Life is a gift. Lucy is a gift.

Stunning, beautiful blog post by Michael Gungor on the birth of their daughter last week.

“Yesterday was the craziest day of our lives.

Lisa had been having pregnancy issues, and we knew this was going to be a high risk birth, but over the last couple weeks and especially during the delivery, I occasionally caught pauses or furtive glances among the medical staff that made me wonder if something else might be going on that they were not wanting to say and worry us with. Perhaps it was nothing.  Perhaps it was new dad paranoia….”

Click here to read the whole story.  

and then pause.  Say a prayer for the Gungor family. Find gratitude in the gifts God has given you.  

Powerful words from Mark Phelps, son of infamous Westboro Leader

“If I had to take my family to court and convict them of being followers of Christ, I am not sure where I would find the evidence.  

An orange tree produces oranges. A thorn bush produces thorns. Each person is known by the fruit produced in their life, including me. The fruit of the Spirit is found in the life of a true follower of Christ.”

Mark Phelps walked away from his family’s hateful “church” in 1973.  He is a follower of Christ.  

Full interview here

Top 10 tips for atheists this Easter

This below is from fellow Aussie John Dickson who is an outstanding representative of the faith.  Original article is here.  My Favorites are #1, #2, #6

 

Atheists should drop their easily dismissed scientific, philosophical or historical arguments against Christianity, and instead quiz believers about Old Testament violence and hell, writes John Dickson.

As an intellectual movement, Christianity has a head start on atheism. So it’s only natural that believers would find some of the current arguments against God less than satisfying.

In the interests of a more robust debate this Easter, I want to offer my tips for atheists wanting to make a dent in the Faith. I’ve got some advice on arguments that should be dropped and some admissions about where Christians are vulnerable.

Tip #1. Dip into Christianity’s intellectual tradition

This is the 1,984th Easter since 7 April AD 30, the widely accepted date among historians for the crucifixion of Jesus (the 1,981st if you find the arguments for 3 April AD 33 persuasive). Christians have been pondering this stuff for a long time. They’ve faced textual, historical, and philosophical scrutiny in almost every era, and they have left a sophisticated literary trail of reasons for the Faith.

My first tip, then, is to gain some awareness of the church’s vast intellectual tradition. It is not enough to quip that ‘intellectual’ and ‘church’ are oxymoronic. Origen, Augustine, Philoponus, Aquinas, and the rest are giants of Western thought. Without some familiarity with these figures, or their modern equivalents – Pannenberg, Ward, MacIntrye, McGrath, Plantinga, Hart, Volf – popular atheists can sound like the kid in English class, “Miss, Shakespeare is stupid!”

Tip #2. Notice how believers use the word ‘faith’

One of the things that becomes apparent in serious Christian literature is that no one uses ‘faith’ in the sense of believing things without reasons. That might be Richard Dawkins’ preferred definition – except when he was publicly asked by Oxford’s Professor John Lennox whether he had ‘faith’ in his lovely wife – but it is important to know that in theology ‘faith’ always means personal trust in the God whose existence one accepts on other grounds. I think God is real for philosophical, historical, and experiential reasons. Only on the basis of my reasoned conviction can I then trust God – have faith in him – in the sense meant in theology.

Tip #3. Appreciate the status of 6-Day Creationism

Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Kraus have done a disservice to atheism by talking as though 6-Day Creationism is the default Christian conviction. But mainstream Christianities for decades have dismissed 6-Day Creationism as a misguided (if well-intentioned) project. Major conservative institutions like Sydney’s Moore Theological College, which produces more full time ministers than any college in the country, have taught for years that Genesis 1 was never intended to be read concretely, let alone scientifically. This isn’t Christians retreating before the troubling advances of science. From the earliest centuries many of the greats of Judaism (e.g., Philo and Maimonides) and Christianity (e.g., Clement, Ambrose, and Augustine) taught that the ‘six days’ of Genesis are a literary device, not a marker of time.

Tip #4. Repeat after me: no theologian claims a god-of-the-gaps

One slightly annoying feature of New Atheism is the constant claim that believers invoke God as an explanation of the ‘gaps’ in our knowledge of the universe: as we fill in the gaps with more science, God disappears. Even as thoughtful a man as Lawrence Kraus, a noted physicist, did this just last month on national radio following new evidence of the earliest moments of the Big Bang.

But the god-of-the-gaps is an invention of atheists. Serious theists have always welcomed explanations of the mechanics of the universe as further indications of the rational order of reality and therefore of the presence of a Mind behind reality. Kraus sounds like a clever mechanic who imagines that just because he can explain how a car works he has done away with the Manufacturer. Continue reading

Jesus’ Final 24 Hours

My Thanks to Brian Mavis for doing all the work on this one.  A simple, helpful guide on the events of Jesus’ final 24 hours until he died.

JESUS’ LAST HOURS

Thursday
11:00 PM Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

Friday
12:30 AM Jesus is Betrayed Judas and Arrested
1:00 AM Jesus is Interrogated by Annas
1:00 AM Peter Denies Knowing Jesus 
1:30 AM Peter Denies Knowing Jesus a Second Time 
2:00 AM Jesus is Tried by Caiaphas. He is Mocked, Hit & Spat On 
4:00 AM Peter Denies Jesus for the Third Time
4:00 AM Jesus is Imprisoned
5:00 AM The Sanhedrin Sentence Jesus to Die
5:30 AM Jesus is Taken to Pilate
6:00 AM Judas Hangs Himself
6:00 AM Pilate Hears the Case Against Jesus
6:30 AM Jesus is Taken to Herod to Be Tried
7:00 AM Pilate Resumes Jesus’ Trial
7:30 AM Jesus Is Beaten and Given a Crown of Thorns
8:00 AM Jesus is Sentenced to Die and Beaten
8:30 AM Jesus Carries Cross
9:00 AM Jesus is Crucified
9:00 AM Jesus Ask God to Forgive Us
9:30 AM The Soldiers Cast Lots for Jesus’ Clothing
10:00 AM Jesus is Insulted and Mocked
10:30 AM Jesus Tells One of The Crucified Criminals That He Will Be in Paradise with Jesus
11:30 AM Jesus Speaks to Mary and John
Noon Darkness Covers the Land
1:00 PM Jesus Cries Out to the Father, Asking Why He Has Been Forsaken
2:30 PM Jesus Says He Is Thirsty
2:50 PM Jesus Says “It is Finished” 
2:55 PM Jesus Prays “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
3:00 PM Jesus Dies
3:00 PM An Earthquake Occurs
3:00 PM The Huge Temple Curtain Tears in Half Opening The Holy of Holies
3:10 PM The Roman Centurion Exclaims “Surely he was the Son of God!” 
3:15 PM The Soldiers Break the Thieves’ Legs
3:20 PM The Soldier Pierces Jesus’ Side 
4:00 PM Jesus is Laid in the Tomb

Two Elements of Great Story Telling

1. What to tell:  Something fresh, unexpected, funny, moving, unusual, but at the same time something that expresses a commonality of the human experience.  Our stories must be “human sized” so listeners can see themselves in them.  Preachers are guilty as charged of telling superhuman (super Christian?) stories that communicate to people, “you’re not good enough, so don’t bother trying.”  We can also be guilty of finding stories that just don’t move people because they don’t matter.  I’m struck by Fred Craddock’s promise to his congregation that, to the best of his ability, he would only preach sermons that matter and this involves telling stories that are surprising and funny yes, but always, always, always capturing the common human experience.

Find exactly human sized stories, which leads to number two.

2. How to tell it: This is actually more difficult than finding a good story.  Crafting it well all comes down to editing and timing.  Tell it well.  What is the essence of the story?  How can I tell it to put people in the room with the characters?  Where is an appropriate place for tension and/or humor?  Often times our stories don’t move people because we don’t spend enough time crafting how to tell them.

Want to hear some examples?  Here are two:

This one is 4 minutes.  I promise you’ve probably never heard of such a situation, yet, having never experienced it, you’ll find yourself in it.  Click here for this StoryCorp human sized story told well.

And then come back and listen to the first 5 minutes of this story.

Courage in Leadership and Life

LUHheaderImage

Many of our staff serve with no formal training or direct prior experience.  They are simply passionate followers of Christ who God has called into ministry.  As a church we recognize their calling, gifts and character and bring them on to serve.  Without exception, they bring incredible heart and skill to the role.

Serving on a church staff presents unique challenges not found in other jobs, and many of our staff have had to grapple and adjust.  To help them, we offer various trainings and discussions on the nature of church leadership and so for 2014, I asked some of our staff to share what they’ve learned about leadership along the way.

Kelly Little was the first to share, which seems fitting, given her topic.  After several years serving in dual outreach roles, Kelly now exclusively spends her time as Executive Director for Light Up Hope. Please take a moment to click on the link for Light Up Hope.  You can sponsor a child or buy an item to help, but also you can learn about the power that a local suburban church holds to change lives around the world.  In many ways, Light Up Hope does similar work to World Vision and Compassion International, except it resides in and is fueled by the vision and DNA of a local church.

Before serving at Discovery, Kelly previously received training as a chef, hence her “recipe” below.   She shared some thoughts on the nature of courage and fear which generated much vulnerable discussion from the rest of us.  Because Kelly leads one of the more “high risk” endeavors in our church, her teaching on courage and fear deeply resonated with the staff.

We all have ongoing fears and we all need high doses of ongoing courage to be effective in ministry, ESPECIALLY if we are leading something new or unprecedented.

Here are Kelly’s thoughts on courage and fear:

Unfortunately there is no COURAGE without fear.   Courage is really the discipline of overcoming fear. I want to make fear into FEAR because most of the time that is how it feels.  The fear is overwhelming and the courage is nothing more than continuing to say yes – or refusing to back down.  It is taking another step forward when you would rather run and hide.

The recipe for courage is

  1. Inspiration to do something new.  new to you or new to others.
  2. Taking the first step in that direction – telling someone you are planning to do it and so bringing it out into the light
  3. MIX in LARGE quantities of vulnerability (can I, should I, am I equipped?)
  4. MIX in SHAME and FEAR (who do I think I am?  I am not up to this, I am going to fail, because I am not equipped, or “right” I will make things worse for me or others, what will people think of me, or this will injury me or kill me – fear of death.  Bodily, emotionally or socially)
    1. oftentimes this shame, fear and ridicule is brought by other people.  People don’t like change and they don’t like to feel like another person’s sense of right, justice or courage doesn’t line up with their own sense of it and will try to tear down your idea – often because they are operating out of their own fear and shame – emotional transference.  So you could be on a HIGH and feel confident but their actions/words will try to bring you down to how they are feeling.
  5. ADD a propelling ingredient – Sense of JUSTICE, Confirming scripture, prayer time
  6. Take a step forward.  REPEAT cycle.

Fear and Courage is a CYCLE.  You grow in courage as you get acclimated to a climate of fear.  Fear doesn’t mean something is wrong, it just means you are vulnerable to hurt, ridicule, disappointment.

Some helpful logical questions to overcome illogical fear:

What expectations am I placing on myself or on the situation that are contributing to my sense of fear or dread?

Where is God in all of this?  Does he expect me to be perfect?  Can I control the other people who are generally part of the quotient?

What would happen if I don’t move forward?  Where would my ministry/cause be if I don’t step out in courage?

Quotes and Scriptures on Courage:

FDR – “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”

Isaiah 41:13
For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
(NIV)

Since courage and fear in church leadership often relate to criticism, here is a related helpful post.

Comfort Zone Shrinkage

The idea behind this post comes from Dan Pence.  Dan leads adult discipleship at our church, he’s a 40+ year veteran of church leadership and he happens to be my father-in-law.  I’m a fan.

Dan shared this concept at our most recent staff meeting and I thought it was a brilliant way to think through the nature of faith, fear and comfort zones.  Here are Dan’s thoughts in my words:

We often talk about having a “comfort zone” and we’re often challenged to live beyond our comfort zone.  But a “zone” by definition is not one spot, it is a region, so therefore a zone has a center and boundaries and you can actually travel some distance within a comfort “zone.”

Left unchallenged, most of us will set up residence smack in the middle of our comfort zone, far away from its boundaries.  I defer you to exhibit A below:

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The nature of comfort zones is that if you stay in the middle of them, your default position, the boundaries shrink and your comfort zone gets smaller and smaller.  This, my friends, is Comfort Zone Shrinkage (C.Z.S.)

Exhibit B:

Image

To avoid the dreaded C.Z.S, we must habitually leave our comfort zones beyond their boundaries, thus expanding them again.

It strikes me that we can be all too big fans of comfort zones in western Christianity.  We like our comfort and familiarity, we like the illusion of control.

I find Dan’s theory of comfort zones to be very helpful as it relates to walking by faith, trusting God, stepping out of our zones.  Could it be that our zones are far too small because we spend far too much time in the center of them?

Jesus Shows Up Where He Wants, When He Wants

As one of the whitest people I know (I’m so white, I’m translucent, I’ve not successfully tanned since 1979) allow me to add my deepest gratitude to the rich heritage and power of the African American gospel tradition.

Every tribe and tongue and nation….

When Paul taught on the Body of Christ, I wonder if he was also implying that different cultural expressions are different parts of the body and that together we make up the body, each needing what the other brings.

We have a problem with the Bible

Thanks, Brian Zahnd, for this excellent reminder.  Full post is here.

I’m a citizen of a superpower. I was born among the conquerors. I live in the empire. But I want to read the Bible and think it’s talking to me. This is a problem.

One of the most remarkable things about the Bible is that in it we find the narrative told from the perspective of the poor, the oppressed, the enslaved, the conquered, the occupied, the defeated. This is what makes it prophetic. We know that history is written by the winners. This is true — except in the case of the Bible it’s the opposite! This is the subversive genius of the Hebrew prophets. They wrote from a bottom-up perspective.

Imagine a history of colonial America written by Cherokee Indians and African slaves. That would be a different way of telling the story! And that’s what the Bible does. It’s the story of Egypt told by the slaves. The story of Babylon told by the exiles. The story of Rome told by the occupied. What about those brief moments when Israel appeared to be on top? In those cases the prophets told Israel’s story from the perspective of the peasant poor as a critique of the royal elite.”

Donald Miller Chats with a Pastor about The Church

Donald Miller just posted a follow up blog on his thoughts on church and “attendance.”

Here’s a snippet from his latest post, the context is a conversation he had with a pastor friend about the nature of church.  Don writes:

The vision I got was of a pastor who sees his or herself as a pastor to pastors. What I mean is, a pastor who spends sunday equipping the congregation to be pastors themselves, that is to baptize people through the week, perhaps in their home swimming pools, to guide people through communion, perhaps around their own dinner tables, to teach the Bible to their friends and neighbors, to sing together in their homes, to make meals and share them with the sick and so forth. Then, on Sunday, “pastors” could gather to encourage each other and share stories about their own “churches” in the world. I even imagined buying a bunch of little sheriff badges so a pastor could “deputize” their congregations as priests in God’s kingdom, answering to the Holy Spirit and doing the work of Jesus directly.

This.  This is it.  Not all of it, but a good bite of what the church actually is.  It’s a beautiful vision.

Equally beautiful is the reality that many people “inside the church” are exhausted and afraid or wounded and mistrusting.  Others are doubtful and not up for the challenge to live this beautiful vision written above.

Others are cynical and smarter than anyone else.  And too many love to sit on the sidelines, arms folded saying, “here’s how I would have done it” but never do it.  Some people are “Weird Uncle Phil” and are in church because its the only community that accepts them.  Some live in “Lord I believe, help my unbelief” and others are Rahab the prostitute, surprised that they get to camp in the God community and others are failing at “Go and sin no more.”

Some want to treat God like the neighborhood pharmacist, prescribing just the right medication to take the pain away.  Then there are others who, after years of monotony wake up to the life of Jesus and the Spirit and want to go for it.

Also those who put one foot in front of the other and over a lifetime give quiet testimony to the grace and mercy of God.

Or the suburban Dad who coaches baseball, but also serves the 4th graders every Sunday who is more a pastor to those kids than “the pastor.”

And finally, the church is people who would never think they could baptize their neighbor in a pool, but get inspired to try it and discover it is wonderful to be God’s priest in that moment.  Sitting next to them are those who hear the challenge to baptize their neighbor in a pool and they never do because they believe in themselves more than in God and they just know they could never do a thing like that.

And wherever two or three of these kinds of people are gathered, there is Jesus in the midst, doing his work, his way in his time.

That’s church.