Monday, January 31, 2011

The Problem of the Picky Prophet

I brought up in yesterday's sermon the Problem of the Picky Prophet.  You know this person.  It's the guy who has one issue that he just hammers.  It's the gal with one soapbox who can somehow tie flooding in Australia and rioting in Egypt to her issue, like a Kevin Bacon exercise on a spiritual scale.

In America, our two picky issues are pretty clear.  They are abortion and homosexuality.  As I did yesterday, I'd like to make my position clear:  the Bible teaches that both are sin.  If we as a society continue to allow (much less endorse) sins, the consequences will be ours to bear.

But here are my two issues with the picky prophet.

First, it puts us in a position where we are known for what we're against and not what we're for.  We're seen as constant nays and never yeas.  But the message of the Gospel is a big fat "YES!"  God says, "YES!" to Jesus' sacrifice and, "YES!" to us who trust Him.  We have a lot more to offer our culture than condemning abortion and homosexuality.

Second, it puts us in a position of only speaking against these sins when other sins might be more corruptive on a societal scale.  The example I used yesterday in the sermon was the Golden Parachute.  If a CEO runs a company into the ground through mismanagement and is handed a $38M get-lost compensation package while the company has to file bankruptcy to get credit relief and fire 2800 people, I consider that a problem.  And in light of how many verses in the Bible talk about how we treat those less fortunate than us, I think we might have more to reckon with on Judgment Day for tolerating that and not speaking against it than other more evangelically popular sins.  Isn't the love of money the root of all sorts of evil?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sermon Notes from 1.30.11

Here are the sermon notes from Sunday, January 30th.  I covered the two disputes in Mark 12, one about giving to Caesar what is Caesar's and the other about marriage and the resurrection.  As always, you can find these notes in PDF and sermon audio at

Still Questioning Jesus
Mark 12.13-27

The two different controversies have at their heart the same issue:  authority.

Issue 1:  Government
  • The question challenged Jesus to deny the legitimacy of the government or declare its supremacy.
  • Jesus’ answer:  its claims are legitimate without being supreme.
  • Mistake:  good government extends the Kingdom.
  • Mistake:  becoming picky prophets.
  • Mistake:  gripe too much and pray too little.
  • God’s call is for submission to godly leadership and prayer for leaders.

Issue 2:  Marriage
  • Their question to Jesus revealed their ignorance and hypocrisy.
  • Our issue is we don’t take the Scriptures and power of God seriously.
  • The Scriptures teach that marriage’s primary purpose is to reflect Christ’s relationship with His people.
  • Through marriage, the power of God sanctifies us, readying us for eternity.
  • Removing this purpose from marriage destroys its uniqueness and revelation.

Friday, January 28, 2011

How you know you're Born Again

This is a question that comes up regularly with folks who come to visit me in my office.  I generally point them to 1 John 3.9...

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.

Pretty simple, right?  If you're born again, you don't sin.

The ESV, which is my translation of choice, does a good job of helping us understand what John is after there.  He's obviously not talking about never sinning.  Even John, the author, fell down before angels in worship in Revelation before being told to get up and to worship God (19.10).

What he is talking about is practicing sinning or continuing in sin.  When the trajectory of my life is measured, do I point in the direction of holiness, righteousness, goodness, justice, and love?  Am I experiencing the transformational power of the Spirit of God living within me and making me into a new person as I work out my salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12-13)?  Is there a sense in which I love what God loves and don't love what He doesn't love?  Has my allegiance turned toward Him, albeit imperfectly?  Is the compass of my life generally pointed Godward?

In other words, do I look like I'm a part of His family?

After all, that's what being born again means.  We're born into the family of God where He becomes our Father by adoption through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1.5).  So if I'm part of His family, I'll start to look like Him (Eph. 5.1).

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Reason #2 You Must Be Born Again

Consider the following passage:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. ~ Titus 3.4-7

Herein lies the second reason we must be born again in obedience to Jesus' command.  That reason?  We can't save ourselves.  We need a whole new life, external to ourselves, imparted to us through some means outside of what we can manage or manipulate.  We must be born again.

He saved us according to His mercy.  We couldn't work and do and try and try again and try again and try again and try again and make a promise and try again.  That's the treadmill of religion:  you get tired without going anywhere.  The reason God doesn't accept our works of righteousness in the salvation equation is because it's an affront to Jesus.  If Jesus needs my work added to His work on the cross, then His work really wasn't complete and He lied when He triumphantly cried, "It is finished."  So you can't add baptism, giving, praying, Bible reading, helping little old ladies cross the street or anything else to improve your chances with God.  Those things come after you receive His salvation because you live in obedience to the One who saved you, fulfilling your role as an heir of the hope of eternal life.  Works aren't the cause of your salvation but the result of it.  

You must be born again.  Think about this:  the only thing you did when you were born the first time was show up and cry.  It's a pretty similar situation on being born again.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reason #1 You Must Be Born Again

Okay, so technically, you must be born again because Jesus commanded it.  That's probably reason #1.  But here's the scriptural rationale for His command.

We're in a heap of trouble on our own.  Consider this Scripture:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  ~Ephesians 2.1-3
Look at what it says!  It's bad news for us all the way around.  The reason Jesus commanded us to be born again is because we need a new life.  We are spiritually dead (v.1).  We are dead in our sin.  Bad news.

And it gets worse.  Our allegiances are to the wrong team since we follow the course of this world and the prince of the power of the air, who is the Enemy, Satan, the spirit at work in those who disobey (v.2).  But that's not all, folks.  Nope, there's more.

We also carry out or indulge the passions of our flesh, living to satisfy the body and mind.  In other words, our affections are toward ourselves.  We lavish love and concern and passion on ourselves.  The only person's good we desire is our own.  Our affections run deep - they just run inwardly.  It's the exact opposite of Love God and Love Neighbor (Mark 12.30-31).

And so we need a new life.  We get it through confidence in Christ.  And He's glad to give it so we can fulfill His command to be born again.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Midweek Memo 1.25.11

Here is this week's Midweek Memo column.

Dear Church Family,

One of the ministry emphases we’re working on this year is outreach. Neighbors, coworkers, family, and friends have something in common: they all need the rescue that God offers us in Christ. There’s a great opportunity coming up in two Sundays: the Super Bowl. The Steelers and Packers are squaring off in Jerry Jones’ $1B memorial to himself. Gather over queso and lil’ smokies with your neighbors and friends. Build relational bridges. In the midst of laughter at commercials and adrenaline over the game, ask good questions and see where the conversation leads. You’ll be surprised and the Kingdom will be advanced.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You must be born again?

I'm almost done with George W. Bush's memoir, Decision Points.  Early in the book, this is a story he relayed.  I'll comment below.

In the summer of 1985, we took our annual trip to Maine.  Mother and Dad had invited the great evangelical preacher Billy Graham.  Dad had asked him to answer some questions from the family after dinner.  That was typical of Dad, always willing to share.  It would have sent a signal of importance to have had Billy to himself, but that is not George H.W. Bush.  He is a generous man, devoid of a big ego.  So there we sat, about thirty of us - Laura, my grandmother, brothers, and sister, first and second cousins - in the large room at the end of the house on Walker's Point.
The first question was from Dad.  He said, "Billy, some people say you have to have a born-again experience to go to heaven.  Mother [my grandmother] here is the most religious, kind person I know, yet she has had no born-again experience.  Will she go to heaven?"  Wow, pretty profound question from the old man.  We all looked at Billy.  In his quiet, strong voice, he replied, "George, some of us require a born-again experience to understand God, and some of us are born Christians.  It sounds as if your mom was just born a Christian."
First thought:  this is the memory of GWB and could be inaccurate, as quotes attributed from memory are sometimes not quite the same as what was said.

Second thought:  Billy Graham could have very well been talking about a "born-again experience" in the most literal sense of that.  You probably know people like this, who have a distinct, clarifying, "Woe is me for I am undone" kind of moment with God.  They were hooked on something and God set them free.  They had a vision or dream and God spoke to them.  They were ready to put a bullet through their head and God saved them.  Those radical, life-shifting moments could have been what BG had in mind.

Contrast that with my story and many others I know.  I grew up around church.  I remember, vaguely, being baptized.  I remember a lot of that process starting when a guy I knew was hit by a car and killed.  What I know about my story is that I didn't have a moment, I had a    m      o      m      e      n      t.  My moment lasted several years, fed by good instruction and prayers.  In that sense, I am born again without having a "born-again experience" and you might even say I was "born a Christian."  For the record, that's not the language that I'd use.  I would even argue against it in light of the doctrine of original sin.  But after BG's faithful years of service in the Kingdom, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Last thought:  if indeed what was said and what were meant were what was said and meant, I have issues with the theology represented.  In fact, I think it undercuts what Jesus said (in the imperative):  you must be born again.  Just because you're at a table with a Vice-President or a future President or a friend or a neighbor or a belligerent jerk doesn't release us from Jesus' command:  you must be born again.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Super Bowl Commercial that isn't supposed to make it...

So there's a commercial that you're not supposed to see on Super Bowl Sunday.  Apparently, it's already been pulled by the people at the companies involved (including the marketing company who created it).  Here it is, and then some commentary below.

Are you offended by said video?

I generally do not get offended by this kind of thing.  We Christian-types, especially ministers and pastors, have done plenty to deserve the ribbing and satire, be it good-natured or ill-willed.  This one irked me a little.  Here are the two things that offended me.

First, I hate that it belittled Communion.  My wife and I were in San Antonio when she was in graduate school and members of a church that served Communion every week.  I thought, on the front of our time there, that taking Communion every week would dilute the meaning.  It didn't.  It made it even more special.  That's why at Heritage Park, we celebrate Communion on the first Sunday of every month and have had seasons where we celebrate it weekly.  It's important and its message is vital to the health of the church.  You might have guessed that one.

But second, I don't like that it hit home a little too closely on one issue.  We've been guilty, as the evangelical church in America, of being willing to do anything and try anything to get people in the doors.  The problem with that is memorialized in an old saying:  You keep 'em like you catch 'em.  If the draw is Doritos and PepsiMax, you better have that every week and in an increasing quantity.  If the draw is lights and coolness and hip pastors, you better have those in spades and then work to never lose them and improve them week in and week out.  If the draw is killer kid's programs with Wii's on the Children's Ministry hall, then you better have plenty of them and shell out the $$ for the Wii v.2 when it comes out.

You see the issue?  The church can't keep up with the culture.  It changes too rapidly and too dramatically, often too immorally to even parody.  The good news (pun intended) is that we're not supposed to keep up with the trends but stay faithful to the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus reigns over everything.  Yes, by all means, say it in a way that makes sense.  It should be put in a context that helps people understand it.

But the Gospel isn't ever going to be cool or hip.  It's too Real to be a fad.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sermon Notes from 1.23.11

Here are the sermon notes from today's sermon.  You can find them in PDF and the sermon audio at  I ended up doing something I don't normally do by making some specific applications that weren't inherently in the text.  I sensed God's prompting to do that so I went with it.  I trust He was honored by it.

Questioning Jesus
Mark 11.27-12.12

Assumption about Authority
  • Like the leaders, we assume we are the ones in authority (v.27-28).
  • Like the leaders, this assumption shows up in our questions to God.
  • Questions delight God when they come from humble hearts.  
  • It wasn’t their ignorance, but their arrogance that Jesus rejects.  

Assumption about Accountability
  • Though the landowner had all the rights, the tenants felt entitled.
  • Their acts of treachery escalated with each messenger (12.2-5).
  • Assuming the owner was dead, they killed the son and expected it to be over (12.6-8).
  • Both physically and spiritually, the leaders of the day were rejected (v.9)
  • Two objections:  God’s not a poor steward and He’s not guessing on the outcome with His Son.  (12.10-11).

Areas of Accountability  
  • Morality – He sets boundaries 
  • Marriage – He sets roles
  • Parenting – He sets goal
  • Finances – He sets priorities
  • Evangelism – He sets objective
  • Work – He sets patterns

Friday, January 21, 2011

The lost virtue of personal responsibility

Last post on this fountain lady, I promise.  But it's been eating at me because I see it in me, in my kids, and in the culture.

It's not my fault.  Ever.  It's always someone else's.  I can be texting and walking and fall into a fountain and it's the mall's fault.  It can get caught on camera and it's the mall's fault.  People can see and laugh and it's their fault.  Blame everyone but me for my embarrassment, but it's not my fault.

Side note:  it probably never should have hit YouTube, not because it wasn't funny but because the security guards shouldn't release mall footage (even taped on their phone cameras).  Had a random person just caught it on their phone, I think that's fair game.

I just think if I'm walking and texting and trip, it's on me.  And if I mistreat a friend, it's on me - they didn't make me do it no matter how I try to blame them.  If I don't pursue my wife, it's not her fault.  And if I don't promote security in my kids through time with them, it's not on them to "just get over it."  I can't just lawyer up and then think I'll get something out of the deal.

Personal responsibility has to make a comeback.  We need it badly.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Update on Fountain Lady Fall

So apparently Cathy Cruz Marrero is the lady who fell into the fountain.  She told George Stephanopolous that she "didn't want to sue the store or the mall."  She didn't want to sue the store?  She was texting and fell into a fountain.  She even admits "it was funny, but nobody took my feelings into consideration."

And now she's lawyered up and is ready to sue, holding "all responsible parties accountable."  The lawyer said he wants to make sure they get an explanation as to "why this happened."

That one I can answer:  the lady was texting and not watching where she was going.  Then she fell into the mall fountain.  That's how it happened.

And if she's concerned about keeping quiet, why is she on national television?

But that's just me thinking thoughts...


This is why you should not text and walk at the same time.  If you do, you will encounter bad things - and it will be your own fault.  I do my fair share of work with teens.  So to all my teenage friends:  you are just not that important.  It can wait until you sit down.

Sermon Notes from 1.16.11

Here are sermon notes from this past Sunday, 1.16.11.  I preached the text where the fig tree withers and Jesus cleanses the temple.  Honestly, this was a much better sermon on paper than presentation.  Sometimes it just doesn't come out like you want it to.  To get the audio and these notes in PDF, visit

Withered Religion
Mark 11.12-25

  • The beauty of the fig tree and the Temple hid their fruitlessness.
  • This sin promotes dishonesty.
  • This sin promotes spiritual distance.
  • My trust is misplaced because appearances are kept up.

  • Jesus responded to the individual oppression and theft.
  • Jesus also responded to the systemic oppression. 
  • My trust is misplaced because prosperity breeds a sense of security. 

God hated this and still does (Jeremiah 7.1-15).

  • This authority comes from God through our confidence in Him.
  • His authority allows us to participate in setting things right in this world.
  • Our primary means of exercising His authority is prayer.

  • Righteousness always works its way out in our relationships with others.
  • By it we practice true religion before God (James 1.27).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Taylor Swift is a Hypocrite

Provocative enough title for you?

Confession:  I actually like Taylor Swift.  I think her music is funny and, at times, endearing.  She's a musician and a songwriter, which is a unique combination in today's turn-it-out music industry.  And her performance skills are getting stronger along with her voice.  And no, I will not turn in my man card just because I know most of the words to Love Story.

But she's a hypocrite.  Her latest album has a song called Mean, a little junket about a person who's just mean to her and how she's over that person, all in a bluegrass-ish feel.  Cute and clever.  Catchy too.

But there are more songs on the album.  One is about how the new girlfriend of her ex is "better known for things she does on the mattress."  Another is about breaking up a wedding to run off with the groom.  Both of those seem, well, mean.  She writes about someone being mean, small and pathetic to her and then turns around and writes mean things about others.  It's all catchy and selling like wildfire.  So I guess it's okay, right?

My point is not Taylor Swift.  My point is my heart and yours, dear reader.  There are times when my hypocrisy gets hidden underneath catchy arguments or sing-song rationales or it's-all-just-in-fun emotions.  Somehow, all of that makes my hypocrisy and yours more palatable to me and to you.  It's the perfume on the pig that surely will make it all okay.

But it doesn't.

A lie is a lie.  Laziness is laziness.  Greed is greed.  Status-seeking is idolatry.  Lust is lust.  Unforgiveness is wrong.  Words hurt.  Evil is evil.

And we can't set those to music and make them okay.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Holding on, Shining out

There's a potent little passage that caught my attention this morning in Philippians 2.  It's not the normal Philippians 2 passage though (a.k.a. the Philippian hymn in 2.5-11).  A few verses after that, Paul instructs the Philippians to live as children of God, unstained by the world but shining as lights in the midst of a perverse and crooked generation, holding fast to the Word of Truth.  Three things stuck out:

Our lives should be different than the world.  Paul uses the words spotless and blameless.  While this isn't a revolutionary thought, let's be clear:  when my life lines up against the life of someone who doesn't know Jesus, there ought to be a substantial, demonstrable difference.  My TV watching, internet surfing, reading, reactions, conversations, chores, marriage, parenting, habits, generosity, and willingness to sacrifice ought to be very different than theirs.  They can be wonderful and moral, but my life should be different because Christ is in it.

Our lives shouldn't be out of touch with the world.  What Paul means by his comment is that there is ministry to be done.  We are to shine the light into that darkness.  He uses the phrase "in the midst of the crooked and perverted generation."  It's easy to focus on the "crooked and perverted" part - and at times, that's exactly where we should focus to remain unstained.  However, we also live in their midst.  Relationally, we connect with neighbors who need marital help and parental help and financial help.  We see our relationships with others as bridges of ministry opportunities.  We resist the urge to fortress ourselves among "Christian" memorabilia and reach out to the world around us.

Our lives should be confidently founded on what's true.  What makes both of the above paragraphs possible is my confident faith that what I'm doing and saying is right.  It's not a matter of arrogance because I didn't discover it - it was revealed to me.  I get to live confidently because Jesus is alive, He changes lives, and He's returning to set everything right.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Midweek Memo 1.18.11

Dear Church Family,

When I think about our church, we have a lot to do . 

There are marriages that need our care. There are addictions that need breaking. There are neighbors that need our help. There is darkness that needs light. There are mission trips to take. There are things to learn about God and ourselves. 

But there’s no way I can do this or the staff can do this. We, as a church, need you. So let me invite you to our Ministry Teams Workshop. It’s our annual opportunity to get connected and then jump in and do all of the above and many more. 

See you on Sunday at 4:30 for a time of planning and engagement with God.


Monday, January 17, 2011

The Danger of Upward (aka Sin of the Pharisee)

Forgive the tardiness of this post.  I fully intended to finish this little string of thoughts last week but sometimes life gets in the way of my best intentions and schedules.

A bit of review:  I offer that a helpful way for me to understand life in the spiritual realm is by breaking it into three spheres.  The Kingdom Sphere is the largest and where the biggest questions about who God is and how I relate to Him get answered.  The Church Sphere is the middle sphere and the locus of the questions about life on the earth with others.  The Heart Sphere is the smallest and yet still crucial, as it directs me to conscience-oriented decisions.

The danger comes when you misplace the questions and decisions from each sphere.  Moving them downward puts you in the role of the pagan (or at least postmodern) where no real sense of morality or revelation or authority guides you, save what you decide is moral, revelation, and authority - which of course makes YOU the real authority.

Moving the questions and answers upward makes you a legalistic Pharisee.  Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus' day and known for their astute rule-keeping.  They even had rules about keeping the rules.  They had rules around their rules to make sure that the rules really did get kept.  Rules ruled.

Moving a Heart issue to the Church produces a sense of legalism and bondage in the Church.  If you've hung around any church for any time, you might have seen this.  A big one I've seen is drinking or not drinking alcohol - the former makes you "hip," the latter makes you "holy," and it can really mess with a congregation.  How about voting Republican?  I personally think Republicans do some good things, but I'm under no delusions that they're the answers to America's problems.  One more:  the educational decisions for your kids, whether home schooling, private schooling, or public schooling.  You find evangelists in all three camps and sometimes it can get pretty rabid.  The issue isn't having personal convictions.  The issue isn't even sharing those convictions in conversations with others in an effort to persuade them.  The issue is whether you measure a person "fitting in" with the church (really, it's a judgment on their worth) based upon how they align with your personal, conscience-oriented decisions.

Moving a Church issue to the Kingdom Sphere produces sectarianism.  It prohibits cooperation across denominational or other organizational lines.  You can think of churches who refuse to work together for the good of the poor in their city or their educational system or the lost because they hold their distinctions more tightly than their similarities.  I don't think every church has to cooperate with every other church.  I realize there are real philosophical and methodological differences that make cooperation harder.  But there might be more out there than we know.  I personally see this a lot among the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd.  They seem to be glad to cooperate with one another (at least on the surface).  But if you have questions about the L in your TULIP, then you're probably not even saved and certainly in need of some theological enlightenment.

Last thought on this:  the older I get, the more I realize that, while I might be more qualified (emphasize MIGHT) to speak to Kingdom issues, I need to work in and on the lower two spheres.  When I was younger, I wanted to work almost exclusively in the Kingdom sphere though I needed to work harder on the lower two, especially the Heart.  O, the arrogance of youth.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Midweek Memo 1.11.11

Dear Church Family,

We do church life as a family and ministry as a team. I'm also grateful for the many who jump in and do ministry. I want to highlight one person in particular: Toby Boyett. Toby was elected chairman of the deacons and began his term this month. For those who don’t know, deacons are elected servants who
help carry out what God wants to do in His church. Toby is leading this invaluable group and I’m grateful for his partnership and friendship. And many thanks go to Dennis Sims for his service as deacon chair over the past two years.

On an additional and related note, plan on joining us for the ministry team workshop on January 23rd. It’s a great time to get connected and figure out exactly where you can plug into the ministries of Heritage Park. 


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Grateful for the President this Morning

I had planned on blogging on the upward movement on the 3 Spheres theme.  I'll do that tomorrow.

Today, I just wanted express my gratitude to President Obama for helping the nation last night.  He and I don't see eye to eye on a whole lot, but he did a great job last night at the memorial service in Tucson.  He showed compassion and had perspective.  Through his words, he provided hope in the midst of some pretty dark days for that city.

His best bit was about the 9-year old and becoming the nation she imagined.  That was inspiring.  We need more of that and more content in our debates - less sound bites and vitriol.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Danger of Downward

Yesterday, I introduced this concept that I've been thinking about lately of the three spheres - the Kingdom, the Church, and the Heart.  In writing about this, I'm not saying you should view life this way.  I am saying, though, that life functions this way and it's a helpful way for me to talk about it.  Today I want to talk about one of the dangers inherent within this:  the danger of moving something from one sphere to one below it.

When something slips, either intentionally or not, from the realm of the Kingdom to the realm of the Church, I think it's primarily an understanding of revelation that suffers.  If the locus of interpretation lies solely within the local community of faith, you can pretty much find whatever you want to find and do whatever you want to do.  For example, if the Gospel (a Kingdom realm issue) is interpreted in the local community of faith and not in the Scriptural and historical setting, you find that it gets emptied of meaning really quickly, especially to those outside the community.  What's more, there's no real compelling reason to share the Gospel outside of the community.  And how can an outsider understand the Gospel that's been interpreted in the community since they weren't there?  Yes, there is a sense in which each community of faith applies the Gospel to itself.  But the application of it is very different than the interpretation of it.  I bring this example up, in particular, because the postmodern method of interpretation (seminary term:  the postmodern hermeneutic) relies heavily on the interpretation of the Gospel in the community of faith.  This is no mere exercise in hypothetical ministry leadership - it's happening.  And in my humble opinion, it's dangerous.

When something slips from the Church to the Heart, you lose at least two things.  The first thing is a sense of accountability.  If I push certain mores and norms from the church to the heart, my answer to everything is, "Well, but that's a personal decision."  Each person, then, gets to decide what is right for them.  And consequently, the Corinthian church could no longer say to the immoral man that he was being immoral (1 Cor. 5).  The second thing is just as damning.  In an effort to be more inclusive by accepting more, you actually isolate yourself.  My experience and my understanding of the New Testament is that the norming morals of the Church help people have a sense of identity and belonging.  Lowering the standards may let more people in the door, but they don't feel as connected because there's not a standard to which all are striving to conform.  In sports terms, having a team goal promotes relationships on the team, even when the relationships are tested by adversity or accountability.

When something moves from the Heart to oblivion, you callous your conscience.  One of the great sanctifying thoughts for me is that I have to stand before God and give an account for my life (2 Cor. 5.10).  A great gift to me in making decisions that will go well for me on judgment day is my conscious. Pushing important matters of the Heart or refusing to deal with them callouses my conscience.  After a while, it simply no longer responds to prompting from the Spirit.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

3 Circles

I want to introduce a concept I've been working on for the past few months.  "Working on" is probably too strong - more like noodling.  That's it.  I've been noodling this for a while.

It all got started with some questions that people were raising about who you can do life and ministry with, who's on your team, and who can serve as a potential partner.  These weren't really my questions but were prompted and promoted by folks like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition, and other groups.  These are non-denominational groups that center on the message of the cross and resurrection of Jesus and come together across the normal lines to do so.  T4G, as it's affectionately known, has as its hosts two Baptist, a charismatic, and a Presbyterian.  They don't normally run in the same circles, but they have a partnership that lets their relationships (both personally and professionally) thrive.

Out of those relationships came Al Mohler's tiering system.  First tier issues were the biggies that allowed things like T4G and TGC to happen.  I've come to appreciate that perspective as we, as a church, have done work with various groups.  And today I'd like to write a little bit about how I've been thinking about all of this and how it applies to ministry.

Instead of tiering, I think of these things in spheres.

The first sphere is the Kingdom.  What belongs in this sphere?  These are things that make you a believer and follower of Christ.  This is where the Gospel belongs, the Good News of Jesus atoning death and conquering resurrection.  It's also where the Godhead belongs, the beautiful mystery of God as Trinity.  And the last piece that I'd put in there is the Bible as God's faithful and authoritative self-revelation.  You might argue about particulars on any one of these, but the general tenor is the acceptance of them all.  Without them, there is no Kingdom because there is no King (Godhead), no way of entering the Kingdom (Gospel), and no way to know of or live in the Kingdom (Bible).

The second sphere is the Church.  Issues of doing life together on the earth in a local community of faith belong in this realm.  Questions of membership, baptism, Communion, how a church functions, leadership, church discipline, and other issues of the like fit here.  And for me, these are not bad distinctives.  I know there are those who wish we could all just get along and have one big church in each city.  I'm okay with that not happening.  I see a goodness in this diversity.  Essentially the question here is, "Can we do this life together?"  I know we can do life together in Heaven when the Kingdom is consummated.  But what about here and now?

The last sphere is the Heart.  The Heart is the most personal of the three and where, in my experience, the most wrestling happens.  Here is the place where personal questions of morality and activity get answered.  Those can be as simple as drinking alcohol or abstaining.  They can be as difficult as figuring out the proper way to relate to an abuser.  Should I fast weekly?  What's my process of forgiving my spouse?  Do I, as a Christian, own a gun?  Which way do I vote?

Tomorrow I'll do some thinking about the interaction of these spheres.  As a pastor, I know the danger of confusing them and the wreckage it can cause.  I also know the beauty of it happening in the ways God designed.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, January 10, 2011

Putting no confidence in the flesh: a lesson from a homeless guy who got a second chance

By now, you've probably seen or at least heard about the homeless guy with the golden voice, Ted Williams.  He was discovered on a street corner by a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

Since then, he's been offered jobs all over the country for radio and voice over work.  From panhandling to YouTube sensation with millions of hits and too many requests for interviews, job opportunities, and autographs.  This homeless guy has a handler who's helping him deal with it all.  What a great story.

I watched his interview with the Today Show.  They brought up his past which is littered with alcohol, cocaine, crack, theft, jail time, and so on.  He spoke about how he's been clean for 12 months now (of which he's really proud - and good for him).  Apparently it's his sponsor from the recovery program that's functioning as his handler right now.

In the Today Show interview (about the 5:00 mark), Matt Lauer asked him, appropriately, about if he thought he could handle the incoming requests and instant fame.  What would be the difference this time and how would he manage not running back to the bottle or the crack pipe?  Good question.  I thought he killed the answer.

He said, in essence, that he realizes that everything he has in life is from God and he'd never acknowledged that before.  Romans 1 anyone?  Because we don't acknowledge God, He turns us over to our desires and depravity.

What I connected this morning from Philippians 3 is the role of acknowledgement and sanctification.  It's not just preventing us from being turned over to our desires and depravity, it's actually a positive step toward holiness.  I think acknowledgement of God as the One who gives us everything is the first step in "putting no confidence in the flesh."  What better step in the war against the sin-stained, organized power  within me than to acknowledge that I'm not taking breath without His mercy.  I didn't get up with a friend and work out at the YMCA today without His kindness.  I didn't get to feed my kids breakfast this morning without His provision.  I don't get to kiss my wife and enjoy it without His goodness.  I don't get to read about Him in the Bible without His revelation.  And all of this is just since 5am this morning. Acknowledgement of God, as God, aligns me with how the universe works and wars against self-reliance.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Here are this week's sermon notes.  I covered the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the story of Bartimaeus, taking them in the opposite order of the text.  I hope it's helpful to you to understand what kind of King and kingdom the Bible talks about when Jesus is on the scene.  As always, you can find these notes in PDF and the sermon audio at  We also have a podcast on iTunes.

Prediction and Picture
Mark 10.46-11.11

What kind of King and Kingdom?

  • What Jesus said would happen did.
  • 500 years before, what God said would happen did.

  • The contrast between kings and kingdoms couldn’t be clearer.
  • Latent within His conspiracy is a confrontation with the powers of this world.

Luke 4.18-19 – The King comes for PRECISELY those who cannot help themselves

The Picture
  • Some think Jesus is disinterested, but He cares about you.
  • Bartimaeus sense of desperation was matched by his sense of abandon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Quotable on Thursday

Someone passed along this little gem yesterday from the land of Twitter:

"Act. It's of God. Phi 2:13. If you do rather than lamenting what you can't do, you will do more than you thought you could." ~ John Piper

In case you don't know, the passage referenced (Philippians 2.12-13) talks about how we have a consistent responsibility to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because it's God who works within us to desire and then to do His will.  

The quote, as you can read, points us to action.  Yes, it assumes that the action is at least in line with biblical boundaries.  But so many Christians are paralyzed by their sense of lack of direction or lack of desire.

Dallas Willard speaks to this multiple times too.  One of my favorite Willard lines regarding this topic goes something like this:  sometimes the best way to like doing something is by doing until you like it.  That's one of the lessons of the spiritual disciplines - you do the discipline to create the desire.

Paralysis isn't from God.  Act!

But that's just me (and a couple of others who are smarter than me) thinking thoughts...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

For Your Approval

I'm pretty sure I stated in some earlier post that I've been spending some time in Philippians.  I intend to stay there for a while until it has a hold of me.  Remember when you were a kid and you swished Jello in your mouth until it was liquid?  That's what I'm trying to do with Philippians.  Just let it roll around for a while until it's made me who God wants me to be through it.

One of the things I ran across this morning that was blog-worthy was Paul's prayer in 1.10.  He prays for them to grow in love, with knowledge and discernment, so that they "may approve what is is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ..." (emphasis mine).

What struck me about that was how much it represents a change of affection and, thus, a heart-level change.  If you're going to approve of something, it's going to come from a deep place.  Approval is instinctual in that way - it's more a gut-level response than a calculated one.  Need an example?  Cheering for your favorite team when they score.  A pleasure-filled "ahhhhhh" when downing a drink.  All approval, but none calculated.

This is what got me:  what am I lending my approval to that is not excellent?  What, in the culture in which I live and breathe, do I instinctually give my nod to that doesn't reflect the goodness of Christ?  And then I thought of this damning little verse in Romans 1:  "Though they know God's decree...they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them" (v.32, emphasis mine).

So I'm going to be a little more on guard in the days ahead, thinking about what I give my approval to and, more importantly, what that says about my heart.  Thankfully, there's a God who answers prayers for abounding love and who, through Jesus, makes us blameless before Him.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Midweek Memo 1.4.11

I've been slacking in posting these columns from our church's Midweek Memo.  I promise to do better.  Here is my column from 1.4.11.

Dear Church Family,

Here we are at the start of the New Year. Resolutions have been made (see attendance at your local YMCA for a sign of that). Plans have been laid. Christmas bills need to be paid. All signs that the season of celebration (and vacation) is over. Back to work and back to what we call normal.

Remember before Thanksgiving, I laid out three challenges God is putting before us. Here’s a reminder of what those are and a call to action on your part.

First, that you be a part of this family and play a part in it. Let me urge you to jump into a Sunday School class or small group Bible study. We also need you to play a part by picking up something to do: love on kids, hang out with teens, and serve alongside adults to name just a few opportunities. Whether behind the scenes or up-front, we need you involved to become the church that God desires.

Second, that you be obedient in the area of finances. The great news is our giving was up in 2010. The tough news is it wasn’t enough to cover all our expenses (including $25k in air conditioners). The only way the church gets money to operate is when you are faithful in your obedience to give. I urge you to continue to obey God, give generously and joyfully, and watch God do more than we can ever imagine.

Third, that we all turn our eyes outward to those around us, showing them and sharing with them the Good News that Jesus reigns over everything. There is a lost and hurting world out there. They need to know Christ. Our intentionality in prayer and ministry will make a difference this year.

I can’t wait to see what God does.


The Weight of Leadership

I'm reading Decision Points by former president George W. Bush.  As a disclaimer, I voted for him twice and loved some decisions he made and thought others were incompatible with my principles.  And that leads me precisely to the point of this entry.

A former coworker in ministry called me about 6 months into my tenure at Heritage Park to ask me a question.  He wanted to know, after all the conversations we had about leadership in the church, if it was everything I ever wanted it to be.  We used to retreat from staff meetings to his office or mine and sort through every leadership decision we would never make, quarterbacking from our armchairs and the safety of tertiary-level leadership.

My answer, after 6 months of "Big Chair" leadership, was that it was harder than I could have ever imagined.  Even today, when people ask me how I like being a pastor, I respond with how hard it is and how much I look forward to going to work every day.  I told my former coworker that if a person got up and spouted heresy, I'd be happy to call them out and do so by name.  Then I told him that if a person got up and made Decision A and not Decision B, I'd say, "That's their call and I hope it goes great and extends the Kingdom."  Leadership just isn't easy and you just don't know the weight of it until you're in it.

Which brings me back to the book and the presidency.  Promises were made in the previous presidential campaign which have not been implemented and it has people screaming.  Here's my bottom line on that:  I have a lot more grace for the men who serve in that office than I did previously.  They get in there, figure out what it's like, and have to make decisions based on what they have in front of them.  Sometimes, they get forced into making a choice between "not good" and "really not good."  Presidents Bush and Obama have made decisions with which I disagree on principle.

I'll stand on my principle but pray harder for them and others like them because it's a mighty weight they carry.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Monday, January 3, 2011

God isn't anti-desire

God isn't anti-desire.  There are plenty of folks who think so.  You may or may not be one of them, but I can promise you He's not.  When you pick up the Scriptures and give them a fair reading in this area, you see it all over.  In fact, He actually prompts desire and solicits it.

This morning I was reading in Philippians 3.  The "anti-desire" crew focuses on v.19's "their god is their belly."  We should all be ascetics of the Christian sort.  But all this will do is make us mean Pharisees who remind people of who they shouldn't be.

In their defense, there are desires that we should put to death and take a stand against on a regular basis.  If your god is your stomach, your status, or something else, you should work to kill your desire for it.  No doubt it will be for your good.

But what's the best way to kill a desire?  Paul answers it in the earlier part of Philippians 3.  You dislodge one desire with a greater one.  He describes the "surpassing worth" of knowing Christ (v.8) and how everything else stacks up as rubbish (quite literally the dung pile) in comparison to Him.

One more biblical example:  "If you want to follow Me, you must deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow."  Where's the "anti-desire" camp going to focus?  Deny yourself.  But they miss this part:  "if you want to follow Me..."  Of course they wanted to follow Him.  They had seen Him do amazing things, say amazing things, and they were becoming different.  He appeals to their desire in order to clarify what it means to walk with Him.

So stoke the fires of your desire for Christ this year (and every year).  Think about what drains you and what stokes you, then dislodge those draining desires with stoking ones.

But that's just me thinking thoughts...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sermon Notes from 1.2.11

It's hard to even type 2011, but here we are!  And here are the notes from today's sermon from Mark 10.32-45.  We had an incredible ministry moment beforehand, so I left quite a bit on the paper and the audio might feel a little rushed.  I try to keep in mind that there are folks down the hall volunteering watching our kids.  To get the audio and these notes in PDF, visit  And a big Happy 4th Birthday to my little girl.

Leadership by Example
Mark 10.32-45

What do you want from Christ?
  • It’s a dangerous question because of who God is and who we are.
  • Jesus doesn’t knock their ambition but the source of it. 
  • Requests need to be shaped by what God desires.

What do you expect from Christ?

Expect to Submit
  • Our value of autonomy is offended.
  • Being ransomed means we belong to the One who bought us. 

Expect to Suffer
  • Our value of security is offended.
  • Suffering comes from the broken world, sinful tendencies, and satanic opposition.

Expect to Serve
  • Our value of authority is offended.
  • Authority from my identity is exercised in service to others, not service to myself.
  • Kingdom ambition leads us downward.
  • Jesus set out a different path – greatness through servanthood.