Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book List for 2010

Here are a few of the books that I plan on trying to read this year:

John Walton's Genesis One - I really want to work through this issue and I've seen some reviews of this book and I think it will be very helpful.
Douglas Campbell's The Deliverance of God - I've seen several commentators call this the most important book of last year. In light of the "Justification" debate that was brought into the popular realm due to Piper's discussion of N.T. Wright's views and Wright's reply. This book may be the one to end the discussion.
Craig Keener's Historical Jesus - it is a long book but I want to work through all of these issues in light of the advance of critics of religion in general and the continued attacks on what we can really "know" about the real Jesus.
Francis Collins' The Language of God - I know this book is a few years old, but I am interested to see how a committed scientist and committed Christian reconciles the potential tension in both worlds.

Other potential books:
You know that I will read this: After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters by N. T. Wright (due out this spring).
It has been sitting on my shelf and I read the first two chapters but I need to finish Richard Bauckham's ground breaking book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.
I also need to finish Eckhard Schnabel's Paul the Missionary (3/4 finished).

For fun, I hope to read Soccernomics by Kuper and Symanski. Last year I read two books on soccer/football: Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch (loved it. I must read for all fanatical sports fans) and Peter Lupson's Thank God for Football which discusses the Christian origins of some of the biggest English teams.

I'll post again on some of the books I did work through in 2009 on my next post.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Book List part 1

I feel that I can get a good sense of what kind of person someone is by asking them one simple question: "What are you reading?" I get a sense of what they find interesting as well as a sense of what kind of learner they may be.
I've already compiled an extensive reading list for 2010 and it hasn't even started. I am looking for feedback as to what you are reading and what you plan on reading this upcoming year.

Books to finish as we wind down this year:
I am about half way through Mark Batterson's, Primal: A Quest for the Lost Soul of Christianity.. I'll be posting notes soon on it. I got a free copy because I work with college students. If you want it, let me know and I'll give it to you the next time I see you (has to be in person, I'm not going to mail it anywhere).
I just started Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball. I've been reading his ESPN column since it started and I do enjoy his work (although I am beginning to see some real repetition in his work. I pick and choose from his podcasts as well.) This book is 700 pages and literally has stopped a bullet. I am a history buff and one of the few people in mid-MO who likes the NBA over college basketball.
I also started The Turks Today by Andrew Mango. I have been captivated by Turkey since my visit there this time last year. I really am longing to go back someday.
I have two by Malcolm Gladwell: a collection of his essays called, What the Dog Saw; as well as Outliers (I will be giving that away when I finish as well). I don't always get what Gladwell is saying (thought Blink was contradictory) but I really enjoy his writings and looking especially forward to his essays.
I just finished Chuck Klosterman's new book, Eating the Dinosaur. This is a book of essays on popular culture and writing. Where else can you read an essay that compares Kurt Cobain to David Koresh and points out where Ted Kaczynski may have been right. It was my first book that I finished on Kindle. Enjoyed the experience. Kindle is going to make traveling so much easier.
Tomorrow I will post on some of the more technical/Bible study reading I have planned for 2010.
So...what are YOU reading?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Quick thoughts on the Rat

I have always been a big fan of Whitey Herzog. I used to follow the Royals because of George Brett and Whitey. One of the big reasons that St. Louis is known as a first class baseball town is due to his presence in the '80s. Cards won three pennants and one World Series. When I heard he was named to the Hall of Fame I was excited. If he wouldn't have made it, it wouldn't have been a travesty of justice or anything. But, other than Tommy Lasorda, he may have been the best manager of the decade of the '80s. I always thought that only having one World Series Ring was going to keep him out.
His Cardinals teams were so entertaining. I believe that the 1985 Cards may have been the most exciting team of my baseball conscience.
I can't say that St. Louis didn't have a great baseball legacy before Whitey, thanks to the Gashouse Gang, The Man, and Brock and Gibson. But Whitey's team set attendance records (3 million in attendance for a mid-market team). Plus, the Cards had just suffered through the wastelands of the '70s.
Congratulations to the White Rat. Now, please retire number 24.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Formation of the New Testament (part 1)

I was asked to come speak to some students at Missouri State in response to a recent "Skeptics" convention they had there. I was asked to respond to some of the questions that were raised among the members of that campus ministry. One of the things I was asked about was the formation of the New Testament. I pulled together some notes from Introducing the New Testament by Mark Allan Powell. I will post part one of the development of the canon here and part two later.

Canon literally means "rule" or "standard", but it is used by religious groups to refer to a list of books that are officially accepted as scripture. In the early years, Christians simply gathered together writings that they found to be helpful and shared them with each other. Paul encouraged the churches to which he wrote letters to exchange those letters with each other, so that they could read what he had written to other congregations as well as to their own community (see Colossians 4.16). It seems that multiple copies of Mark's gospel were produced and distributed to different parts of the Roman Empire a few years after it was written (both Matthew and Luke appear to have had copies). The works that circulated were the writings produced by people who had known Paul or those original disciples of Jesus, or at least people who had known Paul or those original disciples. This chain of connection to Jesus and Paul would come to be known as the "apostolic tradition."

From the start, however, there were voices within Christianity that were in tension with that developing tradition. there were people arguing for versions of the Christian faith that Paul himself rejected (see Galatians 1.6-9). Some of these alternative voices probably produced writings as well (see 2 Thessalonians 2.2 for evidence) but their works do not appear to have been preserved or included in the NT. The NT, then, is not just a collection of early Christian writings; rather it is a selection of those writings. The NT contains those works that were considered to be most representative of what became mainstream and orthodox.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Million Miles in a Thousand Years review, part 4

A Character Who Wants Something and Overcomes Conflict
I didn’t expect to find a treatise on finding the meaning of pain and hardship in a book by Donald Miller, but Miller gives great food for thought on this topic throughout this book and specifically in this section.
In this section, Miller discusses two major events that added meaning to his life. The first was receiving seed money to begin The Mentoring Project which seeks to provide resources to churches to help mentor kids growing up without a father. (Miller gives statistics that there are 27 million kids growing up without dads and there are 360,000 churches in the U.S. Miller was one of those kids and wrote about it in a previous book, To Own a Dragon).
The reward you get for a story is always less than you thought it would be and the process is always harder than you imagined. But the point is never the ending; it is about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle.

His second event was a cross country bike ride. It becomes a metaphor for the journey of our lives. We start off wanting to change the world but we get into the middle and discover it was harder than you thought. Through the process, he discovers that joy is what you feel when conflict is over. But it is conflict that changes a person. When you share that conflict (as he did on his bike ride), the pain binds you together. For so many of us, our lives are spent avoiding conflict; maybe this is stealing our great stories. No one wants to purposefully engage in a story that will cause conflict and pain, but in our avoidance, we may be missing out on the greatest chapters of our lives.

He recounts the work and writings of Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl. Frankl spent his time in concentration camp trying to help fellow prisoners avoid suicide by trying to convince them of the meaning of their lives. In a way, he finds that misery, though seemingly ridiculous, indicates that life itself has the potential of meaning, therefore pain must have meaning. Pain might be a path to experiencing a meaning beyond the false gratification of personal comfort.

Miller came up with a good metaphor for the Grand Narrative of all of us. While in the middle of a personal crisis that brings intense emotional pain to his life, he cries out to God for release. In the process of his suffering, he imagines God saying that Don (as are all of us) is “A tree in the story of a forest and the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.” If we could just see that it isn’t all about us and that maybe our pain is making us better people and God is creating a great story that we are a part of, perhaps we can find meaning despite our feelings of meaninglessness.
We like “made up” stories because they deliver wish fulfillment. More often than not, they wrap things up in the end. We, however, go on longing for a resolution that will not come in our lifetimes. Miller imagines the apostles trying to market the Christian walk in our consumer driven culture: since Paul has tried Jesus he’s been imprisoned, beaten, and bitten by snakes. But the true gospel offers hope that one day we will be made complete. And Paul viewed that as a source of contentment.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Review of Million Miles, part 3

Part Three: "A Character Who Wants Something"
The goal is to live a good story with your life. Don became entangled in writing three different stories at the same time. It sounds great, but like anything else worthwhile, good stories are hard work. Even if we really want something better for our lives, we naturally seek comfort and order. Often times, for characters to move into the interesting story, they are forced. He brings up “the inciting incident.” Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, characters won’t enter into a story. (Perhaps this is why the commandment, “Do not fear” is repeated over 200 times in the Bible. We are going to be afraid. Fear may keep us safe, but it may also keep us boring).

Don found an inciting incident in his story while pursuing a girl. He was invited to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. He mentioned to his social circle that he was thinking about it (bluff) and the girl he was pursuing was interested. This incident forced him to get into shape.

It seems (as Steven Pressfield writes) there is a force resisting the beautiful things in the world, and too many of us are giving in. The world needs for us to have courage, Robert McKee writes. The world needs for us to write something better.
The ambitions we have will become the stories we live. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories. If we want meaningless material things, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in (an interesting) life.

As he relates the story of his hike along the Inca Trail, he notes that there is an easy way to Machu Picchu (6 hours) and a hard way (four, grueling days). The saying was, the more painful the journey to Machu Picchu, the more the traveler would appreciate the city. Once Miller got to the city, he realized the truth of the statement. The pain of the journey made the city more beautiful. The story made the people different characters than the easy way would have. It made him think about people who have lived hard lives and had to sacrifices much, they will see heaven differently from us who have lived easier lives.
In this part of the book, he does meet his father, and along with the Inca Trail experience, these experiences make him want to live a story with meaning and intention.

Don learns that there are some elements to taking an interesting story to another level of being an epic story. One of the key elements is the ambition of the character. It must be difficult to attain. The more difficult, the better the story. The second element is that the ambition must be sacrificial. So far, Don’s two stories (meeting his father and hiking the Inca Trail) were interesting and difficult but nothing sacrificial or important. They do get him off the couch and attempt difficult things but he wanted more.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Million Miles in a Thousand Years review, part 2

The second part of Donald Miller's book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, is called "Characters". Don imagines God writing THE grand story and writing us into it as if to say, "Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you."
But characters in a good story have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage for the story to be interesting. Miller wonders if people who wonder if Life is meaningless, do they really mean that their lives are meaningless?

This whole idea of creating a meaningful story for the upcoming movie based on Blue Like Jazz plants in the writers of the storyline the idea of Don meeting his absentee father, whom he hasn't seen in over 30 years. This will make the character face conflict that he didn't want to face. A good story is when a good character faces his greatest fears. Don's search for his father is a better story than Don is currently living.

Don also realizes that in a good story, a character is transformed. He or she is transformed. He or she is changed from the beginning of the story. Don needs to decide what kind of character would he would be in this story. What kind of ambitions and actions would this character be known for. In a movie, a character is what he does, not what he thinks or daydreams.

Don was not living any kind of sacrifice. His entire life had been designed to make himself comfortable. This was leading him to consider the thought of actually trying to contact his father. In order to like a character, the character has to do something good or interesting.

Don lets us into the mind of his writing. He relates that one time he was working on a novel and had interesting plot lines for his lead character. The problem was that his characters (in his mind) kept writing their own stories, ruining his plot line. He imagines God writing out His story, but our plans to write our own story keep messing up the wonderful story God wants to include us in. Don tried to get in touch with the Grand Writer of the Great Story and allow God to write his life out for him. Don would go where the Writer would send him and do what the Writer would tell him. At first, it was relatively simple, holding his tongue, helping people, talk to his this point, God had not asked him to do anything difficult. Until...the writer asked him to look for his father.

The book here turns from Don trying to edit his past into an interesting story to living his future and making it an interesting story. Don decides to start living a good story.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on A Million Miles in a Thousand Years - Part One

I recently picked up Donald Miller's new book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. I hesitated to read it. I enjoyed Blue Like Jazz, but I feared reading his book was going to make me feel like some kind of "hipster Christian." I finished some work I was doing, so I picked it up and finished it 24 hours later. I really enjoyed it and it made me think about my life and what I am doing with it. What kind of story am I writing with my life? Will it be worth retelling?

That is where Miller starts with "Part One: Exposition". He imagines us sitting down with God and trying to remember our lives. We'll sit down and tell God the favorite parts of the story he gave us. And that is what God wants from us, to live inside a body he made and enjoy the story and bond with us through the experience.
But not all of the scenes are pleasant, and we aren't sure what God means with the hard things. But we will see what role they play in the story as Miller progresses.

Miller tells the story of a filmmaker wanting to make a movie out of his memoir Blue Like Jazz. But the problem is, Blue Like Jazz is more like a memoir and a collection of thoughts and not really a story. It needs a plot. It needs a story line. Part of the book, A Million Miles is trying to find the right story line to make Blue Like Jazz into a good movie. A good movie goes somewhere. They needed to take the basic events of his life and shape them around a structure that makes sense. Stories have to obey certain principles to make sense. Sadly, most of our lives do not obey these principles and make little sense.

Miller realizes that he can create the kind of person he has always wanted to be. A person worth telling stories about. He goes to a seminar by Robert McKee (an expert on creating compelling stories). He learns that good stories don't happen by accident, they are planned. The highlight of Part One is that he discovers that "A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

Oftentimes, in order to create a more meaningful life, we need to live a better story.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thoughts from Doubt Day

Earlier this week, I was invited by a campus minister (@conover) to participate in a Doubt Day event. Basically, the cm had some pizzas and invited students to come, grab some food and ask questions and even express doubts about Christianity and its worldview. I always get nervous when doing these events. I feel like an outsider and I get nervous talking about serious spiritual matters, right out in the open in the student center as random people walk by. CC does a great job of setting the atmosphere and getting students to participate. It think the crowd was a mix of some of the students that attend his small group Bible study (both believers and seekers) and some random students who are genuinely curious about spiritual matters (along with a trouble maker or two, though nothing serious).

I got to admit, I was a little uneasy about seeing the guy with the "Bad Religion" t-shirt that had a cross with the red circle and slash through it. He asked a question about homosexuality that was not real thoughtful and had some serious historical inaccuracies (like the Catholic church had condoned gay marriage up until the 16th century. Didn't learn that in Church History). But we did have a portion of the time spent on Christianity and Homosexuality. I know I'm not telling anybody anything ground breaking, but we need to be able to lovingly express our views on homosexuality one, being true to the total gospel, and two, that doesn't sound like the Rev. Fred Phelps. CC and I tried to stress that it is a shame that a lot of evangelicals tend to stress the wickedness of homosexuality while ignoring some of the other sinful behavior that is also mentioned in the catalogue of vices in Paul's letters (like dissension, greed, jealousy, selfish ambition). We also tried to distinguish between orientation and behavior (which can be s sticky situation as well).

We also got into discussion about following the teaching of Jesus without buying into all of the Christian world view (exclusive nature of Christ). We pointed out, that if you buy into all of the great moral and ethical teaching of Jesus, you have to deal with his claim to be the only way to God. Therefore there is the dissonance of Jesus being both a great ethical teacher and potentially being the biggest egomaniac in history.

I would love to do something like this at Mizzou, but I'd would rather it be our Missio Dei students inviting seeking and skeptical friends to a more informal discussion than sitting out in the open. I fear I might be look at as one of Brother Jed's disciples in that situation. (Bro Jed's homepage)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Getting Boring?

Can we apply this to our church or our campus ministry? Great blog post by Seth Godin (link)

How much of time, staffing and money does your organization spend on creating incredible experiences (vs. avoiding bad outcomes)?

At the hospital, it's probably 5% on the upside (the doctor who puts in the stitches, say) and 95% on the downside (all the avoidance of infection or lawsuits, records to keep, forms to sign). Most of the people you interact with in a hospital aren't there to help you get what you came for (to get better) they're there to help you avoid getting worse. At an avant garde art show, on the other hand, perhaps 95% of the effort goes into creating and presenting shocking ideas, with just 5% devoted to keeping the place warm or avoiding falls and spills as you walk in.

Which is probably as it should be.

But what about you and your organization? As you get bigger and older, are you busy ensuring that a bad thing won't happen that might upset your day, or are you aggressively investing in having a remarkable thing happen that will delight or move a customer?

Here's a rule that's so inevitable that it's almost a law: As an organization grows and succeeds, it sows the seeds of its own demise by getting boring. With more to lose and more people to lose it, meetings and policies become more about avoiding risk than providing joy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Background Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 8

Last night at Missio Dei, we discussed 1 Corinthians 8. I wanted to post some of the background issues of the passages as we dealt with its impact on our lives today.

The topic: Food sacrificed to idols. In the worship of the pagans in Corinth, the people would bring their sacrifices to the priests at the temples of their chosen gods. (It might be a god that oversaw their craft, it may have been a fertility god, it may have been a healing god). The priest would use the animals in the sacrifice and would have plenty of meat left over. The left over meat would then be brought out to the tables of the temples and they would have meals in these temples. The leftovers there would then be sold in the marketplace. The Jews were absolutely forbidden to eat such food. For many of the gentiles, the availability of this meat was a rare occasion but a welcome one. Imagine this: the meat portion of your diet was fish. It was the only thing you could afford. But, when the pagan feast days came around, there was plenty of meat available. The catch was: it was probably offered to a pagan god in sacrifice. You may encounter this in perhaps three ways:

1) You are tired of eating salted and pickled fish, and now there was this buyer’s market of fresh meat.

2) You may be invited to a feast meal at a pagan sacrifice, invited perhaps by your boss or business associate or fellow craftsmen

3) You may be invited to eat at a friend or associate’s house where they may be serving meat that was once sacrificed to a pagan god.

Paul was dealing with two types of people: those who had no problem eating this meat and those who didn’t like it at all. Either they were Jews who had been forbidden since birth from eating this meat or it was new converts who felt very ill at ease doing something that put them into their old pagan context. Paul characterizes these two groups as “strong” and “weak”.

Imagine this: a “weak” believer is walking along the courtyard of a pagan temple. All of a sudden he hears a voice from one of the dining rooms: “Come and join us!” He turns to see a group, among who are one or two of the Strong, eating. His employer or someone he cannot afford to offend is dining also.

He is revolted by the idea of eating idol meat, but what can he offer as an excuse? The presence of the strong makes it impossible to decline on the grounds that his new faith would not permit it. Anything less would be an insult to powerful individuals. Paul saw that, in such circumstances, the weak person would give in and participate in the feast, even though he was being forced to act against his conscience. Internally, however, he was being torn apart...

Paul sees that this act would have had horrible internal impact on the weak believer. He calls it being “destroyed”. The word here “apollutai” is a very serious thing. Being destroyed means to be eternally lost. Same sense as John 3.16. Anything that could be deemed as “destructive” to a fellow believer could not be an act of love. Paul here, instead of calling this a person with a weak conscience instead calls this person a “brother/sister” for whom Christ died.” It was destructive of the Church, and thus a sin against Jesus himself. There was the fear of a former idolater falling back into the grips of idolatry. They may return to their former way of life and be lost all because of the influence of those who were led by their “head” (knowledge) and not by their “hearts” (love).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Catalyst - Louie Giglio

By later in the afternoon on Friday, my mind was mush, I couldn't really focus on another message so I didn't give all of my attention to Louie Giglio that I could have. Plus he was wearing these really unflattering clothes that distracted more than just me. I've got a few thoughts here, but I do think Louie took a lot longer to say what he was meaning to say. There were several nuggets in there, but it took him forever to get there.

He quoted Thomas Merton: Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the charge of what you desire.

He discussed the role of leadership: to seek the face of God and reflect his face. That was really the focus of his message. That is the problem, we don't have enough people walking around with the beauty of God on their face. Louie's point was to get us to think how we could seek the face of God and let it reflect on those who see us. This gets us to think, do I seek Him? Am I humble enough to admit I need to seek His face? This points to getting us to ask, "How can we reflect God's glory in all that we do?"

Friday, October 30, 2009

Catalyst - Chuck Swindoll

Chuck Swindoll may have been the highlight of Catalyst 09 for me. He was funny, graceful, grateful and fatherly. He was awarded the Catalyst Lifetime Achievement award (whatever that is). His presentation began with a congratulations from his sister, Lucy. She told a hilarious story about teaching him to smoke when they were growing up in Houston. It involved tree bark and a sheet of loose leaf paper.

Here are some of the highlights for me of his talk.
In every ministry, there are three things that must be avoided:
  1. Hiding shameful things
  2. Doing deceitful things
  3. Corrupting fruitful things
He then looked at 2 Cor. 4.5-7 and reminded us that:
  • It isn't about us
  • It's all about Him
  • We should see ourselves as bond servants for Jesus
  • We never forget what we are...and who he is
Then he gave us five statements worth remembering:
  • So more with others and less alone (accountability)
  • Emphasize quality and not quantity
  • Wherever you go, do it the same as if you were among those who know you best
  • Whoever may respond, keep a level head
  • Keep on dripping with gratitude and grace - stay thankful

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Catalyst - Priscilla Shirer

Taking forever to get my notes up about Catalyst. Preparation for our state convention's annual meeting took precedence. Couple of more left, Chuck Swindoll (highlight of Catalyst?) and Louie Giglio.

Priscilla Shirer is Tony Evans' daughter and a communicator out of Dallas, TX. You can tell she was influenced by her dad, because she has a similar cadence.
Her message was from Joshua 3. After reading the passages, she had several observations:
After Joshua received instruction from the Lord:
  1. He acted immediately in obedience
  2. He acted fearlessly
  3. He acknowledged the presence of God.
  4. He had the people consecrate themselves (that is become ritually clean in anticipation of God's presence and anticipation of God's action.
She was a very entertaining communicator and Bible teacher.

One quick quote from Dave Ramsey: Have intensity for things that matter.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Catalyst - Matt Chandler

I have prepared just some thoughts I took away from Matt's message at Catalyst, not an outline of his message. Sorry about that. One thing that struck me about his message is that twice Matt gave credit to something that Rob Bell said in his message. That told me that Matt is teachable and listened to the previous speaker's message. It also told me that he doesn't just "toe the company line" especially if you have ever listened to his buddy in Seattle's thoughts on Bell. I am sure that Matt probably has some issues with Bell's theology, but he did not let that distract him from filtering out some things that he could take away from a fellow pastor/teacher.

Matt used the text of Hebrews 11.39-12.3. He told us that God is at work (and has been at work through the faithful) and he has invited us to take part. Therefore, we should "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." Matt feels that two important words for us have been hijacked, those are confession and repentance.
Every delay in obedience is a delay in the beckoning by God to deeper waters. We need to sense that we are uniquely created by God to do what we've been called to do.
Matt encouraged us to let confession and repentance be a continuing ethic in our lives and our ministries.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Not Bashing, But...

I have some thoughts on the Obama-Peace Prize award. My thoughts are not so much on Obama's win, I really couldn't care less. My thoughts are more on the reaction of my hero, Bono's thoughts on the award. In a recent Rolling Stone blog post, they cited Bono's op-ed piece in the NY Times, where Bono was defending Obama's win. Here is a snippet from the RS blog post:

Bono has come out in support of President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize win, penning an
op-ed column in this weekend’s New York Times celebrating Obama’s goal of eradicating
world hunger and crediting the President for helping “rebrand America.”

For some reason, I found it funny that Bono thinks Obama deserved the award for his goal of eradicating world hunger. If that is true, then shouldn't I win for my goal of ending armed conflict around the world? (I do pray for world peace on a regular basis). You win awards for your goals? What if he falls woefully short (I hope he doesn't, but GWB did a lot for poor countries in Africa, what awards did he win?)
Bono is a great artist, good humanitarian, but he needs to realize that he is not the representative of caring, non-Americans and his opinion doesn't always deserve a world stage.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Catalyst-Rob Bell

Random thoughts:
One thing I have noticed about Rob Bell is that dramatic...pause...talker.
Started off with a great observation about courting a following or growing a big church. He quoted a portion of John 6 and mentioned that sometimes the crowd thins and the church gets smaller. He gave a couple of instances where things he has said caused people to leave his church. He related that he had dared to question the wars the US are involved in right now and people got upset. He then poignantly stated: "When forced to choose between the flag and the cross, as followers of Christ we choose the cross."

He had his infamous "wtf" statement (just the initials, not what they stand for). I didn't think it was appropriate or even cute (like a lot of attenders did) but, honestly, I didn't think much of it. That is until, I guess, he sensed that some people in the crowd were upset by it (I couldn't tell that). So he disarms all opposition by saying, "Come on, you people are such Pharisees." I love that. If someone thinks you've moved beyond the realm of good taste or being a good representative of Jesus you can just call them a Pharisee and you can be seen as righteous. The Pharisee comment bothered me more than the "wtf".

He went on to discuss the meaning of "eucharist". Eucharist in Greek basically means "good gift." He stated that our churches should be eucharists to their cities, towns and communities. It's a really good thought.

He discussed the 10 Commandments. He believes that when you stay true to the first nine, you will not want to break the tenth (about coveting your neighbor's possessions, and really coveting your neighbor's life). He stated that when you obey God, you won't want anybody else's life.

I felt I got more out of this message than it seems here, but those are all of the notes that I have. As usual, as a style issue, the pause talking makes me giggle and I do think he gets too wordy (even in the nooma videos). I'd like to see him do a little more editing.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Catalyst - Shane Hipps

Random thoughts...
I got to admit, Shane Hipps lost me. He must have lost several people because I had many people on my team ask me what I thought he was trying to say. At first, he gave credence to the line: "the methods must change, but the message should never change." Then he said something along the lines that the message does change as well. In paraphrasing Marshall McLuhan, Shane stated that how you say something determines how your message is understood. (The medium is the message). But then he went back and stated that the message is unchanging and everchanging.

I did pull one nugget out: he compared a guard to a gardener. If you think about the role of a guard, a guard protects from negative circumstances and his placement is motivated by fear. A gardener is motivated by love and in anticipation of what is expected to growth. Shane then made the statement that we should never protect at the expense of growth.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Catalyst - Malcolm Gladwell

I really enjoy Malcolm Gladwell's writing. I read Blink and even though I didn't really get what he was saying, I enjoyed reading the book. I've read most of The Tipping Point and several of his articles in the New Yorker, including this disturbing one about NFL players and head trauma (here). Gladwell spoke at Catalyst on leadership.

Specifically, Gladwell was asking the question about what the financial crisis taught us about leadership. He wondered out loud, with all of the financial experts and the knowledge they had of the market, how did they not see the collapse of Bear-Stearnes and Shearson Lehman. His point was that the collection of information does not necessarily lead to great leadership. He pointed to the Civil War battle of Chancellorsville. Gen. Hooker knew everything there was to know about Gen. Lee's position, his numbers, he knew more about Lee's army than Lee knew. He devised a battle plan that was perfect. He couldn't fail. He even stated that "God himself could not prevent their victory." He was so sure of the results of his maneuvering that he did not plan for what might happen if Lee might not act according to Hooker's plan. Of course, Lee did not act according to Hooker's plan and Lee defeated Hooker at Chancellorsville. The point of the story was to show us the consequences of being so sure and being overconfident based on our accumulation of information.

It should be obvious that we would assume that more information about a situation would lead to more confidence to act. But being over informed does not necessarily always give us the plan for action. Gladwell pointed to a study that showed doctors being provided with varying levels of information about a case. One would think that the more information that a doctor was given about a patient would result in a surer diagnosis. Gladwell pointed out that that was not always the case. The percentage of correct diagnoses based on levels of information stayed about the same.

That is the scary part. Gladwell pointed out that more information did not lead to correct action plans but to being more confident (which leads to over confidence).
Gladwell pointed out that incompetence annoys us. But overconfidence should scare us.

Getting to the one point that he wanted to leave us with: In crisis, we don't need bold, daring activity from our leaders. We need humility.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Catalyst Thoughts - Andy Stanley

Over the next couple of days, I am going to be posting my thoughts from the Catalyst Conference. I am not going to providing outlines to the messages, but I will be posting thoughts that I thought were important to me.

Andy Stanley began Catalyst 09 by looking at Joshua. He read from 5.13-15. Joshua encounters a man with a drawn sword and Joshua asks him who's side is the man on. He soon realizes that the man is the captain of the heavenly army. The angel lets him know that he is on neither side. The point being that we should seek to be on the Lord's side instead of seeking him to be on our side.

The salient points for Andy were the question, not asking God what role he is playing in our story, but what role are we playing in His story.

He states that our duty is to be obedient to God and trust him with the consequences. (That was a lesson he learned from observing his father, Charles Stanley, going through difficult circumstances).

Andy then discussed our desire to make our mark in the world. Andy turned that phrase around as well as he had mentioned being obedient to God. Me, making my mark, is too small of a thing to accomplish. Instead, I should be obedient to God and let God make his mark through me.

That got me thinking about how I could leave God's mark on my neighborhood, the campus I serve, etc. How can I, through God's power, leave this place a better place.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Lou Holtz had a story tonight that showed how he motivated his athletes at Notre Dame. He was talking to Steve Beurlein, his QB. Beurlein threw 17 interceptions one year. Lou sat down with him and said, "Steve, I can guarantee that you will not throw 7 interceptions next year." Steve said, "That's great, coach. Are we going to run better routes? New throwing technique?" "No," Lou responded, "When you get to 6 interceptions, I'm going to bench you."
That's motivation.

Discipleship: 1 Cor. 4

Last week I taught through 1 Corinthians 4 in our Missio Dei Bible study at Mizzou. I want to focus in on the closing portion of that lesson with this post.

When looking at true discipleship, Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 4:14-16 that discipleship is not a program, it is a way of life to be modeled. "Therefore I urge you to imitate me...Timothy...will remind you of my way of life in Christ, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church."
This has been humbling to me on two levels. Is my walk with Christ true enough that I can tell others to follow me? We are not talking about going through a book study or meeting once a week. I need to invite someone to step in to my life and observe how I follow Christ in all situations. I've posted this before, but look at Paul's method of discipleship:

He encourages his congregations to be imitators of him in all respects, even as he himself is an imitator of Christ (1 Cor. 4.16; 11.1; 1 Thess. 1.6; 2 Thess. 3.7).
Paul thinks of the life of imitation which comes into being when obedient disciples receive (and pattern their lives according to) the instruction of their teacher. After his admonishment to “Be imitators of me,” he follows with the statement: “For this reason I am sending to you Timothy…He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4.17).
When Paul speaks of “my ways” he is referring to patterns of his life and teachings. Imitating Paul means the same as to receive and live according to the teaching which Paul proclaimed in all of his congregations. Thus Paul is not only passing down tradition as oral or written teaching but also how he lives. We see this fleshed out even more in Phil. 4.9: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.” The Philippians were even told to look in their own community for imitators of Paul, “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you” (Phil. 3.17).

Wow, do I do that with the people that I am mentoring? I know I need to, but I fear I'm just too lazy to invite someone into my life like that to share.

In the realm of college ministry, one of the challenges that I made to our students was that they could provide that type of discipleship to other students much more effectively than I could. They can model it in their lives, where they live and bring people along side and say - what you see me doing, you do. That doesn't excuse me and I hope that I can give a few of them a glimpse of that so that they can go to their dorms, apartments, fraternities, work places, cafeterias and imitate Christ in front of others.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My Explanation

My ministry group at Mizzou (Missio Dei) had planned on having an Asado (or Argentine cookout). We got swamped with rain so we canceled and I came home to a few hours of grading the online classes I am teaching. I saw that Rattle and Hum (the film documenting U2’s “Joshua Tree” tour) was on. I wasn’t planning on watching it, but I did and I just posted my thoughts as they came to me. Here are some explanations to some of the posts.

OK Edge, play the blues! – Bono at his pretentious/political best was telling us about the conditions in South Africa under apartheid and introduced The Edge’s guitar solo.

Watch for the third verse. Not the first verse and first chorus; not the second verse...but the third verse...The boys are getting ready to do an encore with B. B. King.

"I'm not too good with chords, we'll have to get somebody else to play chords...I'm horrible with chords." So who played the chords? – The Edge played the chords because B. B. was not too good with the chords.

"He wasn't playing a car salesman, he played a car salesman who loved the guitar...I wish he hadn't been buried in the backyard." This is drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. talking about his love of Elvis movies. He poignantly reflected on the grave site of Elvis in the backyard.

"Let it go, not fade away...I'm wide awake, I'm wide awake...I'm not sleeping, oh no..." So awesome. This is one of my favorite U2 songs, “Bad.”

What's this? It's turning into color? What's that? "Where the Streets Have No Name"? It is! I want to reach out and touch the flame...This is my reaction when the film goes from black and white to color for an extended concert sequence.

"The God I believe in isn't short of cash, mister!" My favorite quote from the movie. Been saying this for years.

Wait a minute. What did he just say about the "revolution"? Is that even possible? Bono used naughty language to rebuke people for glorifying violent revolution during Sunday, Bloody Sunday (“this is not a rebel song”).

"One man come, he to man to overthrow" This line is about Jesus from “Pride (In the Name of Love)”

Are all of my posts bugging you? Don't mean to bug ya! Rephrasing a line from “Bullet the Blue Sky.” the City of Blinding Lights – a few videos by U2 to fill time.

Good theology - I'm not broke but you can see the cracks, you can make me perfect again. I like this line from All Because of You. The “I Am” of that chorus is special as well. See Exodus 3.14-15.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Biblical Leadership Thoughts

I had a wonderful time with a church in Southwest Missouri last night. They have organized a task force to discuss their leadership structure. The pastor had seen me speak at the 121 Forum last night and asked me and MK to come to the church and talk about biblical church leadership. They are pursuing an elder-form of leadership and wanted some biblical insight. I told them up front that unfortunately the NT does not give us a definitive picture of church organization and leadership. But it does show us some clues as to how the first century church was "managed" or overseen. Our job is to understand as best as we can what the biblical texts were saying to the readers in their context and then see how we can bring these concepts into our context. I mentioned a few verses that mentioned elders, walked through the pertinent passages discussing the qualifications for overseers, discussed spiritual gifts and looked at the definitions of some key terms. I have posted thoughts on this here before but I wanted to post some of the key verses and terms that we discussed last night.
Introductory texts that mention elders and/or overseers in Acts
  • Acts 13.15 (elders or synagogue rulers)
  • Acts 14.23 - mentions elders of churches
  • Acts 15.2, 22 - mentions Apostles and elders of the church in Jerusalem
  • Acts 20.28 - mentions overseers whose job it is to shepherd their flocks
Key texts discussing qualifications of overseers
  • 1 Tim. 3.1-7 - interesting thing here, only two responsibilities mentioned: being able to teach and being a good manager of one's house (important when you realize that a church was probably meeting in an overseer's home)
  • 1 Tim 5.17-21 - elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who preach and teach (implying to me, that not all elders/overseers were to have teaching ministries, just able to teach)
  • Titus 1.5-9 - very similar to the list in 1 Timothy 3
Some related (but not necessarily looked at) verses dealing with oversight
  • 1 Thes. 5.12-13 - "...those who are over you..." work hard among you, acknowledge those who are working hard and managing the affairs of the church.
  • 1 Cor. 16.15-16 - once again, someone had stepped up and served the church (probably a wealthy member, Stephanas) and this person should be acknowledge as a leader.
These previous verses point out to me that leadership roles are necessarily job descriptions that need to be filled, in the early church it was people who were doing the work of oversight and protection in the church and Paul tells the congregation to recognize their leadership.

Some key terms
  • Overseer - this is the term that Paul uses most often to discuss leadership roles in the church. Implies a managers, guardian, caretaker.
  • Elder - comes more from Paul's Jewish background, should probably be looked at almost synonymously as overseer.
  • Pastor - this is our default term of leadership, but it is not the default term for Paul. I believe it refers more to a function (caregiving) than to an office or position.
I then briefly mentioned some spiritual gifts that are related to leadership
  • the one who leads - Rom. 12.8
  • helpers - 1 Cor. 12.28
  • guidance - 1 Cor. 12.28
I was asked about the "husband of one wife" stipulation from 1 Timothy 3 and can a divorced person be a deacon. I pointed out that the verse was pointing more toward a person being faithful in his marriage and not really mentioning divorce. If you want to put that qualifications (never divorced) don't use this passage, you will have to walk through other passages.

I was also asked about women. I discussed Rom. 16.1-2. Phoebe is mentioned as a patron in verse two. That means to me that she exercised some type of oversight in her church (she was probably a sponsor of a church that met in her home). Does that mean she was a lead teacher (or teaching elder), I can't say, but she probably displayed some of the qualities that fit an overseer. That is basically what the word for patron (or benefactor in some translations, which is a better translation than helper) meant in that context. It comes from the same root as "the one who leads) in Rom. 12.8.

Like I said, great time. I hope I have more opportunities to do this kind of thing with churches. Great questions from them. Could have gone longer (but we spent 2.5 hours on it as we did). They said they'd have us back when we get to look at some of this. Looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

More Notes on 1 Corinthians study

Notes from 1 Corinthians 1.10-17 and 3.1-17.

Questions to think about as we start:
Who are your favorite communicators? Preachers? Bible study leaders? Any that you just don’t like? Any that rip others?
That seems to be the case at Corinth, we have many house churches following their favorite apostle.

Verse 1 – all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in my and thought.
How practical is this? Is it possible? What are the absolutes that you think we should hold to? What are some things that we can let there be some disagreement?
We are going to look at the heart of the Corinthian dissention. How much room in this church was there for disagreement: different religious backgrounds; economic backgrounds; even free or slave status. Yet, in Christ we are supposed to be equal.
Read vv. 11-12 –
The source of the quarrels: who was the one that they held up as their champion. It was very important in the both the Jewish and the non-Jewish worlds for a disciple to be identified by their master.
The choices: Paul – some people in Corinth were partial to Paul because he founded the church in Corinth. They felt a loyalty to him. They felt that they belonged to him, so that was their slogan: “I follow Paul.”
Apollos – Read Acts 18.24-28
Now why would you choose Apollos over Paul? More than likely because Acts describes him as very educated and a good speaker. To the non-Jews, this would have been very attractive because they were often drawn more to a teacher’s delivery or style than their message. Paul, admittedly, was not a good speaker.
Cephas – this is the Aramaic term for rock. The man’s given Hebrew name that Paul is describing is Simon. Jesus called him Cephas, which in Greek becomes Petros or as we know him, Peter. We are not sure if he ever journeyed to Corinth or not. Most likely he did. It would have been attractive for Jewish Christians to follow him because he was the “apostle to the Jews.” He was also Jesus’ right hand man.
Christ – we don’t know exactly what Paul was saying. Was he saying that some groups have it right and they know who they belong to or is he saying some groups or very arrogant and say that we belong to Christ, we’re better than you.

Paul gets right to the heart of the matter immediately. He uses graphic language, saying in verse 13 – Is Christ divided? It is a picture of Christ being divided up, his body being split up.
For Paul, the literal body of Jesus and the church as an organization were to be equated. Where did he get that understanding?
Acts 9.4-5
When Paul persecuted the Church he was persecuting Jesus himself. If people were splitting the church, they were also splitting Jesus as well. A dismembered Christ can do nothing. A disunited church can do nothing as well.

Next Paul gets into the subject of who baptized who: verses 15-16.
What was the point for Paul? The point for Paul as we will see in chapter three is, it is not important who gets the credit but that people perform their roles and God gets the credit because it is under his power that we do anything worthwhile.
Paul knew his role:
Verse 17 –

Move to chapter 3
To Paul, the issue of spiritual maturity was not a matter of how much you know but how you behaved. To the Corinthians, their maturity was tied hand in hand with how much knowledge they had and they deep level of religious experience they had.
Paul points out that their failure to get along was a sign that they were not spiritually mature: verse 3.
Paul puts everybody in their place (including himself) with the following:
God creates the body of Christ. He brings us into his body, the church and gives us gifts and roles to perform. When we perform our role, we get rewarded. Now, what happens if we get a boring role? If we get a role that does not attract attention? Then we are questioning the wisdom of God.
When we build according to God’s call on our life, then we are building on the foundation that God poured, with the proper material. What may be hay and stubble may be gold for someone else.
Read 3.12-15
How do you build with costly stones that will survive an inspection by fire? You build doing things by examining the eternal significance of your work. What is going to last? When you build according to your gifts and call, your work will last.

Next up is, I think, one of the most sobering passages in the entire NT.
Read 3.16-7
Many times this verse is used to teach people that suicide will send a person to eternal damnation. That is not the case. This verse is address to the church as a body, not necessarily individual believers.
Temple was familiar to both Jews and former pagans.
God’s temple refers to the dwelling place of God. God does dwell within our bodies when we believe in Jesus as our savior. But, the passage is referring to the importance of unity in the church. God’s temple here is the church body. If that is the case, and I think it is, how important is it for us to get along. How important is it for us to resolve our differences without bringing dishonor to God? I am not going to explain this verse any further than what it say:
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him…
Paul does not tell us how that punishment will be afflicted, but rest assured that it severe.
Now, I will ask again, how important is it for us to prevent dissention and for us to get along.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

1 Corinthians Notes part 1

Here are the notes for the lesson on 1 Corinthians 1:18-2:16

If you were to create the perfect champion for your community, what would be the characteristics? How would you convey the message of your champion?

Read 1 Cor. 1.18 –

Foolishness. That is how Paul characterizes the gospel message. How is it foolishness? Remember Paul was writing to a church that contained two distinct people groups: Jews and Greeks. They both had ideas of their heroes, their liberators, their champions. Prior to their conversion to Jesus, of course. Then here comes Paul preaching a message about a crucified champion. How would the people who have never heard this message before have responded?

Read 1.22-23

This message about Jesus was a stumbling block. It is something in the ground that is partially hidden that we can’t see, but it causes us to trip when we pass over it. The word for stumbling block is skandalon, from where we get the word “scandal”. The story of Jesus is scandalous. Especially to a Jewish person. Why? What charge did the religious leaders of Jesus’ day bring against him constantly? Blaspheme, Jesus equated himself with God and that was blasphemy. Anyone who spoke falsely about God was a blasphemer. Anyone who claimed equality with God spoke falsely against God and that is what they claimed Jesus did. The punishment for blasphemy was death, specifically death by stoning. (Lev. 24.16). After the stoning, the people would take the body of the blasphemer and hang it on a tree.

Deut. 21.22-3 –

We know that Paul took that verse and applied it to Jesus. Because of our sin, and the need for a perfect sacrifice, Jesus took our sins and the curse reserved for sinners and bore it upon him.

Gal. 3.13 –

Here comes Paul preaching this message of the Messiah of the Jewish people, the one who came to rescue them from their oppression. Deliver them from bondage, and they are to put their trust in a champion who was hung on a tree?

Paul tells us that the “Jews demand miraculous sings.” They were expecting their deliverer to be a king who would crush those who oppressed them. Their messiah would revive the ancient kingdom. When God delivered them in the past, he acted powerfully. Jesus scolded the Jews over and over again for asking for a sign:

See Mark 8.11-12 and John 6.30-2

Now to the Greeks – the message of a crucified king was “foolishness.” During the time that the Romans ruled the Mediterranean world, crucifixion was the ultimate penalty, reserved for rebels, murders, and slaves. The people who threatened the peace or disturbed the peace were crucified. This Jesus that Paul was talking about, he was crucified? To civilized Romans (and all other people of this environment), the cross was a barbaric form of punishment. No respectable citizen would go near a crucifixion. Because of this stigma associated with crucifixion, did you know it was over 100 years before the church used the symbol of the cross as a symbol of their faith? This Jesus must have been either a low-life or a really bad man to have been crucified, definitely not a man to be worship.

Paul tells us that the Greeks looked for wisdom when choosing their heroes. They were very zealous for learning. Things had to make sense, they had to be logical. The term logical comes from the Greek word ‘logos.’ This is the same word that the apostle John uses to describe Jesus, the Logos. To the natural mind, the story of Jesus was/and is, very far from logical.

So, for both people a messiah or king was symbolized by power, splendor, majesty and triumph. The crucifix symbolized weakness, criminal, humiliation and defeat.

This story was just nutty.

Why didn’t God do something that appealed to both groups? Could he have attracted more followers by doing things differently?

Why didn’t he do things differently?

1.25 – He did things this way to show us how utterly powerful he is. This doesn’t make sense…to us. Go back to 1.19

Now let’s read 1.27-28

No one but God can get the credit for what is done. It doesn’t make sense. If it did, you wouldn’t need faith…

Here’s another question…when you think of good preachers, who comes to mind? Are they defined by their weakness, fear and trembling? Would they be characterized by being un wise and not persuasive?

Here’s something else that doesn’t make sense…God sending out as his most fervent evangelist, the one who would take his word the farthest in those early days was not much of a preacher!

Read 2.1-5

We come to discover that rhetoric, speaking voice, and style were not (and are not) important to God. What attracted people to Jesus? His teaching ability, his presentation, his looks…

Read Isa. 53.2-3 – it was the power of God that attracted people to Jesus, specifically the power of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Paul sounds like a horrible preacher from a technical standpoint. And that is what the people of the day were looking for. But what did they get from Paul?

Weakness, fear, trembling, no wise words or persuasive words…what did they get?

A demonstration of the Spirit’s power “so that your faith might rest not on human words or preaching styles, but on God’s power."

Read 2.11-2

We receive the message because God’s Spirit allows us to receive it. If is were left up to humans to craft the story of the salvation of mankind, it would be an epic battle between good and evil with a hero on a white horse or a man driving a tank or something like that would be the hero. God doesn’t need all of that, he desired a servant to come and humble himself, become like the people he was saving, spent time with the lowlifes, died a criminal’s death and then spread the word using a crummy teacher.

That just doesn’t make sense…to me.

It does to God.