Monday, September 27, 2010

Jesus Works

Up until now, Michael Spencer has been pointing out where the American evangelical church falls short of “Jesus shaped spirituality” by picking and choosing doctrine to make themselves most comfortable and incomplete pictures of Jesus to support their religious culture. In Chapter 7 of Mere Churchianity, Michael lays out a complete picture of Jesus. Glynn Young, over at Faith, Fiction and Friends, lists out each of the bullet-points Michael gives that we too easily ignore or neglect today.

I want us to look at a specific example from Jesus’ life: the blind man in John 9. Jesus meets him and the cultural, religious, response was that he must have sinned to be that way. Jesus rebukes the notion and instead states that he is in his condition so that God may be glorified. (How often do we honestly look at the things our churches “do” as having the goal to glorify God versus pointing fingers at someone else’s sin?) This man is healed and is quickly questioned by the religious establishment. He gives one reply that relates directly to our discussion on this book. In verse 25 he says, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Do we need a complete picture of Jesus to have Jesus-shaped spirituality? Do we need to be theological experts on the life of Jesus? Or do we need to simply look in the mirror to see what our relationship with Christ has done in our lives and conclude that the true Jesus, not some cultural facsimile, is at work? I believe in an effort to “brand” our particular church, we focus on this part of Jesus or that, this miracle or that, this statement or that, and forget the Living Christ at work in our lives to transform us into His likeness.

Jesus prayed for unity amongst his believers in John 17. The early disciples in Acts 2 “had everything in common.” (v 44) The encouragement Paul gave to the church in Philippi was to “contend as one man for the faith of the gospel.”(v 27) And Paul further points to the unity of the Gospel in Ephesians 4. So what did these early Christians do? In Acts 4 we read they couldn't help “speaking about what [they] have seen and heard." (v 20) What did they see? Jesus at work.

The hundreds of different denominations are divided over every little nit-picked detail, and Jesus at work has been lost. All the people Michael describes who have left the little-c church in search of Jesus? The sad thing is, they already found him, but the church failed to remind them of that. At some point in their lives, the real Jesus did something or they would have never walked through those doors. It is tragic that we get so caught up in our petty differences that we no longer see Jesus still working in His Church today.

***Addendum: I also wanted to point out the irony of Michael's example of Anne Rice. How could he have known that she too would be duped by the "cultural Christianity" and turn her back on the Church? For more discussion on that particular instance, check out the discussion on "Spiritual but not religious" over at the Washington Post's forum, OnFaith.***

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Weekend Reading, 25 September

I really enjoyed the discussion this week on Mere Churchianity at Bend the Page, Faith, Fiction and Friends, and In Silence, Humming Softly. So much so, I'm dedicating this weekend's reading to that theme. Some are new posts, some are old, but all speak to the same problem: something is wrong with the church.

As much as I harp on "authentic community" and question when is it ok to leave church, the reality is people are leaving the church and for many reasons. One good example, testimony if you will, comes from Stephen Lamb writing about why he left church over at Jesus Needs New PR. Click here for parts 1, 2, and 2.5 (looking forward to 3!). This reminded me of this old post from Marshall Jones Jr. And Christian Ray Flores shares his own experience in two parts.

Of course there are lots of reasons for this, and looking over past blogs leaves us plenty to ponder.

First problem is we often leave Jesus out of our Christianity.
  • This is the theme of Michael Spencer's book, but is also the point of Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet's Jesus Manifesto. A great review can be found over the the internetMonk and an old guest post from Viola at Jesus Needs New PR.
  • Brett McCracken notices we are also tempted to leave Jesus out of our serving, especially now that the Social Gospel is en vogue.
  • Of course, the more we take out of the Gospel, the less we're left with. And Jason Stasyszen writes the Gospel is soon reduced to a single note in a symphony.
Of course, maybe the problem is us?
  • Our nature just likes to complain. But Patrick Mead writes that you only have a right to complain if you're actually doing something about it.
  • And Wade Hodges asks us to stop using the excuse that we're not being fed and figure out how to feed ourselves.
  • We're also very judgemental and competitive. Jezemama laments the competitiveness that "feels just like church".
  • Other times we're just stupid and gullible. Bradley Moore reflects on Christian spam.
We also are tempted to be "relevant" and "seeker sensitive". That creates it's own set of hazards.
  • Matt Appling and Alise write letters to the Church in America a la the letters to the Seven Churches in Asia. That's a start.
  • Of course, there are still reasons to go to church as Katdish and Esther Meek point out. Maybe we should focus on the positives instead of all the negatives?
But we do need to own up to where we fall short. Maybe we should take a cue from Domino's Pizza, confess our shortcomings and commit to change? An interesting thought from Tyler Mahoney writing at the Huffington Post.

Food for thought. With a new sauce. Enjoy.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Flashback Friday: R12, what is authentic community anyway?

***Originally posted May 11, as I was going through the book Living on the Edge: dare to experience true spirituality, by Chip Ingram. This book takes a verse by verse look at Romans 12 and breaks the chapter into five fundamental relationships. The fourth, covered in Romans 12:9-13, is authentic community, ie our relationships with others in the context of Church. As we've been reading and discussing Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity, I've found many who have walked away from little-c church looking for big-C Church. Regardless of their search, they lack authentic community- the purpose of the institutional church to begin with. So I'm reposting my thoughts on Chapter 16, which introduces us to this relationship. If this strikes a chord, I encourage you to click on the R12 tag on the sidebar, pick up this book, and go through each chapter and each relationship with me.***

Famous last words. The cliche of leaving that last impression, something that will survive history, long after you are gone. Often times, they're not famous though. They're honest, open, and heart-melting with an awareness that the end is near. The last thing I said to my grandfather before he died of a heart attack was "see you tomorrow." Neither he nor I had any idea what the next day would bring. I remember the last words of my father vividly. He, on the other hand, knew that his time left on this earth was short. His last words were filled with a sense of foreknowledge, "you win some and you lose some, but you gotta keep playing." Even though we were talking about football, I knew what he meant. And he succumbed to cancer two days later.

Jesus, on the last night he spent with his disciples (prior to the resurrection, but they did not see that coming), gave his disciples a command. These last words, which could be expected to resonate throughout religious history, were not about politics (though many of his disciples, especially Judas, expected him to be a political or military leader), were not about the current state of the synagogue/temple or Pharisees/Sadducees, nor were they about church polity. Instead, they were focused on the disciple's relationship with each other. "A new command I give to you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:34-35) His disciples had no idea a new church, a new religion, would be established following Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection. If they did, they may have expected some "how to's" for this new movement. Ironically Jesus gave them just that- instructions on how to establish this new church- by loving one another.

This weighed so heavily on Jesus' heart, it was even the focus of his prayer in John 17. Love. Unity. These were important to Jesus. More than politics, religion, or even a list of pious do-nots. Now look around the religious landscape today. Do you see Jesus' prayer answered? Do you see his "new command" followed? This was Jesus' intent for the Church. This is his prayer for our relationships.

This love, this unity, is not only for inside our walls, but should also extend outside our walls. It should exist beyond Sunday mornings. It should be vulnerable and honest. It should show the world that we really are his disciples. As Chip Ingram puts it, "the credibility of Christianity would rise or fall on the basis of Jesus' followers' relationships with one another."

By Chip's definition: Authentic community occurs when the real you shows up and meets real needs for the right reason in the right way. The next few chapters will show us how.

Think: What did Jesus command and pray for His disciples?
Reflect: Why do you think Jesus made such a point of focusing on our relationships with one another?
Understand: What gets in the way of experiencing authentic community in your life? Too busy? Too religious? Disconnected from like-minded believers?
Surrender: Are you in a meaningful, growing, Christ-centered relationship with a handful of people? If not, will you ask God to show you what you need to do in order to move in that direction... or deepen what He has already provided you?
Take Action: Declare war on isolation and superficial relationships in your life! Write out John 13:34-35 on a 3x5 card and commit to living it out as God leads you this week.
Motivation: Consider watching the fourteen-minute video message "How to Experience Authentic Community" at r12 online [r12 button on the left, Serving tab, under "free resources"].
Encourage Someone: Make the first move this week. Initiate coffee, dinner, or dessert with someone(s) and talk about your common need/desire for authentic community.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Broken Vase

Addiction can often be picked out in a crowd. The consequences are either visible (abuse, reckless behavior, traffic accidents) or subtle (incomprehensible immaturity, being alone in a crowd, conflict avoider). If you are one and you've been around some, they can be easily spotted.

Recovery however is not as easily seen. AA is, after all, anonymous. Yes, you may witness a change in someone's character or countenance, but if you don't know the motivation you could just as easily chalk it up to "finding Jesus".

Some people think that recovery gets us ahead in the game. But the tragic truth, evidenced by the examples above, is that it only levels the playing field. Recovery removes the ball and chain so that we might, might, be able to keep up with non-addicts in a race. And that is because we are broken.

Think of a vase knocked off a table. It breaks. But it is valuable, so you fix it. You buy the best super glue you can find and you meticulously return every piece to its proper place. From a distance, the vase looks like it always did, but if you look up close you can tell something is different. It still holds water, but it will never be the same. A perfect vase might fall off a short table onto a soft carpet and survive. Not you. The fissures in your structure, though adhesed with glue, will not allow such a beating. You are now forever fragile. After all, you are broken.

But this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I once received this parable in an email:

Yes, we are broken. But that brokenness can be put to use by our Father in Heaven. We are fragile, but that makes us sensitive to the needs of others. We are fixed, and for that we are grateful to God for His grace.
A man who lived near the sea would travel every day to the shore to draw from its waters. He would carry two jars, slung over his shoulders on a long branch. Every day he would go to the shore and carry these jars back to his home. But one jar had a hole. That never stopped this man from doing the same thing, year after year. Finally a stranger stopped him and asked why doesn't he get a new jar? Surely he can tell that he's losing water on his way back to his home? The man replied that he knows about the hole and is grateful for it. He showed the stranger the path he always takes, every day, to get water and return home. Look, he said, along this path is a long trail of flowers. They would not be there if not for that I water them every day. And the journey down to the shore would be unbearable if I did not have their scents and their beauty to encourage me along the way. Without this jar, without this hole, this journey would not be worthwhile.

This post is part of Bridget Chumbly's Blog Carnival. This week's topic: Brokenness.

Monday, September 20, 2010

When is it ok to walk away?

Last week Pope Benedict XVI visited Great Britain for the first time in centuries and in the face of the ongoing child abuse scandal. Some demonstrators were so bold as to say that the Catholic Church "murdered" their souls. Despite this, they still identified themselves as Catholic: "I am a Catholic, but my faith is in God, not in those church officials who have covered this up," one of the demonstrators said. Valid point, but why stay committed to that church?

At the same time, we have the audience Michael Spencer is writing to in Mere Churchianity; those who have left their churches and in some cases Christianity altogether because of abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness, and countless other reasons. Last week, I listed some specific examples. Each of these had valid reasons to leave, but I think just as importantly, each have a valid reason to return: the church is not Christ and Michael continues to hammer this point as we continue through his book.

Let us consider these "sins" of the church: abuse, hypocrisy, luke-warmness. You could add neglecting its mission, being polluted by the world's values or even other religions. If this sounds familiar and you find yourself shouting, "preach it brother!" recognize that this isn't anything new. In fact, these are the same claims Jesus himself brought against the church in Revelation. In other words, the Church has been screwing up since it was founded. Not that that makes it ok. In fact, Jesus had some very harsh words to those churches. So today we continue to re-vector our programs, our polity, our preaching to make sure our eyes are "fix[ed] on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

This is in fact the point Nancy Rosback makes in response to my query "But I wonder, how much responsibility should be on us, Joe six-pack Christians and our failure to recognize that little-c church is made up of people who make mistakes and is different from the big-c Church?" Her reply:

I was wondering when this topic would come up for discussion.

I actually think that Michael, as a pastor, was truly concerned for the people that have left Church, and wanted to reach out to them.

I also think that Michael was wanting to get a message to Church groups, that they must not lose sight of Jesus as the reason for being.

The thing is, if one really looks at any church from the beginning, we can see that human groups have not been able to keep there eyes on the source.

Yet, i think that God continues to renew His Church (capital C).

And that is why we see the changes in the small c Church over the centuries. There are always people that start new groups, thinking they have the answer to make it right. But, even if they are on the right path at first, many people lose sight of the reason for being.
and on it goes.

renewal happening in hearts, but, not all hearts, we are all growing in the same field until the harvest.

it IS a battle, a spiritual battle. the Word says this.

and i truly believe that God is going to continue to renew His Church, big C, no matter what anyone does.

As believers, we must allow ourself to be renewed, so that we do not become blind.

Now how this plays out in each individual life is up to God and that individual.

I do not BELONG to a little c- Church, even though i may gather with people that do. I choose to go with my eyes open to Jesus, or to not go with my eyes open to Jesus, and pray that i always will have my eyes open to Jesus.

We need to seek out others to encourage in Jesus... and in this we will be encouraged in Jesus.

How this is done, is in the Love of God. That is the ONLY way.

Where this is done, is anywhere that God leads each person to do it.

It can be done anywhere.

Here are some basics that i don't ever want to leave, ever:

God is in charge of His Church,

Love God with my heart,

Love others,

and keep my mind on the fact that my Lord, Jesus Christ, is actually with me every second. (in many ways)

Can't argue with much of that, but I will anyway. Keeping in mind, there are 51 "one another" instructions (some are more strongly worded as commands) to the Church found in the New Testament. Many of these cannot be followed outside of an authentic church community. One specifically, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25) Yes, you could argue that you can still have an authentic Christian community and not call it "church". But then I'd just turn around and call you a "house church". I guess whatever form it takes, we need each other for encouragement, for sharpening, for instruction, and for worship.

And this still doesn't address the countless numbers who have walked away from the Church for any and every reason.

Keeping in mind Jesus' own words to forgive not seven times, but "seven times seventy" times (Matthew 18:22) and to leave any offering to the Lord and first "be reconciled to your brother" (Matthew 5:23-24) yet "It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." (Luke 17:2) Add to that Paul's instructions to "submit to every authority" (Romans 13:1 and also Hebrews 13:17) and to "not put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way" (Romans 14:13, but really the whole chapter applies). And finally going back to Hebrews 10:25 above and the example of abused Catholics at the beginning of this post, my question this week is:

At what point is it ok to leave the church?

And when should one return?

This continues the discussion of Mere Churchianity. More of the conversation can be found at Bend the Page and Faith, Fiction and Friends.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weekend Reading, 18 September

eAnother busy week in the Christian Blogosphere. Add to that me cheating last week with my weekend reading, and we've got ourselves quite the list. Without further ado:

  • Post September 11, it's good to remember to separate patriotism from religion. Paul Vander Klay at Think Christian offers up a primer to do just that.
  • Speaking of the American church, Matt Appling writes a letter to the North American Church in the same vein as the letters to the 7 Churches in Asia found in Revelation, but with a little more snark ;)
  • Shawn Smucker gives some food for thought on how we water down the Gospel with random references to John 3:16.
  • Our culture is driven by measured success. And as bloggers we're tempted to apply the world's standards to our own effectiveness.

  • Ryan Tate considers how much we allow the world to guide us.
  • While Michelle DeRusha encourages us to look for the signs God may be putting in our path.
One thing I’m passionate about is the church being the means to develop our spiritual gifts, not a crutch to be expected to do everything for us, and that the church only grows when those gifts are applied.
  • I’m not the only one who feels that way, check out John Olds' thoughts on "Unity of Community" over at the Christian Manifesto.
  • Not only do we not put our talents to work, we don't always rely on the power of the Creator of the universe. Imagine if we did, what our prayer life would be like? Like when Joshua prayed for the Sun to stand still. Good thoughts by Steven Furtick.
  • At the same time, Francis Chan challenges us that “a nonbeliever can accomplish a lot of what you’re doing.” via Catalyst Space
  • And Mercedes is challenged not to take the safe road and reflects on how just going with the flow at her church is “safe”.
  • Leeana Tankersley has to fight the temptation to drown herself out and instead trust in God.
  • Related, Brad Huebert has some compelling thoughts on facing our fears over at Sarah Markley’s blog
  • Sharon Norris Elliot gives some good advice on ingredients our ministry needs, like peas and carrots.
Youth ministry deserves its own set of bullets

  • Over at Called to Youth Ministry, we are reminded to follow the example of Jesus and focus our attention on a few in order to reach the many.

  • Going back a couple of weeks Dan Edelen has more thoughts on youth ministry at Cerulean Sanctum

  • Also looking back a ways is a guest post by Nick Croft over at Make A Difference to One on praying for our youth. I think I already linked this one before, but it’s worth reading again in context with the above reading.
For our own personal ministry, we are called to the Great Commission and to lead by example in love.
It's been great to get to know other bloggers since I started connecting with so many on Twitter.

  • “Rejoice when others rejoice” It’s always encouraging to see others do well and as a blogger who someday hopes to publish I’m very excited to see Billy Coffey’s new book coming out. Now available for presale!

  • I learned a little more about Glynn Young over at New Day Rising thanks to Russell Holloway.
All for now. Enjoy reading and have a blessed weekend!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Flashback Friday: Tebow Cam

***Flashing back to this year's Sugar Bowl between Florida and Cincinnati. It is clear after two weeks of the college football season (and especially after last night) that both teams are shells of their former selves. Maybe they lost the Christian mojo they showed in January. Oh, and his holiness, Tim Tebow, has yet to impress in the NFL.***

Yes, there really is one during this year's Sugar Bowl. I guess it's appropriate since Tim Tebow is the Second Coming. I saw on one website the idea to turn the Sugar Bowl into a drinking game by taking a drink every time Tebow's name is mentioned apart from any play he makes. I don't recommend that practice, even if you have a designated driver.

It's clear how this game is going to turn out (44-10 at the start of the 4th quarter), so we know the winner between Tebow and Cincinnati's QB, Tony Pike. But the game isn't only played between the hash marks, but also in the hearts and souls of the men (and some women) glued to their HD TVs. Instead of competing football teams, let's consider competing theologies.

Tim Tebow has Ephesians 2:8-10 on his eyeblack which reads, "for it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." So either he is trying to save the soul of the defensive end trying to chase him out of the pocket, or he's claiming that his unquestioned football gifted-ness was given by God "to do good works" that God "prepared in advance" for him to do. The former I don't argue with, the second, I'm not so sure.

On the other side of the line of scrimmage, a Cincinnati player (I never caught his name) has 1 Tim 1:12 written on his bicep. This scripture reads, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service." Simple, humble, giving Jesus all the credit while presuming nothing.

Success in a New Year's Day bowl game ensures a measure of immortality. Nothing compared to what our Lord and Savior offers. But these images will be replayed by the most dedicated sports fans and replayed in the minds of those who played. Which would you want to be remembered for? The Amazing Grace of salvation and a semi-self righteous boast of God's plan, or a humble gratitude to be considered one of Christ's servants?

I'm not saying that's Tim Tebow's intention. But for those sick of hearing about him nonstop this football season, that's how it comes across. At the same time, I'm grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given him strength, that he considered him faithful, appointing him to his service. I pray he finds a way to humbly continue this service on Sundays.

***edit: Ok, I saw the Cincinnati player again. It was Ben Guiduli. And the scripture actually was 1 Tim 1:15-16 which reads, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." So different proselyting emphasis, but the same level of humility."***

***update: Wow, a lot of Cincinnati's players have scriptures written on their arms. I guess I didn't notice it since they've been rolled so badly and there hasn't been reason to zoom in on many of their players. The player who just caught their last touchdown had 2 Tim 1:7-10 on his arm. This reads, "For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." I think after watching this game I'm going to accept Jesus as my QB and savior. I'm pretty sure there's a prayer for that.***

Thursday, September 16, 2010

BBQ By the Pool

Please forgive me, I fell way behind on my "summer" virtual small group. What was supposed to wrap up by Labor Day has a couple more installments. Hey, it still feels like summer outside! At least a little bit anyway.


One of the things my kids most look forward to in the summer (as best as they understand it anyway, at their young age) is getting to go to Papa's house to swim. Of course if we're going to spend the afternoon in his pool, we might as well plan dinner and how else to you spell summer without BBQ?

There's just something about relaxing in the cool water with meat cooking over a fire nearby. And it is not limited to pools, visit the beach in the evening and you'll see crowds gathered around grills cooking. Cooking over an open fire is part of any camping experience as well. And later in the night, on the beach or up in the woods, we gather around the fire to roast marshmallows or just to watch the flames flicker to the sky.

It is refreshing, the cool water. And comforting, the hot meal afterwards.

"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" (Acts 3:19)

In the heat of the summer, how do you find refreshment?

Maybe you don't relate. Maybe I'm spoiled living in Southern California. But I recently watched The Sandlot and the sight of the boys being out all day going from the field to play ball to the community pool to relax is familiar to me, even though I didn't grow up someplace where everyone had a pool in their backyard. Maybe those days are long passed, where our children can roam the streets with such freedom, but the community pool is still there.

I can even hear in my memories the cacophony of the crowds gathered around the pool. Teenagers out sunbathing, kids splashing, parents keeping close watch while visiting with their neighbors. As a child, the community pool was a gathering spot, just as the local well was in Jesus' day. John 4 tells the story of Jesus' encounter with a Samaritan woman. Where did they meet? At the well.

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation." (Isaiah 12:3)

Where does your community gather together in the summer?

But we cannot forget the barbecue in the evening after a day out in the sun. I recall a survey a few years ago that asked women what scents they find attractive. Can you guess the smell that came in last? It was smoke from a barbecue. But as a man, I love the smell! I can step out my front door any evening and smell someone down the street grilling up something. I can smell barbecue, mesquite, beef or pork, hamburgers or chicken, and I rush back into my kitchen to whip something up to throw on the grill, motivated only by the smell.

After being saved from the Flood, Noah prepared a burnt offering, a barbecue, to the Lord. "The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done." (Genesis 8:21, emphasis added) And then He gave a rainbow as His promise.

The burnt offering under the Old Covenant was to temporarily absolve Israel of their sins. What did they do with the meat once it was burned? They had a feast!

Do you like the smell of a barbecue? What memories does that smell evoke?

In the scriptures above, both water and fire call us to salvation. I began the summer with this scripture from Jeremiah, "The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved." (Jeremiah 8:20) It is interesting how fire and water are linked to salvation. In the Old Covenant the Israelites were led in the day by a pillar of smoke and by fire at night. The burnt offering gave up a sacrificial lamb on account of their sins. Reflecting on God's Law is like at tree planted by a stream. Isaiah gives us hope to draw water from the well of salvation. John prepared the way for the awaited Christ by baptizing. Then Jesus comes and offers "living water" at the well in John 4. The New Covenant leads us to living water for our salvation. Refreshment that comes from repentance. And cleansing through the waters of baptism, like the Flood that cleansed the Earth.

"Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?'" (Acts 8:35-36)

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I'm willing to bet you've had this conversation, or something like it:
"Hi, I'd like to invite you out to my church..."

"No thank you, I'm not very religious."

"That's ok, neither am I. I'm spiritual."
That was a cute and clever response when I was in campus ministry, but now that I'm older my response leaves me scratching my head. "Spiritual"? What does that even mean? And that is the point of Michael Spencer's fifth chapter of Mere Churchianity. Glynn Young does a good job summarizing the "flavors" of spirituality offered by the Evangelical Church, and Michael correctly points out that Jesus is often absent. Glynn (and many others in the comments) don't like the use of the word because it is too vague and can be applied to everything from Christianity to Wicca. But I think that's the point Michael is trying to make. Spiritual can mean anything. But Jesus-shaped spirituality is specific. I'm hoping he goes into more detail defining what this is, rather than what it is not.

I'm coming to this discussion late and I don't have much to add specific to this chapter than what I wrote above. I could've blown off posting and just left this as a comment over at Glynn's or Nancy's blog. But I couldn't stop thinking about who this discussion relates to as I was reading this chapter.
  • I know of a woman who stopped going to church because she couldn't accept that a man, still reeking of alcohol and obviously hung over, could pass out the little communion cups, but she, being a woman, could not.
  • I know of a woman who suffered all kinds of abuse from her husband. Her church blamed her for the abuse, that she brought it on herself by not being a "good wife". And they explained away his addiction by saying her faith wasn't strong enough and she wasn't praying hard enough.
  • I know a couple of women who left their church because their choices for the men they wanted to marry weren't accepted. And when one of the future husbands left one of these girls, she was then shunned for being a single mom.
  • I know a whole family who left their church because they were blamed for being the problem when their church wasn't growing fast enough.
  • I know someone who looks at his church and sees nothing but a corporation, built and operated like a business. And is constantly searching for a way out.
  • I know someone who stopped going to church, as many do, upon becoming a young adult. And won't return because she is turned off by the political agenda she sees in most churches.
  • I know a family who left their church once they saw for real exactly how much their minister was being paid.
  • I know someone who is bipolar but won't tell anyone at his church that he takes medication because he's been told it's a "spiritual" problem. I also know a young girl who died because she stopped taking her medicine for the same condition.
  • I know countless others who have left, or who are frequently tempted to, because of abuse from leadership, legalism, and just an overall lack of sympathy or concern for their spiritual growth.
I could go on and on. And I'm sure you could add to this list. Like I said, I could have blown off this post, but these people's stories need to be told. They personally need to be heard. And someday, somewhere that values Jesus-shaped spirituality above all the other fluff, they need to be accepted and embraced.

Monday, September 13, 2010

What are you reading?

I just finished John and Staci Eldrege's Love and War (review to come soon!). I saw the finish line and sprinted ahead to get through it this weekend. By doing so however, I've fallen behind on Mere Churchianity and Transformational Church. Yes, you read that right, I've been juggling three books. When my business travel was steady, that was easy. Now that I'm grounded for a while, and with school back in gear, my free-time to read has dwindled. So you'll have to jump over to Nancy Rosback's Bend the Page for the latest on Michael Spencer's wonderful book. I may or may not get caught up later today. I'm also regrettably unable to participate in the discussion on the Hole in Our Gospel by Rich Stearns (I mean, there's only so many hours in a day!) 

This kind of revisits a similar question from the beginning of the summer. But what are you currently reading?

Are you now, or have you ever, participated in an online book discussion like those above?

Do you have a favorite book that you've always wanted to discuss?

I'm really enjoying these discussions and if I ever get all caught up in my reading, I might do one here. Stay tuned.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Weekend Reading, 11 September

I'm going to bypass my usually lengthy roundup of the week and instead direct you towards other compilations.
My recommended reading from last week is just one. On this day, for what all it means, we need to be reminded that monsters are real. Thank you Billy Coffey for such a terrific post.

God bless you all this weekend. Please say a prayer in remembrance of September 11, that the Prince of Peace will come to bring everlasting peace and that we may find what temporary peace there may be until He comes

Friday, September 10, 2010

Flashback Friday: Fast

***Originally posted on March 25, 2010. This has been heavy on my heart lately, stirred by Andrea Stasyszen's post last week. The couple mentioned below has another hearing on the 18th. We pray it is the last. The couple mentioned later that adopted embryos just had a baby boy, 100% naturally, a week ago.***

I fasted yesterday. I don’t say that to boast, but rather to note that I don’t do it often. Maybe not often enough. But yesterday was too important not to. Some friends of ours had a court date over the custody of their adopted nine month-old daughter.

Since she was only two days old, this couple with two older boys, also adopted, has been the only family she’s known. Her birth mother had no objection to giving her up for adoption (having lost custody before to other children). And the birth father was unaware the mother was even pregnant. But that was then. Once the father did find out, he wanted to be involved, and has been fighting ever since. I don’t know anything about either parent other than that. But I do know the family that is on the verge of being ripped apart.

There’s nothing special about this court date. They’ve had others and they’ll likely have more. But our friends are tired. The weight of legal fees is multiplied by the economy reducing his hours and cutting her job. Tuesday they put their house on the market, unable to bear that additional weight. So my wife and I fasted yesterday. Only God knows what is best for this precious girl. But the prayer is for this just to be over.

My wife and I are especially sensitive to this. Both of us were adopted. Both under very different circumstances. In addition to these friends of ours, other couples we’re close to have adopted from China and have even adopted embryos. One of our good friends is a social worker for the Department of Child and Family Services. My wife teaches half-time [now back to full time] in an “alternative” school, a PC way of saying her school is one step away from Juvie. She teaches the other half at an “urban” school (inner-city wouldn’t accurately describe it because of geography, but urban certainly describes its demographics) that will permanently close its doors at the end of the school year. [side note: a 14 year-old would-be freshman girl and student at this school last year was just killed in a drive-by early Sunday morning, right around the corner from a park my church met at to reach out two weeks ago] So you might say we’re on the front lines of this battle for the health and welfare of these children.

It is the children who are at stake. I pray this baby girl has no recollection of this tug-of-war ever happening. I pray she never has to know. But I also pray that the bonding that has happened over the past year, that is so important developmentally, is not all for naught.

It is the children who are at stake. Tuesday I wrote about the faithfulness of God in context of the infidelity we see too frequently in our headlines. In each of these cases, Jesse James, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, children are sired and then transformed into gotcha headlines or publicity stunts. The media creates permanent memorials that will haunt these children the rest of their lives.

It is the children who are at stake. Every day a child is given up, either with the hope of a better life or out of despair of present circumstance, opposite sides to the same coin. Every day a child is born into a single-parent home. Boys raised without any father figures other than elder leadership in the neighborhood gang. Girls raised without the bonding they need to value their bodies so they spend the rest of their lives seeking that affirmation in any and every way.

It is the children who are at stake. The decisions we make. The relationships we have. The love we either share or willfully withhold. Abuse, either physical or verbal, and neglect or unavailability leave scars that do not heal.

It is the children who are at stake. Thank you JoAnne Bennett and Jeff Jordon [and also Andrea Stasyszen] for your battles to remind us. Thank you Lord for hearing our prayers. Thank you El Roi for seeing the need and answering our prayers by giving us clear instruction of what we must do to stop this cycle from repeating as it has for countless generations.

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. (James 1:27)

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Jesus Shaped

I wanted to figure out a way to shoe-horn chapter 4 of Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity into Bridget Chumbley's blog carnival on Hope. But that's been our problem hasn't it, trying to pound a square peg into a round hole, making the message of Jesus into something it's not? Don't get me wrong, second to love I would say that hope best describes Jesus' ministry. But you couldn't tell that today. And that is Michael's point. What if Jesus showed up at your church for an "inspection"? Would he find it hopeful, in-line with his teachings? Or would he find it hopeful, filled with pop-psychology and an over-emphasis on feeling good?Would he even recognize it?

Michael argues that we've become so comfortable in our Jesus-culture, that we forget Jesus. In fact, to suggest following Jesus can be so radical that you may find yourself rejected, or worse, labeled a cult. To even have the nerve to advertise your church as "making Jesus popular" is so not-Jesus shaped it isn't funny. I was recently in a toy store and I saw a Jesus action figure. I wanted it for no other reason than to remind myself that Jesus is real, not plastic. On and on I could go with examples, casting stones, with no suggestions of what to do about it. So let me share a recent personal journey in hopes it will lead us all to be more Jesus shaped.

A couple of years ago I was at a large event and an Elder was preaching on one of the miracles of Jesus. He made an anecdotal point using this miracle that didn't hold up against the rest of Jesus' miracles. As soon as he said it (I won't say what) I immediately thought to myself, "that can't be right" and I spent the rest of the sermon thumbing through my Bible to make sure I wasn't crazy. He shoe-horned a good point into one of Jesus' miracles that had nothing to do with that point, and he misrepresented the Word of God doing so. Mind you, this was an Elder, whose Biblical role is to ensure that the Church is teaching the Truth.

Hard, cold reality set in at that moment. I couldn't rely on leaders, preachers, pastors or evangelists to chart my course spiritually. I needed to be led by Christ and his Word. But did I know it? So I made a vow to the Lord that I would study out the life and teachings of Jesus. I set out to read through the four Gospels in chronological order using several Bibles mixing up translations and commentaries and planned to read Jesus-specific books following (titles like Jesus the Same, the Jesus I Never Knew, etc) to close out the year. What was meant to last a few months in the Gospels and finish the year with a book a month, took over a year. I still haven't technically finished (there are a couple more books to read).

I'm not saying this to boast. In fact it was so overwhelming I really need to take the time and go back over it. But it was an example of being proactive to be Jesus shaped. How can we claim to follow Him if we don't know what He said, or how He lived? I want to approach this book positively rather than a blanket condemnation against the Church today. I can't think of a better way to combat that cultural and spiritual malaise in the Church than to challenge ourselves to be Jesus shaped and there's no better way to do that than to spend time immersed in his life through the Gospels.

This post adds to the discussion on Michael Spencer's book, Mere Churchianity being hosted by Nancy at Bend the Page. Visit there for links to others in the discussion. And don't forget to stop by Bridget's for the Carnival too!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Are you a member of a cult?

Scary title, but bear with me for a moment. The term cult is thrown around a lot to disparage churches whose doctrine we don't agree with. I don't want to minimize real Jim Jones-like cults, but I want us to think about the definition for a moment. What are the three main attributes of a cult?
  1. Religious devotion to a single individual who alone defines doctrine and lifestyle
  2. Separation from the world, including family and friends
  3. Unorthodox theology and practice
Now consider the following:
  1. John 14:6
  2. Luke 14:26
  3. John 6:60
The notion in Chapter 4 of Mere Churchianity is that our churches actually don't want to follow Jesus. After all, wouldn't that make them a cult?

So my question this week is, Is Your Church a Cult?

Please come back later today for more discussion on Mere Churchianity.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Weekend Reading, 4 September

As always, there are more quality blogs than I could possibly link. These are what I found via Twitter and there, it's just a matter of timing- if I see a link while I'm on, I'll click it. So my apologies if I missed you. I hope to catch you next time. Best (worst?) example was the effort of @ivoryjohn to raise money for Blood: Water Missions via retweets on Twitter. I retweeted the announcement that he was going to to this yesterday and then totally spaced it last night. I hope he does it again and I hope then I'm less flaky.

I also want to lead off with this post from Maurilio Amorim on the narcissism behind blogging and social media. It is a definite temptation, which is one of my main motivations for doing the "weekend readings". I'm not in it for my glory, or even to hype these other bloggers, but for God's glory. My hope and prayer is that through these links you might read something you might not have otherwise or catch a post you missed, and through the thoughts, convictions, and writings of others grow in your walk with Christ. Ok, on with the show...

A common theme I've found over the weeks is that of pastor burnout.
  • Perry Noble credits his wife and daughter for their encouragement and stresses that family remain a priority.
  • Ron Edmonson gives tips from his marathon training to avoid burnout by pacing yourself. (I personally love this, with my wife being a marathoner!)
  • Darryl at DashHouse posted on the value of sabbaticals to avoid burnout. A welcome suggestion and something I'm going to pursue for my own pastor.
  • Amy Sorrells challenges us to think like a Chilean miner when we get stuck. Good advice, pastor or not.
  • Johnathan Pearson reminds us that we need to continue to add fuel to our fire if we want to continue giving light and heat without burning out.
A couple of how-tos for pastors and lay leaders.
  • Steven Furtick reminds us not to be ashamed to call others higher, in fact it's a compliment to do so.
  • Scott Couchenour offers his usual input to leaders and offers some additional links on don't stop growing. (It helps to link to others who have lots of links 'causse it saves me space! Yes, that's cheating)
  • Nick Croft (aka Nick the Geek), guest posting at Make a Difference to One, encourages us to pray not only for our own children, but also for the children in our church and to not take children's salvation for granted. (As a former youth leader, I really appreciate this post)
Another common theme is rethinking Church.
  • I'm participating in a discussion on Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity. You can follow that conversation over at Bend the Page (with links back here and to other bloggers in on the discussion). We're only on Chapter 3, so there's time to catch up and join us!
  • Shawn Smucker pulls no punches observing that Democracy is an easy crutch for our Church.
  • Jason Stasyszen (and many others- more links!) is reading and discussing The Hole in the Gospel and notes (pun not intended) that we've reduced the symphony of the Gospel down to a single note. 
  • Alise writes a scathing letter to the American Church (TM) reminding us that we need to deal with the plank in our own eyes before we can remove the specks outside our church's walls.
  • Brandon O'Brien writes on how we take a Pagan approach to our relationship with God: we do good, he owes us- and how wrong that is.
  • Bethany Keeley-Jonker wonders if you can have an online church. (a means others like Brand New Church and are testing out)
  • Darrin Patrick challenges the Church that we have a "man problem" through a video promoting his new book.
Of course, part of Church is each of our own personal journeys.
Relating back to the Blood: Water Missions fundraiser above is also a fundraiser of 30 bloggers in 30 days that is worth checking out and following (and obviously contributing towards).

Also relating back to the news of Glenn Coffee abandoning his NFL career for ministry (and other similar stories) is news of Ben Roethlisberger's comeback on the field and in his faith. Compare then and now.

And after you get through all of this, don't forget the purpose of this weekend. Rest and celebrate the Sabbath.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Flashback Friday: God's Labor Day

***Originally posted on Labor Day, 2008. Still appropriate today, especially with so many recent headlines on pastor and church burnout. Have a great weekend everyone, and be sure to take some time off to rest up.***

[Monday] we celebrate Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer, but the official celebration of America's work force. Originally, Labor Day was celebrated to honor workers' unions through speeches and parades. Today, the typical Labor Day celebration consists of sleeping in, barbecues, and ironically work. In fact, as soon as I finish posting this, I'm going to tackle a couple of outdoor projects I've been putting off.

Despite how widely celebrated this holiday is (even I have it off, and that says something) God's labor day is more widely, or at least frequently observed. I'm talking of course, about the Sabbath. Even though different Christian churches have various doctrines surrounding the Sabbath (Seventh Day Adventists for example) and debate whether we're still compelled to observe the Sabbath Laws under the New Covenant, there's still a perfectly good reason God instituted this day.

"Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God... For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Ex 20:8-11)
I'm not going to debate creation in six literal days here, but rather stress that even God took a break and there's no reason we shouldn't too. For this reason, we have in America the traditional 40 hour work-week (but who really works only 40 hours?) with "weekends" off. Even the term weekend is to intentionally set aside Saturday and Sunday on the calendar to respect the Judeo-Christian roots of this country.

I heard during a sermon, that even though we may not be commanded to observe the Sabbath under the New Covenant, if we don't take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take us. Each one of the Ten Commandments, besides honoring God, protects us. Like most laws, the intent isn't just that of justice, but also to protect the general welfare of the populace. The Sabbath is no different. Think about your last big project at work, or finals week in college, or hell week in high school football, or the last week of planning and organizing before your wedding. Anytime you've dedicated yourself to something so thoroughly, there's usually a "let-down" once you're done. Why? You didn't take a break as the Lord commanded. Just recently I returned from helping my mom move. What happened a few days after I got back? I got sick.

Unfortunately, we don't observe the Sabbath the way God intends. We fool ourselves into thinking we're honoring God by filling the day with church-related activities- morning worship, afternoon meetings, evening Bible study, you know the drill. I asked one of my co-workers if he had any big plans and he replied, "well the first two days are already shot." His wife was hosting a bridal shower at their house on Saturday and Sunday was church. So on the usual Monday he, myself, and many other co-workers are more tired than we were on Friday. Why? Because we never really rested as God intended.

So here I am today, with a long list of "honey do's". Why such the long list? Because I didn't do a dog-gone thing yesterday. And I feel great.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Thrill Ride

Last weekend I took my family to Legoland. My son has been asking for it all summer and we waited for Grandma to come and visit so she could join in on the fun. The park is definitely geared towards my son's age group (a lot of rides specifically said "ages 5-12). It was fun to see my son react with, "look, dad, it's made of all Legos!" There's just something about being little where the world seems so big. Theme parks take advantage of this by presenting everything as larger than life.

I remember going to Disney World at 5 or 6 years old and combining that trip with a visit to Kennedy Space Center. At Disney I remember Mission to Mars vividly- the chairs raising slightly to give you a feeling of positive g's then dropping back to give you a sensation of weightlessness all while looking up at a giant screen of space images as if we were looking ahead through a window. Visiting Kennedy right after, I remember returning to school convinced I had been to space. I couldn't wait to raise my hand to answer the question, "where did you go this summer?"

"As he was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, 'Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!'" (Mark 13:1)

Did you visit any theme parks as a child? What rides were "larger than life"?

Of course, seeing it later as a teenager (the ride sadly closed in 1993), I could see through the "smoke and mirrors". It was obvious we never left the ground and the view out of the windows could not compare to what we could see in an IMAX.

Other rides seemed smaller, too. The roller-coasters weren't as fast, the loops, twists, and turns not as large. The animatronics weren't as realistic. I grew up and the "thrill ride" was no longer as thrilling.

"When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me." (1 Corinthians 13:11)

Have you ridden any of your favorite rides from your youth since you've grown up? Are they as fast, as large as you remember?

As a parent, the thrill is no longer found in the rides, but in my children's joy. I can bear (usually) waiting in line for an hour for a ride my kids are excited for. I can handle two days at Legoland and (mostly) ignore how cheesy everything is. Because it's not for me.

I stood back in wonder as I watched my children met a life-sized Mickey Mouse. I anxiously wait to hear what my son thought of the last ride he went on. And I can't wait to return. Their perspective becomes my perspective.

"And he said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'" (Matthew 18:3)

"From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise " (Psalm 8:2)

Do you have children? Have you ever taken them to a theme park? What was their reaction the first time?

As adults, our lives can easily become so hectic that we take the thrills in life for granted. We feel grown up so we stop having fun. Summer is a great time to recapture the simple joys in life, but it's also a good time to remember that Jesus "came that [you] may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10) That scripture can be twisted a number of ways, from a Prosperity Gospel (full means rich!) to asceticism (full life doesn't come until our resurrection and the world offers nothing). I believe the answer lies in the middle. No, we shouldn't get too comfortable here on this Earth, but we should still find joy in the life God has blessed us with.

"Be joyful always" (1 Thessalonians 5:16)

Do you see your life today as a thrill ride? Do you believe Jesus has given you "life to the full"?

Yesterday I went to the park with my kids. I rode on a twisting swing-like thingy with my son. It wasn't fast and it wasn't large, but my son was scared to death of falling off and I almost threw up. But it was really fun!

Today continues this summer's 'virtual small group' (VSG in the tags). I hope you come back as I take this season to reflect on the wonders of God's creation, share vacation stories, etc, with the prayer that we come out of this season closer to God than how we came into it.