Thursday, February 25, 2010

Criticizing Church, Defending Church...

I found the following post by Scot McKnight to be a challenging and insightful read:

Everywhere I go and nearly everyone I read has a theme, whether central or peripheral, and I think the theme is getting too much attention and it's getting too much play and it's setting us up for failure.

Here's the theme: the church is so messed up.

Instances: preaching is not that good today; theology is so shallow today; Christian morals are so loose today; parents are not that good today; we've got too much individualism today; kids don't respond as they used to; the church is spending too much money today; Christians aren't liked in culture...

The suggestion: Let's start all over again. This time we'll get it right. Let's get ourselves a group of really zealous followers of Jesus and let's think about Kingdom and forget the choir robes and denominations and pastors and hierarchy and church budgets. Finally, we'll get it right. We'll just follow Jesus and we'll forget the church. We'll do Kingdom work and forget the church.

Go ahead. Join the crowd. In a few years you'll come back to something you either face now, in a more rational manner, or later in a more chastened manner, that is if you've got any passion left. Here's my theory:

I want to say I believe in an Augustinian ecclesiology.

When I say this, I am not talking about what Augustine believed about Rome and the state. No, I'm taking the old-fashioned Augustinian anthropology, where he had a rather dismal but not altogether unrealistic theory of human nature. Fallen and broken, what I call "cracked Eikons" in my book Embracing Grace: A Gospel for All of Us. I'm suggesting we need to apply the Augustinian anthropology to create an Augustinian ecclesiology. (This, by the way, is nothing new.)

In other words, if you want perfection, don't look to the church. If you want the ideal, don't look to the church. If you want a perfect fellowship, don't look to the church. If you want the utopian society, don't look to the church.

But if you want a gaggle of cracked Eikons, sinners and mistake-makers and sometimes goofed-up and sometimes incredibly loving and joyous and devoted, then look to the church. You'll find that kind of group, but not the perfect group.

What ever makes us think the church has to be either perfect or we'll stay home and do our own thing? I've been thinking about this this year, and the thought keeps coming into my head along these lines:

God's people, whom He never disowned, in the Old Testament did some great things and some mighty stupid things; they had some great leaders and some disgusting ones; they had some high moments and they had some low moments.

God's people, whom He never disowns, in the New Testament, move from that wonderful church plant of fellowship in Acts 2 and 4 to some liars and deceivers and some great leaders who get into arguments with one another and sometimes abandon one another and get themselves in awful messes. And Paul tells us about church problems that would make us
admit that an Augustinian ecclesiology is perhaps what we need because it's what we've got.

Perhaps a cracked fellowship of cracked Eikons is the point of what the church is!

Perhaps that's why the churches have always put the Eucharist table in the middle. We come to the Table to partake in God's forgiving grace because we're cracked Eikons. When cracked Eikons form a fellowship, you get a cracked fellowship. In the cracks God works His grace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Winter Wonderland...

We woke up to a lovely blanket of snow this morning in ABI.

Notice the bright orange "Popsicles" (aka sluggishly swimming goldfish) in the bottom of our pond.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

When People Use "Colorful Language" Around You...

I thought this recent post by one of my favorite bloggers, Jon Acuff, was a classic. Over the years I've been struck by people who, when they discover I'm a minister, apologize for swearing around me. I'm thinking Jon has come up with a great set of responses to these folks.

The other day in the car, my four year old blurted out, "Stupid backpack!" I slowed down and asked her what she had just said. She paused for a minute and then responded, "Sometimes my brain says silly things. Silly billy, willy scoobaleedoo."

Although I appreciated the verbal smokescreen she threw down to cover her tracks, she still said a word we’re not cool with at the Acuff house. But as funny as her response was, it’s nothing like what happens sometimes when people swear around Christians. Have you ever experienced that? It is a truly magical moment my friend.

Usually, it’s just that a word slipped into a sentence unexpectedly. Your friend suddenly catches themselves and says, "Oh, hey, sorry about that. I didn’t mean to say that. My bad." And then the conversation moves on. But what are we supposed to do? What should your response be when you hear one of your friends swear near you? Funny that you should ask…

5 Things To Do When A Friend Swears Near You.

1. Slap him in the mouth.

Right in the mouth. Go on, do it. I know a lot of people are going to tell you a kidney punch is most appropriate in this situation, but I disagree. For my money, few things offer the same sound, impact and “who dat” power of a slap in the mouth.

2. Weep softly.

Just start crying softly. Wipe your nose with your sleeve and keep looking at the person, shaking your head back and forth in clear, visible disappointment. The more tender the tears the better.

3. Swear back.

First two options not your style? Then go the other direction and make them feel okay about the swear by saying one of your own.

4. Hold them.

Want to make a slightly awkward situation even more awkward? Just embrace them. No side hug, I’m talking full frontal. Recreate that scene from the movie Good Will Hunting where Robin Williams cradles a sobbing Matt Damon and says, “It’s not your fault, it’s not your fault.” Do that exact same thing here.

5. Reassure them that you’ve heard that word before.

If I’m in my mid-thirties and you swear near me, chances are, I’ve heard that word before. Maybe even a lot and more colorfully dressed up if I happened to be a mailman one dark, twisted summer. (That last one just got personal.)

If you do end up slapping people in the mouth, please don’t mention this blog site. This list is probably the kind of advice that makes Christian magazines keep avoiding me. But if you do make a big deal out of a swear, know that you’ve just asked someone to edit themselves around you and it’s really hard to get a friend to be honest when you’ve placed conditions on what they can say. I’m not justifying swears, but just hoping that if the choice is "help lead someone into a growing relationship with Christ," or "avoid someone because they swear a lot" that we’ll all make a good choice.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Leading By Example...

"If you're asking people to connect relationally to people who do not know God, you must lead by example." - Simple Church

This quote smacked me in the face... because I believe so strongly that leaders must lead by example. We have begun a year-long focus at SoHills during which we are challenging church to share their God Stories with their
friends, and to trust God to connect those stories to the story of Jesus. I can't ask that of others if I'm not willing to share my God Story.

I am willing.

And I will.

Friday, February 12, 2010

They Made An Investment...

My friend, Don Davis, made an investment in me. (That's Don above on the left with the interesting glasses. This is an old picture, but it carries a lot of meaning.) When I arrived in Atlanta as the Decatur church's new youth minister, Don had been holding down the Kingdom fort... so to speak. He had been standing in the gap as that church's youth minister. And when I arrived, Don stood solidly alongside me.

Don is one of the smartest guys I know (PhD in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech)... and that means he's a lot smarter than me. But Don taught, encouraged, prayed, worked and ministered alongside me for almost 23 years, and he did so without ever reminding me that he was doing youth ministry before I got there. Don never put his ego above God's Kingdom possibilities. He invested time, creativity and friendship into me.

Don remains a dear friend and a deeply respected brother in Christ. I've said it before in other places, but everyone needs a Don Davis. A selfless ministry partner who always had my back... but didn't always agree with me or take my side. Don made me think harder, work better, be sharper and more fully use the gifts God had placed in me.

I plan to mention others who've made a difference in my life... along with their pictures. And by doing so I hope I'll cause you to recall, and thank if you haven't done so and are able to, those who have been used by God to make a difference in your life.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Watch this and see if you don't agree that this is one of the most incredible action sequences you've ever seen.

This clip requires you to completely suspend reality. You want to turn away... but you can't.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Un-learning 101...

My last post ended with the question, "How do you un-learn?" Here are are a few ways I’ve been trying to practice un-learning:

1) Ask yourself really good questions.

We live in a world that processes lots of information. Rarely do we reflect upon really good questions. One of the values of thinking through good questions is that it challenges the patterns of thinking and behaving that often go unchallenged.

Look for, write down, and think through good questions.

2) Learn from others who seem to get it.

Look around you for others who seem to be making headway in areas where you'd like to grow in. Dump the pride that would cause you to be threatened by the admission you have a lot to learn (and un-learn) and seek counsel and new perspectives from those both within and without your organization.

The people I'm seeking out in this way are challenging my thinking on a number of fronts, helping me un-learn and then learn again.

3) Talk less. Listen more. I'm thinking that's a pretty straightforward concept.

4) Identify and examine your assumptions.

Recently the SoHills' Groups Leadership Team had a great discussion about the assumptions we have made about our Groups. We came up with a long list and walked through each one of them. One of the items we discussed was that the Groups' path is a "one-size-fits-all" approach for those who are new to our church. Much of how we were approaching Groups was predicated on this assumption... which our team agreed, after wrestling with it for quite some time, was not a valid assumption. My point isn’t what's the best approach to take to small groups. My point is that when you identify your assumptions, it usually creates great dialogue. It forces you to see differently.

Certainly there are many more strategies for un-learning... but if you're sensing un-learning is a discipline you need to embrace, perhaps the above possibilities will get you started on the process of unlearning.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Un-cool, Un-cola, Un-learning...

Let me say up front, "I like to learn." Whether it be reading, talking to other people, or auditing college classes... learning ignites something in me.

One aspect of learning that gets little attention or recognition is the value of un-learning. For example, we all bring certain presuppositions to the table based on our previous experiences and lessons. That’s called life. And those very experiences and lessons influence our perception of the present and future. That’s good... but also a bit dangerous.

As the writer Anais Nin says, "We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are." That's a big difference.

To see things as they really are and not how we perceive them to be takes a strong self-awareness, for both organizations and individuals. It’s why change is often so difficult. Our experiences and life lessons are so embedded within us that sometimes we can’t see the need for, or necessity of, change.

We have to be willing to un-learn what we’ve learned. That’s not to suggest that what we've learned is necessarily wrong. However, the value of un-learning is that it keeps what we have learned fresh and dynamic. And yes, there are times when we discover that our perceptions and assumptions are wrong, or out-dated. Either way, learning how to un-learn is a valuable tool.

Which brings us to this question: "How do you un-learn?”

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

1,000 God Stories...

"Connect their story to God’s story with your story."

That’s what I hope we do this year at SoHills.

I hope we connect stories of your friends and mine to the story of Jesus.

I hope we connect their stories to God’s story with our stories — at least 1,000 God stories in 2010 of how God’s grace, love and power is shining through in our offices, neighborhoods, tennis leagues... or wherever we go.

Our aim is to simply be storytellers this year, telling the story with our lives of who Jesus is and what He means to us. And in doing so, perhaps God will use our story to connect their story with His.

Monday, February 1, 2010

They Made An Investment...

I've been thinking lately about people who invested themselves in me. These are people who saw more in me at the time than I saw in myself. They have been a gift from God, and have without a doubt been used by God to mold me more into the person He's made me to be.

One of my first mentors was James F. Fowler, who was the preacher at the Central Church of Christ in Birmingham, Alabama when I became that church's youth minister. Jimmy Fowler (as he was know to his peers, but not me... it would have been like calling your parents by their first name) was 25+ years older than me, and had several decades of experience working with local church. I brought with me several hours of experience, a great deal of enthusiasm and a desire to learn.

J.F. (as I finally grew comfortable calling him) was most patient in providing me the realities of congregational ministry, personal spiritual disciplines and insights into life's hard lessons that perhaps I might learn from and not have to repeat. He was a pioneer in using radio as an outreach tool, and his office was a mini-recording studio (note the reel-to-reel recorders J.F. is working with in the picture above).

I expressed along the way my appreciation to J.F. for the investment he was making in my life, but I didn't have the opportunity to fully do that from a vantage point of several years removed. My friend and mentor died suddenly of a heart attack as he prepared his Sunday sermon, so our relationship ended abruptly. But the lessons he taught me have remained with me to this day.

I'll share more later about others who've made a difference in my life... along with their pictures. And I hope I'll cause you to recall, and thank if you haven't done so and are able to, those who have been used by God to make a difference in your life.