Why I Blog

Last night was my last softball game for a while. I'm taking the summer off to prepare for the baby, and because if I keep playing I'm going to kill myself. I'm the only guy I know who comes home from every single softball game bruised, bloody, and dirty from head to toe.

I just don't have an "off" switch for the adrenaline deal.

I can round first base and head for second, telling myself "don't slide - it's not worth it" all the way to the base. But if the throw is going to be close, you can guarantee I'm going to be somewhere in the cloud of dust around second base. Every single time. I just can't turn "it" off.

Honestly, it's an indicator of my personality. I go hard all the time. It goes back to that "if you're not going to give it your best, don't do it at all" mentality. Go hard or go home... that's the story of my life.

Most of the time, that's one of my strongest attributes. But in most cases, our strongest attributes also give a glimpse into our deepest weaknesses.

That's a primary reason I blog.

People blog for lots of reasons. Some people think they've got something worth saying. Some people just want to practice their writing skills. Some people like to argue. Some people just want to keep in touch. All of those have been reasons for certain blog entries from time to time, but the main reason I blog is that it forces me to stop running and stand on base for a second or two.

Because I naturally go hard all the time, I need to force myself to turn off the "dive, dive dive button," sit down, and process what I'm thinking. Otherwise, I'm going to come out of these years of my life bruised, bloody, dirty, and with nothing to show for it.

Thanks for reading, but I'd still blog if you didn't. I'm just trying to avoid diving hard and missing the ball.

Starting Point

The fellas at Team Pyro are organizing a witch-hunt... ahem... just kidding... book discussion in the next few days that should be fairly interesting to follow. They'll be comparing "The Courage to be Protestant" by David F. Wells, to "Pop Goes the Church" by Tim Stevens. I've read both books - actually reviewed Tim's book for him before he published it. But I have a feeling the discussion is going to get pretty ugly over there, so I thought I'd post my thinking here and stay out of the mayhem over there (we'll see if I can resist).

Basically, Tim's thesis is that the Church can (and should) engage Pop culture as it communicates Truth. Wells believes this type of thinking amounts to "marketing the gospel," and that the "methodology [transforms] the faith that is being sold" (p 28).

Well's prefers the traditional church - rails against preachers who preach from barstools, churches that abandon the hymns of the faith, and where "organs have become as rare as dodo birds" (p. 29). The options for him seem to be either the church modeled as a "business enterprise," or "very traditional."

The problem for me in this whole deal is that I don't think it has to be an either/or. It's worth remembering that pulpits, Luther's hymns, and organs were all once contemporary - yes, even pieces of pop culture. The organ was en vogue in saloons long before it made its way into the Church. Many great hymns of the faith are simply rewritten words to common pop-culture tunes of the 15th century. So, we have to be careful saying that there is nothing in pop-culture that can be redeemed.

We also have to be careful with the way we use Pop culture.

The bottom line for me is the starting point. Pop culture can and should be used illustratively, but not instructively. Songs, movie clips, etc... are helpful in communicating the Truth because they contain some of the most helpful illustrations of how desperately the pop culture needs redemption. Pop culture contains references and illustrations of Truth, but it does not reveal Truth.

The starting point has to be Scripture. If our question is, "what can pop culture teach us about God?" we have a huge problem. Pop culture reveals quite a bit about man - our selfishness, our desires, the gods we serve, and our desperate need for a Savior.

The Scriptures reveal God.

When our starting point is the Scriptures, we begin with "What does the Scripture say?" Then we're able to examine pop culture for illustrations and ways in which the culture around us reveals our need for Truth, or our response to Truth. The Scripture is authoritative, the culture is illustrative.

The Church doesn't need to market Truth to make it relevant - God's word is always relevant (Hebrews 4:12). We do, however, need to make sure that we communicate in a language that people understand, using illustrations and applications that help the believer understand how the already relevant Scripture applies to the life who walks out of the church building and into pop culture.

The difference is the starting point.

Why We're Not Emergent

Last week during my vacation, I read the book "Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys who Should Be)." I picked it up based on the recommendation of my Pyromaniac uncle who gave it three "wow's." I've known Phil my whole life, and haven't ever heard him give something three "wow's" with the exception of Thanksgiving Pizza. So, I decided to check it out.

I was really ready to hate this book. It wasn't that I thought I would disagree with it - I'm not a huge fan of the emergent movement myself. But I can't say that I remember ever reading a book (or blog) whose purpose was to decry the Emergent Church that came across as honest, and humble. Most of the blog entries and comments (even including some from the Pyromaniacs) on the Emergent Church come across as mean-spirited, intellectually arrogant, and completely unwilling to admit that there might be something the church could learn from the "conversations" postmoderns are having.

As a result, most of the "anti" crowd only reinforces the Emergent guys' position that Historical Christians of a Reformation Kind (to use David F. Wells' terminology) are arrogant, mean-spirited, old-fashioned, and unwilling to change form or function. So, the "discussion" is not really a discussion so much as two sides lobbing grenades over the side of their bunkers hoping to do as much damage to the other side as possible, which is stupid. If both sides are Christian, Matthew 18 applies, and we ought to be humbly seeking reconciliation. If one side is not Christian, 2 John applies, and we need to stop pretending to discuss and start trying to evangelize. Either way, there's no reason to be a jerk.


Anyway, I was prepared to hate this book. But I loved this book.

Loved it.

Deyoung and Kluck approach the Emergent Church in a humble, yet scholarly way. The book has a perfect mix of humor and seriousness, expose and introspection, brevity and depth. This is easily one of the best books I've read this year. It helps the reader understand what the Emergent "conversation" is all about, the reason for the "conversation," and discusses some of the dangers of the direction the "conversation" has taken several of the emergent leaders.

But the book isn't a witch hunt. It's not a hand grenade over the bunker. The authors are quick to point out some of the redeeming qualities of the Emergent Church, as well as to recognize that all those who are a part of the "conversation" do not agree with all of its assumptions. They throw out the bathwater, but leave the baby in the tub which was really, really, really refreshing.

I would give you some quotes from the book, but if you're (1) under the age of 30, (2) involved in ministry of any kind, (3) interested in the Emergent/Postmodern Church discussion, you need to read this book for yourself. It is easily one of the best books I've read this year. Phil was right - Wow, wow, wow.

I realize this review is going to sound a bit like my review of a certain Mexican food restaurant (Ted's) in Oklahoma City, and that many of you are thinking the book (or the tacos) could never live up to the hype. Test me in this. If you have any interest in the Emergent Church at all, buy this book (and eat at Ted's). You'll be glad you did.

The Shack

As I mentioned yesterday, I read a new book called The Shack during our vacation this past weekend. My friend Jason (who doesn't have a blog but should) gave it to me to read so we could discuss it. The book is quickly becoming very popular - especially among people who have experienced some kind of tragedy in their life.

The Shack is a novel about a man whose daughter is killed in a heinous way. During the grieving process, the man receives a letter telling him to meet "Papa" at the shack where the only evidence of his daughter's brutal murder is found. He shows up to meet God (a large black woman named Papa), Jesus (who is described like a middle-eastern lumberjack and gets to keep His name), and the Holy Spirit (personified as a beautiful Asian woman named Saraya). That will make (and probably should make) you pretty nervous at the outset, though the personifications serve a purpose in the story, and don't come across as blasphemously as they may seem.

The book is a fiction book, though it is very clear throughout that the author intended to use it to teach Truth about God, the problem of evil, and heaven. Unfortunately, because the book is a novel, the author doesn't make it clear exactly which pieces of the story are artistic license, which are biblically founded Truths about God, and which are speculation on the author's part. That in and of itself makes this a very difficult book to recommend to anyone - especially those seeking comfort in the character of God.

The book goes from modalism (an ancient heresy that pictures God showing up in 3 different "modes" or "forms") to decent Trinitarian theology in a page and a half, which was extremely confusing as a reader. It also presented a view of a God who limits Himself with regard to the way He relates to the world to the point that He is presented as not having a plan that includes the existence of evil at all.

The Shack also presented the idea of judgment as something that is not carried out by God, but by Wisdom (a character presented as separate from God). In fact, when the main character returns to God having been judged, God is excited that Wisdom "got through" to the main character. This portrayal of God as "good cop" and Wisdom as "bad cop" may have been the most troubling portion of the book to me.

The picture of heaven is a mix between biblical heaven, Buddhism, and New Age Mysticism. The author describes characters in heaven as having auras that translate colors between each other based on the intimacy of their relationship. Sound weird? I thought so too.

There are some good moments in the book. The gospel is absolutely clear in one section (though muddied up later), and a section in which the author demonstrates the need for humanity to draw near to God while dealing with the problem of evil. There's a very compelling and helpful illustration using poison ivy in a garden, which is only poisonous when the character is separate from God.

I can certainly see how The Shack would be comforting to a person dealing with the loss of a loved one, or significant pain in their life. However, in my opinion it contains an extremely dangerous mixture of Truth and fiction in such a way that the two aren't distinguished. The reader with little Biblical literacy will find much in the story that they recognize from the Bible. What they may not recognize are the things that are artistic license, speculation, and even some outright heresy.

If you choose to read The Shack, please be extremely careful. To steal and tweak one of the author's own illustrations, there are some gorgeous flowers in the book... but there's also some poison ivy. Make sure you know which is which.


Remember Mr. Wizard's World on Nickelodeon, where Don Herbert (aka Mr. Wizard) sets 2 million mousetraps in a box and then drops a ping-pong ball on one, which sets them all off? The setup for that is pretty much what my attic looks like this morning. If the deceased Black Knight of Mice has any family members, they're going to have to navigate a labyrinth of 3 different kinds of mousetrap to get to any more pipe. Meanwhile, if anyone has any ideas for how to stop the itch from fiberglass insulation despite two pretty serious showers, I'd love to hear it.

Despite the excitement before and after vacation, we had a great time being gone. We spent a long weekend with our friends Drew and Dawn, and Jason and Joy, at a mutual friend's lake house in Hot Springs, Arkansas. It was so great to be able to reconnect with them, though it reminded us how much we miss them. We were worried that when we moved we would lose these relationships, but we were able to pick up fairly close to where we left off - despite Drew's insistence that I got meaner when we moved.

I got through two books while we were there, which I hope to post some reviews of in the next few days. The first was The Shack, a Christian fiction book in the vein of "Dinner with a Perfect Stranger" that is getting quite a bit of publicity. The second was called "Why We're Not Emergent (by Two Guys who Should Be)." It was a recommendation by my Pyromaniac uncle who gave it three "wow's." Phil and I often have a bit different taste in the books we read for leisure, but in my entire life I'm not sure I've heard Phil give a book 3 "wow's," so I thought I'd check it out.

I hope to post on those two books tomorrow; one tomorrow and one next Monday. I'm preaching on Sunday, so a good portion of my days will be spent in preparation for that.

Have a great Wednesday. I'm off to dig out from under the pile of mail and email that stacked up while we were gone.


If there is a hell for mice, I hope I just sent one there.

Last week, I posted about the rain in our attic over our bedroom, and the subsequent guest room flood. Well, I turned off the water at the curb before leaving on vacation Friday, just in case. I also set a mouse trap in the attic just in case the varmint decided to return...

He came back.

To a different pipe.

Then he went to the mousetrap to partake of his own last supper. Only the mousetrap didn't kill him - it just maimed him.

So we returned from vacation today, turned on the water at the curb, sang in the rain in our living room, turned off the water at the curb, climbed up in the attic, and did battle with a maimed mouse. He was armed with razor-sharp teeth; I was wielding a shovel.

He was laying on the sheet rock - maimed, but still very much alive. I was balancing on attic beams in a 130 degree attic holding a garden shovel and paper sack.

I couldn't beat him with the shovel because he was laying on sheet rock in the attic, and pregnant women don't appreciate mice raining on them from the attic any more than they do hot water at 3am. I couldn't scoop him into the paper sack because he was still alive enough to flop around like a fish, and he wouldn't stay on the shovel. And I wasn't grabbing him... did I mention the razor sharp teeth?

We did battle for about 15 minutes. I don't know if it was similar, or if I was just dehydrated in the 130 degree attic, but I swear I heard him quote Monty Python's Black Knight, "'Tis but a scratch."

Finally though, he succumbed. I thought about skinning him and hanging him in the attic for all his mice buddies to see like the Philistines did to Saul and his sons, but it turns out pregnant ladies aren't much for the stench of rotting mice corpses either. His body is in the industrial dumpster down the street, but his soul (one can only hope) is being judged as we speak...

THNGVBDay Update

Lesson learned: Never brag that a day can't get worse!

The plumber came about noon today and was pretty nice. Said they used a new kind of pipe for our plumbing (of course) that he wasn't equipped to fix, but promised he'd send someone tomorrow first thing who could fix it. He treated my wife well, so I was okay with that.

But, this afternoon Kari came home to find that one of our bedrooms was a swimming pool. When the guy turned off the water source to the leak, he didn't turn it off all the way. Now, we're expecting visits from both the "equipped" plumber and a pool drainer company. I just hope the pool drainer company really sucks. Fortunately, everyone who has come to the house so far has been the consumate professional. Unfortunately, I'm going swimming in the bedroom as soon as I post this blog.

Our flights are booked for Australia tomorrow morning.

It's Raining!

This morning at 3:30am, my wife woke me up to tell me it was raining. I heard the thunder earlier in the night, so I didn't really grasp the significance of the announcement, and I certainly didn't think 3:30am was the right time to be celebrating.

She wasn't excited about it raining outside, but she was fairly excited about it raining from the air conditioning vent in the bathroom.

I told her it was just condensation. It's pretty warm and humid in Texas these days, and given the cold-nature of my wife, pretty warm and humid in our house most of the time (I fog up the mirrors in the bathroom when I take a cold shower after a run. Seriously). So, I rolled over, put the pillow over my head and told her to take an umbrella with her if she had to get up again.

That's when she tapped me on the shoulder and said, "no... it's pouring through the vent."

Dang it if she wasn't right.

So I've been up since 3:30am traversing beams in the attic, digging through itchy insulation, chasing down the source of the gush (a busted hot water pipe), turning off the water, mopping the attic, and trying to figure out how the heck we're going to get a pipe in our attic fixed before our vacation this weekend.

The water's off so I can't take a shower, have fiberglass insulation in places I didn't know existed, have to wear a suit today for a lunch engagement, and have to put the finishing touches on a sermon before I go out of town tomorrow. The good news? The day can't do anything but get better from here.

My favorite childrens book of all time is Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, and I agree with Alexander: I think I'll move to Australia.

Busy Day

I'm trying to get things together for a sermon next Sunday (the 25th) on Malachi 2:17-3:5. It's all about the problem of evil, which should be a fun message to preach. It's a great reminder that judgment tomorrow means grace today. The people of Israel wanted God to judge evil on their timetable. He reminds them that He will judge evil, and that the judgment will include them. It's a pretty fun passage because God really turns the table on them by setting them up and then dropping the hammer.

The problem is, I feel like I'm spinning my wheels running down a question in 3:1.

Most of the time when you find something perplexing in the middle of sermon preparation, you have to just do the best you can with it in a short amount of time, prepare the rest of the sermon, and come back to the challenge if you have time. This time, it's not so easy because the way I handle 3:1 will affect the direction of the rest of the sermon.

I didn't sleep much last night because I kept rolling the passage over in my head trying to figure out this question. It's a frustrating place to be, but this morning I keep catching myself thinking about how fortunate I am to get paid for doing stuff like this. It's exhausting, but you can't get much better than this.


Like most pastors, I live with a constant realization of my own weaknesses. It's almost impossible to be a pastor and not be aware of some of your greatest weaknesses - there's always some little old lady who fills out a comment card every week and is happy to remind you. You don't talk loud enough. You don't speak slow enough. You preach too long. You didn't call me this week when I had my ingrown toenail removed...

There are times when others don't recognize some of my weaknesses, but I'm acutely aware of them. Sometimes I don't think as clearly or as quickly as I wish I did. I have to work really hard to prepare lessons and sermons, while they come easy to some of my friends. I'm not the most gifted guy in virtually any room I walk in to. Nor am I the most original thinker - I rarely come up with new ideas that are mine alone.

My weaknesses used to bother me quite a bit, but I'm learning to lean into them. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 say "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power." Later on, in the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul celebrates his weakness even further. "[God's] power is made perfect in weakness" (12:9)

See, the way I read it is that if the objective is to demonstrate the power of God to the world, my weakness is a decided advantage.

Swan Dives

We had an excellent staff retreat last week. It's good to be back, although we're leaving again on Friday for a brief pre-baby vacation with some friends of ours, so posting will be a little bit sporadic next week too.

The highlight of the staff retreat last week for me was bungee jumping for the first time. It is something I had always secretly wanted to do, but it took the peer pressure of a couple of insane youth pastors to finally have an excuse to take the leap.

Let me just tell you, there's absolutely nothing like a 17-story swan dive, trusting only a zit-faced high schooler and the over sized rubber band he tied to your feet to get your adrenaline churning. But I got a good piece of advice from our senior-high pastor who had taken the plunge before. While we were standing on top of the crane, he said to me, "When you get out there on the platform, it's okay to look down, but jumping doesn't get any easier the longer you stand there."

Bungee jumping is a good metaphor for my ministry these days. There seem to always be hard decisions to make, and risky ideas to roll out in the face of uncertain futures. Sometimes it feels like all I'm going on is the experience of an over-confident pimply kid who uses the cash-flow from his career in bungee jumper attending to fund his Dungeons and Dragons obsession. But once you're out there, it doesn't get any easier to stand there and wait.

There are some neat things going on in the Young Adult ministry at McKinney, and in the church as a whole. But in order to really experience the excitement, it's going to mean a few of us have to stop peering over the edge and start swan diving.


I'll be MIA for the next few days while our pastors and wives all retreat. We don't do everything well at McKinney, but we do retreats pretty well. They're usually close - we're retreating this week to Dallas. Close enough we don't spend the whole time driving, but far enough away we're not tempted to run home for anything.

The other thing we do with retreats is play pretty hard and pray pretty hard. We don't do a lot of hard core work on staff retreats... especially if our spouses get to come. These times are primarily about connecting and relaxing. We work hard in the office, and need to cultivate those relationships without an agenda. It helps us build a good team mentality. We know each other's spouses. We know each other's kids. We care about each other, so we work well together.

So, I'll be unplugged until Wednesday or Thursday. Have a great week.


Yesterday was our Worship Pastor's birthday, and he has the worst employees in the world. Yep, that's somewhere around 2000 balloons in his office.

The staff who plays together, stays together.