The great divorce: Belief from action

IMG_0349Ask a dumb question and you’re bound to get a bad answer. In the vast online discussion on living for Christ one such questions is rampant. What is more important: theology or how we live? Let me be frank, it’s a dumb question. Why? We act (live) based on what we believe (theology).

God to Joshua
God tells Joshua that he MUST be absorbed with the Torah (first 5 books of the Bible). Why? That Joshua may be careful to do all that is written in it. The result is success. God did not distinguish between action and belief, He called for both. Right actions flow from right thinking. God designed us as theological & philosophical beings. Theology and philosophy are intensely pragmatic because it’s the source of our actions.

Paul to Timothy
A key theme Paul wrote to Timothy was to guard both ministry (living) and doctrine (theology). This theme echoes the idea that God instructed Joshua. Either bad theology or bad living will undercut our mission of making disciples. This is a tension in life that is best left in place. Resolving this tension, which is too often done, creates a bigger mess. Poor Christian living is often a result of bad theology.

The other words of Christ in red…
Jesus makes this point as well. In the seven letters to the churches in Asia Minor Jesus upholds the value of upholding correct theology and living. Jesus calls out the error in either direction and praises success in either direction. While incorrect, people often value the words of Christ in red as more important than the other Holy Spirit (who is also God) parts of the Bible. Hilariously, people often forget the red words in Revelation. Jesus will judge our actions and doctrine.

This divorce hurts our kids
When we focus on belief vs action we lose the ESSENTIAL third rail of proclamation. God wants to be known and made known. The belief vs action debate is inherently self-focused. God upholds correct theology and correct living because He wants us to make Him known. It’s time to hang up the “preach the Gospel and when necessary use words.” God wants us to use words. Bad theology and bad living will undercut our sharing that message. Our focus should be on our spiritual children and grand children.

The trinity
God the Father has a plan. Part of that plan is making Himself known to us. Life is not about us. God leads for His own name’s sake! God gave us the Bible (special revelation) so He could be KNOWN (theology). God the Son acted as a servant to point people to the Father. (He also did a lot of theology.) In communion this aspect of servanthood is demonstrated as we take the bread that symbolizes Jesus’ body which is for us. Becoming like Jesus is fundamentally servanthood (action). God the Spirit empowers God’s plan and living like Christ. The Spirit is our third rail. Acts 1:8 points this out. The Spirit leads us to not just live well, but to make God known (proclamation).

The bottom line:
We act based on what we believe. This drives us to share with others who God is by the power of the Spirit. Being like Jesus involves correct theology AND correct living for upholding our message of a risen savior. Don’t get stuck with the dumb question of belief vs living. Ask this question: Is my theology and life such that I can boldly proclaim the excellencies of Him who came as a servant, died innocently for our sin, rose victoriously on the third day and will soon return as King to make all things new?

Prayer Mentoring: The majesty of casual prayer

DSC_0044The majesty of a solid prayer life is hidden in being casual. For some you’re thinking cool, others sacrilege. We think being casual isn’t godly because we view prayer as religious exercise not communication within a relationship. Prayer at it’s central core is communication with an all powerful God who is not just separate from creation, but also intricately involved in creation.

Casual as godly
Deep down in the recesses of our soul we struggle with the idea that a relationship with God is completely free. We think that there is still something we must do to merit our salvation. This is why preaching he Gospel to ourselves is important. Jesus died once for all sin. This concept that we struggle with in our soul shows up in how we prayer. We think that if we pray using the language and idioms of our day that we’re sacrilegious, undeserving of a relationship with God. Casual is godly because religiosity doesn’t save.

Godly as casual
Deep down in the recesses of our soul we struggle with the idea that God loves us as we are. So, in our prayer we mention God’s name… a lot. Some pray in what is thought of as King James English. A person’s godliness is often marked by the casualness of their prayer. Why? John tells us that perfect love casts out fear. The Bible tells us to boldly approach the throne of Grace. Godliness as casual means we understand who we are in Christ and the security we have in Christ.

CLEAR!
By now some may be having a pious heart attack. Let me get a spiritual AED for you. Humility, faith and servanthood are the keys to a dynamic prayer life, not the radiance (or what some think is radiant) of our prayers! Religious leaders of Jesus’ day pontificate in their prayers. Humble people approached God simply. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day worried about “purity.” Servant minded people sought to help their friends see Jesus. Religious leaders of Jesus’ day put him on a cross. A faith filled criminal understood who Jesus was.

Casual is not flippant
People who pray casually take serious grace and their relationship with God. It’s not a matter of being flippant, arrogant, or any other ‘ant’ word one can think of. What is central to such prayers is a relationship with a real God who loves us. Now, in fairness, some people are just brilliantly eloquent and classy in how they talk, and it shows up in their prayers. That’s awesome. Why? Because they’re approaching God in the way that he artistically designed them. If you’re a farmer then pray like a farmer. A poet, then pray like a poet.

Christmas Wars: Return of theology

My bottom line is this: The focus of the First Advent should be on Jesus humbly being born in the likeness of human flesh and that at second advent is in the near future when Jesus returns to make all things new. Rather, this season is marked by what I call the Christmas Wars.

Xmas controversy
Christian_Chi_RhoAs a child I remember being scolded out of the blue because I wrote ‘xmas’ on my paper. I was following in the evil pathway of removing Christ from Christmas. Being the reader (nerd) that I was, I looked it up. (Note, this was before the advent of wikipedia, so I had to use this thing called a card catalog and books.) What I found was this: The X was from the greek letter Xsi which is the first initial of Christ’s name, Xristos in Greek. X marked with another letter or part of the word was an appropriate abbreviation for Christ. There is no grand conspiracy to remove Christ from Christmas.

Mas controversy
Jesus died once for all sin. In doing research I found another interesting aspect: I don’t celebrate Mass. Mass is the liturgy surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist views communion as becoming wholly the blood and body of Jesus. It’s a perpetual sacrifice. Hence, the symbol of the crucifix. While the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, it is through the resurrection that we’re saved. The Bible doesn’t teach a perpetual sacrifice but a single sacrifice at one point in time whereby the barrier between God and man is forever destroyed through the resurrection of Jesus. Communion then is a symbol where we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.

The First Advent
It is good to celebrate the First Advent. Why? Jesus demonstrated humility and a focus on people. My fear isn’t removing Christ from Christmas. My fear is not seeing Christ in Christians. Let’s be humble, friends. It’s what Jesus did.

The light of the World
It is good to celebrate Jesus as the light of the world. The real issue is whether we’ll accept by faith that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. Jesus died once for all sin, the just for the unjust. My concern isn’t removing Christ from Christmas. It’s removing Mass from Christ. Theology matters. We do not need to continually dip into a pool of grace to merit salvation. We need to simply accept God’s gift in Jesus whereby God lavishes his grace upon us! We don’t celebrate Mass, we celebrate a risen savior.

The bottom line:
As the Christmas wars heat up, again, let’s remember our theology. Ignorance is no excuse anymore as information is freely available and easier to access. The focus of the first advent should be on Jesus humbly being born in the likeness of human flesh and that at second advent is in the near future when Jesus returns to make all things new. Let us pray for and look to the Second Advent as we celebrate the humbleness of the first.

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Part 1

“Hi, I’m Ty, and I’m a recovering fundamentalist.” The men in the room laughed, and the lead pastor stated humorously, “No, its true, he is a recovering fundamentalist.” I grew up in what I’d call a community church, but in college and through most of my ministry was a part of fundamentalist circles. There is a lot of un-health in fundamentalism, and this is the first in a series of posts.

What is a recovering fundamentalist
A recovering fundamentalist is a person who was/is part of a fundamentalism and wants to embrace the Gospel and chuck legalism. To use an old cliché, it’s to rescue the baby from the putrid bath water. Being a recovering fundamentalist means getting back to Scripture as guide, the Gospel as central and grace the a mandate. It’s a call to repent.

What it is not
If you want accolades in Christianity, just bash fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a bit of a strawman (just like the word religion is). This isn’t a “Let’s bash fundamentalism” tirade. I’ve seen too much of that. It’s understandable that some do that, fundamentalism has casualties in its wake. Reacting can lead to just more problems and not health. Being a recovering fundamentalist is about acting, not reacting. It’s about healing and repenting, not another tirade.

Act don’t react
Act don’t react is a proverb I often go by. A pattern I’ve observed in human history, especially church history, is we react to a previous movement. Reactionary movements are inherently unstable and lead to error in a different way. Fundamentalism in large part was a reactionary movement. It centered on key “fundamentals” to the faith. This can be known as “historical fundamentalism.” What we have today is “hysterical fundamentalism.” Reactionary movements have a hard time discerning when the fight is over.

Patton
In the movie Patton a German officer is tasked with being an expert on General Patton. Germany lost and the officers are burning everything. The officer makes this statement as he lights General Patton’s picture, “The lack of war will be his end.” This plays out in the rest of the film… Historical fundamentalism won the day. Most of evangelicalism holds to the fundamentals of the faith. There will always be those who don’t, but essentially the battle was won. The lack of the fight lead to being hysterical.

Hysterical
Hysterical fundamentalism has two idols: 1) Separation and 2) Theological “correctness.” I say idols because the focus is on separation over mission under the guise of “purity”. I put correctness in quotes because the focus is on a particular articulation of theology, often lacking humility. As the doctrinal battle was essentially one, methodology took the banner. Given the protective and isolationist nature, there became uniformity of doctrine, but the challenge of one’s doctrine softened. So, a hysterical fundamentalist has to look, act and talk a certain way. This allowed legalism to take root.

The bottom line:
Being a recovering fundamentalist is repenting. It’s a return to the Gospel being central and the Bible as our guide. It isn’t about attacking fundamentalism, but it is recognizing a difference between historical (a focus on the Bible and the Gospel) and hysterical (focus on separation and a particular methodology) fundamentalism. In this call to repent the win is to live God’s instruction to Joshua: “do not turn from [Scripture] to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”

Why not Wednesday? Buy a Mac

I was a Mac addict for as long as I can remember. When I attended college they would not support the simple, elegant and (far superior) platform, so for a time I used a PC. I wanted a Mac. Here are some ministry lessons from my love of all things Mac:

Form follows function, but it follows
Aesthetics mean something. While function is essential and a primary mover in what we do or develop, the form does not lose significance. In fact, sometimes the form is equal to the function. The form allows one to focus on the task at hand. God designed life with beauty of form, not just solidarity of function. Aesthetics matter. God is the originator of art and function and art can be one.

Simplicity and usability
The thing I love about Apple is they understand complexity and work hard to not pass that on to the end user. The minimalist philosophy of Apple develops into something that is usable. Less is often more. Apple does not shy away from complexity, but it understands where complexity should be and where simplicity should be. In ministry we often over complicate things such as the Gospel, a relationship with God, and worship. Less really does mean accomplishing more.

Build it well so it runs well
Mac’s do have a steeper price tag. The flip side is they are also built well. When asked why Apple doesn’t have an inexpensive entry level computer Steve Jobs quipped: “We don’t know how to build a cheap computer.” (At points a MacBook ran Windows faster than PC laptops.) Yes, there are Macs that have technical issues, they’re machines. Excellence is important.  Sometimes in the ministry rush we stick on a temporary solution that really becomes permanent. Taking time to build a solid ministry with excellence is counterintuitive. Build well to create well. Be aware of the proverb: buy cheap, pay twice.

You act based on what you believe
The Mac platform took a change from a “best in technical specifications” approach to a “usability” approach. You can have the fastest machine in the world but if you can’t use it well, what good is it? Apple called the Mac strategy the “digital hub.” Apple endured a few years of criticism over this approach as their machines were technically slower. Their strategy still holds, and speed is now a non-issue for the platform. Heavy criticism doesn’t always mean you’re wrong when you stick to your theology. Just be wary of arrogance and not continuing to develop your theology.

Think steps not programs
Each step Apple took with their platform lead into the next step. Each step built the infrastructure needed to move to the next step. Apple innovated more than created, as there were digital music players, smart phones and tablet PC’s prior to Apples (brilliant) incarnations. The success isn’t just due to Apple’s form and usability. There was an ecosystem (infrastructure) to support each new development. In ministry focus on building a church vs a mosaic of programs. It may be a slower process of growth and development, but it will be sustainable and grow well in the long run,

The bottom line
Buy a Mac. People looked down on the strategy over a decade ago. Over a decade ago people would say that Mac would never go beyond 4 or 5% market share. Dell even essentially said Apple should just close up shop. Apple took its time revolutionizing the “computer” industry. In ministry perhaps we should slow down and be more theological and methodical in our approach. The urgency of the Gospel does not mean we have to rush in building churches. After all, ministry is a marathon, not a sprint.

Manic Monday: Be real & listen

I watched a video with Fancis Chan, Mark Driscoll and Joshua Harris. I’m not quite sure what the discussion was about, but Mark switched the topic to what Francis is doing. The conversation exemplified speaking the truth in love, asking hard questions, and theology. I encourage you to take the time to watch and listen here. It’s about 15 min.

Note these things:

1) A concern and valuing of a brother takes precedent over the agenda.

2) The issue was discussed in community at Francis Chan’s church.

3) The Bible and the Gospel drove the conversation and issue.

4) The spirit of love, concern and truth.

We need to be real with each other in a way that is gracious and loving while also being truthful and discerning. We also need to have theology be a driving force in our discussion processes. Too often we assume the theology and disguise our conversations as “general revelation” or “it’s not an “un-biblical” issue, just a “non-biblical” one. We act based on what we believe. This conversation is an example of that. We need more of this kind of talk in churches.

(especially on Monday)

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/08/30/what%E2%80%99s-next-for-francis-chan/

If you were God…

…How would you make yourself known? Would you even bother? Which would you chose?

Creation: Make a perfect paradise for all to enjoy!
(+) There are no struggles. It’s perfect. As God, you get to walk among the world without getting mad or frustrated at imperfection.

(-) People will reject you made it or will choose to focus on creation and not you.

Miracles:  Supernatural events that go against your created laws of science.
(+) There is clear demonstration of your power that also demonstrates your compassion for people.

(-) People will say ya right, attribute them to something else, or deny it happened all together. Those who benefited or appreciate the act done will soon forget it and move on, things getting back to normal.

Mass-disaster: This can take on a few forms, but it results in massive destruction and death.
(+)This approach clearly demonstrates your power, builds fear and in some ways, like the flood, cleans out most of the problem people. It satisfies your justice.

(-) Long term the reason behind the disaster is forgotten. Short term people will adjust out of fear or will just get mad and more offensive toward you. Injustice remains.

Chosen people: Choose a specific group of people to declare and prove your existence.
(+) There is a constant and tangible revelation of your existence. There is also a model of how you would like people to interact and live among each other.

(-) Your chosen people can become arrogant and/or stop doing what you ask of them. Eventually, people may grow tired of you all together. Your chosen people may not be capable of following your instructions anyway.

A special object: Create or decree a special object as pointing to your existence.
(+) There is a visible and verifiable object pointing to your existence that is more tangible than mere creation. It can become a focal point for people to come together in community.

(-) People will end up worshiping the object instead. Others will try to get the object and use it for their own purposed. Some will get tired of the routine and begin to ignore the object all together.

Become a man: Add to yourself humanity so you can live and interact among people.
(+) You demonstrate humility, a virtue you most admire. You can better claim empathy and sympathy for the plight of your creation. You are able to model and teach in a way no one else can, cutting out the “middle man.”

(-) Plato’s Republic said that if a perfectly just man existed, we’d kill him. Likely those who are in error will become jealous. People may just refer to you as a good guy or teacher. Other will accuse you of being divisive. Oh, and you have to walk among unholy imperfection.

A Book: Have people record who you are in a book by telling them what to write.
(+) Words transcend time. They cannot be completely blocked or stopped. It can act as a guide to how people should live, declare who your are, and give your perspective. After all, words and ideas started massive movements in human history.

(-) People will ignore it or say it is not accurate. Others will abuse it for their own purposes. Even if you divinely keep its accuracy, people will charge that since it was written by man it’s not 100% accurate, or since its details cannot be verified, it will be relegated as myth or primitive. Many will take what you say out of context.

The bottom line:
Place yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. You can choose to reject there even is a God. You can choose to reject absolute truth (doesn’t work in math). You can even chose to not bother to make yourself know. But… If you chose to make yourself know, how would you do it? Do you think it would work?

Maybe God isn’t the problem. God did all the things and people in history to now took the negative of each point… no matter how clear or vague the chosen route is.