgets, and better branding. It is my attempt to speak into the lives of pastors who are serving in small churches and wrestling with the overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, failure, and depression due to the “smallness” of their call.

Truthfully, it’s me wrestling with my own soul and pointing myself to the Gospel and the person of Jesus – in the hope that another pastor out there will find encouragement and friendship through this journey of ministry.

As part of this process, I will be documenting much of my learning and reflections here on my personal blog. The first part of this will be a lot of academic research and interviews with various people who follow the Rule of St. Benedict; my goal is to learn how the ancient monastic rule can breathe new life into our ministries in the 21st century (in a way that is relevant and practical – not just nerdy). This will culminate in me creating a “Rule” or curriculum for pastoral ministry and spiritual formation for pastors in small churches.

The second part of this project will be creating a cohort of small church pastors who I can journey with for about a year. This cohort will study the Rule of St. Benedict and ancient spiritual formation alongside of me; seeking to apply the principles to each of our ministry contexts. I will be measuring the spiritual, physical, and emotional health of each of these pastors at the following times: 2 months, 4 months, 6 months, 8 months, 10 months, and 12 months. Our hope is that we would see an increase in health for these pastors’ ministries and families as a result of this process.

Eventually, all of this will be detailed into a dissertation that will eventually earn me my Doctorate (hopefully this will all be done within the next 3 years). Finally, I am hoping this research and dissertation – alongside of my mentors at Sioux Falls Seminary – will connect me with a publisher (such as IV Press) to write a book and curriculum that will be academically strong and practically relevant to encourage small church pastors in their ministries.

I have a lot of work ahead of me so I want to close this post with a quote from the Rule of St. Benedict and strive to live accordingly:

“And first of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it…”

I am asking all of you to join me in prayer. If you keep a regular list of prayer requests, please pray for the wisdom, discernment, and strength I need to complete this project for God’s glory and the good of His Church. Thank you!

 

Renovation Church – Membership Meeting Agenda

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Tomorrow (Tuesday, August 13th) we are holding our next “Membership Meeting” for Renovation Church at O So Good in Garretson. This is not a business meeting and it is not a vision casting meeting; it is a time for us to prayerfully discern the direction and leadership of the Holy Spirit in our church.

This meeting is open to ANYONE who regularly attends or supports Renovation Church. The agenda consists almost entirely of discussion questions. If you are coming to the meeting, I urge you to seriously pray through these questions, listen to the Holy Spirit, and come to the meeting ready to share your thoughts. The agenda for this meeting is below:

Membership Meeting
Tuesday, August 13th – 6:30pm – 8:00pm
O So Good – Garretson, SD

Focus of our church this Fall, Winter, and Spring
1. Rooted in the Word (Col. 3:16)
2. Empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1:4-8)
3. Centered on Christ (Col. 1:15-20)

Discussion Questions:
Rooted in the Word
Practically, what does it look like for a church to be rooted in the Bible? What does it look like when a church is NOT rooted in the Bible?

What are some unique resources/training we can offer to people to help them better understand how to read, understand, and apply the Bible to their lives? Do you have an interest in being a “mentor” to new Christians?

What are some biblical concepts that you find especially difficult to understand that we can address either on a Sunday morning or through another resource?

What do you find most difficult about rooting your own life in the Bible? How can the church come alongside of you – not from a place of condemnation – but rather from a place of encouragement and accountability?

Empowered by the Spirit
What are some pictures that come to mind when you think of the following terms – “Holy Spirit” “Living in the Spirit” “Baptism in the Spirit” and “Spiritual Gifts” – why do you think these images come to mind?

What are some questions you have about the ministry of the Holy Spirit? How can we address these questions (or concerns) during our Sunday morning service or a resource offered at a different time?

It is clear that many churches in the Western world lack the power of the Holy Spirit. How can we as a church come to a place where we depend in greater measure on the leading of the Spirit rather than our well-developed plans and strategies?

One of the emphasis in Scripture when it comes to the Holy Spirit is prayer. A praying church is a powerful church. What does it look like to be a “praying church”? How can we make prayer a priority in our church this Fall?

Those who live according to the Holy Spirit are constantly making disciples. What does it mean to “make disciples” in our everyday lives? How can we as a church better help our members make disciples who make disciples?

What are some resources, books, retreats, or other resources we can offer people to help them develop a life in the Spirit and in prayer with God?

Centered on Christ
What does it look like to be a church centered on Christ? What are some other things/people/agendas that churches can be side-tracked by? How can we avoid these traps?

Practically, what are some ways we can center Renovation Church more on Jesus rather than on Tyler?

One of my (Tyler) weaknesses is leadership development and taking on too many things. What does it look like for our church to develop godly and mature leaders? Can you think of anyone in our congregation who might make a good spiritual leader to oversee a ministry area?

A large part of being centered on Christ is having a healthy membership structure where members themselves are living in such a way that their lives are centered on Christ. How can we improve accountability/encouragement for those who are members in Renovation Church?

Another aspect of being centered on Christ is doing more by doing less. Is our church adding “busyness” to the calendars of those in our congregation? How can we help people understand that God is more concerned about who they are becoming rather than what they are doing?

Summary Question:
Are there any other questions we can use to guide our church in being rooted in the Word, empowered by the Spirit, and centered on Christ?

(P.S. – If you are unable to make the meeting, feel free to message or e-mail me your thoughts!)