Christmas Vacation

See ya on January 1st

Family Friday - Rice Cereal

Before Kari and I were married, I knew she had some "cute idiosyncrasies" that most people don't share. One of the most pronounced "cute idiosyncrasy" is her aversion to rice. 

I know, I know - of all the foods to hate (and Kari hates many of them), the one she hates the most is rice. It doesn't matter what kind of rice - from Rice Krispies to Flied Lice, she hates it all. 

Well, today Casen had his 4-month checkup and shots. The Doc said we could try to introduce some rice cereal into his diet whenever we wanted. The thought of rice cereal makes Kari gag, but she decided to be a trooper and feed it to Casen. This is what happened:

video

Seems like the apple doesn't far too fall from the tree...

Book - The Future of Justification

Back in college, I had some run-ins with a few over-zealous hyper-Calvinists who really bothered me. They were intellectually arrogant, theologically lazy, and pretty obnoxious in their desire to convert everyone they met into hyper-Calvinists like themselves. 

John Piper was their pope. 

John Piper is not himself a hyper Calvinist, or anywhere near as annoying as these guys in college, but they hung on every word he wrote. So, I didn't read much Piper until seminary. And, my reading of him has always been colored by the bad taste in my mouth I received from the zealots in college. 

But, in the process of weeding through resumes for a role McKinney was attempting to fill, I kept coming across people who were reading NT Wright. The more I read about the Emergent Church, the more I read about NT Wright. So, I went out and picked up some books by NT Wright, and was pretty disturbed by some of what he wrote. 

I was really excited to find John Piper's book "The Future of Justification," which is a response to NT Wright's thoughts on the meaning of justification in the New Testament. 

Piper's work is superb. Plain and simple. It's written with grace, Truth, and as clarity. It's theologically heavy - not  easy reading - but is a tremendously important work. Piper successfully points out the flaws in Wright's position without making Wright himself the enemy, which is a tremendously difficult thing to do in debate

The doctrine of justification by faith is at the heart of the Christian faith. Wright is willing to throw out millenia of scholarship in view of something he feels is clear from Apocryphal literature and the Qumran scrolls - as if the Qumran community is more representative of the average Jewish person alive in the first century than the letters in the New Testament. 

Emerging generations need careful theologians. Careful theologians should read "The Future of Justification." 



Leadership is about Faithfulness

Leadership is about faithfulness before it's about leadership. 

A significant part of my role at McKinney Church is leadership development. In fact, it's core to our philosophy that every pastor is primarily about leadership development. Sometimes that involves developing people for formal leadership positions like small group leadership. Sometimes it involves developing people for informal leadership positions in their schools or places of business. 

In either case, the successful leader has to be faithful in non-leadership before they can ever be successful in leadership. 

I would never consider a person for a formal leadership position who isn't demonstrating faithfulness in some arena already. Likewise, I'm not going to waste my time developing/mentoring people toward leadership who can't demonstrate faithfulness to something. 

A lot of people think they're gifted in leadership, but that they're only able to exercise that gift in a formal position. That's baloney. Likewise, there are a lot of people out there looking for mentors who aren't faithful kind of people. Those people aren't going to amount to anything as leaders because they can't be trusted.

Before leadership is about leading, leadership is about faithfulness. If you're not a faithful person, you're not going to be a faithful leader.  

Systematized Spontaneity

Yesterday I had lunch with a good friend of mine from seminary. He's serving with the Navigators in Eugene, Oregon, on the campus of Oregon University. If you're not familiar with Eugene, it's a pretty tough place to be a believer. Eugene where all the angry hippies went after the 70s were over. It's a socially liberal town, and socially liberal campus. It's the only town I know of where it is legal to walk around town nude. In fact, according to Stowe, from time to time students will attend class nude. 

Where was Eugene when I was making my college decision? 

I had a blast talking to Stowe about what God is doing in their ministry in Oregon. I was particularly fascinated by the system they're using for outreach. They've developed a system that fosters spontaneity, which is pretty cool. 

Systems and spontaneity create a tension in most ministries. If your ministry is too systematized, you end up with a cold, lifeless church. If your ministry is too spontaneous, you end up with chaos. The best ministries include systems that foster spontaneity, and figure out a way to live in the tension. 

Stowe's outreach plan at the University of Oregon includes systematized plans to spontaneously meet students. He has a system that allows him to make spontaneous contact with students, engage them in conversation, and share the Gospel, and God is at work. Keep your eye on the University of Oregon. It wouldn't shock me at all to hear about a spiritual awakening on the campus. And, if you're looking for a ministry to get excited about financially, Stowe's would be a good one. You can give online to what he's doing by clicking here

It's exciting when I see people I know doing great things in tough situations. They give me confidence that God can use me too! 

Contrast

Our Young Adults are in the home stretch of a year-long look at the New Testament. Since January 1, 2008, all our young adult groups have been reading a chapter a day, five days a week, out of the New Testament. On Sunday, we teach through the 5 chapters the group read the previous week. 

We've got two weeks left in the trek before we're done. We didn't necessarily go in order, but we are ending with the book of Revelation. Why? Because nothing says "Christmas" like hail mixed with blood falling from the sky. 

Actually, Revelation is a great book to study around Christmas time. When the whole world is focused on the first coming, we're focused on the second coming. When the whole world is focused on a new year, we'll be focused on a new heavens and new earth. That's not bad. 

One of the most interesting things to me about the book of Revelation is the contrast between heaven and earth. The most poignant is between chapters 2 and 3, and chapter 4. 

Chapters 2 and 3 describe seven churches at various states of fulfilling their role on earth. Some churches, like the church of Philadelphia (not Pennsylvania) were worn out but holding fast (Revelation 3:7-13). Others, like the church at Sardis had a great reputation for being alive, but were dead and needed a wake-up call (Revelation 3:1-2).  Chapter 3 ends with the church at Laodicea, who was lukewarm - like bad coffee. Coffee is sold iced, and sold hot, but lukewarm coffee is thrown down the drain. 

Chapter 4 changes scenes entirely from the situation on earth to the situation in heaven, where the entire scene is about worshipping at the throne of God. Every creature and person around the throne is constantly "giving glory, honor, and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever" (Revelation 4:9). 

At first glance you might think chapters 2 and 3 have nothing to do with chapter 4, but to do so is to miss one of the great themes of the whole book. 

The book is written to reveal Jesus (Revelation 1:1). And when Jesus is revealed, worship occurs. The problem for many of the churches listed in chapter 2 and 3 was that Jesus had been revealed to them, but they had stopped worshipping. The church at Ephesus had left its first love (Revelation 2:4). The churches in Pergamum, Thyatira, and Sardis were actually worshipping - just worshipping the wrong things. 

I think the contrast in chapter 4 is stark on purpose. We see what's going on on earth, and then immediately what's going on in heaven. The question should be obvious, and it's implied throughout the book of Revelation: Which does your life more closely reflect? The obstinate people who refuse to worship despite revelation of Jesus, or the people who never stop giving Him praise, honor, and glory, forever?

Transparency or Honesty?

There's a lot of talk these days about "transparency." It's in the church, in corporate business, and even in politics; Barack Obama has made it a stated point to try to be "transparent" in his transition to office. 

But I think most of the time we mistake "transparency" for "honesty." 

"Honesty" means I choose the topic, and speak about it truthfully. I try to be "honest" in my preaching and in my leadership. I speak about my strengths, weaknesses, and struggles. I hope people feel like I connect with them on a significant level because I feel the freedom to be honest with them. But it's impossible for me to be truly transparent when I control the environment. I can be honest, open, and even vulnerable, but not transparent. 

"Transparency" involves honesty, but the two words aren't synonymous. Transparency is more pervasive than honesty; it's open and honest about everything. Transparency means honesty when someone else controls the environment and topic, and we respond truthfully. Transparency demands community. It demands relationship. It demands trust. It is only possible when the "transparent" person is not in control.

You can (and must) be honest in everything with everyone.  But you can only be truly transparent with a few. 

What would the next person do?

I've read and heard an interesting quote a couple of different places recently, and I really love it. Andy Grove was one of the early leaders of Intel, and said in a conversation with his CFO, "If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Why shouldn't we walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?" 

I love that quote. I think about it all the time as a leader in an organization. 

If my church was to fire me, or I was to keel over dead tomorrow, what would the new guy need to change? If he had no personal attachment to ideas, emotional investments in programs, or sympathetic attachment to specific personalities, what things would he need to stop doing? What things would he need to do better? What things would he need to start doing? 

If I can name specific things on that list, what is it that is keeping me from walking out the door, walking back in, and pulling the trigger myself? 

Because here's the thing: If I don't make the switch, at some point in the future the organization will bring in the new guy. 

The question isn't just good for my role at the church though. It can be tweaked so it applies to every aspect of your life. 

My wife recently announced that if I died, she would remarry immediately (the mommy business is hard work). I plan to stay alive because I don't want her to bring a date to my funeral. Even so - play out the morbid scenario in your head. What things would she hope he would do differently? 

He'd turn off the water faucet when he was brushing his teeth, that's for sure. 

So what is it that keeps me from doing that now? 

Don't get me wrong. My wife isn't hoping for my untimely demise. Her future husband isn't something she thinks about. But there's no reason I shouldn't be a better husband to make that guy look like a complete tool. 

You wear a lot of hats in your life. You may be a boss, an employee, a husband, wife, child, parent, neighbor, or friend. Imagine you were replaced tomorrow. What would the person who filled that role do differently? 

What's keeping you from walking out the door, walking back in, and doing it yourself?  

Your "Quiet Time" is Too Short

I first started the habit of a consistent "quiet time" or "personal devotion time" in college. It's a discipline I've continued to this day, and one that many if my friends do as well. Maybe it's something you do as a part of your day every day too. You schedule fifteen minutes, or thirty minutes, or an hour devoted to studying Scripture, praying, singing, or reading a devotional guide of some sort. 

Does it occur to you that your quiet time is too short? 

I'm increasingly convicted that my devotion to God has to be an over-arching character trait, not just something I schedule. 

Now, technically I've "known" that for a long time. You probably have too. But, functionally it's more difficult for us. 

There are days that my 30 minute quiet time adversely affects my relationship with God because I walk away feeling like it's enough. My "devotion" time is done, so I can get on with the rest of my day. And thus, the time that I live in conscious devotion to Jesus Christ is limited to 30 minutes per day. What a waste. 

Intentional times of Bible Study and prayer are important. Don't get me wrong. But they aren't enough. They don't even scratch the surface. I need reminders throughout the day that whatever I'm doing should be an act of conscious, intentional, purposeful, meaningful devotion to God. My quiet time is way too short. 

John Burke's book "Soul Revolution" has a neat experiment I'm going to try with some guys I know pretty well. Beginning in January (or a little before), we're all buying watches that beep every hour. Every hour when those watches beep, we're going to allow that beep to jolt our minds towards thinking about how the next hour can be an act of personal devotion; at home, at work, at church, at play. In effect, we're going to try to stretch our quiet times to the hours we're awake. 

I'll certainly continue being intentional in my study of Scripture, and in trying to maintain a meaningful prayer life. But those will be supplements to my devotion, not substitutes. Try it with us if you want, and let us know how it goes. 

15-hour quiet times every day... who's with me? 

Forest and Trees

One of the big challenges of leadership is being able to view both the forest and the trees as they lead. 

In order to be effective, a leader has to be able to take a step back from small decisions to see its ramifications on the big picture. This is especially important in crisis management. Poor leaders will be tempted to run the path of least resistance, and make a knee-jerk decision in a crisis scenario, which almost never pays off in the long run. 

But the most effective leader is not just one who operates on a big-picture level. I've worked for organizations before where the primary leader only functions at 30,000 feet, and it doesn't work. He isn't able to see the short-term ramifications of his big-picture vision, which breeds resentment and discouragement, or apathy on the part of the people who work under him. 

If you only function at a big-picture "forest" level, you'll never reach your vision because you'll run off all the people assigned to work at the "tree" level. You don't get them, so you can't empower them. 

On the other hand, if you only function on the "tree" level, you'll operate and execute with a "ready, fire, aim" tendency. You'll be more interested in pulling the trigger and getting a decision off your desk than you will be in making sure the decision benefits the group you're leading in the long-run. 

The best leaders move freely between the "forest" view and the "tree" view as a part of each decision. They work hard to understand the short-term and long-term ramifications of each decision they make. And the greatest leaders are able to do this extremely quickly. 

With that said, I've never met a leader for whom both views come naturally. We typically have to struggle to see either the "forest" or the "trees" picture with any clarity at all. I tend to be better at a "forest" view. When I shoot, my philosophy tends to be "ready, aim, aim, aim, aim, aim..." So I work hard to think more at the tree-level, and to surround myself with people who think well at the tree-level. I want to consider both, because I want to be a great leader. 

Family Friday - It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I received this from my friend Paul yesterday. I saw one of these last year, but it was not nearly as complex. 

This is way out of Kari's comfort zone... I'm proud of her for taking the risk. 


Have a great Friday. 

Greeting

I read an article in this month's Readers Digest (I never claimed to be cool) about a man who ran a pretty cool social experiment. For thirty days this man greeted every person he saw. He said "hello" and smiled at everyone he saw and then recorded his findings. 

My first thought after reading the article was, "I've got to get a grant to do research like that!"

My second thought, which quickly followed the first, was that I wanted to try the experiment. He listed some of his findings in the article, which is worth reading if you can find the issue. I've only done the experiment for a week, but here are some of mine:

1. This is much harder than it sounds. Typically strangers avoid eye contact, which makes social contact almost impossible - even in Texas where people pride themselves on being friendly. But, for most people, this seems to be a subconscious reaction. It feels awkward to say hello to someone who is looking away from you, but they almost always smile and return the greeting. 

2. I realized the people I often ignored. I've found I can make someone's day if I simply say hello to them like I mean it. Pay attention to the way people treat the checker at Walmart the next time you have to go there. Most people don't even say hello. 

3. Being friendly is a discipline. I have to remind myself to say "hello," and I'm not a naturally unfriendly person. It takes some work to remember to say hello and smile people you pass. It isn't that I don't want to be friendly - it's that I'm not proactive about being friendly as often as I thought. 

Try it for a week and let me know how it goes. Discipline  yourself to say hello and smile at everyone you pass - at work, school, church, shopping, getting gas, on the highway. See if it doesn't tweak your perspective a bit. 

"Greet each other in Christian love" (Romans 16:16; NLT)

Heroes

I've spoken before about some of my heroes. I got an email yesterday concerning one of them that I wanted to point you towards. 

JB Bond is the pastor at Countryside Church in Stillwater, OK. He's the pastor who took a chance on an arrogant, immature, unprepared, thoroughly green kid, and gave me my first ministry position while I was still in college (He was either completely undiscerning, or completely desperate). 

When I walked on campus at Oklahoma State University in the Fall of 1998, I didn't have any idea how to look for a church. My family went to the same Baptist church for my entire childhood. That church was going through some tough times, so I wasn't even sure I wanted to be "Baptist" anymore. But I didn't know where else to start. I asked my RA where the Baptist Church was. He took me to Countryside, introduced me to JB, and I never went anywhere else.  

JB's passion for the Scriptures is contagious. Scores of men and women have passed through Countryside, many of them with a passion and knowledge of the Scriptures they never had before.  I'm just one of those people. 

JB taught me that I could understand how the Bible fits together. He taught me how to study the Scriptures, how to teach them, and how to think through difficult theological issues. And if you know JB, you know he did all those things at 100 miles per hour. He isn't perfect, but he's really darn good.  

Dallas Seminary honored JB yesterday by sending a video to alumni and friends of the Seminary, highlighting his ministry. If you're interested in meeting one of my heroes (or, for some of you, seeing one of your heroes too), it's worth watching. 

I'm proud of JB, and thank God every day for sending him across my path. I'm very confident I wouldn't be a pastor today if he hadn't pushed me, taught me, encouraged me, and sharpened me in this direction. 

It's important to recognize the people God sends into your life at critical times to be used by Him in molding, shaping, and empowering your walk in a positive direction. It's important to have heroes. Who are yours?

Why?

Why does your church (or organization) exist? Can you say it in a single sentence? Do your people know why they show up? 

If your church is like mine, a vast majority of the people who show up don't have a clue why your church exists. And if you did a man-on-the-street interview you would likely get as many answers as people you interviewed. It isn't that your church doesn't have a purpose, but that nobody can put their finger on what it is. 

That's a really good way to start conflict within the church on accident. When a group of ladies want to start Bingo night at the church, and you can't give them a concise reason why that isn't congruent with your purpose, they're going to be upset. When you cancel the Easter cantata because it isn't effective, but you can't explain what "effective" is, you're headed toward conflict. When economic realities cause you to cut the budget of some ministries while leaving some alone, you have to be able to explain why you chose the ones you chose.  

There's an external reason this is important too: If the purpose of your church cannot be clearly communicated by the members of your congregation, your purpose cannot be contagious. If they don't "get it," they can't "pass it" on.

Here are some clear purposes at some of the churches I'm aware of: 

- Helping people take their next step toward Christ... together.
- Making the name of Jesus Christ famous, one life at a time.
- Reaching People with the life-changing reality of Jesus Christ.
- To call all people to full devotion to Jesus Christ. 
- To bring glory to God through lives changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

A good purpose statement is clear, compelling, and easy to communicate (much like a good alliteration). When the Bingo girls want to use the main foyer on Tuesday nights, the first church listed above should be able to ask "Will Bingo help people take their next step toward Christ together?" If the answer is "yes," they are likely to find a way to make it happen. If the answer is "no," Bingo night would be a distraction from their purpose and poor stewardship of the building. 

We're currently thinking through this at McKinney. We have a purpose, and people have a vague idea what it is, but vague is not compelling, clear, or easy to communicate. We want it to reflect the biblical priorities for a church's purpose in a concise way, and we're making some progress. I'll keep you posted. 

Pastors - do you have something like this at your church? I'd love to know what it is. 
Non-Pastors - do you have something at this church? I'd love to know if you know what it is (without looking at the website).  

People far from God

I've been meeting with a guy for lunch every week for the past several months. We went through a mentoring book together, but once we finished it decided to branch out and do something different. For the past couple of weeks, we've been reading through Matthew. Specifically, we're looking at the way Jesus led. 

One of the really delicate balances in the Christian life is trying to be separate from the world without isolating yourself to the point that you can't follow Jesus' command to "go into all the world." Jesus was different from the world, but unbelievers flocked to Him. 

Of course, the ability to make blind men see doesn't hurt when you're trying to gain a hearing. 

But there's more to it than that. How long has it been since the equivalent of a tax collector invited you over for dinner with all his tax collecting buddies (Matthew 9:10)? Matthew wasn't lame, or blind, or demon possessed... he was just a crook. Jesus didn't join him in his extortion, but I also don't get the idea that Jesus and His disciples' invitation to dinner was prompted by their picketing Matthew's tax booth.

So how did Jesus do it? That's what Daniel and I are looking for in our study.  We've seen several different things, but something that jumps out to me is Jesus' availability. Needy people were constantly approaching Jesus, and He regularly took time to help them. He listened to them, talked to them, touched them, and helped them (Matthew 4:24; 8:2; 8:5; 8:14; 8:28; 9:2; 9:14). 

Sure, he had the ability to make blind men see, mute men speak, and paralyzed men walk. As of now, God hasn't given me that power. But people do seek me out from time to time. They do ask for help in areas where I do have the power to assist. And I'm often tempted to blow them off because I have some kind of holy work to do somewhere else with the religious people. 

Jesus won a hearing with people far from God because He actually cared about people far from God. 

I guess it's not rocket science, but it's something I'm not always very good at. How about you? 

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a great time of year. Every year around Thanksgiving, people lament the fact that we have to take a day to be "officially" thankful. We ought to be thankful every day because God is at work in our lives. Obviously, they're right. We should be thankful all the time. 

The problem is, for some reason things in life aren't proportional. The negative things in life suck a lot more life out of us than the good things in life put back in. I can have a phenomenal day in which great things are happening, and then walk into a really difficult counseling appointment that completely drains me. That one hour takes more out of me than 7 hours of God's obvious blessing puts in.

The Thessalonians were living during a difficult time. The Roman government was strengthening its grip, and the Christians in Thessalonika were feeling the pressure. So much, in fact, that they believed they were living in the Tribulation and had missed Jesus returning for them. Their days were worse than a couple of bad counseling appointments. Their friends were being threatened, persecuted, and killed for their faith. 

Those things will suck (sometimes literally) the life out of you. 

But Paul reminds them about gratitude: "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18). 

Can you imagine? 

I can think of a lot of emotions that would flood my life under those circumstances. Gratitude isn't one of them. 

But Paul's words are pretty clear, "Be thankful in all circumstances."  

Why be thankful in everything? Because we need the reminder. We need the discipline to recognize God's blessing even during difficult times. 

Many of you are headed into a Thanksgiving season where you're feeling the pinch of some difficult times. They're all you can see. And Paul's words seem cold and harsh. But can I promise you something? He knows what he's talking about. 

Look hard for something to be thankful for, even during these circumstances. It's God's will for you. 

For the rest of us - those of us for whom life is clicking along pretty well - we need the reminder too. Because we can get complacent and forget to be thankful to God for His blessing. Be thankful in all circumstance. God has been good to us. 

Have a great Thanksgiving.  


Tony

Don't know if you saw this story from the end of last week, but I thought it was pretty cool. The short of it is: Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo decided to go see a movie last week, and passed a homeless guy on the way in. Romo offered to buy the guy a movie ticket to give him a break from holding a sign by the street - something businesses in the DFW area do to advertise while giving homeless people some cash. 

When they got into the movie, Romo insisted that the homeless guy (Doc) sit with he and his friends. Doc sheepishly told Tony that he hadn't had a shower in several days but Tony persisted, telling the homeless man that he was "used to locker rooms." 

To me, the best part of the story is that after the incident it was the homeless man who reported the story to the news media. Romo corroborated the story, but refused to elaborate. This isn't the first time Romo has done something like this. And on each occasion, Tony has refused to comment. It doesn't seem to be about press and headlines. 

I don't know for sure where Romo is at spiritually, though I have a friend who knows him and says he is a Christ follower. I sincerely hope he is a believer, if for no other reason than if he's not it would put Christians everywhere to shame. 

I mean, it's different if Romo gives the guy a car. None of us could financially have done that. But a $10 movie ticket to make someone else's day? I'll spend that much money on junk food in the next two days. But am I willing to go out of my way to look for opportunities to make someone else's day and point them to Jesus? 

I am today, thanks to Tony's example. The homeless guy standing outside Taco Bueno at lunchtime today is going to be a very happy man. 


Reading

Most of you who know me, or who have followed my blog with any regularity, know that I love to read. I used to tell people I would read anything I could get my hands on, and I always finished every book I started, but I'm a little more selective these days. One of my college professors used to always say "Life is too short to drink bad wine." I agree with him, and think it applies to books as well. Now, if a book really stinks, I don't hesitate to put it away and start on something else. 

The vast majority of the books I read are either books sent to me by the publisher/author to preview, or books I find out about through conferences or blogs. I intentionally follow the blogs of several other readers, and look for the things they're reading and enjoying. Then, I look for the books cited in the books that I enjoy the most, and add those books to my list. 

This year, my goal was to read 52 books, and I'm actually going to pass it, probably next week. 

I'm blessed to be a quick reader, but I think the secret is in the discipline more than the speed. 

A few years ago, I made it a priority to read at least one chapter of a book every day. That's usually a commitment of around 15 minutes per day, even for a reader who reads at an average speed. The average book has somewhere between 10 and 15 chapters, so at the pace of a chapter a week, you're reading a book every two weeks. That's twenty-six books per year if all you ever read is one chapter every day. 

That's a sustainable pace for anyone. Maybe a good New Years Resolution. Give it a shot - I think you'll be glad you did. 

Driven or Leader?

This morning I'm leading our combined staff meeting through John 13. The pastors and ministry coordinators meet as a leadership team every week, but once a quarter we pull in everyone - admins, custodial staff, creative arts guys, accountants, etc..., to pray together as a whole staff. We pray for 30 or 45 minutes, and then do a brief discussion about something biblical that relates to our ministries. Today, we're looking at John 13. 

Several things jump out at me about John 13 (Jesus washing the disciples' feet). The first is Jesus' posture. He takes the role of a Gentile slave (even a Jewish slave would not have been asked to wash feet). And yet we call John 13 the model of "servant leadership." 

Slaves don't lead. Everyone knows that slaves don't lead. 

Everyone but Jesus. 

The other thing I love about John's description of this event is that John describes Jesus' motivation. John 13:1 indicates that Jesus' servant leadership was motivated by a desire to show His disciples the "full extent of his love." 

Here's something from Warren Bennis that Andy Seidel quotes in the Spiritual Formation book I just finished, that I think relates perfectly: 

"There is a difference between being driven and leading. A driven person feels a powerful sense of being compelled to gain a desired response from others in order to fill up an empty pit of internal need. He needs their approval, applause, or acquiescence, or adoration. So he will relate to them in whatever way he feels will get them to give the desired response. This is not real leadership; it is actually manipulation of others so that the person in a leadership position can gain whatever he thinks will meet his identity needs. His concern is for himself, not for the good of those he is responsible to lead." 

Why do you do what you do? Are you driven, or do you love? 

Community

I'm currently reading "Foundations of Spiritual Formation," which is a book about the theological necessity of community in moving toward spiritual growth. The first half reads like a theological journal, so it's not necessarily "easy reading," but I've found it to be a pretty good book. 

The chapter by Gordon Johnston, one of my Hebrew professors at Dallas Seminary, is particularly helpful in understanding the importance of community to spiritual formation in the Old Testament. However, Dr. Johnston also draws application for today by quoting the great theologian of the 20th century, Paul Simon. 

"The loneliest people in the world are those that cannot share their loneliness, through fear, pride, or anger. The ache builds walls, fear populates their dreams, and pride is the jailor of the soul." 

The point is: the greatest obstacle to growing in community is us. Churches can have exceptional strategies for connecting individuals. Groups can have well-trained leaders, a well thought-out curriculum, and all the other dynamics of healthy group-life; but if a person does not want to grow spiritually with a group of others, there isn't any help for them. 

Our fear, pride, and anger prevent us from the type of true intimacy and community that are necessary to our spiritual growth. Leadership, curriculum, and other dynamics are important. But if you don't want invest what it takes to grow, you won't. 

It's Not Okay to Be Gay?

Last week I wrote a post which said, "if the Bible says something directly and you can't, you have a problem." As hard as that is, I absolutely believe that.  If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, all of what it says is important... not just the pretty parts. 

But...

On November 9th, Dr. Robert Jeffress preached a sermon at First Baptist Church Dallas entitled "Why Gay is Not Okay." The sermon title was publicized enough beforehand that FBC Dallas ended up with about 100 picketers on their front steps. 

And rightly so. 

Now let me be absolutely clear about three things. First of all, the Bible clearly indicates that homosexual behavior is behavior that is out of line with what God intended from creation. Second of all, I respect Dr. Jeffress for much of what he does - and for his courage in shooting straight from the Bible despite cultural opposition. Thirdly, this was a colossal error in judgment. 

Who exactly was Dr. Jeffress hoping to convince? The people sitting inside First Baptist Church on November 9th were mostly the already convinced. People who disagreed with Dr. Jeffress were standing on the steps with signs. What is that supposed to accomplish? 

As a result of his message (which may or may not have been biblically accurate), there are 100 people picketing, and hoards of others who read about it in the newspaper that are absolutely convinced that homosexuality is the issue to Christians, and it's not. 

We can be so direct in saying what the Bible says that we miss what the Bible says.    

It is absolutely true that homosexual behavior is something that can separate us from God. It's also true that eating too much at a pizza buffet could separate us from God, or that gossipping about our cube mate can separate us from God. And we need to be clear about that from the pulpit. But never, ever, ever just for the sake of pointing out that "Gay is not okay." 

Truth has to be balanced with love, and when you start from the platform of "Gay is Not Okay," you end up with 100 people who think that you're inside saying Jesus didn't die for them. What a tragedy. 

Family Friday

I've briefly mentioned this before, but a conversation today reminded me of its importance. This is something our senior pastor does and talks about well, so a lot of my comments are paraphrases of the way he talks about this. 

A lot of times when you talk to pastors, you hear about a perceived conflict between ministry and family - as if the two are always fighting against each other. And sometimes, the balance can be difficult, because the lines aren't always clear. 

When I go to a Sunday School Christmas party with my wife, I'm her husband, but I'm also the pastor. 

When we go out to eat as a family, we're there as a family, but are often interrupted by church people who want to say hello. 

People don't limit their capacity die or get sick between 8am and 5pm Monday through Friday. They call me when I'm at home. And they should. 

My mind doesn't turn "off" very easily. I could be sitting at dinner thinking about my sermon on Sunday, or sitting in my office thinking about my wife at home. 

The distinctions get blurry. But the two don't have to be in conflict. 

 If something is good for my family, it's good for my ministry. If something is good for my ministry, it's good for my family. It isn't good for my ministry for me to be "doing" ministry 90 hours per week. Those habits mean that I haven't done a good job investing in others or empowering them to do ministry - or worse that I believe only I can do ministry the right way. 

If I'm at home investing in my family at healthy levels, that's a good thing for my ministry. It means my marriage is strong, and my kids are happy - which only increases my potential for longevity in ministry.  

Pastors who say that they can't be home because there's too much ministry are generally guys(or girls) who have either an over-realized sense of themselves, or a low view of their families. Likewise, guys who use their families as an excuse for not working hard are usually guys who don't really love ministry in the first place. 

The two aren't in conflict. They complement each other. You don't have to choose between ministry and family. 

Humility

Humility is a tough thing to talk about because if you talk about it, people think you think you have it. And humility is one of those things, where if you tell people you have it, you don't have it at all. So, let's get this straight: I'm a prideful, arrogant, self-serving windbag who doesn't have humility, but is going to tell you all about it. 

Humility (contrary to popular opinion) doesn't mean "believing only bad things about yourself." It means "having the same view of yourself that God has of you." That means, we are wicked and evil and incapable of doing anything on our own, but that we're also someone for whom Jesus Christ saw fit to die (1 John 2:2), someone Jesus has gifted extraordinarilty (1 Corinthians 12:7), and someone through whom Jesus Christ promises to work (Philippians 4:13). You can have an extremely high view or extremely low view of yourself and be prideful.  

As a result, humility has to be born out of a knowledge of God as much as it is out of a knowledge of ourselves. If we don't understand who God is, we can't understand who we are in relation to Him. And if our humility isn't born out of a knowledge of God, it will be self-focused and fake. In fact, it will just be one more tool we use to beat others over the head with how much better we are than them. 

Finally, humility is never self-focused, but it is always others-focused (John 13) and God focused (Luke 18:9-14). If you want to know whether or not you're humble, the question isn't whether or not you feel humble, but whether you approach God with due reverence, and other people with due dignity. 

Death By Love



































I don't know where Mark Driscoll finds time to do all he's doing right now. His face is on almost every flier I get for an upcoming conference, he's writing books like it's going out of style, blogs on a regular basis, and oh yeah - he pastors a church at the same time.

I've read a couple of books by Driscoll, and have another on pre-order. The most recent book was "Death By Love," by Driscoll and his friend Gerry Breshears. It's a book of letters Driscoll wrote to various people explaining how the cross affected (or should affect) their situation. The book is much more heavy than Vintage Jesus, because a lot of the case-studies Driscoll uses contain some pretty heavy situations.

Driscoll tackles everything from spiritual warfare to adultery, and demonstrates how Jesus is Christus Victor, Redeemer, Sacrifice, Righteousness, Justification, Propitiation, Expiation, Unlimited Limited Atonement, Ransom, Christus Exemplar, Reconciliation, and Revelation because of His cross.

If you've ever heard Driscoll speak, you know that he's not scared to take on anything, and he's not afraid to be as blunt as he needs to be. This book is written with that same style. You can't help but respect that, even if you disagree with him.

I don't find myself disagreeing with much though. In fact, this book has already helped me think through some pretty nasty pastoral counseling issues, by helping me remember that everything points back to the cross.

Even the chapter on "Unlimited Limited Atonement" was exceptional. I'm not a "reformed" guy, mainly because I just can't buy the argument of limited atonement (that Jesus didn't die for the sins of the world - only the elect). I understand the arguments, I just can't make the Bible say that. But Driscoll calls himself "reformed," and deals with this issue differently than a regular Calvinist would be inclined to do. I went into the chapter on Unlimited Limited Atonement expecting to be disappointed, which is probably why I liked it so much.

This book is a great practical application of theology about Jesus. It is written well, but it isn't an easy read. Even still, whether you're a pastor attempting to think through pastoral counseling situations, or your a person who could benefit from some good pastoral counseling, this book is absolutely worth asking Santa for this year.

Tips for Your Ministry Resume

I've told you before about some of the resumes I've received as I try to hire various staff positions. Sometimes they're funny, and sometimes they're downright sad. But, if you're a person who is looking for a ministry position, here are a few tips: 

1. If the position is listed online, bank on the fact that the prospective ministry will receive at least 100 resumes. Yours has to stand out, but stand out professionally. If you use the Microsoft Office Template for your resume, you will end up in file 13 with the other 75 identical resumes. 

2. Make sure your resume reflects your instincts. If you are not a person who believes that numbers indicate success, it doesn't make any sense to list how many people have started coming to your ministry since you've been there. I figure out how you measure success by what you tell me you have succeeded on your resume. 

3. Include a picture. And not one that you snapped holding your iPhone in front of your face. It's not that prospective employers are shallow, but that they're often relational. When they're able to see your face, they're much more likely to want to learn about you. If you married up (like me), make sure your wife's picture is included beside you. If a guy can talk a cute girl into marrying him, there must be something worth following-up on. 

4. Include a professional email address. If you're applying to work with our adults, and your email address is "ScoobyDoobyDoo@hotmail.com" you will not be receiving an interview, plain and simple. 

5. List the important stuff first. If a prospective employer is looking at hundreds of resumes, and you save the best stuff for the back page, he's not going to ever see it. Figure out why a prospective employer needs to hire you, and make sure it's the first thing he sees. 

6. Take your time on each resume. I know it feels like the odds are better for you if you send out 200 resumes, but they aren't. The odds are better for you if you take time to research each opportunity, single out the ones you're most interested in, and take some time tailoring your resume to show how you would be a good fit for a specific position. In my entire life, I've never sent the exact same resume to two locations. You shouldn't either. 

7. Along with #6, do your homework. If I was applying for a job at LifeChurch.tv, and don't make sure my resume includes the word "leader," "creativity," "relevance," and "life-change," I could bank on never getting a call back. If I was applying for a job at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, CA, but didn't include the words "doctrine," "exposition," or "theology," I would have wasted a stamp. It took me 5 minutes of "googling" to figure out what words were important to those churches - they're on the website over, and over, and over. We're not talking about being dishonest - but if those are things I value, I want the church I'm applying to to know that in the language they speak. 

8. Send what they ask for. If a church asks for a teaching sample, don't send them a resume and then email them asking if they want a teaching sample. You've already proven you can't follow simple directions, and you won't get the job, even if you're uber-qualified. 

9. Make the resume personal. Applying for a ministry position is different than a corporate position. When you're applying for a corporate position, people want to make sure you can do the job and meet the bottom line. That's true in ministry, but what people really want to know is whether or not you're the kind of person they could follow. They want to know about your qualifications, but you may be the guy who counsels them in the hospital, or does their funeral. They want to know what you do for fun, and what you named your dog. They don't want to know everything about you, but they want to feel like they know you. 

10. Be creative. It stinks to read 100 resumes, so when you see a resume worth reading, it's refreshing. I've called guys back who were waaay under-qualified for specific positions just because after seeing their resume I was compelled to meet them. Often I don't hire them for the position I'm seeking to hire, but I never forget them - and they'll be the first person I call the next time. 

Hard Stuff

One of the things I love about teaching through a passage of the Bible rather than just preaching topically is that it forces you to deal with the hard stuff. 

Yesterday, my message was from Ephesians 5:1-7. The first couple of verses are pretty easy - "Imitate God as beloved children, and walk in love just as Jesus Christ loved us and gave himself for us..." That's warm, fuzzy, and makes the Gospel fairly clear. 

If I had my choice, I would have preached 5:1-2 and been done with it.  We would have sung an upbeat song and beat the Methodists to lunch. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I didn't have my choice. So we went on. 

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people..." 

It's not very fun to talk about sexual immorality in today's culture. It's uncomfortable, and a lot of people have been beat up by pastors who rant and rave about "you fornicators," only to find out at some point in the future that their pastor was guilty of similar abominable acts.  After that, we talked about profanity, stupid words, and coarse jesting. 

That's what she said. 

It was hard stuff to talk about, but we did it. 

Here's something I think is pretty important about preaching or teaching the Bible: If the Bible says it directly and you can't, you have a problem. 

Yesterday, I tried to be direct and tactful. But I tried to be clear. Because Paul only had a limited number of words to write, and he wrote those. If he felt like they were so important to our spiritual maturity that he listed them without listing everything else, there must be a reason for that. 

Oh Yeah...
















Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday dear Kari
Happy Birthday to You! 

Vision and the Path of Least Resistance

"Vision" has been an organizational buzz word for the last 20 or so years, and rightly so. Organizations have to know what they're doing in order to do it. Employees have to know where they're going in order to go there. Volunteers need to know the goal so they can reach it. Vision is important. 

Something I've noticed over the past couple of months as I've observed vision (or lack thereof) in a couple of areas where I'm directly involved, is that where there is an absence of vision, people always take the path of least resistance.

The presence of vision doesn't just mean that your organization has a vision statement - everyone has a vision statement. It doesn't mean that you as a leader have a vision - every leader has vision, even if it's unspoken. The presence of vision means that the people you work with know and own why they do what they do. 

If the people in your organization are only executing your vision, they'll take the path of least resistance with you. They'll do whatever you tell them to, but they won't take any risks for you. Their vision is different from yours. Your vision is for the organization; theirs is to keep you happy. So, they'll inevitably underachieve because they'll never take the extra step necessary to accomplishing what you dream.  

If people don't "buy it," they'll never own it. And if they don't own it, they can't sell it to anyone else. If people don't "get" the vision, they'll never put their necks on the line for it.  They'll always take the path of least resistance, and you as a leader will always be disappointed with their productivity. It isn't that they're lazy. It isn't that they're incompetent. It's that they don't get it, understand it, or own it. 

And most of the time, that's not their fault. 

One

Sometimes we feel as though the world is worse than it has ever been. We get discouraged because we feel like we're only one person, and our voice is soft in a sea of sound. Then we open the Bible and see the book of Genesis. The world is in chaos, the people are evil, and along comes a man named Abraham. He's no saint, but he's faithful to what God calls him to do, and God uses him to be the father of a nation who will represent God. 

We flip to Exodus and see that God's plan was about to go in the toilet. God's people didn't have a voice. They were in slavery under the rule of an awful Pharoah, and along comes a man named Moses. 

The world got worse again, and lost its moral compass. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes, and God called Deborah, and then Gideon and Samson, and then Samuel... The one who represented the nation was evil and corrupt, and God called David.  

The race was on the verge of extinction and then there was Esther, or Daniel, or Nehemiah.

God's in the business of using one person to do significant things... especially when things look bad. Could He use you?  

Wisdom

This week I've been thinking a lot about wisdom because of a theology class I led this morning for which wisdom was the topic. And, I think I may have stumbled on a definition for wisdom: 

Wisdom is the ability to operate with an eternal perspective.

Lots of times we hear wisdom defined as "applied knowledge," which comes awfully close to "common sense," or "street smarts." I think it's bigger than that. Wisdom is an attribute of God (Job 36:5; Romans 16:27), and only begins with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Anyone  can apply knowledge, but those who seek wisdom must get it from God (Proverbs 2:6; James 1:5). 

The pursuit of wisdom is the pursuit of an ability to see things from the perspective of eternity - the way God sees them. It doesn't mean we know the end from the beginning. It doesn't mean we know why things happen the way they happen, or what will come next. It means we recognize that God is in control, working things towards culmination in Him (Ephesians 1:10), and we make decisions based on that understanding. 

Wisdom is the ability to separate the temporal from the eternal. It's the ability to see with eyes that recognize that this is not all there is. A "wise" decision is a decision made in light of eternity rather than a decision made in haste for today. 

Anyone can be street smart. Anyone can utter pithy statements that reflect a true application of knowledge. But those statements aren't in and of themselves wise. Wisdom - the kind of wisdom that cries in our busy streets (Proverbs 1:20)  sees beyond "simple ways" of the here and now(Proverbs 1:22), focusing instead on eternity.

The Hard Question

Yesterday morning, we celebrated our global mission partners at McKinney. I've mentioned it before, but I don't think I've ever been a part of a church who is as serious about emphasizing global mission as McKinney. I don't think you could be at McKinney for a single Sunday and not hear something about what God is doing in the world and how you can be a part of it. It's definitely a part of our DNA. 

Greg Lillestrand was the guest speaker yesterday, and did an outstanding job. Greg and his wife Charmaine are the national directors for Campus Crusade for Christ in Italy. Kari and I got to meet the Lillestrands and their team last year in Italy, and it was obvious that they are up to something great in an extremely difficult environment. 

When you think about Western Europe, and Italy in particular, you think primarily about Christian influence. Rome oozes Christian symbolism, with almost as many cathedrals as New York City has Starbucks. Florence, where the Lillestrands are headquartered, is not a lot different. And yet, the average Italian has a general distaste for Christianity. They see it as a religion of abused power and corrupt leadership - not as a faith of sacrifice and servant leadership. Italians are Catholic because they're Italian, but are typically adverse to the idea that the religion is actually what they believe. 

In fact, if surveys are correct, there are less than 600,000 evangelical believers in the entire country. That means there are more believers per capita in China than in Italy. Italy has been classified as an "Unreached People Group," in the same category as Papua, New Guinea, and other third-world countries.

So Greg and Charmaine are up against it. 

That's why Greg's sermon from Mark 5:21-42 about Jairus' daughter was pretty encouraging. 

Jesus says in verse 36, "Don't be afraid; just believe." 

Greg reminded us that it is Jesus who defines reality. When everything else says something is impossible, it's not impossible until Jesus says it's impossible. 

He said, "The hard question isn't whether or not God can deliver on the hard things out there, in the lives of other people. The hard question is whether or not you believe He is willing to deliver on the hard things in here, in your every day life... when you realize that He is, that's when you start living at 100 percent." 

What an encouraging time yesterday. 

If you think about it today, pray for Greg and Charmaine. They head back to Florence this morning. Pray for them as they work with college students, and with a number of church planters throughout Italy who are trying to find a way to gain traction in a difficult place to plant churches.

And, if you're looking for a way to invest money in something much more stable than the stock market, consider supporting financially what God is doing through Greg and Charmaine.  You have my word that you will see an eternal return on your investment - can your 401k promise that?!

Gratuitous Cute Picture

Because I promised... 


Please Don't Go To Church Tonight

Please beware: This is one of my yearly soapboxes that will likely offend the majority of my readers. I apologize in advance. Cute baby pictures to follow tomorrow...

Please don't go to church tonight. 

Go on Sunday. Go on Saturday. Go any night of the week you want, any night of the year, but please don't go tonight. 

Lots of churches have Fall Festivals tonight for lots of different reasons. Some of them are good reasons (to give kids in unsafe neighborhoods a chance to get safe candy), and some are bad reasons (to pretend like we don't celebrate Halloween - just Fall... in costumes... with candy...). 

Either way, please don't go. 

One of the most obvious arenas in which we as Christians can live-out Christianity in front of an unbelieving world is in our neighborhood.  We see those people mowing the yard while we're walking the dog. We wave as we get out to our cars at the same time to go to work. 

We know we should reach out to them. We know we should form connections with them. Because connections and relationships are the primary ways we are able to point others towards the hope that exists in a relationship with Christ. But, we "never get the chance" to cross the threshold of relationship with the people who live next door to us. Our personal connections are limited to waving and nodding. Something keeps us from crossing the street. 

Tonight is the one night where our neighbors come to us. Sure, they're being dragged by Frankenstein and Tinkerbell in hot pursuit of a bite-sized Snickers Bar. But they knock on our door and give us the chance to say hello... to begin a relationship... to learn their name. 

Nothing more. 

But nothing less. 

People who cloister themselves in Church tonight are missing an opportunity to live Christianity in front of people who don't know Christ, just so they can get candy from the already convinced.

What a sad trade-off. 

Please stay home. Meet someone new tonight. Begin a relationship. Not because Christ is an ulterior motive... because Christ-like living is our ultimate motive. 

The Flag and the Faith - Part 4

This week, I've tried to think through some of the issues facing the individual and the institution when it comes to how we as Christians should respond around voting season in the United States. Frankly, I think we as Christians (both institutionally and individually) have been guilty of falling on both ends of the spectrum in the past several years. 

Many, many churches have abused their opportunity, and in doing so have confused the Gospel by promoting political candidates above promoting the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). And this has happened on both sides of the aisle. We rightly recognize Jeremiah Wright's rank abuse of the pulpit, but gloss over Pat Buchanan's similar outrageous tendencies because we're a bit more inclined to agree with his point. 

On the other hand, many of us as individuals have been far too passive when it comes to our individual stewardship in participating in the workings of government. Luke 12:48 applies to politics as much as it does personal finance. As an American (though I realize many of you reading this are not American), I enjoy an involvement in the direction of the government that hoards of people throughout history have not enjoyed. That is a great gift, and a great stewardship for which I believe I'll ultimately be held accountable. 

Yet whether or not you're an American citizen with the privilege in participating in a Democratic Republic, one thing is important to remember: Our hope is not found in politics. 

I'm reminded of one of my all-time favorite hymns that contains some pretty important Truth to remember next Tuesday:

My hope is in the Lord 
Who gave Himself for me,
And paid the price of all my sin at Calvary.

For me He died, 
For me He lives, 
And everlasting light and life He freely gives. 

Daniel 2:17 reminds us that God is sovereign even over the election process. It is God who ultimately controls the outcome, and He will not be caught off guard. Whether our country elects John McCain, or sends Sarah Palin back to where she can see Russia from her house, God will not be taken off-guard. 

Proverbs 21:1 says, "The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes." As important as the election process is, God is a God who can (and will) work His will, regardless of the political party we choose. Some of my far-right friends believe we're headed for World War III if we elect Barack Obama, and they may be right. But I won't lose a minute of sleep in the meantime. My far-left friends believe John McCain will destroy life as we know it, and they may be right. But that won't affect my eternity one iota. And that's where I'm going to focus - Today, next Tuesday, and for as long as I've got breath. 

No amount of "change" will match the change He can do in your life. No "maverick" ideals will come close to the revolutionary work of the cross. 

His grace has planned it all
'Tis mine but to receive
And recognize His work of love and Christ receive

For me, He died
For me, He lives
And everlasting light and life He freely gives. 

The Flag and the Faith - Part 3

Yesterday I posted about the fact that the church has a responsibility to point people to eternal issues rather than temporal issues. If we do anything as an institution or as individuals that distracts others from the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, I believe we are in sin. Unfortunately, I don't believe the Church as an institution has done this well. We've made people believe that they have to be against gay marriage to go to heaven, which I believe is a sin more heinous than homosexuality itself since it distorts and confuses the Gospel.

When the Church as an institution affiliates with a party, platform, or candidate, it sends the wrong message to a watching world. The Church needs to demonstrate that our focus is not in the reformation of society, but in the reconcilliation of a world to Jesus Christ. From the pulpit on Sunday, politics are a distraction from what's really important. 

However, I don't want to take that too far. Mark Batterson, who is the pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC has an interview worth reading here. I think he thinks through the issue really well. Here's part of what he says: "Part of my driving desire as a pastor is to remove every obstacle except the cross that would keep people from coming to faith in Christ. That means we don't want to affiliate with a party. We don't want to affiliate with a candidate. But we also don't want to avoid important spiritual issues simply because some people consider them political."

I believe to my core that freedom is a stewardship. Our ability to participate in government is a gift from God, and we as Christians should absolutely be involved in that process. And our faith should absolutely inform the way we as individuals vote.

We as believers have a stewardship to take what we know and believe as ambassadors of Jesus Christ into the world, and into the voting booth. But not just on one or two issues - on the entire spectrum of issues that are all spiritual. And it's not always so cut and dried.

Issues like assisting the impoverished, abortion, homosexuality, war, personal character, capital punishment, and freedom are all spiritual issues, not political issues, that the Christian must consider when going into the voting booth. But as a matter of stewardship, we have to balance them all.

Take this, for example: I am unashamedly pro-life. I don't believe I could ever vote for a candidate who would have a direct affect in legislation that would affect the lives of unborn babies. That comes from my understanding and application of Scripture, and I'm passionate about it. But I think being a one-item voter is bad stewardship. Not long ago I voted for a candidate for state senate who was pro-choice, because the pro-life candidate he was running against was a snake, who fell short on a number of other spiritual issues that I couldn't support. As a good steward, I couldn't in good conscience vote for the pro-life candidate because in almost every other way he stood antithetical to what I believe. I don't believe it would have been good stewardship to vote him into office. 

The Church as an institution needs to be faithful to teach its members what God has said apart from the political spectrum. The church of individuals has a personal stewardship to examine and apply those Truths in every aspect of their lives - including the voting booth.

The Flag and the Faith - Part 2

Yesterday, I started a series of posts about the relationship between the Flag and the Faith, especially around the time of an election. 

Government is instituted and established by God (Romans 13:1), but God never gives the Church clear instructions on how active they're supposed to be in government - probably because citizens in the first century didn't have much of a choice. You submitted to the king, or you died. 

I do think it's important to note, however, that the primary emphasis in Romans 13:3 is on us doing right as individuals... not on attempting to persuade the government (whatever its form) to reform society. 

See, we as a Church are not called to make sinners behave, but to shine as lights in a fallen world. That's not a call for a reformation of government - it's a call for personal and corporate reform of our own lives in such a way that unbelievers see us and are persuaded to examine the claims of our God because of the way we live - not because of the way we force them to behave. 

The Bible always calls for bottom-up leadership (servant leadership) rather than top-down leadership (leadership by mandate). Our role in society is no different. 

Sometimes when we get so focused on legistlating temporal morality we forget about eternal reality. Wasn't that the problem with the Pharisees? In fact, I think it's a key point to remember that when Jesus showed up on the scene, He didn't affiliate Himself with the political "party" that the rank-and-file religious person would have anticipated. Because their proposed legislation was simply designed to put lipstick on a pig, not point people towards Jesus Christ an Him crucified. 

The entire book of 1 Corinthians was written to remind the church that their entire message should be about Jesus Christ and Him crucified, and that they should cut out anything that didn't point people toward the Truth of that Message (1 Corinthians 2:2). If people get the idea that they can't be a Christian unless they vote Democrat, we have completely skewed the message.

On the other side, abortion is a huge issue to me - more on that tomorrow, maybe - but nobody ever gained a right relationship with God by being pro-life. It seems to me that our view of the sanctity of life should move beyond just the baby in the womb to the eternal life offered to the world - and that's something that isn't going to be legislated. 

When the Church begins to think about what role we should take in the political spectrum, we need to be absolutely, one-hundred percent certain we don't do anything to confuse the real issue: we as humans have been separated from our creator as a result of our behavior, and need a Savior to restore that relationship. That's the message the Church should champion above any other platform on either aisle of congress. If the gospel is lost in a bunch of less significant issues (and they're all less significant), we have completely missed the point. 

The Flag and the Faith

Last Friday while I was waiting on Kari and her mom to meet me for lunch, I started two books in Barnes and Noble. One of them was a book by Rob Bell and Don Golden called "Jesus Wants to Save Christians." 

I should be honest; I'm not a big fan of Rob Bell. He's a phenomenal communicator, but has (in my view) some huge theological blind spots (If you want more information on a few of those blind spots, you can listen to this talk by MarkDriscoll).  Nonetheless, he's typically more than a little thought-provoking. 

One quote jumped out at me  - it's on page 018 of his book (which is primarily a treatise on social justice and the Christian). Here's the quote:

"A Christian should get very nervous when the flag and the Bible start holding hands. This is not a romance we want to encourage."  

A week from tomorrow, the nation in which I live will be heading to the polls to elect a new leader. And it seems as though everyone has an opinion about exactly what the roll of the Church should be in that process. Some believe the Church should endorse political candidates from the pulpit. Others believe the Church should have zero influence in the political arena. 

So, what do you think? Should we encourage the flag and the faith to hold hands - or do we need to sit between them in the car? I'm going to try to go there this week. 

First, a distinction: There's a vast difference between the responsibility of the institution and the responsibility of the individual. I want to talk about both this week, but not all at the same time. A lot of times we don't make that distinction well, and it causes us problems. One of the blessings of the Protestant Reformation, which we celebrate on October 31st is a plain distinction between the Church as an institution and the Church as a collection of believing individuals. 

Why is that important to a discussion of politics? It's important because we need to not repeat the sins of the past. I'm convinced that we all have a moral responsibility in the voting booth, because freedom is a stewardship (more on that later). But I'm equally convinced that the moral responsibility is an individual issue, not an institutional issue. We need to vote according to a Biblical worldview, but it's our responsibility as individuals to interpret Scripture and determine how what the Scripture says informs how we vote as individuals.  The Church doesn't need to interpret for us, or as an application of that, tell us how to vote. 

It's a big issue, and I'm not intending to solve it in the next three posts. I'm just hoping to raise a couple of issues that I think are pertinent to the discussion. We'll see where we go from there. 

This is a huge election, and has some major implications on the local, state, and national level no matter which side you're on. And it's messy, because many of the issues in an election are moral issues - and the Church has a lot to say about moral issues. But the Church has a bigger responsibility than just taming a nation's morality... so how should we expect our church to respond? I'll try to go there this week without affecting my church's tax-exempt status. Wish me luck.

Family Friday - Part 2

Shots stink.

So do Dads who let their baby cry so they can snap a picture.

Family Friday
















We're getting to see faces like this more and more. Although Casen still favors the "contemplative," "studious" look, we're to a place where he's responding to us a little more. At times he catches your eye and smiles - it doesn't get much better than that. 

Kari and her mom are taking him for his two-month appointment today, which means the dreaded first round of shots. No, I'm not going. 

I endured the epidural, the IV in the hospital, and the blood-letting during Casen's two-day follow-up, all without passing out. Kari and I both agreed that we would be testing our luck for me to try to go today. So, Kari and her mom are going to do the deed, and I'm going to deal with the aftermath. Something tells me the responses I get this afternoon are going to be a bit different from the responses I'm getting this morning. 

He's sleeping better too. That makes a huge difference  all the way around. He's happier, Kari's happier, and I'm happier. At least for now, we seem to have turned a corner. 

My buddy Erick swears that the only reason pastors have children is for sermon illustrations. I don't know about that, but I do know that having a son has better informed my view and appreciation of God as a loving Heavenly Father who desires the response of His children. 

"Be imitators of God, therefore, as beloved children." Ephesians 5:1

Intimacy or Idolatry

I'm re-reading J.I. Packer's Knowing God, and came across this quote the other day:

"Some Christians seem to resign themselves to following afar off, believing the Bible record, indeed, but neither seeking or expecting for themselves such intimacy and direct dealing with God as the men and women of the Bible knew."

We tend to idealize the situation of the people in the Bible. But they struggled with a similar challenge to the one we face. It's hard to balance God's nearness with His farness. (Jeremiah 23:23), but the people of the Bible felt that too. God is a God who called Abraham His "friend" (Isaiah 41:8), but also a God whose face cannot be seen because His presence would utterly consume a sinful person (Exodus 33:20). 

We struggle with that, and most of us fall to one end of the spectrum. I counsel a lot of people who seem to really believe that Jesus is their homeboy, and who see God as a friend who doesn't really care what you do or who you do it to. 

Packer seems to be speaking to the people on the other end of the spectrum; those who see God as distant, uninvolved, and separate from us. They read the Bible and wish they could have lived during those times - while failing to remember that the people of the Bible struggled with the same issue. 

Remember the people of Israel in Exodus 32? Moses was up on Mt. Sinai receiving a hand-written note for the people of Israel, and they had a hard time feeling like God was near. They needed something - something more. So they built a calf out of gold and bowed down to it. That kind of thing happened over and over throughout the Old Testament. 

In fact, that's the danger of falling to the end of the spectrum that doesn't believe God is a "near God." It will always drive us to worship something that isn't God. We as humans are hard-wired to worship, and we're hard-wired for intimacy. When we don't rightly understand that God is near - that He lives inside of us (John 14:16; 16:7), is actively defending us against the accuser (1 John 2:1), and who invites us to draw near to Him (James 4:8) - we inevitably end up worshiping something that is not God. We turn to something that we feel like can be pursued and obtained - a job, a husband or wife, a child, our golf game, or knowledge itself. 

We have an even greater capacity to know and obey than those in the Bible - we have a more sure word than they had to know the God of the Universe (2 Peter 1:19). So, who (or what) is it that you are worshiping? Is God the source of your worship and intimacy, or are you seeking those things in something else? 

Retreat!

I'll be MIA tomorrow and Wednesday because our staff is headed to Pine Cove for a two-day retreat. This is a highlight of my year, because it's a chance to connect on a deeper level with several of our staff members and their spouses. It's virtually impossible to make those kinds of connections during a regular schedule - you have to get away. 

We made a decision a year or so ago that we were going to stop using retreats for work or planning purposes. We've got a perfectly good conference room here at the church that works for most of our work and planning. These retreats are primarily about connection and relationship-building, especially since we bring our spouses.  We need to maximize that opportunity. 

We'll spend some time praying for each other, spend some time playing together, and a lot of time eating together. It's going to be a great time. Wish you could be there!