Thursday, December 18, 2008

I'm not a car guy, but...

...when I was walking into the local Wally World, I saw the new Dodge Charger. I, and about every other guy walking in, stopped and drooled. It's like the General Lee and a Ferrari got married and had this as their baby. Wow.
And they say Detroit is going under.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Are We Doing This?

I drove past this the other day. I don't know about you, but I'm not really in the market to have my headlight lenses polished. Ever. And to my recollection I never have been, or ever will be.

In short, they are providing something they can do that no one really needs.

Is the church doing this?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Classic that Doesn't Dissappoint

A good rule of thumb: If you are trying to grow as a follower Jesus, go for what's old and time-tested, not what someone just thought up and a publisher marketed to you to get you to buy.

One such resource: The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. A friend described him as a "klutz who broke everything." In an effort to make something of himself, he left the services of a French Lord and entered the monastery and there became the washer of pots and pans. His simple meditations from the 17th Century on what it means to pray have endured and spoken to many.

Here's what Henri Nouwen wrote in the foreword to a recent edition:

"Although we are busy we experience ourselves as the passive victims of great powers that control us and seem very hard to resist. Life seems like a long series of randomly scattered incidents and accidents over which we have no control."
I'm not sure I've heard a more concise summary of 21st Century life in America. And it's too this sense of fragementation that Brother Lawrence speaks.

I'll post reflections as I read my way through.

Where to order:
Online edition (free)

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Meaning of Christmas

It's easy to lose Christmas in Christmas.
This short video produced by a church in London is a thoughtful and well-produced reflection on the true meaning of Christmas. I hope you'll see Jesus in the middle of Christmas this year.

As a bonus, everyone in it has a British accent.
(ht: adrian warnock)

That's Christmas! from andy pearce on Vimeo.

How the Economy Reveals Our Souls

My good college friend, Lt. Commander Brian Weigelt, is currently serving as a Navy Chaplain, working as an agent of the Kingdom of God at sea. He's a great man (plus, he gets the great nickname "Chaps").

While he's at sea (in an undisclosed location) he sends out a daily email to the crew of the ships he serves. They are easily some of the best words I read each week. And yesterday's was particularly poignant, given the state of economy.

TODAY'S WAYPOINT--A Daily Reflection from Chaplain Weigelt
December 12, 2008

"Of the billionaires I have known, money just brings out the basic traits in them. If they were jerks before they had money, they are simply jerks with a billion dollars.” – Warren Buffett

Psalm 62:10 (New International Version): Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
Each day there seems to be yet another headline describing the desperate state of our economy. Economists in their ivory towers will note that this is simply a typical correction to the economy, readjusting expectations that weren’t based in reality. That explanation doesn’t necessarily make things easier for those who are suffering severely from the loss of jobs and reduced real estate value. Part of the problem many of us face is the fact that we have tied our identity too closely to our economic status, or to our material possessions. While this financial downturn may be a correction to our economy, maybe we should also consider a correction to our self-understanding. Our true identity, our true value does not have anything to do with the amount of money in our accounts. In fact, our account balances can insulate us from reality. Perhaps each time we read a headline about the economy, we should remind ourselves that the economy doesn’t define us.

Have I had too high of expectations for money?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Cereal Night

A few weeks ago, the guys in my small group were waxing nostalgic for the cereals of our youth; those sugary creations of careless Cereal Executives that fueled our childhoods.

So, we decided to have cereal night at Small Group. Everyone brought their favorite. I loaded up on on Fruit Loops...then proceeded to lapse into a sugar-induced coma. Good for making memories, not so good for discussion.

These are good men that I love and admire.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Why Pyromaniacs Are Right At Home in the Church

People in our culture generally like Jesus, but they generally don't like the church, so why bother? In other words, why does the Church exist?

Elton Trueblood's answer: "The Church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning." I recently had lunch with a church consultant I met through an odd series of events who echoed Elton's thoughts.

Every church exists by vision, he says, whether it's something that's articulated or not. If it's not, it's what he calls a "default vision." That default vision usually means something like, 'run our programs, keep everyone basically happy, keep the structure running that's gotten us here.' Without leadership, I suppose any group defaults to that sort of maintenance.

If the church is to burn, he says there are three crucial elements.
Strategy (to move toward that vision).
Structure (to support that strategy).

If the default vision isn't challenged, then real vision ends up coming hat-in-hand to structure, asking if it can play a bit. A very backward arrangement. Nothing burns.

David Bosch in Transforming Mission nails it:

Mission [is] understood primarily as being derived from the very nature of God. It [is] thus put in the context of the doctrine of the trinity…The classical doctrine of the missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit [expands] to include yet another ‘movement’: Father, Son and Holy Spirit sending the church into the world…mission is not primarily an activity of the church, it is an attribute of God.

God is a missionary God.

Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God into the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission. There is a church because there is a mission, not visa versa.

Then the question--and challenge--becomes what is that mission and how do we live it? Jesus was pretty clear. I'm not so sure we are. This is the best description I know of what Jesus means by that. And here's the result when we do that:
  • People confront their demons and find them already overcome by the Risen Jesus.
  • People change.
  • The past is healed.
  • Love grows.
  • Hope flourishes.
  • Communities are transformed.
  • Kids have better parents.
  • Employees have better bosses, and bosses have better employees.
  • Beauty flourishes through the arts.
  • Single moms find help.
  • Marriages blossom.
  • 13 year old girls trapped as prostitutes in the dark corners of the world are rescued.
  • Mosquito nets keep babies safe from malaria in Africa.
  • Clean water wells are dug in remote villages so kids don't die from some simple like diarrhea.
  • The Kingdom of God comes on earth, as it is in heaven.
  • Jesus is Lord.
Is anyone in their right mind not for all that? But in order for it to happen, we must be set ablaze. So then let's get on with it and burn.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Why There is No Future in the Past

What do you do when things seem to be unraveling? When suddenly or overnight or out of nowhere or without explanation something in your circle of influence runs you over? A child, a marriage, a relationship, an opportunity, a job goes south?

Like it or not, this 'out of the blue' feeling is the reality that when the present isn't effectively managed, it has a way of becoming a past that builds and builds into 'the wave' that now seems ready to sweep away both your present and your future. It's like you're standing on the beach called 'the present' and you get washed away by an unexpected tsunmani called 'the past.'

Can you relate?

The hard to swallow truth is that there usually is no "suddenly." The past is, more often than not, something of our own creation. There are exceptions to that, for sure.

Regardless of who or how the past happened, it often ends up determining your future. "There and then" keeps you from living "here and now." It's not that the future is determined in the sense that we can't escape it no matter what, it's just that our past has become the most influential voice in our present. And so we futilely search for a future in the past.

As a result, we feel helpless against 'the wave.'

Enter the Gospel--the good news--of Jesus. It is the announcement that Jesus has taken the past and overwhelmed and overcome it, calming it's angry waters.

Paul, writer of much of the New Testament says it this way: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." Jesus silences the voice of the past and invites us to live here and now in light of God's future; A future full of hope and possibility.

Can you see it?

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Interview with Tim Keller

Few people think more carefully and clearly than Tim Keller about the church, the Gospel and the mission of God. I learn something every time I interact with his work.
Tim is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. He is author of the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God and a newly released book, The Prodigal God. He is also cofounder of The Gospel Coalition.

Here is a link to a two part interview with him on "Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture"
From the interview:
"The new heavens and new Earth are coming in which 'everything sad is going to come untrue.' Don't get too bent out of shape because your church didn't grow this year."


It's just after 10PM in these photos. I am feeding my boys pure sugar and we are still 15 minutes from home.
They are in their pajamas, their mom knows where they are (I think).
We are breaking with routine and having fun together. I'll be doing this sort of thing as a memory maker as they grow up and wanted to give them a practice run.
And I'd like to go on record as saying that the French Cruller (in the 3rd pic) is the best donut ever created.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Opie on Leadership

Ron Howard (aka, Opie) is all grown up now and directing films.

In a recent interview with Time magazine, he had this to say about making the transition from acting to directing. Good words on leadership.

BlockquoteFor me it was learning to not control everything. When you're directing, of course, you're supervising everything, but if you don't trust the artists you're collaborating with, you wind up tying one of their hands behing their back. My work got much, much better when I learned to let go a little bit."

To Hell with the Devil

This brought back some memories.
Jerry was carting this around the office and I took a shot of it.

Stryper was one of the original bands to bridge that great impenetrable chasm between Heavy Metal and Christian Rock. They also did some serious work promoting the mullet.

Long live the hair stylist of Stryper!

If you were (or are) a fan, here they are in all their glory.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Weirded Out

While waiting for some friends to meet us the other night, my wife and I stopped in at C28. They bill themselves as a Christian store. Every item has a Scripture verse or some positively themed thing on it. Not bad.

To boot, they're located at the Short Pump Town Center, the hippest mall in Richmond, so they are keeping good company. Not bad either.

And at first glance, the designs are on par with what you'd see at a place like Express or Old Navy. Not bad at all...but then that's part of their strategy. They reel you in with design and then hit you over the head with their message.

The cheeriest store associate you've ever met asks if you've been in before. "No?", they ask, "well, it comes from Colossians 2:8, it's a verse in the Bible." And that's where the weirdness begins. You can feel them searching your face for any hint that you might not be "one of us."

Let me be clear. I have no problem with good art or design (love it), Scripture printed on a shirt (like John Wesley, I am a man of One Book), or talking about Jesus (to quote St. Paul, "I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ"), but I am not a fan of the "hit you over the head" method of evangelism. Just not.

After I bought a hoodie and pair of jeans, the very cheery associate asked me if there was anything he could pray with me about.

I'm sorry, come again??

Let me be clear again, I am all for praying with people (do it all the time as a pastor), but in a store, after I bought a pair of jeans and a hoodie? Just culturally weird.

But they are unabashed about it. Their website says they sell "bold Christian apparel." The sign out front says they are a "christian store." The sign behind the register says they exist to evangelize and make a profit so they can fund the spread of the gospel. Again, not bad in and of itself.

But I have a few questions:

  • Does this sort of approach reinforce pushy stereotypes about Christians as people who shove God down your throat?
  • Does it send a subtle message that Christians are only interested in getting people to think like them and not actually interested in making the world a better place?
  • Does this put a mark on Jesus' reputation in the broader community, leveraging short term results for long term damage?
  • Does it actually end up reinforcing the Christian bubble? Our own music, our own bookstores, our own fastfood (best chicken sandwich ever, btw), and now our own t-shirts, jeans and hoodies. As in, isn't it exciting that now we don't even have to interact with those heathens in the world?
  • Does this form of evangelism mistake words and ideas about Jesus for real trust in Jesus that results in a group of people living a new way of life that radically transforms the community?
  • Does this kind of approach actually confine Jesus to a little world of our own making, saying that there are some places he won't go because they are too dark or impure?
  • Does it misunderstand that "Christian" is a noun (who I am) and not an an adjective? The very store itself is Christian? How does that work exactly? Was Jesus' carpentry shop a "christian" carpentry shop that advertised in the Shepherd's Guide, or did I miss that part of the New Testament?

If you are a Christian, you might be thinking, 'yeah, but their website says 12,000+ people have been saved.' I would remind you that God loves people so much he'll even use our mixed up efforts to do it. He even used a donkey to deliver his message. I would counter the people saved are more about God's kindness, not necessarily C28's brilliant evangelism strategy.

I think the band Delirious gets it right. They refuse to be labeled a "Christian band" because they say their mission is not "to a market of believers," but to the whole world because that is the mission of Jesus.

What might that look like?

  • If you are a great retail sales associate who follows Jesus, go work at J. Crew or A&F (for example) where people generally don't care about Jesus live dark lives. Bring your radiance and kindness to bear on that situation.
  • If you do good design, do good design that the whole world will buy and enjoy. Bring beauty into the lives of people everywhere--not just Christians who already know Beauty.
  • If you want to evangelize, get to know your neighbor and care about them and their life. Go to all your work parties and become a real friend.
  • If you think the fashion industry is over-sexualized and impure, get into it and make killer design that isn't. Become friends with the people who do the opposite in the process.
  • And if you want to wear cool apparel with a message, try Jedidiah or Tom's Shoes or Bead for Life. Wear their products, then when someone asks you about it, tell their compelling story of righting the wrongs in the world and see where it goes from there. Jesus righted wrongs, right? And his actions to make people's lives better were the bigger part of his message and attraction, weren't they? In fact, it's why people crowded to hear what he had to say in the first place. His actions were so compelling, they had to know what he thought.

I'm just saying.

The Glory of Men

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever."
1 Peter 1:24

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Learning from the Past

I am more and more loving whatever is old, more specifically, centuries old.

In following Jesus, I'd rather hear accumulated wisdom rather than novelty.

Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in Northern Africa in the 4th Century is such a person for me. He is probably the most influential theologian in the history of the church--we are still feeling the effects of his thoughts--good and bad (for instance, his views on sexuality were extremely mixed-up and the church is just now getting over them).

Some of his well-know one liners:
  • You have made us for Yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in You.
  • Love the Sinner, hate the sin.
  • Heart speaks to heart.
  • To sing once is to pray twice.
  • An unjust law is no law at all.
  • Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (Maybe that inspired Obama?)
And one of my favorite longer quotes about how Jesus captured his heart and imagination:
Late have I loved you, O beauty so ancient
and so new. Late have I loved you! You
were within me while I have gone outside
to seek you. Unlovely myself, I rushed towards
all those lovely things you had made. And
always you were with me, and I was not with

All these beauties have kept me far from
you--although they would not have existed
at all unless they had their being in you.

You called,
you cried,
you shattered my darkness.
You sparkled,
you blazed,
you drove away my blindness.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Thoughts on Voting

In the middle of a nice case of bronchitis, I took advantage of my privilege as an American citizen and voted today. I voted for the man I thought was the best leader and whose vision for America seems to me to have the most potential to do the most good. Maybe my vote was wrong, maybe it was right. History will be the judge (plus, he may not even get elected!).

Regardless, I'm glad the election season is winding down. It's been a flurry of opinion-shaping rhetoric and fear-mongering in an attempt to get people to vote "right."

Let me go on record as saying that politics is important. Here's why. The root word, polis, means "city." In other words, we need to know what the "city" we all live in will look like and how best to order things so that it goes well with people. Being human beings with opinions, we often have vastly different visions of what our "city" should look like and how we will make our vision reality. That's the challenge (and benefit) of living in a democracy. Everyone gets a voice through their vote. We can't ignore how to structure our "city." We need to think as intelligently as possible, then vote.

What's more, I know the issues on the table this election are important and that exactly how our faith intersects with our politics isn't something that gets explicit attention in evangelical sermons (except as it relates to a handful of issues). So perhaps the majority of us feel a bit confused about how and why to vote for this or that issue or this or that candidate. But it frankly has felt like an awful lot of energy has been expended trying to convince us that if we don't elect the "right" person, the nation will slide into moral decay (a rhetorical flourish I would bet both sides of the political aisle would freely employ).

As a result, it's sounded an awful lot like our final hope is in who gets elected next.

As a follower of Jesus, I just can't stand for that. Jesus' followers have a political persuasion. It is "the Kingdom of God", a political vision that is of another order of things.

Here's how Mark Driscoll ably put it. Half the time what he says does nothing but raise my theological temperature, but I think he's right on:

BlockquoteThis election season which has dominated the cultural conversation for many months has been particularly insightful regarding the incessant gospel thirst that abides deep in the heart of the men and women who bear God’s image. Without endorsing or maligning either political party or their respective presidential candidates, I am hopeful that a few insights from the recent election season are of help, particularly to younger evangelicals.

First, people are longing for a savior who will atone for their sins. In this election, people thirst for a savior who will atone for their economic sins of buying things they did not need with money they did not have. The result is a mountain of credit debt they cannot pay and a desperate yearning that somehow a new president will save them from economic hell.

Second, people are longing for a king who will keep them safe from terror in his kingdom. In the Old Testament the concept of a peaceable kingdom is marked by the word shalom. In shalom there is not only the absence of sin, war, strife, and suffering but also the presence of love, peace, harmony, and health. And, this thirst for shalom is so parched that every election people cannot help but naively believe that if their candidate simply wins shalom is sure to come despite sin and the curse.

The bottom line is obvious to those with gospel eyes. People are longing for Jesus, and tragically left voting for mere presidential candidates. For those whose candidate wins today there will be some months of groundless euphoric faith in that candidate and the atoning salvation that their kingdom will bring. But, in time, their supporters will see that no matter who wins the presidency, they are mere mortals prone to sin, folly, and self-interest just like all the other sons of Adam and daughters of Eve. To help extend naïve false hope as long as possible, a great enemy will be named and demonized as the one who is hindering all of the progress to atone for our sins and usher in our kingdom. If the Democrats win it will be the rich, and if the Republicans win it will be the terrorists. This diversionary trick is as old as Eve who blamed her
sin on Satan rather than repenting. The lie is that it’s always someone else’s fault and we’re always the victim of sinners and never the sinner.

Speaking of repentance, sadly, no matter who wins there will be no call to personal repentance of our own personal sins which contributes to cultural suffering and decline such as our pride, gluttony, covetousness, greed, indebtedness, self-righteousness, perversion, and laziness. And, in four years we’ll do it all again and pretend that this time things will be different. Four years after that, we’ll do it yet again. And, we’ll continue driving around this cul de sac until Jesus returns, sets up his throne, and puts an end to folly once and for all.

In the meantime, I would encourage all preachers to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and repentance of personal sin. He alone can truly atone for our sins. He alone can deliver us from a real hell. He alone is our sinless and great King. And, he alone has a Shalom kingdom to offer.

Lastly, for those preachers who have gotten sidetracked for the cause of a false king and a false kingdom by making too much of the election and too little of Jesus, today is a good day to practice repentance in preparation to preach it on Sunday. Just give
it some time. The thirst will remain that only Jesus can quench. So, we’ve still
got work to do….until we see King Jesus and voting is done once and for

Friday, October 24, 2008


BlockquoteIf you could find a better way, Jesus would be the first one to tell you to take it. And if you don't believe that about him, you don't have faith in him, because what you're really saying is that he would encourage you to believe something that is false.

--Dallas Willard

A Prayer for My Life

Dallas Willard, one my mentors from a distance, and who wrote the three finest books I know on what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, wrote this prayer for me (okay, it was on his website for everyone who visits it).

The wording isn't necessarily flowery, but like the man, is full of substance and depth. I will be listening to his prayer and praying it for myself and the people around me.

BlockquoteMy prayer for each of you.
That you would have a rich life of Joy and Power, abundant in Supernatural results, with a constant, clear vision of never-ending life in God's World before you, and of the everlasting significance of your work day by day. A radiant life and death.

You can join the Facebook group in his honor ('Dallas Willard is my homeboy') here.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Planting Churches

Bob Roberts jump starts me. Like any great thinker/leader, his perspective is always about 6 degrees from what you'd expect--jarring enough to make you think twice, not so jarring that you dismiss what he has to say.

Church Planting is part of what it means to be missional. Here's Bob's take on why we do it. It needs to be as normal a part of the life of a congregation as having a worship service (maybe not that regular...yet). Generous churches give money, time, and people. That's just what it means to be generous.
Bob's full post is here.

For the past 25 years, over and over again, the reason given for starting churches is because it is the best known method of evangelism. Sooooo . . . we start churches to do evangelism. Acts didn’t do that. Jerusalem saw a church emerge out of evangelism, and it wasn’t just “pray the prayer”. Antioch was the same. It was disciples living in the society first and then a church emerged. I write about this in my book The Multiplying Church.

Let me give you some other reasons, that I think are huge. First, it has to be the context of the Kingdom. If we focus on the Gospel of salvation, we get converts and a Sunday event. If we focus on the Gospel of the Kingdom, we still get people who follow Jesus, BUT we also focus on the “reconciliation of all things” in the world and in the community. This means that “church” becomes a force for good and transformation, not just a Sunday event. I could talk and write on this all day. We have so narrowed the Great Commission to baptisms that we have unintentionally marginalized the church in society.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Yoda and the Suburbs

For a long time, Christians in America haven't been all that concerned about what goes on around them. We've been guilty of dualism--separating matter and spirit into "bad" and "good" categories. In a way, we want to make sure people have the right software (My mind goes to the cheesy Intel knock-off t-shirt: "Jesus inside!"), but don't care all that much about their hardware (their bodies and environments). We don't think that's our "job" as followers of Jesus. (one of my first posts was about this dualism).

As a result, we've lost out on the most shaping conversations in our towns and cities. As Christians, we wouldn't dare miss out on the very important national issues (which tend to be "software" kinds of issues--abortion, definition of marriage, etc.), that affect the moral fiber of our nation (and they do), but we tend to leave local issues (which are usually "hardware" kinds of issues--zoning, etc.) well enough alone. We think they don't matter, that is, unless the zoning laws affect our desire to build a new building!

We think Yoda is right when he pokes Luke Skywalker and calls Luke's body "crude matter" in The Empire Strikes Back (I know, a geek reference, but I use the example because I've watched it about 30 times in the last month after introducing my son to it a couple months ago). The thing is, Yoda is espousing a Greek and Eastern Mystical idea, not a biblical one! A very cursory reading of Genesis 1-3 shows that God cares about the physical creation and calls it "good", not "crude matter."

Our dualism is probably most on display in the suburbs. Much of the suburbs is sprawl--without much thought about how space is defined and used and with little thought to zoning. It's purely functional "drive-in" space. As a result, no one wants to hang out there. I mean, who lingers in the parking lot of Wal-Mart?

Is it any surprise then that in the suburbs the Mall is the place people go to hang out? And then should we be surprised that we are nation of consumers with personal debt kicking the snot out of people's futures? Having a nation of people whose souls have been shaped to simply want more stuff, who's vision of 'the good' is a house, nice car and great clothes creates a certain moral climate too, does it not? We've found out too late that hardware really does affect software.

Can we do something about this? We know that people flourish in and want to be around beauty; and aren't we interested in people flourishing? We know that for people to really flourish we have to give careful attention to software and hardware; and isn't this what shalom means? So listening to Jeremiah 29:1-14 means being very interested in how our towns are created, maintained and changed (hardware) and helping them live with well-ordered hearts (software).

If suburban churches led the way, would their buildings and grounds have great public green space and architecture that drew people in to their environs? Would half their facilities (or more) be community centers used by the surrounding neighborhood? Would they encourage and lobby for mixed use development around them that included neighborhoods with trails, parks with trails and grocery stores within walking distance? As a result, wouldn't their parking lots be full every day??

This talk from the TED conference hammers the "hardware" point home. His language is rough in places, so be forewarned. He holds nothing back.

Why Pastors Don't Succeed

I learned a big lesson over the last 18 months that every pastor needs to know.
I'm not responsible for people's spiritual growth. At all.

That might sound counter-intuitive or maybe even irresponsible. But if I take responsibility for people's growth, I take the responsibility out of their hands. They feel better for a bit "oh, someone's going to hold my hand for a while, I don't have to do anything. Sweet." and I start to feel overworked, overburdened and resentful. But it also feels really good to have someone dependent on me for their very life. I feel needed and valued and important. But a sick, symbiotic relationship starts to develop where neither of us takes a step forward.

Every person is responsible for their own journey. Every single one. No exceptions. And what I've realized is that many people (myself included at times) don't want to be because it's too hard.
  • They'll have to think about their destructive patterns and actually confront them.
  • They'll have to engage in disciplines that aren't a current part of their routine.
  • They think they'll have to give up what they love (the reality is that they will realize what they loved is destroying them and that what they end up loving is better by a factor of 10).
  • They'll have to look at how their relationships aren't working and examine what part they have it that.
  • In short, they have to be ruthlessly honest.
This doesn't mean there's no responsibility. As Mark Waltz puts it, we have a responsibility to each other, but not for each other.

Here's how he puts it.

BlockquoteWhen I’m responsible to people I understand they have a choice. When I’m responsible for people I think I should decide for them.
When I’m responsible to people I know they must figure out their next step. When I’m responsible for people I try to tell them what their next step is.
When I’m responsible to people I allow them to bear the brunt of the consequences for their own chosen actions. When I’m responsible for people I assume the guilt, or worse the shame, for them.
When I’m responsible to people I engage in their journey, offering encouragement and teaching. When I’m responsible for people I try to direct their journey, never allowing them to wrestle, mess up or make a wrong turn.
When I’m responsible to people I talk to God on their behalf. When I’m responsible for people I talk to people a lot on God’s behalf.”

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Must Read: The Year of Living Biblically

Last year, I read The Year of Living Biblically, by Esquire magazine author AJ Jacobs. A self-described agnostic who tried for a year to follow the rules of the Bible as literally as possible.

It's hysterical on the one hand, and enlightening on the other. Especially since he says he's about as Jewish as the Olive Garden is Italian. I highly recommend it.

Here's a short clip of him talking about his experience.

Monday, October 06, 2008

3 Ways to Change the Church

What changes do we as the church have to make to be missional, that is, on God's mission for the world? To do it requires an upending of what has been in order to become what must be.
Here are three ways to look at that change.

#1 - Become an Extrinsic Set (vs an Intrinsic Set)

In an intrinsic set, it's all about orientation to the boundaries. The basic question is: Have you done the right things to get in?

On one hand, it's very clear who's in and who's out. For example, when I was growing up I knew the people who were "out" because they smoked, drank and played cards. In an intrinsic set what matters is that you are "in," not how close you are to the center.

This is de rigueur for the American church and worked great in the culture of the 1950's. Not so much anymore. Now it only serves to create an us vs. them mentality.

What's more, people learn to hide the things that would keep them from being identified as being an "outsider" and so never admit the things that are kicking the slats out of their lives. Like Dietrich Bonhoeffer satirized in Life Together, when this sort of hiding takes place "people are genuinely shocked when a sinner stands up in their midst."

In an extrinsic set, it's all about orientation to the center. The basic question is: In what direction are you moving?
So you can be physically close to the center, but moving away. Conversely, you can be on the outer edges and moving in. This inevitably makes people uncomfortable because the boundaries are inevitably fuzzy. But isn't this part of what Jesus meant when he said the prostitutes and tax-collectors were getting into the Kingdom of God ahead of the teachers of the law?

#2 Infiltrate culture (vs Invite people to our culture)
Here's how Eddie Gibbs describes it:
BlockquoteChurch leaders will need to facilitate this transition by giving higher priority to working outside the institution, functioning as teams of believers located in a highly polarized and pluralistic world. From a strategy of invitation the churches must move to one of infiltration, to being the subversive and transforming presence of Jesus.
So it's not "hey, invite three friends to church this weekend." It's, "hey, serve three friends in your neighborhood this week."

#3 - Be a Force in the community (vs. a Field)
This video clip of Mark Beeson highlights the difference. He says one is a perversion of the Bible's message.

This means that we have a challenge before us. Here's how Eddie Gibbs sums it up.

BlockquoteChurches in the Western world are poorly equipped to face the current missional challenge, in that they have a truncated view of the gospel (i.e., The gospel is essentially about going to heaven and not hell) and a weak doctrine of the church (i.e., "Church" is what happens from 10-11 on Sunday morning). And their leaders are largely oblivious to the extent to which secular presuppositions have permeated their own worldview (i.e., the way to reach a target group is through marketing)."

I aim to be part of the generation that changes that.

So True

From Oswald Chambers, one of my mentors from history:

BlockquoteThe people who influence us the most are not those who detain us with their continual talk, but those who live their lives like the stars in the sky and "the lilies of the field"— simply and unaffectedly. Those are the lives that mold and shape us.

If you want to be of use to God, maintain the proper relationship with Jesus Christ by staying focused on Him, and He will make use of you every minute you live— yet you will be unaware, on the conscious level of your life, that you are being used of Him."

Monday, September 22, 2008

File Under: That Was Awkward

I stopped by one of my favorite proprietors of Mexican food, Don Jose, for lunch today.
Reader Tip: You can immediately tell the quality of a Mexican restaraunt by the music they play (Don Jose plays only Junta music) and the refried beans (out of this world).

In short, they know their way around the enchilada.

After quickly ordering my lunch (Speedy Gonzales with pollo y frijoles), I made a visit to that one room set apart as holy for the men in the restaraunt. While preparing to do the important work one does while in said room, and having just shut that very special inner door separating me from the rest of the world (guaranteeing a few moments of solitude from the rest of the world's chaos)...the outer door to said room pops open.

I hear my waiter (!) say with his great accent: "Did you want the rice or beans on your Speedy Gonzales?"

Cue brief pause as I scan the room (which is very small), thinking, hoping, praying, that he is talking to someone else.
Nope. He would be me. I guess that's good customer service??
Not wanting rice, I of course responded.

For now, I will be filing that under the "A's" for "awkward."

Monday, September 15, 2008

What I Want to Leave Behind

I read this report from a Church Leader about renewing a pioneering spirit and the legacy he wants to leave.
I say, me too.

BlockquoteI do not need to see the end of the reward. The reward is in the journey. Of my leadership, what shall be written? ... perhaps heaven's scribe would be kind enough to write: "He, in the tradition of Wesley, created a restlessness . . . a searching, striving frustration for a better way; a way to make the good news of Jesus Christ come alive to a complex culture, and he helped to open the doors of the church to succeeding generations."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How to Fail a Test

Some actual answers students put on tests. My wife and I laughed until we cried. Thanks Dale.
If you can't see the image, click on it to make it bigger.

And my personal favorite.

It's Always About Relationships

This shot was snapped driving down the interstate at about 70 miles an hour, in the rain.
Probably not the safest way to take a picture.
I've never heard of KBS, but their tag line told me that they understand something fundamental about human nature and how the world actually works.
It's always about the relationship. Always. So even if you are a construction company (like KBS), you aren't building buildings, you're building relationships.
It underscores a life axiom: So go your relationships, so goes your life.
Think about it. In what arena of life are relationships not the key to success, joy and peace and the place we find love?
The quality of the experience is directly related to the quality of the relationships.
Relationships are the umbrella under which we live life. Everything else either contributes to or takes away from those relationships.
This is what it means when scripture says we are made in God's image. We understand God to be a relationship of persons--Father, Son and Holy Spirit (the Trinity) always giving away love. Or Augustine described the Trinity: Lover, Loved, and Love.
Bad relationships=no love.
Want love? Work on your relationships.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Ancient Future

My college roommate is a bush doctor in Papua New Guinea (PNG). They are literally in the future. Because of time zones, they are always in tomorrow. So I recently asked him, joking, "how's the future?"

What he said was a beautiful mixture of Scripture and hope.

BlockquoteThe future? The future of the world in general - going to get worse in fact I would guess eventually the love of most will grow cold and I wonder if when the Son of Man returns if he will find faith. The future of PNG is bleak and deteriorating more rapidly then anyone really realizes. The future of the US economy is uncertain which adds a layer of doubt to the uncertainty of my 403B retirement plan and my children's educational futures. My future is the same as all those who love God - secure, without doubt glorious and making me feel like these light and momentary trials are not worthy the glory to be revealed.

It reminded me of what the 2nd Century Bishop of Carthage Cyprian wrote to his friend Donatus about his conversion:

BlockquoteThis seems to be a cheerful world, Donatus, when I view it from my fair garden under the shadow of my vines. But if I climb some great mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I would see -- brigands on the
highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters men murdering each other to please the applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is really a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. Yet in the midst of it, I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of this sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not: They are masters of their souls. These people, Donatus, are the Christians and I am one of them

Friday, September 05, 2008

A Hot Day in Central Virginia

It gets really hot here in the summer.
So hot that going outside can feel like walking into a hot, wet, blanket.

I first experienced the oppressive glories of an East Coast summer when I came to DC in the summer of 1987 for Nazarene Youth Congress--a monster quadrennial Christian youth rally.

It was hot like a mother then too.
And its hot like a mother now while were waiting for Hurricane Hanna to slam into shore later today.
Good times.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Your Illusions - Loving the Truth, part 6

How do you break through the illusions, mistaken perceptions and half-truths you tell yourself about yourself and your world?

It's just human nature to adopt views of ourselves and the world around us that make us comfortable...or rather, don't make us uncomfortable. So without some way to cut through the cozy mental couches we tend to rest on in our minds and hearts, we live with and through illusions, comforting ourselves with half-truths.

Jesus wasn't about illusions. He would burst anyone's bubble--causing temporary pain in the interest of long-term healing. The Kingdom of God--what he came to announce and demonstrate--is a place of reality and so requires a ruthless honesty. He used parables to do just that. Break through the illusions to reality.

BlockquoteI suspect Jesus was pointing to...transformation in seeing and hearing when he said it took "parables" to subvert our unconcious worldview--and thereby expose its illusions, even to us. Parables should make us uncomfortable if we are really hearing" them. If we fit them nicely in our business-as-usual world, parables have not served their purpose. A parable is supposed to change our operative worldview and unlock it from the inside--so that we can see and hear reality correctly.

What we have done for centuries in the West is give people new moral and doctrinal teaching without rearranging their mythic worldview. (And all it does is) create legalists, ritualists, minimalists, and literalists, who always kill the spirit of a thing
From Richard Rohr's, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective

Friday, August 29, 2008

Doing Good

I am part of the Church of the Nazarene--one result of the heritage of John Wesley and his emphasis on "spreading scriptural holiness throughout the land."

He encouraged, in one of his more famous sayings (quoted by Hillary Clinton no less), every follower of Jesus to "do all the good you can, wherever you can..." Whole quote is here.

Holiness can be so off-putting, at least on the surface. It conjures images of holier-than-thou, out-of-touch, irrelevant people.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Holy people (and everyone Jesus touches is holy), are the lights of the world, they are an alternate city on a hill that everyone looks up to and admires. They are the kind of people you like to be around. They make the world a better place with no strings attached. They do good. And who doesn't like that?

Jeremiah 29:7 is a mantra to them: They seek the welfare of the city they are sent to, working for the common good, not running away from it into some sort of protective religious enclave.

To wit: Last Saturday, we linked arms with Capital One (HQ here in Richmond) and sponsored a Beautification Day at Reid Elementary--Richmond's largest elementary school working to educate kids under the burden of 75% of its students on free or reduced lunch.

Capital One even footed most of the bill to the tune of $6K (we know what's in their wallet.) All this for the good of kids who begin school at a serious disadvantage. Get this. One criterion used in constructing new jails is current 3rd grade reading levels!

Those kids matter to God. Their situation matters to God. The quality of their education matters to God. The trajectory of their lives matters to God. So it matters to us.

Want to see God at work (as in, working through a company that charges what could be considered usurious interest to care for people he cares about)? Move toward the poor.

Here's a short video we'll be showing this weekend about the day.