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Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Call to Radical Faith

I came across this interesting post today, arguing that the pressure to “radical, missional faith” and “doing something extraordinary in the world” is becoming a new kind of legalism within a certain brand of Christianity and is actually leading to a level of fatigue and guilt, especially among younger believers.  It is a good piece and worth reading (here).

I have to confess that as a pastor, I preached a consistent message of calling people to radical, extraordinary adventure in following Jesus. In my own life, I have also been most inspired and moved spiritually by leaders/pastors who have made big challenges and big asks and called me to do extraordinary things… people like Erwin McManus, Tony Campolo, Bill Hybels, Mike Yaconelli, Bart Campolo, JR Mahon, Rob Bell, etc etc… maybe it is how I am wired, but it works for me.

That said, now in my post-fulltime-pastor days, working a pretty ordinary job and living a pretty ordinary life, I do feel some sense of let down/failure/under-achievement when I hear those messages today.

BUT… I think the author of the article is missing something big.  Perhaps the most radical way to follow Jesus is to do extraordinary acts of love within your ordinary life as a parent, spouse, employee, employer, etc.  As Mother Teresa used to say, “find your own Calcutta” (and it may be where you already live).

Is there anything wrong with a Christian living a “normal” suburban family life?

Maybe.

I think it depends on how we are living it.

Are we engaging our neighbors and loving them in practical ways?

Are we investing in our community and relationships with the people we interact with every day?

Are we being salt and light where we are right now?

I think of a friend of mine named Bryan.  He is a pastor and missionary to his community.  And he is a dad and a husband and a surfer and a runner and a whole bunch of other “ordinary” things. But he is anything but ordinary… he finds himself in the middle of miracles almost every day… because he is looking for them.  He shares Jesus wherever he goes, serves whenever he can (he is almost always interruptable for a conversation, to help fix a kids bike, or help a neighbor out).  Bryan is an example of an ordinary disciple doing extraordinary things in the power of Christ.

This, to me, is the essence of radical Christianity — the kind of Christianity that should actually be normative, not radical.  It is a sad statement about the state of modern Christianity that these things are considered radical.

Read the article… and let me know your thoughts.

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Posted by on October 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

In Defense of Steven Furtick and Elevation Church

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Steven Furtick is rapidly becoming a mega-star among mega-star pastors, and the church he founded, Elevation, is rapidly becoming one of the fastest growing and dynamic churches in America.  Much of his success is due to his unique and totally engaging in-your-face preaching style and hipster edginess.  From what I hear, Elevation Church also has unbelievable music and has given away over $10 million to charities and missions in its 8 years of existence.

Now there is a controversy going around because Furtick is building a $1.6 million house. Apparently, in North Carolina, that is a big deal.  (Where I currently live, condos are routinely selling for almost a $1 million… in a weak housing market).

He has been accused of being part of the prosperity gospel movement and the media (and blogosphere) is planting the seeds of scandal.

Here is a Huffington Post article about the controversy (including a news report video).

While I generally believe that, as Christ-followers, we should be “downwardly mobile in an upwardly mobile world” and that we would all benefit from living a simpler life — live with less so we can give more! — I want to defend Furtick here.

First of all, in addition to being a successful preacher and lead pastor, he also is the CEO of a massively successful organization that has grown from 14 to 14,000 in 8 years and, in addition to their regular operations and capital spending, have given away over $10 million.  The guy is not just a brilliant speaker and effective pastor, he is a gifted and talented leader who would be getting top dollar in the secular world as a corporate CEO or marketing guru or whatever he wanted to be. If we want to attract the best talent to ministry, I’m not sure it is wise to begrudge a guy who is successful.  It is also worth noting that most of this money is from his books, writings & speaking… not his salary from the church.  I also assume, based on hearing him teach on the topic, that he is tithing (and then some) on all his earnings.

Here is what else I know from listening to him teach and from talking to people who know him personally: he is the real deal.  He is as passionate for the Kingdom of God as anyone you will meet and is doing something pretty unbelievable in terms of Kingdom work.  We should be thankful of people like Furtick — thankful and supportive and praying for, not tearing down.

Of course, there are multiple issues here.  Is it sinful to build a house like that?  I think obviously no.  Is it wise?  Well that is a different question.

But let’s be clear: while wealth is not and end-all-be-all in and of itself, it is also not inherently evil.  It is okay to be a Christian and make lots of money… and have nice stuff.  Ultimately, Furtick and his wife are accountable to God for how they steward their affluence and influence… as we all are.  But some of the most Kingdom-minded and generous people I know are also some of the wealthiest people I know.

Again, from a wisdom perspective, you can question his decisions.  One of the reasons I (and so many) respect a guy like Rick Warren so much is his decision to “reverse tithe” (he gives away 90% of his income every year!)  Bill Hybels is another example of a super-star mega-pastor who doesn’t flaunt his money.  Both of these guys are super-generous and super-wise.  It is a good model for younger pastors.

In the HP article, people like Shane Claiborne are quoted criticizing Furtick and his money.  I get that.  Shane has essentially taken a vow of poverty and pretty much believes that all Christ-followers should.  But the truth is that Shane has a gift and is following his calling… and I am deeply thankful for that and for him!  And so is Steven Furtick… we need both these guys in the Church and should be deeply thankful for both… as different as they are… you know, that Big Tent thing I am always talking about.

In conclusion, there is no scandal here except one made up by media and those who (a) think “big” is a sign of “bad” in ministry and/or (b) are seriously jealous of a guy like Furtick.  I am simply thankful for him and his ministry and pray for him.

[Two important disclosures/footnotes… Furtick actually preached at the church I pastored (via video) several years ago.  He was awesome and well-received and I was thankful for his generosity in doing so.  Secondly, while I am a big fan of Furtick and Elevation Church, he is significantly more conservative than I am on a number of non-essential and debatable issues.  In all likelihood, as a gay Christian, I would not be welcomed and accepted as a full participating member exercising my gifts at his church (though I am sure I would be sincerely welcomed to worship, etc) .  If I ever had the chance, I would love to have that conversation with him and challenge him on that issue. But Steven and I are both fundamentally evangelical Christians who believe that every life is better in relationship with Jesus.  I can disagree with him on lots of stuff, and still enthusiastically support his ministry.  That is the essence of “Big Tent” Christianity.]

OK… those are my thoughts.  What are yours?

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Don’t Serve Burnt Garlic

burntgarlic

You should never serve burnt garlic.  When you allow your garlic to burn in a saute dish, it will pretty much ruin your dish.

Tonight I was working solo in the kitchen at the restaurant.  On slower nights during the off season, it is not uncommon for me to be alone working in the kitchen, working the hot line, pantry and dish altogether.

Tonight was one of those nights, but it got busier than we anticipated.  A walk-in 6-top when you already have a deuce and 4-top down can do that when you are solo in the kitchen.  While 12 covers coming in at once is usually no problem in the kitchen, when you are alone it can get a big crazy for a few minutes, running from saute to the fryer, checking the doneness of your lamb in the oven while putting out a caesar salad… and then back to check your saute pans.  You get the idea.

So that is what happened tonight.  I got 4 or 5 saute pans going.  One working mushroom risotto, another searing off a chicken breast. Two others with some veg and garnishes.  Once they were all going I jumped over to pantry to put out some salads and apps.  By the time I got back to saute, the garlic in my mushroom risotto pan had burned.

Not a lot. Just a little.  But it was definitely darker than I wanted.

At this point all the tickets on my board were fired and I just wanted to get food out.  It was tempting to just finish the risotto and send it out. It probably would taste fine, but it wouldn’t be right.  I would yell at one of my line guys if they tried to send that out.  But it was tempting… everything was timed together and to re-start the risotto was going to throw everything off.  Plus I had more tickets coming in.

Then I remembered something one of my culinary mentors Chef Denise always used to tell me: “if you compromise on quality and excellence even once, it will become a habit.”

I made the risotto over.  Ditched the the burnt garlic.  And everything went out fine.

But reflecting upon it later, I thought to myself: “how often to we try and serve burnt garlic in our spiritual lives?”

In other words, “if you comprise on integrity even once, it will become a habit.”

My advice and challenge to myself: never serve burnt garlic.

How about you? Thoughts?

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Stop Pissing On Your Own Feet

dog-peeingThis past week I was taking care of a co-workers dog while he was away.  A one year old German Shepherd.  Terribly sweet, but not that smart.  The first day that I took him out for a walk, he did something I have never seen a dog do before.  When he went to pee, he lifted his leg and somehow managed to pee on his other paw. He then of course wanted to jump on me and then when I took him inside, ran around the entire apartment spreading dog urine all over.  What kind of dumb dog pisses on its own feet?

Change of topic.

Have you been following the controversy this week over John MacArthur’s new book and conference? He goes on the attack against the entire charismatic movement.  Here is a summary:

In this book, Pastor MacArthur argues, “The ‘Holy Spirit’ found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practice bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture,” even accusing the modern charismatic movement of “attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit.”

In fact, he claims that leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagat[ing] his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.” (HT)

Then… Mark Driscoll decided to crash the party and got into a public hubub about the whole thing. (read here).  And the internet has been full of back-and-forth about who is right, who is wrong, etc etc.

But this is nothing new.  We see it all the time. Christians fight publicly about this stuff all the time.  Spiritual gifts, baptism, worship styles, role of women in ministry, accepting of LGBT folks or rejecting, emergent vs. Gospel coalition… whatever it is… you get the idea.

Back to topic one: Dog Pisses on Self.

So I am asking my self, what kind of being pisses on its own feet?

And then it occurred to me: the Body of Christ in our day.

We do it all the time.

John MacArthur is doing it… Mark Driscoll is doing it… John Piper has done it.

Liberals do it to conservatives.

Conservatives do it to liberals.

Catholics and Protestants…

Egalitarians and complementarians…

Traditionalists and progressives.

I’ve been guilty of it.  And my guess is that you have too.

We piss on each other, which is the same thing as pissing on our own feet, since we are ONE BODY.

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.13 For we were all baptized by[c] one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

And then he follows with 1 Corinthians 13… not a passage about marriage, but a teaching on love within the Body of Christ… a call to unity… an application to the teaching and rebuke already laid out in the letter:

If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part,10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

This is what it means to be the Body of Christ.

I am a big advocate for what I call a BIG TENT approach to Christianity.  That is, as opposed to always looking for reasons and ways to exclude people, we try and include as many as possible.  In BIG TENT Christianity theological diversity is par for the course. It is also messy at times, but worth the messiness.

We affirm:

Unity in the essentials.

Diversity in the non-essentials.

Charity — that is, love and grace — in all things.

What must there be unity on?  The core basics…

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic universal church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

What don’t we have to agree upon in order to be in fellowship and mission together?

  • The theology of sacraments
  • Infant or Adult Baptism
  • End Times Theology
  • Who can be ordained
  • Gay Marriage
  • Understanding of the Spiritual Gifts
  • Worship style
  • Leadership structure and style
  • Preaching style
  • Birth Control
  • End of Life Issues
  • War
  • Most daily ethical issues
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc

So please…

Can we stop dividing the church over non-essential issues?

Can we stop compromising our witness over silly and petty disagreements?

Can we stop undermining mission in the name of theological orthodoxy?

And mostly, can we stop pissing on our own feet?

Seriously… we can do better.

We must.

 
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Posted by on October 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Discipling Young Believers

One of the greatest privileges in the world is to be used by God to help lead someone into a life-changing relationship with Jesus.  Secondly, is to walk with that person as they begin their new walk with Christ.  Everything is new, everything is adventure.  Every day brings new challenges and discoveries, successes and failures.  Like any dynamic relationships, there are ups and downs, good days and bad.  This is all part of what it means to follow Jesus.

I have had the privilege of helping leads 100’s of people into a relationship with Christ. It never gets old and I never lose a sense of wonder or grace at the process of new birth.  Many times, I am not the one who gets to walk with these new young immature believers through their first weeks, months and years as a Christ follower — but sometimes I am.  And it is awesome.

One of the things you learn in this process is the importance of starting with milk before adding solid food — spiritually speaking.  When one first becomes a follower of Jesus – whether they are 14, 40 or 40+40, you have to start with spiritual milk.  You don’t dump a lot of theology on them and it isn’t about a whole bunch of new things to do and old things to stop doing.  Often it starts with, “OK… here is how you find a passage in the Bible… here is how you might want to pray… try this approach to a regular time to listen and talk to God.  Journal and reflect… what is working, what is hard, what questions do you have?  Where might Jesus be prompting you to change or listen more? etc etc.”

But as people grow in their faith and become more mature believers, there is a need for spiritual meat.

In my experience, the “milk stage” tends to be a black and white stage.  KISS.  Keep it simple silly.  Not too complicated or nuanced.  It is all about learning to tune our ears and hearts into heaven.  But when we get to “spiritual meat”, it is more complicated and often nuanced and, in reality, many shades of gray.  Which is okay, because hopefully by that time we have learned to listen and discern the Spirit, so we aren’t facing these issues alone.  We can ask God for guidance, get guidance from our community of faith, etc.

in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing to young and immature believers in a tough place to follow Jesus.  They need milk, not meat. They need clarity and simple instruction, not deep theological, pastoral and ethical reflection.  KISS.  And that is what Paul delivers.

It would be interesting to see how Paul might write this differently to a different community? One with more mature believers? Again, this is the context in which we need to read and understand the Corinthian letters.

It is good for us to read and learn and reflect upon what Paul addresses and how he addresses it.  Sometimes I benefit greatly from going back to the basics of the faith.  It is refreshing and challenging.  And always worth remembering that the gospel that saves is the same gospel that sancticfies. The good news does not change.

But we can’t stay nourished and growing just on spiritual milk. To grow, we will need spiritual meat.  The more complicated and difficult and nuanced stuff of ethics and pastoral care and deeper theology.  

That is part of why I love chewing on God’s word.  It is like a feast of both milk and meat.

HOW ARE YOU FEASTING ON GOD’S WORD THESE DAYS?

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Context

Context matters.

It really matters.

And when interpreting the Bible, it matters even more.

Why? Because the Bible matters… and getting our interpretation correct matters for those of us for whom the Bible is both formative and authoritative.

An example:

Many years ago, when I was a Young Life area director working with leaders at the local university, we had a great faith community together. We enjoyed vibrant worship, discipleship, ministry and mission together. But the group of leaders was young and needed some strong direction in certain areas. I created a rule for our leaders (and staff) about drinking.  No drinking in public in the same town you did ministry in.  There were lots of reasons for that rule. But to be clear, I am not a Christian who believes that drinking is wrong — but as a leader in that context I sensed that it was important to lay out that ground rule.  

Now if someone else happened to read the memo I wrote to our leaders (outside of the discussion we also had), they might have concluded that I was opposed to all drinking or that the application of what I was teaching/saying is that we should never drink in the town we live in or minister in.  Out of context, they would probably misunderstand and over-apply the principle.  You see, in context and given the specific people and community involved — and a specific context of ministry — this rule made sense. But it was only a statement about that particular context and time.  In fact, several years later, I lifted that rule because context had changed.  It was no longer needed or necessary.

I have just started to study again Paul’s Letters to the Corinthian church.  And I am reminded that understanding context is critical to exegesis.  Paul lays out many rules, wisdoms and strong suggestions.  But these are all contextual.  They are based on Paul’s understanding of the community, his relationship with them, the particular issues and players involved, cultural assumptions and biases, etc etc etc.  The technical idea here in hermeneutics (that is, the art of interpreting a text) is to determine whether a particular text is general/universal — that is, true and applicable in all times and all places irregardless of context — or specific — that is true and applicable within a specific context, perhaps with broader implications by principle, but not necessary “binding” or true in all times and places.

For example, when Paul writes “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (1 Cor 7:1) or that it is better to stay single (1 Cor 7:8) … or that women should be silent in church (1 Cor 14:34)… or we should drink some wine with our water (1 Tim 5:23) … before we assume that these are universally applicable, we need to look at the context.  And when you begin to understand what was going on in the Corinthian church (or with Timothy’s stomach) it becomes clear what Paul is saying and why.  And there are applications and implications for us today — we should never ignore these texts.  But to interpret these texts as being universal — for all times and all places — is not just silly, but unfaithful to the text.  

And this is why context matters… whenever we read, interpret and apply scripture, we must always consider the context of both the author and audience in our exegesis. We do this not to dismiss or ignore passages, but to faithfully understand and learn from them.  The right and proper reading of the scriptures is critical to the vibrant Christian life. When we ignore context, the text becomes irrelevant to us because we are reading it wrong.  When we take the time to seek out and understand context, the text becomes alive, vibrant and effective — life a double-edged sword (Hebrews 4:!2) and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Tim 3:16)

THOUGHTS?

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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