Exile Stage 2 Article

I wish I was smart enough to write this article.  I am, however, smart enough to share it.  Steve McAlpine succinctly critiques the old “gospel/culture” discussions and captures that current state of affairs in his article.  Excerpt and link to full article below.

Second Stage exiles do not place their hope in a city here, be it Athens or Babylon, but seek a city that is to come (Hebrews 13). Second Stage Exiles do not need the approval of the culture, neither do they need to provoke the culture in order to feel good about themselves. No, true exiles can live out their time in exile with confidence, love and hope because they trust in him “who is able to keep [them] from stumbling and to present [them] before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.” (Jude 1:24).

Christian, Second Stage Exile is coming. Are you ready for it?

Full article here.


Orwell and the Modern Church.

As part of my learning journey, I’ve been studying the mechanics of preaching, seeking to understand what makes preaching effective. I’ve come to the conclusion that an effective preacher does the hard work of shrinking the perceived gap between him/herself and the listener. 

“Perceived” may be the most important word in that last sentence. After all, last time I had a DNA check, I came up 100% human.”Preacher” is a subset of “human” not a distinct species. More on that here.

But there is a perceived gap. By standing on a stage, opening a Bible, using a microphone, providing spiritual insights etc, a preacher naturally creates a perceived gap. Because of this gap some people will think you are more spiritual than you are and conversely they will think they are less spiritual. If you do not work to reduce this perceived gap, some of your people will write themselves off in the journey of following Jesus.

Some sermon tools that assist in bridging the gap: vulnerability, unpretentiousness, approachability off the stage, self effacing humor, sharing of struggle etc. These are all helpful.

But how about this:  what if you openly address the gap once in a while?  What if you explained to your people that you have been trained in handling the Bible. You spent years of your life studying not only the content, but the context and that is why you know so much Bible, not because you are more spiritual, but because you have been trained.

What if you told your folks that, in all likelihood, if they had the training you’ve had, they would provide great spiritual insights to the congregation as well?  Another way to consider it, if the church were about medicine rather than Jesus, we’d all revere the Doctor who studied anatomy; the preacher would be just another person in the pew.

Modern churches can be tempted to forget Paul’s incredible declaration, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” Modern churches live out a George Orwell novel more than Paul’s beautiful vision for the church.  In the modern church, “Everyone is equal but some are more equal than others.” Preachers and worship leaders can become “more equal” than everyone else. Lord help us if we start believing this ourselves. We live in a dangerous cultural context of deep spiritual hunger combined with celebrity craze. This generates a need for our preachers and worship leaders to be rock stars and this creates a perceived gap. But we aren’t rock stars, we’re fellow sojourners.

I am not naive.  I understand as Lead Pastor that I carry an unusual amount of power and that I should steward it responsibly.  I also understand as the primary interpreter of scripture on behalf of our congregation, I carry a vital role.  I take seriously James’ admonition that “those who teach will be judged more harshly.”  Youzers.

But in the economy of God’s Kingdom, who is to say who is most important and who isn’t?  Nancy has been faithfully serving in our children’s ministry longer than I’ve been the preacher.  In God’s economy, she is VITAL to the Body here at Discovery, but in our modern lens, we can think I am more spiritual because I teach the Bible for us.

I like the late Dallas Willard’s constant reminder.  He says that the life Jesus called us to live really can be lived by anyone.  That it is within reach of everybody.  The call to follow Jesus is difficult, challenging, stretching, but accessible to all and open to all.  An effective preacher will not shirk the weighty responsibility of preaching, or being an example of a follower of Christ, but all the same, she or he will work hard to reduce the perceived gap between preacher and people to show that we are all fellow sojourners, following King Jesus together, each vitally important to the Body.

Brian Mavis on Jesus’ Last Hours

I love the way Brian Mavis thinks and writes.  Here is a guest post from Brian on the 24 hour period that make up Jesus’ Last Hours:

A few years ago, inspired by the show “24,” I tried to lay out a timeline of Jesus’ last hours. I found it interesting to see all that happened in fewer than 24 hours. Thought you might like to see it too. This is my best guess at the timeline, helped by hour-marker clues given in the Bible.

11:00 PM Jesus Prays in Gethsemane
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

If you are interested in how I established the timeline, here is the gist of it: Continue reading

The Unsustainable Sermon Conclusion

I’ve been on a journey lately to notice powerful preaching and what makes it great.  It has been a wonderful learning journey so far and of course, along the way I have paid attention to the opposite:  what traits make for a damaging sermon?

I’ve come to the conclusion that a wise preacher is careful not to challenge people to something unsustainable or something she or he will not do themselves.

Oh man.  How many of my early pulpit attempts contained some kind of challenging conclusion that was unsustainable?  Thank God that my early sermons were in a vintage before podcasting – there is no record of those terrible attempts.

Back when the Prayer Of Jabez book was popular, I sat in an auditorium and heard a preacher give quite a powerful message on prayer.  But then at the conclusion he said, “Stand up if you’ll commit to pray the Prayer of Jabez every day for the rest of your life.”

You know what happened next.  Some people stood. Then a lot of people stood because they felt the social pressure to stand.  Everyone felt good making a public declaration to this daily prayer.  The preacher felt good seeing such a visible response to his challenge.

But $20 says that neither those people nor the preacher are praying that prayer every day now, 12 years later.

Pulling this sort of move feels good in the moment and creates a “wow” moment, but I think you win the battle and lose the war on this one.  Because this sort of move also creates unnecessary guilt in people who cannot fulfill this unkeepable promise.  And further more, us preachers are not in the habit of publicly repenting of our previous sermons.  By that I mean, we don’t get in front of our people and confess, “I know two years ago we all pledged to do X at the end of a sermon, but I’ve honestly forgotten to keep doing that pledge.”

And so in this vacuum of honesty people instead blame themselves for not being able to keep an unkeepable commitment.  They decide they are not as close to Jesus as the preacher, who is not keeping that promise either. Worse yet, they build a subconscious wall of cynicism toward preaching.

No, as I listen to great preaching, I’m struck by the common thread that a great sermon’s call to action is do-able, sustainable, concrete and within reach of every listener.  It certainly can and should contain a call to higher living, or shedding of one’s current ways, but it is careful to be authentic to what can actually be done.

Sheep or Shepherd?


I think one of the temptations in church leadership is to forget our DNA.  We can forget we are 100% human being.  I think this is because we open the pages of The Authority every week and teach from it.  Over time, we can get confused and think that our thoughts about The Authority are the authority, but they are not.

Too many leaders believe they are exempt from “sheep status” and act as if they are a shepherd.  I have attended too many church leader conferences where the conference speaker talks in a derogatory way about “the sheep,” meaning “the people in our churches.”  Its a cheap hit that gets an easy laugh from the fellow church leader attendees.    But wait, aren’t we sheep too?

Yes, some people can be frustrating and difficult. They can be amazing too.  I would like to hear more church leaders share stories of what they have learned about God from the people they are leading in their church.  I have dozens, if not hundreds of examples of lessons and inspiration I have drawn from my fellow sheep.

When it comes to preaching, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we are his sheep.  Our job is to hear the shepherd’s voice. If you want to get technical, we sometimes inhabit the role of under shepherd or perhaps even sheepdog (!!) But even when we do, we are still very, very sheepesque.

We are fully human like the people we preach to.  Our DNA never changes due to theological training, preaching, leadership experience and spending time each week studying and listening to God.  Am I better at listening to God’s voice than other sheep?  Maybe, maybe not. I know that I am paid to spend time listening to it on behalf of my fellow sheep, but I am not the shepherd.

Of course, the Bible clearly teaches that leaders are overseers and shepherds responsible for the well being of our flock.  I have no intention of claiming otherwise, but this command is one of function not of DNA.  We function as a shepherd in our protection and care of people, but we are still sheep through and through.

We suffer the same foibles and sins as our people and we ought to posture our message as one most in need of hearing it.  We never gradate to be above the people we preach toward.  Our preaching posture is that of “fellow sheep” not that of “shepherd teaching the sheep.”

SermonSmith Podcast Review

I’m always on the hunt for a great resources in the craft of preaching and recently discovered a gem in a podcast called “Sermonsmith.”  The host, John Chandler interviews various preachers to learn about their preparation habits, goals of preaching, philosophy and influences.  But John also digs into the nuts and bolts of preparation, process, how the preacher spends her or his week etc.  The interview is a great balance between vision and execution.

John is a church planter and a natural interviewer.  He gets quality content out of his guests, is never in the spotlight and creates a very low key conversational mood.  I’m only 3 episodes in, but already marvel at the variety of approaches and preparation styles used.  There really is no one correct way to prepare a sermon.

But for preaching nerds out there, it will feed your inner geek to hear how others approach the craft and creativity of week in/week out preaching.

The Litmus Test for Any Church


The Litmus Test: Can I bring my unchurched friends to this church?

Will I have to prepare them before hand or can they just show up?

Will I have to translate for them so they can participate without feeling like an outsider?

Will I have to apologize to them afterward?

Will they encounter Jesus when they come?

The apostle Paul said that the gospel is a stumbling block.  It sure is.  It always has been an anathema to the human condition.  It is bad news before it is good news.  But the church ought not be a stumbling block.

The church ought to be as welcoming as Jesus.  And people ought to be able to belong before they believe.  How’s your church doing on this litmus test?

Review of Donald Miller’s “Scary Close”

“Tell me the truth, but tell it slant.”  Emily Dickinson

I read Donald Miller because he tells it slant. His writing is vulnerable, witty, but most of all provocative.  Not so much in a controversial way (although sometimes….) but in the purer sense: Donald Miller provokes thought, engaging the reader to find themselves in his journey.

His latest work Scary Close chronicles his insight into his relationship habits, looking at friendship, parenting, dating and ultimately marriage.  The meat of the book revolves around his relationship with his now wife, Betsy, from meeting to dating to engagement etc, but also covers previous relationships, friendships and business dealings.  The book is vintage Donald Miller in that it contains hilarious moments and profound insights into human behavior. I highly recommend it.

My two favorite themes:

1) Too many people expect too much from another person and from God.  He told a hilarious story about his speech at his own wedding rehearsal dinner where he critiques the famous Jerry Maguire “You complete me” speech.  He told the crowd, “Betsy doesn’t complete me and I don’t want her to.”  He felt most of the crowd turn on him, wondering what sort of cold hearted jerk Betsy was hitching her future too.  I was laughing out loud at the idea of tanking your own wedding rehearsal speech, but he’s right.  He pushes the idea further when he also shows that even God doesn’t fill that longing this side of heaven. Loneliness is simply part of the human condition.  Two profound ideas from this:  “Betsy doesn’t fill my loneliness, but she’s the best companion for it,” and ‘the longing, loneliness and pain that humans experience is all fodder to produce character in me.”

Continue reading

Soul Health Triggers

Most pastors I know dangerously blur the lines between their identity as God’s child and their calling as a pastor.  Consistently blurring these lines can be deadly to the soul.  For the record, I am one of the “most pastors I know.”

Here is a litmus test that my soul is on a unhealthy trajectory and I need to either take a break, work harder on my day off or reset my approach to ministry:

1) When church matters are the last thing on my mind before falling asleep and the first thing when I wake up.

2) When I fail the Dallas Willard litmus test, “Are you more irritable than usual?  Are you more impatient than usual?”  If I ask myself these questions and find myself getting angry at Dallas Willard, that’s a sign.

3) When for several weeks in a row, I’ve said to my wife, “wow, that was a big week!”   And by “big week” I mean: intense issues, or several nights of work.  Its amazing how easily I can forget that I’ve had 6 or 7 “big weeks” in a row.

4) When I cultivate a growing indifference to people’s problems and pain as a defense mechanism for my own heart.

5) When I can’t seem to read my Bible without thinking of a sermon thread, or talk to God without only talking about church matters and church people.  Whatever happened to enjoying God and His word instead of using both as a work tool?

6) When I fail the question, “Do I relate to God more as his employee or his adopted child?”

Care to share your litmus list?

I’d love to post more, but this week I’ve failed too many of these, so I’m heading outside to walk the dog and enjoy the gift of being alive.

(this post was first published in 2011 and dusted off for a redux in 2015.)