Racism Means Many Things...

In talking about racism, I believe it would be helpful to distinguish between the following things:

#1 Systematized Racism (Bigotry): Social/political/economic structures that are intended to treat one racial group different than another.  Examples: Impinging upon voting rights of a particular group.  "Whites Only" signs that were placed everywhere.  Redlining practices.  Preferential hiring practices.  Refusing to investigate or prosecute lynchings.

#2 Individual Racism (Bigotry): Personal animosity and/or discrimination towards another person because of their racial background.  Examples: The use of racial epithets.  Violence against person or property. Ostracism.

#3 Systematic Racial Injustice: Social/political/economic structures that are not intended to treat one racial group different than another, but indirectly accomplish that end.  Examples: Educational systems that prioritize the children of wealthy and powerful families.  A justice system that dispenses justice to the poor much more harshly than to the wealthy.  Government subsidies to the poor that have largely gutted poor communities of their work ethic and their family units.

#4 Racial Pride: Being glad of one's own heritage.  Examples: Celebrating our culture through holidays.  Promoting the values of our culture to those of other cultures.  Learning about historical events from the perspective of our culture.

#5 Cultural Privilege: The reality that our society is made up of people groups from many cultures, but only one culture can be the dominant culture.  For those individuals within the dominant culture, they are both privileged, and often ignorant of their privilege.  Examples: The white, middle-class values of punctuality, industry, and self-reliance are a standard by which all people are expected to live up to, while the values of other cultures are downplayed and ignored.  Images of white people are considered 'normal,' images of anyone else are considered something 'less normal.'  The structures necessary for our society to function are created with implicit reference to white cultural norms.  The fact that #4 is indiscernible to our society when the racial pride of whites are on display, but somewhat radical when other groups do the same thing.

#6 The Legacy of Racism: The generational legacy of #1 (which no longer exists) and #2 (which is socially unacceptable, although still existent in plenty of individuals and communities).  Examples: Different racial groups have different correlations with poverty.  In particular the descendants of individuals who have suffered from #1 and #2 have passed down their pain, their anger, their legacy of deprivation, to their own descendants.  Additionally the family unit was greatly disintegrated in some communities which has lasting negative effects generationally.

(I don't know what the best labels are for the above, suggestions are welcome.)

Along with the above categories, I would add these thoughts:

1) The reason for the above categories is this, the honest* debates surrounding racial issues in our culture are often exercises in miscommunication.  One side is talking about #6 and #5 and #3, but the other side thinks they are talking about #1 and #2.  Or the other side sees #4 or #2 happening and equates it to #1.  I do think we need to be able to distinguish between these various realities as an aid to understanding what is actually happening, and as an aid to communicating about what is actually happening.  Bluntly, misdiagnosing a situation radically decreases your credibility to speak to people about these issues.

2) Race (as opposed to ethnicity, or country of origin) is a social construct, that is not rooted in any scientifically discernible reality. That doesn't make it less 'real,' but does point towards its roots in xenophobia and ethnocentrism.  This is true for all peoples…

3) Perhaps most importantly, we need to be able to distinguish between those responsible for creating these realities intentionally, those responsible for creating the realities unintentionally, and those responsible for dealing with these realities.  All human beings should be responsible for dealing with these realities (certainly all those who claim to follow Jesus).  Almost every human being is responsible for these realities in the sense that they have tacitly participated in them without any real reflection (this is true regardless of race and class).  But very few people are directly responsible for intentionally creating any of this.  Assigning blame to people who are not guilty of what you are accusing them of not only decreases your credibility, but actually hinders the process of finding and pursuing solutions.

4) Perhaps even more importantly, we need to make clear that many of the categories above continue to hold sway over our culture, and negatively influence the lives of whole communities.  As Christians we must not only acknowledge that these forces exist, but we must work to bring the light of the gospel into these dark corners of society.

*Many public debates around race are simply political posturing by people of all colors trying to gain power.  These are not miscommunication (i.e. failures at communication) because there is no real attempt at communication taking place.


The Trinity Prayer

Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth:
Set up your kingdom in our midst.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God:
Have mercy on me, a sinner.

Holy Spirit, breath of the living God:
Renew me and all the world.



Leadership is responsibility.

Responsibility, however, has two definitions:

1) Responsibility is having an obligation to do something about a particular situation.

2) Responsibility is being the primary cause of a particular situation.

The first definition of responsibility is what we mean when we ask, "who is in charge?" whereas the second definition of responsibility is what we mean when we ask, "who broke the lamp?" or "who built the fence?"  One definition has to do with the present and the future, and who has the authority, the mandate, the charge, to make something happen in a particular way.  The other definition has to do with the past and the present, who is to blame or credit for the way a particular thing happened or is happening.  In some ways the first definition of responsibility is actually about accepting blame/credit before the fact!

Leadership is about both kinds of responsibility.

A leader takes the blame for whatever happened on their watch.  Although a good leader will pass along the credit to those around them, a good leader doesn't shirk blame.  But assigning and taking blame and/or credit is actually not the primary way in which leaders take responsibility.

Leadership is ultimately about the first kind of responsibility.

To be a leader is to see oneself as the primary person tasked with accomplishing something.  This doesn't mean a leader does everything themselves, (creating teams and delegating tasks are encouraged) but the leader is the one who says, "Yes, I am responsible to see it done.  If it doesn't get done, and done right, I will be to blame."


Levels of Partnership

In partnering with other organizations, I have come to see that the word 'partner' means different things to different people. There are actually multiple 'levels' of partnership:

Level 1: Having business together

It is in our mutual interest to share resources or to provide services to each other. i.e., sharing a building.

Level 2: Symbolic acts of ecumenicism

Public declarations of Christian unity and affection. i.e., worshipping together.

Level 3: Enjoying relationship

Private fellowship, trust, and intimacy.

Level 4: Strategic partners

Strategizing together, giving each other 'veto power' over each others decisions.

Level 5: Organizational Union

Merging together and becoming the same organization.


"Authenticity" Eroding Effort

You will never do anything of significance with your life that won't require you to engage in activities that feel insignificant while you are doing them.

If you are only willing to do that which 'feels' significant, which 'feels' valuable, or which naturally flows out of the core of your being, you will never go anywhere, much less to those places you dream about.  The feelings you have when dreaming are not the same feelings you will have when working to accomplish your dreams.  Fantasizing about a faraway land is not the same thing as journeying there.  If you are not willing to labor in the journey, you will not accomplish the dream.



Fear of failure leads to an inability to learn and grow.  A prerequisite for discipleship, on the other hand, is the acknowledgement that we are in need of help from Jesus to become fully functioning human beings.  Even more so, when we step into ministry leadership, we must be willing to embrace failure as a necessary part of the process.

As Christians and as leaders we should be constantly seeking to grow and improve, not out of some sick sense of God's displeasure, but quite the opposite, out of the knowledge that God is completely for us.  In our society there are certain people we allow to see our weaknesses, foibles, and failures.  They are our coaches, our doctors, our psychologists, our lawyers, our accountants, our personal trainers, or our beauticians.  We let them see our failures because we know that they have a vested interest in our success, they only succeed as our coach, if we succeed in the athletic arena.

For some reason, however, we balk at bringing that same level of vulnerability into the church.  I believe that God wants us to know His deep and abiding pleasure and affirmation, precisely so that we can then enter into the process of receiving and responding to His discipline and training!

This is practical for us!  Will we respond to our present efforts with an ever watchful posture of growth and improvement?  Or will we respond to our present efforts by defensively maintaining the status quo?

I believe that God has a future for us as a church that is much more glorious than anything we have ever seen!  We must be willing to embrace failure, however, if we are going to see that glorious future.  Below is a TED talk and a short article that I found encouraging on this topic:

Forbes Article on the Importance of Failure in the Marketplace


What is Kingdom Ministry?

Basic Kingdom Definition:

Allegiance to Jesus: the Rule of Heaven: Discipleship

Kingdom Ministry Defined:

Doing, and teaching others to do, the following:

1) Communion with God
2) Communion with God's People
3) Inviting Outsiders into the Kingdom
4) Liberating People from the Satanic Kingdom
5) Confronting Systems of Injustice
6) Kingdom Purpose versus Organizational Purpose
7) Collaboration with other Kingdom Ministries


Chili Recipe

Sometimes this works out well, and sometimes not so much.  I think I made my best batch ever, and my worst batch ever, in the last month.  So I finally decided that it was time to start doing something I hate…

…using measuring cups and following directions!

This is the recipe I used, but there are a few changes I would make to it.  It was a little too sweet, so less molasses next time, and I will probably add a bit more chili powder and cumin, and cut back a little on paprika, carrots, and celery…  I would also like it just a little thicker, so maybe a little more tomato paste, or some cornstarch.

Soak the following in water for 24 hours:

8 oz pinto beans (dry)
8 oz black beans (dry)
8 oz kidney beans (dry)
8 oz red beans (dry)

Then bring to a boil and then simmer til soft (this took a good chunk of the day).  Make sure to check all of the different beans, some cook more quickly than others.

Next add the following, in this order:

5 large carrots (food processor)
6 large celery stalks (food processor)
3 medium green bell peppers (food processor)
2 large onions (chopped)
5 large bay leaves

Then add 3 lbs. of ground beef, stirring it up into small chunks until browned.

Add the following:

28 oz tomato sauce (can)
28 oz diced tomatoes (can)
32 oz corn (can)
12 oz tomato paste (can)

3/4 oz chili powder
3/8 oz cumin
3/8 oz paprika
3/8 oz oregano
1/4 oz black pepper
1/2 oz salt
6 oz molasses
5 large garlic cloves (pressed)


Why I Don't Cuss...

Something that comes up from time to time with my fellow ministers, and other christian friends, is the use of profanity   I haven't personally met any non-christians who make this argument (although I am sure they are out there too), it is only christians of a certain type.  Christians who have a bone to pick with religion will, often enough, make the case that its okay to use profane language.  More often they will cuss in front of me to see if they can get a reaction.

In fact, you can usually tell the non-christians from the 'cool christians' by this.  Do they apologize to the pastor when they cuss, or do they smirk at the pastor when they cuss?
Needless to say, I have done some thinking about this, and while I am tempted to side with those who enjoy scandalizing the religious (they certainly need to be scandalized!) I am even more interested in how this plays out with those outside the bounds of our faith.  What do the cultures of the world think of when they hear followers of Jesus using profanity?

So, some basic facts:

  1. Scripture is more concerned with God than with teaching people etiquette.
  2. Vulgarity is a cultural norm that changes from culture to culture and language to language.
  3. Many of the prophets use scandalous imagery, and language that might be considered on the 'strong' side (i.e. Paul's use of skubala which is definitely less technical than 'scat or defecate' and more vulgar than 'poop,' although probably not as offensive as 's--t,' and should probably be translated as 'crap') as a way of clearly communicating the depths of God's and/or the author's displeasure.
  4. Jesus hung out with people who probably used language a lot worse than skubala (and behaved even more despicably) but managed to avoid making them uncomfortable around him AND avoid participating in their behavior.
  5. Religious folks in our day (and in Jesus' day) seem to be caught up in behaving 'properly,' and seemed to think that 'being proper' was superior to 'being godly.'  This is the most dangerous spiritual trap imaginable.

The points above definitely lean towards a relaxing of our rules around vulgarity in the church, but I just don't think that rises to the level of justifying the use of the words our culture has said are offensive in and of themselves.  It's not that the words are immoral, rather, its that they are indecent.  Using the f-word is like pooping your pants, if a 2-year old does it without really understanding, people aren't offended, they just teach the kid how to go in the toilet.  …or they say, "No son, thats not a f--k, thats called a truck."

But when adults choose to use words that are indecent, knowing they offend the sensibilities of our culture, it rises to the level of immorality.  Not because the words are immoral, but because they are intentionally offensive.  Just as if I chose to poop my pants and walk around in it all day, 'sharing' it with my neighbors.

In fact, it is probably almost exactly like flatulence in front of others (something I have had recent conversations with my kids about).  If you don't understand that its offensive to some people, then its clearly not immoral, its just unintentionally indecent.  But when you know it offends, and you do it on purpose (either to be offensive, or because you just don't care enough about others) then you are being immoral…

Matter of fact, I hung out with a local ministry leader recently who couldn't stop dropping the f-word.  The first time he used it kinda made me laugh …after all, people love to test pastors to see how they respond.  Then he wouldn't stop.  I kept thinking, this guy sounds like Eva (a teenage girl who lives on our block), who thinks she sounds like an adult by talking this way.  It just came across as immature.

Obviously, I wouldn't put this in the category of 'central doctrines.' Many of my good friends come down on the other side of this, but a point of agreement is that the use of vulgar language should not be embraced simply out of a lack of control over our tongues or our minds.  Indeed, perhaps the take away here is this: both my personal decision to avoid such language, and my colleagues' decisions to intentionally use it, are motivated by the prioritization of missional relationships to those outside the church, and the missional de-prioritization of peripheral issues like using profanity.

Rightly Ordered Love

"But living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things: to love things, that is to say, in the right order, so that you do not love what is not to be loved, or fail to love what is to be loved, or have a greater love for what should be loved less, or an equal love for things that should be loved less or more, or a lesser or greater love for things that should be loved equally."
(On Christian Doctrine, I.27-28)
St Augustine


What Captures your Imagination?

"There is nothing more interesting than God and nothing more exciting than watching Him move. There is nothing more boring than religion, and we are about to be delivered from religion to follow the Lord, not just men. We can also be sure that He has again saved His best wine for last."

Rick Joyner


Leadership is Four Things

In my experience, leadership can be defined in four ways:

  1. Influence - The ability to change the thinking, behavior, and desires of others.  Influence can be seen clearly in a leader by observing the people following the leader, are they taking their cues from the leader or not?
  2. Responsibility - The willingness to take ownership over a situation, problem, task, goal, person, or community.  Responsibility is seen as a leader simply does what needs to be done, or arranges to have it done by orchestrating and delegating to others.
  3. Confrontation - The ability to say what needs to be said in spite of how unpopular it might be.  Confrontation can be rejecting a poor proposal, pointing out improper thinking and behavior, or bringing an optimist back down to earth with some difficult facts.
  4. Vision - The ability to see things that do not yet exist.  Vision is ultimately an orientation towards the future that some people possess in more or less quantity than others.

All four of these characteristics are possessed in some measure by all people, and so it is fair to talk about leadership existing on a spectrum.  On one end are those individuals who are only capable of one or more of these character traits in fits and spurts and only when asked to do so by others, or when circumstances force it upon them.  In the middle are those individuals who can learn to exhibit these traits, and can ultimately grow into capable leaders.  On the other end are those gifted leaders who do these things in their sleep, they aren't capable of turning it off, they simply lead naturally.

Of course, we should be clear, this is not what godly leadership looks like, simply what leadership is.  Godly leadership must lead in a direction that honors God, and do so with a character, a posture, and an attitude that reflects Gods ultimate authority.  Indeed, godly leadership can perhaps be defined by reading through St. Pauls letter to the Corinthian church and the famous chapter defining love.


A Biblical Praxis

We are really doing our best to live our lives according to Scripture… so when the Bible is clear about how to live, we just act accordingly.  For example, when we read 2 Corinthians 13:12, we are admonished to "greet one another with a holy kiss."  

…how "biblical" are you?



Orthopathy is a great word, it has now entered my lexicon.  But the concept is not new...

St Augustine taught that the essence of Christian discipleship was developing 'rightly ordered love.'  In essence we have to learn what to love, and how to love, in ways that are consistent with the love of God, as a catalyst for orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and as the fulfillment of them.

Indeed, St Peter wrote that 'love covers a multitude of sins' (ie orthpathy is more important than othopraxy) and Jesus Himself taught that the repentant sinner is better than the righteous Pharisee who doesn't need repentance (ie orthopathy is superior to orthopraxy AND orthodoxy).  Jesus quotes the OT Scriptures that say the same thing, "I desire mercy and not sacrifice."



"Often times people will tweak the existing model and think that this makes them radical."

Shannon Callan


Dating Advice to Gorillas and Poodles

One of the pressing issues facing the church today is the lack of unity. (OK so its been an issue for 2,000 years!) And one of the difficulties in working towards unity is the inherent pain that is caused when those who have power and privilege in the church try to 'help' those churches who lack power and privilege.  In particular, I am thinking of large, wealthy, middle/upper-class suburban churches that feel a calling to 'help the poor,' whether that is the poor in the urban slum nearby, or the third-world nation across the water.

A friend and I had a conversation where we compared that to a dating relationship between a gorilla and a poodle. The reality is that, no matter how much of a gentleman the gorilla is, if the gorilla is in charge, the poodle isn't going to fare very well. It is simply inherent in the power dynamic between the two.

So here is some advice to those of us in the church who are poodles dating gorillas, or vice-versa.

To the poodle:

1) God has brought the gorilla into your life (He makes poodles and gorillas for a reason and wants them to live together in harmony), submit to God in this and you will discover the strength of the gorilla at work on your behalf.

2) Don't be afraid to tell the gorilla when it hurts you. Feel free to call sin, "sin." But recognize that there IS a difference between intentional and unintentional harm.

3) Don't be afraid to take the lead with the gorilla. You need to teach the gorilla a different way of doing ministry.

4) You don't get to tell the gorilla to go away, or that it has nothing to offer. You need what the gorilla has to offer (above and beyond its sheer size and strength), and the gorilla has things to teach YOU about doing ministry.

To the gorilla:

1) You are not God's gift to the poodle. This is your greatest problem, you confuse your size and power with godliness, faithfulness, and effectiveness in the Kingdom. Repent.

2) Show up and help the poodle, but let the poodle tell you what help it needs! Be patient, poodles aren't used to polite gorillas, and have a history of being either ignored, patronized, or brutalized by gorillas. Be patient! Let the poodle take the lead. Offer suggestions, but ultimately let the poodle be the boss, and be patient. Remember, there IS a difference between hurting the poodle on accident and doing it on purpose, but if you are the poodle they both hurt exactly the same!

3) Show up to learn. Don't presume you know how to live like a poodle just because you are a gorilla. The poodles lack of size and strength has taught it to rely on God in ways you will never know. The poodle has a perspective that you cannot have because of your own perspective. Learn from the poodle.

4) Keep showing up and keep making the resources you do have available to the poodle. Offer your insight, your organization, your expertise, your strength, your size. Don't go away, and don't return to a lifestyle of ignoring the poodle, even if the poodle bites you! Remember, the poodle is biting you because you are hurting it! Keep offering your services, but don't forget point #2!!!

To both the gorilla and the poodle:

1) God made you both. That means you are of equal value. Each of you is necessary, which means you are both important in and of yourself AND you both need the other!

2) Be yourself. Don't try to be each other.

3) Love each other. It is a command AND it is wisdom.


Generosity and Ownership

Nothing that you have not given away will ever truly be yours.

C. S. Lewis


Jericho Road in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone Health Clinic


Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

C. S. Lewis


Vision, Passion, Discipline, Risk

James Ryle gave this talk at the very first men's retreat I ever went to.




The after school program from our church wrote, filmed, and produced this:

The Millennial Generation: a Rock in the Path

In 1 Corinthians 1:23 St Paul refers to Jesus as a 'stumbling block.'   A stone that is in the way.  Something to trip over.  Something to prevent you from your headlong pursuit of your own way.  Something to impede your progress.

Not exactly flattering terms for our Savior.

The American Church is facing an interesting problem.  It's dying.  In short, the younger generation wants nothing to do with it.  This is true of those raised in church, and its true of those raised outside of it.   The church is growing largely irrelevant to the culture of America.   Some of us are seeing this trend and growing morose and resigned to our impending doom, others are growing more shrill and frenzied in an attempt to forestall it.   I suggest the radical middle; a different way of doing and being church that actually makes sense to the next generation.  In short, I suggest that we listen to those people who have rejected us, and we learn from them.  I think they have a lot to teach us about how to live in the Kingdom of God.

In fact, what I would say about the 'Millennial Generation,' (specifically those raised in the church) is that it would be most helpful to think of them as 'third culture' people.  For example, Ara was raised in a home that was culturally and linguistically Greek, but went out into a world that was culturally and linguistically American.   This led her to become increasingly adept at navigating both cultures, while becoming increasingly uncomfortable in both, and ultimately led to a crisis of identity.  Not knowing who she was, hating one or both cultures, and even rejecting one or both cultures. Eventually, instead of trying to be Greek, or American, Ara figured out how to be Ara.

I observe that there is a group of people in the church (but probably not in fellowship) going through the same kind of struggle.  The difference being, they don't have the convenient cultural markers of language, food, etc. to distinguish between the two cultures they are navigating.  In short, very few people understand that this is a cross-cultural situation, including the people going through it.

Many are familiar with the conversations around the 'emerging church' and 'post-modern cultural shifts.'  This is, essentially, all I am describing.  The church and the christian home are one culture, the rest of society is another.  The Millennials are learning to navigate both cultures, but have a hard time articulating the disconnect between the two worlds.

Indeed the church doesn't see it either.  It is too simple to dismiss as 'worldliness.'  After all, the church isn't supposed to live the way the world does!  But that isn't what I am describing here.  If American culture truly is shifting into postmodernity right before our very eyes, then this situation is fundamentally not about rejecting worldliness in the church, but rather it is about learning how to be missionally sensitive to our culture.  We would find it strange if Congolese missionaries came to America and refused to worship in English because they didn't want to let the world into their church.

So, what are we talking about here?  What is this difference in culture?

There are many, but one of the key cultural markers of the Millennial Generation is the priority that is placed on the perception of authenticity.  (Emphasis on perception!)  The more slick the production, the more off-putting it is.  (Of course, advertisers are aware of this, and have long since learned to take advantage of this by simply changing their production techniques… but that is another story.)  When someone approaches a Millennial in an over-priced suit, with well-groomed mannerisms, a gleaming smile, and a perfect sales pitch, it doesn't matter if the product is a cheap gym membership, a great financial opportunity, or spiritual bliss, the Millennial feels for his/her wallet and slowly backs away...

"You can't trust a man with perfect teeth."  This is something that makes great sense to Millennials who prefer a matte finish to a high gloss (metaphorically speaking).

But who can blame them, they are inundated with sales-pitches and advertising slogans and they can smell an ulterior motive coming a mile away.  This means that many of the tools the church learned in the last 50 years are actually repulsive to people in their 20's not because of their content, but simply because of the glossy sheen.

It would be easy to discount the Millennials.   They won't just 'get on board' and 'get with the program.'  Indeed, they have become for us 'something to trip over, something to impede our progress.'

I would suggest, however, that they actually have quite a lot to offer us in our mission to reach the culture around us with the Good News that Jesus is King.


Mature Leaders Embody Love

This is from a friend of mine:

Mature Leaders are patient:
They don’t give up quickly.

Mature Leaders are kind:
They understand the power and value of gentleness, and the healing work of a soft word spoken in season.

Mature Leaders do not envy:
They rejoice as they see others grow and develop within the organization.

Mature Leaders do not boast:
They aren’t quick to share their own accomplishments but would rather see others receive credit they deserve.

Mature Leaders are not proud:
They are not insistent on their own way but are diligent about gathering the perspective of others.

Mature Leaders do not dishonor others:
They do not secretly point out the shortcoming of others, but consider how the gifts they posses can compliment and compensate for others.

Mature Leaders are not self-seeking:
They are thinking about how to serve their co-laborers.

Mature Leaders are not easily angered:
They do not quickly lose their temper, but are careful and guarded with their words, understanding that a single word misspoken can do more damage to an organization – or to a staff worker - than can years of service.

Mature Leaders keep no record of wrongs:
They are not one who will list out the mistakes of the past but instead have released them and forgiven them for their sake and for the sake of the work of the body.

Mature Leaders do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth:
They are grieved when there are failed relationships.

Mature Leaders always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere:
This is packed full of meaning – rather than exposing faults of other staff, they actively engage in protecting their reputation, their role, and their value within the organization.

Mature Leaders never fail:
They exhibit all of the above day after day.



The Vineyard has been equipped for work among those who live on the fringes; the marginalized, the poor, the foreigner, the pagan, the agnostic; the other. We use His tools to advance His Kingdom at the margins. The church was designed to permeate every culture, to “spontaneously expand”25 into all of the cracks and crevasses of our world. We abandon the safety of our walls, and the security of our comforts. We spell faith: “R-I-S-K.”26 We seek dangerous places, dark places, painful places, broken places; the places where the Kingdom is desperately needed. The places where the King desperately wants to be.

The Vineyard is uniquely equipped to navigate the cultural and spiritual realities of poverty in America’s urban environments. The Vineyard Movement is God’s Hammer to drive the nails of His redemptive justice deep into lives of those who suffer the alienation, impotence, and despair of poverty. It is for this purpose that we exist. We possess the ingenuity, the skill, and the paradigm, needed to honestly and powerfully connect broken and despairing people to the beauty, power, and hope of the Kingdom. G. K. Chesterton famously quipped, “the Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.”27 The question before the Vineyard Movement is, will we equip and empower our brightest and best for the task at hand? Will we follow Jesus to the edge?



It is here that the ‘inefficiency’ of incarnational ministry becomes apparent. As John Perkins has said, “There are many with a fifteen year strategy, and a two year commitment.”24 This ongoing proximity is the key, however, to the effective empowerment of the poor. Without it we will never be able to give away the keys to the kingdom, but when we do get close and stay close, the poor cease to be a project. They become people, and then we begin to learn from them, we begin to partner with them, and we begin to discover the authority that God desires to grant them in His Kingdom. Kingdom ministry requires more than the rich serving the poor, it requires interdependence. When the poor are included as equal members into our churches, because we have done the difficult work of being included as equal members in their neighborhoods, then we will be able to offer them the resources that God has blessed us with, as well as receive the resources that God has blessed them with.


A Sacred Place

"There are no unsacred places.  There are only sacred places and desecrated places."
- Wendell Berry


A ministry of presence is a requirement for serving alongside the poor. We must come near to those we desire to serve. We must touch them, and they us. It is not until their problems become our problems that we will ever truly be able to minister. Not in the sense that we care about them so much that their problems burden us emotionally, but rather in the sense that the problems we face in our lives are the same ones they face in theirs. When we suffer the violence of living with corrupt or absent police officers, when our property values drop because of corrupt banking practices, when our schools are failing and our jobs are gone, then we will be trusted to minister.

We will be trusted because we understand. We will be trusted because we have come close enough for the dirt to rub off on us. The cost of ministry is the suffering we experience when we recognize that poverty is a spiritual disease that cannot be healed by “throwing our possessions over a wall at the poor on the other side.”21 The cost of ministry is the suffering we experience when we become poor in order to reach the poor.22 Identification with those whom we serve is inherent to Kingdom ministry. Without walls to protect us, but without walls to divide us,23 we will have come close enough for the Kingdom to rub off of us. Indeed we have become so close that we have become one; no longer ‘my neighborhood’ or ‘your neighborhood’ but rather ‘our neighborhood.’



Presence, Interdependence, and Identification

“[T]o ‘do justice’ means to go to places where the fabric of shalom has broken down, where the weaker members of societies are falling through the fabric, and to repair it. This happens when we concentrate on and meet the needs of the poor. How can we do that? The only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric is by weaving yourself into it. Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resource into the lives and needs of others.”
Tim Keller

It would seem odd to teach someone how to use a hammer to drive nails when they were already proficient at using a hammer to pull them. It should seem equally odd to teach someone how to serve the poor when they have been a disciple for some long while. Jesus was famously asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He responded with a story of ‘good Jews’ who encountered a destitute and injured man and passed by on the other side, and a Samaritan who responded with compassionate action. How might Jesus respond to a world in which ‘good Christians’ don’t even walk the same road as the destitute and injured, and so never have to confront the choices they have made to ‘pass by on the other side?’



Naturally Supernatural
The Vineyard emphasizes a balanced rhythm of proclamation and demonstration; teaching people about the Kingdom, and introducing people to the effective power of the King. This however, is done without hype; the power of the Spirit of God is not relegated to special people, special buildings, or special methods or words. The Kingdom of God is breaking through in the lives of ordinary people as they do ordinary things: 1) Ministry in under-resourced communities cannot be contained in weekly gatherings; deep needs and urgent requests bubble over into routine daily activities. The Vineyard teaches people to expect God to move in precisely those places, and equips ‘ordinary saints’ to address those needs as and when they arise. 2) The depth and breadth of devastation that exists in impoverished communities cannot be met solely by ‘social justice’ oriented work (although this too is indispensable); the Spirit must intervene to deliver, heal, convict, empower, and save. 3) Those who engage in ministry among the poor will themselves suffer from ‘secondary trauma’ that requires the ongoing operation of the Spirit’s activity to address. 4) Impoverished communities are the frequent victims of empty promises from the business community, politicians, and churches. “Power-for-a-purpose” praxis creates space for God to be real without any need to ‘hype it up;’ God does indeed move, but does so to accomplish actual transformation. The Vineyard intends to offer ‘power without hype’ instead of ‘hype without power.’



“Everybody Gets to Play”
The Vineyard Movement has taken the ‘Priesthood of All Believers’ to a new level of practical emphasis as we equip church members for ministry outside of the four walls of the church (“the meat is on the street”); and as we give away leadership and authority to those within our churches: 1) The central spiritual realities of poverty are impotence, the attendant shame and despair, the disintegration of the family, and the subsequent coping mechanisms of violence and addiction. The impartation of power, authority, and honor is at the heart of what is needed to heal impoverished communities. 2) Letting broken people engage in ministry is a recipe for disaster, but it is the kind of disaster that Jesus created when he recruited His disciples.17 This Vineyard practice gives us the theoretical orientation, practical framework, and shared experience, to effectively navigate the chaotic process of empowering individuals in impoverished communities.

Intimate Worship
The tangible experience of the Presence of God as we gather to worship Him is a hallmark of Vineyard praxis: 1) Among economically and socially stable communities the passion generated by experiencing God in such a tangible way can often be harnessed towards directing people into ministry to the broken individuals on the outskirts of their lives; “let worship be the fuel for mission’s flame.”18 In under-resourced communities the situation is reversed; the tangible Presence of God is the indispensable source of sustenance and hope for those overwhelmed by a desperate culture, and the brokenness that cannot be avoided. 2) Urban culture places a high value on music with strong emotional content. While there might need to be some translation from typical Vineyard worship forms into a more culturally appropriate form for the urban setting, the underlying Vineyard values in worship provide a strong platform for cultural relevance.



Tent Making
Vineyard church planting strategies have a long tradition of bi-vocational pastors. This is a radical advantage in ministry among the poor as a temporary planting strategy, but also as a permanent funding strategy for ministry: 1) Under-resourced communities have an inherent mistrust of those they perceive as ‘wealthy.’ Bi-vocational leadership demonstrates a degree of financial struggle on the part of the pastor that assuages this mistrust. 2) Bi-vocational leadership eases the burden on impoverished communities of raising the funds for pastoral salaries. 3) Bi-vocational leadership frees up resources for other ministry endeavors; this is a boon in any setting, but especially in under-resourced communities. 4) Bi-vocational leadership aids pastors in understanding the life and culture of those they are attempting to minister to.

Centered Set Ecclesiology
The Vineyard posture towards outsiders is radically hospitable; “belong before you believe.” Individuals are welcomed into body life ‘as they are’ without any doctrinal or behavioral hurdles erected as prerequisites to participation. This is essential to ministry in impoverished communities in the following ways: 1) Poverty arises from, and contributes to, a disordered life; a bounded-set ecclesiology would either exclude such individuals (by requiring people to jump hurdles they could not yet jump) or incentivise hypocrisy (by prompting people to hide their aberrant behaviors when around others). 2) A “ministry of presence” is implicit within such a model of church life; when we embrace a centered-set model we become focused on ‘being with people.’ This is a requirement for the highly placed-based culture of immobility that arises within under-resourced communities. 3) Urban poverty is marked by racial diversity, spiritual pluralism, and multiculturalism of every kind; the Vineyard ecclesiology (with a posture of hospitality towards those who don’t ‘look the part’) enables us to navigate such turbulence.



The Main and the Plain
The Vineyard has historically de-emphasized theological oddities, unnecessary controversy, confusing topics, and arcane or obscure texts and teachings; opting instead for a practical emphasis on the clear and obvious teaching from Jesus, and the broad narrative of Scripture as a whole: 1) This often brings a credibility to Vineyard teaching in any cultural setting, but this is uniquely important in communities where there is little value for highly intellectual and irrelevant theology. Impoverished communities need to engage with the fundamental realities of the Kingdom, the ‘meat and potatoes’ of repentance and redemption, discipleship and deliverance, faith and freedom.

“Doing What the Father is Doing”
Spirit-Led ministry is a practical emphasis in the Vineyard both in personal ministry (ie the Spirit giving me unction for personal guidance) and in community life (the Spirit giving direction to the strategic direction of Church life and ministry): 1) Life and ministry in impoverished communities is marked by instability and a dearth of economic, social, spiritual, and mental resources. Flexibility and ingenuity are essential characteristics for a thriving ministry in such a setting; particularly in entrepreneurial initiative, collaborative partnerships, and creative resourcing strategies. 2) The culture of urban poverty (as well as immigrant and refugee populations typically present in such places) tends toward relational orientation, as opposed to task orientation. The Vineyard operates with a similar ‘relaxed’ orientation. 3) This also breeds a ‘pragmatism’ that aids ministry in under-resourced communities; there is less likelihood of wasting precious resources on initiatives that aren’t bearing fruit.


Leaders Eat Last


Spiritual Warfare and Prophetic Vision
The Vineyard contrasts the Kingdom of God with ‘principalities and powers’ and sees life and ministry as a conflict between these forces. ‘Natural’ forces are acknowledged, but often times ‘supernatural’ forces stand behind them. This acknowledges the interrelatedness of spiritual, physical, mental, relational forces that arise from, and impinge upon, human life. Any ministry situation requires sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and other spiritual forces, as well as sensitivity to the people involved: 1) On its surface poverty has to do with income, housing, employment, education, health-care, transportation, etc. but the root issues of poverty are impotence and apathy, despair and shame, and the cycle of violence, addiction, and family disintegration that arise from and contribute to poverty. The Vineyard paradigm is uniquely able to perceive, diagnose, and address such a problem. 2) On its surface poverty looks like a problem that is directly caused by the poor themselves; ie irresponsible decisions, devaluing of education and employment, pursuing addictive behaviors. While this should be acknowledged as part of the problem, significant factors include ‘systemic injustices’ fueled by the daily decisions of the rest of society. Suburbanization and ‘white-flight;’ practices of ‘toxic charity’ at the level of individuals, churches, and governments; white privilege; redlining; police corruption; disproportionate education; etc. These are problems that have roots in the middle class idols of consumerism, individualism, and materialism. The Vineyard paradigm is uniquely able to perceive, diagnose, and address such a problem.



BEH pt V

Inaugurated Eschatology
The Vineyard, in keeping with Jesus’ own teaching, sees the Kingdom as a present reality with a future fruition in its fullness (or a future reality with a proleptic invasion!). This leads to an expectation of God’s action in the present held in tension with an awareness that evil will persist until the Return of Christ. Along with this comes an explicit value for redemptive suffering held in tension with the expectation for healing and deliverance: 1) One of the primary needs of impoverished communities is for Hope. The “Now, but Not Yet” orientation of the Vineyard offers hope for the present and the future. 2) Impoverished communities are in desperate need of the power of God to break into their lives. Vineyard people expects this and experiences this. 3) Vineyard eschatology offers a framework for those who suffer to gain perspective on their suffering, and to understand its significance in light of ‘living in the time between the times.’ 4) Ministry leaders in impoverished communities are confronted with deeply broken lives; generational and systemic poverty are powerful forces subverting the very humanity of those who suffer under them. Vineyard eschatology provides those leaders with a framework for continued hope in the midst of such experiences.




The Supremacy of Christ
Without ‘demoting’ the rest of the New Testament, the Vineyard has historically emphasized the life, ministry, teaching, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ life is seen as an explicit model for ours, and not solely (as some traditions explicitly teach, and others implicitly model) as an atoning sacrifice: 1) Jesus’ statements, His actions, and most powerfully His crucifixion, model a life of selflessness, a willingness to embrace difficulty, and a voluntary poverty; all of which are required tools for labor at the margins. 2) Jesus models a ministry of presence to the marginalized and the impoverished.

The Effective Rule of God
The central motif of Vineyard theology is that of Jesus’ proclamation and demonstration of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom being defined as the actualization of God’s will.1 The Vineyard has continued that ministry of teaching people about God’s Kingdom, followed by a demonstration of His enacted rule and reign. This orientation has tremendous implications for work in impoverished communities: 1) The Kingdom of God provides a unifying framework to understand and implement: ‘super-natural’ ministry, justice ministry, and personal holiness. All of which are vital to address the realities of urban poverty. 2) The false dichotomy between ‘social gospel’ and ‘gospel’ simply evaporates within the theological paradigm of the Kingdom. The myriad problems that exist in impoverished communities are thorny, massively complicated, and interrelated; due to its Kingdom paradigm the Vineyard is uniquely positioned to solve holistic problems with holistic resources, and work toward holistic solutions.


Innovation Inhibitors

(Re-posted from ChurchPlanting.com)

One of the reasons church planting is such a powerful tool for the mission of the Gospel is because it allows leaders to overcome challenges through innovation.  But, as churches grow larger and more committed to systems, innovation can be lost.

So based on both my experience and this recent article from the Harvard Business Review I want to expose these eight inhibitors of innovation.

Inhibitor #1: Focused on the short-term results
Often church planters get funding from groups that want “quick” & “quantifiable” results…  resist the urge to sacrifice long-term missional purpose for the short term goal.

Inhibitor #2: Afraid of cannibalizing the sending church
Create partnerships with church leaders that have a history of sending people without reserve. Leaders who make people “off-limits” lack the innovative thinking needed to prosper the Kingdom.

Inhibitor #3: Devoted too many resources to today
It is easy for church planters to get consumed with the tyranny of the urgent. Force yourself to make time and set aside resources for new ventures.

Inhibitor #4: Passed it on to someone else
There are unique needs in each community that can’t be left to someone else. Using your unique gifts and talents, look for ways to engage pressing needs with new ideas.

Inhibitor #5: Constrained by efficiency and excellence
Efficiency and excellence are the enemies of innovation. Ministry is always messy and if you wait until everything is “perfect” & you have everything you “need” you will never take action.

Inhibitor #6: Coached by leaders not trained to be innovative thinkers
Find a church planting coach who is capable of fostering innovation and not simply helping you imitate the success of others.

Inhibitor #7: Paralyzed by flaws and fears
New ideas are full of flaws and the only way to work out the kinks is to discover the power and potential of an idea, move forward, and take risk.

Inhibitor #8: Controlled by systems that don’t reward innovation
Avoid denominations, churches, and leaders who are afraid of letting go of their systems or want to make clone-ministries and embrace those who reward new ideas.

Read more here: 8 Inhibitors of Innovation - ChurchPlanting.com



Engaging at the Margins
The Spirit of God has imparted tools to the Vineyard that are uniquely suited for work at the margin. We are a 'missionary' movement; uniquely postured for pioneering works and planting churches in new places, or in new cultural settings. We are a ‘prophetic’ movement; uniquely positioned to move with power against oppression and injustice. We are a ‘compassion’ movement; uniquely equipped for a ministry of presence, comfort, and healing. Using our tools in the safety and security of already established Christian strongholds is like pulling nails with a hammer; certainly not bad, certainly useful, but not the primary purpose for which a hammer was made. The ‘business end’ of the hammer is the end that ‘does the business;’ the head that drives the nails. As a hammer’s primary purpose is driving nails, so too, the Vineyard’s primary purpose is to advance the Kingdom at the fringes and frontiers.

Our thesis then, is twofold. First, that the Kingdom response to suffering is always to embrace it. Second, that the Vineyard is uniquely equipped for ministry at the margins. The singular argument is that the Vineyard must engage in ministry to the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and the outsiders, if we are to be faithful to our unique, God-ordained, purpose. This ministry must be carried out in what has been called an ‘incarnational’ strategy. We must engage with presence. Sharing life together with those to whom we are called. Becoming one with them.

Theologian James K. A. Smith exhorted Vineyard Scholars to “drink deeply from our own wells.”In following his advice to “look for the genius in our own practices” we discover that the tools in the Vineyard tool-belt are for the cutting edge; we must engage those who languish on the margins. The Vineyard is uniquely positioned and equipped to advance the Kingdom at the fringes of the Church and of society. It is within the context of urban poverty that we explore the tools unique to Vineyard theology and praxis, or the ‘business end of the hammer.’



We must pastor those who suffer by joining them. We must share in their pain, become one with them in their problems, and shoulder the burden of their angst. We must pastor those who suffer by living among them; sharing with them the glory of the Kingdom, offering to them the strength and courage of the King, and becoming to them hope.

After all, we pledge allegiance to a King who was glorified upon an instrument of torture and death. He lived as one of us, bearing our burdens, and sharing His glory. If we are His disciples, we will simply do likewise. As with the King, so with His Kingdom. Jesus was attracted to human brokenness; we too are attracted to human brokenness. Jesus entered into the darkness; we too enter into the darkness. Jesus manifested the very Kingdom of Heaven; we too "are encouraging one another to live precisely as points of intersection, points of overlap, between heaven and earth."

This has, for us, the very real possibility of fear, angst, distress, pain, failure, loss, and even death. Following Jesus’ charge through the Gates of Hell will cost us the comfort of our smooth programs, the glory of our successful ministries, and the security of our budgets and salaries. We will relinquish control over our churches and ministries. We will smash our own idols of consumerism, individualism, and materialism, so that we will be able to minister the Good News of the Kingdom of God to the poor and marginalized.


BEH pt I

The Business End of the Hammer:
The Implicit Orientation of the Vineyard toward Ministry on the Margins

for the Society of Vineyard Scholars 2014 
Being the Church in the Time Between the Times: 
Suffering and Kingdom Expectation 

Disciples of the Kingdom labor at the margins of society. The call of the Kingdom is a call to enter into the plight of those who suffer; to experience their suffering, to offer them our hope, and to bring the resources of the Kingdom to bear upon their lives. Like salt, light, and leaven, by our very presence, we carry the tools of the Kingdom into the tumble-down places of our world. A paradigm formed by the Kingdom of God leads to a simple, yet profound, pastoral response to suffering; we embrace it.

This has serious implications for the future of the Vineyard Movement; which would be to simply mirror it’s origins. At it’s inception, the Vineyard fed the hungry, prayed for the sick, and welcomed the spiritually homeless into it’s communities. From it’s birth among Southern California’s counter-culture, and it’s theological center as a Kingdom Movement, to it’s strong emphasis on practical demonstration, the Vineyard is uniquely equipped by God for ministry at the edge. How then, should Vineyard people respond to suffering?

We must be attracted to it.


The Problem with Politics

"I agree with your politics, but I don't share your vitriol."

Obviously I don't agree with everyone's politics, but even when I do, I still find myself uneasy around people when they talk politics.  It's not because I don't enjoy hearty debate, or thinking through practical issues, or engaging in theoretical hypothesizing.  It's because I'm sick of the posturing.  At almost every point along the political spectrum the one commonality is the demonization of one's political opponents.  This tendency is not only immoral, but counterproductive.

It is precisely after hearing something like this that most people will respond with "uh-uh, cuz they did it first, and they do it worse!"  Which only proves the point...


Spiritual Care at Jericho Road Community Health Center

Because of his limited English, and my non-existent Arabic, Ali* spoke to me through his teenage son.  I introduced myself as a part of the Spiritual Care team, and explained that my role was to see how he is doing spiritually, and offer whatever spiritual care that I could.  Ali said that he was comfortable talking with me about this, so I sat down.  I asked him about his background and discovered that he was an Iraqi man and a muslim.  He shared more, that he had come to Buffalo several years before.

As we discussed how his immigration to the US had affected his life and his spiritual health, I asked him, “Do you like it here, does this feel like home?”  At this question, Ali’s countenance fell, he responded, “No, I miss my homeland very much.”  He described his hope for the future of his homeland, and his desire to return there, but his equally strong desire to raise his children here in the US and his preference that they would stay.  He spoke of the violence and brokenness in Iraq, and his longing to bring help to his people.  It was obvious from his body language and facial expressions, as well as the words he was using, that he had some deep emotional discomfort.

I asked if I could pray for him, this led to a long conversation (confused by the need for translation) that I was a follower of Jesus, and that, while muslims pray at regular times during the day, I would like to pray for him right there in the room.  At first he seemed a little wary of my offer, and I couldn’t tell if it was because I was offering him prayer as a Christian, or if it was simply because of the language barrier.  When I was able to convey that I would like to ask God to bless him and his family, he responded with a strong, “yes!” in English.  He would not, however, let me pray just for his family.  He asked that I pray for the peace and prosperity of Iraq.  Again, I could see his distress over his nation and his people.

We held hands, the three of us, and I spoke to Jesus in English, while Ali’s son translated into Arabic for his father to understand.  I prayed very simply, asking the Holy Spirit to come and visit us there in the room.  I spoke a blessing to the father-heart of Ali for his children, and asked for God’s protection and provision over their family.  Then we prayed for Iraq, and we asked for God to set things right in that country.  We asked for peace, hope, and justice.  When we finished Ali thanked me repeatedly and heartily for my prayer.  I also thanked him (and his son) for joining me in prayer, and for allowing me to know some of the intimate details of their story, and I encouraged them that I was convinced that God cared deeply about them and about their homeland.

*Ali is not his real name.


"Hiding behind the task..."

I had a friend use this phrase in a meeting the other day. It struck me as very insightful...

He was referring to the way we often use a task to divert us from the goal of the task.  The goal is difficult, and we don't want to be seen as failing to accomplish it, the goal requires more effort, so we don't shoot for the goal.  We hide behind the task.

Bureaucratic red tape is usually an example of this.  'Getting the form filled out correctly' ends up being a way that the 'public servant' can cover his own butt without ever actually serving the public.

This is the fundamental problem with religion; we use the prayers, songs, events, acts of abstinence, and acts of service as ways of distracting ourselves from the more important reality.  The act of worshipping God can be the thing we use to prevent God from getting to close to our hearts.  Conversation about God's will can be a way of diverting us from doing God's will.  Obedience to God's previously revealed will can become a diversion from seeking God's presently revealed will...

...and nothing bother's Jesus more than this.  It is for this reason that He turned over tables, insulted the church leaders of His day, and ultimately got Himself killed.



I had the good fortune to hang out with a group of pastors and listen to Christena Cleveland yesterday.

One of her side comments was about the tendency among the millennial generation to confuse intentionality for a lack of authenticity.  I thought this very perceptive.  The yearning for authenticity is a generally good thing, however, if we won't do something unless it 'feels right' or comes from a place of deep yearning within us, then how will we ever engage in spiritual formation?  How will we ever learn something new?  How will we ever confront the evil in our own hearts?


Abortion, Gay Marriage, and Worldliness in the Church

Worldliness was a serious concern of the authors of Scripture. Paul, in his letter to Titus, proclaims that grace "teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age." John, in his first letter, bluntly instructs, "do not love the world or anything in the world."

It is a serious concern of the church both past and present. Thomas a Kempis writes that "grace is precious, and may not be mingled with worldly concerns and pleasures." A popular radio preacher states, "worldliness is the sin of allowing one's appetites, ambitions, or conduct to be fashioned according to earthly values."

It is, dare I join such company, a concern of mine. I join with the Apostle Peter, as one "having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." I share the biblical concern that I, along with the church at large, would remain free from such worldly corruption.

Here, then, is the problem. The moment we start talking about 'worldliness creeping into the church,' it seems we all want to talk about two things:

Gay Marriage…



I won't deny that the church should be thinking, praying, and responding to these two issues, nor that they might very well be places where the attitudes of some christians are indeed being swayed by worldly opinions, but lets be honest, these two things ain't the problem. Not even close!

The place where worldliness is creeping into our church is the place where our culture has entered in without our knowledge, the places where we are so controlled by what our culture dictates that we just assume it is part and parcel with christianity. If we want to talk about worldliness creeping into the church we have got to talk about the unholy trinity of materialism, individualism, and consumerism.

We live in a culture saturated with the message that YOU are the most important thing on earth, and that you should celebrate this by exercising your right to have whatever you want. Indeed, in our culture, we have come to the place where the greatest sin would be to leave personal desire un-pursued! The mantra of Americana is to look deep within your heart, find your truest yearnings, and then do everything in your power to realize them. From billboards and junk mail, to banner ads and commercials, our culture screams, "Have it Your Way," and, "Make the Most of Now." We are told to buy it "Because You're Worth It," and that "Pleasure is the Path to Joy." It is, after all, one of the inalienable rights bestowed upon us by our founding documents as a nation, that of the 'pursuit of happiness.'

The sad reality is that a short search could produce church slogans that could fit right in with the slogans above! (I will refrain from posting some, because I don't want to offend anyone who might come across this.)  Our christian culture is, in most places, built upon the same assumptions about the role of the individual, and individual desire, and individual fulfillment, as the culture around us. Our messages, explicit and implicit, our programming, our evangelistic strategies, our discipleship methods, and our definition of christian maturity, all are deeply tilted toward providing individualistic consumers of religious goods and services the fulfillment of their expectations in return for their giving and their attendance.

That, my friends, is the world creeping into the church.


18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ,
Philippians 3:18-20 15

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.
1 John 2:15-17



Quote of the week:

"America, where every day is Fat Tuesday!"

The Perverting Force

I had a recent conversation with my brother.  He is in the fitness/health industry in Southern California.  He shared with me that one of the largest forces perverting his ability to help people become healthy, is the fact that he derives his livelihood from this endeavor.

People come to him saying "help me to be healthy."  When he then offers them his program for health, the response is "I don't want that, I want some other program."  They then leave, and go somewhere else where they are given what they want, instead of what makes them healthy.  This creates a strong incentive to offer people not what makes them healthy, but rather what they want, so as to keep them around as paying customers.

His need to feed, clothe, and shelter his family is set in direct opposition to his desire to help people be healthy, precisely because he makes his living by helping people to learn to live a healthy lifestyle.

The connections to 'professional Christian ministry' are boundless...


Unity is GREAT! But not with them!

So far, every single person who has seen this video, and then commented on it to me, has shared two things:

Firstly people have said something like, "the vision of unity in the body of Christ is compelling and powerful.  I am completely on board with the message of unity in the church across theological divides."

And then they have said something like, "the source of this message is off-putting precisely because it comes from a corner(s) of the church that crosses a theological divide."

Everybody likes what was said, except for the fact that it was coming from the Pope, or from Copeland, or both!

And there lies the issue!  Unity is a beautiful concept and an ugly reality.  Singing kum-ba-yah while holding hands with people of all colors is beautiful, but once we stop singing, I have to give up my right to have things the way I want them to be.



Fasting is not about getting God's attention, it is about giving Him ours.


12 Rules for Preaching on Contentious Issues

How should pastors and Christian leaders talk about issues on which the Church is divided, or where there are strong tensions within our culture?  For example, how should a pastor speak about political issues like cash benefits for poor families?  Or, how should a church leader speak about cultural hot-potatoes like Homosexuality?  And what about theological positions upon which the church has been historically divided like Pacifism?

Here are my 12 Rules in no particular order:

1) Maintain Unity:
We must create and maintain space in our fellowship for faithful people who disagree as a matter of conscience.  Whether we affirm the views or not, we must repeatedly affirm the people who say them and their right to be at the table.  (Galatians 2:11-21 and other 'unity' passages may not be speaking directly about the contentious theological and cultural issues of our day, but the principles apply.)

2) Embrace Mystery:
We must create space for a healthy amount of tension and cognitive dissonance around contentious issues.  We must be willing to declare that there are truths to be held in tension.  We must acknowledge that there are mysteries to be embraced and not understood.  (Romans 11:33-36 Paul's Doxology makes clear that we can never plumb the depths of God's whole truth.)

3) Speak with the Church:
We should, as forthrightly as possible, distinguish between a) statements that are merely our opinions, b) statements that are minority opinions within the scope of the historical church, c) statements that are majority opinions, and d) statements that are simply quotations from Scripture.  (1Corinthians 7:10-12 is perhaps one of the most interesting verses in Scripture, especially for those of us who hold Scripture to be inspired.)

4) Speak Clearly:
We must speak as honestly and transparently as possible.  (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 Paul did not preach with a pretentious message or manner, neither should we.)

5) Maintain Focus:
We must continue to point at 'heart issues' in our teaching.  The most important thing is sincere discipleship unto Jesus; desiring God, yearning for righteousness, hoping for justice, longing to bless our 'enemies.'  This means that our preaching is not primarily about 'informing the mind,' but rather 'forming the will.'  (Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus instructs us to 'love God' with our whole being, not simply with our mind.)

6) Speak to the Whole Person:
We must understand the pastoral ramifications of what we are about to say in the actual lives of the people we are teaching.  We must understand how it will effect other issues; their view of God, or of Scripture; their relationship to the Church, or to others.  We must understand the 'hidden curriculum;' the unintended message that people will hear.  We must understand 'the question behind the question.'  (Matthew 19:1-12 Jesus explains Moses' teaching on divorce as motivated by this pastoral sensitivity.)

7) Speak Humbly:
We must acknowledge our own fallibility as teachers, (James 3:13-18 requires that wisdom be humble) as well as our own failings as human beings. (1 John 1:8-10 requires our acknowledgement of our own sinfulness.)

8) Don't be a Jerk:
We must recognize that 'truth' is not the primary rubric for Christian speech.  (John 13:35 The defining marker of our lives is to be 'love' and not 'truth.')

9) Speak Blessing:
We must love those to whom we are speaking.  Christian love (agape) is a resolute commitment to work for the blessedness of the object of that love.  We must speak from exactly this posture.  This means that we must speak 'love' and not necessarily 'kindness,' but we must also speak 'love' and not necessarily 'correctness.'

10) Be Prophetic:
We must be led by the Spirit.  Sometimes people need to be shocked, sometimes wooed, sometimes chastened, sometimes healed; the Spirit of God desires to effect change in the hearts and lives of our hearers, not merely to inform them.

11) Be Responsible:
We must stick around to deal with the consequences of what has been said, or at least we must make some avenue for follow up to be possible.  (John 21:15-19 records Jesus simultaneously rebuking and restoring Peter, our teaching should be equally responsible.)

12) Trust God:
We must be willing to step out in faith (remember, Faith is spelled R.I.S.K.), our own faith journey requires us to trust God in our speaking.  We cannot preach from fear, pride, or any other false motive.  We must trust Him.