Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Jesus Manifesto Post

I've got a new post up on The Jesus Manifesto. It's a fun story...

Perfectionism and Risk-Taking

My son Jaron (5) has a huge problem with failure. If he can't do something perfectly, he won't even try. If he makes any mistake at all, even in something incredibly minor or insignificant, he doesn't know how to cope. As a result, he is very reticent to try anything new.

I know that I have some of the same tendencies. If there is a huge risk of failure, I often do not even want to start the task. While I'm not a perfectionist like Jaron, if I can't do something with excellence, I will often procrastinate so that I have an excuse for not living up to my expectations.

I wonder how some of these tendencies transfer into our spirituality. A relationship is far less measurable than other "tasks" that we might be attempting to accomplish. And yet, that may make spirituality even easier to fail at, and therefore difficult to attempt.

Grace is a tricky concept to embrace when perfection is the desired outcome. I wonder how often we hold ourselves up to higher standards than God even expects of us. Living in grace means living in freedom - freedom from the fear of failure, freedom from our own expectations, freedom to try new things, freedom from guilt and shame.

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Why do we say "don't catch a cold" when it seems like the cold always catches us?

Friday, October 26, 2007

God is big

One of my seminary professors, Wilbur Stone, loves to say the following regarding people in other religions:

Not all paths lead to God, but God is on every path.

What do you think about that?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Childlike Guilt?

As I've posted earlier, my five year old son Jaron has started attending AWANA this year, a children's program that emphasizes patriotism, good behavior, and Scripture memorization in no particular order. One of the verses that Jaron had to memorize for tonight (dreadfully out of context) was James 2:10:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
James 2:10 (NIV)

My wife Lori read the verse to him over and over but he refused to try and say it himself. The more she tried, the more upset he got, to the point that he was almost throwing a fit on the floor. Lori calmed him down and then asked why he didn't like the verse. Jaron replied, "It makes me feel bad."

We've worked pretty hard at teaching Jaron what Jesus is like and how to have a relationship with him. He instinctively felt that something about this verse wasn't right...that this isn't something that Jesus would say to him.

I could explain to him about the role of the law in Jewish society and about Jesus' treatment of the law in Matthew 5-7, but even though he's a smart kid, that would probably go over his head.

How would you respond to this situation?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Collaborative Blog

I am excited to begin participating in a new collaborative blog called The Jesus Manifesto. My first post hasn't appeared yet, but there's some great stuff already written. Check it out!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Let Evangelism Take Care of Itself

The more time I spend in church ministry, the more frustrated I get with traditional approaches to evangelism which emphasize making a decision...NOW! In my post about our Christ Zombies concerts a few weeks ago, I noted that seven teens prayed to receive Christ. That's wonderful, but I also know that most of those kids are not plugged into any Christian community and that decision will likely be meaningless six months from now. However, two of those teens attended our youth group for several months before they made their decisions. I am far more optimistic about them because their decision was informed by the witness of lived faith which they desired for themselves.

Last week, a young woman who has been part of our church for the last year or so prayed to receive Christ. Two weeks ago, a couple that has been hanging around for a while began asking questions about what it means to be "saved" or "born again". My conviction is that the gospel does not usually have to be forced upon someone. As they are invited into a Christ-centered community of love and faith, the gospel is experienced and people come to faith quite naturally. I would much rather trust the Holy Spirit's work in people's lives than my own ability to articulate the gospel

The big question, however, is how do we make our churches places where the gospel is lived and where people are given time to process their faith without being pressured to decide on the spot whether or not they will decide to follow Jesus? In other words, how do we make our churches safe places for people to ask questions, make friends, make mistakes, and eventually come to faith?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vision Sunday

Yesterday was a pretty fun day. We've been working on plans for purchasing a facility, an old brick storefront in the heart of downtown Chaska. Yesterday we dedicated our whole church service to praying, talking, brainstorming, dreaming, and prophesying about where we're headed as a church. It was a wonderful time where the whole church came together with passion and excitement about where God is taking us.

The challenge is tremendous as the building costs $520,000 and our annual church budget is around $80,000. We spend our time primarily in trailer parks, low-income housing, and with strange-looking teenagers. These groups of people tend not to be able to generate funds for a capital campaign, so we're having to be creative in the fund-raising process. Our hope is that there will be a few people from outside our church who will catch the vision for a youth concert venue and a church who reaches the fringes of society and will be willing to support it financially.

The fun part of this whole adventure is that it is so far beyond anything that we have the capacity to accomplish. We are completely dependent upon God to provide all that we need. Being realistic about that in some ways takes the pressure off. That doesn't mean we're not going to work our tails off, but it does mean that no matter how hard we work, we're not going to accomplish this task unless God has his hand in it. So far, he seems to be leading us pretty clearly in this direction and we're hopeful and trusting that he will continue to guide us where he wants us to go.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Christ Zombies

Six months ago, we asked the five kids in our youth group how we could get more kids interested. They suggested that we start holding concerts, so Mike and I went to work on getting our first show organized. They also renamed our group of emo kids "Christ Zombies".

The past few months have been fantastic. We have hosted hardcore/metal concerts about twice a month since May. So far, our focus has been to simply provide a place for kids to be themselves and to build relationships with them over time. One recent show was a benefit concert for a local family who had incredible medical expenses. We had 360 kids there and raised $2800 for the family. Most of the shows have had between 150 and 250 teens in attendance.

On Friday night, we had another show. At first, we were really frustrated and disappointed because we felt like it was going to be a big night, but the attendance was really low - only about 85 kids. As the night went on, however, one of the bands called For Today spent the evening wandering around and talking with kids. Over the course of the night, seven teens prayed to receive Christ and gave us their phone numbers to follow up with them.

This night reminded me that what we're doing with these shows is not just about drawing a crowd, but about drawing people toward Jesus. As we continue to serve Jesus by making our space available for teens to gather, we're confident that Jesus will continue to build his church among the teens of Chaska.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Even the remnant was disobedient (Jer. 42-43). After Israel had consistently disobeyed the things the Lord had told them through Jeremiah and after they had been utterly destroyed by Babylon, even the few that were left still refused to obey the Lord. Even after Jeremiah had been repeatedly proved correct in his revelation of what God would do next, they still would not listen. God offered them a chance for life and a future, but because of their hard hearts, they were destroyed.

I wonder why. I guess they probably felt like they were making the best choices given the situation they were in. It made more sense to go and take refuge in Egypt rather than to attempt to live defenselessly amidst the rubble of Jerusalem. In fact, staying in Jerusalem would have been simply ludicrous and would have meant certain death by any form of human reckoning. But God’s ways don’t always make sense.

I think there’s a tension between the New Testament paradigm of “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us” and simply doing what we think is best. Much of the time, I simply do what I think is best in a given situation and trust that the Holy Spirit will let me know if there’s a better way. I think the key, though, is the “us”. Without seeking the Lord together in community, the affirmation of the Holy Spirit is a lot harder to discern. It’s pretty easy to do the things that I want to do and since they seem good, assume the Holy Spirit’s approval as well. The men of Israel probably didn’t intend to disobey God. They just thought God was leading them somewhere different than he actually was.

I think the lesson here is…Slow Down! Don’t rush things. Make sure that God is where you’re at. And if he moves, make sure you’re paying enough attention to actually notice. With all of the big changes and tasks ahead, I feel pretty overwhelmed. I feel so incapable of doing what needs to be done. I feel clear about the end result, but the steps to get there are so murky. It’s like driving blindly through a fog. I know there’s sunlight on the other end because it’s leaking through a little bit, but how do I know the road isn’t going to curve? How do I know there’s not another car coming? Or a person walking across the road in front of me?

That’s the place of trust…believing that Jesus cares enough to sit beside me through the maze of choices and responsibilities and get me to the end of the road.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I was reflecting this morning on the story of Mary and Martha and recognized that there are times when both approaches to the world can be helpful. For instance, most of the time I'm more like Mary. I like to leave a lot of space in my schedule so that I don't feel the need to rush conversations in order to move on to the next important task to accomplish. A great example of this was yesterday when I was sitting in my comfy chair in the corner of Caribou Coffee. I had my computer out and was just getting set to work on some planning when a couple who has been attending the church showed up and came to join me. If I had been in a Martha state of mind, I probably wouldn't have gotten a chance to talk about the question that was plaguing them: What does it mean to be 'saved'? By simply being available, we were able to talk about some incredibly important things.

Sometimes, however, a Martha personality can bring about some good. Monday nights are pretty busy for me. I have youth group from 6:30-8:30 and my small group after that. Just before youth group last night, I got a call from someone in the church who was out of town but had heard that her son was struggling and needed someone to talk to right away. Since I was in the middle of some things that I couldn't leave, I asked if I could send someone else. We talked and agreed on a person that might be good for the situation. I contacted him and he immediately headed over and spent time with the young man. Because I had too much on my plate that evening, others in the church were given an opportunity to minister and serve which they otherwise might not have had.

This morning I am just feeling grateful that God has work that he wants to accomplish in the lives of his people and that he will use us where we are to bring healing and wholeness to the dark places in the lives of the people of our world.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Children of the Empire

I was so proud of my five year old son Jaron last week. Our church doesn't have midweek children's programming, so we decided to send him to another area church to be part of their kids ministry which shall remain nameless.......okay, AWANA....

We got Jaron's entrance handbook, a small booklet which contains a few introductory things to memorize including John 3:16, the club motto, the pledge to the AWANA flag, and the pledge of allegiance. When I showed the handbook to Jaron and told him what was in it, he started laughing maniacally. The conversation went something like this:

Me: So Jaron, first you have to memorize John 3:16. Then you have to learn the club motto. Then you already know the next section. It's the pledge of allegience.

Jaron: (maniacal laughing)

Me: What's so funny

Jaron: (barely able to form words) The pledge of allegiance? The pledge of allegiance isn't in the Bible!!

Me: You're right Jaron. It's kind of silly isn't it.

Jaron: Why do we have to say the pledge of allegiance at AWANA?

Unfortunately, I didn't have a very good answer to that question. In fact, much of the program is a bit disturbing to me. Why are we having our children pledge allegiance to the AWANA flag? I don't want Jaron declaring his allegiance to AWANA. I want him declaring his allegiance to Jesus. The whole thing strikes me as far too similar to the youth propaganda programs of oppressive regimes around the world. It's filled with all of this disturbingly militant language and imagery. I'm not sure if the goal is to make followers of Jesus or good children of the Empire.

I'm probably overreacting to all of this, but I think it's notable that a five year old found the pledge of allegiance ludicrously incompatible with his burgeoning Christian faith. Certainly there are some good things about AWANA. They place a strong emphasis on living your faith. Memorizing Bible verses is never a bad thing. Jaron has fun and gets to develop a positive relationship with adult Christian leaders. But some of the baggage that goes along with it is pretty hard to swallow.

"Hail AWANA, on the march for youth!"