Not a Tame Lion...

Kari and I finally took a break from unpacking boxes Wednesday night and went to see "The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe." First, I should tell you that I'm not in to fantasy-type movies and books. The Lord of the Rings movies turned into a $10 nap - they just don't do anything for me. But I wanted to support the Chronicles of Narnia because of its family-friendly value and the message behind the story.

You'd have to be blind to not see the references to Christ throughout this entire movie. Aslan the lion is the rightful king of Narnia who has gone away for a time. When he returns to reclaim Narnia he joins forces with four children, but not before one of them defects to the side of the White Witch. This defection, according to the law of Narnia, requires the blood of that child. Aslan dies in the boy's place, and rises from the dead citing a higher law that states the shedding of righteous blood would not prevail, even over death. If you can't see Jesus in tha, I don't know what to tell you.

My favorite line, however, came at the end of the movie as Aslan walks away. The youngest child can't understand where he is going or why he is goine away. Mr. Thomnas, her fawn friend, explains that Aslan can't always be understood.

"He is not a tame lion" Thomnas says.

"No," replies Lucy, "but he's good."

Simple, forthright, and intensely theological.

I don't know about you, but I often have a difficult time remembering that God is not a tame God. He hasn't been put under the control of anyone else, and isn't altogether predictable. We often don't understand why God does what God does, or how this mess-of-a-world can be a part of God's ultimate plan. But while we know that God is not a tame God, we also know that He's good.

Lucy's confidence in Aslan can be our confidence in the God of the universe. Though we don't usually understand His plan, or how He works, we can always know that He is good.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 5

One of the most anticipated Summer events for members of my youth group as a kid was Super Summer. Every year during the hottest part of the summer, we would load up an jalopy church van and make the two-hour journey to Kansas City so we could cram into an undersized (also unairconditioned) auditorium with a few thousand of our closest friends. We rocked out to loud music, chanted "We love Jesus yes we do, we love Jesus how 'bout you?" until it reached a fevered pitch, and listened to a motivational speaker get us fired up for the obligatory two-week life change that every camper is bound to produce. Good times.

One year at Super Summer (isn't that the way all good stories are supposed to start?), the theme was "Evangelism." Throughout the week, we were taught a modified version of the "Roman Road" to salvation and pointed questions that were intended to help us turn any conversation to a conversation about spiritual things. It was supposed to go something like this:

Friend: "Hey man, did you watch the Cowboys on Sunday?"
Me: "Yea. Hey, do you believe in God?"
Friend: "I guess. The Cowboys were pretty awful huh?"
Me: "Yea they were. Who is Jesus to you?"
Friend: "I don't know, I was hoping you could tell me."
Me: "I'd love to. Take out your Bible and turn to Romans 3:23"
Friend: "Okay. I happen to have the KJV and NIV in my bookbag, which would you prefer?"
Me: "Whichever you would like. Romans 3:23 says we're all sinners."
Friend: "No doubt about that."
Me: "Romans 6:23 says we owe God death, but God sent His Son as our gift. Is there anything keeping you from trusting in Christ right now?"
Friend: "I can't think of any."
Me: "Great. Let's pray and thank God for your salvation right now."

After learning this method, they turned us loose on fellow campers so we could practice evangelizing each other. I'm not going to lie; I was a master evangelist that week. I led more fake people to fake professions of faith in Christ than Billy Graham could shake a stick at. People were swarming to the fake altar after my presentations. This was easy.

By the end of the week I was ready to take on my entire high school. I reasoned that with three years left in high school, I could average ten conversions a week no problem. Ten conversions times fifty weeks (one off for Christmas and Spring Break each... I planned to keep going during the Summer) all of Rock Bridge High School would be won over before I graduated. After all, how hard could it be?

The church bus rolled back into Columbia, Missouri and I hit the pavement looking for my first opportunity, which came the next day. I worked on swinging a conversation that started on the topic of baseball. Somehow it seemed easier at camp, but I wasn't dissuaded. Then I worked through the Roman Road, which had developed potholes over the 24-hour period since I had last traveled it, in part because the guy I was sharing with hadn't remembered to bring his Bible to our conversation. But we made it down the road, and I was ready to "close the deal."

"Is there anything keeping you from trusting Christ right now?" I asked.

"Yes." He replied.

The silence that followed lasted at least 45 minutes.

Finally, I got the courage to squeak out, "What would that be?"

"Well, I just can't believe that there's a God out there who loves us so much He sent His Son to die for us, but who doesn't love us enough to keep bad stuff from happening to us here." He said.

That certainly hadn't happened at camp. So I did what any right-minded, sane, Christian evangelist would do:

I changed the conversation back to baseball.

Every Christian needs to learn basic apologetics - a basic defense of the Christian faith (1 Peter 3:15). It isn't a faith based on blind leaps and uncertain guesses; it's a faith based on Truth, and rooted in fact. But that doesn't mean that there aren't tough questions out there. And many of our unbelieving friends and neighbors are asking those questions.

How can a loving God send people to hell? Why doesn't a good God stop the evil in the world? Are miracles really possible? These are all good questions that we as Christians don't need to be scared of. Furthermore, if truth is on our side (and it is), we should be eager to seek answers to difficult questions because they will always lead us back to the God in whom we believe.

There's a degree to which all Christians should be comfortable with the unknowable: to accept that there is an unfathomable God in heaven Who is bigger than us is to accept that there are certain things we will never know. But that shouldn't ever be an excuse for not searching for the answers to questions we are able to know.

Many of the questions unbelievers are asking are questions that believers should have asked a long time ago because the answers give us glimpses into the character and nature of God. The question of evil in contrast to a good God is a question about the character of God. We should be ready to defend that character when the question comes up.

There are several good books out there to get you started. The most popular are by Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell. My favorite, however, is a book by Kenneth Boa and Larry Moody called "I'm Glad You Asked." These authors have determined that there are only 12 questions that skeptics ask, although these questions show up in a variety of different forms. This book attempts to answer these questions from a Biblical perspective. Some of the chapters are a little heady, especially when the authors tackle issues dealing with science, but the information is solid and worth reading.

I truly believe that if you don't know why you believe what you believe, you really don't know what you believe.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 4

Several years ago, on something of a whim, I decided to get my pilots license. I was always fascinated by flight, and like to get places fast, so flying was a good fit for me.

One of the weird things about flying that might surprise some of you, is that there aren't road signs in the sky. Rather than street signs, pilots rely on landmarks to navigate their way around. Instead of looking for the intersection of Live Oak and Boardwalk, they'll draw their route on a map, and look for sections of a lake, or small towns they know they should cross en route to their destination. They stay oriented by knowing that a major highway runs on their right and a river on their left. If you don't know your landmarks, bad things happen.

Case in point: Shortly after I received my private pilot's license, I decided to fly from Stillwater, OK (my home at the time) to Columbia, MO (my parents' home at the time). It was about a four hour flight, which was a big deal for me. The flight to Columbia was a success. I arrived when I thought I should, and didn't have any problems. I had the use of GPS (global positioning satellite) in the plane, which meant I didn't have to rely on landmarks at all - it automatically helped me stay on course, and allowed me more time to look out the window and enjoy the scenery.

On the way home, I threw my maps in the back of the plane since I hadn't used them on the first leg of the trip. They're big and cumbersome, and you have to contort your legs in weird ways to keep them spread out on your lap and prevent them from falling to your feet. I left the airport without a hitch and made my final contacts with Air Traffic Control in Missouri. I didn't expect any more communication from them until about the time I would fly out of their communication zone, where they would transfer me to a different channel that would follow me the rest of the way back to Oklahoma.

That call never came.

About 45 minutes into the flight, I realized the scenery was unfamiliar. I looked down at the GPS to make sure I was still on track, and realized it was off. Knowing this was weird, I attempted to turn it back on. Nothing. Its fuse had blown.

Not knowing how long it had been off, or where exactly I was, I attempted to call back to Columbia Air Traffic Control to get some information from them. Nothing. I had been blown so far off course I had escaped their communication area before they had intended. The wind had shifted direction, so all the readings on my instruments were wrong - they weren't calibrated correctly.

I frantically searched the horizon for a landmark I recognized - a lake, river, big city, anything, but couldn't find one. To make matters worse, it was starting to get dark, which meant more than half of the landmarks would be disappearing. Finally, I saw a watertower in the distance and headed toward it. I descended to the point I could read it, and fortunately it was a town I recognized. I scanned the radio for another pilot's voice and asked what the nearest airport was. Fortunately, they had their maps with them and pointed me toward Springfield directly to the West. I pointed toward the sun, and made an emergency landing at an airport nearly 90 miles from where I should have been. All because I decided to enjoy the flight over doing the necessary work to ensure I covered all my bases.

It's a long story to make my point, but the point is this: Far too many Christians are flying the Christian life today without the necessary landmarks. We rely on pastors, Sunday School teachers, books, tapes, and radio programs to keep us on track, but when one of those goes haywire we don't have the knowledge to be able to fix the problem until it's too late.

Every Christian needs to have a basic understanding of every book in the Bible so that they're able to orient themselves no matter the situation.

What is the point of the book of James? Why did Mark write his Gospel? What does Malachi say about God? Why is Exodus important? Is there a point to all the names in 1 Chronicles?

Will you ever need to know why the book of Hebrews was written? Maybe not. The GPS you're using may function for the rest of your life. But it may not, and it's unsafe to fly without knowing your landmarks.

Not long ago I read an article that started with the words, "Micah was written to talk about the sins of the church against God." So I threw the article in the trash. Why? Because I happened to remember my landmarks - the church didn't even exist when Micah wrote. So I made a decision to use my maps instead of rely on that author's GPS.

It's more common than you think - blatant errors in thinking by some of today's most popular preachers. They rifle through the Scriptures and cherry-pick verses that make their point without bothering to thing about the point the verses were intended to make. That's dangerous flying - you'll need to have your maps handy.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 3

The number one and two bestselling books in Christian bookstores today are by a man who denies salvation by faith in Christ and preaches that God's ultimate plan for you is to be rich and successful in this life. Number eight on the list is by a man who indicates that God is a "risk taker" who doesn't know what the ultimate outcome of His creation will be.

I don't know which is sadder; that these guys actually teach this junk, or that millions of Christians who will buy these books for Christmas this year do not know any better.

It's not "cool" to talk about theology anymore. It's even less cool to learn about it. But if Christians today want the church in America to be credible in the days of our grandkids, it's time that we start paying a little more attention to theology; it's something every Christian should know.

Think of theology as the frame of a house. Unless you're used to looking at unfinished homes, it's not always very exciting to look at the framework of a house. It's more fun to look at decorations - paint colors, carpet, and light fixtures, but you put your life in danger when you attempt to hang pictures on walls that won't stand up. Before you begin elaborating on the walls, they have to be supported. And tragically, many of the best selling Christian books today try to add decorations to your life that aren't supported by the beams of theology

There are ten aspects to the framework of the Christian faith that every Christian ought to understand in a basic way. We don't need to know everything, but enough that our walls are stable. That way, when decorators attempt to remodel our house, we know the limits of what the beams can stand. Understanding theology gives us the ability to safely make our faith personal without the danger of knocking down a support wall unintentionally. Basically, theology gives us the limits of what we can and cannot say about the most important things in Christianity.

The ten areas with which we should all be familiar are:
1. Theology Proper - This is the study of God and His attributes. Why is it wrong or a popular men's book to imply that God is a risk taker who doesn't know the outcome of His creation? Because Scripture tells us that God is sovereign, and knows all things. To say He'll be surprised by the outcome of creation means we have no future hope because God is not in control.
2. Christology - Who is Jesus Christ? The DaVinci Code was an extraordinarily popular book that threatened to shipwreck a lot of Christians. How would it affect our faith if Jesus had married and fathered children? That's a Christology question.
3. Pneumatology - The term sounds impressive, but pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit. When a prominent Houston pastor brags about his lack of formal training for ministry by pointing to a time in his life where he "got the Holy Ghost," what is he saying about the work of the Holy Spirit? Why is he wrong?
4. Bibliology - As I'm writing this, there is an impressive commercial on TV that promises to send you "another testament" of Jesus Christ for free in the mail. Could there be another testament to the Bible that we don't know about? How much should we trust the Bible?
5. Eschatology - Several years ago, a man published a book called "88 Reasons Jesus Christ will Return in 1988." In 1999, I drove by a church in Tulsa that was having "Rapture Practice" on Wednesday night after the service. What exactly should we expect in the future? What does the Bible indicate? And how should we live as a result? These are questions of Eschatology, the study of last things.
6. Angelology - Not long ago there was a Dallas police officer who was killed in the line of duty. They interviewed his wife on the news, and she thanked God that her husband was now her guardian angel, and would be with her for the rest of her life. On the flip side, I received a lot of questions from the teenagers I worked with about the movie "The Exorcism of Emily Rose." Could that happen to me? What exactly are angels and demons? How do they behave?
7. Anthropology - The pastor with the bestselling Christian book on the market right now believes that man is good for the most part, and only needs to unlock his inner potential to do great things for God. This is an anthropology question. In addition, the entire Pro-Life debate revolves around anthropology. Why should we protect the lives of the unborn and the mentally handicapped?
8. Hamartiology - Not to pick on him too much, but that very same pastor in Houston doesn't like to say the word "sin." He prefers "mistake," or "fault." What is sin? Can I ever stop sinning? Why do I sin in the first place, and how does it effect me?
9. Ecclesiology - How should the church function? Who should be in charge? Who do we include in the church and why do we include them? A lot of the "emergent" debate that you'll be hearing more about in the future deals with ecclesiology issues (among others). Why does the church exist, and how should it conduct itself?
10. Soteriology - Christians talk a lot about our need to be saved. Saved from what? How is a person saved? There are a lot of splinter issues in this area that are relatively hot topics right now. It's important for us to understand salvation so we don't get caught up in the debate without understanding the issue.

Fortunately, it's not difficult to begin reinforcing the walls of the house. A small committment over an extended period of time can do wonders for the strength of your framework.

When I got to college, I was a glutton for punishment. I grew up in a great Christian home, but in a church that did not major in building a framework for their members, especially the youth. (Most churches aren't good at this). Consequently, when I set foot on the campus of Oklahoma State University, I was like most college students: a sitting duck. Cults love college campuses because the students know what they believe, but don't know why they believe it; they have decorations on the wall, but the walls aren't reinforced. So cults are able to swoop in, add their own reinforcment to the students' beliefs, and jimmy-rig what the church left off.

Fortunately, a couple of Christian guys took me under their wing, and challenged me to reinforce my walls. So every day, I read a section of Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie, and began the process of understanding why I believed what I believed - reinforcing my house. And it's a process I've never regretted.

Ryrie's resource is a good one for a beginner, primarily because it's concise and paints with a broad brush. You won't get bogged down in the details, but will get a broad explanation of Christian Theology and the biblical passages that support Ryrie's conclusions. Millard Erickson also wrote a decent book on theology called Christian Theology. It's a little more heady than Ryrie's book, but also provides a little more depth than Ryrie for the person with a little theological knowledge already under their belt. Finally, I found the Moody Handbook of Theology extremely helpful as a beginning reader. It's extremely reader-friendly, and contains helpful explanations, but often doesn't discuss the alternative views to an issue, so the reader isn't exposed to the arguments of other positions.

Wherever you start, start. And never believe anything just because the book says it. Test it against your framework, which ultimately has to be rooted in the Bible. This will be on the test - every time you read a Christian book with hopes of improving your Christian life. Does the advice of the decorator stand up to the test of Theology? Or is his advice going to make the walls fall down?

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 2

Harry Truman once said, "The only thing about the future we don't already know is the history we haven't already read."

That's one of my favorite quotes, because he's absolutely right. As Solomon said it, "There's nothing new under the sun." History has a way of repeating itself over, and over, and over again. For that reason, the number two thing that every Christian should know is the history of his or her belief.

Now, if you've ever studied church history, you'll probably agree with me that you tend to sleep better at night when you're studying Church history. There is no better insomnia cure than the vast majority of Church History books out there. For the first year or two that I was reading Church History books, I judged the books solely on the basis of how long they took to put me to sleep. Augustine was a 3, because it took me 3 pages on average before I was knocked out more soundly than a bear in the winter time. Martin Luther was fun, because he was a feisty sucker with a fondness for being right in the middle of controversy. Sometimes he called people rude names which was always fun to look forward to - sort of like the black-sheep relatives who tend to always say outrageous things at all the wrong times. No Mom, I won't start naming names... that kind of thing gets you blogrolled, you know.

Church history doesn't have to be boring. In fact, at times it is exhillarating. Especially when you find out that a guy was burned at the stake for an idea you've held for many years. (Uncovering that kind of situation can add some real motivation to your Bible studies!)

You tend to recognize the importance of Church history when you realize that there are very few "new" ideas out there. For almost every idea, and almost every understanding, someone has gone before us. In fact, I had a seminary professor tell me one time that I should always tread softly if I couldn't find anyone who held a view I wanted to write about. Otherwise, I was writing a recipe for disaster.

On that same token, it's fun for me to look at the various movements afoot in Christianity today, from the "charismatic" movement to the "emergent church" movement, to the "micro-church movement," and see their various underpinnings in Christian Church History. The theological ideas that are supposedly "new" today are just repackaged stuff from the past.

When the Supreme Court reviews a case it searches for prior cases that were similar so the Supreme Court can rule accurately. Shouldn't we as Christians look to how the church has handled ideas in the past in order to help us think about how to handle them in the future?

I'm not saying that every Christian should be able to quote Augustine's opinion on every subject, or that every Christian should be conversant in the life of Pelagius, Calvin, Luther, Jerome, Athanasius, and everyone else who ever graced the ranks of dead theologians. But it is important for Christians to know who came before us, and where they walked.

Throughout the history of the church, people have been willing to die in grotesque ways for the things they believed. There's a reason they were willing to lay their lives on the line; the things they wrote were important to them. And they should be important to us too.

So pick up a book on Church history. "The Story of Christianity" by Justo Gonzalez is a decent place to start. The best outcome is that you'll be more confident in your faith, and confronting the errors that repeat themselves over and over throughout history. At worst, you'll get a good night's sleep.

NOTE: Kari and I sold our house today, which is a huge answer to prayer along with a cause for even more prayer. We'll be finishing up the semester, packing, and moving - all before December 20th. Pray for us. And check back often. If Kari gives me a break from packing I'll continue with numbers 3, 4, and 5 prior to the 20th. If not, I'll see you on the 21st.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Number 1

"Umm... err... well... Uh, you see, it's like uh... God. Yeah God, uh... well, we didn't, umm... but God umm... Hang on, let me call my pastor. Wait right here."

Studies have shown that the number-one nightmare that all of humanity has in common is a dream in which a person's teeth fall out. Apparently, this nightmare is common to people of all races, genders, cultures, and ages, although I've never experienced it myself.

This may be the number-one nightmare shared by all of humanity, but my guess is that the comments that opened this post reflect the number-one nightmare shared by most Christians: "having" to share the Gospel.

Most of us have our prayer list of people we know who are not believers. We mention them to our Sunday school class, and pray that God would send someone to reach those people with the Gospel. That is, someone else. Truth be told, most Christians know deep down that if they were ever called upon to share the Gospel, they would immediately lapse into their best impersonation of Bambi in the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck.

Studies indicate that the average Christian can expect to lead less than one person to Christ in their lifetime. Think about that - the average American household has 2.5 kids. It doesn't take a math whiz to recognize there's a problem. If those statistics are right, the church can expect to atrophy at the rate of around .5 person per household. That's downright scary.

Stop and think for a second about the conversations you've had with unbelievers this week. How many of those could have turned spiritual had you had the intestinal fortitude to turn them? (Don't beat yourself up... according to Stat Counter, nearly 200 people read this blog every day, and at least 150 of them are in the same boat as you). Why are we reluctant to turn conversations to spiritual things when we talk to unbelievers? For the majority of us the answer is that we're scared the conversation is going to turn all the way to the point that we're going to be responsible for sharing the Gospel, and we're not prepared to do that.

The number one thing every Christian should know is how to present the Gospel clearly, precisely, and confidently. If this eternal life thing is so great, shouldn't we be prepared to share God's gift with others when the opportunity presents itself?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know God's sovereign, and will draw people to Himself. But there are too many people in the world who use their theology as an excuse to ignore God's clear commands. Of course God is able to bring people to Himself without our involvement; He's God. But He has made it clear through Scripture that He gives us the opportunity to serve Him by sharing the message of life with others.

Think of that: there is one message that far surpasses all the other messages that mankind needs to hear. Of all the messages of God, the message of redemption is clearly the most rich from man's perspective. And God allows us to be His mouthpiece to the world concerning His unspeakable gift. The least we can do is to be prepared so we're ready when God chooses to use us.

You don't have to be a theologian. You also don't have to be the incarnation of Dana Carvey's Church Lady. But every Christian should be willing and able to be used by God in sharing the greatest message I can think of. "God so loved the world..."

So where do you begin? Check out 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 for starters. Paul's presentation is simple, short, sweet, and to the point. Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead.

There are a ton of "methods" out there that you can use to present the Gospel: the Roman Road, The Bridge, Good News/Bad News, etc... I honestly don't prefer to use a "method" because Christians who enter the Christian life based on a formula tend to think the whole Christian life is about formulas and methods, and it isn't. But use the methods to think through your presentation, and then share from your heart. You don't have to be fancy schmancy with bells and whistles. But know the Gospel and pray to God that it will be on the test.

Five Things Every Christian Should Know - Part 1

"Are we going to have to know this for the test?"

This is the one question everyone in my Jr. High, High School, and College classes wondered about but never had the courage to ask. There was always one guy though; he had the courage to ask the question.

I love that guy. He's my hero. That guy is like the class sacrificial lamb. He tips his hand right there in front of everyone so the rest of us don't have to.

Students don't really care about the subject matter. We could Google search the answer if the question kept us up at night, but it doesn't, so we won't. We just showed up at Jr. High because it would get us to High School. High School would get us to college. College would get us a piece of paper that would let us really do what we wanted to do. We didn't want the answers from the classes we took; we just wanted the piece of paper.

But nobody's willing to say that out loud. So, we sat there dutifully taking notes for the first couple of weeks until we figured out who "the guy" was. Once he was identified, the pens went away, and the baseball caps were pulled over our eyes. Don't bore us with the details; just tell us what's going to be on the test.

Whether it's fortunate or unfortunate, we can't be that haphazard with the Christian life. Life isn't about getting the piece of paper, it's about serving the Sovreign God of the Universe. And there's no "guy" asking the question for us. What exactly should we as Christians know to make it in the Christian life? I believe there are five things every Christian should know, and plan to spend the next couple of blogs talking through them. Some of them will be obvious, and some of them will probably surprise you. In each case, I'll try to do my best to describe exactly what it is the believer should know, and why they should know it.

First, a disclaimer: I didn't find these five things listed in Scripture, and I am not God. Therefore, my list isn't inspired. I don't intend to say that you're a bad Christian if you don't know #3 on my list, and certainly don't mean that you have to know all five of these things to go to heaven. Don't doubt your eternal security based on my list. These are simply the five things I believe every Christian should understand in order to faithfully live out the Great Commission, "Go and make disciples of all nations."

And oh yeah... this will be on the test.

Pimp My Devotional Time

Maybe you've seen the TV show "Pimp My Ride." It appears on MTV about as frequently as Britney Spears gets married, so your chances to catch it are fairly good. The basic idea of the show is to take someone's broken down jalopy and overhaul it into the newest, baddest, most hip car on the block. I've only caught the show once or twice, since I'm usually disappointed. I rarely think the end result is better than the original product. The first car had character; the end result has a DVD player and won't break down on the side of the road. Where's the excitement in that?

A few years ago I allowed Prof Hendricks at Dallas Seminary to "Pimp My Devotional Time." I had been doing the whole devotional book plus a chapter of Proverbs a day thing for a while which was fine, but it's hard to find a good devotional book for guys, and I wasn't getting the type of big picture study that I felt like I needed. It was tired, run down, and needed an overhaul. So, on Prof's recommendation, I revamped the whole thing.

I put my devotional book on the shelf to be a placeholder for my dust collection. Now, I dedicate my entire month to the study of one book of the Bible in its entirety. On the first of the month I begin a new book, and on the last day of the month, I end it. No exceptions. Each month I alternate between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Last month, for example, I studied the book of 1 Timothy. This month, it's Malachi. Thursday I'll begin the book of Matthew.

The result has been unbelievable. I find that each month I'm excited to start a new book, and by the time I'm starting to get bogged down with the book, it is time to move on to a new one. The new system gives me the ability to move at my own pace at the depth I desire. I don't have to rely on an author of a devotional book to gauge my spiritual need or maturity.

You can really begin to understand a book after thirty days of study. For some books, like Philemon, I'm able to almost memorize the entire book. I'm able to study the background of the characters, the history of the times, and to experience life in Philemon's skin by the end of the month. But even with the huge books, like Genesis, I'm able to get a big picture that gives me the ability to see the overall purpose of the book, and how it's organized. It helps me understand what God says, and why He says it when He says it.

With this approach, I've also liberated myself from an unfortunate "checklist" mentality. Before, for whatever reason, there were days I would miss devotional times. (Get off my back... it's happened to you too). On the day following my miss, there was always an uncompleted page in my book glaring back at me. Often I would complete two days' worth of devotionals just to fill in the page. I got in the horrible habit of completing pages so I could check them off and get rid of the guilt. There's not one thing spiritual about that. I'd submit to you that if you're doing a devotional time sheerly because you feel guilty about it, you really shouldn't be doing a devotional time.

Offering God less than your best just so you can say you went through the motions is exactly what God judged the Israelites for in Malachi. (Malachi was my book of this month... I should know).

God said to them beginning in Malachi 1:13, "You also say, ‘How tiresome it is.’ You turn up your nose at it,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and instead bring what is stolen, lame, or sick. You bring these things for an offering! Should I accept this from you?” asks the Lord. (14) “There will be harsh condemnation for the hypocrite who has a valuable male animal in his flock but vows and sacrifices something inferior to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord who rules over all, “and my name is awesome among the nations.”

My new philosophy on quiet times has freed me from the legalism of offering an inferior sacrifice to the Lord so I can check it off my list. Instead, I'm actually growing. I can see the benefit. My life is being changed by the text, and I understand Scripture better when I'm done.

So beginning Thursday, give it a shot. Pimp your devotional time. Just think: In just over 6 years you'll have studied each book of the Bible for an entire month. And you'll grow closer to the God of the Universe, and better understand His plan for the ages. What do you have to lose?

Christian Perspective on Torture

I'm back from an early Thanksgiving celebration with my mom's side of the family. Although I'm furious with the local radio stations for jumping the gun on Christmas music, the holidays are truly my favorite time of year. The entire trip was great, but the highlight of the weekend was listening to the technologically-savvy Pyromaniac attempt to explain the intricacies of a wireless network to my 80-year-old grandparents. I'll probably get blogrolled as "annoying" for saying it, but he might have had a better chance had he tried to explain supralapsarianism.

A week or so ago I got into a discussion with a very educated person in one of the secular forums I read. The topic was "torture" and whether or not the United States government should torture prisoners of war in an attempt to gain critical information that might save lives. I took the position that torture might be necessary in some instances, and she took the opposite side. The discussion was going along fine until someone posted the following comment:

"I find it amazing how many so called Christians favor torturing Iraqi's. So called Americans who spout cliches about freedom and human rights as long as it is our freedom and human rights. But they are certainly willing to throw those moral values away pretty quick."

The fact that Christianity is not about human rights or freedom aside, the comment made me think about values we do hold dear and how they come in to play when we talk about this issue. And while I have in no way changed my position, the above comment made me realize that we as Christians need to be very careful when they talk about issues like this so as to both defend what we believe and clearly articulate the way our values play into these issues.

The first issue in play as we discuss torture is the value of universal human dignity. Scripture teaches that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) - a little lower than God and crowned with glory and majesty (Psalm 8:4). As a creation of God, in His image, each human should be seen with dignity as such. Many of us as Christians are very good at pointing to this argument in defense of a pro-life stance (and rightly so), but the argument is tougher when we're discussing a rabid terrorist who wants us and our families dead.

Secondly, vengeance ultimately belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19) Hebrews 10:30). He is the judge, and the ultimate avenger of the innocent. It is not the job of the Church, individual Christians, cultures, governments or armies to execute vengeance or judgment on evil doers at their own bidding.

Thirdly, although I would argue that the government may be used as an agent of God to execute His judgment (Romans 13), we must be extremely careful in claiming that the judgment we execute on prisoners of war is God-ordained judgment on these men. We have to tread very carefully when we speak with "authority" about God's intentions, even when they seem to be obvious. Speak when God has spoken, and remain silent where God is silent.

Personally, I find the practice of torture absolutely deplorable. And yet, I am convinced that such acts might take place in certain educated, specific, controlled situations, and remain completely in line with the values and principles found in Scripture.

(It should be noted here that I am not arguing for the abuse of prisoners for sport, or for the personal enjoyment of the soldiers involved. It shouldn't even have to be said, but such acts are reprehensible, disgusting, and inherently wrong. The acts for which I'm arguing are acts conducted on known terrorists with terrorist ties who are suspected to be withholding information that could be used to protect innocent lives.)

The inherent dignity due to a terrorist POW as one created in the image of God is not greater than the dignity of the person or persons that terrorist intends to kill either directly or indirectly through the withholding of information. If a person held my wife at gunpoint, I would be foolish and sinful to not protect my wife in that situation if I was able. The very analogy makes my stomach churn, but I believe it is apt. If anything, it is over states the point, as we're not debating the use of lethal force against terrorists, but the physical coercion of a terrorist in order to gain information. When we're forced to make a choice, it is foolish to sacrifice the dignity of many people for the dignity of one.

In order to protect the dignity of its citizens, it is my belief that government is completely with in its God-ordained boundaries to engage an enemy of that dignity in whatever way necessary. It should be done as minimally as possible, and only when necessary as a last resort, but if necessary it should be done.

The failure to protect individual human dignity is as egregious a sin as the failure to respect it.

No Place Like Home...

I'll be leaving Dallas for a few days beginning tonight. The Pyromaniac's in Tulsa for Thanksgiving, which means that entire side of the family will drop everything to head his way. (Actually, don't tell him, but Darlene's the one we really want to see.) We'll be doing the Thanksgiving thing this week instead of next, so Phil and Darlene can head back to Southern California in time to cook their Thanksgiving pizza on Thanksgiving day.

Yeah, you read me right... Thanksgiving pizza. Mothers, beware of moving your children to the left coast. It really does warp your brain.

Chances are, blogging will be sparse over the next week or so, since I always feel bad making the 4 hour trek to Oklahoma only to sit in front of the computer, something I could have done here in Dallas. Plus, I'm working on something right now regarding the Christian perspective on torture as it relates to the interrogation of prisoners of war. The topic came up on a secular bulletin board I read, and one of the posters indicated the concept of physical coercion during war is an anti-Christian concept. Within limits, I'm convinced that it isn't. If the topic is still a big news story next week when I get back, I'll crank something out.

Until then...

Take it off...

I'm beginning an official campaign against the "Jesus Fish."

Earlier today during my morning commute, I was within inches of being an agent used by God to usher another person into Glory. There I was, minding my own business while listening to Mike and Mike in the Morning, eating my Fudge Graham Balance Bar, drinking my Coke C2 (the breakfast of champions), and working on the list of things I needed to accomplish today. Traffic was heavy, but not nearly as bad as it can be at 7 o'clock in the morning on the way in to Dallas.

Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I saw a streak of blue come flying across my rear view mirror. A middle aged man in a brand new Tahoe shot from the left lane to the right lane, causing three different cars to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid the early morning opportunity to swim with the Trinity River fishes.

As the Tahoe goosed the gas, missing me by a fraction of an inch, the car in front of him slammed on his brakes join the traffic jam already in progress ahead of us, obviously having been distracted by the commotion behind him. The Tahoe reacted by slamming on his own brakes, and swerving towards the left shoulder only to realize that the left shoulder was protected by a concrete barrier. With cat-like reflexes, he swerved back into the center lane, narrowly missing a car whose driver had already suffered a corronary because of a first near-miss. She honked, which allowed the Tahoe to swerve back into my lane where he finally came to a stop.

That's when I noticed the Jesus fish on the back of his car. Not just one, but a family of 5 Jesus fish; a mommy and daddy Jesus fish followed by 3 little Jesus fish.

It would have been cute if I hadn't developed an incontrolable urge to strangle the guy.

The Jesus fish isn't a good idea. It's hard to represent heaven when you drive like a bat out of, well, you know...

Under the Radar

Last week, I was pretty rough on the makers of "End of the Spear," for casting a gay activist for a lead role in the new movie documenting the life of Jim Elliot and his partners in ministry. Although I stand by my original post, there is something about this movie that is praiseworthy, and I want to make sure to point that out as well.

When was the last time the Christian community put out a high quality, high caliber movie, with high quality actors that wasn't overtly Christian? I can't think of one since Chariots of Fire, which means it's high time for one.

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with overtly Christian movies. I loved the Passion of the Christ, despite its mystic Catholic underpinnings. But the Christian community doesn't always have to be blatant in portraying its message. In fact, being less overt with an agenda is often more effective than making the agenda readily apparent.

Let me give you some examples:

One of my favorite sitcoms, Seinfeld, contains an episode in which one of the characters is attempting to decide, with the help of her friends, whether or not her current boyfriend is worthy of her birth-control method of choice. She only has a few, and they're expensive, so she doesn't want to waste it on the wrong guy. The subtle agenda? Casual sex is normal to the point that it's not even a topic of conversation. The issue for "normal" people is not whether or not to have sex outside of marriage, but whether or not a current sexual partner is worthy of the "good" birth control.

Another popular sitcom that is extremely funny is Will and Grace. The show is funny, and two of its main characters (Will and Jack) are likeable and funny. They're also both gay. Jack is the stereotypical gay man, if you will, while Will is an average, good looking guy that would pass under the "gaydar" of most heterosexuals. The subtle agenda? Homosexuality is completely normal behavior practiced by many "regular" people.

Will and Grace would never be successful in accomplishing its goal of normalizing homosexuality if it was completely overt, over the top, and in-your-face. But by going under the radar, it has won the viewership of many people I know who would vehemently oppose its view on homosexuality, but love the humor and characters of the show. Meanwhile, week after week, the characters seem more real, and their behavior more acceptable.

While I'm at it, I should mention my friend Stowe Campbell. He's a student with me at DTS, but has spent years collecting and archiving episodes of various MTV television shows. His ministry, Know Consequences, talks to teenagers about the underlying messages of MTV's programs. Accompanied by video clips, the messages are pretty scary.

Even the Mormon community has caught on to the idea. Napolean Dynamite was an instant cult-classic that arose out of a dare. A secular man told a Mormon that it was impossible to make a high quality movie without foul language and sexual inuendo. The Mormon took the challenge, and produced Napolean Dynamite. Suddenly, the secular world takes notice. Mormons are just regular guys with great sense of humor like us. How scary is that?

Why can't the Christian community fight fire with fire? What's wrong with producing a high quality television show that highlights a good Christian family who are "normal?" What's wrong with producing a movie that presents good moral values accompanied by an interesting story line, good cinematography, and good acting? We don't always have to be on the attack with our message. Maybe we could invest some time and money into priming the pump so that people are able to see normal Christian people who are not so disconnected from the rest of humanity that we're seen as walking freak shows.

This is not to say that we should ever be scared, intimidated, ashamed, or afraid of boldly proclaiming the Gospel. May it never be! But if the Christian community is always involved in a full frontal assault against secular culture, we run the risk of being seen as antagonists instead of those who offer the message of reconcilliation to God. Meanwhile, the secular community isn't involved in a visible battle with anyone. They don't have to be. By going covert, they're slowly winning the war without firing a shot.

Goodnight Vienna

Goodnight Vienna! (And Guam, and Iceland, and United Kingdom).

While websurfing the other day, I happened upon Clustrmaps. This is one of the coolest things that I am aware of in the area of webstat tracking. Click on the map on the right sidebar and check out where our visitors are coming from every day.

Aside from the humbling reality that the words we write tonight can be read seconds later by almost anyone, anywhere, I'm completely curious as to how someone from Iceland happens upon a blog written by a nobody in North Texas, USA.

So drop us a note. How's life in Guam anyway?

And while you're at it, tell your friends in Big Sky Country that they really should get on the stick. We've got the United States surrounded with the exception of the Montana/North Dakota crowd. There's a reward for the person who logs on and posts a comment from the weirdest spot.

A Confession...

People who know me know that I have a fairly long fuse, and that I've learned to control my "passion" about a subject to a certain extent before reaching my breaking point. Rarely is the threshold met, but on certain occasions the stars line up and I go kamikaze on something that has been cooking for a while. I get irritated about things on a regular basis (hence this blog), but rarely do I go over the edge from irritation to explosion. But I almost got there last night.

I was sitting in class listening to a pretty good lecture on the book of Daniel, specifically Daniel 9, when the professor asked a rhetorical question about the overall theme of Scripture. Now, rhetorical questions by definition don't expect an answer, but the guy in the back row decided to give it a shot anyway. He responded with some gobbledygook about the "antithesis of the contrast of the realities of redemptive history and reprobation." Don't rub your eyes - it didn't make sense when he said it either.

The story isn't over, but I feel the need to make clarification.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. In every class, there's some genius who feels the need to either (1) Demonstrate his brilliance in front of the entire class by reading "Word Power" in Readers' Digest before coming to class, and figuring out a way to incorporate every word in their questions. Or, he feels the need to correct the professor in matters of theology. This is especially comical when 25 year old seminarians attempt to correct a 70 year old professor on matters of theology over which the 70 year old professor has written three books.

Back to last night, the professor asked the back row scholar to clarify his answer. The guy replied back that God's ultimate plan for humanity was heaven or hell. Disagreeing, (heaven and hell are not eternal... God's plan for believers is and eternal state that includes a New Heavens and New Earth, and a lake of fire for unbelievers) the professor responded with another question.

This is where the story goes from making me mad to making me profoundly sad.

Looking directly at the know-it-all student, the professor asked him, "Where will you go when you die?"

"Heaven, I hope. Day by day I hope," replied Mr. Know-it-all, who suddenly didn't know at all.

"You hope?" asked the professor. "This is something you should know."

And he proceeded to share the Gospel with this guy, who has been in seminary nearly 4 1/2 years.

For 4 1/2 years this guy has been attending a conservative evangelical seminary dedicated to teaching believers to "Preach the Word." And somehow this guy missed the most simple and profound truth of all. "Jesus loves me, this I know."

I'm not blogging about this guy in order to give him a hard time. I'm blogging about this story because late into the night last night I was bothered by two lessons this story taught me.

1. It is entirely possible to worship the idol of black and white (and red) words on a page, and altogether miss the God they represent. The study of God's word is vastly important, but can't supercede a relationship with the God of which they speak which comes through faith in Christ.

2. We can't take peoples' individual stories for granted. I was fuming at this know-it-all guy trying to stump the professor with the student's infinite knowledge. Now, my response is compassion and sorrow for a guy who probably isn't even a believer. He can't help it. "The natural man can't receive the things of the Spirit because they're foolishness to him. He can't understand them because they're Spiritually appraised" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Why Young Pastors Leave The Ministry

A recent blog on listed the top ten reasons young pastors leave the ministry. Although it's mostly intended as humorous, there are some pretty interesting things mentioned here. The tenure of a young pastor is around the same amount of time one could expect Liz Taylor to stay married... not good. This list explains why:

1. The discontinuity between what they imagined ministry to be and what it actually is is too great.
2. A life without weekends sucks.

3. The pay is too low (most pastors in my denomination make less money than a school teacher with five years experience).

4. They are tired of driving ten year old cars while their congregations trade in their cars every two years.

5. Many young pastors are called into difficult congregations that chew pastors up and spit them out because experienced pastors know better.

6. Even though the search committee told them they wanted to reach young people, they didn’t really mean it.

7. When the pastor asked the search committee if they were an “emergent church”, the members of the search committee thought he said “divergent church” and agreed.

8. Nobody told the young pastor that cleaning the toilets was part of the job description.

9. The young pastor’s student loans came due and the amount of money he/she owes on a monthly basis exceeds his/her income.

10. Working at McDonalds has alot less stress.

Although some of these are obviously intended as purely humorous, and there are other issues in play here such as the honesty and integrity of churches during the search process, it seems the majority of problems we face as young pastors stem from a lack of proper perspective. From my limited experience, the solution seems to be in the training and relationships pursued by young pastors.

First, the pastor needs to be prepared for ministry on the front end. Frankly, seminaries are not doing this well. The vast majority of seminaries with which I am familiar do a great job of churning out biblical scholars, but there is a huge disconnect between someone who can explain a passage and someone who can wisely apply it to leadership in a church. The value of internships, and apprentice-type learning environments should not be underestimated in the training of young pastors. These situations give the pastors a laboratory to experiment and fail with some type of safety net in play. Frankly, I wouldn't hire a pastor who hadn't served in some type of formal ministry training that included a prolonged internship; the risk is too high.

Secondly, young pastors must be connected to older pastors who can serve to help buoy a pastor through the inevitable messes he finds within the church. These relationships don't need to be formal, but they need to be existent. I thank God on a regular basis for the 3 men in my life who currently pastor churches, and have served as mentors to me during my various involvements in ministry. Their perspective, input, advice, and wisdom have kept me out of several messes, and have encouraged me through some extremely difficult times.

The NakedReligion Blog is right: McDonalds would be less stress, but the rewards of offering someone the opportunity to Super-size their value combo doesn't compare to the reward of being used by God in changing lives.

If you've got a young pastor, it might be worth encouraging him to pursue some of these relationships. Who knows? You might end up saving your pastor.

When evangelism goes too far.

I'm all for evangelism. I think the church needs to be involved in sharing the gospel with the lost. Many of us have been taught the "Bridge Method" where we draw the gap between God and Man on a napkin, and show how the cross bridged the gap. I've used modifications of this approach before, and found it to be a simple way to explain a profound concept.

If you're not familiar with the concept, it's illustrated to the left. We're separated from God because of our sin. No matter how hard we try, we can't bridge the gap because once we've sinned we're separated from God, and owe Him death. (Romans 6:23). Fortunately, Jesus Christ died and offers eternal life by faith in Him (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). Thus, the cross bridges the gap.

Well, the bridge method made more than one impression on this guy.

Sorry... I'm all for evangelism, but if evangelism means someone's going to stick a needle in my body, I'm too carnal for that.

Courage? Finally someone says it.

NEW YORK (AP) - Houston Comets forward Sheryl Swoopes is opening up about being a lesbian, telling a magazine that she's "tired of having to hide my feelings about the person I care about."

Swoopes, honored last month as the WNBA's Most Valuable Player, told ESPN The Magazine for a story on newsstands Wednesday that she didn't always know she was gay and fears that coming out could jeopardize her status as a role model.

"Do I think I was born this way? No," Swoopes said. "And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are..."

Read the Entire Article Here:

I've always wondered why the homosexual community hasn't poured its assets into discovering the "gay gene" in people so they could prove once and for all that homosexuality isn't a behavioral choice, but a genetic trait like having blue eyes or red hair.

Everyone always wants to talk about the courage of celebrities who "come out" publicly, but I've never been that impressed. Every homosexual I've ever seen interviewed on TV plays the creation card - this is the way I was made... you have to accept me.

To me, it's not courageous to admit something that is a part of your genetic makeup.

Admitting something that you can't help doesn't highlight your courage, but your insecurity. Admitting something you can help but have chosen not to help takes courage. Because the responsibility for that is on you, not someone else.

Sheryl Swoopes? There's a woman with courage. I don't agree with her decision to practice homosexuality. But she has effectively alienated herself from two groups of society. The homophobes are upset with her because she pulled a fast one on them and didn't "come out" before they were fans. And the homosexuals are upset because she pulled a fast one on them and let the cat out of the bag.

Born this way? Not Sheryl Swoopes. This was a choice for her, and she knows it.

I can't agree with her choice, but at least she's honest. That takes courage.

Rogue Choirs

Check out this article from MSNBC. Why am I not surprised?

CHARLOTTE HARBOR — The pastor of a Charlotte Harbor church had 16 church members booted from a service after they allegedly refused to stop singing and let the clergyman preach.
Deputies were called at 10 a.m. Saturday by Pastor David Noel of the Seventh Day Adventist Church on Harborview Road.

Noel told a deputy he was instructed by regional church superiors to involve law enforcement to remove the rogue choir. The deputy issued trespass warnings to the group, and all 16 left the church without incident.

The sheriff's office got another call from the church shortly before noon when a parishioner wanted to file assault charges against Noel. Edourd Pierrelus, 57, of Port Charlotte, said Noel got mad at him, hit him in the chest and twisted his earlobe during a church service a week earlier.
The man told the deputy the entire congregation of 25 witnessed the attack. Pierrelus said that because of the way the singing dispute was resolved, he now wanted to pursue charges of simple battery.

Deputies say the dispute is rooted in concerns about the handling of church funds. The members of the rogue choir told deputies they'd handle those concerns within the church.

Prayer in School

A New Jersey football coach resigned his position last week after school officials requested that he no longer lead his football team in prayer before games. You can read the whole story here.

Not long ago I posted my thoughts about schools teaching creation science in schools. I'm against it. Our schools are currently falling behind schools from other countries in many key areas like math, technology, and even literacy. Why should the school spend its time teaching a theory that it doesn't understand, either pro creation or against it? It's not the public school's responsibility to teach my children about God, it's mine.

I feel the same way about the current controversy surrounding this New Jersey football coach. While he's attempting to be a sacrificial lamb, it's my opinion that conservative Christians should back the school in this instance, not the coach.

If public school teachers are allowed to pray on behalf of my child, who governs what can be said in those prayers? Could my child's Muslim teacher lead the class (including my son or daughter) in a prayer to Allah? Could my child's Buddhist teacher lead my child in meditation? This New Jersey coach is Catholic, which only reinforces my point.

If I send my son or daughter to athletic practice, I don't expect the coach to venerate Mary. I expect him to teach my son or daughter to play a sport. My son or daughter should be allowed to pray. But public school teachers, coaches, and administrators don't need to lead my son or daughter in prayer.


The pastors at FBCN are engaged in a discussion right now about the vision for the future of the church. It's a healthy discussion, and comes at a great time - the church just transitioned in a new senior pastor after Gene Getz, the former senior pastor retired to devote his time in other pursuits. In addition, the church is in the process of beginning a new building that will mean moving the entire campus of the church north about two miles. The momentum in the church is strong, and the pastors are committed to keeping the church focused through the move, so the discussion has been fun to be a part of.

Yesterday, during the discussions, the topic of authenticity came up. It has become the code word for today's Christianity, and is used to describe everything that is both right and wrong with Christianity today. Everyone agrees that authenticity is good, but it seems nobody can define it.

We talked a lot about what things could be described as "authentic" behaviors by the church. Some people brought up the idea of helping transients, feeding the hungry, and loving the hurting. The majority of the examples pointed to authenticity as the importance of Christians not portraying the "holier than thou" attitude, to the point of disclosing their own weaknesses, struggles, and shortcomings so that those on the outside don't see Christians as acting as though they "have it all together."

The idea of authenticity as disclosure seems to be the most popular way to understand the word. Basically, I'm authentic if I share my shortcomings and struggles with someone else so they know I'm not perfect.

While I think there's probably something to disclosure as a part of authenticity, I think that's a misdefinition of what the church truly needs as far as authenticity goes. Frankly, I don't need to disclose my shortcomings to other people - the majority of the time they're as plain as day. I have never met an unbeliever who stumbled because he thought I had it all together, but I meet unbelievers all the time who struggle because they know Christians don't have it all together, but are put off by the attitude of Christians who like to pretend otherwise.

Authenticity is more about attitude than disclosure. Although there's a healthy intimacy level with various people in which we are able to disclose our struggles at different levels, there are times at which such disclosure would be horribly inappropriate. But an attitude of humility in recognition of what God has done in my life completely apart from my own acting is never inappropriate.

As an authentic church, and as authentic believers, we should seek to refine our attitude to be an attitude of authenticity rather than the false masks we like to wear. But we don't have to be a culture that magnifies our weaknesses to win others - they know our weaknesses; our responsibility is to magnify our gracious God.


They were supposed to show our house today, so the puppy and I went to Petsmart to look around. She doesn't care for strange people in the house who don't let her out to play with them. The sad puppy dog eyes work on Kari but don't seem to work on potential homebuyers, plus the dog loves to visit Petsmart, so off we went.

This week Dallas had what the meteorologists are calling a "cold snap." Basically, for non-texicans, that means the weather finally dipped below a hundred degrees. There's nothing cold about a cold snap in Dallas. In fact, the weather today is sunny and nearly 70 degrees. But don't tell the Texans. Between the house and Petsmart, I counted 8 people walking outside with heavy winter coats and gloves. Eight.

Texans notoriously overreact to the weather. Two or three weeks ago, Hurricane Rita was supposed to pass over Dallas with the potential of 10 inches of rain in the metroplex. You couldn't find bottled water in the grocery stores, and there were fights in gas stations between people trying to hoard imperishable items in case of the worst. Our houses might float away, but I'll be darned if she's going to take the last Snickers bar.

Don't even mention snow around here. If the weather man even says words that rhyme with snow, people lose control of their cars, lock themselves in their homes, and light fires in trashcans in their backyards, "just in case."

And today, on the first truly beautiful day this fall, Texans are bundled up like Eskimos.

As I laughed at the sheer lunacy of what I was seeing, a commercial came on the local Christian radio station about an upcoming church conference coming to our area that promised to "completely revive today's dying church." That's when I realized it; it isn't just Texans. The church overreacts in the same way.

Why do we need a completely new paradigm for church? Why does the church need a one-hundred and eighty degree perspective switch from its previous philosophy? I've been to these radically different churches - the ones who are redoing church to "revive today's dying church." Ask them how they know we're dying, and they point to the churches seeming inability to reach the postmodern generation. So they're redoing church to "fix it." The church has missed this entire generation, so they're going after it. They're starting whole churches aimed at fixing the problem of the church. How do we know they're successful? The postmoderns are showing up in droves.

But the senior adults aren't. Neither are the middle-aged people. The kids usually come with the middle-aged people, so they're missing. We've overcorrected our philosophy so much that now, instead of missing one generation, we're missing three. Surely that can't be church the way God intended it to work.

I would argue that the vast majority of churches today don't need a major paradigm shift. They don't need to go back to the drawing board. We don't need an entire overhaul, we just need a tune-up. The world today doesn't need a postmodern church, it needs to be brought into a relationship with God through saving faith in Jesus Christ. We don't need new paradigms, we just need people who love our generation enough to share God's Word with us, and to welcome us to the family.

Earth to Dallas: lose the coat, it's seventy degrees outside.

A Life With Purpose - Book Review

On one of my bookshelves I have two stacks: books I have to read, and books I want to read. The first stack is books I have to read for school or work, and the second stack is usually full of random books I've received as gifts, or that I stumbled on at Half Price Books, my favorite used bookstore. The drill is this: after I finish one of the "have to reads," I grab one of the "want to reads" as a reward.

I have great in-laws, and last Christmas they loaded me up on "want to read" books. After ten months, I'm finally about to exhaust those books, and am in dire need of some more. Fortunately, Christmas is just around the corner.

Today, I finished a major exam for one of my classes and searched for a "want to read" book. I picked out "A Life With Purpose" by George Mair. The subtitle of the book is "Reverend Rick Warren, The Most Inspiring Pastor of Our Time." It was a freebie somewhere, and since I love biographies, I figured it might be interesting.

If you're one of those over-sensitive types who believes you really shouldn't say anything at all if you don't have something nice to say, it might be advisable to stop reading here and pretend I wrote no more. I have absolutely nothing nice to say about this book. Consider yourself warned.

For starters, I feel the need to say that I'm not opposed to Rick Warren. I personally enjoyed "The Purpose Driven Church" very much. "The Purpose Driven Life" was for me a lot like Jurassic Park - the hype oversold the actual experience, and I was left disappointed once I finally got around to reading the book. But I didn't hate it.

This book on the other hand... well, let's just say about halfway through the book I promised myself if I could get through it, I'd treat myself to my "have to read pile." (I always finish books... period. It's part of being a type-A, obsessive compulsive guy. What can I say?)

For starters, from the forward, and from the book itself, it's obvious Warren had nothing to do with this book. The guy writing the book is an admirer of his who talked with his family, and friends, but didn't spend time with Warren in the writing of this book. For that I'm thankful. Like him or not, Rick Warren is one of the most listened to spokespersons in America when it comes to Christianity. To think that one of the most powerful men in American Christianity today's sole mission in life is actually to be like Robert Schuller and Norman Vincent Peale is frightening. But that's what this book insinuates.

This book insinuates that Rick Warren is carrying the torch first lit by Bob Schuller (of Crystal Cathedral fame) and Norman Vincent Peale (writer of "The Power of Positive Thinking"). In fact, there's more biographical information about these two men in the book than there is about Rick Warren himself. Interestingly, if you do the math, Saddleback was several years old before Warren and Schuller met, although this book claims Schuller was the primary influence in the bedrock principles Warren used to start his ministry.

I got the distinct picture throughout the book that the author had an ulterior motive, and it wasn't to describe Rick Warren. Rather, the book seemed to be an attempt to give credibility to the Positive Thinking gospel on the coat tails of Rick Warren's success.

Although I haven't agreed with everything Warren has put out, I don't get the impression that the Purpose Driven Life is truly the revival of the Power of Positive Thinking gospel. If it was, the Purpose Driven Life would amount to no more than the Ego Driven Life. I find that philosophy hard to derive from a book that begins by saying "It's not about you."

The Purpose Driven Life is an utter contradiction if we take it in light of Norman Vincent Peale's philosophy. The Power of Positive Thinking is an exaltation of humanity, and the philosophy that you are what you think you are; it's the "Little Engine That Could" mentality. But the Little Engine was a train, and trains aren't fallen humans. Trains might be able to climb mountains they didn't think they could cross, but humans are unable to bridge the gap between themselves and God that was created by their sin.

True significance for humanity is not found in humanity, but in what God has said about the crowning jewel in His creation: we are created in His image. Beyond that, humanity who is in a right relationship with God (through faith in His Son) is seen as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, who is loved and cherished by God. There is no power in positive thinking, other than positive thinking about who God is, and who humanity is in light of who God is. If the Purpose of the Purpose Driven Life is anything other than "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," we fall tragically short of the purpose for which we were intended.

Christian Porn

I first became acquainted with Mike Foster and Craig Goss's ministry during an online church service I watched about a year ago. The People's Church in Frankin, TN archives their worship services, and when I was a worship leader I frequented their sites as a way to learn new songs. Because of time restraints, I didn't usually listen to the sermon although Rick White, their pastor is an extremely good communicator and worth listening to.

One day, I logged on to listen to a worship service and heard someone announce that it was "Porn Sunday" at The People's Church. Now, you need to know that although they don't make a big deal about it, The People's Church is a Southern Baptist congregation. Having grown up in a Southern Baptist church, my jaw just about hit the floor. I didn't know Southern Baptists knew what porn was, and I was darn sure they weren't allowed to talk about it in church - much less devote a Sunday to it. But that's what The People's Church did. And you can bet I didn't miss the sermon that week.

The People's Church was hosting a couple of guys named Mike Foster and Craig Goss, the founders of the self-proclaimed "#1 Christian Porn Site on the Internet." Don't worry - you won't find distasteful pictures of Billy Graham on the site. It's a site dedicated to combatting the porn industry, and to helping those involved in that industry and those addicted to porn.

I read about a year ago that addiction to porn was the #1 addiction among males. More men are addicted to porn than are addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, or drugs. And it's easy to get. Twenty years ago, you had to drive to the gas station to pick up your magazine of choice. But we run into people we know at the gas station all the time; most people wouldn't be willing to take the risk.

But today, you're only two clicks away. Men (and women) can access porn for free in the privacy of their home without anyone else ever finding out. And it's rampant in society. Forget the disgusting picture it gives men and women of the opposite sex; it's tearing families apart. I know guys at seminary who are hooked on this trash, and it's destroying their marriage, destroying their family, and destroying their ministry.

Craig and Mike are determined to see the trend reversed. On their site you can download free software that will email a list of sites you visit to your parent, spouse, or accountability partner. There are resources for parents, for those addicted, and for those who just want to see some staggering statistics about the dangers of pornography.

Not everyone agrees with their methods. These guys are the creators of the "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" t-shirts, and of Pete the porn control puppet. They bought a booth at the Las Vegas porn festival, and handed out materials to the porn stars and porn addicts who attended. They're blunt, slightly off color, and thrive when they're teetering on the edge. But regardless of some of the means they use to acheive the end, the end is a desperately needed ministry in today's culture.

Marriage and Faith

There's a good article about marriage and faith on MSNBC's home page this morning. Apparently, those who base their marriage on the foundation of faith fair better than those who don't. Imagine that.

This past weekend during a class on marriage at DTS, the topic of divorce and its consequences to the family unit came up. It's a hard discussion, because I've seen the devastation that comes from divorce in a family, and its impact on the divorcer, divorcee, and the innocent bystanders of the decision to divorce. As we discussed it, I was reminded of how thankful I am that Kari and I both grew up in homes not only with two parents, but in homes where divorce was not even a vocabulary word. It wasn't ever an option for our parents under any circumstances.

Our faith has been far and away the most important thing to Kari and my marriage - so much so that I often wonder how unbelievers make it in marriage. When there is no eternal perspective present in the life of husbands and wives, what keeps those people going through the really tough times? When there's no ultimate picture of the purpose of marriage, what keeps married couples together when everything falls apart? How could marriage last and be based on anything other than faith?

Church Based Training

I'd love to write a book. When I was a freshman in college, I started one. But you need two things to be able to write a book: knowledge, and experience. As a freshman in college, I had neither. So I finished the prologue, wrote the dedication page, and quit. Maybe I'll take it back up when I'm 50 and actually have a little more life under my belt.

For now, I read a lot of other peoples' books. And I've noticed something about books recently: many of the very best ones don't come up with revolutionary ideas that have never been thought before. Conservative estimates believe humans have existed for at least 6,000 years, so to believe one of us actually has a novel idea that was never before thought of by one of the billions of people who have existed throughout history is pretty far out. Instead, some of the best books out there take things we already knew, package them in a new way, and sell them to those of us who didn't know we knew what we know.

That's what Rowland Forman, Jeff Jones, and Bruce Miller have done in their book "The Leadership Baton." These men are all affiliated with the Center for Church Based Training, which is a group that functions as a part of Fellowship Bible Church North, where I'm now employed. This book defines the principle that drives the ministry at Fellowship Bible Church North, and has helped not only FBCN, but the numerous churches planted by this ministry.

The principle is called "Church Based Training," and it's not new - not completely. One could argue Paul was practicing the philosophy of "Church Based Training" when he told Timothy to take the things he had learned, and teach them to others who could teach others as well. But somewhere in history, the church got away from Church Based Training. Oh, we had discipleship class. We had Bible Studies. We taught people how to be scholars, and students, and theologians. But we didn't teach them to be leaders.

That's the downfall of the seminary today. Every year hundreds of men and women graduate from seminaries and Bible colleges with a grasp of God's Word, a knowledge of theology, and sometimes even a familiarity with the Bible's original languages. But when they show up in our church as our pastor, they don't know how to lead. The luw paradigm won't help even the best Greek scholar survive a board meeting, or set direction for the church.

Don't get me wrong. I believe, and know the writers of this book believe graduate studies are vastly important. I wouldn't trade my seminary experience for anything. But seminaries can't teach everything.

And Church Based Training is not just for pastors. This principle drives all of Fellowship's ministries. The youth ministry, worship ministry, men's and women's ministries, and the small group ministry of which I'm a part have all bought in to the Church Based Training philosophy, and it has made Fellowship a better place.

The philosophy isn't complex. There isn't a secret meeting room full of charts, graphs, names, and pictures. Only a group of people who are determined to be intentional about developing the people around them. Each emerging leader is given a baton like the ones used in a relay race. It is inscribed "2 Timothy 2:2." The leader is told that the baton isn't for them, but for the person they will train to come after them. And from day one, the leader is given a tangible reminder of the importance of passing a legacy from one leader to the next.

All over the church, batons are being passed along. Small group leaders train other small group leaders. Youth leaders train other youth leaders. Pastors train other pastors. Elders train other elders. It's a simple concept, but because the church and its leadership are serious and intentional about it, it is making a huge difference.

I'll write more in coming days and weeks about how this philosophy actually plays out as I get the opportunity to observe it. For now, buy the book. You won't be disappointed.

Enjoy the Ride

At DTS I'm currently enrolled in a Bible Exposition class with Dr. Jay Quine. He's a new addition to the faculty at DTS, who comes from Philadelphia College of the Bible. Prior to his career in ministry, Dr. Quine was a successful attorney and the youngest judge appointed in the history of the state of Washington. So, the perspective he brings to our discussion of the Major and Minor Prophets is truly unique. I've particularly enjoyed the wisdom he has employed in showing the practical relevance of the Old Testament Prophets to ministry and culture in today's society.

Last week we began studying Isaiah. The class discussion centered around Isaiah's call in chapter 6. If you're familiar with the story, you know that God called Isaiah to proclaim a message of judgment and destruction to the people of Israel. It wasn't a pretty job. Isaiah would be responsible for prophesying the doom of a people who would eventually be carried out of their homes on meat hooks. His message: Repent or be judged. And the response is already declared by God (6:9-13). The people won't listen to Isaiah.

For Isaiah, success is failure. The people won't listen to his message. They won't respond in faith. They will be judged despite Isaiah's pleas. In order for Isaiah to be faithful to God's call, his proclamation of the message must fail. A similar concept is found in ministries throughout the Old Testament, but specifically with the prophets. Success, in God's eyes was failure.

What does this mean for current ministries and ministers as we attempt to define success for our ministries? Is it possible that some of us must fail in our ministries to be successful before God? Is it possible that we're misdefining what success in the church truly is?

I posed this question to Dr. Quine after class, and his answer blew me away. "Success in ministry is none of your business," he said. "Your responsibility is to enjoy the ride."

At first, I didn't like his answer. I'm a type-A, success-driven guy. I want my church and ministry to be successful. But the more I think about it, the more I think he's right.

My responsibility as a pastor isn't to have a successful church. My responsibility as a pastor is to live every day in fellowship with God, and leave the results of my ministry to Him. Whether my church converts four thousand or four isn't any of my business in the ultimate scheme of things. We may plant seeds, but God causes the growth.

Why is Saddleback pushing twenty thousand members while many gifted, talented, visionary pastors are working in churches of less than fifty? If we think it's because of the gifts of the staff, or the vision of the leader, I'm afraid we're short sighted. God's grace has allowed that church to explode, and God's grace has allowed the other church to remain small. "Success," as we define it, is not any of our business. Our business is to enjoy the ride.

So here we are...

I'm typing today's blog from my new office at Fellowship Bible Church North in Plano.

Life is good, except for the acute bronchitis and lung infection the doctor diagnosed me with this morning. I've already hacked up my left lung, so after the right one follows I think I'll feel better. But I didn't think it would be good to call in sick for my first day of work. (That's usually frowned upon).

Later in the week, I'll be blogging about prophets for hire. It was a problem for Micah, and seems to be a problem with America's philosophy of the church today as well. I'm also working on a philosophy of ministry success that I'd like to hang out here to dry. I'm seeking to answer the question of what it means to truly be successful in ministry in light of a recent study in the major and minor prophets. For many of the prophets, success was failure. Truly following God's will meant nobody would listen to them or respond to the message. How does that relate to what we're called to do today?

For now, I'm going to the bathroom to cough so the other guys in the office don't hate me my first day on the job.

Some Thoughts on the Multi-Site Movement

The newest fad in the church today is the concept of multi-site churches. According to this concept, churches plant new churches complete with their own support staff and music team, but without a pastor. Instead, the Sunday morning message is streamed in from a pastor who may be located thousands of miles away, and is broadcast on a video screen.

Although the fad is just now catching on, it isn't a new concept. Several years ago I became acquainted with several people who were a part of a multi-site church. Instead of a pastor, they sat around a tape player and listened to the messages from a church in Houston that furnished tapes to several such groups around the country.

I'm no expert on the multi-site movement, and certainly don't want to throw the baby out with the bath water, however I have several concerns about the philosophy behind the movement.

The first concern is illustrated by the Houston church mentioned above. The multi-site concept presents a pastor who is larger than life. Don't even think about shaking his hand after the sermon. You might never even see him in person. You won't run into him at the grocery store, or see his kids playing t-ball. He lives hundreds of miles away from you, the church, the fellowship, and the accountability of the local church. The pastor of the church in Houston began as one of Dallas Seminary's most distinguished graduates, but over time became one of its most notorious graduates. I believe much of this can be attributed to the lack of accountability that comes with having a pastor who is bigger than life.

I believe the multi-site church also demonstrates an overemphasis of one person's spiritual gifts. Many of the pastors who lead these multi-site churches are extremely gifted communicators. Craig Groeschel of in Edmond, OK (and Phoenix, and Tulsa, and Stillwater...) is a prime example. But are we to believe that he is the only great communicator of God's truth in the tri-state area? It seems to me that we are overemphasizing the talent of the messenger over the message.

Throughout Scripture, God seemed to use the most unlikely messengers so this mistake wasn't made. God promised in Isaiah 55 that his Word would never return to him void, but would alway accomplish the purpose for which He sent it out. The talent and giftedness of the speaker is not nearly as important as the content of the message. But the multi-site concept seems to indicate otherwise. Either that, or it insinuates that there is only one person in the area that can communicate the truth accurately. Unfortunately, that's the road the Houston church mentioned above started down, and that's a dangerous road to hoe.

Along with an overemphasizing of one person's spiritual gifts comes a deemphasization of other spiritual gifts. The multi-site concept seems to indicate that a talented communicator of God's word can't be found in a 500 mile radius, but that other pastoral staff and musicians are growing on trees.

The most ironic challenge I see with the multi-site church is its complete inability to be culturally relevant. This is ironic because the multi-site church is supposedly the most culturally relevant church. What could be more hip than cranked-up music alongside a message from cyberspace?

The multi-site church might meet the culture on a broad level, but has a complete inability to meet local cultures where they are. It doesn't take a cultural expert to know that the culture of Phoenix is different from the culture in Oklahoma City. The only way for a multi-site pastor's message to fit each of the contexts to which he's preaching is to water the message down to the point that the impact is lost.

The multi-site church is likely to be the future of the church in America. But until some of these issues are addressed, someone else can take my spot on the bandwagon.