Tag Archives: Christianity

Strange Fire and Churches of Christ

strange-fire-image

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” -C.S. Lewis

Maybe you’ve noticed that over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk around charismatic vs. not charismatic protestant Christians. Some people held a conference, and John MacArthur wrote a book about it. Mark Driscoll even showed up at the conference and started giving away his newest book and just confused everyone.

But what caught my eye is what these non-Charismatics called the conference.

They called it, “Strange Fire”

Which may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. Because growing up in the Restoration Movement, that is a reference to an obscure little story in Leviticus that no other branch in Christian tradition really paid attention to.

It’s the story of Nadab and Abihu, some of the first priests in the Torah. It’s 10 little verses that end with God smiting Nadab and Abihu because they offered “Strange” or “Unauthorized Fire.”

When I heard the name of the conference it felt…reassuring. I thought, “Hey, we’re not the only ones who misread the Bible after all!”

And let’s call that’s what it is.

To name this conference that, is a way of misreading the Bible. I don’t care where you go from there, but if you start with that story as your metaphor, you will have a  bad view of God when you’re reading the Bible.[1]

Trust me on this.

But when I saw in Christianity Today, that Mark Noll actually compares this new anti-charismatic movement to Restorationist I had two thoughts, “Christianity Today knows about us?” and then as I read the comparison I realized “Yes, they know us well.”

Here’s what they said:

“Perhaps the major flaw of the book is more attitudinal than methodological. In claiming to see things so clearly–so black and white–MacArthur falls into a restorationist mindset, identified by historian Mark Noll as “intellectual overconfidence, sectarian delusion, and a stunningly naive confidence in the power of humans to extract themselves from the influences of history…”

Apparently Mark grew up in my church.

Now I love Churches of Christ, and the Restoration Movement, I’m not just saying that. I  really do. And I’m glad to be a part of Protestant Christianity…except for this one tiny slice of it. We protest…a lot…and often.

We love to argue and parse words and ideas, and I love the idea about Sola-Scriptura, but like Mark Noll hinted at, Sola Scriptura is naïve if you don’t acknowledge that you are a person culturally conditioned to read the Bible in certain ways and ask certain questions (one that the Bible might not be trying to address) and not ask the questions the Bible is trying to answer.

I get the Cessasionist argument, and I really respect John McArthur, his writings and ministry have blessed me. I love Joni Erickson Tada (who spoke at the conference) and I very much understand why someone who has endured the suffering of both physical limitations, and the suffering of spiritual bullies who might say, “If you just had enough faith…”

But I believe I’ve heard the voice of God, and I’ve prayed for people who I believe have been healed, and several who haven’t.  But I didn’t always think this way.

The problem for me started about 9 years ago, when I went to Sri Lanka to do Tsunami relief. We were with a small gathering of Christians there, and a blind woman came up to get prayed for, and God opened her eyes.

I’ve got a bachelors and a graduate degree in Bible, and I immediately said to myself, “I know seven reasons why that cant happen.”

But as I started to think about it, I realized that the reasons I knew that this couldn’t happen had nothing to do with the Bible. It had everything to do with the philosophy and ideology I was reading the Bible through.

The problem was I had been using the Bible, to be right, to make a living. I was standing on it, but the Bible is telling about a world that we are supposed to inhabit.

And in that world anything can happen.

Because God is in it.

As an aside, there is a reason that Charismatic Chrsitianity is spreading all through the third world. Last week, a few Christians and I were having a bible study with a Muslim man from Sierre Leon when we got to one of the excoricisms in the Gospel of Mark. I told him, that none of us at the table had ever seen anything like a demon possession, and maybe he could speak more to the issue.

So he started talking about the Witch doctor in his village. How he could point at a goat and kill it with his voodoo, and about how he put spells on people making them go crazy.

When my friend read the Gospel of Mark, he was glad to see that demons obeyed Jesus. Because he knew what a demon was in a way that we don’t.

My friend sure hopes God hasn’t ceased working in the world, because he knows first hand that evil hasn’t.

Anytime we start having a conversation about God that only works in certain parts of the world (the wealthiest, most educated and the most access to medicinal resources) we are going to miss large parts of the Gospel.

Love and Elitism

The real problem that I believe MacArthur is trying to address is the division that has happened around the way we talk about the Holy Spirit and God’s activity in the world. I spend a lot of time with some Charismatic brothers and sisters, and I understand the critique.

It’s very possible to think that you’ve arrived at a place superior than others because of your spiritual experience, or what you’ve sensed God work through you to heal or prophesy. It’s very easy to fall in love with the gifts more than the Giver.

I’ve also been around Cessationalists enough to know that this isn’t just a “Charismatic problem” Knowledge, after all, does puff up.

And it is ironic, that the main verse in the Bible that Cessationalist and Charismatics argue about is in Paul’s magnificent chapter of what Christian love looks like.

And that context matters just as much as anything else in this conversation. Christian love defers to one other, it esteems one another, it doesn’t accumulate priviledge and status when God gives you gifts like healing or preaching or the gift of knowledge.

Christian love shouldn’t crash someone’s conference or take away someone’s books and then tweet about it.

In fact, I believe that for these two groups to be able to reconcile and apologize and humble themselves before the other, that would be a miracle. Perhaps the best kind of miracle.

I Can’t Only Imagine

It seems to me that the way most Christians talk about God in the world today is either that God is something like magic (good for the occasional miracle, if you just pray the right prayers, believe the right way etc.) or we are Deist’s (the idea that God created the Universe, wound it up like a top, and stepped away.) The universe is either empty of God, or God is someone we can control.

This is a problem.

I was talking to an Anglican priest friend last week about this, and his answer was so good I think it might be helpful here.

He said something like, the main problem really isn’t what we think it is. The real problem is that we’ve lost our imagination.

There is a fundamental difference between a Catholic Christian’s imagination and a Protestant Christian’s imagination.  In Catholicism, the whole world in enchanted, God is closer than we are to ourselves, and the entire Creation is dripping with the Glory of God.

So back to us Protestants, both the Charismatics and the Cessationists are basically talking with the same limited imagination. We believe that either God punches a whole in the roof of the world and tinkers in from time to time in order to heal our Aunt’s cancer or give me a better parking space…or we believe that He doesn’t do that.

But both are operating from a posture that fundamentally believes God is somewhere else.aslan3

This is why we use language like, “And then God showed up.” As if there are places in the world where God wasn’t!

And don’t think for a second I’m trying to ignore the Bible. I’m just trying to start reading it better. Think about how the Psalms talk about Creation, the mountains clap for joy, and the rivers sing!

According to the Bible the whole earth is enchanted!

And the danger of having conversations like this, is that we strip God out of the world He made and we do it, not by using the Bible, but coming from an “Enlightenment Worldview” that has very little to do with imagination, and very much to do with scientific reductionism of the Good world that God created and still inhabits.

Think about the words we use in this argument. It’s words like Natural vs. Supernatural. Where did we get those words from? It’s not Scripture, so if we are going to have this conversation then lets at least admit that it’s not Sola Scriptura we are arguing with.

We are humans, located in certain places and ideologies.

And God help us if we make boxes so tight that God can’t help us.

The Catholic (think Pre-Enlightenment) imagination is rich and filled with different ways of talking about reality. It is what Tolkien and Lewis drew from to tell about the Enchanted world of God.

I’ve spoken in tongues, because all Art is speaking in tongues, I’ve seen God heal people, and I see God sustain the Billion miracles everyday that hold our intricate hearts beating just because of His creative word. I’ve seen babies born and people sacrifice their lives, I’ve seen people healed in “normal” ways like through doctors at hospitals and people healed in unusual ones.

Am I a Charismatic or a Cessasionist? Neither. Because I think both of those stories are two small to contain God.

I believe Aslan is on the move.

The Fire of God is real, the world is ablaze with it.

And when Christians are unable to see that, I think that’s strange.


[1] Rabbinical tradition teaches that this story in Leviticus isn’t about them disobeying or misunderstanding God, it’s about them not revering Him. The very next verse after this story is a prohibition against drinking while performing priestly duties, so the Rabbi’s have said that was Nadab and Abihu’s sin.

Judging the World

I read this story over a decade ago, and it’s been haunting me ever since. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t think about this story. It’s in Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace. A friend of Yancey was a Christian counselor in Chicago, and a young woman had come to him with a severe addiction. She had to started to prostitute her body out to provide for her substance abuse, and when that wasn’t enough money, eventually she started selling her 2 year old’s body  as well.

Now this counselor has got to report her. But first he asks her a question, he asks her, “Have you ever thought about going to a church?” And she says, “Church?!! Why would I ever go there? I already feel bad enough about myself.”

Told you it’s a haunting story.

So for the past several weeks I’ve been writing about the need for Christians to live in a community that is able to judge each other in loving ways, and today is the last post in this series. And on some level this whole series has all been a set up for this post.

Because despite that first story, I do think that Christian communities should be known as the places where we are able to speak the hard truths into each other lives. I do think we should be known for being lovingly judgmental, but not in any sense like Christians are known today.

The real problem with the Western Church today is not a lack of programs or leaders, it’s not us not having the right building location. The real problem we have is a lack of American Christians looking like Jesus. The Barna Group is a famous research company that surveys American Christians, they basically ask us “What has following Jesus changed in your life?” And every time the Barna group comes out with another survey, the answer is always the same, “Not much.”

We sleep around at the same rate as non-Christians, we use our money the same way non-Christians do, we are just as likely to beat our spouse or divorce as a non-Christian is. Christians are even more likely than non-Christians to object to someone of a another race moving into their neighborhood.

I like the way Dallas Willard talks about this:

Non-discipleship is the elephant in the church. It is not the much discussed moral failures, financial abuses, or the amazing general similarity between Christians and non-Christians. These are only effects of the underlying problem…It is now understood to be a part of the “good news” that one does not have to be a life student of Jesus in order to be a Christian and receive forgiveness of sins. This gives a precise meaning to “cheap grace” though it would be better described as costly faithlessness

In other words, The biggest problem is that Jesus followers don’t follow Jesus. Continue reading Judging the World

The Bricks We Build With

One of my mentors once told me that a single sermon doesn’t really make a difference. It is, he said, kind of like a brick. All by itself it doesn’t really do much good. But taken together over the course of time you can begin to really build something.

It’s interesting, that when Scripture opens up the story of God, God creates not by shooting energy out of his God like fingers, but by speaking. God speaks and he creates. I think so do those of us who preach and teach with our lives. We get the privilege of partnering with God in opening up possibilities to people who might be able to look at their life with God just a bit differently because of what we say.

So a few weeks ago, I read the book Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. It’s a good book about the great value of Jesus, and the tendency that churches and church leaders have to unintentionally forget about him. Over time we can forget that all our programming and structures and ministries are nothing but scaffolding to create a place where people can meet the Risen LORD. And one of the things Sweet and Viola mentioned was the way preachers use their words. These authors go to churches and intentionally count how many times, if at all, a preacher will mention the name of Jesus. In Sweet and Viola’s words:

The tragedy of our time is that countless preachers, teachers and healers are giving dozens of sermons, lectures, and messages, relegating Jesus to some footnote or a flourish to some other subject. At best He gets honorable mention. What is lacking is a groundbreaking revelation of Christ that boggles the mind and enraptures the heart.”

And that line really convicted me. Now is the time of year that the Highland Church Shepherds give me off to study and pray and reflect for the coming year. But I started wondering…do I do this? It’s very easy to put a disproportionate amount of passion into secondary things. So I made a word cloud of every sermon that I’ve given over the past 12 months at Highland. I know what I say I think is important, and the kind of people I would like to shape the Highland church into, but I wanted to get a view from 30,000 feet about what I was really doing.

So here it is. Continue reading The Bricks We Build With

How (Not) to do an Interview with TMZ

So Leslie and I are out of town for the next few days (I’ve actually written the last two blogs on Tuesday) and have pre-scheduled their publishing. So it will be a few days before I can respond. But, I doubt I ever get the chance to talk about something like this again. So….

I never dreamed that TMZ would ever ask me to do an interview for anything…ever. When I first got the email asking me, I was pretty sure it was a joke. I still have no idea how the celebrity gossip hub of the world heard about me doing this, or why they thought it might matter. In fact, I wasn’t going to do it. Remember I don’t have any aspirations to be an actor, and this is not the story I’d like to be known for. I just want to be a preacher and I just want the church to be a supportive place for Christians who are trying to be faithful in some grey areas (the areas we have typically have withdrawn from). That’s when a very good ministry friend reminded me that if you offend some religious people, but help some non-religions people get a better glimpse of God, you might be on the right track…so seize the moment.

As you read this interview, please keep in mind, if you are a Jesus follower, this wasn’t really written for you. I wanted to help people who might have little to no exposure to the Jesus movement have a bit better view on who we follow. I didn’t want to be critical of culture, because they’ve heard that line before and it’s not helping anybody by pretending like we are above them. (if the 75% of Christians in America didn’t actually watch the stuff Hollywood produces they’d all be out of job anyway). So with that said, here’s how I answered the reporters questions. What would you have said or done differently in this position?

Explain to me a little bit more about how you were an extra for the show…what was it like on set regarding the storyline of the show. Were you actually featured on the first episode last night?

I was actually doing a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible, and so I decided to go to California to try and be an extra on a TV Show. I registered at Central Casting, you know the usual stuff you do to get in to background work. CC had several opportunities to play background for shows like Californication but I didn’t want to shock the church I work at.

On one of the casting calls, the casting agent Marianne was filling in for her agent friend Annie, and (remember this is my first and only time to do this) I thought she was booking for Annie, and that it would star Christian Bale. In hindsight, I realize that was very dumb.

No, I wasn’t on the show last night, but I think they were filming for the first and second episodes on the day we were shooting. If not, than my scene just got wound up being cut.

I am from Dallas, born and raised so this is something that hits home to me as well. I know there is a petition that was started to get ABC to pull the rest of the episodes from air. I am very interested in hearing the opinions of the church…if they are going to do anything to stop people from watching the show…sign the petition… Continue reading How (Not) to do an Interview with TMZ

Good Christian Belles

So I kept silent about this for a few months because I wanted to tell this story at our home church first. I’m so glad to preach at a church like Highland where I can tell stories like this, and preach sermons about the Kingdom of God without pulling any punches, if you’d like to hear that sermon you can go here. But  since I’ve now told the story there…here’s what happened:

This past summer, I was on my study break that Highland gives me, I knew I was going to do a sermon series on minor characters in the Bible, using the metaphor of EXTRAS. So I decided to go to Hollywood and try and be an EXTRA in a movie. You know, normal preacher stuff.

After many attempts, on July 27th I got into the new Annie movie with Christian Bale. I called in, and after a few tries got through, a lady named Marianne, accepted me as a working class restaurant patron. I had to borrow a shirt without a label, and some shoes (apparently Hollywood is pretty picky about what they let you wear).

The call time is posted at 8:30 Pm; all details are held until that time. So I call in and find out that my call time is 6:00 A.M..So I got to the Disney Studios and discovered that it wasn’t anywhere the New Annie, And Christian Bale wasn’t going to be starring as Daddy Warbucks. This was for the new show Good Christian Belle’s that had been booked by Maryann as a favor to a woman named Annie.

It’s cool though. I can roll with the punches.

The first thing that happens when you show up to a set is that you have to get  camera ready. So you have to go visit the Wardrobe production person. In my case, it was an Austrian man named Hans who just happened to not be a morning person. Which was unfortunate because it just happened to be morning. He made the girl in front of me cry because she didn’t have her clothes ironed. He yelled at her and then looked at me. Hans had me intimated. I had been there all of 10 minutes and was already on the ropes. I told him that I didn’t have a lot of options, just one shirt to change into, and he said sharply, “Then go put it on! And stop standing here.”

And that’s exactly what I did.

I went to the basement where they were holding the Extras, and it was un-classy to say the least. Having done Jail ministry for a while, there was very little difference between the rooms that we were kept in, and jail. The room for men to change in was an old storage unit.

Breakfast was served, and that was nice. People started to warm up. I’ve learned the best way to start conversations with other Extra’s is to ask them about what work they were the most proud of.  What sets they enjoyed working on the most…and to tell them that it was my first time ever to do this. People seemed to take me under their wing and tell me their stories. The problem came when they wanted to hear mine. I guess most preachers don’t do this in their off time, especially the show that we were on.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue reading Good Christian Belles

Strategy not Numbers

So bear with me on this one….

Some time in 1988, a group of about 200 people gathered in Warrenton, Virginia. They were an overwhelming minority in a world that had a very specific and negative opinion about them, and they were determined to do something about it. Each of these people were from different walks of society, but they all had a common goal. They were going to advance a cause strategically.

They were going to go into the five main areas of society: Government, Education, organized religion, media, and the workplace. And they were going to tell their side of the story.

And that’s exactly what they did. And 20 years later, the way people think about homosexuality has radically been changed. Now I’ve heard some Christians spit the words before “The Gay Agenda” but agenda just means leadership. And lead these people did. They were nothing short of brilliant in the way they leveraged their little resources and manpower to make a cultural impact that was impossible for anyone who lived during the 80’s to predict. They changed the world.

And they did it by a small group of people coming together to contribute to every part of society.

Now this isn’t a post on homosexuality or politics, or any of the other valid jumping off points we might find. It is a post about Christian cultural engagement.

Or the lack thereof. Continue reading Strategy not Numbers

The Age To Come

So I’d like to go on record. I had a Love Wins bumper sticker on my car, long before it became so politically charged.I found myself last month thrust into the middle of a debate that apparently I had already decided on. At least that’s what the rear of my car says.

Also, I had pre-ordered Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins” a month before it ever became so controversial. When I saw Rob’s promotional video, and subsequent Twitter mania and blogging madness, I was overwhelmed with sadness. It seems like the divide among evangelicals is just getting deeper and deeper. And now, at the center of the controversy is Hell.

Ot at least that’s what people are saying.

But I think, it’s something else, something deeper.

In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell first awoke the ire of some of his more persistent critics with this paragraph:

“What if tomorrow someone digs up definitive proof that Jesus had a real, earthly, biological father named Larry, and archeologists find Larry’s tomb and do DNA samples and prove  that the virgin birth was really just a bit of mythologizing the Gospel writers threw in to appeal to the followers of the Mithra and Dionysian religious cults that were hugely popular at the time of Jesus, whose gods had virgin births?…What if that were seriously questioned? Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian? Is the way of Jesus still the best possible way to live? Or does the whole thing fall apart?” Continue reading The Age To Come

God is Love

So I’m a big fan of the band Gungor. They’re lyrics are prophetic and their music is so creative it gets in your bones. I had heard this song a while back, and it has grown on me. Now I know that this is edgy, and I’ve seen the reviews and heard the pushback from it’s message. I know the call of holiness that God has on His people’s lives. I’ve heard (and preached) those sermons. And I get that. But…

It might be a good idea to think about why the video exists in the first place. In their book, UNChristian, Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman make the point that Christians are seen by outsiders primarily as political and judgmental (specifically to people with same-sex attraction). And if you were to just reverse-engineer this song, you’d probably find relationships that the creeators had with people who had been burned by these very things.

Again, I get that my generation is reacting against extremes that the news showed them often, and that we should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.But  there is a reason the song ends with the refrain, “So please just stop the hating.” But a deeper truth here, one that I think, Gungor is tapping into, is that God is bigger than our labels or agendas. He transcends our politics and skin color. And that at the core this God is love. Continue reading God is Love

Pluralism

When I first heard about Pastor Terry Jones, like most people, I was incredulous about the new National Nut case. I guess I get why he did it. There is not a quicker way to get people to both hate and pay attention to you as to threaten to burn something religious. And this guy has got some obviously pretty strong opinions about the Mosque on Ground Zero. And he was going to do something about it. Continue reading Pluralism

Churches and Social Media

So for the past few months, I’ve been working with a team of people at RHCC to help us figure out our Social Media strategy. That’s what we made this video for, and why we started using Twitter and Facebook. And before Leslie and I leave for A-town in August, we hope to have a working system in place for communicating and using Social Media for Gospel means.

But we know that any media has it’s pro’s and con’s.

Did you know that 1 in every 5 divorces that occur in America today list Facebook as a reason for the separation? Continue reading Churches and Social Media