Archive for October, 2011
Depending upon the poll results you read, as many as 83% of Americans profess to be Christian in their personal faith. That simple statistic is troubling because I just don’t see that statistic reflected in our churches or in our culture.
Sometime ago, I became concerned that evangelical Christians were focused on getting decisions for Christ and making converts to Christianity, but not fulfilling the very core of the great commission: making disciples of Jesus Christ. Evangelism felt somewhat like “bait and switch.” There was a genuine desire to not add anything to the simple message of God’s grace and His provision of eternal life. But then came the ensuing frustration that new converts were not always “converted,” often leaving the church through the back door as gingerly as they came in the front door. There was and continues to be plenty of intellectual assent but little evidence of true transformation.
Scot McKnight has taken broad strides in addressing this issue. In his new book, The King Jesus Gospel, McKnight undertakes this topic with surgical precision. McKnight argues that what we are experiencing in western culture is not so much the gospel of Jesus unleashed as it is the plan of salvation explained and acknowledged. In other words, the gospel of the Jesus has become reduced to “the plan of salvation,” the purpose of which is to solicit commitments to Christ.
To find resolution to this dissonant, McKnight suggests that the time has come for the church to return to the full gospel of Jesus, beginning with the story of Israel. Christ is the fulfillment and resolution to the story of Israel, and through his death, burial, and resurrection is enthroned as Lord of all. Those who surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord are invited into the larger story of the gospel, sharing and pursuing the common goals of the Kingdom of God. In God’s design, recipients of the gospel are at once participants in the gospel. Those who respond to the gospel do not merely make decisions for Christ. Responders make commitments to a life of discipleship, taking on the character of Christ and emulating his behaviors as enabled by the Spirit of God.
Christianity therefore is not an ego-centric choice where matters of faith are individualistic and self fulfilling (e.g. “When He was on the cross I was on His mind…”). Rather, Christianity is about becoming part of a broader community where life is shared with those who take on something far bigger than oneself.
McKnight’s book points to the obvious problem then defines and defends a more holistic means of understanding the gospel. He concludes the book with some clear thoughts on how churches can develop a culture that is gospel based and how believers can undertake evangelism with this new understanding of the gospel.
As a whole, McKnight’s book has identified a critical issue in the American church. He deals with it honestly and with theological integrity. The King Jesus Gospel is compelling and convincing. McKnight is one of the top New Testament scholars in America today, and because of his successful academic background I wish he would have bent more toward his fellow academicians and professional clergy. (I believe he could have written 100 pages on how the Book of Hebrews fits the motif.) But instead he wrote to a general audience, benefiting them with his insights as well as the addition of some practical applications for the local church.
Therefore, I highly recommend The King Jesus Gospel to pastors and members alike. Some books are to be commended because they are good, and others are commended because they are important. Good books encourage and inspire readers, while important books become catalysts for change. The King Jesus Gospel is definitely the latter, and my prayer is that it will begin a conversation that will change our lives, our churches, and our culture.
Here’s a great article from the Federal Bank of Minneapolis on the great work being done on Crow Creek Reservation through the Harvest Initiative and Hunkpati Investments!
Everyone who runs has a story. Something happened or someone inspired them to lace up their shoes and hit the trail. My story begins like many stories, I started, ran for a while, then lost interest and quit. I played that story when we lived in St. Louis then in Ft. Worth. I probably stuck with it a little longer when we lived in Arkansas, but those are just interchangeable geographical settings to the same tired plot.
During the years I put on a pound or two…or fifty. I felt terrible about myself and my appearance. As I ate ice cream each night before bed I reviewed my good intentions and made promises to myself that went largely unmet. Did I mention I meant well? Anyway, it all changed on my 46th birthday. It was Sunday morning, and I stood to preach. I don’t think I was more than five minutes into the talk when I began to feel dizzy. I was short of breath and felt my face go flush. Then everything went white. I started to go down and grabbed the pulpit to steady myself. Before I knew it, several people rushed the platform, including two nurses and the fire chief. I was conscious but really tired. I just couldn’t stay awake. A member called 911 and my Associate Pastor dismissed the congregation, after making sure we collected the weekly offering. That move was a stroke of genius (no pun intended) and he was rewarded appropriately. Anyway, back to me.
Within moments the EMT’s arrived and did whatever diagnostics they do when fat pastors go down in the middle of church. They loaded me on the gurney and wheeled me down the center aisle of the sanctuary. Just like a casket. As I was rolled out I saw the faces of concerned members of the congregation. I saw my children look in disbelief. The look on their faces is one I’ll never forget. I was loaded into the ambulance, listening to my wife promise me she would meet me at the Emergency Room. I remember praying that she be able to find it. The ambulance was cold and I kept wanting to sleep. The attendant who rode in the back with me kept encouraging me to stay awake while he “called me in.” I didn’t make out everything he said, but it sounded something like “middle aged white guy, pretty husky….no check that…really husky…not sure what happened to him…but he’s really, really husky.”
We rolled into the ER and a team of doctors and nurses came in with wires, plugs, and needles. Alongside the battery of tests came a battery of questions; questions like “How old are you?” and “How much do you weigh, really?”
The big test was the CT Scan of the brain that the doc ordered to see if I had had a stroke. The test didn’t take that long, but waiting for the results of the test that seemed to take forever. While I waiting I talked with my those who came. My wife found the ER with no problem, although I think there was some confusion as to whether or not I was her husband or her father. But once the nurses figured it out she came in. The quick thinking associate who thought to take the offering wasn’t content to rest on his laurels. He went over the top and brought my son. My friend Scott took care of my daughters and then came down. So we waited together and talked.
When the doctor came in he had good news: no evidence of stroke. He didn’t say it, but he was thinking about how fat I was. He asked me if I could get up and step on the scale. The scale was one of those official scales. It wasn’t like the one at my parent’s house that is blessedly off five or ten pounds. This one told the truth in spades.
The doctor asked some questions, and ordered a sleep study. The result of that story was that I had sleep apnea. I was fitted with a CPAP machine and for the last two years have slept great. It honestly changed my life!
The straw that broke the camel’s back, though, was the wellness evaluation held through my wife’s work. It provided participants with simple tests that measure health and wellness. They checked my pulse and my blood sugar. They also checked my Body Mass Index (BMI). As I walked over to that station, I nervously laughed and said the nurse, “You know, my mother always said I was ‘big-boned’.” She didn’t share in my humor. Since my ER visit I had lost “a couple of pounds,” but couldn’t believe that I would score in the obese category. Easily. Not even close. Deep down I knew that it wasn’t funny, nor was it a laughing matter.
Everyone has a story behind why they run. That’s mine. What’s yours?
This is an excellent interview with Dr. Kara Powell, co-author of Sticky Faith, on how to help kids maintain their faith during college.
This weekend the Washington Post published an article that reveals giving trends in the American church. Citing a 41 year record low in giving, the article explores the uncomfortable statistic that churches are spending less on missions and outreach and spending more on the ministries that take place inside the four walls of the church. To read the article, click here.
Last week, Dr. Robert Jeffress created a storm of controversy with his personal endorsement of Texas Governor Rick Perry for President. The reaction to this has been strong, given that Jeffress cited the Southern Baptist stance on treating Mormonism as a cult. I have always been a seperation of church and state person, siding with those who believe that there should be freedom of religion, freedom for religion, and freedom from religion. While the prophetic pulpit should speak truth to power concerning social ills, bi-partisan pulpit endorsements have not been my style nor my leaning.
Today’s Des Moines Register ran Cal Thomas’ syndicated take on pulpit endorsements and I think he did a pretty good job of dealing with some of the concerns. You can read it by clicking here. What do you think? Do you think its appropriate for pastors to endorse candidates?
“You who are slaves must accept the authority of your masters with all respect. Do what they tell you—not only if they are kind and reasonable, but even if they are cruel. For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. Of course, you get no credit for being patient if you are beaten for doing wrong. But if you suffer for doing good and endure it patiently, God is pleased with you. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right” (1 Peter 2:18-24, NLT).
I spent some time today meditating and reflecting on Peter’s words concerning Christ’s response to criticism and insults. Set in its proper context, Peter is addressing those who were slaves. It might be helpful to know that during the first century in the Roman Empire, approximately one half of the world was enslaved to the other half. Peter was not writing to an obscure group, rather he addressed a common and significant problem in culture. In his attempt to bring some measure of comfort to those who were suffering at the hands of their cruel task masters, Peter pointed the readers to Christ and his example. As I reflected on this passage, I penciled out four simple words of advice that we can use when we face criticism or insults.
1. Begin with a Self Check
Peter’s premise is built upon the innocence of Christ. I won’t spend anytime here arguing human depravity or the sinlessness of Christ. But I do think that our first response to criticism is to pause and look inward for the shred of truth that may lie within. We’re not innocent in the sense that Jesus was innocent. However, sometimes we receive criticism that is inaccurate, unfair, and undeserved. We can use some simple diagnostic questions to evaluate the criticism or the insult, such as…
…Is the criticism accurate?
…Is the criticism fair?
…Is there a possibility of misunderstanding or miscommunication?
…Can I see the issue from the critic’s point of view?
To live authentically and effectively in today’s society requires a high degree of honest self evaluation.
That being said, I think this is a good place to evaluate the criticism or insult as to whether it is “truth” or mere “opinion.” We live in a day that does not know how to deliver the news without commentary and editorial opinion. Our addiction to cable news has changed our value system to the degree that we no longer can easily distinguish truth from opinion. Unfortunately, many people place equal value on opinions as they give truth. All of the editorial license, I believe, has escalated criticism and insults in our homes, schools, places of employment, and even our churches. When criticism comes, we have to own our own stuff. But be sure to winnow out the opinions and get to the truth. There is a difference!
2. Resist the Temptation to Retaliate
Even though Jesus was completely innocent, Peter pointed out that He did not retaliate or seek revenge. Jesus withstood the criticism and insults (and far worse, for that matter) without taking matters into His own hands. It’s hard enough for us to restrain ourselves when the criticism we receive is accurate. There’s something about our fallen state that desires to save face and have the last word. But it’s even harder to restrain ourselves when the criticism is inaccurate or unjust! The example Jesus set for us was to not retaliate or seek revenge when we suffer unjustly at the lips of others.
3. Trust God, Who is the Righteous Judge
I believe Jesus was a man of unparalleled self control. It would be easy to excuse our behaviors of retaliation and revenge by citing our lack of self control. But I don’t think self control or will power is the issue. Jesus was able to restrain himself in the face of criticism because his deep trust in God’s justice. Peter wrote that Jesus was able to leave all of it in the hands of God as an act of faith that God would settle all accounts at the end of the day. He did not retaliate because he did not need to. So the question is this: do you want to settle the score? Or would you prefer God settle it?
4. Be Redemptive in your Behavior
Jesus left the matter in the hands of God, the righteous Judge, and continued to behave in a redemptive fashion. He did not give his critics power over his life or his purpose. Undeterred, Jesus moved on, expressing grace and mercy, regardless of how others responded. Because Jesus chose to live in a redemptive manner, he empowers us to be redemptive in the face of those who insult and criticize unfairly or inaccurately.
Yesterday I posted some introductory comments from the book Out of Our Minds by Sir Kenneth Robinson. Today I want to delve into some of the fragments that Robinson offered regarding creativity.
In Chapter 9, titled “Being a Creative Leader,” the author offers nine principles to help develop a culture of creativity and innovation. Robinson’s understanding of creativity is based on three definitions:
1. Imagination: the ability to bring to mind events and ideas that are not present in our senses.
2. Creativity: the process of having original ideas that have value.
3. Innovation: the process of putting original ideas into practice.
The principle role of a creative leader, according to Robinson, is not to have all of the ideas. Rather, it is to develop a culture where everyone can offer new ideas. This process begins with the individual, then expands to work teams, and eventually shifts the culture of the organization.
1. Everyone has the potential to be creative.
2. Innovation is the child of imagination where playing with ideas, making fresh connections and breaking with convention are valued.
3. Everyone can learn to be more creative.
4. Creativity thrives on diversity within the framework of teams.
5. Creativity loves collaboration where individual distinctiveness among team members is respected.
6. Creativity takes time.
7. Creative cultures are supple.
8. Creative cultures are inquiring, balancing chaos and risk with honest evaluation and risk management.
9. Creative cultures need creative spaces.
Robinson’s insights from chapter 9 are helpful to leaders who are envisioning and designed brighter futures and better tomorrows for their organizations. This chapter alone makes the book a valuable resource and well worth the purchase price.
I came across this marvelous book by watching an interview with the author that was posted on Michael Hyatt’s blogsite. For those of us who are right brained and lean a little more to the abstract and conceptual side of the street, anything to do with creativity is compelling. So I bought it.
Sir Kenneth Robinson is Professor Emeritus of Education at the University of Warwick. His achievements include a vast list of world-wide accomplishments in education, creativity, and cultural development. Out of Our Minds is directed toward the field of education in America.
His hypothesis is that our educational system is lagging, still preparing children for employment in an industrial age that has long passed. According to the author, metrics like standardized achievement tests and measuring for “I.Q.” are no longer valid means of marking student’s preparation for the new digital age. Educators will read this book with a particular bias that those of us who are not educators cannot appreciate. While I am not an educator in the narrow sense, his arguments about our public education system were intriguing.
Having said that, Robinson’s thoughts have caused me to wonder whether the discipleship models utilized in today’s local church are being effective. Most local church’s have parroted discipleship forms that are classroom models. Uniform curricula is offered at a standard time and people are encouraged to select from one or more course offerings. Little variety is offered in teaching style, for the main objective is teaching discipleship material and following the syllabus, not making disciples. If attendance is low, churches look for more sensational teaching materials (like “The Book of Revelation”) or felt need driven topics (“Financial Peace University” or other matters pertaining to marriage and the family). What if our discipleship model looked more like a Montessori school than a traditional educational model? What if we developed a system that was more British than American? What if we placed less emphasis on master teachers and more on mentoring or even peer to peer learning? What if “disciples” were allowed to participate in the development of discipleship programs vs. being asked to participate? What would that look like? What could that look like?
Is today’s church being innovative in creating disciples? That’s one take away from Robinson’s book.
Tomorrow I’ll do a second post on some of Robinson’s views on creativity.
I was having coffee with a friend a couple of weeks ago when our conversation turned to the topic of complaining. He had observed that he had noticed an uptick in the amount of complaining he was subjected to, and added that lately he, too, had been a little more prone to complaining.
Everyone is prone to complain from time to time, but no one wants to do it chronically, lest they be labeled as a “complainer.” So as we refilled our cups, we reflected on why we who were blessed with both health and health insurance would complain at all.
Here is what I offered, in part, as a rationale for the problem. I think we complain because we compare. I think most complaints are rooted in comparing our present station in life with that of another. For instance, take a middle class family living in the suburbs. A child from that family, noting all of the affluence in the community, may take the position that his or her family is poor. Their friends have bigger homes, nicer clothes, and newer cars. The complaint rises about their home, their clothes, and their car. Now take the same child and place them in a different context, like an urban one. Suddenly, the child who felt “poor” now feels “blessed.”
I’m not trying to make a big statement here about society or culture, but I do think this is an observation worth thinking about. When we compare ourselves to others, we are going to be more prone to complain. So the next time you hear yourself voice a complaint, ask yourself, “Is this a valid complaint? Or have I been comparing myself to others?”