Friday, July 24, 2009

Left Behind

No, not that Left Behind. This one. This week's Memphis Flyer has a great article about the new outer loop (I-269) that is set to be complete in less than three years. The question that is asked is how this will affect the city. Will this continue to push people out to the suburbs (whatever the suburbs will be defined as now)? Read the article, then check out these maps and graphics for more info.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Adam and Walt

Last night Walt came over while his parents went out. They were going to be late, so we called it a partial sleep-over. We made them go to bed around 8:30, and they talked for quite awhile. I think it was around 9:30 before they were completely quiet. At one point Mandy and I listened in on their conversation. Here's a portion of it.

Walt: I'm going to St. Louis to a baseball game. I'm also going to a museum.
Adam: What kind of museum?
Walt: I don't know
Adam: Is it a museum for dinosaurs?
Walt: I don't know
Adam: Is it a museum for construction vehicles?
Walt: I don't know
Adam: Is it a museum for helicopters?
Walt: I don't know
Adam (getting quite agitated): Walt, can you tell me what kind of museum it is?
Walt: I don't know

Next time Walt comes over, we're hiding a recorder.

Worried About Michael

Mandy relayed this story to me today.

Adam has been keeping up with the Michael Jackson story. Today he told my mom that Michael Jackson burned himself (happened in 1984 I believe). Then he said, "Now he's in the ground, and I'm very worried."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How I Got Here - Discipleship

I mentioned in a previous post that my friend Dieter Zander introduced me to Missional Church nine years ago. During that meeting he suggested another book that I was unfamiliar with at the time: The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. I have to admit that I had a difficult time first working through this book. However, over the last five or six years his work has played a major role in shaping the way I view discipleship.

There's a great article that I'd like to recommend for anyone who is unfamiliar with Dallas Willard, or who simply wants to understand better what it means to follow Jesus. I say "great" for two reasons. The first reason is that it's short; 2 pages. Anyone can read 2 pages. Second, it encapsulates some of the major themes from The Divine Conspiracy, such as:
  • Disciple = apprentice
  • Discipleship is not primarily about knowing facts. Instead, it centers on the amazing fact that Jesus wants to show us how to live life. He is the model. He is the teacher.
  • Discipleship is not a passive activity. It requires more than just "trying." It requires training.
  • The purpose of spiritual disciplines
  • The Kingdom of God

I'll recommend one more article. Though a bit longer, I want to recommend it because it focuses on his VIM pattern for spiritual formation. It comes out of his book Renovation of the Heart. This has been helpful in showing not just why we need to become Jesus' apprentices, but how we become Jesus' apprentices.

Monday, July 13, 2009

How I Got Here - Culture

I read this next article during a break at the Catalyst Conference in October, 2006. It was by Gabe Lyons, founder of The Fermi Project. The article is entitled The Culture-Shaping Church, and continues this theme of the church being a counterculture for the common good. In this article Gabe tells the story of going to the Bahamas and seeing how Clint Kemp and New Providence Community Church were impacting their culture.

Clint shares how early on their church was attracting non-Christians through a seeker-sensitive approach, but he soon realized that "this model of church was not creating the kind of Christ-followers that could revolutionize the island." How's that for a goal! The article goes on to share some the ways they began shaping the culture.

It was around this same time that I heard someone ask the question, "If your church were to move out of your city, would anyone notice?" I think I lost sleep over this question. Neighborhood Church wasn't even in infancy at that point, but I knew right then and there that I never wanted that to be the case with our new church. I wanted our community to know us as good people who loved and were passionate about what they loved and were passionate about. I believed, and still believe, that as we committed ourselves through walking out the three journeys, we could see our culture impacted in a positive way through the gospel.

For a more in depth treatment on this subject, the Fermi Project has a free issue of Fermi Words, and the "short" for that issue is also by Gabe Lyons. It's titled Influencing Culture.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How I Got Here - City

One more Keller article. This one's titled "A New Kind of Urban Christian." When I read this, it put into words so much that had been on my heart for the past few years. My first exposure to Tim Keller was listening to his three messages at the 2006 Reform and Resurge Conference in Seatlle. You can download that talk here. This article is a synopsis of that talk. His primary points are as follows:
  1. More Christians should live long-term in cities. Keller believes, like James Montgomery Boice before him, that Christians should "live in cities in at least the same percentage as the general population." He says that the reason we are not influencing culture is that we have left the cities. Couldn't agree more.
  2. Christians should be a dynamic counterculture. He references Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus told his disciples that they were a city on a hill. Basically, we should stand out, not in a bad way, but in a good way. We should look different from the world.
  3. Christians should be a community radically committed to the good of the city as a whole. This article first appeared on The Christian Vision Project's website. I love the question they ask: How can followers of Christ be a counterculture for the common good? The story of the Israelites as exiles in Babylon has impacted me greatly in this area. I remember reading Robert Linthicum's City of God, City of Satan in my City class in seminary. He referenced Jeremiah 29, where God tells His people through Jeremiah that as the city prospers, so will they prosper. This is this message of being committed to the good of a city.
  4. Christians should be a people who integrate their faith with their work. It's not pastors who shape culture. It's, as Tim Chester and Steve Timmis say, "ordinary people living ordinary lives with gospel intentionality" who shape culture.

It's actually very refreshing to see that the transformation of cities is not rocket science. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. God wants to redeem and restore that which is lost. His plan has not changed. I know it may sound pretty simplistic, but I believe that in some ways we just need to do the opposite of what has been done over the past several decades. A couple of examples: instead of running from our cities because there is so much sin, crime, etc., many of us should move back, and instead of pulling our children out of our schools, let's enroll them there. But not only that, but let's get involved. Let's serve the schools. Jesus says that we are salt and light, but the only way for us to fulfill our purposes as salt and light is for us to be present.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

How I Got Here - Missional Church

I mentioned in a previous post that I wasn't sure when I was first exposed to the term "missional," but now I remember. It was when my friend Dieter Zander suggested that I read Missional Church, the great book edited by Darrell Guder. It was one of his parting words to me during our initial trip to San Francisco, when we were deciding if we were going to go to Golden Gate Seminary. The funny thing is that I didn't read it until three years later, after seminary was over. But I remember devouring it over about a week. I would guess that it's a top 5 "shaping" book for me.

As I've said in other posts, the word "missional" took on great meaning for me during my time in seminary. I came to understand that the church is the called out and sent forth people of God. We are called to take the gospel into culture. This is what it means to be missional.

If you've heard this term thrown around but are still not exactly sure what it means, I would recommend an article by Tim Keller titled "The Missional Church." In just three pages he summarizes the what's, why's and how's of missional church.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Acts Study

We've just hit the halfway point on our Acts study. I think it's been good for everyone. Because this study is building as we go, I want to reflect here on the major themes of this book.
Mission of God --> Desperate Dependence --> Doing whatever it takes
It all begins with the mission of God. What is the mission of God? It's Acts 1:8. It all starts with the fact that God has had a plan from the beginning, and that plan has been to redeem and restore that which is lost. The early church did not understand that this plan included all people, so it was a bit of a shock to them when the Gentiles received the gospel. And here's the thing: as far as I can tell, the "ends of the earth" have not been reached. Therefore, our Missional God is continuing on with His plan, and He calls us to join Him.

Though we have a role to play, the primary player in accomplishing the mission of God is the Holy Spirit. This is true now just as it was during the 33 years that make up the account of the early church found in the book of Acts. The Spirit of God orchestrates everything we see there. He births the church, heals people, convicts people, saves people, calls out people, and even tells His servants what to say and what to do.

Once this begins to capture our hearts, as it did the early church, we become desperate to see God do what only God can do. It leads to a radical dependence. Two things come from desperate dependence: Prayer and Repentance. The early church was committed to prayer, not simply because it was what Christians are supposed to do, but because they were desperately trying to keep up with the Spirit of God. All they knew to do at times was to pray, but they learned that prayer is powerful.

Repentance came alongside prayer. We often think of repentance as a one-time event, but the Bible paints a completely different picture. Repentance is a daily event. Last week Nathan Cook taught us from Acts 10, which is a great picture of repentance. What Peter saw in his vision went against everything he knew. It was a major paradigm shift, but even so, he said "Yes" to God. We need to constantly be in a state of repentance. We need to repent of our sins of commission and ommission, but we also need to repent of following our own agendas.

Finally, "doing whatever it takes" is the result, whether this means opening up your home to others (Acts 2), or, to the other end of the spectrum, suffering persecution for the sake of Christ. One point I should make here: It's very easy to start here and believe that we'll never be at that point, but this is a mistake. It didn't start here for the early followers of Christ, and it doesn't start here for us. This is once again why I love the Total Church phrase, "Ordinary people living ordinary lives with gospel intentionality.

I believe that God is at work in our city, and that He wants to use us to accomplish His plans. My hope is that as we continue to live this out in a beautiful (though often messy) and radical way, our friends and neighbors will begin to ask questions (1 Peter 3:15).

If you want to keep up with our study but aren't in Midtown, check out our website for podcasts, articles and a study guide.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

How I Got Here - Gospel

The Gospel as been described as a pool in which a toddler can wade and yet an elephant can swim. It is both simple enough to tell to a child and profound enough for the greatest minds to explore.

A little over a year ago I was at the Exponential Church Planting Conference in Orlando. One of the keynote speakers was Tim Keller. He gave a talk on the Gospel. He said that when you read the New Testament, it can seem at times as if there are two gospels. There's the gospel that Jesus preached, and there's the gospel that Paul preached. As you read this, you'll probably have one of two reactions: either Keller is a heretic for saying this, or you can relate to this tension. As I listened to his talk, and later read this article, I found myself in the second camp.

I was raised understanding the gospel (good news) as follows: God created me for relationship with Him. However, my sin caused that good relationship to be broken. Jesus died on the Cross as the penalty for my sin. Because of this amazing act, I can be forgiven and cleansed. To top it off, when I die I will spend the rest of eternity with God in heaven.

Keller describes this "form" of the gospel as Paul's gospel of justification. It's also seen in John's gospel. There's another form of the gospel, though. It's the form, or expression, found in the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). This can be described as the gospel of the Kingdom, and it's the form that I began discovering several years ago.

I began to understand that Jesus came not just to forgive me of my sins and provide a way for me to go to heaven. His plan was much bigger than that. I was drawn to texts such as Luke 4:16-21, and I began hearing people talk about topics such as peace and justice. I began to understand that Jesus came to redeem the entire world. The gospel was no longer so much about me, but was instead about God's Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

Keller says that we are not dealing with two gospels, but instead with two different forms of one gospel. John and often Paul speak of the individual implications of the gospel (eternal life), while Matthew, Mark and Luke speak of the corporate implications (how the gospel changes society). Both are essential. In this article Keller goes on to explain how he preaches these two expressions of the gospel, yet rarely ever at the same time.

I found this article to be so refreshing and helpful. I'll leave you with Keller's definition of the gospel (if it's possible to put the gospel into one statement, Keller does a fine job doing it):
Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

More on Engaging Culture

I came across a short paper I wrote after first reading Resident Aliens and beginning to think about engaging culture. Here's what I wrote.


How does the Church Engage the World?

First, definitions…


  • Called out ones
  • Sent


  • From “go” to “come”

Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began. When and how did we change? Although it may sound trivial, one of us is tempted to date the shift sometime on a Sunday evening in 1963. Then, in Greenville, South Carolina, in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday. Seven of us – regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church – made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox.

Resident Aliens, by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon

This morning (9/15/02), instead of “going to church”, we went to the Depot in downtown Mill Valley in an attempt to begin asking the above question. My journey began about six months ago, while I was on staff at (a local church). We had planned on using a “Man on the Street” video interview for the service. One of our girls had shot the footage and given it to someone else to be edited. He accidentally erased it, and on Saturday night called her to tell her the bad news. They decided that she would get to church early the next morning, go across the street to the café, and shoot more footage. An hour later, we were watching on the big screen what was going on across the street. As I watched, I couldn’t help wondering what those people would think about us watching what they were doing. I wondered for the first time why we weren’t over there instead of over here. Since that time, I have been wondering what it would look like for the church to be more preoccupied with “going” than with trying to get people to “come.”

We’ve come a long way since 1963. During those days, Sunday mornings were reserved for going to church. No stores were open; no one (maybe a few) was at the parks; very few were on the roads, except as they were going to church and then going to the restaurants for lunch. The world was good. Where have we gone wrong? Hauerwas and Willimon share that the world wasn’t perhaps all that good, and perhaps now the world isn’t so bad. People may not be interested in church as they have known it, but many are interested in the good news of Jesus.

How I Got Here - Church Pt. 3

What happens when you wake up one day and discover that the church in America is no longer in a place of priviledge or power? (I know, not all have made that discovery). How do you influence culture when you have no power? Hauerwas and Willimon first helped me understand these questions in Resident Aliens (see, I told you this book influenced me). But then I read an article by Mike Bishop, a church planter in Florida. The article was titled Church as Subversive Community.

I had never thought of church in terms of "subversive", but after reading this article, and especially the quote by Eugene Peterson, it made sense, and helped to answer the questions I posed above. Here's the Peterson quote:

Three things are implicit in subversion. One, the status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable. It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile. The world is, in the word insurance agents use to designate our wrecked cars, totaled.
Two, there is another world aborning that is livable. Its reality is no chimera (illusion). It is in existence, though not visible. Its character is known. The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.
Three, the usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place - military force or democratic elections - are not available. If we have neither a preponderance of power nor a majority of votes, we begin searching for other ways to effect change. We discover the methods of subversion. We find and welcome allies.

What are those "other ways" to influence? As God's people, when we live out the Gospel together, and in tangible ways, our neighbors will take notice. (Remember, "gospel" means "good news"). It might take time, but they will notice. At some point they will ask a question (1 Peter 3:15). This requires that we take an incarnational posture. In other words, Christian bubbles are not very effective.

After reading this, I actually got to experiment with this a little. Mandy and I were a part of a house church with two other families. These other families had heard Mandy share about the school where she was teaching. We were praying for Mandy as she was a missionary there. Soon they wanted to be involved, so on the day Mandy had a talent show at the school, we all drove to her school. We all served in whatever ways were needed. This was a blessing to Mandy's co-workers, many of whom wanted to know why her friends would drive an hour just to come help put on a talent show for a group of kids they didn't know. This led to more conversation for Mandy.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

How I Got Here - Church Pt. 2

I remember Mandy and I both reading this next article and desiring to be a part of a church like this. It's from the folks at the Gospel and Our Culture Network. The article is Indicators of Missional Church. It lists 12 "indicators" of a missional church, gives a one sentence explanation of "what it looks like", and then goes on to give a more detailed description of each one.

If there were one document that I could give to a group of people who wanted to know what it meant to be church, this is the one I would give them.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How I Got Here - Church Pt. 1

Alright, I'm pretty sure that this is the last article from Cutting Edge that I'll be mentioning. This one was taken from a message presented by Todd Hunter, then the National Director of Vineyard Churches, in 1999. It's called "The Church that I Would Build."

This article first introduced me to Stanley Hauerwas' and William Willimon's book Resident Aliens, which, if I were listing "shaping" books, would be near the top of the list. It's the idea that this world is not our home, but, instead of looking at that idea as simply a longing to be with God forever in heaven one day, it's a missionary strategy. We are exiles in this world, which means that we cannot influence culture through the world's power. We have to be subversive (more on that in a later post).

Here are some of the themes of this article. Even as I write them, I find it pretty incredible how many of them have become core values for the way I've done ministry for the last ten years.
  • The Kingdom (reign) of God
  • Being a missional church - we are a "sent" people
  • The Gospel should have a profound impact on the church. Here's a quote: "The church that I would build would be a community of Christians who believe the Gospel so much that they actually order their lives around it."
  • Church = Counter-cultural community - if we are living out the Gospel in a tangible way, we're going to automatically look different. As we do this, we should be compelling to those around us.