Friday, August 17, 2012

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER - VERO BEACH 2012 (USF) CAMP

Friday, March 2, 2012

Go outside, 'cos the roof is in the way!

When Abram parted with Lot having allowed him pick the choicest land to avoid conflict, and having not yet received the fulfilment of God's promise to give him an heir, Abram was feeling pretty dejected.

"Then God led Abram outside and said, “Look at the sky. There are so many stars you cannot count them. Your descendants also will be too many to count.”" (Genesis 15:5 NCV)

All too often, we become so insular that we lose sight of the real purpose of the Church, preferring instead to gather together under the safety and familiarity of our church "roof," and sing songs that promise a brighter tomorrow.

The reality is though, that in order to remind ourselves of God's purpose and promises we must "go outside." We must be willing to follow God outside of the boundaries of our comfortable church "roof" because only then can we "see" what He's trying to get us to see.

So go outside, 'cos the roof is in the way!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The virtue of doubt and the unknown

The Biblical story of the three Hebrew Boys appeals to our religious sensibilities primarily because the story ends in their deliverance from the perils of the fiery furnace. Sadly, we fail to see the actual point of that story: their willingness to admit the unknown.

They affirmed that God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but also affirmed that they didn't know for a fact that He would, but that that unknown would not affect their decision or commitment to their cause and to their God.

One of the true measures of our maturity in the journey of faith is our willingness to admit to doubts and the unknown, and not feel the need to state the certainty or guarantee that things will always turn out the way we want or expect them to.

On the cross, Jesus didn't doubt God's existence (My God, my God), but He questioned--and by extension doubted--God's unwavering presence around him (why have You forsaken me?) to Identify honestly with "The suffering of the cross," we must be willing to step over the edge of an approach to religion that suggests that everything will turn out okay if we just have enough faith.

We must be willing to abandon the security blanket that masquerades as trust in God, while it really is a trust in a religious system that promises things the Scriptures don't. We must be willing to embrace doubt and the unknown as part of our journey of faith, especially because, if we're being honest with ourselves, we wrestle with those feelings often but simply refuse to own up to them in a bid to fit the expectations of the religious system.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Paradigm Shifts and other Stories (Part Deux)

In "Tea With Hezbollah," in direct response to Ted Dekker's question: "Having lived in both the Middle East and in America, what does being a Christian mean to you?" Sami Awad--the Palestinian Christian who espouses and lives out the Biblical mandate to love your enemies--responded;

"The term "Christian" has lost much of its meaning worlwide; it is mostly a designation of political or social affiliation rather than a confession of faith. As such, to call yourself a Christian carries very little positive connotation and comes with some ugly baggage that is in direct contradiction to the teachings of Christ."

On behalf of American Christianity I say, "Ouch! But...if the coat fit's we've got to wear it. Sami's observations, while Painful, are sadly true."

Paradigm Shifts and other Stories

I'm learning more and more each day that the conflicts in the Middle East run deeper and more complex than rhetoric around a table at the United Nations can resolve. Ted Dekker's "Tea With Hezbollah" may be this popular fiction writer's best work yet...and it' not a work of fiction.

In the chapter, "living Among the Enemy" Dekker intoduces us to Sami Awad, a Palestinian Christian who is a strong proponent for non-violence and the Biblical mandate to, "love your enemies." Seized, handcuffed, and thrown down by the side of a dusty road for almost an entire day for peacefully protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes simply to build vacation condos for the wealthy, Sami Awad declared;

"The sun began to set behind Bethlehem and the beams were breaking through some white and gray clouds. There was a slight and beautiful chill from the autumn air. I gave thanks for that beautiful day and for the fact that the sun does not know Palestinian from Israeli, Christian from Muslim or Jew, and Asian from American or African, and I asked myself: if the sun shines on all of us as one, how much more does the sun's creator see and love us all as one?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How's your love life?

Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King all have something in common. They died preaching the same message--albeit with differering significance, a message they believed in: Love your neighbor even if he's your enemy!

You say you believe in Jesus and His message? How are your relationships with your enemies? More specifically, are you loving the people you'd probably consider your enemies? It's so easy to pay lip service to this command because it's so much easier in the saying than in the doing.

The truth is though, as much as we'd like to, we can't rationalize our way out of this one. Jesus didn't tell us to do this because it was easy. Nevertheless, He calls us to this "scandalous" adventure of fighting our natural propensities and embracing a higher calling. We can't change our world through rhetoric or religion, but like these three men demonstrated, we can change it through love.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "Suffering" Gospel Truth

God commanded Israel to establish Feast Days and Altars as memorials to His rescuing them from seasons of suffering. This was not to glorify suffering but to memorialize it as a reminder of both being rescued and what they were rescued from. To deny the "dark shadow" of those perilous seasons in their lives, would make the truth of their suffering and subsequent deliverance, useful to no one.

We live in a world in which the greater majority of people have not lived "black and white" lives, but lives filled with the "greys" of pain, deceit, death, dishonesty, and every other ill known to man. This means that a message of hope dressed in the falsely promised attire of "perfect people" and "always victorious" Christians is at best untenable and at worst impossible to achieve.

Jesus declared, "In this world, you will have troubles." that isn't pessimism or a "negative confession," but an admission of the fallibility and brokeness of humanity. After all, to be rescued from something, you must first be bound by it. Our stories of pain, suffering, and deliverance are not blights on our testimonies but rather, they are the "spiritual tatoos" that signpost the divine encounters along the course of our journey.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Another Perspective

I recently read an article with a refreshingly different perspective regarding the preemptive approach we should be taking as Christ-followers –specifically Nigerian Christ-followers—to the sustained barrage of spiritual and physical assaults from a group known as Boko Haram.

The writer of the article, rather than focus on the notion that Boko Haram is God’s instrument of judgment against a rebellious Nigeria—a point which I’ve heard made in many quarters—sounds a clarion call to “prayer and fasting” against the “Spirit of Sudan.”

The writer goes on to describe this spirit as the “Satanic principality that ha(s) sponsored Sudan’s very oppressive anti-Christ Islamic regime, and sustained twenty cruel years of a most ravaging civil war between the Christian south and the Islamized north.” This spirit, the writer opines, having lost that territory (presumably southern Sudan), was seeking another abode…in Nigeria no less!

Now, as a backdrop to what I have to say, let me explain why this writer’s approach speaks to me so much more than many others.  After the Haitian earthquake of 2010, many self-styled leaders in the global prophetic movement declared the earthquake to be God’s judgment on an already impoverished nation because of its spiritual ties with voodoo and witchcraft.

Never mind the fact that there is a thriving, praying Church in Haiti that is constantly crying out to God for mercy upon their nation. Similarly, Japan’s 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami drew similar “words of judgment from the Lord.” None of this is new as divine judgment prophecies have been both issued and challenged since the days of Noah.

The problem is that, as Christians we’re continually challenged by our extremely limited understanding of how God’s mercy and judgment work in tandem, and what that looks like in a world facing the consequences of its own sinful nature. We further muddy the waters by invariably equating disaster with judgment.

Is disaster always a consequence of disobedience and the result of God’s judgment on the disobedient? Well, you be the judge. In Luke 13 we read an interesting encounter of some Jew’s in a conversation with Jesus:

“At that time some people were there who told Jesus that Pilate had killed some people from Galilee while they were worshipping. He mixed their blood with the blood of the animals they were sacrificing to God. Jesus answered, “Do you think this happened to them because they were more sinful than all others from Galilee? No, I tell you. But unless you change your hearts and lives, you will be destroyed as they were! What about those eighteen people who died when the tower of Siloam fell on them? Do you think they were more sinful than all the others who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you. But unless you change your hearts and lives, you will all be destroyed too!”” (NCV)

The problem with the hidebound approach many Nigerian Christians take to our faith is that we forget that God is a loving God and that He sent His son, Jesus, to die for all people not just Christians. I’ve often heard people say that they prayed and “diverted” disaster so that it hit another area instead of where they live. What? How does this fit in with the Scriptures? Is the whole idea of prayer simply to protect ourselves from danger at the expense of other people’s lives?

Contrary to what many Christians might have us believe, God is not an angry God chomping at the bit while waiting to destroy a pagan, unrepentant world. The world was dark and ugly before He sent Jesus. That’s why He sent Him! The deviance and darkness of our world doesn’t take God by surprise. If He’d wanted to simply destroy it He wouldn’t have sent Jesus.

The real issue for us to be concerned about isn’t judgment but repentance. That’s what I love about the article. It calls “Watchmen” to man the ramparts of prayer and be alert. It reminds us of a very real enemy—Satan—who is masquerading through entities like Boko Haram as simply an organization looking to legitimize their own world view. This is not the case!

The call to prayer AND repentance must be drenched in love and not indictment and judgment. There are too many Nigerian Christian leaders living less than authentic lives, yet they point the finger of judgment at others and claim that the hardship and suffering our nation is facing is as a result of their lack of faith or spiritual integrity. Really?

If anyone is called to live as an example for others to follow, it’s the Christian leader. If the “Spirit of Sudan” is to be prevented from gaining a foothold in Nigeria, it won’t simply be because people prayed.  It will also be because the Church repented and reoriented our focus on the things that are important to the heart of God.

Don’t misunderstand me to be saying that prayer isn’t efficacious, because it is. But if prayer alone changed circumstances and people, Nigeria would more than likely be the best place on earth to live since, arguably no other nation offers more prayers than Nigerians. Clearly repentance and living a life of integrity and character are also key components of a nation’s fortune.

Remember that 2 Chronicles 7:14 sounds a timeless reminder;

“Then if my people, who are called by my name, are sorry for what they have done, if they pray  and obey me and stop their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven. I will forgive their sin, and I will heal their land. (NCV)

Again, contrary to what many self-styled “Intercessors” and prophets might say, the healing of the land isn’t contingent on prayer alone. There is a call to repentance as well as a call to obedience that go hand-in-hand with prayer.

So, risking the redundancy of repeating myself, let me again state that the call to preemptive prayer is a refreshing call which, for a change doesn’t focus on judgment. However, to stop there would be an exercise in futility since the Church is called to live by example.

It’s so much harder in the doing than in the saying, especially because we’re constantly treading the fine line between waging a spiritual battle against the enemy of our souls and reaching and loving the broken and lost—which, amazingly, includes members of Boko Haram—but Jesus’ commendation to His saints at the end was not “Well said…” nor “Well thought…” but “Well done….”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"Alafia" Peace!



On Christmas day, while many tripped out on tryptophan and some were comatose on cake, others were dying from a senseless, heinous and criminal act of terrorism in Nigeria, carried out by a group that represents a growing terrorist threat globally. You see, Islamic Nigeria's answer to Al Qaeda and the Taliban is a group known as Boko Haram. 

The term "Boko Haram" comes from the Hausa word boko meaning "Animist, western or otherwise non-Islamic education" and the Arabic word haram figuratively meaning "sin" (literally, "forbidden")

Boko Haram claimed responsibility for planning and carrying out a series of coordinated attacks targeting churches in Nigeria on Christmas Day, in which an estimated 40 people lost their lives. The most serious blast took place on the outskirts of the capital Abuja claiming at least 30 lives.

Observers say the group, which has carried out dozens of violent attacks since its formation, is increasingly expanding the scope and sophistication of its operations. Why are they doing it you may ask? 

While the answer is a lot more complicated than I care to write about here, in simple terms they'd like to see Western influence and education completely eradicated from Northern Nigeria and Sharia law implemented as the penal system. 

For those who may not be aware, Nigeria represents the largest population of black people on earth with over one hundred and sixty million people living in a land area about two and a half times the size of Texas. There are over 350 ethnic groups and 250 languages.

With roughly 50% of the population professing Christianity, 47% professing Islam, and 3% animist, it's a cauldron of potent and toxic emotions waiting to explode at every turn. Sadly, we accomplish nothing other than hurting ourselves as we kill each other simply because we view the world from different perspectives.

Today, following the senseless attacks, all that's changed in Nigeria is that a few more families carry the scars and bitterness of having needlessly lost loved ones who are merely collateral damage in an un-winnable war against ourselves.

So, what's the answer? Well, the Scriptures do call Jesus the Prince of Peace and declare that God is Love. They also testify that Love covers a multitude of sins. This means that the only way to win this war is to fight the battle where it needs to be fought and with weapons that enable you win the war.

"We are not fighting against flesh and blood but against spiritual enemies in the heavenly places," declares the book of Ephesians. 1 Corinthians adds, "The weapons of our warfare are not physical but spiritual weapons that attack demonic strongholds...." Love is the only guaranteed weapon with which to win this war!

This music video is a brilliant reminder by a Nigerian artiste that "Alafia" (peace) is the way to resolve these incendiary issues that seemingly have no beginning and no end. Enjoy! And please remember to say a prayer for the families of the victims of the Boko Haram bombings.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Gospel of "Good News"

Let me begin by saying that I’m not advocating a gospel of “suffering.” But, it must also be said that I’m not advocating a gospel of “suffering-free living” either. In fact, I am not advocating any gospel at all other than that which has been given in the Scriptures. It is a gospel of “Good News.”

What’s the Good News? Jesus has once and for all paid the price for the sins of mankind. We are free to choose Him in order to successfully navigate the life we’ve been called to live...or not to choose Him. To choose Him does not preclude suffering! It also doesn’t preclude prosperity, divine health and healing, deliverance...and the list goes on. It does however preclude a carte blanche, wholesale interpretation of the Gospel as being a guarantee that everything in life will work out just as you want it to simply because you’ve prayed.

Christians still die of dysentery, malaria, murder and other maladies. They lose jobs, loved ones, houses and cars. Does this call into question their spirituality and prayer life? Resoundingly “No!”

Sadly, too many Christians are plagued with the tendency to extract a single verse in isolation—to the detriment of the surrounding verses—and interpret it, for better or for worse, as God’s direct mandate for their lives. For instance, many years ago the book “The Prayer of Jabez” had the unintended result of being interpreted as a promise that if we simply prayed, God would remove all pain and suffering from our lives. Amazingly, this prayer was taken from two obscure verses in 1 Chronicles 4 that were lumped in the midst of a slew of genealogies listing the descendants of Judah.

Why is that amazing you might ask? Well, interpreted as a promise from God to every praying Christian, as opposed to a direct and specific testimonial to Jabez, puts us in a world of utter confusion. Let me explain. Since Jabez lived before Paul, it’s conceivable that Paul had read these obscure verses, especially since he himself was lettered and well versed in the Torah. Paul believed in prayer. If any one knew how to pray, it was Paul. In fact, here’s what Paul said about prayer in addressing the pseudo-spirituality of the Corinthian Church:

“I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you...”

In encouraging the Church at Thessalonica he declared:

“Pray without ceasing.”

These are bold statements to make unless you’re truly a man of prayer who is confident in the knowledge that his prayers are powerful and efficacious. But here’s what the same Paul had to say about prayer as he expressed his vulnerability—something which too many Christians sadly term weakness—and frustration in his second letter to the Church at Corinth:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.””

What? You mean the powerfully praying Paul had an unanswered prayer? Where does that leave us mere mortals then? Better still, where does that leave us in light of the mass interpretation of the Prayer of Jabez? Clearly, whatever Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was, it was painful enough that he sought God on three different occasions that it be removed from Him, yet God declined to comply with Paul’s “prayer request.”

I don’t know if I can personally look at a whole City of people and declare, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you...” yet Paul did! I’m confident I don’t “pray without ceasing,” yet Paul advocated it for the Thessalonians which would seem to indicate that it was a practice he was familiar with (otherwise it would be hypocritical to advocate it when you’re not doing it yourself).

Yet, with his apparently extensive arsenal of prayer, the prayer of Jabez didn’t work for Paul even though he was a powerful, praying Christian. My point? Christianity, in all of its complexities, is at once a personalized faith and a communal journey. We can’t walk it alone, yet we each have to work it out for ourselves. So if we judge Christians who are suffering, as weak and powerless in prayer, then we are obligated to apply the same standard to John the Baptist who was beheaded by Herod. To Isaiah who was sawn in two. And to ten of the twelve disciples who died as martyrs for their faith. Evidently, the prayer of Jabez wasn’t able to keep them from pain and suffering.

Finally, it’s important to again recognize the words of Paul—writer of almost two-thirds of the New Testament—to the Church at Corinth as he addresses the issue of God expanding his territory and influence:

“Are they serving Christ? I am serving Him more. (I am crazy to talk like this). I have worked much harder than they. I have been in prison more often. I have been hurt more in beatings. I have been near death many times. Five times the Jews have given me their punishment of thirty-nine lashes with a whip. Three different times I was beaten with rods. One time I was almost stoned to death. Three times I was in ships that wrecked, and one of those times I spent a night and a day in the sea. I have gone on many travels and have been in danger from rivers, thieves, my own people, the Jews, and those who are not Jews.

I have been in danger in cities, in places where no one lives, and on the sea. And I have been in danger with false Christians. I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. Besides all this, there is on me every day the load of my concern for all the churches.”

How do you top that? Evidently Paul’s commitment to his faith had little or nothing to do with whether or not he was “abounding or abasing.” It mattered little to him that he had suffered, and he in fact counted it a privilege to bear the stripes of suffering for the sake of the Gospel. So whether you believe in a “prosperity” or a “suffering” gospel, the real “Good News” is that Jesus has paid the price for all of our sins and we are called to share that fact with everyone, regardless of what your personal theological leanings might be.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just Your Typical, Friendly Neighborhood Tram Ride





Okay, let me give you fair warning: This video is extremely explicit in its liberal use of foul language but I'm making no apologies for posting it since there's a bigger picture that I'm painting here. So, if you can't handle the language, and if you're inclined to get on your moral high horse and tell me how wrong I am for posting this video, please, slowly back away from The Journeyman and find a blog that has more Sunday School content to your liking. I'm satisfied with my own horse and don't need the use of yours!

This video, posted only yesterday on youtube, is the very definition of viral. It's had almost two and a half million hits as at the time of my embedding it. I love that! No, not the content of the video silly, I love the fact that it's so culturally relevant that as many as two and a half million people have already watched it and reposted it in some form or another. Now, I don't know the many and varied reasons why the video has been reposted, but I certainly know why I'm posting it here.

You see, recently I was teaching on a passage of Scripture taken from Luke 10:25-37--It's come to be popularly known as the story of "The Good Samaritan." It strikes me that the object lesson which Jesus was attempting to illustrate was the idea of what one must do to "inherit eternal life." Jesus is asked this question by a well-learned attorney at law. He responds by asking the attorney what the Good Book has to say about it. The attorney responds, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself."

That last little detail, it would appear, might have been somewhat of a sticking point for our wise and learned friend, and so he asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" I'm eternally grateful that he asked this question, and that Jesus answered it leaving no room for equivocation, otherwise I'm fully persuaded that this would have been an eternal, long-standing and contentious debate amongst believers, as to who our neighbor actually is.

Jesus' response? He told the story of the Good Samaritan. Now, for the sake of brevity I'm not inclined to repeat the story in too much detail here, so if you're somewhat behind on your Bible knowledge stories then read it here so that you can follow along with the rest of us as we embark on this journey of discovery. Suffice it to say that in the story we discover that your neighbor is the very person who has persecuted and judged you the most and the loudest.

There was no love lost between Jews and Samaritans (this fact is highlighted for us in John 4:9 in the story of the Woman at the Well). Samaritans were regarded as half-breed Jews and outside of the covenant God had made with Abraham. They had been persecuted endlessly and were not even accepted in their own homeland. As the story goes, a Jew had been robbed, beaten and left to die by the side of the road. First a priest and then a Levite (holy man) came upon his bloodied body and crossed the street to the other side, presumably so that they wouldn't be late for their appointments to save the world.

Then along comes this Samaritan who, not only tends to the wounds of his Jewish adversary, but he places him on his own horse (note that it wasn't a high horse) and brought him to an inn for rest and recuperation. He proceeded to pay for his care out of his personal funds and committed to pay whatever else was due and payable upon his return from his originally proposed journey (which he had clearly abandoned until the following day so that he could care for a man who thought of him as a second class citizen). Do you see the parallels yet?

This is not a condescending attempt to be charitable toward the lady who spewed so much noxious venom in her diatribe above. It is simply an attempt to live out the true intent and meaning of the Scriptures. Jesus declared "Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?" The learned lawyer answered, "The one who showed him mercy." Jesus responded, "You go, and do likewise." I guess that settles it. You can't argue your way out of that one can you?

I don't know anything about this lady. For all we know she may have been abused or abandoned by her parents. She may well have been abused or molested by the only black people she knew growing up. She may even have been bullied in school or abandoned by her husband for another woman... heck, she might just have been having a bad day. Or not! Whatever the case, it's an irrelevant detail. Jesus made it clear that the one that's our neighbor is not just the one that sits beside us in Sunday School, that looks nice, smells nice and speaks Christianese.

In fact, it would appear that Jesus wanted to make it abundantly clear that our neighbor is the one who wishes us ill and hopes for our demise. Our neighbor is the one that spews vitriol on the tram, calling us names and deriding us for even thinking that England could be our country if we're black... or Polish! Evidently it has little to do with the color of your skin as much as it has to do with anyone who wasn't born in the UK and who doesn't speak with an English accent.

So while this video is going viral, you might be tempted to join the bandwagon of haters and deriders screaming for her head. If you're a Christ-follower, then according to Jesus, that is the wrong response. Can you imagine what it could do for her and her child who is subjected to being raised with such unfounded prejudice, if we, instead of calling for her head, determined to kill her...with kindness and love?

Imagine what could happen if millions of Christ-followers who viewed this video decided to take a moment out of their busy "priest and levite" schedule and just become the Samaritan that cares enough to deviate from the norm and pray for her? Oh the endless possibilities. Just my two cents!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The New Cultural Inventors of Evil

WARNING!!!

This is a rant. Actually, this is an angry rant. If you’re not up to it, slowly take your fingers off the keyboard and back away from the computer. Still here? Okay, just as long as you don’t say I didn’t warn you.

It’s a given that in our post-modern world there are things that go on that—shall we say—raise the eyebrows.

Some of those things I find mildly irritating, while others I find somewhat frustrating.

This is neither!

This makes me want to blow a gasket. This makes me downright angry. This sickens me to my gut.

My wife called my attention to an article she’d recently read and I just about threw up my breakfast (and if you know me you'll know I'm really partial to my food).

There’s a store in the Greely Mall in Greely, Colorado that has reinvented the boundaries of lasciviousness and debauchery. Kids N Teen sells crotchless panties for girls as young as seven years old! Yep, you heard me right. I said seven years old!!!

What? Please forgive me for being such a prude, but somewhere we’ve crossed the line from being culturally relevant to being creepy, lewd and perverse.

Crotchless panties—if I’m not mistaken—are products made to heighten sexual pleasure for adults. It’s not my business what adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms, but I certainly draw the line when it involves sexualizing seven year olds.

What were they thinking? Well, when confronted the store claimed that the underwear was meant for high school girls. Oh, okay. Forgive my cynicism but am I to understand that that makes it more acceptable?

My youngest child is a freshman in high school and she’s almost fifteen. If anyone—and I mean anyone—gave her a gift of crotchless panties, you’d have to visit that person in hospital and then stop off at the jail to visit me afterwards.

In case you missed the question the first time let me ask it again: What the heck were they thinking? Actually, the real question should probably be, “Were they thinking?”

Here’s what bothers me the most; in doing market research to determine the viability of such a despicable product, who did they poll? Better yet, who did they determine to be their target market?

Last I checked, seven-year-olds don’t go shopping by themselves. There isn’t a parent that I know that would be purchasing crotchless panties for their seven year olds, so that leaves only pedophiles and child abusers as a possible target market.

With that in mind, the owners of that store should be put in prison and introduced to the prison population as child molesters and then left with them for a couple of days. That should, hopefully, serve to reorient their broken and perverted perspective.

While due credit must be given to the angry parents that forced the store to remove the “thong panties” from the shelves, it must also be noted that sadly, our culture feeds this kind of perversion and voyeurism.

Shows like TLC’s (The Learning Channel-what a contradiction in terms) Toddlers and Tiaras glorifies the sexualization of kids. Spoiled and pampered five year olds are dressed up and made up to look like what can only be described as painted dolls, all in a bid to satisfy their parents missing childhoods.

The parents who parade their children in such despicable ways are setting them up for a painful future, but that’s another story for another time. My wife—being so much more gracious than I am—calls these parents “Troubled.”

I have a different word for them, but for the sake of my audience let’s just say I consider them deviant and demonized!

We are a nation in dire straits. When the freedom to choose leads us down the path to inescapable bondage to illicit and perverted sex, then we are no longer free. The Scriptures have this to say;

“People did not think it was important to have a true knowledge of God. So God left them and allowed them to have their own worthless thinking and to do things they should not do. They are filled with every kind of sin, evil, selfishness....They invent ways of doing evil.”
-Romans 1:28-30

Monday, October 24, 2011

i-gospel

Over the last week I’ve watched two different documentaries on the life and legacy of Steve Jobs, including an interview with his biographer. To say the least, they’ve left my head swimming with numerous thoughts and ideas. Prone to bouts of anomie, Steve Jobs’ story paints him as being neither the happiest, nor the easiest of people to get along with. Adopted by a blue collar couple in northern California, his father drilled into him the need to be ‘perfect’ at everything he did, and as he grew older, this value made him extremely intolerant of imperfections and perceived weakness.

But for all his perceived weltschmerz, Steve Jobs was arguably the greatest visionary of our time. He single handedly reshaped our world with his vision of simple, elegant, and user friendly technology. Amazingly, Steve and Apple didn’t actually invent the personal computer or the mp3 player, but simply envisioned how they could improve upon existing technology. The ipod, the iphone, the ipad, the imac all changed our world and how we interface with technology and each other.

Imagine being the one responsible for restructuring and reshaping how recording companies do business. Imagine telling them what they are going to charge for their music and, indeed that they’re going to have to sell individual songs and not just whole albums! That’s what Steve Jobs did when he started the ipod and itunes revolution. But the appeal of the i-products is so much more than just functionality, as the aesthetic appeal has made it almost unacceptable not to own one. It would appear that your social status is enhanced simply because you own an i-product. From owning a mere 6% market share of personal computers, and 90 days away from filing for bankrupcy when he returned to Apple, Jobs turned the company into the second largest corporation in the world, second only to Exxon Mobil.

Apple’s i-product appeal has gone global and Jobs’ influence reaches far beyond the shores of the USA. At his death, people held vigils with their ipads burning eternal candles with flickering flames. But it’s not just the music, phone, and computer industries that have been revolutionized because of Steve Jobs’ vision; even the education industry has been revolutionized (especially in the area of teaching autistic children) because of the introduction of the ipad tablet in response to Kindle’s book reader. Where Kindle saw a revolutionary book reader, Steve Jobs saw a life changing tablet.

“How on earth do you propose to weave all that into i-gospel,” I hear you ask? Well, consider this: As Christ followers we’re invited to be part of a revolution that changes our world in every strata of society much like Jobs has done with his ‘i-product’ technology, except that what we offer has eternal value. Richard Stearns, in his book, The Hole In Our Gospel, puts it like this;

Didn’t Jesus always care about the whole person—one’s health, family, work, values, relationships, behavior toward others—and his or her soul? Jesus’ view of the gospel went beyond a bingo card transaction; it embraced a revolutionary new view of the world, an earth transformed by transformed people, His “disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19 NKJV), who would usher in the revolutionary kingdom of God. Those words from the Lord’s Prayer, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” were and are a clarion call to Jesus’ followers not just to proclaim the good news but to be the good news, here and now (Matt. 6:10). This gospel—the whole gospel—means much more than the personal salvation of individuals. It means a social revolution.

Remember that Jesus’ mission statement simply reads; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10) This means that the message of God’s love is designed simply, elegantly, and functionally, so that it can be embraced by all people, beginning a revolution that changes the status quo. The thing is though, you may be the only ‘i-gospel’ some people will ever see. So what do they see when they see you? A revolutionary 'product' like the iphone or the ipad that they long to possess, or an old MS DOS word processor that serves no useful purpose in a world of i-products? Hey, I’m just the messenger!!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Hole In Our Gospel!

Over the course of my journey in Christ, I’ve constantly been shaped and reshaped. My thinking has continually been challenged and modified and then challenged again. My interpretation of God’s purpose for my life has vacillated back and forth like a yoyo, and at the worst of times, I’ve wondered if He does indeed have a purpose for my life at all!

At different junctures of my life, when it would appear that I’ve just about run out of answers, I’ve often found a book that profoundly influenced my life and reshaped my thinking and my approach to living out the gospel message. Chuck Colson’s How Now Shall We Live was one such book, as was Mark Batterson’s In a Pit With a Lion on a Snowy Day.... Of course, the problem is, once I start naming books that have impacted me at significant moments in my life, it’s difficult to find the appropriate stopping point, and so I’ll just stop at those two books and apologize to the amazing author’s whose books I’ve not mentioned but who have had a profound impact in my life.

This past weekend I was in San Antonio, TX speaking for a dear friend of mine. As I waited in his office before the start of service, I browsed his bookshelf and came upon a book with an intriguing title (If you ever want to get me to read a book, just tell me it has an off-the-wall title and I’m usually sold). It shouted off the bookshelf amongst all the other books as it declared: The Hole in Our Gospel. “I wonder what that’s about,” I thought to myself, and so I picked it up and haven’t put it down since (No I didn’t steal it, my friend let me borrow it).

It’s written by Richard Stearns (President of World Vision since 1998, and former President of Parker Brother’s Games at the tender age of 33). The thing about this book is that it screams at me in words similar to ones that I’ve spoken for quite a while now, and so it was hugely inspiring to find someone else, someone with a lot more ‘street credibility’ than me, echoing the same sentiments. Here’s an excerpt from the book that spoke to me powerfully (and I hadn’t even gotten past the introduction yet);

"You might imagine the author of a book challenging you to respond to the great needs of the poorest people in our world—an author who, in fact, leads a large, global humanitarian organization that feeds the hungry, assists disaster victims, and cares for widows and orphans across the planet—to be some kind of spiritual hero or saint. You might even be inclined to think of me as a “Mother Teresa” in a business suit. But if you have any of those impressions, you are sorely mistaken. Let me clear that up right at the outset. I, too, have had a lifelong battle trying to “walk the talk.” I am certainly no saint or hero, and I never set out to “save the world”—I didn’t have that kind of courage or imagination. I was a most reluctant recruit to this cause—in many ways a coward. But as you read a little more about my story, my hope is that you’ll learn from my mistakes and laugh a little at my failures. That God still chooses to use flawed human beings like me is both astonishing and encouraging. And if He can use me, He can use you."

If you’re even remotely like me in that you so desperately want to fulfill God’s purpose for your life, these words probably speak to you just as powerfully because they remind you that even after all the boneheaded decisions and poor choices you’ve made along the course of your journey, God can and will still use you. These words remind us that our failures and our mistakes are all part of shaping our story, and it’s been said ad naseum that, “He who tells the best story, wins the world.” Your story is integral in helping others shape their destiny, especially the seemingly unsavory and difficult parts, the failures, and the uncertainties. Why? Because they make you just as human as the next person and reassures them that if you can navigate the pitfalls of life successfully, so can they!

Friday, August 5, 2011

'Re'-Defining Success!

"Success is not sustainable if it's defined by how big you become. Large numbers that once captivated me - 40,000 stores! - are not what matter. The only number that matters is "one". One cup. One customer. One partner. One experience at a time. We had to get back to what mattered most." ~ Howard Schulz (CEO of Starbucks Coffee)


There's something inately comforting about this quote. I imagine though, that it probably only brings comfort to those who've tried to succeed with numbers and have failed in some form or another. Here's what I'm trying to say: Building a mega church was once a goal for me! It isn't any more. But that's not because I built one and then decided that it wasn't my thing. On the contrary, it's because I tried to build one and couldn't. For me though, that's a good thing. It may not be so for you. Let me explain.

Howard Schulz was CEO of Starbucks and built the business into a very successful company (Any one who can convince people to part with $5.00 for a cup of coffeee is a brilliant strategist and entrepreneur in my book). He eventually left that position to become Chairman of the Board. Unfortunately, after his departure as CEO, Starbucks began to lose their market lead and their client base. Why? Howard's quote above is the reason they finally came up with after he returned to the position of CEO and did some exploratory research into why they were not as successful as they'd been in the past. But this post isn't actually about Coffee or Starbucks, it's about church planting and pastoring. Huh? Just go with me on this for a moment.

For church planters and pastors it's so easy to get caught up in the 'numbers game' and think that the success of your church is determined purely by attendance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Conversely though, the danger with dispeling the value of attendance numbers, is the fact that numbers represent people. That's what really speaks to me about Howard's quote. It's not the numbers I'm concerned with, after all, if you're truly reaching and impacting people's lives your attendance is bound to grow. My concern is that we all too often lose sight of the individual and only see the numbers. In my case, once numbers ceased to be the sole motivating factor in building a church, I began to see the individual. The hurting, seeking, and broken people that sorround me daily and that desperately cry out for answers. That shift in paradigm suddenly made pastoring infinitely more meaningful to me than a slammin' Sunday service (though that's a great thing to have). That's essentially what I hear Howard saying when he says "the only number that matters is One."

Seems to me he's in pretty good company since Jesus was concerned about the "one" too. You see, in the parable of the Lost Sheep, He tells us that the Shepherd (Himself) leaves the 99 to go and search for the 1. That becomes really, really important when that 1 is you!