Books in my Queue

Not a ton of time to blog today. Kari and I are headed on a mini-vacation Wednesday night through Saturday night, and I'm absolutely swamped here in the office.

So, here are a few books that are currently sitting on my desk waiting to be read. Any you care to add to the list? Any of them you've read that are bombs and should be moved down on my priority list?

Jim and Casper Go to Church, Jim Henderson and Matt Casper
Death by Love, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears
Soul Revolution, John Burke
Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, Graeme Goldsworthy
11 Innovations in the Local Church, Elmer Towns, Ed Stetzer, Warren Bird

The Faith - Chuck Colson

I first heard about Chuck Colson's new book "The Faith," at Willow Creek's Leadership Summit. I was very much encouraged by Colson's speech - especially the emphasis on the need for the church to return to a proclamation of Truth. So, I couldn't wait to get my hands on his book. 

The first 112 pages of "The Faith" were exactly what I was hoping for. Colson calls for a return to the basics: God is, He has spoken Truth. Despite that, something went wrong and it took an "invasion" of earth by God Himself to make the situation right. Colson also includes a chapter on the Trinity, and the importance of clarity on that issue. 

For the first 112 pages, Colson is clear, concise, and presents a rather good overview of some historical tenets of the Christian faith. The chapters are solid theologically, but extremely easy to read. Colson's ability to relate Truth to real-life is compelling, and actually exciting. I flew through the first several chapters because I couldn't put it down. 

All that came to a screeching halt at page 113 as Colson launches into the section called "The Faith and Life." He begins the section on the Gospel message called "Exchanging Identities. If you're familiar with the lordship salvation discussion, Colson's chapter presents lordship salvation on steroids; he says things that I don't think any other proponent of lordship salvation would say. Ultimately, I think he presents salvation like a car loan with no down payment:  free on the front-end, but you'll spend the rest of your life paying for it. Either Colson wasn't careful with his language, or he isn't clear on the gospel. I'm hoping for the former, but if the latter is true it certainly helps me understand the rest of the book. 

Page 129 through the end of the book (the last half of the book) is basically a defense of Colson's belief in a document called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" (ECT). It was a document that attempted to find common theological ground between Evangelicals and Catholics so that they might have unity in the faith. Unfortunately, (and I want to put this as kindly as possible), the document is best illustrated by the picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand. 

Dont' get me wrong - I would love to see Evangelicals and Catholics together. But that will not happen en masse until the Roman Catholic Church as an institution returns to salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, alone. There are Roman Catholics who have a right understanding of the Gospel, and Evangelicals are together with them. But the only way we can look at the Roman Catholic church and say that we're "together" is to ignore the essentials, pretend they're not really essential, or for evangelicals to change their essentials to reflect more Roman Catholic doctrine.  

Unlike the first half of the book, the second half doesn't seem to be nearly as careful in its lanuage. For example, on page 150 Colson says both Catholics and Evangelicals hold to "Sacraments," which are "an outward sign of an inward and spiritual reality." Such a statement would horribly offend my Catholic friends, who believe that the Eucharist is much, much more than a spiritual reality or a sign. We're not together on that.  

On page 161, Colson says the "Catholics... direct their members to confess their sins to clergy, who then announce God's pardon. Similarly, Protestants have always availed themselves of the clergy's counseling." Actually, I know scores of Protestant pastors, and couldn't name a single one who believes his pastoral counseling is even remotely similar to the Catholic practice of confessing to a priest. Never once have I given penance to a person. Never once have I announced God's pardon on a person who confessed to me. The two practices are not similar at all. But unfortunately, drawing parallels where there are none is the only way at this point to get Evangelicals and Catholics together. 

I was sorely disappointed in the last half of "The Faith." I honestly felt like Colson pulled a bait-and-switch on me, and moved halfway through the book from standing for historical orthodoxy to tweaking historical orthodoxy so that we can see connections where there are none. I'm so thankful for Chuck Colson's ministry, and for many of the books he has written. Sadly, this is not one of them. 

Family Friday - Leaving a Legacy

The last few months of a president's term is a time in which the president normally focuses on "legacy building." Unfortunately for the current president, now is not such a good time for that kind of activity. It just goes to show: if you wait until the end to start working on your legacy, you might run out of time. 

There's something about having a child that makes the legacy-leaving deal fairly urgent. The statistics on how a child's worldview and personality are shaped in the first three or four years of his life coupled with the importance of a father's influence on his son's life are enough to make any conscientious dad sick to his stomach. For me, legacy building has to start now. I'm in the process of working to build a foundation for my son today that will shape the entire trajectory of his life. That's staggering. 

One of God's blessings to Casen is to have Grandparents and even Great-Grandparents who are still busy building their legacy. His Great Grandfather poured a godly legacy into my mom's life. His grandfather's (Boppo and the yet-to-be-named Fat Boy) poured into Kari and my lives. And we're working to carry that legacy on. Kari and I are fortunate to have a godly heritage that goes back several generations, and we're committed to carrying that on. 

It's especially neat when those generations touch. This past week, Casen got to meet his Great-Grandparents, with both sets of his grandparents. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to be there, but Kari snapped some pictures so I (and you) could share in the moment. 

Casen's great grandma (Memaw) and great grandpa (Pa). Memaw's maiden name was Knox - Casen's middle name. We're able to trace Casen's godly heritage on my Mom's side all the way back to the 16th century Presbyterian reformer named John Knox. Although there's some distance between me and 16th century Presbyterian Reformed theology, the fiery determination (some call it passion, others call it bull-headedness) doesn't skip any generations. 

Pa, with his daughter and her grandson.

My dad - the artist formerly known as Fat Boy - and his grandson.

Kari's Dad - Boppo - and Casen. 

 Proverbs 13:22: "A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children..." 

Casen is the product of some good men... 


I had a book review of Chuck Colson's "The Faith" all ready to go today, but something else came up that I need to post about instead. You'll have to wait until Monday for Colson. 

Last year about this time I posted a rant about the funny ritual to get service at the Apple Store, but I had another run-in yesterday and need to vent about it. Rather than kicking my dog, I figure I'll post my experience on the blog so you can share in my misery.

Tuesday night, around 7pm CST my 8 gig Edge iPhone crashed. Not "crashed" as in "needs-to-be-rebooted," "crashed" as in "This iPhone is no more. It has ceased to be."   So yesterday, after a long day of meetings I went to the new Fort Worth Apple Store to let a "genius" fix my problem. 

I walked in the store where a green shirted employee met me at the door. I knew from past experience that he couldn't/wouldn't help me. He's not the guy who helps customers; just the guy who takes people to the person who can sign you up to be helped. So, I tried to make my way around him (I was in something of a hurry). But he stopped me and asked what I needed. 

"I need to talk to a genius." (I wasn't being flattering, I was just using their terminology. That's what they call the dorks in the back). 

"What seems to be the problem?" Green-Shirt-Guy asked.

So I explained my dilemma, and Green-Shirt-Guy says, "Oh. You're going to need to talk to one of our Mac Geniuses" (Thank you, Captain Obvious). "Go see anyone wearing an orange shirt and they can get you signed up for an appointment with a genius."

I found an Orange-Shirt-Guy, and went through the same drill: "I need to see a genius." "What seems to be the problem?" "Story, story, story." "Oh. You need to see a genius. Please go to any of the computers in the store and sign up for an appointment. Just sign up for any available time and we'll get with you in a couple of minutes." 

Grateful to have Orange-Shirted permission, I went to one of the MacBook Air computers and signed up for an appointment at 4:30pm (it was 3:30pm when I signed up). I double-checked with Orange-Shirt guy to make sure they would get to me more quickly than that and he assured me it would be "any minute."  

Forty five "minutes" later, I asked Orange-Shirt-Girl what the deal was, and she got on her walkie-talkie to talk to the geniuses at the bar who were standing 6 feet away. I could hear their conversations without the walkie talkie, but apparently that's the only way Geniuses are allowed to communicate. Finally, she announced to me that I would have to be patient, that I had signed up for a 4:30 appointment and it was only 4:15. I looked for Orange-Shirt-Guy, but apparently he had disappeared. Genius-pointing work is rather taxing, I'm sure.

At 4:45 I finally was called to the Genius bar where the "Genius" proceeded to (1) make fun of my watch, (2) tell me that my phone had crashed, (3) tell me that my phone was 3 weeks out of warranty, and that I was under a 2-year contract with AT&T, so I would either need to buy a new phone for $199, or pay a substantially higher fee to get out of my contract. 

Not a good day at the Apple Store. Seriously, Mac has some really cool products. But if I have to keep dealing with the pretentious class-system at the Apple store, I'm out. 

People Pleaser or Servant Leader?

Craig Groeschel has some good posts this week about how to avoid being a people pleasing pastor. 

I know very few (if any) pastors who don't struggle with this tendency. Most of us are people people. We love people, we love being around people, and we want other people to want to be around us. There's a part of the nature of every human being that wants to be approved and liked by others. But when it comes down to it, you can't be a people pleaser all the time and be effective in ministry. 

Sometimes people need to hear what they don't want to hear. The people-pleaser in me desperately wants to tell the couple I'm doing premarital counseling with that it's okay to keep living together. They don't need to hear that. The people-pleaser in me beats myself up when people reject Scripture because I didn't communicate it well-enough for them to understand in a positive light. 

There's also a spiritual component to pastors wanting to be a people-pleaser. I think a lot of us have a hard time distinguishing between people-pleaser and servant-leader sometimes. Both are others-oriented and involve self-sacrifice. But it's impossible to truly be a servant leader and people-pleaser

Servant leadership always seeks the long-term good of the people the servant is leading; people-pleasing is primarily concerned with the short-term good. Servant leadership is ultimately others-focused; people-pleasing is almost always rooted in a self-focused insecurity. Servant-leadership sees the model of Christ who served to meet the needs of others; people-pleasing follows the model of the Pharisees, serving to meet our own need to be liked or noticed. 

Servant leadership operates with an eternal perspective. We serve others in such a way that their greatest ultimate needs are met, rather than their (or our) immediate perceived needs. We can't have it both ways. 

How to Make a Rabbi Mad

Since I'm very confident our senior pastor doesn't read my blog, I feel pretty comfortable bragging about him without being viewed as a suck-up. One of the things I love most about our senior pastor is that he is as engaged in personal ministry as he is in his professional ministry. He loves pouring his life into other people - even people he doesn't get "paid" to pour into. 

From time to time, if you walk into Yogi's Bagel Cafe on a weekday morning, you'll see Ken visiting with a heavyset man who happens to be the rabbi at the synagogue next door. The rabbi calls Ken "his pastor," and although the two of them are in radically different places theologically, they get together from time to time for honest conversation. 

As you can imagine, the conversations between a type-A evangelical pastor and Jewish rabbi often get fairly animated. But it isn't our pastor who makes the rabbi angry - it's the guys on TV. 

Just about every time the two meet, the rabbi reports on his television viewing. He loves to watch the "Christian channel" on television. He watches Osteen, Jakes, Copeland, and the guys over on TBN, and they absolutely make the rabbi furious... but not for the reasons you might think. 

He's not angry because they point towards Jesus as the Messiah... he's angry because they don't.

"Ken, they don't ever talk about Jesus. They never talk about sin. They make me so mad. If I was a Christian I would figure out a way to get those guys off the air - they don't even talk about the things that make Christians Christian. If I was a Christian I'd figure out a way to get those guys off the air. They make me furious."

Seems like our Jewish rabbi friend has more discernment than many Christians today. 

Just wondering: Is there anything distinctively Christian about your church? If the rabbi next door walked in the door of your church, would it be crystal clear to him what sets us apart? Would he immediately recognize Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) as the centerpiece of your church service? If not, you're liable to make him mad.

If I Can, I Ought

In the fourth century, there lived a monk famous for his arguments with Augustine, particularly about whether or not human nature is corrupted as a result of the fall. His name was Pelagius, and his philosophy ended up saying that mankind is able and responsible to acheive salvation on his own. The philosophy can be summed up with the statement, "If I ought, I can." In other words, if we are supposed to do something (behave perfectly), God has given us the complete ability to do it. 

Well, Augustine pretty much proved that Pelagius was a goof ball. In reality though, Pelagius just got it backward. "If I ought, I can" is not a true statement. But "If I can, I ought" is. 

Last week, I switched from Dish Network to AT&T U-Verse as a result of a year of poor customer service from Dish Network (Here's an example if you're interested... it only got worse from there).

When I called Dish Network to inform them that the camel's back was broken, they put me on the line with a "Customer Loss Prevention Specialist." She was the nicest lady in the world who offered to come out and fix our current problems, give us extra programming, beat AT&T's price, and refund the money they charged me to drive out to my house to fix their faulty equipment. I was one promise away from giving that lady a piece of my mind that I really don't need to part with at this point. 

Dish Network - if you can, you ought. If you had the ability to offer good customer service, lower prices, and better technical support, the time to do that would have been before I switched to your competitor. Because you were passive throughout our relationship, I'm going to do some positive advertising for your competitor, and some bad publicity for you. 

Unfortunately, it's not just Dish Network. Maybe I recognize it in Dish Network because it's an easy trap for me to fall into as well. I let problems go by that I have the ability to deal with because they're not the most urgent issue. I sit on issues because they're not convenient to deal with, or because they aren't pressing, and wait until they become pressing and it's too late. 

If you have the ability to do something about an issue today, you probably ought to deal with it today. It will cost you a lot less energy and time, and everyone will be happy in the long run. 

Family Friday

Chirp... chirp... chirp. 

We don't have crickets in our house, but if we did, you'd certainly be able to hear them. I carted Kari and Casen to Luxurious Ardmore, Oklahoma on Wednesday night, where Kari's sister Sara and nephew John Michael met us to take Kari and Casen the rest of the way to Kari's parents' house. 

Sara and Michael had twins last year about this time, and have outgrown their mid-sized SUV. So, they recently purchased a pimped-out school bus equivalent (okay, it's a Denali), and sold us their old car. We're in the process of trying to get rid of Kari's go-kart (Saab), because the car seat doesn't fit in the back seat at the same time a passenger is riding in the front seat. So, it was a good excuse for Kari to spend some time with her parents, Casen to spend some time with his Millie and Boppo, and me to spend time with the back of his eyelids (and with Sutton, who was left out of this trip to Oklahoma). 

Unfortunately, I'm kind of missing them around the house. For the last two nights, I've woken up every three hours ready for Casen to eat. Kari says he even slept for four hours between feedings last night, so I don't know what the deal is. 

I'm going to try to ease my pain by playing golf today and tomorrow. We'll see how that goes. The last two times I've played, I've shot the best scores I've shot since college, so I'm due for a blow-up. Unfortunately, I'm playing on a really difficult course (TPC Las Colinas where they play the Byron Nelson PGA event every year), which might accommodate that blow-up. But, I'm looking forward to the time with one of my friends, his dad, and a random guy I've never met. 

Have a great weekend. That's the family update for us. I guess I'm going to spend the morning pouting with Sutton. Mom and Casen are gone. The house is quiet. We can't sleep. And we've got the blues... But golf is coming... See, there's always hope. 

Good morning...

I've started meeting with a guy every Thursday morning at Cracker Barrel in Arlington to do some discipleship. This was only our second week, but he's a sharp dude who is pretty excited about what God is doing in his life, and that's fun to see.

This morning, one of the waitresses saw our Bibles and asked if we could answer some questions for her. It turns out, several of the waitresses spend their mornings chatting in the back about spiritual things. Several of them are believers, and several of them are "interested" in Christianity, but "don't buy it."

This morning, the waitresses were discussing end-time events, and what the Bible said about where the world is headed (I don't know what started the conversation, but bet you ten bucks it included the words "Barack Obama" or "Sarah Palin" and "Antichrist"). It was pretty fun to have a five or ten minute discussion with the Cracker Barrel waitress about what the Bible says. The waitress took my Bible to the back to show the other waitresses what she had found.

More than anything, I think it's absolutely great that those waitresses are excited about discussing spiritual things in their spare time. They said it had been the topic of conversation for a while, which indicates they're able to do it with a level of respect that allows the discussions to continue without the waitresses who "don't buy it" complaining to management.

God is working - at McKinney Church, at Lockheed Martin, in teachers lounges across the country, and at Cracker Barrel. Are you engaged in what He's doing?


I met a guy last night at church wide prayer who is in the United States from a country ravaged by violence and persecution of Christians so that he can pursue seminary. He prayed the most beautiful prayer from Psalm 18:1-3: 

 1     I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2     The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge.
He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3     I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies.

His prayer (obviously) got me to thinking about that question Christians are asked from time to time: "If someone were to put a gun to your head and ask you to renounce Jesus, would you do it?" 

Obviously, there's no way to answer that question until you're there. And obviously, nobody truly looks forward to a chance to test their personal theory of how they would respond.

But those kinds of situations don't keep me up at night very much like they might my friend from another culture. We're fortunate to live in a country where those types of scenarios are isolated incidents, and where the odds of that kind of situation are extremely rare. 

I'm more concerned about an ongoing chipping away at my stance and dedication by sarcastic or ambivalent people over a long period of time.  Our society is so tolerant that most people don't care enough to put a gun to your head. They just don't care. So the one-time do-or-die chance to stand for your faith isn't my greatest concern, it is the fact that I stand in a culture who couldn't care less what I believe that keeps me up at night. The persecution of apathy and sarcasm. 

Seems like Peter and Paul had a similar concern for the people they shepherded. Most of us won't have to die as martyrs like Peter and Paul - but all of us are called to stand against the grain, and that can wear you down. 

"...scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, "Where is the 'coming' He promised?" (2 Peter 3:3-4)

What Does the Bible Say?

Every two years, Ken takes a group of guys through a class on Basic Theology. Every time he offers it, he has to cut off the enrollment at 40, because it's such a popular thing. I love that. 

This morning, we had a great conversation, and I think he made a very important point. His goal for the theology class is to help guys be more confident in saying, "this is what the Bible says." 

Our culture has a strong value on "I think," and it even makes tracks into the church. Most of us have been in "Bible Studies" before where the whole group sits around a table and reads a passage. Then, each person goes around the circle and talks about what they think about the passage. 

But "I think," is not nearly as powerful as "The Bible Says." 

The really neat thing is that this is something Ken lives out. His kids talk about peppering him with questions, and that from as early as they can remember, regardless of the question, Ken always took them to the Bible. What a cool testimony for them to have. Even from an early age, they were able to recognize that their daddy's answers came from a Higher Source than just "I think." 

I hope to pass that along to my son. Get out your Bible, learn your way around it, and have other people turn there along with you - they'll get the picture. Your source of Truth is based on more than just your intuition or intellect. Your source of Truth is God's Word. 

Stewardship Journal

Several months ago, I read a book by D.A. Carson about his dad, Tom Carson, called "Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor." It was mainly a biography, and would be an easy, encouraging read for someone who is an ordinary pastor in an ordinary church wondering if God will ever use your life. Tom Carson was that kind of pastor whose life and ministry caused a ripple effect that continues still today, even though he himself often struggled with bouts of depression and discouragement that his ministry was not being effective. 

The majority of D.A. Carson's research was straight from his dad's journals, which were sporadically kept throughout Tom's life.  

I'm not much of a journaler. I've tried, many times influenced by my emo Navigator friends, but my journaling always seems to last about 2 weeks. Then the journal goes on the shelf until I get "convicted" again and buy a new journal. Blogging is about as close to journaling as I've been able to get. I'm just not built to be that much of an introspective guy. 

But, I've taken a play out of Tom Carson's playbook, and it seems to really be working for me. Rather than trying to do journaling at the beginning of my day, I've started keeping what I'm calling a "stewardship journal" at the end of my day. I jot some brief notes about how I spent my day, and how I invested (or failed to invest) my moments towards eternity. 

It's good for personal accountability, and good to encourage me in days when I don't feel like I've accomplished much. It's also been helpful in letting me know when I'm doing way too much... like last week for example. 

If you're concerned with whether or not you're investing your life in the right direction, you might try taking inventory at the end of your day. I've been at it for a couple of months, and it seems to be working pretty well for me - I'm well past my normal two-week crash-and-burn, if that says anything. 

Family Friday - Giving Finale

Any new parent will tell you that parenthood is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting. You walk through life like a zombie for almost three months before things settle down a little. 

Newborn babies are takers. They're needy. They are hungry, gassy, dirty, and sleepy, and then hungry, gassy, dirty, and sleepy again. They don't do anything on their own - they need you to feed them, burp them, change them, and rock them, in that order. And, about the time you complete the cycle, it's time to start the whole thing over again. Babies are takers.

But every time Casen cries, his mom and dad jump into action. We'd love to sleep, but we love our baby. We don't mind feeding him, burping him, changing him, and rocking him because we love him. Our sacrifice isn't always easy, but we do it absolutely willingly. 

Secretly though, I'm really looking forward to the point at which my taker-baby turns into a responder-baby. I can't wait until he gives back, even just a little. I can't wait until he smiles at me without pooping at the same time. I can't wait until he says "Daddy," or giggles, or reaches up with his dirty little fingers to give his daddy a hug. I can't wait until he can give back, just a little. 

I sacrifice willingly for him today because I love him. But our relationship will take on a brand new dimension when he moves from being a taker-baby to being a giving-baby. 

Moving from being a taker-baby to being a giving-baby is a part of the maturation process. I don't expect him to respond to me at 3 weeks old. But if he gets to be 3 months old and still isn't responding, we'll fear something is wrong. If he gets to be 3 years old and isn't responding more than he does at 3 months, we'll suspect something is wrong. 

The parallel between Casen and the topic we've been discussing all week should be evident. As a father, I'm not going to set a quota for how often he smiles, or talks, or giggles. I just want him to smile, and talk, and giggle. My primary care isn't how much he responds - I just want him to respond to his daddy on his own. 

I think the New Testament gives us freedom to respond to God willingly and increasingly as we mature. If we're locked-into the same percentage of responding to God that we've been locked into since we first trusted Christ, we might want to check into that. If we're not responding to Him at all, something is most certainly wrong. And if we're locked into a quota rather than an organic understanding of who our Heavenly Father is, we become robotic rather than relational, and no father wants that. 

When Casen matures enough to become a responder, you had better bet there will be a celebration in the Freeland household. I wonder if the same is true with us as we respond to our Heavenly Father. 

Giving - Part 4

On Tuesday, I tried to argue for a practical reason we don't ask people to give all their contributions to our local church instead of choosing themselves how to invest it in other ministry. Giving directly to a ministry (whether a local church, global church, or para church ministry) allows you and I to be directly involved - we don't need a ministry middle-man. 

Yesterday, I explained why we don't ask our people to only make those contributions to other ministries after they've reached a certain level of giving at our church. That type of request isn't based on a biblical command. It's okay if churches want to request that, but it's important to recognize that the request isn't based on a command. 

The questions become: Do I have to give to my local church at all? And, If so, how much? 

Biblically, as I said yesterday, I can't find a passage that says it is a sin not to give to your local church. However, I think you're foolish not to. If you attend a local church (and there is Biblical exhortation to do that), but refuse to give to it, you're a mooch. 

I knew a girl in college who I would absolutely avoid around lunchtime. She could spot you from a mile away, and 100 percent of the time would ask for a bite of whatever you were eating. If you were drinking a Coke, she would want a drink (which, if you know me, is one of my hugest idiosyncrasies... Kari doesn't even get to drink after me). If you had gum, she wanted a piece. She never purchased anything on her own - she made a living off of a drink here and a bite there of the things everyone else was having. 

If you attend a local church, and don't give to that ministry, you're just like my college acquaintance - benefiting from the church and it's ministries, but constantly expecting someone else to pick up the tab. 

There is a model for giving to your local church in Acts 2:45, although a certain percentage isn't specified. So, the question becomes: how much do I have to give when I do give? 

Answer: Wrong question. 

The commands throughout the New Testament have zero to do with percentage, and everything to do with your heart. God doesn't need your tip, but He wants your heart. 2 Corinthians 8 celebrates the person who gives sacrificially, voluntarily, and cheerfully as a priority - not the believer who meets a certain percentage in order to check-off the next thing on his what-do-I-have-to-do-to-get-by list. 

Rather than asking, "How much do I have to give?" what if we asked "How much am I able to invest in what God is doing in the world so that I can see the same kind of return in someone else's life that has been accomplished in my life?" Someone else invested in you through investing in the ministry that God used to change your life... will that be able to be said in the future of others because of your generosity? 

Giving - Part 3

Yesterday, I mentioned a practical reason the church where I'm a pastor doesn't ask people to give primarily to our institution so we can dole it out for them - we hate being the ministry middle-man. Rather than always asking people to bring their gifts, talents, and resources so we can decide how to use them, we want to encourage people to go straight to the opportunity... eliminate the bureaucracy

We also don't ask people to give to local and global ministries "above and beyond" a specified amount they give to the church because we don't feel that's a biblical command. It's not anti-Biblical, mind you. I don't think churches who handle their finances that way are going against something explicit in Scripture. The Bible doesn't describe a specified amount we are supposed to give to the local church before we give to anyone else. 

Don't forget, the local church in the first century had an infrastructure that was exponentially less financially taxing. They met in homes, and seem to have had "volunteer" or possibly bivocational pastors. They weren't trying to maintain building funds and the salary of a youth pastor and worship leader.

In fact, I'm not aware of a single passage in the New or Old Testament that specify an amount to be given to the church. I'll go even farther: I'm not aware of a passage in the New Testament that even speaks of giving anything monetarily to the local church. At least the vast majority of the New Testament passages that talk about giving money, including 1 Corinthians 9:9-12; 2 Corinthians 8-9, and others are actually spoken in the context of parachurch ministries. 

The call for people to give a specific percent to the local church normally comes from the Old Testament model of tithing. However, in order to do that we have to say that the local church is the equivalent of the Old Testament temple, and that we are the equivalent of Old Testament Jews. I just can't go there. 

You might also find it interesting that most Bible scholars disagree on the amount of a person's income to which the word "tithe" refers, but that virtually nobody believes that amount was ten percent. (Most believe it was closer to 30 percent). 

I just can't find a biblical command that tells people they have to give a specific percent to the local church before they give to what God is doing someplace else. The local church is not the hope of the world - Jesus is. And we're called to give cheerfully to support ministries that take the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2) to the world, whether they're a local church, local parachurch ministry, or global ministry of some kind.

Should you give to your local church? Absolutely - I'll deal with that tomorrow, but let me say "absolutely" today because I love my job, and have a child who goes through diapers like they're going out of style. You absolutely should give to your local church - but you're not held by the Bible to a specific percent before you can give to another ministry. 

Giving - Part Two

One of the biggest whips of having a blog you try to maintain is figuring out what the heck to write every day. I love it when people post comments, especially when they spur more discussion because now I've got a blog topic for the rest of the week! 

Yesterday, I talked about my message from 2 Corinthians 8 yesterday about giving, and my friend Lisa commented: "So are we free to give however much we want to whoever we want and count that as our tithe?" My other friend Kara also asked for my two cents. Unfortunately, after my opinion Kara is probably going to want some change back: 

Some traditions/denominations prefer that you give all your money to the local church (or denomination) so that they can sort out exactly how it's allocated. You give your "tithe" to the church, and they distribute it to the various ministries and missionaries that are associated with your denomination. The benefit of this kind of philosophy is that the denomination is able the ensure that your contribution supports ministries that connect with the same vision and values of the denomination. The Southern Baptist Church prefers this method, and as a result some of my friends who went to Baptist seminaries got to go for a fraction of what my degree from a non-denominational seminary cost me. 

In my opinion, although there are some significant benefits of that kind of philosophy, I see two things to be cautious of: 

First, it tends to remove people from a hands-on partnership with what God is doing throughout the world. Growing up in a Southern Baptist Church (a heritage for which I'm extremely thankful), I only knew of two missionaries in the world: Lottie Moon, and Annie Armstrong, because every year at Easter and Christmas an offering was taken in their honor to support foreign ministries through the SBC. Today, I write several checks every month to different missionaries with whom I am connected. I'm not just supporting their ministry financially - I'm a partner with them. 

The church where I'm a pastor right now gives more than a million dollars institutionally every year to local and foreign missions out of our operating budget. But it's impossible to estimate how much the church gives in reality because we encourage our people to partner directly with ministries they are excited about. When we have missionaries come and speak, we don't usually take a "love offering" for them to support their ministry as an institution. We encourage our people to connect with them on a more personal level so we are involved as individuals, not just as an institution. 

I think it's a much more exciting thing to be an investor in a ministry rather than simply an enabler of a ministry.

Tomorrow, I'll share the second thing I think we have to be cautious of: A lot of times we "command" people to give to the local church as an institution using Scripture that doesn't command people to give to the local church as an institution. But you'll have to wait until tomorrow... I'm resisting the urge to do a really long post and blow my good ideas for the week! 


Yesterday's lesson in the Young Singles ministry here at McKinney was over 2 Corinthians 8-12 - a passage in which Paul challenges the Corinthians to have an eternal perspective. 

Paul tells us that if we want to know whether or not we have an eternal perspective, we should check our checkbook. The way we invest our money is the ultimate test in where we have our focus because it's private, personal, and important to all of us (during the next campaign speech, count how many times a candidate mentions your money... they know how important it is to us). 

Every pastor I know gets a little bit nervous when we "have" to teach about giving. We know Jesus talked about money more than He talked about heaven or hell. We know it's important and a mark of obedience just as much as anything else. But we're a bit gunshy because of the greasy, slicked-up televangelists who use the contributions of their destitute viewers to fund their private jets. We dont' want to be "that pastor" who only preaches about money.

Even though it's hard for every pastor to preach about money, I kind of like it, because I feel the absolute freedom to tell people to put their money where their mouth is while leaving them free to apply that however they want. They don't have to give money to McKinney Church. 

Yeah, we need contributions to keep the lights on and the air conditioner running. But if every person at McKinney was voluntarily obedient in giving and chose to invest in what God is doing somewhere other than McKinney, that would be okay. We could worship in the dark, and we'd probably worship better than anyone has worshipped before, because everyone involved would be passionately invested in what God is doing. 

I'd love to be a part of that worship service. I'd probably give to that ministry too...

Family Friday

For the past 9 months as people found out we were expecting a baby, their response was always the same: 

"Your life is about to change." 

When you find out people are expecting a child, please don't say this to them. First of all, thousands of people have already announced this piece of news to them. By week two of pregnancy, the novelty of such a statement is gone. 

The second reason not to say such a thing is that there is absolutely no way any person can actually understand what you mean by that. There's no way to frame the change that takes place to a person who has never experienced it. You're wasting your time.  You'll either freak them out or bore them to tears. There is no way to anticipate it until it's here. 

My life just changed. In all the best and worst ways. My golf game has taken a hit. My sleep habits have gone down the tube. But there is absolutely no greater thing than hanging on every move of an infant who trusts you without hesitation. 

His umbilical cord fell off this morning. That crusty piece of gross flesh died blue by the nurses at the hospital fell off while I was holding him. And we celebrated... Over a piece of dried up flesh.

My life is different. My life changed. But you could have never prepared me for this. Never in a million years. 

The Others

We're starting a new series tonight in our Young Singles Ministry called "The Others." 

We got the title from the show "Lost," in which the survivors of a plane crash find themselves on a tropical island. Fairly early in the show they realize they aren't alone on the island. They don't know much about "The Others." A few of them have had encounters with The Others. A couple have even had  conversations with The Others. But nobody knows enough to form an educated opinion. So instead, they avoid the others out of fear. 

I think that's the way many of us approach the people who share our "island" of various belief systems. We're okay with the agnostic down the street, but we're just not sure what to do with someone who is a devout follower of another faith. So, for four weeks our Young Singles ministry will be looking at some of "The Others" in order to find out a little more about them.  

It's always hard to tell what kind of momentum we're going to get out of a new series. I figured this one would be a little less popular, but it seems to really be creating some buzz. Shows how much I know. 

You can't possible examine everything about Islam (our topic for tonight), so we're going to look at primarily three areas: Revelation, God, and Salvation. It should be a really interesting study. 

If you're in Fort Worth, not married yet, and are looking for something to do, you should definitely check it out. 7pm in the Chapel at McKinney Church. 

Deliberate Together, Decide Alone

As the primary leader of an organization, I think this is a pretty important principle. In almost every decision I make, I deliberate with a team, but have to own the final decision alone. I haven't always been very good at this, but it's an area I'm working to be better.

If you deliberate a decision alone, you'll almost always miss something important. Bringing a team around the table to help you process decisions will always help shed light on the situation, even if you think you know the answer. Recently I needed to make a fairly difficult personnel decision, and was confident I knew the direction I wanted to go. But I brought as many people as I could bring around the table (keeping in mind confidentiality) to help think through the decision with me. In the end, I went with my first instinct, but had the confidence of knowing I wasn't missing something obvious in the process.

We deliberate together, but when it comes time to pull the trigger on a decision, as the primary leader in a specific area, I have to own the decision on my own. The quickest way to stop getting quality input from the people around you is to throw them under the bus as soon as you make a hard decision. It's also the quickest way to undermine your own leadership in someone else's eyes.

I told you: I haven't always been very good about this. Last year about this time we had to make a couple of tough decisions within our young adult ministry. I brought a team around me and processed the decision with them. We came up with a solution that would work well, actually helping us to excel in the future, but also one that would cause a couple of people to have some significant heartburn. I pulled the trigger and owned the decision publicly, but privately during discussions with some of the people who were upset, I pointed the finger at the team. That's not great leadership.

If you've got a tough decision to make, pull as many people as you can around the table, and ask for their input. Be honest that you may or may not choose to take their advice, but that you value their opinion and need their help. Deliberate together, but when it comes time to pull the trigger, own it alone.


This morning started with a 6am theology class at the church. Today was the first of a two-year study our senior pastor leads for somewhere around 40 men who want a deeper theological knowledge to use as a grid for understanding the Bible better and making better life decisions. It's going to be a great year.

The "ice breaker" for the tables this morning was to describe a person in our lives other than a family member who has had the most significant spiritual influence on us. It was really cool to hear the people the guys around our table named: everyone from college pastors and fourth-grade Sunday School teachers, to coworkers and ex-girlfriends.

It was neat to hear the stories behind that influence, and to find the common denominators in each of those instances.

In each case, the person who had the most significant influence on the people sitting around our table had three traits:

1. They took the initiative in identifying and inviting a person to grow alongside them. Every single story included the words, "they took an interest in me and helped me understand..."

2. They had passion that was compelling to the people whose lives they affected. It was clear to us that the people who impacted our lives were people who were absolutely clear and confident in an area we needed to grow, and that they absolutely believed the Truths of Scripture.

3. But, in addition to their passion and knowledge they all had the grace and patience to help us grow at our own pace.

The people who made the greatest impact on our lives weren't always the smartest people in the room, or the most well-read. They never had everything figured out. But they identified and invited us to catch some of their passion at our own pace as they helped us grow in our knowledge of God and the Scripture.

I want to be that kind of person. Whether or not I ever know it, I want to be the person people mention at tables just like mine in four or five years. I don't want to have just been their pastor. I don't want to be just a blip on their radar screen. I want to make a deep, significant impact on the lives of the people with whom I come in contact. Do you?

You don't have to be a pastor - many of the people mentioned today were not. You don't have to have a seminary degree, or a detailed knowledge of the Bible. You just have to be willing to invest in someones life, passionate about what you do know, and possess the grace and humility to walk alongside people as they take meaningful steps toward growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ.