How to talk about your faith… and make people WANT to know more

This guy continues to floor me with his passion, depth, and humility. Being deeply entrenched in the Bible Belt and Mega-churches for most of my life (with a brief stint as a sort of hippie) the way most people talk about faith, gets hung up on using the “right” words or checking off a list of theological truths… and honestly, there’s a bit of pressure to “win” or “convince” the other person that you are correct and they too want to be on the right side of belief and theology (and church membership and tithing).

But when I watched this short clip of Josh Garrels’ IN:5 interview, I just sat here thinking… yes.. Yes… YES… I can imagine being any random person Josh encounters as he skates through Portland, pops in and out of small coffee shops with his guitar, or as he plays with his kids and the neighbors…

He speaks in a way that draws you in. He chooses his words carefully. Speaks conversationally but confidently. There is an eagerness and healthy fear in his eyes that makes you want to know what it is he’s talking about.

I’ve been on this thought again for a while, and I’m not at all suggesting that sound theology isn’t important, BUT what I do believe is that if we truly believe and are following Christ and being changed by Him, then we’ll have more than theological formulas to sell someone or cliché Christianese… Granted, Josh is a poet and songwriter, so he has a way with words. But can we share, in our own words (and a barely containable enthusiasm in our body language) what we say is the single most important thing in our lives?

Josh Garrels IN:5 // Believe from IN:5 on Vimeo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.)

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.

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)

Book Review: Jungle Warfare

I picked this book up, being at a point in my life (like many people) where the future is uncertain as to what direction my career path will take. I also have a burden for the lack of Christian ethics in today’s business world… Cunningham does focus pretty narrowly on sales (as the title promises) as opposed to business in general, but most principles are applicable to any competitive field.

Here’s the gist: “Christopher A. Cunningham has taken a prized family gift: his grandfather’s WWII Basic Field Manual on Jungle Warfare, and adapted its rules of engagement to fit the basic needs of the Christian sales person who is on the front lines of business every day.” The book is a 22 day devotional, each day opening with an excerpt from the WWII manual, Scripture, and then a short devotion followed by a suggested prayer and a few journal questions for reflection and application. Great format – short, simple, thoughtful.

Strength: Cunningham uses tons of scripture, more than a typical devotional. I also appreciated that this book did NOT have a “prosperity” slant to it. Cunningham did not encourage people to seek favor with God in order to be “blessed” with success in sales. The emphasis was on developing Christ-like character, learning to see your business life as a major opportunity to live out your faith while being tested on many levels.

Weakness: The jungle warfare metaphor often seemed forced, the manual excerpts were simply a novel hook but often irrelevant, barely alluded to/explained. Also, the layers of metaphor often were a bit much – jungle warfare compared to sales and/or life in general, seen through a biblical lens, using scriptures that may also use metaphor or imagery. It wasn’t until day 8 that I felt there was a great synergy between those layers.

*Also, day 11 accidentally (I hope) says that “God CREATED Jesus and had a no-fail plan to share Him” (80) before time began and the that “He carefully selected Jesus, whose loyalty and integrity are unquestioned!” (81). Cunningham is a salesman, not a theologian, and this is an example of forcing the language of the metaphor in a way that Thomas Nelson should have caught as the publisher. Nowhere else does Cunningham show bad Christology. Some other statements were oversimplified or too matter-of-fact, like his 4 criteria for your prayers being in God’s will (51) or the correlation between belief and health (68) but not bad theology, so to speak; so this was an unfortunate scar on an otherwise OK book.

Overall, I appreciated it, but wasn’t blown away. It was an average book that was right on target with its intent but could have had better execution.

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.”

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.