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.

Merry Xmas from The Colbert Report

This clip from The Colbert Report owned me… “reporting” on Christmas & charity.

Colbert’s over-the-top satire speaks louder and more directly than most sermons.

Sometimes it takes a comedian to say the things the rest of us are scared to admit.

Watch it to the end and tell me his conclusion doesn’t leave your mouth wide open.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> March to Keep Fear Alive

“If this is going to be a “Christian Nation” that doesn’t help the poor
EITHER we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are
OR we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor
and serve the needy without condition…
and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

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.

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).

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

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise Video

This week’s free video on iTunes is The Avett Brothers’ Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise. (Download it here) But just like the title, the song’s video is a bit conflicted – an artistic juxtaposition…

First, let me say that The Avett Brothers put on one of the absolute BEST live shows around. My wife and I caught them this past New Year’s at The Fabulous Fox Theater in Atlanta with my good friend in life and ministry, Andy Blanks and his wife Brendt. All four of us were blown away. (I won’t detour into our people-watching adventures, but concertgoers can be ridiculous with their go-to dance moves, incoherent outbursts, and enthusiastic gestures…. head-bobbers, leg-slappers, fist-pumpers, whoopers and whistlers… and the token “i love you” guy.)

Second, I loved this video (obviously) and wanted to share it. I’m not sure if the art was done by Scott Avett or not; the painting seems to be very similar to his style (view Scott’s gallery). I can’t imagine how much time went into the production of this video. It’s over four minutes of stop-motion style animation with a painting, probably done digitally (like that iPad artist using the brushes app), and it looks awesome.

BUT, with the countless thoughts running through my head as my imagination was lead along this painted journey, I was left impressed by two things:

1. I love the Book of Ecclesiastes, and this video reminded me of the futility of man’s great achievements and the natural cycle of this world. There is nothing new under the sun. There are seasons, highs and lows. Ultimately, everything man does will be stripped away, returning to dust, only for the next guy to come along with the same  great “new” idea. So there has to be a greater purpose than living for the so-called success and progress depicted in this video. We can’t depend on the things of this world, especially material things, to find meaning and satisfaction. (Which is their point, I believe.)

2. I was distracted by the video to the point of missing many of the lyrics (which as a writer, is one of my favorite things about The Avett Brothers). Ironically, the other theme seemed to be intentionally inserted in the middle of the video. At one point the sign is surrounded by the noise of competing signs. I say this is ironic because it seemed to unintentionally speak to the video as a whole, the noise of the medium drowning out the message. This made me wonder about life, leadership, ministry, writing, teaching, and communication in general… how often does the message get lost in the delivery? Does the creative presentation draw too much attention onto itself? Do the two work together or do they compete? Even if the creativity, production quality, and message are all incredible, is it cohesive? Is there synergy?

If there is a greater purpose and meaning in life (which I believe there is) then I want to be able to clearly communicate that in everything I do. Sometimes that means knowing when to reel a great idea in to better suit the content.

I Don’t Want My Life To Matter Anymore…

No, seriously. For so long, I have wanted my life to matter. In particular, I wanted it to matter for the sake of Christ and His kingdom. It sounds noble. Recently, I have had countless conversations with friends for whom this burning desire has become less of a motivation and more of a burden. We feel trapped in ordinary lives, longing for the great adventure of surrender and sacrifice for the glory of God in all nations. But the trouble is, it isn’t because we’re lazy and not doing anything, there is simply this invisible weight that our lives are not significant enough. We’re not living the epic tales that great novels and movies are made out of…

But a few weeks ago, the same time I had my Radical Confession (see earlier post if you are curious), I believe God gave me a simple, yet profound (for me at least) shift in my perspective. It has transformed the way I see life.

Before: “I want my life to matter for the sake of God’s glory and people around me.”

After: “I want God’s glory to matter in the lives of people around me.”

It’s more than mere semantics. The shift removes “my life” from the desire. My attention is no longer on myself. The very way that my life will matter is by focusing exclusively on helping others see God’s glory. I want Him to matter in the lives of people around the world, across the street, and in my own home.

That’s it.

My life isn’t about me. It’s about Him. I want Him to matter. period.

I don’t want my life to matter anymore.

What’s My “Cupcake”?

I was sitting in Starbucks this morning, reading Isaiah, and couldn’t help but overhear the conversation across from me. A suburban mom was meeting with her young personal trainer or some sort (super-cool young kid, with his Vibram 5-finger shoes… you know the ones with the toes in them… and tight t-shirt to properly display “the gun show” as Ron Burgandy would say).

With great enthusiasm he worked formulas, explaining grams and kilograms of what to eat and when as well as what amount of activity should be implemented at what intervals… blah blah blah… He never held her full attention during the conversation – she was texting and repeatedly getting up for napkins, etc. BUT then the barista gave away some free cupcakes which had tipped over, smashing the icing on top. The trainer instinctively snatched up the freebie without a second thought, much to my amusement. (No young guy passes up free food, even if he is a health nut.) He then proceeded to walk through calorie counts and whatnot while dangling his goodie bag as he spoke, literally. He held it in the air, with his elbow propped up on his knee between his notebook and the woman’s line of sight. Her eyes were hopelessly transfixed on the imperfect treat she had reluctantly declined from the trendy Starbucks employee… poor lady could have swam laps in the pool accumulating around her ankles as her mouth watered. She never blinked. If staring contests were an Olympic sport she’d have broken the world record this morning.

The scene obviously made me laugh, pondering the discrepancy between what this young man was “preaching” and what he was “practicing”… Who’s going to listen to the fitness guru telling you to count your calories as he munches on a cupcake?

On further reflection, I wondered how I was just like this hypocritical trainer – knowing all the information, speaking passionately about it, even looking the part, but unwittingly flaunting a temptation. Or how am I even like the half-hearted woman – committing to do the right things, going through the routines because it’s the right thing to do, but I sure don’t really care about it? I’d prefer to have my cake and eat it too, but i’ll practice self-control much to my own dismay.

In light of Isaiah 1:11-18, I wondered: What is MY cupcake?

What sin am I completely blind to? Am I flaunting it? Am I obsessed with it? Is it a distraction in my own life or do I even know that I’m holding onto this temptation, distracting others instead and ruining my own credibility?

Am I the hypocritical trainer? Am I the half-hearted trainee?

What in my life doesn’t lineup with the faith I claim? Has my worship and righteousness become a matter of empty-religious routine which God (and the world) wants nothing to do with, because it rings hollow of true conviction?

it would be super-cliche’ to conclude with : “food for thought”  but…

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.