Sunday, April 30, 2006

Donald Miller's Problems With the Church

I finished Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller tonight. It is a fantastic book to provoke thought and challenge you, as well as to give you insight into what is important. But the review will come later. I wanted to list and comment on what Miller says are his problems with almost every church he has been to. To give a little bit of background, Miller grew up Baptist and at a time, walked away from the faith. He has sense come back to Christ and now writes and speaks to churches and colleges. Here are what he says are his 3 major problems with the church:

1. "I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus."

"[Preachers] were always pointing out the benefits of the Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It's not that there aren't benefits, there are, but did they have to talk about spirituality like it's a vacuum cleaner? I never felt like Jesus was a product. I wanted Him to be a person." Pg 131

I think Miller makes a great point here. I believe that evangelism is a major part of the role of us as Christians, but we must always be careful not to come across as salesmen. We do not share the Gospel to get another notch in our belt. I fear that many people have felt used by Christians in the past because of this salesmen mentality. What are your thoughts.

2. "They seemed to be parrots for the Republican Party."

"Do we have to tow the party line on every single issue? Are the Republicans perfect? I just felt like to be part of the family, I had to think George W. Bush was Jesus. And I didn't." Pg 131

I am a pretty strong Republican, but I have to say that I agree on this too. I think we often make being a Christian synonymous with being a Republican. I think there are some major problems with the Democratic Party, but with the Republican Party as well. I think we should be Christians first, deep thinkers second, and political proponents last. I hesitate advocating activism, because I think a Republican and Democrat should be able to worship next to one another in the same body of believers and call each other "brother." In our current state of political polarization, I'm not sure that is possible.

3. They continually used "War metaphor."

"The churches I attended would embrace war metaphor. They would talk about how we are in a battle, and I agreed with them, only they wouldn't clarify that we were battling poverty and hate and injustice and pride and the powers of darkness. They left us thinking that our war was against liberals and homosexuals. Their teaching would have me believe I was the good person in the world and the liberals were the bad people in the world. Jesus taught that we were all bad and He is good, and He wants to rescue us because there is a war going on and we are hostages in that war." Pg 132

Again, interesting point. I think that we need to be very careful not to alienate people, as Miller alludes to. I think we should be speaking the truth about issues and what the Bible says about them, but I think when we start accusing (which is the Devil's job), we lose our love. We must always be for the liberals, the hippies, the homosexuals etc. even though we are against some liberal ideas, homosexuality etc. We must value people as Jesus did, and sadly, we cannot hold a candle to the way Jesus loved. Tax collectors. Prostitutes. Drunkards. He loved them all. Let us love like Jesus loved. To paraphrase Rick Warren, I want to be known by what I am for, not by what I am against.

There you go. I have given you plenty of ammunition to use against me. Fire away. What do you think about Miller's (and my) critiques?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Stewardship of Influence and Affluence, Part 2

Continuing in communicating the message that Rick Warren shared last week on being good stewards of what God gave you, here is part 2. This one has to do with the influence side of of the conversation. What does God want you to do with the influence you have? Warren shares that as a farm boy from a town of 500 people, he was never a big deal. When The Purpose Driven Life became a best seller, however, Warren became an celebrity overight, which he didn't want. He shares that he at first would turn down the interviews that he would be offered by national news magazines and not accept the speaking invitations he would get from major universities, because he did not want to be a celebrity. But God led him to search the scriptures for wisdom on this issue of his new found influence. This is what he found.

Warren comments on Psalm 72, a Psalm of Solomon. At the time, Solomon was the wisest, richest, most powerful man in the world. Yet, he essentially says in Psalm 72 that he wants more power. It becomes clear, though, shortly into the Psalm, why Solomon wants the power. It is so he can more effectively "judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice," (vs 2) and "defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy" (vs 4). In the end, Warren concludes that "The purpose of influence is to speak up for those who have no influence." Orphans. Widows. The poor. The broken. He began to do everything he could to be a voice for this very group.

If you have influence, use it. Put your influence to work for the Kingdom of God. Speak up for those who have no voice. Defend the afflicted with your power. I communicate this message regularly to the students that I pastor. Some of them are very popular, and I regularly encourage them to use their popularity to include and befriend those who are not included and have no friends. I believe that by and large we do a poor job of this as Christains. If Jesus lived today, he would be much more concerned with the broken and downtrodden than we are in our churches.

So, what do you think of Warren's definition and analysis of influence? The next part will talk about the 5 Global Giants that Rick Warren is dedicating his life to slaying. Until then, comment on influence in the Bible and in our culture.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Here is a quote from a book I'm reading. This quote is an amazing thought. It seems as one of those things that I have always known, but was never able to articulate. I believe that this is an accurate diagnosis of the muck in which we live in our world, particularly in the youth culture. Check it out and let me know what you think.

I was wondering the other day, why it is that we turn pop-figures into idols? I have a theory, of course. I think we have this need to be cool, that there is this undercurrent in society that says some people are cool and some people aren’t. And it is very, very important that we are cool. So, when we find somebody who is cool on television or on the radio, we associate ourselves with this person to feel valid ourselves. And the problem I have with this is that we rarely know what the person believes whom we are associating ourselves with. The problem with this is that it indicates there is less value in what people believe, what they stand for; it only matters that they are cool. In other words, who cares what I believe about life, I only care that I am cool. Because in the end, the undercurrent running through culture is not giving people value based upon what they believe and what they are doing to aide society, the undercurrent is deciding their value based upon whether or not they are cool.

By Donald Miller in Blue Like Jazz pg 105

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Stewardship of Influence and Affluence, Part 1

I just got home from a leadership meeting that was amazing. We watched a video of a message by Rick Warren that he delivered at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit in 2005. I have gone to a satellite broadcast of this in years past, but Angela and I were on our honeymoon during this one (I don't regret missing!!!). I encourage all of you to attend the Willow Creek Leadership Summit at a satellite location near you. You will find it is one of the best training seminars around.

Getting back to the issue at hand, Warren did a fantastic job. His message was touching, heartfelt, thought provoking, and completely relevant. My respect for Warren greatly increased after hearing this message. It inspired me so much that I thought I would do a several part series on different points he made. Warren talks about how God took something very simple, The Purpose Driven Life, and made it into the best selling American book of all time. This brought in ridiculous amounts (millions) of money (Affluence) and took a small farm boy from a town of 500 people and made him into a celebrity (Influence). Warren shares the story of how he came to deal with these two huge issues; issues that changed his life. Now, Warren is talking on the macro-scale, but I think we who are on the micro-scale can glean from this wisdom as well. Rick and his wife made five decisions in response to the increase in finances. Here they are, with my commentary:

1. "Our Lifestyle Will Not Change"

Rick and his life decided that even though millions of dollars were pouring in, they felt that they should not change their lifestyle from what is was before all of money and fame arrose, which we would probably call middle class. They still live in the same house they lived in 25 years ago when they started the church in their basement. Rick mentioned that he only owns 2 suits. Their lifestyle did not change. Amazing! I am not sure if I could do that. Honestly, if money was pouring in faster than I could spend it, I would be tempted to spend a lot of it on "stuff." I'd want a better car and a nice house and a boat etc. But I think they were wise to do what they did. This helps them guard against materialism, in a consumer driven age where it is so prevalent. How is your financial lifestyle reflecting God?

2. "We Will Stop Taking a Salary from the Church"

In order to better serve his body, the local church that he was called to, he no longer accepts any salary from Saddleback Community church. Amazing! A person sure has to have their priorities strait, their heart in the right place, their call secure if they will work for free. I would love to be able to do that. What a great act of love in this day in age.

3. "We Will Pay Back All of the Salary we have Taken from the Church Since we Started"

I know, it is crazy. Rick mentioned that one of the most common criticisms he heard of pastors was that they were all in it for the money. So, in response, he paid back his combined salary from 25 years of service. This touches my heart in an amazing way.

4. "We Will Start 3 Foundations to Help Others"

The 3 they started were The Mercy Foundation, which is to help stop the AIDS epidemic, Equipping the Church, which helps small churches who cannot pay a pastor, and the Global Peace Fund. Rick commented that if we are to truly be like Jesus, we must be exemplary givers. In what ways are you giving?

5. "We Will Reverse Tithe"

Rick and his wife felt God calling them to give 90% of their income away and live on only 10%. Again, this is to ensure that materialism never creeps in and their hearts are always focused on the mission at hand.

Is your financial life in order? It is one of the most accurate ways to tell how committed a person is, particularly in America. How has our culture become so amazingly materialistic in such a short amount of time? I'd appreciate your thoughts on this. Nonetheless, I think the Warrens are great examples of how we should live. That is not to say we all need to reverse tithe etc., but it is not hard to tell where their priorities are when looking at their life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Closer Look at Acts: Part 3, Overcoming Conflict

As I continue to peruse the commentary I have mentioned several times here, I will share again an interesting insight about the book of Acts, as reported by Dr. Wave Nunnally.

This week we look at another theme that runs through the book of Acts: The Holy Spirit Overcoming All Conflict. Conflict in the book of Acts is remarkably common, and it can be broken down into two categories: Internal Conflict and External Conflict. The message is that the power of the Holy spirit is "more than capable of overcoming every form of adversity from within the church and resistance from the outside world." Allow me to make a few comments about each.

I will start with Internal Conflict. Can you imagine any church having conflict from within? Okay, I admit it is a no brainer. The first century church certainly did. A great example of this is the story of Annanias and Sapphira (5:1-11). You know the story...the couple sells some property and donates some of the proceeds to the church and keeps some back for themselves, but they claim they gave it all to the church. For some reason our excuse making sides come out when we hear this story and we think "Well, they gave money to the church, what was the big deal?" However, you could classify this sin as lying, cheating, stealing or as all three. The Holy spirit overcomes this conflict in an unusual way...He strikes them both down dead. This is an extreme example, but it certainly is an example of internal conflict...and I bet people did not lie about their offerings anymore. Other examples of internal conflict in the book of Acts include the widows being overlooked during meal times (6:1-7), Peter being criticized for entering the house of a Gentile (11:2), and the council at Jerusalem (15:1-31) among others. The common thread...The Holy Spirit allows the church to overcome the obstacles every time.

There is also plenty of examples of the Holy Spirit overcoming External Conflict as well. External conflict is an everyday occurrence in the book of Acts. Peter and John go on trial before the Sanhedrin (4:1-31). Stephen is put on trial and stoned (7:1-60). Paul is kicked out of cities, stoned, and left for dead (14:19-20). External conflict was not scarce in the first century church. This happens today too...but seldom in America compared to other countries. In the little bit of traveling I have done, I have seen and heard of the church in certain countries persecuted more than we can imagine. The last I heard, the top four most persecuted churches (in no particular order) were Laos, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we cannot forget our brothers and sisters representing Christ in these nations. I think the persecution of Christians in America is going to continue to get worse. I would not be surprised if certain terrorist acts start happening at some point, like shootings or bombings of churches. It would be interesting to see the reaction of American Christians. How many would continue to go to church if they knew there was an immanent threat of danger?

In the end, as Acts shows us, the Holy Spirit can and does overcome this conflict, as well as helps us overcome it as well. Our God gives us strength, courage, and boldness to face the enemy when we need it. He helps us solve internal problems and conflicts within the church (Matt 18:15-20). Praise the Lord that no human or spiritual resistance can stop Him or his perfect will! I love the last verse of Acts, which communicates this point so well. "[Paul] proclaimed the Kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ--with all boldness and without hindrance!"

God and the Elements of Story

So I read the third chapter of Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (review forthcoming) and I felt compelled to mention one of his ideas here. He relates the idea of God with the components that are in every story ever told: Setting, Conflict, Climax, and Resolution. His thought process goes something like this: If God created everything, including life, and these story components did not come from a person, but from life, then they originally came from God. It provides some interesting insights into God and life.

First up is Setting, which can almost go without mentioning. Who. What. When. Where. Etc. My setting is America. 2006. My Wife and Job. The only somewhat profound thing from this is that we all have a unique setting. We all have a unique story.

Next comes Conflict. There is a reason there conflict in every story ever told. Conflict is part of life. It makes life interesting. Perhaps fully embracing that idea would help us deal with conflict better. Perhaps we would freak out less and trust more. I think that the definition of maturity is becoming good at handling conflict. How did you handle it today? How will you handle it tomorrow?

Third is the Climax. This is the exciting part. The climax is what makes the conflict worth it in the story. Miller defines climax as the place where "a point of decision determines the end of the story." Interesting. We don't generally view our decisions in life as determining the outcomes of our story, but on the big picture this is true. One of Andy Stanley's 7 Checkpoints (For sale, bottom left), the 7 most important things we can infuse into teenagers, is teaching them to make good decisions. Ultimately, the most important decision I will make is answering the question "who is my Lord?" To whom do I belong? In a very literal way this decision determines the end of our story. I have to believe, though, that every other little decision I make has some effect on this outcome too.

Lastly is Resolution. One of the greatest securities about Christianity is knowing that our stories do resolve well. They do have a happy ending. This is the source of our hope. The best part is that it is not a scam. Our ending is not like so many other things in this world where it is "never as good as it seems." In fact, it is better than we can even imagine! Again, this is true on the small scale as well. I honestly believe that following Jesus is the best way to live, even removing an afterlife from the picture. I think it is better to forgive than to be bitter. It is better to be generous than to be greedy. It is better to tell the truth than to lie. Why? Because it is. For some reason life works out better when we do it that way. By the way, that is also what God suggests. His rules are only for our benefit. Why do we so often forget that? How great it is to be the part of a story that has resolution. This is my story. What's yours?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

The Iraqi Conflict

I'm not sure why this is, but I don't hear a whole lot on the ongoing status concerning the conflict over in the Middle East. Perhaps it is the circles I run in...but still, it is concerning to me. Why is this issue not talked about more? I am a consistent blog reader and I cannot remember this issues being talked about in the last 5 or 6 months on any of the many blogs I read. I read a headline today that said Bomb kills 26 at Iraq Mosque. This situation is getting so bad, yet the people I am around, and myself included, seem to be apathetic and disconnected from the Iraqi conflict.

Well, I am calling attention to this issue! I am certainly no expert, but here are a few things I do know.

1. The Middle East is an incredibly sad area

This is an area where for many, death is a common, even daily reality around them. Can you imagine never knowing, and always wondering, if your church, or grocery store, or school etc. was going to be bombed today or tomorrow with you inside? This is the reality that millions of people deal with every day. Children see their families ripped apart, not by divorce like in America, but by machine gun fire and explosions. I have tears for this geographical area.

2. There is no peace in sight

Let's face it, there is no easy solution out there. Peace is not coming soon, and it will probably get worse before it gets better. Wherever you come down politically on this issue, you must admit that the worldviews in this area are so polar opposite of western worldviews that a year or two (or 10!) of western influence is not sufficient to "civilize" this area. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but don't keep your fingers crossed for white picket fences in Iraq and afternoon tea between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

3. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the middle East need our prayers

When I was doing missions work in Thailand, I had the incredible privelidge of becoming friends with some natives from Iran. These former Muslims were true refugees. Their lives were literally like this: Friday, meet Jesus and convert to Christianity; Saturday, flee their home and country because their lives were in danger because of their conversion. They ended up in Thailand because it was safe. There are Christian missionaries in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. working with situations like this all the time, in addition to their own danger. Our fellow Christians need us to lift them up daily in prayer!!! We cannot imagine what it is they go through on a daily basis.

4. The enemy is laughing all the way to the bank

Our enemy, the Devil, is loving every minute of this conflict...the lives being taken, the families being destroyed, and our apathy as well. Let us not become disconnected Spiritually or emotionally for a second, because the Devil is playing for keeps. It is up to us as free Christians to do everything we can to see that this sector of the world is eventually brought to justice.

Let me know what you think about this, and why this conflict has been basically ignored. Christianity/Islam aside, my heart goes out to the people in this area.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Conversation With James Emery White

The following links lead to a three part conversation with author and new president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary James Emery White. The interview is done by Tim Ellsworth and was originally posted on his blog site, which I check daily. The interview is a bit lengthy, which is why it is divided up into 3 parts, but it is definitely worth the read. White offers some amazing insight on topics like education, mega-churches, culture, worldview, and the angle churches can take to make guests feel more comfortable. Here are the links to the interview:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Let me also recommend a few other resources connected with James Emery White. He has a website called Serious Times which is dedicated to answering the question How can you make a difference in the world today? He also has written several books, not the least of which is a book called Rethinking the Church, which is a must read for anyone involved in ministry in the local church, lay or professional. I read it in college and it is great! There is a link to the left where you can buy that book. A more recent book by White is called Serious Times, and I am intrigued enough by the Title and subtitle that I want to read the book and consider leading a series with my Youth Group on it. Check all of this out and give me feedback! Here are some quotes from the interview:

A third major challenge in relation to those two is that this means the church must think creatively about ministry and about outreach. We must think creatively about how we proclaim the truth of Scripture. Now, please notice how I said that. We don’t water down the message. We don’t compromise anything. This isn’t about transforming something. It is about translating something. We have a tendency to confuse tradition with orthodoxy. Tradition is fine, traditionalism isn’t.

The church is the great revolution on this planet and there is no ministry outside of her umbrella. We must recapture a deep sense of ecclesiology and realize that is where our first and best fruits are to be given. That’s the front line of the fight. Any Christian not aligned with the church is outside of God’s ideal will for their life.

I am all for the mega-church movement. I was a mega-church pastor, still am at this point. I believe in that. I believe in it biblically. I believe that’s how God chose to birth the church at Pentecost — 3,000 people in one day — that’s a mega church. Let’s not forget that. That’s how the Holy Spirit pleased to birth the church, was through a mega-church. So this anti-mega-church rhetoric is not even biblical. The mega-church is a wonderful God thing[.]

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Gnosticism: A Re-emerging Worldview

There has been at least some "to do" lately concerning the new document that has surfaced recently known as The Gospel of Judas. This is an interesting find for several reasons, on which Albert Mohler gives a pretty good discussion, but I will name a few reasons briefly here. First, as Wikipedia reports above, there are roughly 50 New Testament Gospels that we know of. They are not in the cannon for a reason. Mostly because they were generally not written by the person to whom the Gospel is credited, save the 4 that made it in (for one is more likely to read a gospel by someone notable like Thomas or Judas than he is one written by a nobody, say, Nick Fox). Secondly, the gospel dates to the 2nd, maybe even the 3rd century, hundreds of years after the death of Judas. Thirdly, the Gospel is attributed to a heretical group who called themselves Christians in the first few centuries called the Gnostics.

That is where I want to go today: Gnosticism. The Gnostics were a group that claimed to have a "secret knowledge" about Jesus and spirituality that the bulk of Christians did not have. They believed that all flesh and matter was evil and that spirit was good. The Gospel of Judas is a perfect example of the literature that this group produced. These gnostics show their face in the New Testament in several ways. First, Gnosticism/Dualism is the primary worldview in place in Corinth, which helps explain all of the problems that are going on which Paul is responding to. Secondly, John is responding to gnostic ideas in his Gospel, which is why we see the most conclusive proofs of Jesus humanity and deity.

A form of Gnosticism is popular today, though unknown to many, and that is where my thoughts will be for the rest of this column. These traces, or should I say sprouts, of Gnosticism permeate pop culture, the media, and many times the lives of Americans. People today are craving a "secret knowledge" that only a few have. In the words of Joel Manners, "Americans love a good conspiracy. Whether itÂ’s the Kennedy assassination, UFOs, or the recent 9/11 conspiracy theories, we love to believe that something is being hidden from us." Joel nailed it. We have become infatuated with being "in on something," even if it is ridiculous. This trend is Gnostic through and through.

One of the most famous yet overlooked displays of Gnosticism in our culture today, and I am indebted to my friend and colleaguee Josh Belcher for this, is the Matrix Trilogy. In the movie, the physical, material things the characters see all around them are not real and merely a superficial "cage", similar to how Gnostics view flesh and matter. The reality is what is beyond the Matrix, the "Real World", or the spirit world to a Gnostic. There are literally dozens of other examples of this in the movies, but Idon'tt have time to go into that here. However, what concerns me is how attractive the idea of gnosticims would be if it were to catch on, and indeed is already has, though perhaps unintentionally. A Gnostic, since the flesh does not matter, can physically do whatever he or she wants. He can have sex with who he wants, he can drink whatever he wants, eat etc. This earthly shell does not matter. What matters is what a person believes spiritually. Can you imagine what a generation of Christianss," let alone non-Christians, doing anything they want with their bodies looks like? It is a scary thought. We must guard against Gnosticism at all cost, and teach on what the Bible says about our bodies and Jesus', the care and respect they deserve, as well as the open message of truth the Bible offers, as opposed to a "secret knowledge." It will be interesting to see if this trend continues over the next 5 years as it has over the last 5.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

A Closer Look at Acts: Part 2, A Geographically Ordered Pattern

As we continue to explore the Book of Acts and all (well, at least some) of its intricacies, we look at the organization of the book today. Remember that much of this information comes from the Commentary from my friend and professor Dr. W. E. Nunnally, which is not available yet, but should be soon (I will be sure to post when it is). It is a must buy for every serious student of the Bible.

We move onto the issue at hand: the Geographical Organization of Acts. To quote Nunnally, "The Book of Acts is dominated by the organizational patter of geographical movement." This pattern is first shown in an "outline" of sorts in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Acts then follows this general outline of geography in its story. We see the Church being born in Jerusalem (Acts 2). It begins to grow at an alarming rate as people are healed and the simple Gospel of the resurrection is preached. Then, with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7), the Church begins to scatter because of the intense persecution. We then see Phillip in Samaria in Acts 8 where we read that he "proclaimed the Messiah there." Thus, we have moved from the first point in the outline to the second (i.e. Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea to Samaria). With chapter 9 comes Saul's conversion, who will be the man who takes the Gospel to the ends of the earth. In chapter 10 we see another transition as Peter has his vision and visits Cornelius in Caesarea. The rest of the Book of Acts focuses on part of what Jesus referred to lastly in Acts 1:8, "the ends of the earth."

Why is this important? Is this merely an aesthetic observation? No. There seem to be several reasons that this is significant. I will list three of them here:

1. "[Luke] held a rather ironic view of history." (Nunnally pg 26)
The Roman Empire was expanding in this day in age from west to east, a fact that every person who lived within its control would be aware of. In contrast, the Kingdom of God was expanding as well, but in reverse order. We see "the Gospel march from the spiritual capital of the world (Jerusalem) to the political capital of the world (Rome) and the conquerors became the conquered" (Nunnally pg 26).

2. In another bit of irony, Acts works in reverse fashion from the Book of Luke, its previous volume. In Luke, the focus seems to be on Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, which reaches its climax in Luke 19. A large portion of the Gospel up to that point is focused on Jesus' journey to this spiritual capital. As lake's former book culminates in Jerusalem, his second book starts there and spreads outward.

3. Lastly, the Book of Acts "provides the only early record of the history behind the Gospel jumping over Palestinian Jewish boundaries and out into and throughout the Gentile world" (pg 26). Luke illustrates how the Gospel is not limited by geography, and infers that it is also not limited by time, nationality, ethnicity, previous religious orientation, etc. This is an important idea to grasp from the writings of Luke.

I find joy in noticing the mega-themes in scripture. Luke has plenty in his writings, and I will continue to expound upon them here.