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”?

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)

Miscommunication

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

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

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

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

Us: WHAT?!?!?!

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

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

(Thanks Orthodox, Bible-Believing Church)

 

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

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

Adalyn: “I think God killed them.”

Us: WHAT?!?!?

Adalyn: “Or maybe they just died.”

(Thanks Christian Preschool)

 

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

Me: WHAT?!?!?!?

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

(Thanks Educational Programming)

 

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

So is what you mean to say clear?

Radical Together: THE GOAL IS CHRIST

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

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

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

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…

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?

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.

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).

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.

Book Review: The Flowering Cross

Right before Easter I read The Flowering Cross by Beth Ryan to my daughters (4 and 2 years old). They loved the book, easily identifying with the little girl in the story. When Katie (the main character) was encouraged to love her neighbor (Papa Jack), an old man experienced the wonder of child-like faith and encountered the beauty of a risen Savior. It’s hard to beat that message, right?

As a parent, I loved the teachable moments/suggested spiritual truths to discuss with your child (Faith Imprint) although I would recommend highlighting different points over several reads since there are so many. Second, I loved the overall theme of the book. My daughters were provided a clear example of how to love people who may not seem lovable. So, as a way to spend quality time instilling biblical truth in your children, this book is wonderful. However, as a story, it reads very choppy and is more about loving your neighbor than about Easter. Honestly, there were moments when I thought I had skipped some pages. Beth Ryan’s The Flowering Cross is written so that each page presents a spiritual truth. Again, this enables great teachable moments (which are most valuable) but not a smooth read from page to page as a story (which young children won’t mind).

OVERALL: GREAT TEACHABLE MOMENTS, CHOPPY READ

I review for BookSneeze Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as  part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”