Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How Husker Football is like the Local Church Part 2

In Part 1 of "How Husker football is like the Local Church" I put forward the theory that they have much in common. They both are accustomed to large fan bases that provided the need for large facilities, but that is now in jeopardy.  They both put much esteem and scrutiny upon their leadership in the form of coaches and pastoral staff who rely on free labor/volunteers.  And they both struggle with public image sometimes because of the behavior of players/staff and church members.  While being connected to these institutions used to provide a leg up in the world they might instead have become liabilities.

I would like to further my theory with what I think is my strongest argument for this comparison. This time I will start with the church as the base of comparison. The western church for the past 1,500 years has been the great beneficiary of "Christendom" That means the church has been seen as the center of culture. When Constantine made the church the official religion of the Roman Empire it was a game changer. Whether one actually adhered to the practices of Christianity in a discipleship sort of way, its values and connection to civil citizenship were superimposed upon Europe and the places it expanded (New World, South America, India, Africa etc).  We now find ourselves at a crossroads where Christendom is coming to an end.  It has already ended in many places around the world and in Europe.  But it is dying a slow painful death in the United States.  Most churches still function theologically and socially out of a Christendom mindset and have a difficulty really comprehending what is happening around them.  Their boards, committees, and societies are still trying to reestablish the good ol days of when people just came to church and when the church was the center of culture. They are scared and wounded and still think of themselves as the big kids on the block and don't know why the world doesn't listen when the church makes a stance on an issue.

The Nebraska Huskers are in a similar place in my personal opinion. For years they were the underdogs everyone loved just because they were our fellow Nebraskans.  But something happened in the 1990s.  They won three national football titles (one of which was a co-championship). Today Husker fans still hold their football teams to the standard set twenty years ago.  They believe every Husker team is a championship caliber team and are disappointed with anything less. It is good to have high standards, but sometimes they are unfounded and unrealistic.
The reality is the same for Husker football as it is for the American Church, that time has passed and will never return. The church is beyond Christendom and the years of BCS championships without a bracket are over.
Churches and the Huskers alike have done things to compensate and reclaim old glory.  Sometimes Churches relocate to different neighborhoods in the hopes of absorbing urban sprawl and suburban exoduses and better revenues. The Huskers switched from the Big 12 to the Big 10. Sometimes churches do superficial changes with their staff, buildings, or coming up with trendy names for churches and ministries but never change their actual approach to ministry or the community.  The Huskers this year had new uniforms, put in new turf, and have changed coaches.

The results are the same. A healthy 9-4 season for the Huskers for the 6th time in 7 years.  For the church, aging congregations in buildings they cannot afford.

So what are the positives they have in common and how do we move forward?

First of all everyone in Nebraska has the common story of the Huskers to share.  They tell of great coaches, players who have gone onto the NFL, and winning seasons.  The Church has the common story of the Bible. It has not changed much in the past 2000 years.  We are connected to our ancestors because we share the same story today they did before there even was a Europe and Christendom. The narrative of Scripture is powerful but it has to be told in its entirety not shrunk down into the highlights. That is weakness Husker fans make when they compare all teams to the 90s, that is only the good moments what about the other seasons there were sub .500 records.  If we truncate scripture into an argument of salvation alone we have missed its purpose of demonstrating a God who has worked through people and places since he first breathed it into existence and has an ultimate purpose for how the story ends.

Second, Gooooo BiiiiiiiiG Reeeeeeed! GO BIG RED! is the call and response of the Husker faithful. The church too has similar phrases and images that unites us together.  Jesus is Lord is our most basic confession.  The Jesus Creed of loving God and loving others roots us in our purpose. The Lords prayer shapes and defines our interaction with God. These are things we can unite around. The communion table allows all to gather around and engage in the unique presence of Christ.

Finally, Husker fans will always hope for another championship.  And why not, they are always so close and its fun to sit with friends and watch games. So too the church has a bright future but I think its one that is rooted in community and engagement in a new way.  Gone are the days when people will just show up because there is a table set and a sermon is spoken. Just as the Husker sell out streak will end soon. Instead we are to go out and engage the world around us just as it is.  That is what Jesus did when he moved into the neighborhood in John 1:14.  The incarnation of Christ is part of our story. We can never be Christ, but we can be his hands and feet and move into our neighborhoods and engage people just as they are. 

I am becoming ever so slowly a Husker fan, it is fun, it unites people, and its not perfect, sometimes it even borders on sacrilege they way some people revere it. But more than anything I love the church. I think it is the place where the Kingdom of God is made manifest in our reality. It is not complete or perfect. But it is and will always be the place where his people gather, learn, and engage in ministry. It has existed for 2000 years and will continue to do so. But it will have to change, not superficially, but deep core changes that focus on loving God and loving others or better said loving God by loving others and being present with the world Christ came to save.

How the Local Church is like Husker football part 1

I am not a big college football fan. I don't follow teams or get excited about the BCS play-offs. However, as a graduate from Truett Seminary at Baylor and a resident in Nebraska one can't simply ignore college football. It is an ever present reality that drives the local newscast and fills my social media news feeds. I am however, a fan of the church.  I do get excited about new ways of being church in the 21st century.

I have a theory that the local American church (my context) is an awful lot like Nebraska football. It is
difficult to put into words the importance that Nebraska Husker fans place upon college football. It is a way of uniting the state under one banner in many ways. During a game day, Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest city in the state!  It holds an ongoing record for consecutive sellouts at 333. People love the Huskers. They wear red on Saturday and every other day of the week year round. It is an identity and community builder, as much as it is a simple game.

I think the church in many ways is similar to Husker football. Right now the football team is experiencing a transition in general and in coaching staff specifically.  So too is the church.  The church is transitioning and the mindset that many Husker fans have about their football team parallel the concerns many have in the church.

First, one of the big concerns for the University is the ongoing sellout streak being at risk.  For years they packed the stadium, so much so they have remodeled the facility, added seats, and even added inter squad games in the offseason.  This sounds like many churches who in years past filled their sanctuaries to bursting, so they added new seats, better fellowship halls, and added services.  But now, that is all in jeopardy.  To be sure the Huskers are not in risk of only filling half their seats, but they are concerned about a downward trend.  Many churches are experiencing the reality of half empty buildings or worse.  Gigantic buildings, are in disrepair, expensive to maintain, and in need of a good renovation to bring them up to code and modern conveniences. Buildings outside of staff are the largest part of many local church budgets. It puts a strain on their ability to do mission.  Many feel like if they could just fill the seats they can justify their existence, but is just filling seats the goal?

The highly paid Nebraska coaches and staff are held in esteem while simultaneously coming under constant scrutiny. Just google Nebraska football and you will see what I mean. The players are only college kids but are elevated to the roles of heros and are able to cash in on their connection to Husker football for the rest of their lives opening doors regular graduates for UNL won't have access to. The local church is not much different in how it treats their staff. Pastors and other church employees are not as well compensated as any collegiate coach but they are honored and put under constant scrutiny.  There was even a time years ago when being a church member was a prerequisite for public office or local community leadership. But after many scandals from the church and from former Husker players, it is becoming less of a chip to cash in on and instead possibly even a liability to be associated with such things.

When college teams have troubles, they blame the coach. I don't always think it's fair, after all the college team on the field is the free labor of 18-22 year old guys who have a primary job of earning a degree.  But in fairness when teams succeed much of the credit goes to the same coach. But when things are not just right or an image of new needs to be put into place, a coaching change takes place. This is the reality for Nebraska this 2014 season. After several successful seasons with one coach, Nebraska now has a new coach in the hopes of getting over a perceived hump into a national championship conversation. So do churches. When things aren't just right can blame a pastor, and I don't think this is always fair. And just like a collegiate football team, pastoral staff work with "free labor" in the form of volunteers on a daily basis who have other priorities than the basic survival of the church. Sometimes the community shifts and the church as a body is slow to respond. Sometimes the members become complacent and become internally focused instead of ministering to the community. Sometimes there are unknown reasons for a brief season of stagnation. But in fairness, churches also give much credit to staff when things are going well, but they can turn on a staff pretty quickly.

So in summary of part one. The church is like Husker football because it is worried about dwindling fan bases, community image, and staff issues.  In part 2 I will look at how the church lives on past experience, tries trendy fads at the expense of real discipleship, and what positive things the Huskers and the church have in common.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Skinny Jeans and Pleated Pants Kingdom

Skinny Jeans and Pleated Pants Kingdom: McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy (Post 1)

imgresIn Scot McKnight’s latest book, Kingdom Conspiracy,he has an axe to grind. He’s doing some honest complaining. The way he sees it, the word “Kingdom” has become muddled. The phrase “Kingdom of God” has lost its moorings. It has come to mean many different things to different people within the Christian world. As a result, the word “Kingdom” has lost its impact. And McKnight thinks this word is too important to the Christian mission to get sloppy with. I think he has a righteous complaint.
So right off the bat he starts with a metaphor in which he explains the problem.  He divides the two most dominant camps of understanding the Kingdom into the “Skinny Jeans Kingdom” people and the “Pleated Pants Kingdom people.” The Skinny Jeans people understand “Kingdom” to mean good deeds, done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good. Kingdom reaches not only beyond the purview of Christians and the church, it really does not need Christians (as narrowly defined) or the church. Kingdom happens wherever justice may be found. That is God working. Let’s join in with that! This is the world of mainline Protestantism (over-generalization). It is also the world of many progressive Christians including evangelicals. McKnight asks these people, “did Jane Addams do Kingdom work?” The Skinny Jeans people would say “yes.” McKnight would say “No!”
To read more go to David Fitch's Blog

Not Religion but a relationship?

Not Religion but a Relationship? (by Luke Norsworthy)

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 8.15.52 PMJesus didn’t come to start a religion. But if Jesus’ coming hadn’t started a religion you would’ve never heard of him. –Brian Zahnd
Every time I hear a Christian say, “We aren’t religious, we just have a relationship with Jesus.”  I’m nauseated by the self-contradiction.
We hear this trite statement usually spoken in buildings that are not required to pay property tax because they are deemed by the government to be religious buildings. And those non-property taxed buildings are usually paid for with tax-exempt gift because the organization has filed a 501c3 deeming them a religious organization. Or maybe the idea wasn’t said in a religious building, but read in a book. Odds are the book’s publisher categorized that book as “Religion/Christian life” or sold it in the religion section of And the person saying these words probably receives generous tax breaks because they are deemed to be clergy, i.e. a religious leader.
It’s like the story of the two younger fish swimming along happily when an older fish swims by and asks, “How’s the water today boys?”
And the younger fish say, “What’s water?”
I get why we make the idealistic and na├»ve statement about having the option to choose Jesus over religion. It’s the same rationale why I don’t eat pizza crust or watch preseason football games or regular season NBA games. We all want to skip the bad parts to get to the good parts, sometimes for good reason.

Read more:

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The High Calling Reflections

I was given the opportunity to write two reflections for The High Calling on the topic of scarcity this month. Below are excerpts from those upcoming reflections should appear in the next couple of weeks.  Feel free to subscribe to The High Calling daily reflections on the right side of their home page or check in at their website over the next few weeks to see the full reflections.

Reflection #1
Four Verbs that Combat Scarcity

“Then he took the seven loaves, gave thanks, broke them, and gave them to his disciples to share around, and they gave them to the crowd.  They had a few small fish, which he also blessed and told them to distribute.  They ate; they were satisfied; and they took up seven baskets of leftover bits.” Mark 8:6-9 Kingdom New Testament (emphasis added)

Four verbs: take, bless/thank, break, and give. The four gospels use these combination of verbs in some very specific places in scripture. The feeding of the thousands, Jesus’ final Passover meal, and the Emmaus Road meal. These four verbs demonstrate for us how God’s economy works.

Jesus will only ever take what we bring him...

Jesus then gives thanks....

Jesus breaks the bread....

Jesus gives back what we bring him....

Reflection #2
A Lack of Abundance is Not the Same as Scarcity

Scarcity surrounds us. Many people around the world do not have enough. Enough food, water, shelter, love, peace, comfort, material goods, natural resources, or job opportunities. Economies are struggling, families struggle with financial stress, wars and conflicts abound, and far too many children go to bed hungry. Some would argue this is all unnecessary, for there is enough food and water and other resources for all to share.

Scarcity is a like a disease that infects our minds and causes us to make poor choices. It creates a tunnel vision that does not allow us to see beyond this moment, and into a different future. Research has shown when we feel insecure we do not perform as well in life. If we are uncertain about our job stability, we under perform. If we are financially insecure, we tend to indebt ourselves to creditors. When we are socially or emotionally insecure, we isolate ourselves, increasing our loneliness and the inner belief we are unlovable. Feelings of scarcity grow in fear, creating a vicious cycle that is not easily broken.

But feelings of scarcity also come from the sin of comparison....

To see these and other full reflections I have written for The High Calling check out their website.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Righteous are "Left Behind"

With the new "Left Behind" movie premiering this fall many people are writing about the film and its theological implications.  There are some very good points being shared and thought I might add a few. Basically Left Behind is built on a dispensational belief that Christians will be raptured, that is removed from earth bodily, while leaving non-Christians on earth to struggle, that is wallow in the results of their sinful reality.  While it makes for creative fiction in the vein of Steven Kings "The Stand" it is not all that biblical.

In his article, "Why the Rapture isn't Bibilical...and Why it Matters" Kurt Williams lays out three good points how people have misinterpreted I Thessalonians 4:15-17, that reflect the teachings of NT Wright.  In summary Paul is not talking about bodies going into heaven, but rather physically resurrected bodies joining Christ on Earth upon his return.

 Other popular rapture passages come from Matthew 24:40-41 and Luke 17:34-36 where Jesus talks of two people working in a field where, "One will be taken and the other left."  Matthew states this will occur at "the coming of the Son of Man."  It has often been interpreted that those taken were Christian and those left were lost people who missed the rapture.  Jesus also references the Noah flood and reminds us that in this time too and immenent disaster was threatened but in this image it was the wicked who were "taken away" and the righteous Noah and his family are "left."  Clearly in this image of Jesus being "taken" is applied to the wicked and lost, not the saved Christian. Steve Gregg's article "Who's Been Left Behind?" expands these points more fully.

Jewish eschatology of the Old Testament and "intertestimental" period did not look for the removal of the righteous from the earth. The whole point of God creating earth and placing humanity as care givers was so that we would remain in community with God on his created earth. Sin damaged this relationship with both God and creation but someday the ultimate eschatological hope is that all will be in perfect harmony together again.  Creation and Restoration are the main themes of Jewish and Christian hope.

God has given the earth to the children of men in Psalm 115:16.  Paul states God promises that Abraham's seed would inherit the world, not heaven in Romans 4:13.  Psalm 2:8 declares earth is Christs inheritance and the earth is his possession.  The messiah will one day fully rule over the earth but only after the wicked are removed in Proverbs 2:21-22 and Psalm 37:9-11.  Jesus says that the meek with inherit the earth in the Sermon on the Mount.

The idea that God will take away the righteous to a different reality and leave the wicked to wallow sinfully in his good creation is a foreign concept in the Jewish mind.  The New Testament does not contradict the traditional Jewish worldview.  Revelation 5:10 states that Christ's disciples will "reign on the earth."  Jesus' eschatology is the same as that of the Old Testament.  2 Thessalonians 1:7-8 and Revelation 21:4 and 22:3 states there will be a time of judgment but that the wicked will be removed not the righteous.  It s the righteous who will be left to enjoy what God created as he intended from the time of the Garden of Eden.

This matters because if we do not have an appropriate view of God's greater narrative for his creation it is easy to get off track and create our own narratives as those who support a dispensational eschatology do.  Because as many have argued lately including NT Wright and Christopher J H Wright (no relation) the earth has intrinsic value and it is not to be easily escaped or destroyed.  Therefore as important as heaven is, ultimately that is not our destination but rather a redeemed and restored heaven and earth as seen in Revelation 21-22.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

This conversation is missing your voice

I posted some video's on Vimeo recently for our pastors in our Nebraska Region.  They were filmed during our annual spring pastors conference.  The speaker was Dr. David Fitch and the content of these videos are very helpful for anyone wanting to learn from a true practitioner what the "Missional Church" is all about.

I checked the Vimeo channel to make sure everything was working without logging in and noticed at the bottom of the individual video's an interesting phrase.
This conversation is missing your voice. Please join Vimeo or log in.
This is a great statement.  It really speaks to an attitude churches and church leaders can take in order to better engage young adults.

Often times churches and church leaders have a great desire to invite and welcome new people into the community.  They hope others will join the church, Bible study, or Wednesday night kids/youth programs.  This is all done in a way that makes it clear they believe they are a welcoming and warm congregation.  They truly hope others will join their church and "log in" to the many programs and activities available.  I believe the rub comes in the first part of the Vimeo statement.

Many of these same very welcoming, warm, and loving congregations are not in a place where they believe the Christian conversation is missing any voices.   The same voices that have been speaking within the life of the congregation are good enough and will continue to lead for some time.  Even when they say they are tired and hope others will take the lead, in reality they are hoping someone will take the lead as long as it is the way they would do it.

But if young adults and any new member of any age is to join a community of faith they have to believe that the conversation is missing their voice.  That there is actually a conversation taking place.  People who are struggling with how to apply faith to every corner of life.  What does the church community have to do with my work, vocation, and shopping habit?  To join a conversation requires both a willingness to engage in the community and to be informed by the community.  A new participant into the conversation has to be willing to hear what is taking place and allow it to shape them as much as they are willing to engage and contribute.

I found Vimeo's statement meaningful and powerful.  There is a Christian conversation taking place all around us and if you are not engaged we are missing your voice, just as much as you are missing ours.  My prayer is that we all find ways to truly engage in conversation in order to hear and to be heard, to actually contribute and to receive.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Cultural Observations and T-Ball

I am volunteering at our local Little League as an "I-Ball" coach.  The "I" stands for "instructional."  It is basically the old fashioned T-ball for 4-6 year olds. The kids are fun and energetic and eager to play the game.  Their parents are supportive and willing to help with anything from extra coaching to bringing snacks. I have been engaging these kids and their parents for a while now and I have made a strange observation.

All my years of church leadership I have never worked with such eager volunteers. The parents of my little 4-6 year olds are very helpful and supportive. They also want to get the most out their I-ball experience.  We received our schedule in early April and I was astounded to see that we were scheduled to play 2-3 games a week and encouraged to include a practice.  And here is the kicker, there is only one other I-ball team, meaning over the course of the next two months we were expected to play the same team 21 times and hold 10 practices.  So upon receiving the schedule I made contact with the other teams coach and we settled on one game a week and one practice.

My very supportive parents looked at me with curiosity.  Why in the world would I want to shorten a season essentially by half by eliminating one game a week?  I defended this decision by sharing that 4-6 year olds don't need to be at a scheduled events in evening 4 times a week. With that many games where is the time for the "instructional" portion of I-ball?  How could I teach them fundamentals if they were always in a game? They will begin to hate the baseball if they are always at practice or a game. Plus I personally believe we are over-scheduled as a society and this was my way of giving back some time to these family units.  My parents are still skeptical but have agreed to the new regiment.

Now is the fun part.  I have worked with "church people" on a daily basis for nearly fifteen years now.  I have scheduled events and activities and found more often than not that things are difficult to arrange.  There is always a reason someone cannot make a community event, worship time, or service project.  I have heard them all: from family visiting to other appointments, feeling ill to on vacation, and the honest I don't want to go if "those people" are there to 'I just don't want to go' The point is, getting people to engage in a Christian community is hard work sometimes.

Not so with I-ball parents.  When we changed the schedule they were skeptical but agreed.  I asked what day of the week practice would work best.  Monday? "Sure yeah that works"  Tuesday? "Absolutely do you need us to bring anything?"  How about Wednesday as our game night?  "We will be here and have the kids in uniform ready to play."  How about Thursday morning at 6am to have the kids lift weights and run laps? "Of course we will get them here."   Okay the last one is a lie but I think if I suggested it they would have agreed!

The distinction between I-ball families and church people is remarkable.  Parents and families are rescheduling their weeknights to be at a ball field for an hour of 4-6 years olds playing baseball badly.  I have not had a single absentee or late arrival!  In fourteen years of church life, I have never had 100% participation in anything!

So my question is this. Why?  What makes I-ball different?  Why are they so willing to make and stick to a snack schedule, show up for picture day, and substitute for me when I am traveling?  Why is it so easy to get them to agree to be present any day of the week and have their kids do mini drills at home?
And why is it so hard to get "church people" to engage in Christian community?  Show up for activities and service projects?  Disciple their own children at home?

I have never worked with such a willing group of people as these I-ball families.  Why?  What makes them different?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Right to Interpret

I read a couple good posts last week.  One was featured on Sojourners and it discussed the many "tribes" people fall into.  The second was posted at Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed site about "biblical Christianity."  Third there seems to be a rumble appearing online about a nebulous Christian power group that is able to control what is deemed acceptable and unacceptable.  Two examples come to mind; when Janet Mefford lost her job as a Christian radio DJ for pointing out Mark Driscoll's plagiarism in his latest book and recently when Rachel Held Evans claimed via twitter (according to an unnamed trustworthy source) that one of the reasons World Vision changed it's anti-gay hiring policy was because of a Christian Radio superpower that told its approved bands to break all ties with the organization.  I can't seem to find those posts at the moment, but I do remember reading them. Perhaps that proves her point.

The point of all this? There is lots of division and lots of power grabbing going on in our little "Christian" circles right now.  I agree with Michael Pahl's Jesus Creed post that what we are really fighting about is not Biblical interpretation but rather on practical application.  Most all Christians believe the Bible to be inspired and Jesus to be the resurrected Son of God.  What the division is over is what gets more emphasis in our practical application of our Christian walk; a Jesus focus with emphasis on personal discipleship and all of life renewal or a Bible focus with emphasis on personal salvation and morality.  Now if you combine this article with the tribes concept from Stephen Mattson you can see how easily some people also take these concepts and align themselves with the most popular speaker, author, pastor who supports a version of this. 

This is a dangerous place to be. We no longer identify ourselves not as Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, or the like we instead say we are "just Christians" like Chan, Piper, Bell, or Pope Francis.  Beyond these popular leaders there are claims of a nebulous "Christian industrial machine" out there somewhere dictating what will and will not receive publicity, active support, and is actively deciding what is and is not "Christian."  So much so it has the power to allow and even promote ghost writing plagiarism and force para-church organizations to change its policies. 

It is not about interpretation but rather who gets the right to do the interpreting.  Whose voice is allowed to be heard and what tribe do they fall into are the primary questions that seem to be asked these days.

I don't know what to make of all this. All I know is that there is a real issue at stake here.  I am not on a national platform so I don't have a say, but perhaps my Baptist nature can step in here and simply encourage local churches and pastors to decide instead of trying to figure it out from the top down. Perhaps Pahl's closing comments say it best:
Is there a way to stop this polarization? Should we even try? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s inevitable. Perhaps it’s even a good thing. Perhaps all this seismic shifting and sifting will bring greater clarity for people on what it means to be a Christian—or at least what version of Christianity they are rejecting.Still, one can’t help but hear the prayer of Jesus echoing across the increasingly v divide: “May they become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:20-23).Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison. Kyrie eleison.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I don't plan on seeing any of these movies

The already released Noah, Son of God, and God's Not Dead alongside the upcoming Heaven is for Real, have gained a lot of attention lately.  Noah released with an impressive 40+million dollar opening weekend. Son of God got attention for the devil looking eerily like President Obama, before the scene was edited.  I had many friends on social media yelling at the top of their lungs in all caps, "GOD'S NOT DEAD!!!!" after watching the film.  I saw my first preview of Heaven is for Real and it looks okay.

I have to admit I have no plans on seeing any of them.  The reasons are numerous.  Most people have pointed them out already. Feel free to do a search on any one of them an you will find people lifting up the films as the greatest form of evangelism or the worst thing to happen to the world since Gnosticism was deemed unorthodox.  

Mostly I feel we just put to much stock in such things as these films.  Despite others telling me how amazing God's Not Dead was, I have to be honest and say I didn't even know it existed until my Facebook lit up with all caps.  So I would venture nobody outside of conservative evangelicals even know the movie exists, much less will go watch it to be converted.  Also the whole premise is disappointing and based on a faulty mindset.  The website has a preview for pastors where the director's first comments about the film are from a very Christendom point of view, "Three words launched a movement against God and attacked everything we Christians hold sacred.  Three powerful words changed America, our freedom of speech, our freedom of faith..."  The makers of the film are acting as if Nietzsche was the first person to ever have atheistic thoughts.  I think we give too much power to one person's philosophy and if we spend all our energy battling against it we have lost the point of the Kingdom of God.  We no longer live in a world of Christendom.  However, vast majority of American churches still rest on the assumptions of Christendom, meaning they believe that Christianity still occupies a central and influential place in society, when this is no longer true. A brief survey of American culture should quickly and thoroughly convince anyone that Christianity is no longer the central informing influence. The result of this mindset is that the church seeks change its approach to evangelism or outreach or preaching and people will once again come to our church.  These ecclesiological solutions are based on a Christendom mindset and that is why they put so much trust in movies like God's Not Dead and get so upset by movies like Noah that don't meet their standards.

I won't watch Son of God or Noah for many of the same reasons.  People are all up in arms that a movie changed the Biblical version.  I can't help but feel people making these claims sound a lot like those who complained that the movie versions of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Lord of the Rings, took out their favorite parts, embellished other parts, or created whole new scenes to make the movie work better in film.

In the end movies like God's Not Dead and Son of God and Heaven is for Real are for already believers. It makes them feel better about the beliefs they already have.  Movie makers are making a mint off a religious demographic, they are not as concerned about actually proclaiming faith to a lost and dying world, even if that is a tag line.  Because the movie approach only works in Christendom and Christendom is gone.  Here's the proof, Churches by the droves are buying out entire theaters where these films are shown and encouraging already Christians to buy tickets to support the film. There is no chance for a non-believer to go because all the Christians have the tickets!  Noah is for people who plan on watching an action flick loosely based on a biblical character.  But nowhere do the movie makers ever claim the story is the biblical account or even a Genesis account. Its not a documentary or a biography, its a fictional action film.

I don't plan on seeing these films. I read the book, I have already met the Burpo family because I happen to have ministered in the town the event took place, and I don't believe college's primary goal is to create atheists.  I am positive these movies are not the best way to share the Kingdom of God with the world. Outside of certain Christian communities 3 of the 4 of them will be but very small blips on the movie viewing world this year.  I hope they impact somebody but I wouldn't put any hope on any large scale conversions coming as a result of these films.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014


A close friend of mine over the past six months has said several times, “It might feel like things are unraveling, but at least we know who holds the string.”  The first time I heard it I didn't really get what he was trying to say.  I understood he was bringing comfort to churches and leaders who feel like their ministries, churches, and whole worlds were falling apart around them.  So on some level I understood, but I didn't really get it until I thought about it in another way.

My wife is an excellent crafter.  She loves to use cool tools to make things.  Her greatest gift lies in knitting.  By working with yarn and needles she is able to create just about anything she sets her mind toward.  However, there are moments in some of her projects that things don’t look quite right and she has a couple options.  The first is to “frog” the whole thing, just pull on the end of the string until she is back to the casting on point.  The second option is to “tear back” to a spot where the stitches are correct and move on from there.  There is a strange third option as well.  Sometimes she really likes a particular yarn for its color or texture.  She has made it into a scarf or bag and used it as such for some time, then one day decides, “I think I want that to be socks!”  What is she to do?  She simply finds the end, unravels the existing completed project that has served its purpose, sometimes even years, as something else and begins to turn it into something completely new.

Jeremiah 18:4-7 states, “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.”  NRSV

This verse is beautiful and really speaks of a different medium than knitting.  A potter has piece of clay that he was working with and the project didn't turn out quite right, so he starts again to create what seemed good to him.  The same is true with my wife’s knitting.  If a piece of project is not quite right she re-works it until she is satisfied.  But my favorite image is when she takes something that has already served a wonderful purpose, and re-works it into something completely new with the same yarn.

I think the North American Church is in a cross roads of sorts.  I feel that we are in the midst of a significant shift.  It feels like the world is unraveling.  The North American Church has served a great purpose and function in a particular model for the past fifty to seventy-five years, now that world is unraveling.  The world of mega churches, attractional worship events, large conferences, denominationalism, ceo pastors, rule makers, boundary setters, and institutional loyalty is becoming less influential.  But here is the hope, much like the clay and the yarn, the same material is going to be used for a new thing.  The church will go on, God’s people will still be the church, but we will just look different. 

We will be reworked into another vessel that seems good to Him. 

We had a good run as scarves, now God is making us into something new.

It will be painful and slow.  We were really good at being scarves.  All our programs, buildings, and structures are designed to lead scarf people.  But it is time to allow this world to unravel and become something new.  I don’t know what God is making us into just yet.  I am not sure anyone does and if they claim to, you might consider tuning them out.  I think it might have something to do with “missional church” concepts, asset/gift based ministry, listening to others better, and a return to parish ministry images, but I could be very wrong.  Because crossroads rarely reveal the road ahead as much as options for a new destinations.  We are in a place of adaptive challenges that require all new skills for all new issues.  The key will be to love God and love others.  We will need to have strong theological centers founded on scripture and soft edges that welcome all sorts of new people and ideas.

The world we were familiar with might be unraveling, but at least we know who holds the string.  I believe God just might be the one pulling on the string to cause the unraveling so he can make something new with the same yarn.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Front Yard Ministry Failure

I am a big fan of local ministry.  To me all ministry is local.  I believe in it and I act on it.

It has become very popular to redefine of what it means to be in ministry in a local setting, especially among those under 35 like myself.  You might have heard it but the narrative goes something like this:
“My spouse and I prayed for God to show us where to invest our lives in a community.  After much prayer and research we felt we should move to x part of town.  So we bought a home in a neighborhood there.  We buy at the local stores.  We get our food from local farms or farmer markets.  We participate in local public meetings. We are part of the local schools.  We volunteer at the local social justice space.  And we attend (or plant) a local congregation.”
This is probably a very common theme in any missional book you have read.  You have probably met a pastor or other practitioner who has done this very thing.  The premise is based on Luke 10:1-12.

Two years ago my wife and I also chose to do this.

I am a big fan of local ministry.  To me all ministry is local.  I believe in it and I act on it…when I feel I am being “biblical.”

We own a small starter home in a transitioning neighborhood mixed with long-time residents, first time homeowners, renters in transition, and ethnic diversity.  I volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school.  We buy produce and flowers from a long established local farm that refuses to sell its land to the growing city around it.  We shop and dine locally when possible.  We are regulars at the local goodwill.  We know all the neighbors that touch our property and few others in the neighborhood.  And have shared the peace of Christ with others in all these settings.

I am a big fan of local ministry.  To me all ministry is local.  I believe in it and I act on it…when I can offer something and still have a sense of control.

However, lately I feel like a failure.  Because this form of ministry seems to be hung up on one single personality driven aspect.  Sitting in the front yard.  If you don’t sit in the front yard and engage every single person as they pass by you fail.  All the other connections from the school, social justice avenues, and local church don’t matter if you prefer your back yard. 

I don’t want to sit in my front yard.

It has less shade, it’s on a hill, there is less room to play with my kids, and I feel exposed and vulnerable.  I have less to offer there.  And perhaps that is the point.

My back yard is nice.  It has a great tree, a great deck with furniture, our wiffle ball stuff is back there, and the ice tea is close at hand. It is more comfortable.  My back yard has low chain link fences so I still see and engage up to 5 other families on a daily basis.  I know all their names, interests, their dogs, faith choices and vocations current or retired.

I am a big fan of local ministry.  To me all ministry is local.  I believe in it and I act on it…when I’m comfortable.

I don’t want to be in my front yard.  And this bothers me.  Because the front yard is where practitioners of this ministry all claim is where the “action” is.  It is how they build relationships in their neighborhoods.  But I don’t want to be in my front yard and I don’t know why.  I want to love my neighbors.  If I see them I say hello, I have snow blown their drives and borrowed tools and latters.  But I don’t know them like I know my back yard neighbors and I am okay with that right now.  And I can’t decide if that means I am failing as a Christian or if I just want the comfort of my home with just my family after a long day or if I am playing into my introvertedness.  Or if I just don't want to be that vulnerable.

What am I to do?  Am I failing in my journey because I prefer my back yard over my front yard?  Do I have to know every single person in my neighborhood?  What is the difference between doing for Jesus and being with Jesus as Skye Jethani points out in his book With in this situation?

I am a big fan of local ministry.  To me all ministry is local.  I believe in it and I act on it…until I don’t.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Double Devotions for The High Calling

I was asked by The High Calling to write two devotions for this week on the topic of "What holds you back at work?"  If you would like to see the posts in their entirety go to their website.  Below are small excerpts of what you will find there.  Thanks to The High Calling for asking and for actually posting the devotions. While you're visiting them sign up for their daily reflections.  Blessings.
"Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 
When one agrees to become an employee or start their own business they say Yes to many things. Yes to the invitation to be present at the workplace. Yes to the hours. Yes to the salary. Yes to work with the people employed there. Yes to being capable and willing to do the tasks of the employment. We may not know every detail when we agree to a place of employment, but we say Yes to the things we know. 
But, what do you do when what you agreed to becomes more than you bargained for? What do you do when you feel trapped, held back, or even downright misled?....
2.  Life Springs up from Within
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”  John 4:13-15

Sitting by a well with a woman desperate for acceptance and love that Jesus makes a very startling statement.  “The water that I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” While it is true in our human condition no water will satisfy forever, we will all need to drink again and again less we become dehydrated.  But Jesus is talking about something more sustaining and eternal life giving.  There is a big difference between a well and a spring.  In a well, you have to go get the water and draw it out of the depths of the earth.  A spring is different.  Spring water comes from the earth just as well water, but it has found a place to surface.  It is there for all to enjoy.  Spring water has been filtered by the earth and permeable rocks before breaking forth from the earth so it is very clean and drinkable.
Jesus is saying that the life he gives is not like a well.  We do not have to go and get it.  Instead the life Jesus gives is a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” It comes from Christ and resides in us and gushes up to eternal life.....

Friday, January 3, 2014

The Whole Story

There are many who complain about the local church.  There are blogs, books, and speakers galore to fill anyone's appetite for the many things wrong with local churches and the Church.  Many of the observations are merited and I agree with man of them.  The topic that most often strike a chord with me are those who title their books, blogs, and speaking engagements with some version of "Why I am leaving the local church."  These have been common in the last year, I am not going to link to them, just google it if you want to read for a few days.  They have their reasons, from personal pains to theology, equality issues to injustices, and worship styles to just simple bad experiences.

I however have chosen to again share why I am staying with the local church. I recently re-read Dr.Scot McKnight's book  "A Community Called Atonement" and was reminded of the importance of a complete atonement.  I came to faith in a conservative baptist tradition that really emphasized salvation through forgiveness of sin because of the cross.  I still agree with this, however, like McKnight (see also King Jesus Gospel) and many others these days, I find this to be incomplete.  It is only a very small portion of the story.  It is no wonder people are not coming into the church they have not heard the whole gospel!  They have only heard the small middle part with no context and no explanation of real future, or what NT Wright calls, "life after life after death" (Surprised by Hope).  The whole gospel story (in a sentence) begins with a good creation, a God who is in the process of redeeming a fallen world, a Christ who fulfilled all OT promises and "atoned" for all sin, was resurrected, sent the Holy Spirit, established the church, and will some day create a new Heaven and new Earth where all will be as God intends.  While it remains true that atonement is only something God can do it is also something we do with God for others (McKnight 117) in being part of this larger story.

This is exactly why I am staying with the church.   The community we call church is how atonement is put into practice.  McKnight tracks it like this: Father-->Son-->Spirit-->Church-->Scripture.  He does this to emphasize the correct order in which we understand the atonement. It is started by the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Spirit, worked out in the Church, and the story is told in Scripture.

Alan Hirsch in "The Shaping of Things to Come" emphasizes getting the order of church correct by placing our understanding of Christology and Missiology ahead of Ecclesiology.  I would humbly suggest that Hirsches order is good but is actually less linear and more cyclical because we learn Christology in our churches and practices that Christology in our churches as they engage their local communities.  This is another reason I am sticking with the local church, we need the community of faith to have people help us along the the way as we seek to engage our communities with Christ.

The point of all this is that the Church is the very place where the complete story of God's saving work is worked out, exercised, and put into practice.  The church is not a gathering place, it is not my goal to get people into a church.  It is my goal to get the church to be the sending agent God designed it to be.  To be the place where things like fellowship, justice, mission, the reading of scripture, baptism, communion, prayer, questions, and love are practiced.  To be sure how we practice church today has its faults, no doubt, but I still stand by my belief that it is better to reform from within, rather than to cast stones from afar.  It is my goal to share this more whole gospel with the churches I have been blessed to work with. To motivate them and encourage them to embrace the larger gospel narrative.