Friday, April 29, 2011

Crazy Talk #1

What Does it Mean to be Blessed?
~ Matthew 5:1-12

Key Questions:
- What does it mean to be blessed?
- Who is blessed that you know?

We had a great discussion covering these questions before diving in. "Blessed people" we came up with ranged from athletes, to singers, to people we know in would you answer?

Then we read the passage. What a surprise! As we said, Jesus says some surprising things. He says the poor are blessed, as are the losers, the meek, and the peacemakers. This sure isn't what comes to mind first, eh? This doesn't mean we're wrong, this is just a different perspective.

We really zeroed in on one passage in particular. After several says of "blessed are those", Jesus gets personal and says "blessed are YOU..." Here's what it says:

Matt. 5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Ya right, so I'm supposed to "be glad" when people make fun of me?! What is this all about?

We had a great discussion about why people (people who sometimes includes us if we're honest) make fun of other people. what we came to was this:

"We only make fun of other people because we are insecure...we steal someone else's security to give ourselves some"

Wow this was tough to realize - but we all agreed!

So why rejoice? If someone is insulting us, we should really feel sorry for them! We have the opportunity to pray for them, that they would feel more secure. Not that this is easy...

Bottom Line:
We are blessed in unlikely circumstance...including when insulted

Monday, March 7, 2011

A Tension: Free Grace vs Lordship Salvation

Over a year ago a friend sent me this note about her church that was unfortunately splitting over a theological issue. For me it highlights one of my favorite aspects of the faith to discuss: staying "in the center of Biblical tension" also called "the radical middle" in Vineyard churches.

Essentially, several ideas in scripture might seem contradictory, having two seemingly contrary sides that are clearly supported. This can be a great test of faith for some - for me it has been an exercise in humility and trust as I explain later

First is the note I received from my friend, followed by my response...


Our church has basically divided and split due to this debate over free grace vs. lordship salvation. I think that I won't tell you what side of the fence I am own because I don't want to sway your opinion. To me, from what I have studied, there is one view that is clearly leaving out some important points. However, I, of course, am no theologian. I would appreciate your unbiased opinion on the subject matter.

The bottom line is that it is Satan. Our church was growing and growing and growing. We built it up (literally from the ground up in a 3 day quick build) from about 20 people to over 300. Satan got a little scared and started causing trouble. It is an unfortunate situation. The Bible tells us to seek many counselors, and so that is what I am doing.


I'll try to give some thoughts off the top of my head.

First - it breaks my heart when churches divide. The church is the bride of Christ, His special organism for bringing the Kingdom on earth. Look at Mt 16:15-18. The church is built on one rock - the confession that Jesus is the Christ. If we can agree on that, we should be able to do church together.

Second - there are many tensions in scripture. In any tension it is easier to fall off on one side or the other. For example, work and family. Neither is wrong, but if you spend all your time at work, somethings wrong. If you spend all your time with family, well somethings wrong because you aren't supporting them! It's the same with predestination and free will - both are in scripture - it's a mystery how it all works and really should lead us to worship God all the more.

So it is with free grace and Lordship salvation. Indeed we are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8), a free gift of God (Rom 6:23). At the same time Jesus says to "be perfect" (Mt 5:48). Also, check out 1 Jn 1:5-2:6 for an interesting defense of the Lordship side of things, particularly 1 Jn 2:4 "whoever says 'I know Him' but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him...". Then there's always James 2:14-26 which clearly says in 2:24 "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone". What the...?!

For humans it is easier to fall off on one side of the fence. As Christians we are called to live in the "center of Biblical tension" or "the radical middle" as my last church called it. I think it keeps us humble...from ever thinking we have it all figured out. It leads me to worship a God who is both imminent and accessible yet concurrently transcendent and mysterious.

So what of a conclusion? As I said - to me the big issue is the Lordship of Christ. This is certainly nuanced, but in your church I think all should agree with this. From there, what should a church be doing? Should it be dividing on unclear theology or should it be reaching the unchurched? Should it be catering to the saints or reaching the sinners? Are both sides "wrong" in a sense because they have lost sight of the greater mission of the church in the first place?

I pray for the unity of the local church because I believe, like Bill Hybles, that it is indeed "the hope of the world"!

Hope that helps, late as it is.

God's Peace,



What tensions have you faced in the faith? How do you think about them?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Reflections on Psalm 53

(v4) "Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me"

What else do I substitute as my sustainer?

Recently it is busyness. I have been looking forward to having a job for so long now that I have thrown myself headlong into it. This need not be bad, but it becomes so when thinking about Young Life dominates my thoughts. The danger is that I come to find my worth as defined by vocation, not my identity as God's child.

An interesting thought though from John 4:34. The disciples are urging Jesus to eat when He replies, "my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work." That is, Jesus was sustained by the work He did.

Hmmm. This seems to be much more holistic, however, than "I work for Young Life" as, for Jesus, it represents His being under the Father's authority. To this I also am called in whatever I do - be it YL, being a husband, being a father, whatever...

(v7) "For has has delivered me from all my troubles, and my eyes have looked in triumph on my foes"

Do I live like this is reality? These are strong words! There are three stances we can take.
  1. Defeated: do you ever live expecting to lose? I know I've done this. It's not how it's meant to be.
  2. Unsure: maybe this is where we more practically live.
  3. Victorious: The way God would have us live is not like watching a football game where we don't know the outcome. In Christ we've already won, having defeated the greatest enemy, death.
How would you live differently today if you believed that God had truly delivered you?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How was Jesus as a kid?
Most of the stories in the gospel about Jesus take place when he is around 30 years old...but Jesus was a kid too. Have you ever thought about Jesus as a kid? Do you think He messed around with his siblings, played games, went to school or even got a skinned knee every now and then? Likely He did! We are fortunate that Luke gives us the only look at Jesus as a child in 2:41-52, in fact when he is 12 years old...

While we can't know for sure if Jesus did the things we mentioned earlier, we do know that he ran away from his parents. Have you ever done this? Why did you do it? Where did you go? How long were you gone and what made you go back? How did your parents feel?

When Jesus was 12 he ran away from his parents for three days! And he went to the temple - that would be like us going to church! This probably isn't where you went, huh? Check out what he was doing when they found him in 2:46-47...

* Sitting
* Listening
* Asking
* Understanding

Apply It
What would you like to understand more about? Who would you hope would be "amazed" by it? What would this progression look like for you?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Luke for Students: 2.3

Luke 2:21-38

What's with these people? Why all the fuss?

What's your favorite way to talk with your friends? Online? A cell phone? shouting out your news in the street? Just kidding about the last one but if you didn't have technology you might! That's exactly what two characters in the Bible did...

The "waiters"
Luke 2:21-38 introduces us to two new characters, Simeon and Anna. Now both of these folks were old, but I think we can still relate to them. They were both looking forward to something with all their hearts. I know you've done this at Christmas, a Birthday, maybe a visit from someone or something else. How did you act when you finally got that present, when that person showed up, or when you team won the game?

When Jesus shows up...
In a way, Simeon and Anna were waiting for Christmas...only they were waiting for the first Christmas. Their story takes place 8 days after the first Christmas when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple for a dedication ceremony that Jewish people practiced back then. These ceremonies happened all the time, and Simeon and Anna were at the temple all the time, but when Jesus showed up something changed..

Simeon. This guy shows us two interesting things about just who this Jesus baby is:
  • For all people! Where have we heard this before? Well verses 29-32 show Simeon's response to Jesus showing up. He praises God, surely causing all the people in the temple to look at him. Have you ever been so excited that you didn't care how silly you looked? Anyway, Simeon again sings about Jesus being for ALL people. Seems like we have a theme here...
  • Tension. Check out verses 33-35. They may seem strange but essentially we learn that not everybody is going to accept Jesus as Simeon has. We need to keep reading to find out why people would not be excited about Jesus.

Anna. Anna was an old widow who stayed at the temple all the time. Can you imagine never leaving the church building? Now that's dedication!
  • Thanks! (v38) Have you ever given someone a present and they didn't thank you? How did you feel? Well thanked God for the birth of Jesus. Why should she say "thanks" though? Think back to some of the things we've already read and pay attention for more as we keep reading...
  • Redemption. (v38) This might be a new word, but it's powerful! Essentially it means "to take something broken and worthless and change into something beautiful and valuable." Can you think of any examples of this? Jesus came for broken people with broken redeem them.
  • Share the News! If Simeon and Anna had our technology there is no doubt they would be posting on facebook or using twitter, gchat, or buzz to share their news. Have you shared good news lately?
  • When Jesus shows up. If Jesus showed up and brought a present called "redemption", what would it look like in you life? How would you react?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Luke for Students: 2.2

What is the Good News? Like we said, the book of Luke is known as a Gospel, meaning "Good News." Chapter 2 begins giving us insight into what exactly this good news is:

The Angels (vv10-14). In the broadest terms the angel lays it out there, "Jesus, the Messiah (Christ), is Lord and is born today." If you go to church or know the Christmas story, this is all too familiar that it's easy to lose sight of how crazy this sounds.
  • For all the people. Think about what this means. How often do we think about the story as it pertains to me or my family or my church. The Good News is for all people...for a child on the other side of the world living in poverty, for the child in our city living in poverty, for the weird kid in school, for the popular kid in school, for our friends, and for those who are more like enemies. All people. Who might this make you think of? Pray for someone unlikely to experience the good news.
  • Peace on earth. How often do we hear, "Peace on earth, good will toward men"? Try imagining what peace on earth would really look like. It's so much more than wars ceasing. It's the end of racism, it's the end of injustice, it's a mom and a dad staying together in marriage, it's neighbors being friendly, it's a community bringing wholeness to broken places. What does peace on earth look like in you home or in your school or in your city? What would it look like in another country?
  • God's Favor on men. This is truly incredible as well. The God who created this universe - the stars the galaxies - wonders that we will never even see...has made the time to have favor on little old us. This is truly good news because God has every right to act like an angry parent and cruelly punish his children for the times when we are wrong. Instead, through Jesus we are offered favor - an opportunity to get right with the God who made us. Where would you like God's favor in your life?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Luke for Students: 2.1

Sharing Good News
If you think Zechariah and Mary were afraid when one angel spoke with them, imagine how these shepherds felt when an entire company of them arrived! But the angels weren't there to terrorize some unassuming farmboys - no, they brought "good news of great joy...for all the people" (2:10). Look at vv11-14 to see just what this news was...

Regardless, let's look at the response of these bewildered shepherds:

  • Check it out (v15). Consider two responses the shepherds did not have. On the one hand, they weren't like, "oh, sounds cool y'all. Have a good time with that...peace." On the other hand, they weren't like, "Really, ok we totally believe you - in fact we believe you so much that we'll just chill here. Best news I've ever heard...ever." So they were neither apathetic nor completely trusting. They wanted to see for themselves. What is our response to good news?
  • Hurry (v16). When they did decide to explore what the angels had told them, they wasted no time! If a celebrity showed up at your school would you just sit back or would you run to check it out? If a great friend had been our sick or in the hospital and is back would you take your time or do all you could to see them yourself?
  • Spread the Word (v17). We're good at this. If the shepherds had iphones no doubt they'd be on twitter and facebook from the stable! This is a natural for us these days: when good news comes our way, spread it around.
  • Praise God (v20). This is the final act that is often missed. When we experience good news do we take it for granted or do we give thanks? If you take the time to set up a surprise for a friend you would hope they would be appreciative. If you perform well at a band concert or in sports or in a play, you love getting told you did a great job. In the same way, God is honored when we thank Him for orchestrating the good in our lives. Have you told Him "great job" lately?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Luke for Students 1

Starting a new study through Luke today, looking for big ideas chapter by chapter, especially as the stories of Jesus are relevant to the Middle School and High School Experience...

What is your response to good news?

What's some good news you've gotten recently? How did you react and who did you tell? How did they react when you told them? Or has anyone shared their good news with you lately? How did you react?

Y'all might know, but Gospel means "Good News." The book of Luke, along with Matthew, Mark, and John are know as the Gospels. Here are some great questions to ask while reading Luke:
  1. What exactly is the "good news" as Luke tells it?
  2. How does it effect me?
  3. What is my response to it?
That last question is explored by several characters right in the first chapter:

  1. Zechariah - (vv11-20). The first character we meet is Zechariah. He hears great news that at last he will have a son. But not only this, his son will play a huge roll in leading people to understand God more fully! As an old man though he doubts. So that's one response: doubt.
  2. Mary - (26-38, 46-55). Next the angel visits Mary and tells her that she'll be having a baby. One problem...she wasn't married - in fact she was a virgin! Mary was a teenager - imagine that, the Bible is the first source of media to record a "Teen Mom" story. When Mary hears the news she believes that "all things are possible with God" and praises. Quite a remarkable response for so young a woman, especially compared to Zechariah, an old, experienced, priest of all things!
  3. Elizabeth - (vv39-45). How do you feel when something great happens for a friend? Often we feel great for them but sometimes, if we're honest, we feel jealous of their situation. When Elizabeth heard about Mary's good news she went above and beyond to celebrate with Mary
  4. the Neighbors - (vv57-58). Now it was Elizabeth's turn to share great news. When John was born the town came and "shared in her joy." This is a great example of how to respond to good news - by sharing in the joy with a group of friends.
  5. Zechariah - (vv67-79). When John was born Zechariah got a second opportunity to respond to good news. This time he didn't miss his chance. In fact, Luke writes that he prophesied, that is, he boldly proclaimed, the good news for present to hear.
  6. Theophilus (vv1-4). This man is mentioned first in Luke but last here because his response to "good news" is not recorded. Though you may never have heard of him, we share more in common with him than any of the other characters we've seen. Luke wrote this book to Theophilus in order that he might understand evens from the life of Jesus that he himself has not witnessed. We're in a very similar spot if you think about it. We weren't there for Jesus' stories so we too must read of them. And there is also the unknown outcome - we don't know how Theophilus responded: how will you respond to the good news?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Redeeming Wide Right

Wide Right
Hard to believe it's been twenty years since Scott Norwood's fateful kick on a tense January night in Tampa. On that night a 7 year old boy in Orchard Park, NY watched and prayed that a field goal with 8 seconds remaining would win Super Bowl 25 for the team he loved. Instead, the kick sailed wide right, the Bills lost 20-19, and an entire town, along with the little boy, had dreams crushed.

Dramatic? Ya. Why should such an event trigger such pain? I mean, it's just a game! Even on that night a clear perspective was offered. January 27th 1991 was the middle of Desert Storm. The pregame was complete with flyovers of both F-16's and Apaches. Fans who were divided in team loyalty were united in patriotism, waving American flags as Whitney Houston delivered such a powerful Star-Spangled banner that players, coaches, fans, and even referees were brought to tears. A remarkable scene for a sporting event - and it was stark reminder that there are more important things in the world... why then, when traveling on I-20 in Georgia between Atlanta and Augusta do I still get fresh pangs of defeat when I pass exit 160 for the town of Norwood, GA? Welcome to the psychosis not only of a town, but of me.

I've had an inferiority complex for years. I first recognized it in college, and there I first connected it to watching a sports team get sooo close, four times in a row in fact, on to fail at the moment of triumph. Not that I blame a football team for a struggle with self doubt, but it is great description of how I feel at times when I am at my worst.

During this 20th anniversary of the trauma, it has been healing to read how the players have dealt with the "what-ifs" and questions - how they have moved on - and how they are finding perspective while doing amazing work building communities both in the States and in developing nations. (see article here:

One thing that always gets me is how the entire Buffalo region seems to suffer from the 2nd place mindset. Reading of how much the players loved the city, loved the team, and loved the people somehow offers a balm to the wounds. They weren't just millionnaires passing through...they didn't just leave a town to wallow...they loved this place too. they rejoiced when it rejoiced and mourned when it mourned. I can't say it better than that, but to know they cared somehow helps..., and I'm still talking about a football game! Why does sports do this to those who allow it? What idolatry have I committed by so turning my heart over to the god of "glory for my team?" My head realizes the irrationality - but my heart still has some catching up to do at times.

To help me see the foolishness of it all I imagine how I might be different if they had won just once. Would I be more confident today? Let's say I was. So in the one case I feel inferior because of a football team and the other other I feel confident because of a football team! And that, my friends, is idolatry - basing self-worth on something other than what my Father in heaven thinks of me.

The True Self
What does He think of me:

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Rom. 8:15-17

Or do you not know that your body is a 1temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price...
1Cor. 6:19-20

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Eph. 2:8-10

I am a redeemed child of God, bought at a price, and His workmanship intended for a good purpose. Allright heart - my head gets all this - now catch up! Be turned from stone to flesh...

Scripture is a great ally - but unless we act on it what's the point? We are called to be not just hearers, but "doers" of what we read (James 1:22).

So here is are some thoughts for all those in Buffalo, Cleveland, heck, the Netherlands...wherever there are those suffering from a 2nd place inferiority complex.
  1. Face the Pain. What does this look like? it's different for everyone. For me, one small thing is that Virginia and I pray for confidence whenever we pass exit 160. Leverage the source of anxiety for good. What is it for you?
  2. Repent. Giving your heart to football team - or anything other than your true image - is idolatry. Turn back to the loving Father who is waiting heal our inferiority with mercy, grace, and a new identity - a child of God.
  3. Pray. Pray for what? Not for field goals! Pray that our hearts would be broken by things worth having a broken heart for. We are given grace that we may do good works. God loves broken people - he loves them because in this state He can heal them in His image. Being broken does not mean being 2nd place though - that is being sick. All the injustices and hurts in the world will not be addressed by a people wallowing in an idolatrous inferiority complex. We must pray that our hearts would be broken by that which breaks god's heart.
What is it for you? You've gotten a glimpse into my heart...and it's almost a little embarrassing. But it feels good to talk about it. So what hurt do you carry that you would like to see redeemed? God is in the business of working all things for good...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Catalyst 19: Gabe Lyons

From 1/28/07

This was a great interview with Gabe, founder of Catalyst and former host of the podcast. Gabe Lyons is passionate about reclaiming not just the counter-cultural identity of the church, but a culture creating one as well. Like many other discontented next generation Christians, Lyons sees the contemporary Western church as defined by their critique, condemnation, and copying of culture through the past century. While he agrees that there is a time and a place for these actions, the church has largely missed the vital role of "creating." And since we are created in the image of a creator God, creating should be in our nature...

To promote this vision, Lyons has founded a movement called "Q Ideas." For those familiar, the best I can relate it to is that Q Ideas is the Progressive Christian equivalent of TED talks. I can't recommend the website enough for any number of people: if your a Christian leader, if you're a Christian discontented with Western pop-Christianity, if you're passionate of seeing both the proclaimed and social Gospel of justice held in beautiful tension, if you're seeking to learn more about the Christian faith but are turned off by billboards and "big hair channels," in you have any position of leadership in your church - you won't want to miss the essays, blog posts, and videos. Please do you and your community a service by checking this out and sharing it! I have and it's provoked some challenging thoughts...

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Beginnings

Though we are still in a state of transition, home is now Atlanta. We will miss the friends and house we leave behind in Augusta - I can't believe I spent over 4 years there (6 for Virginia)! I haven't written for a while but now that we have graduated, moved, and somewhat settled, I expect to be back at it. In the meantime, here's a passage from Jeremiah that is our meditation and prayer for this transition...

This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7

For us, this passage is all about laying down roots. A generation raised on instant gratification isn't too keen to take the time for this sort of thing but there are countless examples of the blessings the arise from doing so. We're excited to learn our part in living this out in Atlanta. How cool that this is the type of community involvement that God intends?!

Happy New Year!


Dave, Virginia, and Hannah
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