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


(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."
" 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


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 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.


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.