Freebies: Matt Jackson & Catalyst (no relation)

There are so many great free resources up for grabs right now that I thought I’d share a few…

The Healer from Matt Jackson on Vimeo.

First, this is seriously good (and gets better with each track – the last two being flat-out incredible). Birmingham’s own Matt Jackson is giving away downloads of his new EP (and you can pre-order the vinyl). Further evidence that great things are happening in the world of Christian songwriting. Think Indie-Rock meets Southern-Gospel (complete with horn section as the killer album art suggests). Not only is this quality songwriting, it was mixed by Grammy-winner Darrell Thorp (If you’ve heard the last several albums from Paul McCartney, Beck, Radiohead, or Thom Yorke, then you’re familiar with his work… yeah, he’s the real deal.) Musically, this album sounds nothing like any of those (that would be impossible), but the quality is that caliber. So go get Matt Jackson’s new EP and spread the word at iammattjackson.com

Also, Catalyst is giving away tons of free stuff just for signing up for info about Catalyst in Atlanta (October 5-7), including ebooks (Veneer, Gracenomics, more), music (Thad Cokrell, Seryn, Gungor, John Mark McMillan, Aaron Ivey, Aaron Keys, Lecrae, Sleeping at Last… more), and their “best of” from past speakers (Andy Stanley, Bill Hybels, Don Miller, John Maxwell, more)… too much to name, but some stuff worth checking out… seriously it’s a ton of stuff. And if you’ve never been to a Catalyst leadership event… it’s quite an experience. Think about it.

Do We Appeal to the Flesh in Faith? (Francis Chan)

Francis Chan takes a break during his video shoot with BluefishTV to share his reflections on the intense faith and sacrificial life of Believers. Take a minute to consider God’s call on His Church around the world and in America. Is there any difference in what is expected of people in the West and in the Rest?
Is your faith real?
Is it intensely distinct?
Are you different from the world around you?

Check out another great video moment with Chan at the RightNow conference, speaking on the “New Middle Way” (And if you’re not familiar with BluefishTV and RightNow check out this video)

Yep. It’s a Book About Books (Besides the Bible)

Read any good books lately? Something you’d call a must for someone’s summer reading list, vacation book, or bucket list reading? Besides the Bible is a new book making its case for the 100 most significant books shaping Christian culture. Sure, you have classic Christian masterpieces like Dante’s Inferno, but it’s not just “Christian” books – it’s everything from Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree to The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I’m intrigued. And this is a time I really wished my comments were working… I’d love to know what everyone is reading/recommends.

Click here for the official site or check it further (and maybe pick it up) at Amazon.

Never Been Alive (Words Do Matter)

The Saturday following the tornado outbreaks, The Avett Brothers lifted spirits in Birmingham, AL, doing what they do best: playing to a packed house. My family (and most of my county: Shelby) was fortunate enough to be spared from the swath of devastation that plowed through Alabama. It was a hard day of cleanup (I didn’t realize how sore I’d be from using a chainsaw all day or how how many massive bruises would mysteriously appear afterwards – guess it goes with the territory of being a 30+ yr-old who works from home) and the need was and remains to be overwhelming (another post on that thought coming soon). The show was full of standards, plus a few gifts, but the whole set list seemed to be intentional – the already deeply personal lyrics resonated in a new way that night.

The opening line of the show was: “Disappear from your hometown, go and find the people that you know…” followed by a chorus that has helped me with several life-decisions lately: “So when you run make sure you run, to something and not away from…” (Weight of Lies). The chorus of a newer song echoed: “If I live the life I’m given, then I won’t be scared to die…” (The Once and Future Carpenter). And the encore left us with two simple truths: “Don’t worry with all of my belongings… Always remember there is nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name…” (Murder in the City) and “God only knows. God makes his plan. The information’s unavailable to the mortal man. We’re working our jobs. Collect our pay. Believe we’re gliding down the highway when in fact we’re slip slidin’ away…” (Slip Slidin’ Away – Paul Simon cover) Finally, one last song from the middle of the concert. I simply wanted to share the lyrics of a rare, yet-to-be-recorded song performed that night. It too seemed particularly meaningful in the wake of recent events…

“Never Been Alive”

Money won’t do the trick… but it will help
To open the doors we need it to… to help someone else

Still we won’t need it, to turn things around

I’ve never been alive, like I am now

You need only tell me… when you’re under the gun
If you need someone to lend a hand… consider it done

But still you won’t need me, to turn things around

I’ve never been alive, like I am now

And even though they didn’t close with “Salvation Song” as I had secretly hoped, the sentiment rang true:

“And I would give up everything, if you were to come up clean
And see you shine so bright in a world of woe
And they may pay us off in fame, but that is not why we came
And if it compromises truth then we will go

We came for salvation
We came for family
We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away
We came to break the bad
We came to cheer the sad
We came to leave behind the world a better way…”

Easter Sunday: Skeleton Bones

HE IS ALIVE!

The resurrection is not just a historical fact, theological truth, or future promise. It is a present reality. It is more than mere doctrine, it is definitive. This is the core of our life as a Christ-followers: New Life. Abundant and Eternal.

We worship the resurrected Son of God. And He has breathed His immortal Spirit into our mortal bodies. By His shed blood, the dead have been granted life. The sinful has been made holy. His love is our heart beat. We live on every word that proceeds from His mouth. Live in this power and freedom as you worship your risen King today!

“Skeleton Bones”

Peel back our ribs again
and stand inside of our chest.
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

Peel back the veil of time
And let us see You with our naked eyes
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

We want your blood to flow inside our body
We want your wind inside our lungs
We just wanna’ love you
We just wanna’ love you

Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
And gravestones roll
To the rhythm of the sound of you
Skeleton bones stand at the sound of eternity
On the lips of the found
So separate those doors
And let the son of resurrection in.

Oh let us adore the
Son of Glory drenched in love
Open up your gates before him
Crown Him, stand Him up

Saturday: Closer

“God is dead.” Nietzsche penned his infamous 3-word sentence almost 130 years ago. What he meant was that religious belief in God no longer had a place in society – we didn’t need Him anymore. Or at least, mankind did not live in recognition of a God from whom absolute morality and justice was found. Look at his words:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us?”

The irony, we know, is that while it is true that mankind largely lives as if God does not exist, or at least as if He does not have authority and power in our lives and the world, we need Him desperately. Though not as he meant it, Nietzsche’s words ring partially true of the Christian faith and of this holy weekend. He did not remain dead, but in some divine mystery, God became flesh and willingly died at the hands of sinful men. The Creator was murdered by His creation. What on earth is man capable of doing to make right this unthinkable sin of killing God metaphorically, but even more so of killing Him literally?

Nothing. There is nothing we can do.

It hit me a few years ago, that between Good Friday and Easter Sunday exists 24 hours of Saturday. For one day, Jesus lay in that tomb. The stone had not yet been rolled away. God… was… dead… Not in every sense, don’t get bent out of shape theologically if that sounds blasphemous to you. What I mean is simply this: Can you wrap you heart and mind around the historical fact that on Saturday, following the crucifixion, Jesus the one and only holy begotten Son of God was dead. Man had literally killed the divine: Jesus being fully God and fully man… Dead.

And there was no hope for anyone. What was a sacrificial death on the cross without the resurrection?

It is the Light breaking forth on Sunday that is our hope. It is by the power of His resurrection in us that we too experience newness of life. If the story ended with the cross and the tomb and a stone rolled over it, we would have merely sealed our own damned fate – eternally guilty of not only rebelling against God, but murdering His own Son. By His grace alone did He overcome the world and give us hope of redemption.

Don’t rush from the cross to the empty tomb. Meditate today on the fact that Jesus laid in the tomb, His body lifeless, as He waged war on sin and death. Yes, we know that tomorrow is coming. But today, the shadow of death was darkest as Christ was lain in a tomb, wrapped in grave clothes, and sealed in the earth by stone, guarded by Roman soldiers.

We need more than philosophy, science, morality, inspiration, or even religion. Today, we need a God who is real. A God who not only loved us enough to endure the cross on Friday and conquer the grave on Sunday, but to lay in that grave, burying our sins on Saturday – forever removing Death’s sting.

There is nothing we could do to ever draw closer to the God we have sinned against. We are helpless. We are forever in debt to sin unless our ransom is paid. But by His grace, He came to us, not just as the promised Messiah, but through the power of His Spirit, revealed in the gospel and received by faith. We have been set free. And we owe Him the very lives He has given to us!

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
(James 4:8-10 ESV)

“Closer”

Come closer, closer to me.
Find me broken, find me bleedin’
cause I need more now than a fairy tale,
a god who lives in a book.
I need someone real.

So would you come?
Would you come?
If i begged you, would you come closer to me now?

Come closer, closer to me.
Find me broken, find me on my knees,
cause I need more now than philosophy.
Some god in outer space doesn’t mean anything to me.

So would you come?
Would you come?
If I begged you, would you come closer to me now?
Would you come?
Would you come?
If i begged you, would you come closer to me now?

Son of David, do not pass me by,
cause I am naked,
I’m poor and I’m blind.
Son of david, don’t pass me by,
cause I am naked,
I’m poor and I’m blind.

Good Friday: Death In His Grave

Death In His Grave Performance from Christopher & Nathaniel Calnin on Vimeo.

I’m especially excited about this Good Friday. Amanda and I are meeting her brother and his girlfriend for Secret Church tonight at Brook Hills. What an incredible time to focus on Crucifixion, Salvation, and the Glory of God. Intense time in God’s Word and in prayer for the persecuted Church around the world.

My prayer is that the suffering, salvation, and sanctification of Christ becomes deeply personal today as we reflect on the work of Christ for the glory of God. (Read Luke’s account of Friday’s historical events here.)

*Check out John Mark McMillan’s blog for yesterday’s line-by-line commentary on today’s song.

“Death In His Grave”

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

Maundy Thursday: How He Loves

So, it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I knew what “Maundy” Thursday even meant. It comes from the Latin word for “Commandment.” So Commandment Thursday…. What is that all about? And what does it have to do with Easter Week? (Maybe you already know this – but it was a big deal for me.)

On the day before His crucifixion, Jesus met one last time with His disciples. As they celebrated the Passover at this “Last Supper,” Jesus said to His disciples: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)

The world should see the love of Christ in our lives as His disciples. That’s how they’ll know we follow Him. Not because we go to church on Sundays (or at least on Easter). Love. The Way Christ loved us. That’s what we should be known for. Deep. Passionate. Love for God and for each other. Is this what it means for us today to be a disciple, a follower of Christ? If we’ve turned it into anything else, I pray that this Easter weekend, we let Christ redirect our hearts’ desire.

A few weeks ago, we saw John Mark McMillan at Vinyl – a small bar venue in Atlanta, GA. The worship of our Resurrected Savior was undeniable. And I’m sure the bartenders had never experienced anything like the raucous praise filling the dark room and pouring out onto West Peachtree Street… flooding downtown with the love of Christ.

So for the next few days I wanted to post a video and lyrics from John Mark McMillan that fit the events of this Easter Weekend. What better way to kick things off than with:

“How He Loves”

He is jealous for me
Loves like a hurricane
I am a tree
Bending beneath
The weight of his wind and mercy
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these
Afflictions eclipsed by glory
And I realize how beautiful you are
And how great your afflictions for me

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh how

We are his portion
And he is our prize
Drawn to redemption by the grace in his eyes
If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking
So heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss
And my heart burns violently inside of my chest
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way
He loves us

Oh how he loves us so
Oh how he loves us
How he loves us so

Yea He loves us
Oh

Miscommunication

Wow. What a Sunday. Ever wonder if what people hear is in no way what you’re saying? I’ve wondered this a lot lately as I’ve read various blogs and forums of people “hearing/reading” all kinds of different things from the same writer/pastor (including my own). How do some people hear the opposite of what someone else hears? This is critical question to ask as communicators, leaders, disciple-makers… Though we are not responsible for what people do with our message, we are stewards of that message – how we deliver it is important. So, we need to keep our finger on the pulse of what is heard, not just what we’re saying. It’s easy to get defensive or dismissive. But our goal is to communicate, not just write/speak.

Here are a few funny examples of gross misunderstandings from my family afternoon (Me, my wife, and our three crazy daughters):

Us: “What did you learn today in your class?”

Ella (3): “Jesus did not die on the cross.”

Us: WHAT?!?!?!

Ella: “The teacher was wrong. He said ‘Let my people go’ but the bad man said ‘no, no, no!'”

* I’m guessing one teacher said something along the lines of “today we’ll probably talk about how Jesus died on the cross…” But another teacher said “No, today’s Bible story is Exodus.” OR maybe even an attempt to explain that Jesus did not stay dead after the cross – He rose again on Easter. (???)

(Thanks Orthodox, Bible-Believing Church)

 

Later, Adalyn (5): “Dinosaurs lived a long time before people.”

Us: That’s right, what else do you know about dinosaurs?”

Adalyn: “I think God killed them.”

Us: WHAT?!?!?

Adalyn: “Or maybe they just died.”

(Thanks Christian Preschool)

 

Ella: “Yeah, like Curious George had blood in his eyes and mouth and people were dancing on his body.”

Me: WHAT?!?!?!?

Amanda: “Oh gosh. Yeah, you mean on PBS when they showed the cartoon about how your bodies work when George was sick and they imagined that they went inside his body to see everything and were dancing around with good blood cells and bad germs?”

(Thanks Educational Programming)

 

Closing example. While we were at Dairy Queen, eating our kiddie cones, I noticed this sign. Again, two completely opposite meanings could be conveyed from this overly simple graphic. Is this a kid running TO Friendly McHugger or FROM Scary McGrabber? Either way I understand that this is a safe place, but what is on that disturbing sign?

So is what you mean to say clear?

Radical Together: THE GOAL IS CHRIST

This is worth spending our lives on. This goal. This God.

David’s second book is about to release:
Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of God

For anyone who has misunderstood or worried that others might misunderstand where David / Radical is “coming from,” (you can read my own confession and watch the video for the first book here) watch this video from Taylor Robinson @ SixFootFive Productions. I think this should not only clear up any confusion, but hopefully stir up your passion to see disciples made of all nations. (And speaking of, be on the look out for some great stuff from DMI/disciple-making international… more on that soon.)

Church Planting

Over Christmas break, I had the honor of being a very small part of a bigger movement of church planting – something I’m deeply passionate about. If you know me, you know that for a couple of years we prayed earnestly about if and where God may be leading our family and some close friends (the Mitchell family) to plant a church… or more specifically, hopefully spark a network of multiplying house churches. After trips to a couple of cities and much prayer, fasting, and research, God made it clear that at the very least, it was not the right time. (For now, God has called me to write and to assist other churches and ministries in that capacity, so that is what I did here – help create the content for a website designed for churches, church planters, and ministry leaders.) But the desire to see churches reproduce is a deep part of me now.

That past experience opened my eyes to the harsh realities of church planting, even in a culture that is not hostile as many countries or even regions often are to the gospel. It is a tremendous sacrifice and step of faith, one for which a man and his family should be as thoroughly equipped as possible. The sad fact is that many, if not most, church plants flounder or fail within a few years. As a staff member of a young church plant myself for several years, I saw firsthand how practical leadership issues can be a struggle when wanting to focus on the urgent needs of ministry in the “real world” instead of on paper (the models and diagrams and vision statements we’ve created).

Not that solid theology, Spirit-lead faith, biblical teaching, and meeting people’s needs should not be the foundations for any church, certainly those are a given. But how do you continue to do that with integrity – how can you be faithful and seek longevity, enduring to the end, finishing the race, walking in a manner worthy of the gospel? God entrusts churches with the gospel of Christ and with the souls of His children. So why are so many ministers and church planters ill-prepared in the practical aspects of leadership if that is what they wholeheartedly believe God has called them to do? The wheels can fall off without integrity in leadership. It’s a shame and an offense to God, I believe.

Now you may or may not agree on the importance of leadership, but even so, there can be no denying this other harsh reality to which my eyes were opened: The vast majority of churches are not reproducing new churches. Biblicaly speaking, the church is a body (1 Cor. 12, Eph. 4) and bodies naturally reproduce (Gen 1:28). Everything in nature reproduces. In overly-simplified terms, if not maturing toward reproduction, an organism has gone over the curve and is now on the descent toward death. You just don’t see any biblical precedent for churches or Christ-followers not being about the business of making-disciples and spreading the gospel. You don’t see a “come be one of us” mentality in the New Testament. You see in Acts 6 the first church delegate leadership responsibility in practical matters so that the Word of God would not be neglected and as a result the gospel advanced, spreading throughout Jerusalem. Those leaders then took the gospel, beginning in Acts 8, and were preaching and reproducing churches beyond Jerusalem after being scattered from persecution. This was the initial stages of fulfilling Christ’s command to reproduce, making disciples throughout the world (Matt. 28:19-20). But this command has not yet been fulfilled. It is still our task.

So, why are most churches (85%) not reproducing? Why are we hoarding our resources in finances, in church leadership experience, in biblical wisdom, and most importantly in the gospel of Jesus Christ? Why not multiply and reproduce, scattering rather than gathering unto ourselves? This is what Mac Lake, Brian Bloye, and Tony Morgan from West Ridge Church (Atlanta, Georgia) have been asking…. and doing. Their relatively young church has planted 50 churches in the last 6 years and has now stepped up their commitment to church planting by partnering with others through LAUNCH – a new network designed to build relationships among church-planting churches and new planters. The strategy is to mentor young men and provide ongoing training and accountability in a holistic approach to church leadership, recognizing both the spiritual and practical dynamics of ministry demands).

I just wanted to get the word out in a very small way (not that anybody reads this blog) and also ask the question to anyone who may actually find this post: Are you reproducing the gospel in the lives of people around you? Is your church reproducing? What will you do to advance the gospel personally and with your own church body?

Are we the eternal exception?

It hit me this morning. I was reminded that the so-called “problem” we as humans have with the idea of hell is not as issue with the following objections:

A. It is not because we have a problem with believing that eternal justice should exist and that evil and injustice need eternally rectified. We believe deeply that justice should be served and evil should be punished and discouraged.

B. It is not because we have a problem with recognizing serious and even deadly and destructive consequences for certain choices, actions, lifestyles, or words and beliefs. We are logical, scientific, cause-and-effect people. And if not we’re spiritual or mystical or aware of nature. Call it fate, destiny, energy, sovereignty, order, natural law… There’s an action and reaction – always.

C. It is not because we have a problem with love and wrath coexisting, even in deity. Love is not apathy. It is not absent of respect and protection. Deep love will always have fierce protection for and sacrifice for the object of affection. No loving parent would not discipline a child. No loving spouse would condone rampant disloyalty from a spouse, and certainly wouldn’t tolerate attack against the life of a spouse, child, or loved one.

Our problem is that we don’t believe any of this applies to us, personally. We don’t believe that we are evil or deserving of punishment. We don’t believe justice is due at our expense, only our benefit. We don’t believe that our choices, actions, lifestyles, words or beliefs deserve consequences (only blessing). And it is because we don’t want to come face to face with the wrath of God, so we deem it unloving, like my pouting preschooler who insists “you don’t love me,” when she’s in trouble. We don’t recognize that sin in any form is spiritual adultery, a deadly addiction, a poisonous cancer to be removed and destroyed, and violent rebellion against a heavenly Father who will do anything to protect His family.

Our problem is not with hell or with God. Our problem is believing that we should be the exception. Other people surely deserve hell – the tyrants and monsters of world history (even modern history). Maybe even some terrible people by whom we’ve been offended or hurt deeply. But not us. And the best way to ensure that we don’t experience the reality of hell and God’s wrath toward sin, is to close our eyes and pretend it doesn’t exist.

We don’t like the “doctrine” of hell because in order to talk about hell and salvation from it, we must also stare in the mirror of the gospel that says we are sinful and under God’s just and loving wrath without the loving grace He has provided in the sacrifice of His own Son, Jesus Christ. We don’t like hell because we have to admit that we could deserve it.

It’s not that we don’t want a loving God.

It’s that we are too in love with ourselves.

The Mission Book

I came across this site today built by my friends at DC for The Upstream Collective. Very simple idea: Create a website (that looks awesome) where people can share brief stories as missionaries and/or people living on mission to spread the gospel. Once enough stories have been collected, produce an eBook… The Mission Book.

A couple of heavyweights whose books on missional and house church planting movements helped shape my view of ministry, Alan Hirsch and Ed Stetzer, kick off the story time. Just pick a book from the virtual shelf or use the arrows to move to the next story. Great use of technology to gather information for the sake of transformation. I hope this site is a great encouragement to disciple-makers around the world… and that the stories keep spreading (to spread the glory of Christ in every nation).

So whatever you do. Do it for the sake of the gospel. Use your gifts and sphere of influence to make disciples and encourage other disciple-makers.

Click the image below to jump over to their site and start reading…

Get it Together… Piper v. Bell’s Ill Communication

GET IT FOR FREE – DOWNLOAD THE AUDIOBOOK.

Jesus: The Only Way to God (Must you hear the gospel to be saved?) is available as a free download from ChristianAudio.com through the end of the month. This bonus download from John Piper is an explicit response to the Love Wins controversy (we won’t rehash that again).

The audiobook is in addition to the month’s free audiobook download: R.C. Sproul’s classic: The Holiness of God. If you’re into audiobooks (perfect for commutes to work or travel) then I’d recommend staying on top of the monthly offering from Christian Audio – the past several months have included: John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life, Let the Nations Be Glad and Jerry Bridges’ The Pursuit of Holiness. You can also grab sermons and other freebies (not to mention just about everything for purchase too) – I recently picked up Tim Keller’s The Reason for God lectures from The Veritas Forum (another great resource to check out).

 

SISU = “Stubborn Guts” in Finnish

That’s your foreign language lesson for the day. How many Finnish words do you know? Probably one. Now.

I can’t remember the last time I was so floored artistically and uplifted spiritually as when I was introduced to the music of Josh Garrels. Truly unique, but the best I could put it is think: the surprisingly rich soul of Paolo Nutini or Alexi Murdoch, the beautiful realism of John Mark McMillan or Ben Harper, an occasional bend toward the eclectic hip hop of Citizen Cope, the haunting atmosphere of Sufjan Stevens or Gungor, and the middle eastern Mumford & Sons collaboration… all infused with a heavy dose of Holy Spirit. Did you follow that? Josh Garrels takes it to church. I want to see and feel and love Christ the way this guy so clearly does in his music. I want to know this deep kinship with martyrs and our brothers and sisters around the world.

Mason Jar Music Presents… Josh Garrels from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

Below are some links to freebies to get you started (including the song “SISU” which was too interesting a title to pass up) and if you like him… or love him… support what he does and buy something and spread the word – fresh, artistic and worshipful music that flows from and into a realm that is anything but mainstream and stale.

Go to his site joshgarrels.com to hear more, download free mp3s (click on the harmonica), link to his vimeo account and check out his store. *UPDATE: GET HIS NEW ALBUM FREE*

Click here to download a free concert from the Relevant Magazine Podcast.

Helluva Brouhaha: Devil’s Advocate or Ally?

This week’s controversy over Rob Bell’s latest “teaching” has caused a virtual firestorm. No, not a new nooma video. A promo video for his forthcoming book: Love Wins. Before jumping on the heresy bandwagon without having even read the book (though let’s be honest, he does seem to be pretty clear about where he is going with this book) I want to pray that he is playing devil’s advocate and giving voice to the apparent paradox of a loving God and the reality of judgment in hell. My hope is that by stirring up such controversy that people both inside and outside of the faith will seek out the truth… hopefully in what Bell has to say (that he says the Bible has to say) about the true message of love, salvation through faith in Christ, the gracious character of God, and the reality of eternity. Perhaps, he’s willing to take the heat temporarily in order to open new eyes (and old eyes) to the reality of eternity… Lets hope. And either way, let’s seize this opportunity to springboard from this hot topic (no pun intended) into the Good News of an orthodox gospel. Let’s share the love of Christ, found in His life, death and resurrection, glorifying God and saving man from himself (not from God).

Ironically, I’ve been talking to my dad lately about our own increased awareness and sense of urgency concerning the reality of hell. He just finished teaching a series in his church. I’ve been working on a post for another blog (that post may or may not ever see the light of day now that it could seem reactionary) concerning the apparent lack of belief in the reality of hell among the church in America – if the gravity of eternal judgment gripped us as Christ-followers, it would radically change our lives. Not only our personal view of holiness, but our sense of urgency in taking the gospel to all nations – people both near and far – should be given the urgent priority it deserves. Im’ not talking hellfire and brimstone, scaring people into surrender. Not wanting to go to hell is not the same as following Christ in faith… it is still selfish ultimately. But we can square the holy judgment and, yes, wrath of God as part of what makes His grace such good news!  They are all good and loving, ultimately.

At the very least, it’s a great reminder of the power of words, questions, and what we communicate without coming right out and “saying” anything… And we are all accountable for every word that comes from our mouth, blog, book, video… you get the idea.

His official Vimeo account is embedded below:

LOVE WINS. from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

Unstoppable

A year late to the game, I know, but Saturday night my wife and I finally watched The Book of Eli. It was, of course, inspiring me while Amanda was asking: “Why don’t they have any soap?” Denzel Washington’s character was unstoppable – he knew his mission was to take the Word of God to the other side of the post-apocalyptic landscape, walking by faith and not by sight through a scorched earth full of violent opposition. Eli knew that despite the countless forces of evil at play, nothing could stop his advancement until he  reached the people on the other side of his world who were in need of the truth, hope, and life found in the Bible. Success was not determined by safety – he was constantly in danger (though wise enough to not intentionally endanger himself in a way that would distract from his mission). Success came with great sacrifice.

The next morning, I got a double-dose of Acts 4-8. Here’s the short of it. That movie plot, minus the machetes and shotguns hopefully, is our mission too. David reminded The Church at Brook Hills (again) that the purpose of our lives is to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. Period. All other “good things” are valued only “so that” we are able to make disciples of all nations. Success will come at great sacrifice. It is certainly no guarantee of safety. BUT when this is the purpose of our lives, WE CAN NOT BE STOPPED. Because this is God’s purpose and God can’t be stopped.

Nothing else matters.

Are we making disciples as we go? Are we walking by faith and not by sight? Are we laser-focused on taking the Good News of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth – no matter what the personal cost? Do we value the Word of God? Is it hidden in our hearts and treasured above our own lives?

A Call for more Creative Extremists

Living in Birmingham, I felt a particular interest in reading Dr. King’s 1963 Letter From a Birmingham Jail this morning. Our pastor, Dr. David Platt, read a portion yesterday at church, so I looked it up and thought I’d share some excerpts here. (I know it’s much longer than a usual post, but I felt it was worth it.) We know it is still true that “eleven o’clock Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week.” Let’s not pretend that racism is a problem dealt with in the (not-so-distant) past. And on a broader scale, injustice and indifference still chisel the hardened features of our surrounding landscape. But I thank God that the church is finally waking up, breaking free from the chains of the status quo and from the fear of being nonconformists as King put it… I hope his letter below stirs a fresh resolve in your own spirit to do something about whatever you know needs to be done.

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?”

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour.

Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Published in:
King, Martin Luther Jr. “Letter from the Birmingham jail.” In Why We Can’t Wait, ed. Martin Luther King, Jr., 77-
100, 1963.