ACU Summit 2012 Videos Are Up on Youtube!

I am sure many of you will enjoy watching everyone from Randy Harris to Walter Brueggemann…Enjoy!

ACU Summit 2012 Video

Here is one to get you started, Mitch Wilburn’s “Children of the Living God”

Radical by David Platt

The more I heard about David Platt the more I wanted to read Radical. David has quite a story. He has been to some really interesting places and done some fascinating things. The biggest obstacle I faced to read this book is that it seems like he really, really wants you to know that he has quite a story, has been to some interesting places and done some fascinating things. That wouldn’t bother me so much except that the whole point of the book is to not be like that.

Radical starts like this,

‘”The youngest megachurch pastor in history.”
While I would dispute that claim, it was nonetheless the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South -the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama.”

That in and of itself wouldn’t seem to be a big deal except that it is relentless. I can’t help but think that his favorite pronoun must be “I”. On page 56 he uses “I” 14 times in two paragraphs. When you write, you are often at your best when you speak from your experience and about things you are passionate about. That is much of what this book does so that may account for a lot of it. Second, maybe I recognize it so much because it is something I struggle with even though I have far less to brag about than David Platt does. I don’t pastor a mega church. I haven’t written a best selling book and still pride is an issue at times. So before I get tough on this book I have to first examine the plank in my own eye.

There is meat in this book. The best point he makes in the book is deconstructing a self-centered 21st century American view of Christianity. He does an outstanding job of removing self from the center of it all and putting God back where he belongs. He points out that too many Christians come to worship to get something out of it, sing their songs, and get their egos stroked more than they come to put God in the center of it all. I think he is right. It is far from the radical call of Jesus and His claim on and purpose for our lives. Many of us struggle with that and it needs to be addressed. He does a masterful job of looking at the big picture of scripture and reminding us to not think more highly of ourselves than we ought and instead think more highly of God than we do.

The other main point of the book is that we are too inward focused. That is true. According to Platt, most Christians are not all that interested in people overseas or mission efforts. He is probably right about that. It is reflected in most Church budgets where just a tiny percentage is devoted to overseas missions. It seems to me that Platt has probably had a series of negative experiences with those who don’t appreciate overseas missions to the extent that he does and has seen some heart issues with those who have opposed him or he has seen have complacent attitudes on those things he is most passionate about. Where Platt takes things to the extreme is his attitude that if you aren’t involved in overseas missions you must not be that serious about your faith. He says, “God has designed a radically global purpose for you life.” (p.83). Has he? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe God has a radical, local vision for my life to impact those right here. It doesn’t matter if God’s goal for my life is global or local. What matters is that I am trying to live for God wherever I find myself.

Last, Platt had a lot of insight about depending on God rather than on having the right strategies and plans. Too often we mimic a corporate business model for planning and organizing ministry with little emphasis given to dependence on God. That is something I wrestle with and I think it takes balance.  He said it like this on p. 60,

“It is the way of Christ. Instead of asserting ourselves, we crucify ourselves. Instead of imagining all the things we can accomplish, we ask God to do what only he can accomplish. Yes, we work, we plan, we organize, and we create, but we do it all while we fast, while we pray and while we constantly confess our need for the provision of God. Instead of dependence on ourselves, we express radically desperation for the power of his Spirit, and we trust that Jesus stands ready to give us everything we ask for so that he might make much of our Father in the world.”

Good stuff. I can’t really say that you should put this on your reading list. There are other books out there that accomplish some of the same things without all the distractions. One that I would recommend is Randy Harris’ “God Work”


Gulf Coast Getaway 2012 – A Lesson Learned

I was blessed to be able to attend Gulfcoast Getaway this past weekend. It was a blessing to worship with over 1500 college students really pouring out their hearts to God. It was a blessing to hear men like Mike Cope and Randy Harris preach Jesus. It was a blessing to spend time with some of our young adults and a guy who is taking on more responsibility in our college ministry (to help sharpen him up and “talk shop” on the direction of our ministry). It was great seeing guys like Grant Azbell who I grew up with and Donny Dillon, who I have been friends with 10 years now. I was blessed to catch some time with Mike Cope and Eric Brown to talk about ministry to young adults and ways to be more effective in the kingdom. God really blessed many people this weekend and God was really praised. If you weren’t there, you missed out!

This year was a little different at GCG. When you are trying to be on the cutting edge, if you keep doing the same thing all the time it feels like it can run dry. This year they tried some new things and did so effectively. They tried to create more community by splitting the students up into small discussion groups. Worship Sunday ended with communion in these groups with people you had been discussing things with over the weekend. I thought that was a good idea. There didn’t seem to be as visible a focus on international missions this year as their had been in years past. Instead, they highlighted with various campus ministries had done over the past year. This covered everything from paying for a homeless veteran’s eye surgery to serving meals to the homeless, and reaching out to various subsidized housing developments. I thought that was an important focus because often we get the message that what needs to be done is somewhere else and not in our own backyard.

A Lesson Learned:
There was one thing I specifically wanted to share. On Saturday night, Mike Cope spent three hours talking about Jesus and how he fits into the broader story of scripture going all the way back to Genesis. He talked about everything from the major stories of the Old Testament (chronologically) all the way through the Gospels. Pretty much the only stuff he left out was the documentary hypothesis and Q. Other than that, he pretty much hit all the highlights of OT and NT theology. He ended with why Jesus came and what it means for us in terms of how we follow him. It was some solid stuff that should be available soon on the GCG website.

Here is what was so remarkable about it…our students wanted more. The wanted a fourth hour. Now, this is 10pm and they are wanting to hear another 60 minutes of Jesus. Often we fear boring people so much that we avoid the meat. These guys got a taste of it and wanted more. Granted, Mike is an excellent communicator who can go 180 minutes note free on how Jesus fits into the story of scripture. Not many people can do that well or keep people engaged. But their reaction really taught me a few things:

  1. Young people are hungrier for scripture and spiritual meat than I had imagined. They want this. They don’t just want it in Panama City. They want this at home. They want to read the Bible and understand it. Often they will need a guide. Will we provide that for them?
  2. Time really isn’t the issue. Maybe our presentation of it gets in the way or intimidation gets in the way or people looking at watches gets in the way.
  3. Their lack of interest is not the issue. It is easy to assume more Bible = more boredom. That is not the case. Maybe we need to step up our game in how we present it to keep people on board and engaged. We need to present it in a way that does justice to the power of the story.

Any of you attend the Getaway? What did you take away from it?

Pepperdine 2011

I was blessed to be able to attend the Pepperdine Bible Lectures last week. Jerry Rushford organized an amazing lectureship where God was certainly glorified. The only thing more beautiful than the scenery was the people. I cannot tell you how many amazing people were there and how many of them encouraged me through the classes and conversations. It was great catching up with so many and meeting so many others. Thanks to everyone who supported our class on ministering to 20s & 30s. I hope it was a blessing to many. Also, I was amazed at how many young guys were speaking out there. It really gives a sense of hope to see God using people young and old to advance His kingdom.

I probably shouldn’t start mentioning names as there were so many who encouraged me this past week but I guess I will anyway. There were three men who really helped me out this week, one young and two slightly past being young: Josh Graves, Randy Harris and Mike Cope. Josh Graves had a tremendous keynote and classes. I had never met Josh and was greatly blessed by how God used him this past week. His sermon on the mount material was accurate and applicable. Randy’s insights and delivery are always great. I was blessed by his classes, his panel discussions, and his new book Soul Work. I would encourage all of you guys to read this book. I read it on the plane on the way back and I think I am going to read it again. He talks a lot about what he learned from his time with hermits…exciting stuff for sure! The two biggest blessings in this book for me were his writing on humility and contemplative prayer. Mike Cope’s final class about what he learned from raising his daughter Megan nearly brought me to tears. I just didn’t see it coming. His class  was like an emotional ambush, in a good way. I am going to have to get a copy of his new book too.

If you haven’t ever been to Pepperdine I would encourage you to make the trip next year!

Randy Harris on Persecution in Revelation

Often we hear the message of Revelation is, “We win!” That is the end game but it is not where the letter starts. Of the seven churches in chapters 2-3 only two don’t have judgments against them (Smyrna and Philadelphia). The rest are so culturally accommodated that you can’t tell the difference between who is in the church and who is in the world. It sounds a lot like the state of much of Christianity today. I love this quote from Randy Harris. I think it puts things in perspective,

“It is not that Christians are undergoing persecution but that they have become so much like
the world around them that they are not worth persecuting.”

American Patriotism and Christianity

With Independence day rapidly approaching and landing on a Sunday I am curious to hear how different congregations deal with this holiday. There has been such a wide variety of thoughts on this going from extreme patriotism with America being basically the new Israel and chosen by God to extreme isolation where you won’t hear or see anything remotely connected with culture expressed in some churches. Where does your congregation fall in the spectrum and what are your views on this as an individual? Should we celebrate these types of holidays or have American independence themes or songs in our worship?

I find these words from Randy Harris challenging,

So loyalty to country, loyalty to family, loyalty to friends–all of those strike me as commendable things. The problem is when patriotism becomes nationalism. Now this is a different matter. Nationalism is always evil because it is idolatry. It is the point where we confuse the nation with God, where our primary loyalties become aimed at the nation instead of God. This is always bad news. And nationalism is often lurking just under the surface of much of what we do. (God Work, 152)

Harris goes on to point out one subtle and dangerous form of nationalistic idolatry, quoting from the story of the golden calf, he shows the danger of worshiping country as God. We all know better than to worship America or pray to America (as Randy points out) but often things get kind of muddy. He says,

I think we are far more likely to be guilty of this kind of idolatry. Somehow we get the nation confused with a visible representative of God. And we think that our deep loyalty and commitment to the nation somehow is service to Yahweh. Soon we think God is especially represented or only represented in our nation. And then we’re into the deep water of idolatry. p.153

We do have to be careful to not view our country in terms that only God is worthy to receive. This country does provide for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I am very glad for that and very spoiled on account of that. But it can never provide what God can provide: eternal life, liberty from sin and death, and deeply rooted happiness that will last forever and ever. I never have really understood why songs like America the Beautiful and the Battle Hymn of the Republic are in our song books. I just think people come to worship for deeper and longer lasting reasons than American patriotism. I don’t think patriotism in and of itself is wrong or sinful. There have been so many stories of herorism and love that have come from our national story that certainly do reflect Christ-like priorities. But if we start putting nation in place of God we obviously have a deep rooted spiritual issue.

Randy Harris is Blogging…Finally

Thanks to Mike Cope for the heads up on this. Here are the links:

Postmodern Mystic

Monk Warrior

The blogging community just got that much better.

God Work by Randy Harris

I just finished Randy Harris’ book God Work – Confessions of a Standup Theologian and I have to say it was a really great read. I have also been reading N.T. Wright’s new book After You Believe and over and over again I found myself picking up Harris’ book over Wright’s. I wouldn’t have guessed it would have happened that way but it did. What kept me coming back to this book was Harris’ open and honest style. He is not afraid to ask a difficult question and then handle the answer honestly, even if it raises some unconformability in the process.

In this book you get ecclesiology, epistemology, and theology all rolled out in a way that is humorous and intellectual. What he has done in this book is take us out of the driver’s seat and put God back in it. In doing so we learn how to interact with God in a healthy, relational way that is both biblical and meaningful to upcoming generations of Christians. We are free to ask questions. We are free to have doubts. We are free to be confused at times. But at the center of it all, God patiently engages our lives through the ups and downs to bring us closer and closer to himself. This book is good for a healthy perspective on postmodernism, not just in explanatory form but also in how Harris works through much of his material.

I have to say, that I am a better person for having read this book. Several of the stories I had heard before. They were just as funny in print but in print I had more time to deal with them and meditate on the points being made than hearing these stories live. I wish I had more time to give a thorough synopsis of this book and describe more of its contents but why let me do all the work for you? If you have been looking for your next read, give this one a shot by ordering directly from Leafwood in the link above.

The last thing I want to mention about this book is I think it would be especially helpful for many elderships to read together. I say that because it would really help them understand the worldview of our youth and get a grasp on how to maintain unity among church goers with more and more of a postmodern outlook. I really hope that Harris plays a big part informing more and more congregations on how to make the coming, needed transitions in the church without compromising our core, scripture-based, values.

Having an Open Mind – The Pursuit of Intellectual Honesty

Three quotes for you regarding intellectual honesty and theology. The first is from Randy Harris and the last two were quoted in Jim’s sermon on Sunday from C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton:

“If I am going to have a conversation with a serious intellectual atheist, for instance, I will ask, “Tell me what it will take to change your view.” If the atheist’s answer is, “Nothing could change my view,” I must next ask, “Why are we having this conversation?” However, it is perfectly fair to turn this around and have the atheist ask me the same question. If I can specify what it would take to change my view, questions arise, “Do I have a humble enough stance toward the truth?” and, “Am I playing a game or involved in a real search for truth?” – Randy Harris God Work – Confessions of a Standup Theologian, 16

“Merely having an open mind is nothing; the object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” – G.K. Chesterton

“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful.  But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical reason is idiocy.  If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.” – C.S. Lewis in Credenda Agenda Vol:4, No.5 p.16

I am curious to hear your feedback on comparing and contrasting these.

Randy Harris on the Importance of Epistemological Humility

Disagreement with me is not necessarily disagreement with God. If we are not humble about what we know, we are unteachable…For example, I’ve changed my mind on Romans 7. Once I was absolutely convinced that Paul was talking about his post Christian experiences….As I kept reading Romans 7, I became absolutely convinced that I had it wrong. Now, I think Paul is talking about his experience of trying to be righteous under the law, experiencing a transformation of the gracious call of Jesus Christ, empowered in a way he never was when living under the law. I had been wrong. There have been other cases like this, with even more critical doctrinal issues at stake. but if we aren’t a little humble about what we currently believe then we are unable to have open conversations and find it extraordinarily difficult to learn anything new. – Randy Harris in God Work – Confessions of a Standup Theologian, 15-16

I would say Randy is wise beyond his years but he is getting older. I saw him at Gulfcoast Getaway in January. He was dressed in black, as always, so I asked him if the event coordinators couldn’t at least replace the red cord on his ID badge with a black one. Harris is an exceptional speaker and is extremely gifted in connecting with college students. I think that is true because he is not afraid to be honest. He is not afraid to be honest because he is not looking to prove himself right. He is looking for truth. Young people today respect that. He personally exhibits this characteristic of epistemological humility that he describes so well in this quote.

I highlight this quote because more and more of our churches need to be in tune with this principle. Let me put it bluntly. Churches that don’t will decline sharply within one generation and will likely not exist in any recognizable form within two. For so many years some within our fellowship have tried to corner the market on truth, proving ourselves right and everyone else wrong. In order to do so some avoided, neglected, proof texted, or shouted away areas of weakness. We believe scripture contains the truth as God has decided to reveal it to us and yet we do have honest differences in interpretation, not just between different Christians but even within our own views as we grow and mature over time.

God never intended the world to put up with or open up to his people when they were proud, disingenuous, and uncaring. He didn’t intend that because when we act that way we cannot accurately reflect the living and loving God we serve to a world that is all too familiar with death and hatred. But if we are willing to recognize our weaknesses the world will see that we are finally ready to have a discussion where we treat them with love, respect, and dignity. When that happens, expect to see the church engaging the world at its very best and expect to see some of those in the world respond in a way they never would when they knew we were not ready to humbly acknowledge our shortcomings.