Memorable, Creative, Low-Budget Sermon Ideas

PROOF that effective communication and creativity don’t require huge budgets – just great ideas. Don’t think these are great? Ask yourself this: How many sermon illustrations do you remember? How many do you remember from 5 or 10 years ago? How many do you know from a church you’ve probably never visited or maybe even heard of? How many could you not wait to share with a friend (or someone couldn’t wait to share with you)? Years later… we’re still talking about these.

Here’s all 4 classic “Jesus Videos” from Vintage 21 Church – These came up in our small group last night as we began studying the Gospel of Mark – the discussion and these videos (from a 2003 sermon series) dealt with our misconceptions of Jesus and what it means to be a disciple…

If these offend you, you’re either missing the point or simply not the intended audience, the rest of us can laugh at the creativity in shedding light on our own issues (the joke is not on Jesus – it is on our own hang-ups) These still own me.

And one more video – after thinking about the “stickiness” of the Jesus Videos, the only other sermon illustration as memorable (but more powerful and worshipful) was also a super-low-budget idea in creative communication. Unlike Vintage 21’s Jesus Videos, this idea was copied by countless churches.

I’m also honored to say that Pastor Tommy Politz and his wife, Donna, are old friends of the family. I remember getting to the end of this video several years ago (2008), teary eyed, and then saying “That’s Tommy!” I hadn’t seen him since he moved to Texas to pastor Hillside. (Also the worship band sang John Mark McMillan’s “How He Loves” – a song which changed the worship “scene”)

An Impossible Challenge: $1 for 1 Day

Today is World Poverty Day. Surely you’ve heard by now statistics like “Over 1.25 BILLION people in the world live on less than $1 a day.” Yes… that’s Billion, with a “B.”

I wanted to challenge myself and friends to get through the day on only $1 per day… to try and identify with brothers and sisters in Christ around the world suffering extreme poverty… But it’s impossible. It is simply impossible to even force yourself into that kind of poverty as an experiment in empathy…

Here’s what I mean: Have you ever let yourself identify with that harsh reality? Not just in a “poor them” kind of sympathy, but really try to imagine that bare bones existence?

  • To be honest, if you happen to see this via twitter, tumblr, or facebook, then you’ve probably already exceeded your daily allowance – what we spend on the cheapest data plan for cell phones or internet service at home is close to, if not more than, $1 per day…
  • Imagine all of your utilities are free – electricity, water, sewer (forget about TV, netflix, DVR, etc)…
  • Imagine the cost to get to work or school is free – car payment, gas money, insurance, tag fees, transportation fees…
  • While we’re at it and since we’ve mentioned a place to live, work, and get an education, imagine all of those things are free too – mortgage or rent, tuition and fees, any qualifications or even basic wardrobe and hygiene needed to be employable (let alone successful)…
  • Imagine your health needs – insurance, medications, vitamins, even something as simple as clean water… not just branded and from a bottle, but from the tap… that’s all free too…
  • And we haven’t even mentioned FOOD…not just $1 item on a “value meal” but food for the whole day every day.

We can’t even pick ONE of those things and try to manage $1 a day in ONE category! And even if all of those things were “free,” (which is the best we can imagine, since we can’t escape these obligations to banks, service providers, and employers for the day… we can’t unlearn our education or undo the physical and mental development resulting from a lifetime of proper nutrition and basic healthcare.) we still can barely stretch our imaginations to picture only $1 a day left to live on for everything else…

So, again, It’s only 8am and as I drink my second cup of coffee, finish a quick blog post on my laptop after reflecting on my daily reading I downloaded from my church’s website and a tweet about #WorldPovertyDay from my smart phone… I realize I CAN’T imagine life on $1 a day… I can’t even fake it…

It’s simply impossible to fathom… it’s a tragic injustice… in light of all the buzz lately about “Occupy Wall Street” and everywhere else… people bent out of shape about the obscene gap between the 1% and the 99%… Let’s stop focusing on ourselves “deserving more” and remember that well over a Billion people live on less that $1 a day and that pretty much anyone in the U.S. already has more than 80-90% of the world’s population – an obscene gap exists between our daily reality, no matter how budget-conscious, and the struggle for survival of Billions of people on this planet who happened to be born at a different latitude and longitude than we did…

This isn’t about feeling guilty about what we have – it’s about doing something about the fact that so many people DON’T have. It’s not about “UNDOING” something temporarily in our lives – it’s about DOING something for the sake of eternity in other people’s lives.

I can’t even imagine…

But I know something has to be done.

Being Right. (an iota of difference?)

I haven’t blogged in quite a while… I’ll be turning this site into a portfolio and future blog posts will be on my new tumblr (you can comment on this post here, since I can’t get my wordpress comments working…

2 Tweets this morning finally pushed me over the edge in something I’ve been rolling around in my heart and mind lately…

1. Rob Bell is moving to LA to write a new show for ABC with LOST’s exec-producer (link from @jonacuff http://www.jonacuff.com/stuffchristianslike/2011/09/sclq-new-show-from-rob-bell-exec-producer-of-lost/ )

2. T.D. Jakes was invited to the next Elephant Room (link from @challies http://www.challies.com/articles/macdonald-jakes-the-elephant-in-the-room )

Now I’m NOT saying I do not personally hold the orthodox view on Heaven, Hell, or the Trinity… I do. And I’m NOT saying the church shouldn’t guard orthodoxy and hold Christian leaders, especially Pastors, to a higher standard…

BUT my question is: WHAT MUST A PERSON BELIEVE TO BE A CHRISTIAN? TO BE SAVED? TO BE PART OF THE CHURCH AND FELLOWSHIP AS A BROTHER OR SISTER IN CHRIST?

Now, I can certainly see biblical arguments for the above hot topics, but is there a biblical justification for not being sure about eternal hell or how the mystery of the trinity works being worthy of declaring someone “not a Christian”? (Again, I am fully aware of Church history, creeds and councils, and these things making “an iota of difference”… a little seminary trivia… homo- vs homoi- )

I grew up a mega-church staff kid and realized that without being told so, per se, my understanding was that a person must be “right” about certain things in order to go to heaven and really love Jesus, otherwise being wrong meant you were going to hell and didn’t really love Jesus. (and being “right” naturally meant being in agreement with me/my denomination/church) The kicker was that those non-negotiables were NOT directly about faith in Jesus… they were things like baptism, maybe even communion, and the end times/eternity, for example…

This has been especially difficult, even in my own church, as my 5 yr-old daughter voluntarily prayed a beautiful prayer of repentance and lordship and desperately wants a personal relationship with Jesus, but I was plagued by doubts of whether she would be deemed “legit” and worthy of the baptism she also desires… This is heartbreaking and tragic. Like I felt pressure to not allow my daughter to follow Christ, falling in love with Him because I was worried that even though she could answer all the questions “right”, maybe she didn’t REALLY understand everything “right.”

Has “being right” been elevated over “being in love” and “having faith”?

Free e-Publishing (issuu & Tony Morgan)

At the turn of the year, I was able to help develop a website for LAUNCH, a new church-planting and leadership development network. Check out my earlier post here. Tony Morgan is part of the leadership team for LAUNCH and Pastor of Ministries at West Ridge Church (out of which LAUNCH was birthed). But you may know him best as a consultant and guru of all things practical in church-world. If you follow Tony Morgan Live, you know that this week he released another free eBook (short, practical, biblical resource). You can preview it right here, or jump over to issuu to download Big Churches Getting Bigger along with his other eBooks (The New Traditional Church, and Developing a Theology of Leadership) and a virtually endless world of eBooks, eMags, etc. If you want to share resources, publications, or information, issuu is an unparallelled tool/community. So if you’re not familiar with issuu.com, drop what you’re doing and explore it now. (I, for one, am in love with the possibilities…)

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)

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…

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)

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.