Thursday, December 24, 2009

How to be a Life-Giving Leader: I'm Not the Only One Who Thinks This Way

Check out this article about open source church leadership. It's good to know I'm not the only one who thinks this way about leadership.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to be a Life-Giving Leader: Lesson Three

I'm one of those guys that's too proud to admit that he needs to hear encouraging words from time to time. But you know what? Kind and encouraging words are like life and light to my soul. They change my attitude and outlook. They are like a cool breeze washing out the deep humidity of the day.

Life-giving leaders know how to encourage others. They speak life into the hearts of those around them. They add courage, strength, and confidence to their souls. Encouraging words lighten our heavy loads, and life-giving leaders have a knack for identifying and alleviating the over-burdened.

Some people (not me) are just naturally encouraging. They are perfectly content to sit and talk with you about you! They don't try to turn the conversation back to themselves. They don't try to talk business. Their encouragement is not awkward or forced. Building others up is just a natural part of who they are.

But, for the rest of us, encouragement can be difficult. It's hard enough to take a compliment, much less receive one. We don't know how the other person will react. Will they be embarrassed? Will they think we're dumb? Will there be an awkward pause in the conversation and you'll have no natural way out? Of course these are all ridiculous reasons, but they betray our own deeply-rooted insecurities, which is what really keeps us from being an encourager.

Unlike power, encouragement is infinite. When you give it away, you don't lose anything within yourself. You can't lose anything when you speak a kind and uplifting word to someone. Those words are free...and invaluable. Your people need to be built up. They need to be edified, encouraged, and lifted up. Sometimes they toil in deeply humid environments, and all they're waiting for is a breath of fresh air.

You can be an encourager by simply speaking those fleeting thoughts that pass through your mind. I try to do this with my wife. So many times I look at her and have a brief thought of, "Wow, she looks great." And that's all well and good, but it doesn't mean a thing to her if I don't say it. If you're in a meeting, and someone has a good insight, tell them. If worship was particularly engaging, tell everyone on the music team how much it meant to you. Whatever the circumstance, never let an opportunity to encourage others pass you by.

And be sure to look out for those who are discouraged. Remember that God is particularly close to those who are downcast and broken-hearted. You be close to them, too. Ask the Spirit to give you words of life and light to speak into their death and darkness. And, of course, don't try to fix anybody. Just use your words to add courage, strength, confidence, light and life to their souls.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

1 Corinthians 13 Video

Last week I posted a video that I made for our public reading of 1 Corinthians 13 that was ultimately rejected. Here are the three videos that were accepted:

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 from heritage church on Vimeo.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 from heritage church on Vimeo.

1 Corinthians 13:8-13 from heritage church on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

How to be a Life-Giving Leader: Lesson Two

In my last post I wrote about how trusting others is foundational for being the kind of leader who gives life to those who serve with him. Right alongside of trust, and even flowing directly from it, stands empowerment, which I believe is crucial to being a life-giving leader. You've got to empower the people who serve on your team to make real decisions.

Empowering people to make important decisions about a ministry is the surest way for them to take ownership of that ministry. In other words, when you empower, they invest. A group of invested servants (those who are not vocationally accountable for the ministry) is the only way to take your ministry to the next level of excellence and effectiveness. You can't do it alone. You need others to maximize God's vision for your ministry, and the best way to get them fully on board is to empower them.

When you empower someone on your team, you are also helping them to foster a mindset that they are doing this ministry for God and the church, not for you. When you hold all the power--when you control and demand--you ensure that the attitude of your team is one of service to you and your expectations. But when you let go of power, you remove yourself from that high and lofty place between the team and God. You become one of the group, and so the attitude can truly be fostered that this ministry is a service to God and the church.

Empowering others goes a long way toward breathing life into their souls. It tells them, "You are a human being. You are not just a part of some ministry machine. You are not just a cog in the wheel. You have value. You have worth. You have insight. You have good ideas. You are capable." Why do you think bureaucracy and red-tape are soul-killing? Because they are disempowering. They say, "We don't trust you. You need us to help you make this decision."

Think about the Ascension of Christ. What did he do to the eleven disciples at that moment? He empowered them. (This empowerment was later fulfilled at Pentecost, when the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them.) In fact, one of the major streams of his ministry was the empowerment of his closest companions.

What are some ways that you can give others real power? What are some decisions you can let go of and hand off to someone else on the team? If you're in a position to hire others, are you giving them the autonomy they need to make their ministries successful? Are you letting your experts be the expert, or are you insisting on your own opinion? Are you micromanaging your team, or setting them free to take flight?

Empowerment is a scary thing because power is finite. When you give some away, that means you don't have it any more. But when you give others real power to make decisions, what you see come to fruition in their lives is of eternal value. You will see their hearts come alive, and I dare say that Hell quakes at the thought of a church full of those whose hearts have come alive.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

How to be a Life-Giving Leader: Lesson One

What kind of leader are you? Perhaps the best way to understand your own leadership style and capacity is to look at those who are following you. What do you see in their eyes? Are their hearts coming alive, or is the life being sucked out of them? If you run a ministry at church, are your volunteers passionate and enthusiastic? When a ministry cycle or initiative ends, are they already looking forward to the next one? Or are they hesitant about getting involved again? The primary indicator of the success of a ministry event or initiative is not how much money was raised, or meals cooked, or even people saved(!). The primary indicator of success is the condition of the hearts of those involved in making the event happen.

I believe there is a spectrum of leadership that runs from life-giving leaders on one end to death-dealing leaders on the other. Life-giving leaders die to themselves that others might live. A life-giving leader guards his tongue carefully. He empowers others. He trusts. He praises loudly and criticizes gently. Most of all, he dies to himself. A life-giving leader restrains himself and his need for validation through the success of the ministries and events in his charge. He instead gives others real power to succeed or fail--he trusts his people. He lets go of control.

 When tempted to change course midstream, a life-giving leader takes into consideration the work that has been done thus far, and consults with his team as one of them. In short, he puts others before himself.

Are you a life-giving leader? Do you fall on this side of the spectrum? I believe that this is the type of leadership Jesus had in mind when he said, "The greatest among you must be the servant of all." Our job as church leaders is not to put on great events. Rather, it's to see the hearts of those with whom we serve come alive.

So. How do you do that? It starts with trust. As a leader, you have got to trust your people. Notice I didn't say "you've got to be able to trust your people." That implies that your people must prove themselves trustworthy before you trust them. Not so in the kingdom. We trust first. The foundation must be trust, not results. Any ministry built on a foundation of results will soon crumble; but one built on a foundation of trust will weather any storm.

You've got to trust your people. And when they come through, and do so in ways that far exceeded your expectations, you trust them more. And when they fail, you work through it, but you still must trust them. (Granted that trust ebbs and flows with our own faithful- and faithlessness.) When you trust your people, and they know that you trust them, a remarkable thing happens. They trust you, and do so strongly! So you see how mutual trust among a ministry leader and his team forms a strong bond that will survive even the most difficult seasons. (This is also, I believe, how a pastor can have deep and lasting friendships with people in his congregation.)

How can you build this foundation of trust on your ministry team? When somebody has an idea that's almost as good as yours, go with theirs. When someone is thinking out of the box, try to go there with them. Notice what they do well and casually bring it up in front of the whole team. Protect them from harsh criticism and unrealistic expectations, while at the same time push them to maximize their gifts and skills. Believe in them. Be their biggest fan.

Trust is the first lesson of being a life-giving leader. I hope that this helps you to be the kind of leader who sees the hearts of others come alive.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

1 Cor. 13:1-3

This is a video that I've been working on for church. It was ultimately rejected, but I like the idea of it. The video doesn't match the text very well, but it's my first attempt at this sort of thing.

The audio is "The Bible Experience", which was produced by Inspired By... Media. It's a very dramatic, high-budget recording that I recommend for all audio Bible enthusiasts. (I know, right?) The digital effects were produced by Andrew Kramer at Video Copilot, but implemented by me. This sort of thing takes a lot of time but I really enjoy it.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

They Like Jesus...

This is the sermon I preached the weekend Ezekiel was born. It's called "They Like Jesus but not the Church". With apologies to Dan Kimball...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Last Thursday I went home to have lunch with Breena after the kids went down for their naps. She wasn't feeling very good, and I urged her to call the doctor. So momma called the doctor and the doctor said, "You better get to the hospital asap." Six hours later...

Welcome to the world Ezekiel! He was ten days early but still tipped the scales at over 8 pounds. He's been such a joy to our family, and the kids love him very much. He's got the best head of hair I've ever seen and I know the ladies are going to love him!

Like with the other two, I pray that he will pursue God with his whole heart. May he be courageous, strong and wise--a man of great character. May God grant Breena and me the wisdom and patience to raise him well. We love you, Ezekiel.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

What the Bible Is

This is another post from my work blog, related to a class I taught called "Understanding Scripture".

What the Bible Is

The Bible, of course, is a book. Better yet, it is a collection of books. Better still, it is two collections of books that tell the story of God’s redemptive action in history. This book is far and away the number one best-seller of all time. You will find one in nearly every home in the Western Hemisphere. And where it is hard to find, those precious few copies are treated with the utmost care and sanctity.
But we know that the Bible is so much more than a book. It is special—unlike any other book that has ever been written. I propose that the Bible is, for those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, these six things.
The Bible is God’s revelation through the written word. It is God’s Word, and it is divine in that it comes to us from God. It is, certainly, not itself God. We do not worship the Bible. (Though some might claim that evangelicals believe the Holy Trinity consists of Father, Son and Holy Bible.) The Bible is subject to God, and he could change it if he chose to do so.
Because it is God’s Word, the Bible stands in authority over believers. We are subject to the Scriptures, compelled to understand them and obey them. Some insist that the Bible is just another voice at the table, on par with our own thoughts and words and experiences. But we maintain that the Bible contains the very words of God, and, as such, holds a place of such honor and esteem that we submit our words and thoughts and deeds to it.
The Bible is holy and sacred. We revere it and honor it. We worship through it because in it we find the words and thoughts of God.
It is alive and active. It speaks light into darkness and life into death. It gives us courage in our cowardice and humility in our pride. It chastens and trains us, building us up into Christlikeness through the power of the Spirit who illuminates it.
The Bible is also human. Its many books were written by human beings in specific spaces and times over a period of about 1500 years. The language of Scripture carries the personalities, quirks, circumstances and vocabulary of its human authors. “Historically the church has understood the nature of Scripture much the same as it has understood the person of Christ—the Bible is at the same time both human and divine. ‘The Bible,’ it has been correctly said, ‘is the Word of God given in human words in history.’” (Fee & Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth, 21)
The sixty-six books of the Bible were written to human beings in specific locations and circumstances. Every book was written for a very specific reason and addressed to very specific people. All of the Scriptures have an original, intended meaning for its very first audience.
The human authors of Scripture employed many different literary styles and genres in their writings: stories, parables, histories, covenants, laws, poems, proverbs, letters and apocalypses. Each literary genre carries its own rules for reading and interpretation. Laws and poems, for example, ought not to be read in the same way.
Leland Ryken observes that the Bible is literature because it is about human experience rather than abstract ideas. The Bible is neither a theological treatise nor a constitution of acceptable moral behavior. It is mostly a collection of stories about God and people. Through these stories, the Bible brings us present to the way the world really is. It does not paint an idealistic portrait of some unattainable utopia. Rather, it tells us how God has interacted in the dirty and bloody world in which we live.
The Bible is history from a very specific point of view—God’s. The Bible is chiefly concerned with telling the story of God’s redemptive action in human history. This is the lens through which the Bible views the world.
The Bible is theology because it tells us who God is by telling the story of the Creator’s interaction with his creation. The Bible develops its theology through the stories it tells about God and his people.
Our Book
The Bible, finally, is our book, and we are the people of the book. God has revealed to us all that we need to know about him through this book. He has graciously left us with a testimony of his words to mankind, and his Spirit to illuminate them to us. We are, therefore, stewards of the book, responsible to know its contents, and through it, to know him.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Trinity

In an attempt to make this blog more edifying, here is a post from my work blog. It's a short article I wrote up for a class we offer called "Biblical Theology."

The Trinity

Although the word “trinity” never appears in the Bible, the doctrine of the trinity is, perhaps, the most important statement of the Christian faith. It lies at the very center of Christian theology, and is one of only a few doctrines that mark out historical, orthodox Christian faith. In other words, if you don’t believe in the trinity, you stand outside of orthodox Christianity.

Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of the trinity this way: “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 226) Let’s break this definition down into three statements and examine each more closely.

God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

God is three persons. This means that the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. There is a distinction of personhood within the Godhead. The Scripture that most clearly demonstrates these distinctions is the baptismal formula given by Jesus to the disciples at the end of Matthew’s gospel: “…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” By arranging the names in this way, Jesus is equating the three in status. He would not have, after all, given the disciples a command to baptize anyone in the name of a mere creature. It is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not Father, Son, and the archangel Michael.

John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word, of course, is Jesus. John plainly states that Jesus was both with God in the beginning and that he was God. Jesus and God (whom we also call “The Father”) are the same in essence, and yet there is distinction in their personhood.

John 16:7 says this about the Holy Spirit: “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” The Counselor is the Holy Spirit, and we see here a distinction between him and Jesus. The Holy Spirit is sent by Jesus (and he reveals, later, by the Father as well) once he returns to the Father. And so we see that the Scriptures testify that God eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Each person is fully God

Each person of the trinity bears the full essence and character of divinity. The Father is clearly God—we take that as a given. Jesus is called God in several locations throughout the NT: John 1:1, John 20:28, Hebrews 1, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Romans 9:5, Colossians 2:9.

Once we understand that God the Father and God the Son are both fully God, it becomes evident, from the Trinitarian expressions elsewhere in the NT that the Holy Spirit is also fully God. Jesus declared that the only unforgiveable sin was to commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. How can one blaspheme that which is not God? We see, also, numerous instances in which the Spirit is placed alongside the Father and the Son: 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Ephesians 4:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21. So we see that the Scriptures testify that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are each fully God.

There is one God

Scripture is clear that there is one, and only one, God. The core prayer of the Hebrew people is the Shema: Hear, O Israel, YHWH your God, YHWH is one. Over and over again, God attests to his own uniqueness through the prophets. There is no other god like him. The gods of the pagan nations are all worthless idols. Isaiah writes, “And there is no God apart from me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none but me. Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

The New Testament is also clear in its assertion that there is one God. For example, Paul writes to Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” Nowhere in Scripture does it teach that there are three Gods. Rather, the testimony of the Scriptures is that there is only one God.

So What?

The doctrine of the trinity serves as a boundary marker for historical, orthodox Christian faith. To deny that either the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit are God is to place yourself outside of the faith of the Church and to reject the teaching of Scripture. What, you ask, is at stake if we reject the doctrine of the trinity?

When we lose the trinity, we lose the atonement for our sins. If Jesus is not God, how can he bear the wrath of God for our sins? How can he bear all of our sins in his body on the cross? “Could any creature, no matter how great, really save us?” (Grudem, 247)

When we lose the trinity, we lose justification by faith. We cannot possibly hope to be justified before God by putting our faith into a mere man, a created being. We cannot trust him to save us if he is just another human, regardless of the magnitude of his accomplishments or the majesty of his message.

When we lose the trinity, we lose worship. It is idolatry to worship a created being rather than the Creator. What hope is there that Jesus or the Holy Spirit will hear our worship and our prayers unless they are each God?

When we lose the trinity, we lose salvation. All three members of the Godhead are on display in the work of our salvation—the crucifixion and resurrection of the Son. God judged and poured out his wrath on the Son, who bore all the sins of humanity in his body when he died, but then was vindicated three days later when he rose from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. If God is not intimately involved at every step of this process, then we are entrusting our salvation to a creature rather than to the Creator.

This is only a brief introduction to the glorious truth that we have in the doctrine of the trinity. For more information, please listen to the e4 session on the trinity, or look into any of these resources:

Wayne Grudem | Systematic Theology

Colin E. Gunton | The Promise of Trinitarian Theology

Gerald Bray | The Doctrine of God

Richard Bauckham | God Crucified

Donald Bloesch | Essentials of Evangelical Theology

Robert Letham | The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship

Peter Toon | Our Triune God: A Biblical Portrayal of the Trinity

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Love the Least (A Lot) | Abortion Unfiltered

Help end the genocide. Go to the website and get educated. May ours be the last generation to know of legalized abortion.

Monday, November 9, 2009


About a month ago I got a bad report from the doctor: high cholesterol. I'm 6'2" and I weigh about 180 pounds. I never would have thought I'd have high cholesterol. But I do, and it's bad.

Like most people, I spend most of the day sitting at my desk working on my computer. (That is, after all, where real ministry is accomplished.) Walking up and down a single flight of stairs at work is the most exercise I do every day. And on top of my sedentary lifestyle, I don't eat many fruits and vegetables, and I drink a lot of pop.

When I got the report my whole life flashed before my eyes, and the very first thing I did was buy p90x. For those who don't know, p90x is an intense workout regimen that is known for getting incredible results in just 90 days. I first saw the infomercial 2 years ago and wanted to do it right away, but I never got around to buying the DVD set.

But now I'm motivated. I've been at the program for almost 4 weeks, and I'm already seeing clear results in energy and strength levels. The program is extreme, and very difficult (I've yet to finish the 90 minute session of yoga--I know, yoga), but it works if you stick with it. When I get through the 90 days I'll post pictures from days 1, 30, 60, and 90 so that you'll be able to see what sort of results I get. But the real result I'm looking for will come in about six months when I get my next cholesterol test. Here's hoping p90x works as well on the inside as it does on the outside.

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Note for Church Leaders

If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Gal. 5:15)

We have devoured the Fundamentalists. We are consuming the Conservatives. If these are the sheep of our pasture, what does that make us?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Social Justice Isn't

The Social Justice movement, particularly as it is manifest in Evangelical Christianity, claims to pursue justice for the poorest, the oppressed, the weakest, and the marginalized. I've heard it again and again: "Jesus was with the poor. He was an advocate for the oppressed. He looked out for the least of us." And he did, to be sure. He even went so far as to identify himself with the least when he said, "That which you have done to the least of my brothers, you have done to me."

The Social Justice movement has gained such considerable traction, particularly among celebrities, that if you don't have a cause (or better yet, several causes) then you are culturally anathema! Evangelicals are "finally coming around" to the real problems of society and speaking out on behalf of those who are powerless. At my own church we minister to the homeless, single parents, outcast refugees, and many others.

This is wonderful, "kingdom" work. But, insofar as it claims to work for justice, it's garbage. There's something missing, and I think you know what it is. It's absence is conspicuous, yet manages to explain everything.

Who is the weakest of the weak? Who is the poorest of the poor? Who is more dependent than the destitute? Who is more frail than the most infirm? Who is more confined than the convict? Who are they who, literally, have no voice? no strength? no power? They are the unborn, and in this country they are slaughtered at a genocidal pace and scale. And yet where are they on the agenda of these so-called compassionate progressives? Social Justice, absent abortion, is purely leftist politics. There is just no getting around this.

How can you cry out "Justice!" and abide this genocide? Tell me, please, where the power of the powerful is more brutally and thoughtlessly exercised against the weakness of the weak, than in abortion? Tell me where the disparity of power between perpetrator and victim is greater? Tell me, in fact, where there is greater injustice in this world than in the wombs of American women?

Twenty-five percent of American pregnancies end in abortion. Yet the Social Justice movement is silent. Would they open their mouths if the murder rate in our schools was 1 in every 4 children? Judging by their deafening muteness, perhaps only if a Republican were in charge--someone they could be against.

Why, my indignant and self-righteous Social Justice brothers and sisters in Christ, is there no room on your agenda for abortion? Why do you never speak of it? I can only conclude that it is because, before you are Christians, you are Liberals. You don't really care about Justice, you only care about political power. You cry out, "Justice! Justice!", but you abide one of the greatest injustices the world has ever seen. If what we have done to the least is what we have done to Jesus, then you have allowed him to be murdered over 50 million times.

Don't you know that there is no abortion in the kingdom? Don't you know that, in the end, the kingdom wins? Don't you know that these 50 million will yield true power in the kingdom, and that they will stand up against you in judgment? How can you be so blind? You have been seduced! You have been bewitched! Come back to your senses! You hold in your hands a wrecking ball, now swing it against that Satanic monolith named Abortion. And when it falls, you and I will dance on the ash and rubble and our faces will glow in the firelight of the destruction of that most wicked of evils.

But first, you must make Social Justice just.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Daddy Blogging

Last night I sent Breena home to Toledo with her mom so that she could get a much-needed break from the chaos around here. This, of course, leaves me home alone with the kids...FOR THE WHOLE WEEKEND! I'm not ashamed to say that, last night, I was dreading this. But things have gone really well so far.

Both kids woke up at 6:45 this morning. I brought them downstairs and fed them breakfast--peanut butter toast for everyone! Eisley tore her bread limb from limb, devouring it like a sadistic toast-cannibal. Cyrus just sat there, staring at his. This is normal.

After breakfast I took them to Kohl's because I need a new pair of everyday shoes after I wore mine disc golfing. I knew I was risking a major possibility of a meltdown in a public place, but the need for shoes was just too high. Cyrus pushed Eisley around in her stroller, and they both enjoyed staring at themselves in the mirror. After about 45 minutes in the store and no meltdowns, we bought the shoes and left. 

Being the extreme risk-taker that I am, I decided to test my fate even further by going to Kroger (aka the Blue Store). The meltdown ratio for Kroger trips has got to be around 2 meltdowns for every 3 trips. This must mean I got lucky. Both kids were great! It probably didn't hurt that I gave in to three of Cyrus' requests for food--cookies, chocolate milk, and Apple Dapples. It also didn't hurt that Eisley can't speak english.

We got home and I pacified the kids with some Apple Dapples while I did the laundry and cleaned the dishes. Then, at around 10:45, I gave the kids a real apple and started making Macaroni & Cheese (aka Packaroni & Cheese). It was the good kind--you know what I'm talking about, the one in the Deluxe box. I can't eat the crap they put in the tall skinny boxes. That stuff is nasty. When daddy gets mac&cheese he gets the good kind. They loved it.

After lunch we played for about a half hour and I put them down for naps. Eisley went right down but Cyrus is still up in his room doing God-knows-what. I hear a lot of thudding. Maybe I should go check on him...but why ruin a perfectly good morning? He'll fall asleep eventually, right?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

End of an Era

Today is the last day of my twenties. Because I'm both obsessively self-absorbed and nostalgic, I thought I'd take a look back at all the things I've done in the past decade.

  • Moved into a house with 12 guys (Iuka!)
  • Got an editorial published in the OSU newspaper that angered a lot of my friends
  • Made a terrible relational mistake
  • Took a job with the OSU Athletic Department
  • Spoke briefly at GCM's national conference
  • Dropped out of ministry with New Life Church
  • Graduated from OSU with a Theatre Degree
  • Turned down a full time position with the OSU AD to move back to Toledo and help lead Unbound, a ministry to college students 
  • Discovered my preaching gift
  • Fell in and out of love
  • Realized my call to ministry
  • Made lifelong friends
  • Took up photography
  • Traveled across the country with Scott
  • Received a vision to plant a church
  • Enrolled at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston
  • Nearly lost my mind the first semester
  • Worked out a lot and got into great shape (those were the days)
  • Spent a summer in Yosemite National Park
  • Fell in love with Breena
  • Asked Breena to marry me
  • Got mono
  • Married Breena
  • Impregnated Breena
  • Graduated from Gordon-Conwell with an M. Div and received an award for preaching excellence
  • Watched Cyrus come into the world
  • Failed at planting a church
  • Took a job at a megachurch and moved to Columbus
  • Impregnated Breena again
  • Watched Eisley come into the world
  • Quit my job
  • Accepted new position at same church
  • Impregnated Breena a third time
All that in ten years. It was a decade of becoming, and I'm grateful to God for his faithfulness to me. I look forward to the next ten years with hope and expectation.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What I Didn't Realize

Tonight, as I was driving home from work, it occurred to me that I've been at working at my present church longer than I was at Unbound. 

Mind. Blown.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Repenting [or, What Does it Mean that Jesus is King Amidst Financial Ruin?]

Last Thursday we were driving from Columbus to Toledo and I was considering what it meant that Jesus is King of all creation. Mind you, not that he is becoming King, or will be King when he comes back, but that he is King right now. For two and a half hours the sun seemed to remain fixed in the glorious golden position of early evening. Hues didn't change, but remained rich shades of gold and blue. Clouds were still. Shadows were long, yet translucent. Creation itself cried out, "He is risen! And he reigns!"

I considered what it meant that Jesus is King amidst the financial meltdown. Jesus is King, and our entire financial system is built on buying, selling, and betting on debt. Jesus is King, but our house is built on sand. What does this mean? How do you read this?

Some would say, "We ought to ask what Jesus would do if he were in charge of the markets." But he is King! So that question doesn't make any sense whatsoever. The real question is, "What is he going to do now that the markets are in ruins?" And, "How is he going to do this?" And, "Whom will he entrust with the task?"

The common human answer to solving large-scale problems (and even small-scale problems) is centralization and control. We tend to reduce decision-makers, centralize authority and power in one individual (or a small group of individuals), and try to bring everything under the control of a singular power structure. Exhibit A: The firing of GM's CEO by the President of the United States.

But there already is a singular authority, and his name is Jesus the King. (Not my King, or our King, or could-be-your King, but the King.) And yet, from what I understand about Jesus (which is very limited), he doesn't seem to care much for centralization or control. He pushes things back out to us. He entrusts us with the problems of the world. And not just to a select few, but to many of us--even to those who have not sworn their allegiance to him. 

But those who have sworn allegiance to Jesus have a special, mutually-acknowledged, relationship with him. It is as though we are the brothers and sisters of the King. In fact, this is precisely what the Bible says we are--sons of the living God (and because we are sons, we are also full heirs, which is true for both men and women), even as Jesus is the full and true Son of God.

So then, my question is for the Church. If Jesus is King (which he is), then what is your response (as confessors-of-allegiance to him) to the financial crisis? This financial house-of-cards has been built on greed and debt-dealing. What say you, Church? What say you, Evangelicals? Are you innocent? Have you pointed the way toward freedom and financial wholeness? Has yours been the voice that has spoken truth to the powerful forces of corrupted capitalism, greedy profiteers, and debt-dealers?

Woe is me, for I am a man with a maxed-out credit card, living among a people with maxed-out credit cards. I have bet on the future and lost. I have purchased non-essentials with money I don't have. I have dined in the lap of luxury while claiming poverty. I have eaten and drank, only to wake up the next day to find myself still breathing, and repeat the revelry again and again. I have paid money for that which does not satisfy, pressed down the guilt, and filled the emptiness with more spending. I have done this. The financial crisis is my fault. I am to blame.

I should have joyfully pointed the way for others. But I cannot. I should have stood up, with the moral authority of a life-well-lived, and said "Enough!" But I did not, and I cannot. I have not given full allegiance to Jesus the King. I have held from him Money. I have given my allegiance to Credit (a god some might call Mammon). I have withheld from myself no good thing, to my own moral and financial poverty. God forgive me. This crisis is on my hands.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

She Moves

I can't sleep tonight. At least not yet. I came downstairs to connect with God. Opening my mouth to pray, all I could say was, "Jesus, I want to be near you." I say it again and again, but oh how the mind wanders. Thinking of work. Always work. Even when I open the Scriptures it's to a portion I must read for work. My job has become my relationship with God.

So I write. I write my prayers because in speaking them I am so easily distracted. And tonight I pray for Ember, the unborn church.

The image that comes to my mind whenever I think about Ember now is of a man (probably me), yellow-checkered shirt and ratty blue jeans, walking down a street lined with old homes. I know the neighborhood. It's Clintonville, just north of campus. But the image is far different than the one I used to have. The old image was also of a man (certainly me), but that man was preaching to a congregation of thousands. Illuminated by stage lights. Supported by rock and roll. Leading a mass movement with all humility and character, or so I hoped. Now it's a man walking.

The funny thing is, my ecclesiology hasn't changed all that much. What I think the church ought to be doing today is pretty much the same thing I thought the church ought to be doing five years ago. It's me who's changing. I don't want to be Rob Bell anymore. (Sorry, Rob, nothing personal.) I don't want to have a big church anymore. I don't want to be the next evangelical rock star preacher. I don't want to start a movement, I just want to move.

I want to go somewhere with people. I want to be a part of a community that honors God with their lips and their hearts and their deeds. I want to take the wealthy, introduce them to the poor, and speak the words of Christ to each. I want to be a part of a community where political liberals and conservatives can break bread together. I want to see young people listening to old people, and old people listening to young people. I want to be in a church where Jesus makes himself known to those who think they already know everything about him.

And yet it all seems so "yeah right." It all seems so impossible. This isn't the sort of thing that I know how to make happen. And even if I did, I wouldn't want to. I don't want this to be about me. I want this to be about God and I want this to be about us and I want this to be about a world in need of both Jesus and the Church.

So, God. It's up to you. Too much has to happen that is beyond my control. I will walk, but you must lead. You must clear the path through the jungle. You must blaze the trail through the wilderness. You step, I step. Please, let's move.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Cyrus Learns How to Rock Even Harder!!!

This past weekend we were in Toledo visiting Grace Church, and Cyrus wanted to play the drums after the service. He drew quite a crowd. Here are two 35 second video clips.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

She Lives

One of the ways that we get the Church most wrong is in the pronouns. The Church is not it. The Church is She. 

We all know that the Church (or, if you like, local church) is not the building. But there are plenty of other things that the Church is not. The Church is not an organization. The Church is not an institution. The Church is not a machine. Neither is the Church a corporation, a club, a society, a party, a lobby/pressure group, or (most of all) a business. The Church is none of these, because the Church is not it. The Church is She.

The Church is an organism. The Church is a cosmic being. She is the Bride of Christ. She is the Body of Christ. She is alive, and She never dies. All Christians who have ever lived, including those who have died, still have a voice in the Church. The saints of ages past still speak because, though She is wounded, yet She lives.

Your church, my church, the local bodies of Christ to which we belong, are microorganisms. They are microcosms. Pictures of the whole. They are she, the sum of them being She, and they are alive. Your church is a living organism. Your church is not an organization.

The implications of this are manifold. Most importantly, She is loved. Christ loves His Bride. Like all brides, the love of Her Lover gives Her life. His love breathes life into Her soul. The Church smiles and laughs when She thinks of how Her Lover loves Her. The Church weeps when She thinks of how She has abandoned Her Lover, and how He has pursued Her and restored Her. She lives. She moves. She has Her being in the One who loved Her so deeply that He died to give Her birth.

We murder the Church when we dehumanize Her. We murder Her when we call Her 'Organization' and 'Institution.' These are dead things. Inanimate. They speak only the words of the men who run them. But She speaks the words of life, because She has been given them--to keep and to guard. To speak light into darkness. To speak life into death. To speak truth to power. To speak 'No!' and 'Stop!' to evil. To shout, 'In the name of Jesus, not here, not now, not ever!' 

We murder the Church when we apply to Her the principles of Corporate America. We press a dagger through Her heart when we demand of Her productivity and efficiency. We send Her to the mines, we enslave Her, when we retrofit Her with the greased wheels of successful business practices. The Church, after all, does not produce. She begets.

She is alive. He is alive. He calls to Her. Does She answer? Does She hear? Who has torn out Her ears? Who has clipped Her tongue? Why are You silent, O Beloved? Why are You still? Don't You know that You are not It? You are She.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Regarding Tonight's Posts

I've been posting a lot of stuff tonight about Ember Church. That's the church that I felt called to plant for three years and the project that fell apart in three months. If you're interested and want to make sense of it, you should probably start here and work your way up.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Call It Ember?

This is an explanation of the name 'ember.'

What does Ember mean? Why are you calling your church that? Sometimes the only answer I’ve been able to give to these questions is that Ember just sounds cool. No other church is named Ember. It sounds more like a club than a place of worship. And yes, that appeals to me. But there really is a meaning behind the name.
Most forest fires are started by small embers. I heard that somewhere, but I don’t remember if the source was reliable. I thought it was the perfect metaphor to describe a church. We’re just a bunch of little embers, and if the Holy Spirit passes over us, this whole nation could be set on fire for God. It’s revivalistic.
But as I thought more about what an ember is, I realized that it doesn’t just start fires, it’s the last part of the fire to go out. It burns the longest. When the campfire dies, you’ve still got to put out the embers. An ember is the remnant. When the fire dies the embers still burn, waiting to start another fire.
Our church bears this name because we believe that God has called us to be embers. We live in a post-Fourth Great Awakening, post-evangelical, post-Christian society. In other words, the fire has died. Our world is post-burn, and only God knows if it’s ready for another blaze. So maybe it’s not our job to set the world on fire for Jesus, but just to be ready for the possibility. It would be a tragedy if the Spirit blew across our city but there were no burning embers to spread the fire.
Enough with the metaphor. This is what it means to be an ember: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. People who are on fire for God love Him and love others. We love the Father. We love the Son. We love the Holy Spirit. We love the people we come across everyday.
An ember is what remains. We are the post-fire remnant that refuses to let it’s love for God and others be extinguished. We will not fizzle and fade into darkness. We will shine with the light and heat of our love for God and others. And bear this in mind: The fire of God’s love for us is far more than embers; it is a blazing inferno that will never be snuffed out. So may we, as mere embers, burn with love for God and others, and wait for the Spirit to pass over us.

Mission and Vision Statements

Here is our mission statement.

We exist as a church in order to love God, serve others, disciple one another, share the gospel with unbelievers, unite the churches, and care for God’s creation. At the moment these principles cease to be our way of life, our mission has failed and the ember has faded.

And here is our vision statement, in a more conventional format.

We burn for a place where outsiders are insiders, where nobodies are somebodies, where the rejected are accepted, where the lonely find friends, and where the downtrodden find allies.

We burn for a community of regular people who love God and each other in a way that costs them something. The love of the Christian community is agape love—love that is self-sacrificing.

We burn for the churches of Toledo to work together in unity, and for the leaders of those churches to be reconciled to one another through the forgiveness we have all received at the cross.

We burn for people to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and have their eternal destinies changed by the forgiveness of their sins.

We burn for followers of Jesus to grow in maturity and character, so that the fruits of the Holy Spirit characterize their lives.

We burn for God. Our lives are an exercise in passionate worship of our Creator, always calling to mind the wonderful things He has done for us, consummated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We burn to raise up leaders and help them find what makes them come alive, so that they will be well-equipped for ministry.

We burn for all Christians to live together in unity and self-sacrificing love, so that God’s people might influence the world and not be influenced by it.

We burn for the neglected subcultures of Toledo. We have a heart to reach out to the groups of people who are often overlooked, including skaters, artists, and gamers.

We burn for a place where the hurting and burdened can find biblical counseling; where battered women and children can find shelter; where the hungry and poor can find food and clothing; where anyone can find time alone with God; where the community can gather in a coffee shop environment that gives local artists a place to be seen.

We burn to link arms with other local churches and ministries to provide that place.

We burn for a vocational camp that teaches kids practical skills they can use in the workforce.

We burn for a retreat center where leaders can be reenergized for the ministry.

We burn for God’s creation. Mankind is the steward of this planet, and we want to see our parks and rivers clean.

Vision Statement as a Visitor’s Journal Entry

Okay, so this is the vision statement for Ember as represented by a fictional personal's journal entry about their experience at the church.

I went to church this morning. It had been a while since I’ve been to church, but I kept hearing about this church called Ember, so I decided to check it out. What a weird name for a church!
I hate going to church by myself, so I took my roommate with me. We didn’t know what time the service started, so we were like 15 minutes early. I was nervous going in to the lobby, but the people at the door were really friendly. They told us we were early and said we could hang out down the hall where they had free coffee. Score! It turns out they had this coffee-shop like place there—kind of like Starbucks, but without trying so hard to be cool. There were already a bunch of people hanging out there, and I was a little intimidated, but a couple guys came up and started talking to us right away. They seem pretty cool. On Thursday they’re going to go clean up a playground in some neighborhood downtown. They invited us to go. I think I might.
We met a bunch of interesting people before the service. Everybody seemed pretty nice. They paid attention to me when I talked, and even introduced me to other people as “a cool guy.” Nobody has ever called me cool before. These people are too nice. And everyone tried to get me to go with them on some service project. I don’t know what their deal is, but it’s kind of refreshing.
When the service started the playground guys invited us to sit with them. The band played a couple of songs in the beginning. They sounded amazing, but it was weird, because it was like it didn’t even matter. Nobody was really paying attention to the music or looking at the band. Everyone had their eyes closed and was singing really loudly—especially the playground guys, who both sang horribly and didn’t seem to care who heard them. It was like nobody was trying to be heard by anyone except for God. The words of the songs meant something to them, like those lyrics were the words in their hearts that they wanted to say to God anyway.
After the first couple of songs they played a video. I’ve never heard of a church doing this before, but they played a video that highlighted another church in the city! They interviewed some people that go there and the pastor, and then one of Ember’s pastors came on and talked about what a great place that other church was. After the video the same pastor got up and prayed for that church. My roommate and I just stared at each other. “I’ve never seen that before,” he said to me.
The sermon was really good. After a while I had to start taking notes because that preacher was speaking directly to me. I haven’t had that experience in a while—where God just starts talking to me through a preacher—but that’s what happened this morning. The preacher got choked up when he started talking about the cross, and one of the playground guys started crying pretty hard. The other one just started praying for him. A couple other people came over and prayed for him, too. That almost made me cry! I think the sermon hit my roommate pretty hard, because he hasn’t said much since this morning.
After the sermon the band came back up and played five or six songs. I think they played some songs they didn’t expect to play, because the last two didn’t have the words projected. Anyway, the worship time was really moving. I even got choked up during one song, but I didn’t let the playground guy see because I didn’t want him to feel like he had to pray for me. The whole congregation was really into the worship. Everybody sang loudly and didn’t seem to care if other people thought they looked or sounded stupid. It was like God was there, and this was their one chance to worship Him together.
After the service my roommate went and talked to the pastor. I just hung back by myself—the playground guys had to go, I think to pray for people or something—but still I met a bunch of people. Everybody seemed to be genuinely glad that I was there. I got invited to like four different Bible studies this week. I might go to one, but I’ll definitely be back to Ember next Sunday.

Ember Core Values

These are the core values we came up with for Ember. I wish I valued them as highly now as I did then.

One We value the unity of the community of believers. Unity is too often sacrificed in churches, but it is far too valuable to be laid on the altar for the sake of knowledge, disagreement, ego or sin. Just as a severed body cannot survive, neither can the church full of factions and cliques minister to an increasingly cynical culture. We proclaim that the unity of believers must extend beyond the walls of individual churches and encompass all the churches in a particular region. Further still, the unity of Christ’s followers must extend beyond all space and time, till we are all gathered together with the Lord Jesus Christ, presenting ourselves to Him as His Bride. We are one Church, one Bride, one People of God. (Acts 2:44; John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:3-13; 1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 15:5; Phil. 2:1-4; Ps. 133:1)

Tree We value the growth of the individual believer. Every Christian should be firmly rooted in the truth of Scripture, taught by the pastors of the church and through his or her own personal time with God, so that he or she might grow up to maturity in Christ. Furthermore, every Christian should bear the fruit of the Spirit, that is, they should be evident in the life of the believer. We value character, integrity and Christlikeness. (Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:14; James 1:4; Heb. 6:1; Gal. 5:22-23; John 15:2-4; Matt. 3:10)

Burn We value the passionate worship of our Creator and Savior. We value life lived from the heart for the glory of God. We affirm the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” God is worth being passionate about. Jesus is worth getting excited about. Boredom, mumbling, half-heartedness and apathy have no place in the Christian community. (The Book of Psalms; Matt. 22:37; Amos 6:1; Zeph 1:12; John 4:23-24; I Cor. 13)

Bleed We value the blood of Jesus, which He shed out of love for the forgiveness of sins. Self-sacrificing (agape) love for God and others is the defining characteristic of the Christian community. Jesus sacrificed His life for the world. Everyone needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the message of His forgiveness. Our hearts bleed for this world and those who don’t know Christ as their Savior. Furthermore, we value compassionate, humble servitude that comes from a heart full of agape love. (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Matt. 4:17; I John 1:9; Acts 3:19; Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 7:6; Gal. 5:13; I Cor. 13)

Remembering Ember

It's late and I've just finished reading the introduction to 'Walking with God' by John Eldredge. I'm remembering a time when I used to hear God's voice. I remember when I used to talk to him, and when he talked to me. I remember when he told me to plant a church, and I remember when it all fell apart.

I don't talk or think much about Ember Church anymore. I've not really dealt with it. But God keeps bringing it back to my mind and heart these days, and I think he thinks it's time for me to deal with it.

I was reading through some of our old stuff--vision statement, values, mission, etc. God meant more to me then than he does now. What else can I say, really? I'm going to post some of our stuff here tonight. Maybe God will speak to all of us...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Little Boys and Jackie Chan Movies

Just in case you've ever wondered what happens when a two-year-old boy watches a Jackie Chan movie, watch this.

This went on for about a half hour, then he peed on the couch. I love being a dad!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Rant

The following is a rant that pertains to Christians, particularly Evangelicals.

Can we please stop apologizing for every sin (real or perceived), every instance of hypocrisy (real or perceived), every failure to do good (real or perceived), every overlooked cause (real or perceived), every missed opportunity (real or perceived), every public relations nightmare (real or perceived), and every screw up (real or perceived) that any Christian may or may not have committed? We will never, never, never, never placate the cynics and skeptics by falling over ourselves apologizing for every wrong thing any Christian has ever done. That list is far too long and countless acts are added to it daily. Let God be the Judge of that, not the cynics and skeptics. Don't enable their hypocrisy (i.e., "Judge not lest ye be judged you bastard!") by apologizing for things you never did. It's time to grow some backbone. 

And for anyone who refers to the Church as a "whore" (I'm looking at you, Shane Claiborne), shut your filthy mouth. If you called my wife a whore I'd beat you senseless. Who do you think you are calling the wife of the Savior a whore? 

And for all of you progressive Evangelicals who think social justice and mercy ministry started with you (I'm looking at you, Emergent), hire a fact-checker. Or at least read a history book. Christians have been on the frontline of the justice/mercy movement for the past 2000 years, so don't act like you're the first ones that ever gave a damn about the poor.

I'm tired of all the potshots the Church has been taking. Yeah, it's an easy target, especially when you don't have your facts straight and are basing your prejudice on a strawman. Stop letting cynics and skeptics tell you what it means to be a Christian. Stop listening to Church-haters tell you why you should hate the Church. Don't let somebody rewrite 2000 years of history because it's socially convenient for their progressive movement. Grow a backbone.

This concludes my rant. Wow, that felt good.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This post was unfiltered. This is me ranting against things that I myself do, and have lately had difficult second-thoughts about. It's sort of like an abbreviated, angry Ecclesiastes. To anyone that I may offend with this post, please understand that I often find myself in this same boat. The boat, however, is leaky, and ought to be abandoned.