Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Give Until There's Nothing Left

In the penultimate chapter of Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God, Manning compares the sacrifice of Jesus as described in Paul's letter to the Philippians to Shel Siverstein's The Giving Tree.

How serendipitous to read this right before we celebrate Easter!

I'm going to jump right to his discussion questions, as that was the direction I was going to go with this post anyway...

Consider This:

Some have considered Silverstein's parable to be a story of selfishness and greed by the boy and irresponsible passivity by the tree. What do you think?

Personally, I love this story and I love to read it to my children. And every time I do I have to fight back tears by the end as I reflect on Jesus' sacrifice. Jesus, like the tree, gave until there was nothing left.

I remember reading a blog post a couple of years ago that blasted this book for the reasons above, namely the selfishness of the boy and what a bad example it sets for kids. While I understand the criticism, I never took the story as being about the boy and I make that point with my own children as I read it to them. The story is about the tree. Now is the tree irresponsible? Well that's a different question.

Our culture values hard work and self determination. We look down on those asking for handouts because they haven't earned it. From this perspective you might consider The Giving Tree as subversively socialist.

But if I change the lens to view the book through the eyes of Jesus, I don't see it that way at all. Jesus called us to love our enemies, to give our tunic if someone asks for our cloak, and that the world will know that we are his disciples by our love for one another. It is giving shade to the playful, food to the hungry, homes to the homeless, and rest for the tired. Just like the tree.

The first attitude scoffs at the panhandler begging for change at an intersection, knowing that they will only blow it on booze. The second gives anyway.

The first attitude looks down on others in need as bringing it on themselves. The second gives anyway.

The first attitude judges others based on their circumstance, the car they drive (or don't), the size of house they live in (or don't), or even the church they go to (or don't). The second gives anyway.

Now which of these attitudes is most like Jesus?

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Triumphal Entry

They huddle around one another, listening to some final words of wisdom and last-minute instructions. They may take a knee in prayer. Then together, unified, they make their triumphal entry.

It is a sports tradition as players leave the locker room to slap a sticker, logo, or saying above the door. "Pride" "Bear Down" "War Eagle" The Clemson Tigers rub "Howard's Rock" before taking the field. A simple reminder before game time.

For those in Jerusalem, they laid down palm branches for their coming King.

Epic Choke

We are in the midst of March Madness with its Cinderella stories and upsets galore. But fans' expectations are sometimes too high. Although the unpredictability is what makes the NCAA basketball tournament so exciting, we are quick to judge the losers- the team was over-rated, the coach wasn't prepared (both Minnesota and UCLA fired their coaches in the last couple of days despite having relatively successful seasons), the players were soft; or sometimes the worst insult in all of sports- they simply choked on the big stage.

Can you imagine the crowd's surprise as they heard that the Messiah was coming? People rushed out into the streets thinking, "here he comes! He's going to restore God's Kingdom! Time to show those Romans who's boss!" And as they peered over one anothers' shoulders, they saw a humble man riding a donkey.

Sure, for the educated they recalled the prophesy in Zechariah, but he still didn't look like a king ready for battle. I'm sure many doubted upon seeing him. Of course the Bible records that others responded with cheers of Hosanna in the Highest.

Can you imagine their surprise when only a few days later this king-to-be would be killed in a public spectacle?

If Facebook was around at the time I'm sure someone would have posted a picture of the crucifixion with the caption "Epic Fail" Epic would definitely be the right word to describe it; fail, not so much. What the people did not understand was that God's Kingdom involved more than Jerusalem. In fact, it involved more than the living. The Christ died only to overcome death three days later, establishing His Reign over both life and death.

We call Palm Sunday Jesus' "Triumphal Entry" but the real triumph came when Jesus died and entered the grave.

But that wasn't good enough for many fans at the time. And it's not good enough for many still today.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Furious about Radical

(I need to keep this short as I suffered an injury to my hand which makes it really hard to type. I originally wasn't going to post this week, but a couple quotes from the book jumped out at me which will help me kill two birds with one stone- or two subjects with one blog post.)

David Platt is no stranger to making waves. From stirring up trouble at the Southern Baptist Convention by calling into question the merits of the Sinners' Prayer, to the critical reaction to his first book Radical. He didn't shy away then, and he's not shying away now with his newest book, Follow Me. Since reading Radical, I have had several conversations covering the same ground as some of his critics- in general the question boils down to "how radical is radical enough?" Doctrinally, this question could be taken further asking if Platt is advocating sanctification by works. His call to "radical discipleship" makes people uncomfortable, as it should. In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Matthew Lee Anderson brings these questions to the fore. Over at The High Calling, they have been having a weekly discussion on the book, and based on the comments alone many are squirming in their seats as they read Follow Me. Other blogs hitting on this point include Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum and Skye Jethani at Out of Ur from a couple of years ago.

Wait, I thought this post was supposed to be about Brennan Manning's book The Furious Longing of God?

Well, it is. As he closes the chapter titled 'fire' Manning states, "It is natural to feel fear and insecurity when confronted with the radical demands of the Christian commitment. But enveloped in the lived truth of God's furious love, insecurity is swallowed up in the solidity of agape, and anguish and fear give way to hope and desire. The Christian becomes aware that God's appeal for unlimited generosity from His people has been preceded from His side by a limitless love, a love so intent upon a response that He has empowered us to respond through the gift of His own Spirit." (pg 119, emphasis added)

In his closing questions Manning quotes Henri Nouwen driving the point further, "When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian." (pg 121)

And on that point, I believe Platt and his critics would agree.

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Courage to be a Big Mouth

Chutzpah - supreme self-confidence, boldness, nerve, sometimes an obnoxious aggressiveness

In the eighth chapter of Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God titled 'boldness', Manning follows up this definition with a couple of examples from the book of Hebrews:

Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:16, NASB, emphasis added)

Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which he inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. (10:19-22, NASB, emphasis added)

Although the Hebrew word 'huspah', from where we get today's word chutzpah, is not the word used here (the Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the word 'bitachon') these verses do uncover an interesting word in the Greek: parresia. This word shows up a few other times in the New Testament. A sampling:
  • When they saw the courage of Peter and John... –Acts 4:13
  • ...enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. –Acts 4:28
  • ...were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. -Acts 4:31
  • Christ I could be bold and order you... – Philemon 1:8
  • I have spoken to you with great frankness... -2 Corinthians 7:4
  • In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. –Ephesians 3:12
  • ...if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. –Hebrews 3:6
  • Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. -2 Corinthians 3:12
  • He spoke plainly about this... –Mark 8:32
What is interesting is how most of these verses are about speaking out. Note the last definition of chutzpah above- obnoxious aggressiveness; in other words, having a big mouth.

Do you have a big mouth when it comes to God?

Recently in our recovery ministry someone was sharing about a business opportunity and how unnatural it was to be assertive. (Our group is as much a counseling session, if not more, as it is a sobriety program. Recovering addicts often don't have the tools to function 'normally' and confidently, so we counsel one another on life issues just as much as we help each other with addiction.) This opportunity was everything this brother had been praying for, but there was still this nagging feeling that there was a catch.

For many of us, being assertive- having chutzpah- just doesn't come naturally. In some church environments we are even made to feel guilty for not being "bold". We want to speak up, but there always seems to be an underlying fear- that there is a catch, that we won't be accepted, that maybe we just aren't good enough.

Remember Moses' whining (yes, I said whining) about not being able to speak? He lacked chutzpah.

Now me saying, "be bold!" isn't likely to change your character. In fact, this is something I continue to pray about regularly because I struggle with it as well. But there is a biblical basis for such a change in attitude: "For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)

Brennan Manning closes his chapter by asking, "What do you want? Today, right now? Boldly ask." This is a hard challenge for me. Is it for you?

Consider this:

If Jesus were to ask you, right now- what do you want?- what would you say? Seriously, what would your answer be?

Bartimaeus had to drop his security blanket. What represents security for you? How is Jesus asking you to drop it?

This post continues discussion on Brennan Manning's book, The Furious Longing of God. Please check out Jason Sasyzsen's and Sarah Salter's blogs for more discussion. The "consider this" questions come straight from the book- use them as a springboard for your own thoughts and feel free to share them here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Church or Stock Photo?

My kids are due for a checkup from the dentist. Because of changes to our insurance, this means finding a new one. Word of mouth only goes so far when many offices aren't "in network" so we have resorted to listings and reviews online.

Naturally every website has pictures of happy children flashing their whites. (Why did you have to bring race into it? Well I was talking about their teeth, but now that you mention it nearly every picture is of a perfectly groomed white child- contrary to the real demographics of our community.)Unfortunately online reviews aren't much help- one bad review out of two doesn't really tell a whole lot. So we have to rely on the flash and glam of their websites. My wife was the brave one to first make calls, ask about services, and schedule appointments so I can only speak to what she described to me. I shouldn't have been surprised, but as my wife described it- the customer service on the other end of the line seldom matched the happy faces on the websites.

So why bring up the oral hygiene of my children here on this blog? Because the experience reminds me of the extent some churches will go in order to be attractive to "customers". Currently my church is undergoing a transformation, embracing and pursuing social media. The "model" we are following is another church, admired for its size and social media ministry. And although I am excited for this new direction, I'm not all that impressed by the church we are attempting to model.

A couple of Sundays ago I watched their online service. It was flashy and polished- they literally thought of everything. No doubt we have a long way to go to match their production value, and we recognize that. But it wasn't the production or its quality that left me cold- it was the lack of authenticity. The person welcoming viewers to the online service might as well have been the model for the stock photos from the dentist office. The video playlist of announcements and events could have been an infomercial. The pastor welcoming "all of you tuning in from the Eastside campus!" acted as though he was leading a pep rally, not a church service. So by the time the actual sermon started, I wasn't interested.

There is a risk to making oneself too polished, to glossy, to the extent that you come across as unauthentic. Picture your church as the supermodel that has every imperfection airbrushed before the photo ever sees print.

James Nored, over at the Missional Outreach Network wrote a post a few weeks ago making the argument that one reason the Churches of Christ are shrinking is because our fellowship offers a "right brained service to a left brained world." His post went viral in Restoration Movement circles. I don't think he's necessarily wrong, and he admits that the Gospel can never be sacrificed for the sake of image, but there are risks. Glynn Young posted recently about his experience trying to tune in to his congregation's online service and was left disappointed, wondering what the future holds for authentic community. Not long ago my wife and I woke up early to catch an east coast feed of a sermon series covering a book we were reading. It was streamed from the camera on someone's laptop. I could barely hear the lesson, but I could hear every cough and paper rustle coming from those sitting nearby.

I don't want the airbrushed stock photo. If one of my kids needs oral surgery, the reality is that it is going to hurt. On the other hand, I want someone who is honest and gentle when doing their examinations. A glossy picture of a staff that doesn't exist cannot provide that.

The same is true of church. Jesus drew crowds because he walked among the people rather than confining himself to the pulpit. He calls us to be real with one another, to love one another, to be authentic. Online services and social media only go so far- eventually we need to interact with someone physically, to carry each others' burdens, to sharpen one another. And no matter how pretty a picture, most churches are made up of people who are real, broken, and sometimes ugly. The internet might not, but Jesus loves us that way.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Rich Fool

This wasn't really the point of yesterday's sermon, and it doesn't really tie in with this week's discussion at The High Calling on David Platt's Follow Me, but as is par for the course with my mind going a hundred different directions at once this jumped out at me and I wanted to share.

Yesterday's sermon was on greed and used the "Parable of the Rich Fool" taken from Luke 12:16-22. Reflecting back on David Platt's other books, and how we often relate to evangelism as a harvest, consider this paraphrase:

Then he told them this parable: "The church of a certain pastor yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place for all these people to meet.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my church and build a bigger one, and there everyone can meet. And I'll say to myself, "Your church is plenty big, enough to pay for itself for many years. Take it easy- make church comfortable- eat, drink, and be merry."'

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will take care of your church that you prepared for yourself? Who will take care of the fruit of your harvest?'

"This is how it will be with whoever builds a kingdom for themselves but is not rich toward God."

Friday, March 08, 2013

Flashback Friday: The Three Prongs of Evangelism

Originally posted last December, I'm reposting now inspired by recent posts over at The High Calling discussing David Platt's new book 'Follow Me' and thoughts on teaching vs grace by both James Nored at the Missional Outreach Network and K Rex Butts at Kingdom Seeking. I encourage you to check out those posts and let me know what you think as they relate to what I write about below.


The Great Commission can be divided into two parts: “make disciples” and “teaching everything [Jesus] commanded.” In other words, sharing your faith and discipling- the two pillars on which my fellowship of churches are built. Most definitions of evangelism can be summed up by these two acts of faith. However, focusing only on these two parts of the Great Commission leave out what I believe to be a third “prong” of evangelism.

In John 13 Jesus instructs his disciples, “A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (v 34-35) If our “great” commission is to make disciples, shouldn’t we be living consistent with the primary calling card of discipleship? You could extend this thought to argue that sharing your faith and discipling another are acting out in love. Of course, concern for the eternal destiny of another should be rooted in love. And discipling without love is at best legalism, at worst abuse. But love goes beyond this as John (same author, mind you) argues later: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” (1 John 3:16-18) Later in the same letter John continues, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.” (v 5:3a)

Which takes us right back to the second half of the Great Commission, to teach everything Jesus commanded. But I fear when we do so, we often restrict ourselves to Jesus’ words, unintentionally neglecting his actions. In Matthew 4, setting up the famous Sermon on the Mount, Matthew introduces Jesus’ ministry writing, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Matthew 4:23) We are familiar with the call to evangelism that comes later in Matthew 9: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.’” (v 36-37) Yet we easily overlook the “bridge” verse that precedes it. “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.” (v 35) Between these identical verses in chapters 4 and 9 is a sampling of “the day in the life…” showing Jesus doing just that- teaching, preaching, healing; the “three prongs” of evangelism.

Preaching and teaching are explicit in the Great Commission, but healing is not. Yet it is clear in the ministry of Jesus and in the example of the earliest accounts of the Church in Acts. Extending the definition of healing to include meeting material needs, we see the Peter preaching the first sermon, the fellowship of believers being “devoted… to the apostles’ teaching” and “[giving] to anyone as he had need.” The result? “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (vs 14-36, 42, 45, 47) implying that these actions were, in fact, forms of evangelism even if it doesn't follow our traditional view.

Preaching, teaching, healing- three prongs of evangelism. If we focus solely on preaching, we may grow in number but not in spiritual maturity. If we over emphasize teaching then we create a culture of academic and religious snobbery that does not grow. If all we concern ourselves with is the poor, then we are nothing more than a charity devoid of the Gospel. All three ingredients are crucial to the spiritual health and growth of the Church.

How has your approach to evangelism reflected either of these three prongs?

Monday, March 04, 2013

Crazy Radical Following

There was a brother in my fraternity in college who had a signature move. During a meeting, he'd set his chair in front of him, place one foot up on the chair, and lean over his knee shaking his head saying, "Bros, this guy just doesn't get it." Sometimes he'd affirm the positive, that someone actually did get it. And more than a dozen years later, whenever I think of someone "getting it" or not, I picture him, arms rested on his knees, serious as a heart attack.

When I first started checking out these newfangled things called "blogs" and this new website called YouTube, I encountered Paul Washer. Missionary, evangelist, status-quo shaker-upper. His videos condemning the American church (TM) floored me. And I pictured my friend saying "he gets it."

That was several years ago, and few authors/pastors/preachers have made my eyes pop out like he has since. And then I read Crazy Love. Without catching a breath, I read Radical. And again I picture my friend saying, "they get it." Roughly the same time, Francis Chan stepped down from leading his megachurch because it had become more about him and less about Jesus (how many Christian celebrities are willing to do that!?) and David Platt upset the whole Southern Baptist Convention by calling the Sinner's Prayer "witchcraft".

Trouble makers. Making the rest of us nominal Christians look bad.

Last night I was talking with a brother about how our fellowship of churches have been leapfrogged by other churches in online media, social networking, and even doctrine. This weekend I watched the live stream of the Verge Conference where Chan, Platt, and others spoke on the theme of "making disciples" and I put my foot up on a chair, leaned over my knee and told my friend that there are a lot of voices out there that get it. They are ringing a bell that we have stopped hearing because we've been ringing it so long.

I mentioned in my last post that I'm not able to get around to Platt's Follow Me or Chan's Multiply; there's just too much on my plate right now. But that doesn't mean we can't discuss it. I encourage you to head over to The High Calling and follow the discussion Laura Boggess is leading this week. These books might tell you what you already know, or you might disagree with them completely, but I believe the discussion needs to be had.

Friday, March 01, 2013

Judging the Author by the Book

A while back I was blogging through a book and someone took offense because of the author's lifestyle. The argument was that his call to discipleship was hypocritical because of the size of his house. I can't cast any stones because I don't personally know either the author nor the commenter. But it points out a fundamental challenge for any author- you become known by the words committed to the page even though there is much more to you than those words. That's one reason why blogs are so great, because you are able to catch the author in the moment, not limited to a specific subject or committed to the title of a book.

If you follow the advice to not judge a book by its cover, then do not judge the author by the book.

I humbly and regrettably admit, I'm not going to get around to reviewing either Francis Chan's Multiply or David Platt's Follow Me (which are intentionally complimentary works). There are many great reviews out there already (BibleDude for Multiply and Tim Challies for Follow Me for just a couple). But there is one review, actually a couple reviews by a single reviewer, that I want to address.

I am a big fan of Frank Viola; his teaching on the Organic Church and the Centrality of Jesus I believe are must-reads to break out of the Americanized Church. So I don't blame him for the stances he takes on both of these books. His review of Multiply is followed by a series of questions directed at Fancis Chan, warning against the legalism of the shepherding movement that is read between the lines. His review of Follow Me sounds some of the same alarms adding that the book misses the Eternal Purpose of God.

I'm not intending this to debate Frank, only to emphasize the point made above- a single book is only a limited snapshot of who the author is and just a sliver of his or her doctrine and theology.

If you read Multiply without reading Crazy Love, then you won't get an accurate measure of Chan's overwhelming love of the Almighty God. If you read Follow Me (or Radical for that matter) without listening to David Platt's sermons online, then you miss how much he is motivated by his love of the resurrected Jesus.

I just spent the last two hours listening to both Platt and Chan at the Verge Conference. Platt spent most of his time on the centrality of Jesus, and I believe Chan's Crazy Love addresses God's eternal purpose to reconcile his creation back to him. (Chan's talk expanded on Jesus' command "by this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another"- John 13:34, by noting that they saw firsthand a resurrected Jesus and how could they not have been changed by such an experience.)

If you listen to a song that you really like, you will likely check out the artist's other work- maybe log onto iTunes to listen to other songs on that album. If you like enough of them, you might buy it. If you really like the album, you might go watch them live or buy another album. You might follow them on Twitter and sign up for their fanclub.

Why should we treat the books we read any differently? Just as there's more to a band than a single song or album, there is more to an author than a single book.