The Small Sins

All of us has a tendency to minimize our own sin and maximize the sins of others against us. We tend to view the things we have done against God as the "small things" (we told a little white lie, or had a youthful moment of indiscretion). We view the things other people have done as the "big things." 

The issue is that we try to be the ones who decide which sins are worse. Unfortunately, though, we don't get to be the judge of that. 

Ultimately, I think in God's economy some of the "small" sins in our eyes might just be some of the "big" sins in his eyes. He separated all of humanity from Him for eating a piece of fruit, for goodness' sake. Certainly we would put "fruit eating" at the "small" end of the spectrum, right? But the deal is, it wasn't really about the fruit. It was about idolatry - believing they could be like God.

Idolatry is what sin boils down to. We believe someone else has a better plan than God, so we move forward serving that god. When we tell a little white lie, we are believing that something (or someone) is worth serving over and above the God of truth. When we fail to keep our word, we make a statement that something (or someone) is more important than God's command to be people whose "yes" means "yes" and "no" means "no." The small things are idolatrous every bit as much as if we were to switch religions altogether.

In that way, I think some of our smaller sins may just be the most offensive to God. The fact that we would abandon God as God or worship something other than God for something trivial like a little white lie or a moment of indiscretion has to be more offensive to God than if we had gone into sin whole hog.  

When we minimize our own sin as something trivial, that might just make it more offensive. 

Add or Subtract?

I've always been fascinated by the challenge Jesus gives people who would follow Him in Matthew 5:48. The Pharisees had given people an unsurmountable standard of living. Jesus preached His whole sermon from Matthew 5-7 to show that the Pharisees were placing a load on the shoulders of the people that was far too heavy. Their standard of behavior wasn't possible. Nobody can keep all those rules.

But here's the amazing thing about the sermon on the Mount: Jesus gave the people a standard that was achievable, but also much higher. He called them to perfection. Completeness. Wholeness.

The Pharisees had tried to reach holiness by adding behavior after behavior. Jesus was concerned about behavior, but the whole point of Jesus sermon was to demonstrate that better behavior wasn't the thing missing in the puzzle of human completeness. In fact, the problem wasn't an addition problem at all.

You don't become "perfect" when you've added all you can. Quite the opposite. You become whole; complete; everything God intended when everything you've added is scraped away.

Peter uses the illustration of refined gold to talk about holy faith (1 Peter 1:7) just before he reminds the people to imitate God's holiness (1 Peter 1:15) in a way that echo's Jesus' command in Matthew 5:48.

When we've trusted Christ and have His righteousness (Romans 3:22); identity (Romans 6:15, Galatians 2:20) and Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We don't need to add anything else. Instead, we should repent of the things we've done in our own effort, with our own resources, on our own time, for our own benefit, and spend our time yielding to the Spirit instead. That's the path of perfection.

The Final Verdict

A lot of my reading recently has been in 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Chronicles. The other day I was reading in 2 Chronicles 12:12-14 in The Message about Solomon's son Rehoboam. It says, "Because Rehoboam was repentant, GOD’s anger was blunted, so he wasn’t totally destroyed. The picture wasn’t entirely bleak—there were some good things going on in Judah... But the final verdict on Rehoboam was that he was a bad king—GOD was not important to him; his heart neither cared for nor sought after GOD."

I couldn't help but think back to Rehoboam's Grandpa, King David. David's deal with Bathsheba is well-known. He also had moments of terribly weak faith where he trusted in the scope of his own human power over the power of the God who had given him everything he had (1 Chronicles 21:1-3). But, the final verdict on David is that He was a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 16:22).

For the leader with a pristine record of faithfulness to God, the temptation is to rest on our laurels and relax, failing to finish well. For the leader with failures in the past, the temptation is to believe that God cannot or will not use us in the future. 

What an encouragement for every leader to remember that the final verdict is not out on the legacy we will leave. 


I read "Deliberate Simplicity" after reading about it on a friend's blog. I'm a huge believer that simplicity is the key to impact, especially when it comes to systems, structures, and communication, so I figured the book would be right up my alley. I loved some of it and didn't love some of it. Par for most books I read.

One of the parts I loved was the idea of creating "prosumers" rather than "consumers." Here's the paragraph:

"In a Deliberately Simple church, we ask the people who attend to be prosumers instead of consumers. The word prosumer was coined by futurist Alvin Toffler to describe the psyche of a participant who actively contributes to the experience he or she is enjoying (as opposed to a consumer, who consumes the experience). With a pro(+)sumer, there is more of "it" after the individual has interacted with it. With a con(-)sumer, there is less of "it" after the individual has interacted with it." 

Worship and worship services are for prosumers, not consumers. Worship isn't something to be observed, taken or consumed; it's something to be given. It's participatory.

Bench-sitters who consume worship services consume worship. They take away from it. We need more contributors. Prosumers.

The Early Church and Us

I was reading in the first part of the book of Acts yesterday.

Anyone else find themselves feeling a little bit conflicted when you read the book of Acts and look at the church today?

I mean, it's awfully common for modern-day theologians and church growth consultants to pine for things to be "more like they were in the early church." And I get that. Who wouldn't want to see the extreme unity and sacrificial generosity of believers united around a purpose (Acts 4:32-35)? Who wouldn't want to see three thousand people trust Christ in a single day (Acts 2:41) and at least 365 people per year (Acts 2:47). Sign me up.

Then I read Acts 5 about an environment where two people were killed on the spot because they lied about their offering. I read Acts 6-7 about the intense persecution that drove an angry mob to kill a kid by throwing rocks at him. Ultimately I read Acts 8:1-3 about how the church began to be "destroyed" by fear of an evil man.

The early church wasn't singing Kum-Bah-Yah in a perfect holy huddle. They were fighting for their lives.

We seem to yearn for the days of the early church  with selective memories.

I'm praying for an Acts-like revival in Fort Worth. However, I'd also like to avoid the Acts-like persecution, if that's not too much to ask.

Fliers that Fail

We took our leadership team to Catalyst Dallas last week. In conjunction with our gardening discussion, we've been talking a lot about being intentional about everything we do as a ministry. You can argue a lot of things about the folks at Catalyst but their conference is one of the most intentional, thought-out, deliberate conferences I've ever been to. They think-through everything from the promotional box of Wheaties they sent pastors inviting them to the event to the way they say goodbye to people as they leave. I took our team to Catalyst primarily so we could observe that level of intentionality together.

But coming away, my very favorite thing about Catalyst might just be the fact that they took a couple of intentional fliers that didn't go well at all. They handed out snap-pops (the old party favors that pop when you throw them at the ground) as a way to illustrate a fear people have, but mostly just to liven up the crowd. The byproduct of the intentional silliness was a billion snap-pops on the floor of Bent Tree Bible Church that popped under the feet of every person who got up to go to the bathroom for the next two days. It was a horrible distraction, and I'm sure a nightmare for the facilities crew to deal with on Friday evening.

I love it when people take calculated risks, even when they fail. Those are always the fliers that get noticed because they end badly, but there were a host of fliers at Catalyst that worked brilliantly. If you don't give yourself the margin to fall, you'll never take a flier that works.

Obviously, you want to calculate the risk of a flier. You want to be wise about the odds. But life is too short not to take a flier from time to time. Even if it doesn't pan out for you.


Our Leadership Team has been talking a lot about gardening recently. Actually, they don't know they've been talking about gardening but they have. Don't tell them.

In order to be a good gardener, first you have to figure out what you're trying to grow. Then you need to provide the right environment and the right nourishment. From a human standpoint (of course), the right seed combined with the right environment and the right nourishment will produce the kind of fruit  you're hoping to see.

Our staff team knows we are 100 percent dependent on God to cause spiritual growth. For our part we want to plant the right kind of seed in the right kind of environment with the right kind of nourishment while depending on God to do His part (1 Corinthians 3:6). If we are haphazard in our gardening, we shouldn't be surprised when we aren't trusted to tend the garden of our dreams.

If you're trying to grow tomatoes, but throw a grab-bag of garden seeds into a pile of dirt, you shouldn't be surprised when the black-eyed peas overtake and choke-out your tomato plants. You may get a few tomatoes, but not nearly as many as you would have if you had planted more carefully.

If you throw tomato seeds into the wrong kind of environment, again - you might get enough tomatoes for a salad but you won't be sharing with the neighbors.

If you combine the right seeds in the right environment but use all your water and fertilizer on the cucumbers, you'll be tempted to brag about your pickles even though what you really wanted was something else.

Our Staff and Elders spent quite a bit of time over the last couple of years thinking about what "crop" God has called us to cultivate at our church. Now we're asking the equally critical questions: "What environments and nourishment will be essential to have that kind of garden?" and "What things could threaten that environment or compromise the crop?"

It's the spade-work of gardening: It's not always fun or rewarding and the results seem like a long way off. But if you've ever seen a flourishing garden, you know it's worth the work. Especially when the stakes are so high.

Different in a Religious Culture - Part 2

Yesterday I posed a question I think a lot about. I'm not sure an easy answer exists, but I'm going to keep asking it until I stumble on something that is sufficient. Meanwhile, I like the overall way Tim Keller starts us down that kind of thinking in an article you can find here

He says: 

"Christian community must go beyond [simple fellowship groups] to embody a 'counter-culture,' showing the world how radically different a Christian society is with regard to sex, money, and power. 

Keller argues that the very best way to stand against the culture today is to stand in opposition of the predominate idols of our culture (sex, money, power); idols that reveal themselves on both sides of the equation. 

Rather than idolizing sex or fearing sex, we live out a healthy perspective of sexuality. 

Rather than hoarding or extravagance, we promote radical generosity toward eternal investments rather than those poised for short-term gain.

Rather than seeking for power and lording it over other groups, races, and classes of people.

Then, Keller goes on to say:

In general, a church must be more deeply and practically committed to deeds of compassion and social justice than traditional liberal churches and more deeply and practically committed to evangelism and conversion than traditional fundamentalist churches. This kind of church is profoundly 'counter-intuitive' to American observers. It breaks their ability to categorize (and dismiss) it as liberal or conservative. Only this kind of church has any chance...

What do you think? I think he's on the right track...

Different in a Religious Culture

One of the things that I think a lot about as a pastor is Jesus' command to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) and Paul's command to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20). There's no question, from the beginning to the end of Scripture, God wants people who follow Him to be different from the people around them.

That's fine and dandy for a believer in a culture whose behavior and lifestyle is hostile to Christian morality. A Christian in a tribal community that promotes human sacrifice or child abuse is not difficult to spot. But I'm a pastor in Fort Worth, TX.

We're not just in the Bible Belt. Bible Belt buckles are manufactured here.

Although there are 40,000 unchurched people who live within a 5-mile radius of McKinney Church, I live in a very moral city. It's often impossible to tell a Christ-follower from someone who is far from God, not just because Christians don't frequently live up to their calling. That's part of it, but the other part is that even the people in our culture who are far from God tend to "behave" fairly well.

So what is it about a believer that should set them apart in a moral culture like a light on a hill? What would you tell a person, or a church, about specific things they should do (or not do) that would immediately set them apart from the culture in a clear, compelling way?

I'd love to hear your perspective and then I'll post a quote tomorrow that I think gives a fairly good start. Fire away until then.

Heaven is For Real: Review

Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back"Heaven is For Real" by Todd Burpo has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently. A friend encouraged me to read it and review it and I agreed before I really understood what I was getting myself into.

The book is a touching, endearing, well-written story about a father's (Todd Burpo) conversations with his son (Colton) as Colton describes an experience from when he was 4-years-old and in the hospital suffering from a ruptured appendix. Colton claims to have visited heaven and is able to describe his experience in a way that convinced his father, a pastor with at least some degree of Bible training.

According to the author, Colton described being able to see scenes within the hospital that he would have had not knowledge of, described heavenly scenes that are described in Scripture but had not been described to Colton, and perhaps most chillingly, described a sister in heaven who had been miscarried by Colton's mother.

Now, in the interest of fairness, I should probably give a couple of disclaimers:

First, I entered the book with (I think) an acceptable degree of skepticism. To be blunt, if the apostle Paul was given a glimpse of heaven, warned not to describe it, and then given a thorn in the flesh as a reminder to stay humble (2 Corinthians 12:1-10), it is hard for me that God is going to take a 4-year-old there so that his dad could write a book about it. Obviously, God can do whatever God wants to do, but I feel like some degree of skepticism is justified anytime someone claims to have been to heaven.

Secondly, it's impossible to argue against a person's experience, no matter how outlandish. Todd and Colton Burpo will always carry a trump card in any conversation that says, "Say what you want; I experienced it." I get that.

I don't know what happened to Colton Burpo. It's a fascinating story. However, from a Scriptural standpoint, I have a couple of concerns.

1. The first (and most significant to me) is a throwaway line toward the end of the book that doesn't reflect part of Colton's trip to heaven but is extremely important to take into account. Talking about the crucifixion, Mr. Burpo writes, "The Scripture says that as Jesus gave up his spirit, as he sagged there, lifeless on that Roman cross, God the Father turned his back. I am convinced that he did that because if he had kept on watching, he couldn't have gone through with it." Those two sentences contain a grave misrepresentation of God's character (as a God who could have lacked the power to comply with His own sovereign will) as well as the truth about the reason for the cross in the first place. God did not just turn His back - He "forsook" his Son who had "become sin on our behalf" (2 Corinthians 5:21). God didn't lack the will to see the cross through; His moral character demanded He forsake the embodiment of sin. Unfortunately, the mis-characterization of that event goes right to the heart of the Gospel which is awfully important when dealing with a book about heaven.

2. With regard to Colton's account, many of the things Colton mentions are fascinating observations for a 4-year-old. I completely understand why this book has been so popular. However, several of Colton's descriptions of "heaven" are actually descriptions of a place that has not yet been created; only described in Revelation 21 as existing after the first heaven and earth have passed away (Revelation 21:1). I understand (and Mr. Burpo makes the point) that God's conception of time is different from ours. However, Colton's descriptions of heaven mix the old heaven with the new heaven. Although there might be a dimension in which the future is the present in heaven (a discussion for another day), Scripture seems to be very clear that the new heavens and earth and the first heavens and earth are different places. They don't coexist.

Again, I don't know what it is the Colton experienced. But, after reading the book I remain skeptical that it was heaven. As a result, I have a hard time recommending the book to someone else. It's tempting to run with a story because (a) we want to believe it is true, and (b) so much of the story is plausible and nothing validates the existence of God like verifiable supernatural events. However, we've got to be discerning because nothing invalidates the testimony of Christians as quickly as our tendency to jump on board something that doesn't turn out to square with Scripture. We've got to be careful.

The People You Lead

There's a fine line between leading with vision and manipulating people that leaders can't ever afford to cross.

Leaders need vision; they need to lead toward something. And leaders need followers, following him toward that vision.

However, the leader who only leads the organization to accomplish his vision is destined to be a short-lived leader.  Wise leaders lead towards what is truly best for those he leads, no matter what. He has the hearts of the people he leads at the front of his mind rather than his own agenda.

People are not obstacles to be avoided or stepping stones to be navigated. They're not cogs in the machine or pieces on a chessboard. They are't a means for achieving what we want as leaders. We are responsible (from a human standpoint) to provide what they need in pursuit of their vision, even if the vision isn't fully developed in their mind. 

Tom Landry used to say, "My job is to get a bunch of men to do the very thing they hate so that they can achieve the one thing they want more than anything else." Most of those players didn't anticipate the cost or the steps, but they could see the Super Bowl. Landry's responsibility was not to manipulate those players into achieving his goals; it was to give every waking moment to helping the players achieve theirs, even when they couldn't see it.

In John 13, a famous example, Jesus' disciples didn't seem to notice their smelly feet. Jesus could have commanded that they wash His, but instead chose to lead by meeting a need the disciples didn't even realize they had in pursuit of the thing they wanted more than anything else even when they didn't realize it: to be like Him. Because He loved them.

When it comes down to it, love is the only right motivation for a good leader. It changes the way we view ourselves; the ones who lead; and our role altogether.


May's edition of "Wired Magazine" has an article about Voyurl, a new service that allows you to voluntarily share your browser history in real time for anyone who wants to follow it. According to the article, Sitesimon and are similar, though most of them are more connected to social media sites and encourage the user to only allow certain sites.

I can't imagine why anyone would want to spend a bunch of time following the browser history of someone. It really does seem, in most cases, like voyeurism at it's creepiest levels.

Then again, I live in a world in which the internet has been a bugaboo for hundreds or thousands of pastors. The prevalence of illicit material that can be accessed cheaply, conveniently and "privately" gives an occasion for the sin natures of many pastors (and Christ-followers, for that matter) to cross boundaries they shouldn't.

I can't imagine why anyone would follow someone's clickstream. I also can't imagine why every pastor alive wouldn't sign up for this kind of thing. As a person who wants to be above reproach in everything they do (2 Timothy 3:2) I can't imagine anyone not wanting to give the people they lead a glimpse into an area that used to be private.

I've used Covenant Eyes for a while - a service that sends my wife and some trusted friends a digest of all the sites I visit in a week. Though I will continue to use it, this opens the door to even more people.

Your congregation shouldn't ever have to fear that they'll see your face attached to a scandal in the newspaper when they wake up in the morning. This is one more way to provide them some assurance. It's also a good way for them to see some of your hobbies and the things that interest you (prepare for a daily digest of Oklahoma State Sports and a whole lotta Facebook...).

If you're interested in being voyeuristic, or seeing what I'm up to, check me out at:

If I discover there is a reason someone shouldn't allow this kind of information to be out there, I'll be sure to let you know.

Changing and Dying

In Robert Quinn's book "Deep Change," he talks about how change has to come within the leader before it can move to the organization. Early in the book, Quinn interacts with the idiom "change or die." Common thought within organizations is that they must either risk change, or risk death. 

Death can occur from change, just like it can occur from non-change. Change too quickly and the organization goes into shock and dies. Fail to change and the organization goes into atrophy and dies. Change management may be the trickiest role of the leader.

Quinn points out the most organizations choose the death of atrophy over the potential death of change because it's slower - the old frog in the kettle situation. He says,

"We actually seem to prefer slow death. Slow death is the devil we know, so we prefer it to the devil we do not know. The alternative... may appear to be the road to fast death. It certainly involves self-modification and deep change. Deep change requires discipline, courage, and motivation. We would rather experience the pain of slow death than the threat of changing ourself." 

Quinn goes on to say, "Change is hell. Yet not to change, to stay on the path of slow death, is also hell. The difference is that the hell of deep change is the hero's journey. The journey puts us on a path of exhilaration, growth, and progress."

If you're going to go through hell, you might as well do it as a hero, choosing the difficult path of progress rather than the appealing dead end of complacency.

Reaction to Osama

I'll never forget where I was when the Towers feel on September 11th. I was finishing my apple fritter at Daylight Donuts where I went to read in the mornings during college. We stood there and gasped as we watched the second plane fly into the second tower. We cried as the towers fell.

Osama Bin Laden was the mastermind behind one of the most despicable, disgusting, hateful, evil acts to have been perpetrated in my lifetime.

Now he's dead.

I have to admit feeling equal parts ecstatic and sick to my stomach.

The ecstatic part seems to have been the prevalent mood on Facebook and Twitter. I get that. Justice has been served against a terribly evil man. I am grateful for our military and our leaders who have the responsibility to serve justice on God's behalf.

However, Proverbs 24:17 is also at the front of my mind. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls." So is Ezekiel 33:11, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live."

In this case, it's especially poignant for me. I've prayed for Osama Bin Laden for almost 10 years. I prayed that he would trust Christ, 'Isa, his Messiah who died a death sufficient to forgive even His evil. I prayed that he would believe and repent.

Today he believes, but it's too late.

I'm certainly glad Osama can do no more evil on the earth, but I can't celebrate his death.

If you believe in true justice; if you believe in a God who is as perfect in His justice and wrath as He is perfect in His love; the entrance of anyone into a Christ-less eternity is hardly something to celebrate. It should grieve our hearts, deepen our gratitude for the Cross on our own behalf, and renew our reflection on the perfect holiness, wrath, and justice of the God of grace and mercy.

Come quickly Lord Jesus.