Monday, December 31, 2007

happy new year

What a year 2007 was. Wow.
Who would have thought that God would speak to each of us and we’d end up sacrificially giving over 12.8 million dollars toward the creation of The Healing Center, a Student Ministry expansion and internship program and launch a well-drilling micro-business/ministry with Self-Sustaining Enterprises in Nigeria? It was a love for our city, our future and our world.

It was a good year at so many other levels. This weekend I talked about The Top 3 Cool Things That Happened at VCC in 2007…and then The Top 3 Things I Screwed Up. There were more things than that (obviously), but I just didn’t have time to unpack them all.

So, as promised, here is my complete Top 10 List. Anton, drumroll please…

The Top 10 Cool Things:

1. We listened to God and threw the net on the other side of the boat. (You’ll have to listen to the message for this one, but it’s based on John 21:6. The Healing Center is just another net…for people who would never step into a church for help.)

2. We learned a little about sacrifice. (People gave sacrificially toward the Luke 4 Challenge in ways that made me cry. No kidding.)

3. We worked hard behind-the-scenes on our integrity. (Yeah, you’ll have to listen to the weekend. Sorry. Too much to unload here…but here’s the graphic for the “integrity strength triangle”. Critical for wholeness.)

4. Waited to hire the right teaching pastor. (We had a stack of resumes a couple inches thick. But it had to be the right combination of a heart for lost people and yet a hunger for the power of the Holy Spirit, a creative communicator with an edge, good and broken, leadership gifting, a certain amount of life experience, etcetera etcetera. We waited and waited. And then waited some more. We were close on some, but it just didn’t seem right. And then we met Joe in Anaheim…)

5. Landed on our five core DNA values. (The 4WARD series was a bigger deal than you think. Remember the mnemonic?—Servant community, Outward focused, Worship, Empowered transformation, and Relevant: SOWER. This shapes everything for us seedflingers…)

6. Integrated “power prayer” into more ministries. (This was subtle but critical. More and more risky prayers were incorporated into various ministries, from MercyWorks to Celebrations to wherever. Karin’s prayer training is sneaking into everything. Like cranberries, as Brian Regan says. Awesome. How cool is it that one of our blind homeless friends at Washington Park was healed at a Good Sam Run? It’s the Kingdom in action.)

7. Saw a real turn in student ministries effectiveness. (What can I say? Pete Bryant and the gang have made unbelievable strides in the last two years. After two-and-a-half years of a turn-around strategic plan, Pete said at his strategic plan presentation a year ago that if this didn’t work, we should fire him. I love that kind of confidence [risk-taking?] in God-sought planning.)

8. The development of a strong, healthy board of trustees. (We have been on a board development track that has really paid off. I’m so proud of these high-powered volunteers who give unbelievable numbers of hours to bring accountability to VCC at the highest levels. I love this gang.)

9. Getting into the Victory of Light Psychic Fair at the Convention Center. (I’m crazy about seeing Evangelism and Prayer Ministries working together and thinking out-of-the-box when it comes to spiritual power. We offered healing and dream interpretation. Get real: who else but the Vineyard would do this…and give away fortune cookies with specially printed fortunes at the booth?)

10. Turkeyfest. (Wow. Kande and the gang came up with a simple idea: instead of VCC buying the turkeys and canned goods each year and then meeting to distribute them—typically about 400 dinners—this year we simply set out boxes with packing instructions. Families then bought the goodies, including the turkeys, and even decorated the boxes and threw in extra treats…and then distributed them as well all over Greater Cincinnati. We ran out of boxes at 800. People were trying to buy boxes from others who grabbed them. Next year: 1600 boxes?)

Now for all us “glass half-empty” personality-types, here are The Top 10 Things I Screwed Up:

1. I didn’t communicate enough. (Yeah, listen to the message for these first three. My introversion/assumption is a drawback…and as Andy says, vision leaks…quickly. I’ve got to communicate more about what we’re doing and why.)

2. I didn’t ask God to move miraculously among us enough…and then take the risk. (Getting too comfortable with my/our spiritual status quo. ‘Nuff said.)

3. I didn’t teach the Vineyard how to feed itself. (We’ve suspected it. Confirmed with the Reveal survey. I own this one.)

4. Didn’t talk to God enough. (This is an embarrassing thing for a pastor to admit, but I find prayer more than difficult. Once again, relying way too much on natural gifts. Not good. The best things that happened this year have been in desperate moments of brokenness/prayer.)

5. I was too cheap. (I think some of this is simply family-of-origin-stuff from coming from a poor background. It’s one thing to be cheap with yourself, but awful when that spills out with others).

6. I cocooned too much. (The dark side of introversion. But even worse is when TV becomes the “veg factor” for down time. For introverts thrown into extroverted contexts, this can feel like an entitlement for us. That kind of thinking sucks.)

7. Didn’t worship enough privately and publicly. (Worship is definitely one of my pathways to connecting with God. Some of my most intense moments have been in the car on some of my Friday morning prayer/drives with a mix CD of favorite worship songs. But life has a way of crowding out those times. Or is that one more excuse? And why?)

8. I didn’t have enough one-on-one meetings with the greatest staff in the world. (We have an incredibly hardworking, dedicated staff that takes the tithe dollars that support them seriously. I need to spend more one-on-one time with them and express my appreciation and respect. We now have about 120 people on staff.)

9. Didn’t exercise. (Yeah, I know…my body is a temple. A big one. Does cutting the grass count?)

10. Forgot my admin assistant’s birthday. (Donna saves my life on a regular basis. What was I thinking? Or not thinking? I’ll have her put it on my calendar…)

There you have it. Now come on…what’s yours?

Monday, December 24, 2007

christmas + peace

Then a very large group of angels from heaven joined the first angel, praising God and saying: “Give glory to God in heaven, and on earth let there be peace among the people who please God.” Luke 2:13-14 (New Century Version)

I find it interesting that God would say peace to all men and women on earth at the incarnation of the Son of God, the ultimate delivery in human history. No wonder there was a huge angelic party worshiping God; God has slipped into the human race, fulfilling millenium-sized prophecies. Fully human, yet divine. And so the angel army shouts peace. Think about how significant that is. They said peace, not happiness, to all men. Not hope. Not faith. Not healthy self-esteem. But peace to all who would seek to please God, rather than themselves. The peace-gift doesn’t come to those who have it together, to those who are successful, to the clever, to the fastest, or the most significant. It comes to those who turn from being self-focused and decide that pleasing God is the highest vocation on the planet.

Let me tell you a true story.

Once upon a December there was a young musician living with a group of players all struggling to be something/somebody. He had dropped out of college, confused, sharply lonely, all the stuff that supposedly fuels the creative tortured soul. It’s the stuff of artistry, right? But a tortured soul is still a tortured soul. With no more than a few dollars in his pocket, he went out that night and stole a Christmas tree, put it up in his room, and sat on the edge of the bed staring at it for hours while he got hammered alone on cheap wine. What’s worse than a lonely drunk? But his problems weren’t circumstantial. His problem was that he didn’t have a big enough reason to exist. As Franklin succinctly put it, “A man wrapped up in himself is a small bundle.” Here is a simple truth: there is nothing more significant than personally knowing the Creator of the universe. Now that's a name to drop. In less than four months after that Christmas, the Prince of Peace, as Isaiah called Jesus, would come crashing into this young man’s life, forever changing the way he lived.

It’s been thirty-three years and I haven’t been the same since.

I made a soul journey from believing that God might possibly exist…to God may have some interaction with the universe…to God might actually interface with human beings…to God might actually know me…to God knows my name and wants to personally rescue me from my own private hell. All of a sudden, it became real when it became personal. God didn’t send His Son into the world for some faceless herd of humanity—He slipped into this world to find me. Christmas is all about a specific search-and-rescue mission. For you and me.

The significance of God coming as a helpless baby lying in a feeding trough for barn animals for me supremely affects the way I treat others and myself. Peace comes to all men and women who come alive with a desire to please God.

The word we translate peace usually comes from the Greek word eirene. It shows up in about every book in the New Testament, and in most cases it refers to relationships. It’s rooted in the Greek verb eiro, which means to join. In other words, peace has more to do with the integrity and the joining of our relationships than anything else. How much of your stress and anxiety in life is caused by relationships? Like, uh, practically all of it?

Our relationships are as healthy as we are healthy. And the primal relationship is with God. When the wall comes down between us and God and we are joined, then we become one. And peace comes. Out of a peaceful heart come relationships that are healthy inasmuch as it falls upon us, as in: Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy... Hebrews 12:12-14a (New International Version). I like that the writer happens to talk about becoming healthy ourselves first before having peace with all men.

I wish peace could be waved over the Third Rock from the Sun with some magic wand and everyone could suddenly be happy, like the proverbial Miss America line. I fear it doesn’t work like that; my trust in God is such that I’m fairly sure He would have tried if it were that simple. Besides, it seems there’s a world of difference between happiness and peace.

Instead, joining each heart to Himself seems to be the peace-plan. And it started with a baby wrapped in Jewish skin.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Romans 5:1 (New Living Translation)

Merry Christmas, friends. And peace to all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

what i don't want to say

The message was pretty straightforward this weekend, with a bit of an inside look at why God kept dropping bread crumbs in a little village called Bethlehem to see if we’d get the hint. Like David being anointed king there. Or like a “kinsmen-redeemer” rescuing both Naomi and Ruth—a Jew and a Gentile—in Bethlehem and a prophetic reference to Paul’s letter to the Galatians that God has made the two (Jew and Gentile) into one and tore down the wall between us. Or the Jewish prophet Micah dropping the big bombshell: “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times".

But I don’t want to blog about that.

After noticing a number of churches in my neck of the woods advertising a “live nativity” (as opposed to a “dead nativity”), I started wondering why we do some of the things we do in churches at Christmas. Have you ever heard of people having a “crisis of faith”? One year I had a “crisis of production”.

One September day in 2000 I was sitting in Chipotles with my wife Anita and said: “I just can’t do another Christmas Eve program again. I’m sick of them. I’m going to cancel it this year.”

She choked on her burrito and said, “You can’t do that!” She looked at me like I had said, “Let’s put the “x” back in xmas.”

I reminded her, “Are you sure? I think I’m the pastor.” I was just tired of The Big Production. And then Anita reminded me of something that changed my life. Over twenty years ago we did our first outreach as a brand new little church of twenty-five people. We gave away a few bags of groceries and Christmas trees in the projects. We were so naïve that we would knock on the doors and ask if there were any poor people there. There were several dynamics happening: it wasn’t just a need being met, but a shift in the way people—mostly estranged from church—saw Christians. Even better yet, not just saw Christians, but saw the Kingdom of God crashing into their world. We were hooked.

Suddenly my wife said, “Why don’t we return to our roots and do an outreach on Christmas Eve?”

I mulled it around for a few minutes, sucking on a Diet Coke. And then I said, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea: why don’t we do an outreach on Christmas Eve?”

She just rolled her eyes, smiled and took another bite of her burrito.

It’s become a tradition for us. Instead of The Big Production on Christmas Eve night, we bought thousands of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and passed them out to people who have to work on Christmas Eve—policemen, firemen, video stores, hospitals, and so on. Even restaurants. Turns out waiters and waitresses in your average Applebee’s love Krispy Kremes.

Last year my family went to an IHOP restaurant where an obviously harried young hostess ringing out a family in front of us said tersely without looking at us, “Sorry. We’re not serving anymore…we’re closing.”

We said, “Good for you! We don’t want your food. We’re actually bringing you some.” We handed her a box with a dozen Krispy Kremes in it and she was stunned. She looked at the box with the little card on it from the Vineyard and then looked up at us and—I’m not making this up—said, “You all are going to make me cry!” and teared up.

I’ll never forget this email: “Last Christmas Eve was a really stressful night at the Starbucks where I work because there were a lot of customers and they wanted their coffee fast—we were really frustrated. In the evening a guy from the Vineyard came in and handed a box of doughnuts to my coworker. She started crying and saying, “You people are so nice!” Several months later in March, she and I stayed for hours at Starbucks after closing just talking about God, and that’s when she decided to give her life to Christ. She started going to the Vineyard with me and she’s been thinking about getting baptized.”

But let’s be honest: it’s not all as simple as saying we’re not going to do a Big Production.

Our Outreach team, Celebration team and Facilities team might not agree with me that it’s not The Big Production. Those folks work a gazillion hours leading up to this night. It looks simple: we do a few Christmas carols, light our candles, sing “Silent Night” and then head into the gym to pick up our mostly pre-scouted locations with maps on each box of dozen (over two thousand of them…and the smell is spectacular). I guess that classifies as a Big Production. D’oh!

And we still put on a full-blown production of a free play (hey, it’s an outreach…) for three nights before all that (only four days after the previous weekend stuff). And pull off the celebrations on the weekend. And then The No Big Production Christmas Eve 8th Annual Doughnut Outreach. And then collapse on Christmas day.

Come to think of it, maybe I’m living in La La Land with my sarcastic jab at the dead nativity.

Would someone do an intervention?

Monday, December 10, 2007

colorado church shootings

The news from New Life Church and the Youth With A Mission center in Colorado is stunning. Four innocent people shot to death. It elicits the response: what in the world is going on? At this point in the stream of news, it appears they were linked: the shooter was a 24-year old psychopath who “hated Christians” and had allegedly been asked to leave YWAM five years earlier.

Google “church shootings” and you’ll find numbers of incidents; schools and malls are not the only public spaces where anyone can enter and create havoc. Churches provide an open venue with lots of people, creating opportunities for deranged people to get their “fifteen minutes”. And if you’re a believer, the evil factor feels all the more obvious. It’s morbidly curious how many of the shooters had an anti-Christian bent.

Though I’ve never really spoken much about it, we’ve had a few run-ins with disturbed people. The Vineyard has certainly been the target of vitriolic hate mail in the past. Some of it we have passed on to the authorities because of the violent and/or aggressive sexual nature of it. Frankly, my wife and I have had anonymous angry letters show up in our mailbox at home.

Some years ago a guy came up on the stage while I was talking with people between celebrations. He was pacing behind me then suddenly pulled a fire extinguisher off the wall, started swinging it and hit me with it. I wrapped my arms around him to hold him steady until a couple of guys from the prayer team came up and we pulled him to a back room, while praying for him and calling the police.

One Saturday night in the atrium a woman climbed up on a table and started preaching at people. When I asked her to step down, she hit me and said it was because she was a woman. After asking her several times to get down, we had to call the police to avoid any accusation of what we did or didn’t do. The police took her out while she screamed threats.

We’ve had a couple of people stand up during the celebration and rudely challenge us on something inconsequential in the message. We’ve had emails and letters that said unspeakable things. We’ve had people who were mad for one reason or another sit and glare during the message. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been some celebrations where I’ve wondered if someone might show up and do something irrational. I’ve met with angry people in public places simply because if anything happened I wanted to be in a place where it could be witnessed. We’ve had to ban some people from coming because of things that were threatened. And let’s not mention lawsuits. There are behind-the-scenes reasons we hire security police to roam the building on weekends. Any public place has a responsibility to do what’s necessary to provide a safe environment. And we do.

But it’s just a different world today. None of us can afford to get paranoid; it takes too much energy.

The early disciples had some terrifically harsh things happen to them. Paul had to escape a city over a wall in a basket by a rope. There was the time the leadership told him not to go to a particular meeting because of its riotous, dangerous potential. He still ended up getting beaten, stoned, arrested and imprisoned at different times. Paul said he was often in danger not only from the Gentiles, but people from his own religious heritage. Religious people.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not comparing the experiences of the early disciples with our minimal travails in megachurches with padded seats and air conditioning. But the point is: angry, emotionally disturbed and, dare I say it, demonized individuals exist. And they’re sometimes hyper-religious. I think we have a hard time admitting there are people with evil intent. Jesus didn’t seem to have a hard time with it: he plainly called some people evil and at one point told one of His closest friends: “Get behind me, Satan…your agenda is your own, not God’s.” That’s pretty strong.

We have to have God’s agenda at the top of our to-do list. And that’s simply to bring the Kingdom with words and actions...and to pray for the will of God to come to this crazed place the way it always is in His dimension. Apparently that’s not always the case here on the Blue Planet. We must be willing to be the carrier and messenger of His power and grace.

Is there a cost? Is there resistance?

You’ve got to be kidding. Jesus said plainly, “I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves.”

There’s a reason why Hollywood movies, books and fireside stories from the dawn of humanity have villains and classic clashes between good and evil: it’s because it’s an intuitive reflection of the real universe.

Welcome to the world of spiritual warfare.

Monday, December 03, 2007

répondez s'il-vous-plaît

This week Adam launched us into the Christmas series called “rsvp”. God invades the planet as a Jewish baby in a feeding trough for livestock and the invitation to the kingdom party is sent out. Please rsvp.

We happen to believe the initial reaction to the touch of God is worship. Or think of it like this:

Q: What is the first response to God from a ransomed soul?
A: Outrageous gratitude.

And isn’t that the foundation for worship? Worship begins with the Big Thank You. I'd like to think that we are such noble critters that our first approach to God is awe and worship simply for Who He Is, but I don’t think that’s reality. We are in such a deep hole that the natural first response to the rope thrown in is: thanks. Plus, God is far more personal and in love with us than we realize...until we surrender.

And that’s the thing. I mentioned at our shareholders meeting Friday night that though this “surrender” is nuanced and multilayered, I believe there is a linear process: a surrender to live, a surrender to serve and a surrender to die.

The first surrender is a surrender to live. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” In this surrender, we want help. We’re dying inside, our lives are out of control, and we’re depressingly aware of our brokenness and distance from God. It's numero uno on the twelve steps. Life has become a 500-pound gorilla on our back. We are beaten down...we are tired...we want a savior.

The surrender to live is the doorway into interaction with Jesus. Jesus always responds to a cry for help.

Next comes a surrender to serve. It is here that we let God know we want to do something for Him. We have many people who come to VCC who haven’t hit this part yet. Jesus said that self-aware people who understand what they’ve been rescued from respond in this manner as a “thank you”. He put it like this: the one who has been forgiven much, loves much. We want to express our gratitude in a tangible way; we have a utilitarian reaction. We begin to understand (slowly) that our response is not to earn anything from God, but a gracious reply to the gift of Life.

I remember reading an article in Time about a woman who survived the collapse all the way from the 50th floor in the Trade Center attacks on 911. Although some people suffer from survivor guilt, she became immersed in gratitude and purpose for God: “I was spared for a reason—I want to serve God with all that is in me—I want to make a difference.”

But last comes the surrender to die. Jesus says to us “Pick up you cross and follow me.” In other words, "Choose your form of execution and model your life after Mine." It becomes not “if I die for you”, or “if I am martyred for you”, but rather “I die daily”. This is a death to self-will, to self-ambition, to recognition, to preference, to natural gifting, to everything in you that says there is a part of me that has to be comfortable.

This is radical.

It moves beyond every healthy self-help process to something hidden deep inside. It’s the part that people won’t understand…and is the part that you can’t really talk about because it’s humility on steroids. When a person is being crucified, they don’t have a five-year plan. They don’t have a five minute plan. They aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

The message of the Church to the world is: the cross of Jesus brings life. The message of Jesus to the Church is: come and die; go find your cross.

A final note: in different areas of our lives—interpersonal and inner issues that we’re struggling with—those three surrenders will cycle through on a regular basis. But in general, the process for salvation for our whole life appears to follow that order.

And if true worship is marked by sacrifice, then surrender and worship are synonymous.

Monday, November 26, 2007

i smell a lawsuit...

“What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. (Acts 5:4-5a)

What a neuron-bending story.

Can you imagine if that happened today in First Baptist Church of Truth Or Consequences, New Mexico? Lawyers of family members would be swooping in for the kill. The media would stumble all over itself in a paparazzipalooza. Google would have a million search hits by midnight. Michael Moore would be cueing camera shots. And Pat Robertson would be strangely silent.

I’m pretty sure there would be big money involved. Can you imagine if two people died in your church within three hours after they put serious jack in the offering? It doesn’t even tell us who the “young men” were who came forward and dragged the dead husband out and buried him. And without his wife even knowing. Were they Super-ushers? The Deacons of Doom? Elders of Expiration? Or just a really different job description for the young adult ministry?

What vastly different cultures we live in. When people ask me why we can’t be more like the New Testament church, I have to sigh: is it even possible…and would you really like it? We are light-year cultures removed in so many ways. I’m not saying that’s why it wouldn’t/couldn’t happen now; God transcends cultures. But remember: He did pick a certain one and a certain time to become flesh, or as the Bible puts it, “when the right time came, God sent his Son…” And it wasn’t just to fulfill prophecies; that’s silly—He could have had the prophecies written for any year.

Though people are essentially the same through the centuries, that is, sinners,—(I just had a long discussion with someone who believes the world is progressively becoming more moral; how did he miss Auschwitz, the Communist Gulags, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Darfur, 911, or even Abu Ghraib? And that’s just the last seventy years. Yeah, we don’t draw-and-quarter anymore; we’re just more subtle…)—cultures radically shift.

It just makes you think.

There are so many facets to this story. And Big Questions I would have loved to gotten into: why does that apparently not happen today? Or does it, but we’re not intuitive enough to pick it up and too afraid to touch the judgment question for fear of being, uh, judgmental? And how does grace enter into that equation? Or was that an initial necessity in the launch of this fledgling movement? My theory is that it was critically important to God that the authority and power of the Church not be compromised at the start. Plus, there was just a huge open window to heaven and serious power was being released, just based on the next few verses in the story.

I joked about how I would have taken a second offering then, but that bordered on sacrilege. It’s amazing to me that people can get upset about a guy in an elephant suit getting kicked in the crotch in a humorous video, but no one screamed at that lo-fi quip from me. If you ever been around a serious move of the Holy Spirit in a dramatic way—a deliverance, a real prophetic word, or had God convict you on the spot—there is a reverential awe that shatters cynicism and sarcasm in a nanosecond. It was a cheap attempt at humor. And not very smart. When people start laying sick folks on the sidewalk in hopes that my shadow will cross them, maybe then I can spare some humor about power.

I’m starting to ramble here so I better stop; I’ll get in more trouble. But I love wrestling contextually with challenging scriptures; it’s good for the soul.

Maybe this is the bottom line: money and spirituality is way more connected than we think. Err on the side of grace and generosity every time. If Jesus said it was better to enter into the Kingdom with one eye than hell with two, I’d suggest it’s better to enter with an empty wallet as well.

Monday, November 19, 2007

the ron & denver road show

About half-a-year ago I got a book in the mail called Same Kind of Different As Me. I read a fair amount of books but am not really crazy about contemporary testimonial-type stories; sometimes I feel they’re not written well. This one caught me by surprise…three-quarters of the way through I was crying like a baby. Not sure if I was just in a vulnerable place (it usually takes a sound track to make that happen), but I suspect it was touching the usual button for me: racism.

But then there was the part about Ron’s wife, Deborah. That didn’t help either.

Anyway, it was good to have these guys here. Denver is quite a character and no wonder; he had endured so much pain from early childhood in a racist/economic system that sucked the life out of him. As an illiterate homeless drifter, he spent ten years in Angola prison in Louisiana and then twenty-two years on the streets of Fort Worth. Then he ran headlong into the relentless love of God expressed through the wife of a wealthy art dealer who regularly volunteered in an inner-city soup kitchen. She had seen his face in a dream and heard an obscure scripture: Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom... (Ecclesiastes 9:15a). Their story is unforgettable and reads like a movie script. Which, by the way, was recently optioned by Mark Clayman, executive producer of Will Smith’s The Pursuit of Happyness.

Ron was as gracious and warm as one would hope; all his proceeds from the book go directly to the Union Gospel Mission where his wife volunteered. Denver is seventy-one and just learned to read four years ago. He's simply remarkable. It’s an amazing story of redemption experienced by two men who were worlds apart culturally, but as Denver says in the book, “After I met Miss Debbie and Mr. Ron, I worried that I was so different from them that we wadn’t ever gon’ have no kind a’ future. But I found out everybody’s different – the same kind of different as me: we’re all just regular folks walkin’ down the road God done set in front of us.”

Hope you all enjoyed the weekend. It was different. That’s good. But even more, I hope it continues to open our hearts to the poor.

Whatever it takes.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

irish ayes

Things went well on the Sunday morning here at Dungannon Vineyard; the people are so warm and hospitable. I talked about personal learnings we’ve experienced at VCC regarding generosity and the poor. Also showed the Luke 4 Recap video in which we announced our pledge amount following The Luke 4 Challenge: Our City, Our Future, Our World. It still makes me cry. I think believers all over the world want to be challenged with big dreams and vision; people respond to vision before they respond to needs. Anyway, we’ve been treated royally here.

Met Ed Gungor and his wife yesterday in Dublin through Jason Scott. Ed's pastors Peoples Church in Tulsa and is the author of several books including a new one called There's More to the Secret, a kind of rebuttal to the massive bestseller that Oprah pushed called The Secret. We had breakfast with him, our team and Jason. The credit card machine was broken and Ed was the only one with euros (the currency of Northern Ireland is the British pound, as opposed to the Republic of Ireland where Dublin is located), so he picked up the tab for the whole party. Nice guy...otherwise I'd still be washing dishes in the back of some pub saying “Pardon?” after every other sentence.

We fly out on Friday and will be home in time to catch Joe on part two of Tackling the Elephant. I love the tithing’s so simple and just. Remember when we had Ron Sider speak at VCC? In an interview in Christianity Today sometime back he said:

“Materialism continues to be an incredible scandal. The average church member [from across the denominations] today gives about 2.6 percent of his or her income—a quarter of a tithe—to the church. Evangelicals used to be quite a lot better [in giving] than mainline denominations. But their giving has declined every year for several decades, and they're now getting very close to the norm. The average evangelical giving is about 4.2 percent—about two-fifths of a tithe. Six percent of the "born-again" people tithe; nine percent of evangelicals do. Our income has gone up fabulously over the last 30-plus years. The average household income now in the U.S. is $42,000-plus. If the average American Christian tithed, we'd have another $143 billion.”

Just think what $143 billion could do toward the homeless? Toward reaching lost people? Toward poverty in America alone? And we’re not really talking about sacrificial giving, but what is simply due God. Fascinating. I think that’s why I like this experiment so much. We’re asking everyone not to give a “special” offering, but just practice giving ten percent of our incomes for three weeks and then we’re done. And then we’ll give away everything above our normal operating expenses.

It could be revealing.

Often in evangelical circles is talk about revival—lost people saved, worship breaking out, signs and wonders coming. But interestingly enough, in Hezekiah’s great revival in Israel—which followed tearing down their idols—the most powerful thing was that people tithed.

…They gave freely of the first portion of their grain, new wine, oil, honey, and everything they grew in their fields. They brought a large amount, one-tenth of everything. The people of Israel and Judah who lived in Judah also brought one-tenth of their cattle and sheep and one-tenth of the holy things that were given to the Lord their God, and they put all of them in piles. 2 Chronicles 31:5-6 (New Century Version)

I hate to admit it, but the way we think about disciplined percentage giving probably reveals more about us than we like. And tearing down our idols precedes it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

good crack

On our first night here in Northern Ireland our friends took us to a pub for “some good crack”. Okay, I got a little nervous. Turns out crack is just a slang term for fun. Now you can understand how complicated Bible translation is; words can mean very different things in different cultures. But I’m excited to tell our church back home we had some good crack (craic).

We just finished the Outward Focused Conference in Vineyard Church Dungannon, Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland has had its share of trouble, even a time that was actually called The Troubles…a religious/class war rooted in a long sad history. A number of people in Dungannon lost family members during that time. There has been a remarkable turnaround since the peace agreement was signed on Good Friday in 1998. The economy is now booming and life has normalized.

About eighty pastors/leaders and spouses were present. Dungannon is a mid-size town of about 12,000 people. The Vineyard here is vibrant; super worship and a warm vibe. The room seats

120 people with large glass windows that overlook the city. Very cool. My friends Jason and Michelle Scott pastor the church…they’re funny, hip and totally outward-focused in approach. The church was planted about three years ago; the believers here are incredibly hospitable, kind and full of life.

The conference went well. Churches from Scotland, Ireland and England were represented. Mark Lutz spoke with me as well and we did five one-hour sessions. Oddly, I got choked up at the end of the first night (as did Mark, mind you)…it really isn’t normal for me. Not sure what God was doing, but I think it was simply communicating God’s heart for the lost that sneaked up on me. We showed videos as well: baptisms, stories, fun stuff. Prayer for people at the end was good; it had a “commissioning”-feel to it. Tomorrow morning I’ll speak at the church; Jason asked me to talk about the poor. Can do. For the next few days we’ll be meeting with leaders in churches in Belfast, Dublin and elsewhere. Thanks for all your prayers; God has been showing up. Good craic.

Tonight Joe launches a great new series at VCC called Tackling the Elephant. You’ve got to check out the teaser videos at…this is going to be an amazing experiment—don’t miss this. Once again, the Vineyard’s generosity is going to be stretched. But not only us…as you’ll see at the site; anyone from any church is welcome to sign the Declaration.

Let’s tackle the elephant, gang.

Monday, October 29, 2007

the relevant in the room

Okay, I admit it: relevance is slippery and somewhat subjective.

Back in the nineties we had a student ministry that connected well with a specific segment of the youth culture: the goth/punk crowd. I remember walking down to the basement of our building on a Sunday night where students met and finding the room extremely dark. I’m pretty sure a couple of kids were making out in the back and most were wearing black. It was a small group…and very relevant to a particular subset. But nearly every other student avoided it like the plague.

Hence, the challenge of cultural relevancy.

Our society is hyper-niched. When I was a kid there was only one radio program to hear music from Jimi Hendrix or the Doors or the Mothers of Invention or Buffalo Springfield or the Fugs: Jelly Pudding, a two-hour Saturday late-night program on the classical music FM music station WEBN here in Cincinnati. No kidding. Every other music station was AM radio playing pop-and-roll. Hard to imagine, eh? These were pre-talk radio days. There wasn’t a lot to choose from. Today Sirius and XM offer 300 stations that include niched channels from Hair Nation (hair bands from the `80’s) to XMU (indie and unsigned bands) and old-school hip hop to Canadian-only groups. And that’s not even considering internet radio…or myspace to hear bands that only your friends like.

So whose culture do you want to be relevant to? In culturally-aware churches, this gets tricky when each culture (or subculture) expects the same level of quality as the hyper-specialized media…or even the large weekend celebrations. That gets challenging to pull off without staffing against it; and who can afford that in a myriad of subcultures? When you throw in racial/ethnic issues, socioeconomic factors, age demographics, personal tastes, etcetera, it gets even more difficult.

So you want to be relevant to the culture? Uh, who’s culture?

And so for a church our size at that time in the mid-nineties—about two thousand people—that wasn’t going to work. I asked our student pastor to turn on all the lights next week. I’m sure he was bummed. But for us it was a matter of painting with a broader brushstroke. We had to reach a wider swath of students and watch out for the dog in the manger; the kids in acid-washed jeans and polo shirts were on a trajectory for hell just as much as the kid in Doc Martens back then.

Did that de-legitimize their ministry or the need? Of course not. It’s simply part of the difficult decisions leaders make in balancing the larger mission against resourcing.

Does that get you wondering? Welcome to my world…

One final note: I’ll be in Northern Ireland this week leading an Outward Focused Church Conference. I’ve struck up a friendship with Jason Scott, pastor of Vineyard Church Dungannon We’ll be bringing a number of churches together to talk about becoming more outward-focused in philosophy and practice. Mark Lutz will be speaking with me as well. Would you pray for us? And pray for Jason…I sent him a pair of boxer shorts with Guinness on the butt. Just being relevant.

Oh yeah…make your own hip cassette at

Monday, October 15, 2007

uncomfortable worship

This one officially takes the longest blog award. Put your feet up…

Here’s the question I’ve wondered about: in heaven, would I feel any of the restrained feelings I have here about expressing worship? Even when some of us say that worship is not our primary pathway to connecting with God, I wonder: is that an option? And if I make the case that a particular style of worship (pop band, four chord songs, repeating lyric lines, etc.) is not the particular method that floats my boat, then what is it that would make me throw my hands up, sing at the top of my lungs, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” and then fall on my face? Apparently that’s what’s happening there according to John the Revelator. And is it really that I struggle with what my pre-Christian neighbor would think if they stumbled into a setting like that with me, or am I afraid to admit my self-consciousness…or even my lack of faith, because Jesus is here now and I rarely do that even at home alone?

The topic of worship forces a lot of dross to the surface. And there just isn’t enough time on the weekends to tackle not only the theology of worship but the internal emotional and spiritual wrestling that takes place.

In Vineyard seminars on this topic, we used to teach that there were three primary words used for describing worth to God: worship, praise and rejoice. As I understand it, each has three to five different expressive Greek or Hebrew words. We can create a continuum, perhaps somewhat arbitrarily, of the full spectrum of expression that God gives us to use.

At one end, the word we translate worship may have more to do with quietness or stillness. There may be bowing involved. The most commonly used Greek word in the New Testament is proskuneo—it literally means to kiss or to come close or come toward and kiss. It’s a submissive expression of intimacy.

Along the arrow we come to the expression praise. In the Old Testament alone, there are at least three different Hebrew words each with different meanings that we simply translate as praise. There is the word halal, the root word of hallelujah. It means to brag, or to boast. Another word is yadah, meaning to worship with your hands extended. The psalmist talks about lifting our hands in His name as an act of worship. As I mentioned this weekend, in the New Testament, Paul said he wanted people everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer. My friend Dan Cox brought a coworker to the Vineyard who asked, “Why do some people raise their hands?” Dan told him they have to go to the bathroom.

Still another Hebrew word translated as praise is zamar. That literally means to strike a stringed instrument with your fingers. If that’s not a case for a Les Paul in church, I don’t know what is. It obviously suggests we’re to have music involved with our worship.

Lastly, we have the expression rejoice. There are lots of Hebrew and Greek words translated as rejoice, but they mostly mean to shout, jump or dance. It means to take full expressive pleasure in God. My oldest daughter was in Rome when Italy won the World Cup: imagine that scene. I saw a game show where a struggling single mom and her six kids won an all-expense paid vacation and a new car. They went crazy and started crying and jumping and screaming and hugging each other. The weekend we announced the total pledged for the Luke 4 Challenge was like that: jumping-and-shouting excitement. Rejoicing is electric, unrestrained joy.

Now if we were honest, we could write on either end of the graphic: “I’m comfortable with this” and “I’m not so sure about this…this borders on weirdness.”
Tell the truth: where are you on that spectrum?

When Jesus quoted Isaiah and said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” that can go either way. And I get nervous.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

gates of hell

I thought Joe did a super job.

Loved the reinforcement of “the gates of hell” being defensive…and that we were to be on the offensive. There is such a forcefulness in Jesus’ words at so many levels in that passage in Matthew 16:13-19:

…how He pushes His disciples to make a decision regarding who He was…
…the willful strength behind “I will build My church”…
…He confers power to the Church: “I will give you the keys”…
…His passing of authority to us: “whatever you bind”…

What’s just as interesting is that Matthew says “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21). From that time on…

Jesus follows up those commanding, knockout statements with descriptions of how He would suffer and die a humiliating death, appearing powerless and pathetically helpless at the hands of jealous, phony religious leaders.

Real power and servanthood are inextricably linked in scripture.

Monday, October 01, 2007

not my feet

I mentioned this weekend about a group of people at the Vineyard who go downtown every Saturday and feed several hundred people lunch. It’s called The Good Sam Run. Two weeks ago during a routine lunch, our friends in the homeless community had arranged a surprise for the people who have been serving them for years. One of the people on the team journaled their experience:

“When we were through we packed up as usual. But then the team was asked to stop over across the street for a minute. As we walked over there, someone directed us to sit on the cement wall at Washington Park. There were the people we had just served. As we sat down, we noticed they each had a bowl and a cloth, and we thought ‘what’s going on?’

“They each began to read from a note in their hands. ‘Silver and gold have we none, but what we have we give to you.’ Yes, these were people that didn’t have silver and gold – these were the ‘poor and homeless’ and they had nothing. But ‘what we have we give to you’…what did they mean by that? Then they began to read some scriptures about Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, and how we should do the same. They were going to wash our feet! All of a sudden my mind began racing. I was used to serving them, but here they were, turning things upside down. They were going to do this for us! I never expected anything like this.

“A maze of emotions hit me. A cloud of bewilderment and humility fell on me. I was not used to this – I wanted to say ‘No, not my feet!’ but then they read the scripture where Peter tried to say that to Jesus. So I obediently took off my sandals. Standing in front of me was a tall, muscular black man with a gentle smile on his face. His gold tooth sparkled as he continued to smile while kneeling down at my feet. He gently lifted my ankle over the basin, dipped the cloth in the water, and lovingly washed my feet as if they were a precious gem he was handling. Then he poured some oil over them, looked at me and said ‘May you always walk with Jesus.’ At this point I could no longer hold back the tears.

“He stood up and leaned over and gave me a hug. Then he gave me a card that said ‘______ is praying for you today.’ He had forgotten to write in his name so I’d know who was praying for me. But I know I will never forget his face as long as I live. The love, joy and humility I felt will always remain with me. And I thank God that I was chosen to be one of those receiving such a precious gift, that ‘all they had, they gave to me.’”

Powerful, eh?

There are still a few churches that have made foot-washing part of their practices. It’s lost its meaning in our culture; centuries ago it was the job of the house-slave to do that for guests with dusty sandaled feet. And in modern “user-friendly” churches, that would be a practice that would freak everyone out. So we attempt to find the jobs that are the “lowest on the food chain” to do…and then do them for others. So if you’ve ever worked a summer at a car wash…or had the gig of cleaning the bathroom at your place of employment…you might understand what a shock that is to have someone offer that for free.

But one final note: once I was speaking to the volunteer leaders of our prayer team ministry and after I had prayed for them, they asked me to sit down and remove my shoes. I got very, very nervous and uncomfortable. Then they brought a basin out and washed my feet and poured oil over them. I can’t express how humbled I was by this. It made me speechless…and I wept on the way home. It brought our feelings I didn’t even know were below the surface. As out-of-place and awkward “foot-washing” is in our world, I had never experienced anything quite like that. And believe me, I’ve experienced a lot in my fifty-four years.

An act of humility on their part triggered a flood of humility in me. I felt unworthy but strangely loved at the same time. I really can’t explain it.

Can you imagine what the disciples felt when the King of the Universe washed theirs?

Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 New Living Translation)

Monday, September 24, 2007

4ward: becoming a luke 4 community

Sometimes I like to get in my car and drive. Just drive. There may be a destination in mind, but that’s not as critical as the process. My dad liked to do that, too. I’ve got more than a little bit of my dad in me. Many years ago my mom and dad had some romantic rendezvous—at least I like to think it was—and in that moment there was a blurring of DNA’s, sporting a new cell that has a father’s eyes, a mother’s nose and a unique mix of personalities. That’s why many years later phrases can come out of your mouth that cause you to think “Whoa. That sounded just like my old man...”

Though we are all made in the image of God, that image has been terrifically abused, marred like a penny handled too many times. The worth of a vintage coin is not strictly based on its rarity; it loses value if the visage is too worn.

And that’s pretty much the state of humanity.

But somehow when God slipped into the Jewish skin of Jesus, mankind was in some way linked to Him. When He rose from the dead, the early disciples didn’t just see a man back from the dead; they had already seen that with Lazarus…and eventually that poor dude had to go through the whole mess again. This was very different—they didn’t just see a man back from the dead, they were eyewitnesses to the first New Man of the New Order, or what the Bible calls the Last Adam. The First Fruits of a new kind of species. As Adam was the prototypical human who fell, Jesus is the prototypical human who redeems.

When we receive His death in our behalf, when we surrender our demands and desires to die with Him, we are reborn to become part of this New Creation. New life. New affections. New views. The first deposit of the New Order. All things become new, the New Testament says.

Paul realized the enormity of it when he wrote to some friends in Galatia:

I have been crucified with Christ: and I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 (Living Bible)

We have divine DNA coursing through our souls. And when you put a bunch of us together, the organism known as the Body of Christ begins to move.

What are the things you think are obvious about who we are…what the DNA of Vineyard Community Church is?

Monday, September 17, 2007

mustard seed faith

This weekend we had the official honoring and sending of Steve Sjogren, who with his wife Janie, are planting a new church in the Tampa Bay area called Coastland Tampa. It’s hard to believe that it was twenty-four years ago that Steve (a fresh-faced 27 year-old), Janie, 3 year-old Rebekah and 9 month-old Laura (Jack came seven years later!) pulled into Cincinnati to start a new kind of church: a Vineyard. I remember my wife and I coming a few months later when the church was a small group of people meeting in the living room of a house in Mason, which seemed like a million miles away from Norwood. Now I live there.

It was Steve and a twelve-string guitar. That was it. Anita and I were hooked.

We’d sing these simple four-chord songs over and over and cry. It was so unadorned and directed to God. I had been around the block a few times in my years of being a Christian. As a musician, I had played in almost every state in festivals, clubs, colleges, high schools and churches (okay, not a lot of churches; they nearly always complained it was too loud). I had exposure to lots of different streams of doctrines and methodologies in the Body of Christ. I had gone through a number of phases in my own spiritual journey: from Jesus people to charismatic movement to a Pentecostal denomination to Word-of-faith and on and on. I had gone through periods of throwing away my secular records, tossing out our television, witnessing door-to-door, arguing with cults on the street corners, and wrestling with my own faith. And very dry periods as well. All fairly normal, at least I think.

But this was different. It felt like, well, grace. That’s the best I can describe it. Simple, heart-washing grace. Somehow the performance aspect of Christianity, or at least my version of it, was refreshingly gone. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I never really thought I was “performance”-oriented in my faith, but the idea that I’ve got to do better, I’ve got to believe harder, I’ve got to trust more—though none of those are necessarily bad—somehow sneaked into affecting how I thought God thought of me.

One day Jesus was teaching on our need to forgive. After hearing that, the apostles cried to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” Oddly, Jesus went the opposite direction: He said you don’t need much faith at all, only the size of a mustard seed. Try wrapping your cerebrum around that one.

Grace requires very little faith. It’s a gift, after all. I just have to receive it and give it away. That’s good news to us crusty old believers who get that mixed up over the years as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Grace is the practical expression of the love of God, the God of love.

Meditate on this: the same grace that saves you is the same grace that sustains you.

I think that’s what I felt walking into that living room in 1984. And I never want to lose that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

what joe meant to say...

Just kidding. I’m absolutely thrilled to bring Joe Boyd on staff. For those of you who weren’t there, we introduced Joe as our teaching pastor. At VCC we have a fairly lengthy and exhausting interview process with our HR folks and others. Joe survived the interrogation and having to tell his story to a dozen people…twice.

Then there are the typical things that you look for if you’re working directly with someone, what’s often referred to as the three “c’s”: character, competency and chemistry.

But I like to add one more obvious “c”: calling.

That’s the mystical, spiritual, tricky-to-discern, intuitive, subjective, numinous, God-part. Let’s be honest: it’s a little easier to find candidates who are good people, love God, skilled at what they do, and seem like they’d be fun to work with, but this calling piece is a bit more, um, mysterious. Questions like these can send you to your knees: Is this the place this person is really supposed to be? Is their heart called to be broken for the broken in Cincinnati? Is this the community they’re meant to be a part of? Can we discern the design of God for this person? And the odd thing is there’s no shortage of people who came with this comment: The Holy Spirit told them they were the person for the gig.

What do you do with that?

But I do want people who feel a sense of destiny, the “you-didn’t-choose-me-but-I-chose-you” word from Jesus, and yet they never tell anyone. It’s what I call “closet Christianity”; not that you keep your Jesus-story in the closet, but your feeling of personal destiny, your calling, your spiritual secrets never go outside your prayer-closet door. And when you do leave that secret sacred place, no one else knows until after everything is confirmed. Because in the end, the personal prophetic word is not for anyone else to hear but you.

Why? I think it’s partly because God has two things He wants to constantly teach us to walk in: trust in His word to us (do we really treasure what He’s told us?*) and servanthood (will we choose the lower chair before He offers the seat of honor?**).

How would you rate your own “sense of destiny” and your ability to keep those secrets?

And please welcome Joe here.

* But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2:19 (New International Version)

** “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this man your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 14:8-11 (New International Version)

Sunday, September 02, 2007

chlorine and saltwater

“I never thought I’d see this day,” said one reflective and stunned woman whose husband had just gotten baptized.

Several of us were standing in the west wing on the other side of the exit doors congratulating people who had come out of the water, high-fiving and cheering. But her husband simply stood there soaked and weeping salty tears mixed with chlorinated water, shoulders heaving. We embraced. He literally couldn’t speak.

As he sloshed down the hall to the changing room, still unable to talk, she said slowly, “This place has changed our lives. I never thought I’d see my dad come to Jesus, but shortly before he died, he surrendered his life to Christ. And then my husband fought me to not come here, but here he is today. I never really thought this day would come.” She had baptized him herself but I think short of being there in the water, she looked like someone just awakened from a vivid dream, not sure what is real and what isn’t.

After the last person came out, I looked at our Junior High pastor, Matt Milthaler, and said, “That’s our paycheck.” He smiled.

It’s not “this place” that changed them. There are times I wish we could take credit for a cool environment or the clever turn-of-a-phrase, but it doesn’t matter how hip the place and how wordsmithed the message; without the presence of the Holy Spirit, we’re just putting on a mediocre show. Or as Jesus put it, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15.5).

God have mercy on us if we ever forget how beautiful and powerful these moments are. May we never take these weekends for granted.

And I’m still waiting for some baptizer to get snatched away by the Holy Spirit. To quote Homer (Simpson, that is), “Whoohoo!”

And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. Acts 8:39 (New American Standard Bible)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Sorry to take so long to post. I’m in Michigan for a Vineyard regional leadership retreat and got behind.

This past weekend I used King David as a case study on submitting our own personal emotional pain to a higher mission. David’s army had just won a military victory over a coup led by his own son Absalom, killed in the battle. David turned what should have been a national day of rejoicing into a time of mourning. His general Joab takes a huge risk and “leads up” by telling David to suck it up, that there were greater things at risk in Israel than his personal loss…like the respect and leadership his soldiers and people needed at this critical time. David did exactly what Joab said. That’s vulnerable leadership.

David is an endlessly fascinating character for me in the Old Testament. He was intensely passionate, but balanced with a cool theological logic enabling him to shift emotional gears in a moment. After he was exposed in a scandalous affair and murder plot, David wept, fasted and laid on the floor for his yet unborn illegitimate baby. The baby died seven days after he was born. David’s servants were afraid to tell him for fear he would do something desperate, but finally acquiesced. It reads:

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!" He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:20-23

David’s hyper-logical understanding of God’s sovereignty and his own eventual reuniting with his son seem almost Spock-like. David, the Vulcan-King of the Starship Israel, boldly going where no man had emotionally gone before. Okay, nerds, quit salivating.

But what is with that? Is it just a guy-thing and the ability to compartmentalize, to turn the spigot off and get down to business? Or was it unique to David because he understood his leadership and calling to something greater?

I think—I hope—it was the latter. Perhaps there have been times in your own life where something tragic happened and you had to be “the strong one” for the sake of your family. Perhaps you were the only one who seemed to be able to think straight in the aftermath of tragedy. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve, but rather to suspend your emotions for the sake of something greater, like the need of your kids to be cared for or led during a crisis.

Now expand that to something larger, say, the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean that you become stoic through life’s hardships; that’s not healthy modeling. But it does mean you have to realize there may be a greater need in a particular moment than your own: a steady focus on advancing the Kingdom of God.

Maybe that’s why in heaven God wipes away every tear; maybe that’s the time to exhale.

But for now we have a race to finish.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Sometimes I think we view passion as being ever-increasing, like a graph charting up and to the right. But I don’t think life works like that.

This past weekend I mentioned how the beginning of the story of Jacob and Rachel is drenched with passion. Somewhere down the road, though, Jacob & Rachel inevitably got tired of pitching the tent and feeding the sheep. It's the drudgery of routine. In fact, several years later after being unable to have children, Rachel dumps on Jacob and says “If you can’t give me children I’m going to die”, knowing full well that the problem wasn’t Jacob because he was having babies galore with Leah. Jacob gets angry and shouts, “Oy vey! Who do you think I am? God?”

I would doubt seriously there was a great rush of passionate love at that point.

Later, Jacob and his father-in-law get in a fight and Jacob rehashes the past because Laban accuses him of stealing his idols. What neither of them knew was Rachel had stolen them from her own father and hid them under her saddle. Then she told her dad she couldn’t get off her camel to greet him because it was her “time of the month.” The whole thing could have been chalked up as a PMS issue. We aren’t told if Jacob found out later but it would be my guess that he did and the proverbial manure hit the ventilator. And again I doubt there was any great flood of passionate romance at that moment.

“Falling in love” is what some psychologists believe is the collapsing of so-called “ego boundaries.” Ego boundaries are believed to be something that develops as we mature. For instance, a newborn baby takes time to discover that its hands are connected to itself. After having no sense of boundaries, no distinguishing from itself and the rest of the universe, eventually it realizes that when it’s hungry, mother doesn’t always want to feed it; when it is playful, mother doesn’t always want to play. In his classic book, The Road Less Traveled, the lat author and psychologist M. Scott Peck commented that a baby discerns that its will is “experienced as something separate from its mother’s behavior.” Peck noted that the child’s sense of identity develops out of the interaction between the infant and mother. It’s interesting that when this interaction is “grossly disturbed,” for instance if there is no mother or a severely disinterested one, the infant will grow into an adult “whose sense of identity is grossly defective in the most basic ways.” In one year the newborn goes from no sense of identity to “my foot, my nose, my eyes, my thoughts, my viewpoint, my feelings.” The knowledge of these limits is what psychologists refer to “ego boundaries.” As we grow older, we become painfully aware of our own limitations.

Peck wrote: “Reality (will eventually) intrude upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, ‘individual will’ reasserts itself. He wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to go to the movies; he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank; she wants a dishwasher. She wants to talk about her job; he wants to talk about his. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begin to come to the sickening realization that they are not one with the beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from the other’s. One by one, gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.”

The theory is that in “falling in love” we experience the collapsing of those ego boundaries...we are one with our beloved, we merge our identity with our lover, and there is release from loneliness accompanying the collapse of our walls. Falling in love is effortless. And that precisely is part of the problem; for real love is an act of the will, an act of choice, and will never be anything less.

Now think about how this relates to our passion for God.

For instance, I heard a speaker comment that God spoke to him one day and said, “You and I aren’t compatible…and I don’t change.” I wonder if passion for God is connected with the willful collapsing of my ego boundaries? Would “falling in love” with God be similar to that?

Perhaps when Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me,” He was describing the ultimate breakdown of ego boundaries.

Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. 1 Peter 2:11 (Message Bible)

“You must worship no other gods, but only the Lord, for he is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” Exodus 34:14 (New Living Translation)

Monday, August 13, 2007

leading in

“Virtually everything our modern culture believes about the type of leadership required to transform our institutions is wrong. It is also dangerous. There is perhaps no more corrosive trend to the health of our organizations than the rise of the celebrity CEO, the rock-star leader whose deepest ambition is first and foremost self-centric.” –Jim Collins.

This weekend I talked about leading down, leading up and leading in. It’s obvious how leading in (self-leadership) affects how we lead up or down, but it really came into sharp focus for me a few years back. One of my top 10 favorite organizational books was the best-seller Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins, the follow-up to his Built To Last classic.

His research team studied 1,400 Fortune 500 companies to identify companies that had made the leap from good, solid companies to great organizations based on a set of criteria with tight parameters over an extended period of time. They spent five years isolating the factors that distinguished these examples from carefully selected comparison companies that failed to make the leap (or if they did, failed to sustain it). These were not flash-in-the-pan companies. They defined “great results” as cumulative stock returns at least 3.0 times better than the general stock market over fifteen years, a performance superior to most widely admired companies. For perspective, General Electric from 1985 to 2000 beat the market only 2.8 to 1. Only eleven truly qualified as moving from good to great corporations.

Collins gave the research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives to avoid the simplistic “credit the leader” or “blame the leader” thinking common today. But the data uncovered something surprising…

In their study of the CEO’s of those eleven companies, a surprising pattern emerged. It wasn’t the Iacocca’s that shone. The good to great CEO’s were a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will, or corporate resoluteness. It was an odd duality: modest and willful…humble and fearless. As a matter of fact, as soon as the CEO’s began doing book tours and appearing on Oprah, it didn’t bode well for the organization.

When I first read the book several years ago, I remember being shocked. I thought immediately of Jesus, who on the one hand would say,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

…and then scriptures turn around and describe Him with a fierce resolve toward the Kingdom’s mission…

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem . . . At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' (Luke 9:51; 13:31-32).

I’m looking for Leaders 2.0 who will mix those two seemingly contradictory character attributes and create ministries and churches that will not settle for mediocre effectiveness…but genuinely want to see the Kingdom advance powerfully. To use corporate language: I want to see the name of Jesus become the most famous brand in our city.

It’s not about us. But it rests on us to declare that the Kingdom has come.

Humility and a Kingdom resolution. Broken and fearless.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

hell no

One of the things I wanted to touch on this weekend was reincarnation, only because some feel it’s a humane alternative to hell. But there are big problems Biblically with reincarnation.

For one, human beings are the crowning creation of God. We are unique because we are created in the image of God. If the possibility exists that we may come back as something lesser—even an animal in some reincarnation belief systems—because of karmic difficulties the last time around, we are simply no longer a human being with the dignity of God’s image and the beauty of free will. Being a human being is essential to who you are. It’s incoherent philosophically.

I can’t say I follow Christ and subscribe to reincarnation; the Foundation of my faith gave His life as a scandalous sacrificial expression of the love of God, to take upon Himself my sins that I, as the Bible says, might become the righteousness of God. So if by each rebirth I can attempt to become better morally, I have no need of the blood of Christ. It’s incongruous intellectually and theologically with scripture.

Lastly, we have an expert on this issue—Jesus, the only one who died and rose again to never taste death again. He spoke articulately about judgment after death.

If you’re interested in more and have some thoughts as well, read the long email exchange here about reincarnation from someone at the Vineyard. It’s a long post. But hey, it’s shorter than, uh, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...


Your comments on reincarnation deeply disturbed me. First of all, the Bible is filled with references to reincarnation. Here are two (of many) examples: by inference ... "And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)

Or overtly ... "For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matt. 11:13-14) "And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matt. 17:10-13)

Having attended this church for over a year, I can personally attest to being one of those struggling with Christianity, especially with regard to my belief in reincarnation. Taking five minutes to summarily dismiss this profound subject was unreasonable. My own research into this subject allowed me to resolve this apparent discontinuity by gaining historical perspective on the issue (e.g., Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d., and the Second Council of Constantinople in 525 a.d.). Why didn't you even mention these tectonic events in shaping today's Christianity?

Anyway, I don't know if there is any room for an alternative viewpoint, but here is one site that I found particularly interesting was the following:

I guess my basic question boils down to this, does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become "born again" with Vineyard Community Church?

Sincerely yours, _____

Hello _____,

Thanks for writing; I appreciate your honesty. I’m glad you’ve been coming the past year to the Vineyard…I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with us.

The problem with attempting to speak on a Christian perspective of the afterlife is that the topic is way too broad to cover in a single 30 minute talk! Obviously, any of the points could have been a series in itself. You raised a big question at the end that I would like to answer first: “…does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become ‘born again’ with Vineyard Community Church?” That’s a layered question.

First, our value is to love people “where they are”, meaning that none of us have it all together and we desire to love first—serve first—and ask questions later! With that in mind, there is a wide spectrum of different people all along the spiritual landscape at VCC. That’s one thing I love about this place.

Second, I’m not sure what becoming “born again” with the Vineyard means! We do adhere to orthodox creeds, but I believe doctrine is often abused in churches. Instead of it being transformational, it tends to be used as a determining factor for who’s “in” and who’s “out”. Doctrine should lead to transformation via the work of Jesus—how we think of Him and receive Him. Honestly, we wouldn’t let someone teach or lead who held to a firm belief in something that did not agree with basic Christianity. What makes someone part of the Church—the Body of Christ (not just VCC)—is being “born from above”, or the overused term, “born again”. That means the first deposit of “experienced salvation”…forgiveness of sin and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. With that, one does not “join” the Vineyard, but rather becomes grafted into the Body of Christ via surrender to His Lordship and subsequent transformation.

Reincarnation is problematic for basic Christianity at several levels. I took a look at the website you suggested and felt it was dishonest exegetically, historically and logically. For example, Origen is held up as a proponent of classic reincarnation. While Origen leaned toward universalism and preexistent souls, he certainly did not believe in reincarnation. In a book written toward the end of his life, he plainly gave his view of reincarnation. In his Commentary on Matthew he resists the idea of John the Baptist being Elijah: “In this place it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I should fall into the dogma of transmigration, which is foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures; for it is also in opposition to the saying that "things seen are temporal," and that "this age shall have a consummation," and also to the fulfillment of the saying, "Heaven and earth shall pass away," and "the fashion of this world passeth away," and "the heavens shall perish," and what follows. …The spirit and power of Elijah - not the soul - were in the Baptist…For, observe, he did not say in the ‘soul’ of Elijah, in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground, but ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.’"

It simply is not true that the early church fathers believed in reincarnation; that’s just bad reporting. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and Jerome all refuted it plainly. And frankly, the Council of Nicaea dealt with Arianism (was Christ created?) and the Second Council of Constantinople was primarily about the Monophysite heresy (was Christ human and divine?) and the preexistence of souls but literally nothing about reincarnation. The books of the New Testament were not altered at all by this council; they had already been in place about 200 years earlier.

In the case of the man born blind, Jesus could have used it as an ideal teaching moment for karma and reincarnation, but clearly didn’t. His answer was simple: neither the man or his parents sinned. The reason his parents were brought into the equation was because the Jews believed that a person’s bad actions had ongoing consequences that rippled out to future generations (“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Numbers 14:18). That was not reincarnation. The other scriptures listed were really out of context in my opinion; the writer confused “resurrection” and “conversion” passages with reincarnation. Context is critical: for example, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to Christianity; it is the focal point of the New Testament. Reincarnation forces that to be a moot point.

Gnosticism, which included a lot more than the preexistence of souls, was the first great heresy to be tackled by Christians. New age writers often use scriptures out of context and avoid whole principles.

The essence of Christianity is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Because of that, eventually reincarnationists have to redefine who Jesus is and avoid the many passages Jesus spoke of regarding judgment and hell. The very essence of Christianity is difficult for the reincarnationist; usually the divinity of Jesus and the purpose of His mission are the first things that have to be reconstructed. That’s where it begins to deviate from “mere Christianity”.

All we want to do at the Vineyard is offer the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. There is no shortage of other views of Jesus: every major religion has their own interpretation of who He is, not to mention the myriad of cults. That is what defines Christianity. Usually the question is not “What do you believe about reincarnation?” but rather “Who is Jesus to you?” I would hazard a guess that if you’re struggling with Christianity as you mentioned in your email, the problem is not so much about reincarnation as it is about who Jesus is.

If you really want to be fair and scientific, you have to explore both sides of any issue. After I became a believer, I read Bertrand Russell’s anti-Christian books, as well as the “pop”-atheists Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. I read a little of H. G. Wells; he ranted too much for me! But you cannot read how a reincarnationist interprets scripture to understand both sides. I might suggest a couple of books on the flipside: Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, and (specific to the issue) Reincarnation by Mark Albrecht. Any of these could be found in a Christian bookstore. Here are a couple of webpages that are decent counter-arguments as well: and

Hope you continue to hang with us to explore all Jesus has to offer you. Thanks again for writing.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

complicated world / simple trust

In continuing the series called “TXT: Where the Conversation Begins”, I appreciated Mark Lutz’s comparative description of Christians wanting life’s difficulties and pain solved like a thirty minute sitcom, complete with a solution and closure neatly wrapped up. Due to complexities of human nature and interaction, free will, and an ultimate vision for the universe, God must be very clever to somehow take this somewhere. And that is where simple trust must kick in.

It got me thinking about how convoluted and intricate the global economy is. We currently have a family from Germany staying with us. The euro is very strong against the dollar; our friends will do well at the mall. And now the vast new market in China is radically shifting everything as well. It’s interesting how inflation in one part of the world can create a rift in the economy of the whole planet.

And then I compared that to people…with all our idiosyncrasies—emotional versus stoic, logical versus irrational, apathetic versus enmeshed, proud versus broken, and all our fallenness, wounds, dysfunctions, sins and genetically-whacked out systems—with currency, a non-living, static thing. Now how much more complicated is that? You think you could build a better mousetrap? Get a grip. God is amazing…and I’m not just sucking up ( if He reads this. Uh, but of course he heard it in my head…).

You don’t even need a devil to make it complicated. But throw one in (literally…Rev 12:9), and it gets even more squirrelly. Some of us Christians need an apologetic for evil personified; I admit that’s a tough one. But for the Church, the best apologetic is simply the way Jesus talked about Satan. Jesus was either terrifically confused, or not who He said He was, or the writers just slipped this cosmic conflict stuff in when no one was looking. According to the record, the idea of a rebellious war being waged by enemy spiritual forces was a part of Jesus’ vocabulary. His followers picked this up as well. The apostle John, who was in Jesus’ inner circle since he was in his twenties, wrote in his old age some sixty years later that:

The Son of God came for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8b (New Century Version).

In other words, it was still a foundational piece of Christianity that Satan, and therefore spiritual conflict, was a factor in the confusion, pain and suffering of this planet.

That doesn’t solve the philosophical quandary; as a matter of fact, it makes it somewhat more sticky. But of all the proposed solutions for the problem of pain, this is the best I’ve heard. Especially when I consider the Messenger.

God is complex. Love is simple. Trust is critical.

Go figure.

This week I’m speaking on heaven and hell. Pray for me.