Sunday, October 07, 2007

Everyone’s got an opinion (and I’m getting tired of mine)

I’d cut myself a little slack if it was at all in my nature to do so. But here’s a problem I’m running up against in my own life: sometimes I’m all talk.

By that I don’t mean that I don’t believe what I say, or that, given the opportunity to practice it, I don’t. But I just seem to express a lot of opinions about the way I think things should be without giving people much of a reason to listen to them.

Perhaps it’s a problem of credentials: no one knows, or really cares to know, who I am. And who can blame them? There are plenty of people in this world with well-articulated opinions, and many of them have worked long and hard to earn the platform from which they opine. So why listen to someone like me who doesn’t seem to have earned as much of a right to be heard?

This past month I spent a week traveling with each of our two fulltime ministry teams for the purpose of helping them work out what, exactly, they had to share with our audiences. As the Program Director for CTI Music Ministries, I’m the person responsible for coming up with the central message we deliver to our audiences each year, but they’re the ones responsible for delivering it. Talk about a tough job - these teams have to take a thematic challenge from someone else, somehow make it their own, and then try to impact the church in the US with it! And this is all predicated on my ability to formulate my own thoughts well for them!

Fortunately for me, the back-pressure that I needed in order to solidify my thinking on the subject for this year was presented by an invitation to speak at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. The school really wanted a sort of “sermonette” as part of the chapel service that the team would be giving. It seemed like a good opportunity to model something for the team, so we had decided in advance that I would deliver the message that day. I spent a couple of weeks refining my thoughts and distilling them down to fit into a 7-minute time slot. (You can read the text of my message here.)

It was well-received by the students, but I felt a little awkward about the fact that all I did was passionately highlight my own opinions about what it means to be “relevant” and what I think it looks like for the church when relevance goes wrong. I concluded with my thoughts on what the church should be in response, and the student body of 1,000 or so applauded politely as I left the stage. I think it opened some minds, but it lacked anything that made it more compelling than just another person’s opinion.

A few days later, one of the team members was addressing a crowd at a Christian high school about essentially the same subject. She started by talking about someone she had known – someone whose life had been an inspiration to her. She shared what it was, specifically, about his life that impacted her so much. Then she shared about his unexpected death. She shared how that event had rocked her, hurt her, and caused her to seriously evaluate how she spent her own brief time on this earth. The students hung on her every word. By the time she was ready to deliver her central challenge to them, they were ready to listen to what she had to say.

She used the few moments she had with them to build a platform of credibility by sharing something more than her opinion. The fact that she had an opinion mattered because of her personal experience.

I desperately want the things I say and challenge others with to carry the weight of personal experience. Because everyone has an opinion. Blogging and conversing are fun… but I’m growing tired of having an opinion, and I’m not blaming anyone who is getting tired of hearing about it. I want to leave a legacy of action, not words.

My friend Jeff has been after me for some time to write another article for the online magazine that he publishes called Wrecked for the Ordinary, so the whole time I was developing this message for Northwestern, I was thinking about whether or not it could be adapted to share with the readership of Wrecked. Jeff is not one to let my thoughts go unrefined, however. As our discussion evolved, I came to the realization that Wrecked was a platform for sharing spiritual discovery that had been made through the adventure of life, not so much for preaching at people in a way that was detached from personal experience.

Jeff’s response to my discovery was You’re right. We tell stories that exemplify radical Christian living. It’s not a soap box. We’re trying to be just a little bit unique in a market that is inundated with opinions. If we had young people write about what they thought sucked in American culture, we wouldn’t run out of articles, but we also wouldn’t be able to compete with a whole slew of other mag’s.... Preaching without application is over-done and produces even less fruit.”

This has fundamentally impacted how I think about my own life and experiences. Instead of relating the personal convictions I have come to through experience, I’m now trying to focus more on relating the experiences themselves. It’s like starting over, in a way. I’ve still got a lot to say, but it’s taxing a completely different set of muscles to learn how to say it in this new way. I feel like I need to get back in touch with my own life. I don’t necessarily remember all the experiences that have brought me to the convictions I hold so strongly, and I need to re-discover the art of telling the stories, not the endings. Because the stories are the reality, and the endings are interpretive.

After all, everyone’s got an opinion.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

So Many Christian Infants

Another recent article challenging the church to action among it's own (translated "discipleship" or "spiritual formation.")

This one's by Gordon MacDonald. He's asking the question:
"Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?"
So Many Christian Infants

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Escape from Consumer Church

My friend Paul just pointed me to this article. It says a lot of what I have wanted to express, so I'll let it speak for me until I have time to come back to this subject:

Escape from Consumer Church

Saturday, September 15, 2007


As our CTI teams travel around the US this year, they’re engaging their audiences with this theme of awakening, which is an exhortation to us, the church, to awaken in passion to our responsibility and privilege of taking the Spirit of God that lives in us to the world.

The following is the text of an address that I gave in a chapel service at Northwestern College on September 14, 2007 while traveling with one of our teams on the Awaken tour.


Do any of you read Relevant magazine? I recently received the latest issue. The cover sports a photo of folk artist Ben Harper and advertises articles inside including several artist interviews, a story on the aftermath of Katrina two years later, and a rundown of this fall’s TV shows. Relevant has a pretty in-depth website too, and a podcast – both of which you might assume, based on the name of the magazine.

Their tagline is “God, Life, Progressive Culture”. If I had to identify their primary mission, I would say it was to draw attention to spirituality, both within “Christian” media and “secular” media. In fact, I doubt that the Relevant editorial staff really believes in differentiating between the two. The point seems to be that God exists in the music, writing, personalities and art of our culture, regardless of whether or not they are deemed exclusively “Christian.”

But I’m not here to endorse the magazine, nor am I here to defame it. I just want to draw attention to both the word and the concept of being “relevant” because the term has been getting a lot of press among younger Christians within the last few years.

I think it’s become our cultural buzzword for the concept of being “in the world, but not of it.”

Have you heard that phrase, “in it, not of it?”

I’ve heard it over the years – back in 2000, the CTI team that I was on covered a song by Avalon called “in not of.” Somehow I just assumed it was taken from scripture, I guess.

So I spent some time looking for it while I was preparing for this message. I was surprised by how difficult it was to find those words in the Bible.

In fact, I couldn’t find the phrase “in the world, not of the world,” or anything like it, anywhere that I looked.

What I did find, however, was a lot of scriptural support for the fact that we aren’t of this world. It’s not so much a command as it is a reality that we need to embrace.

As an example, while praying for his disciples in John 17:16, Jesus said that they weren’t of the world just as he wasn’t. And in I Peter 2:11, we read “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.” And there is more scriptural support for the fact that we are not of the world.

As for being “in” the world, Peter goes on in verse 12 to instruct his audience of “aliens and strangers” to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

Drawing it all together is the Romans 12:2 exhortation: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

So we’ve got some scriptural basis to stand on as we talk about this issue of being relevant to the culture we live among as aliens and strangers – in effect, being “in the world, not of the world.”

But sometimes, it seems like our efforts to be “in the world, not of the world” have prompted us to create a completely separate world. And we’ve stocked this separate world with every Christian alternative we can come up with… inventing “patterns” of our own world that resemble the ones of the world outside, and then we conform to those patterns instead.

And in the end, our zeal to be “in the world and not of it” has led us totally out of the world, yet left us totally of it. We can be very worldly, having everything that the world has, though the version in our separate Christian world is often viewed as sanitized.

And relevance has often become the term we use to define doing all of the things we can do to our separate world to make it more appealing to “them.” We think of it as the gravity of our separate world – the force we hope will draw people in. We reason that, if we use enough video, lighting and rock music, and then have a softball team on top of that, they’ll be attracted to our world, because it will look like theirs.

Have you ever walked into a Christian bookstore and found something that tries to persuade you that “If you like this secular band, you’ll like this Christian alternative”?

If you like Weezer, you’ll like Bleach.

If you like Gavin DeGraw, we promise you’ll like Nate Sallie.

If you like Avril Lavigne… well… maybe we don’t want you in our world that badly after all. (But if you really must come, we suggest checking out Jessie Daniels.)

It seems like we want to stand on our own cleverness and the things we have created, instead of relying on the overpowering attraction of the Spirit of God. We’ve forgotten that we have nothing to offer.

Remember, Peter said to live such good lives among the pagans that they may see our good deeds and glorify God… not for us to live in separation, and bid them come to us.

And Jesus, through his final recorded address to his disciples as recorded in Matthew 28:19 commanded us to “go, make disciples of all nations…”

Eugene Peterson renders it this way in The Message: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life.”

And so it strikes me that the only way to be relevant is to go,

to live our lives among the pagans,
to train those we meet, far and near, in this way of life,
to erase the fictional divide between the “Christian” and the “secular,”

and to remember that our words, our efforts, our lights and video and rock-and-roll praise bands are nothing to them without the reality of Christ and the Spirit of God.

As our CTI teams travel around the US this year, they’re engaging their audiences with this theme of awakening, and this is what that’s all about: As an organization, we long to see us, the church, awakening in passion to our responsibility and privilege of taking the Spirit of God that lives in us, and going to the world instead of waiting for the world to come to us.

After all, the presence of the Spirit is the only thing that really makes our world any different anyway.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

What is church/the church/a church?

I've been consumed with this subject for a while now, and have been formulating and sketching through my thoughts, intending to eventually work them out here as I have other streams of consciousness in the past. Look for that in October, which is currently calendared as the next chance I have to breathe.

I'm reading through Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell right now (thanks, Miles) and have tripped across a section that gets me so keyed up I just have to share the essence of it here with you. It's exactly where I'm headed in my own thinking, though I want to elaborate on it in a different way. Check this out:

My understanding is that to be a Christian is to do whatever it is that you do with great passion and devotion. We throw ourselves into our work because everything is sacred...

...this is why it is impossible for a Christian to have a secular job. If you follow Jesus and you are doing what you do in his name, then it is no longer secular work; it's sacred. You are there; God is there. The difference is our awareness.

This truth has significant implications for how churches function.

...A church is a community of people who are learning how to be certain kinds of people wherever they find themselves so they can do whatever it is they do "in the name of the Lord Jesus." The goal isn't to bring everyone's work into the church; the goal is for the church to be these unique kinds of people who are transforming the places they live and work and play because they understand the whole earth is filled with the kavod of God. ["Kavod" is the Hebrew word that we translate as "glory."]

...Missions then is less about the transportation of God from one place to another and more about the identification of a God who is already there. It is almost as if being a good missionary means having really good eyesight. Or maybe it means teaching people to use their eyes to see things that have always been there; they just didn't realize it. You see God where others don't. And then you point him out.

...That is why the best teachers are masters of the obvious. They see the same things that we do, but they are aware of so much more. And when they point it out, it changes the way we see everything.

Happy teaching, friends.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The way of love - Part the last: Practical steps towards resolution

A relevant and timely excerpt from Dallas Willard’s “The Great Omission”:
We should not only want to be merciful, kind, unassuming, and patient persons but also be making plans to become so. We are to find out, that is, what prevents and what promotes mercifulness and kindness and patience in our soul, and we are to remove hindrances to them as much as possible, carefully substituting that which assists Christ-likeness.

Many well-meaning people, to give an example, cannot succeed in being kind because they are too rushed to get things done. Haste has worry, fear, and anger as close associates; it is a deadly enemy of kindness, and hence of love. If this is our problem, we may be greatly helped by a day’s retreat into solitude and silence, where we will discover that the world survives even though we are inactive. There we might prayerfully meditate to see clearly the damage done by our unkindness, and honestly compare it to what, if anything, is really gained by our hurry. We will come to understand that for the most part our hurry is really based upon pride, self-importance, fear, and lack of faith, and rarely upon the production of anything of true value for anyone.

Perhaps we will end up making plans to pray daily for the people with whom we deal regularly. Or we may resolve to ask associates for forgiveness for past injuries. Whatever comes of such prayerful reflection, we may be absolutely sure that our lives will never be the same, and that we will enjoy a far greater richness of God’s reality in our lives.

In general, then, we “put on” the new person by regular activities that are in our power, and we become what we could not be by direct effort. If we take note of and follow Jesus in what he did when he was not ministering or teaching, we will find ourselves led and enabled to behave as he did when he was “on the spot.”

The single most obvious trait of those who profess Christ but do not grow into Christ-likeness is their refusal to take the reasonable and time-tested measures for spiritual growth. I almost never meet someone in spiritual coldness, perplexity, distress, and failure who is regular in their use of the spiritual exercises that will be obvious to anyone familiar with the contents of the New Testament.

That reminds me of the Richard Foster quote that I used as my prelude post to this series.

I doubt that I’ll have anything different or better to say on this subject for a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The way of love - Part V: You've read this before...

I’ve long suspected (and preached) that the evidence of spiritual fruit in a life lies in the pursuit of something higher than the fruit itself. I've been pointed again and again to the spiritual disciplines – not as legalistic ways to live my life, but as ways to increase my sensitivity to the Spirit and natural ability to be intimate with my Creator. Love, in the Christian context, should be a natural outflowing of that intimacy and the resultant deepening understanding of who God is.

Well, maybe I just don’t “want it” bad enough, because there are still plenty of distractions in my life that I give my attention to over the pursuit of spiritual formation. So now I’m pounding on the door of heaven, asking God to give me this desire above all else, because I am convinced that life is meaningless without the love that flows consequentially from a gut-level, honest understanding of my relationship to Him. And yet I remain frustrated by my own level of spiritual apathy.

I was “raised in the church,” so I don’t have the same context for God as someone who encountered Him somewhere along the way, and therefore has a distinct “before” and “after” by which to measure the reality of what God has done in their life. I therefore have difficulty comprehending the realness of God well enough to be able to honestly claim that I have a love for Him which supersedes all else. He’s so beyond my own understanding… so “out there” and intangible that it’s hard for me to associate any real passion with the pursuit of Him.

(Incidentally, this principle is at the heart of my often reserved or even cynical nature when it comes to corporate expressions of worship. My own inability to truly understand and identify the greatness of God conspires to make me feel rather inauthentic when I publicly express my wonder and admiration for it… and I’m often given instead to wondering whether or not anyone really identifies with what they’re expressing. Perhaps I’ll blog further on this subject line some day under the title “The emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”)

So where do I go now? I’ve come full-circle, back to the realization that I don’t evidence Christ-like love in my life as a general rule, which seems to follow from the fact that I don’t love God with the fullness that I desire (or He desires, for that matter), which seems to follow from my general lack of intimacy with, and hopefully commensurate understanding of Him.

I just hope this growing dissatisfaction actually leads somewhere.

[to be concluded]

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The way of love - Part IV: Turning the corner

I had a chance to visit with an old friend last night. I’ve known him for about 7 years. He moved away about 8 months ago, but is back in town visiting this week. He brought up the fact that I haven’t blogged recently.

He said “for a while there, you were writing your heart out, and then… nothing.”

There are two main reasons for this. The first is that my busiest season of the year runs from May through September when we close out the year for our Fulltime program (which I direct) at CTI, move through our Summer outreach season (I coordinate all our international outreaches), and launch a new year for the Fulltime program in August with training that runs until October (I’m responsible for developing and overseeing the program and associated training.)

Consequently, I have very little time or mental energy to devote to “recreational pondering” during this season. The moments of introspection I do have are almost all dedicated to visioning for the next year of our Fulltime program.

But something else has kept me away from the blog these past few months as well, and that’s the “now what?” factor. The lack of a clear answer to the problems I’ve evidenced to myself through the “Way of Love” series has sort of sapped my motivation to probe further into the subject… and I’m a compartmental eater, which means I have a hard time moving on to something else until I’ve completed whatever is currently on my plate.

The point of the “Way of Love” series has been, mostly, for me to objectively journal about my personal struggle to truly evidence the virtue of love in my life. I’ve spent a lot of time proving to myself that this fruit lies at the heart of all other Christ-like character traits; that without it, no other godly pursuit really matters.

Well, mission accomplished. I’m convinced – and more than a bit disheartened - because I have once again evidenced my knack for clearly documenting problems, but not identifying the solutions. And I really want to see this problem of love solved in my own life (if I may be so pragmatic.)

And so we turn the corner from exploring the problem to exploring the solution.

[to be continued]

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Mission trip to Mexico

Recently at CTI we announced confirmation of our short-term ministry locations for this summer - one of which is to Guadalajara, Mexico, in partnership with Youth With a Mission there. This particular program has a special place in my heart since I led our pioneer team there in 2003.

I shared the following thoughts with our staff and team members when I announced confirmation of our 2007 team:

Mexico is pretty much the "given" field for American youth ministry abroad. As a California kid, I made several trips across the border to orphanages or church plants with my home congregation. So many youth groups take such trips that it's become almost cliché. (In 1999, the ska group "Bunch Of Believers" released a tune called "Mission Trip to Mexico." It's either disturbingly shallow, or an attempt to make light of the cliché. I don't know which.)

Anyway, in such a climate, the thought of a CTI tour to Mexico often strikes disappointment in the hearts of recruits who get assigned there instead of, say, the glamorous mission fields of Africa. This was true in 2003 when I led our first team to work with YWAM GDL. I've heard similar stories since.

It's important to clarify that we're not making an over-the-border hop here into communities where American youth groups keep the Mexican tourism industry alive. Though border towns are frequented by U.S. youth in search of a missions experience, Mexico remains the 2nd least evangelized Latin American country. The Mexican state of Jalisco (where the YWAM base near Guadalajara is located) is the least evangelized state in all of Mexico. There is therefore good reason to believe that our ministry partners in this environment are working among some of the least evangelized people in all of Latin America.

In 2003, our ministry in GDL included spending time with the poorest of the poor, giving presentations at the equivalent of U.S. "soup kitchens" where people come for rations of food and messages of hope. YWAM works with a ministry that also has a significant presence in the prison system, as well as a continuing outreach to the homeless "street children" of Guadalajara. This partnership in particular is a quintessential manifestation of our ability to help bring notoriety to a ministry organization that works the same fields day in and day out. There are few places I'd rather send a team.

Our first team to GDL spent an unsettling mid-day among the trash heaps of a vacant lot while our ministry partners served lunch to a community of homeless people who were addicted to huffing paint fumes. The indelible impact this experience had on the team members is incalculable. In 2005, a CTI team visited a town that had been "closed" to the Gospel for years. YWAM had spent years gently trying to establish a presence there. That CTI team was the first visiting ministry team to be taken into that town. Team members did mostly one-on-one relational ministry with the locals there, using acoustic music more as a casual bridge-builder than a large-scale attention grabber. These are the sorts of things that happen in Mexico.

I'm excited about continuing this partnership. YWAM is excited about having us back. I hope our recruits will be excited for this opportunity as well.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The way of love - Part III: The very nature of God

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
        did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
        taking the very nature of a servant,
        being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
        he humbled himself
        and became obedient to death—
                even death on a cross!
                - Philippians 2:1-8

Here is the true relationship between love and service: Christ’s love for the Father… even His love for us, was proven real as He took on “the very nature of a servant.” He did this because of love- it was His very nature to serve because He was, in very nature, God… and the very nature of God is love (see I John 4:7-8.)Because of love, the Father sent the Son to redeem the world (see John 3:16-17.) Christ the Son shared the Father’s love for the world because He was, in very nature, God. His love for the world was therefore shown through His obedience to the Father’s will.

Here’s where I’m going with all of this: the problem of lacking in love for others will not be solved by concentrating on loving them more – my motivation must flow from my pursuit of something higher. (For a more complete representation of my thoughts on this theme, see my post on fruits.)

The solution to the problem of love is the very goal of life, and the very goal of life is Christ-likeness. But if I see in Philippians 2 a call to be more Christ-like primarily by taking on “the very nature of a servant,” and, in so doing, neglect the reason why Christ took on that nature, I have tended the fruit and not the tree. This is a characteristic of legalism. But love is a characteristic of life by the Spirit.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. I John 4:16b-17

[to be continued]

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The way of love - Part II: The measure of meaninglessness

I Corinthians 13 is an all-too familiar passage on love. It therefore takes some effort to hear these words in the context Paul used as he was writing them to the Corinthians: that of spiritual gifts.

After going back and re-reading the chapter with this context as my focus, I can mentally insert two sub-headings into Paul’s words. In the first three verses, we read about the futility of anything that isn’t motivated by love:

1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

I read these comparisons as warnings. Paul is saying that effectiveness and success in life, even success in the spiritual realm, is meaningless if it isn’t for the sake of love. Find history’s greatest person of faith, most renowned prophet, biggest philanthropist and bravest martyr - Paul says that these characteristics of their lives amount to nothing if love’s not at the core.

This causes me to wonder about the motivation behind the things I have done in my own life. I tend to do a lot of “behind-the-scenes” or “helps”-type work - this has typically been indicated as one of my main strengths by any test that aims to identify my spiritual gifting. But am I prone to giving without loving? And how can I know?

I am aided in my discovery by the next four verses, where Paul gives some benchmarks to identify whether or not love is the motive behind any action:

4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

When I measure some of my acts of service against these benchmarks, I often see the motivation of love eroded. Each verse rings like an accusation to which I must plead guilty in many of the circumstances I can recollect. Patience is not often a characteristic of the way I serve others, nor is humility (which rules out not boasting or being proud.) As for self-seeking… well, let’s just say it is astonishing how much serving can really be done for the personal benefit of the server. And Paul’s list continues.

Can even the pursuit of spiritual formation be carried out in way that is rendered meaningless for its lack of love? Clearly, Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees proved the answer to be an unquestionable “yes.”

[to be continued]

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The way of love - Part I: Bankrupt

I’m currently working out a stream of consciousness dealing with a subject that I’m not an expert in: love. Not romantic love, (which I’m also not an expert in,) but the kind of love which the apostle Paul referred to as “the most excellent way.” He described it as greater than both faith and hope (see I Corinthians 13.)

I’ve written before about the connection between love and character traits like servanthood (see in particular Legalism vs. Life by the Spirit). Specifically, I’ve written about how servanthood and other fruits should be a natural and evident byproduct of the love that motivates us. Lately, I’ve been impressed with the need to seek balance in this equation by taking a closer look at the other side of the line – the motivation itself. The shocking discovery has been that here, too, the fruits can be easily forced without the actual presence of love as a true motivation.

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren writes: “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.” I’ve been quick to make a case for the latter half of that statement. But I don’t know that I’ve ever, before now, given much thought to the reality of the first half. Sadly, it doesn’t take very much self-evaluation to reveal my tendency for giving without loving. This is very troubling, for, as Paul states, “no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” I Cor 13:3b (Msg)

[to be continued]

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Activity is the enemy of adoration

"The divine priority is worship first, service second… Service flows out of worship. Service as a substitute for worship is idolatry. Activity is the enemy of adoration.” … “One grave temptation we all face is to run around answering calls to service without ministering to the Lord himself."

-Richard Foster on the discipline of worship in Celebration of Discipline

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The essence of testimony (or "Why I blog")

I process by writing, and I learn and grow by processing.

Funny though… I’m not, and never have been, a journaler, in the traditional sense. The biggest reason I don’t journal is that I can’t stand the thought of a written record of how stupid I once was! So now, instead of writing those things on paper, I publish them on the web (wait, what?????)

I hardly understand it myself, but like I said, I write to process. Something about the possibility of an audience (however small it may be) gives me sufficient compulsion to write. If I was the only one who’d ever read this stuff, I undoubtedly wouldn’t go through the process of working it all out.

I’ve got a document on my laptop that is filled with thought fragments that I need to process and develop. If I were writing to myself (i.e. journaling,) I’d probably never bother to get around to them, because there wouldn’t be much point, in my mind. But the outlet of a blog somehow lends purpose to the process of developing these thoughts. I frame my thoughts for the consumption of an audience rather than just for myself. I labor over vocabulary, grammar and formatting. I seek out word illustrations to make the things floating around in my mind more easily understood by the world… and in the process, they become more understandable to me.

I don’t think this is a method that should be prescribed for everyone, but it works for me. I blog for my own development, really. But it is always my hope that God touches someone else through what He’s teaching me. To me, that’s the essence of testimony.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

God is not interested in your spiritual life

Too often people think about their 'spiritual lives' as just one more aspect of their existence, alongside and largely separate from their 'financial lives' or their 'vocational lives.' Periodically they may try to 'get their spiritual lives together' by praying more regularly or trying to master another spiritual discipline. It is the religious equivalent of going on a diet or trying to stick to a budget.

The truth is that the term spiritual life is simply a way of referring to one's life - every moment and facet of it - from God's perspective...

...God is not interested in your 'spiritual life.' God is just interested in your life. He intends to redeem it.

-John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The problem with making Jesus "cool"

Conventional wisdom says teens don't like church because they find it boring. So they must be lured in with entertainment.

So claims a recent article in Leadership Journal. And those of us in youth ministry have responded... often shying away from discipleship and truth in favor of making Jesus "cool."

The result of this trend, according to sources documented in the article:
Many teens are now unable to differentiate between the gospel and the pop-culture box they receive it in.

God forgive us.

p.s.: The Chris Reed mentioned in the above-referenced article is not me.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Exploring the Edge - my story

In our young minds, the mile-long path down the cliffs between the campsite and the shore was much too far to walk. There had to be a quicker way, so my brother and I set out to find it.

In truth, it would have taken less than twenty minutes to hike the trail, but thirty minutes after wandering off into the bush, our thoughts had wandered off of our original mission of finding a shortcut to the beach, and we were fully engaged in the new adventure of exploring the sea bluffs of coastal Orange County, California.

Just looking at those pictures reminds me of what it was like to be nine. Growing up watching kids in G.I. Joe commercials push their toy tanks through the massive craters and monolithic dirt piles of their television studio backyards had left my brother and I feeling a little inadequate about our own more ordinary outdoor play space (which, in suburban Los Angeles terms, was actually rather generously sized and filled with plenty of Tonka-Truck-worthy obstacles… but the grass is always greener on the other side.) Suffice it to say, we were having the carefree time of our relatively young lives, traipsing around in the valleys of erosion lining the top edge of the majestic bluffs.

The story of exactly how I found myself dangling by my fingertips from a ledge some thirty-five feet above the hard-packed dirt and rock base of the cliff is one of those mysteries lost to the memories of boyhood. I’m sure the series of events which led to that situation made perfect sense to us at the time, (and, were I nine again, they might make perfect sense even now,) but the fog of responsible adulthood has overtaken and clouded the particulars. Yet I do remember the dangling. And while my twelve-year-old brother frantically searched for a means by which he could safely extract me from my predicament, I remember my arms getting tired. I remember the ledge starting to crumble. And, as the reality of discomfort began to distort and obscure the consequences of gravity in my mind, I distinctly remember making the decision to let go.

The possibility that someone could survive such a fall didn’t really register as a realistic one to the hiker on the trail below, but he scrambled up the scrub-covered embankment towards where I had landed anyway. The first thing he saw when he got there was me trying to sit up. “Don’t move!” he barked. And I didn’t. I couldn’t.

I had landed on my back at the rocky foot of the cliff; the rounded surface of a boulder protruding a few inches through the packed dirt had served as a pillow to cushion my head when I hit the ground. I don’t remember much about the next few minutes as the hiker summoned some beachgoers who transferred me to a surfboard and carried me up the trail to the top of the bluffs.

These were the days before cell phones or the widespread proliferation of 911, but it seems to me that the paramedics were already at the top of the cliff by the time we arrived there. My brother had charged back into the brush towards the campsite to find our parents. They were on their way to the scene. An ambulance was bouncing up the dirt road towards us. I remember being most concerned about the fact that the paramedics were cutting my favorite shirt off of me (it was a shirt my grandparents had brought back from Hawaii for me, and everyone in the family had a matching one. Now I was going to be the only person left out – stupid paramedics.)

They kept missing the vein they were trying to get an IV into. They were on one of those phones-in-a-toolbox-to-the hospital, like Station 51’s Kelly and DeSoto used to talk to Dr. Brackett back at Rampart in the television series Emergency!, which was a favorite of my brother’s and mine at the time.

Apparently, Dr. Brackett told the paramedics to forget about the IV and just get me to the hospital. But an ambulance was apparently not an expedient enough conveyance, and the bumpy dirt road presented the added risk of compounding the multiple fractures I was sure to have. A helicopter had already been dispatched. It was landing as my parents ran up to the scene. In one of the cruelest bits of misapplied imagery ever, I’m told the paramedics pulled a white sheet over my head as my parents approached (in an effort to keep the dust kicked up by the rotors out of my eyes.) I think my mom needed as much medical attention as I did at that moment.

I remember hallucinating in the helicopter. I was the only passenger, but I remember having conversations with all the other patients on board nonetheless. I remember overhearing the pilot tell the co-pilot that we were going to crash because we were running out of fuel (is it even possible to overhear someone ten feet away from you in a helicopter mid-flight?)

I don’t remember being taken into the hospital, but I recall experiencing the first of the many massive and recurrent headaches that continue to this day while lying on that hard table under the blinding lights and X-ray machines. I remember being mortified that they were trying to take my swim trunks off (the two X-ray techs were girls!) I didn’t know where I was, who these people were, and why no one that I did know was around. And for some reason, everyone seemed to be very concerned with not letting me fall asleep…

…I remember waking up on a gurney in what seemed like a hallway, with tubes running into my nose and arm. Things were beeping. There were stitches in my head. Someone wearing scrubs stuck a needle into one of the tubes. I slept again. I don’t know what else happened. At some point, a doctor had apparently told my parents that I would most likely be quadriplegic if I survived.

I remember being pushed outside in a wheelchair and put into a car. I slept again. I remember waking up on the bed in our motor home back at the campsite. I was many shades of black and purple. A tanned teenager poked his head in the door and asked if he could get his surfboard back. Apparently, it was only the day after the accident.

A few days later, I would join my family for one last look out over the ocean from a vantage point near where the helicopter had picked me up (and from which the picture at the end of this story was taken twenty-three years later.) I would walk there on my own power.

The original diagnosis of paralysis was probably made before the doctor even saw me. It was clearly a jump to what seemed like a logical conclusion; no one could fall that distance and land like that in those conditions and walk away. It would be remarkable if they lived at all. But the X-rays taken by the hospital revealed not one broken bone. Not a single one. None. I sustained a concussion. I think my brother was examined for the scratches he received from charging through the brush to make sure he hadn’t been bitten by the snakes that inhabited the scrub.

Premature or not, that original diagnosis has always stuck in my mind as something significant. I don’t think it was unrealistic, or not medically well-founded. I shouldn’t have come away from that accident in the condition I did – a fact I’ve tried not to lose sight of since.

I don’t claim to have been healed of those terrible wounds – I believe I was protected from ever sustaining them in the first place. In the nearly twenty-five years since that day, I’ve given quite a bit of thought as to why.

There is a great myth perpetuated among mankind that each of our lives is centered on some singular great purpose. Many of us are in search of that defining moment: the act, experience or time that will leave us resolved that this was what I was made to do. But in our zeal to find and devote ourselves to that one great thing, we may miss the real purpose and joy of life along the way.

If I bought into that myth, I might be inclined to wonder if that thing already happened for me and I missed it. Maybe it was in college or at some former job, or in something that happened in Malaysia or Lebanon, or maybe it was in giving that shoeless guy a ride home a couple of years ago. Maybe it was all of that and more. Maybe my purpose has been accomplished by now, and I’ve just been lucky enough since then not to have been caught in a situation that, without some sort of intervention, should logically have resulted in my end.

I think a lot of us spend so much of our time and energy preparing for where we might end up that we have little left to spend on where we actually are. We’re afraid that exploring the edge of life will leave us unprepared for the “next big thing,” and so we stick to the safe path that we think will lead us somewhere productive. Or maybe we live in the fear that the next cliff we encounter will result in the end of our story (or at least our paralysis,) and that thought makes us want to stay away from the edge altogether.

But when we stay away from the edge, we miss the beauty of the ocean view.

Jesus knew it would be our tendency to be preoccupied with our future, and he shared His thoughts on the better way to live when He said that our heavenly father knows our every need (see Matthew 6:25-34.) His alternative instructions:

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (v.34, The Message)

I’m not really convinced that my purpose in life will ever manifest itself in some great accomplishment. I believe that I was spared on that day in August of 1982, not because there was some singular work left to be done in my life, but because there were other edges left for me to explore.I find my purpose in life along the way, and when my story ends, I think the notable content will be found in the places where I gave my attention to what God was doing in the moment, and took the risk of exploring the edge.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Information vs. Transformation

Pastor Phil (of my church in Willmar) has, at least twice that I'm aware of, used this phrase as one of his sermon outline fill-in-the-blanks:

Has my spiritual journey been more about information than transformation?

I cut that out of my outline one Sunday and taped it to a cabinet door in my kitchen, because it is probably one of the best admonitions that I, personally, can read each day.

For an article that's sure to challenge any of us "emergents" on that very subject, head on over to theOoze and get your click on: Confessions of Emerging Guy

Thursday, March 22, 2007

How did I hide the blogger navbar?

Derya's WebResource.axd: How to hide the Blogger nav bar?

pure genius.

Sharing our faith for our own gain

I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a fuller understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. -Philemon vs. 6

When I read Philemon this week, something in that verse stood out to me as curious: Paul wasn’t praying that others would gain a fuller understanding because of Philemon’s sharing… he was praying that Philemon would gain a fuller understanding through being active in sharing his own faith.

Relevance: our tendency to:

  1. think we must work out our own faith before we share it;
  2. not share, because we don’t think we have things worked out;
  3. focus exclusively on the benefit our sharing might be to others, and neglect the benefit that the practice of sharing has on our understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.


-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Philippians 2:12-13

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Important as it is that we recognize God working in us, I would yet warn against a too-great preoccupation with the thought. It is a sure road to sterile passivity. God will not hold us responsible to understand the mysteries of election, predestination and the devine sovereignty. The best and safest ways to deal with these truths is to raise our eyes to God and in deepest reverence say, "O Lord, Thou knowest." Those things belong to the deep and mysterious profound of God's omniscience. Prying into them may make theologians, but it will never make saints.

-A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Friday, February 02, 2007

Legalism vs. Life by the Spirit

The entire book of Galatians appears to be Paul on a rant. Clearly, he's very passionate about the one consistent subject he seems to be addressing (legalism.) At last, in Chapter 5, we get to see what Paul presents as the juxtaposition to legalism: freedom in Christ.

After one of the funniest passages in Scripture (where Paul reveals his true colors in cynically expressing his wish for a "slip" of the surgeon's knife- see Galatians 5:12) he gets to the point:

"You, my brothers, were called to be free." And he immediately states a danger: "But do not use your freedom to indulge in the sinful nature" (Galatians 5:13).

He goes on to instruct on how to avoid that danger: "Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Then he concludes with: "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."

To summarize:
  1. Legalism is evil; we were called to be free.
  2. Freedom can easily be used as an excuse to indulge the sinful nature.
  3. Life by the Spirit will preclude indulgence of the sinful nature.
  4. Life by the Spirit will preclude legalism.

Circular logic? It goes one step deeper. Paul says "The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" And he completes the circle with this statement: "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

So it would seem that the way to avoid both legalism and indulgence of the sinful nature would be to live by the Spirit, and it would further seem that to live by the Spirit would mean to carry each other’s burdens, or to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Enclosed within this circle of logic is what I find to be one of the most fascinating and challenging passages Scripture has to offer: Paul's picture of the traits that characterize "life by the Spirit." He refers to them as "fruit." And if you've hung out with me at all over the last two years or so, you know that this has become a big touchpoint for me.

These are measurement points: a life “by the Spirit” will be a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But I see Paul calling us to concentrate on something higher than those character traits themselves. Fruit grows because the tree is tended, not because the fruit itself is tended. You don’t wash an orange while it’s on the tree… you fertilize and tend the roots so that the oranges it bears will be healthy and many.

I think Paul is drawing our attention to one central truth:If we bear each other’s burdens… if we love our neighbor as ourselves, and thus fulfill the law of Christ, then our life will naturally be characterized by these fruits, and we won’t be given to either legalism or the gratifying of our sinful nature.

Freedom from the law has its roots in being a servant to others.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The kind of life Jesus invites us to live...

Food for thought from John Ortberg:

I remember a church-planting consultant who warned a group of us that we would need to pay the price if we wanted a successful church plant. We'd have to do whatever it took: let our marriages suffer, put our children on hold.

But it seemed to me then, and it does now, that this cannot be the way God intended ministry. If the purpose of ministry is to convince people to live the kind of life Jesus invites us to live, how can the church be built on people who give up living the kind of life Jesus invites us to live?

A central question for my life these days is this: Is my involvement in ministry helping Christ to be formed in me?

Authentic ministry will never work in opposition to leading a life of increasing joy and love and gentleness. Ministry must never be separated from spiritual formation.

If ministry is being done right, it will aid in having Christ formed in me. My involvement in ministry (using ministry in the narrow sense of service to the body of Christ) needs to be seen in light of an overall way of life designed to help me become transformed. If it is not doing this, something, somewhere, has gone wrong.

Full article: