July 30, 2007

# 200

That's how many posts I've done since starting The Jonah Syndrome in October of 2006. My first post was done in a hotel in Minneapolis MN at the Desiring God National Conference. This post is being done from my couch in Simpsonville SC. ...This has been a hard, trying, and faith building time in my life. It's amazing what can happen in 200 posts:

- I've read a lot of great books over the last 10 months

- I said goodbye to my mom on January 8th after her overdose on prescription medication

- The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series

- I said goodbye to Upward Unlimited after eight years of service (3 as a customer, 5 as a staff member)

- I threw my hat in the church planting ring with Acts29 and am looking at starting Eternity in 2009

And so very much more. The great thing about The Jonah Syndrome is that it's been a reflection of my life. I've voiced many opinions and thoughts. Some that I would still stand by and some that I would change just a little. I'm trying to learn to be a better, more Godly, and more consistent blogger.

I can't wait to see what happens over the next 200. This past week was amazing and God is doing some AMAZING stuff that prayerfully moves the church plant closer and closer to reality.

Thank you to EVERYONE who has commented on The Syndrome. Your comments mean the world to me as they show someone is still reading! My journey continues...pray for us this week as we prepare to move to Missouri. And do me one favor...when you read this, would you comment and let me know that you did and who you are...

July 25, 2007

Abodeology (Theology Of Picking Dwellings)

So, it's something we all do around 10 - 20 times in our lives. We pick a place to live. We search, we research, we visit, we inspect, we appraise, we purchase, we move, we live. And all the while, in so many instances, I feel like almost everyone does it completely ignorant of God's overarching purpose in their lives.

Can you explain that to me? Or am I missing something thing here? If the Bible says "do all unto the Glory of God", then why are we buying our houses unto the glory and comfort of ourselves?

When you bought your last house, why did you buy it? I mean, dead honest, all pretense aside, why did you buy it? And, does your dwelling, your place to live, your choice of abode say anything about you as a Christian? Did you pick a lost neighborhood because you wanted to be a missionary in your community and perhaps start a Bible Study for the folks on the street? Did you pick an area next to a school so that you could have influence there, hang out with your kids more often, and perhaps influence other families who have kids there as well? Did you move downtown to a lost and hurting area specifically for the purpose of sharing Christ with those who may not know them?

OR, did you choose the suburbs? Did you choose the nice, safe quiet neighborhood that presented the most "cozy" situation for you? Did you choose it because it was big and you could put nice furniture in it and nice paintings and rugs and stuff. Did you choose it so you could spend lots of money on making it look like a Better Homes and Garden spread? How bout Pottery Barn? Have you spent more money with them than you have on helping orphans feel the love of Jesus?

See, here's the problem. We're exiles here. We're temporary. A vapor! Nothing more...this world is not our home, and the Gospel is for the sick, the poor, the displaced, the hurting, the needy. So why aren't you living next to them? Why are you going to them? Why aren't you loving them?

These were all questions that I've answered in my head over the last few days as my wife and I have sought where God would have us to live as we prepare to plant a church in 2009. And our decision was to rent. But we rented next to a school. Next to a place that is the biggest mission field in our community. No race, economic, sex, gender distinctions. Just kids who are from hurting families and it will be awesome to get involved in those lives over the next 12 - 18 months.

But I came face to face in that search with my sin of comfort and idolatry of "security" in this world. God forgive me for it, and grant me repentance. So the question you have to ask yourself, and I asked myself was this:

What does your house say about you? Is Jesus truly king, or is your 2,500 square feet all you give a crap about?

July 24, 2007

Buy Vs. Rent

This is the dilemma we've been faced with the for the last several days. There's some spiritual points to be made here.

  1. Do you know how many houses are in the United States that are currently sitting empty? Folks it has to be in the hundreds of thousands. We have hundreds of thousands of dwellings WITH NO ONE IN THEM and yet millions of people around the world have no shelter. Think about that.
  2. Suburban life is becoming increasingly bland and vanilla to me. In the past few days, we've seen over 50 houses and you know what, for the most part, they all look alike. Cookie cutter, second verse same as the first, houses. Does that describe your spirituality? Does that describe you as a Christian right now? Cause if you have the guts to answer that question honestly, most of us will be forced under oath to say "yes". Your life looks the same as the worlds. It's a cookie cutter, vanilla, carbon copy of the world and yet, Jesus made you a "masterpiece". An original. Too bad you've settled for comfort and security. Too bad no one can see no real difference between your life and a lost person's life. There's a solution to that: Know Jesus for real and quit playing suburbanized, comfort seeking, retirement loving, religified Christianity. Be an authentic. Show personality. Stand out from the world. Love Jesus for real.
  3. Looking for houses sucks. It's work and it takes time to find one that's a good buy. It takes labor to make sure you're investing wisely and doing something right and smart. Christian life is the same way. But, when is the last time you "took the first thing you saw" and ran with it and it was a load of malarkey and a disaster for you. You see, knowing what you're doing. Knowing the market. Knowing the truth about Jesus. That's work and there are no shortcuts. Sorry, no substitute for that.
  4. Jesus is King. And He always will be. No matter how faithless we are, He is faithful. And He has been over the last few days for us. Thank you Jesus for leading, guiding, rebuking, chastizing, tolerating, interceding, loving, supporting, saving, reigning, and most of all BEING all for me. I Love you...but only because YOU love me every second.

Our next leg on the journey to starting Eternity (The Church) is in full swing. For the record, we are going to RENT. More on why we made that decision later...

July 22, 2007

Planting Missional Church - (CH 6) Church Structure

So we come to the chapter on church structure and more specifically, how do you organize and structure leadership for the new church plant. Stetzer lists and describes the following methods:

  • Elders Only
  • Pastors And Elders (Preferred And One With Most Biblical Support)
  • Pastor And Board
  • Board And Pastor (Little To No Biblical Support)
  • Pastor Only (Most Dangerous Path For Church To Problems)
He then goes on to discuss why he believes and why Scripture supports the Pastor-Elder model. He gives a brief treatment of deacons and then moves onto applications for the preferred model. Here they are:

  1. New churches should call few pastor-elders
  2. A smaller group promotes greater intimacy and higher mutual accountability within the leadership
  3. New churches don't need many committees to function appropriately
  4. The congregation should allow its pastor-elders to "direct the affairs of the church"
  5. From the beginning of the new church, the planter-pastor should tell the people that the pastor will lead the church and that a group of other pastor-elders will lead the church alongside the pastor
Here's the money paragraph for the entire chapter:

Just as switching worship styles can divide a church, changing structure and leadership styles can polarize a congregation and sap morale. Selecting a new plan for church structure also frustrates people. The bottom line is that the church planter must decide on structure before hanging out the welcome sign.

July 19, 2007

Planting Missional Churches - (CH 5) What Makes A Church Planter?

The chapter starts out talking about the diffent types of sponsors for church plants:

--Teams Plant Churches - This was the practice of the apostle Paul, who consistently used team ministry in his church planting.
--Individuals Plant Churches - Although this is the most common method today, it's the least common in the New Testament
--Laypeople Plant Churches - This reminds us that those not called specifically to pastoral ministry can be involved in the ministry of church planting.
--Agencies And Denominations Plant Churches - Many people feel strongly that agencies and denominations should not plant churches because they're concerned about control and support.
--Churches Plant Churches - This method remains the preferred one today

Stetzer then presents some pretty convincing statistics to show that church plants who have a sponsoring church are much more likely to succeed for a variety of reasons.

We then move into discussing what a church planter looks like and there are five areas that go into the makeup of the planter:

  1. Spiritual Gifts
  2. Heart Or Passion
  3. Abilities
  4. Personality Type
  5. Experiences
Ed's aruging pretty strongly about the need for assessments of church planters and why they are important and necessary. The correlating statistics would suggest so as well. Planters who are assessed are far more likely to succeed than those who aren't and much to my surprise, there aren't many organizations that you can plant a church with today that you are not required to go through some sort of assessment. Then the characteristics of successful church planters are listed. They are:
  1. Visioning Capacity
  2. Intrinsically Motivated Means
  3. Creates Ownership Of Ministry
  4. Relates To The Unchurched
  5. Spousal Cooperation
  6. Effectively Builds Relationships
  7. Committed To Church Growth
  8. Responsive To The Community
  9. Uses The Giftedness Of Others
  10. Flexible And Adaptable
  11. Builds Group Cohesiveness
  12. Demonstrates Resilience
  13. Exercises Faith
There are some other qualifications that are explored as well:
  • Certainty Of Call
  • Call To A Community, People Group, Or Culture
  • Extraordinary Faith
The chapter then ends with the wrong reasons for planting a church and I have to say, these were tough to read. You really have to ask God to search your heart and make sure none of these are the underlying motives. These are strong:
  • A strong desire to preach but no one will give you the chance
  • Frustrated where you are because you can't do what you want to do
  • Can't get an invitation to pastor an established church
  • Out to prove something
  • Need to get some experience and you figure church planting is the way to do it
  • Dreaming of a large ministry to boost your ego or reputation
Overall, a great chapter and one I took many notes on. This is truly an awesome book.

July 18, 2007

Does Anyone Have A Milk Carton?

We need some fresh content over at Sufficient Grace!

Planting Missional Churches - (CH 4) Models Of Church Plants And Planters

Chapter 4 starts off with a really good disclaimer. "Many different Biblical methods are effective in planting a church. God does not bless one way more than the others."

That's good to hear because so many situations are different, and to try and force the planter into a singular method is counter-productive to the multiplication effort. On a side note, why is it that we try to force our methodologies on others? Is it because we want control and are fearful of others doing it better than we are? Just a question...

Stetzer puts together a great chapter here and explains and expounds upon THREE main models of church planting: They are:

  1. The Apostolic Harvest Church Planter
  2. The Founding Pastor
  3. Team Planting
Let's take a look at each one and the main defining characteristics of the three.

MODEL 1 - The Apostolic Harvest Church Planter
Paradigm - Planter starts churches, raises up leaders from the harvest, moves to new church
Biblical Example - Paul

Stetzer then goes on to say that this is the method most familiar in the New Testament. He gives examples of the Methodist Circuit Riders as examples of this model. He also talks a little about how the international community (particularly China) is seeing this as the most effective method. However he argues that here in the United States, this method is less prevalent today for the following reasons:
  • Paul was single - He didn't have a family to worry about moving all the time
  • Synangogues (churches) are less open today to itenerant evangelists - Paul had an instant crowd to preach to in his day. Today, not so much.
  • Paul had apostolic authority - Planters today cannot enter a community with the same authority and expect the laity to follow as they did with Paul
  • Paul established the church with miraculous signs - Those miracles instantly gained people's attention. Not so today, so garnering the interest of those you would potentially reach is more difficult.
With that said, Stetzer then argues that this method has advantages today for the following reasons:
  • Cities are larger
  • People can be reached en masse
  • Pastors are readily available for most areas (who wouldn't want to go pastor a 1-3 year old church that already has a core group meeting and established)
From how I read this, I think the author believes that this is the method that may multiply the greatest number of churches, but may not produce the healthiest. There are tradeoffs with this approach.

MODEL 2 - The Founding Pastor
Paradigm - Planter starts a church, acts as a "church planter" for a short time, stays on long term to pastor the church
Biblical Example - Peter and the Jerusalem church

This is the most common model in North America. Stetzer then says this model is prevalent because the founding pastor model has someone who truly has a pastor's heart and wants to stay long term so they don't get restless after 3 - 5 years and want to move on to another church.

Then you spend a few pages looking at different types of founding pastors (entreprenurial, the planted pastor, etc) and how different types of people fit into this second model and a few of the different variations that this can take. Does the new plant have a sponsoring church? Is the new plant on it's own? After the variations are explored, the second model is ended with a money quote that I agree with whole heartedly:

"Statistics tend to show that longer tenured pastors grow stronger churches".

Hence, why I believe picking an area and committing your life to it, in the long run, may bear more fruit than jumping from city to city.

MODEL 3 - Team Church Planting
Paradigm - A team of planters moves into an area to start a church. Often, the team has a senior pastor
Biblical Example - Paul (at times)

"The team concept is attracting a lot of attention today". That's how this model is started off. But then quickly you come to the main obstacle: "MONEY". Many of the team members aren't willing to work bi-vocationally until the church can afford multiple staff members. Stetzer then says:
"which is a shame, because that factor alone may be preventing many successful church plants"

The team model is the one Ed is currently engaged in with his church in Georgia, so this is obviously one he believes in. He then gives some inspiring examples of how the team approach has really worked and if you can do it, this approach may produce the most successful starts. Here's a statistic based on a survey that Stetzer did:
"The survey revealed that attendance was higher (almost double) in plants with more than one church planting pastor on staff. ...In fact this increased mean attendance is most present where there are two staff members"...I concluded that having two staff members initially makes the most effective church planting team"

Now why should that be a shock. Weren't the disciples initally sent out 2 by 2. Not much has changed in 2,000 years. That Jesus guy is smart.

All in all a good chapter and a good overview of the different approaches you can take. For what's it's worth, I'm a really big advocate of the team approach, for several reasons. It was the one that struck with me the most.

July 17, 2007

Caution - The Jonah Syndrome Is Rated R

Why did I receive this rating?

This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
death (6x)
hell (4x)
hurt (3x)
kill (2x)
crap (1x)

Now I have to tell you, that's just bogus. How am I going to be a pastor if my blog is rated "R". I mean...I haven't killed anyone or done anything to intentionally hurt anyone's feelings. Is it my fault hell is real? I mean, crap, can't we just face death with some preparedness and readiness?

(HT: Reformissionary)

And You Thought You Had A Bad Day!

Challies posted this photograph in A La Carte yesterday and it was passed around the blogosphere as "Boy, that guy was getting ready for a bad day"...

And then I read this article about a guy getting literally eaten by a grizzly bear and thought "You know, the shark might not be so bad." Links to interviews with him and his daughter are included in the article.

Planting Missional Churches - (CH 3) The Biblical Basis Of Church Planting

Chapter 3 really is all about laying the Biblical foundation for church planting. One of the money quotes comes in the first paragraph:

"We'd be wrong to send out planters with organizational, strategic, and marketing tools but not the fundamental truths of God's Word and the principles of Scripture from which to work"

I couldn't agree more. Practical advice is great. The Gospel changes people. If we lose the Bible as central to our efforts, then I think we plant a church in vein.

Stetzer then talks about the four commissionings of Jesus:

  1. I am sending you - We are to pick up Jesus' earthly work and continue doing it. It's a personal message and it applies to all of us
  2. Make disciples of all nations - Jesus clearly intended for the gospel to reach lost people among what today missiologists call every people group and population segment
  3. Preach repentance and forgiveness - Lost persons can be found only by preaching repentance and forgiveness, the message of every genuine messenger of the gospel
  4. Jerusalem....to the ends of the earth - The sending God sent the Son....we become God's sent people to proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness in the Power of the Holy Spirit both locally and worldwide to all people groups.
We then move into some descriptions of patterns and characteristics of both church planting in general in the New Testament as well as THE church planter (Paul). Stetzer describes Paul and expounds the following characteristics. Paul was:
  1. Personally prepared
  2. An evangelist
  3. An entrepreneurial leader
  4. A team player
  5. A flexible, risk-taking pioneer
  6. Cared for people
  7. Empowered others
  8. Stayed committed to fulfilling God's calling
  9. Willing to let go of his church plants
I suppose those should be some general characteristics that would describe a successful church planter. We then wrap up the chapter focusing on the book of Acts and an outline of how church planting is the main theme of the book.

All in all, a very solid chapter on laying Biblical foundations for starting new churches. But then again, if you've read the book of Acts at all, you probably knew that was a major theme and the main place Stetzer would use to support mandate to start new works.

I end with this quote from the beginning of the chapter:

We, today, need to recapture the note of spontaneity which existed in the New Testament and, therefore, produced churches as the believers witnessed to the Lord Jesus Christ. Church planting does involve specific and deliberate intent to start new churches, but the New Testament points to the fact that new churches and church planting are the direct and inevitable consequences of believer's involvement in witnessing and proclamation.

July 16, 2007

Don't You Feel Better Now?

Without even knowing it, just by walking around on two legs, you're conserving energy. And to think, God could have left you on all fours. Woudn't that be tiring?

Planting Missional Churches - (CH 2) Re-Developing A Missional Mindset For North America

Chapter 2 takes a core concept of the first chapter and expounds on it in much greater detail. The basic premise is the North America is a "huge" mission field and that is something that we've lost sight of for several reasons.

Some of the interesting things from the start of the chapter that really stood out to me:

- Did you know that there are approximately 1200 churches in the US with over 2,000 attenders on a weekly basis?
- Did you know that 10% of people in the US weren't born here?
- Also, did you know that despite that, based on research (primarily conducted by George Barna) that the church has for the most part had no significant impact on the culture?

Which led to the money quote of the first section of the chapter: "Some religious observers would say that in our desire to attract people to fill our freshly padded seats, something went awry."

Gee, ya think? Couldnt' be. You mean mega-churches haven't been the answer to all of Christianity's problems in the United States. You mean Bill Hybels and Rick Warren really haven't come up with the magic potion to suddenly transform a culture?

Stetzer then proceeds to explain the two extremes that truly inhibit "missional" church planting:

Tradition - To The Extreme

Here we are talking about churches who would rather hold on to the past than look into the future. And I think we all would say that there are plenty of these examples around and they are dying rapidly. Just because something worked in the 70's doesn't mean that it wil work today. Just because you started a ministry in the 80's doesn't mean that in the next 20 years it will work. We have to recognize that, otherwise, we will become stagnant, old, and irrelevant to the culture in which we exist. A great quote in this section:

Yet the church must never become too comfortable with any culture, whether it existed five, fifty, or five hundred years ago. What the church must be comfortable with is becoming missional, always looking for the best way to reach the culture it lives in at that point in time.

Technique - To The Extreme

On the flip side, we all see plenty of these places as well. Folks who have the "magic bullet" to attracting and evangelizing. You'll see more of these in "community", "emergent", and "purpose driven" churches that have fallen way too far into a "pragmatic" sphere. Read these paragraphs:
Technique may be the more dangerous of the extremes. The church bound by tradition often recognizes its problem. The tradition-bound church may even bemoan its condition, even if it's unable to break out of its negative patterns. On the other hand, the church absorbed in technique is convinced that it is missional--that its techniques are actually expressions of mission, while they are actually methods that replace missional thinking....
....As a result, they may be more willing to throw discipleship out the window as a goal if that helps them retain more warm bodies in their services. That's a compromise a biblical church won't make.

Stetzer then goes on to make a plea for a healthy balance between "doctrine" and "contextualization" It's very similar to the plea that Mark Driscoll makes almost every time he talks on the issue. These guys are on the same page. They talk in the same language. It's really encouraging. We have to hold true to the Truth, but we must understand the people that we are speaking the Truth to. That makes sense to me. I don't know why it doesn't make sense to others.

He then goes on for a few pages to really dig into what it means to be a "missional church". He describes breifly why he thinks we lost that. He exhorts the church to always be reforming and changing. He believes we must be more forward looking and futuristic than backward looking and tradition-bound. He then ends the Chapter with a list of questions to ask when entering a culture. I thought they would be a good list to end this post with as well:
  • What is the worldview of the target audience?
  • What is the culture's decision making pattern?
  • What does it cost a person in this culture to become a Christian?
  • What redemptive analogy is best for this culture?
  • How does this culture view Christianity?
  • What does this culture understand about the basic components of the Gospel story?
  • Is this culture based on shame or guilt?
  • How will this culture understand Christian rituals?
  • What is the best delivery system for exposing the people of this culture to the Gospel?

I Don't Know Why - But This Intrigues Me

The International Bible Society is coming out with a "Bible" that will have NO chapter, verse, section, title, or footnote designations. What you will be reading is essentially what the document would look like had you gotten a letter in the mail I suppose.

I've always wondered what the orginal scrolls looked like. And what it would be like to read the "fresh" letter without it being "arranged" as it were for us today. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not going to go chuck my ESV Bible into the river or anything, but this might be kinda cool to take a look at.

(HT: Transforming Sermons)

July 15, 2007

Planting Missional Churches - (CH 1) The Basics Of Church Planting

A few weeks ago, as I began to think about the task God has called me to, and began asking folks about what resources I should utilize in preparing to launch a church, Tony Kummer over at Said At Southern said "read and listen to everything Ed Stetzer says or writes".

I visited Ed's website, but hadn't really come across any of his books. I'm in a Christian bookstore the other day and looking on the shelf and low and behold, look what I see before me, like manna from heaven. I purchased it with a gift card I had been given about a month or so ago, and for the next little while on The Jonah Syndrome, I'll share my journey through this book.

Chapter 1 - as you may expect - covers the basics and justification for planting missional churches. A wealth of information in here. Hopefully, I can share the highlights and organize the information.

CHURCH PLANTING GOAL - To reach people: And not only are you a church planter, but you are also a missionary as well. And you can be a missionary without ever leaving your Zip code.

Ed then covers five things that today's church planter should be:

  1. Missional - The posture --the way in church we approach people in culture
  2. Incarnational - Emphasizes the importance of relationships in effective church planting. It's not about establishing a location for worship, it's about establishing a basis for coming together in the first place.
  3. Theological - Relevance to the culture should never clash with the power of Gospel
  4. Ecclesiological - The Biblical ideal and model of church does matter and is the goal of church planting
  5. Spiritual - The church planter has to be Christ-centered and transformed by the power of the Gospel. A newcomer needs to leave the church being amazed by the awesome God the church planter serves, not what a cool preacher the church has.
The book then launches into its statistical justification as it explores the five most common objections to church planting.

OBJECTION 1 - Large Church Mentality (MYTH: Bigger established churches reach more people than new churches do)

Unfortunately, the statistics don't support the myth. Consider the following stats:

--Churches less than 3 years old = 10 new converts a year / 100 church members
--Churches less than 15 but greater than 5 years old = 5 new converts a year / 100 church members
--Churches greater than 15 years old = 3 new converts per 100 church members per year

Ed argues, contrary to many para-church ministries, that the most effective method of evangelism is not sports ministry, not VBS, not anything like that. The most effective method of evangelism is church planting.

OBJECTION 2 - Parish-Church Mindset (MYTH: One denominational church in an area should be enough - ala Catholics, Presbyterians, etc)

Once again, unfortunately the statistics don't support the myth. Consider the following:

-In 1900 - 28 churches per 10,000 Americans
-In 1950 - 17 churches per 10,000 Americans
-In 2000 - 12 churches per 10,000 Americans
-In 2004 - 11 churches per 10,000 Americans

Think about this: In the year 1900, there were 212,000 churches. In the last 100 years, we have grown the number of churches by almost 50% to almost 350,000. Unfortunately, the population in America has grown by ALMOST 400%. We're not keeping up with the population boom. We're losing ground....FAST!

OBJECTION 3 - Professional Church Syndrome (MYTH: We have to have seminary trained pastors in our churches)

Unfortunately, once again, statistics and reality don't match the myth. If we rely on seminary trained people to plant new churches, with the rates of men and women leaving the ministry every year, we'll never keep up. Not even close. Also, by 2015, 50% of the world's population will live in burgeoning urban centers. Consider the following stats:

- 40% of US residents live in "multi-housing" communities (ie: Apartments) = 100 Million People
- 5% of those folks have a connection to a church = 5 Million People

That means 95 Million people in urban centers and multi-housing communities have no connection to a church. And when was the last time you saw a massive pouring of "seminary trained"pastors wanting and willing to go live in apartments to start a church and reach people. Not going to happen.

Now I'm glad that the author doesn't dismiss education, in fact Ed believes in it very much, but his stance is we can't rely solely on seminary grads to plant all the new churches that are going to be needed.

OBJECTION 4 - Rescue The Perishing Syndrome (MYTH: We should be focusing on revitalizing dying churches instead of planting new ones)
Essentially, Ed argues here that it is both/and not either/or. However, when was the last time you saw a dying church "radically" change their ways and become missional in their community. Doesn't happen that often. There are examples but they are few and far between. Relying on "revitalization" just isn't going to get the job done on the large scale for which it's needed.

OBJECTION 5 - Already Reached Syndrome (MYTH: North America has already been reached)
Finally, and for the last time, statistics just don't support the myth. You be the judge:

- 120 Million secular undiscipled people in the US
- The US is the largest mission field in the Western Hemisphere
- The US is the 5th largest mission field in the world
- 80% - 85% of churches are on the downside of their lifecycle
- % of Christians in the US dropped 9% from 1990 - 2001
- 3,500 to 4,000 churches CLOSE EVERY YEAR

You can't evaluate those stats very closely and make the case that our work here in the US is already done. To be honest, that's just stupid. And so many people look over the seas when they won't look across the street. You're in a huge mission field. And God birthed you there for a reason. Why do you think that is?

All in all, a great opening salvo. The next 28 chapters should be just as impactful.

July 14, 2007

I've Finished Reading "Life Together"

The title says it's a classic exploration of faith in community. I think that pretty much sums it up. 122+ pages on what true Christian community is and what it most definitely is NOT.

Do you have that feeling at your church like there really isn't a closeness? That somehow, even though you share so many macro-variables in common with those you live, work, and attend church with, that there is truly no bond, brotherhood, or distinguishing mark of an authentic Christian community among you? Do you feel as though your church is going through the motions, but somehow, Jesus isn't shining through in your fellowship or your community?

Have you ever thought "I wonder what the church is supposed to be like?". If you have those kinds of feelings, or you ask those sorts of questions, then this book is definitely a MUST READ for you. However, if you think that a true Christian life can be lived by attending church for one hour on Sunday, this book is probably not for you. Don't get me wrong. YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD READ IT, but, it will take a few readings of it for it to sink in and make sense to you.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Nazi Germany. His work was mostly underground in the later years, and he was executed just days before the liberation of Germany by the Allies. His other landmark book, "The Cost Of Discipleship" does for a Christian exactly what this book will do for a church. And that is to set the bar so much higher than what we are currently living at.

I can't write anything glowing enough to recommend it to you. However, I know that I will need to read it over and over to truly grasp some of the things that are said in it. The best way to recommend it, I feel are to include some quotes from it. Thata way, you can get a flavor for what you will find in its' pages:

The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we ARE sinners!
Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous in his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists of listening to them.....So it is His (Jesus') work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him
Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words.
The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament.
It's a great book. Read it slowly. Let it sink in!

July 13, 2007

Tim Keller Beginning To Invade The SBC

Or at least that's what you would think reading this commentary post over at the SBC Outpost. Paul Littleton hits it right on the money in this article. Here's a sample, but you have to read the article for yourself:

But a denomination cannot thrive on a negative vision. We know what we aren’t and what we don’t want to be, but we have no real vision any longer of who we are or who we do want to be. We can’t even agree on who we used to be. Whatever today’s vision is will change every two years with a new SBC President. Three years ago it was a magical bus tour for baptisms and two years ago a shofar celebration.

This past year it was revival. After Frank Page passes into the night it will become whatever strikes the fancy of the man on deck, and then the one in the hole. We’ve lost our telos as a denomination. Thus, the only positive visions we can muster are those that involve our own individual contexts, our own local churches. We know what we want to do there, and that is the only vestige of a hopeful future we can imagine. We have no unified vision of how we will work together to do what we cannot do on our own.

Amen, and Amen. By the way, if you wonder what I mean by Tim Keller invading this post, you have to listen to his message at The Gospel Coalition and you'll understand what I mean!

July 12, 2007

Everyone's Hero - A Great Movie

So there's a movie theatre here in Greenville that shows free movies for kids on Tues - Thurs. This week's offering was a choice between something I can't remember the name of and "Everyone's Hero". My wife and boys had already seen the movie, but I hadn't so I decided we would check it out today.

I'm really glad I did. The scene is the Great Depression and Babe Ruth and the Yankees are the pride of the nation. Yankee Irving is a kid with a dream and he loves the game of baseball. He loves it so much that he dreams of hitting in the World Series. Only one problem, he can't hit - AT ALL. And so, he's the typical kid with a dream who will probably never see it come true. He's always chosen last. He's the outcast.

Yankee's dad works for the New York Yankees and through an evil plot by the Cubs owner and "Lefty", Babe Ruth's famed bat "Darlin" is stolen and Yankee's dad is blamed for it and fired by the ball club. Having seen the thief's face, the kid knows who the burglar is and sets out on a whirlwind journey with his trusty baseball "Screwy" to retrieve the famous bat and return it to the Yankee Slugger.

Needless to say, it's a kids' movie, and as all kid movies do, ends with a happy ending. If you think long and hard, you'll guess the ending. But one thing struck me at the very end of this movie. And I can't explain it, God just keeps speaking to me through kids movies. It's two weeks in a row. There's a line at the end of the movie that got me to thinking that I want to expound upon a little in this post. The line was:

"No matter how bad they tell you that you are, and no matter how much they say you don't matter, just keep swingin. Cause it ain't the bat that makes the difference, it's the batter".

And you know, they're absolutely right. Except in this instance, we are the bat, and God is the batter. He swings us, not the other way around. You see, we're all worthless. I'm sorry if that offends you, but it's the truth. You have no ability to do anything good or great. You're a sorry sack of nothing that is as worthless as a baseball bat that just lays in the closet day after day. You're useless and just taking up space and collecting dust.

UNTIL, the Master picks you up. And once the Master picks you up and begins to swing you around a little bit, then miracles can happen. You see, a baseball bat is a worthless dead tree worth all of about $20, but when you put it in the hands of Barry Bonds, it's a part of history and will be put on display in the Hall of Fame. A golf club is just a worthless crappy piece of steel with no value whatsoever, but you put it in the hands of Tiger Woods, and you have memories at the Masters that last a lifetime.

So it goes with us. We are worthless hostile, evil beings that stand in the shadow of God's wrath. Until Jesus picks us up and then we are Kings. We are heirs. We will reign eternally with Him. We are a royal priesthood. We are a holy nation. We will sit side by side with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Job, Solomon, Jesus, John, Peter, Paul, and Mary (sorry got carried away). But it's true. Once the master picks us up with His nail-scarred hands we change entirely and become instruments of His glory to make history and miracles happen. His power flows through us. And our nature, and our potential are changed and altered on an infinite scale.

But, as the Bible says, apart from Him we can do NOTHING. Just like a bat laying in the closet. I thank God that he picked me up and didn't let me lay there. I may have dents, scars, chips missing and I may be worn out and warped in certain places, but in the hands of my Master, I can see eternity changed forever in the lives of other people.

Jesus is my hero. He should be your hero. And one day, Lord willing, he will be "Everyone's Hero". It was a great flick. You should go watch it!

July 11, 2007

When You Come To A Fork In The Road - Take It!

And thus, without even trying to, Yogi Berra described a major tension in the Christian life. You've been there haven't you? A place where you can see two very distinct paths in your head. A place where you know you could go one way, or you could go the other, and both are equally appealing and worthy of being pursued.

So now the million dollar question. Which one do I choose?

Isn't it stupid that often the biggest choices we have to make in life are not "chicken or fish", "red wine or white wine", "paper or plastic" but rather we have to choose "BIG LIFE CHOICE DOOR 1" or "BIG LIFE CHOICE DOOR 2". And oh by the way, make sure you get it right cause you don't want to screw it up.

It's stupid because I would rather agonize over food rather than decisions that could determine my life path for the next 50 years as well as my families path for the next 200. It's that serious. It's that important. How will one ever know what to do?

Read the Bible? Yea that sounds like a great plan, but the last time I checked, I don't have a fleece laying around to test God with. I could come up with one, but something tells me that way too many people lay out fleeces and then see what they want to see, not what God is actually trying to show them. So the fleece is out.

Pray? Sure, we could continue to do that. And there's great validity in that. Begging God for an answer and for a direction is completely appropriate. Desperation breeds dependence which is the posture we should have at all times before God so prayer is definitely a way to find answers. Problem is also that way too many people hear what they want to hear in prayer instead of what God is saying. So they end up doing what they desire to do anyway. So prayer may not be the most reliable either.

So if the Bible and Prayer are both avenues that may or may not give me a clear answer, then what am I left with here? How can I make this decision? I mean the good of the world lays in my hands here.

And thus the reason why, if you don't believe in the sovereignty of God, foreknowledge, election, pre-destination, assurance, perseverance, etc etc --when you come to these moments in life they will be torture and not joy. If you believe that it all hangs on your decision and that God does not purpose to act and will through you, then you'll be paralyzed when the fork in the road comes.

See what the Bible and Prayer do tell me is that I can't rely on myself. And that God is steadfast, never changing, and promises to work all things for good. While I am fallible, always changing, and corrupt - God is none of those things and can therefore be trusted to do what He says He will do, and that is to always show me His persevering love. God is loyal (faithful) to me and always will be. He demonstrated that in His Son. If I came to the fork in the road, and trusted myself, I would be in bad shape.

But the cool part is that while I see a fork, God sees a road. He sees a road He has put me on, and a road He will keep me on. And it's a road straight to Him and Jesus. It has no forks, just points where He teaches me to always look away from myself and to look straight to Him. It's a beautiful thing. Now God, if you could just tell me how many miles until I get there, I would be much appreciative!

July 10, 2007

Maybe We're Not As Smart As We Think We Are

Came across a really good blog post today over at Transforming Sermons. Apparently, a radio host is in Canada paying people to go to five churches and review them. You can read the roundup here along with the comments of the people who attended "seeker sensitive" churches.

Bottom line after you read all this. The Gospel is real, genuine, transforming, and powerful which is why if we will stick to that instead of all of our human trappings and "wizz bang", we'll see a more authentic church and Christian in those churches.

July 09, 2007

I've Finished Reading "Church Planting Landmines"

A book of church planting mistakes not to make in years 2 through 10. Written by Tom Nebel and Gary Rohrmayer, this is a fantastic book full of practical advice on church planting and the authors take years of experience and wisdom gleaned from seeing hundreds of churches planted to give someone like me looking at planting a church the best advice they can on how to do it right.

And I appreciate that, believe me! Some of the nuggets contained within the book include statements like the following:
"Church planters need to engage in the church planting process with their eyes wide open to both the possibilities and potential pitfalls. This book will help the visionary planter maintain a balanced, healthy perspective in the midst of the battle."

They balance their opinions with facts. Theory with practical suggestions that they've given the church planters they've coached. And it's not fluff. It's very real world, practical, helpful suggestions that if executed, can help make a church plant healthier and sustainable.

And at the same time, they don't sell out God in the process. In fact, they build and center it around Him which is refreshing in these days of "pragmatism". It doesn't matter what kind of website or mailings you have, if you're not praying and flat on your face before God, it won't be a church that makes an eternal impact. It may make temporal change possible, and may even create some moralists in the process, but in the end, it won't be a Christ-exalting church.

Their 10 landmines are:

  • Ignoring Personal Health And Growth
  • Lack Of Leadership Development
  • Leadership Backlash
  • Personal Evangelism Entropy
  • Corporate Evangelism Entropy
  • Inadequate Enfolding Strategy
  • Fear Of Money
  • Underestimating Spiritual Warfare
  • Misfiring On Hiring
  • Delaying Missions Engagement
It's 140+ pages of great stuff. Most of it is highligted in yellow and it will stay a constant companion over the next 18-24 months. If you're looking at starting a church, thinking of going to be a part of a new church, or just want to "re-energize" your church, this book has very helpful suggestions in doing so.

For further resources, Gary Rohrmayer has a blog called Your Journey at which he provides even more stuff to help us lunatics (I mean visionaries) who want to see a community of believers come together for the glory of God. You need to check his blog out. He also is a teacher at the seminary I'm attending. Wanna guess which class he teaches?

July 08, 2007

Duh - Like This Is A Shock To Anyone

You scored as Reformed Evangelical, You are a Reformed Evangelical. You take the Bible very seriously because it is God's Word. You most likely hold to TULIP and are sceptical about the possibilities of universal atonement or resistible grace. The most important thing the Church can do is make sure people hear how they can go to heaven when they die.

Reformed Evangelical




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox




Roman Catholic




Modern Liberal


Classical Liberal


What's your theological worldview?
created with QuizFarm.com

July 07, 2007

I've Finished Reading "When Sinners Say I Do"

I cam across this book while checking out some things at Sovereign Grace Ministries and because of some friends who are either getting married or in the process of getting close to being married, I thought it might make a good gift.

I was rewarded and the positive spin at the SG site proved reliable and trustworthy. It's 183 pages of fantastic counsel and wisdom for folks who find themselves waking up next to a "sinner".

I also have to say that there were times where I simply cracked up laughing and couldn't get it together. One such passage that tripped off the laugh-O-meter was:

Or how about this? Rather than watching the football game on your day off, you decide to do the repair project she's been asking you to finish. Five frustrating hours later you put the the tools away, and look to your wife for some expression of appreciation for your personal sacrifice. She glances at your work and says, "I wish you would have asked me before you did it that way." Cue the pyrotechnics!
And that kind of storytelling, honest writing, and conversational approach is throughout the entire book. And the refreshing part is that Harvey doesn't give you psyhobabble bullhockey to fix your marriage. Ultimately, the answer is in the Gospel. He takes the entire book to lay that out and show you how that practically plays out, but he doesn't try to give some trite "how to" in hopes of fixing your marriage. He's real. He's Biblical. He's right.

His focus on words such as grace, mercy, forgiveness, repentance, sin, etc just don't feel very good sometimes but he rightly diagnoses that if we get those words right in our lives and in our vocabulary, then our marriages will be much healthier and Christ exalting. What's more is that he basically postualates that our marriages are not about us. They're about God and glorifying Him. Wow! What a concept.

The 10 chapters cover ground such as "What Matters Most", "Mercy Triumphs Over Judgement", "Stubborn Grace", and "When Sinners Say Goodbye". And oh yeah, there's the obligatory and most anticipated chapter, which he saves until Chapter 9, on SEX. There you have it, you wondered if the book talked about it, and it does. "CONCERNING SEX" is the title of Chapter 9. Men mark it down! :)

All in all, I'd have to concur with all the positive reviews of the book. You need to read this one whether you're dating to become married, newly married, or married for 50 years. It's for you. You won't be disappointed.

July 06, 2007

I've Finished Reading "Community 101"

I read this book as a required text for the course I'm currently taking in seminary. The course is "The Theology And History Of Fellowship" and focuses on Christology (Jesus), Ecclesiology (The Church), The Trinity, and how all of that fits into both developing and fostering Biblical Christian Community today.

Gilbert Bilezikian is one of the founding members of Willow Creek Community Church. It is known that he was one of the first people Bill Hybels approached about starting the church and it was in Gilbert's back yard that Willow Creek began to take shape.

So as I approached this book, I thought for sure it would be a good exegesis and practical methodology for how to build, develop, and sustain Biblical community within the church. It wasn't. It's not to say that the book was all bad, but at the same time, it has a lot to be desired.

Not only is Community 101 not sound exegesis, it is a book laced with an underlying "egalitarian" theme. For those who just went "egalitarian - what the heck does that mean?", Egalitarian is a view of manhood and womanhood that essentially says there is no gender distinctions in roles and that man and woman are essentially equal in their characteristics, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Egalitarian approaches to church stress that men and women equally can hold any position of ministry in the church and that the Bible makes no distinction or prohibitions based on gender. Gilbert is certainly in that camp. And not only is he in that camp, he is most decidedly "anti-complementarian".

For those of you who went "complimentarian?". Complementarian views of manhood and womanhood say that God most certainly did have a purpose in creating man and woman and he gave each gender strengths and weaknesses that very much "complement" each other. While both genders are absolutely equal in God's eyes and in ther image of Christ, they do have God ordained distinctions arising from their gender and therefore, God has woven throughout the Bible how gender can play a wonderful role in bringing Biblical community, families, and a world together. Equal in nature, different in roles. That's the "complementarian" view of manhood and womanhood.

So not only is Bilezekian anti-complementarian, he is also openly hostile and disdainful of people who hold this view. Which sets him against the likes of John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Albert Mohler, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, et call. So Bilezekian definitely finds himself in lonely territory from a sound Biblical exegesis standpoints.

To be fair, he does make some good analogies related to the cross and how that enables biblical community. He makes somes good statements, but more than anything, the underlying theme is most certainly promoting egalitarian views of Biblical community. I found myself reading the book just waiting for the chapter on why women as pastors is Biblical and sure enough, it came around page 100. Bilezekian's book "Beyond Sex Roles" is also a furtherance of his views concerning the matter.

All in all, I found this book of no help in addressing the problems of seeing true community form in our churches. It's a personal rant by the author and his bias and opinions shine forth way too much. For a 101 book, it wasn't very good. You can definitely sense the "emerging" overtones in this book. High on rhetoric and fluffy words to evoke emotion, low on truth and suggestions on how to actually get that done. Also, he makes some really big statements about his views on certain texts of the Bible and gives no fair treatment to other views on the matter.

For anyone who wants a true, thoughtful, and Biblically sound treatment of "egalitarian" vs. "complementarian", you need to go here and read "Recovering Biblical Manhood And Womanhood" by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Much more solid from a theological perspective.

July 05, 2007

The Day After Independence

So yesterday was July 4th...the day when America marks the first day of her independence from the British. It is a day filled with fireworks, hotdogs, friendships, conversation, comraderie, and relaxation. It is a day where we celebrate the relief of being free from the tyranny of the King, a time to cut loose and let our hair down and to revel in our new found ability to do whatever the heck we want to do.

And then, comes July 5th. Much the same as our fledgling country felt in the days and years after we "liberated ourselves", many American today will go back to a life where they are most certainly not free. In fact, they are slaves.

In the years following 1776, the country was anything but sure. Fighting, rebellion, economic disaster, division, mistrust, malice, and political maneuvering marked the years leading up to the Consitutional Convention. Independece, while a great notion and divine ideal, certainly coudn't continue to mean every man for himself. Surely there had to be order, discipline, and respect for the common good. It felt good to declare ourselves free, it was a whole nother thing to actually understand that freedom brought responsibility, hard labor, difficult times, loneliness, and uncertainty.

It is not much different today, July 5th. While it feels good to revel in the moment of July 4th, millions returned to life today completely in bondage. In bondage because they are afraid to take a chance. In bondage because slavery is more certain than freedom. In bondage because conformance to the Man of America (The Almighty Dollar) is easier than standing on principle.

You see to be a revolutionary, you have to throw off the tyranny and take whatever may come. For those who wish to remain under the Man, you simply take orders, don't rock the boat, all the while you may be mumbling under your breath how much you detest His ways. This is exactly what Jesus DID NOT WANT for his followers.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be liberated from the bondage of sin. Slavery to sin is certain. Following Jesus is not. You see when you are a slave to sin, you know what's coming because you determine it. When you are following Jesus, you have no clue what the next day will bring because you are not calling the shots.

And it's in this Gospel freedom that we find the true ability to love like we should, live like we should, take risks like we should, say what we should, do what we should, and be who we should. How is that possible? Because although the next day may be unsure, the future and ultimate outcome most surely is NOT. We know how the story ends.

The American Revolutionaries had no idea how the Great Experiment would turn out, yet they fought on. We know with absolute certainty how the Divine Experiement will unfold and yet we hide like cowards behind our money, our job security, our safety, our comfort, ourselves. We should be the most bold of anyone, yet we are cast with the disciples lot at the foot of the cross. WE have scattered like sniveling little babies into the shadows because we are afraid of what might happen to us.

People may not like us. People may not approve of us. People may fire me. People may hurt me. All the while, Jesus the King stands victorious in heaven, with the keys over death and sin firmly in His hand. And yet we will not believe. We will not follow.

The Gospel is the most liberating, freedom creating, independence making news in the history of the universe. And yet we don't believe. And because we don't believe, we don't act.

God, please forgive us, and more importantly me, for not living in the freedom that Christ won for me at the Cross and that His sinless life gained for me here on Earth. Father, please forgive me. And Father, forgive us for being cowards and fearing the Man more than we fear You (THE KING).

July 03, 2007

Go To Hell - Or Maybe Not?

Susan Jacoby, author and reporter, recently posted her response to the question "Do You Believe In Heaven Or Hell?". The question was asked of several reporters and you can find their answers here.

Susan is a self described atheist and posted a most intriguing response. As you would expect, her response is heavy in statement deriding and mocking organized faith or religion. But there were a couple of paragrahs that simply stuck out to me:

There is a devil--not a supernatural being but the sum of the worst human impulses. The devil is in us. Or rather, the devil is us. And what so many people think of as a supernatural being called "God" can be understood in the natural realm as the human capacity for good.

But I certainly do believe in purgatory. Purgatory is wondering whether the human race in general, and my fellow Americans in particular, will ever grow up enough to realize that we ought to treat one another decently simply because of our common humanity--not because we are looking forward to being entertained by harpists among the clouds or are terrified of eternal flame.
So my question to Susan would be, and I doubt she's a fan of The Jonah Syndrome, "So who gets to determine good and bad as you expect us to above?"

And ultimately, that's the question that every atheist, open theist, agnostic, and pagan has to answer. In a world where there is no transcendent God, no ultimate standard, no higher authority than ourselves, WHO IS LEFT TO DETERMINE right from wrong and good from bad? Who gets to do that?

Ultimately the answer they will have to come to, if they are intellectually honest which they are probably not inclined to be, is whoever has the guns. Because whoever has the most guns and bombs wins. At the end of the day, that is who gets to determine what ultimately is good and what ultimately is bad. And unfortunately, atheists drive you to a place where they themselves can't see taking you to. In a society where there is no transcendent authority, whoever has the power determines morality.

And all throughout history, you see this. And if there is no higher definition of good/bad or right/wrong then who is to say that Hitler was wrong? Who is to say that what's going on in Darfur is wrong? How can you? How dare you say that YOU know what is good/bad? Remember, you're the same person that has the capacity to misuse religion to commit atrocities, so by her own admission in the article, Susan wants you to be the final arbiter of good/bad in your life? Her position falls apart on its own merit and its own arguments. It has to, it's the only logical outcome.

Therefore, she makes a perfect argument the the knowledge of good/evil and definition of right/wrong has to come from someone other than ourselves and ultimately from a supernatural, transcendent God. And if He is the one providing the definition, to not care about Him and His definitions is just plain lunacy. It truly is.

The responses of the panelist were amazing. You really should read them. They will challenge you to think and affirm why the Christian worldview is the only viable view and the only one that doesn't fall apart on its own terms.

Susan, you may not believe in heaven or hell, and by your own view, the terms can have no meaning because I get to determine what they are, not you. And in a world like that, words can't have any meanings anyway.

Ultimately - It All Comes Down To Worldview

There's a great article by a former "terrorist" at the Daily Mail. As you read this article you're stuck by several things but the key paragraph is this:

And though many British extremists are angered by the deaths of fellow Muslim across the world, what drove me and many others to plot acts of extreme terror within Britain and abroad was a sense that we were fighting for the creation of a revolutionary worldwide Islamic state that would dispense Islamic justice
And thus I believe you have the full and un-varnished truth. The entirety of the conflict that will I believe eventually engulf the world will come down to one thing: Worldview

And these worldviews couldn't be more different. One says take up the sword and force conversion at all costs and in the case where conversion cannot be forced, then execution is appropriate.

And one says, take up the cross and be willing to be sacrificed for the Savior who himself was sacrificed. And if conversion cannot be forced, then so be it, we shall pray for, serve, and love our enemies despite their opposition to Jesus.

I believe that we are headed into dark times in the world. There's simply just too much power and control up for grabs and some how, some way, there will be people who will attempt to grab that power by forceful means. Terrorist threats, car bombs, mass murder, etc will all be realities for me, you, and our children for many years to come. So what are we to say to all this?

Well, if you believe in a Sovereign God, then you can "entrust your soul to a faithful Creator" as Peter says. If God ultimately allows such acts, then you can know that even though you may not get an answer here, that there is a divine purpose and working for good that is occuring through all of this and you can rest peacefully and calmly in the shadow of the Cross and in the Spirit's loving comfort.

However, if you believe as so many do today that somehow man's decisions cannot be foreknown by God lest he turn us into "robots" as they would argue, then you should be very scared by what is going on. And your life will be full of anxiety, worry, and despair because you ultimately have a God who cannot step in and alter men's decisions. You have a God that despite His best intentions, can't stop a terrorist's bomb from going off because that would interfere with that person's free will. And folks, to live in a world with that kind of God, is VERY SCARY and most certainly not comforting.

And you have to pick up both sides of the stick. If you will not concede God's sovereignty in salvation, sanctification, and preservation of the saints, then you most certainly CANNOT call upon God's sovereignty for protection for humanity because he cannot honor YOUR freedom of choice, but then dishonor the freedome of choice for Islam terrorists. It's one or the other. Free will is free will and not just given to those who hold a certain western ideology. Your view of God has to be applied to all 7 billion people in the world.

So I ask you, as you read this article and look to the future, which view of God gives you more comfort. A God that intervenes and ordains based on His good pleasure and for His purposes, or a God that leaves world events in the hands of humans?

How you answer that question will determine how well you sleep over the next 50 years.

July 01, 2007

A Great Christian Movie - Just Not The One You Thought

So it seems that Evan Almighty is bombing, while another movie, supposedly not meant for the Christian audience, is doing really well.

Now imagine my surprise when a story about a French rat named Remy is a clearer presentation of Biblical truth and in many ways the Gospel than a movie clearly "aligned" with Noah's Ark.

You heard me right, if you go see Ratatouille, you are going to see and hear great Christian truth. You just have to look for it.

Now, I'm not saying that Pixar intentionally meant to put it there, and I'm also not saying that everything in the movie portrays Christian theology, to the contrary. You will find plenty of secular humanistic "you can be anything you want" type stuff. You can see Hollywood essentially try to tell you that believing in "heaven" gets you there. You'll see a typical secular attempt at "little person with no resume makes good" type of storyline. You'll also see throughout the movie "an angel sitting on your shoulder" type of help. But if you look past that, and really keep your eyes open, you're going to see something truly amazing. There's Bible in there, and even Gospel, all in a little blue rat.

What do I mean? This is a story of a French rat from the country who has big dreams. He has a love of cooking and a passion for it that consumes him. He sees and smells things in food that no one else cares or sees. And yet, he's torn. He's torn betweeen family and his passion. And throughout the movie, this conflict of choosing his family or his passion leads Remy to do things he's not supposed to do, and try to be somebody he was never meant to be. Sound familiar?

Also, there's a partnership between Remy and a human named Linguine. Linguine is the legitimate heir to this famous restaraunt only there's one problem, he has no talent. And surprisingly, the talent he needs to make this dream come true comes from Remy. So, in concert, a little blue rat and Linguine embark to make food come alive. The human provides the outlet for the Remy's ability, genius, and creative ability with food. Linguine is nothing without the rat, and in the end, without him, he fails and is exposed as a fraud. Sound familiar?

Not only that, once the partnership is exposed and people become aware that Remy has been the one behind the great food all along, they are both ostracized and are abandoned by the people they have worked with. It seems that people found it hard to believe that something that unorthodox could be true. You see, it's just too hard to believe, therefore, it can't be true! Sound familiar?

But, once the truth is out, Linguine no longer has to hide the fact that it's a rat helping him, and he is free to be exactly who he was made to be. Not only that, but Remy is also free to now let his passion flow and because of that, they make the most wonderful food that in the end is the source of transformation for a harsh critic bent on ruining their restaraunt enterprise. Sound familiar?

And lastly, by far and away the best line in the movie is this: "NOT everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere!" And thus, a truth about Christian evangelism is spoken clearly in a movie theatre. Isn't it true? Didn't they say the same thing about Jesus? "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" The greatest reality the world has ever known came in a package as unfamiliar and un-recognizable as a tiny blue rat. The Messiah came as a carpenter from lowly means and background. He came as a servant, not as a King. He came as a wanderer with no place to lay his head, not as royalty demanding his castle back. And yet, because of Him, we are able to be who He created us to be and without Him, we are nothing. Without His death, without His paying the price for us, we are as lifeless, hopeless, worthless, and talentless as Linguine.

They may not be talking about penal substitutionary atonement. They may not be talking about his sinless life, his virgin birth, his resurrection, or anything of the sort. But if you pay attention really closely, you'll see Biblical truth come alive in the most unexpected of places. An animated movie about a rat and a human - making food that changes people's lives.

You need to go see it! And when you do, watch it really closely!

Redeemer Church Planting Manual

I ordered the church planting manual from Redeemer Church Planting Center. For those of you who aren't familiar with Tim Keller, that is his churches' training arm for church planting. As an applicant with Acts29 we're required to attend a boot camp for 2 days and the one I'm looking at attending will be at Keller's church in April 2008.

I'm excited to get the manual, as I am with just about any church planting resource to see what they have to say. I've never planted a church before so I'm eager to learn and to digest as much as I can. I would say that I have experience growing ministries, but this seems to be a much different ballgame with some similarities thrown in.

So I open to the first page and here's some of the first material you dig into, and mind you this is just an introductory letter on the first page of the manual. WOW!

  1. First, we believe that the gospel is "the power of God unto church planting" as well as "unto salvation". The first key to any effective ministry is a firm grasp on the gospel's uniqueness and ability to continually revitalize people and communities.
  2. Second, Christian leaders regularly underestimate the importance and complexity of contextualization. The second key to any effective ministry is a creative ministry model that honors both Biblical commitments---the realities of the context and the gifts of its leaders.
  3. Third, we believe that, paradoxically, churches grow best not when they aim at church growth as much as when they serve the peace/shalom of the whole city. St. Augustine believed that citizenship in the City of God made us the very best citizens of the human city.

So when you start out with that focus and with that mindset, how can you not REALLY look forward to the next 265 pages of wisdom, practice, methodology, recommendations, and insights that this manual has to offer.

I'm curious if anyone else has ever gotten their hands on this manual and what was your take. Was it helpful in your efforts to plant your church?