Thursday, July 16, 2009

answer to prayer

It seems to me that the leaders in the conservative evangelical church have been praying for a "revival" in the American church for some time. And the new things we see happening in the church are exciting. The emerging, missional, mosaic and monastic church communities that are springing up all over this nation are the answer to those prayers. The irony is that those same leaders who long ago began praying for this to come are now the leading opposition against it.

This seems to be the way we often react to change. We pray for it. God answers our prayers. Then we fight against the very answer to our own prayer. This is what the Hebrews did when they were finally freed from slavery and found themselves in the desert. They had cried out for freedom. God answered. Then they complained in the desert and longed to be back in Egypt.

When we pray for revival, I get the sense that God often responds to us in the same way Jesus responded to James and John when they asked to sit on his right and left in glory(Mark 10:38-40).

We cry out, "Lord, give us revival!"

And Jesus responds,"You don't know what you are asking. Can you really handle revival if it were to come? Could you really handle the change that it will take in you and in your church?"

Of course we naively respond the same way that James and John responded, "We can!"

Then Jesus says to us, "There will indeed be a great change in the church. But as to whether you will be a part of the revival is not for me to say. That one you will have to decide for yourselves."

My hope is that the conservative evangelical leaders will stop fighting the answer to their own prayers and instead embrace what God is doing anew in the church.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Temptation is like pain. When you are enduring it, you don't think it will end. It is hard to convince yourself otherwise. As far as you are concerned, your mind tells you that there won't be an end.

But, inevitably, just as pain ends, so does temptation. But if you don't believe it will, then you will give in to temptation before it goes away. Like a headache that you take Excedrin for because you think it will go on forever, the lie that comes with temptation is the lie that the only way for temptation to end is to give in. Not true.

James 4:7, "Resist the devil, and he will flee from you."

Experience and discipline help us to know that though temptation sometimes feels continuous, it isn't. Truly resisting temptation not only keeps us from sinning, but it ends the feeling of being tempted in that moment. The Christian life isn't one long continuous battle. Instead, it is moments of fighting followed by periods of peace and contentment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Even when we successfully resist temptation, we are still left with the humbling reality of their own susceptibility to sin. It is here where the second battle is fought.

When faced with our own susceptibility to sin, we can either deny it and fall into pride and arrogance or we can be crushed by it and fall into despair and defeat. Both of these reactions are essentially U-turns right back into the sin we just resisted.

After resisting temptation, we must fight the second battle with a dose of gospel reality. In light of our past sin, we should not be surprised by our own susceptibility to temptation. In light of what Jesus did on the cross, we should not be surprised by God's sustaining grace.

Rather than driving us either toward pride or toward defeat, our susceptibility should simply remind us of God's goodness and our continuing dependence on Him. Post-temptation, even Jesus needed to be attended to by angels.

Friday, March 06, 2009

minority oligarchy

What's great about America is that the minority has a voice. Minorities can't be silenced just because they are not the majority. Minority rights are protected in American in a way that is different than most of the rest of the world. And this is why people flock to "the land of the free and the home of the brave."

But we have to be careful not to go too far in this direction and create a society that we never intended. The creation of democracy was in part a reaction against a society run by an oligarchy.

An oligarchy is when the power to rule a society is in the hands of a small, usually elite, number of people. The word oligarchy is from the Greek words for "few" (ὀλίγος olígos) and "rule" (ἀρχή arkhē).

To prevent just a few people from ruling an entire society, we allow the whole populous to vote. When we vote for representatives, the one who wins the "majority" of the votes is normally elected. This gives a voice to what the majority want.

So this balance between the desires of the majority and the rights of the minority needs to be maintained. If we give too much power to the minority voice, we end up with an upside-down sort of oligarchical rule. We don't want that. If we end up ignoring the voice of the minority, we end up with mob rule. We don't want that either.

So how do we maintain minority rights without falling into a minority oligarchical rule?

This question is particularly relevant to what is happening in California right now. The majority voted to keep the Californian definition of marriage as between "one woman and one man." The minority, the gay community in this case, wants that majority vote not to count. They believe it impedes on their right to equality.

If a minority is able to reject the votes of the majority, are we falling into a new form of oligarchy? If the majority is able to vote in a way that takes away rights of the minority, is that mob rule?

We'll see what the California Supreme Court has to say.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

advice to Republicans

There was a time in the mid-90's when it was embarrassing to be a Democrat. Republicans took over Congress and Bill Clinton was caught in a sex scandal.

Now it is embarrassing to be Republican. Democrats took Congress and the White House. And to add insult to injury the best that the Republicans have to offer in terms of leadership is uber-conservative Tina Fey look-alike Sarah Palin and the Mr. Rogers meets Barney Fife-like Bobby Jindal.

The only respectable Republicans out there seem to be Senator John McCain and House Minority leader John Boehner.

What would be good for Republicans to do is to keep their mouths shut for a few years and just see what happens. If President Obama's policies fail, they will naturally have a good argument to make. If his policies succeed, the Republicans will have been a part of helping America. Republicans win either way. But this is only true if they keep their mouths shut.

Republicans lose the more they speak up. They end up just making themselves look bad. My advice to Republicans is this: just sit tight and wait out the storm of Democratic policy. It is the Democrats turn to accept responsibility for the direction of this country.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

military mental health

Did you know that over 1 million of our brave men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Did you also know that it is estimated by the military that over 1/6th of those soldiers return home from battle with psychological traumas such as depression, combat stress and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)?

If you do the math, that means that we now have over 167,000 soldiers who are in desperate need of counseling and mental recovery. Some of these soldiers are even being asked to return for a second and third tour of duty even after they have been diagnosed with a psychological trauma.

It is time for the military and the V.A. to step up and serve those who are serving this nation. It is time for the military to reward, not punish, those who seek the mental help they need. It is time to end the secrecy that shames the hundreds of thousands of our soldiers who are struggling with their mental health.

They stepped up to fight our nation's battles. It is time that our nation fight for them.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Antisemitism is a virus that needs a host to survive.

In the ancient world the host was the Imperial rule of the Roman Empire. Jews were strange because of their customs and their monotheism. The belief in one invisible God amounted to atheism in a polytheistic world. Jews were persecuted in the same way Christians were in ancient Rome.

In medieval Europe the host was fear. Europeans were afraid of the plague and needed a scapegoat to blame. The church prohibition of Christians from loaning money created a niche market for Jewish bankers. Antisemitism grew in this fertile soil of epidemic and economic fear.

In the Reformation, Martin Luther didn't help the situation by reminding the world that Jews were involved in Jesus' murder. And wouldn't you know, the new host became Christianity itself.

This, of course, led to antisemitism finding one of its favorite hosts in the German National Socialist movement. Nazism was born.

In post-WWII America, this favored host got a face lift. The virus of antisemitism found a host that was uniquely American. Freedom of Speech became a petree dish for this social contagion. This gave birth to the Neo-Nazi movement.

And now we see yet another host for this virus. Extremists in Fundamentalist Islam breed antisemitism better and faster than post-Katrina Golf coast homes breed mold. This host organism of terrorism is the latest in a long line of hosts who have caught this illness.

Every stage in history has seen a new host spreading this ancient virus. And every stage has also seen a new antiretrovirual drug which tries to stamp out its nemesis. But like all viruses, antisemitism keeps evolving, morphing and multiplying.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What Others Could Not: A challenge for Obama

What Others Could Not
A challenge for Obama

You offer us hope of a promised dream.
You inspire a nation with change.
Yet, I want a simpler thing.
To some this might seem strange.

What I want is a challenge of sorts
Not meant to belittle your movement.
Yes, you have political support
But what about home improvement?

What I ask is different than the rest;
They want prosperity and peace.
I would like a harder test
A covenant that won’t be fleeced.

Can you do what others could not?
Succeed where others failed?
Can you remember what others forgot?
Keep sacred what others unveiled?

Dr. King moved mountains for civil rights.
Worshiped was JFK.
Two social heroes who fought the fight
Yet both lost their way.

When it came to changing the heart of a nation
Unrivaled were they in zeal.
But when it came to private temptation
Their lives were less than ideal.

So the challenge I put before you today
Is one of a personal matter.
It has to do with not going astray
And avoiding red lips that flatter.

Presidents and paupers, great men and small
Have all failed at this thing.
To stick to the promise for the long haul
They made with a vow and a ring.

No doubt these men did their part
To change the world for the better.
But their wives were left with a broken heart
From their husband's scarlet letter.

“Yes we can” be the change
From eighty to eighteen.
But as for you, will you exchange
This vow for a bowl of beans?

You’ve said, “Til’ death do us part”
For Michelle and God to hear.
And we will see from the start
How much you were sincere.

Can you do what others could not
When alluring women come by?
Or will you be tied in a lover’s knot
And live an adulterous lie?

This is the simpler thing I ask
But an important thing in life.
It might be your hardest task
Fidelity to your wife.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

dinner theater and Horizon

We have this tradition in our family. Every year around the Christmas season we go to Toby's Dinner Theater and watch a show together. We eat dinner there and then enjoy a musical of some kind.

What is interesting about the actors and actresses in a dinner theater is that they have to function in multiple roles. They start the evening serving the tables to which they are assigned. Then they offer coffee and dessert. When everyone is stuffed, they slip backstage to get the final touches on their costumes and makeup.

These actors and actresses get into character and sing and dance to the delight of the audience. They transform from servants to entertainers. And in those moments we forget that they were just refilling our coffee. They become elevated to the status of Broadway stars.

Then intermission comes and once again these entertainers transform. They go from "star" to "servant" in the time it takes to turn on the house lights. They get last call drink orders and make sure everyone is sufficiently comfortable. When intermission is over, they transition right back to star status. They sing and dance and finish the evening in character.

As I watched the actors/waiters make their rounds during intermission the last time we went, something in me resonated with them. I realized that being on staff at Horizon is very similar to being a dinner theater actor.

There are times when ministry at Horizon requires the spotlight. There are times when I am up front speaking when it is not too different from being on stage. And yet before and after the sermon, I shift into a role that is much more like a waiter.

There are times when I feel as though I am in a place of authority. In this place, I am on a certain platform or pedestal. Then there are other times where I am much more in a place of being a servant. In this place, I function more like a stepping stool. At times I am elevated by the congregation like an audience elevates an actor. Other times I am subservient to the congregation like a waiter serving his table full of paying customers.

Both pedestal and stepping stool, authority and service are all a part of what it feels like to be on staff. Ministry is often a bipolar experience. At times you are fielding complaints like a waiter does for his table. Other times you are receiving the praise of a curtain call. But like the actors at the dinner theater, all of this is what it looks like to our job.

People in an audience often do one of two things. Some like to make heroes out of professional actors and slaves out of the blue-collar waiters. Others like to criticize the stuffy actors and befriend the down-to-earth waiters. The problem a dinner theater audience runs into is that these two desires come into conflict with each other. At a dinner theater the same person is filling both roles. The professional actor is the blue-collar waiter. The hero is the slave. The stuffy actor is the down-to-earth waiter. The one being criticized is the befriended one.

This is the same kind of dilemma faced by the congregation of Horizon. For some, it is much easier to praise the preacher and belittle the guy who helps set up the equipment in the morning. For others, it is easier to be cynical about the preacher while befriending the guys who do the hard work of serving the church. The problem for a person at Horizon is that these two people are one and the same. The preacher is the guy who sets up. The guys doing the hard work of serving are also the guys preaching.

Ultimately, the dinner theater audience is forced to break down their typical ways of categorizing their entertainers and waiters. They are forced to move beyond their stereotyping and their typical modes of interaction. This is the same thing that is required of the congregation of Horizon. The old categories and ways of interacting with the preacher just don't fit there.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

never just one

If you asked me who taught me how to speak English, how would I answer that? I could tell you that it started with my parents. Then it was my elementary school teachers who taught me the basics of grammar. It was my high school teachers who taught me SAT vocabulary words and how to write correctly. It was my college professors who taught me how to write big papers and how to make speeches. And it was my friends all along the way that shaped my slang, pronunciation and dialect.

There has been a long line of people who have influenced the way I speak the English language. It would be really difficult to try to nail down just one person who "taught" me English. And so it is with our spiritual lives.

Often Christians are told stories of "evangelism" where one person "leads" another person to believe in Christ. The end of the story is usually a prayer of some kind. But these stories are like watching a 30 second clip of a 3 hour movie. You might get the climax of the movie in those 30 seconds, but it isn't the whole story.

The truth is that there is almost never a time where it is just one person who leads someone to Christ. Usually there is a whole lineage of people who took part in doing little things to shape an individual's spirituality. There are people praying in the background that we may have never known about. There are Sunday School teachers from our childhood, crazy extended family members who are all about Jesus, and co-workers that exhibit a quiet yet powerful faith. There are little influences and big influences that all lead up to us finally giving our life fully to Christ.

But the story doesn't even end there. There is usually a host of new people who then pick up the baton and help shape us in the process of discipleship and spiritual growth. There were prophets who came before Christ and apostles who came after Him. In the same way, we have people who influence us in the direction of Christ before we believe and those who shape our life after we believe. And hopefully there are people who are there with us during both parts of our spiritual journey.

But for too long Christians have believed in the myth of the "evangelist," as if we are supposed to be a lone ranger leading people to Jesus. This is not how it has ever been, nor how it will ever be. The transformation of lives will happen in community, by community. Our job is just to be a link in the chain as we help our friends take that next step toward Christ.

We can't take credit for what happened before we got there and we can't take credit for what happens after we leave. In the end, God gets the credit for all that He does to orchestrate these great clouds of witnesses which end up changing people's lives. For us, it is an honor just to play a small part in God's big plan.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

bipartisan economics doesn't work

The failing U.S. car industry is a good example of why bipartisan economics doesn't work. An economic philosophy must be played out in full or not at all. When a country establishes part of one economic philosophy combined with part of a different economic philosophy, businesses find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Let me give an example. The Detroit car companies find themselves stuck between two economic philosophies. Republicans don't want government run health care. So health care is the responsibility of the companies where people work. The car companies that Detroit competes against are located in countries where there is universal health care. So that is an expense that the competitors don't have to deal with.

Democrats believe strongly in unions. So unions have hiked up wages and benefits beyond what workers are actually worth. So Detroit car companies have to pay their work force a lot more than the foreign car competitors. Toyota workers, for instance, are paid well but do not have the bloated salaries and benefits that GM and Ford workers do. But if GM or Ford cuts salaries or benefits, they are in danger of losing millions when workers go on strike. This hurts a U.S. car company's ability to compete globally.

What seems to be the problem is this mix of Republican and Democratic economic philosophy. Our car companies could compete and treat workers well if government provided universal health care and unions stayed intact. Conversely, our car companies could compete and treat workers well if companies still provided health care but unions were abolished. But as it is, our U.S. companies get caught between two competing economic philosophies, neither of which will work if done halfway.

As a country we need to decide if our economy will function under a Democratic economic philosophy or a Republican one. Trying to switch back and forth every 4 to 8 years damages a U.S. company's ability to compete globally. And when our companies can't compete globally, our whole economy is undermined.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

stealing glances

Having a job where you are in the public eye can be weird sometimes. There are many challenges to being a public leader of an organization. These challenges are especially unique in the church.

Many such dangers are like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Sometimes people put you an a pedestal. Getting people's admiration is great. But being on a pedestal is also damaging. People put you up there only to see you fall. Inevitably you will end up not meeting up to someone's illegitimate expectations and then they will take it out on you. As you come crashing down, they think they are the one that got hurt, never realizing that by putting you on a pedestal, they were the beginning of the problem.

Besides the dangers of the pedestal, there are the dangers of the piercing gaze. One thing you can be sure about is that when you are in a public, visible position of leadership, many eyes will turn your way. You will get piercing eyes of many kinds.

Some will be judgmental eyes. They will watch your every move waiting for you to fail. These eyes will always see the worst in you and assume your motives are always bad.

Others will be eyes of attraction. You will find attractive people of the opposite sex stealing glances in your direction. Some will do this because they easily get crushes on people in the spotlight. This is why guys in bands tend to get girls.

Others will be enamored with the status of your leadership position. Your elevated "status" is attractive to them. And still others will just simply be attracted to you physically. Social scientists tell us that proximity increases attraction. So it follows that the more you are up in front of people, the more physically attractive you become. Just sheer exposure can increase attractiveness.

These various forms of "eyes of attraction" are particularly dangerous for public leaders. It's no mistake that we see many public leaders fall into sexual sin. Visible leaders, in the church as much as anywhere else, have to deal with a sea full of eyes turned in their direction. Sometimes this temptation can be a lot for a ego to handle.

Often the visible leader gets feedback from a mixture of people who either think too lowly of them or people who think too highly of them. Their critics are often way too hard on them and their admirers are often way too complimentary. This is why those who are leaders in the public eye need people who are close enough to them to tell them the truth.

They need to know when they are doing well and when they are screwing up. But they need this advice from a person to has a balanced view of them. They need to hear from someone who really knows them best. This is a key factor in a public leader's ability to find balance amidst the myriad of eyes.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Palin not knowing about Africa was a hoax

This just shows you how messed up the media really is. They broadcasted a story that a McCain aide was saying that Palin didn't know Africa was a continent. Of course everyone believed it and all the 24 hour news outlets reported it. But yet again, they never stopped to check the legitimacy of the sources. This is shoddy reporting in all its glory.

The article below uncovers the truth. It was written by Richard Perez-Pena from the New York Times.

It was among the juicier post-election recriminations: Fox News Channel quoted an unnamed McCain campaign figure as saying that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Who would say such a thing? On Monday the answer popped up on a blog and popped out of the mouth of David Shuster, an MSNBC anchor. “Turns out it was Martin Eisenstadt, a McCain policy adviser, who has come forward today to identify himself as the source of the leaks,” Mr. Shuster said.

Trouble is, Martin Eisenstadt doesn’t exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.

And the claim of credit for the Africa anecdote is just the latest ruse by Eisenstadt, who turns out to be a very elaborate hoax that has been going on for months. MSNBC, which quickly corrected the mistake, has plenty of company in being taken in by an Eisenstadt hoax, including The New Republic and The Los Angeles Times.

Read the rest of the article here.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

ban on gay marriage

Californians voted to ban gay marriage in their state last Tuesday. Arizona and Florida did the same. The difference in California is that gay and lesbian rights activists are taking it to the streets in protest. They see the ban as taking away their civil rights. But does it?

The ban on gay marriage preserves the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Marriage provides for some tax, heath insurance, hospital and parental rights. So the thinking is that if you eliminate the ability to get married, then you limit gay and lesbian rights.

But there seems to be another way that would provide gay and lesbian rights while not changing the definition of marriage. "Civil unions" could provide equal rights to gay and lesbian couples while avoiding the damaging effects of changing the definition of marriage.

If you begin to try to change the definition of marriage, you open Pandora's Box. Soon after changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex relationships, those who are in polygamist relationships will want to be included as well. They will soon demand that the definition of marriage should change to include multiple people . You can see where this goes.

Marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman. Humanity continually tries to corrupt this. It seems that the corruption of marriage began with husbands being abusive. The ease and normalcy of divorce was the next step in the degrading of marriage. The rampant use of pornography and various other forms of sexual addiction is a third corruption. And now the desire to wholly change the definition of marriage is the most recent attack. This will not be the end of the assault on marriage.

I believe that our gay and lesbian friends should have equal rights, but also that the definition of marriage should be protected. Civil unions seem to be the logical solution.