Friday, December 31, 2010

My Last Book of 2010

Just finished the last book I'll read in 2010.
It was the book, "A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies."
If I quoted the book, you probably wouldn't believe it. The Spaniards made the Nazis look like neighborhood bullies.

Here's the summary from the book jacket.
"A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies' is... the story of the Spanish Domincan Priest Bartolome De Las Casas, who came to the Americas in the 16th Century. Immediately, he was struck by the inhumane ways in which the Native people's were treated by the European explorers and conquerors. Las Casas went on to be a leading opponent of slavery, torture, and genocide of the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists. [the book] is his personal account, with chapters covering Cuba, Nicaragua, Hispanolia, Guatamala, Venezuela, Florida and many other areas conquered by the Spaniards.
De Las Casas (1484-1566), was a 16th century Spanish Dominican Priest and the first resident bishop of Chiapas. As a settler in the New World he witnessed, and was driven to oppose, the torture and genocide of the Native Americans by the Spanish colonists and pushed for rights of the natives appealing to the imperial court of Charles V. His stance for the African slaves' rights was later than the one for Native slavery."

What a stud! We really ought to substitute "De Las Casas Day" in place of Columbus Day.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Party in the Desert

If I were a sports writer (and my love of sports and love for writing occassionaly prompts me to fantasize about that) I'd start my column with the following line:

"The nightmare of a season had a fairytale finish." Something like that...

Link to ESPN article and highlights.

In Iowa bowl lore, Gabbert to Hyde will come in second only to Tate to Hollaway.




Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Colbert and Christmas

Christmas Holy Week
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive


Jesus Is a Liberal Democrat
The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogMarch to Keep Fear Alive



“if this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

Paul the Pacifist (?)

In the somewhat near future, I'll be leading the congregation through a study of Romans. I've started the long process of preparing however, and at the advice of the NT professor at Nazarene Theological Seminary, I'm starting my study with Reading Paul.

An early section discusses Paul's conversion. Paul was converted from the mission of violently eliminating and protecting purity of doctrine and commitment to God (by killing those wayward Jews who worshipped a cursed man, Jesus) to proclaiming the inclusive and life-changing Kingdom and gospel of Jesus through means that were nonviolent to his enemies but resulted in violence to himself. Paul had "the combination of zealous religiosity and violence that is something with which we are all too familiar today." But after Paul's conversion, he "abandoned his former, violent zeal for a zeal for the Lord defined by accepting rather than inflicting suffering."

Author Micheal Gorman goes on to pen this gem of a section:
"It is easy to think of Paul as a preacher or pastor, even as an example. It is more difficult for us to see him as a critic of empire or a peacemaker, much less a pacifist. Yet the turn to nonviolence is at the very heart of Paul's conversion, and his gospel. Paul's pacifism, as we will see further in chapter 11, was rooted in his gospel's proclamation of how God in Christ had treated enemies and insurgents against the divine order with reconciling, suffering love (Romans 3:9-26; 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19). This nonviolent divine love was then manifested in Paul's own practice of absorbing violence without retaliation (1 Corinthians 4:10-14) and communicated to his churches as the only appropriate lifestyle for those converted by and to the love of God (1 Thessalonians 5:15; Romans 12:9-21). We do not hear the whole gospel according to Paul - or perhaps we do not hear it at all- if we do not hear this essential dimension. Nonviolence is not negotiable for Paul the convert and apostle.

"In Paul's day, Jewish zealous nationalism that focused on Israel's internal purity was not the only temptation to violence. That nationalistic zeal was also directed outwardly, toward an oppressive, violent regime - the imperial power of Rome. Paul would become a critic (at least an implicit one) of that form of violence, too - violence in the name of justice, peace, and security. Based on a misinterpretation of Romans 13:1-7, Paul is often portrayed as a political conservative who supported Rome, and perhaps all forms of political authority, even tyranny. However, like Jesus, he was a critic of imperial values such as domination and of imperial claims like diving status for emperors and divine blessing on the empire's ambitions. Paul mocked the Roman claim of providing pax et securitas (1 Thessalonians 5:3), offered an alternative form of divine justice, and proclaimed as Lord a criminal crucified by a Roman power - rather than Roman power incarnate (the emperor). A politics of subversion, not intentional but as an inevitable consequence of the gospel, is central to Paul and to those who read his letters as Scripture. In that sense, Paul was a good, prophetic Jew."

It seems that the parts of the North American church who have been swept along by the idolatrous tide of nationalism and put their faith in the myth of redemptive violence rather than the crucified-but-now-risen Lamb desperately need to rediscover the Paul of Scripture.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

This is from the 12th chapter of Revelation.


Revelation 12

The Woman and the Dragon
1 Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head.2 She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
3 Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads.4 His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.
5 She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne.6 And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
7 Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels.8 And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven.9 This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
10 Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens,

"It has come at last—
salvation and power
and the Kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.*
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters*
has been thrown down to earth—
the one who accuses them
before our God day and night.
11 And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb
and by their testimony.
And they did not love their lives so much
that they were afraid to die.
12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens!
And you who live in the heavens, rejoice!
But terror will come on the earth and the sea,
for the devil has come down to you in great anger,
knowing that he has little time."

13 When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child.14 But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon* for a time, times, and half a time.
15 Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth.16 But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon.17 And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God's commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.
18 Then the dragon took his stand* on the shore beside the sea.


Thank you, Lord for invading our world and freeing us from the tyranny of sin.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

"God Sought Me Out"

I don't need to share all the details, but Susan has had enough terrible experiences in her own life to equal that of five other people who we'd describe as having rough lives. I hope that sentence makes sense.... she's had an incredibly difficult life. To go along with these two posts, 1 and 2, she's been to various gutters.

As she's gotten older, Susan has begun to sense that God was trying to find a way back into her life. As a result of her life situation, however she had no way of trying to seek out God on her own. So she was left with this lingering question, "how was God going to find me?"

Almost one year ago, while hanging out at the bar in which she spends a lot of her time, Susan felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see the smiling face of Sara Weems, one of the members of TFC's Love Wins: LGBT ministry. That act of a hand on a shoulder lead to Susan, almost a year later, choosing to give her heart to Christ. Looking back on the development of her relationship with the Love Wins team and the response to the love of Christ she knew was somehow seeking her out, Susan describes that hand on her shoulder as "the hand of God" and the fact that some Christians would leave their comfort zone and choose to enter a gay bar for the sake of building relationships that would share Jesus' love with the bar patrons as "God seeking me out."

I would describe it as Incarnation; the act of God putting on flesh. We celebrate the incarnation of Jesus every Christmas. As followers of the Jesus who chose to become human so as to introduce us to the love of God, we also are to incarnate the love of God. We are the flesh and bones of God's love and we're to take that love to the people who don't yet know that love.

We aren't all called to gay bars but we are all, every single person who claims to follow Christ, called to incarnate the love of Jesus for the people with whom we interact. And following the same act of self-giving that Paul describes in Philippians 2, we're to take the love of Jesus (embodied in our very person) to places that are out of our comfort zone and outside of the regular path of most Christ-followers.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God's Provision - again

In what could be considered a follow-up to this post, I'm going to share some thougths I wrote in my journal the other day. I'm just copying right out of the notebook that serves as my prayer journal.

"Our house has turned into The Money Pit. New Garbage Disposal - $160, new washing machine - $225, new hot water heater - $870, new doorknob - $8 (not too bad, that one), vacuum cleaner (though covered by warranty) and added to that list, some car repairs equaling about $500. Last night, our dishwasher started leaking water and it poured through the floor and through two ceiling tiles in the basement. (I've since found out we'll need to replace that, too).

As I was draining the water into the bucket, I wondered (contrary to my usual rationalistic approach) whether our house was under demonic attack. Or following a more normal pattern of my thought, whether God was "breaking" me - since I spend so much time obsessing over money. Or maybe God is retraining me. Because he's providing - again. A friend gave us $250, stating "I sensed God telling me to do it and I'm just being obedient," Erin was paid $150 for doing the costuming for GCT's Christmas show, we sold our old Christmas tree for $100, my parents just said they're sending us money for Christmas and I'm getting extra hours at work (with it being "peak"). And Bill Melvold is helping us with repairs - since I'm worthless as a handyman.

In The God Journey podcasts, they were talking about trusting God. We can't just decide to "let go" and "let God." Rather, we're able to trust God when we accept how much he loves us. If there is love between a parent and a child, the child will naturally trust the parent. It's the same with God.

But contrary to what most people define as "trusting in God", we don't trust to get what we want. "I'll trust God and he'll replenish my savings account". That's not trust - but manipulation. Rather, trust in God is the ability to be solid in your relationship with God even if all life goes the opposite way it "should." Like me learning Jesus is enough, even if I"m not "successful" in ministry. Having to decide to choose to love God even if he never would've made us parents. Trust is saying "God is enough, even if my savings account hits the red - or if any other fearful scenario comes to pass." To quote Wayne and Brad, "trust is not in a result but in a person." "

I realize this post seems like two ideas mashed together, or almost two contradictory ideas in one blog post but I heard that podcast while driving home from work, before seeing how so many of those financial hits were replenished through the generosity of others. This time, trust did result in what I deem to be a positive outcome. But what about the future? What about when things do turn bad and don't recover? Will I still trust? Will I trust in the person of God rather than the result I want God to bring about?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A TRULY safe place

TFC has always been described as a "safe place." A place in which people who don't feel comfortable in more regular... churches feel welcomed as well as a place in which people who have never been involved in a church also feel safe and accepted. My leadership inadequacies would make a long list, but I'm glad that creating this type of safe and welcoming environment has been a leadership strength of mine.

In 2007, we really stretched our congregation's ability to continue to be a "safe place" by launching our Love Wins ministry to the local gentlemen's clubs. While we got some pushback from other churches (though we also received large amounts of financial support from surrounding churches as well), we received very little pushback from within our congregation. The only real pushback we received was from a group thinking we needed to go into the clubs and tell the ladies what sinners they are. While that approach does fit within the practice of many North American churches, it is 180 degrees removed from the approach Jesus modeled in the gospels. When faced with doing what most church people do and what Jesud did, we went with Jesus. That group eventually moved on from TFC.

But in the summer of 2009, we pushed the limits of this Jesus-like model of engaging "sinners." I use quotation marks because most church people define "sinners" as those who do sinful things that aren't like their sinful things or are worse than their sins - i.e. stripping in a club or engaging in same-sex eroticism. If the cover was pulled back from the lives of most church people, we'd see that they have as much sin as non-church people, they're just better at either excusing the sin or showing how their sin somehow isn't as bad. But I digress...
We pushed the limits of TFC's ability to be a "safe place" by expanding our Love Wins ministry from sharing the love of Jesus within strip clubs to also sharing the love of Jesus within the Lesbian / Gay community of downtown KC. We announced the begining of Love Wins: LGBT in August of 09 and within about one month, we began to experience the fallout of launching this ministry within TFC. Over the next year, 1/5 of the families within our congregation left TFC stating Love Wins: LGBT as either one of, or the main reason for, their leaving our church (or they told someone else and it eventually got back to me). Ironically, one church that a former TFC family believed would be "safe" from this type of ministry has now begun to partner with us in this endeavor.

I guess sharing Jesus' love with women stripping in clubs and men 'boucing' in those clubs, while a bit of a stretch, can be supported by church culture, but supporting a ministry that shares Jesus' love with people living a gay or lesbian lifestyle is just too much for people accustomed to the mindset of North American evangelicalism. A mindset that says that the sin of homosexual or lesbian activity is somehow worse than other sins or that our engagement with people practicing this sin needs to be approached differently than people practicing any other sin. I addressed some of this mindset in these two posts: Gutter I and Gutter II

So we've lost a lot of people, at least partly, as a result of a ministry, that according to my District Superintendent (who said he's tempted to resign his position so as to work directly with our ministry but knows he should stay in his role to "protect" us from people who would give us grief) is the only one of its kind among Nazarene churches in North America.

But you know who have come in to fill some of the openings left by people who chose to move on? Two groups of people: 1) those who helped launch Love Wins: LGBT in the first place and 2) people who live within the LGBT community of KC. Yes, you read that right. People who have been rejected by the church culture at large are meeting God for the first time or returning after decades away within the church community of TFC. I want to cry as I write those words...

If our church had developed the way I'd originally hoped and planned for us to develop, we never would've been in the place to launch a ministry like Love Wins: LGBT. If we were a larger church, I'd be more concerned with keeping church people happy so they'd continue to support the structure and financial obligations of a larger church. But the fact that we've shrunk so much over the two years has put us in a place in which we're free to take a crazy risk like sharing Jesus' love with the LGBT community. I almost feel like Gideon, who had to have his army shrunk exponentially to bring Gideon to the place of realizing that 1) it wasn't his army in the first place, 2) God moves his people around to the place they can best be used and 3) the victory is God's to be given, not ours to win.

But that's not all that is happening. The Love Wins: LGBT team has been invited to speak at the M-11 Conference, a national conference of the Church of the Nazarene. Their intent is to educate the broader church in how to relate to and share Jesus' love with the LGBT community. That conference is using the hot buzz-word of "mission" and Love Wins: LGBT is a wonderful example of the mission of Jesus being lived out. While many people within our denomination approach the LGBT community with judgmentalism and retreat from the community with an isolationistic approach (both of which are reactions born out of fear), the 'top dawgs' of the COTN are empowering us to live out this mission.

But that's not all that's happening... The amazing results of Love Wins: LGBT from this past year has prompted the Advisory Council of TFC to make what might be the biggest decision in the history of our church - a decision that was meant to be made at the very beginning but has been five long years in developing. But that's for another post...

From the people who have recently joined our church in worship to the chance to share at the M-11 Conference, the fruit of the Love Wins: LGBT ministry is so much greater than we'd ever imagined, we have nothing to do but admit it was God who brought all this about, not our amazing skillset. While the Advisory Council of 2009 did have to say "yes" and the Love Wins team had to overcome their fears to step into a foreign mission field, it was God who brought (and will continue to bring) the victory.

So maybe I can't really take credit for TFC being a "safe place." Maybe, just mabye, the same Jesus who was a walking "safe place" for those rejected by the religious culture of his day is the same Jesus making TFC a "safe place" for those rejected by the religious culture of our day.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tony Campolo demands an apology from former President Bush for the Iraq War

I'm a regular listener of Tony Campolo's podcasts and really appreciate the fact that he takes the teachings of Jesus seriously, through his ministry Red Letter Christianity. Obviously, if you take the teachings of Jesus seriously you're not going to be a very big fan of war, especially wars that don't measure up to the Christian Just War Theory and according to the National Council of Churches, the Iraq war does not fit into Christian Just War Theory.

So here's the direct quote from Tony Campolo's latest podcast, in response to the stat that while there were 1 million Christians in Iraq, now there are less than 200,000. Those 2000,000 are still leaving, in response to the recent attacks on Christians.

"It's about time that George Bush and Tony Blair issue a statement of repentance. We went in there, lives have been lost by the thousands, yeah, hundreds of thousands. Billions, yeah, trillions of dollars have been spent - for what? For what? The Iraqi situation is much worse today than it was during Sadam Hussien. Nobody is going to question that. The church, for the first time, is being persecuted.
What happened after the invasion was that there was a free election and the Shiites got elected. And you say, 'hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, we've got a democratically elected government.' You don't have a democratically elected government, if in fact you have the rule of the majority. You have a democratic society when the minority is safe. The Shiites have gotten elected. The Sunnis, who have aligned themselves with Al-Queda are attacking like wildfire because they were in control under [Sunni] Sadam Hussein.... Now the Sunnis are attacking the Shiites and this is going to go on and on. And we are responsible.
It's about time that George Bush, instead of writing a book that states, 'I have no regrets over any decisions that I have made' and Tony Blair states, 'I have no regrets, I think we did the right thing.'
You didn't do the right thing. It's about time to stand up and apologize. To go to the United Nations and ask for forgiveness because there can be no reconciliation of warring groups without repentance.
You know, in the US, we all love that verse (2 Chronicles 7:14), "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." It's actually on the Liberty Bell.
I believe it's time to with the Bible. I want repentance and I want restitution. But you've gotta do it the Biblical way."

Preach it, Tony!

And just for good measure, here are two quotes from a book I'm currently reading entitled "Rethinking the Good War" about WWII. It was written by Dr. Laurence Vance, a biblical scholar, history professor and Libertarian party author. "A president who cannot entrust the people with the truth betrays a certain lack of faith in the basic tenets of democracy" (speaking of Roosevelt's covering up of the US' aggressive acts that lead to Japan's preemptive strike in Pearl Harbor, maneuvering of Navy personnel into vulnerable positions and refusal to listen to and eventual firing of the Military leaders warning of the impending and eventually imminent attack).
Finally, "Japan made a preemptive strike against the US just like the US did in Iraq" (referring to WWII vets who still hold a grudge against Japan for Pearl Harbor).

What the heck, here's on more from that book, "Why is it that the 9/11 attacks on America are considered acts of terrorism but a 1,000 plane bombing raid on Tokyo after the dropping of the two atomic bombs isn't?"

"No country, army, or navy air force, terrorist organization, or individual aggresses against the US for no reason. We may not like or agree with the reason, but there is always a good reason, at least in the minds of the attackers. Japan did not attack the US because Japan was 'evil' and America was 'good.' Japan sought to gain control of Southeast Asian resources. The attack on Pearl Harbor would prevent the US Pacific Fleet from interfering. Secretary of War Stimson acknowledged after the war that 'if at any time, the US had been willing to concede to Japan a free hand in China there would have been no war in the Pacific."

Okay, so I got off topic. But what I want to see happen, what I believe Christians have the responsibly to do, is to call the government to accountability while at the same time, not believing the "we're good, they're bad" or "this war is for freedom" rhetoric. We must go beyond the emotional response and blind patriotism to the underlying reasons. As the saying goes, "Truth is the first casualty of war," but followers of Jesus must not let the truth of why we're killing fellow bearers of His image get swept away by our national leaders. While hindsight is 20/20, we can know that Bush was (at worst) lying or (at best) seriously misguiding in ordering the Invasion of Iraq. A couple hundred thousand civilian deaths later, the former president and our entire country owes the Iraqi people an apology.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Gutter Part II

In a follow-up to the post below, here's a great "gutter" story.

"One morning, early, the phone rang. I picked it up and it was Dave, calling me to tell me what happened to him the night before. He said his wife, Allison, had gone to bed, so he decided to take some photographs of the city at night. Since his camera bag was in the car, he headed over to the alley where the car was parked and began searching for the bag in the trunk. He then heard a young male voice behind him, 'Hey, I couldn't help but notice how cute you are. You want to party with me?' Dave had never been hit on by another man, and he was a bit stunned.


"'I declined, and found ti funny when he drove off kind of irritated,' Dave said. But then he began to realize he'd blown a great opportunity to get into the gutter - an open invitation, even. 'As I was walking back to my place, I thought to myself,' What would've happened if I'd said, 'okay,' and gotten into the car with him? What would we have said to each other, how awkward would it have been? Or would it have been awkward at all? Could I have found myself in a bar at 2 AM, with a complete stranger whom I know had very different beliefs from me? Would I have been able to offer him a love he wasn't expecting? A genuine love of persons, the tpe of love Christ would have offered?"

"Bold, gutter-defying notions.

"Dave continued, 'I realized I might have missed an opportunity not just to witness but to engage a person's life in a way that would have given him hope and a memory of somone who loved him as he was.' As he examined his own heart about this encounter with the guter, he began to realize fear is what kept him out of it that night.

"Okay, I can't even imagine coming in at 2 a.m. after hanging out with a guy in a bar all night. What would I say to my wife? How would I explain it? What if I saw people I knew? These questions and a zillion others went through my mind (and they're probably going through yours) - and they're all perfectly legitimate reasons why I would not have done it. I probably would have jokingly told the story to my friends about getting hit on by another man.

"Not Dave. He told me the story that next morning, and yes, we laughed and I gave him a hard time about it. But through it all, I could hear that he genuinely wished he could start that night over again so he could go to the gutter."

The Gutter

I just finished re-reading a book that greatly influenced my ministry approach, The Gutter by Craig Gross. Gross is one of the founders of xxxchurch.com, a ministry that both helps Christian men overcome the addiction of pornography and shares the love of Jesus with people working in the porn industry. The books shares some hilarious, inspiring and saddening stories of how his ministry has helped Christians, touched the untouchables (by Church standards) of the porn industry all the while taking some serious attacks from Christians.

The point of the book is that in coming to save us from sin, Jesus got down into our gutter, not being worried about getting "dirty." And as his followers, we're to do the same. So often however, Christians are worried about getting "dirty" by getting into these gutters. At the same time, many of them are quick to throw stones at those following Jesus into the gutter, if that ministry isn't the way they'd do it.

This book is a GREAT read. While I can't even come close to sharing everything, let me share some great quotes. As I'm reading these, by the way, I'm both challenged to push our church further into the gutter and recognizing attacks upon our ministries similar to what Gross describes.

In describing Zacheus' need to climb a tree to see Jesus: "Think about it - here's a lost person trying to get a good angle on the Savior, but can't get into a prime position because of all the people following Jesus, many of whom had probably already decided Jesus was the Messiah. But he is denied acceptance because of his reputation and because of his physical appearance. The same thing has happened over and over and over again on Sunday mornings in pews across our fruited plain. A lost person comes to church, only to be shunned, whether outright or implied, because of the way he looks or because of the emotional or spiritual baggage he carries."

"That's what many religious people do. They stand on the sidelines, critical of situations that don't fit into their box of understanding. The Religious criticized everything Jesus did. Whether Jesus was on the road with Zaccheaus or in the temple with the Pharisees, they criticized and accused, seeking the worst. Instead, they found perfection. They couldn't believe a hay-filled manger in a smelly barn or a cruel timber on a garbage dump could produce a Messiah. They did not think these places could be the dwelling place of a Savior. The gutter simply did not fit into their box."

"Somewhere between the time Jesus ascended into heaven and now, we Christians, the walking billboards for Jesus' life-changing power, have done a lousy job of maintaining His momentum. Those who despised him shifted, too. The religious who once hated Him now advertise for Him. The lost who once hung out with Him now refuse to acknowledge Him. And it's all because Christians changed. God didn't change. Jesus didn't change. His people did. At one point, the God who embraced the gutter was well represented. Jesus walked the streets and took an authentic love with Him - all the way to the gutter. Wherever He went, the unchurched responded while the religious scorned."

In talking about the decision of bands such as POD and Pillar to tour and hang out back-stage with bands made up of hard-partying nonChristians:
"Sometimes I get really pissed off when I see so-called Christians attacking other Christians for getting into the gutter. Look, if God hasn't called them to a particular gutter, like secular musicians, for example, then by all means they shouldn't go into that gutter. But I think they get confused and determine that since they aren't called to that gutter, no one is called to that gutter. So instead of getting on board with a gutter-driven band, they tear that band down and generate division about that band's mission.
It's very easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize those who are going into the gutter so publicly, like musicians. But if we aren't willing to go into the gutter, we must at least support our brothers and sisters in their efforts to go, instead of wasting our time picking apart their every action."

"When it comes to the gutter backstage, and really the gutter at large, you must be willing to go where most people have not gone or say they cannot go."

Speaking of a men's ministry that started at Hooters, "Many struggle with the incorrect perception that if an outreach method doesn't fit into our box of beliefs, then it is either sinful or corrupt."

"Many times, the religious ones of the Church are afraid that by offering grace, they're giving the "sinner" a free license to remain in sinful behavior. But we've all been recipients of grace, whether we admit it or not, and most of us have managed to use it responsibly because we are truly repentant."

"And why do we no only ignore those people, but also the gutters they're in? Are we afraid that they're so dirty it'll eventually rub off on us? Or worse, do we lack the compassion to have an effective impact on them? In my experience, it's the latter more than the former."

"If a Christian doesn't get in the gutter, he doesn't get challenged. And when he doesn't get challenged (and a little bit uncomfortable), he gets apathetic and bored."

"When we go to the gutter, we aren't just changing gutter-dwellers; they're changing us. We're all being changed for the better. Too often we sit through church and when it's over, we think we're done with our work for the week. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. You cannot live out your faith based solely on what other people tell you; you cannot be okay with merely consuming information - including the information in this book. You must be convinced to take action for God."

"I think it all comes down to one word, really: willingness. In each of these examples, people exhibit a willingess to go into the gutter and do what God has called them to do. A willingness to defy the enemy and step into his realm to rescue people from it."

"They go and they go some more because once you get into the gutter, you find that you want to go back. So what are some gutters around you that you can get involved in? You may not have a Red Light Distirct or crack house or biker garage near you, but I can almost gaurantee there's a Starbucks. Or a grocery story. Or a street corner. Or any number of things. Look hard enough and you'll find a gutter you can get in; just look with God's eyes. "

"If you don't go, who will?"

The Gutter: Part II

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Peacemaking: An Anti-Venom

I receive email updates from Christian Peacemaking Teams. Here's an interesting one I just received, thought I'd share it. The blog post was written by a member of the October 2010 CPT delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. To read the entire post or to see the actual blog, click here.


On Sunday our delegation visited Amna Suraka, a prison where Saddam Hussein
kept Kurdish dissidents and political prisoners. We walked through the
facility and listened to our guide tell us stories of merciless torture,
overcrowded cells, and unsanitary conditions for men, women, and children.
On Monday we travelled southeast to the village of Halabjah, where the Iraqi
government used chemical weapons to murder more than 5,000 Kurdish civilians,
almost two-thirds of which were women and children, in March of 1988.
The things we saw got our group talking about the nature of evil. Tiffany,
one of our delegation members, noted that violence of this nature was what
happened when there is a lack of accountability amongst people, and the more
I've pondered this idea, the more I've realized that each of us has what it
takes to commit unspeakable acts of cruelty. Because of sin, each of us has
been poisoned to consider violence as an acceptable means of resolving
conflict; when we are allowed to explore that option without any kind of
deterrent, it tends to grow and expand like a cancer until it has dominated
our lives.
We tend to think of peacemaking as stopping one group of people from killing
another, and while that is part of it, it addresses only one specific
manifestation of the violence in the world. The true essence of peacemaking
involves forcing people to examine the attitudes and prejudices in their
hearts and exchange them for love, forgiveness, mercy, and friendship. It is
a method that involves not just convincing an army to lay down their weapons,
but convincing a person to ignore his/her own violent impulses. By changing
hearts, minds, and souls, we attack the very nature of the problem and not
just a symptom. I am learning about how CPT is doing this in ways they have
forged powerful and lasting connections to members of the Kurdish community.
In time, the hope is that enough people will undergo this transformation so
that violence is taken off of the table as a viable option for future
conflicts.
We got to see an example of this in Halabjah. Both of the men that guided us
through the exhibit were able to point at pictures on the wall and identify
corpses of family members killed in the chemical attacks. I was shocked that
a man could set aside the anger in his heart in order to face the bodies of
his loved ones on a daily basis. When asked why they continued to face their
demons in this way, they replied that they wanted to teach the next
generation about what had happened so that it would never happen again.
My hope is that in my life, both in Iraq and back at home in America, I can
embrace forgiveness and mercy in the manner of our new friends in Halabjah.
May I always choose to reject anger and violence, embrace forgiveness and
non-violence, and teach others to do the same.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Swapping Sheep

I just received this message from my DS, in his weekly email. It's an interesting read.
Recently, I've jokingly taken up the motto "Contributing to the growth of local mega-churches one disgruntled family at a time." TFC has been on the 'wrong' side of these stats but we have been able to disciple some people who had never been in church before.
So here's what Jeren passed on from another pastor on the Kansas City District.
______________________________________________________

Want to hear some stats? Probably not… well, here’s some anyway.

* Since 2000 to 2005 the number of churches with attendance over 5,000 on the weekends has doubled!
* In the last 20 years, 30,000 churches have been started in America.
* Since 1990, church attendance is down in every county in the United States. You read that right—in every single county—attendance is down.

So now answer this one: If, since 1990, hundreds of churches have blasted into the thousands (some into the tens of thousands), and if 30,000 new churches have been started (many of them growing into the thousands), how is it possible that there are less people going to church now than in 1990 in every single county in the United States? In fact, how is it possible that the number of people going to church is down by about 8 million people?

Here’s what I think: Churches aren't reaching "unchurched" people. If we were bringing in people who weren't going to church, the numbers couldn't look like they do. Here’s what happening-- sheep are simply swapping pastures. I'm no math whiz, but if there are hundreds of thousands of people now attending churches who weren't attending twenty years ago (many in churches that didn't even exist) and yet there are 8 million less people in church today, then those people in those new hip churches had to come from other churches. Sheep swapping pastures. Yawn.

I don't think the passage reads, “And all of heaven rejoiced when a disgruntled sheep took his Bible and found a different, greener pasture to munch the grass for a while until he found an even greener pasture to hang out in for a while.” I think the passage reads, “And all of heaven rejoiced when one lost sheep is found.”

Listen, I am not interested in stealing sheep from the Nazarene church (or the Baptist church or the whatever church) down the street. I'm driven to find lost sheep. It’s the sheep that don't have a pasture to call home that I'm after. I'm after sheep that are hungry and homeless and helpless. I want us to go after the sheep that need Jesus. That’s the sheep with whom we need to be consumed! If a disgruntled sheep gets tired of his pasture (and pastor); soon that sheep will get tired of this pasture (and pastor). Let’s concentrate on new sheep. Lost sheep. Hungry sheep. Let’s look for sheep that need Jesus. We need to be on the lookout for the sheep that are on their way to hell unless someone tells them, shows them, loves them, calls them, and points them to Jesus. I pray that we're that “someone.”


Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Real Freedom

This is a message from our DS, Dr. Jeren Rowell.

“REAL FREEDOM” - TITUS 2:11-14

IS IT JUST ME, OR DO YOU NOTICE THAT PEOPLE THESE DAYS SEEM TO BE ESPECIALLY ON EDGE? THESE ARE TOUGH DAYS. PEOPLE ARE STRESSED OUT, BUT I REALLY THINK IT’S A LOT DEEPER THAN ANY PARTICULAR CURRENT ISSUE.

I KNOW THERE’S THE ECONOMY, BUT MOST OF US HAVE BEEN HERE BEFORE. I KNOW THERE’S LOTS OF POLITICAL TENSION, BUT EVEN THAT HAS A FAMILIAR RING TO IT. IT’S DEEPER, ISN’T IT?

THERE JUST SEEMS TO BE A SENSE OF UTTER DISORIENTATION THAT IS COMING OUT IN BEHAVIOR THAT STRIKES ME AS SHOCKING, EVEN IN THIS INCREASINGLY PAGAN CULTURE.

YOU’VE SEEN THE VIDEO OF THESE TOWN HALL MEETINGS AND THE ANGER, THE YELLING, THE NAME CALLING, THE CARELESS WORDS BEING FLUNG ABOUT WITHOUT REGARD FOR WHAT OR WHOM THEY TEAR APART.

I WISH I COULD SAY I’VE NOT SEEN IT IN THE CHURCH. I’VE HAD A FEW “TOWN HALL MEETINGS” IN CHURCHES OVER THE PAST FOUR YEARS AND A COUPLE OF TIMES I’VE BEEN FAIRLY TARRED AND FEATHERED BY GOD’S PEOPLE!

NOW I KNOW THESE ISSUES ARE AS OLD AS HUMANITY, BUT IT SEEMS TO BE SOMETHING OF THE CONTEXT INTO WHICH PAUL IS SPEAKING AS HE REMINDS THIS YOUNG PASTOR OF THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL IN A REBELIOUS WORLD.

PAUL IS TALKING TO TITUS ABOUT THE HEART OF WHAT I WANT TO SUGGEST THAT YOU AND I NEED TO BE REMEMBERING IN THESE DIFFICULT AND DISORIENTING DAYS OF OURS.

IT’S ABOUT “HOW WE SHOULD LIVE IN THIS EVIL WORLD” (VERSE 12). NOT ONLY ARE WE BEING CALLED TO LIVE DISTINCTIVE LIVES IN THIS BROKEN AND ANGRY WORLD OF OURS, THIS TEXT IS ASSURING US THAT IN CHRIST IT’S ACTUALLY POSSIBLE TO DO SO!
LISTEN TO WHAT WE ARE BEING CALLED TO [READ V. 12]

OR AS PAUL SAYS TO THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH, WE NEED TO USE THE GRACE THAT HAS BEEN GIVEN “SO THAT YOU MAY BECOME BLAMELESS AND PURE, CHILDREN OF GOD WITHOUT FAULT IN A CROOKED AND DEPRAVED GENERATION.”

“BLAMELESS AND PURE?” REALLY? IN THIS KIND OF WORLD? IS THAT REALLY POSSIBLE?

WELL, LET ME JUST ASK YOU A DIRECT QUESTION RIGHT HERE AT THE START: HOW ARE YOU DOING WITH LIVING A GODLY LIFE IN THIS SIN MARRED WORLD OF OURS?

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT I GENERALLY BELIEVE ABOUT THAT BASED ON MY CONSTANT INTERACTION WITH CHURCH LEADERS – I’M NOT SURE WE ARE DOING ALL THAT WELL.

SEEMS TO ME THERE IS OFTEN A HUGE DISCONNECT BETWEEN WHAT WE SAY AND SING WHEN WE’RE HERE, AND HOW IT ACTUALLY SHOWS UP IN OUR DAILY LIVES, ESPECIALLY WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS LOOKING.

YET IT’S NOT JUST THAT THE CULTURE HAS GROWN INCREASINGLY PAGAN. IT’S THAT WE, GOD’S PEOPLE, ARE NOT RECEIVING EVERYTHING THAT GOD IN CHRIST HAS PROVIDED FOR US. WE’RE SELLING THE GOSPEL WAY SHORT.

YOU KNOW THE LINE THAT SAYS, “CHRISTIANS AREN’T PERFECT, JUST FORGIVEN.” THERE’S A MEASURE OF TRUTH THERE, BUT THAT IDEA DOESN’T COME ANYWHERE NEAR WHAT GOD ACTUALLY WANTS TO DO FOR US.

DO YOU KNOW WHAT GOD WANTS TO DO FOR YOU? LOOK AGAIN AT VERSE 14 [READ]

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT? DO YOU REALLY BELIEVE THAT THERE IS ENOUGH POWER IN WHAT JESUS DID FOR US IN THE CROSS AND RESURRECTION ACTUALLY TO FREE US FROM EVERY SIN?

LET ME TELL YOU WHY THIS TEXT HAS BECOME SO MEANINFUL TO ME ACROSS THE PAST YEAR.

[IN ORLANDO: GOD SPOKE TO ME]

[SIMPLE FOCUS ON DRAWING CLOSER BRINGS HIS WORD ALIVE IN A FRESH WAY]


COULD IT BE THAT THERE IS REALLY A WAY TO LIVE SO CLOSE TO JESUS THAT SIN IS RENDERED POWERLESS IN MY LIFE?

THE LANGUAGE THAT IS MOST COMMON AMONG CHRISTIANS THESE DAYS IS ABOUT THE MERCY AND GRACE AND FORGIVENESS OF GOD. THANKS BE TO GOD FOR MERCY AND GRACE! BUT YOU REALIZE, DON’T YOU, THAT’S NOT THE WHOLE STORY?

THE WHOLE OF THE STORY IS NOT ONLY THAT JESUS DIED TO FORGIVE US OF OUR SINS – JESUS DIED TO FREE US FROM SIN.

JESUS DIED, ROSE AND ASCENDED TO THE RIGHT HAND OF THE FATHER SO THAT THE SPIRIT COULD COME AND TAKE UP RESIDENCE IN THE HEART OF THE BELIEVER.

BUT THE SPIRIT’S PRESENCE CONTINUES TO DRAW US CLOSER AND CLOSER TO JESUS UNTIL WE REALIZE THAT OUR NEED FOR GOD’S GRACE GOES EVEN DEEPER THAN THE FORGIVNESS OF SINS – WE NEED JESUS TO CLEANSE AND PURIFY OUR HEARTS –

TO STRAIGHTEN THE BENT TOWARD SELF AND EMPOWER US EVERY DAY ACTUALLY TO LIVE THESE CHRIST QUALITIES THAT WE READ HERE IN VERSE 12: “SELF-CONTROL, RIGHT CONDUCT, DEVOTION TO GOD.”

[THOSE WORDS TAKE ME BACK TO GALATIANS 5:22]

[CHURCH LEADERS EVALUATE: LOWEST SCORE]

GOD WANTS THESE CHRIST QUALITIES TO BE FULLY FORMED IN HIS PEOPLE SO THAT WE KNOW HOW TO THRIVE IN THE MIDST OF A BROKEN WORLD. AND IN ORDER TO SHAPE THAT CHRIST CHARACTER IN US, JESUS, PAUL SAYS, “GAVE HIS LIFE TO FREE US FROM EVERY KIND OF SIN.”

LOVED ONES, THIS IS THE FULL GOSPEL. AND THIS IS THE ANSWER FOR LIVING A VICTORIOUS, FREE, AND HAPPY LIFE IN THE MIDST OF DYSFUNCTIONAL, ANGRY WORLD LIKE OURS.

DON’T DISMISS THIS UNDER THE THINKING THAT NOBODY IS PERFECT. THAT’S NOT TRUE. JESUS IS PERFECT. AND GOD’S WORD IS UNMISTAKABLE THAT GOD DESIRES TO REPLICATE THE PERFECT LOVE OF CHRIST IN US.

NOW DON’T TRY AND MAKE THIS SAY SOMETHING IT’S NOT SAYING. THE MESSAGE HERE IS NOT THAT SIN IS NO LONGER A POSSIBILITY IN THE LIFE OF A BELIEVER. THAT’S WHY CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE CONTINUES TO BE IMPORTANT.

WHAT PAUL IS REMINDING TITUS TO TEACH IS THAT WHEN WE BECOME GOD’S CHILDREN, WE NOW HAVE REAL POWER OVER THE ENSLAVING POWER OF SIN. FOR THE FIRST TIME, WE HAVE A REAL CHOICE.

WE HAVE, THROUGH GRACE, THE POWER TO CHOOSE NOT TO SIN. FRIENDS, IF WE DON’T BELIEVE THIS AND ACT UPON IT THEN WE HAVE NO GOSPEL. WE HAVE NO GOOD NEWS.

IF WE REALLY THINK THAT THE BEST WE CAN EVER DO IS STRUGGLE THROUGH LIFE WITH OUR SIN, THEN WE HAVE A WEAK JESUS AND GOD’S GRACE IS NO GRACE AT ALL.

JUST AS JESUS CRIED, “IT IS FINISHED” FROM THE CROSS, SO WE WHO ARE UNITED BY FAITH TO HIM IN HIS DEATH CAN NOW ALSO CRY “IT IS FINISHED” – THE TYRANNY OF SIN IS OVER. NO LONGER ARE WE AT THE MERCY OF SIN.

YOU KNOW WE LOVE TO TALK ABOUT GOD’S LOVE. OF COURSE, GOD LOVES YOU FAR MORE THAN YOU COULD EVER IMAGINE. BUT HIS LOVE IS NOT CARELESS AND HIS LOVE IS NOT WEAK.
HIS LOVE FOR YOU IS SO COMPLETE THAT HE PROVIDED A WAY TO BE CHANGED. HE PROVIDED A WAY TO BE FREE FROM SIN AND TO LIVE A HOLY LIFE. NOT A FLAWLESS LIFE, BUT A LIFE THAT IS NO LONGER BEAT UP CONTINUALLY BY SIN.

THIS IS THE CORE MESSAGE THAT WE HAVE TO PROCLAIM TO A WORLD THAT IS FEARFUL AND DESPERATE FOR SOME GOOD NEWS.

AND WHAT THE SPIRIT SEEMS TO BE PRESSING INTO MY HEART THROUGH THIS TEXT IS THAT WE CANNOT REALLY PROCLAIM THIS MESSAGE UNLESS AND UNTIL WE ARE EXPERIENCING ITS REALITY IN OUR OWN LIVES.

THAT’S MY MESSAGE TODAY – IT’S JUST THAT SIMPLE.

IN THIS INCREASINGLY DANGEROUS WORLD LET’S BE CAREFUL THAT WE DO NOT DIMINISH THE POWER OF THE GOSPEL. LET’S GIVE OURSELVES IN A FRESH WAY TO DRAWING UP CLOSER TO JESUS, GOING DEEPER IN THE HOLY LIFE OF LOVE MADE PERFECT.

SO LET ME ASK YOU A SIMPLE, POINTED QUESTION THIS MORNING. CAN YOU SHARE IN THIS TESTIMONY TODAY IN YOUR LIFE? THERE IS A DECISION TO BE MADE.

THE GIFT OF ENTIRE SANCTIFICATION THAT IS OFFERED TO BELIEVERS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU GROW INTO BY ACCIDENT – THERE IS A DECISION TO BE MADE. IT’S A DECISION TO SURRENDER YOUR WHOLE LIFE TO JESUS AND TO RECEIVE THE PURIFYING WORK OF THE SPIRIT.

IT’S BY FAITH – TAKING GOD AT HIS WORD THAT JESUS “GAVE HIS LIFE IN ORDER TO FREE US FROM EVERY KIND OF SIN, TO CLEANSE US, AND TO MAKE US HIS VERY OWN PEOPLE, TOTALLY COMMITTED TO DOING WHAT IS RIGHT.”

BUT THIS GRACE IS ALSO NOT JUST A ONE-TIME DEAL. THIS GRACE IS AVAILABLE ON A MOMENT BY MOMENT BASIS IN THE TRIALS AND TEMPTATIONS OF WORLD LIKE OURS.

SO WHEN YOU ARE FACED WITH THE TEMPTATION TO TRUST THE MATERIAL THINGS OF THIS WORLD MORE THAN GOD, THERE IS GRACE TO FIND FREEDOM FROM THAT TEMPTATION.

WHEN YOU ARE TEMPTED TO USE YOUR BODY IN A WAY THAT HARMS YOU AND DISHONORS GOD, THERE IS GRACE TO FIND FREEDOM FROM THAT TEMPTATION.

WHEN YOU ARE TEMPTED TO HOLD A GRUDGE AGAINST ONE WHO HAS HURT YOU, WHEN YOU ARE TEMPTED TO REACT IN REVENGE TOWARD ONE WHO HAS MISTREATED YOU – THERE IS GRACE TO FIND FREEDOM FROM THAT TEMPTATION.

HAVE YOU COME TO THE PLACE IN YOUR LIFE WITH GOD OF FINALLY SURRENDERING FULL CONTROL TO HIM? IF SO, THEN YOU CAN KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO LIVE IN THE POWER OF HIS GRACE.

JESUS DID NOT DIE JUST TO FORGIVE, AND FORGIVE AND FORGIVE CONTINUOUS SINNING. BY HIS GRACE HE WILL ALWAYS FORGIVE, BUT JESUS DIED AND ROSE AGAIN TO CHANGE OUR LIVES!

The End of a Journey... Almost



Erin and I started our pre-marital counseling in the spring of 2000. The first exercise our pastor gave us was to share 10 goals for our future. Sitting at that McDonalds in Olathe, I shared with Erin my newly decided upon goal of watching the Hawks play in every Big 10 stadium. In a way, I pulled that dream out of the air but it stuck with me.

In November of 2001, the brother of a close friend of mine got me cheap tickets for the Iowa-Wisconsin game in Madison, WI. The tickets were so bad, we could only see 1/3 of the playing field, but we were in the stadium and I crossed the first road-trip off my list. The next year, I drove with a close friend to see an Iowa team that finished the season with a perfect Big 10 record, hand Michigan its worst homecoming loss ever. In 2003, my brother-in-law, who is an Ohio native drove me to Columbus for a great game between two top ten teams. In 2004, I went with another brother-in-law to Champagne, Ill and then some other friends to the Metrodome (nick-named "Kinnick North" because Iowa fans fill up half the stadium)in Minneapolis, MN. The Minnesota game came down to the final play, helping Iowa earn a share of the Big 10 title.

In 2005, Erin and I capped off a weekend in Chicago by watching Iowa blow a 13 point lead over Northwestern in the final 2:30. In 2007, Erin and I enjoyed a beautiful October Saturday driving through gorgeous countryside and walking the Purdue campus in Lafayette, IN. In 2008, Erin and I cashed in some free airline tickets to travel to East Lansing, MI for the game against MSU. I've always loved the look of MSU's stadium and their campus is the prettiest in the conference. Last year, one of my best friends and I drove halfway across the country to see Adrian Clayborn block a punt, then run the ball into the endzone for a great win in the rain and deafening noise of Penn State University's "white out" on ABC's Saturday night football. Walking through State College and seeing the Appalachian mountains in the fall was an incredible sight.

The last stadium to visit was Indiana. Indiana is the Kansas of the Big 10, they'll follow football when the occasional good season happens but basketball rules. The atmosphere is so sub-par that I couldn't even convince anyone else to come with me, so I made the trip alone. While the football atmosphere leaves a lot to be desired. Evidenced by the fact that I paid $15 under face value for a seat on the 45 yard line. But even more amazing, while walking into the stadium, I found a ticket lying on the ground, meaning I could've walked into Memorial Stadium for free. After asking people around the area whether they'd lost a ticket and considering trying to sell it for some cash, I turned the ticket into a ticket-taker.

But what the Indiana campus lacks in enthusiasm for football, it makes up for in scenery. The drive through southern Indiana was gorgeous and the neighborhood around the football stadium is the epitome of wooded and quaint college-town. The weather was perfect for November football, mid 40's, no breeze and sunny. As I stood listening and watching the IU drum line perform outside Assembly Hall, I was loving the autumn college football experience.

As I was walking into Memorial Stadium, I thought back to the spring of 2000 and the list I shared with Erin. Just when I felt the satisfaction of accomplishing such a great feat, I remembered that Nebraska will be joining the big boys of the Big 10 next year, so I have one more trip to Lincoln, NE coming up next Thanksgiving weekend.

The game itself left a lot to be desired. While it's exhilarating to beat a good team on the final play of the game, to do so against a bad team is simultaneously frustrating and relieving. But a W is a W, as they say. I moved to the Iowa section for the game's final drive and shot video of the play in which the IU receiver caught, then dropped the game-winning TD pass. I was hoping to get video of either the entire stadium, minus the Iowa section, or the Iowa section itself, exploding in cheers. But since no one really knew what happened until the ref announced the result of the replay review, all I really got was footage of some stunned fans. I missed recording the official's announcement, which is when the Iowa crowd did explode with cheers of relief.



One final story about the trip, I got to talk with the dad of DJK, the receiver who just broke all of Iowa's receiving records and is about to get drafted into the NF - #15 in one of the above pictures. DJK grew up in a rough home but started hanging around the house of a classmate. This eventually lead to this classmate's family adopting him. DJK's adopted dad, who is a doctor, told me he kept telling his son that while he had a dream of playing football, the odds were against him. Well, he's about to beat the odds with this different version of The Blindside story. His dad and I talked a bit about adoption, it was a good conversation.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A Reunion



The 1995 Fort Madison Bloodhound football team's first win of the season came in dramatic fashion, a 7-6 win over Fairfield in the last game of the year. So for the entire season, the team was winless. I can't imagine how difficult it must be for coaches to keep HS kids focused and motivated during such a difficult season. To their credit, however, they were able to do so.

At one point in the season, our head coach who had been the QB of a NAIA national championship team, tried cheering us up by offering some perspective, "Years from now, you're not going to remember your record or the score of the games, but you will remember the great times you all had together." While it's easy to remember the 1-8 record, I don't remember many scores (though we lost our homecoming game 20-12), we all still have vivid memories of fun and crazy stuff that happened that year.

A couple weeks ago, 15 years after that 1995 season, we got together to catch up on our lives and re-tell some of those stories. We were all in agreement, the best story was of Heath Mueller, our tailback asking why their were cows on the field. He had received quite the blow to the head. Coming in a close second were stories of running from teammates parents or the police with rolls of toilet paper still in our hands, though most had been draped in the surrounding trees.

During HS, I had the privilege of leading one of my teammates to Christ. After HS, I watched his faith really take root and mature. I also had the privilege of performing the wedding of that tailback who had seen cows.

At Erin's grandpa's funeral, there were a few items laid out among the collection of pictures. One of these items was his HS football team's picture from a 1940's Shawnee newspaper. Right then, I decided if Erin's grandpa still remembered "the glory days" 60 years later, I was going to keep celebrating them indefinitely, too. And with this being the second reunion I'd planned, I'm sticking with that commitment.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Thank You Letter

I just composed a thank-you letter to Peace Mennonite Church in Burlington, Iowa. The church who first started me down the journey toward my conversion to the way of Jesus. Enjoy.

October 18, 2010

To the family of Peace Mennonite Church,
Hello, my name is Donnie Miller and I’m the pastor of Trinity Family Church of the Nazarene in Gardner, KS. I grew up in Burlington First Church of the Nazarene, graduating from Fort Madison High School in 1996 and am the son of Dan and Lori Miller, long-time members of Burlington First Nazarene.

In the spring of 2003, I was taking a worship class during my 3rd year at Nazarene Theological Seminary. That class gave me the assignment of visiting three worship services of different denominations. Being a staff member at a Nazarene church, it was difficult to get away on a Sunday morning. So when I was visiting my parents one weekend in March, I decided to worship with your church that Sunday morning.

The Sunday morning in which I worshipped with you was a unique Sunday, not only for Mennonites but for all American Christians. It was the Sunday after the beginning of the Iraq war. As we were driving to your church building, the person I was with that morning mentioned that Mennonites were pacifists, adding “if it wasn’t for our military, they wouldn’t be able to believe that way.” At the time, I simply agreed with that statement, going along with the conventional “wisdom” held by most American Christians.
That morning’s worship gathering was filled with prayers for peace. I appreciated the biblically based prayers while at the same time believing the most likely prospect for peace was a quick victory by US military forces. After worship was over, someone in your congregation gave me the book Choosing Against War by Mennonite theologian John Roth. I politely smiled and thanked the man for the gift, while at the same time, not expecting to actually read the book. Upon returning home, I placed the book on my bookshelf and forgot about it.

One year later, I was in my last year at NTS and taking an ethics course that required extra reading. Due to its convenient location, I pulled Roth’s book off my shelf. By the end of that book, my conversion to the way of Jesus had begun. I still had a long way to go but I could see the beauty of Jesus’ message of nonviolence and how the casual statement about the US military protecting the rights of Mennonites to believe in nonviolence was completely wrong. I ended that book with the realization that while the US could not survive if all her citizens became pacifists, the Kingdom of God would not only survive but thrive if its citizens lived out the way of Jesus.
Over the next several years, I began to explore writings about the Sermon on the Mount, and more specifically, Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. I was influenced by theologians such as Walter Wink, Greg Boyd, Shane Claiborne, Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, Shane Hipps and others who faithfully call the people of God to fidelity to the message and example of the Son of God. Somewhere between my disillusionment with the Iraq war as a result of the Abu ghriab incident and an understanding of the political and unbiblical history of Just War Theory, I embraced nonviolence. The most important point in my journey however, might have been hearing Walter Wink’s explanation of the “Third Way” and the nonviolent resistance message of Jesus from Matthew 5.
There is no need for me to go into a full explanation of the way of Jesus and the gospel of peace so faithfully proclaimed and modeled by the Mennonite church. I believe it will be sufficient for me to tell all of you that I now “get it.” I understand that Jesus meant what he said on the Sermon on the Mount. I understand that it takes a higher faith and a stronger courage to be committed to non-violence rather than violence. I understand that earthly kingdoms aren’t the point but rather the Kingdom of God and how a love for one’s enemies is the strongest possible testimony to the present and future reality of that Kingdom. I understand that this life isn’t the point and that we can, if necessary, lay down our lives for our enemies knowing that the First-Fruit of our future resurrection has already defeated death. I understand that true victory and lasting peace comes through the cross, not the sword.

I also understand how a commitment to Jesus’ nonviolent teachings makes one quite unpopular as a citizen of world’s most powerful empire since the Rome. I’ve experienced everything from the condescending scoffs to the angry attacks that come from both well-intentioned nonChristians and Christians who are caught up in the myth of redemptive violence and the idolatry of nationalism.
Now, my heart hurts while participating in a worship gathering that celebrates military violence, when I see American Christians confusing Christianity with nationalism or observing how Evangelicals are known more for their pro-war stance then their commitment to serving the “least of these.”
With the above lamented, I’ve also seen the beauty that comes out of Jesus’ message. I’ve been able to learn about and support peace-making teams. I was able to play a small part in the conversion from nationalism to the Kingdom of God in the life of a close friend who is also a church member and Iraq war veteran. This young man is now sharing his conversation story with anyone open-minded enough to listen. I’ve been able to help some members of my congregation take steps toward a lifestyle of peace or to at least begin considering the option. I’ve even begun dreaming of ways I could begin educating my own denomination about Jesus’ message of nonviolence. I’ve been able to find a middle ground that respects good-hearted Christian brothers and sisters who risk their lives for what they believe by serving in the military while still challenging those fellow Christians to take the words of Jesus seriously.
Finally, I’ve developed a deep respect for the testimony of Mennonites. From your steadfast commitment to beliefs despite the murderous persecution of the European State and Church to your ability to reform mental health hospitals as a result of your refusal to kill for your nation during WWII; the Mennonite commitment to take Jesus seriously shines brightly in a nation full of Christians who easily disregard Jesus’ teachings for the sake of their nation.

I’ve been wanting to write this letter for about a year now and I’m glad to finally get around to it. I thought you’d like to know how a small Kingdom seed planted almost 7 years ago is now bearing Kingdom fruit. If you’d like to contact me, I’ve enclosed by business card.
Grace and Peace,

Donnie Miller

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Worship or Manipulation?

I'm going to repost a video I shared earlier, because I just heard an interesting discussion regarding the point of the video.



To listen to an interesting discussion regarding worship or manipulation, click on this link. The first 12 minutes of this podcast is spent disussing that difference.

I used to be right with all of that but as you can maybe tell, I've changed my perspective somewhat. Also, God does work through that, clearly. However, I think it's kind of missing the point, too.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Blessing Sunday

I'm a little late on posting this, but on Sunday, Oct. 10th we had a "blessing Sunday." One week before, however, I challenged everyone to bless three people during the week, making sure one of those people didn't deserve the blessing, then share those blessing stories the next Sunday. I also gave the biblical foundation for this role of blessing others. Most of our time that Sunday morning was spent in small groups, sharing our blessing stories. It was a very powerful time. That afternoon, our Advisory Council shared some ideas on how we could make the sharing of blessing stories a regular part of our time together. The main idea was that we'd make the question "how were you a blessing to someone during the past week" a regular part of our discussion time.

I'll post an excerpt from my message on Oct. 3rd below, but I want to share some reasons for why we're focusing on blessing others.

First of all, I'm trying to deconstruct the attractional idea of church that most of us hold onto. I keep telling our people that church is not a place to which they go, it's a people we are. Church isn't Sunday AM at 10:30 at PRMS, it's a 24-7 lifestyle. We can't go to church anymore than someone can go to the Miller family. The Miller family can have regular get-togethers that we attend but we're always the Miller family whether we're together or not. The same is true of church. By sharing what has happened during the previous week, I'm hoping we get a clearer picture of church as a lifestyle, not a place or organization.

Secondly, I'm trying to help us continue to become more others-focused. As I shared in that message and have been reading lately, the church exists to bless the world. And in blessing the world, we reveal God's heart for the world to the world we're blessing. We don't exist for ourselves but for the world's sake. In his book, Missional Renaissance, Reggie McNeal challenges churches to forgo their evangelism strategy (a strategy most people aren't following anyway) and instead adopt a blessing strategy. As my DS was sharing with me over lunch yesterday, we've reduced evangelism to the sharing of a few verses and trying to get people to pray a certain prayer. A more holistic / New Testament view of evangelism is better communicated through this idea of a blessing strategy. People don't get excited about a pre-packaged evangelism sales-pitch, but they do, as one lady shared last Sunday, get fired up about the chance to bless people. Of course, in the midst of this blessing a New Testament form of evangelism is blooming in full.

Here's the excerpt from my sermon on Oct. 3rd:


To share some biblical ideas on church, I want us to go to the very beginning of church. Very beginning, Genesis 12. This is the where we meet Abraham and Sarah, although at this point, they’re still named Abram and Sarai. If you had a Mount Rushmore of bible dudes, Abraham would be on it. Anyone who grew up in church remember the song, “Father Abraham?” Many sons… Well, he really did have many sons. Anyone of Arabian or Jewish descent can trace their lineage back to Abraham. And if you think about it, that’s pretty incredible. Because at the time of the passage we’re about to read, Abraham was 75, Sarah was 65 and they had NO KIDS! A great biblical theme is that God’s a fan of the underdog. He chooses people who don’t have a prayer, so to speak and uses them to accomplish great things. It’s to make sure God gets the credit, not them. By the time Abraham and Sarah had a child together, Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. I hope when I’m 100…

God’s plan was that he would take the offspring of Abraham and Sarah and turn them into his body. This nation of Israel would be the people of God, God’s body on earth. The people through whom God would share his character with the rest of the world. Genesis 12:1-9 To summarize a pretty long story, eventually the role of “people of God” was changed from the nation of Israel to the church. We became the new Israel. The apostle Paul explained it this way, Romans 11:17

We may not be Abraham’s physical descendants but we’ve been adopted into God’s family and we’re now Abraham’s spiritual descendants. The church lives out this role of being God’s body in this world. With this understanding that we’ve been grafted into the lineage of Abraham, I want to look back at God’s initial promise and calling to Abraham in Genesis 12. One verse in particular, God blessed Abraham so that Abraham could be the father of a great nation. That nation was brought into existence, why? So they could bless the whole rest of the world. The people of God exist to be a blessing. We are here to bless others. But we so often miss that. Somehow we make it about us. Whether it’s to get more people at the show or to make a bigger name for ourselves or to have a more comfortable life. In so many different ways, we’ve come to think we’ve been blessed for our own sake. But this is really nothing new. Eventually, the descendants of Israel became more focused on holding onto the promised land than their primary role of blessing the world. The land of Canaan was given to them so as to be their base from which they could bless the world. But their focus got turned inward. And the people of God still give into the temptation to make it about us.

All that I’ve just shared is to lead to this one point – or this one challenge. My challenge to you this week is that you will be a blessing to three people this week. Find a way to bless three people this week in specific ways. And, don’t miss this, make sure that at least one of them doesn’t deserve it.

Of course, none of us deserve God’s blessing. But he does it anyway. You see it all throughout scripture, God blesses everyone – not because they deserve it – but because that’s just what he likes to do. The good news of the gospel is that we all get the undeserved blessings of God. We’ve been blessed to be a blessing. Now just to make sure we’re clear. What’s your responsibility this week? Bless three people, including one who doesn’t deserve it. Next Sunday, we’re going to devote most of our time together to sharing stories of how God has blessed other people through our lives. Next Sunday is “Blessing story Sunday.” If you don’t have any stories, it will be a really short time together. But I’m pretty sure we’ll have some great stories to share.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

God's Provision

A few months ago, Erin and were jumping with joy at this news, the chance for Erin to do a jobshare at her school. What we didn't know at the time was that I was about 3 months away from taking a 45% paycut in my pastoral salary. So what went from being a family income that would be just what we needed, we suddenly had a pretty big crises in the family budget. So to make up the difference, I took a position as a part-time package handler at FedEx in Lenexa, my former place of employment from 2000-2005.

A few months after starting this unfortunate job of being a package handler, I've now been moved onroad, as I've blogged about earlier. My job is easier (at least, physically) but I'm working a total of 4 hours a day.

Because I'm a nerd like that, I recently ran the numbers for our monthly budget. When you combine the hourly salary I'm making at FedEx (working 4 hours a day), the money we're saving by being on the FedEx insurance plan rather than the Olathe School District plan and the salary I am getting from the church, I'm making the same amount of money I was making before the paycut. Almost exactly to the dollar.

What I'm losing, of course, is time. But Sara Armstrong is graciously watching Dawson some half-days at her home daycare for way less than we should be paying her, so I earn back some time there. I've also gained the opportunity to renew old friendships, hang out with people who don't know the love of Jesus and even get to talk about that love every once in awhile. And being part-time has allowed me to relax, let some stuff go and enjoy pastoring without the self-inflicted pressure to produce. It's a great place to be.

And one more example of God's provision that is too specific to be just a coincidence. When I was in the process of being hired, FedEx was having some issues with the lab where I had done my DOT required drug test. No, it wasn't because there were drugs found in my system, but because some paperwork got messed up. I kept showing up at the FedEx station only to be sent home again and told to come back the next day, when "the paperwork should be finished." I even worked one day before being told I shouldn't be there.

So my hire date got pushed back three weeks longer than it should've been. With FedEx's policy of not being eligible for benefits until 90 days after the initial hire date, it looked like we were going to 1) be without health insurance for a little while or 2) pay an exorbitant amount of money to COBRA Erin's insurance for a short while. I actually pushed the issue with the manager who hired me, trying to get her to post-date my hiring date, since the paperwork had been messed up.

Well, turns out the 31 days in both July and August and the Olathe School District's agreement to let Erin stay on one her insurance plan an extra month was some more divine provision. We recently received a letter from Blue Cross / Blue Shield saying our insurance plan expired on September 1st. That letter was followed by a letter from Cigna saying our FedEx insurance plan was beginning on September 2nd.

Sometimes I wonder whether my worries make God chuckle, similar to how I laugh when Dawson gets frustrated with something that requires little effort from his dad.

Friday, September 17, 2010

How to Argue College Football

This week, I sent a FB message to a good friend from HS asking if he'd be down here for "Farmageddon" this Saturday, since he's an Iowa State graduate and die-hard fan. I said nothing about the complete and total domination that Iowa showed over ISU the previous Saturday but for some reason, this friend decided to start the typical ISU argument, "The only reason Iowa wins games is because they're in the sucky Big Ten and if ISU was in the Big Ten, they'd be just as good."

But I understand how he feels because I'm a fan of a terrible team who is almost an afterthought to a much more popular and successful team in the eastern side of the state. I'm referring, of course, of my allegiance to the Royals.

Anyway, that conversation reminded me of this picture I saw on my favorite sports blog the other day, Black Heart Gold Pants.


Not only is this picture true of college football arguments but I think it's true of most other arguments as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Some Thoughts on 9/11


I'm a bit late on posting this but I wanted to share it anyway. I did some thinking about 9/11 last week and these are my thoughts...

As terrible and evil as the 9/11 attacks were, it was not a stand-alone event. It was simply one more tragic episode in an ongoing cycle of systemic violence. 9/11 and the two subsequent wars are exactly what happens when two people groups / nations buy into the myth of redemptive violence - that long-term good can come from violence. One group may be able to dominate another but that's hardly good or the biblical idea of peace.

The myth of redemptive violence is holding captive America, her enemies, her allies and many other nations, people groups and individuals in this world. Jesus, free your people from the alluring siren song and perpetual cycle emanating from the myth of redemptive violence.

I can still remember having Erin's birthday dinner with my sister and brother-in-law in the Applebees on 95th and I-35 when the news reports began showing the bombing of Afghanistan. It was the US's first official military strike against the Afghanistan. 9 years, two wars and hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths later, we're still fighting in Afghanistan, though the war in Iraq (declared un-just by the World Council of Churches) has finally ended.

What if instead of bombing the Taliban, we'd gone over there and served them? Showed them we weren't out for their destruction but for their betterment? I'll bet they would've killed a few more US citizens but we also could've stopped the cycle of terrorism. Instead, we've simply guaranteed another generation of terrorists, the little boys who are living in war-time poverty and have seen their parents killed as "necessary casualties" of the war on terror. Maybe that Jesus guy really did know what he was talking about when he said "love your enemies" and when his follower Paul said we're "not to return evil with evil but to overcome evil with good."

And why do we continue to justify the hundreds of thousands (official military sites estimate 200,000 which, considering the source, has to be very conservative) civilian deaths in a war in response to the almost 3,000 civilian deaths on 9/11. How is that okay? Why are American lives 30 times more valuable than the lives of Afghan and Iraq citizens?

Finally, how could Christians jump on the bandwagon for a war of retribution? Where in the New Testament do we see the instruction to kill those who want to harm us? I'll admit, I was pretty gung-ho, "pay them back/ protect our freedom" in 2001. I was on the fence for the Iraq war until the Abughrab incident, then the veil was lifted so to speak. But now, I just can't see it at all. I'm going to post some scriptures below that can inform a Christian response the next time our lives and the lives of our family members are threatened.


Matthew 5:43-48
43 "You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor'* and hate your enemy.44 But I say, love your enemies!* Pray for those who persecute you!45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much.47 If you are kind only to your friends,* how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.


Matthew 26:50-52
Then the others grabbed Jesus and arrested him.51 But one of the men with Jesus pulled out his sword and struck the high priest's slave, slashing off his ear.
52 "Put away your sword," Jesus told him. "Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”


Luke 6:27-36
27 "But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you.28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don't try to get them back.31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.
32 "If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them!33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much!” 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.
35 "Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.


Romans 12:14-21
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them.15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable.18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

"I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,"*
says the LORD.

20 Instead,

"If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads."*

21 Don't let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.

“[Jesus] did not retaliate when he was insulted, no threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” – the Apostle Peter
1 Peter 2:23-25

23 He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
He left his case in the hands of God,
who always judges fairly.
24 He personally carried our sins
in his body on the cross
so that we can be dead to sin
and live for what is right.
By his wounds
you are healed.
25 Once you were like sheep
who wandered away.
But now you have turned to your Shepherd,
the Guardian of your souls.


1 Peter 3:17-18
17 Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong!
18 Christ suffered* for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit.*


3 John 1:11
11 Dear friend, don't let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God's children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God