Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Elephant in the Room

I apologize for the lack of content this week, I'm away on business travel and my hotel doesn't have wifi. Also please forgive my typos as I'm thumbing this in on my phone.

Regardless I want to put something up to follow up on yesterday's Elephant Room 'conference' hosted by James MacDonald (http://www.theelephantroom.com/). I didn't watch from one of the satellite locations, but I tried to keep up on twitter.

For background, the Elephant Room is a forum for pastors and ministers from different traditions, methodologies, and even core doctrines to sit around a table and "talk it out". The intention is to display Christian love without all the bickering and name-calling that now, thanks to twitter, we hear about far too often.

I just want to list off some of the tweeted quotes. With a limit of 140 characters, I wasn't able to catch the context of these quoted, but found then worth sharing nonetheless. I encourage you to share your impressions based on the quoted and even better, if you watched the conference I'd love to hear your thoughts.

First some context, and again I didn't catch the context of these statistics, but they are worth having fresh in your mind as you read on. "3500 people leave the church every day and don't join another. 6000 churches close their doors each year. Only 2% of churches are growing through conversion (as opposed to growth via children growing up and professing their faith)"

-Mark Driscoll: we're not trying to be Calvinists, we're trying to be evangelists (but what if we disagree on the nature of the gospel that is the core of our evangelism?)

-James MacDonald: the whole gospel
to the whole world with our whiole heart

-Steven Furtick: Presenting the gospel creatively is not watering it down

-Results don't define theology (I didn't catch who said this and I'd love to hear the context because there has to be more to this quote)

-They will know you are my disciples by your love -MacDonald (which is all well and good, but why did you kick out @PirateChristian and @EBenzBlog and threaten to call the police on them?)

-T. D. Jakes: I'm not going to force my theology into my denomination. (there was a whole session on the relevance of denominations with the rise of church networks. I really want to see a replay of that.)

-Let a mans fruitfulness, his confession speak for him -MacDonald

-Constant destructive rhetoric is hurting the church -MacDonald (maybe, but I'd argue the preaching of cheap grace, the emphasis on being seeker-sensitive, and the lack of the call to discipleship hurts the church far more)

-We don't say something privately but we'll speak up publicly and lob grenades -Furtick

-Wayne Cordiero: You can teach what you know bit ultimately you wll reproduce who you are (perhaps my favorite quote from the day)

-Jack Graham: The way to get the walls down is to take the roof off and let God in (I really like this one too)

-Structure can decrease as maturity increases -Cordiero (hmmm, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this)

-Real boldness is to stand with somebody even if it costs you something-Furtick

-I want to see young pastors passion to reach others exceed their passion to review books -Driscoll (or to write best-sellers also)

Like I said, I'm limited by what I found on twitter. The Elephant Room was a trending topic yesterday and is still buzzing this morning. I'm hoping to find some wifi later and see if there are replays anywhere. In the meantime, discuss away.

Friday, January 20, 2012

When's the Swimsuit Competition?

Another day another debate. Another week another primary...

Is it too early to say I'm already burned out by this election cycle? Once upon a time, politics used to get my juices flowing. In the early days of this blog, I posted more about how our faith should intersect with our politics than just about any other subject. But now I read the headlines, follow the news, watch all the attack and advocacy ads and I'm left to say simply, "meh."

Maybe it's because none of the candidates particularly excite me. Or maybe it's because there's no hot-button issue to focus my attention on. But neither of those are true, I just don't get as wound up over politics anymore.

Maybe I've become disillusioned and jaded. Cynical might be a better word. I admit that in watching these primaries and observing how the media treats the election cycle I'm expecting the swimsuit competition any time now.

Because isn't that what this really is, a popularity contest to see who "looks the part"? I'm reminded of the story of Samuel anointing David:

"When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, 'Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.'" But the LORD rejected him.

"Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, 'The LORD has not chosen this one either.' Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, 'Nor has the LORD chosen this one.' Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, 'The LORD has not chosen these.'" (1 Samuel 16:6,8-10)

If you know the story, you know I'm leaving out a key verse. I'll get to that in a moment. But put yourself in Samuel's shoes. He's looking at each of Jesse's older, stronger, more kingly sons expecting at least one of them to be God's anointed. He was looking for the one who "looked the part". Yet instead God chose young "ruddy" David who wasn't even invited to this party and was left to tend sheep.

Why him and not his brothers? God answers, "Do not consider his appearance or his height... The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (v 7)

In politics, just like anything else, first impressions are made by how one looks and what one says. But God doesn't look at any of those things. He looks at the heart. Imagine how different presidential elections would be if we judged the candidates based on their hearts? (Of course this assumes there could be some way to know.)

I trust the sovereignty of God in the selection of our political leaders. But I don't trust people stained by the Fall to make a wise choice based on anything other than appearance. And because of that, I just can't get excited about this election year.

How about you, are you a political junkie? How does your faith influence your politics? Do you find yourself judging more on appearance, or more on heart?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hate Religion but Love Jesus?

When I first saw this YouTube video via a link on Facebook, it was less than a day old and had a little over 100,000 views. As I write this, it has been viewed 6.5 million times. I guess he struck a chord.



His point isn't anything new and falls in line with the current anti-organized religion trend that is sweeping through Christianity right now. It hits on some of the themes of Michael Spencer's Mere Churchianity (of which I did a chapter-by-chapter discussion). The package is clean, hip, and resonating. But is he right?

Right after I saw it on Facebook, I wanted to "share" it to my friends too. But I wanted to see what this guy was all about first so I went to his YouTube channel. And his other videos just didn't sit right with me.

So I'm curious what you, my readers, think of this video. Is he right? Do you agree?

Personally, I think God is anti-religion too. I think He makes that clear in the Old Testament prophets. But then the Word of God also tells us that "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) So I think it's dangerous to offer up a blanket statement that "I reject religion" when the Bible tells us that there is a religion that God himself accepts.

An interesting comment on the YouTube page for this video: "Anyone else see the irony of people arguing whether he's right about religion being different than Jesus and shouting at each other that the other opinion is wrong? I think his point has just been proven."

So what do you think:do you hate religion, but love Jesus, or are you striving for the one True Religion that God finds faultless?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tebow-liever?

I've really tried to hold off on posting about Tim Tebow. Yes, I included him in my Not a Fan series, and I titled a post after him when he was still in college, but I have tried hard not to feed the hype. Part of it is because I'm just not that big of a fan. I'm no Monday-morning quarterback critiquing his mechanics, nor am I rooting for him to fail. I just don't think his faith, his throwing motion, and the way he conducts himself off the field is that big of a deal. And I think he'd agree. Yet I am a Denver Bronco fan so I hope he succeeds. And I did draft him for my fantasy football team this year, because I had a hunch he would be starting by mid-season... at fullback. Ok, I was half-right.

But instead of honest debate over the outcome of next week's playoff game or analysis of Pittsburgh's decision to stuff the box in overtime, we hear non-stop about his time with a girl suffering from granulomatosis, how Katy Perry's Evangelical parents want to hook their "heartbroken" daughter up with him- even to the point of inviting him to their church, and of course the Internet explosion when Evangelicals realized that he threw for 316 yards last week. OMG (gosh, for the record) Tebow threw for 316 yards. 3 16, as in John 3:16, get it? OMGOMGOMGOMG!!!!!!

Simply put, we are running the risk of turning Tim Tebow into an idol. (a must-read IMHO)

But isn't it interesting he threw for 316 yards last week? That phenomenon lead to Google searches of John 3:16 to skyrocket, just as they did when he wore the scripture in eyeblack during his BCS title game a couple of years ago. But does it mean anything? Does it mean God's hand is miraculously holding up the lame ducks Tim Tebow throws 50 yards downfield? Does it mean God is rooting for Tebow to succeed? (And before you point out his three game losing streak, let me point out that Jesus rose from the dead after three days. I'm not sayin', just sayin')

I think it just means God has a sense of humor.

First up, the infamous Saturday Night Live skit, which I think is hilarious:



Then this spoof on Hitler's reaction to Tebow's win (ironically the first time I saw this re-subtitled was after a Steeler win, and proof that every Internet argument eventually ends with someone invoking Hitler.)



Like I said, I think God has a sense of humor and Tebow 316 is proof of that. Also consider that he completed ten passes out of twenty one, or 10/21. Let's look into what seems to be Tim Tebow's favorite Gospel, John: "But others said, 'These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?'" (John 10:21) Or to paraphrase, "These are not the wins of a bad quarterback, can a bad quarterback pass for over 300 yards against the league's best defense?"

So what does this all mean? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! No go in peace to watch football objectively, loving and serving the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Do I Know You?

On one of my recent business trips I was returning from Washington, DC and waiting in line on the jetway when I started small talk with the person next to me. He was a big guy and looked pretty young. We were talking about the weather in LA when I asked him what he was going out there for. "Oh, I'm going to go work out, work on my game" he replied. Since he looked so young, and it was that time of year, I figured it might have been a workout for a school. "Nah," he laughed, "I'm in the NBA, I play for the Washington Wizards." Now feeling foolish I try and backpeddle, "Oh, I don't watch too much of the pros. I'm more a college hoops fan." And realizing I was digging myself further into a hole, I changed subject to the NBA lockout which was still going on at the time. Then the line started to move, we got on board, wished each other well, and took our seats; his in first class of course. But before we parted ways I noticed his bags were monogramed with JW. So once in my seat I quickly did a Google search of JW Washington Wizards before the flight attendant could stop me and throw me in a cell with Alec Baldwin.

Now there are a couple of things wrong with the story above. First, my description of "young". Ok, so this "kid" was 20 at the time. But my excuse of being a college hoops fan didn't help my cause. Because JW for the Washington Wizards was none other than John Wall, first overall draft pick in the 2010 NBA draft, and arguably the best player in college basketball that year. And it's not like he played for some obscure school either; he played for the Kentucky Wildcats, one of college basketball's elite powerhouses. So of course I did a facepalm there in my seat and vowed if I saw him as we were getting off the plane, I would apologize and try and get my story straight.

You see, the problem was I was standing right next to one of the best basketball players in the world and I didn't know it. But if he had told me his name I could have spouted off stats, key plays, and otherwise acted like I knew what I was talking about. I knew about John Wall, but I didn't know John Wall.

Does that describe your relationship with Jesus? Do you know a lot about Jesus without actually knowing Him? That is the topic of chapter 3 of Kyle Idleman's book Not a Fan, "knowledge about him or intimacy with him?" Kyle uses the example of the Pharisee in Luke 7 who invites Jesus over for dinner, yet doesn't even acknowledge him as a guest. The irony, Kyle points out, is that this man has spent his life studying the scriptures and likely had all the messianic prophecies memorized, but he couldn't recognize the Messiah sitting right in front of him. I am reminded of this verse:

"You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)

Further, Kyle suggests that our church culture actually encourages knowledge without intimacy. Consider:

We love having Bible studies, many of which include some kind of workbook. We go through a Bible curriculum that often has homework. Sermons are often accompanied by an outline where members can take notes and fill in the blanks. Many preachers refer to their sermons as a lesson or a lecture. If you grew up in the church, then you probably went to Sunday school, where you had a teacher. In the summer you may have gone to Vacation Bible School. Maybe you even competed in Bible Bowl competitions, all of which are won or lost depending on how much biblical knowledge you've accumulated and how fast you can raise your hand or hit a button. (pg 44)

The other night at Midweek we had a trivia competition. I love these, but mostly because I usually do really well. It is so bad (and yes, I said bad) that if we picked teams, I know a lot of people would pick to be on mine (which is completely different than kickball, but I digress). There are a handful of us at church who are usually the last ones standing and that night was no exception. In the end it came down to two of us, and I walked away victorious because I was able to figure out a trick math question. Of course, Jesus doesn't care about any of that. And that scares me.

I confess I know a lot about Jesus and I know a lot about the Bible. But I have to honestly assess myself and ask how intimately I really know Jesus. One of my greatest fears is to reach the end of my life and hear Jesus say, "I never knew you, away from me you evildoer!" (Matthew 7:23) Most of us would rather hear Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:21, 23) Yet doesn't Jesus tell his disciples "I no longer call you servants... instead I have called you friends..." (John 15:15) Isn't that the level of intimacy we want to have with Jesus and He with us? Can you honestly describe your relationship with Jesus that way?

Evildoer. Servant. Or friend. What will Jesus call you? Or will he call you "just a fan"?

This post continues my series blogging through the book, Not A Fan by Kyle Idleman. I encourage you to follow along by clicking on the Not A Fan label to the right. And I urge you to pick up a copy of this book for yourself.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Resolutions

So I didn't have any takers offering up their New Year's resolutions in my comments. But that doesn't mean no one made any. Here's a sampling of some I read about online. But first, a Puritan Prayer that I saw a few people tweet and post on Facebook:
 
 
I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,
with thee, O Father, as my harbour,
thee, O Son, as my helm,
thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Here were my resolutions:
Here are some others:
  • Carl Jones (@Youthguy07) resolves to make this day the best day.
  • Justin Mosteller (@wearemosteller) doesn't like resolutions but thinks it's a good idea to plan.
  • Scott Williams (@ScottWilliams) encourages us to go big.
  • Tony Alicea (@tonyjalicea) is approaching this year (humbly) expecting to fail.
  • Herb Halstead (@herbhalstead), via Michael Perkins (@MichaelDPerkins), encourages us to simply let go. (no, this had nothing to do with resolutions, but it fit)
  • Cassandra Frear (@CassFrear) doesn't need any new resolutions for 2012, but instead is going to put into practice what she learned in 2011.
  • Matt Appling (@MattTCoNP) says the only resolution we need is to think. (Obviously some of us have problems in that area)
  • Jennifer Dukes Lee (@DukesLee) follows Paul's example to "resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified"
  • Matthew Paul Turner (@JesusNeedsNewPR) tweeted, "Dear God, in 2012, let us love more, affirm more, lift up more, hope more, engage more, make peace more, & choose joy more. Amen."
  • Mike Donehay from Tenth Avenue North (@mikedonehey) tweeted, "2012. May joy be the new cynicism. May grace be the new resentment. May generosity be the new lust. May we live like everything's new."
  • And Billy Coffey (@billycoffey) wrote about a conversation he had with the devil on New Year's Eve.
So now you've heard all of ours, what are your resolutions this New Year?

Friday, January 06, 2012

Resolution: Be a Better...

After taking a break for the holidays I'm back with a series of posts on resolutions to start the new year. Please feel free to comment and share your own resolutions for 2012. Next week, I'll get back on the saddle for my study of the book Not a Fan. For Monday's resolution, career, click here, Tuesday's resolution, eating right, click here, Wednesday's, losing weight, click here. Thursday's, debt free, click here. Please feel free to share your resolutions in the comments. There will be a post tomorrow compiling them all.

Isn't the goal of most New Year's resolutions to be a better: friend, spouse, parent, employee? Maybe even to be a better Christian? But doesn't the notion of being better require some definition of what it means to be good? Jesus challenges our definition:

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone." (Mark 10:18)

If no one is good (and yes, this is hyperbole) then aren't we maybe chasing the wrong goal? In fact, aren't most resolutions "I" centered? I want to be... I resolve to... This year I will...

Like the saying, "there's no I in TEAM", let me rephrase as, "there's no I in JESUS". As I hope you saw this week in my posts, most I-centered resolutions can be turned on their ear to be Jesus-centered. And isn't that really how we become a better fill-in-the-blank, by being more like Christ?

So if anything, resolve this year to be more like Christ. (and you'll notice there is a little I in there somewhere)

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Corinthians 3:18, emphasis added)

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3:10-11, emphasis)

"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Resolution: Debt Free!

After taking a break for the holidays I'm back with a series of posts on resolutions to start the new year. Please feel free to comment and share your own resolutions for 2012. Next week, I'll get back on the saddle for my study of the book Not a Fan. For Monday's resolution, career, click here, Tuesday's resolution, eating right, click here, Wednesday's, losing weight, click here. Please feel free to share your resolutions in the comments. There will be a post at the end of the week compiling them all.

You know the drill. Between going overboard shopping for Christmas (and eating out while doing so) and traveling to see family and friends (and taking in all the sights while there, oh and eating out even more) the plastic in your wallet got quite the workout last month. One of the great ironies of "Black Friday" after Thanksgiving is that the day after we thank God for all he has given us we rush out to buy things we don't need but feel like we do with money we don't have. So the holiday shopping spree usually follows up with the vow to be wiser the next year and try to climb out from under the mountain of debt.

I've seen numbers from $5000 to $17000 for the average credit card debt in America. I'll let you do the math to figure out what that means in payments every month. But add to that car loans, student loans, and mortgage payments and I'm willing to bet the average American church goer pays more to pay down debt than they give to their local church. Just something to think about. (especially since some stats show that 97% of American Christians do not tithe)

Some experts claimed that yesterday was the most depressing day of the year. Generally speaking, most say it is the third Monday after the New Year. Why? Because after taking however much time off for vacation, we're struggling to get back into the swing of work, getting kids to school, and so on, and oh yeah, that's when our credit card bills start showing up in the mail.

It's a noble goal to try to get debt free. My wife and I took the Financial Peace University classes from Dave Ramsey last year and we've weaned ourselves off of paying for everything with plastic. We have a little ways to go before being able to claim that we're debt free, but we're on our way.

This is a common resolution. But like previous days, I'm doing a play on words here with a spiritual emphasis. In this New Year, Jesus makes me debt free. He paid all my debt on the cross.

"But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." (Colossians 1:22)

"For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Romans 5:10)

Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon [the Pharisee] replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” (Luke 7:41-43)

So if one of your resolutions this year is to be debt free, praise God, you already are!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Resolution: Lose Weight

After taking a break for the holidays I'm back with a series of posts on resolutions to start the new year. Please feel free to comment and share your own resolutions for 2012. Next week, I'll get back on the saddle for my study of the book Not a Fan. For Monday's resolution, career, click here, Tuesday's resolution, eating right, click here. Please feel free to share your resolutions in the comments. There will be a post at the end of the week compiling them all.

Like most families we send out the cute family Christmas card every year. We try to look our best and somewhat festive for the holidays. Sometimes we share a collage of pictures reflecting the year. Last year I received this note in reply: "I see your family is growing up! Looks like you're growing a little around the middle too." This dear friend has known me since before I could walk. I had to laugh. But he was right. That "little" growth has continued to grow over the last year. I look at myself in the mirror now and I don't recognize that thing that is hanging over my belt just enough to bother me.

I look back and I try and figure out what's to blame. Snacking too much? Eating too much junk food and fast food? Not exercising anymore? Check, check, and check. But why are all the above true? Worry, anxiety, stress. Yes, I need to get back to healthy habits, but I can only do that if I lose the weight first.

Huh? Aren't I supposed to do all that in order to lose the weight? No, I need to lose the weight first by casting all my cares on Jesus. I need to get rid of the weight of the world I carry around on my shoulders.

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)

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Resolutions: Eating Right

After taking a break for the holidays I'm back with a series of posts on resolutions to start the new year. Please feel free to comment and share your own resolutions for 2012. Next week, I'll get back on the saddle for my study of the book Not a Fan. For Monday's resolution, career, click here. Please feel free to share your resolutions in the comments. There will be a post at the end of the week compiling them all.

I am a snack-aholic. I'm not much into sweets, but put a bag of something salty next to me and don't expect to see it again. Doritos and Cheetos are my favorite. No need for fancy flavors, the originals are just fine by me. You can leave your bags over there.

What was I saying again? Oh yeah, I love me some snacks. But the problem with snacks are they don't satisfy. I'm always left wanting more. As the Lays commercial claims, "you can't eat just one!"

I used to have some self control in this area. I'd take a Costco-sized bag of trail mix to work and it would last me a couple of months. Now it's lasting me just a few weeks. My other eating habits haven't changed. And I'm not more active to want to eat more. In fact, far from it! But the usual handful of nuts and raisins just doesn't satisfy anymore.

Jesus promised, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)

Jesus satisfies. He never leaves us wanting more. But don't we approach our spirituality like a snack? We reach for a handful when we get the craving, but we are never satisfied. I am guilty of this in my own personal Bible study. I snack on a little here and snack on a little there. And when I do sit down for a complete meal of in-depth study, I can't eat another bite. So back to snacks I go.

So another of my resolutions this year is to eat right, to stop snacking on the Word of God and devour full meals. There's already enough junk in my life, I don't need to eat more of it.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Resolutions: Career

After taking a break for the holidays I'm back with a series of posts on resolutions to start the new year. Please feel free to comment and share your own resolutions for 2012. Next week, I'll get back on the saddle for my study of the book Not a Fan.

I never thought I'd be that guy. You know, the cliche of working 80 hours a week to get ahead, sacrificing family, recreation, and everything else for the almighty dollar. It's never been about the paycheck or status for me. Yet...

I look back over my short career and I recall the call I took while in the recovery room after my daughter was born. I remember taking a call while on vacation at Disneyland. I've gone in to work Easter weekend, traveled on Thanksgiving, held meetings the Friday before Christmas. I often think more highly of myself than I ought. I've tried to create job opportunities yet have turned down actual opportunities.

On that last one, it's weird for me to think back a year ago that I actually was expecting to move and take a new job. All my "fleeces" seemed to check out. Then I interviewed. "This is not a 9-5 job," I was told. "You stay until the work is done. You will travel a lot. And it might not be the best thing for you with a young family." Gut punch. Could it be what I thought was a golden opportunity actually wasn't? So I turned it down. And the year since at work has been one challenge after another, filled with uncertainties, additional demands, and stress. A lot of stress.

But I learned something. I learned that I really have no control over my career. I strongly believe that God brought me to this job. So He's the one really in control. And the sooner I accept that, the sooner I can let go of that stress, not face the uncertainties with fear, and respond to demands with diligence and joy.

So one of my resolutions this year is to not get ahead in my career, but instead to get behind. To get behind God. Let Him lead. I work for Him after all.

"So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?" (Ecclesiastes 3:22)

"Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free." (Ephesians 6:7-8)