Monday, February 23, 2009

altar calls and tickets

Reset took off with a blast! Joe did a bang-up job (what is a bang-up, really?) portraying different “Jesus-es”. We could have easily come up with ten different models, but time is the communicator’s enemy. I’m looking forward to next week.

I’ve got a long tale here. You’re going to need some Earl Grey and a teapot. Ready?

One of the things I’d personally like to hit the reset button on is how evangelicals have reduced the mission of the Church to an “altar call” pragmatism. And weirder, an altar call mentality that’s more methodology than anything.

For those of you who unfamiliar with the altar call, it’s more a product of nineteenth-century American evangelists than anything, particularly Charles Finney. It’s so much a product of the evangelical culture that it’s virtually a sacred cow. Heck, I’ve used it many times. I’m certainly not against calling people to repent; I question the method…and confusing the method with the mission.

Charles Spurgeon, who had a serious heart for people who didn’t yet know Jesus, decried the use of altar calls and “enquiry rooms”. He felt it gave people a false sense of security and created a mediator-environment when people needed to be sent to Christ to wrestle with their brokenness.

Spurgeon wrote, “Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father's house, and never making him say, 'Father, I have sinned.' How can he be healed who is not sick? Or he be satisfied with the bread of life who is not hungry? The old-fashioned sense of sin is despised, and consequently a religion is run up before the foundations are dug out. Everything in this age is shallow. Deep-sea fishing is almost an extinct business so far as men's souls are concerned. The consequence is that men leap into religion, and then leap out again. Unhumbled they come to the church, unhumbled they remained in it, and unhumbled they go from it.”

He even expressed the dirty little secret of crusade-style evangelism:

“Very few of the supposed converts of enquiry-rooms turn out well. Go to your God at once, even where you are now. Cast yourself on Christ, now, at once, ere you stir an inch!”

Which leads me to repeating my rant about having a Kingdom theology instead of a “get-your-ticket-to-heaven” theology. It bothers me when altar calls—“get-saved-so-you-can-go-to-heaven”—replace a Kingdom of God theology—the power and grace of God is breaking into our world now. And we’re the conduit.

If the world as we know it is all going to burn, if all we are interested in is getting people to heaven, if the only thing important is “saving souls”, then why do we pray for healing for people? It must be a sign that the Kingdom has come, that the future is breaking in on us now. Think about this: if caring for our environment, if fighting for justice, if wrestling with racism is not important because someday this is all going to be done away with, and the only thing important is people’s souls as evangelicals believe, why speak out against abortion if the souls of pre-age-of-accountability unborn infants are guaranteed heaven? Why lay hands on the sick if this life is a vapor and a better one awaits?

Why? There are two possible reasons.

One reason could be a quality-of-life issue. Doesn’t a person with advanced debilitating polio deserve a higher quality of life, if even for the sake of his or her family, their kids, their sense of contribution to society? Maybe. Someone could argue that Stephen Hawking’s intense form of ALS has actually given his brain room to run because of his debilitating physical limitations. Suffering through sickness certainly has unintended results, although Jesus never seemed to say to anyone, “Keep your leprosy. It will keep you humble.”

But I think there is more to the question than the quality-of-life answer.

We do it since we have hope that because of Jesus’ resurrection and therefore the declaration that He is the New Lord (because death is the one master that everyone bows down and submits to), He gave us the mission of bringing the Kingdom (Luke 4:18, 19; Matthew 28:18; John 20:21). That’s what a Kingdom theology will do, something I’m thrilled the Vineyard movement as a whole promotes. It affects the here-and-now more than anything else. We are the answer to someone’s prayer when they cry out the “Our Father”-prayer: “Let Your kingdom come now…let Your will be accomplished now…the way it always is in the dimension where You live, Father.”

Consider the following story as a metaphor.

Ernest Gordon—former dean of Princeton Seminary who died a few years ago—was the inspiration behind the classic movie Bridge Over the River Kwai and more recently To End All Wars. In real life he survived three years in the brutal prisoner of war camps of Southeast Asia during World War II where an estimated 80,000 prisoners died of starvation, dysentery, malaria and torture while building a railroad…almost four hundred men per mile of track.

Gordon tells an amazing story: Once at the end of the workday, a shovel was missing in the tool shed. The officer in charge was furious and announced they would begin executing each prisoner, one at a time, until the man who took it came forward. As guns were pointed at the first man in line, one of the soldiers stepped out and said simply, “I did it. I took it.” They viciously beat him to death in front of everyone. The next day the guards discovered that they had miscounted—all the shovels were there.

One of the prisoners remembered the Bible verse, “Greater love hath no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Word spread throughout the camp…and the atmosphere changed. Men began to look out for each other, to treat each other like brothers. Gordon began teaching from the Bible. They started what they called the “church without walls”.

Gordon wrote:

“Death was still with us — no doubt about that. But we were slowly being freed from its destructive grip. We were seeing for ourselves the sharp contrast between the forces that made for life and those that made for death. Selfishness, hatred, envy, jealousy, greed, self-indulgence, laziness and pride were all anti-life. Love, heroism, self-sacrifice, sympathy, mercy, integrity and creative faith, on the other hand, were the essence of life, turning mere existence into living in its truest sense. These were the gifts of God.”

And oddly enough, the POW’s even created “normal” things like talent shows, lectures, debates, and readings…even a jungle university.

Think about it. Why would men who were facing certain death bother with that? If your comrades were dying around you of slow painful dysentery and maltreatment, if you’re working sunup to sundown on laying railroad tracks through impossibly difficult terrain in a hostile world blinded by madness, why have a lecture on Shakespeare?

Why? Hope. The scent of a future inhaled in the present. Hope.

That is a Kingdom metaphor.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

reset reset

Reset your brain.
Reset your heart.
Reset your worldview.
Reset your password.
Reset your motives.
Reset your faith.
Reset your objectives.
Reset your clock.
Reset your mouth.
Reset your aim.
Reset your theology.
Reset your love.
Reset: this weekend.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


This is it. It all begins this weekend: Reset...a six-week spiritual journey.

Think about it: nearly fifty churches in Greater Cincinnati on the same page. All asking Jesus to reset the way we think about Him and His mission. It could be a holy subversion, a righteous rebellion, a revolution of justice. All asking for the Kingdom to come, beginning in our hearts and minds.

Do not miss this weekend: everyone will get a free 120-page book/journal for the journey. And definitely get in a Reset group...a small community of folks all wanting to explore who the Real Jesus is. They’re all over the city; find one with our tribe here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Ever watch James Lipton and Inside the Actors Studio? This is Inside the Pastors Studio.

This past weekend was a little bit of tightrope from an audience-demographic perspective. Part of the art of crafting a message is about two things: the truth and the receptor. Relaying truth is one thing. Relaying truth in a way that deeply considers the receptor is something else. And therein lies the challenge.

In his book, “Why Men Hate Church”, David Murrow wrote about the cultural and communication gap between the Church and men. Murrow describes the breakdown like this:

“…Today’s church has developed a culture that is driving men away. . . . When men need spiritual sustenance, they go to the wilderness, the workplace, the garage, or the corner bar. They watch their heroes in the stadium or on the racetrack. They dig into a book or sneak off to a movie. Church is one of the last places men look for God.”

“(Churches) . . . use man-repellent terminology. For example, you have two kinds of people: the saved and the lost. Men hate to be lost – that’s why they don’t ask for directions. If you tell a man he’s lost, he will instinctively resist you! And the only thing worse than being lost is being saved! The term drips with passivity . . .

“Although Jesus used the term saved a number of times in the gospels, if you carefully examine the text, He never called anyone to be saved. Instead, he called men to follow him. Hear the difference? Follow gives a man something to do. It suggests activity instead of passivity. But being saved is something that happens to damsels in distress. So why not use the descriptor Jesus himself preferred? By calling men to follow Jesus, we put Christ’s offer in active terms that appeal to everyone.

“Another term from the feminine side is ‘sharing’. Christians are constantly being asked to share, as in, “Steve, would you please share with us what the Lord has placed on your heart?” Regular men don’t talk this way. It sounds too much like kindergarten. Imagine a gang member saying…, “Blade, would you please share with us how you jacked that Mercedes?” “. . .

There are millions of men who attend services under duress, dragged by a mother, wife, or girlfriend. Today’s churchgoing man is humble, tidy, dutiful, and above all, nice. What a contrast to the men of the Bible! Think of Moses and Elijah, David and Daniel, Peter and Paul. They were lions, not lambs—take-charge men who risked everything in service to God. They fought valiantly and spilled blood. They spoke their minds and stepped on the toes of religious people. They were true leaders, tough guys who were feared and respected by the community. All of these men had two things in common: an intense commitment to God, and they weren’t what you’d call saintly.”

Regardless if you see this as a slippery slope toward chest-thumping and drum-beating, it’s obvious that men have not bought into the Church; the gender stats prove that out. Which led me to a conundrum of sorts.

In talking about the Emotional Life, I could talk about emotional healing or I could build the talk around an apologetic for emotions, since emotions seem fairly stifled in evangelicalism. I decided to spend more time on an apologetic and set it up with a “guy” slant. Hence, the first five minutes were spent on setting up some stereotypical “guy” observations, the point simply being to draw men into a talk that otherwise could have felt like an old Dashboard Confessional cd.

I would liked to have spent more time on why we downplay emotions in typical evangelical settings. Too many times I’ve heard the sports analogy used: how come we don’t get as excited about God as we do about the Steelers or Cardinals? There’s some legitimacy in that. But one has to consider the social context as well: are churches (for whatever reason) more like a sporting event venue…or a library? A classroom or a concert club? A formal dining room or the kitchen? A cathedral or a cafĂ©? A social construct and atmosphere has developed. How does the architecture support that vibe…or vice-versa? Even more interesting is how our theology affects it and how we even fell into that particular theological view. And why?

Anyway, it’s just interesting to me the neuron paths communicators follow…and how God engages in that process. And how over-analytical, obsessive and geeky we communicators can get.

Monday, February 02, 2009

when hell freezes over

This week I was in San Diego with a couple hundred Vineyard leaders. In two of the sessions, guest Ed Stetzer spoke. Ed is an author and missiologist trying to help churches function in more missional ways. That’s my love language. I’m thrilled to hear more and more of an outward-focused slant in the Vineyard movement. Ed reminded us that it was Augustine who said, “The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” Face it: at times it’s hard to not be critical of the Church…and we should be. But we must love her as well; she’s the Bride of our Master. He finds her gorgeous, worth laying down His life. We should too.

It was a comedy of meteorological errors getting there. The snow and ice storm hit. Anita and I got up at 3:30am on Wednesday morning to drive to Dayton airport (Cincinnati: the nation’s highest priced airport). Halfway there (driving about 40 mph) I-75 turned into a parking lot. We sat perfectly still for an hour in the snow. By the time we got there, our 7am flight to Cincinnati (yeah, that’s right...Cincinnati) had left. We were told the next possible flight was at 5pm to Atlanta with a connection to San Diego. Imagine being trapped in Dayton airport for ten hours. It would take us hours to drive home (uh, illegally; a snow emergency was now in effect). Turns out our original 7am flight sat on the tarmac for four hours and came back in when they ran out of de-icer at Dayton. There were no happy campers on that airplane.

After lunch, I got a Delta voicemail that the 5pm flight had now been cancelled and the next available flight was Friday. Friday? And today is Wednesday!? I pleaded for mercy; they put us on a flight to Cincinnati leaving immediately to connect with Salt Lake City with a connection to San Diego…we could still get there by 10pm. Awesome!—at least we’d only miss the first session.

Three hours later we were still sitting on the tarmac. They ran out of de-icer again. You’d think there would be a lot of de-icer at an airport in the Midwest in January. Whatever. But the poor pilots were the same ones that were shut down at 7am. The crew was only slightly p.o.’d.

At this point I’m thinking if I could just get off this plane I could drive to Cincinnati and catch the connection. We finally took off at 6:30pm but, of course, missed every connection in the world to San Diego. We could fly to Atlanta and leave from there in the morning, or catch a direct flight from Cincy at 9am. We opt for the direct flight. Delta offered us a reduced rate at a Baymont. That’s when it got interesting; apparently they did that for a hundred or so other people stranded at the airport, all waiting outside in subfreezing weather for a shuttle van that seats nine people. It was like a Titanic lifeboat. After waiting nearly an hour, we finally got on, trying not to think that we could drive home if our car wasn’t in Dayton. And, oh yeah, we don’t have our luggage.

Day two with the same clothes began at 7am with a similar rush for the lifeboat. We barely made the flight…there was so much confusion about our route in the computer. Then it was delayed leaving the airport because of planes getting de-iced, but eventually we made it to sunny San Diego. All’s well that ends well, eh?

I remember a flight to Nigeria where I was seated in the very last row with my head against the wall of the bathroom. What a transatlantic treat! It’s extremely loud in the back, the doors banged incessantly all night and the aroma was, well, use your imagination. As we got near the end of the flight, my Nigerian friend Emmanuel Itapson came to the back with his two-hundred watt smile and said, “David, what sin did you commit that has caused this?” Then he said, “Come on up to the front of the plane, there are plenty of seats…we’re lying down across them!”

Where was he eight hours ago?

Big deal. Here’s the reality check:

I’ve worked much harder, been jailed more often, beaten up more times than I can count, and at death’s door time after time. I’ve been flogged five times with the Jews’ thirty-nine lashes, beaten by Roman rods three times, pummeled with rocks once. I’ve been shipwrecked three times, and immersed in the open sea for a night and a day. In hard traveling year in and year out, I’ve had to ford rivers, fend off robbers, struggle with friends, struggle with foes. I’ve been at risk in the city, at risk in the country, endangered by desert sun and sea storm, and betrayed by those I thought were my brothers. I’ve known drudgery and hard labor, many a long and lonely night without sleep, many a missed meal, blasted by the cold, naked to the weather. (2 Corinthians 11:23b–27 Message Version)

Talk about a road warrior. Okay, no more whining.