Archives For Community

Unknown-2A few weeks ago I started a blog series about Hell, and the main point I hope you take away from this is that for most of us the Christian doctrine of Hell probably isn’t what you thought it was.

Hell is the stuff of Hope, of fairy tales of dreams.

Not because all the people you don’t like are going to go there, but because the Christian doctrine of Hell means that God hasn’t given up on His good world and all the things that are broken in Creation, God is going to set right.

I don’t know anyone who is a fan of sex-trafficking or genocide or unchecked greed. And the good news of Hell is that God is going to rid the world of all these cancers.

But the rub comes in the realization that God takes it much more seriously than I do. It’s one thing to say that I’m against sex-trafficking and quite another to look through my internet history in the ways that I’ve been complicit with the very system I protest.

It’s one thing to denounce Bernie Madoff for his greed, and an entirely different thing to look at the tag on my shirt and ask where it was made and the conditions that it was created under. It’s much more difficult to start asking “Why did the shirt cost so little?” Because the truth is someone, somewhere else is bearing that cost.

Now it’s easy to turn this into another kind of moralism…(as in God is going to send me to Hell for shopping at the GAP). But the truth I’m getting at here is that we hate lots of things that we are actually involved in perpetuating.

We ask for God to get rid of the evil in the world, but often without realizing that would involve God getting rid of us.

Every beauty queen talks about world peace, but we are not beauty queens. In the words of Joshua Ryan Butler, “Even our beauty queens are not beauty queens.”

The Controversial Selfie taken between Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon

The Controversial Selfie taken between Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon

Remember last year when Mrs. Israel tried to take a selfie with Mrs. Lebanon and they started the most passive aggressive Instagram war? Which actually might lead to a real war!

This is the point of Hell, we are the very ones who’ve set God’s world on fire.

Tongues Of Fire

Let me give a real practical example on how the Bible talks about Hell that is something everyone can relate to.

It’s interesting to me that the Bible often talks about gossips being in Hell. Because we live in a time where other sins are over-emphasized, this one strikes us as odd.

Unless you’ve ever been burned by gossip, and if you have than you totally understand.

One of the greatest desires of the human heart is to know and be known, to be in close community with other people and to live together in peace.

But a person who gossips destroys that, maybe out of their insecurities, or envy or ambition, but they destroy it all the same. And because of their destructive nature, that kind of behavior, that kind of spirit is excluded from God’s new and good world.

But notice how the Scriptures talk about it:

Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. –James 3

The tongue can start a fire that destroys human community. In just a few words, I could absolutely destroy someone’s reputation, I could ruin another person’s life, question their integrity, make false allegations and cast a shadow on their entire career.

I can do all that with words. And so can you. And if you do, be sure that it will spread. That’s what fire does.

But pay attention to what the Bible says, “that fire comes from Hell.”

James seems to think that Hell’s destructive power is released through us, not God.

James seems to think that when I’m gossiping in the office about a co-worker, I’m not just innocently making chit-chat or even just being a jerk. I’m actually breathing hell into the office.

I love the way Joshua Ryan Butler says this:

Hell gains entrance into God’s good world through us. God is not the architect of hell, the creator of its soul-destroying power; we are. We unleash its wildfire flame into God’s good world.

Burn Victims

Some of us get this because we’re a burn victim. Maybe you lost your job because of that rumor, or your marriage because of a spouse’s constant criticism. And it’s easy to just write that off as human behavior, but the Bible calls it sin, and a not just a sin that leads to death and hell, but one that comes from Hell.

You know the great irony of gossip? It’s that the punishment is in the crime. The judgment is in the sin.

When I was in college, I had a friend who had a handicap, and it was a certain kind of handicap that lended itself to being mocked. And several of my other friends would make fun of him. When he was out of the room, they would start cracking jokes about him.

If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’m not one to brag (I’m proud to say.) But probably the most Christian thing I did while I was in college was not let people make fun of my friend,

I’m telling you this because I noticed the strangest thing started to happen. I realized something that the low self-esteem I had struggled with for years started to go away.

I realized that some of the guys who had made fun of my friend, the ones that I had stood up to and asked to stop, later started coming to me to talk about some of their deeper struggles.

Looking back on it, I realized that they figured out in that moment that if I wouldn’t gossip about my handicapped friend, I wouldn’t gossip about them either.

8E512807-F9BB-48DC-BEA9-F95C91BC6B95The great irony about gossip, is that it does the exact opposite of what we think it’s doing. We think it’s tearing others down, and building us up, but what really happens is that the Hell you create eventually consumes you too.

If you gossip, you begin to assume that others are doing the exact same thing about you.

Just like God, we create worlds with our words we just create the wrong kind of world.

So we bully that effeminate kid in the youth group. Or we talk about the person who doesn’t have enough money to buy the clothes that make her look normal. We gossip about that woman who had an affair, or we talk about other races like they don’t belong.

We create an invisible barrier that keeps some people inside and some people out, and we do it with our words. We create worlds with our words that are too small for certain people, and most of the time we discover that they are the kinds of people that were the most drawn to the grace of Jesus.

But what we sow we will always reap, and for the person who gossips, after all those years of creating that world, when he or she is the one who sins, than they immediately know where they stand.

We know the labels and words that “they” are saying about us now, because we used to say those words about other people. We know that the kind of worlds that we used to be a part of, and that we don’t belong to now, because we helped create it.

And we’re miserable, we’re alone and isolated, because we live in a graceless world that we made ourselves, we’ve released the destructive force of Hell into God’s good world and now it’s fire is burning our lives to the ground.

We are consumed by Hell.

That’s not just some theological idea. That’s a reality for so many people.

That’s the Hell you say.

“I really miss the songs.” -Ex Church of Christ gay man talking on HBO Documentary about Leaving Church

“Wherever Two or Three are gathered, I will be with them.” -Jesus


I’m on study break for the month of July, but while I’m away I want to try and keep keep up with what is going on at Highland. Specifically, with the sermon series that Highland is going through.

This past Sunday Ben Siburt preached a great sermon on why church, the gathering of God’s people, is a sacred thing. Which is not something we talk about that much. Many of us grew up in homes where going to church was a given, we didn’t just go on Sunday mornings, we went every time the doors where open. In fact, that became a common saying to describe our family. It was the way we delinated between us and the pagan Sunday only crowd.

And then, we reacted to that legalistic view of checking off our God card. God didn’t care about us showing up to a particular building during a particular hour of the week, right?


At the church I serve, there are several senior saints who are caring for their spouses in various stages of bad health. Some of them are dealing with some of the most tragic of diseases like Alzheimer’s, and yet these people show up every week to sing and pray and take communion with other saints and sinners who have gathered together. In a church the size of Highland, I don’t get to talk to everyone every Sunday, but I always try to talk to them.

Not just for their sake, but for mine.

Because I knew what it took for them to get here. I know that for them Sunday morning started a few hours earlier than it did for me. In order to get there on time, they had a thousand more things to accomplish before they could head out the door. But they do it, not out of some legalistic sense of earning God’s favor.

They do it because this is one of the most tangible way’s to experience God’s favor.

One of my favorite guys at Highland is caring for his wife through a particularly painful illness. And each time he comes in late, and has to leave early, but when I asked him if he would be interested in someone bringing communion to them, he told me, “No. I need to be there to shake some Christians hands.”

Which is an interested way to say that.

The Image Of God In Others

C.S. Lewis once said it this way:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.

Think about what he’s saying here. the people that we rush past the rest of the week, are on their way to becoming something more or less than they are now. And this is a reality that we are mostly blind to.

Except, sometimes at Church.

Orthodox Christians have, for over a thousand years, referred to the Assembly of God’s people as a Sacrament. That means it is something that God uses to infuse the sacred into the world.

That’s why my friend comes to church. He is watching his wife slip away slowly and surely, and he needs to be reminded of the presence of God in a world where it might not feel He’s that present. He needs to shake some Christian’s hands.

Every day, he is watching himself and his bride of many decades, become less. He needs to be reminded that ultimately they are on their way to becoming more.

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inspireality-navy This month Inspi(re)altiy is dedicated for churches/ministers who are wanting to develop vision. I’ve asked my good preaching friend Steve Cloer to give some practical advice for what it means for a local church to develop a vision.

Steve is an incredible leader and preacher who works with the Southside Church of Christ in Fort Worth.  A couple of years ago, Steve and I were having lunch together and I asked him how ministry was going, and his eyes lit up talking about the new local medical clinic they were starting in their property. He’s passionate about serving the neighborhood, and just being a good local church. If you are interested in being a part of a church that serves the community than here’s some great practical advice on how to do it.

Meet my friend Steve:

A minister’s job is to be active and discerning in three spheres: God’s word, God’s people, and God’s world.  Alan Roxburgh suggests the image of a poet as a metaphor for a preacher.  A minister is called to discern all three spheres and weave together a vision based on what God has said, what the congregation is gifted to do, and what the world’s brokenness demands.  While this all sounds good, the practical problem is that ministers often get held up in the first two spheres, they never get to the third.  With sermons to write, lessons to prepare, the sick members to visit, and the hurting members to counsel, often there is not enough week left to actually get outside of the walls of the church building to spend time in God’s world.  Yet this is crucial.

If the church is going to be the instrument of God’s redemptive presence in a location, someone must be exploring that location, venturing out to see what is God is doing within the neighborhood.  I believe the preacher has that responsibility.

I have seen many examples of churches that were disconnected from its surrounding community.  My family was on a trip a couple of years ago and we decided to stop for worship services in a small, rural town off the Interstate.  I knew there was a congregation in this town, but I was unsure where it was.  To save time (and an argument), we stopped in a gas station to see where the location of the building was.  I asked one attendant if they knew where the Church of Christ was located.  She did not.  She asked a few others in the store: they did not either.  So they picked up the phone book to look for the address.  When she found it, she remarked, “Oh, that is right down the street!”  She was right.  Less than a half-mile away was the building, but no one in that store knew anything about it.  The adage of “If our church closed our doors, would anyone in the community care?” comes to mind.

Lesslie Newbigin suggests that the Spirit’s work in the world is the prevenient work of the kingdom of God.  There are occasions in Scripture where the Spirit is pointing the church out into the world in directions they were never thinking.  Acts 10 and 16 are great examples.  Peter never suspected to be in Cornelius’s house (a Gentile).  Paul never thought he would be taking a ship ride to Macedonia.  But the Spirit was pointing the way.  The Spirit is not just located within the church building.  It is in the house of the Gentile.  It is in Macedonia.  It is in the neighborhood.  The question is will we take the time to step out of our “church realm” to see what God is doing and seek to join Him?

But how does one do this?  Let me offer some practical suggestions on how a preacher can venture into this third realm, discerning the Spirit’s work in the world and the opportunities to be a blessing to the community.

First, take the position of a learner.  Focus in on the immediate neighborhood surrounding your church building.  Then decide you will learn as much as you can about that area.  A preacher told me one time about a visit with Ray Bakke in Chicago.  Bakke took him and his colleagues around to see the city.  He “exegeted” Chicago for them and afterwards, the preacher remarked that after learning what he did about the city, he was ready to minister there.  It is hard to be a blessing in a location, if one does not know the location.  Take some time every week to do just that: get a tour of nearby hospitals, meet up with business leaders, see if the city has a guided tour, visit colleges and talk to administrators, meet with school principals.  You will be surprised how impressed these leaders will be that a preacher cares to learn about what they do and their city.

Second, find some kind of neighborhood organization that you can be a part of.  Typically, in every city there are different organizations that seek to bless, build, or revitalize the city.  It could be a civic club, a neighborhood association, a business group, or something else.  A good rule of thumb I use is if I am only the minister present in this organization, then I am probably in the right place (obviously this principle does not always apply!).  But I am a part of two neighborhood revitalization groups.  Routinely, I am the only minister present along with bankers, real estate investors, business owners, residents, and other leaders.  Immediately respect for our church went up because they could see we were interested in the neighborhood.  But also, through these avenues, partnerships have been created to bless our community.  Regularly, businesses contribute to various compassionate ministries of our church.  Neighbors have volunteered in some of our ministries.  I was asked to sit on a board of a development fund to help low-income areas.  The list goes on and on.  At one meeting, I was telling one person about an upcoming ministry outreach to the area our church was doing, and he committed on the spot to give me a significant amount of money to help the cause.  When the neighborhood finds out the church cares, they will join with the church in accomplishing God’s vision for the city.

Finally, beware of demographics.  Often when someone thinks about getting to know their neighborhood, they immediately think of doing a demographic survey of the area.  There are different groups that will help do this for a fee.  I have done this.  The results are sitting in my office collecting dust.  Numbers can help provide an overview of the area, but they are not as powerful as narratives.  It is far more motivating to mention in your sermon about the middle school nearby that you visited where 90% of the children are low-income and many come from unchurched homes.  Or to tell about the conversation that you had with a community leader who desperately desires justice in the neighborhood but is unsure how to make it happen.  Or to describe the apartment complex that you visited in the neighborhood where a single mother has no bed, no food, and no hope.  These stories help the congregation not only get a picture of the neighborhood, but it stirs their heart to join God in His mission within the neighborhood.

A minister cannot be all things to all people.  He cannot know everything about the Bible, counsel every member, or help everyone in the neighborhood.  Boundaries are critical, especially in this third sphere.  But if a minister can bridge the three areas, God’s word, God’s people, and God’s world, and be able to articulate the intersections to the congregations, then, as Roxburgh suggests, the poet comes forth and the preacher is able to lead the congregation to discern how they might be the instrument of God’s redemption in that neighborhood.

On October 16, 2012

A Graceless World

Andy Stanley says that the greatest casualty in most of our churches is grace. It’s hard to extend grace to people who don’t seem to need it, and it’s really hard to admit you will need it when you don’t think you will receive it. I don’t believe that everyone is entitled to their own pet sin, or that we can’t say certain behaviors are wrong. But what I am saying is that we need to create communities, we need to create worlds, where no matter what, whoever you are, we accept you.

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On October 9, 2012

The Sin We Shouldn’t Judge

A lot of times we judge others out of a failure to understand and accept the Gospel in our own lives. We judge like God is the angry bear we are running away from, we don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than the next guy. A lot of times we judge as if God grades on the curve. As if God is running a beauty pageant.

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On September 23, 2012

A Generous Confrontation

I know that there are plenty of stories about Christians coming to other Christians with a spirit of condemnation and smug self-rigteousness. I’ve had it happen to me, and I bet you have too. But don’t use the abuse of something good to write off it’s use in healthy ways. And I think that’s why Jesus gives some of his most practical straight forward teaching on how to do this. He wants us to be generous with how we confront.

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On September 18, 2012

The Symphony of Grace

For anyone who is about to confront someone, I think it’s important to remember that in every single instance in the Gospels when Jesus is approached by a religious person and a sinner. The sinner connects to him and the religious person doesn’t. Because if you are confronting a brother or sister out of a sense of entitlement or pride, chances are you aren’t the right person to talk to them. Because there’s a chance you might not understand the Gospel.

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On September 11, 2012

Everyday Restoration Movements

One of the ways Paul talks about church discipline is to gently restore. I like that phrase. The word gently is actually a word for meekness, and this is the part I think we Christians miss the most. We approach these difficult conversations with ultimatums and power plays and, all too often, quite a bit of self-righteousness. But for Paul, the way we confront might actually be a sin.

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On September 4, 2012

A People of Maybe

At the heart of Christian Theology is what we call sin. It is the human condition, and a huge chunk of it is our incredible capacity to deceive ourselves and be totally unaware of it. We can be incredibly arrogant, prideful, smug creatures who are capable of both great harm and great good. And that’s why we need both community and humility.

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On August 28, 2012

The Agony of Judgment

Almost everytime I see a brother or sister who is doing something that I think they are going to regret in the long run, I have a kind of internal dialogue. Should I tell them, should I just be present to help them pick up the pieces when they crash? Should I lovingly confront, or just do damage control after the fact? And the reason that I sometimes don’t approach them is because I am terrified. There have been times that I was about to talk to someone and started having a near panic attack. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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