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.