Monday, December 13, 2010

So I Guess We Won't Be Going in First After All...

'"A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw... a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were rumbling toward heaven. There were whole companies of... trash... and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. [But at the] end was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right... They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone were on key. Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues were being burned away... In a moment the vision faded... In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."

'What a radical idea! The 'freaks and lunatics' going to heaven before the morally upright tribe? But Jesus said the same thing, when he announced to the shocked religious leaders of his day, 'I tell you the truth, the tax collectors, and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of God ahead of you.' (Matt. 21:31)"

-Tim Keller, The Reason for God

Monday, December 06, 2010

(Real) Olde Timey Revival

I've been in the church for 28 years but most of the time it feels longer. I've heard a LOT of sermons/talks but one of the subjects I have seen rarely covered has been repentance and confession- I mean real repentance too, not the typical "repent and be saved" watered down Gospel soup usually reserved for pew fillers either; this is intense, soul-searching, if-you-want-to-God-you-have-to-admit-you-cannot-do-it, in your face call to a reverse Kingdom. Oh, we in the church, are GREAT at calling this "sinful world" to repent of its drunken, over-sexed, self-reliant, greed-driven, ways but once they do, once they get inside those church doors most of us immediately stop the practice (with the exception of our more liturgical brothers going to "confession" as a spiritual discipline). 

One of my particular faith communities is going through a time where there has been- from a few corners- calls to repentance and confession. That to be healed, to move forward, and to become functional we must first admit that we-no, not we- but I am the problem. Me. That this is MY stuff, that I have done, I was wrong, I sinned, I ________________(fill in the blank of the sin). 

What is amazing about confession and repentance is that it is the basis for our faith in Christ; it begins it, and should follow us throughout our spiritual journey. Our tendency, however is to neglect it because it is uncomfortable and difficult. 

As a pastor and long-time follower of the Rabbi I think I may have a few reasons why we are bad at this spiritual discipline that our faith literally with rise and fall on:

1. Courage- many don't have the courage to step forward first and say it. Since no one goes first, no one goes at all. We lack courage.
2.. Execution- how many times over the years have we seen another brother, sister, spiritual leader, or pastor confess a sin or get caught then they are "helped" by having their careers, livelihoods, and relationships shot in the face. The church then likes to ask the question, "Anyone else need to confess?" Shockingly, the answer is often, "No."
3. Oppression- we cow to the lie that no one else struggles like we do, that it has gone on too long, or was only one time, that we are the exception.
4. Downplay- "Everyone has these issues." So what? Therefore, we don't have to discuss, repent, and confess? Doesn't that make us taking them seriously all the more seriously?

Recently, I heard tired prayer for revival and in the middle of it asked myself, "Do we really want revival? What would we do if God really showed up?" John and Jesus are continually calling people to repent for "the Kingdom of God is at hand" but today we don't really need to repent. We don't have to rely on God. 

And so our own ability to extend grace to ourselves and to, therefore, to others, is greatly lacking. We fall into the lie that other peoples' sins are worse than ours (especially abortionists, liberals, fornicators, homosexuals, drunks, and drug abusers) because we never really face our own sins that are listed right along side theirs within our Scriptures (e.g. lying, gossiping, slanders, those given to wrath, gluttons, etc.). 

Want to start that revival? I do. It starts with all of us confessing our own sins first and remembering that grace is all we have to rely on and love is all we are called to.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Sins You Don't Get In Trouble For

There I stood, only days into my job, listening to a long-time member of the church tell me how the person who had hired had so wildly mishandled a sensitive issue in the church. Names being thrown around as if we had been present for years and all of the history that they were relaying. So I responded, "Have you talked to Pastor such-and-thus?"

"Oh, NO. They don't listen to anyone." The member responded.

"Has anyone spoken to them?" I pressed further.

"Well... no. But he/she knows how we feel."

How many times is this scenario been repeated in "christian" and "church" culture? Too many to count, too depressing to think about it- this is the daily stuff of church life that eats and tears at our members until we are facing what we face now: an American culture fleeing church and established religious institutions to save their souls. We can call them wrong, try and guilt them back into attendance, and make up wild spiritual accusations about how they've "fallen off the vine" are no longer "in community" but the reality is our acidic culture has driven many into house churches more "organic" and "natural" communities and- to be quite honest- it is hard to fault them. If we were REALLY honest... maybe we are jealous, jealous that they got to leave and we are still here and long-suffering.

From my keyboard I can look to the future and see the already angry responses to this, those taking exception, those who don't want to think of it... or those who never respond but just think about how wrong I am. Which brings me to my real point- which isn't church burn-out- but gossip and dissension.

Two sins that are over-looked, turned a blind eye to, and even couched as "spiritual", "shared prayer requests", or "concerns". It's called sin. It is listed out in Romans 1 next to every hard-line conservative's favorite verse that "condemns" homosexuality. But it's okay because we only condemn those who sin differently than we do (credit to Tom Clegg there).

We have torn down our brothers and sisters in Christ, within our homes, within our small groups, and within the structure we so mistakenly call "church". We have lied, exaggerated, involved those who ought not be, shared private information, told of conjectures, and defamed character based on personal thoughts and experiences. We. Not you. Me too.

I am not here to cast stones. I am here to confess and to invite you- if you will- to do so with me. That the Pharisees have judged the younger brothers, the rebels the Pharisees, the weaker brothers judged older, the older judged the younger, and we were all wrong. From the top down, from denominations, to districts, to groups, to local churches, to committees, and personal relationships the sins of gossip and dissension have torn us apart. For my part, I am sorry, I want to live at peace, to build community, to build hope, to live in love.

So, if you must, continue as you were. But what I saw yesterday, in the midst of students, families, friends, and a community I do know this: NOTHING will happen until you stop, confess, repent, and reconcile.

Truly, I want this to be a dialogue. If we need to meet up, if you need to email me, if you need to comment on this then do it. This has gone on too long.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Whys and Whats

It's been pretty busy at my house with my boss taking a 6 week respite, a building remodel, our third child being  born, and that is all in the midst of our usual business. Some say there isn't an difference between an excuse and a reason but having another newborn I disagree.

I've been reading some pretty challenging books including: "A Year of Living Like Jesus" by Ed Dobson and "A New Kind of Christianity" by Brian McLaren. Mark Driscoll recently tweeted that if your reading list was from a single publisher or group of authors of similar theological background you probably weren't very well rounded. It's like only having friends that you agree with on politics and religion; comfortable but not really stretching.

But the most enlightening of all the books may have been, "Who Stole My Church?" by Gordon MacDonald. As an early adopter of technology and ideas it seems beyond me that people do not like change- and more to the point, people within the church wall really don't like to see change. Even if they work in a business where change is rapid and fluid they want their church "institution" (for lack of a better word) to remain static.

Honestly, on my bad days I believe it is vitriolic and selfish. This book painted a far different picture though and helped me to gain perspective on not only WHAT this group of late-adapters was thinking but WHY. Understanding people's "whys" makes it far easier to have empathy for them even if you still find yourself in wild disagreement with them.

Probably some of the reason I can become so easily frustrated with late-adapters is because it feels as if the new ideas get the treatment of, "Yeh, yeh, we've heard this before." and the excitement of new and passionate is gone... let alone any asking of WHY the earlier adapters want to do these things.

The primary lesson in all these things is to slow down, to ask why others see value in things that they do and then not force your values on others.

... but maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Inciting II: Rules, Regulations, and Love

Having been born, raised, educated, and employed in a "holiness movement" (that's Christian talk for holiness denomination) there is a great deal of discussion of "holiness" (obvious, right?).  It seems that- on a practical level- the use of "holiness" or "holy" refer to a strict adherence to the rules, regulations, and positional authority accountability. In the past and present there have been long lists of expectations and rules including (but not limited to): card playing, gambling, cinemas/movies, wearing shorts, women wearing pants, cutting of a woman's hair, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and sexual "deviance" (usually highlighting "premarital" sex and homosexuality). 

Now, let's be clear on a few things up front: one, my use of quotation marks only denotes that this blog is a place for discussion and we want to use inclusive language so that anyone may engage; two,  my list of rules/expectations is not complete but only touches on a few of the iceberg tips. Instead of debating each one of those things spiritual and cultural merits instead I would like to take this section of our series and visit the underlying root words touted when discussing- what many would describe as- established or legalistic religion.

Holiness: Every Christian in the world agrees that God is holy and since Jesus is God then Jesus is holy and since we are called to be Christ-like then we should be holy... but given that equation "holy" still is undefined as an entity. Some would argue that it is intrinsic in our acceptance of Christ, others that something that God makes us through His grace, and still others that it is a certain standard (definable by denominational affiliation).  But what does the Bible have to say on the issue? If God is described as being holy and being love in very essence then we may draw a connecting line between those two words; further, if Jesus tell us that they [those far from God] will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other and that the greatest two commands are to love God and to love others... well, it seems that there is more than a cursory connection in holiness and love.

In fact, Christ claims that all the rest of the Law can be summed up in the law of love. We cannot miss this; love does not trump any law but summarizes it and makes it superfluous. Ask yourself this: if everyone acted in true love toward each other would there ever be need of another law or court? If we acted in love toward God in every action would there be any need of his Law?

The other part of all of this is, of course, the question of authority, submission, and "accountability"... which we will, mercifully, postpone until next time.

We would love- as always- to hear your feedback.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Inciting: I

The following is the first section of a series discussing grace and the implications of it. I want this to be more of a discussion than we usually have. This is not a claim that what is said here is the end-all-be-all rather we want to kick around how this is playing out across the church universal.


Recently I was re-watching The Matrix and was struck again by some of the conversations that take place. When Morpheus and Neo sit down and Neo is given the choice between his present realities and to know “the wool that has been pulled over your eyes your entire life”. Morpheus says something to the effect of, “You're here because you know something. What you know you can't explain, but you feel it. You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.” This may be the best scene to summarize what is happening in the church as whole right now.

Unlike Neo, I know what is wrong. Jesus is messing me up. Challenging me that I am to take his message entirely seriously.

I have thought that maybe others were noticing it too, much akin to the story of the emperor with no clothes; however, there are many who are simply oblivious to this. In a word, it is the lack of love. It is a lack of grace.

In a recent meeting- regarding youth ministry- someone summarized my thoughts for me like this, “I believe what he [Devin] is saying is that we gave people fairy tales and myths to entertain them as children, then moral teachings to conform them as teens, and when they get to their 20’s and 30’s we tell them that it is a relationship. And they either didn’t come back or don’t believe us because we already lied twice.” That meeting did not go well.

Sometimes I wonder if we really want to be like Jesus. Really? The guy is a terrible houseguest, runs off potential followers (the rich young ruler), and insults the religious establishment continuously. We say that we would like to follow his example and obey his commands- but many times disagree what that looks like.

What did Jesus command, just to clarify? When the teacher of the law is asked, he responds; “To the love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.” So the law is the law of love… not the Old Testament. Chapter five in the letter to the Galatians also addresses this in discussing the fruit of the Spirit. The verse ends with “against such things there is no law”. There is no law against loving God and loving your fellow humans.

Furthermore, we are assuming a great deal in stating that need to keep some list of man-made rules. Romans 8:1-2 states, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death." … So do we have to figure out a new group of rules to keep? Or do we simply embrace the simplicity of the fact there is no longer any condemnation for the violation of the law, through and because of the blood of Jesus Christ?

It may be so hard for us to embrace this reality because there is then removed measurable achievements of thinking we “conquered” this sin or another and not viewing sin as our former selves in entirety. We are baptized fully into Christ- not one sin at a time. Victory over sin occurs because Jesus forgave you and there is no longer anything standing between you and Him.

It occurred to me that the law of the Spirit of life is the superseding law. It is higher than the law of sin and death. That's why Galatians says no other law comes against the fruit of the Spirit. It is the law of love you are speaking about and it is higher than any other law.

Even examples we could pull of “leadership expectations” (e.g. the letter to Timothy) we should examine. When Paul pens that letter to Timothy he has been walking with Timothy for 15 years. Paul planted the churches he is handing off to his protégé. The standards that Paul lays out are spoken out of relationship, of intimate knowledge, of love of both Timothy and those churches. To apply just the rules in Timothy to the church universal is to lose the principle that Paul is speaking to his spiritual son out of relationship.

So let me know what you think of Part I. Where would you like to see this conversation go?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

You Always Find What You Are Looking For

"When will we acknowledge that we don't have it all together and happily accept the gift of grace? When will we grasp the thrilling truth of Paul, 'Someone is reckoned as upright not by practicing the Law but by faith in Jesus Christ.' Galatians 2:16"
-The Ragamuffin Gospel pg. 139

We all have struggles. While visiting Toronto and working with various missions the struggles were obvious: homelessness, starvation, drug addiction, alcoholism, and hopelessness. When my group came back they were excited to do similar activities in our downtown area and I affirmed that... with an addendum. We are the local church, called to serve our local area. The population of a suburb does not have any less of this disease than a downtown area- their symptoms are different and maybe even worse. Many cannot or will not change without hitting rock bottom and how do you hit rock bottom in the midst of upper-middle class careers, amiable marriages, nice homes, coffee shops, and well-policed streets? I do not envy the poor's position in the world but Jesus said, "You are blessed when you are at the end of your rope." (The Message)

I neared the end of my rope this last year in the midst of months of unemployment and relocation. Fortunately, we had family to support us, take us in, and give us opportunities. But it was humbling and evaluating all the same. It was during this time I had my "conversion to optimism". My wife handed me an article from my favorite magazine that asked the reader to name five famous cynics and- even if you could- name what the contributed to society outside of critiquing another person's work and heart.

Not long ago an article was published in a major paper documenting the effort's of a friend of mine to bring the story of Jesus into places that don't usual hear that Story... or even if they have heard think it wasn't meant for them. The story made it's way to college where some seminary and undergraduate students- before a class started- were vocally condemning my friend's efforts. Unfortunately- for this group of students- a professor stood in the back of the classroom listening. When class started he asked a series of questions, "Is what is being done really un-Christian? Do any of them know this person? Or have attended when the Story was being told? Have any of them done ANYTHING outside of be a student that works in classrooms and on theories? Have any of them had THEIR hearts torn apart by people they don't know?" ... and then he dismissed the class for the day.

A family member of mine were sitting across each other at lunch just the other day. He said sometimes "young guys" want to do things in the church that "just won't work or aren't practical". I asked him what he meant (since he is- seriously- one of the smartest people I know) because it seems like as I watch things like and TOMS those are idealistic, impractical, and unreasonable. That the entire premise of what the Rabbi calls us to is unreasonable. "That's a great point he said."

What I want to say is this: we can be cynical, angry, or apathetic but we are only going to get out what we put in. You will find hopelessness as you look for it. You will find unchangeable people as you look for them. You will find bitterness as you look for injustice. Don't give up hope- and I am preaching to myself here- keep your head up, believe that people can change, that things can improve, that joy is found in each moment of the day. You will find those things are you look for them too.

... or don't and join the legion of nameless, hopeless, and joyless cynics who will not mark the world. Your choice.

I'm making mine.

Monday, August 02, 2010

That's Too Much Freedom

Freedom is still a shocking thing. People usual believe grace and freedom for either themselves or others more. What I mean is that you fall into one of two camps: the first believes that God loves and forgives them more easily than other people; the second believes that God more easily forgives others than themselves.

When I was in college there was a guy named Mike who lived in my dorm freshman year. Mike was one of the resident assistants who were meant as mentors, guides, and rule enforcers. Many times I found him in his room, on his knees, praying to God. At the time I struggled mightily with lust and pornography and found Mike's heart something to aspire to and another way for me to feel that I wasn't quite where I should be as a follower of the Rabbi. Guilt.

A few years from that I worked at a church where- during one of my first staff meetings- the senior pastor had us meet in prayer once a month and we would pray for hours. I secretly dreaded it and felt like a like a heathen who couldn't concentrate during a two-hour prayer vigil at 23 years old. Guilt.

Not long ago a good friend of mine- after years of ministry with a holiness denomination had a near-breakdown and went to a counselor. After only a couple of sessions the counselor observed that much of his stress came from the fact that he, "believed in grace for others so much more easily than himself". Guilt.

Because so often we want believe that others are, in fact, much better people than ourselves. Their thought lives, actions, words, language, and motives are purer and further along in maturity...

Or perhaps we struggle the other direction. Some of us believe that because of the code we hold that others- especially those far from God- are not really as good as us. We have done the right things the right way- even and especially when we did not want to- and because others do not hold to our code they just are not as good as us (I mean if we were super honest about it). They just aren't as sensitive to spiritual conviction, authority, or scriptural reading.

Maybe my most disturbing conversation about all of this was between me and another pastor. As we discussed issues facing evangelicals over the next years I observed, "What if we just told people that if it's okay by what is biblical and what Jesus says and does then they can as well?"

My friend looked at me with the straightest of faces and said, "That would give people too much freedom."

The offense of the news of Jesus is two-fold: one, the claim Jesus is the only way your sin gets taken care of; and two, that- in many respects- the wild freedom of truth that claims the amount of "good" or "bad" you do simply doesn't matter when it comes to the issue of salvation.

Grace is offensive and unsafe. The workers in the field who worked for one hour and those who worked for the whole day both were payed the same wage. It isn't fair, thank God. How can we claim anything else?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Church Parties... are fun...

Not long ago there was a Tweet that read, "The church has nothing to say to the world until they throw better parties,"... and I struggled with that for a little bit. Is the church's call/mission to throw parties? To entertain? To appease? Emphatically, no!

However, the quote still bothered me even as I tried to dismiss it... partly because- knowing the author- I dismiss half of what they say anyway.

Then, Saturday night, I sat watching a local band while people danced on the lawn, beers in hand, while money was being raised for the Make a Wish Foundation and thought, "What a great party... why isn't church more like that?"

I've heard people complain of tithing at church but have never heard someone say, "Why are those stupid charities always asking for money and trying to help people?" Or heard them wonder aloud why people make art and music... well, I did hear a lawyer say that once but (... just kidding, sort of).

So why are people confused on the mission of the church? Why are they unclear as to what is going on with tithing? If our call is to love each other, to go and make disciples, to go to those far from God then why AREN'T we throwing better parties? Why is the music on Sunday not like the music from Saturday night? Why aren't the people from Sunday morning throwing the party on Saturday night?

I am not providing answers but I really want a discussion. And, before anyone uses the verse, "Be in the world and not of the world," check out 1 John 2:16. Now, let's talk.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little League and Church

"He called a radical Jewish freedom fighter. He called a despised tax collector. He called at least three small businessmen. He called a hothead, a guy with easy ethics, some who struggled with oversize [sic] egos, and a few who had trouble accepting Gentiles (those far from God). It's no different today. Jesus seems completely aware that coming to him, we will leave other things behind, and that aspect of being involved with Jesus never stops. You don't leave your old life behind just once. You leave it behind every morning, every day." -Michael Spencer, Mere Churchianity

When I was in first grade I remember my dad signing me up for the local Little League Baseball team that was coached by our neighbor, Don. I didn't play very many years of baseball and wasn't very good but I do remember the coaching lesson that every one knows, "Keep yer eye on the ball."

When I joined the Marines I remember First Sgt. Carter explaining to us that the job description of the United States Marine Corps' was to, "Kill people and break stuff."

When I went into the ministry I remember hearing the job description was to... keep programs running, keep people happy, build bigger buildings, and don't rock the boat. Right?

And herein, as the poet says, lies the rub: evangelical churches have- as a whole- lost their original mission because if you compare our weekly activities with the things our founder said the two do not match up well with each other.

"They will know you are my followers by your love for one another."... then why are our buildings so full of drama, strife, and petty bickering? Why are Christians the most easily offended?

"Go and make disciples."... then why do we constantly talk about "inviting people to church" instead of meeting them where they are in the world? Ask a believer how many non-believers they routinely hangout with. The answer is almost always less than 5.

"Love your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second command is like it, love your neighbor as yourself."... do we even know our neighbors anymore? Where is the concern for the least, the last, and the lost? Why doesn't every church support shelters, AA groups, homosexual ministries, HIV/AIDS hospitals and care units, discuss and fight pornography, and spend time ministrying in bars?

What I am asking is, as coined by Michael Spencer ( is this: is our church spirituality truly Jesus-centered spirituality? Or is it more of a nice spiritual country club?

My coach, Don, from years ago, still rings in my ears: "Keep yer eye on the ball." If the ball, the focus is really Jesus, have we taken our eyes off of Him?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Taking Hills From Different Angles

Differences and differences. Recently a friend of mine decided to move out of his established circle of professional influence and into another. As I sat down with him and we debriefed it he said something interesting and I want to summarize our discussion.

Basically, we have two choices in whatever we do:

To affect change where we are.
We become a part of the system we are in, emerge ourselves, and bring about the change we want through slow, meticulous process. This train of thought and action has the strength of safety, of shepherding, and of gentleness. Those who choose this path are the unsung heroes who preserve unity and affect slow, safe change. It is not good nor bad, it is simply a track that some choose to follow.

To move outside the system to affect change.
Author Clive Cussler tells in his autobiography about how he became an author of pure adventure/action novels: he wanted to do it and no one else was doing it. Herein lies the more dangerous path. This is the path that leads only to the “penthouse or the outhouse”- these people will either see wild success (my friend Micah Kephart) or crash and burn like a dying star (thereby becoming cautionary tales like Mickey Rourke).

Now, summarized we see the choices before us. Both will bring change, one fast yet unsure, one slow and steady but (to some degree) certain.

This is not an attempt to paint heroes and cowards but rather to encourage the reader to consider both their current position and desired path. The church and world desperately need both types of people, desperately needs them to partner and appreciate each other. The processors must see the prophets and iconoclasts as necessary to push and pull organizations faster than they are comfortable with because all organizations trend towards bureaucracy…. And the movers and shakers must- at times- move a little slower than they would like in order to get the processors to come with them so that they are (as John Maxwell once said) “leading and not taking a walk”.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Life in Oz

In the 1800's the Methodist church took a stand against tobacco but the FDA had nothing to do with it. They took the stand because it was in protest to the use of African-American slave labor that collected the leaf. This is akin to followers of Christ who today buy TOMS shoes or do not buy products from China.

Many of the "legalistic" rules of yesteryear have interesting and wonderful roots. The problem with answers to solutions is that they become answers for so long no one bothers to ask the question anymore. So while it may behoove us to abstain from tobacco still it is now a question of health- not of not supporting slave labor.

I bring all of that to say that living in the midst of theses answers-to-yesteryear-questions can be a good thing (e.g. not smoking at one point protested slavery and now allows you to be healthier) but can also fool us into thinking that this is an axiomatic response or lifestyle thereby causing close-mindedness, tunnel vision, or- as I have recently dubbed it- living in Oz.

Life in Oz looks a lot of ways but as followers of the Rabbi it can be particularly lethal since we are called to tell an intrinsically broken world it is broken but that there is a Hope.

Now, you may be asking: do I live in Oz? Here is a quick (and somewhat tongue-in-cheek quiz), just answer "true" or "false" to the following:

1. Most people really want or need a list of rules and regulations to live by. T F
2. Most people (by and large) obey the rules they are given. T F
3. I cannot tell you the reasons behind my own life code beyond "it's what so-and-so said". T F
4. The Gaither family is some contemporary music. T F
5. The litmus test for being a follower of Christ is becoming a better person. T F

If most of your answers are "T" you may be living in Oz. It's not for sure but you show symptoms lacking cultural awareness or being in touch with reality. Please note that I am not showing a distinction between between "secular" and "Christian" realities. For too long we have expected major cultural differences between these two worlds and that is not realistic nor biblical.

The church is made up of the same people the world is- the only difference is that we are admitting we are dead in on our own. We draw distinctions in action when the distinction should be in our authenticity level. Confession should be a way of life for us. Love should be our language for everyone.

Robert Capon puts it this way:
"Congruence with grace- and please note what a contradiction in terms that is: congruence with the ultimate incongruity- becomes the condition sine qua non of its bestowal. And so our [resident moralistic] theologian comes to his inevitable emendation of Romans 5:8: 'But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us,... [begin addition] on the condition that after a reasonable length of time we would be the kind of people no one would ever have had to die for in the first place. Otherwise, the whole deal is off.'

'The gentleman (the resident moralist) in your head, you see, is a menace."

Recently I have noted (in my ongoing observations of faith communities) this strong, pulsing, insatiable desire among certain types of followers of Jesus (and even from many who are far from God) for something that is REAL. That these people, in the midst of facebooks, Twitter, texting, sexting, celebrity gossip rags, casual sex relationships, pornography, and other endless caterers to self want- no- they NEED real. They cannot stand or choke down for one more minute a glossy, nicely painted exterior, that has no depth, and at the end of the day is just a "bot" anyway. They want to KNOW their group, their family, their ohana.

And this is the thirst the church was founded on, that we are called to this highly offensive grace that forgives anyone who would believe... even if they never become a better citizen or church member (much to many-a-preacher's frustration).

Let me know what you think of Oz. The on-line tour looks nice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

What Does Rethinking Religion Mean??

I used to say I didn't like religion. I think I said it because I thought it was trendy or cool or sounded like I was more aware than other people. Not really good reason. That was until I found out what religion is and means.

The word "religion" (from its original Latin roots) means to "reconnect with God". Of course by saying we are "reconnecting" we must have- at some point at least- been "disconnected". And that is a pretty accurate description about how I have felt about God... actually how a lot of people have felt about God over the years. Disconnected. Like no matter what they did they couldn't get back to a place they had never been but had always known as home- the embrace of a Father.

Christianity is the epitome of religion- of reconnecting with God. So the title of this site is quite apropos: we are asking people- both those far and near to the Father- to rethinking how/why/if they are connecting the way they best can, should, or want to.

So come. Rethink the reconnection. It's waiting.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Treating Christianity Like an Alcoholic

"The story of the laborers in the vineyard, for example, is about the owner, not the laborers; the prodigal son is not about the prodigal but about the Father."
- Robert Capon, 'Between Noon and Three', pg. 71

It has occurred to me recently that if I never "improve" as a person it does not matter to God. Well, not in the sense of salvation at any rate. As a follower of the Rabbi I often mentally pit myself against Pharisees and legalists and give them good verbal thrashing whenever possible (on my blog and not in real life).

Truly though the Pharisees were not bad people- in fact they were very good people. They were not (for the most part) hypocritical, they tithed as they should, properly observed the Sabbath, and feared God. We know they did these things by the context of historical documents. Their entire religious system was based upon ones' abilities to do, say, and think the correct thing so they must have done a pretty good job to be at the top of the class.

As we read the Torah, Old Testament, and New Testament we can also infer that prostitutes, tax collectors, pimps, and drunks were not misunderstood, well-intentioned-with-poor-results, misguided souls but genuinely bad people.

However, herein lies the rub: sometimes it is only the people who have hit rock bottom who know they- at the end of the day- control very little. In short, they know humility. In a way that only experience can know something.

When Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee and a tax collector praying in the temple and only the tax collector goes away justified before God, he is telling a story of humility and confession. Today it would be likened to the opening at an AA meeting; "Hello, my name is such-and-such and I am an alcoholic..." Not recovering, not healed, not gilding the lily but who you are at rock bottom.

God only works with rock-bottom cases. There is no place for pride or pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps because you aren't raising yourself from the dead now, are you?

Not long ago- and then I will rest- I heard a friend tell a joke: A pastor died and went to stand before the Pearly Gates. St. Peter said, "Okay, to get in you have to accumulate 100 points for everything you did in your life."

The pastor says, "Well, my wife and I supported a missionary family for 15 years."

"That's good," says St. Peter, "That'll be worth a point."

"You mean one point per year or one point all together?"

"Oh, just one point all together," replies St. Peter.

The pastor begins to get a bit nervous at this news and tries something else, "I worked in the church full-time for 25 years too." He waits.

St. Peter cocks and eyebrow and says, "Ooookkkkaaayyy.... I'll give you one point for that."

"Just ONE again??" The pastor asks, incredulously.


After another 3 hours of this the pastor only has 7.5 points and is really sweating. Just then, coincidentally, sees a member of his parish named Dave walking up. Dave had attended church about half the time because he ran a local grill and bar and had to open on many Sundays.

"Hey, Dave," the pastor mutters, depressed by the situation.

"Hey Pastor, hey St. Peter, how do I get in?" says Dave.

St. Peter hits a button and the gates roll back, and he says, "Just head on in."

In disbelief the pastor watches and asks, "How come he gets to go in? You didn't ask him about any points!"

"Oh, him?" St. Peter glances back, "He wasn't playing this game."

The hardest thing about Jesus is that he forgave us of all of our sins- past, present, and future- the moment we confessed. But daily, we have to "take up our cross and follow" and die to ourselves. Humble ourselves like a bunch of deadbeat, rock-bottom alcoholics and say, "Hello, my name is such-and-such and I am dead and my only life is living in resurrection of Jesus." We may not even get better (which rightly terrifies so many of us) and to demand it, to expect it, to place that as any type of salvation barometer is not the Gospel. That is why it is so wildly dangerous.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

We cannot go back to our old bodies. Even if some actions appear the same it is our new selves- not the dead bodies we once lived in and for

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jesus Was a Terrible Moral Teacher

We have often wondered here about generic and pop culture Christianity and church... as anyone who has been within the church walls for any length of time does. You take the structure apart wondering at the validity, importance, features, and functions of each piece.

For the past several months I have held down a plethora of secular (non-religious jobs) and have been able to view both the church and Christianity as a whole from a a whole new lens. One argument/observation that has often been thrown out to me is that Christianity is a good moral system or that Christ was a good moral teacher. However, in a discussion last night with a friend the observation was made that Christianity is the worst of "moral" religion ever devised if that is true. It claims, nay, it EXPECTS people to be screwed up, unworthy, and furthermore incapable of ever being worthy of any type of eternal reward with a perfect God.

The only demand is that we are humble enough to admit we aren't perfect, never will be, and need our tab paid. Terrible moral system. The New Testament writer, Paul, even writes that "... all things are permitted but not everything is beneficial...". This is a far cry from what the Pharisees at the time, current Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism claims.

If we claim we (in and of ourselves) are sinless we then deny the work of the Jesus on the cross. This explains so much of why people find Jesus offensive, He claims that He alone can save us from ourselves and that we have to simply have faith in Him.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Get Over It

Grace comes at the highest of prices: you dying to the pride of being you.

"Go and sin boldly." -Martin Luther (to a legalistic friend)

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Some Christians Don't Like Grace

My wife and I have been having a series of conversations revolving around grace. What does it mean? What does it look like? I have dear friends who have been raised in Christian traditions where they do not dance, smoke, drink, or even watch television and- on the other end of the spectrum- friends who claim Jesus wholeheartedly but love movies, smoke Marlboro's, drink beer, and have rough language. For the sake of space we will call the first group "legalists" and the second "liberals" (since both terms hold positive and negative connotations).

Legalists will claim that the liberals look no different than the "world" (i.e. those who are far from God); conversely, liberals will claim that legalists live neither either the grace of god, the love of people, or relevance to the world. Both make good points.

Of course, this is without muddying the water in regard to if someone is in spiritual leadership- should the expectations on them be different?

And all of this is, obviously, the dangerous and offensive idea/debate behind grace. In the book of Mark, chapter 12, verses 28-34 we see Jesus emphasize that the the greatest two commandments are that we should love our God wildly, passionately, and with abandon... and other people as we love ourselves. He says the entire law can be summed up in those two rules. Incredible. The Pharisees expanded God's Law from the Big Ten to the petty 700-ish. Jesus moves the opposite direction.

Martin Luther once stated that when grace is truly found two things run wild: virtue and vice. That is because grace is dangerous because of how much freedom it holds. You can literally do anything and God will still love you. If that scares us it is because it should.

The crux of the matter is how we are showing love not how we are exercising freedom. If we are following the Rabbi will we give up certain freedoms to better show love? Or will we embrace certain freedoms in order to better show love? Say no to one of those and we should ask if we are still following the only two rules given to us by the Rabbi.

I pray you now go in grace, in total freedom and love.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pain then, if 1 could have faith in something greater than himself, might b a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Hope You Are Nearing Bottom

My friend Kenny says that my heart for those who are far from God is sometimes a lot bigger than my heart for those who claim to know him... hence my complete and utter disdain for almost all things Thomas Kincaid, Focus on the Family, or the 700 Club. I've gotten better over the past years but I came to understand my almost subconscious draw towards these people: those who are nearer to bottom tend to be more honest about their mistakes and need for grace. Don't believe me? Check out AA... or any support group for those who have royally screwed up.

I'm not saying the church doesn't have these people but rather that those who acted like they had their stuff together seemed to speak louder and more often.

The thing I am saying is I have come to realize how many horrible things people walk around with daily, trying to cover it up in normal and abnormal behavior. Teenagers tend to be the most obvious, covering their awkwardness, small bellies, insecurities, etc. in outrageous clothing, body piercings, and off-the-beaten-path music.

It seems like so many in my life are hurting, lost, and near bottom. I guess the thing I have noticed is the truth in the words that Jesus spoke, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." ... because they are near bottom, have no more reason to put up a brave front, and therefore are more likely to depend on my [His] grace.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Let me just say that if you have a funky streak you should check out my friend Heath McNease. He lays down some incredible lyrics & beats.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Does anyone not wanting to start converstaions because you will have to end them? Not because of fear but because of the emotional energy required. Anyone?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Scared of Your Own Story

One of the best books I ever read was, "Boys Life"... except for one chapter. This one chapter has the main character growing imaginary wings and soaring over his town. In no way did it fit with the rest of the book, add to character development, or give the reader any personal insight. We will come back to that.

Life is about story: you are either part of one or merely an observer of others' stories. The realization of this reality seems be as inescapable as death- some see it very early whereas others waste their lives pages on pursuing filler chapters. I was reading after a friend of mine recently who- in an attempt to impress a girl- signed on to hike the Machu Picchu trail. He realized, somewhere in the midst of the pain of the hike (because it is one of the most difficult hikes you can do) that pain is what builds story.

No one watches movies about perfect lives. There might be a perfect ending but that's it. No one would watch a movie about girl who had millions of dollars, a fully functional family, went to church, was attending the finest schools, gave away thousands of dollars, had the truest of friends, and finally married the boy next door whose life was equally perfect. You know why of course. Those people don't exist. Life is painful but the joy of completing the journey or sections of it make the story worth reading.

If life is too comfortable it eventually feels meaningless, boring.

So the question becomes: will your story be intentional or unintentional? Will you live significantly in pain and relationship or hide in front of the TV, in a career you don't care about, always afraid of failing?

Back to that book with the meaningless chapter... I found out later the reason that chapter was even in the book was because the publisher at the time thought the book was too short and asked him to write another chapter. It struck me that many of us have chapters like that: we did something even though it didn't fit in our story or with our purpose because we felt like we should.

Let us never live chapters without meaning or be afraid of living stories for fear of pain. Without pain, there is no joy, without dark, no sunrise.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Taking the Knife Out of Your Back

One summer when I was in high school, my family and I were on vacation and decided to visit a church in the town where we were staying. At the end of the service, the pastor asked if anybody wanted to become a Christian. He said that people could repeat a prayer after him and become Christian. he said that people could repeat a prayer after him and become a Christian, right there at that moment in their seats. he said that if people repeated this prayer after him, they could be sure that when they died they would go to heaven and not hell. He then asked everybody to bow their heads and close their eyes, and he said the prayer, leaving space after each sentence for those who wanted to repeat the prayer after him. When he finished, he told everybody to keep their eyes closed and heads bowed. He then asked for the people who had prayed the prayer to raise their hands wherever they were seated. This way he would know who they were so he could pray for them. He said that nobody but him would be looking.

The pastor then said, "I see that hand over there. Thank you. I see that hand in the back. I see some young women in the front..." and he proceeded to acknowledge the hands that were going up all around the room.

During this entire time I had kept my eyes open and was watching the whole thing.

I didn't see any hands go up.

Several years ago my dad reminded me of that day. He told me he had his eyes open the whole time as well- only he was not watching for hands. He was watching me. He said that when he realized what was going on and that I was observing it all, he had this sick feeling that I would walk away from God and the church and faith forever. he said he kept thinking, "I've lost Rob, I've lost Rob..."

I am like you, I have seen plenty done in teh name of God that I'm sure God doesn't want anything to do with. I have lots of reasons for bailing on the whole thing.

I am also like you because I have a choice. To become bitter, cynical, jaded, and hard. Anybody can do that. A lot have.

Hatred is a powerful, unifying force. And there is a lot to be repulsed by.

Or, like you, I can choose to reclaim my innocence.

-Velvet Elvis p. 176-177

My wife is a wise woman. Years ago a pastor burned me badly- worse than this story- and I have carried an unhealed wound for years and, frankly, I had every right to do so. But it was not doing anyone, least of all myself, any good. Anyway, Sarah kindly pointed out that if I just let it go then it would stop owning me, frustrating me, and tainting me.

We probably won't have the wrong righted, nor watch the person get their dues, but it isn't about what God will do to them but what God will do in us if we let go.

I don't know much but this story just hit me really hard. I hope it brings some others' hope if they read it. It won't make things okay but at least you might know you aren't alone and there is another way.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Walking the Same Road as You

It's been a rough few months but I found hope in this quote by Rob Bell.

"It was in that abyss that I broke and got help... because it's only when you hit bottom and are desperate enough that things start to get better. This breakdown, of course, left me with all sorts of difficult decisions to make... and a new journey began, one that has been very, very painful.'

'... and very, very freeing.'

'It was during this period I learned I had a soul."

-Velvet Elvis, p. 105

You and I are walking roads paved by our own decisions and therefore, have no one to blame for anything. I happen to be in a hard time right now as I am 27 years old and trying to figure out what to do with my life. But you know what- I wouldn't trade my journey for a jump to the destination for anything.

The late and great Kurt Cobain, over-quoted as he is, said, "The sun is gone, but I have a light."

Evangelism is Too Expensive (Both Socially and Monetarily)

"... the mutation of solid church into heritage, refuge, and nostalgic communities has seriously decreased its ability to engage in genuine mission in 'liquid church'[the ability to contextualize Jesus by being culturally specific and relevant]." -Bauman

Recently, I was engaged in dialogue with a church that was moving forward in an exciting new chapter of their church life by starting a 2nd venue- with plans for more. They had done all the proper prep work: consulting with venue veterans, they had no debt (not even a mortgage), had savings, had read books, talked with local leaders, and began recruiting for staff needs... only to claim that they didn't feel, "God allowing them to (plant other churches) at this time", when it came time to pull the trigger with money.

How, when, and where is God against His message being carried out in new ways to new areas? Now hear me, I have, for years and on record, stated that I want NOTHING to do with church planting other than praying and providing funds... which sounds like a lady I heard proudly proclaim that she would pay for people to do missions work "for her" because she knew she was too much of a prima donna. We both sound stupid.

... or a denominational leader who claimed (off the record, of course) that this "church planting thing is only a fad".

The early church in Jerusalem was so isolated, so self-centered, that many scholars argue that God used persecution to cause a viral explosion of churches throughout the entire region. And, if we are to call ourselves "Christians"- a moniker that to proclaim 1800 years ago would have gotten you swift death- then we better start carrying that torch.

That means we stop proclaiming the need for community and engage in real and deep friendships that are awkward because we call each other out and are there for the their (and our own) tough times.

That means we stop talking about planting a church and gather our little group of 5-15 at a house/coffee shop/bar/park and talk about things of significance.

That means we stop living in debt so we can help those who are less fortunate.

That means we refuse to take Jesus lightly and actually read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and get to know this guy we are, allegedly, following.

But lets get back to churches before I go. If your church isn't really reaching out to its surrounding community, planting venues, living with each other, and planting new churches... what IS it doing?

Leonard Sweet said it this way, "The toast at the Jesus table is not 'Here's to us! [those already present]', but, 'Here's to those who aren't here,'."

It is our commission to go and find them, lovingly take them by the arm, by their hurt, and show them our Father. There is nothing else.

But maybe God is telling other people/churches that evangelism is just too darn expensive...