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On June 11, 2009


I’ve been listening to some lectures by a guy named Fred Grey. He was the attorney for Rosa Parks, Dr. King and countless cases in Alabama during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.

And he was a member of the churches of Christ.

Dr. Grey has lived a fascinating life, his stories are engaging, his observations are prophetic and he speaks with a mixture of charm and caution about current day issues. But what I found the most intriguing was a point he made toward the beginning of his lecture.

He pointed out that the civil rights movement, and many other movements of its ilk, would never have happened if it hadn’t been for the young people. While the civil rights movement had great leaders rise up among them that have become household names, Dr. Grey insists it was the young people who changed the country. They were the unsung heros who picketed, boycotted and sacrificed their bodies when necessary.

One of the recurring themes in studies about churches in the West is how we are losing our young people. The statistics show that when a young adult graduates from high school they are likely also graduating from our churches.

And I would imagine that when many churches start talking about that statistic their immediate concern might have something to do with waning church attendance. Now I get that, but I am concerned about something else.

Dr. Grey said that historically most societal changes are initiated and sustained by young people. Now these aren’t political changes, but grass-roots ones.

In 1st Timothy, Paul writes a young church planter named Timothy just giving him some advice. He tells him not to let anyone look down on him because he’s young, but to set an example in how he’s pure, how he talks, his faith, how he lives and how he loves.

Now I know that you have probably heard that verse quite a bit. And typically, I’ve heard that to mean don’t let people put you down just because your the B-team. But I think that the verse means something else.

I think Paul knows that while young people need the church, the church needs young people.

Not just as seat-fillers, waiting for their chance to be in charge, but to set an example to others right now. Now I don’t think that young people are just inherently good and older people are bad. If you know me, you know that I have a deep respect for my older mentors and value the people who have gone before me sharing their journey with those who have yet to experience life.

But It’s easy for the church to slip into “status-quo” thinking, to forget that things don’t have to be this way. And I think part of the beauty of the Scriptures is that they demand that the parents tell the story of God and His people to their children.

Because the gospel is reborn in each generation. Jesus comes again with all his implications for the world that exists in this time and this place. The danger comes when our youth are no longer told a story that seems world-changing, when they see the church as just a cold institution of indifference instead of the wild, Kingdom of God, revolution that she embodies.

Our young people are not just an investment in our future. They can be how God speaks a fresh word into the people of God now. They can hear the story of God with fresh ears, asking new questions for this world God is making new among us, and sometimes they may need to lead the way.

At least that’s what Paul thinks.

Remember this? Even if you don’t I bet you were affected by it.

It’s the Konami code. And I bet every little boy from the 80’s still knows it by heart. It was the code that you had to punch in to the Nintendo game Contra. And if you knew the above mentioned code you could get 30 lives instead of the initial 3.

In other words, it is a shortcut.

And it is the shortcut that certain pillars of our societies are built on. Don’t believe me? Well if you are reading this blog on Facebook then why don’t you just try this code out, type it in and hit enter and see what happens. But on a deeper level, this kind of shortcut mentality kind of characterizes our world today.

In Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, he talks about the men and women from my grandparents age. They were characterized by their ability to sacrifice for what they thought was right, and their willingness to stick things out in the tough situations. Granted, every generation has it’s strengths and weaknesses, but I am writing about them because their strength tends to help highlight our weakness.

Part of the reason the economy is in the tanks can be attributed to our desire to cut corners, and while I am not an economist, one of things that both Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is this: We have forgotten as a country that a responsible work ethic is fundamental for society.

But that’s not really what concerns me.

Remember that story that kicks off Jesus’ ministry? The one where he is led out into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. Pay close attention to that story, because it’s interesting to me that Satan never tries to change Jesus end game. He offers Jesus power and authority over the nations of the world (he could be Caesar’s boss). Matthew’s gospel ends with Jesus receiving all authority…but he gets it in a very different way.

What Satan is getting at is not changing Jesus’ goals but offering him another way to get there. A way that doesn’t involve the cross. A shortcut.

And Jesus’ says no.

But go back and read that story. Because I think it’s interesting the things that Satan tempts Jesus with as an alternative to being the suffering servant. I won’t spoil the story for you, but it seems that the stuff that Jesus says no to, our Christian sub-culture spends much of it’s time saying yes to.

Here’s what I am getting at. The common idea of what it looks like to follow Jesus is too small. I’m not saying that we are saved by what we do, or anything even close to that, but we are saved for a purpose much larger than just us being saved. We are saved by the cross to pick up a cross. Or maybe saying it this way will help, We are saved by the sacrificial service of Jesus, so that we may sacrificially serve others.

And any gospel that forgets that part of the story we are in is too small.

It is a shortcut.

And in the words of Beverly Sills, “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

At church last night Rick Atchley, Chris Seidman and a guy named Drew Sherman talked about their recent trip to Africa. It was a great kind of living room conversation, that was funny and insightful. But what they talked about was nothing less than amazing.

I struggle with being at an institutional church from time to time. Not because I dislike where I am at, but because the impulse to go and do something more on the front lines is something Leslie and I both face. But tonight I got to see how it’s possible to do both.

We’ve known for some time that RHCC was involved in starting a University in Uganda. But I had no idea just how big of a deal that actually was. See Uganda has the lowest median age of any country in the world. There are over 7 million children right now that in just a few years are going to be ready for a college experience. And only 100,000 kids will be able to get in.

And unless these kids hit the jackpot and has someone bankrolling them to the States, Europe or another African country, they aren’t going to get to go anywhere. That means that only 4 out of every 1000 kids will get a chance to go to school.

And so a vicious cycle of poverty and low education will continue.

And as a follower of Jesus that seems unacceptable.

So some of our church leaders have been working with the people there to help them build, teach and maintain their own university. It’s by African’s for African’s. It will produce health clinics, doctors, lawyers, and judges.

All because Jesus wants us to.

Dedricht Bonhoeffer once said that if a monster is going down the street wounding people, it’s not enough to just go behind the monster bandaging the wounds. Eventually someone has to take out the monster.

I think what he was getting at was that when you are dealing with systematic evil, you have to do more than just dealing with the effects of it, but actually go after the root of the cause. And that’s why this is so inspiring to me. We are being pro-active as a church. We are attacking a problem 4 years before anyone is going to be seeing it.

We are talking about pursuing systematic good.

And that’s what the gospel looks like in action in Africa.

So I am thinking through a series in a few months for the Young Adults at our church. We seem to be enamored with nostalgia of the 80‘s and this will also give people a chance to dress up goofy. But as you can see from the title this is not a topic that is very black and white.

And that’s where you come in.

I’m assuming that most people who read this blog have at least a passing acquaintance with the 80’s. And I’m wondering was there a specific event/song/movie that really helped to shape you?

Was there a event/song/movie that helped to shape how you think and relate to God or to other people?

I know this seems pretty open ended, but I don’t want to hamper anyone’s creativity by giving my ideas. I’ll weigh in, and maybe blog about a few that I am thinking later, but first I want to hear what you have to say. So…Madonna, power ballads, Ronald Reagan, the Challenger and Clyde Drexler are all on the table. So what do you think? If you were teaching on finding Jesus in the 80’s what would you say?

This should be fun.

On May 28, 2009

The Church in the News

This church in this video is just down the road from us in Fort Worth. The senior minister grew up at RHCC, and his parents still go here. He’s a godly guy and this is a great church.

What strikes me as interesting about this “news event” is that this isn’t particularly newsworthy stuff. It’s just the church being who she has always been called to be. I am extremely glad that CrossTimbers was in the News for this, I’m happy that some people with religious angst might have a fresh perspective on the mission of a Jesus community.

But I do think this is telling about churches. We live in a world where what it means to be church can be so misconstrued. The world has heard so many different messages, sometimes (maybe more often than not) we are seen as people who are asking for money, not giving it away.

In James 1, there is a beautiful Scripture about what pure and undefiled religion actually is. James’ says that this kind of religion is to look after the orphans and widows, and keep ourselves undefiled by the world.

But in the original Greek language James’ doesn’t say the word And. He just says look after the orphans and widows, keeping yourselves undefiled by the world.

It’s like the way that the church is different than the world is how we view our resources. The way we are holy is by who we look after. We are called to care for those that other may forget, because we follow one who thinks they are important. Our resources are not our own, they are for blessing the world.

And when the church does that, even CNN thinks she’s beautiful.

p.s. if you are reading this blog on Facebook, the original video is on

On May 26, 2009


When the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt Pharaoh gave them a quota on bricks. When they started to get tired of the whole slavery thing, he didn’t back down, instead he just raised their quota.

That’s why I think it’s significant that when God rescues the Israelites from that life, he provides for them food on a daily basis. He gives them all that they need to survive and they don’t have to do a thing. Pharoah’s economy operates out of anxiety and stress, God’s reality is anti-anxiety, it operates on trust.

Most of the stuff that God does for Israel for those first few decades are set up to help them lose that identity of a slave that was so deeply engrained in them. This is especially true of Sabbath.

Nothing says you are not a slave as much as not working.

For the past few hundred years, Sabbath has been seen as kind of anti-Jesus. We knew that the Pharisees had made it into a kind of litmus test for how good you could keep rules, so we just reacted the other way and lost the beauty of Sabbath.

And we are paying the price for that.

America is one of the most overworked, stressed, cultures of the world.

I wrote earlier in the year about how last year was one of the hardest of my life. I had no boundaries in place. I felt like I was always on, and kept wanting to run away from everything. But since the new year, Leslie and I have put some limits on our life, the main one being Sabbath, and I wanted to give an update on how that was working.

Last week was one of the busier weeks in ministry I’ve had since I’ve worked at RHCC. I had pre-marital counseling, grief counseling, did a funeral and a wedding within a 24 hour time period. And I had to write three different teachings, went to a dozen different meetings, and I had an anniversary to celebrate with Leslie.

Needless to say, I’m glad that week is over.

But it’s not like last year. Last year, if I would have had that week I would have wanted to escape to some far away land. But this year we know better. We saw this week coming, we knew that we were going to be busy, we knew our normal day off was going to be taken, so Leslie and I decided to take off Wednesday and just spend the day together.

We didn’t answer our phones, we didn’t check email, we just spent the day with each other.

Now that may sound like just ducking work, but the truth is that the work I did for the rest of the week was better for doing this. Or at least I felt better doing it. I was able to work out of an identity that wasn’t dependent on what I do to be secure. 

I’ve found that in the past 5 months I look forward to our Sabbath. It’s beginning to be a day that I orient the rest of the week around. Not because I don’t want to work, but because that’s when we are refreshed for the work God called us to do.

Sabbath is God’s way of saying, in Mark Buchanan’s words, “You’re not in Egypt anymore.”

So for the past week back Leslie and I have been just readjusting to a regular routine of having a 10 month old baby at home. And that has taken most of our down time. But at the request of family members here are some snapshots of us in California with Eden. This above picture is her with her favorite singer, Nat King Cole. Since day one, whenever she was fussy L-O-V-E worked like a charm. And although she can’t read yet, she’s pumped just to be sitting on the sidewalk.

Here’s Leslie and Eden on the Santa Monica Pier looking all cute.

This is us at the La Brea Tar Pits. I’ve always been fascinated by this place. Eden however was not.

This is at the Getty Museum. It’s filled with amazingly beautiful scenery as well as artifacts from ancient Rome.
Here we are at the Burbank Lookout. And if you want to see the Hollywood sign, all you have to do is photoshop the smog out of the way.

This trip was a blast. Not only is Eden a great baby at home, but she’s also a great baby to travel with. All 4 times she’s been on a plane she hasn’t cried once. Which is just great for us, because we’d like to make a lot more pictures like this in the future.

In an unrelated note, after preaching yesterday I met and visited some with Jim Nantz. Some of you may not know who that is, he’s one of the most famous sports commentators in the world. He works with Lance Barrow (the director of CBS sports) who’s a member at our church. He was a super cool guy, and didn’t carry himself like he thought he should be treated like a celebrity.

But I find this ironic. I spend a week and a half in L.A. shamelessly looking for celebrities (a practice I condemn theologically but still do often), and then the first week home, one sits behind me in church.

Here’s hoping everyone has a happy memorial day.

“There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch-defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are…”

-Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. King wrote these words back in the politically charged days of the battle for civil rights for African-Americans. Every time I read this letter I get choked up. I wonder if I would have had the guts to stand up for others if I would have lived during this time.

These words were written to 8 white moderate clergy men who were vehemently opposed to King’s tactics using the whole “don’t rock the boat” logic. These men weren’t inherently evil, they just bought into an idea that justice takes time, and some evil should be tolerated. But in the words of Dr. King, “oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.”

This letter is a great read, you can check out the entire thing here. But here’s my question. Where are today’s Dr. Kings? One of my biggest hopes for my life is to be a part of a community who fights for the upside down world of Jesus, and it’s implications.

So what about you? Have their been times in your life that you have found yourself fighting upstream? Are their areas of your life that you feel are counter-cultural? If so you are in a stream of redemptive history that goes back to Bethlehem, and you may find yourself writing your own letter.

But don’t worry, all the best letters come from jail.

On May 18, 2009


Kevin Roose was a student at Brown University. He grew up sans religion and found himself at an ivy school unable to understand religious conservatives, and so he did the only thing that you would expect someone in his position to do.

He enrolled in Liberty University for a semester.

That’s the college that Jerry Falwell founded and administrated. Kevin Roose enrolled and befriended people without telling anybody that he wasn’t a Christian. He went to church, joined the choir, prayed with people, went to accountability groups, and even had a mentor discipling him.

And he did it all without converting. He wrote a book about this experience called “The Unlikely Disciple” and it’s a great read. Roose is witty, poignant and has a lot of great advice to give Christians. The satirist P.J. O’ Rouke once said that making fun of Christians is like “hunting dairy cows with a rifle.” So to be honest, I was a bit skeptical. Roose is irreverant at times, and there are several things I disagree with him on, but to be honest I found myself saying often, “yes, that’s exactly how I feel.”

One such story was with his experience with a spring break mission trip he went on.

Now I have led 9 different Spring Break Campaigns, so when he talked about this my ears perked up. Roose talks about how he was trained to go up to total strangers and manipulate a conversation toward Jesus. Now Roose understands the story of Jesus at this point. He knows why they care enough to give up their spring breaks to try and convert people, but he absolutely hates the way they are doing it. He felt like they were exploiting people, that is looking past them in the name of a gospel that actually wants to makes people more human. He noticed that these sweet Christian people (who he had grown to love) actually came off as gruff and inconsiderate when trying to share their faith.

He says he felt like the grinch who stole Spring Break.

I think this is an interesting perspective on the way we have tended to do evangelism. His point in the end was that the Christians who have made him seriously consider Jesus in the past weren’t the ones who were trying to force a superficial conversation on him, but those who had an actual relationship with him.

A few years ago I baptized a guy named Bill in a bathtub. I had just met him in upstate New York and after talking with him for a while he wanted to become a Christian. I really liked Bill and was ecstatic to introduce him to the Lord.

And I never heard from him again.

Bill never got connected to the church we introduced him to. But I can’t blame him; he didn’t know them, he knew me.

I recognize that there is some good that has been done from these fly by night evangelism techniques, but those seem to be the exception not the rule. The story of God coming in the flesh can’t be told at a distant, physically or relationally.

So what about you? I know that a lot of people out there have tried this kind of evangelism, did it work? How should discipleship and spiritual formation inform the way we approach this?

On May 15, 2009

Seeing Calvin

So I have been wrestling through the tiny book of Philemon for the past few weeks. It’s one of those tiny, postcard like books of the Bible. Paul is writing to a slave owner who is a Christian and telling him to receive back his runaway slave without punishing him for running away. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He tells him that he shouldn’t receive him back as a slave at all, but better than a slave…as a brother.

I’m telling you this because when I work through teachings in my head. I talk to myself…a lot.

I was walking through Downtown L.A. Tuesday, running an errand for Leslie, and preaching to myself. I had to look like Rain Man. I was just getting to this point about how Paul is teaching Philemon to see people differently, to see his former slave as a person. And then I passed Calvin.

Calvin is one of many homeless people in the area. And he was asking for change. I’m sure you may have had this experience before too. My immediate response is to pick up the pace, I told him that I did in fact not have any change, and he mumbled something that is inappropriate to write here.

But the irony is that I was just preaching to myself a lesson Paul taught thousands of years ago. A lesson about seeing people.

One of the most compelling things about Jesus is his ability to see people. It’s easy to get caught up in the miracles of Jesus, the excorcisms, the freeing from oppression that he seemed to do on a daily basis. But the biggest miracle of Jesus wasn’t that he healed the leper, but that he saw him.

So I get the irony of walking in Downtown L.A. preaching about seeing people, and then writing off a homeless man, and I turn around. I tell Calvin I don’t have any money but that I do have a Debit card and that since he is sitting outside a Wendy’s is he hungry.

He is.

I then offer to get him something to eat, and ask him to go in there with me. To which he replies, “I only have one leg man.”

Sidenote: Always check for missing appendages.

I don’t say this to brag. I don’t do this often, and I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to pass myself off as Mother Theresea. I say this because I wonder why it’s so hard for us as followers of Jesus to see others.

Maybe the greatest transformation God will do to us here is in giving us new eyes. Eyes that can see past all the junk and labels that we seem to look for. Because we will never treat people better than we can see them.

And I think that’s the gospel according to Philemon.