Just Thinking » Covid-19

It’s a Sunday afternoon. Most Sunday afternoons I get home from the church, right about this time (it’s 2:15pm), after preaching 3 messages. Today was the third Sunday I didn’t do that, because the message was recorded on Video, and played (and watched) online. This, as they say, is the “new normal” for churches. It is a strange new normal. Especially in that this is Palm Sunday.

Palm Sunday and Easter (next Sunday) are really important “events” for pastors and churches. For all intents and purposes, they still are this year, but our celebration of them is entirely different. If you had asked me even two weeks ago if I thought we would be celebrating Palm Sunday and Easter online only, I would given an emphatic “no.” But here we are, our new normal. 

I have to say, I am really grateful for our leadership and staff team. I feel that our team members have adapted to this very well, and—as the leader of this team—I’m super blessed. Though it has been a fair amount of work to get it all moving in a new direction. Additionally, I’m really interested in seeing how God uses these challenging circumstances to move His church out, into the new marketplace (which, in 2020, is not so new, at this point). 

In Acts 8, God used trying circumstances to move the early church out of Jerusalem, and into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts. Jesus had predicted this move in Acts 1:8. He promised that the Holy Spirit would fill and empower the Church, and that they would be witnesses in “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts.” But by Acts 8, the church was still in Jerusalem only. And it’s not like Acts 8 was only a few weeks after Acts 1. It is likely that Acts 8 was years after Acts 1. The church was stuck. 

The earliest work I did in ‘ministry’ was helping the church I grew up in (which happens to be the church I now pastor) get content online. In 1996 and 1997 I helped the church build its very first website. At that time we started archiving my pastor’s audio messages online using Real Audio (some of you might remember that technology). In the (nearly) quarter century that has passed, I’m sad to say that a lot of churches still have a website that looks like it was made in 1996, and they didn’t—until recently—have much in the form of audio/video content on their broken and old site. But trying circumstances have changed that. 

The trying circumstances of the early church (persecution, largely from Saul of Tarsus) pressured the church to move out, into the wide-open mission field they’d previously been called to and empowered for. And, if we can receive it, the trying circumstances of Covid-19 has pressured the church to move out into the wide-open mission field of the Internet; a place we should have been taking ground in all along.

Yes, the content that is being put out by a lot of churches is not (yet) highly produced. But at least the content is out there, and now we can get better and better at it. This is a good thing, and I am rejoicing in these trying circumstances, because I believe God is going to use this for His glory, and for the growth of His Kingdom! 

Why Jordan Peterson Matters

I have watched, somewhat in awe, over the last couple of years the rise of Jordan Peterson on YouTube, through podcasts and other media formats (books, blogs, etc.). I haven’t always been sure how to classify him or categorize his ascent. He’s not a Christian, at least not in an orthodox sense. Though I’ve heard him self-identify as a Christian, he would make a distinction. He would probably call me, and others like me, a “fundamentalist.” In some respect, that’s not far off, though every time I’ve heard him use the term, it seems to be dismissively, if not pejoratively.

Peterson is a celebrity by accident. He did not aspire to notoriety, but he’s certainly achieved it in the last year. He currently has over 700,000 Twitter followers and 1.2 million YouTube subscribers. His most recent book, Twelve Rules For Life, has been an Amazon bestseller since it’s release in January (it’s currently number two after nearly six months). As I write, Peterson is speaking nightly, nationwide, to sold-out crowds, on what is an extended book tour. Tickets cost as much as $600 apiece. Also, he’s pulling in an estimated $80,000+ a month from Patreon supporters. The once clinical psychologist, a professor at the University of Toronto, has no reason to ever return to the classroom or his clinical practice.

As I said previously, I’ve been intrigued since I first heard of him. I began following him when he first rose above the radar over a controversial Canadian legislative bill in the fall of 2016. He has a lot to say, and much of it reverberates with Judeo/Christian tones. Which is precisely why Christians should take notice. In watching and listening to him, several things come to mind. Five of which beg more in-depth consideration.

LONG-FORM MONOLOGUE IS NOT DEAD

For as long as I’ve been preaching (20 years next year), voices in our culture have been saying that preaching, especially long-form monologue, is dead. Those promulgating this perspective have told us that the collective attention span in the West has devolved. Americans, raised on 30-second ad spots and 22-minute television programs cannot handle more than 25-30 minutes of preaching, they say. Many of the same voices tell us that dialogue is essential for the 21st century westerner. “You cannot give a message from a platform; it needs to be a conversation in a circle.” Peterson proves that’s not true.

In the summer and fall of last year (2017), Peterson gave a series of 15 lectures, in the Book of Genesis, on the “psychological significance of the Bible.” He “preached” more than two and a half hours each time, to some 500 listeners, all of whom paid admission to come. He’s since promised that he will pick the series up again in the future with the Book of Exodus. If that happens, I’m certain of three things. First, he’ll need a larger venue. The 500 seat theater was already too small a year ago. His following has only increased. And the live audience pales in comparison to the millions of views the recorded lectures have received on Youtube. Second, he’ll charge a lot more for admission. By his admission, he’s an “evil capitalist.” Simple supply and demand will require much higher costs of entry. Third, his messages will not get shorter. Peterson loves to talk, and he’s found an audience of people who are longing to listen. In this he’s proved long-form monologue preaching is not dead

WESTERNERS ARE INTERESTED IN SCRIPTURE

Another cultural lie we’ve been told for the last 20 years: “The Bible has no place in our [post]modern society. We’ve advanced beyond its archaic ideas, views and teachings.” Really? Not only is that not true, it’s not true by a large factor.

Just this week (June 12, to be exact), Peterson’s first book, Maps of Meaning, came out in audiobook format. It’s more than 30 hours of audio, read, of course, by the author. It’s an instant bestseller. In print, it’s 564 pages. Much of it goes back to Scripture, and it’s significance. I guarantee that most of the consumers of this audiobook are males, ages 20-40.

Now, it should be noted that Jordan Peterson’s interpretive lens for Scripture is not something with which any preacher I know would be comfortable. He approaches the Scriptures from a purely allegorical and mythological angle. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. He does not use a historical, grammatical, interpretative method. As far as I can tell, he does not take the Scriptures literally, and he questions much of its history too. He is not an evangelical Christian. He is a Christian only so far as he sees value in the Christian ethic and the mythological narrative of the Bible. But, he’s gathered a large following of predominantly educated, millennial, male westerners. The very segment that Christians both need to reach and have had a hard time reaching over the last two decades. And the fact that he’s gained a devoted audience with this demographic leads to my final three considerations.

GOD IS NOT DEAD IN ACADEMIA

Peterson’s rise informs us that the need for classically trained, academically minded Christians is greater than ever. This isn’t a new observation. Groups like Francis Schaeffer’s L’abri, more than 40 years ago saw this with prescient clarity. Ravi Zacharias’ International Ministries has sought to address it for more than 20 years. Christians in the 21st century western world need to think and speak the academically oriented language of higher education, and they need to enter academia as missionaries.

Many in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields are atheistic, or at the very least agnostic. The arts and humanities are almost worse. But that does not mean that God is dead among academics or in great academic institutions of the West. There are strong holdouts with well-reasoned Christian faith in the academy. But we need many more Christians to step into the academic sphere and “contend earnestly for the faith.”

It has been said that “the philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.” I think that’s true, and being that it is, Christians cannot vacate the academic domain. Especially when you consider, that many of the great universities of the West, were originally founded by individuals with a strong Christian faith.

In seeing this reality, I am more than a little discouraged by my own experience. Twenty years ago this week, I graduated from high school. And when I did, I didn’t enroll in college or university, partly because of the discouraging tone of Christian leaders I esteemed. More than a few of the Christians who influenced my decisions at that time exhibited a suspicion and distrust of higher education. I know now that was not a helpful attitude. Be that as it may, as the Church moves further into the 21st century, we must realize that we need to adjust, as our culture has changed.

CHRISTIANS NEED A NEW AND PASSIONATE APOLOGETIC

The apostle Peter said, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” This we are to do in meekness and with respect. The concept of an apologetic arises almost solely from this verse. The word translated “defense” in many English translations of 1 Peter 3:15, is the Greek word apologia. It could also be translated “give an answer.” Christians have been doing this effectively for 2,000 years. But the answers are always in response to the changing questions of culture.

The questions of culture change continuously from generation to generation. Every worldview endeavors to answer these questions coherently. The far-reaching growth of the Christian faith from the first to the 21st century proves, I believe, that it’s answers are the most compelling. That is a truth that will not change, even if the pressing questions of culture do. And though the specifics of those questions vary, at the level of abstraction, the most important issues of meaning and value all fall under five essential headings: origin, identity, purpose, morality and destiny.

After listening to his lectures, watching his interviews and reading his books, I think Peterson is seeking to address these issues apologetically. And it is fascinating to see that, like many Evangelical Christians, he does so with something of apocalyptic fervor. He is passionate about his convictions and exacting with his words. I’m convinced that many are attracted to Peterson precisely because of his well-reasoned, authentic and genuine message, which seems to explode from a grave concern that our culture is fast descending into an abyss. Like an Old Testament prophet, Jordan Peterson is sounding an alarm in the West. He sees an unseen force of gravity, pulling our culture past the event horizon, into an inescapable black hole. And though he has met stiff opposition, he does not seem to be backing down. Which shows, finally…

STRONG WARNINGS AND STERN EXHORTATIONS ARE NOT UNACCEPTABLE

In our über-tolerant culture, some things are not tolerated. Peterson’s emphatic warnings and clarion appeals are definitely on the blacklist. The applications of Peterson’s message are hyper-individualistic (he despises collectivism) and gut-checkingly challenging. There is no wishy-washiness in his exhortations. He is dogmatic in every sense of the word. That too is not tolerated by many in the West. You might expect this would be a turnoff for his mostly millennial followers. And yet his appeal only seems to be growing.

Since the rise of the seeker movement of the 1980s, Christian leaders have promoted a softer, life-coach spirituality. “Don’t call people out. Address the collective ‘you plural.’ Focus on felt needs. Don’t be direct. Be encouraging.” In many ways, modern American Christianity fits perfectly in the $10 billion a year self-improvement industry, right next to Tony Robbins, Deepak Chopra, Oprah Winfrey and even Jordan Peterson.

His book, Twelve Rules For Life, exists among other self-improvement titles, but it’s set apart by it’s bold and confrontational tone. “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” “Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world.” “Tell the truth—or, at least don’t lie.” He’s mocked by his critics for calling on people to clean their room. But when he says, “If you can’t even clean up your own room, who the hell are you to give advice to the world?” you can hear the echoes of Jesus, “First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.” Or Paul, “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.”

Among all the nuanced and subjective shades of grey that are 21st century western culture, the objective contrast of white on black is refreshing. And though I in no way want to make Messianic allusions, Jordan Peterson’s rise is a reminder that when Jesus had ended the sayings of the Sermon on the Mount, “…the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

Does the Omni God Limit Himself?

Recently, while reading a blog post by Roger Olson I came across the following—from him—in response to one of the comments.

[The Bible] suggests that our praying can make a real difference in how God acts for the good. I can only speculate that is due to some self-limitation of God for the sake of our participation in his mission to the world. (emphasis mine)

Does the all knowing, all powerful, omni God place self-imposed limits upon His knowledge, power, will, etc.? Some would think such a question to be foolish and could not conceive of God doing such a thing. Be that as it may, there are some passages in the Scriptures that do support the idea.

For instance, Isaiah 43:25,  Hebrews 8:12 and 10:17  each remind us that the all knowing God—on the basis of His forgiveness—no longer remembers our sins. In interpreting such passages we will often employ wording like, “God chooses not to remember our sins.” I certainly agree that this is true, but it does infer that God chooses to limit His omniscience. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not willing that any should perish, yet we know that many do in fact perish. Apparently the all powerful God also limits His power.

This then begs the question, “In what other ways does God limit Himself?”

Tricks & Tools of the Day

If you’re anything like me, then you are constantly looking for better and/or more efficient ways of keeping up with the regular tasks of day to day life and ministry. Being that I was raised with technology, that typically means that I am looking for apps and services that make my life and ministry a bit easier. With that in mind, I’d like to share twelve of the tools (some you probably know/use and a few you may have never used or even heard of) that I use on a daily basis that just work.

Dropbox

dropboxDropbox is an essential tool for me. I’ve had an account with Dropbox since it became available, recommended it to dozens of people (which has increased my free storage) and purchased more storage (even though there are potentially cheaper or free alternatives) because it just works great. For more than two years now I’ve had nearly all of my data stored across all of my devices via Dropbox. I know that some people will decry potential security issues to this way of working, but I’m not majorily concerned. All the projects I am working on a always backed-up and up-to-date on each of my devices (laptop, desktop, phone and iPad) and accessible on any computer.

iCloud

icloud2I’ve been a Apple/Mac user since I was in second grade. At that time it was all 3.5” floppies, Oregon Trail and Carmen San Diego, but every year (in my opinion) Apple gets better and better at adding exceptional features. That’s definitely the story with iCloud. If you’ve been around Apple long enough then you’ve been through the growing pains of iTools, .Mac, MobileMe and even the early days of iCloud. But today iCloud is a major contender, and one I use constantly.

Besides synced contacts, calendars, notes and reminders across all of my devices, iCloud offers me the ability to easily work on documents anytime, anywhere. iCloud enables someone—like me—that uses Apple iWork exclusively (Pages, Keynote and Numbers) the ability to be typing notes in Pages on my iMac at home, edit them on my iPad or iPhone on the go, have the most current version available later on my MacBook Air (while at Starbucks no doubt), and then finish them up on my iMac at the office.

Yes, I know… I have an Apple disorder. People call our office “The Orchard.” If you’re an apple user too, iCloud is a no-brainer.

Google Drive

google_driveThere is certainly some redundancy in these first three (perhaps even with the 4th too). Google drive can do many of the same things that Dropbox and iCloud do. One could make the case that Dropbox is unnecessary if you are using iCloud or Google Drive and that you should choose between iCloud or Google Drive. That’s for others to fight about. For me, I like all three for differing reasons and have found all of them to be helpful to my regular work flow and habits.

If you work with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit (i.e. most churches and para-church organizations) then you really should look in to Google for Nonprofits (http://www.google.com/nonprofits/), which makes Google Apps freely available to your whole organization. At our church, Cross Connection, we’ve had an authorized Google for Nonprofits account for several years, and we use it extensively.

Our office uses shared calendars and Google Drive/Apps daily. We regularly collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, and share project files and folders. Google Drive has also been a huge help in the work that I do with ministries outside of our local church. Whether it’s the Church Planting Network, our Online School, or individuals that I am mentoring or working with in the church. It is becoming more and more essential.

Evernote

evernoteI started this post in Evernote on my laptop, and now I’m continuing it on my iPhone. I use Evernote constantly throughout my day. When an idea comes to mind or a new thought for a message or article, I reach for my iPhone and jot it down in Evernote. If I’m readying an article that of like to tag and save for later, I email a copy of it to my Evernote account from Safari on my iPhone, iPad or computer. The ability to attach pictures/files, tag, geotag, search and gather notes into notebooks makes Evernote my goto notes app.

Evernote is such a paradigm changer for some that books have been written entire websites dedicated to and seminars held on how to more effectively get things done using it.

Kindle App (for iOS)

kindleI don’t think I’ve bought a “real book” (unless it was not available as an ebook) since the Kindle app came out for iPad. I’m the type of person that reads several books at one time. Kindle makes this all the more easy. I love the ability to have my entire library with me everywhere and at anytime. And to have highlights, notes and bookmarks synced across devices is a huge plus!

 

 

Goodreader

goodreaderThere are many reader/annotation apps for the iPad/iPhone (and other sub-par handheld devices), but I prefer Goodreader. Although I use it for all kinds of document files (PDF, Doc, XLS, PPT, etc.), my primary use of Goodreader is as my teaching notes tool.

The final draft of my teaching notes is always saved to Dropbox as a PDF. Then, when I’m ready to teach/preach I download the file from Dropbox in Goodreader, make any final highlights and annotations to it and step up to the pulpit.

Like I said, this is just one of many such tools, but it has a ton of features I’ve not seen in others.

Mantis Study Bible & Blue Letter Bible

mantisOk, so this is really two different apps/services, but they accomplish the same task, so I’ve grouped them together.

I downloaded and purchased add-ons for Mantis Study Bible the first day I had my very first iPad. Although there are (now) other options available (even at a better price), I’ve stuck with Mantis because it works great, and I have got a bit of money invested in it. The only downside is that I wish there was a MacOS version available to use on my laptop/desktop, but that’s where Blue Letter Bible comes in.

I have Logos study bible, but I rarely open it. It has some great features and tools, but it has just never really fit into my workflow too well. I began using Blue Letter Bible as my primary Bible study tool more than 10 years ago. Thankfully they updated their user interface in the last year, but even before the update it was a topnotch tool that is totally free. I like it so much I’ve happily donated to the ministry of Blue Letter Bible. While it doesn’t have near the features of a fully featured Accordance or Logos, it’s spectacular for getting a study done.

blueletter

Mailchimp

mailchimpLike several of other apps/services, Mailchimp is one of many options available to send mass emails to a large list of subscribers.

We use Mailchimp both at Cross Connection and the Calvary Church Planting Network. Each Friday I send out an email to more than 500 subscribers at the church to update them about what’s happening at our weekend services or about what’s coming up the following week. It’s a no-cost (for the first 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails/month), easy to use tool, that returns great metrics/reports.

Mailbox App

mailboxSpeaking of email…

It’s a first-world problem that all 21st century first-worlders share… too much email (Yes, I know, with Mailchimp we’re contributing to the problem). I have way too much of it on way too many accounts. On average I get 100-200 emails a day (during the week). In all honesty, only about a quarter to a third of them are of much importance (side note: I’m testing sanebox to deal with the other 66%).** Not only do I have too much email, but I check my email mostly on my iPhone and I routinely see emails there that need more attention than just a quick response from the phone. The problem is that those emails often get buried by the time I get back to my computer and then, they get are missed… which is a huge problem.

Enter Mailbox App. With mailbox, when I see an email on my phone, I can swipe to the left and bring up a prompt to (essentially) hide it till later today, this evening, tomorrow, next week, etc.

[one_half][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5396″ caption=”slide left…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half] [one_half_last][image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”5395″ caption=”slide right…” align=”center” icon=”zoom” quality=”100″ lightbox=”true”] [/one_half_last] A swipe a bit further to the left and I can easily move the email to a designated folder (CCPN, Cross Connect, etc.).

A partial swipe to the right immediately archives the message and a full swipe to the right deletes it. Don’t understand? Watch the video…

Expensify

expensifyExpensify has made my (and our Cross Connection Staff’s) life so much easier! Expensify has a very clear and simple statement about what they do… “Expense reports that don’t suck | Simple, hassle-free expense reporting.”

In the past (until about 6 months ago that is) all of those on our staff that have credit cards would receive their monthly statement with something like a spreadsheet attached on which they would identify what each expense was and which ministry/account it was attached to. In addition they would attach their receipts to it and return it to our Quickbooks master in a timely manner. Problem was, it never actually happened that way… in a timely manner.

Lets face it, I lose receipts, and I’m terrible at getting things done that I just hate doing. But Expensify has completely transformed that. Now, when myself or one of our staff members make a purchase with their church card, they take a picture of the receipt with the Expensify App on their iPhone, record the info of who the payee was, how much it cost and which accounting category it falls under. Then at the end of the month, what use to take me a couple of hours has been reduced to minutes. I just check the statement with the data on Expensify’s website and if everything checks out I hit send and it emails a PDF expense report to our Quickbookie. AWESOME!

img_Expensify_laptopphoneExpensify is mostly free for the first 2 people on a team and then $6 for each additional individual. Well worth the cost, at least for us.

The Table

tableMany churches use church management software (CMS) like Active Network’s Fellowship One, ACS Technologies or Church Community Builder; some prefer a church social network like The City (which is now owned by ACS). All of these are great services. Each of them have their own pros and cons, and all of them come at a cost. If your church is not using anything for administratively managing the work, you should at least look into it. We (at Cross Connection) have looked at several and are in the process of implementing Fellowship One. The only problem was that we wanted something that would also decentralize certain aspects of administration, community and church life. Facebook is a definite option, and many churches use it effectively, but for us Facebook has too much noise. The City offers some great features, but (1) doesn’t integrate with our CMS and (2) it would be an additional cost on top of our management solution with F1. Which is why, about a year ago, we implemented The Table at our church.

The Table is a church focused/oriented social networking platform. It’s free, easy to setup and use, and has proven super useful for us. Also, The Table integrates with Fellowship One and shares user data across the platforms. So, when Joe Average updates his contact info on The Table, it is updated in our church management records.

1Password

1passwordIt’s another 21st century, first-world problem. We have accounts for Amazon, Google, iCloud, Blue Letter Bible, Dropbox, Evernote, Expensify, The Table… and that’s just the apps and services mentioned in this post. At present I have 198 accounts with individual logins and passwords (I know, that’s insane). Enter 1Password.

Like Apple’s original Keychain (which I could never get to work properly) and now iCloud Keychain (which works pretty well), 1Password offers saving and syncing (using Dropbox) of your login and password information for your many accounts. Then, with a simple hotkey (Command+) it prompts you for your single 1Password password (only once while logged in) and then inputs the unique username and password for whatever site you are on.

iCloud Keychain is accomplishing the same basic functionality… I’ve just become accustomed to using 1Password over the years, so for now I’m still using it.

What apps or services are you using that are a help?
Share them in the comments below.


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logo-sanebox-2013-blue-fac53d24ba90186c66c7db3c260609f1**After a few days using SaneBox I can say for certain that it’s worth a look! Although there’s a monthly cost for the service, it does a great job of reducing the clutter in my inbox. Check out the 14 day free trial, you may find that you like it.

Can we tolerate intolerance?

At this moment, just days from Christmas, a whole lot of noise has been stirred up in American pop-culture, resulting from the “Duck Commander’s” words that are to be printed in the January issue of GQ Magazine. The Twitter-sphere, blogosphere and mainline newsosphere are all a buzz, which of course means I have something to say too 😉

Two blog articles have stuck out to me in the last 24 hours. One, a post from Brandon Ambrosino at Time.com and the other from Andrew Sullivan on his own site, dish.andrewsullivan.com. Interestingly, both men are openly gay. Thus, their views are particularly interesting.

Both writers essentially agree that Phil Robertson’s firing is unfounded. Sullivan rightly observes that A&E has fired the reality star for doing the very thing that has made the network a boatload of money, speaking his stereotypically southern, redneck mind. Ambrosino closes with a great question, “Why is our go-to political strategy for beating our opponents to silence them?” Amidst all the chatter I find myself continually landing upon the same reoccurring thought: can we tolerate intolerance?

The collective voices of progressive pop-culture tell us “fundamentalist Christians” that we must be more tolerant of the LGBT community and lifestyle. By tolerance I can only deduce that they mean accepting and in many cases celebrate too. At this moment—barring changes that will likely come in the future—the definition of tolerant (according to the New Oxford American Dictionary installed on my MacBook Air) is “showing willingness to allow the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.”

As far as I can tell, myself and most of the Christian pastors and church goers that I know, have been (according to the above definition) doing their best to be tolerant of the Homosexual lifestyle, whether they want to be or not. We’ve tried to show a willingness to allow the existence of opinions and behavior that we—and we believe the Scriptures—do not agree with. However, it does not seem that groups like GLAAD and others within the LGBT community are willing to offer the same tolerance to fundamentalist Christians like Phil Robertson.

My answer to the question is “no.” I cannot tolerate the LGBT and progressive pop-culture’s intolerance of our opinions that they do not agree with. I wish that they were a little more tolerant, and something tells me that Sullivan and Ambrosino would probably agree.

Boston Observations

Like virtually every American I was glued to the news this last week as a result of the Marathon Bombing. I was however somewhat detached being that I was teaching at a small international bible college in Ireland. That said, I did have a few observations in light of the happenings.

Bravery

Quite honestly it is awesome to behold the bravery of “strangers” in the face of the atrocious acts of cowardice displayed by the bombers. The bombers dropped their packages and briskly waked away, leaving destruction in their wake. But immediately following the explosions loads of people ran to the aid of the injured. My heart broke and was warmed all in one moment.

Brave men and women, knowing not whether other bombs were awaiting them, risked their lives to hurry to those that were hurt. Individuals tired after running 26 miles continued to run to nearby hospitals to donate blood. The cowards hid and [apparently] planned future acts of terror. Fortunately, aside from one other terrible act, their reign of terror ended quickly.

Solidarity

In Europe, upon hearing my accent each individual I encountered instantly expressed their sincerest sympathies. Their hearts hurt for the pain of our nation. They didn’t have to be American, they’re human, and the heart of any individual with a modicum of compassion, breaks in the face of such suffering.

Efficiency

The Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical communities are to be lauded for their expertise and efficiency. EMS workers worked with brave professionalism. I imagine that they would have prior to 9/11/2001, but all the more since. The Law Enforcement agencies [apparently] worked harmoniously together to identify (with the aid of many witnesses) the alleged terrorists and effectively remove them from the streets within 4 days of their conscienceless act.

Idiocy

The press displayed (almost as expected) absurdity. If they would limit their scope of practice to reporting the facts, it would be bearable. But in a day in which “that which bleeds leads” and he who is first to the story wins the ratings game, stupidity abounds. In addition flows the constant drone of editorializing and and biased interpretation. I’d much rather know what they know and not what some uppity news correspondent thinks it means.

I realize that at this point I’m editorializing too, but quite frankly that’s what a blog is.

God Voted Obama

As I lay down to go to sleep last night I thought to myself, “What is the best way to respond to those I lead this week regarding the electoral decisions of our nation in this 2012 campaign.” A couple of hours earlier a member of the church had texted me asking, “Well, any words of encouragement, pastor?” My immediate thought and response was, “Jesus is the King of kings!” So as I faded into unconsciousness a reoccurring thought swirled in my mind, “God Voted Obama.”

I received an email this evening with the subject, “THE SADDEST DAY IN THE HISTORY OF THE U.S.” The email happens to be from someone I do not know who somehow had placed me on their distribution list many months ago and instead of actually unsubscribing I’ve consistently just delete his messages, but this one caught my attention. After reading the opening sentence (that’s as much as I could handle), I once again began thinking “God Voted Obama.” The failure of the author to recognize God’s active involvement in the affairs of men is startling to me, but gives me some further insight into his theology.

I realize that what I’m about to say will not be popular with the largely evangelical, center-right crowd that will likely read this post, but I’m convinced it’s scripturally supported and worthy of consideration.

In the 6th century B.C. the Nation of Judah was led into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. There are a number of contributing reasons for Judah’s captivity, but one of the major ones was Israel’s unwillingness to obey God’s command for sabbath rest. Every seven years the land was to lay fallow, but in Israel’s greedy desire for ever increasing yields, they disobeyed the sabbath rest for 490 years. Thus God required 70 years of rest for His land, which translated into 70 years of captivity for disobedient Israel, as they worked as slaves under the taskmasters of Babylon. This is just one of several such instances in the Old Testament. God is very serious about righteousness and justice. He does not take lightly disobedience. The blessings and curses of the commands still apply and are, I believe, generally applicable to all humanity.

For many years our nation has greedily pursued ever increasing yields. We’ve selfishly sought for extravagant abundance and idolized the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Our bent toward instant gratification has, in recent times, pushed us to do so with little thought for the long-term costs and consequences. After more than a generation and a half of such pursuit we’ve seduced ourselves into believing that “tomorrow will be as today and much more abundant” (Isaiah 56:12).

Furthermore, as of December 23, 2011, a staggering 78% of Americans self-identify as Christians (Gallup). Obviously there are a number of cultural guilt factors that play into people identifying as Christians when asked. Be that as it may, there is good reason to believe that the 78% have at least some connection to Christianity in their past. Yet the scriptural exhortations to love our neighbors (Mark 12:31), do justly, love mercy and walk in humility (Micah 6:8) have done little to stir our social engagement and curb our indolent pride.

With these things in mind I wonder; is it not possible that we’ve been given the government that will reprove and correct — even if it be by taxation — our unroghteous behavior? Is it possible that the church’s abdication of social responsibility has created a vacuum that someone or something must fill? The government being the logical “something?”

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t like taxes per se. Nor am I a fan of individual mandates or social safety-nets hung upon deficits and debt. I’m a firm believer in personal responsibility and think loving charity is far more noble than begrudging taxation any day of the week. But if we indeed believe that promotion comes from The Lord (Psalm 75:6-7) and that there is no authority except that which God has established (Romans 13:1), then perhaps we should consider why God has given us the leaders we’ve elected? Before we tune in to Foxnews and Glenn Beck, maybe we should hearken the Prayer of Daniel…

1 In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans;
2 In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah the prophet, that he would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.
3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes:
4 And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;
5 We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments:
6 Neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.
7 O Lord, righteousness belongeth unto thee, but unto us confusion of faces, as at this day; to the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and unto all Israel, that are near, and that are far off, through all the countries whither thou hast driven them, because of their trespass that they have trespassed against thee.
8 O Lord, to us belongeth confusion of face, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against thee.
9 To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him;
10 Neither have we obeyed the voice of the LORD our God, to walk in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets.
11 Yea, all Israel have transgressed thy law, even by departing, that they might not obey thy voice; therefore the curse is poured upon us, and the oath that is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, because we have sinned against him.
12 And he hath confirmed his words, which he spake against us, and against our judges that judged us, by bringing upon us a great evil: for under the whole heaven hath not been done as hath been done upon Jerusalem.
13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this evil is come upon us: yet made we not our prayer before the LORD our God, that we might turn from our iniquities, and understand thy truth.
14 Therefore hath the LORD watched upon the evil, and brought it upon us: for the LORD our God is righteous in all his works which he doeth: for we obeyed not his voice.
15 And now, O Lord our God, that hast brought thy people forth out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand, and hast gotten thee renown, as at this day; we have sinned, we have done wickedly.
16 O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.
17 Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of thy servant, and his supplications, and cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake.
18 O my God, incline thine ear, and hear; open thine eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by thy name: for we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousnesses, but for thy great mercies.
19 O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name.

Daniel 9:1-19

Let me end by affirming my heartfelt prayer for President Obama; for the president he defeated a mere 24 hours ago has left him with one heck of an economic mess.

 

10 things on my mind this week…

1. Blessed to hold the hand of and pray with a sister about to step from this life to the next after a battle with an aggressive cancer. Her words to me, “I want to live.” You will, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, let not your heart be troubled.

2. Like eating Greek far more than reading Greek. Prepositions, participles, imperfect, active, indicative, third person singular… O my (or perhaps ομαι, which would of course be a deponent ending). Not sure just how well I’m getting it, but Greek class is mind bending. So wish I would have paid more attention in high school English class.

3. Find it interesting that it’s “wrong” to write an article in a public venue (i.e. blog) that can be openly challenged, but it’s perfectly acceptable to privately circulate a dozen page+ letter among ones peers and associates condemning and falsely labeling them, without their knowledge.

If someone has issue with something I’ve said or written they can comment here, email me, find me on Facebook, twitter, google+ or call my office.

4. Amazed by the spiritual insights gleaned from (1) raising Ethan, Addie & Eva, and (2) pruning the grape vine in my backyard.

5. So blessed by my mom and my wife as I approach Mother’s Day.

6. Intrigued by President Obama’s non-evolutionary “leap” to supporting gay marriage this week.

7. Thankful for the men God has put in my life that challenge me to be a better follower of God, husband to my wife, father to my kids and pastor of Cross Connection Escondido.

8. Excited by the several projects I’m collaborating on in multiple spheres. Am regularly blown away that I get to do what I get to do.

9. Consistently surprised by the graciousness of people to bless me and my family in very tangible ways that express their genuine love for us.

10. Praying for wisdom in unearthing and implementing a new paradigm in Christ honoring community for CCEsco.

Legalize Marijuana?

During the Q&A following our service last night the following question was texted in…

Sorry if this is off topic but with it being in the news so often its hard not to notice, with pat robertson endorsing decriminalization of cannabis what should our position as christians on medical cannabis and cannabis in general?

I didn’t take time last night to answer it as I hadn’t heard or read about Pat Robertson’s statements and I wanted to make sure that I understood his position. That said, I do have some thoughts on this issue and having had a chance to look at what Robertson actually said, I figured I’d post an answer here.

The discussion of marijuana legalization is an interesting one, and I’m fairly certain that within a generation it will be legalized in the US. Public opinion on the subject is shifting and the younger demographic (i.e. Millennials) is largely in favor of the move. So, whether or not Christians and the Church agree with the move, we will very likely see a legislative shift within 10-15 years, or sooner.

Add to the discussion Pat Robertson’s remarks from earlier this month. Although they flew under my radar (which isn’t terribly hard to do), Robertson’s views are not new. He’s been advocating this stance for a couple of years, and primarily for pragmatic reasons.

“I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance, the whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.”

On this point, I basically agree.

Robertson also said, “I really believe we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol. I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Again, I don’t necessarily disagree on this point either. My primary concern is that many of the politicians I’ve read or heard on this subject have come at it from a totally different angle that concerns me. The reasoning goes something like this, “The war on drugs is costing us billions and is not working, we could legalize and regulate the marijuana industry in such a way that it generates great revenue for the government.” If we’re going to legalize and regulate marijuana solely to make money for the government, then why not prostitution or other controlled substances? Do we really cast aside morals for profit? What precedent does this set and what are the other unintended consequences of doing so with marijuana?

I am not against the lawful use of alcohol as the Bible allows for it’s use; as long as such use is not in excess, which the bible defines as drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18). There is however a lot of unlawful and excessive use in America, which has grave and costly consequences; such as the human cost… This year upwards of 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes – one every 50 minutes. There will be huge economic and human costs associated with marijuana legalization too; many of which will not be realized until after it’s legalization. The questions abound; how do employers deal with marijuana smoking employees? How does the military? Is there a “legal limit” that can be smoked, or how does law enforcement enforce such a DUI charge for Marijuana? etc…

I could certainly go on, but ultimately this begs the question, how should the church respond when such a shift takes place? When it is no longer against the law and is as prevalent as cigarettes and alcohol, what does the church say when Joe Parishioner smokes a bowl in the church parking-lot before each service? I think the answer lies [again] in Ephesians 5:18. Although alcohol is the direct focal point of the verse, [I believe] the principle still stands for any controlled substance. When you come under the influence of said substance and are essential “drunken” you have partaken unto excess. I’ve never smoked marijuana, and do not intend to, but by observation and interaction with people who have, I’m just not sure that you can take a hit of marijuana and not be “under the influence.” Therefore, I believe that it will still be an issue of sinful excess to partake.

The immediate rebuttal or followup question will be, “Is it then sinful to use a controlled substance for medicinal use if it brings you under it’s influence?” I think that this too has a Biblical answer.

Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.

– Proverbs 31:6-7

Thoughts/Comments?

 

 

On Pat Robertson’s position

NYT

Washington Post

Calvary Chapel: D+

I recognize that this title is a bit provactive. It is not written merely to be so. Perhaps I could have entitled it “Calvary Chapel D3,” but “D+” actually does a better job of presenting what I see as a problem.

I’ve been a part of the Calvary Chapel Movement since I was 11 years old. Almost my entire Christian experience has been within the Calvary style of ministry. I’ve served in full-time vocational ministry within Calvary Chapel for nearly 13 years in many different capacities. I’ve served as a youth pastor, assistant pastor and now senior pastor at Calvary Escondido. I’ve taught at Calvary Chapel Bible Colleges in Siegen, Germany; Murrieta, California and Costa Mesa. I assisted with Worship Generation at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa back in 2000 and 2001. I’ve been privileged to work alongside men who I consider to be giants in the faith. But my heart has been troubled over the last several years to see certain shifts within this great movement. Troubled as we, the Calvary Chapel Movement, have become detached, disengaged and defensive.

I am still in awe that I have been given the opportunity to teach at Calvary Chapel Bible College for the last 8 years. What began as a wishful desire has become a regular part of my routine. This semester I had the largest class I’ve had to date, nearly a 100 students. Most of those students are in their last semesters at the school. They are preparing to go into “the ministry.” In my interaction with them I am amazed how detached they are from the larger work of God through the [non-Calvary Chapel] church. I realize that this is likely a reality within many such institutions. Two examples of this immediately come to mind.

Early in this last semester I had made a passing comment about the work being done by Acts29 and Mark Driscoll. I was stopped by raised hand within 30 seconds, “What’s Acts29 and who is Mark Driscoll?” I asked my students, “How many of you know what Acts29 is and about Mark Driscoll?” I think 2 people, out of a hundred, raised their hands.

Just a couple of weeks ago, in talking about eschatology (I rotate between teaching Isaiah and Jeremiah at the college) I made reference to amillennial and preterist doctrine; again I was stopped, “What is that?” Again I asked, “How many of you know what these things are?” Blank stares abounded.

My point is not that everyone should know of Acts29 or Mark Driscoll, or that all Christians should have a good grasp of preterism and amillennial theology, but that we, the leadership and future leaders of the movement are a bit detached from the larger work of the church and what is happening in current ecclesiology in our own sphere. If 3rd and 4th semester Bible College students at our movement’s primary school have no clue about the opposing eschatological views within Christendom, in a movement which has, as one of it’s primary distinctives, a pre-millennial and pre-tribulational eschatology, there’s a problem.

One of the primary curricula at CCBC is listening to audio tracks of Pastor Chuck Smith’s through the bible series, recorded in the 1970’s & 1980’s. Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say. I love Pastor Chuck Smith and greatly appreciate his ministry. I don’t know that I’d be in the ministry today if it were not for his clear exhortation to serve and follow God given at a youth camp I attended as a sophomore in high school. Be that as it may, I do not believe this emphasis to be helpful, for several reasons.

  1. It breeds the kind of personality cult which Paul preaches against in 1 Corinthians
  2. It produces students with an incredibly limited scope of biblical understanding
  3. It produces teachers that tend to parrot what they’ve heard, rather than rightly dividing the word of truth.
  4. It creates (not at all intentionally) defensiveness toward anyone who disagrees with Pastor Chuck’s position
  5. It creates a cultural frame of reference that is about 30-40 years outdated

Given enough time I could probably come up with a dozen or more additional reasons. I realize that by writing such things I’m opening myself up to get slammed. I pray that that will not be the case. Speaking to students at the Bible College and pastors throughout our movement I find many times over that we’ve become detached from the the larger work of the church. This detachment is not at all intentional. A couple of months ago I had an opportunity to meet and interact with Ed Stetzer on the topic of Calvary Chapel, he observed very much the same detachment when told me, “Calvary Chapel has become insular.” His words were in no way antagonistic; rather he expressed them with a bit of sorrow. Unfortunately I believe his observation to be spot on. It is grieving when I meet pastors from outside Calvary who say to me, “What has happened to Calvary?” My answer to Ed Stetzer and many others who have expressed such concern has been, “We’ve begun to define ourselves by what we’re against on not by what we’re about.”

Our detachment has lead to a defensiveness toward other theological positions and a disengagement from our original mission. In seeking to clearly articulate what a Calvary Chapel is we’ve opted to tell everyone what we are not, instead of showing people who we are. “We are not Calvinists,” “we are not emergent,” “we are not seeker,” “We don’t like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, John MacArthur, Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, Doug Pagitt, etc…” There was a time where defining exactly what a Calvary Chapel was wasn’t entirely easy, but those on the outside of the movement couldn’t argue against what they were witnessing. Sinners were being saved and transformed into saints who went on to plant churches, lots of them; and many of them became the largest in the nation. Yes, on some levels that is still happening, but it is much harder to be “Calvary” in 2011 than it was in 1991, or even 2001. In defining who we aren’t I believe we’ve lost sight of what we’re truly are all about.

Sure, there are things that are distinctively “Calvary Chapel,” but mostly we’ve been a non-denominational, bible believing/preaching movement that makes disciples and plants churches. The question is, can we move through this awkward grumpy old man stage and reengage on the offensive for the cause of the Kingdom, and not be distinctively detached, disengaged and defensive?

Alright give it to me… but remember I’m sleep deprived having just brought my wife and our 3rd baby home from the hospital within the last 48 hours 😉

Evangeline Grace DeBenedictis
December 6, 2011
7lbs 13oz

Senior Boomers, Meet the Millennials

For many years I’ve been a student of culture. I blame Jeff Jackson. As a 15 year-old I found myself a pupil in a missions class he taught for Calvary Escondido; I’d like to think I’ve never been the same since. Full disclosure (or confession), I remember very little from the class (extend some grace, it’s been 16 years). But one thing I’ve never lost, remains as profound to me now as it did then; “You don’t recognize your own culture until it’s been stepped on by another culture.” Many times in the years that have followed I have found myself consciously aware of my cultural toes being stepped on and have become far more cognizant of the culture in which I live.

There has been quite a bit written recently about the cultural shift taking place in our nation as Baby Boomers head into retirement (or so they thought) and their Millennial children step into adulthood. I, as an interested observer of culture, am fascinated by this shift and am very much intrigued its implications for our nation, and especially the church.

I was born November 28, 1979, at the very beginning of this “Millennial” generation. Nearly 4 years ago, the church I grew up in experienced a leadership transition from a Boomer, Pat kenney, to a Millennial… me. Such transitions (not only within churches) are going to become commonplace over the next several years. Officially 2011 is the first year the “silver tsunami” has come ashore, as boomers are now reaching the magic retirement age of 65. But the economic downturn has brought a major wrinkle.

In June of this year National Journal published an article by Ron Brownstein entitled “Upside Down: Why millennials can’t start their careers and baby boomers can’t end theirs.” Brownstein highlighted this new strain within our society…

It’s hard to say this spring whether it’s more difficult for the class of 2011 to enter the labor force or for the class of 1967 to leave it.

Students now finishing their schooling—the class of 2011—are confronting a youth unemployment rate above 17 percent. The problem is compounding itself as those collecting high school or college degrees jostle for jobs with recent graduates still lacking steady work. “The biggest problem they face is, they are still competing with the class of 2010, 2009, and 2008,” says Matthew Segal, cofounder of Our Time, an advocacy group for young people.

At the other end, millions of graying baby boomers—the class of 1967—are working longer than they intended because the financial meltdown vaporized the value of their homes and 401(k) plans. For every member of the millennial generation frustrated that she can’t start a career, there may be a baby boomer frustrated that he can’t end one.

This cultural tremor is interesting. The governments of the world are doing everything within their power to jumpstart economies, tackle unemployment and reinvigorate industry. The markets yo-yo through peaks and valleys that make even the most ardent adrenaline junkies beg for a reprieve. All these things were bouncing around in my head a couple of months ago as my wife and I took a short vacation in Santa Barbara.

While wandering around State St. one evening we stepped into a touristy T-shirt shop. The shopkeeper’s radio was tuned to some AM talk show, on which a caller was recounting her story. Her family was struggling to make ends meet; work had slowed for her husband, which caused her to consider going back to work. Her Boomer parents were experiencing similar difficulties as they had lost their home and much of their savings. The answer was clear, “Mom and dad will move in with us, help take care of our kids, I’ll go back to work and we’ll pool our resources to take care of one another.” The talk-show host chimed in, “You know, that’s really what America was like 60-80 years ago.”

When you consider the history of man it’s very easy to see that man is oriented toward community; God created us that way. But for a number of years our modern American culture has opted for a rogue individualism. As a result we are constantly trying to “create a sense of community” because there is a recognition that something has been missing. I believe that we have been experiencing an abnormality, and thankfully mutated anomalies don’t survive. All of a sudden we are being forced to live in community. Although this feels uncomfortable (as abnormal has become normal), it’s a good thing.

As we move forward I think it is important that those who have influence (i.e. pastors) need to help people see that this new reality is a good thing. We need to encourage people to live in community this way. At the moment it is counterculture. We’ve been bred to see such community as an anti-American socialism or a failure of our success, but our culture has lied to us.

For the last month and a half I’ve been teaching through the book of Jeremiah at a local bible college. As Judah faced the Babylonian captivity the prophet Jeremiah called to the people to submit to the Babylonian rule. If Judah would surrender, they’d survive. If they would resist, they’d die. Essentially, whoever would lose his life would save it, and he that would seek to save his life would lose it. We’re living under a similar situation. Business as usual is untenable. It’s time for a change… and yes, we can. 😉

The importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship

Last month Tim wrote a great article on worship entitled “Toddler Worship.” His observations are, I believe, truly important for maturing believers. It is certain that we should not aim at the lowest common denominator when leading our churches, therefore it is foolish to craft a worship service to meet the immature in their immaturity and cater to it in such a way that they never grow.

Early in my pastoral ministry, as a youth pastor, I sought to set the bar high for the 50 or so Jr. High students I ministered to. The level of teaching they received during my 4 year tenure, was likely over their heads. Or at least the adults visiting my services told me so. I was actually not surprised that many of them grasped far more of what was taught than most adults gave them credit for. I set this purely as a qualifier for what I am about to say, especially since I do not really disagree with that Tim wrote. I’m not one to water things down for the sake of attracting people.

Several years ago, while preaching and teaching 8 to 10 hours a week for an extended period, I came down with a virus, which resulted in the loss of my voice. After healing from the illness I found that my ability to speak had drastically been affected. For several months I preached with what felt like an incredibly weak voice. By the end of Sunday services I’d be very near losing my voice. I also found that I was completely unable to engage in musical worship prior to preaching; in some ways this was a bit of an existential crises.

I’m almost sorry to admit it [now]; to that point worship to me had been inextricably linked to music. Not being able to sing caused me to rethink the paradigm of worship I’d come to know within modern evangelicalism. In my rethinking process I’ve come to recognize a number of important truths.

1. Music is not worship, but God created music to be the fastest onramp to genuine worship in spirit and truth.

2. God created music to stir our emotions, which informs us that worship should be emotional.

Genuine worship does not need music, but is greatly aided by it. One can just as easily enter into emotionally engaging worship by meditating upon God and His word while standing before the Grand Canyon, Bridalveil Falls, or merely considering His greatness.

* The affect of music upon our emotions can be for good or for bad. God did not dictate that music would only affect us in a positive or happy way. Music played at a faster tempo with major chords generally stirs happy emotions, whereas music played at a slower tempo with minors evokes sad emotions. Dissonance in music stirs negative anxiety and fear (maybe Fusco can produce some dissonant fear conjuring worship for us). 

3. Worship music that only engages the emotions is severely lacking and creates worshipers of worship as a means to emotional euphoria (ie emotionalism).

This point has been regularly reconfirmed for me over the last 10 years in working with youth and college students.

4. The theologically correct lyrics of emotionally stirring worship songs will engage the mind with the emotions to produce “heart worship.”

The engagement of the mind is essential. The emotions conjured up by the greatness of the Grand Canyon causes one to be in wonder (or worship) of the awesomeness of the Colorado River, whereas another is brought into honorable worship by seeing the same sight, while rehearsing God’s word in their mind or setting their affections upon Him.

5. Theologically correct lyrics attached to emotionally unengaging music shortchanges genuine worship.

6. Since worship music should effect us at an emotional level, style of music is important and varies from culture to culture, and across generational lines.

This time last year we were blessed to offer The Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course at CCEsco. One of our instructors, Ron Binder, brought this issue of style in musical worship home for me.

Ron is a Wycliffe missionary and an expert in Ethnomusicology. during a portion of his lecture he spoke on the importance of culturally relevant musical forms in worship, and explained that just as individuals have a “heart language,” they also have a “heart music.” This “heart music” is the style or musical form that will most engage their emotions and draw them into “heart worship.”

If this is true, and I believe it is, then we ought to honestly consider this as we are seeking to disciple our fellowships in worship, especially when we consider that the Father is seeking those that will worship Him in spirit and truth. So, I do agree with Tim that we should not cater to people’s immaturity, and that we should do our best to separate the music from the worship.  But at the same time I continue to find that I need to think through the realities of style in worship far more than I ever did before.

7. Worship in spirit and truth is responsive, thus we cannot expect a person to “experience” heart worship immediately at the open of a corporate worship service. 

8.  A musical worship service, or corporate worship time should [therefore] be progressive (psalms, hymns, spiritual songs…).  It [the worship service] should lead people into worship.

Since my introduction to Calvary Chapel at age 11, my primary experience of a musical worship has been that which is engaged in for approximately 30 minutes prior to the sermon, and/or what is practiced at many of our believers meetings, camps and retreats.  These are, in our movement, commonly call “Afterglows.”

In my (purely personal, non-scientific) observation of these meetings, there seems [at times] to be very little intentionality in our worship and something of a “storm the throne room” approach.  In the last several years I’ve heard many a worship leader and/or pastor lament the fact that their people are “not worshiping,” which is generally gauged by the lack of participation (i.e. singing) by the gathered assembly.  In considering this complaint, I’ve developed a theory that a worship service that draws the worshipers into heart worship should progress from psalms to hymns, which results in spiritual songs.

Psalms are – generally speaking – scripture put to music.  John Calvin believed singing anything other than the Psalms was inappropriate for Christian worship and unworthy of God.  I don’t know if I’d go that far.   But, such singing of the scriptures sets our minds upon God’s word and aids us in taking God’s word into our hearts, as music is a tremendously powerful mnemonic device.

Hymns are doctrinal and theological in nature; they exalt the attributes of God’s character and nature; they give intellectual and theological expression to our faith.  Martin Luther said, “Let me write the hymns of a Church, and I care not who may write its creeds and volumes of theology — I will determine its faith.”

Spiritual Songs are adorations, supplications, petitions, confessions, thanksgivings, etc…  They are spiritually inspired from man to God or God to man and tend to be prophetic in nature and spontaneous.  Such songs are the overflow of our heart in devotion to God.

 I believe that the lack of participation many observe in worship today is related to the fact that much of our modern worship tends to be “spiritual song” dominant.  If one does not properly, and progressively, lead the body into worship, they will likely not engage in worship as their heart has not been properly prepared to sing devotional confessions of praise or petition (e.g. “You [God] are the air I breath,” “You are all I want, you are all I need,” “Lord my one request, my only aim, Lord reign in me again.”).

I am, however, encouraged by many of the new hymns being developed by individuals like Keith Getty and groups such as  Sovereign Grace and Indelible Grace Music.

Ultimately worship is God’s idea.  He created us to worship and is seeking such who will worship Him.  John Piper is right, “Missions exist because worship doesn’t.” God is worthy of our worship and our greatest experiences of pleasurable joy are rooted in our worship of Him.  He inhabits the praises of His people and in His presence is fullness of joy.  These truths have challenged me over the last several years to more seriously consider the theology of worship.  Perhaps it’s a good challenge for the church as a whole?

 

Join The Conversation

I’m on the road with my family this week, in fact, sitting in Daniel Fusco’s living room right now, so this is largely undeveloped… for that I repent!

This week CNN.com highlighted a group called the World Wide Web Foundation that is seeking to answer the question of how many pages are on the internet.  Their article referenced Kevin Kelly, a founder of Wired Magazine, who has written that there are at least a trillion web page.

The advent of the internet has made it possible for an exchange of ideas never before realized by man.  Or perhaps not realized since Babel.  An individual (such as myself) has a potential (vs. actual) audience that is incredibly large.  In times past the cost of reaching such a mass of people with your idea or product was well out of reach to the average person.  Today, if you’re not using the resources available (often freely) online, you’re wasting a great opportunity, and (as a Christian) I think you could make a good case that you’re not being a good steward of the potential.

The WWW Foundation estimates that only 30% of humanity currently has access to the resources of the internet.  We’re quickly reaching a point, through wireless technology, where 90% of humanity will have the ability to access the internet.  Al Gore must be proud that his baby is so revolutionizing the world.

While so many people can potentially access the web, there is still a major hurdle for many developing nations.  Much of the available online content requires the ability to read and write.  Furthermore, anyone interacting in discourse online is confronted with the reality that written discourse can be a difficult animal to tame.  An exchange I was involved in this week has [for me] brought this clearly to the forefront once again.

As I considered this this week I’ve come to the conclusion that there are several things required to play (i.e. discourse) in this sphere of open, mass exchange of ideas.  My list is still developing, perhaps you can help, so far I have four points.

1. Humility

If anything the internet has over and over proven that your/my idea ain’t the only idea on a subject.  Therefore we must come to the table recognizing that our idea is one among a billion, and could very well be invalidated in the fee [two-way]

My dad, whom of course I love and respect greatly, has told me for many years now, “Son, opinions are like %$#-Holes, everybody has one.”  Not the most refined truth, perhaps, but a truth nonetheless… and a good truth to keep in mind when discussing ideas with others.  To demagogue an argument by aggressively forcing your position as the only logical or right view is not helpful, unless you have a watertight, incontestable position.

2. Flexibility

Rigidity is not helpful in discourse.  Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken.  Flexibility in discourse is evidenced by an individual’s willingness to argue from your opponents position; to stand in their shoes and consider their position from their point of view.

This honestly takes a humble spirit and a bit of work.  We all come to a discussion with bias; we must recognize that we even have bias and then try to identify what our bias presuppositions and assumptions are.  Like a good juror, we should try to leave our bias at the door and examine the evidence and testimony with as clear a mind as possible.

3. Teachability 

If you’ve truly come to the table with humble flexibility, then you must be willing to expand or change your position if it’s shown to be weak.  A lack of teachability is an immediate check for me when raising up leaders within our church.  A disciple is a learner, they must be teachable.  Wisdom that is from above is peaceable and open to reason (James 3:17).

4. Humanity

Two quick things under this heading.

First, you’ve got to come to a discourse with at least a little humor.  One of my biggest weaknesses in online discourse is that I have a terribly dry sense of humor, which can easily come across harsh or condescendingly in written form.  Knowing this about myself I try to assume this about others when they come across harsh or condescending.  Love hopes all things, and I try to see the best in an individual.

Secondly, agreeing to disagree is sometimes a must.  We must make allowances for disagreement.

Thoughts?

* * * * * Post comment additions… * * * * *

Since there have been some good commented thoughts, I thought it right to add a few more points.

5. Sincerity

6. Integrity

7. Reality

We may have to develop how these things workout… but hey, they’re all “ity” words.

Taking Over

I was reading on Forbes.com a couple of weeks ago about the proposed buyout of Motorola Mobility by Google. The author, Eric Jackson, views the move by Google to be a misstep by current lead executive (and Google co-founder), Larry Page. At one point Jackson writes…

Academic research clearly shows that some of the riskiest strategic shifts for companies happen in a new CEO’s first year on the job. They want to put their mark on the place. They’re also much more self-confident than they probably deserve to be.

I must qualify what I write by making very clear that the senior or lead pastor ought not be viewed as or act like a corporate CEO. Plenty of pastors have made terrible mistakes by an overestimated view of themselves. Be that as it may, this quote resonated with me as I inherited an established ministry nearly 4 years ago, and have counseled a number of guys on their “first steps,” as they do the same. As long as I’ve been in vocational ministry I’ve served under a pastor lead model for church. Such a model affords a senior pastor a significant level of authority over the ministry, which has both it’s pros and cons.

There are unique realities when taking over an established ministry, which should be considered before the new lead pastor endeavors to make significant changes. The more I consider these uniquenesses, the more attractive birthing new works becomes, as new works are far more flexible. The culture of a church is, in many ways, established in the first 3 to 5 years of it’s life, and course corrections are more difficult for a church with an established culture. This being the case I think that it is very important that incoming lead pastors, taking over existing works, take to heart the truth behind Erick Jackson’s quote; even if it isn’t directed at pastoral ministry.

It is certain that there are changes to be made when a new pastor takes over a church. Many of those changes can be made without much grief or pushback within the first 12 to 18 months, as that is something of a honeymoon or grace period for a new pastor. Longstanding “members” of the fellowship will be more forgiving and gracious, even if they’re not fully in step with the alterations. In some ways I think that the body views such moves with a good level of openness saying, “Well, he’s the new guy,” or “He’s just learning; still a little young/green.” Whatever it is, it’s easier to get away with in the first year and a half.

When initial changes are made, some people will leave. Generally speaking, the people who leave in the first 6 months of a transition would probably have left anyway. Unless they themselves had taken over the church. The alterations that are made serve as a nice smokescreen for why they left. It’s a whole lot easier to say, “I really didn’t like the change they made to the service order,” than “I don’t like the new pastor.” Not everyone will be able to connect with the “new guy” as the transition takes place.

Over the last four years I’ve discovered that the church is like a wife. I realize that this is not a totally insightful observation; she is called the “Bride of Christ.” I want to say what I’m going to say as delicately as I can, because I’m sure someone is going to misunderstand what it is I’m trying to say. A church, like a wife, desires security. The pastor is not the groom, clearly Christ is the groom and the church His bride. Be that as it may, the church still desires a level of security and consistency. A senior leadership change affects the consistency and can shake the security, so I’m convinced that making frivolous moves to to put the mark of the new leader on the place, which amount to nothing more than cosmetic window dressing, are unnecessary (e.g. “Let’s change the name to something cool”).

My counsel for new guys is simple.

  • Be strategic. Be calculated. Think through the ramifications of the changes, as ideas and adjustments have longterm consequences.
  • Fundamental changes to the vision and mission of the local body should only be made if it is clear that the church has been off course or without vision.
  • Vision/mission corrections should have firm Biblical basis (e.g. What is the mission of our church? To make disciples by equipping the saints).
  • Larger changes ought to be done incrementally. If a new [smaller] church plant is like an agile speedboat, an established larger church (or cultured church) is more like an aircraft carrier, which takes time to turn. So, instead of making a hard 90º turn, it may take six 15º moves to go in the new direction.

It’s definitely characteristic of youthfulness to desire to do things quickly, but when taking over, it’s good a good reminder… take your time.

¿ Apostolic ?

I recently heard a Christian leader say that “church planters” hold an apostolic role in the church, and that they ought to recognize their call as apostles. Yes, he made a distinction between “the 12” foundational apostles of the church, and explained that an apostle, according to mere definition, is [essentially] one who is sent. A modern day missionary. A “church planter.”

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the title of “apostle” being used for a “church planter.” I think we all recognize the difference between modern day missional pioneers and say, the Apostle John. My concern is that some, who are giving counsel and advice to up and coming planters, are painting a picture of the “church planter” as being some sort of rogue lone ranger, on a mission to which all else refuse to embark.

As I listened to the remainder of the exhortation, seeking to keep an open mind, I found myself thinking, “every true apostle must always begin as a servant.” The reality is that an apostle leads as a servant throughout their ministry. I’m not sure where this splinter cell mindset is coming from, but I don’t think we observe it in the scriptures.

Without a doubt, the church planting, missional, total abandoned, standout apostle of the New Testament is, Paul. Nearly two-thirds of the book of Acts is dedicated to the ministry God wrought through the converted Pharisee. The majority of the New Testament epistles are attributed to the Roman born, Hebrew of Hebrews, and aside from Christ Himself, Paul is perhaps the most well known figure of the first century. But lone ranger, he was not.

Paul’s calling and ordination to the task of an apostle was of God and not of men (Galatians 1:1). Be that as it may, it was not until he was sent out with the blessing of a church that he actually went; and when that day came, he was not alone. The thirteenth chapter of Acts gives a brief summation of the commission. Paul and Barnabas, assembled with the three other leading teachers at Antioch, were ministering to the Lord when He, by His Holy Spirit said, “Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” Following the call they fasted, prayed, laid hands on them and sent them away.

Nowhere do we see Paul or Barnabas giving Simon, Lucius and Manaen an earful about the greater work they had lost sight of or were missing, out on the frontier. Paul did not leave as a misunderstood pioneer without a gracious blessing from his sending church. As often as he declares his apostleship in the New Testament, he bears witness to his servanthood. Was Paul the apostle uncomfortable around other pastors, or something of a misfit? I think not. He recognized and wrote that those called to leadership within the church, whether apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers (or pastor-teachers if you read it that way), are all called to the same work; equipping the saints for the further work of the ministry and building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12).

A renewed fervor in church planting is praiseworthy. A desire to see people brought into the kingdom and bearing much fruit is right. But an unwillingness to submit to the leaders of a local church and serve an established body, because of a pressing desire to be the pioneering apostle is, I believe, a mark of immaturity.

I have not planted a church, but would go in a second, were God to call me to do so. But as a pastor of a church I am ready and willing to fast with, pray for and lay hands on those that have proven themselves faithful stewards, as servants among the gathering of God’s people. Hasty, impetuous individuals who push their way out into the field to lay claim to a plot of ground upon which to build a pulpit, prove themselves often times to be no more than self-willed children, unwilling to wait in the proving-ground of ministry for the sincere endorsement of those whom God has made overseers for their souls.

Your leaders understand you far more than you realize. Learn to submit, and let them serve with joy and not grief; it will profit you greatly.

Interdependent

It is a great blessing and privilege to live in a nation such as the United States of America. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many nations around the world in my life thus far, and I’m always blessed to return home. I know that people from other lands would say the same thing if they were returning to their nation of origin, but I believe there is something special about the USA.

Liberty is no doubt at the heart of what makes the America great. A trust in God has, I believe, been of great importance too. Dennis Prager adds a third value – E pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One” – which he shows can each be found on our coinage.  He calls these three values “The American Trinity” and sites them as the foundation of American exceptionalism.  Independence Day is certainly one of our favorite holidays as a people.  It looks back to the great “Declaration of Independence” ratified 235 years ago today, and celebrates our national independence.  National independence is essential for any nation to thrive; we could also call it national sovereignty.

Independence day often causes me to ponder another reality that has nothing to do with the USA.

As a sinner places their trust firmly in God, He grants to them liberty from sin and death.  While doing so He also gathers the many who come to Him for salvation, into one body, His church.  What this means for the Christian is that he (or she) cannot truly be individually independent.  We (Christians) are wholly dependent upon God, and at the same time interdependent upon one another within the body of Christ.

The more time I spend in fellowship with God, the more I find that my cultural values as an American often conflict with the values of the Kingdom of God.  The individual independence which is so highly exalted in 21st century America is actually counterculture to Christianity.  No Christian survives long on their own.  God has created us, in Christ, with this interdependence.  Self-reliance is therefore, not really possible for us; and quite honestly, this is hard for me, because of pride.

And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV