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.

Jesus. Twitter. and The Way.

As I’m wrapping up our new small group & retreat curriculum for Student Life/NavPress, I’ve been reflecting on my own spiritual journey. The Way of Christ doesn’t leave any room for straddling the fence. There is no middle ground.

If I’m honest, I sometimes treat following Christ a lot like I would treat following someone on Twitter (if I had a Twitter account). It is enough for me to simply have regular updates of what He said. That is often the extent of our relationship. I “know Him” and “follow Him” because I have read something He said that day…

But if His words aren’t changing my life. If I’m not being transformed, I’m treating Scripture like a profound tweet or status update. Am I habitually looking to His Word? But more than that, am I responding to it. Is it changing me? Transforming me? Moving me into action.

It’s not enough to merely know what He said. It’s not enough to say I believe it. I have to live for it.

Take 3 minutes and to watch this clip of Francis Chan talking about the “new middle road” many of us try to walk…  somewhere between the narrow and broad path Christ describes in Matthew 7:13-14.

(Video clip from the RightNow Conference – a great ministry to mobilize and equip church leaders)

I’m A Trader

Brain Mosley and the crew over at BluefishTV and the Right Now Campaign created this video to explain their vision and purpose as an organization and as individuals… They shared it at last weekend’s Right Now Conference.

This is my heart exactly. If you’re reading/watching this, then you know this is my passion. I simply wanted to share this reminder that we live for greater things than this world could ever offer. (I’ve been thinking a lot about my own future and this was a great reminder as to what truly matters in life!) I want to live each day for the sake of eternity. I want my family, friends, community, and world to be passionate about Christ and His kingdom. Call it Radical. Normal. Trader. Or whatever you have been calling it. It’s time to get real and get serious about what we say we believe. Let’s take God at His Word. God is doing great things with His Church – I believe it.

I’m a trader.

Are you?

Lesson From Bobby

I’m not Mr. Baseball. I love a good game as much as the next guy, but I don’t keep stats or fantasy teams. Most of my friends are those guys. So I’ll leave the sentimental sports talk to them.

Moving to Atlanta in 1990 meant that I arrived right as Bobby Cox was turning the Braves into an unprecedented powerhouse. A dynasty of excellence. 14 consecutive division titles. A friend of mine posted this link today, reminiscing the incredible career and legacy or Bobby Cox. You don’t have to be a big sports fan to be stirred up by the passion of athletes or coaches. Besides his sheer longevity, one thing really struck me.

What I have been realizing over the past couple of years about my hope for ministry and management – a great rule of thumb – is summed up in Bobby’s leadership philosophy:

“You try to let the players play the game themselves instead of you being responsible.”

(4:25 in the video)       Watch MLB’s Salute to Bobby Cox here

Surround yourself with great people. People you respect. People you believe in. Then trust them. Trust the people you live with, work with, manage, serve, or pastor. They are gifted with unique abilities. Let them do what they do best. Your role may simply be to know who to call on and when. Empower them to have fun and work hard and everyone wins.

Shim it?

So, recently I’ve realized that it’s OK to admit that I don’t know what people are talking about and ask “stupid” questions. It’s been a major break though for me. I know, it should be obvious, but for me, this has been a big deal.

My recent exchange with Home Depot’s salesman in the door isle opened my eyes to a couple of things. 1 – it helped me laugh at my own hesitation to ask questions. 2 – it sparked a spiritual reflection (big shocker, right?)

ME: “So to install this entry door, I just pop the old one out and slide this one in?”

HD: “Yeah, you just slide it in, shim it, put the molding around it…”

ME: “SHIM IT?”

HD: “Yeah, real simple, just shim it.”

ME: “I’m sorry – what does it mean to shim something?”

HD: “You center it with a shim.”

ME: (laughing) “So… I still don’t know what a shim is whether you use it as a noun or as a verb…”

HD: “It’s a wooden wedge. A piece used to fill the gaps.”

ME: “Got it. Thanks.”

How many times do we as Christ-followers, ministers, leaders, or as organizations, churches, and ministries have “shimmy” communication? Are we using language that is meaningless to our audience – even in one-on-one conversation? We think we’re explaining simple truths (and we may be) but we’re using a vocabulary that has no context in their daily life.

I’m not suggesting that we dumb anything down, but we should be aware of what we’re assuming is common knowledge. This is the key – NOTHING IS COMMON KNOWLEDGE. At least not in terms of discipleship.

Don’t let people feel dumb and walk away intimidated, never intending to pursue this “Jesus thing” any further simply because you spoke to them in a way that made them feel inferior or at least like an outsider. Obviously the Holy spirit is ultimately the One opening people’s hearts and minds to the truth of the gospel, but as Christ-followers, we should be making disciples everywhere we go. (Matt 28:19-20) This means explaining and modeling truth in a way that helps people each step along the way.

Playing. The Race Card.

Pretty Fly For A White Guy. I drew a couple stares as I cruised down Project Road on my borrowed ride – a tricked out, stretch, low-rider bicycle.

“You wanna race?” had been the initial challenge from a young boy who had been watching from the playground as my friends and I built a shelter to provide him and his friends some shade from the brutal Alabama sun. I wondered if I was being set up but agreed to play along.

“That one doesn’t have brakes” was the warning tossed over my  opponent’s shoulder as the fat rear tires of our choppers gripped the asphalt.

This can’t end well. I’ll be a spectacle. Soon, I was barreling down a narrow concrete path encircling the public basketball court. My bike rattled violently down the steep hill towards a creek and bridge. The jagged teeth of the low metal pedals sparked with even the slightest lean to one side or the other. No brakes. But I was winning “the race.”

Miraculously, I looped back to the safety of Kids First Awareness, the community center and after school outreach program we were serving that day. The other guys were wrapping up a few other odd jobs, showing a few of the local teenagers how to use power tools. Our hope was to use the construction to establish a shared experience with the kids in the area instead of just swooping in and giving something to them.

That Saturday morning our small group was taking the first steps to intentionally build relationships with the neighbors in this particular housing project. When praying about where to move several months ago, Amanda and I felt our hearts pulled to Alabaster, knowing that it was a city of extremely diverse socio-economic status, having several government housing projects and trailer communities surrounded by traditional subdivisions and residential areas.

This particular area in the community off of hwy 11 has a reputation as one of the roughest spots in the county. Last year, while I was on the grand jury for a week, I saw this reality quite clearly. The DA fondly referred to it as the crack capitol of Shelby County, clarifying that most drugs in the area come through this section of housing. The level of crime is unmistakably higher in the stretch between I-65 and Hwy 31. A classic example of “wrong side of the tracks” (Ballantrae Golf Course and other beautiful subdivisions are literally on the other side of the bridge down 11).

I really wanted to see God work in the lives of these kids and was honestly a little self-conscious, prayerfully considering how to navigate racial and economic barriers. I’d been seeking discernment on how to initiate conversations. Turned out that race played a big part of the experience. Just not like I expected. The color of our skin was not a barrier – a simple race through the streets and fast-paced competition on the basketball courts had brought us all together. We played several rounds of “Shoot-Out” (admittedly the only ways this 30 year old white guy had any prayer of being able to hang on a basketball court with teenagers in the projects – I won’t lie, I was sacred of being schooled in an actual pick-up game.).

Playing. Races. Games.

Playing had brought us together. The spirit of friendly competition had leveled the playing field, so-to-speak, bringing us together in a way that friendships could begin more naturally than could random conversations. It was a neutral realm – an intermediary in this new friendship, one that erased any other distinctions. We were teammates and competitors.

This is going to be more fun than I realized. I’m excited to see how these new relationships will develop through regular time with my new friends (and what they will teach me about life and God).

Church “Branding”?

The term church branding may seem like a jarring blend of two worlds which don’t ever need to meet. “That’s what’s wrong with church culture today – commercialization,” you may think. True, selling out and bowing to the business idols of numerical and financial success is a major problem with the American church model, BUT branding can actually be part of the remedy. Too many churches and ministries suffer from a lack of clear identity, purpose, and voice… (aka branding). Without a clear brand, leaders and members alike are left wavering between what seems meaningful or appropriate in the moment. Measures of impact are unclear and therefore default to tangibles like statistics rather than intangibles like life-change. I’ve seen over and over that good intentions are simply not enough.

Your brand is everything associated with your image – everything communicated, intentionally or not. It is perception – understanding or misunderstanding of who you are and what you stand for. It’s not only what you say you believe, but more significantly, it is what people say and believe about you. If your brand is one of little or no value, pertinence, or credibility, then what you believe is irrelevant to the very people you’re trying to reach.  So, what is being communicated? How aware are you of your own image? Are you shaping your own brand?

I wanted to share a blog post from my friends at DC (Details Communication). This is one of the projects I’ve been working on lately for a church in Houston, TX – Copperfield Church’s new website. Brian’s entry is a great explanation and illustration of how a church’s “brand” is more than mere marketing to attract newbies or relay info to members.

This has been an exciting new venture for me in helping a church cast vision and rally their community with purpose – namely missional living.

Click the link below for the DC blog post on the philosophy and strategy behind church branding (Copperfield Church’s in particular) and one of the best church websites I’ve ever seen (DC’s creative director, Graham Yelton is a rock star). Check it out here: THE BEFORE AND AFTER OF A REJUVENATED BRAND

Here’s a sneak peak of Copperfield’s new look – Check out their new site next month (launching September 2010) at coppefieldchurch.org

Do.Dah.Dippity. (Does the Church have Soul?)

Am I the only one? Every time I pull up next to a Kia Soul at a red light or driving down the road, part of me expects to see Hamsters listening to hip-hop. There, I said it. Everything inside me tries not to look. My eyes are laser-focused straight ahead and my hands grip 10 and 2 on the steering wheel… but eventually I peek. And much to my disappointment and relief, it’s never a hoodied hamster. (yet another example of a wildly successful yet miserable failure of communication and branding)

Now, here’s what I wonder. As the (American) Church, have we invested so much of our time trying to project an image to the world (attractive, cool, relevant, friendly, even fun) that people are confused, surprised, or even disappointed when we try to be real?

Is there an identity crisis for people “inside” and “outside” of the Church as to what exactly we are supposed to be and do?

When the rubber hits the road (excuse the cheesy cliche’) has the American Church become a fad or series of fads with no true identity? Is it merely a string of failed or moderately successful marketing campaigns? Does anyone know what a life in community as God’s people even looks like? Is anyone interested in the real deal once they get past the initial hype?

Is the mantra of post-modern church culture: “You can go with this. Or you can go with that.” Do. Dah. Dippity.

Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media

As I’m getting into this blog now for multiple reasons, primarily to provide an outlet and exercise that keeps writing fun and to keep my mind focused on the various messages swirling around us, I realize that there are certain principles to keep in mind, particularly for business/ministry (and if writing is my business/ministry, then I need to pay attention to these ideas).

Also, I’ve begun working with churches and ministries who are trying to figure out this social media thing, so here are some great tips below. Enjoy.

Do's and Don'ts of Social Media for Business
Via: The Steel Method

Jonah and the 4th of July

Taylor Robinson, a great friend of mine, helped out with a song during worship on the 4th of July. (Check out the 10 minute mark.) Sure, it may look like what some of you may expect from a church in Alabama, but it was a great time. Imagine A Boy Named Sue version of the story of Jonah in an Oh Brother Where Art Thou? fashion… if that makes sense. The message was a challenging look at the all too familiar story of Jonah. (NOT your typical 4th of July message.)

Fish Food <— Nobody saw this coming…

I always get a little anxious around the 4th of July when it comes to how churches will acknowledge the day, especially with it falling on Sunday this year. Over the past 5-10 years, I have honestly had growing discomfort with the blurred lines (if any line at all) between American and Christian values and the place patriotism has in the church. Sunday morning (this video) was a great balance of fun and celebration, while both respecting our nation and calling God’s people to remember that our allegiance lies with and our freedom comes from a King and Kingdom that is not of this world… and His mission is to reach the nations… all of them…. with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

July 4, 2010  ::  Fish Food and the Fourth of July ::  The Church At Brook Hills  ::  David Platt

My Radical Confession

WARNING: Radical living can easily get off track and run away from you if you’re not careful! Like a freight train… both figuratively and literally… everything in our lives was rattled. (I’ll explain in a minute.)

Radical by David Platt from Taylor Robinson on Vimeo.

This draft has been hanging out for a month now. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to confess the inner struggle I wrestled during a time of transition in our lives. I knew the point I wanted to share but wasn’t sure exactly how to share it. If by chance anyone happened upon this post, my hope was that it would be a reminder and encouragement of a very obvious and simple truth…

My wife and I, along with several close friends, had been on a personal journey over the past several years. It began with a look at how we “did church” and soon everything in our lives was being reexamined in light of Scripture. We were learning to take greater and greater steps of faith and sacrifice in order to follow Christ in obedience. We called it “Normal” because it was the life God originally designed for His people. David Platt’s book and our new church family calls this being “Radical” because it appears to be extreme even by the standards of contemporary American Christianity. (same point basically, opposite play on words.) For us, “normal” began as a retreat for our student ministry, then another and another and it began to take on a new life redefining our ministry and our lives according to God’s Word, living in a way that took God at His Word. I’ll save those details for another time; my point is not to feel justified, in fact that is the very struggle!

I’m truly grateful to have been a part of the creation of the small group bible study for David Platt’s first book: Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream. But here’s the crazy thing: I was going insane with wondering if my family and I “looked” Radical enough! As we sold our home the same month the book released, we had been praying about where God wanted us to move in order to love our neighbors and make room for the family we believe he had called us to have. (We had outgrown our garden home as our third daughter arrived and believed that adoption was a part of the picture someday as well.) Our plans changed from the area with great schools closer to my office to an area where we felt God wanted us for some reason.

But I was almost frustrated with God. If I was willing to move anywhere, foregoing the “smart” move up the suburban ladder, why did we feel drawn to another suburb? Why not somewhere of more obvious need? (Like the inner city area where many families from the church were moving.) Then I began to feel guilty about moving to a bigger house – not huge, just a full size home instead of a garden home. I began to run through the list of things like the housing market crash, and things for this particular area like less-preferable schools, higher crime rate, diverse income levels, and proximity to trains making the house so affordable. I felt like I needed to explain to the world, namely my friends, coworkers, family members, and church members that I wasn’t a hypocrite! I still loved Jesus and was still Radical even though I just bought a bigger house… Our move was in obedience and faith. It was in steps to use our home as a ministry point among our neighbors and growing family. I had been completely at peace with a decision made with much prayer, but was suddenly second-guessing it all, completely riddled with guilt, because of a concern for not setting a good enough example of being Radical. I didn’t want the American Dream! Was I getting sucked in unknowingly? Or was the irony that it was easy to become prideful in appearing to be Radical instead? Was my pride not in my possessions but in my sacrifices? Was anything bigger or more comfortable selfish, no matter what? (Do you see the mental struggle and faith-crisis?) I don’t think I was alone in this…

My eyes were bloodshot from worry and sleepless nights adjusting to freight trains howling like ghostly stampedes of midnight cattle knocking down the gates of hell. I rocked thoughtfully in a chair on the front porch of my house that literally has a picket fence when it hit me….

I hadn’t been spending real time in God’s Word lately. I was drained spiritually. I had recently been so caught up in steps of faith and obedience and sacrifice that I had lost the motivation behind them. This is exactly the opposite of what a life of faith (and David’s book, Radical) is all about. I had been doing my daily readings through the Bible (part of the Radical Experiment) but it was more to check it off the list. I was burnt out from work and the pace of life lately. We wholeheartedly believe in living sacrificially and intentionally to make the most of the gospel, but if we’re not spending quality time in Scripture, we begin to strive for those same goals now with human strength and ambition.

When not rooted in time in God’s Word, the motivation becomes less about passion and more about guilt or obligation. Obviously. But this is my confession. As a Christ-follower (and ironically as a writer for the Radical Bible Study), my life had hit a dry spot and I had run out of steam… I unknowingly had jumped tracks and was driven by guilt and the appearance (maybe even pride) of being Radical.

Some have even challenged or attacked Radical for setting people up for legalism or an unsustainable lifestyle. This is an easy excuse to dismiss the challenging truth within the book, but it is simply not true. It is, however, an easy trap to fall into when we slip in our own weakness, relying on our own strength. The book isn’t wrong. The lifestyle isn’t wrong. The motivation simply has to be passion for God’s glory. Passion has to be nurtured. (Radical even says all of this explicitly, that’s why this is my own embarrassing confession!)

If I’m going to follow Christ for the glory of God among all people, I have to be spending time with Him. Obviously.

If I want to live in the middle of His will, I can’t question whether or not it is extreme enough or not, I simply have to be obedient and intentional in surrendering each day to be used for His glory. Obviously.

God help me stay in your Word and in walk in your will. No matter what the cost or how it looks to anyone else. Help me hold everything with open hands and give without second guessing. Help me walk without wavering or stumbling. Help me trust you completely and joyfully. Stir up passion and drown out guilt and pride. I want to make much of you with my life.

Gospel Grains with Alton Brown

My parents told me about this intro to a message at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. Alton Brown, who is a member of their church, set up Bryant’s sermon with a look at how a common loaf of bread would be made during the time of Christ. Two things impressed me about this video.

1. I found it really interesting (It’s just like a mini-episode of Good Eats) – a great example of both providing relevant cultural context in a sermon AND an example of doing things with excellence.

2. I thought it was great that Alton Brown used his platform and gifts to contribute to the ministry of his church. What a great example of everyone using their talents and passions for the sake of the gospel. Enjoy the video.

Gospel Grains – Sermon Intro from Johnson Ferry on Vimeo.

Grateful for Duane’s Dark Star 40 Years Later

As sort of a test post to get this blog started, I think I’ll pay tribute to February 11, 1970.

40 years ago today was one of the greatest gatherings in American musical history… At the legendary Fillmore East, Duane Allman made a surprise appearance late in the Grateful Dead’s second set during Dark Star. Jerry hadn’t even told the band that Duane would be joining them. The result was a once-in-a-lifetime experience of spontaneous interplay between two of the most unique minds to ever play a guitar… (I still remember exactly where I was the first time I heard a tape of this night… yeah, remember cassettes…)

I won’t hype it up because if you don’t care, you won’t care no matter what I say (ask my wife) and if you do care, it also doesn’t matter what I say… you just want to hear it for yourself. So I’ve embedded a free streaming mp3 of the historical moment where Duane Allman joins the Grateful Dead, brilliantly complementing Jerry Garcia’s style on Dark Star. They wander into Spanish Jam during which Gregg Allman jumps into the mix. From behind the organ, he and Pigpen swap vocals back and forth during Lovelight and Phil Lesh finally passes the bass duties to Berry Oakley so he can just step back and soak it all in… so if you care to do the same, here it is… enjoy. (I am.)

mp3 :: Dark Star > Spanish Jam > Lovelight :: Duane Allman + the Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead + The Allman Brothers :: Live at Fillmore East 2-11-70

Now, from what I understand, a worthwhile blog has a focus or a point… I won’t pretend to be someone who can blog about writing, music, culture, leadership, ministry, or humor regularly. BUT I do see the world through a lens in which everything speaks on a spiritual level. There is a metaphor, spiritual truth, or lesson in everything… So instead of just talk about what I like or think, if something interests me, I’ll try to show how everything in life “teaches” us something. Everything speaks if we’ll listen.

So from the late greats Duane and Jerry here, I think we can learn three simple lessons:

1. Always be open to what the moment may bring. It may not be what you are used to, what you had planned on and anticipated. It may be different. It may not even be better, but if we are always open to the leading of what God may want to do in the moment, we will experience some incredible moments of once-in-a-lifetime, spontaneous displays of His mind-blowing power, creativity, and wonder.

2. Be open to new people. Most of us, and if we’re honest most churches, youth groups, small groups, etc are tight little circles in which it is often hard for others to break into. As Christ-followers we should always be welcoming others to join the experience, inviting them to a life of shared community. You never know who may be there on any given moment and what unique dimension they may add to God’s work and to the enjoyment of your own experience.

3. Be open to letting other people take the lead. No matter who you are or how “good” you may be at something, let other people have turns leading. The collective ownership will strengthen the experience for everyone. There is a time and place for leading and a time for playing a supporting role. Sometimes you may just need to step back and be in awe of what is happening and how others are being used in new ways.