Thursday, July 28, 2011

Prison

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
prisoners suffering in iron chains,
because they rebelled against God’s commands
and despised the plans of the Most High.
So he subjected them to bitter labor;
they stumbled, and there was no one to help. (Psalm 107:10-12)

Last night, Dr. Drew Pinsky was talking about the death of Amy Winehouse on Headline News. When I tuned in, he was talking with his guests (three recovering addicts and a clinical psychologist) about how addicts become imprisoned by their lies. They lie to cover up their use. They lie to manipulate their friends and family. They lie to continue to cover up all the other lies. The road to recovery requires brutal, complete honesty.

Sunday my recovery group had the pleasure of welcoming a brother from sister church where he leads their recovery ministry. Our meetings are safe havens, so I'm not going to spill the details of his life. But he wouldn't care if I did. Honesty is required for recovery, but we treat the truth as very valuable. Yet his attitude is that the truth is what God has done in his life. And that, he will shout from the rooftops. But I'll leave that for him.

One thing I will share that stuck with me, was his description of his stint in prison. He described how it was easier to be a Christian and recovering addict in prison than it is to be faithful and sober out in the world. That makes sense. In prison, the environment is strictly controlled. You are surrounded by sin, but you can choose to lock yourself away and avoid what you can. But the world is uncontrolled and unpredictable. Sin is plentiful and freely available. So in order to stay strong in the world, you need to be honest with yourself- your weaknesses, your temptations, your struggles. You cannot think you can overcome the temptations of the world on your own.

Honesty. It not only frees you from the prison we build ourselves with our lies, but it also strengthens us for the daily struggles we face. As addicts we need to be honest with ourselves, our partners in the fight, and our God who knows our inmost thoughts and grants us the grace of sobriety. Without such honesty, we might as well lock ourselves up in chains.

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
and broke away their chains. 
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he breaks down gates of bronze
and cuts through bars of iron. (vs 13-16)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ashamed

Y Cru, brute'?

Almost exactly one year ago, the Young Men's Christian Association, aka the YMCA, changed its name to simply "the Y". Of course, the Y has been common slang for some time. YMCA justified the change noting that no one knew what YMCA even stood for anymore as well as to fight the stereotype encouraged by the Village People's song "YMCA". And it could be argued that few associate the Y with any Christian Mission anyways.

History repeated itself when Campus Crusade for Christ changed its name to "Cru", a nickname that has been common for some time, much like the Y. And just like the YMCA, Campus Crusade was fighting the negative connotations of "crusade" (hearkening more familiarity with the Christian versus Molsem wars centuries ago than Billy Graham's Crusades (or Greg Laurie's Harvest Crusade, for example)). I agree with the point that "Campus" over simplifies their mission. But to say they want to move away from "crusade" by just reducing it to short-hand? I don't buy it.

Actually I didn't buy this story at all. When I first heard it I went straight to Snopes. I mean, the change came almost exactly a year to the day after the YMCA name-change. And for me, not involved with "Cru" in any way shape or form, the full name was always shortened to just Campus Crusade. Now I don't know what to call it.

They also mention that the name "Christ" gets in the way of their mission. I can see the argument that you don't jump right into conversation with "I'm a Christian and I'm here to convert you. Here are the four spiritual laws so that you can receive Jesus as your own personal savior. Oh, by the way, my name is Frank." But c'mon, you're a CHRISTIAN EVANGELISM MINISTRY!!! Maybe your name should reflect it. If you want to be a hip night club, then admit it. If your name gives a specific first impression, maybe there's a reason. And maybe that's a good thing.

Blackwater changed its name to Xe to try and overcome bad press. My mom's retirement home changed its name from Classic Residence to Vi to separate it from its parent company, Hyatt. So I'm convinced. Vi was bought out by Xe who operates youth rec centers by the name of Y and a ministry called Cru. It's a conspiracy. Or a word scramble. CruYViXe. Oh I get it, "crucifix". Campus Crusade is really a Catholic organization! That makes more sense than any reason they give.

"Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." (Luke 9:26)

"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me." (Matthew 15:18-21, emphasis added)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Foolishness

"For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18)

This isn't some self-righteous criticism. I actually really like both of these songs. But you see the truth in the verse above if you browse through the comments on these videos.

First up, A Perfect Circle's "Judith". The song is about Maynard James Keenan's mother, Judith, who suffered a stroke when he was 7 and was confined to a wheelchair the rest of her life. Yet, she remained steadfast in her faith. A sampling of the lyrics:

It's not like you killed someone
It's not like you drove a hateful spear into his side
Praise the one who left you broken down and paralyzed
He did it all for you...

Oh so many ways for me to show you how your dogma has abandoned you




Next is the Deftones' "Change (House of Flies)". This one is interesting. The video is pretty debaucherous which leads many in the comments section to think it's about addiction or sex. I don't think there's any hidden meaning at all when the lyrics explicitly call out the cross:

I look at the cross
And I look away

The way this song hits me is as someone who is jealous seeing the change in someone after their decision to follow Christ. In my recovery ministry I've seen this first hand, where there's an attitude of "oh, so you're too good for us now?" It's part of the victim, savior, persecutor cycle. "I've watched you change, like you never..."



The message of the cross is foolishness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hallelujah

Consider this a "praise-off", Amy Grant versus Casting Crowns. Better Than a Hallelujah versus Praise You [Hallelujah] In This Storm. Both songs speak to the same point but approach it from different sides. We should be crying out to God in our distress (for a Bible reference, pick a Psalm, pick any Psalm) but even then, we should be praising our God for His sovereignty, His wisdom, His will.

"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7)

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." (Philippians 4:6)

"Is anyone of you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise." (James 5:13)

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn." (Romans 12:15)

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Remember that Amen means 'so be it'.

And from the songs:

"We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody.
Beautiful the mess we are, the honest cries of broken hearts.
Are better than a hallelujah."

"Every tear I cry, you hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn,
I will praise you in this storm"




Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Media Fast

I haven't been able to post as much as I would've like this week and worse, I haven't been around the blogosphere to check out all my favorites. Perfect timing for my small group to go on a two-day media fast. I'll be back Friday...

Public Christianity QOTD

"My view of ministry in the church has been simply to preach the Gospel, serve the Kingdom of God, lift up Jesus and see the world come to him. But in the process of building our church and striving to be a light in the community, I realized one day that we had been conducting ministry primarily inside our four walls. Sure, we ventured out from time to time for service projects such as food drives for the homeless, clothing collections for the needy, blankets for the elderly, and backpacks for school children - which are all worthy causes. But while I continued to pastor and minister in a typical fashion, I had come to see that the world was changing around us. The tide was turning. I started to feel more and more every day as though I was being deluged by a cultural tsunami...as though we, the church, were losing the battle of the church influencing the world for Christ vs. the world influencing the church." Dudley Rutherford, Unleashed.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Unleashed

(scroll down for updates...)

So my wife wanted me to check out Francis Chan's new book. I crazy loved Crazy Love, so I was interested to see what he was writing next, following his exploits online after he stepped down from pastoring Cornerstone Church. My wife was referring to his response to Rob Bell's Love Wins, titled Erasing Hell, but instead my Amazon search yielded Unleashed: The Church Turning the World Upside Down. (random linky observation: christianbook.com doesn't carry Love Wins) This was a win-win. I was already studying the book of Acts with an expository book and a couple of commentaries and this would tie in perfectly. I also knew that he would be speaking at this year's North American Christian Convention so I checked that out too and what do you know, the theme of the conference is Unleashed!

Of course this isn't coincidence. The NACC president, Dudley Rutherford, compiled the book with the full intention of it being this year's theme. I said this was a win-win not only because the book fits in with what I was already studying, but the NACC is a convention of Restoration Movement churches, of which my family of churches is a part (though not a participant in NACC (I take that back, turns out Daryl Reed is part of my family of churches, woohoo you go Daryl!)), so I was going to follow this convention anyway.

The extra neat part is that the NACC will be streaming their lessons live and on a three hour delay for us West Coast-ers. Now I apologize because I thought this was kicking off tomorrow, but is instead it starts tonight. You missed it live, but you can catch it at 7:00 pacific here: http://2011.gotonacc.org/program/video-streaming/

Unfortunately, my book hasn't arrived yet from Amazon, but I expect it tomorrow so I shouldn't fall too far behind. I don't know if I'll be able to blog real-time (or time zone delayed anyway) updates, but I do want to post some of these lessons from Acts. So we'll see. At least you'll get a recap once the convention has concluded and I've had a chance to get into the book.

******

7/6 6:00 am Ok, I'm just going to add updates here instead of writing new posts. I tried the live stream last night and it worked great during the worship leading into the opening session, but once Dudley Rutherford started speaking it froze a lot. So I'm going to recap what I read others found notable:

Interesting bit of history that the early Restoration Movement included African Americans but encouraged them to have their own congregations. Maybe wise at the time, but it perpetuated a trend of segregation on Sunday mornings that we still see today. I am grateful that my family of churches is very diverse, and in some ways intentionally so. "For there is no Jew, no Greek..." Rutherford made the call to be intentional in diversity.

He also noted how the early Church in Acts was "radical" in its culture. Of course this theme isn't new with best selling books of the same name. Even the call to our churches to be radical forces of change in our culture isn't new. But I do think it is the Holy Spirit that is leading so many churches/denominations/authors/etc to the same conclusion. Yes, our church needs to be radical. Yes our church needs to turn the world upside down for Christ. Let's see if the next few days teaches and guides us how.

Next stream starts in about a half-hour on the East Coast. That's right when my carpool shows up, so I'll try the West Coast feed from work (shhh, don't tell anyone). If it doesn't work, I'll follow the discussion on Twitter and Facebook. Oh, I didn't mention that this is one really cool feature of the stream: you can check out what other people are saying in real-time. Now this isn't new, ESPN, U-stream, and others all have live chats, but I haven't seen the capability to link in to active social media like this. So while I couldn't catch most of Pastor Rutherford's talk, I did see comments to keep me updated. If you can't access the stream you can follow on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/gotonacc and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#search?q=gotonacc

Check back later for more updates.

******

7/6 6:20 pm Sadly streaming was blocked by my work's firewall so I wasn't able to listen to today's speakers Daryl Reed, Greg Nettle, and Miles McPherson. But here are some tweets to reflect some of the content:

@CooperTim Christology must drive Missiology which must drive Ecclesiology 

@lkmeding let's not let restoration/reformation/luther/calvin/stone-campbell divide us. we need to carry Christ, not our movement.

@sethadamthomas How do you help your church thrive? "Kick them [members] out [into the community]!" -Miles McPherson

@macblountman "I love the Restoration Movement."; Daryl Reed. Amen and amen!

@westbrook_RobD  @MikeBreaux, the disciples could have never imagined what would happen in just three years!!!

@westbrook_RobD #gotonacc #NACC... @MikeBreaux, Jesus call to "follow me" prohibited the disciples from NOT telling everyone about Him...

@BenCachiaras You don't want to look back on your life and wonder what would have happened if you really followed Jesus.

@mbj8448 "Following Jesus isn't always easy but it's never complicated. Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly (Micah 6:8)." -Mike Breaux


Makes me regret I can't watch and listen to the stream tonight as I'll be at my own midweek service. But I got the book today!!! So I'll just have to read these chapters.

More updates later...
******

7/8 6:12 am I finally was able to catch one of the main speaker's streams last night!!! Really enjoyed and challenged by Jeff Vines' sermon titled "Hazardous". Some highlights:

It's ironic that I was online watching a stream of his sermon, tweeting about it, and now blogging about it when he threw out these lines: (while in Africa) "I didn't have my iPhone, my iPad, or my iPod so I prayed, I studied, I fellowshiped." and "We spend more time on Facebook than we do with our faces in the Book!" Hmmm, challenges me to a lifestyle change and an honest look at how I spend my time.

When he related how he learned more from the pastors he was there to teach and encourage and he felt convicted by their joy and perseverance, it reminded me of a story told by an evangelist who had recently returned from his native Ivory Coast. The recent uprising isn't something new, only most recent, and these disciples were in similar risk then as there was much turmoil out in the Ivory Coast. At the same time, our fellowship of churches were going through our own shakeup in the church. This evangelist was inspired by either of these affecting their faith and perseverance. Their church was growing. They were united (warring clans and different races, mind you!). They loved God. When the evangelist asked how they were able to do it, one of the local disciples answered, "we're only doing what we read in the Bible. Nothing else matters."

Finally, Jeff told the story of how he visits Rwanda and ministers to prisons there. One recent trip his translator took him to one of the high-level prisons which held not just participants in the genocide, but those who had ordered it to carried out. After receiving instruction after instruction on where to go, what to say, what areas to avoid, and so on, Jeff stopped and asked, "wait, are we in danger?" to which is translator answered, "does it matter?" It doesn't get simpler than that. Spreading the Gospel can be hard, it can be dangerous, it can be awkward, but in the end "does it matter?" The only thing that matters is Christ crucified and sharing that with the world. Our worries, our fears, our insecurities don't matter.

Also during the day, the conference was picketed by Westboro Baptist. I'm not really sure why, other than that they starve for attention. But it made for some funny tweets during the day.

And I regret missing the breakfast talk with @ScottWilliams whom I greatly respect. It wasn't streamed anyway, but I wish I could've been there. Hope he's getting something out of being there this week too.

I have some tweets to copy/paste, but I'll do that later (still buggy trying to import from Twitter and I still need to fix the links above).

Up next... Francis Chan in just a few minutes.

******

7/8 8:28 pm So I intentionally went in late to work this morning to watch Francis Chan, got swamped at work, been busy tonight, and am just now getting back online to update some thoughts. Let me begin by admitting my love for Francis Chan. My wife always seems to find his best sermons online and "makes" me watch them. He always encourages me with his humor, challenges me with his convictions, and humbles with his awe for the Almighty God. This morning was no different. Though the gist of the lesson was nothing new, reflecting on the life of King Asa from 2 Chronicles 14-16 was a good twist. Francis' statement, "I don't want to go out like that" after reflecting on how he used to be so "fired up" when he was young yet stopped relying on God as he grew older really hit home. I think we can all relate to that. And none of us want to go out like that- dying because of some foot disease because we were too prideful.

But what I will probably remember most from his lesson was his story of shooting a balloon held in the teeth of some kid with a BB gun. Reminds me of the story of the high-wire unicycle rider. He asks if anyone can believe he could cross a high wire between two skyscrapers on his unicycle. After everyone sees him do it he asks if anyone believes he can do it blindfolded. He does that with ease and then asks if they believe he can do it blindfolded pushing a wheelbarrow. After he does that he asks who believes he can do it again. Of course every hand goes up. So he asks, "so who wants to get in?" That is faith. Not just talk, but action. And not just action, but giving up all control.

So faith isn't just talk, but is followed up with action. As we grow older we need to continue to rely on God as we did in our naive youth. But the overall point of Francis' brings this all home- it's not about you or me. God is going to do what God is going to do with or without us. We just have to get out of his way and then get on board. The lesson was called "kinetic" so that train isn't going to slow down. It's not going to stop. God's Kingdom cannot be stopped! (and the church says Amen!)

Sadly I wasn't able to stick around for Jeff Walling but I heard he knocked it out of the park too. I'll be back tomorrow morning for some final thoughts, and some other of my favorite tweets.

*******

7/9 8:51 am Last thoughts after the NACC. I didn't attend, so this is completely an outside-observer point of view. The streaming was a great feature and I liked how they allowed a three hour "tape delay" for those of us on the West Coast. It was buggy at times between being choppy or the sound cutting out, but those issues worked themselves out. Now, given that this was streamed "all over the world" which was pointed out on the last day, they need to consider the audience on their computers as well as the audience in the seats. One case in point is worship. A lot of the worship I saw was more performance-oriented than corporate worship. Now I'm opening a can of worms because the NACC is the "instrumental" break from the conservative Churches of Christ, but a capella wouldn't have been better in my opinion. The problem was, on the computer screen there was no sense of being part of a greater worship. The sound was keyed on the main singers and the cameras were fixed on them. Occasionally you'd see the children's choir singing backup, but that was it. Mix the sound better, show more of the audience, and make the viewer feel a part of the worship. Honestly, I'd walk away and do something else when they would be singing because I just couldn't get into it. Maybe that's just a consequence of viewing it remotely and there's nothing really you could do, but I found it ironic that the worship was ho-hum when worship is such a divider in our family of churches.

My second nit to pick is when the did show the audience. Maybe it was the demographics, but most of the people I saw were old and white. This has been a problem in the Churches of Christ/Independent Christian Churches for decades. I appreciate the younger corps of speakers trying to make NACC "hip" but the audience didn't appear to reflect it. This will be a problem if we can't get our present generation and the upcoming generation (Busters and Mosaics depending on your terminology) engaged with the Gospel. In the book Unleashed, Dudley Rutherford points out that in 1990 there were 300 churches of Christ in California but in 2000 that number had dropped to 200. I'm afraid of what that number might be for 2010. No group of hip speakers, best-selling authors, multicultural preachers, and returning missionaries can save this movement if the Gospel does not catch on to the younger generations. This is a well-documented concern, but something the NACC needs to take head-on.

Anyway, enough pontificating. Here are some more of my favorite tweets. Oh, here is another observation. The large fad conferences like Catalyst, Acts 29, or even Orange Leader have hundreds of people tweeting during the conference. I like how the streaming engaged social media, but I didn't see it in the participants. I figure two to three dozen people were tweeting from this conference. Ok, off the soapbox.

@EricStangland We're in trouble if the sacrifice of Christ stops being our inspiration...phil allen @spiritchild

@BenCachiaras "An open heart cannot maintain a closed hand." Warren Wiersbe. @DaveStone920 encourages lavish generosity

@davehamlin Some have replaced the cross w/the flag. They both represent freedom but only one is eternal! - Phil Allen

@kirkbolen I have never been more proud of our movement than this morning when westboro showed up to protest our convention

@MelissaSandel Preaching @gotonacc was as strong as I've heard here. Experiencing God's Word communicated in fresh ways fires me up!

@preachblake headed home after a great week at the @gotonacc great preaching, and awesome connections made...now time to live it out

@gabejohnsonlive "Comfort and Christ start with the same letter, but don't end at the same place." -Jeff Walling

@jeffpartain "Who you are is not what you have done, but what you do next." - Jeff Walling (@preacherwalling)

@tomcooperider Some of the greatest accomplishments in the Kingdom were done through people who didn't want to do them - Jeff Walling

Monday, July 04, 2011

I Am Free

As we celebrate our freedom in the United States, let us also celebrate our freedom in the Kingdom of God.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom." (2 Corinthians 3:17)

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1)

"Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves." (1 Peter 2:16)

Friday, July 01, 2011

Flashback Friday: Trip Planner

***Originally posted July 20, 2010 as part of my Virtual Small Group on Summer. What are your summer plans? Last weekend my family kicked off the summer taking the kids to the aquarium. Now we're on our way to go camping (as soon as I can get packed!). Anyway, enjoy the long weekend!***

Last weekend my family decided to take a last-minute spontaneous road trip to the beach. One of my best friends growing up was in the neighborhood, i.e. the same state, camping on the beach and invited me to stop on by to say hi. How could I refuse? The problem however, was that I'm not good at acting spontaneously. I get wound up and stress out too easily when things aren't planned out in my head. These plans also conflicted with plans we already made, nor did it really fit in our budget, rocking the boat even more. But we persevered, hitting the road at 3:00 when we were shooting for 11:00. Despite saying several words I shouldn't have, and stressing out far more than necessary, it was completely worth it. It was the first time my son was brave enough to play in the ocean. Plus my friend has a son roughly the same age and they hit it off right away. As I posted on Facebook when I got home, I've never seen my son have so much fun.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11)

What's the most spontaneous thing you've ever done? (and are willing to share online)

As much fun as that was, however, I still prefer to have a plan. Normally when we road trip as a family and aim to leave at 11:00, we get out the door at around 1:00. That's even with a plan. In other words, I need to be a better planner.

"Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails." (Proverbs 19:21)

Are you a good planner? What's your secret? (really, I need all the help I can get!)

Every long holiday weekend is filled with "news from AAA that more people are planning on hitting the road for vacation than last year..." combined with news about gas prices, drunk driving arrests, and of course lists of the most popular destinations. The same news can be heard throughout the summer. Kids are on vacation, the weather is great, and highways are... under construction.

You have to go into the summer with a plan. Where are you going? Which weekend? Will the family you plan on visiting actually be home then? Will you be back in time for so-and-so's wedding? Is there a baseball game in town while you're there (actually this is usually the first thing I check)?

"In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." (Proverbs 16:9)

What are your priorities when planning your vacation?

Our spirituality should be no different. We need a plan. I mentioned yesterday how we need to plan out our spiritual work-out regimen. Too often we close a book not knowing what to read next or rely on flimsy verse-of-the-day calendars to guide our spiritual growth. And we wonder why we get stuck nursing on milk? Planning a whole season is an even greater challenge. What books to read? What topics to cover? What specific prayers to pray? It helps to enter into the season with a plan. You can't go on your road trip without a map.

"The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty." (Proverbs 21:5)

What are your spiritual plans for this summer?
If you don't have a plan, now is the time to build one. If you can't think of any plans, ask for input (Proverbs 20:18). Don't let this season pass without a measure of growth. Look back at your vacation photos with no regrets.