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The Mysterious Impact of Worship

Photo Credit: Monica Liu, Creative Commons

What is it with Christians and music?

In ordinary American life, there are very few places other than church where we sing songs with a large group of friends and strangers.

Psalm 96 begins:

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
he is to be feared above all gods.

This Psalm is a song about singing. It exhorts us to tell the story of God and his salvation in song. It’s a fascinating Psalm to me because it talks about singing about God’s work among the nations and all the peoples—it’s about singing our way out into the world so that the world will know God.

Does singing have a specific power? Or is this just poetic language?

Consider this: when God brings his people out of Egypt into the promised land to defeat Jericho, he has them circle the walls and sing until the walls fall down. That is when they are finally able to fully enter the land God had promised. Similarly, we see that singing is important in the story of Paul and Silas. In the midst of their suffering in prison, they sing to God and it has a clear impact on the situation and on those around them.

Maybe there is something about singing about the glory of God, singing our way into the nations and singing that others might know God that’s actually mysteriously and mystically powerful.

If music is truly important, then it’s worth pausing to reflect and think more deeply about it. In fact, when we study music we find that it is more complex, purposeful and nuanced that we may have originally thought.

Here is a brief list of different types of music that play various roles in our lives and the life of the church.

Comfort Music starts when we’re young. Before we even know what music is, our mothers sing lullabies to help us sleep. It’s not just about the message, but the soothing quality of the musical tones. As we grow older certain songs and sounds take on a special quality as we experience them in different times in our lives. After those experiences the songs stay with us and offer comfort for the rest of our lives.

Unity Music is music that identifies a group. It’s the national anthem, a school or university fight song, or other song that allows people to unite under one symbolic piece of music. We see this with soldiers, as well, who sing as they go through their many exercises. The music unites them and carries them along.

Protest Music has played a role in many freedom and activist movements. Think about the Vietnam protests or the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Most freedom movements through history have songs that accompanied them and that simultaneously played a role in helping unify those standing together in righteous protest.

Educational Music helps us remember things. Isn’t it amazing how learning history put to song helps us remember long lists of facts? Hymns were also written as educational pieces of music to help us learn deep, theological truths, the stories of God and salvation. Many were written coming out of the reformation for a largely illiterate class of Christians who weren’t able to read the Bible on their own. The reformers had a high view of the mind, and wanted to make sure that when Christians were singing, that they and we were saturating their minds with theological truth that carried into their daily lives.

Experiential Music is a more modern form of music. For example, consider modern praise songs contrasted to hymns. They don’t talk as deeply about theology, but are more about saying, God, I want to know you. The Psalms are replete with songs directed to God in a very personal manner. Depending on your personality and upbringing, you may prefer traditional Christian hymns or more experiential praise songs. Neither is wrong; they are different forms of music that we can engage and enjoy.

Celebration Music might be the most fun. In Exodus 15 we read the story of how God leads the people across the Red Sea. Now that they can fully experience their freedom, song breaks forth in the song of Moses & Miriam. All throughout Scripture there are times when God delivers his people, and the natural, fitting end to that is for them to sing praises to the God who has intervened on their behalf. As C.S. Lewis said, “We delight to praise that which we enjoy.” The praise is not different than the enjoyment; it’s actually the consummation of the enjoyment. The singing isn’t a separate act; it’s both the outgrowth of and expression of our joy.

Music of Lament is easily overlooked. We have a whole book of the Bible on this in Lamentations. These songs give a new tone to life and our experience. Often we can’t fully grapple with the suffering, loneliness and brokenness of the world unless there is this music of lament that helps us feel and process our pain. The Blues is a whole music genre that, among other things, grew out of and gave voice to shared suffering, existential loneliness and despair.

Remembrance Music is also important to our faith. Psalm 121, a Psalm of Ascent begins, “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” This psalm would have been used when a family was on their way to Jerusalem for a remembrance festival. The journey was an upward journey that offered a view of the hills where the Ark of the Covenant had recently returned. These Psalms help us remember the role God has played in delivering us and when we look at our own problems today, we are reminded that God will have to play a role in delivering us, as well.

So what is it with Christians and singing?

When we examine it, we see there is a reason for it and there is great depth to it. Once we know this we’re confronted with the choice of entering into the music—or not. Watching people sing karaoke has taught me something: singing is ultimately a choice. It’s not usually about the song or the singer; it’s about the choice of entering into an experience with others.

Entering into music is a choice. Entering into worshipping God with the body of Christ has a great history, gravitas and impact—and it’s our choice whether or not to fully participate.

May we choose to celebrate, remember and pursue God through the corporate discipline of Christian praise and worship.

Love Your Way Out


Photo Credit:
Anton Bielousov, Creative Commons

I love history. I really love studying the Civil War. And, even though it’s not quite as intruiging to me as the Civil War, I love studying WWII.

One of the most fascinating parts of WWII to study is the Allied invasion of Europe. Most people are familiar with the heroic landings now known as D-Day, but most people don’t realize that it took weeks to break out of that part of France and really start making progress toward Germany. The Allied troops were barely able to move hundreds of yards a day after the D-Day landings because of the natural terrain and hedgerows on the south western coastal region of France. Once the Allied troops under General Patton broke through the German ranks, however, the daily progress became measured in dozens of miles rather than yards. The gas often couldn’t keep up with the progress of the tanks.

So why do I bring all that up? Well, it’s kind of the picture I have in my mind of the funk we sometimes get into in life. We get bottled up… pinned down… and pressed against. It seems like we can’t quite make any progress and we usually get pretty depressed and beat down. It’s in these times that I’ve learned the same lesson again and again. The lesson is this: Love is the General Patton of our life campaign. Love is the thing that busts us out of ruts. Love is what lifts us up and gets us moving forward again.

Now I know what you’re saying… “That’s pretty profound Ken… how hard is it to throw a love bumper sticker over such a deep and nuanced issue and proclaim the problem solved?”

So here is where I need to make my distinction. It’s not the subject of love or love emotions that I’m talking about. Rather, its the practice of love — the reckless abandon of helping others when you yourself need help. It is in the paradoxical decision to take ones eyes off of our own situation and commit much needed energy, time, money or resources to others that we see the magic of “busting out” of a funk by “loving your way out.”

Somehow, God designed it so that the act of love would break negative inertia. And, somehow, God designed it so that the act of love would allow us to move forward in life again.

So, it’s WWII, General Patton and the challenge is to do the opposite of what you feel like when you’re depressed — jump out in love rather than hunkering down and demanding it.

Start now… who can you call, e-mail, visit or bring a gift to? Why not love your way out beginning tonight?

How To Build Sustaining Friendships: Jump Into Black Holes


Photo Credit NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Ed Underwood
[This post is Part 5 of a 5 Part series, Sustaining Friendships]

Years ago, before I started thinking about the difference between a sustaining relationship and mere acquaintances, a man I thought was my friend walked out of my life. He was an invaluable member of a church team I was leading. I began to notice that he was becoming more and more chippy. I wanted to help him work more effectively with the other leaders and grow with us. We spent dozens of long, hard hours talking with him about his unhappiness, trying to resolve conflicts, and give him a vision for what Christ was doing through him in our community. But after only a few minutes all conversations came back to the ways we had failed him and what we should do about it to make things right. Don’t get me wrong, we had made many mistakes and he had some good points, but I realized this strategy was a dead end. So I changed the direction of the process.

“Friend,” I said, “there’s no doubt we all have some sin in this equation. You tell me what you’d like us to own, and then we’ll tell you how we feel you could work on trying to resolve this.” I took notes for almost 20 minutes as he checked off the reasons he was unhappy. Then, when I told him that I only wanted him to consider one problem I felt the Holy Spirit was identifying in his own life, he frowned a little and said, “I’m listening.” I was blunt: “You need to treat people better, beginning with your wife.” Before I had a chance to explain he stood, told us he didn’t need this, and stormed out of the room.

I was devastated. Judy and I asked a Christian therapist friend what just happened, and I’ll never forget her answer: “Ed, you forced this man to look into a black hole that terrifies him. You were asking him to jump into that black hole of what he intuitively knows is wrong with his marriage. But the most important part of it is that you offered to take his hand and jump in there with him. Now that’s friendship!”

I’ve learned in the decades since then that this general principle applies to sustaining relationships: True friends jump into the black hole of one another’s messy lives together. Could it be that the deep relationships you long for are already there, but you refused to jump? Could it be that what you labeled as nosiness or lack of understanding was really your opportunity to enter into a friendship that God was asking you to embrace?

Sustaining relationships do not declare the black holes of pathologies, addictions, hiddenness, and secrets off limits. For those few precious friendships God will use to protect us from ourselves and guide us toward His best there can be no “I don’t need this right now” fences. When will you know someone is offering their hand to jump into your black holes?

Here are a few lies your self-protective and isolating flesh will scream at the threshold of your black hole:

  • “That’s none of your business!” For many people, you’re right. It’s none of their business. But if you want to have sustaining relationships, you are going to have to let them make you–all of you–their business.
  • “Hey, you have problems too!” Sustaining relationships aren’t preoccupied with who’s most right or the least messed up. The goal of this type of friendship isn’t winning but healing.
  • “Where did that come from?” This is a sustaining relationship killer. It ascribes motive as it tries to run. Where did that come from? It came from a friend who loves you enough to tell you what other won’t.

A sustaining relationship is that “look-into-the-black-hole-of-your-life-take-my-hand-and-I’ll-jump-with-you” type of friendship. These are the friends who have the courage to wade through the muck of your life with you.

That’s the fourth characteristic you want to look for in a sustaining relationship–invitations to the black holes of life. But before you go looking, be that type of friend.

Questions: What am I missing? Does the ”look-into-the-black-hole-of-your-life-take-my-hand-and-I’ll-jump-with-you” characteristic of a sustaining friendship make sense to you?

What Would Jesus Draw?

Guest Post by Ben Larson

City Dionysus

Imagine an event so important, so universal that everyone in your city took a week off from work to attend. Everyone you know is either sitting in the stands with you, working backstage behind the scenes, or will be on the stage performing.

The City Dionysus was a religious festival that took place once a year in ancient Athens. The center of activity for the festival was the Odeon of Pericles, a 13,000 square foot amphitheatre near the southeastern corner of the Acropolis. Every year, the entire city spent a week producing, competing, performing, and watching plays at what we now view as the dawn of Western drama and theater.

There is no modern corollary for us. Imagine if we celebrated the Super Bowl the same way: all the stores were closed, and everyone in your town was at the stadium, playing, serving, or cheering their team on. For a week.

Contrast that with the way we think of theater and movies in our context. They’re something we go to for a date or diversion. If something more interesting comes up, we give our tickets away. If it’s a movie we don’t like, we walk out. If we get bored, we change the channel.

We aren’t directly connected to the artists, the creators, or the people in the audience with us, and the act of going to the movies isn’t a deeply religious part of our culture or lives. And maybe that’s a good thing?

But my point is this: for us, art is not something deeply connected to our daily lives. It’s a product we purchase and consume. It’s an accessory we use to enhance ordinary life. It’s this weird thing artists do that other people (sometimes) pay them for. It’s not something that is profoundly woven into everyone’s daily lives (or maybe that’s just our perception…but more on that later). And I think that’s why we have a hard time seeing it as connected to our faith.

The way I see it, there are three major ways that art can restore faith. Art can memorialize our faith and help us to remember it; art can be used to expound on truth and help us sharpen and define our faith; and – for artists especially – art itself can be an act of faith.

Faith in Memoriam

Faith is a combination of trust and obedience. Trust in the goodness of God, trust that following Christ is actually the best way for us to live, and obedience in actually following Him. But what about when we’re uncertain, suffering, doubting, and hurting? In Joshua 4, God instructs the Israelites to build a memorial out of twelve stones to serve as a reminder of His provision for them.

Art was used to memorialize the Israelites’ act of faith (crossing the Jordan) and God’s presence and provision. It can work the same way for us. What is the song you turn to when you’re hurting? What’s your ‘comfort food’ movie? What’s the picture on your desktop that transports you back into a dear memory?

We can’t always be certain about what’s going on in our lives or what God is asking of us, but in our moments of uncertainty, art can center us and remind us that hope, joy, love, and goodness still exist. Art can memorialize a moment where faith was rewarded, remind us of why our faith matters, or give us a sense that God is still there, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

The Spiritual Language

Art is also a powerful method of communicating truth, thereby shaping our faith. The Peanuts comic below was created by Charles M. Schulz, a Christian artist who spent nearly 50 years drawing the famous comic strip that most people recognize as the most influential work in the genre. He was a genius at using sarcasm, humor, and cartoons to express powerful ideas very simply.

We don’t need an explanation for the Peanuts cartoon. We don’t need someone to define and make distinctions between apathy, love, and compassion to understand what Schulz is saying. The message is clear, inarguable, and convicting.

Art is a universally human language that shortcuts past our words, pre-conceived ideas, and biases to confront us directly. I’ve heard my friends describe art as a language of the emotions, but I think that’s an incomplete definition. While the piece above does resonate at an emotional level, it’s also communicating something highly intellectual. Art is a spiritual language that can simultaneously communicate feeling, truth, and ideas.

Which is what makes it so mysterious. And cool.

Art = Faith?

Art can also be part of our walk of faith. In our Idol-saturated culture, artists often see pursuing art as a career choice, rather than a spiritual calling. Sometimes artists only see art as a gift God has given us to express our feelings, communicate our thoughts, and make a living. But that’s an anemic, self-centered way of seeing art.

God gives doctors the gift of healing primarily so they will heal others. The process of diagnosing, operating, prescribing, and healing may bring great personal satisfaction to a good doctor, but no one would say that the highest purpose of her gifts were for her personal expression or satisfaction.

God gives gifts because He intends His people to use them for the kingdom. We see this very clearly in both the New and Old Testaments:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” – I Peter 4:10 – 11

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” – Romans 12:6 – 8

“[Moses said,] Let every skillful craftsman among you come and make all that the Lord has commanded; And every skillful woman spun with her hands, and they all brought what they had spun in blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen. All the women whose hearts stirred them to use their skill spun the goats’ hair.” – Exodus 35:10, 25 & 26

Artistic gifts are no exception. While of course God wants artists to experience joy while they create and communicate, His primary purpose in giving artistic gifts is for artists to use those gifts to enrich the lives of others.

We see this so clearly when someone with a normal voice becomes jealous of the gifted singer who always gets to sing solos. They shake their fist at God: “Why did You give that person those gifts instead of me?” The only way we could feel that way is if the real reason we desire gifts is to feed our own desires for fulfillment, satisfaction, and significance. The answer to the jealous question is pretty clear: because God wanted that person to use them.

What Would Jesus Draw?

If we have opinions about how we should use our gifts, we can bet that God does too. That brings up the big arts question: what does God want from Christian artists? Books upon books have been written on the subject. Some people believe that Christian art should be recognizably distinct from all other art. Others think the only purpose for a Christian to make art is to evangelize. And still others hate the very idea of Christian art or being labeled a Christian artist.

I suspect that – as usual – the truth lies somewhere in the middle of it all. But even if we can’t agree on the details of God’s plan for His artists, we can certainly agree that He does have opinions on what art we should make, how we should make it, and what it should be about.

One of my friends is an incredible wood sculptor, and when he became a Christian, he developed the habit of prayerfully approaching his art. For him, the artistic process is a way of listening to God and allowing God to lead him.

Giving up independence and control is difficult for any of us, and artists are no exception. We are steeped in a culture that tells us to be ourselves, do our thing, and find the way we’re special. But what if God is quietly calling us to something more humble, more others-focused, and more about Him than about us? To directly connecting our creating to our walk of faith? To following Him even in the way we make art?

For the Non-artist

The way we use art as non-artists is also important. Are we decorating our houses to show off our good taste, or to make our friends and family feel safe, welcome, and at home? Are we using movies and TV to create memories with our families and friends, or are we spending hours and hours alone bingeing on empty entertainment on Netflix?

Anytime we expose ourselves to art (whether we pay for it or not), we participate in it, for better or worse. Are we paying attention to the art we participate in and support? Are we watching movies and TV shows that are teaching us and challenging us, or are we simply reinforcing the consumerism and self-centeredness that our culture has taught us? Are we supporting our creative friends and local community of artists, or are we primarily driving the Hollywood machine and hanging prints of paintings by dead white guys?

The End

Whether we’re working artists, hobby artists, or simply art appreciators, we all participate in art all the time. We may not perceive a deep connection between art and our lives, but we are immersed in it constantly. Could we say “I like the English language, but it isn’t directly connected to my walk of faith”? Of course not! English is how I have learned and expressed every idea I have ever communicated, and it happens to be the language in which I read the Bible. We can’t divorce language from the shaping impact it has on our worldview.

My prayer is that we as we mature spiritually we are able to recognize and harness the powerful connection between art – this mysterious spiritual language – and our faith – our lifelong journey of obedience and trust.

How to Build Sustaining Friendships: Know Their Story

Photo Credit Abhi Sharma, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Ed Underwood
[This post is Part 4 of a 5 Part series, Sustaining Friendships]

It was a Monday morning and I wanted to quit. After the adreneline overload of a Sunday, I’m ready to quit just about every Monday. But this one was different. I was on my way to a religious assignment and I hate religious stuff, even if it’s evangojive religious stuff.

I called one of my best friends, Kevin Butcher, and left this message: “Pray for me, please. I’m on my way to this religious event, so you can guess how I’m feeling about that on a Monday morning. Just pray that maybe one molecule of my body and one nano-thought in my mind could be even a little like Jesus.”

The message went on for long time, but you don’t need to know and I probably shouldn’t blog my venting sentences.

What I want you to know about Kevin is that I feel safe with him because he knows my story better than anyone on earth besides my Judy. He knows it all–the wounds of my earlier life, the ways I’ve let people down, the ways I’ve hurt people, the people who have hurt me, my passions, delights and dreams, my regrets, secrets and fears.

How did he learn my story? He has loved me enough to become a student of Ed. He wants to know. He asks. He probes. God in heaven does he probe. He pushes back. He calls to check. He prays. He spends money on plane tickets so a few of us can gather in the desert every year and talk about our lives. He cries with me when my life hurts and laughs with me when life is funny. He feels the pain of my failures and the joy of my victories.

He’s one of my sustaining friends.

Just like the first two qualities of a sustaining relationship, commitment and vulnerability, the best thing we can do to find the friend our heart longs for is to be that friend. If I want a sustaining relationship I have to become a student of my friend. Deep inside our heart is that need to be known, for someone to know our story and love us anyway. More that that, to love us in light of that story. Love that knows is a love to be trusted. Love that does’t know is a love that feels one disappointment away from abandonment.

Oh how I fear being known.

But oh how I long to be known and loved.

It’s the mystery of confession. When I get honest with God I’m not telling Him anything He does’t already know. Still, He wants me to know that He knows. Not so He can shame and guilt me toward doing what He wants me to do, but to convince me that His love can be trusted. “But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous, forgiving us our sins and cleansing us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Thank you God that this doesn’t say, “If we confess, He will throw up his hands and say, ‘What a worthless dirtbag!’”

Sustaining relationships call for intentional study–a lifetime of learning how to love one another toward our destiny in Christ. What should I be studying?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Study the rough edges of their defense mechanisms. As iron sharpens iron,” the Proverb says, “so a person sharpens his friend (27:17). During my years as a wildland firefighter I spent hours sharpening the tools we would use on the fireline. It was tedious, but there was nothing more useless than a dull shovel or pulaski. I need a friend who will grind down the me I present to the world to impress, and speak to the real me.
  • Study the tragic roots of the behaviors that push you away. The Bible says that we come out of the womb broken, but life breaks us more by pouring darkness into our souls. If someone looks into the darkness of our lives and runs, it just hurts more. But that friend who cares enough to look into the darkness not to judge but to understand why I do the things I do is a precious resource. All the relatives of a poor person hate him; how much more do his friends avoid him–he pursues them with word, but they do not respond (Proverbs 19:7). This is one of the saddest verses in the Bible. I always picture the little boy or girl in us that is poor in spirit because of wounds running desperately toward someone begging them to help them heal. I need that friend who knows my story so well that when I act out he will say, “That’s the wounded Ed talking. How do I love him past the wound?”

A sustaining friendship is that “I’m-so-onto-you-I’m-not-going-to-let-you-go-there-but-I-know-how-to-bless-you” type of friendship. These are the people who know your story so well that they can talk you down from the precipices of life—the edges you’re so prone to stumble over–anger, despair, isolation, medication. I want friends who know me so well and I know them so well that we’re to the point that we can anticipate the potholes of one another’s life.

That’s the third characteristic you want to look for in a sustaining relationship–intentional study. But before you go looking, be that type of friend.

Questions: What am I missing? Does the I’m-so-onto-you-I’m-not-going-to-let-you-go-there-but-I-know-how-to-bless-you characteristic of a sustaining friendship make sense to you?

Peter Greer on Mission Drift

Peter Greer joined HOPE in July 2004, following extensive education and experience in the field of microfinance. Peter received a B.S. in International Business from Messiah College, an M.P.P. with a concentration in Political and Economic Development from Harvard’s Kennedy School, and an honorary doctorate from Erskine College. Prior to his education at Harvard, Peter served as Managing Director for URWEGO Community Banking in Kigali, Rwanda, for three years. He also served as a technical advisor for Self-Help Development Foundation (CARE Zimbabwe) in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and worked as a microfinance advisor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Peter speaks and writes on the topic of faith and international development and is the coauthor of The Poor Will Be Glad, Spiritual Danger of Doing Good, The, and Mission Drift: The Unspoken Crisis Facing Leaders, Charities, and Churches.

KW: Can you share a story that contributed toward your desire to write on the topic of Mission Drift?

PG: On the top floor of a Houston high rise, I sat across from a senior executive of a global oil and gas corporation. He led the company’s charitable giving. The executive proposed an offer – We’ll provide significant funding. But since we’re a publicly traded company, we just need you to down your Christ-centered mission.

Cash-strapped, we desperately wanted to find a way of partnering. But this meeting prompted us to actively research Mission Drift and learn from others who have scaled, professionalized, and remained on mission.

While researching, we found that Mission Drift wasn’t just an issue facing HOPE. In a survey of hundreds of Christian leaders at the Q conference in Los Angeles in 2013, 95 percent said Mission Drift was a challenging issue to faith-based nonprofit organizations.

KW: What are some of the major warning signs of mission drift?

PG: Here are a few warning signs we discovered through our research:

  1. “It couldn’t happen to me.” No organizations—even those with “Christian” in their name or strong leaders—are exempt from the natural course of Mission Drift. Drift is the natural path for all organizations.
  2. Boards matter. Even one board member not enthusiastic about the whole mission can dramatically impact your organization’s direction. Yet, we often do not have systems in place to fully evaluate board members for full mission fit.
  3. Pain avoidance. Conflict reflects a healthy organization. The fastest way for Mission Drift to devastate a Christ-centered identity is to avoid making tough decisions.
  4. Celebrating only financial indicators. Monitoring financial metrics is critically important. But make sure you are measuring and celebrating your full mission—otherwise what’s not measured becomes irrelevant.
  5. Hiring. Your staff are the champions of your mission. And small compromises on staffing can lead to major organizational changes.
  6. Follow the money. Supporters shape your future: Are you receiving funding that may cause you to compromise your mission?
  7. Succession planning. Mission Drift often happens at the moment of leadership transition. Succession planning, promoting internally, and building staff capacity is crucial to staying Mission True. We were told that without careful attention, the passions of the first generation = preferences of the second generation = irrelevant to the third generation.
  8. Remember your story. Consistently we found that Mission True organizations were storytellers, communicating the vision of the founders each generation.
  9. Lack of clarity. Know why you exist. If you don’t, those inside and outside your organization won’t understand either.
  10. Prayer and dependence. Mission True organizations incorporate prayer as a key part of culture believing without God’s presence, we can do nothing. At 11:00 a.m. at International Justice Mission (IJM) the laptops close, the phones go silent. And the entire office—hundreds of employees—pray together.

KW: What is one of the biggest things you discovered in your research on Mission True and Mission Untrue organizations?

PG: In our research we discovered how similar organizations sounded at their founding, yet how different they look today. Consider the YMCA (now known as the Y) and InterVarsity: Founded within a few decades of each other in the 1800s, both started as Bible studies in England.

Today, the Y is a great fitness center. But with few exceptions, it no longer is living out its founder’s vision and purpose. In contrast, InterVarsity is still mentoring and discipling students.

There are other contrasting stories in many sectors such as Compassion International/ChildFund International and the Pew Charitable Trusts/The Crowell Trust, which we share in Mission Drift.

Why does one organization stay on mission while the other drifts to a place where it’s almost unrecognizable from its founding purpose? What we found is the cumulative impact of relatively small decisions.

KW: What are some key aspects of Mission True organizations?

PG: Two characteristics distinguish Mission True organizations:

  1. They have clarity regarding their mission—helping them to distinguish the method from the means. Consider Young Life, whose mission is to introduce Jesus to teenagers.  More than fifty years ago, they connected to students through barbershop quartets. That wouldn’t work today. Though their method may be different, their mission clarity allows them to adapt old practices (e.g., barbershop quartets) and still carry out their mission (sharing Christ with students).
  2. They are intentional to protect their mission at all costs. For example, InterVarsity has received the proverbial pink slip from several universities.“There are a lot of universities trying to derecognize us,” Alec Hill, president of InterVarsity USA, shared. “But we have a Lord we have to obey.”

Mission True organizations are willing to count the costs to live out their full God-given call, demonstrating uncommon courage and conviction.

KW: What is at stake for organizations when evaluating their mission and maintaining it?

PG: When evaluating our mission, our impact is on the line.

At the crux of the issue is this—Do we believe that the Christ-centered aspect of our mission matters?

If we don’t believe it matters, we won’t make the challenging decisions to protect and enhance it.

KW: Can you offer some encouragement and advice for those seeking to evaluate their organization along these lines?

PG: If you’re interested, here is a survey to help you practically evaluate your organization’s mission: Mission Drift Survey.

Also, several questions to ask yourself when evaluating your mission: Do we have consistency in messaging? Are we clear about our mission? Does our board discuss this topic regularly? Beyond having clarity in our mission, do we also intentionally apply it in daily practices?

Our highest hope for this book is that it would be a practical guide for leaders and boards to understand the prevalence of Mission Drift, and be equipped to make important decisions that will protect their core mission.

My Passover Identity


Photo Credit: Ellen Davis, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Justin Kron

My favorite holiday is Passover, and no other holiday has shaped me, or continues to do so, more than this one.

Passover first started molding me like a gefilte fish patty (Google it) while sitting around the dining room table in my grandparents home in Skokie, Illinois.  I would arrive with my mother and we would join other family members in what is known as the Seder—an interactive ceremony that leverages our taste buds to engage our minds (and hopefully our hearts) with the incredible story of the Israelite exodus 3500 years ago from the bondage and suffering of slavery in Mitzrayim (Egypt).  To help us reflect upon our ancestor’s story of deliverance at the hand of a Mighty God, my grandfather led us in reading through a story guide called the hagaddah (we used a free one published by Maxwell House until we eventually graduated to a more sophisticated one with pictures in it).

It was an epic story of bondage and redemption orchestrated by God that was accompanied by an epic meal with beef brisket and matzah ball soup that was orchestrated by my grandmother.

The Passover holiday took on a whole different level of epic in my life when I came to know Jesus as my Messiah and discovered that he also looked forward to Passover.  Jesus said to his disciples, I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).  Although I doubt it was because of the dinner menu.

In the New Testament, most bible translations take the liberty to subtitle the passage that Jesus and disciples shared the Passover together as The Last Supper.  While it was certainly the last meal they would share together before his crucifixion, it was far more than that.  It was an appointment with God, and this particular evening His Son was about to leverage the table to point to the suffering that he would go through to deliver depraved sinners like you and me.

The most important elements on the table were the unleavened bread and the cup of wine.  The bread was known by the name God had given it, the Bread of Affliction, and it is this bread that Jesus took, recited the HaMotzi blessing, broke, and said—This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.  The name of the cup that followed the meal is believed to have been known as the Cup of Redemption, which Jesus took, recited the Kiddush blessing, and said—This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 20:20).

Jesus…afflicted and poured out for me. Why? Because I was a slave to sin and that sin separated me from living the life God had intended for me.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all have our Mitzrayims that we’re enslaved to.  We all have our “Egypts.”  What’s yours?  Greed?  Anger?  Jealousy?  Bitterness?  The inability to control yourself?  God sent his Son—The Lamb of God—to pay the ransom to set us free from the penalty and the enslavement that our “Egypt’s” bring.

That is the story of Jesus’ Passover table that his followers are commanded to remember.

But there is more.

The other message Jesus taught at the table that evening is that he is equally as interested in enslaving and molding us into his way of life.  He asked a very good question of his disciples—Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? (Luke 22:27).

If your server at a restaurant ever asks you this question, be careful how you answer.

Jesus’ table is not just about remembering the freedom from the eternal consequences that our sin unleashes in our world, but it is an invitation to enter into the life of suffering that Jesus lived through service and sacrifice for others.

This is the story of the Passover table that we must graduate to. Jesus did not just provide a ticket to ride to the other side of Glory, but he invites us into suffering daily with him in his ongoing work of delivering our world from the bondage of sin that entangles and destroys.

Jesus said at the Passover table…You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom (Luke 22:29-30).

Every time we choose to serve and love others, we eat and drink at that table with him.  When we choose to be generous, and kind, and forgiving, and gracious, we dine at his table.  When we admit that we were wrong, or choose not to blast someone’s character in a social media post, or give someone a second chance, or sit at a table with other sinners like us, we feast at his table.

This is the Passover table that I’m learning to feast at.

A Crash Course: Australia, Refugees & the Politics of Jesus


Photo Credit: UNHCR

Guest Post by Jarrod McKenna

Here’s a crash course to understand what’s happening in Australia with refugees and the politics of Jesus.

Imagine for a moment that in the lead up to the next U.S. elections, a political party changed immigration policies and took the relatively small number of people seeking safety on boats from, let’s say Cuba, and locked these persecuted people up on Guantanamo like criminals. The elderly, men, women and over 1,000 children. You would expect outcry from people across the political spectrum. Indeed there was. Only the fear campaign was so effective, the blame game so seductive and the election win so decisive, that the majority of politicians on all sides sacrificed their principles on the altar of popularity. Not to mention these desperate people; tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free… these now homeless who were literally tempest-tossed on boats sacrificed on this bloody idol of false security. Of course behind closed doors, elected officials will confess to you, as a Christian, that they personally find it abhorrent but for the sake of the party, and all the good they could do when they get into power, they rationalise with the logic of Caiaphas and get the same results: the sacrifice of the innocent.

Sound too far-fetched? This is the recent history of Australia. Thanks Paul Dyson for the Cuba analogy. When I ask others for a metaphor for what Australia is doing my mate Sam Mclean simply said,

Detaining people indefinitely and without charge on a nearby troubled island state. Oh wait… [that’s not a metaphor].

It’s not a metaphor. That’s exactly what Australia is doing and recently an innocent young man, Reza Barati, was murdered and 77 injured in one of these indefinite concentration camps that have been condemned by Human Rights Watch, UNHCR, Amnesty International, Australian Medical Association, Australian Psychological Society and other expert groups. And that’s why we need to talk of the church.

Wait, isn’t that political? Yep. And that’s why we need to talk about the church as the ground zero for the practice of the politics of Jesus.

Church in the New Testament is unquestionably political. “Messiah”, “Lord”, “King” “Kingdom” “church” are all political terms. What do they mean? Here’s the cheat sheet for Christian theology: they all find their definition in Jesus. Look at his nonviolent-Calvary-shaped-life-of-love and you’ll find what these terms mean and how Jesus’ politics of love are different from the politics of all sides.

Messiah: A greater miracle than Jesus changing water into wine; Jesus changed the meaning of Messiah. Jesus changed the meaning of “messiah” from violent conqueror of his enemies into Suffering Servant, who loves, dies and raises from the dead for his enemies.

Lord: Maybe as miraculous as the raising of Lazarus, is the early churches use of the word “Lord”. The New Testament radically breaks with its cultural context that used the term Lord for Rome’s Caesar and used it for their risen nonviolent Messiah who was crucified on a Roman cross.

King: The violence of kings is rejected by the King of Kings. We worship a God who is coronated as the world’s true King with a crown of thorns on a cross. This side of the Resurrection we now see clearly that God reigns with Christ-like Calvary-shaped power, love.

Kingdom: As Bonhoeffer put it “a king who dies on the Cross must be the king of a rather strange kingdom.” A kingdom whose land is anywhere his love reigns, whose people are anyone who lives that love, whose polices are the empowering love of the Holy Spirit.

And church

The Hebrew term for church is qahal, meaning a public meeting of God’s people. But the Apostle Paul of course writes his letters in Greek and chooses a loaded term, ekklesia.

Ekklesia was the term used of political gatherings where male citizens of the ruling class would gather to take part in these early experiments in democracy and decide political matters. THIS(!) is the term Paul chooses to use of the church. But even more radical, this term in the New Testament refers not to a gathering of just elite male citizens of Rome (those by grace they too are welcome), but women and the poor, and former prostitutes, and outsiders, and slaves and free who are all bestowed with the same dignity and privilege of being the politics of Jesus together. Filled with the Spirit, the early ekklesia lived Christ’s Calvary-shaped love as a real political alternative.

You can’t follow Jesus without giving a damn about injustice.

But we can’t be an alternative to injustice without a people.

Grace takes others.

A people as problematic as we are, who are from places totally different than we are, who need the same grace we do, who can come alongside us as we help wean each other off addictions to civilised systems of sin and oppression and witness to the joyful alternative that Jesus calls “the Kingdom of God”. That my friends, is what God’s got in mind when he calls us to be part of the church, to be a continuation of Love’s incarnation, a sign of the world that’s on it’s way, a giant Jesus in the world.

So to end with a short testimony, the church in Australia is showing signs of being a Calvary-like-love political alternative when it comes to refugees.

Here are 7 examples from the last month of the church practicing the politics of grace, the politics of love, the politics of Jesus that have caused many to ask about the hope we have and re-imagine what our response to asylum seekers could be:

Lord, by your Holy Spirit, make us your church, a sign of the world you long for that we see revealed in your Son. Amen.

Why We Love to Hate Celebrity Pastors

It seems there is a lot of debate these days around so called “celebrity pastors.”

The other week I watched post after post and article after article discuss Mark Driscoll and by extension all celebrity pastors.

I found myself agreeing with one of my favorite theologians who posted that the idea of celebrity pastors was one of the greatest challenges to pastoring in America today.

As I’ve reflected, however, I think maybe the problem isn’t so much celebrity pastors, but a problem with ourselves: We love to hate in our pastors what we hate in ourselves.

If we’re pastors and less well known than a celebrity pastor, we love to level the playing field by attacking their celebrity status—even though we harbor envy in our hearts.

If we’re Christians not in ministry, we love to pull down celebrity pastors because we find their status alongside other cultural icons distasteful and our criticism becomes, in effect, our exercise of power over the powerful. Criticism flattens things out and makes us feel just as big or better than those who have been successful or garnered attention.

When my wife and I take the girls on hikes along the river trail I’ve noticed a subtle reality: none of my girls likes it or responds well when a sister passes her on the trail. So too in life, we want the best for everyone… as long as they don’t get ahead of us.

I once learned while serving on my first church elder board that there is an unwritten rule that people in churches want their pastors to receive generous salaries—provided that the generous salary is at or below their income level.

Now granted there is a lot about celebrity pastors I find distasteful as well—the mixed motives, the abuse many people face at the hands of the powerful, the lack of diversity that exists in the ranks of well known or well connected pastors, and simply the fear that growing influence will have a negative effect on his or her spirituality and tenderness before God and others.

Celebrity pastors are a complex thing, but wasn’t Jesus, after all, a celebrity?

Wasn’t the revered Charles Spurgeon in late 1800s London more lofty and well known than anything comparable today?

Weren’t Peter, James, John and eventually Paul extremely well known and have a sort of celebrity status?

Paul addressed the problem of celebrity leaders, and what he attacks is not the influential leader, but our reaction—as everyday Christians—to elevate the celebrities above their rightful place in our thinking.

As he writes in his first letter to the church at Corinth, “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” (1 Cor. 1:11-17)

Paul points us back to the bigness of God, which trumps the influence of any man or woman.

It seems, from Paul’s argument, that the issue with celebrity pastors has less to do with Mark Driscoll or anyone else and more to do with me and you. The issue seems to be whether we allow discussions or debates of well-known leaders to cloud our vision and obscure the majesty, glory and sovereignty of God in our lives and the life of the church.

Celebrity status, like power or money, is a neutral thing. What matters is how one became well known, what they are using their influence for and whether they—as challenging as it is—remain humble and in submission to God.

I’ve found myself ready on a number of occasions to write blog posts skewering celebrity pastors for things that irritated or infuriated me.

What I’m thinking now, however, is that I need to guard my own heart. I need to be aware of my own motives in why we love to hate celebrity pastors. And, recognizing the frailty, stress and responsibility those who are well known carry, maybe to pray and hope, as Paul hoped for himself, that they would run the race well and not be disqualified from the prize.

Why Morality Belongs in the Justice Conversation

“The temptation of this age is to look good without being good.”[1] Brennan Manning

Justice requires more than wanting to change the world, but being willing to change ourselves along with it.

The word “morality” seems to have fallen on hard times these days. It is often taken as synonymous with purity, seen as negative or outdated or pertaining to a certain subset of culture such as the Religious Right.

Morality, however, literally means:

of, pertaining to, or concerned with the principles or rules of right conduct or the distinction between right and wrong.

It is a broad and ethical category. In fact, the word “ethics” itself traces back to the classical period and simply refers to the study of morals.

Ethical systems throughout history have sought to define how to maximize pleasure and minimize pain for the greatest number of persons. They have sought to work these out within the discipline of philosophy referred to as Moral Philosophy.

There’s another term for the pursuit of the greatest pleasure and least pain for everyone: social justice. Ethics, morality, and moral philosophy are all ways of trying to work out what justice in society should look like and the civic or moral responsibility we all bear in bringing social justice to fruition.

Thus, right from the outset, justice and morality seem intrinsically linked.

Yet this is not how we treat the two in contemporary usage.

Whether its an overreaction to the use of moral language by the Moral Majority and the Religious Right in the 80s and 90s, or whether it’s a modern phenomena of wanting to fight for justice at a distance without recognizing our own moral responsibility, we have uncoupled the two concepts and even tend to set them against one another.

I find this troubling.

Early on in my career as I worked to promote justice language in the church, I had to fight hard to show that morality implied justice—that sin, purity and the like could not be separated from the biblical requirement for justice and sacrificial love for and on behalf of the other.

These days, I feel like I’ve almost been put in the reverse position—that in our talk about justice, we cannot separate it from the biblical requirement for morality.

Just as James 1:27 calls us to a pure religion that looks after orphans and widows in their distress, it also calls us “to keep ourselves from being polluted by the world.”

We’re fond of grabbing the first half of that verse in justice circles, but we don’t know what to do with the second half. But there they are, justice and morality informing each other in the same biblical injunction.

When we look back in history we see many examples of justice and moral categories going hand in hand.

I have an old antique copy of Photo Magazine I picked up on eBay. The cover article, from 1955, discusses what we call sex trafficking, but back then was known as white slavery. The lead quote reads, “Europe’s sin merchants have gone into the export trade… selling smuggled female cargo to the world.”[2]

Sin and slavery. Personal profit and exploitation.

Joel 3:3 echoes something similar, “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.”

Drink and slavery. Personal pleasure and exploitation.

In Hebrew, the concept of justice is expressed by several words. The primary ones are the two relatively synonymous words tsedek and mishpat. In English, we translate the Hebrew words tsedek and mishpat as either “righteousness” or as “justice,” depending on context. This is because the Hebrew sense of the words tsedek and mishpat linked the personal and communal components of “just” or “righteous” living.

The idea of living uprightly could not be limited to personal ethical conduct or exclusively limited to community reform. Rather, it was the outworking of a deep knowledge of God, which drives one to live uprightly and walk justly.

Dr. Gerry Breshears, a theology professor for more than thirty years at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, explains what the Hebrew word tsedek means: a life in which all relationships—human to human, human to God, and human to creation—are well-ordered and harmonious.

Justice, rightly understood, speaks to the right and equitable relationship with God and with people. Justice is like a mosaic. It’s not only about single pieces – it’s also about all the pieces working together in a stunning whole. Morality is a necessary piece of that mosaic. When we are thinking only about justice as related to specific causes or single aspects we are missing part of the picture or we are looking at the fruit of virtue with no regard to the roots of virtue.

If we don’t include morality in the conversation, or as part of a more holistic view of religion and justice, we run into problems.

A lack of morality, or simply selfishness, robs our motivation for becoming just.

Likewise, the presence of immorality is coupled with and often precedes gross injustice—just as pornography and sexual exploitation sit on the same continuum.

In short, the long-term health of communities and relationships that justice requires are measured every bit as much through the lens of morality as they are the promotion of justice and fairness.

Another way of putting it might be to say, if justice is a Coast Guard ship that sails in order to protect and rescue people, morality is its sea-worthiness or integrity. A sinking ship can do very little to help those who are drowning.

Justice and morality are inseparable. Justice requires righteousness and righteousness demands justice.

It’s important that we think of justice—the systems, structures and policies that disadvantage or oppress people or races—and not personal responsibility alone.  It is also important that we think of morality—my hidden selfishness, my latent racism, my consumerism and individualism—and not just global or structural justice alone.

Justice is a “me” problem as well as a “we” and “them” problem.

In short, we need to be reminded that morality belongs in the justice conversation. For as Tolstoy framed the dichotomy, “Everybody thinks about changing humanity. Nobody thinks about changing himself.”


[1] Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel  (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2000), pg. 122

[2] Hugo Dufy, “White Slavery: Report on Europe’s Missing Women” in Photo Magazine, January 1954.

Tithing

Why is it that sometimes the healthier a church gets the less people tithe?

My thought is we naturally tend to give to need or urgency. We give most when we feel the importance or empathize with critical situations.

Health doesn’t convey need.  Health doesn’t scream dire consequence.

Therefore, I think the times when Antioch is doing the best people sometimes seem to give the least.

It could also be the fault of communication.  Sometimes when things are healthy it is hard to communicate all the needs effectively and – the thing we like to talk about least… money – gets left off.

It could also be that I’m not good at asking people for help when I should be asking people for help.  It’s easy for me to sit around thinking there are plenty of people who could lend a hand, write a check or help raise funds, but then I never actually go find those people.  It’s hard to filter out the friendly folks who would be willing to do the heavy lifting if asked.  It’s awkward… and I don’t do good with awkward.

I’m sure it could also be the economy, the uncertainty and the many needs all around.  Antioch has always been a very generous group of people.

Whatever the context, if you’d be up for investing in Antioch or Kilns College, I’d love to share the vision, the needs or just sit down to coffee or lunch.  I believe in these organizations and would love the opportunity to tell potential donors why!

Holler at me at ken@antiochchurch.org or you can always learn about ways to give to Antioch at antiochchurch.org/onlinegiving

I’d also covet prayers for funding for us as well as the many other great organizations in Bend who could use financial support!!

 

How to Build Sustaining Relationships: Vulnerability

Guest Post by Ed Underwood
[This post is Part 3 of a 5 Part series, Sustaining Friendships]

I don’t trust transparency. There, I admit it.

I’m done with transparency because I learned a long time ago how to use it to get my way or to impress people with my openness. Whether in relationships or communication, my flesh loves to manipulate the other person or the audience with juicy and intriguing stories about how I’ve failed. But I only give them enough to get what I want–attention, sympathy, esteem. You name it, I can come up with a transparent illustration to get it out of you.

Don’t look at me that way. So can you!

That’s why I don’t trust transparency–it’s selective and filtered by the flesh. Transparent relationships aren’t the sustaining kind because they give us permission to hide the really, really bad stuff.

Beyond Transparency

If I want a sustaining relationship I have to go beyond transparency to vulnerability. And just like the first quality of a sustaining relationship, commitmentthe best thing we can do to find the friend our heart longs for is to be that friend. Vulnerability trumps my self-seeking flesh with other-centered community. It knocks down my defensive barriers and demands that I admit the truth … about me. Then, and only then will the Holy Spirit begin the healing process of my wounded soul. Jesus didn’t say, “You’re spin on your life will set you free.” He was clear. “The truth will set you free.”

However, transparency is such a buzz word among Christians, you may be having difficulty distinguishing between transparency and vulnerability.

Here are some contrasts:

  • Transparency is what I tell you about me; vulnerability is what you tell me about me. Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” the Proverb says, “but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful (27:6). If I surround myself with those who “kiss” me with words that agree with everything I say about my life, I’m living in a dangerous place. A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet (Proverbs 29:5).
  • Transparency is scrubbed; vulnerability is soiled. The only risk in telling you what I want to tell you about me is that it may miss the mark, meaning that it may not have the impact I intended. The risks of vulnerability are huge. I’m letting you into my messy life and giving you permission to open every closet, every drawer. You could easily walk down a hall no one’s ever walked down and find something I thought no one would ever find out. I’m telling you something that I feel you have to know about yourself to protect you from yourself. You could slam the door on the relationship and tell others what a nosey Christian I am. Yet, if we risk it, there’s mutual blessing. Ointment and perfume delight the heart, and the sweetness of a man’s friend gives delight by hearty counsel (27:9).
  • Transparency is a message; vulnerability is an invitation. Once I’ve carefully crafted the content of my transparency all I have to do is report it. When I submit to the love of someone I’m vulnerable to I have to listen, and usually I don’t like what I’m hearing. And that’s only the beginning, because transparency is about reports; vulnerability is about relationship.

A vulnerable friendship is what I call the “I-love-you-too-much-to-lie-to-you” type of friendship. The most significant changes in my life didn’t come from a Scriptural insight I’ve found or a sermon I’ve preached. Those changes happened because someone loved me enough to tell me the truth … about me.

That’s the second characteristic you want to look for in a sustaining relationship–vulnerability. But before you go looking, be that type of friend.

Questions: What am I missing? Does the difference between transparency and vulnerability in friendship make sense to you? 

A Call To Persevere

Worship

A good friend once sent me this quote from J.I. Packer on Worship:

“If worship services are so fixed that what’s being offered fits the expectations, the hopes, even the prejudices, of any one of these groups as opposed to the others, I don’t believe the worship style glorifies God.”

I really like it. It’s been a while since I’ve found myself in the theological debates about What is worship? Should we use music to worship? What style of praise and music is most worshipful? etc. etc.

When I was in grad school with a bunch of other single guys who had nothing better to do than read Nietzsche, debate Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology and circle back endlessly to conversations on the modern church — we talked about worship stuff all the time.

With Antioch growing up from a tiny church plant of 30 folks to a pretty well established church, however, I find these questions and conversations coming back up in my mind more and more.

“When does a progressive church plant need to step back and look at what silly things it is doing that need to be re-envisioned?”

“Do we do the same things other churches did that we reacted to when we dreamed of Antioch in the beginning?”

“Does our use of music and the arts really keep God at the center — does it aim at the glory of God and the reconciliation of us to Him?”

That is why I love Packer’s quote above — if our prejudices… if our fixed routines… it we fit lazy expectations… if we favor one… then our style probably isn’t broad enough or rich enough to be God’s style of worship.

Thinking about worship isn’t about solving a problem like a math equation — it is much more like making an adjustment as in steering. The value is in the repetition. The value is in asking the question. The value is in recalibrating.

On Letting Go

Guest Post by Emily Hill

Sometimes God speaks in small ways, and sometimes he throws everything at us to get our attention. You know those times in your life when everything you learn and experience all points to one major truth? For me they are usually fairly basic theological truths that I would have intellectually affirmed and that often sound like platitudes when I tell them to other people.

But when God moves and teaches them to me, they are anything but Sunday school answers. Okay, God, I’m paying attention.

Here’s what I’m learning now: Jesus is the only hope for my life and the only hope for the world.

I told you it sounded obvious; but is it really? Most of the time I don’t live like this statement is true.

I’m a Type A personality, a do-er, and generally a pretty capable person. My personality makes me susceptible to the lie that I can work to accomplish any goal and that I can largely control any given outcome with the right strategy and hard work. Certainly my personality strengths are gifts from God that I should utilize but just like any good thing they can easily become idols. My sense of control over life can actually enslave me.

When everything goes smoothly and I’m insulated from trials or suffering, the danger of control easily falls below my radar because I can maintain the illusion of control. However, when I’m faced with my own personal brokenness, brokenness in other people, and in relationships the feeling of control quickly slips away. When I’m faced with the brokenness of the world, its unjust systems and massive suffering the illusion that I have any control at all is shattered.

What am I left with when my own control and personal capacity is gone?

I recently watched the documentary As We Forgive. The film tells the story of two women whose families were slaughtered in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. During the genocide an estimated 800,000 people were killed in 100 days.[1] Later, faced with a backlog of court cases the Rwandan government released over 50,000 perpetrators of the genocide, leaving the community to face those who had murdered their families.

In the wake of grief and turmoil there are great challenges. But something amazing is happening: reconciliation. Through the work of the church, ministers, and counseling organizations, perpetrators confessed and asked victims’ family members for mercy and forgiveness. Mediated by counselors, perpetrators and victims are coming together and victims are forgiving those who murdered their families. They are being restored to the relationships and community that existed before the genocide and beginning to flourish together.

I never would have expected something like that could happen when I first learned about the genocide though Hotel Rwanda. It sounds impossible.

Yet the same God who can reconcile murderers and families in Rwanda is the same God at work transforming injustices all over the world and transforming my life with the power that raised Christ from the dead.

Life is not a perfect picture now. God doesn’t always take away the suffering but his power and love can sustain me through any trials, fears or anxieties.

To be human in this world is to be fully dependent on and responsible to God—and that is where I find freedom. When I feel utterly helpless and alone, the truth of my dependence on God feels dramatic. But this truth extends to all aspects of my life: my body, breath, family, friends, work and community—it all depends on him. It is through him, for him and in him that I have my being.

On one hand it’s a matter of discipline for me to give up control of my life. But it’s not just that I have to give up my own control of my life, it’s that I get to give up control of my life and live in the freedom of God’s love and provision for me. I can pursue God with abandon, in the fullness of life, emotion, desire and commitment. I can be secure in his love for me and his victory.

I can let go.

People talk a lot about how to change the world or how to heal our individual lives and relationships. Brian Fikkert, author of When Helping Hurts, recently said on Twitter, “Union with Christ is THE theory of change.” We can develop and debate strategies and self-help approaches but the only true answer is Christ.

He is my only hope.

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.” Jude 24-25


[1] Jason K. Stearns, Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and The Great War of Africa (New York: Public Affairs) 2011, 13.

Are We Talking Too Fast?

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, DryIcons

The last week or so with the internet fury around World Vision, the Noah movie and a dozen other topics of interest has caused me to reflect once again on the deficiency of social media as an effective communication mechanism when depth, conversation and prophetic understanding are what is called for.

As such, I decided to repost the article below entitled, “Are We Talking too Fast?” that I originally wrote for The Huffington Post as it continues to capture some of my thinking around public discourse in the age of social media.

—————————————–

As of late, I’ve become aware of a growing tragedy: the tragedy of fast-moving conversations.

Just think of the speed and shallowness of modern communication. Recent studies showed that the average attention span at present is just five minutes long — 10 years ago, it was 12 minutes. Additionally, Facebook now owns more than 25 precent of total time spent on mobile apps and each Facebook user spends on average 15 hours and 33 minutes a month on the site writing and interacting in sound bites.

Whether gun control, the problem of educating our youth or the nature of sexuality in America, most conversations running their way through the Internet and social media have, far too often, degenerated into a mire of pithy rhetoric and hollow opinion. Meaningful conversation has devolved to millions of people throwing around pictures, sound bytes and narrow conclusions on topics most are not afforded the time to study or reflect upon.

We’re forced by the nature of fast-moving conversations to accept or reject, without the time for the argument and analysis necessary to sufficiently and appropriately support our conclusions.

In such a global, fast-moving conversation, a person must almost detach completely to find the space to think. It is the difference between the monastery and social media: the first isolates you from outside thought while the other isolates you from your own thought.

I spent two years of my life journaling when I was in my 20s. It was a season of life-change and course correction.

What I learned while practicing the disciplines of solitude and writing was the amount of noise that exists. A lot passes for news in life, but a worthy headline is one that is still around after 30 days. I checked out of reading papers and endeavored to attune my ears only to conversations I knew would endure or were significant enough to compel my attention.

During this time, I read Henry David Thoreau’s Walden for the first time. At the end of my copy of the book was a short essay by Thoreau entitled, “Life Without Principle.” I returned to this piece many times.

Thoreau begins by writing, “Let us consider the way in which we spend our lives. This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! … It interrupts my dreams. There is no Sabbath.”

If Thoreau were alive today, he might have written that the poor fellow who spends the most time online has not heard from himself or herself in a long time. Conclusions a-plenty, deep thought maybe less so.

When we are inundated with noise and information, the opportunity to grow through the process of wrestling, praying, arguing, processing and conversing is lost. Fast-paced conversations are the death of reflection.

In the Old Testament there is a rich theology of “waiting on the Lord.” It seems many of the conclusions we are supposed to reach and much of what we’re supposed to know in life is found through the process of a long and slow meditative process.

When we lose this, I fear, we lose true education and learning. For faith and maturity, like stories, need the dialog as well as the conclusions.

The reality with social media is that the prevalence of words often leads to the cheapness of words. In deep conversation, tension results from exploration. But in shallow conversation, tension results merely from combat. The former is largely redemptive, the latter often contentious. This puts forth a significant challenge to education and the process whereby we learn and grow through the rough workings of ongoing, unhurried and deep dialog. As this goes, so too does our ability and opportunity to learn and grow as we relate and interact with other people’s ideas.

In addition to the loss of depth and the challenge to education in fast-paced conversations, I also fear the loss of something greater.

When all we do is speak with ready opinions, sound bites and conclusions, it dampens our ability to hear the truly prophetic voice — the voice that compels us toward justice and truth. Prophets, as they are called in the Old Testament and still can be today, are the God-given devices for bending society back when it veers from where it should be.

The prophetic voice speaks fast, hard and clear and is unyielding.

What happens, however, when everyone throws around conclusions and every voice sounds prophetic?

Put simply, when everybody speaks with a prophetic tone, it dilutes the value of the prophetic voice.

We need the ability to sustain dialog with others. And we need the ability to clearly spot God’s true prophets among the masses of us armed only with opinions, sharp words and a social media profile.

G.K. Chesterton in “Alarms and Discussions” (1910) wrote, “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” I take his argument to mean, beyond the humor of it, that deep things are the territory of the poets. It takes art and space to plumb the depths of a subject. Cursory matter, like cheese however, can be spoken of easily, quickly and doesn’t require the depth of poetic diction.

What we need these days is not an increase in provocative conclusions, but a growth in compelling explanations.

There is a fine texture to deep and original thinking. Deep reflection and sustained dialog lead to conclusions that are owned and understood.

I love the positive advantages of social media, the ease of spreading thoughts and ideas, the ease of connectivity with friends, family and engaged people from around the world and the speed and immediacy for having news and information.

Sometimes, however, there is a real drawback to fast-moving conversations. The death of slow conversation and reflection means the death of interaction and deep exploration. What we are left with when everyone is trading conclusions is simply to decipher which side of a line you or I stand on.

This issue or that issue.

Right or wrong.

With me or against me.

The death of deep conversation leaves us all victim to the tyranny of triviality.

How to Build Sustaining Relationships: Commitment

Guest Post by Ed Underwood
[This post is Part 2 of a 5 Part series, Sustaining Friendships]

We all want them–sustaining relationships, those friends I talked about in Part 1 of this series. Even as kindergartners, our little hearts longed for a friend we could depend on. We need people who won’t let us down at the precise moment when we need them most. These people must be out there, because God put this huge need in our heart to meet them.

Just when we think we have one, they disappoint us. Over the years we become jaded. Maybe that’s just the way it is. Friendship in this hurtful world is always conditioned on two dark bargains. 1. If this friendship is helpful to me, then I will be your friend. If you doubt this one, just spend a few minutes on Facebook and Twitter. 2. If this friendship validates me–my opinions, my defenses, and my behaviors, then I will be your friend. We’ve all had that friend who turned on us when the relationship hit the white water.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that this shouldn’t surprise us. “A person who has friends may be harmed by them, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (18:24, NET Bible). So there’s the contrast–friends can hurt us, but there is that friend we can depend on.

The best thing we can do to find a different kind of friend, that friend our heart longs for, is to be that kind of friend. I can only take responsibility for my part of the relationship. If I’m going through life demanding that someone love me well, chances are I’m going to be running with others who are making the same demand. Sooner or later I have to give up on what I’m looking for and start being the friend others are looking for. Just start being the kind of friend you want to find and life will sort it out. If you’re a Christian, tell God you want to be that kind of friend and trust Him to bring you a like-hearted friend.

As I read through the Book of Proverbs, the first quality I want my friends to see in me is commitment to the relationship.

Committed friendships don’t fall apart during turbulent times but become stronger because of mutual loyalty. Again, from the Proverbs:

The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor, but the rich has many friends(14:20). All the brothers of the poor hate him; How much more do his friends go far from him! He may pursue them with words, yet they abandon him (19:7).

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity (17:17). A man who has friends must himself be friendly, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother(18:24). Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend (27:10).

A committed friendship is what I call the drop-everything, eye-contact type of friendship.

I need to be that friend who drops everything when I’m needed. Remember, these aren’t everyday friendships. These are those few friends that you know will drop their lives to come to your side. When I almost died in 2000, two of my sustaining friends got on planes and flew to SoCal to be near me. One of them virtually pastored my church during that dark weekend and the other assured me he would take care of my bride financially if I died.

I need to be that friend who makes the eye-contact only a sustaining friend can make. Like this scene from the movie Tombstone when Doc Holliday caught Wyatt Earp’s eye. “Nobody else notices your need right now, my friend, but I’m all over it.”

That’s what you want to look for in a sustaining relationship–commitment. But before you go looking, be that type of friend.

Questions: What am I missing? Does the drop-everything, eye-contact definition of commitment in friendship make sense to you?

New Master of Arts Distance Learning Program at Kilns College

Guest Post by Melissa McCreery

A 2011 study by the Babson Survey Group and the College Board revealed that more than 6.7 million college students are enrolled in at least one online course. It seems that the majority of students today are just as comfortable in a virtual classroom as a traditional brick and mortar campus.

With this in mind, Kilns College is excited to offer an online program for our Master of Arts in Social Justice Degree, beginning Fall 2014! We simply could not ignore the tremendous need we saw amongst mid-level professionals interested in the Social Justice program but unable to uproot their family and/or careers and move to Bend, Oregon for 12 months.

Here are some program highlights!

  • Innovative 32 credit program
  • Part-time option available
  • One-week intensive course option available summer 2014.
  • Tuition – $273 per credit
  • Focus on local engagement and community development
  • Practical application (through research or alternative project)
  • Numerous institutional scholarships available

If you’re interested in studying alongside today’s leading thinkers in theology and justice, but unable to relocate, consider our distance learning program and learn with us, from the comfort of your own home… wherever home might be.

For more information on the Master of Arts in Social Justice, Distance Learning option, contact Melissa McCreery or visit the website at http://www.kilnscollege.org/

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