Friday, September 18, 2009
So a few weeks ago, our friend from the Northwest who is in charge of finding a pastor to start a church plant in the Seattle area which already has quite a bit of funding from the sale of an older church facility called us. He let us know that after the interviews and the time that we spent together that he wanted us to be those planters. We were pumped! But first, one thing. We would have to pass an assessment.
Let me tell you why this was actually a scary prospect. I had a job lined up in Seattle, not a ton of money, but there it was solid and it was a sure thing. I had a date that I had planned to start and everything. If I wanted to say yes to the Planting Possibility, I would have to say No to the sure thing. The awesome guy who was going to employ me, needed someone in place by a certain date, and if I committed to the assessment, I would have to force him to hire someone else.
If I failed the assessment,I would have to move the next week, with no job. That thought was absolutely haunting me. But when it came down to it, the church planting opportunity would be the fulfillment of a dream that we have had for a long time now. It would allow us to do what we feel like we are here to do. When Kim and I really talked about it, there was no real choice, we had to pursue this.
So coming into this assessment, I knew that my life was going to change one way or there other, and I knew that I wanted it to change toward the planting direction and not away from it.
It was a mad rush to get ready. Because the friend who recruited us understood our situation, he set us up with an assessment date that was only 2 weeks away. During those two weeks, we had to both take several psychological tests, personality tests, and a huge essay written test. For the essay, I wrote close to 30 pages of essays over the course of 3 days. It was quite a cram to get it all in within a week, but we got it all taken care of.
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Here's my question:
Does it really matter?
Of course I will not argue that salvation does not matter. But here we have Driscoll who claims to read a theology book every day, Rob Bell who has the Old Testament background of his upbringing and Pagitt who has been a major voice in the Emerging Church for years. And of course McLaren who seems to bring a huge well traveled perspective to his spiritual formation.
These 4 dudes are more schooled in intricate theological debate and study than most pastors. They all have upper middle class backgrounds and have had all of the advantages of loose jobs where they can study for countless hours, write for a living and use their actual pastorate as more of a hobby than a job, if they like.
And they don't agree.
They all choose to emphasize some teachings over others, some aspects of their intrepretations of God's character over others, some of the prophetic language from scritpure over others, some of the doctrinal teachings about salvation, biblical inerrancy, authority of scripture, practical Christian living etc. etc. But what should baffle and confuse us the most is the fact that these guys don't agree.
And my question becomes, do you think that we will stand at the judgement seat of God and He will be asking us who we sided with? Do you think that there will be a special section of hell or heaven devoted to the followers of these men? Do you think that some of us or some of them will wake up in hell after death?
There is very little that McLaren and Driscoll and Bell have in common when it comes down to theology. McLaren thinks that God has already done all of His redeeming and saving and that all of us will experience the benefits of that in the after life. Bell thinks that salvation comes through faith in Jesus and His saving power. And Driscoll believes that God has already decided these things and that they are not up to us.
When it comes down to it... it's a mess. Some churches teach that church attendance, saying a certain prayer or even giving money faithfully will have major impacts on your status in the after-life.
The point that I am trying to make though is not whether these thoughts are right or wrong, but that there IS confusion. When I read the Bible, I can come to very very different conclusions than you can. I can read some of Paul's statements and say that women should not be church leaders, or I can read some of his history or some of Jesus statements that make me believe very differently. I can read Revelation and believe that there will be signs before the end times, or I can read where Jesus says it will come like a thief in the night. I can apply Jesus' cast the first stone consequence to someone's sin, or I can excommunicate them from my church based on Paul's teaching. I can believe that Jesus came to save "the world" "the faithful" or "the elect."
One big question that this provokes for me is: Does God understand that His Bible is very confusing? Does God only intend for those enlightened thinkers who have correctly interpreted scripture will be with Him in heaven?
Can we believe that God's character is of Grace and Understanding? Can we believe that maybe the Doctrine of Salvation is less important than joining the community of those who follow the Saver?
The implications for this are huge for me in our current church planting discussion. Is our church about saving people from hell? Or is our church about being who Jesus calls us to be? AND trusting that Jesus will care for us eternally.
It's a lot to think about.
Thursday, March 26, 2009
OK, by now you know about the mess between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer a couple of weeks ago. Jon Stewart made some cutting criticism of CNBC and while doing so singled out Jim Cramer who happens to have a loud and obnoxious finance show. Cramer took exception and fired back in the media. I didn't really get what was the big deal in the media fueled duel. Neither one of them really said anything all that horrible. But, to his credit, Cramer came on The Daily Show to talk it out with Stewart. This was either bold and courageous, or dumb and naive.
Stewart came prepared. He had evidence of Cramer's double talk cued up to be shown on command. Stewart was pretty ruthless and had a point that he wanted to make, and he wasn't about to let Cramer being somewhat repentant get in the way. Stewart called the financial news networks nothing more than "cheerleaders of the big companies" who were involved in the financial collapse. He shot barbs at them for not reporting on the downward slide, and continuing to talk about the small picture instead of the big story.
The saddest part of the confrontation was that Cramer seemed to come on the show to actually fess up to giving bad advice at times. But Cramer's apology didn't actually cover the problem that Stewart was pointing out.
Stewart's confrontation of Cramer has become big news. Bigger than 4 years ago when he made Tucker Carlson look like a fool on Carlson's own show. So now, Carlson, since his previous show was cancelled weeks after Stewart's appearance, loaded his gun and went on a Stewart hunt. Unfortunately, Elmer Fudd looked like Grizzly Adams compared to Carlson's weak attack on Stewart.
"[W]as Jim Cramer the only analyst to call it wrong ... to, you know, come up with stupid stock picks? Of course not. He criticized Obama's budget, and that's what started this, because in the end, Jon Stewart is a partisan hack."
Carlson doesn't get it. Stewart did not stand up for Obama's budget. He slammed CNBC for being a news network that was a mouthpiece for the big financial institutions. None of the attack was partisan at all. What Carlson has tried to do is a high school debate team trick. He simply tried to change the argument to something that he knows something about by relating two things that were totally unrelated. Carlson is apparently short sighted enough to relate anything to politics. But his attack falls so short that it feels like Carlson might not have even watched the entire confrontation.
Carlson then in the Washington Post said:
"Cramer humiliated himself the other night (and on many previous nights on his own show) but that doesn't mean he and his network are responsible for the meltdown. That's way too simple. In fact it's demagoguery."
I dare you to find a place where Stewart blamed the meltdown on the news networks. That wasn't his argument at all.
And then, again the most unbelievably dumb comment that Carlson made, that shows that he still has not learned from his own confrontation with Stewart.
"And by the way, where was Jon Stewart when the bubble was swelling? How many shows did he do on the coming financial collapse? Why didn't he warn us?"
Jon Stewart goes out of his way, again and again to let us know that he is a comedian. He's not a newscaster. He doesn't have a journalism staff. His entire show is nothing more than a parody of the news networks and their ridiculous tendency to not cover actual real news.
Because of his comical parody, he is confronted daily, face to face with the evidence that News organizations are not reporting news. Stewart was astonished in the 04 election at how the networks only reported on the talking points of the candidates. Their idea of fair and balanced was to fill us in on the talking points of both guys, however each network would omit some points and would stress others. But Stewart's frustration was that none of the networks did enough investigation to find the truth. When one candidate says the Iraq war cost one amount and the other says that it costs only half that, it is the job of real news people to tell us what the war cost and how each candidate came up with their number and what the candidates are trying to say by giving us false numbers. Instead, they report the talking points and then have dumb pundit debate shows that will take one side or the other based on little research.
When Stewart told Carlson famously in 04 that his stupid Crossfire show was "hurting America" what he was saying was that they were not reporting news, they were purposely fueling debate and not coming up with the truth.
Carlson's retort in 04 was to make fun of Stewart's interview with John Kerry, and tell Stewart that he was not hard enough on Kerry and didn't expose the truth through his reporting. Stewart was amazed at Carlson's ignorance. Stewart boldly told Carlson that he hosts a show on Comedy Central and it is extremely sad if Americans are really looking for Comedy Central to be the network that holds the candidates feet to the flames. Stewart told Carlson "the show that leads into mine is about sock puppets making crank calls."
Stewart is not trying to influence America, he was trying to have a funny show. The reason for the show's longevity is the ridiculousness of the cable news networks. They provide plenty of ammo for Stewart to parody.
Carlson told Stewart in 04 "you should get a job at a journalism school", basically telling Stewart that he had a lot to learn. Stewart replied to Carlson "you need to go to one."
Carlson is now saying that Stewart should be more careful. He is saying that Stewart is having an impact on National politics and needs to start acting like more of a journalist. But Carlson is too self involved to realize that Stewart didn't ask for this power and only has it because of the terrible punditry of people like Carlson.
To be clear. Stewart has latched onto this one cause, and I believe he has every right to do it. He has parodied the news for so long it has made him increasingly cynical and bitter about the impact of the news networks on politics and misinformation that the American public believes. It is the perfect cause for Stewart. It is a problem that Stewart has a unique relationship with, and if Stewart has any power the news networks need to recognize that they look ridiculous on Stewart's show because they are. Jon Stewart would marginalize himself if he started to walk into causes the way that Michael Moore does. If we see Stewart do this same thing with universalized health care, or gun control etc, then we might have to acknowledge that Stewart is too self important. But unlike Carlson, Stewart stays in his own niche, one that he has comfortably created and one that he has plenty of ammo to stay in for the forseeable future.
OK. I thought at first that this was a non issue. But today I am getting a little more frustrated at the economic state of affairs in the good ol' US of A.
During the election there was all this buzz about how Obama was going to turn our country into a socialist nation. He was going to take money from the rich and give it to the poor. Only not Robin Hood style just through taxes and bureaucracy. Wah Wah Wah. It was a good point by people opposed to the idea that the richest people in our country should be paying more taxes. Personally, even I was a little unsure about this. I mean, they earned it, right? Why should we be allowed to take it away to give to the people who have not taken the initiative to earn their fortune. I mean, special treatment for the poor? Who would come up with and idea like that. Doesn't that just encourage the welfare moms and the drop-out thugs right. Isn't that what they are?
I mean, these poor people, must be too lazy to go to school, go to college, get a real job, start a company and support their own family. All of those poor people are living the easy life while all of us middle class and upper class people work our tails off to foot the bill.
(btw, this was the exact argument that I heard Sean Hannity use a few months ago during the election heat.)
All of those hard working exeutives and middle management people. Poor fellas. Working their fingers to the bone. I mean look at me, I am positioned in the shrinking middle class. I work my butt off right. I mean think about it:
I went through elementary and middle school earning solid A's and B's. I braved the bullies on the bus and on campus to make it through.
I went through High School earning nearly a 4.0 GPA. I am guessing that in many classes, I averaged a strong C on the tests, but because I turned in my homework and was polite to my teachers, I could pull those C's to easy A's. All you really had to do was make sure that you turned in more homework than the average kid.
I did all this while working my butt off on the golf team (playing 9 holes 4 times a week) and playing in the orchestra.
Because of my very mediocre effort, and my stellar performance on a couple of standardized tests, I earned scholarships to many colleges. I chose to attend the prestigious ASU and basically float around campus changing my major a half dozen times and giving a half effort to the classes that I had no interest in.
After college I got pretty much every ministry job that I ever applied for. And now here I am living in a nice neighborhood in a very affluent community.
Not only that but I earn it by working sooo hard. I mean think about it. I preached twice yesterday, and then had to attend "pizza with the pastors" where I had to interact and answer questions from new church goers. After that, I barely got an hour to rest before attending the Children's day event. (btw. 3 hours of watching kids re-enact the New Testament, can actually count as difficult work.) During the week, I have to make phone calls, plan stuff, meet with families in crisis, go to meetings, study and write my messages. Man, I really slave away. Right?
Meanwhile, at my house a kind hispanic man and his wife show up. Not to rob it, although a neighbor did ask me if they were really allowed in our house while we weren't there. "You mean, you trust them around your tv's and computers and jewelry?" He said. They get there at 9am sharp. The husband works in the yard, he trims trees and bushes, waters the things that need watered, he blows off all of the desert dust and crunch tree droppings from all over my yard. He fixes anything that looks in need of repair. He then goes in and helps his wife who is vacuuming every inch of our house, cleaning our bathrooms, dusting, disinfecting, scrubbing and cleaning the tile floor, taking out the garbage and doing the dishes. For this, I pay them whatever they ask. I often feel that they ask too little.
Last week, the husband saw that our pool had a bunch of junk floating in it, palm fronds, dirt, golf balls, rocks and a bunch of random stuff that just tends to blow in there. He cleaned it. I'll bet it took hours. I've never asked him to clean my pool in the past. I didn't even notice it until he left. The funny thing was: he didn't look for a bonus.
Not only does this couple not steal from me, they give me more than I bargain for. But I am pretty aware that they are not well off. I'm sure not even close to middle class. I am thinking about giving them a bonus.
Here's what I notice about my own story, and I am just a middle classer. When I went to school, the only thing I had to fear was the occasional bully. I had the teachers who were highly trained and skilled. But in the inner-city, at the school in the poor parts of town, at the schools in depressed rural communities, there is more to worry about than bullies. The buildings sit in dis-repair, students who have seen violence in their own community commit violent acts at school or after school. Walking to school is dangerous in many communities. I never experienced danger walking to school. I was never worried about real violence, just getting my ear flicked in math class, or the constant psychological threat of swirlies (which were little more than an urban legend.) The kind of schools that I went to, were in communities where highly skilled teachers competed to just get interviews to work at. The standardized tests that I took look like they were custom made for me. They were all of the stuff that I was learning in school. Over 90% of the students in my graduating class took either the SAT or ACT test, but in many inner-city schools, that number is only 20-30%.
Did you know that the people who work at the McDonalds near my house live in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Phoenix? They take public transportation for 1-1.5 hours just to get to work and work for minimum wage.
The people who care for my yard, the people who work at McDonalds, the students that go to school in economically depressed areas, all of them work harder than I work. They worry about things that I will never worry about. Are they working these lower paying jobs because they are too lazy to get higher paying ones? NO. Did they have an easy time getting through school? NO. The education divide in our country based on family wealth is staggering. Can an inner-city student go to college? Yes. But they have to brave challenges that I have never had to worry about. They have had to take standardized tests that their schools don't prepare them for. ALL of the odds are stacked against them. And whether they go on to work the same job that I have or a high paying executive job, we can say that if anyone has earned it, they have. Oh yeah, and I have had health insurance my whole life.
So, we live in a country where a huge company, who made horribly risky decisions, basically gambling the insurance and money of middle class people. A company where the CEO owns private jets and lives on his own personal island. A company that, "in order to keep the talented executives working at their highest level" gives them 7 figure bonuses. A company where those talented executives were the ones who made the crap decisions that were going to not only bankrupt the company but lose the money and insurance of thousands and thousands of people. This company is given $175 Billion Dollars by our government so that they don't completely die out.
$175 Billion Dollars could give 10 million dollars to 17,500 schools or a million to 175,000 schools. It could give $3.5 Billion to each state to assist with poverty.
But you have to love what AIG has done with it. They took a couple hundred million and gave 7 figure bonuses to those talented execs. Now I'm sure that some of those folks, probably mostly white guys who were already wealthy before they took those jobs, worked pretty hard. I'm sure that some of them put in long hours. I'm sure that some of them neglected their families to take chartered jets to meetings all over the country. I'm sure that some of those guys are nice people. But 7 figures nice? That's 7 figures on top of their 7 figure salary.
When Sean Hannity says that the people with the money have earned the money, and when he stereotypes the people without the money as being lazy, uneducated, and unmotivated; he is dead wrong. The guy who works in my yard deserves a bonus. Teachers at economically depressed schools that give students hope and encouragement and the proper training and instruction to move forward, deserve bonuses.
People here in the Southwest are still whining and moaning about the illegal aliens who are taking our jobs down here. I'll tell you what, they are not taking $175 Billion worth of jobs.
Equality in this country is something that is a dream to the people who need it, and is tossed around superficially by Hannity and the other takers. They moan about the economy, they moan about illegals, they complain about their taxes, they complain about their made up welfare moms, but they have no idea what equality is all about.
They have health insurance while a growing number of americans are without. That $175 Billion would go a long way to cover the uninsured for years. We live in a country with socialized police, fire dept but we don't want socialized medicine because "those people" didn't earn it.
As a country we should be angry at AIG. But they aren't the only ones. It's happening everywhere and there is no equality in sight.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
The Question here was:
How can I start implementing God in my every day life? I feel like I forget to pray and I only think about it on Sunday. Is there a good devotional book for "starters"?
Again, thank you for the thoughtful questions. This is another great point that you bring up.
I'd first like to say that having a desire to implement God into your everyday life is one of the biggest hurdles that any of us will face. But obviously our desire isn't always enough. Personally, I get distracted, I forget to remember, I get discouraged and I even ignore God at times. Other times I am tempted to believe that God is not relevant to what I am doing on a day to day basis.
I teach to the students that we are all called to have a Nuclear Relationship with God. By this I mean two things:
1. Our Relationship with God should be the most powerful thing in our life. It should not only affect us on Sunday mornings, but at all times. It should change how and what we eat, drink, treat others, what we watch on tv, what we listen to on the radio, how we interpret the world around us, etc. Far too often we trivialize our relationship with God and believe that it only affects parts of our lives that we have labeled "faith" already. I had an Islamic friend in college who was a devout Muslim. He would often make fun of American Christians by saying how he prayed 5 times daily at the Islamic calls to prayer facing east. He ate different foods on different days because of his faith. He abstained from all sorts of different kinds of eating, drinking, and partying. He would only date girls who held to the same standards of faith that he did, and much much more. He would make fun of Christians by saying that we treated God like a waiter who was supposed to bless us when WE asked, and help us when it was necessary to US, and we were allowed to forget Him anytime we were doing something that we knew He wouldn't approve of. He basically said that for American Christians, Christianity was only a label, not a lifestyle. Our faith should be more important to us than that. I believe that God wants more than that.
I also believe that He is not all about ritual. In Isaiah 1 and Micah 1 and 6, God makes it clear that ritual alone is empty and does not please God. When faith is only ritual for the sake of ritual, we take power away from it.
2. Our Relationship with God should be at our Nucleus. It should be in the innermost part of us. It should be the joining of our lives with God's will and desires. In essence, because of our love for God, we should allow God to change us. He should change our hearts and our desires. We should learn to love and value the things that God loves and values. This is not an easy practice at all. Just simply following the ritual would be easier than this. God doesn't want our ritual, He doesn't want us to be Religious, He wants us to love Him and have a relationship with Him.
Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 and Ephesians 6:18 tells us to "Pray without ceasing." By this I believe that Paul believes that God is calling us to walk with the Holy Spirit's guidance. That we would see others through God's eyes, that we would be the hands and feet of Jesus as we care for others, that we live as though Jesus was fully with us at all times, because if Paul's teaching on the Holy Spirit is correct, He is.
It is a difficult calling. But something that we should strive for.
A couple of books that talk about this are:
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence (this book was written by a monk long ago, but is so interesting and fun, and pretty short.)
Dangerous Wonder by Michael Yaconelli This is one of my favorite books of all time. Phenomenal.
As for devotionals, a couple that I really really like are:
Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning. This devotional is based on one of my favorite books of all times "The Ragamuffin Gospel" also by Manning. I would suggest that book and that devotional above anything else I could think of.
The Message Remix: Solo is also outstanding. This takes scripture from Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of scripture and applies it so well to daily life.
My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers
This is one of the most, if not the most famous devotionals. It has been modernized lots of times and is a great read as well.
Hope all that helps. Let me know if you have any questions.
Another great question.
This certainly is a question that anyone who does it would give you a variety of answers for.
I have worshipped in churches where absolutely no one would dare raise a hand in worship. It would have been so out of place in one church that I worked at (old school Presbyterian) that if someone did it, the worship leader and organist may have stopped playing and singing to ask if that person had a question. No one would have dared in that church for fear that they would be called on to sing a solo or something.
I have worshipped at other churches where the leader would not only ask, but demand that people raise their hands during worship. In these churches, if you didn't raise your hands, people would have thought that you must be an atheist or possessed by an evil spririt or something.
At MPCC, I notice that it is very much in the middle of these two extremes. Very few people do raise their hands, and only once or twice do I recall a worship leader asking the congregation to do it.
As far as I can find there is no real call in scripture to do this. It is simply a sign of deep worship and devotion to God. I think for some people it is kind of an automatic response, just like people raise hands and pump fists at a rock concert, only at Church you are raising them more for a reason. To focus more on who you are singing to and what you are singing.
I have seen people raise their hands in worship in ways that looked like they were trying to be a lightning rod for God's blessings, I have seen other people raise their hands like they are waving to God. I really think that it means different things to each individual.
My personal preferance is that I normally don't do it. It does not come natural to me and it feels forced when I try to do it. During worship I try and focus on the lyrics that are being sung, I like good and thoughful lyrics. I usually don't actually sing them out loud the first times that I am hearing them. I like to take them in and think about them. I love the lyrics to many hymns, some of them are so deeply and thoughtfully written. Some of the newer and more modern worship songs surprise me with how superficial they are. Sometimes I feel like worship songs get popular more because of the tune than the actual words. I like to be challenged to think aand worship and pray a different way sometimes. Tomorrow morning they are singing a cool hymn "Come thou Fount" which is a meaningful and thoughful hymn to me, beautiful imagery and analogies through the songs that paint cool pictures in my mind.
When a worship leader asks a congregation to raise their hands, I normally do. I do it to try and see if it helps in my worship, if it makes me more focused. To be honest, more often than not, it really doesn't seem to change my experience except to make me a little self conscious that I am doing something uncomfortable, which for me is a good thing sometimes. I need to be dragged out of my comfort zone on occasion.
My personal theory is that I will try about anything in worship at least once. I always hope that God has a surprise for me when I do something new. But on most given Sundays, I have my hands in my pockets and am deperately trying to tune the distractions out of my mind so that I can focus on why we are there, to Worship the one who loves us the most.
Keep on asking. I love your questions.