Virginia Tech

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When I first heard about the shootings yesterday at Virginia Tech, it wasn’t real. It was too distant. Too outrageous. Too big.

But hearing the names of the victims – the students, the professors, the RA – and thinking of the hopes and dreams that were shattered absolutely breaks my heart.

There’s no “good” response to this. But I’m just asking God to show up in the lives of those impacted by this tragedy. At the right time. In the right way. I’m praying that the local church can be a source of hope, provision, support, and love right now. That even though life doesn’t make sense, that God’s presence could be seen.

When horrible things happen, it’s tempting to provide lots of answers or to just ask questions. I wish I could be there to just be present with people who are hurting. I’m praying for strength, wisdom and discernment for those who are.

Christianity in vibrant colors

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I’ve been listening to some lectures by Michael Frost, and want to share a metaphor he used.

Most churches today paint in pastels, he said, but the world – life – is painting in vibrant, primary colors.

A lot of times, to a lot of people, the church seems lifeless when compared to the spirituality or meaning that they’re seeking. And in turn, the God we serve seems lifeless as well. And that’s the worst thing that could happen.

The problem is, there aren’t many models or examples for really living out the Christian life in vibrant ways. We look at the “good” Christians and see something that’s tame. We tell people what not to do – how to be nice. But it’s really much more than that – isn’t it?

A man or woman whose really chasing after God is living fully and loving fully. She’s willing to obey fully – going to serve in tough places, do tough things, and somehow be filled with a life that’s deeper, more meaningful, and more exciting than any false set of ideals.

What does a Christian full of primary colors look like? In your life? Your church? Your family? Your world? What about a church full of primary colors?

The cross changes everything

It’s midnight, and I’m working on a paper about John Wesley’s views on salvation. For my breaks, I’m listening to parts of Tim Hughes’ new album. The first song, Happy Day, is about the resurrection.

Greatest day in history
Death was beaten, you have rescued me
Sing it out, Jesus is alive

The tradition I come from sometimes focuses so much on the cross and the need to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection for our life, that we forget that Jesus did a lot more during his time on earth. But even so, the cross is central.

Wesley says that “those who once trusted in themselves that they were righteous, that they were rich, and increased in goods, and had need of nothing, are, by the Spirit of God applying his word, convinced that they are poor and naked. … In their trouble they cry unto the Lord, and he shows them that he has taken away their sins, and opens the kingdom of heaven in their hearts, righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Sorrow and pain are fled away, and sin has no more dominion over them.”

Sin is washed away. Forever I am
changed.

Our belief, and faith, in God’s gift sets us on the path to become Christ imitators. By his grace, we become more like him. This means our lives look different. We start doing things for others – not to earn merit in God’s eyes, but because of what God has done for us.

The cross matters. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in our lives we miss the point. What will I … what will you … do about the cross? Does it make a difference in how we live? Will it?

Easter thoughts …

I’m a little behind the ball on this one, but I wanted to post a few post-Easter thoughts anyway. They aren’t super spiritual. If you’re looking for that, email me. I’ll tell you which blogs you should be reading :).

  • Nothing really compares to the energy and feel of a church on Easter. There are new faces, a busyness everywhere. I love it.
  •  Our small group met on Easter. At first we thought we might cancel (people are busy, etc.), but then reconsidered. After all – it’s Easter! After all that, nine out of 12 people showed up!
  • Grete hid eggs for me around the house. She had to help me find them. I wouldn’t be a good kid.
  • I thought Thanksgiving was all about food. Apparently Easter is too. Between a couple of different events on Sunday, I think I’m still full.

Why I … blog

I’m a practical person. Sometimes too practical. Things have to live up to the “so what?” measure.

What’s the point? Why are we doing it? What are we saying? Why?

So, why blog? Here are a few of my reasons. I’m honestly still learning.

  • to put thoughts into words – clarity
  • to connect with others who care about the same things
  • to learn
  • to share ideas

So why do you blog? Or, why don’t you blog? What do you enjoy reading in blogs? Ever want to ditch them and just go read a book?

A prayer for church leaders


God, give us wisdom as leaders of your church.

Bring unity as one body in the middle of stylistic differences and theological conflict. Help us to follow you in the things we know. Help us to serve our communities. Help us to serve the least. Help us to impact the world for your name.

Help us to see the true desires of the leaders and participants in the large church with the big Sunday service. Help us to see how they really are seeking you and how people’s lives are being transformed through hearing your message and through living it out in small groups and service. Help them to see how they can grow spiritually, relationally and missionally and follow your practices and your life in a way that’s true to your example. Help them to stay away from the trap of just gathering a crowd. Help them to make disciples and honor you in their lives and acts of service.

Help us to see the true desires of the leaders and participants of new churches who may be trying something different. Help us to see their heart and conviction. Help us to see how they are digging into scripture and seeking to live out a church life based on your teaching and actions within their cultural context. Give them wisdom not to teach out of reaction to a model with which they disagree, but to seek what you are doing here and now. Help them, too, not to become inwardly focused. Help them to make disciples and honor you in their lives and acts of service.

And God, help us all to see your church as one body. Help us to see that as church leaders, equippers and mobilizers, we’re only one part. Help every person within your church to catch the vision of what you want to do in their lives and relationships. Help them to begin to serve you in new ways and to be transformed. Help us all to not be consumers of religion, but active participants in your work around us.

And finally, Lord, help us to approach you, and the world, with courage and humility. Thank you for your love, your example, and your call on our lives. We love you and choose to submit our whole lives to your leadership.

Amen.

Seminary recall

Before my next quarter at Fuller starts, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on the first one…

  • I’ve heard people say things like “Don’t let ministry take your eyes off of God.” The more I’m in the “ministry” world, the more I see how important that statement is.
  • In whatever you do, you’ve got to know what drives you. Ministry can be a powerful, amazing thing, or it can become administrative office work and esoteric theological arguments. What are you focusing on that is a calling – that gives you energy? For me, it really is seeing lives transformed – for the unchurched and dechurched to see the relevance, power and reality of who Christ is and what he’s done. For people in church to realize what Christ’s life really means for theirs. To see the body of Christ mobilized to make a transformative difference in the world around them.
  • Fuller is a great place to learn about ministry, theology and life. I think the power of seminary is the chance to ask the theological questions before someone else asks you. It gives you a chance to explore things you may not have even considered before. The diversity of people and backgrounds at Fuller, along with the quality of the professors, makes this an ideal place to do this.
  • I love Southern California! There’s so much to do – and you can’t beat the weather!
  • In college I started feeling called to church planting. Over time the way that church would look and what it would value has changed and grown. NorthWood Church played a big role in that shaping. Fuller is playing another.
  • Life takes patience. After 7 years in Fort Worth, it’s easy to think you’ll jump into a new place and immediately have the same type of relationships and friendships. But it just doesn’t happen that way. We’ve loved meeting new people and have had a lot of fun. But God’s also teaching me some great lessons about reaching out, being persistent, and being patient.
  • Nothing about my classes yet? Well, I’ve enjoyed them all, and I feel like they’ve been top notch. But the value of what I’m doing is in a mix between the classes, the relationships we’re developing, and the actual ministry “stuff” that’s happening at Glenkirk. It’s a great total picture and a great chance to do and learn at the same time.

Merry Christmas …

Merry Christmas! For many, that means a day filled with presents, food, and football. For others it means a lot of travel and more meals than you could ever eat. Still others will be experiencing a quieter, more reflective holiday.

Jesus’ birth was an amazing turning point in history – the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. It’s clear that Jesus’ example, teachings, and redemptive sacrifice changed everything.So why did he come? Although there is so much more to it, the basics of what Jesus’ life meant to us are summarized nicely in Romans 3:22-24. I love the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases those verses in The Message:

The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this. Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

We cannot forget the simple and profound power of God’s act that we celebrate today. Jesus’ birth put in motion a solution we desperately needed. So when you see the tiny baby in that nativity today, remember not just Christ’s birth, but the whole story. Christ came, lived, died, and rose to provide a way for us. Because of that, his birth, life, death and resurrection should also change how we live.

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship.” Romans 12:1 (TNIV)

Life starts now

File this under the “that’ll preach” file. I love Five For Fighting’s song World, mainly because of one line: “History starts now.”

In my life, a lot have time has felt like it’s just preparing me for that next thing. It’s easy to think that things will start clicking or big things will happen at that “next stage.” Even now, in seminary, it’s easy to think that life and ministry will all start once I’m out. That leads to a temptation to rush through, get it done and move on. But time and again I hear God say, “life starts now.”

What does that mean? It’s not about waiting for that next big thing. This time, right now, matters for relationships, ministry and more. God’s at work. We can be a part – today.

Just a Christmas Eve Eve thought …

Thursday reflections for week ten

We spent the final day of class looking at more of the differences between modern and postmodern culture. It’s a discussion point that is very interesting, and Ryan had some new perspectives on it I hadn’t heard before. I actually wish we had more time to discuss these topics and had spent less time getting to the contemporary culture part of the class. But it was a great journey and I learned a lot along the way.

One interesting point from Thursday’s discussion was how postmodern and modern cultures are really meshing and blending together right now. I don’t think we’re going to end up with totally one or the other. It will be interesting to see how the two viewpoints interact and influence one another as we enter this global information age. In some ways, in our rush to label things we may be over identifying. Modern thought lasted a long time. Yes, the speed of change has increased, but maybe this postmodern discussion is really just a transition to something else, not an end in itself. I’d hate for some people to get bogged down in a trend (or discover it about 50 years too late) only to miss what culture is doing now!

Tuesday reflections for week ten

Do a lot of the new tendencies and trends of today just stem from having time or money?

Think about it. A lot of the things our “postmodern” culture values – from organic foods to nice design – are only accessible to the people who have the money to afford them and the time to care about them. It’s easy to dislike McDonald’s for their low quality food or Wal-Mart for their labor practices, but for a large part of the population, those thoughts never cross their minds. They’re just excited to have a place to shop (or even work) that has everything they need at cheap prices. They’re just happy to have an inexpensive place to take the baseball team to eat after practice.

It’s not that it’s best by any means. But it’s a reality we have to face – especially if those organizations have values we feel need to be transformed. To just antagonize them doesn’t bring change. In fact, it alienates you from a large percentage of the population.

Culture is changing. Many people see the Wal-Marts and McDonalds in a different light. But there are still plenty of people living in a different paradigm.

It’s an interesting thought to consider…

Tuesday reflections for week nine

No one viewpoint

The more we study different frames of reference and different ways of viewing the world, the more I’m struck by the way there really is no one “best” way to see it all. Relationships are “messy” – they cannot be controlled or figured out fully. In the same way, looking at culture – and figuring out how to respond to culture – is messy. It’s always changing and will always change.

Ministering within a culture takes the intentionality of seeking where God is leading today and being willing to change. That’s why programs are challenging. We want to make ideas into programs so they can be reproduced and others can lead, but a program is stuck in time. It doesn’t grow.

The best leadership training teaches people to think. It gives them a value system to run with and trusts them to discern and God to lead. But that’s more difficult. We have to trust people. And sometimes people aren’t willing to take that risk.

Thursday reflections for week eight

Go!

Up. In. Out.

Connecting to God, each other, the world

Interactive relationship with God, Transparent connections, Glocal impact

Gathering, Growing and Going.

The models have different names, but they mean the same thing. It seems there are three main movements in the Christian’s life, and all three must be happening for healthy growth.

In our discussion Thursday I shared one of my core convictions in my group. I’ve heard the cliché before that the church isn’t a country club for saints, it’s a hospital for sinners. But I disagree with both of those pictures. Yes, we are all sinners and need healing, but a better image might be that the church is a training camp for Christ followers.

We aren’t meant to just go to be among other Christians and get fed and healed. We’re meant to go and do something. If the church is simply a group of nice people getting nicer, it won’t have much impact on culture. It won’t further the kingdom of God. It won’t transform a world that needs transformation.

Healing is important. Knowing God is important. Being loved and contributing to community is important. But God will also call us to risk and serve, and it’s through that obedient journey that we continue to heal, know God and experience real community. Don’t just hear the word and deceive yourself. Do what it says!

Change happens in community

Toward the end of our discussion, we talked about redeeming the practice of consumerism. It’s easy to protest, but it’s also easy to debate how effective those protests are in today’s society. Besides, as Christ-followers, we really need to be known more for what we’re for than for what we’re against. Jesus offered an alternative reality. He didn’t just argue against the existing one.

So in that process, it’s important to support people who are doing good things with their businesses. Even when you live simply, you’ll have to buy things. It’s even ok to eat out every once in a while! So when you do, shop at places that pay their employees well and buy products that are fair trade.

Wess made the point that protest is pointless when the person you’re against is disconnected from you. Real change happens when you’re connected to someone. Just protesting an action without connection just devalues the person and rarely changes action. Real change is relational change, and relational change happens face-to-face, life-to-life.

Tuesday reflections for week eight

Professional Clergy

I don’t even like that name, but it works to identify what we’re talking about. Yes – all people are ministers, but the way things look right now, there are some who are called/driven to equip and serve the body of Christ as their paid jobs.

“But will there be professional clergy in the emerging church?”

When the question was asked in class, Bolger referenced a post on his blog that received heated feedback. The truth is, the practice of most emerging churches hiring from within is very similar to a lot of mega churches I know of as well. That’s a universal change.

He went on to point out that most communities still choose to eventually pay someone to support the community full time at some point. Others choose to pay various people as bi-vocational workers. Still others survive with all volunteers.

In those fluid, less structured contexts where everyone is ministering and serving God in their vocational and personal lives, many questions come up. Who gets paid? Why this guy but not other people working hard for the church?

This all really leads to a bigger question. Should people get paid for leading the church? If there is a reason, then there will be a way for it to work without misusing funds. If there is a reason for the post, then the funds will be available (I’ve seen that even in raising my salary for my last job.) There’s obviously a Biblical precedent for it in various ways, but what should it look like today? Wherever each community goes, whatever they decide, it must be decided based on a scriptural conviction and the needs of the community, not as a reactionary move against a whole model or because they’re afraid of scarce resources.

I believe money should first go to serving others. So should time. But I also know that there are advantages to having people who feel called to and can focus their time towards serving, equipping, and humbly leading the church. If that’s happening, it’s not an unwise use of money.

As you’ve probably guessed, I think paid ministers can still exist in this new context. But their jobs will look different. If I had to, I could be bi-vocational. I worked before coming to seminary in journalism and could move back to writing or design. But during that time, God clearly showed me I was called to the local church. I don’t know what that will look like. I don’t have to. But I know I’m called there. It probably won’t look like the guy who shows up, councils a few people and preaches a sermon, but it will focus on the church.

There are a lot of things I can’t do, but there are some things I can do well too. My professional call and passion is really to mobilize the body of Christ to see them live transformed lives that impact the world globally and locally. For me, I’m good at doing that through leadership, communication, teaching, vision-casting and empowering others. I’d love to serve/launch a group with more of a cell/celebration feel to it – and that type of church can look a lot more like a network and a lot less like a traditional church building.

Thursday reflections for week seven

Caring for the children

In place of class Thursday, we had the opportunity to attend the 2006 Missiology Lectures. This year’s theme was Children and the Mission of God.

I was able to attend two of the lectures, and after each one, I was glad I had been there.  I probably wouldn’t have attended the lectures without it being a part of our class. That alone shows that, at least in my life, the needs of children are often overlooked. For me, I feel God has given me passions in other areas and giftings to pursue those things. But that’s no excuse. And this is an area around the world where so much needs to be done.

Here are a few things from the lectures that stood out:

From Bryant Myers’ lecture: Children in the Midst: Our Mandate

  • There are two bottom lines: The well being of the vulnerable is a test of the faithfulness of our worship. The well being of children is an indicator of the well being of society.
  • The majority of the children in the world live in the least developed countries.
  • When disaster strikes, many people swoop in to make money – often at the expense of the children. In Indonesia, the child traffickers showed up as quickly as the relief workers. How can we protect the children?
  • Dr. Myers gave many challenging statistics. Amost 6 million children are in bonded labor – a 12-year-old might work 16 hours a day, six days a week for five years to pay of his family’s $35 debt.
  • Girls are less likely to be in school and more likely to be malnourished and victims of infanticide.
  • In the west, children are still targeted, but in a different way. Advertising to children under the age of 12 is a huge market. If you convince the kid to get something, you often convince the parent. And young children cannot distinguish between the program and the commercial on television. These ads sell promises that the products cannot keep. Studies show that children are brand conscious before they can read.
  • So what can we do? Act like Christ and be the church. Care for and protect the children. Advocate for children. Empower children with the good news of Christ. Look at policies from the perspective of how they will impact the children.
  • “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.”

From Jude Tiersma Watson’s lecture: Children and the Kingdom: Our Mission

  • Dr. Tiersma Watson challenged her listeners to walk humbly while serving those in need. “We are not the great white hope,” she said. “God is the only hope.” It’s not just about “those people.” If someone really wants to help those in need, they’ll empower people to serve. They will stop and listen to people’s hearts before trying to meet an assumed need.
  • There is a difference between sending money to help someone and simply walking with them in life. Usually people need someone to walk with them a lot more than they need the money. We need to listen, walk with people, and give hope.