If you are interested…I am a senior Leadership of a faith community…this is an articulation of what drives us in who and what we do!

1Some of my friends around the country as well as some of my University students have been curious about the faith community that I lead here in the state of Washington.

Here’s a link to a more extensive definition of who we are and what we do…our core values and common purpose and mission.  

If you are interested, it will give you a broader picture, a snapshot of that which we believe Jesus has given us.

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The Sacrament of the PARTY? Hmmm…

1I am a HUGE fan of Hugh Halter.  He and his buddy Mat Smay wrote a book that inspired and encouraged me at a critical time in my leadership journey.  You can check it out yourself OR read the summary pages that I wrote here Chapter by Chapter Overview of Tangible Kingdom.

Hugh has written another book that I have NOT read yet (I’m having a few shipped to me even as I write this).  He “previewed” the book on a missional website that I frequent with a short article entitled, “The Sacrament of the Party.”  NOW, as a pure extrovert and self-confessed relational addict, that got my attention.  Take a peek yourself at what Hugh says,

“Somewhere, everywhere, people are connecting socially. From the beginning of time and throughout the scriptures, God’s people patterned their lives around celebration, feasts, social gatherings, levity, story-telling, eating, drinking, laughter, and listening. For God’s ancient fans, levity, sobriety, and a good ol’ fashion party helped create a social connection that makes spiritual connection possible. It used to be Five O’clock somewhere, but sadly, over the last century, the church is the last one to the party. I remember growing up as a Nazarene boy hearing that ‘good Christians’ don’t smoke, chew or have friends that do. As such, I didn’t venture out to the movies, look at art, play cards, and I had to listen to all my secular music undercover. My friends were Christians…all of them. As I entered training for ministry my reading of Jesus’ life didn’t square with a seminary prof who suggested that all wine in the New Testament was simply grape juice or the denominational leaders who wanted us to plant churches for them, but only if we abstain from having a beer with neighbor. It just seemed that at every turn, my old perception of being committed to Jesus didn’t allow me to follow Him or live like He lived. Now that I’m a big boy, not much has changed. Except for one small adjustment. I now pattern my holiness after the human life of Jesus instead of the traditions of any certain church, outdated ministerial code of ethics or leadership definitions born of prohibition, or the subjective and selective literalism so many of us grew up under. I simply want to be holy as Jesus was holy. And for Him, leadership, influence, witness, the gospel as good news, the new covenant, life according the heart & spirit instead of the law and his main message of the kingdom of God was no longer a matter of eating and drinking, which now meant you can do exactly that. Enjoy life, faith, friends, great food and drink and yes all while being holy.”

Hugh is the USA Director for the “missions training” network called FORGE. Forge believes, and rightly so, that we are experiencing life much like the early Jesus followers did in the first century.  Hugh writes, “in a pure missionary context the church can no longer ask the secular culture to act the part of the missionary and come to us and our church services anymore. We must be the ‘sent’ ones again. We must be the missionaries.”

Amen to that!  His point?  A missionary starts NOT in the hallowed halls of the already convinced but where the people in culture are in an attempt to “connect, identify, and learn the context of one another’s story.” We call that CONTEXTUALIZATION.

This is what I wrote a number of years ago on the subject of contextualization,

“To “contextualize” means that you enter the world of another…you start to care about their lives…you come to understand what makes them “tick”…you stop the tourist life and become a resident. That’s why this is an important topic in terms of life living for Jesus. If we are just “passing through” this world, then why care? Why build relationships? Why do any of the things we do as a faith community with a passion and/or vision for God presence/power to impact people’s lives? Those who don’t “contextualize” build bunkers and fortresses to keep the rest of the world out and wait until the battle is over. Unfortunately, that’s not been the way God has acted in history. God is not a detached God…He has infiltrated human life at every intersection. In fact, one of if not the most powerful and history-shaking aspects of God’s work in the world is undoubtedly the incarnation – and please understand, the incarnation is all about contextualization – for the ultimate expression of contextualization is “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).”

Hugh quotes another good, missional guy, Alan Hirsch who has said, “PARTY IS SACRAMENT” when he starts to think out loud about contextualization.  He says,

“Many people have asked, “Hugh, what is the one key to turning a typical small group into a true missionary community?” Another asks, “Hugh, how did all those people find faith..really how did it actually happen?” Another asks, “how do you disciple people to live more human lives like Jesus?” My answer is always the same. “You have to teach and disciple people in how to throw a good party. It’s where everything starts.” It’s where we learn to listen instead of judge. Where we become advocates instead of adversaries and where people cease to be targets or projects because they are our friends. Remember, when teaching about the gospel of the kingdom, our living metaphors are that of a wedding feast, a banquet, and a supper. It’s time to include this in our own spiritual formation.”

Now, I wasn’t born yesterday (in fact, it was 61 years full of yesterdays).  For Hugh to use the word, “sacrament” is bound to scare off or irritate a few.  I don’t think that is his point as much as it is that you and I as Jesus followers have been “commissioned and called” to live out the purposes of God.  Those moments where we rely on the presence of the Holy Spirit as well as find ways to “incarnate” the truth and grace of Jesus in and through our lives become holy indeed.  I have written before on the issue of sacrament and what that means for Jesus followers.  You can read that article here!  For now, I’m going to think about this new “take” on following Jesus in daily life.  Who knows…maybe a party is a sacrament in some sort of manner…yeah, it doesn’t necessarily “fit” in a classical sense of the word…EVEN SO, it does give the love of Jesus, the grace of God opportunity to do what the sacraments do – embody God’s Word, release God’s grace, give an experience of God’s promises…

“A means of grace is a way God creates faith, bring about conversion, justification, and sanctification.”

“A Sacrament is a sacred act – instituted by God Himself; containing certain visible means connected with His Word; by which God offers, gives and seals unto us the forgiveness of sins…essentially a sacrament is a means of grace.”

It sounded like a good idea in my head!

1It sounded like a good idea in my head!

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”  Romans 12:1-2 JB Phillips

It was just a few days ago and I was putting the finishing touches on a Sunday morning “talk” (aka sermon).  I was stuck…not on content but on the introduction.  I was spending an inordinate amount of time on how to kick it off.  As you know, introductions IN ANY public presentation is one of the keys to a good speech.  What happens in the first three minutes, in many respects, either sinks or keeps the ship afloat.  So, as I was thinking about the introduction I had this great idea to check out a comic website of which I was familiar in order to discover some creative ideas on how to get people to “smile” in the first few minutes. There enters my idea…I went to the site, did some searching on some of the categories they had and I saw this one that I thought would work.  Immediately, I thought to myself, “hey, this got me laughing hysterically in my head, it’s going to work great this weekend.”  All week I had anticipated that, what I found funny, would go over the same way when I spoke it out loud to the people gathered in our worship community. You can probably see what’s coming…the day came and you know what happened?  Crickets!  Yep, maybe a chuckle or two (that I couldn’t hear) but nothing close to what I expected.

That got me thinking (again, I know that’s dangerous) about ALL the things we entertain in our heads about our lives.  There isn’t a day that goes by where we focus on something that ends up consuming our attention.  Sometimes it consumes small amounts of time and energy…sometimes TONS of time and energy.  Our minds are tricky things.  We had “two sides” to our brains – one that is dedicated to order and one that is dedicated to creativity.  For many of us, once we start focusing on something (the order side that chooses, in most instances, what to focus on) our creative side “takes over” and expands what could be innocent into something potentially diabolical.  Permit me to illustrate:

Much of the time, the things that we purchase (whether it be a car, computer, video game, book or shoes, it’s all the same) begin to be actually be purchased in our minds before the fact.  We see or hear an ad, talk to a friend or casually walk by something that catches our attention.  Soon, what is a microsecond of a look becomes something on which we focus…then the mental fun begins. Focus becomes obsession, obsession becomes a vision of what life would be like IF we mad that purchase, and vision creates action.  That’s why Jesus said that the “lamp to the soul” is the eyes:

“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when it is bad, your body is filled with darkness.”  Luke 11:34

Jesus knew what we all choose to ignore or deny – that our focus, our obsessions, all the “ideas that sound good in the mind” can lead us down paths of destruction.  Now, destruction might be a strong word but follow me – our choices begin with mental flirtation and can lead us anywhere.  Yes, they all are not necessarily negative…but they can lead us in all sorts of directions that are far, far away from the Lord’s will in our lives.  It’s either “light or darkness” according to Jesus.  Most of us know what darkness we flirt with in our minds.  Most of the people I’ve known, including myself, who “fell” into one action or another that harms the heart of our God because of something that began in the mind.  Maybe it was a rationalization of some behavior or some obsession that turned into an action that hurt another person…maybe it was something initially irrational that was taken over by emotion and turned ugly.  Whatever the case, our minds are fruitful places…places of potential good and bad.

Paul says that our minds can be renewed!  In fact, the bible says we should guard our minds.  Don’t let your mind be “squeezed” into submission to choices and aspects of focus that might sound good in your head but will only net hurt and pain.  Seek the Lord for a renewal of your mind.  When something comes across your head, ask yourself, “is this something light or dark?”  Is this thought going to illumine my heart and life with a taste of heaven or will it lead to pain or hurt?  You see how this works!  May the Lord renew our minds this day!

Worldview Course I’m teaching in cooperation with our friends at Cascade Church in Monroe! We Continue TOOOOOOOONIGHT!

b6ba0-6a00d83451607369e201539234b6cf970b-piIn a unique and exciting partnership, I’m teaching a course for Adults this summer (continuing TONIGHT, Monday July 25th@ 6:30pm) on the subject of Worldview.  Cascade Church and Peace in Monroe are sharing time together for the sake of promoting individual growth, spiritual unity, and community cooperation in our town.  John Reynolds (Senior Associate Pastor at Cascade), Nat Hettinga (Senior Pastor and Leader at Cascade) and I are really excited about this step of fellowship and sharing of ministry together.  If you live in Monroe, consider yourself URGED and invited to attend!  In addition to INFORMATION there will be TONS of time for CONVERSATION!

Below are the FIRST session’s class materials…check them out!

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Session One Class Handout 

Session Two Class Handout

Everyone has a Worldview.  A Worldview is a “lens” through which we live, interpret reality, and make decisions.  It is our belief as Jesus followers that that Worldview is consistent, biblical, honoring of Jesus, cohesive with the Body of Christ as well as something that can be articulated and lived out in conversation and relationships.  In this class, we will give an overview of Bible narrative theme and issues. The Bible’s major themes will be integrated with an understanding of a Christian Worldview in and through issues such as cosmology (our understanding of God’s created order, the human predicament of brokenness and sin, as well as a thorough comprehension of redemption/renewal which are foundations for understanding how Jesus calls us to live, how to interpret current global issues, and an understanding of diverse worldviews.

Tonight’s Topics:

  • Understanding Biblical Theism, Theism and Non-Theism Worldview
  • Understanding Post-Christendom
  • Knowing the BIG STORY of the Bible!

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Religion in Schools?

3492674549_80fc0a1122I teach an online course on Religion in the Modern World (probably would have been best to name it “post-modern” world but that’s not my call).  In that course, we discuss the role of (in any) religion has within schools.  Here are a few thoughts that I’ve shared with my students along that journey.  Maybe you will find them enlightening, maddening…you choose.  

To be fully human, there must be an appreciation for that which is beyond the purely material.  Materialism, though on the surface a verifiable and popular philosophy, is in the final analysis a fatalistic and meaningless “religion.”  If life’s meaning is based upon only that which is material, humanity is in sad shape indeed.  No “Utopianistic” theory or reality could answer the deeper realities that most humans seek out of life.  Pure materialism is bankrupt in moving humanity toward meaningful existence.  The purely material can be destroyed, diseased, or rendered meaningless by many of the realities of life.  That being said, human beings are not just material beings.  Most would agree that human beings have a spiritual dimension in their lives as well…hence the word, “being.”

Here is something for you to “chew on”…

If we grasp Being, we will need to clarify the meaning of Being, or “sense” of Being.  A “Sense of Being” precedes any notions of how or in what manner any particular being or beings exist, it is pre-conceptual, non-propositional, and hence pre-scientific.  Some Philosophers and Religious thinkers believe that fundamental ontology (the nature of being) would be an explanation of the understanding preceding any other way of knowing, such as the use of logic, theory, specific ontology or act of reflective thought. In this manner, our sense of being is teeming with or “dripping” with meaning beyond the material.  In some of the work I have done, I discovered that one philosopher, (interestingly enough, one influenced by Nihilism) Heidegger, argues that a true understanding of being can only proceed by referring to MYSTERY.   The Mystery of Being can only be understood in, what Heidegger calls, “the hermeneutic circle.”  That “circle” is that which includes a variety of human experience and expression that acts as a “phenomenological interpretation” (i.e. interpretation of that which is beyond the material).  To be VERY clear, students can only achieve a sense of meaning in their education as they wrestle with reality beyond that which is purely materialistic.  Because of that, there must be exposure to as well as bold, productive conversation regarding life’s “mysteries” (I would state that religiously) or transcendent realities. 

In addition – another side note – I would contend that materialism is just as much of a “theo-logy” as believing in God.  If our understanding of “God” is that to which we give ultimate allegiance, in materialism, ultimate reality is material.  So essentially, materialism is the cultural deity.  Another insight that I have entertained is that IF materialism is our deity, then it is “worshipped” at the altar of expressive individualism, that being, the deification of self that is, in its utmost expression, the only way materialism has meaning (if it is understood narcissistically).  In other words, MY materialism only has meaning for me…it cannot have meaning for you because your materialism differs.  I contend that in order to promote healthy human growth and maturation within schools we MUST find ways to discuss the spiritual.  Our problem is that so often conversation of the transcendent “mystery” of life, the universe and existence is BOGGED DOWN with religiosity.  In other words, we get into a “pissing match” between religious systems as adherents vie for power and control of the “mystery.”  As I have mentioned in many past posts, dualism (that which poses everything in “us vs. them” realities) is ultimately that which keeps us fearful of engaging in spiritual conversation.  We are so “paranoid” of pushing one particular system or giving religiously biased guidance that we “throw the baby out with the bathwater”…in other words, we get rid of religious exposure to students.  You know what is really a “bummer?”  In the USA, we brought this on ourselves…we used the school system as indoctrination centers propagating one specific religious system for a LONG time.  Because of that we have a pendulum swing against ALL religions.

I sincerely believe that to say that there is a spiritual side of life IN school does not mean that we are promoting religious indoctrination.  I think we have to take it for granted that that side of life exists and NOT demean it.   One of my doctoral students commented to me recently,  “Learning about religions of the world and how people have chosen to express their spirituality is perfectly useful for students in developing their cultural mindfulness, respect, and tolerance; learning a certain religion, religious practices and dogmas of the majority religion group is detrimental to students in schools.”

Again, that last sentence is the reality that the system is reacting against…we can decide and, I believe, MUST decide to find ways to express appreciation for that which is “supernatural” and mysterious within human existence to be fully human.

Another one of my students wrote something that got me thinking – they proposed that maybe there could be Charter Schools dedicated to Religious Studies.  I think it is a provocative idea to explore Charter Schools that take religion seriously.  If we take Charter Schools and dedicate them to medicine, science, music, etc. why not explore the other aspect of the humanities, religion?  I find it extremely interesting to consider the idea that there could be a school where spirituality would be holistically explored.

“A purely secular society simply cannot survive in the long run due to historical and conflictual realities that make up the spiritual being of people on this planet.” 

Secularism, I fear, once fully embedded in culture will lead to a bankruptcy of the human experience.  Existential meaning and purpose (which is the foundation of many people’s religious experience) is beyond the “cold hard facts” of secularism.  Politics do not have meaning ultimately in people’s lives.  Political competition between have and have-nots, the powerful and powerless only takes us backward to a primitive struggle for self, power, and control.

In my humble opinion, Secularism is driven by materialism and sensualism, that being, only appreciating that which can be sensually experienced but has no meaning outside of it.  Again, I find that extremely depressing and ultimately nihilistic.

Inevitably, when the subject of religion and schools is broached, someone is bound to mention the separation of church and state.  Even so, remember, the separation of church and state was not meant to clear the public sphere “deck” of religion but actually PROTECT religion from the interference of the state.  We have reversed that to assume that since education is NOW the state’s prerogative, that we must separate it from religion.  I believe that is a mistaken interpretation of the church/state concept.  Yes, religion can be abusive but the state, bankrupt of any meaning beyond the political and material, is ultimately meaningless existing only for the benefit of itself, not for its constituents.

“Religion is not an unmitigated good; it can be a repository of evil as well.  But that is precisely why religion needs attention.  It has too much power to be ignored, and it is too enmeshed in life to be treated as irrelevant to the choices people make and the ways in which societies organize themselves.”

I would say that the fear of religious indoctrination is unfounded.  I believe that a sharing of ALL of human existence in schools would be productive.  There are other academic disciplines that can be and often are as dogmatic and in-doctrinaire.

One Scholar (Florian) who grew up in a Communist country said, “First and foremost, there is no chance in ever removing religion from the public school system.”  When he wrote that that, “resonated with me immediately because I am, in fact, the product of a communist public school system that for more than 50 years removed and actively fought against any religious education or even referrals to religious beliefs in its curricula.”  We DO HAVE in history specific examples of the futility of schools without religious beliefs and conversations.  We can see very specifically how THAT turned out.

Here are my final thoughts – Political correctness and secularistic globalism are gutting the schools of robust spiritual conversations…overreacting to the past is not a way to ensure a viable future.  In the end, I find myself agreeing with a friend of mine when he articulated something that for me was a “well, duh?”

“I am not going to pretend to know the answer, but I feel as though public schools are doing students a disservice.  Though a good portion of my students have some form of religious or moral grounding there are some whom do not.  I do not know that it is the school system’s job to help students’ build a belief system, but why are more schools not educating students in an objective manner when it comes to the field of religion?  Some of my students whom will choose to go to college/university will get some form of objective teaching, so why not give all students in secondary public education the same opportunity?” 

A Prayer…

From Ann Voscamp today, 

“Thank God that Love is mightier than Hate…that Belonging to Each Other is mightier than the firing of guns,

that Listening to each other is mightier than stereotyping each other…that lavish Grace is mightier than loud retribution,

that the Pen is mightier than the Sword, that Truth is mightier than terror & that Faith is mightier than fear,

and that dreams & prayers & us together are mightier than the dark & problems & any of us alone.

Either Jesus is the answer to the ultimate problems of the human condition — or there is no ultimate answer.

And all the Brave & Believing whispered their bold and brokenhearted amens…”

I’m not fully informed on the issue but this Voscamp reflection is worth reading!

8c373-6a00d83451607369e20120a8840eb1970b-piThe Stanford rape case is causing quite a brouhaha in California and rightly so.  I’m not fully informed on the case.  I have read the letter of the victim which was moving and frustrating all at the same time.  But Ann Voscamp spells out the “take aways” well.  Her insight, passion, and compassion are very apparent in addition to wisdom on how “boys” need to behave.  I’m not going to get into gender issues on this post…that will come later. Even so, for those of us who have raised boys to men, these words couldn’t be truer!

Read the post HERE!  

I had to post this right away! GREAT article!

I can’t say anything else except for the fact that I LOVE THIS!  Enjoy!

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HOW A SMALL, COUNTRY CONGREGATION BECAME A MEGACHURCH OVERNIGHT by Chad Bird

This is the story of how a small, country church astounded the experts on church growth by becoming a megachurch overnight. Without even trying.

The gravel parking lot around St. John’s began to fill early that morning. The shadow from the steeple cast the image of a cross on the western side of the church. Families from miles around climbed out of Fords and Chevrolets to make their way into the sanctuary.

The pastor stood by the front door to greet folks. He asked about Aunt Susan’s broken hip, the Reynold’s new horse, and how the football game turned out in Sunray the other night.

The man of God who shepherded this flock wasn’t much to look at. He had a bit of a gut. And he laughed too loud, especially at his corny jokes. But they loved the man. He had baptized their children, buried their grandparents, and even preached a decent sermon on occasion.

By the time worship was ready to begin, it still hadn’t happened—that shocking influx of worshipers I spoke of. In fact, things looked as ordinary as ordinary could be.

The Kirkpatricks, with their five children, squeezed into the next-to-last pew. The spinster organist, Ms. Schultz, played softly and hit, well, almost every note. Hymnals were opened to the page where the service would soon begin.

At 10:30 sharp, Pastor Baker walked up front and spoke the same words he did at the start of every Sunday service, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” And the congregation responded with a hearty, “Amen!”

Then, without any warning, it happened.

The floodgates opened. Worshipers streamed in. Before the congregation had finished saying, “Amen,” this rural Texas minichurch was transformed into the mega of megachurches.

Here’s how it all went down.

Through the stained glass windows and the steeply pitched roof, seraphim swooped down from heavenly perches. Each sported six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And around the sanctuary they chanted one to another, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The foundations of St. John’s quaked at the sound of their voices. The whole church swam with the smoke of incense.

But that was only the beginning.

Cherubim winged their way down from the heavenly city. Not the cute, chubby Precious Moments’ angels, but manly warriors who stationed themselves like sentinels around the sanctuary. They belted out the words to the hymns, added their Amens to the divine words read and preached that day.

But the angels were not alone. With them came saints innumerable. Men and women who had fought the good fight, finished the race, and gone on to glory. But here they were, back at St. John’s on this Lord’s day. They added their voices to the earthly choir of farmers and ranchers and coaches and teachers who still trod the pathway toward the heavenly Jerusalem.

The pews were packed. Standing room only in the aisles. Some perched on the rafters and peered down with serene gazes upon the altar. There, wonder of wonders, was a throne. And on that throne stood a Lamb, slain yet alive, sacrificed but resurrected. Every face of every worshiper, angelic and human, earthly and heavenly, was fixated upon his face.

There they looked upon the countenance of the merciful Almighty.

With angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, the people of St. John’s lauded and glorified the name of that Lamb, their Lord Jesus, that day.

Sacred songs shook the building as the choirs wed their voices. The Lord’s Supper was a reunion meal. The folks on earth and the saints in heaven dined on the feast of feasts and the drink that slakes the deepest thirst.

It was a day to remember. A day to repeat.

The following Sunday it would happen again. And then again. This tiny rural church would bulge at the seams with worshipers from realms seen and unseen, all mixed together in the adoration of the Lamb whose kingdom is without end.

That’s how a small, country congregation became a megachurch overnight. Without even trying. They gathered around the word of Jesus, ate his meal, sang his songs.

And Jesus showed up, every Sunday, with all of heaven along for the ride.