Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Happy Halloween. I'm going a little crazy with the video posting, but this is pretty good.
Al Jolson

this is for you carol!

accepting evangelicals

I've been reading the book The Post-Evangelical (published by Emergent/Youth Specialties) the last couple of days. Its written by a British guy named Dave Tomlinson, who after serving in evangelical ministries for a few decades found his views changing. I picked up the book because I had seen it referred to a number of times in other books.

Last night I was on the internet trying to find out more about this guy, and came across a group that he is a founding member of, which is called Accepting Evangelicals. Here's some info from the front page of their website:
Accepting Evangelicals
… is a open network of Evangelical Christians who believe the time has come to move towards the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships at every level of church life, and the development of a positive Christian ethic for gay and lesbian people.

Accepting Evangelicals
… is open to everyone who would call themselves Evangelical.

Accepting Evangelicals
… is a network of people who are increasingly uncomfortable with the hard-line statements which are being issued by some Evangelical groups, and the damage which this is causing, both to the church and the mission of the Gospel.

Accepting Evangelicals
… is open both to
people who believe that the Bible does not condemn loving,
faithful same-sex relationships which are built on mutual
commitment and self-giving love.
and to
people who, although they do not personally hold this view
are willing to accept the integrity of those who do.
The thing that strikes me is that these folks want to hold onto the label of evangelical. Most folks who move in this direction find themselves distancing themselves from the evangelical label altogether.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Men At Work - Down Under

i love youtube. i'm reclaiming my childhood, one video at a time.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mike Rayson in Pontiac

My friend Mike Rayon, Australian singer, songwriter, preacher, and teacher, just preached at all three of our Sunday morning worship services, and did an incredible job, giving his message "Mapquest to Heaven" and sharing special music. He'll be doing revival services tonight (Sunday) through Wednesday night, nightly at 7:00pm. Come and check him out if you're within traveling distance. I guarrantee you'll be blessed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

when music videos inspired people

Men Without Hats - The Safety Dance

This video from my the days of my childhood continues to inspire me. They just don't make em like this anymore.

willimon on modernity

Chapter 5 of Pastor... is called The Pastor as Interpreter of Scripture: A People Created by the Word. In it Willimon shares this beneficial critique of modernism:
Modernity has conditioned us to think that we are privileged to live at the very summit of human develoment, from which we look down with condescension upon everyone who arrived here before us. (111)
and later...
Because modernity believes in the notion of progress, it tends to be arrogant, taking a superior position toward all things that preceded modernity. Here we stand in judgment on everyone and everything that got here before us. Our entertainment culture renders all of us into "neophiles," lovers of the new. Martin Luther, in presenting his reform of the Mass condemned, "the fickle and fastidious spirits who rush in like unclean swine... who delight only in novelty and tire of it as quickly, when it has worn off." Still it is difficult for people like us not to believe that what is new is progressively better than what is old. (115)

willimon on receiving praise from others

Willimon writes, "A pastorate too susceptible to the praise or blame of the congregation is a betrayal of the larger claims of our vocation. Clergy were the first professionals, not because we had received some high level of specialized knowledge that was unavailable to others, but because we had a body of doctrine to profess. We were those who had our lives yoked to some profession of faith. Without that linkage, our pastoral work too easily degenerates into unfocused, breathless busyness" (97). And he makes this explanation after offering this convicting quote from Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
I have striven, with all my might, to attain the position of complete independence of all men. I have found, at time, if I have been much praised, and if my heart has given way a little, and I have taken notice of it, and felt pleased, that the next time I was censured and abused I felt the censure and abuse very keenly, for the very fact that I accepted the commendation, rendered me more sensitive to the censure. So that I have tried, especially of late, to take no more notice of man's praise than of his blame, but to rest simply upon this truth - I know that I have a pure motive in what I attempt to do, I am conscious that I endeavor to serve God with a single eye to His glory, and therefore, it is not for me to take either praise or censure from man, but to stand independently upon the rock of right doing.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

the gospel and original sin

Needless to say, Brian McLaren has thrown my brain for a loop in the past month. I've been rehashing a comment that he made in one of his talks at the Leadership Institute. This is the way I remember it (If I am remembering it wrong, I am sorry. If you were there and I'm wrong, please correct me. But at least you will understand the way I interpreted it, and how it affects my journey): "Somewhere around 3rd century the gospel got reduced to the point of being seen as nothing more than the answer to Original Sin." The way he said it made it sound like we all naturally agreed that he was right. But as I've been thinking about it, the gospel is primarily God's corrective response to Original Sin.

Here's another edge to the issue. From reading The Story We Find Ourselves In, I get the picture that McLaren doesn't believe in a literal Adam and Eve. Without Adam and Eve, you have to throw out the doctrine of Original Sin altogether, as well as much of New Testament theology. What do you do with this passage from Romans 5 if there was no Adam and Eve?

12Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned— 13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Not only that, but if we throw out Original Sin, then the Methodist movement is meaningless. Wesley said the Methodist Movement is built on three doctrines: 1) Original Sin, 2) Justification by Faith, 3) Holiness of Heart and Life.

I'm coming to understand how much the historic Christian faith is built upon the literal interpretation of the Bible. If you start allegorizing Genesis 1-11, you lose Original Sin and you have to come up with another "gospel" in order to remain a Christian.

No wonder Paul was so distressed in Galatians 1, where he wrote:
6I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! 9As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
I'm not saying Brian McLaren is to be accursed. I actually still like him. I'm just trying to digest all this strange food I've eaten lately, and throwing up some of it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

willimon on the communal aspect of Sunday worship

On Sunday, those elements of worship, those rituals that help unite us, are to be emphasized. Those that fragment and isolate believers from one another are to be avoided. Individual glasses of wine at Communion, individual bits of bread, individual worshipers in silent meditation, solos rather than singing congregational hymns, are all questionable acts of communal worship in the light of this koinonia principle. Indeed, private meditation is best on other days, in other services of worship. Sunday is a day to get together, and the pastor, as the leader of worship, bears primary responsibility for gathering the church. (Pastor 81)

glorifying God through contentment

Here's a good quote from John MacArthur about how we are to glorify God with our lives by being content in God at all times.
We may be discontented about ourselves and about our circumstances. But who made us? God. And He promises to supply all our needs. When we are content, we acknowledge God’s sovereignty in our lives, and that gives Him glory. If we are discontented, it’s the same as questioning God’s wisdom. That doesn’t glorify Him.

Paul testified, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11). Paul was confident that God would use all things—poverty as well as abundance, comfort as well as pain—for Paul’s good and God’s glory (Romans 8:28). He didn’t say, “I’ll give God glory in spite of my pain.” He said, “I will give God glory because of it.”

A Christian who is discontented for any reason—job, spouse, finances—is a terrible testimony about the goodness of our God. What kind of God do we have? Is He really sovereign? Can He really be trusted? Glorifying God means that we praise Him with absolute contentment, knowing that our lot is God’s plan for us now.
To read the rest of the article, click here.

Does God have a Plan B?

Brett at Sunday School Thoughts has made a very interesting post about whether God has an intentional will and then when that doesn't work a circumstantial will, and how that relates to homosexuality and babies born with birth defects.

I left a comment on his post, and would be interested to know what others think about this topic.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

sticking to the historic Christian faith

As I've been reading McLaren books lately, I've been a little bit depressed by the fact that it seems to be so hip right now to deconstruct traditional Christianity and come up with new stuff. As I'm reading Willimon, I was encouraged by something he says about the role of the pastor to proclaim the good old historic Christian faith.
The pastor is to be a witness, bearing testimony to the received faith of the church. The pastor is not ordained to share his or her personal or idiosyncratic theology, but rather to bear the burden of the whole faith of the whole church, the testimony of the saints, the witness of Scripture... Christians are distinguished by our effort to think as the church has thought down through the ages. Among us, a truly "original idea" is what we usually call heresy... Christians are folk who practice anamnesis, the refusal to forget, the earnest effort to remember. (50-51)

will willimon and social determination

I just picked up Will Willimon's book Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry. Here's something to chew on about the way that our values are often chosen for us, without our permission.
We work within a culture of rugged individualists and fragmented communities. We are officially schooled in the notion that we are most fully ourselves when we are liberated, autonomous, on our own. We live under the modern myth that it is possible, even desireable, to live our lives without external, social determination. Ironically, that we think it desireable to live our lives without external, social determination is proof that our lives have been externally, socially determined by the culture of capitalist consumption. I did not on my own come up with the notion that I am a sovereign individual with no greater purpose in life than to live exclusively for myself. Rather, this culture has formed me to believe that I have no other purpose in life other than the purpose I myself have chosen. The irony is that I did not choose the story that I have no purpose in life other tha that which I have chosen.

The issue is not, Shall I be externally determined by some community of interpretation and authorization? The issue is, Which community will have its way with my life? Or perhaps more accurately, Will the community that determines, interprets, and authorizes me be worthy of my life? (19)

the actual resurrection of the body

Last night after a meeting somehow I got into a discussion with a good friend about how our physical bodies will be resurrected from the grave. I am continually surprised at how so many people think that in eternity we won't have physical bodies. Yet this is one of the foundational doctrines of our faith - the resurrection of the body. Check out these passages from I Corinthians 15:
12Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.

20But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

35But someone will ask, "How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?" 36You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. (ESV)
One of my favorite Scriptures about the resurrection of the body is Philippians, chapter 3:
20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (NRSV)
One thing that I have noticed in recent years is the increasing popularity of cremation instead of burial. When people ask me if I think its a good option, I usually say I think its fine, but then remind them that God will raise our literal bodies from the grave when Christ returns. And often people act as if they've never heard that before. Its coming folks.
"Do not be astonished at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." - Jesus (John 5:28-29 NRSV)

Monday, October 23, 2006

hell via the early church fathers

Thanks to the Religion Facts website for these quotes from early church fathers about the nature of hell.
"The way of darkness is crooked, and it is full of cursing. It is the way of eternal death with punishment." (Pseudo-Barnabas, c. 70-130 AD)

"You should fear what is truly death, which is reserved for those who will be condemned to the eternal fire. It will afflict those who are committed to it even to the end." (Letter to Diognetus, c. 125-200)

"[The martyrs] despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour.... For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and will never be quenched." (Martyrdom of Polycarp, c. 135)

"Sinners will be consumed because they sinned and did not repent." (Shepherd of Hermas, c. 150)

"Those who have not known God and do evil are condemned to death. However, those who have known God and have seen his mighty works, but still continue in evil, will be chastised doubly, and will die forever." (Shepherd of Hermas, c. 150)

"We believe...that every man will suffer punishment in eternal fire according to the merits of his deed. ... Sensation remains to all who have ever lived, and eternal punishment is laid up." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)

"Hell [Gehenna] is a place where those who have lived wickedly are to be punished." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)

"Some are sent to be punished unceasingly into judgment and condemnation of fire." (Justin Martyr, c. 160)

"We who are now easily susceptible to death, will afterwards receive immortality with either enjoyment or with pain." (Tatian, c. 160)

"We are persuaded that when we are removed from the present life we will live another life, better than the present one...or, if they fall with the rest, they will endure a worse life, one in fire. For God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, who are mere by-products. For animals perish and are annihilated. On these grounds, it is not likely that we would wish to do evil." (Athenagoras, c. 175)

"To the unbelieving and despisers...there will be anger and wrath, tribulation and anguish. At the end, everlasting fire will possess such men." (Theophilus, c. 180)

"Eternal fire is prepared for sinners. The Lord has plainly declared this and the rest of the Scriptures demonstrate it." (Irenaeus, c. 180)

"All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked. Yet, it would be better for them if they were not deathless. For they are punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire. Since they do not die, it is impossible for them to have an end put to their misery." (Clement of Alexandria, c. 195; from a post-Nicene manuscript fragment)

"We [Christians] alone make a real effort to attain a blameless life. We do this under the influence of... the magnitude of the threatened torment. For it is not merely long-enduring; rather, it is everlasting." (Tertullian, c. 197)

"Gehenna... is a reservoir of secret fire under the earth for purposes of punishment." (Tertullian, c. 197)

"There is neither limit nor termination of these torments. There, the intelligent fire burns the limbs and restores them. It feeds on them and nourishes them. ... However, no one except a profane man hesitates to believe that those who do not know God are deservedly tormented." (Mark Minucius Felix, c. 200)

hell via 4th century church fathers

Here's an exerpt from the book Early Christian Doctrines about fourth century views of hell.
As regards the fate of the wicked..., the general view was that their punishment would be eternal, without any possibility of remission. As Basil put it, in hell the sinful soul is completely cut off from the Holy Spirit, and is therefore incapable of repentance; while Chrysostom pointed out that neither the bodies of the damned, which will be immortal, nor their souls will know any end of their sufferings. Neither time nor friendship nor hope nor the expectation of death, not even the spectacle of other unhappy souls sharing their lot, will alleviate their pains. Yet Basil has to confess that most ordinary Christians have been beguiled by the Devil into believing, against the manifest evidence of Scripture, that there will be a time-limit. Among these must be included Gregory of Nazianzus, who on occasion seems to wonder whether eternal punishment is altogether worthy of God, and Gregory of Nyssa, who sometimes mentions eternal pains, but whose real teaching envisages the eventual purification of the wicked, the conquest and disappearance of evil, and the final restoration of all things, the Devil himself included. The influence of Origen is clearly visible here, but by the fifth century the stern doctrine that sinners have no second chance after this life and that the fire which will devour them will never be extinguished was everywhere paramount. (483-484)

hell via John MacArthur

Explanation of Jesus using gehenna to describe hell

Exlanation of how a God of love could allow anyone to go to hell

Thanks to Brian Bill for the link to this John MacArthur audio Q & A page.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

early Christian doctrines

After having my worldview completely deconstructed from reading McLaren's A New Kind of Christian Trilogy, yesterday I decided to start reading a book that a friend loaned me called Early Christian Doctrines, by J.N.D. Kelly. From what I've read so far, it appears that the early church fathers believed what I believed before reading McLaren (including the traditional concept of hell).

Here's the struggle I'm experiencing: I really want to believe the Truth. So am I intellectually obligated to examine thoroughly other worldviews in order to be certain that the one I hold is accurate?

This is my prayer in the past days, from the first verses of Psalm 25:
1To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
5Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

a good story of God's provision

Read this awesome story about how God provided a car for my friend Brian Bill and his family when they came back to the United States after being missionaries in Mexico. When they had nothing, they still had God, and that was more than enough.

"And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

Friday, October 20, 2006

thoughts on hell

I just finished reading The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McLaren. I have had the book on my shelf for over a year but just recently decided to pick it up after hearing him speak in Kansas City. In this book McLaren is dealing head on with something I have thought hard about since I was a small child - HELL. This book is basic a historical deconstruction of the modern concept of hell that most evangelical Christians hold to today (which is that hell is the place where Satan, the fallen angels, and everyone who has never heard of/never accepted Jesus will spend eternity in conscious torment).

Since I have had a morbid fascination with this issue since childhood, I appreciated this analysis of the topic. One of the things that is pointed out, which puzzles me, is that there are three words in the New Testament that are translated into English as hell: hades (appears 11 times), gehenna (appears 12 times), and tartaros (appears 1 time).

Tartaros and hades are borrowed from Greek mythology. In my understanding, hades refers to the place that all dead people go, and tartaros a very bad portion of hades. Gehenna is "The valley, which forms the southern border of ancient Jerusalem, is first mentioned in Joshua 15:8. Originally it referred to a dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem in modern-day Israel where fires were kept burning to consume the refuse and keep down the stench. It is also the location where bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. In addition, this valley was frequently not controlled by the Jewish authority within the city walls; it is a commonly held historical opinion that this valley was used as a place of religious child-sacrifice by the Caananites outside the city" (wikipedia.com, "gehenna").

Here's a crazy thing. When I first became a Christian I was at a retreat. I remember asking one of the clergy a question about hell, and he said, "first of all, we have to understand that the word translated in the Bible as hell really means trash dump." I immediately dismissed him as a liberal and a heretic.

Here's my question. As a person who has since conversion been a defender of conservative evangelical theology, including hell, I feel a little bit cheated. Why did the translators of the English Bibles not feel that they could just translate gehenna as gehenna, hades as hades, and tartaros as tartaros?

I imagine if Jesus used words from Greek mythology and Jewish history with all the baggage they bring, then he wants us to think about why he used those words and how they effect the rhetoric he is employing. I wonder how our understanding of hell would be different if the general Christian public knew the background of these words.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

christians and the future of the world: agree or disagree?

The last couple of days I've been reading Brian McLaren's book The Last Word and the Word After That. On page 152 he shares this quote which he received from Dallas Willard and Keith Matthews:

To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God.

Christians believe in "the end of the world," they expect the final catastrophe, the punishment of others.

Atheists in their turn... refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in him and take no interest in the world...

Which is the more culpable ignorance?

...I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough, who love the world enough so that he could send them into the world to save it.

- Louis Evely, In the Christian Spirit (Image, 1975)

an unfinished life

Last night, when I went to the video store to pick out a flick I heard the manager telling someone about how great this movie was. I decided to rent it.

Its a really good movie that deals fairly with difficult real life dilemmas like domestic violence, animal rights, forgiveness, overcoming bitterness, relational extrangement, and regaining a purpose for your life in the midst of severe loss. It's not overtly Christian, and the ways that all of these issues are dealt are not from a Christian perspective. However, I recommend it because it lays the problems out realistically and attempts to provide some sort of vision for the potential of healing.

Its got a PG13 rating and the most notable swear word is "God D--m". With that in mind I can recommend this movie if you go in with these issues in mind and are up for it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

do you expect your pastor to be more competent than Jesus?

Here's a good little article from Leadership Journal that describes unreasonable expectations that are placed on pastors. Here are a couple of excerpts:
A quick perusal of church job-search web sites reveals positions which ask for leaders more perfect than Jesus: "The ideal candidate will be a visionary leader who can also develop and implement strategies to fulfill this vision, all while caring personally for every member of the congregation. Gifts required include leadership, preaching/teaching, pastoral care, team-building, and administration." Such expectations are not only unrealistic, they are unbiblical...

But there is no use pretending that you are good at everything. Those under the influence of your leadership will discover the truth sooner rather than later. Leadership trust is gained by how well you manage your strengths and weaknesses, and by how honest you are about them, no matter what size your ministry...

Lack of skill in a particular ministry or leadership area is not a sign of poor character; however, failure to recognize or admit that weakness might be. There is a fine line between being unskilled (lack of competence) and being unteachable (lack of character).

Do you truly know your weakest skill areas? Do you listen when others tell you what they are? And, most importantly, do you take steps to deal with them, or do you find yourself making excuses for them? Leaders with strong character will seek accountability and input, and will then seek to manage (not necessarily improve) areas of weakness.

living an always-prepared life

This morning at our Pontiac Area Ministerial Association meeting, my friend Carolyn Bavarro, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, shared this devotional reading by Henri Nouwen. It is taken from "Time Enough to Minister" which appeared in Leadership magazine in Spring of 1982:

Often we’re not as pressed for time as much as we feel we’re pressed for time. I remember several years ago becoming so pressed by the demands of teaching at Yale that I took a prayer sabbatical to the Trappist montastery at Geneseo, New York. No teaching, lecturing, or counseling – just solitude and prayer.

The second day there, a group of students from Geneseo College walked in and asked, “Henri, can you give us a retreat?”

Of course at the monastery that was not my decision, but I said to the abbot, "I came here from the university to get away from that type of thing. These students have asked for five meditations, an enormous amount of work and preparation. I don’t want to do it."

The abbot said, "You are going to do it."

"What do you mean? Why should I spend my sabbatical time preparing all these things?"

"Prepare?" he replied. "You’ve been a Christian for forty years and a priest for twenty, and a few high school students want to have a retreat. Why do you have to prepare? What those boys and girls want is to be a part of your life in God for a few days. If you pray half an hour in the morning, sing in our choir for an hour, and do your spiritual reading, you will have so much to say you could give ten retreats."

The question you see, is not to prepare but to live in a state of ongoing preparedness so that, when someone who is drowning in the world comes into your world, you are ready to reach out and help. It may be at four o’clock, six o’clock, or nine o’clock. One time you call it preaching, the next time teaching, then counseling, or later administration. But let them be part of your life in God – that’s ministering.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

from Why Men Hate Going To Church

I read Why Men Hate Going To Church yesterday. And since I have to give it back the United Methodist Research Center, I wanted to pull out the stuff that stood out to me. Here are the summary statements, and below are quotes to go with them.

1) Men follow men, not programs.
2) Men may not come to worship because they don't want to sing.
3) Educated men don't want the preacher to pit the Bible against science.
4) Much of our religious language appeals to women but repulses men.
5) Men want leaders, not facilitators.
6) Men need shorter sermons.
7) No one should serve in a ministry they aren't called to.
8) Pastors are not ministers but coaches.

1) Men follow men, not programs.
"Men don't follow programs; they follow men. A woman may choose a church because of the programs it offers, but a man is looking for another man to follow. Throughout their lives, men are transformed through encounters with inspiring men. Every successful man will tell you of a father, an uncle, a teacher, a coach, or a sergeant who made the difference in his life. The movies men love often feature an inspirational coach, commander, or teacher. Men are dying for a leader. Every man, regardless of age, needs another man to look up to and say in his heart, I want to be like him." (59)

2) Men may not come to worship because they don't want to sing.
"Robert Lewis has noticed a curious trend in his Arkansas megachurch: praise skippers. These people (mostly men) consistently arrive half an hour late to the worship service. Lewis suspects these fellows are tardy on purpose to miss the singing. There are also a number of men who sneak out as soon as the sermon is over, perhaps for the same reason... I'm convinced that there a million unchurched men who would attend a worship service this weekend if they just didn't have to sing. Pastor Lewis dropped singing from his Men's Fraternity gatherings and attendance leaped. Some church planter is going to figure this out and reap a rich harvest of men." (116-117)

3) Educated men don't want the preacher to pit the Bible against science.
"Well-educated men want a church where God is real, but not one that treats science as the enemy. They want a church where they can ask questions and challenge the party line. Mainline churches take note: this is one area where you can really make inroads with men. The balancing act is to allow for differences in interpretation without slipping into outright heresy. Proclaim the truth with boldness, but do not make people feel evil or dumb for disagreeing. Conservative churches: let men ask uncomfortable questions, and resist the urge to promote a science versus God sideshow." (119)

4) Much of our religious language appeals to women but repulses men.
"[M]any churches have replaced the masculine term kingdom of God with the more feminine family of God. Jesus never uttered the phrase. It never appears in the Bible. But we prefer family of God because it resonates with the feminine heart.

"The term relationship gets a workout in the church today. Evangelical churches frequently invite people to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Does that phrase appear in the Bible? Nope. Nowhere does the Scipture invite us into a personal relationship with God or Jesus. Yet it has become the most popular way to describe the Christian walk! Why? Because it frames the gospel in terms of a woman's deepest desire - a personal relationship with a man who loves her unconditionally.

"Nowadays it's not enough to have a personal relationship with Jesus; many of today's top speakers encourage men to have a passionate relationship with Him. These teachers have chosen a very uncomfortable metaphor to describe discipleship! Speaking as a man, the idea of having a passionate relationship with another man is just plain gross. Then we have the ever-popular intimacy with God. When men hear of the word intimacy, the first thing that comes to mind is sex. Those dirty-minded guys! But guess what? Whenever the words passionate and intimacy appear in the Bible, they always refer to sex of lust.

"When a man loves another man, he uses terms such as admire, look up to, and respect. Men do not speak of passionate, intimate, or even personal relationships with their leaders or male friends... Here's my rule of thumb: when describing the things of God, use terms that would sound right on a construction site. Try words such as friendship and partnership. Challenge men to follow God or walk with Christ. See the difference it makes!" (136-137)

5) Men want leaders, not facilitators.
"Banish the word facilitator from your vocabulary. Men follow leaders, not facilitators. Jesus led, and so must we." (156)

6) Men need shorter sermons.

"Men have an attention span of six to eight minutes, yet the average Protestant sermon is more than thirty minutes in length... If you really want to attract unchurched men, paint this on your sign: HOME OF THE TEN-MINUTE SERMON. Break your message into a five-minute Scripture lesson, a five-minute object lesson, and a ten-minute sermon, with other elements in between. Make the point using three different approaches. You still get your twenty minutes, but you honor men's shorter attention span. End your message with concrete action items or an optional discussion for those who want to stick around. See if that doesn't liven things up for men." (178-179)

7) No one should serve in a ministry they aren't called to.
"I'll say it again: don't serve in a ministry to which you are not called, no matter how urgent the need. If a particular ministry is chronically understaffed, it may be a sign from God that He is leading elsewhere. Believe me, if men lose a ministry that is important to them, they'll step forward." (198)

8) Pastors are not ministers but coaches.
"Pastors, I know you've heard it a million times, but here it is again: you are not the minister. Your people are. You are a coach. God made men to be active, and are often passive because they feel unauthorized or unqualified to minister." (205)

Monday, October 16, 2006

why men hate church

I checked out the book Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow of Church For Men from our conference's United Methodist Resource Center. He gives a top 10 list of excuses that men give for not wanting to go to church:
10. I don't have time.
9. Church just doesn't work for me.
8. It's boring.
7. It's irrelevant to my life.
6. I don't like the pastor.
5. I don't want to talk about it.
4. It's too long.
3. They ask for money too much.
2. It's for wimps.
1. There are too many hypocrites there.

Bill Hybel's philosophy of lay ministry

In the past view days, I've had the opportunity to read a few books, Good to Great and the Social Sectors (Jim Collins), Volunteer Revolution (Bill Hybels), and The Story We Find Ourselves In (Brian McLaren). I hope to blog a little big about each of these, but right now I want to summarize what I consider the key things I got out of Volunteer Revolution.

This short book of 139 pages summarizes Bill Hybels' experience of recruiting volunteers to serve in his church and his simple theology behind it. He says that in the beginning of Willow Creek Community Church's existence he and his friends had a "Whatever It Takes!" attitude. Because they were young they could serve with reckless abandon in very extreme ways. Hybels has fond memories of these times, but regrets that he pushed people too hard, suggesting that possibly even a couple marriages of his friends failed because of Hybels pushing them to invest too much time in the church. During this time he wasn't thinking much about helping people find the right area of giftedness and passion to serve in.

After seeing the damaging effects of this style of ministry management, Willow Creek then swung in the complete opposite direction by not having people serve until they had done a large amount of spiritual gift testing. They were trying to prevent burnout. Hybels suggests that they were overprecautious at this point and that he evententually realized that spiritual gifts tests couldn't be accurate until someone had tried out a number of different ministry opportunities to see what fits.

Through this process they arrived at their current approach which can largely be summarized by the word EXPERIMENTATION. They believe that people should be invited to experiment in a number of different ministries before making a commitment to be a continual volunteer there. They have developed this philosophy into what they call First Serve.

I really liked this philosophy, which I just discovered has now been packaged into a user-friendly four-week church program called Living Beyond Myself. Ironically, without knowing the connection between this book and this program, my older brother told me last week that his church was in the middle of this particular program and he was really growing through it.

Hybels says there are two keys to sticking with it as a volunteer in the church. The first is "to gradually align oneself closer and closer to authentic areas of passion and spiritual giftedness. The second way is to serve within the context of community" (122).

He says, "I've said many times in recent years that I have two goals for the rest of my life. First, I want to do the work God asks me to do. I've never known joy outside of pursuing God's calling on my life. Whenever I've wandered even five degrees off that course, I've lost the sense of God's smile that I can't live without. Second, I want to do the work God calls me to do in community with people I love. While most of the serving circles in which I now sit are not volunteer circles, the same principle applies" (123).

I agree with Hybels' philosophy of volunteering. I know that many times, especially in older established churches, we practially have to beg people to take positions of leadership. They're lots of work and experience little gratitude. Hybels also says that expressing gratitude is a key to maintaining volunteers.

A very good chapter in this book is chapter 5, called "What? Me, A Priest?" where Hybels lays out clearly and with simplicity the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.

One thing that must be said about this book is something that the friend who loaned it to me told me. There's a lot of stories, but not much Scripture. After beginning the book, I appreciated the warning. Instead of doing a lot of explanation about a particular passage of Scripture, I've noticed that Hybel's is the type to just take a short passage of Scripture at face value and then live it out literally and radically. I respect his obedience to God's word.

Friday, October 13, 2006

I will no longer refer to myself as a fundamentalist.

Came across this video via Jonathon Norman. This is what most Americans think of when they here the word "fundamentalist." I really shouldn't use the word to describe myself anymore. I don't want to be in this camp. By the way, make sure you watch it through to the end. You'll be impressed by the journalists knowledge of the King James Version of the Bible.

the world is flat / denominational change

Friedman also addressed the change process that a country must go through in order to survive globalization. I think this analysis of when change occurs could also apply to us:
"There is no mother of invention like necessity, and only when falling oil prices force the leaders in the Middle East to change their contexts will they reform. Peopel don't change when you tell them they should. They change when they tell themselves they must. Or as John Hopkins foreign affairs professor Michael Mandelbaum puts it, 'People don't change when you tell them there is a better option. They change when they conclude that they have no other option.'" (p.462)
Haven't people been telling us we should change our structure for years now? Yet we (me included) have defended it as we continue to die. How close are we to understanding that we have no other option? How long will we deteriorate before we stop defending outdated structures and start changing them?

the world is flat / denominational dreams

Last night I finished reading the mind expanding The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman. It is truly a must read for every literate person in the country. Its not a spiritual book, but a book that describes the world that we live in today. I had no clue how the world had changed in the past five years. We truly do live in a global community now more than ever.

In the last chapter, Friedman goes into a more motivational tone. I was moved by it. This passage especially challenged the way that I see our United Methodist denomination:

"Analysts have always tended to measure a sociey by classical economic and social statistics: its deficit-to-GDP ratio, or its unemployment rate, or the rate of literacy among adult women. Such statistics are important and revealing. But there is another statistic, much harder to meausure, that I think is even more important and revealing: Does your society have more memories than dreams or more dreams than memories?

"By dreams I mean the positive, life-affirming variety. The business organization consultant Michael Hammer once remarked, 'One thing that tells me a company is in trouble is when they tell me how good they were in the past. Same with countries. You don't want to forget your identity. I am glad you were great in the fourteenth century, but that was then and this is now. When memories exceed dreams, the end is near. The hallmark of a truly successful organization is the willingness to abandon what made it successful and start fresh.'" (pp.450-451)
Questions I'm thinking about:
- Does the United Methodist denomination have more memories than dreams?
- Are we willing to abandon what made us successful and start afresh? Would that be faithful?
- How can we be faithful to our DNA and move into this new global community with zeal?
- Is the itineracy what made us successful in the past (allowed us to move west and plant a church in nearly every town in North America)? Is that one thing that we need to abandon in order to start afresh?

the beauty of a life surrended to Christ

"Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine..." - Ephesians 3:20.

My friend Mark Dooley (pictured above in the cowboy hat) has only been a Christian for a couple of years. When Dooley came to Christ he began singing in the church choir. He there discovered that he had a musical gift. In the past year he's purchasing a small P.A. system that he takes around to nursing homes and other venues, where he performs gospel, contemporary Christian, and country music. This morning when I checked my Feedblitz updates, I came across these pictures from a gig he recently did at Futures Unlimited, a local organization that helps handicapped people.

Thanks Doo for reminding me of what God can do with one person who loves Jesus and is available to be used by God.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

oppression of women

A couple of days ago my wife checked out the movie Kandahar from the public library. The star of the movie is Nelofer Pazira who escaped from Afghanistan with her family when she was a teenager. A number of years later she received a letter from a friend of hers who was so depressed by the oppression that she was experiencing under the Taliban regime that she was going to commit suicide. This movie is a telling of the story of how Nelofer tried to sneak back into Kabul, Afghanistan to save her friend. Unfortunately she never made it. However, she did make it one of her life goals to inform the world about how horrible the conditions were.We stumbled onto this movie somewhat randomly, but I think that we all owe it to our fellow members of the human race to be informed of their plights. If you would like to gain a better understanding of the misery of the life that women in these situations are experiencing, see this 84 minute movie very soon. Don't take your freedom for granted. Use it to liberate the downtrodden.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wesley and the emergent church

I'm still trying to get a grasp on this slippery eel known as the emerging church. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I'm against. Sometimes I think I'm already a part of it. Sometimes I have no idea what it is. Through Jay Voorhees' website, I came across a pretty thorough and thoughtful article called John Wesley and The Emergent Church by Hal Knight. He gives 7 characteristics of the emerging church and tells how he believes Wesleyanism is compatible with it. Here they are:
First, emerging churches understand discipleship as "following closely and emulating the person and ministry of Jesus."

Second, the emerging churches are pre-eminently missional.

Third, emerging churches are radically incarnational.

A fourth feature of emerging churches is that they are alternative communities.

Fifth, proclamation and teaching in emerging churches finds truth more in biblical narrative than a rational/propositional reading of scripture.

Another area of their enormous contribution to Wesleyanism is in worship, the sixth feature of emerging churches.

The last feature of emerging churches I will highlight is their generous orthodoxy.

worshiping the Bible?

I love the Bible. I have loved it since my conversion. I almost always have a Bible on my body. I love memorizing Scripture and meditating on it.

Something I've been thinking about lately is whether its possible for the Bible to become an idol. I believe that the Bible is verbally inspired by God, and that everything written in it has the weight of God's authority behind it. But do I love the Bible more than I love God?

I know that sounds aweful. Its aweful to love anything more than we love God. But I guess I find it easier to read, study, and memorize the Bible than I do to pray. I'm wondering if I end up having more allegiance to the Bible than I do to Christ, because I can hold my Bible, the words don't change, they're not elusive. I can put my Bible in my pocket.

I guess I'm also trying to figure out whether being addicted to the Bible is the same thing as being addicted to the person of Jesus Christ. It is his book. I guess I just feel the need to be honest about the fact that I spend more time thinking about the Bible than I spend thinking about Jesus. I love Jesus. I believe in him. I worship him as God. I want to be more faithful to him every day. I want to give him the honor that is do him, not only in word, but also in thought and action.

I'm just wondering if its possible that in my heart I've elevated the book above the Person, or if that's even possible.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


This year our District Superintendent gave us a book to read in our pastor small groups. Its called The Practicing Congregation by Diana Butler Bass.

We've been reading this book together and its pretty interesting. One comment Bass makes gives me encouragement as a young pastor. She writes:
"In both my research and my own church attendance, I have noted younger church members are attracted to particular congregations because those churches are clear about their traditions" (p.48).

I think she's going to be building on this idea throughout the rest of the book. This idea seems to be confirmed by the renewed interest in Calvinism that we are seeing as of late, and the ancient/future emerging worship trend.

If the United Methodist Church can reach back and boldly proclaim our Wesleyan doctrine in a relevant way, we may stand a chance of influencing a new generation of seekers for Christ.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

experiencing Brian McLaren at the Leadership Institute

I think the first thing I want to share about this past week at the Leadership Institute is that I got to really experience Brian McLaren. I got to attend a 45 minute Q & A with him on Friday. He spoke about recentering on the gospel in America for our large plenary session on Friday evening. And then I attended a teaching time with him on Friday morning, where he spoke about the Kingdom of God. I really want to just make a list of things I noticed about him to help me process him.

1) McLaren is very winsome. He started off our Q & A by saying that this type of thing was his favorite thing in the world to do. He just really loves talking to people. And he's very disarming even if you don't agree with him.

2) McLaren loves Jesus. You can tell this about him by listening to him talk. He's written a great book about post-modern evangelism which I read a couple of years ago called More Ready Than You Realize. He really cares about introducing people to Jesus and winning people to Christ.

3) McLaren loves and knows the Bible. He always had a Bible with him, and he even used it. And he quoted it from all kinds of random places. He knows it inside and out.

4) McLaren doesn't think that evangelicalism in the past 200 years has done a good job of interpreting the Bible. I asked him a question about how he thought we ought to interpret Matthew 24. He talked about how there was a genre of literature known as Jewish Apocolypticism, which is part or a larger genre known as the Literature of the Oppressed. He says that he started out as believing that most New Testament prophecies would be fulfilled in the future, but now believes that as much as 90% of it may have been fulfilled in the first century. This is commonly called preterism.

5) McLaren believes that eternal life is just one component of the gospel. He says that evangelicalism is often guilty of reducing the gospel to saving people for heaven. He interprets John 3:16 literally, where it says, "For God so loved the world". He says that God loves the world, not just Christians in the world.

6) McLaren is incredibly intelligent. He has Master's Degree in English, but he knows more history/theology/philosophy than almost any pastor I know. His mind contains so much processed information. He's really a brilliant fellow.

7) McLaren is a very gifted communicator. His powerpoints were very well done and he used hilarious personal stories to make heavy theological truths clear. He was also very articulate in his off the cuff responses to others.

8) McLaren does not speak evil of others. He was asked a number of questions that opened the door for him to say something in his defense which would make his critics look bad. He never spoke evil of his critics. He really seems like he has Christ-like character.

These are the things that really impressed me about McLaren. He left a strong impression. I listened to him and really felt like he loved the people in the room.

As I was listening to him speak about the gospel and the kingdom of God, I said to my senior pastor who was sitting next to me, "He sounds like he could be right, but then everything else that the rest of us believe is pretty much wrong. If I were to decide to try to interpret the Bible this way, I'd have to throw out everything I knew about it thus far."

The word that comes to mind when I think of his theology is deconstructionist. But not in a bad way. He's merely taking apart the cultural lens through which many of us interpret the Bible.

Here's the catch though. I don't think he's really saying a whole lot that's new. For some reason he has been granted a great measure of influence with average Christians. But many of the ideas that he has would fall in to the category of mainline centrist theology. Since he's got the gift of evangelism and is a recognized evangelical, his platform allows him to introduce centrist decontructionist theology to a greater audience, and they're eating it up.

In conclusion, I believe that McLaren is a wonderful Christian, and that he may has a better grasp on how evangelicalism has committed itself to a particular interpretation of the Bible instead of to the Bible itself. However, I don't think I will move too far toward his theology because I don't think that God's truth is quite as elusive as it would be if McLaren is 100% right. His thoughts are refreshing. His attitude is loving. His deconstruction of theology takes the faith apart to such a large degree that it will make it hard for the common Christian to have much concrete faith left at the end of the day.

I love McLaren. I like his thinking. I'm hesitant to adopt his views.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

just back...

I just got back from the Leadership Institute, and later I'll share some stuff about it. In the mean time, Joel Betow has done a great job of summarizing a good deal of it here.

Friday, October 06, 2006

highlights of today at COR

Today my wife and I got to have lunch with Joel Betow and then I got to attend a Q & A with Brian McLaren. He's pretty smart... nice too. He's the primary speaker tonight.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

the secret to Dan Kimball's hair

Dan Kimball's emerging worship session is a lot of fun. For the last hour, we got to play with modeling clay and make things that reflected our worship for God based on the reading of the Beatitudes. He has publically revealed the secret to his incredible hair. Its called Fiber Grease.

Dan Kimball recommends...

Dan Kimball endorses www.larknews.com as one of his favorite Christian news sources.

update from COR

I'm here at the Church of the Resurrection. About 50 feet away Dan Kimball is preparing to do his pre-Institute session on the Emerging Church. I'm keeping my eyes open for Joel Thomas.

By the way, Joel if you read this, here's my shedule

PreInstitute- Emerging Worship

Session 1- Building on Your Congregation's Strengths

Session 2- Small Churches up to Big Things

Session 3- Recentering on the Gospel

In the meantime, the last couple of days I've gotten to dive into the first 120 pages of the book The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman (sp?). Its awesome.

Better get on over to get ready for the Emerging Workshop Session.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

considering calvinism / out of blogging range

1) I'll be out of blogging range until Sunday, October 8.

2) The reason I'll be out of blogging range is because I'm going to the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City.

3) You may or may not know that almost all of John Piper's writings are avaialable online for free at www.desiringgod.org. Yesterday, I read his article What We Believe About the Five Points of Calvinism. It is a good biblical explanation and defense of the 5 points of Calvinism, which are:
T- Total Depravity
U- Unconditional Election
L- Limited Atonement
I- Irresistable Grace
P- Perseverance of the Saints

Wesley and we Methodists have never been Calvinist, but rather Arminian. An Arminian believes that Christ's atonement covers the sins of every member of the human race, and that through God's grace, we have the free will to receive the benefits of that atonement or not. I have never understood how someone could believe in limited atonement. However, I don't want to be Arminian because I have been indoctrinated with Arminianism and never seriously considered Calvinism.

I have to admit that I found Piper's defense of Calvinism challenging, and worth consideration. If you feel like reading through it and giving me your feedback I'd be interested in hearing what others thought.

PS. A practical application of this issue might be this: If a United Methodist clergy person became persuaded of Calvinist theology would he be bound to hand in his credentials?

PSS. I am not a Calvinist, but a Wesleyan Arminian.

the conversion of Brian Bill

My friend Brian Bill, pastor of Pontiac Bible Church, is one of my spiritual heroes. Today is the anniversary of the day he accepted Jesus Christ in 1979. Click here and scroll down and read his blog posting entitled A Big Day which tells the story of his conversion.

education situation

I am subscribed to a newsletter from life coach Dan Miller. In the most recent one he was sharing some interesting information about school teachers:

The center’s research reveals that “a total of 40 percent of public school teachers say they don’t expect to be in the classroom five years from now. The rate is expected to be even greater among high school teachers, half of whom plan to be out of teaching by 2010.”

Come to think of it, I do know a number of teachers who found themselves feeling dissatisfied in their vocation. He notes some interesting observations made by Alvin Toffler.

In their latest book, Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler say the U.S. educational system was designed to introduce children to “industrial discipline.” That we are grooming them for rigid schedules and repetitive work for life in a factory. But the jobs of today and tomorrow require knowledge-based skills, with respect, caring and compassion topping the list.

Maybe it’s time for parents to stop using schools as babysitters and to once again take responsibility for the education of our children. Toffler proposes three days a week of conventional school and two days of community service, business or family involvement.

I'm not convinced but it does make me think.

Monday, October 02, 2006

hungry for doctrine

Yesterday in my sermon I shared the Methodist doctrine of how to use money. I was happily surprised by the joy with which it was received. A comment I received confirms to me that people are hungry for doctrinal teaching. We owe it to our people to teach them real Christian doctrine and not just serve up warm-fuzzy sermons. Here's the comment I received.
Hey Jason! This isn't a comment on your post, but on your sermon this morning about Money and John Wesley. My Sunday school class -- every person (well, actually two were dozing) -- thought your message was great, and although our lesson this morning was on Judges, we spent a lot of time talking about what you had to tell us -- Gain all you can, Save all you can and Give all you can. We should have a study sometime on John Wesley and his doctrines. He is more interesting than I thought.

Carol Herdien