Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Texas High School Football

This is a must see clip.

Tyler John Tyler vs. Plano East (1994).

Plano East was winning 42-17 with approximately 2:42 left.

The commentators won an ESPY award.

Check it out!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Finally Better

I think I had a health-break-through last evening.
Kayci and I were on a date night in Austin, TX, and we chose to eat at Texas Land & Cattle.
I ate:
-At least 5 pieces of bread with extra butter
-8 jalapeno peppers with melted cheese...dipped in Ranch
-A salad with Ranch Dressing
-A 10-0z steak with peppercorn sauce
-Mashed potato with everything but Sour Cream

I woke up this morning feeling great...so I think I'm ready for hot sauce.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wishing all...

...a terrific holiday season.

We have already driven nearly 1,500 miles and we have a few more to go.

The family is healthier...though I can't seem to completely shake the stomach bug. I have yet to dive into a bowl full of hot sauce, but the day is coming soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Virus From Hell

I am convinced that hell is going to be a continual case of the 24-hour stomach virus. Maybe we should begin to use that as an evangelistic weapon.

Yesterday was the 2nd time in my 7 years of preaching that I came down with the virus on a Saturday night before preaching a Christmas sermon.

I preached...but from a stool. I had no energy. Gratefully, God is always faithful!

The bad thing about getting sick before a Christmas sermon is that if you can't preach it, you have to wait 52 weeks to preach it again. It's not like you can turn around the first weekend in January and preach the Christmas sermon you had prepared a couple of weeks back.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Does Paul Know What He's Talking About?

2 Corinthians 10:3-5
Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards; for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have the divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.
*****
These words have transformed me over the past few months.
This phrase won't let me go--"the divine power to destroy strongholds."
*****
I think E.M. Bowers is right, when he wrote in 1906:
"The church is looking for better methods...God is looking for deeper people."
"The church is looking for better organization and novel methods...but God is looking for people of prayer...people who are mighty in prayer."
"The Holy Spirit doesn't flow through methods, but people."
"The Holy Spirit doesn't anoint plans, but people."
*****
This is not a rhetorical question, but a question worth pondering as individuals and as churches--"Do we pray as people who believe in God's power to destroy strongholds right here and now?"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Having Healthy Eyes

Jesus takes a moment to remind his followers that having healthy eyes is vital to the life of a disciple.
Luke 11:34, "Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness."

Let's put the text in context while asking this question, "What does it mean to have healthy eyes?"

Back-up to 11:14. Jesus drives out a demon that was mute.
However, what drives the story isn't that Jesus has the power to drive out demons.
Instead, what drives the story is the question, "By what power is Jesus driving out demons?"
Some where claiming that Jesus was driving out demons by Beelzebul (aka--Satan himself). Jesus uses logic to dismiss this claim. The idea of Satan driving out Satan is ludicrous.

Others wanted another sign. They saw Jesus as a magician with the power to amaze the masses.
This is where they are clearly wrong.
While Jesus never met a demon he couldn't drive out or a disease he couldn't cure; he also met skeptics he couldn't convince and sinners he couldn't convert.
Jesus never turned people away who came to him asking for healing.
However, Jesus always turned down opportunities to "WOW" people with his power. Never do we see this more than on the cross. Jesus wasn't in the business of performing miracles in order to amaze crowds.
In fact, rarely do miracles seem to produce faith. Miracles usually cultivate a greater appetite for more signs.

11:14-32 is a story about people who want their EYES to SEE Jesus do something spectacular.

Then we have these words from Jesus in 11:34, "Your eye is the lamp of your body. If your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light; but if it is not healthy, your body is full of darkness."

After 11:34, we have this story in 11:37-38, "While he was speaking, a Pharisee invited him to dine with him; so he went in and took his place at the table. The Pharisee was amazed TO SEE that he did not first wash before dinner."

Here, we have a Pharisee who has trained his EYES to watch people in order to make sure that they are doing religion right.
When Christianity becomes all about "doing religion right" and intellect; it becomes a very dangerous thing.

On one hand--there are people who want TO SEE Jesus do the spectacular, even though they have already seen miracles.
On the other hand--there are people who want TO SEE people in order to make sure they are "doing right."

In the middle are the words of Jesus--"Your eyes is the lamp of your body..."

So, how healthy are your eyes?
Are you always searching for proof of God's existence? Are you always wanting God to do the spectacular?
Have you watered down Christianity to the physical?
What attractions in this world are serving as your distractions?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Pit Called Consumption

Time for a gut check. Watch...be inspired and convicted...and remember the value of simplicity.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God of this City



This is one of the best songs around right now. It ushers into the heart of God.

Over the past few weeks God has affirmed my calling to Memphis.
My calling was more than just me becoming the Preaching Minister at SVC.
It was a calling to be a voice for God in the city of Memphis.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

102 Fever Isn't that Bad

He woke up with a runny nose on Monday morning. The poor kid doesn't know how to blow his nose yet, so Kayci and I wiped it dozens of times yesterday.
He is just now learning how to cover his mouth when he coughs and to turn his head when he sneezes. When your 19-month-old sneezes while eating chocolate teddy grams, your sweatshirt reaps the benefits.
The worst day in my life as a dad came on December 22, 2007. Kayci and I were exchanging presents on the end of our bed with Truitt (6 months old at the time) sitting beside us. He made a sudden move and before we knew it, he was on his way to the floor. We felt like the worst parents in the world.
He refused to lift his arm why crying hysterically for an hour.
I tried to get Kayci to wait until the Maverick game was over to take him to the ER, but she insisted that we leave right then. (I am totally joking!)
We waited for about an hour in the ER, at 10:15 at night, in Houston, TX. The wait time was approximately 4 hours! As we looked around the ER, we saw kids coughing, sneezing, wheezing, and pale-faced. We left thinking that a few hours in the waiting room at the ER was just going to make him worse.
The next morning we went to our doctor, and long-story-short, he just had a bruised collarbone.

Truitt woke up this morning with an awful cough and a 102 fever.
And...I have spent time thanking God.
In 19 months, the only other time we have had to take our son to the doctor (other than a check-up) was when he fell off a bed a few days before his first Christmas.
A few minutes from my home in Memphis is St. Jude's hospital. For me, I am grateful for bruised collar bones, a respiratory virus, and a fever.

I will pray for Truitt's healing, but I will also thank God for 19 healthy months.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sports...Sports...and Sports

The Cowboys blew it yesterday. Had the Steelers in the palm of their hand going into the 4th quarter and blew it.

The Mavericks have turned it around this season and are playing some great ball. However, they will be good for a 6-8 seed and won't be able to make it past the 2nd round of the playoffs.

The Huskers are 8-4...are playing in a New Year's Day Bowl (Gator Bowl)...and have a chance to get to 9 wins. They were two plays away from being 10-2. I'll take it!

I still haven't been to a Memphis Tigers game yet, but I'm hoping to pretty soon.

Sam Bradford will win the Heisman, but Colt is just as deserving.

This is funny--Colt McCoy was awarded the Offensive Player of the Year in the Big XII, but he was also 2nd Team All Big XII.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Most Influential People

There is no right or wrong answer...but I'm curious:

Who are your top 3 most influential people in America?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"When Was the Last Time?"

The following was an article written by my mentor and good friend, Mike Cope.


WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME?
  • When was the last time a Christian college named a blue collar worker with a modest income to its Board of Trustees because he or she was a devoted follower of Jesus with much wisdom to offer?
  • When was the last time Robert Schuller bumped a celebrity from his television program to interview an elderly widow who gives generously from her Social Security check?
  • When was the last time special visits were made by the ministers and elders to an unemployed family, encouraging them to "place membership" at their congregation?
  • When was the last time one of our institutes of higher learning named a building for someone who never was able to give $100 but who modeled the life of costly discipleship?
  • When was the last time the shepherds of a church confronted someone over a covetous, materialistic lifestyle?
  • When was the last time a brother or sister was disfellowshipped for being greedy (1 Cor.5:11)?
  • When was the last time a church moved from the suburbs to the heart of the city to try to reach the poor?
  • When was the last time a Christian family "downscaled," not because they couldn't make their high payments any more but because those high payments stretched them to the point of being unable to contribute to the church or to help people in need?
  • When was the last time a confession was read at church confessing love of money?
  • When was the last time a Christian "made it big" without it affecting the size of their house of the model of their car?
  • When was the last time a Christian college named as their "alumnus of the year" a single mother who, out of great love for God and her children, had managed to juggle both a secretarial job in the marketplace and a parenting job at home?
  • When was the last time we really listened to the haunting words of Jesus: "a person's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15)?
  • And when was the last time we faced up to the piercing implications of James 2:1: "as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism"?

Monday, December 1, 2008

We Arrived

After 9 hours on the road, we arrived in Memphis around 7:00pm tonight. Though Truitt had his moments, he did pretty well. Hey, I don't blame him. It would be torture to be strapped into a seat for that long, especially after 17 days with grandparents.
Please pray for us as we prepare for a full week of detox with our son. :)

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of preaching at Highland Oaks in Dallas. I worked at this church back in 2000 and 2001. This church has played a pivotal role in forming me in my life, my faith, and my ministry.
I will admit that it was pretty intimating preaching the week before Randy Harris fills the pulpit for 4 weeks.

Tomorrow, I am back to work:
-Preaching from Luke 11
-Planning worship (something Kip and I do every Tuesday...one of the highlights of my week)
-Praying for vision for 2009
-Preparing a two part Wednesday night class I'm teaching on racial reconiliation (one of my deepest passions)
-And booking lunch appointments over the next 3 weeks
-Oh...and working through 9 days of emails (at least an hour long task)

Back to Tennessee

After a week in the DFW area, we are on the road to Memphis this morning. I'll be back in blogging land tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Grief during the Holiday Season...It is OK!

Yesterday at SVC, we had a holy moment.

I began the sermon by having people look to their neighbor and say two things:
1) "Happy Thanksgiving."
2) "Next time you see me I will be 7 pounds heavier."

"Thanksgiving is great," I continued.
"We enjoy fellowship with our relatives...we eat until we can't eat anymore...we confine ourselves to the living room where we lie on couches for the rest of the afternoon and we join in one of the greatest spiritual experiences of the holiday season--we watch America's team, or more importantly, God's team, play a few hours of football."

However, if you are like me, there will be moments of grief this holiday season. This is the first holiday season without my grandfather. For some people, it will be their first holiday season without a dad, mom, sister, brother, a son or daughter, or a close relative or friend.
Maybe it is the first holiday season, or another holiday season, as one who has suffered from a broken marriage.
Maybe it is the first holiday season, or another holiday season, without the presence of a relative because they are fighting a war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or they are stationed somewhere else throughout the world.
The truth is that there are certain people that we do not know life without them. And there absence stings.

For those who would be experiencing moments of sadness or grief during the Thanksgiving week, I had them stand. And then, we surrounded them, and we laid hands on them, and I prayed this prayer:
Lord, we come surrounding those we love as a testament to them that they are not alone, and that we choose to enter into their pain and grief this week. We are taught in Scripture that when a member rejoices, we all rejoice; and when a member mourns, we all mourn. In our grief contain and comfort us. Embrace us with your love, and give us hope in our confusion. As Jesus ascended into the heavens he spoke these words, "I am with you always." Let these words come to fruition this week in ways that are evident so that people may be fully aware of your abiding, constant presence.
(And the we all joined in praying these words together)
We turn to you, O God;
We claim your love;
We choose to be made whole.
A-men

Here's the point:
Thanksgiving is a time of giving thanks.
And on Sunday's around Thanksgiving, many churches focus on gratitude...which is good.
However, there are people who experience moments of grief and mourning during holiday seasons like Thanksgiving, and often we (the church) do not give them a voice.
Even for those who are mourning and grieving, is there something in their life to be grateful for? Absolutely!
But while giving thanks, is it okay to mourn and grieve? Absolutely!

May this Thanksgiving season be full of the presence of power of a God who abides with his people.

Friday, November 21, 2008

New York...Poverty

It was a holy moment this past Wednesday, when I stood at Ground Zero and then walked across the street to St.Paul's Chapel. What struck me at this location was that:
-Ground Zero was a place of great tragedy...but across the street at St. Paul's, it birthed great unity.
-Ground Zero was a place of death...but across the street it became a place of life.
-Ground Zero was a place of ashes...across the street was healing.
-Ground Zero was a heap of destruction...across the street was a place where people began to build again.

In that location, we all witnessed the best of America.

***
"All over this country, too many children are growing up in harm's way--and too many lives are being washed away--because the levees we've built are too weak and too low. When a 13-year-old girl thinks there's nothing wrong with having a baby that will drive them both toward lives of poverty, we haven't built the levees high enough. When 15-year-old boys become fathers, then walk away, get shot, or go to jail, we haven't built the levees high enough. When young people spend more time going to meth labs than chemistry labs, we haven't built the levees high enough. We know better, but we don't act because we don't want to look. If we believe in community, we must find the courage to do what communities do: Together, we must stand side by side and man the levees."
(Words from John Edwards)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oppression Narrative & The Brooklyn Tabernacle

From Rob Bell's new book Jesus Wants to Save Christians:

Most of the Bible is a history told by people living in lands occupied by conquering superpowers. It's a book written from the underside of power. It's an oppression narrative. The majority of the Bible was written by a minority people living under the rule and reign of massive, mighty empires, from the Egyptian Empire to the Babylonian Empire to the Persian Empire to the Assyrian Empire to the Roman Empire.
This can make the Bible a very difficult book to understand if you are reading it as a citizen of the most powerful empire the world has ever seen. Without careful study and reflection, and humility, it may even be possible to miss central themes of the Scriptures.
**********
I am posting today from Manhattan, New York. Kip (my worship ministry) and I traveled here yesterday to attend a prayer meeting held every Tuesday night at The Brooklyn Tabernacle. We gathered with a few thousand people to call upon the name of the Lord for nearly 4 hours...yes...4 hours. It was incredible. One of the greatest experiences of my life.
Expect more later.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

More Thoughts on Prayer

Unfortunately, prayer often becomes the response to circumstances.
However, our relationship with God goes much deeper when prayer becomes the foundation of life; not just the response to circumstances.
Paul puts it this way in 1 Thes.5, "Pray continually."

Friday, November 14, 2008

When Prayers Hit the Ceiling

There are times in one's prayer life when it seems that prayers are bouncing off the ceiling.
It sometimes feels like our prayers aren't leaving the room.
In other words, it doesn't seem/feel like anything is happening in prayer.

I'm taking a risk with a comment I am about to make, so let me begin by prefacing it by making this claim--I am a firm believer in prayer. Prayer transforms us into the image of Jesus. Without prayer, one will be unable to walk with God.

With that said, a verse in the Bible that gives me all kinds of trouble in my prayer life is this:
Ask, and it will be given to you
Seek, and you will find
Knock, and the door will be opened.

Luke 11:9 makes it sound so simple. But if you're like me, these words can create confusion.

Even though confusion exists, there is something inside of me that keeps me asking, seeking, and knocking.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What Ministry is Keeping Your Church Alive?

When I meet new Christians at conferences, lectures, or meetings...I know exactly how the conversations are going to go:
Other person--"Hi Josh, my name is _______."
Josh--"It is a pleasure to meet you."
Other person--"Now where do you minister?"
Josh--"I preach at the Sycamore View Church in Memphis, TN."
(And I know the next question before they ask it)
Other person--"How big is that church?"

The questions that drive us are the questions concerning church attendance and budgets.
"How big is your church?"
"What is your annual budget?"
"How many services do you have?"

Barbara Brown Taylor is right, we concern ourselves with the 3 B's: buildings, budgets, and baptisms.

Allow me to suggest some new questions that need to dominate our conversations:
-What is the ministry that drives your church?
-How have you seen God at work in your church over the past few months?
-How is your church living for the surrounding community?

So, let me end by asking this:
What is the ministry that is keeping your church alive?
What is the ministry that is holding your church close to the heart of God?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Learning to Fight

I'm trying to get back into more regular blogging, but I am just gassed right now. I don't feel that I have much to give.

However, one thing I have been contemplating for a while now is this--we have not done a very good job teaching Christians how to fight.
In other words, we haven't taught people how to have healthy conflict. Too often, discussions are presented in a way where you are either in or you are out; either with us or against us.

In a marriage, you have to learn how to have healthy disagreements or:
1) one partner will become abusive
or 2) the marriage will fall apart.

Kayci and I had to learn how to fight when we got married. We don't disagree much, but when we do, we have had to learn how to listen, show respect, hear the other person, and hug even though we might not be on the same page. (Side note--making up after marital fights is always fun)

As diversity continues to spread itself across the religious landscape, it is essential that we (Christ-Followers) learn how to enter into healthy conflict.
1) Listen (As Kayci says, "Listen with your eyes.")
2) Show respect.
3) Enter into healthy dialogue. Attempt to understand the other person's point of view.
4) Pray for God to grant wisdom and discernment.

May God raise up people in the 21st century who will learn how to disagree in healthy, respectful ways.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Loving Enemies

As I prepare to preach this Sunday from Luke 6:27-36, I came across these words from a modern day prophet:
Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. That's why Jesus says, "Love your enemies." Because if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and to transform your enemies. But if you love your enemies, you will discover that at the very root of love is the power of redemption. You just keep loving people and keep loving them, even though they're mistreating you. Here's the person who is a neighbor, and this person is doing something wrong to you and all of that. Just keep being friendly to that person. Keep loving them. Don't do anything to embarrass them. Just keep loving them, and they can't stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with bitterness because they're mad because you love them like that. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they'll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That's love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There's something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

(Dr. King's sermon "Loving Your Enemies")

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Psalm 83:1

"O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!"

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Proud to be an American

Let me set something straight at the beginning of this post--this is not a Republican or a Democratic post. I am writing as a proud American.
Today, I am proud to be an American. We've all known that November 4, 2008 was going to be an historical election:
1) We are going to have our first African-American president.
or 2) We are going to have our first female vice-president.
This country has made great strides to live into the meaning of "all men (people) are created equal."

This has been a very emotional election. Every four years, a passion is lit underneath people that we rarely see during any other season of our lives.
Whoever wins tonight deserves our honor and our prayers. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 are very clear that we are to honor our leaders. And Peter and Paul were writing during the times of brutal emperors.
Let us join in prayer as we ask God to mold our leaders into people who live close to Christ's heart--that they will be people of justice, mercy, and sacrifice.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Formed by Scripture--Part 3

GENESIS 1:26-31

God didn't to work very hard when he created. It was as hard as God saying, "Light," and then light appeared. After six days of creating, God wasn't in need of a massage therapist. He didn't have blisters on his hands or a sore back. He wasn't in need of Gatorade to replenish his body. He simply spoke and it happened.
It was almost as if the first five days were only a warm-up for the sixth day. On the sixth day, God pulled out a mirror and next to the mirror was a drawing board. As he created human beings in his very own image, it was as if he was glancing in a mirror to see his reflection, and then forming human beings from what he saw.
Genesis 1:26-31 is a launching pad for so much that takes place throughout all of Scripture:
Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness...So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them...God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good."
THAT IS WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN! To be human is to live as people who have been created in the image of God.
We are quick to use the phrase, "Well, I'm only human." Or, "Johnny made a mistake, but he is only human."
I want to say, "No. That isn't right. To be human is to embrace the reality that you have been created in the image of God. What happens in Genesis 3 & 4 is what it means to not be human. All of Scripture, God is working in the lives of people to restore them to the kind of people he created them to be--people fashioned and formed in the image of God. The beauty of Jesus is that he restores people to the essence of what it means to be human."

We know what it means to be dehumanized. We live in a country that has dehumanized people because of skin color, nationality, and/or social status.
Genesis 1:26-31 reorients us into the life of God. It gives us fresh eyes to see the world.
Genesis 1 is not about knowing it in order to combat evolutionists. Instead, Genesis 1 teaches us how to live.
I need Genesis 1 to form me in my life and ministry.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Formed by Scripture--Part 2

For those who know me, it should come as no surprise that Luke 4:18-19 has become "the" lens in which I engage all of Scripture.



The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

Because he has anointed me

To bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To let the oppressed go free,

To proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.



When I open the Bible, I read under the umbrella of Luke 4:18-19. This is the thesis of the entire gospel of Luke, and not only Luke, but also of Acts. Here, at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, he reads from Isaiah 61--a text that people had been waiting to come to fulfillment through the coming Messiah. Jesus enters as the one who embodies the essence of Isaiah 61.

Story after story Jesus is speaking words to the poor.

He is all about the message of "release."

He gave sight to those who were unable to see.

He freed the oppressed and he indicted oppressors

He proclaimed "the year" of the Lord's favor. (A clear referral to the year of Jubilee)



Luke 4:18-19 becomes the table of contents to Jesus' life and ministry. It is the ministry that he handed to the apostles and they handed it to the church. We are recipients of this good news.



I want to live as a Luke 4:18-19 kind of person. These aren't just words that described Jesus' life here on earth, but they are words that continue to describe His power that is at work in the world around us.



Ultimately, this becomes our script as we live out the Jesus-story in our own contexts.

Formed by Scripture--Part 1

Over the next few days I am going to take a few moments to share a few verses that have formed and shaped me as a disciple and as a minister. I am like most Christ-followers in that we have been formed by all different facets of Scripture--the prophets, the psalms, the historical books, the books of the law, wisdom literature, the gospels, Paul's letters, Acts, Revelation, and the other epistles.
However, all of us have the "door-frame verses"--the verses that have been stamped on our hearts. The verses that won't let us go. The verses that have helped to reframe the world for us.
So, with that said, over the next few days I am going to share a few of my own.

"The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." (John 1:14)

"The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood." (The Message)

This verse is at the very center of how I think about preaching and ministry. In God's humility, he became flesh and lived among people. In Paul's words, "He emptied himself." This form of giving up power is at the heart of Jesus' character. He went from being surrounded by the hosts of heaven to being surrounded by withered hands, leprous disesases, sinful behavior, and faithless religious leaders. He didn't visit earth during the day and ascend into the heavens during the night. He became like us.
He lived in a way that welcomed people into his glorious presence. He was fully present.
To step into the presence of Jesus was to step into the presence of love and compassion.

This verse has something powerful to say to the church. Too often church leaders can sit around tables praying and discussing who the "target audience" needs to be: "Who should we reach out to?" "Who are we going to pour our time into?"
However, to take John 1:14 seriously, church leaders need to stand on the front porches, look around the neighborhood, and claim what they see as the harvest that is plentiful. Become the presence of Christ right where you are. Be the "Word" that becomes flesh and lives among people.

PS--this verse was the driving force behind the article I wrote for New Wineskins.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A Call to Remember

In less than 10 days our nation will have a new president.
Prayers are being offered up by both sides in favor of their candidate.
Some people are hanging the future of America on whether their side wins or not.

In this season, remember this:
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but our trust is in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Social & Physical Location

A friend recommended an article for me to read from Charles Campbell.

Campbell begins by describing social location--this means that I, Josh Ross, am white, middle-class, and I come from a two-parent home in which both of my parents were spiritual nurturers. These factors influence the way I read Scripture.

Everything changes when the conversation moves to physical location.
What happens when we read Scripture and take our prayers to a different, physical location?
For instance:
1) What happens when we read James 5 (a passage about materialism) while sitting on the steps of the biggest bank in our city?
2) What happens when we read Jesus' words, "Do not worry about what you will eat...drink...or wear," while sitting in the food court of a shopping mall?
3) What happens when we read Luke's beatitudes from Luke 6 while driving through the "projects" in the inner-city?
4) What happens when we read the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy (Luke 5) while at an AIDS clinic?
5) What happens when we read passages about caring for widows while walking the halls of the nearest nursing home?
6) What happens when we read the Lord's Prayer ("Give us this day our daily bread") while sitting with the homeless in a local park?

For most of us, we engage Scripture in safe places, such as classrooms in the church and/or in the safety of our homes. Right now in my own life, I feel God calling me to engage Scripture in the city...outside of my office.
I am attempting to take a prayer drive once a week through the city of Memphis. While driving I want God to open my eyes to see the way he sees and to care the way he cares.

When we take Scripture outside of safe-pockets, it takes on new life. It invites us into the world in innovative ways.

Monday, October 20, 2008

From Last Place to World Series

Tampa Bay went from last to first in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. They deserve to be in the big series.
I, for one, have counted them out a number of times this season.
They're a great story.

Here's the question: where have all of these Tampa Bay fans come from? Less than two months ago they were still averaging less than 15,000 per game. Now, you have a stadium of die-hards.
I guess that is just sports for you. It is all about "What have you done for me lately?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Social Justice and Spiritual Disciplines

There needs to be a marriage between the two: Social Justice and Spiritual Disciplines.
From Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove's book Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers:
"Here's the good news: prayer and action can go together; in fact they must. Otherwise we have little more than a bunch of inactive believers or worn-out activists."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Indoctrinating vs. Discipling

Indoctrinating is the attempt to instruct people into a particular, religious belief system.
Discipling is the process of becoming followers of Jesus.

Indoctrinating focuses on: why we do what we do...why it is right...and why this particular way of thinking is necessary.
Discipling is teaching people how & why to pray, to read Scripture, and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Indoctrinating is the attempt to convert people to a religion. (For my own tribe, the C of C, we have often spent more time converting people to the C of C than we have in converting people to Christ)
Discipling is the attempt to convert people to the one who came to create a commitment to a way of life; not a commitment to the right doctrine.

Indoctrinating attempts to convert people to baptism. (Again, for the C of C, we have often began Bible studies with non-believers by turning to Acts 2:38, Romans 6, or Matthew 28)
Discipling views baptism as a vital component of disciple-making. Just as important as being baptized is that people live as baptized people. Discipling begins with Jesus as the source of life.

Indoctrinating focuses on "knowing" right.
Discipling focuses on the lifestyle of living as a person who has been created in the very image of God.

Indoctrinating is often an attempt to get worship right.
Discipling is the attempt to live a life of worship.

Indoctrinating is more concerned with information.
Discipling is more concerned with formation.

Indoctrinating leads people to say some hateful things about those who haven't been indoctrinated.
Discipling is about a journey of being formed into the image of Jesus.

Indoctrinating sees spirituality as a list that needs every box checked before you sign your name on the bottom line.
Discipling sees spirituality as a continual process of being molded into His image.

Both have convictions, faith, and urgency.
Indoctrinating is what Jesus and Paul moved away from.
Discipling is the focus of Jesus' life and ministry on earth.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Happy B-Day...#52

My dad turned 52 yesterday. He is a living testimony of the faithfulness of God. He broke a cycle in his family of addiction and abuse. He found the Lord (or I should say--the Lord found him) and this year he celebrates 20 years of preaching.
Thanks, Rick, for being a nurturer, protector, and seeker.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

MLB & College Football Predictions

Boston over Tampa Bay in 6 games
LA over Philedelphia in 6 games

OU over UT
Missouri over OSU
NU over Tech (If Tech spots them 30)
CU over Kansas

Florida over LSU

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Belong...Believe...Behave

(This is a repeat from a blog back in June or July, but it needs to be repeated as a continuation of the post from yesterday)

We (the church) have often functioned under this paradigm:
1) BEHAVE--an outsider must first prove to us that they can behave.
2) BELIEVE--if you prove to us that you can behave, then we will help you learn how and what to believe.
3) BELONG--once you prove to us that you can behave and we help you learn to believe, then we will let you belong.

If we take Jesus seriously, he works under a different paradigm:
1) BELONG--Jesus lives in a way that he gave value and dignity to every human soul. "Sinners" wanted to be around him. He gave them a sense of belonging.
2) BELIEVE--it was through belonging that Jesus taught people how and what to believe.
3) BEHAVE--after giving dignity and ushering people into a belief, there came a time and place to teach people how to behave.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

"Come Just as You Are"

Take a few minutes to search church websites and you will find that most churches include these 5 words--"Come Just as You Are." These words are inviting. They portray the essence of hospitality and welcoming. They are used to attempt to break down walls between the churched and the unchurched.

However, these 5 words can often be one of the greatest lies from a church.

Come as you are...
"...but you have to be dressed right. No short skirts. No hats."
"...unless you are part of 'that' political party."
"...unless your skin is of a certain color."
"...unless you are part a particular social class."
"...but you have to believe right."
"...as long as you look like us, dress like us, and live like us."

Often, these phrases aren't blatantly spoken, but when visitors sit on a pew without anyone speaking to them or inviting them to lunch, these principles are unintentionally conveyed.

Chris Seidman challenged us at ACU Summit to consider if we do a better job of "accepting" people or "excepting" people. He is right on.

What are the barriers, walls, and roadblocks that must be torn down in order for us to truly embrace the phrase "Come just as you are"?

To be continued...(more tomorrow).

Friday, October 3, 2008

Prayer

What happens when we become the prayer we pray?

I love this question.

Just an observation--most of our prayer lists are focused on the sick and elderly. Don't misinterpret what I'm saying...it is a good thing to pray for the sick and elderly. Our faith is in a God who can heal diseases, comfort the aging, and work miraculously through surgeries and chemo.

However.

What happens when our prayers become more dangerous?
What happens when our prayers become more focused on formation, transformation, change, holiness, our community, our cities, and our world?
What happens when we come together to seek God's direction, leading, and guidance for a church as they transition from loving their building to loving their neighborhood?
What happens when we become our prayers for justice, mercy, and compassion?
What happens when we become the prayers for acceptance, authentic community, and "accepting people right where they are"?

Are we ready to:
1) Pray dangerously for God to work and move in the hearts of people?
2) For God to work in ways in which we become the prayers we pray?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Pitchers and Preachers

In case you haven't been keeping up with the wide-world of sports, the MLB playoffs begin today. For some of you, that makes you want to yawn. For others of us, we don't know how to separate baseball from October.
October is one of the greatest months for sports: college football, NFL, basketball is knocking at the door, and the MLB playoffs are almost always full of drama.
(Allow me to take one moment to say that it is great to have an October without the Yankees!!!)
With baseball on the mind, I thought I would share with you a conversation that I have had with a few preacher friends over the past few weeks. We have enjoyed comparing preachers and their preaching-styles to MLB pitchers. Keep in mind, the comparisons are with the pitcher's pitching-style, not their personality.
Enjoy the following, and I welcome your comments.

1) Rick Ross (my dad) is the Andy Petitte of preaching. (No, Rick doesn't take preacher-roids.)
Their styles are both smooth and fluid. Petitte has one of the best pitching motions in all of baseball--calm and collective. You know that you are going to get a quality start every time these two go to work.


2) Rick Atchley is the Randy Johnson of pitching.
It's a toss up when it comes to which one is better looking. :) (Just playing, Rick)
You know what is coming when he steps on the mound--the inside-heater. Rick is aggressive and intense. Yes, he is going to make you laugh and he is a good illustrator/story-teller, but he is coming at you with 3 fastballs, and you know it. He speaks with the voice of a prophet and he is going to tell you how things are, what God says about it, and what it means for your life. He is coming at your heart with conviction and with power, and he will brush you off the plate.



3) My man, Cope, is your Greg Maddox. Mike is going to work the count. He has a few solid pitches and he is going to use them to his advantage. He is going to take you on a journey every single time he stands in front of people. There are times when you wonder where he is going with the sermon, but before you know it you find yourself immersed in the unfolding drama.
As with Greg Maddox, who isn't afraid to let batters fall behind 3-0 before coming back in the count, there are times with Cope's preaching that you will think you are getting away with a powerful word from the Lord for that day, but before you know it, the word will be all over you.
One more thing, like Maddox, if Cope hits you, it is on purpose. :)




4) Randy Harris is Your Johan Santana.
He is going to bring his best stuff every day and you expect him to be on the mound for all 9 innings. I don't know of anyone who has the endurance that Randy has. The guy travels every weekend to preach and/or speak at conferences, he teaches a full load, he writes, and he is one of the best spiritual coaches you'll find. I don't know if I have ever seen Randy with a "b" game. God is that good in him!
For those of you reading, which is your favorite Randy sermon--Mark 8 or 2 Cor.1? He could preach them both in his sleep.




5) Jeff Walling is your Dennis Eckersley.
Eckersley is one of the best closers the game has ever seen. He also had a funny/unique pitching style. Walling is unique in that he is a stand-up comedian who can preach. One moment you will be holding your side because you're laughing so hard...the next moment you will be holding your heart because of the powerful words.
Also, Walling is a closer. If you have ever been at a youth rally with Walling, he will get people to respond. He will call for you to--"let go of the pew in front of you because you know that God is working on your heart and he wants you to give your life to Jesus."
I wasn't alive to hear Jimmy Allen, so I don't know if that would be a fair comparison, but Walling often preaches to close-the-deal.




6) Jerry Taylor is your Mariano Rivera.
He isn't your closer like Walling, but he preaches in a way that builds and builds and builds until in the 9th inning, you are ready to jump out of your seat.
Jerry has the cadence and the rhythm to lead you to the mountaintop. He preaches in a way that will make the gospel come to life in ways that you could have never imagined.




I'll stop there. My apologies go to Seidman, Graves, Luke, Charlton, and all of you other preachers who were left off of this post. My imagination only goes so far. :)
However, for all of you baseball/preacher fans, feel free to add your own comparisons.

Monday, September 29, 2008

When a Text Comes to Life

I am back from a few wonderful days in Abilene. Brady Bryce, the new director of ACU Summit, did a fabulous job this year. He is more than a director; he is a minister of the Lord.
I enjoyed:
-Brisket BBQ (though I like the pork)
-Hernandez bakery (my breakfast spot with M-Cope)
-A meal at Lytle (with a few preacher friends)
-Some quality time with my parents & lil' bro
-And the chance to listen to two of my favorite speakers--Kayci & my mother

It was good to be back at my home in Memphis.

I eagerly await every Sunday because I never know how God is going to work among us. As much as I love it when visitors leave SVC saying, "That was a friendly church," I want them to experience something greater and deeper and more profound. I want people to leave saying, "I felt God there." Not because God has taken up resistance at our building, but because He is alive in the way we sing, pray, gather around the table, talk about Jesus, and love the world.

Two Sundays ago, we had planned the baptism of Lee Brown. (To see pictures click here). Lee had been homeless in Memphis for 20 year and 7 months. He is a big man with bad hygiene--meaning that he rarely showers. He began studying with John Kennedy (a mighty warrior of God) a few weeks ago and Lee wanted to receive and experience the power of baptism.
However, before early service, Lee and John pulled me aside and Lee told me that his mind wasn't in the right place today. He had gone to pick up one of his homeless friends the day before to bring him to church but he walked upon his friend only to find him dead. The friend had drank himself to death.
I told Lee that we would continue to talk about the power of baptism, but then I asked if we could bring him up to the front, lay hands on him, and pray for God's anointing in his life. He said, "Yes."
During the Call to Worship, I led our people in a prayer exercise, and immediately after the exercise was over, Lee and John came up to the front row right by me, and Lee said, "Mister Josh, when you led us in that prayer time, I was sitting back there praying about what I need to give up in my life, and I know that right now I need to be baptized."
This is the part in a worship service that can drive some people crazy. There are people who act as if the worship order is a fixed agenda for the Sunday. As we say with Scripture so some say with the worship order--"Do not add or take away."
However, I love it when God refuses to be confined by a worship order, an agenda, or a time-frame.
Now, at this point in the story about Lee some may be saying, "Why didn't you wait until the invitation?" I have found it to be so much more powerful when we allow the baptism to become part of the worship service. It then becomes participatory in nature--it isn't just something we watch, but it becomes a moment that does something to us and for us. 1) We remember our own baptism. 2) We commit our own lives again to live in the power of the resurrected Lord. 3) We become participants in the life of the one being baptized.
So, with that said, we altered our service.
It was one of the most powerful baptisms I have ever witnessed. Lee came up out of the water with a fist in the air hooting and hollering. The guy truly received and embraced the power of Jesus.
That's not where the story ends.
John and Lee came up out of the water and they came to the Table together. John led us in communion thoughts from Luke 14:12-14 about what kind of parties Jesus commands. He and Lee, who both had a mic, took turns sharing stories. John prayed for the bread, (and hold your breath)--Lee prayed for the cup.
A man who had been homeless for 20 years and 7 months was baptized during our service, and then he led us in the prayer for the cup. That is something that doesn't happen every day in churches across America.

My sermon for the day was from Luke 5:12-16. It is the story of Jesus touching a man with leprosy. I say "touching the man" because the story is more about Jesus touching the untouchable than it is about Jesus healing an awful disease.
We saw this text come to life right in front of us with Lee Brown--a man who is now becoming one of the greatest ministers in our church and in the city of Memphis.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Abilene

Yesterday was an amazing, powerful day at Sycamore View. God was truly present among us and some awesome events took place. It was one of the most Spirit-filled services I've been a part of in quit a while. (I'll have to write more later)

I drove from Memphis to Abilene yesterday after our late service. It was 9 1/2 hours of alone time with I-40, I-30, and I-20. Kayci and I will be here until Thursday attending ACU Summit. My mother spoke today and was absolutely inspiring. She is so gifted. Wednesday, I get to listen to one of my favorite speakers--Kayci. Please pray for her.

To all of you in Memphis, know that I'm enjoying Texas but I can't wait to get back to Tennessee!!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why I am a Husker Fan

People ask me all the time, "Josh, why are you a Husker fan?"

In 1992, Tommie Frazier, as a freshman at NU, became the starting quarterback for what would become the most dominate college football team of the 1990's.
Not only was Frazier a QB, he was an OPTION QUARTERBACK.
Around the same time he became the starter, I was entering into middle school. In 7th grade, I only played defense. I enjoyed covering receivers and having the chance to put my helmet into someone's chest.
As I entered into 8th grade, I was hoping that my coaches would give me a shot at receiver. I still wanted to play defense, but I wanted the chance to catch a few passes. I was pretty fast, quick, and had decent hands. However, my coaches refused to give me the shot at receiver. Instead, Coach Hicks told me that I was going to play QB. I had no say in it.
We were a running team who specialized in the option. After a few practices, I fell in love with it. For the next 5 years of my life I would go to sleep with a football in my arms. I was throwing routes and working out 12 months a year. There was something intriguing to me about being the field general; the one who has the ball in his hands on every single play.
Every Saturday and Sunday, I would watch College and NFL games...zoning in on the quarterback. I quickly realized that NFL qb's weren't the running type. If they did run, they would do the feet-first slide at the end of the play to avoid getting hit. But the college game was different, especially with Tommie Frazier. Option qb's refuse to slide. It is against their DNA. They aren't afraid of contact or to put their head down to take on the linebacker or strong safety.
I continued as the starting qb and cornerback as a freshman in high school. I played at a larger school in Mesquite (east of Dallas), so we played against some pretty stiff competition. As most of you know, high school football in Texas is the real deal.
One week before 2-a-days started my sophomore year, my coach called my house to request a meeting with me. He called me in to tell me that they were moving me up to varsity, and my number would be #15 because he knew that Frazier was my hero.
My high school, Mesquite Poteet, had a football program that mimicked everything that the Nebraska Cornhuskers would do. My offensive coaches would fly up to Lincoln in the spring to talk option football with Tom Osborne (one of the greatest coaches in College football history) and his assistants. They would discuss new schemes. Our coaches would come home with new plays, and believe it or not, the Huskers started to run a few of our plays after watching some of our film. My coaches would come back with new drills, plays, and hours of video. They would also bring me back t-shirts, shorts, and Husker paraphernalia from the Husker Bookstore.
As a junior, we had a tight-end who was one of the most sought after TE's in the entire country. I walked into the field house one day on a meeting he was having with Turner Gill, the qb coach for the Huskers. They invited me to come and sit with them for a few minutes. I think I had to throw those pants away because I am sure that I went all over myself.
Since I've been a fan, I've seen them play close to 8 times. There is nothing like it.
Even though they abandoned the option about 5 years ago, and even though they have had a rough time adjusting to the 21st century, my loyalties are firmly established.
I am a Husker for life.
GO BIG RED!!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Agree or Disagree

"If the church is alive,
it's because the pulpit is alive--
if the church is dead,
it's because the pulpit is dead."
--Billy Graham



(Don't you just love the word "pulpit")

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Words that won't let me go

The Lord God has given me:
the tongue of a teacher,
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens--
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
Isaiah 50:4

Monday, September 15, 2008

Discipleship

Yesterday, I preached on discipleship from Luke 5:1-11.

For the most part, we have been more conversion-driven than disciple-driven. Youth ministers can come home from church camps and retreats and they can tell you exactly how many kids were baptized. Preachers can preach revivals and they can tell you exactly how many people came to the Lord.
I celebrate with them, but here is what I want to know--how many of those kids/people are making steps to deepen their faith 3 weeks after the camp/revival? How many mentors have risen up to walk with these new converts on this journey of faith?

We get people wet and then what...indoctrinate them?

I'm convinced that Jesus calls us to pour even more time and energy into people after baptism than we do before baptism.

What do we need to do in order to become people who are in the business of making disciples?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Hurricane Ike

I've been receiving calls and text messages from my friends in Houston. So far, everyone is doing well.
Please pray for the city of Houston and for the Southwest Central Church.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9-11

We all woke up this morning...remembering.
I pray this morning for God's shalom (that is God's peace) to reign in this world.


There were two main theological responses to this great tragedy.

1) There was the response that said that 9-11 happened because America has turned away from God. We have declined morally. We have allowed the nature of sin to become the norm. Therefore, God brought this tragedy upon the U.S. to wake us up from our slumber.
So what was God up to on 9-11? God planned this event to snap us back to reality.

2) There was the response that said human beings sometimes make choices that are destructive, violent, and catastrophic. People have the freedom to choose to fly planes into buildings.
So where was God on 9-11? The first tear to fall on 9-11 was a tear from heaven. It was a tear that flowed down the cheek of God as he mourned over humanity. This view doesn't say that God was behind 9-11 as the planner, but instead God responded to this tragedy to work his acts of redemption.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Life-Reframed





My purpose for this picture isn't to show me in action while preaching (seriously, I tried to get rid of me), but I want you to see the crosses that were made to go along with the current sermon series. I'm calling this series "Life-Reframed." We are walking through the gospel of Luke from now until Easter Sunday. Each Sunday, we are going to be reframing Jesus-stories. We are in constant need of Jesus to reframe faith, belief, prayer, friendship, sinners, the lost, parties, the heart, purpose, rhythm, love, mission, sight, wealth, suffering, table, forgiveness, humility, and Lordship.

Our members donated frames to place on the cross. So, each week, our frames come together at the cross.

Thanks goes to Kip Long and Ken Cox--two talented Jesus-followers.
(The funny thing is that a shepherd took these pictures during my sermon)




Sunday, September 7, 2008

Saturday Nights

I've learned to embrace Saturday night for what it always is...a night of 5-6 hours of sleep. I never sleep well the day before preaching. Here are a few reasons why:
1) I've been entrusted with truth.
2) As a minister, preaching draws you into relationships with people. By loving them, you want God to break through into their lives in extraordinary ways. Through the power of God, the word of the Lord can create new possibilities and dreams for people.
3) There is a heavy responsibility I feel on my shoulders, and I hope that this responsibility never leaves me. Weekly, it reminds me of my place in this world.
4) I love preaching! It's that feeling before a big game, or that special vacation, or possibly even the night before Christmas. Throughout the week, a word from God has been building up within me and by Saturday night I am ready to deliver it.

Saturday nights aren't for sleep.
Now, as for Sunday nights...don't call me before 9:30 on Monday morning.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Long week...

Therefore I have had little time to blog. Appointments, meetings, sermon prep, bible studies...

Here's what I need:
I need a Saturday of College Football. I live for Saturday's in the fall. The day begins with my good friends Kirk, Corso, Fowler, and Desmond Howard on ESPN with College Gameday. Then, I could easily sit in front of the tv and watch football from 11:00am-11:00pm.
However, Kayci doesn't go for 14 hours of ESPN/football, so I pick my games carefully.

I'm not predicting any big-time upsets this week.

Go Huskers!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Is God Silent?

In the midst of strenuous circumstances like hurricanes, tsunamis, and other forms of tragedies, some people will ask the question, "Is God silent?"
However, if the church (the people of God called to live with purpose) is truly embracing our calling from God which is to represent him here on this earth; then maybe the question isn't, "Is God silent during difficult times?" but, "Is the church silent?"

Labor Day

We know about "labor." Most of us are obsessed with overworking.
How many conversations do we have with people when the question is asked, "How's life?" and the response is, "Busy!"
In the 1970's, the average American worker added 190 hours to their annual work load. That is an entire month of work. Ironically, guess when the divorce rates began to skyrocket in the US?

I understand that there are people working today (on Labor Day), but I hope that each of us will attempt to discover the necessity of "rest" and "Sabbath" in our lives.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Decatur and Politics

I have fallen in love with the Decatur Church of Christ. I was honored to speak there again last night.
After a nightmare experience in their previous church, my parents are now in a church that specializes in loving people. God is using my dad's voice from the pulpit to form a church into the image of Jesus.

---------------------------------

I have respect for Republicans. I am related to them; I am friends with them.
I have respect for Democrats. I am related to them; I am friends with them.
I have respect for Lipscombites (those who don't see the need to vote or be involved in politics). I am related to them; I am friends with them.

I know people who follow Jesus wholeheartedly who are die-hard Republicans, Democrats, and political pacifists.

The next few months are going to get a lot of coverage. We have another night of the Democratic convention, a week of the Republican convention, 3 presidential debates, and 1 vice-presidential debate.

How about a toast for healthy dialogue, respect for other voices, ears to hear, mouths that speak in love, and hearts that put all of our hope and trust in the greater Kingdom--the Kingdom of God--the Kingdom that will never pass away.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Olympian Hero--Michael Phelps

A friend sent me this picture today.

Now is the time to become a swimming instructor in the US of A. With Michael Phelps performing like he did, swimming lessons are about to quadruple.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Barrenness

I preached from Luke 1 today. The story of Jesus in Luke begins in barrenness. He begins his gospel with 2 miraculous births: 1) an old lady who was "out of her prime," and 2) a young teenage girl who was a virgin. God seems to enjoy working within the realms of the impossible.

However, Elizabeth and Mary aren't the only ones expecting in Luke 1, all of Israel was expecting. The beginning of Luke asks us, "Are we expecting? What are our expectations for God?"

Elizabeth and Mary aren't the only ones delivering in Luke 1. Even more so, God is delivering. He is delivering a new prophet, a new King, a new teaching, a new community...ultimately, he is delivering good news to all of humanity.

And, He is still delivering today!

Friday, August 22, 2008

20/20 & Infant Mortality

Tonight at 9:00pm central, 20/20 will be reporting on infant mortality in Memphis. It just so happens that the city I minister in is the deadliest city in America for babies.
I love this city, and every single day God is cultivating inside of me a deeper love and passion for Memphis. I want to see the Kingdom of God come here; I want to see "Satan fall like lightning".
For years I have been drawn to justice/injustice and liberation. As I read Scripture, I see these principles as something that is so close to the heart of God. I don't have answers, but I choose to fight with love, faith, compassion, and prayer.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Football in Wisconsin

Do you think people in Wisconsin take their football seriously?

Expectations

What are we expecting?

I pray today for God to stir within our hearts a deep desire to raise the level of expectation for what God can do in us and around us. Let's be honest, we often live with no expectations of God breaking into our lives, our churches, or our communities.

God is inviting us to dream with him today of what this world can look like when the power and presence of God is embraced as the ultimate reality.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sabbath Rest

I have learned to treasure Sabbath Rest. In Genesis 1, we discover God creating a rhythm to creation--you work and then you rest. If you are like me, it is hard for us to allow this rhythm to penetrate and guide our lives.
I am just now returning from a 7 day adventure with Kayci and our good friends Josh and Kara Graves. We chilled on the beach, watched Olympics, had our own Olympic challenge (I got 2nd), ate some great food, watched two minor league baseball games, and even went to Disney World. Yes, JG and myself enjoyed an entire day with our lady-friends at Disney.

I read 3 books this week (I'll write more on this later):
1) Jim and Casper Go to Church: Frank Conversation about Faith, Churches, and Well-Meaning Christians (Jim Henderson and Matt Casper)
2) Father Joe (Tony Hendra)
3) The Way of the Heart (Henri Nouwen)

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On Thursday, our good friends Luke and Lindsey welcomed their daughter, Avery, into the world. I can't wait to get my hands on this little girl.

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Michael Phelps is one of my new heroes. The guy is absolutely incredible.

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We are glad to be back. We deeply missed our church family this morning.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics

The summer Olympics are so much more entertaining than the winter Olympics. Give me a 4x100 relay, any event with Phelps, or NBA vs. the world any day of the week. I love it!

I am going to be out of blogging land for a few days. I'll be back next weekend.

Here's the question I leave you with: what is your favorite event in the Summer Games?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Knowing Neighbors

One verse that has revolutionized my life and ministry is John 1:14, "The Word became flesh and lived among us." In essence, Jesus entered into the world by moving into the neighborhood, and he became fully present to every human being he encountered.
With that said, it seems that our mission in life isn't to sit around talking about who our target group is going to be, planning "neighboring" strategies, and forming outreach committees...(though all of that can be good.) Instead, it seems that we (as individual Christ-followers and as faith communities) need to stand on our porches and claim whatever we see as the harvest that is plentiful. Our neighborhoods need to become our mission fields.
I preached on this last Sunday and was convicted that my office is 50 yards from apartment building 1881. Every day I leave my office and I stare at 4 doors connected to 1881. However, I had to make a confession to SVC that I have been preaching here 10 weeks and I haven't met my neighbors.
So yesterday, my friend Andy and I went over to the apartments to make a few friends. We knocked a few doors and my words were basically:
1) I'm the new preacher across the street and I need to apologize that I have been here 10 weeks and I haven't met you yet. I'm sorry.
2) I want to make myself available to you and your family. If there is anything that I can ever do for you please don't hesitate to let me know.
3) Before I leave, is there anything I can be praying for?

We made some new friends and we were given some prayer requests. Please continue to pray for apartment building 1881.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's Wrong with Us/Them?

Allow me to toss a few stats at you:
1) Approximately 100 million people in America live in apartment complexes. That is roughly 1/3 of America. The residents include people from all social classes and age groups (though the majority are young). Of the 100 million, only 1 million (1%) are affiliated with a faith community or church.

2) In his book "Revolutionary," George Barna writes that his studies have shown that there are approximately 33 million younger people (18-35) living in America who claim to be spiritual and lovers of Jesus, yet they don't want anything to do with a church. 33 MILLION!!!

3) Studies have shown that 50% of our young people growing up in Churches of Christ will leave the C of C by the age of 23. Now, this doesn't mean that they are turning away from Jesus (though some are), but they are finding their homes in other denominations, in church plants, or at the "5th and Bedpost" Church.

4) In the Evangelical world, roughly 70% are leaving their churches by the age of 25.

We are quick to ask, "what is wrong with them?"

However, maybe we need to ask, "what is wrong with us?"

What is wrong with the church when over half of our young people don't want to have anything to do with it by the time they graduate college? And, are we willing to do something about it?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Church & Mission

A good question:
Does a Church have a Mission?

A better question:
Does a Mission have a Church?

Saturday, August 2, 2008

NL or AL

Here's a fun question for all you baseball fans out there:
Do you prefer the DH (designated hitter) or the NL-style where the pitcher has to hit?

My personal opinion:
  • There is more strategy in the NL--hands down. I love the strategy of single, steal second, get him over to 3rd, and sacrifice fly to get him home. I love the double switch. I love that pitchers can't hide behind their hitters, but instead they have to put the helmet on and take a few swings.
  • The AL is entertaining in the sense that they play for the 3-run-homer. The DH "ups" the run total, but it takes away strategic moves like the double switch and pitch hitter.

Though I grew up in an AL town (Dallas), I prefer the NL-style.

BTW--the Angels are the best team in baseball. They are unbeatable right now!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Belong...Believe...Behave

Walk with me here for a few moments...

We (the church) have often functioned under this paradigm:
1) BEHAVE--an outsider must first prove to us that they can behave.
2) BELIEVE--if you prove to us that you can behave, then we will help you learn how and what to believe.
3) BELONG--once you prove to us that you can behave and we help you learn to believe, then we will let you belong.

If we take Jesus seriously, he works under a different paradigm:
1) BELONG--Jesus lives in a way that he gave value and dignity to every human soul. "Sinners" wanted to be around him. He gave them a sense of belonging.
2) BELIEVE--it was through belonging that Jesus taught people how and what to believe.
3) BEHAVE--after giving dignity and ushering people into a belief, there came a time and place to teach people how to behave.

I like Jesus' model better.
Many churches carry the slogan "Come just as you are" and/or, "All are welcome here," but...
Are we ready to embrace the 19-yr-old with blue hair?
Are we ready to give a seat next to us on our pew to the 28-yr-old x-con who has tattoos from head-to-toe?
Do we give a voice to the 21-yr-old woman who has 4 kids by 3 different men?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"My Kingdom is Not of this World"

John 18:33-38--It is an interesting conversation between Pilate and Jesus. The dialogue begins with Pilate taking the initiative, "Are you the King of the Jews?"

It's a loaded question. If Jesus says "yes," it is heresy. If he says "no," then he is made out to be a liar.

So, Jesus answers with typical-Jesus-fashion, he answers with a question of his own.
Pilate responds, "What have you done?"

Jesus' answer is astounding, "My Kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here."

What is Jesus saying about the Kingdom? (Brian McClaren has challenged me with this question in his book "Everything Must Change.")

One Suggestion
Maybe Jesus is pointing people to a kingdom that is to be experienced after they die. We die and we enter into a "spiritual" kingdom. Therefore, death ushers us from this evil world into a kingdom stored up for us in heaven. (This has been the basic interpretation of this text and how I have often heard this passage preached and taught.)

Another Suggestion
On the other hand, maybe Jesus is referring to a kingdom that is experienced here and now. In McClaren's words, Jesus is saying, "My kingdom is not of this world,' then, means the very opposite of 'My kingdom is not in this world.' Instead, it means my kingdom is very much in this world, but it doesn't work the way earthly kingdoms or empires do."

Maybe Jesus is referring to "this world" as the world dominated by the Roman Empire. He is standing in Pilate's headquarters, a place adorned with magnificent structures, statutes and paintings.



Either way, Jesus is portraying a kingdom that doesn't abuse its power in order to manipulate, de-humanize, and oppress. He came to create an alternative way of life...a life that we are still struggling to embrace.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Racial Reconciliation Conference

Yesterday was another powerful day at Sycamore View. God was present through the ministry of song, prayer, table, scripture, word, and fellowship. One of my favorite moments was when we were able to pray over and affirm all of our Life Group leaders and co-leaders.
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Last Friday was truly a Friday to remember. Check out Josh Grave's blog. His 2nd paragraph puts my experience into words. Let us all continue to pray for God to give us dreams, visions, and fearlessness to live into "one" body...the body that Jesus lived, created, and died for.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Authentic Community

It is about 10:45 on Friday, and I am leaving in about 6 hours to attend a conference in Nashville tomorrow. I hope to make it there by breakfast. I'll blog more about the conference next week.
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On Sunday, I will preach the 2nd to last sermon in a series I've done on some of the major threads that run throughout all of Scripture. Over an 8 week period, I've attempted to highlight some of the broad strokes we see weaving their way through the OT & NT.

This Sunday, I will be preaching on community. What is the church? What is the purpose of the church? Why do we exist?
My text will come from 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.

Just out of curiosity, what have been the most memorable moments you've experienced in community (church, small group, camp, mission trip, funeral, etc.)?

Minimum Wage

Hold your breath people, minimum wage is about to increase by 70 cents--from $5.85 to $6.55. By next year, they should be making $7.25 an hour.

Way to go DC! (he writes sarcastically) Those making minimum wage have gone from making a lowly $12,000/annually to a whopping $13,600. Next year, they will have it made with their $16,000 a year.

That doesn't include benefits, health care, transportation, childcare, paid vacation, sick days, etc.

Something seems to be wrong with this?
(I've changed the language from the original post. The word "sin" was too strong. Don't want that word to hinder this conversation.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Words...

Here are a few words that drive my prayer life, my ministry, my sermons, my theology, and every aspect of my life:
-Intentional
-Formation
-Discipleship
-Prophetic
-Pastoral
-Creation
-Reconciliation
-Image of God

Here is a word that I'm trying to find in my life:
-Rhythm

What words are driving you?

Monday, July 21, 2008

ESPYS & SVC

Did any of you watch the ESPY'S last night? It was a great show.
What was the best moment?
What did you think of Justin Timberlake?

I still can't stop laughing over Will Ferrell receiving Tiger Wood's award for the best male athlete of the year. One of the funniest moments ever on television.

Last night gave me a whole new appreciation for Tommie Smith and John Carlos. Two men who used their opportunity to speak out against injustice. They were not anti-America; they were anti-injustice. It was a wonderful moment as they received the Arthur Ashe award for courage.

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On another note, we had a great day at Sycamore View yesterday.

Ty Jones shared a testimony that was convicting, formative, and inspiring. I'll let you know if we can get it on the web.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Have You Heard this Parable Before?

I just returned from a 2-day trip to Houston this week. For the 3rd straight year I was able to partner with my lil' bro. He is a talented worship minister!

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Have you heard this parable?

A devoted Republican looks up to heaven and prays,
“God, thank you for my beliefs. I am pro-life because every form of life in a womb deserves to live. I am pro-marriage, because when I read Scripture, I am convinced that marriage was created to be between a man and a woman. Thank you for giving us, the Republican Party, our convictions to stand up for Christian morals, ethics, and principles. Thank you for not making us like those democrats."

A straight ticket Democrat puts their hands together and prays,
“Oh God, we care for social issues because you are a God who has always cared for the poor, the oppressed, and the least of these. You want all people taken care of medically with no regard of race or how much money is a wallet. Thank you for making me, and us, the champions of a greater cause than them. Thank you for not making us selective moralists like those Republicans."

An older person sat in church one day. They are disturbed by the service because it is senior Sunday and the youth group is doing everything in worship. They are up there singing all of "their" songs which are so totally different than the songs "we" grew up on--happy clappy and throwing hands up in the air. Praying informal prayers. And that sermon was more about stories and jokes than it was about the gospel. And worst of all, look at the way they are dressed—jeans, tucked out shirts and flip flops.
Then, one of teens says, “Bow your heads and let’s pray.” And the older person prays,
“God, thank you for how we did church years ago. You were so pleased with it. We were dressed in our Sunday best. We sang the songs that the apostles sung with Jesus, “How Great Thou Art,” “Gloryland Way,” and “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds.” We heard gospel sermons with 3 points. God, forgive them. And teach them the paths of maturity. Thank you for not making me like that."

A teenager sits in worship one Sunday morning. She rolls her eyes because three straight songs were sung that were written before 1980. "I feel like I’m at a funeral," she says. "Just bring out the pallbearers. Play the soft music. Someone must be going 6 feet under today. Man, what is up with these people. Oh no, is that Brother Bob getting up to pray? Oh man. Brother Bob prays those long prayers with all of those Thee’s and Thou’s. Nobody uses that anymore."

Then, she prays, “God, thank you for church camp because at camp we get to worship how we want to worship. We get to sing the good songs that actually brings smiles to your face. Thank you for making me young and not like those older folks."

Then, there walked in a 17-year-old girl. Her hands are clasped over her pregnant belly. Part of her wishes that she knew who the daddy was. The other half of her is glad she doesn't know. She felt the need to come to church one day. She walked in, but no one seemed to pay any attention to her. As is the case in most churches, all of the pews in the back were taken, so she walked to the front. Then, the song was sung, "Listen to our hearts. Here are spirit sing. A song of love that flows from those you have redeemed." With those words she fell to her knees and grabbed her heart praying silently to herself, "Have mercy on me, I am a sinner."

Who is justified in this story?

WHOEVER IS THE PERSON WE LOOK DOWN UPON IN THIS WORLD, THEY ARE THE ONES ACROSS FROM US IN THIS PARABLE!!!

PS--if you haven't figured it out. Look at Luke 18.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Name of Jesus

I'm giving you about 5 minutes of my sermon from this past Sunday. I preached on the power of the name of Jesus from Philippians 2:5-11. I spent all week thinking about what I wanted to share with the church and the following flowed straight from my heart.

-His name has made people drop to their knees and a day is coming when his name will bring every human being who has ever walked on this earth to their knees again.
-His name has the power to sweep people off of their feet
-His name will be spoken on the tongues of those who confessed him while on this earth and his name will be spoken from the mouths of people who failed to confess him on this earth
-His name made the demons shudder.
-His name sparked curiosity in rulers like King Herod who weren’t even interested in a coming Messiah.
-His name has offered hope to the hopeless and encouragement to the faint-hearted.
-His name has been the source of comfort in waiting rooms and funeral homes throughout this world.
-In the words of a great author today, the name of Jesus “is good news for sick people and is disturbing for those who think they’ve got it all together. "

-This world is not in need of more churches with more programs; instead they are in need of people who understand the seriousness of speaking the name of the One and Only.
-The name of Jesus can’t be watered down to morality and good ethnics, though we’ve tried, but instead the name of Jesus is a way of life to be embraced and lived out
-His name is a name that demands better morals and ethics for our lives. We can be moral but not alive...Morally pure, but devoid of any life, joy, or celebration
-The name of Jesus isn’t just about bringing smiles to faces, but it is also about making knees knock, hands tremble, and voices quiver; because though he is a great companion, he is also the King of kings and the Lord of lords and the Lion of Judah.
-The name of Jesus transports us from complacency to action, from ordinary to something daring, from staleness to participation.
-His name is not an invitation to tiptoe through life, though I, and we, have tried, but instead his name begs people to run, hop, skip, and (heaven forbid) dance through life
-We are guilty of treating his name as if it is a battery than has run out of power and we are simply waiting for the day when God will come re-energize; instead of embracing the greater reality—that the name of Jesus still has the power to penetrate into the deepest places of our lives.
-In a world in which people live in fear of death each and every day—fear of terrorism, fear of tragedy, fear of sickness—the name of Jesus asks us, “Do we believe in the resurrection anymore?” Or do we truly believe that his name has the power to lift up the dead from the ashes, to resurrect dead bodies, and to make all things new right here and now?
-We, the churches of Christ have done many things well, I would not be ministering in a C of C if I didn’t like them, but one thing that we are guilty of is that too often we have tried to get Jesus into the heads of people, but we failed to get him into the hearts. We have emphasized study and memorizing and knowing, but we have failed to invest in the formation of the heart of our people.
-We’ve believed a person will gain access to heaven because he is knowledgeable about theology, because he can win at a game of religious trivia, do good things, associate themselves with Christian morality…” but faith establishes roots when Jesus enters into the center of our being (DM)
-Our world is not in need of more formulas attempting to piece together the biblical story; instead our world needs people who will lift up the name that is above every name. (We’ve messed around with formulas too long)
-We want the name of Jesus to cover over our sins, but in many ways we have become what Dallas Willard calls “Vampire Christians”—that we just want Jesus for his blood; not for his new life
-We have made Jesus to be the place of safety. We say to the world, “Come to Jesus and you will be safe.” Though he is the shepherd of his sheep and the protector of all his children…the presence of Jesus isn’t necessarily safe. There are safer ways to live than by being a Christian. His name is demanding, and all-consuming, and it embodies every form of sacrifice and selflessness.
-His name promotes safety but it also promotes danger. If Jesus preached in NY, LA, and DC what he preached on the hillsides of Judea, we’d lay him in his grave again.
-His name isn’t a key to financial success as so many write about today, because for his followers his name was motivation to live fearlessly. In losing everything, they gained everything.
-Our hands are not big enough to carry a wallet and a cross.
-It is a name that won’t allow us to point fingers at the world in attempts to tell them how dirty they are because his name is not a name used to demoralize or dehumanize. His name is a name that gives value and dignity to every human soul.
-His name has the power to calm the soul and stimulate the soul.

-The name of Jesus is above the every title of power that this world knows. His name is above every law in the land.
-His name lifts up the sinners. His name brings the dead to life. His name can heal the sick. Free the prisoners. And proclaim release to every captive. His name is what will drive the church into the 21st century.
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-I want to live and minister as if I truly believe that his name is above every name, and that his name still has the power to bring people to their knees and confessions from our tongues.
-His name is the fire in my bones.

-It is the name that won’t let me go.
-It is the name that wakes me up in the morning.
-I want that passion. I want that passion for us.