Categories
Christian Living

“What happened next, Mary”

St. Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Virgin Mary
St. Luke Drawing a Portrait of the Virgin Mary

Luke, a middle-aged physician hired by a wealthy Roman to document the story of Jesus, sat down on a bench next to an aging Jewish woman somewhere in the Roman province of Judea.

Luke’s task was to put together the story– in order– the story of Jesus and his followers. People in Rome were talking about this Jewish Messiah but what they knew about him was in bits and pieces, stories told from Jews.

Categories
Christian Living

Jesus, the Counter-Culture Rebel with a Cause

Sometimes Jesus’ words shock me because they are so offensive to my own culture. Jesus has a lot to say to us today. His words still indict and call us to a new, counter-cultural way of living.

These statements are a powerful reminder that Jesus, fully God and fully man, could have easily conquered the world. (He had the power.) Instead, the Good News is primarily an insurrection of the heart. He knows that capturing a mans body without first capturing his heart is a fruitless effort. Until we fully surrender our lives to Him we will not be changed and we will not see the change we long for. (Romans 12:1)

Categories
Christian Living The Proximity Gospel

The Rule of Affinity

Two men had robbed a bank a few miles away and while being chased by the police made a wrong turn into our neighborhood. Full of canyons and dead ends the robbers got lost, ditched their car, shot at a cop, and ran into backyards a few hundred yards from our house. Soon a police helicopter hovered over our block.

After a little while the sound was aggravating– infuriating even. It shook our house and rattled our nerves. While the police told us to stay inside and away from their barricades everyone was drawn out of their house by the thunderous claps of the helicopters blades.

It stayed like this for 5 hours.

That’s what it took for neighbors to talk. A police barricade. Locked down on a Saturday afternoon and each of us couldn’t stand being in our houses. With no way to escape… we were forced to talk. Names were shared, hands were shaken, houses were pointed to, stories were told, and we all got to know one another a little bit.

The Rule of Affinity is so powerful in our culture that this is what it takes to meet the people who live within 300 yards of my bedroom. Power outages, blizzards, bad storms, earthquakes, and other moments that force us awake from our Affinity stupor reminding us that there are actual people behind those front doors and mailboxes.

The Rule of Affinity is all-powerful. I don’t mean that it’s an axiom or a rule of thumb, I mean that it rules our lives like a king rules his people.

  • Where you work is defined by affinity.
  • Where you worship is defined by affinity.
  • Who you are friends with is defined by affinity.
  • What you do with your free time is defined by affinity.
  • What you eat? Affinity.
  • What you wear? Affinity.

This list never ends because affinity rules our lives. Our affluence affords us choices. And our choices drive us to seek deeper and deeper levels of affinity. We do what we do because we like it and avoid what we don’t like.

Think about it like this: Whenever you have a choice, the Rule of Affinity drives your choice to gather not by proximity but by affinity. 

The internet, especially social media, amplifies this effect. Because you can find community with people just like you online you don’t need proximity. Affinity allows you to consider your best friends to be people you’ve never met face-to-face. You know 500 things about a stranger but nothing about a neighbor. That’s the power of the Rule of Affinity over your life.

And yet, the Rule of Affinity is actually killing your soul. You feel like you’ve found community with people just like you but what you’ve really found is communal loneliness and further isolation.

Affinity is shallow. It’s weak. It’s junk food. It lacks the full flavor and nutritional value of Proximity.  Intellectually, affinity is small. It’s easy. It’s drinking a Coke and calling it a fine vintage. It’s foregoing literature for a grocery aisle romance novel. One result is that we live in a society of psychiatric drugs. We medicate the pain caused by the Rule of Affinity’s malnutrition. Filled with false community and Affinity’s lies about our place in the world we lean on drugs to seek a normal we know nothing of. As we drive toward further and further affinity we gain more and more isolation, our soul starving our soul further, eventually leaving us a rotten core of our true selves.

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, challenges us to reject the Rule of Affinity for the realities of Proximity. In the Garden, Satan tempted Eve with affinity… “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) While Adam and Eve had perfect Proximity to God, Satan tempted them with the Rule of Affinity where they could gather with God on their terms.

The Gospel overcomes the Rule of Affinity and re-introduces the Garden’s Proximity into our lives. Jesus’ re-introduction of Proximity looks at the bank robbers face and says, “There’s a better way. You seek something temporary and I offer something permanent and beautiful.

Jesus gutted the Rule of Affinity with His invitation to new way of living,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-39

Categories
Church Leadership

3 Things I’m Wondering About What Church Leaders Believe

Yesterday, Kristen and I went to the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. It’s an event I’ve always loved… I’ve gone 3-4 times in the past decade and the years that I couldn’t make it I always wanted to. Looking back, it’s an event where I always learn a lot.

I’m probably a lot like you. I’m tired of talking about why humpty dumpty sat on a wall, why he had a great fall, or why all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty dumpty back together again. Deconstruction is so… 2005. My time is spent coming up with ways to reconstruct the church in new ways, in ways that people currently disconnected from Christ want to connect with Him. It comes from a deep respect for the Scriptures, leaning into the truths of the Gospel, and a relentless hope that our best days must be ahead.

All that to say– I walked away with 3 things I’m wondering about based on what I heard yesterday. These were the working, meta-narrative, definitions of how the speakers/hosts seemed to view the world around them. And it left me wondering… is this what they really believe?

  1. The church is the hope of the world – I walked away wondering… Is that really a true statement? I know I just have an undergrad Bible college degree. And I picked Spanish in college because Greek and Hebrew didn’t seem all that practical for youth ministry. But I think Jesus is the hope of the world. I think the church is the bride of Christ. The church is Hope’s wife, they are wed, they are one… but the church is not the Hope of the world. Jesus is. (I can accept the phrase as a metaphor but the phrase was not said as a metaphor– it was said as an axiom/truism/fact.)
  2. Neighbors are people you invite to church – I walked away wondering about the application of one of the stories… Bill Hybels told a story about a man who came to their property looking for his cat. The man asked Bill, “What is this place?” (Assuming it was a college) Bill used that story to illustrate that they, for the first time in 30 years, needed to do some marketing to retell the Willow story to people in their community. His story left me screaming inside! Dude, you blew it. Jesus didn’t say, “Love your neighbor and invite them to church.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The guy didn’t come and ask Bill for a flyer or an invitation to church. He wanted help looking for his cat. It was an invitation for Bill to go to the man’s house! It was an invitation to get to know his neighbor— not fill his mailbox inviting neighbors to hear him preach. Oh, I really wanted that to be a turning point for Bill to see that a church dispersed in its community, as Hope’s representative and wife, is far more potent than a church coming to his “college.” [If you know me, you know my prayer is that the church becomes Good News in the Neighborhood.]
  3. Leadership is the most important spiritual gift – Oh, there was so much insider language and playing to a senior pastor audience about “leadership!” Bill Hybels repeatedly pumped up leadership as the only important spiritual gift. He “thanked God” that he didn’t have the other gifts. (There was a lot of woman bashing from the stage, too. I hope someone mentions that to him. That’s beneath leaders of his caliber.) It made me wonder about the definition of Christian leadership. Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 12, no one is more important in the body of Christ than anyone else. And Jesus corrected his disciples again and again… to be great, you must be a servant. (Mark 10:42-45) Those weren’t popular concepts at Willow’s Summit. In fact, in an interview with an organization that has two equal leaders the question came up again and again… “Is it possible to have 2 leaders?

So that’s what I left wondering with after day 1. Just wondering. Not criticizing or tearing down. Just wondering. 

If you went to WCAGLS— what were your highlights? What did you leave wondering about? 

QUICK UPDATE: Day 2 of WCAGLS was very good, I didn’t stick around for Bill’s closing talk, but really enjoyed all of the speakers today. Pranitha Timothy was absolutely stunning today. Very thankful for that talk.

Categories
Video Clip

Jesus died for his peeps

Pretty weird mix of metaphors if you ask me.

Categories
hmm... thoughts

Children’s Book Idea: The Martyrs of Jesus

I’m an idea guy. And one thing I’ve learned over the years is that every one of my ideas has value. That doesn’t mean every idea is a good idea. It just means that every idea is worth writing down and coming back to later.

Several months ago I had this thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an illustrated children’s book for 3-5 year olds that taught the real-life stories of Christian heroes?” Before I got too far with it I realized– This is one of the worst ideas EVER.!

Here’s what some of the pages would have been: 

  • Polycarp – He was an old man who was burned at the stake because he refused to burn incense to honor the Roman Emperor. When he didn’t catch on fire, they stabbed him with a spear.
  • Cyprian – When he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods, he was first banished. But then he was brought back to Carthage and beheaded. On his way to be killed he took off all of his clothes and put on his own blindfold.
  • Agnes – Agnes was martyred because she refused to marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. But since the law in Rome was that a virgin couldn’t be executed, Roman soldiers dragged her to a brothel first. Then when they tried to burn her at the stake the wood wouldn’t catch fire, so a soldier stabbed her in the throat.
  • Jovan Vladimir – He was beheaded in front of his church because he refused to lead his country into war.
  • William Tyndale – After being jailed for over a year in a castle, Tyndale was choked, impaled, and burned at the stake. His crime? He translated the Bible into English.
  • Hugh Latimer – Why he was killed isn’t all that clear. But people in charge of the church just didn’t like him because he was teaching truth about salvation and had a habit of preaching at places that weren’t the church. So they had him burned at the stake.
  • Thomas Baker – A missionary to Figi who was killed and eaten by cannibals.

I dunno, this might be my best idea ever…

Categories
Christian Living

The Community – Individual Continuum

Theologically, we all know that you can’t experience the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus without community. Jesus invites us not to merely partake in communion but to live in communion with one another. (A throwback to the Garden of Eden)

Sociologically, we live in society built around the individual. We live in single family dwellings. We have our own rooms and our own stuff. We drive cars instead of taking the bus. We eat in individual pods of friends or by ourselves. (This individualism knows no boundaries and is the opposite of Jesus’ life in community.)

The way we experience church in our society is intimately and inseparably syncretized to our culture, even in direct opposition to the model given to us in Acts. (See Pate’s Communities of the Last Days & Jones’ Teaching of the Twelve for a scholarly look at the practical implications of life in community for the early church.)

Plotting my walk with Jesus on the Community – Individual Continuum

In the last 24 hours I’ve been wrapped up in this simple drawing above. In fairness, it’s just a device to explore some assumptions I have vs. realities I live. So if you stretch it too far it falls apart. At the same time I can’t get away from the teachings of Jesus. Jesus’ very life is an invitation to walk away from Satan’s desire to separate us from communion with God. To walk with Jesus is to walk in communion with his people AND with God.

Some examples:

  • Daily Bible reading (Mostly individual, though I often share what I’m reading with friends or here on the blog.)
  • Prayer  (90% of the time prayer is individual)
  • Small groups (A few hours per week, and we haven’t met since winter, so I suck at this one)
  • Attending church (I’ll generously put this near the middle. It’s communal, even though there’s almost no interaction with others.)
  • My home (We’ve had people live with us, stay with us, etc. But if I’m honest it’s way more about our family than community living. Nothing like in Acts)
  • My work (This is getting better and worse at the same time. Thus, the life of a freelancer)
  • My service (I do a lot of stuff, but it’s all “what I do” and not “what we do.”)
  • My kids education (I’d love for this to be a community effort, but it’s not. It’s all individualistic.)

My challenge to you would be to take 30 minutes and plot out your day-to-day life along this continuum for the sake of discovery. If you want to get really dangerous, after you do that read the first 5-6 chapters of the book of Acts.

I don’t know where this is going. But I do see the need to reject the individualism of my society and further enter into communion both with Jesus & his people.

What about you? What are practical ways you are living in communion?

Categories
Manifesto

The weird side of Christians and politics

Preamble: Understand in reading this post that I’m a swing voter and my #1 criteria for voting is, “Can this person lead in the role they are running for?” Side issues mean almost nothing to me in light of that one framing question.

I cringe when I hear evangelical Christians being grouped together as a block of voters for two reasons.

First, it’s a self-indicting judgement in how we view ourselves that we would only identify people with a certain political ideology when Jesus has commanded that we reach all people, all neighbors, with the Good News of Jesus Christ. Second, many of the solutions to issues Christian seem to care about from established political parties have been proven to both not work in society; the people who are elected because of their viewpoints on single issues often come with baggage that is distinctly against Christian values.

Some examples: 

  • Gay marriage is no more an attack on my marriage than the billboard for no fault divorce I pass on my way to work. Actually, the guy with the handgun next door is far more dangerous to my marriage than the gay couple across the street. Violent crimes in America are way, way down versus 2 decades ago. But handgun sales are way, way up.
  • There are millions of children in this country brought here as children who went to school with our kids, who have said the pledge of allegiance every morning next to our kids, and who have dreams just like our kids. But because there is no pathway to becoming a legal resident they are stuck. I can think of no fathomable reason Christians don’t advocate for them. Those kids aren’t dangerous– their homeland, the United States of America, doesn’t love them back. It’s heart-breaking. We are all immigrants to this country. We should be advocates for the Dream Act.
  • Health care costs are killing people. Literally. People are dying because they can’t afford basic health care. And yet, doctors are reimbursed less now than 20 years ago. Privatized, for-profit health care coverage and agressive pharmaceutical companies built on 19th century patent laws are bankrupting our society while getting tax breaks on their profits from the government and distributing tiny dividends into your 401k. You can’t argue for both a balanced budget and decreases in corporate taxation. The same companies that caused this current economic crisis are continuing to profit from it while trying to shirk their most basic responsibilities as corporate citizens. That’s what happens when you let the wolves run the chicken coup. They think about eating meat tomorrow with no source for tomorrow’s eggs.

What’s the point? 
The point is this, you can’t be a single issue voter and think you’re part of the political process. These are complex problems and deserve our attention. We can’t walk into a voting booth, in good conscious, and cast a vote over abortion or gun control or tax reform or the economy and think that we’ve done our part.

Doing our part means getting involved at the local level. It means advocating for the sick and oppressed on your block. It means standing up for the powerless in your life.

When you get to know the people these things effect your perspective will change. When you get to know the gay couple across the street you’ll see that they love each other just like you love your spouse. When you get to know the crazy guy with the guns you’ll see that he has guns because he has deep-seeded fears that a gun can’t fix, a counselor can. When your kids best friend can’t get into college because he has no way to get a green card, it won’t be an issue it will be Joseph’s story. When your next door neighbor dies because she couldn’t afford the medicine anymore it won’t be a matter of corporate rights, it’ll be an injustice.

Doing our part and doing the right thing might mean not getting what we want or doing what we’re comfortable with all the time. When we take things out of the rhetoric of issues and get to know the people they effect, we’ll see our perspectives shaped by a deep desire to help.

Friends, we weren’t called into ministry just to love the people who show up at our church or whose kids show up to youth group.

We were called to a messy ministry of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Categories
Church Leadership youth ministry

Is this a safe place?

Photo by ekai via Flickr (Creative Commons)

About 10 months ago a group of people sat on Chris’ back porch talking about starting a youth ministry for our church, Harbor Mid-City. As we chatted, dreamt, and prayed about this ministry one of the things that came out was… “We want it to be a safe place for students to explore a relationship with Jesus.

That phrase stuck. It actually became a part of our ministry description which we recite during every meeting. “IOB is a safe place for students to explore a relationship with Jesus.

That phrase got tested a bit last night.

Stephen, our teaching/senior pastor, came to youth group last night to teach on and invite students to participate in baptism. His teaching was pretty simple… this is what baptism is, this is what it symbolizes, this is who should get baptized, this is how our church does it, we’d love it if you would consider getting baptized. He did a great job.

I could tell during his teaching time that some students were uneasy about this whole thing. They didn’t feel safe. It wasn’t that Stephen was teaching anything bad or that they were intimidated in any way or even that he was manipulating them to make a decision they didn’t want to make– there was just something about the truths of Scripture that Stephen was saying that gave the room a funny, rare vibe.

You could see it in their posture. You could see it in the way they looked at him. You could see it in the way they listened to his talk.

To follow-up, we broke up into small groups and the leaders were asked to dig a little deeper with the students and ask if any of them would like to be baptized.

Three responses from my circle that tested me in my response.

  • Is there any way I can get unbaptized? My parents baptized me as a baby and I don’t want to follow God.
  • I’m not ready to get baptized. I understand the Gospel and I get what Stephen was talking about, but I’m just not ready to put my faith in Jesus yet.
  • Why did my parents baptize me? If they made a covenant to God than they didn’t live up to it at all.

Mince no words. These were questions that pushed me back to that discussion 10 months before. Was IOB really a safe place to explore Jesus? If so, how I responded either validated that statement or invalidated it.

Open questions for readers:

What would be answers to these responses which would communicate that IOB isn’t a safe place?

What would be some “this is a safe place” answers to these questions?

Categories
haiti

Meet Michelle

Praying with Michelle was about the most gut wrenching thing of my life. Please listen to her story and ask yourself… How is God asking me to be involved?