Monday, March 26, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: In "Viral" Leonard Sweet wades into the cultural divide ...

One book states the church in America is dead and its hope rests on the next batch of Christians. Another says the new batch of Christians embrace rather than engage secular culture, and has given up the Gospel message and the mission of making disciples.

What effect does culture have on the church today? And what are the possibilities for the church tomorrow?

Theologian Leonard Sweet has waded into that cultural divide within the church in his latest book, "Viral" (published by WaterBrook Press), in a helpful and insightful way.

Instead of choosing one erroneous side over another, Sweet brings a different view by helping his readers first understand that we now live in a "TGIF" (Twitter, Google, iPhone, Facebook) culture. This TGIF culture churns out change through technological advancements at break-neck speeds, change which Sweet says, "If you're not willing to move with it, the world will move without you."

"My concern is not the effect that evolving technology has on faith, but how culture (of which technology is a part) shapes Christian beliefs and forms biases, and the way Christianity is practiced in the context of culture," writes Sweet.

Sweet goes on to describe how culture, with its technology, has shaped two divergent camps within the the church: the "Gutenbergers" and the "Googlers." Sweet then plunges his readers into a thorough description of each camp, highlighting an appreciation for both before moving on to their weaknesses.

"Each new generation needs to start fresh, but not from scratch. This is one reason Googlers need Gutenbergers, and vice versa. When we separate ourselves from the inherited memories of our ancestors, when the texts and traditions of the past do not join the present, the future is in jeopardy. There is no future without the past. Updating is fixing the bugs, removing the toxins, and improving the connection to the original Operating System ..." Sweet writes.

Without being dismissive of the Gutenberger culture, Sweet helps the reader see how the Googler culture may be exactly what the subtitle of the book states: "How Social Networking is Poised to Ignite Revival."

"Anyone older than forty will freely admit that the world changes at a dizzying, disorienting pace. But for Googlers, change is life. It's not daunting; it's hopeful. It presents the possibility that advances might be introduced that will improve the lives of humanity. Imagination, vision, and the desire to make change a positive force are traits Googlers have in abundance, and these are reasons the Christian community needs to take Googlers seriously," Sweet states.

Sweet openly admits he was born into, and easily identifies with, the Gutenberger culture,  but like many others has been able to transition into the TGIF culture of Googlers. Indeed, Sweet writes with the enthusiasm of one who has been an early adapter to change because of the possibilities he sees for the church, the foremost being revival.

"Viral" is loaded with a host of insights that will challenge the thinking of readers. It also has some opinion you may not fully embrace. For example, Sweet indulges in a lengthy rant about the near essential value of poetry for the church. While I was able to sympathize with his arguments, I can't fully support his stance that poetry holds quite that level of significance; readers will have varying thoughts on such positions.

This is a timely topic addressed in a thoughtful manner with biblical and practical insight. "Viral" may not be a "must read," but it definitely can be considered an interesting, even beneficial read, worth adding to your stack of books to get to.


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tell me whose voice this is ...

Lost your keys? Can't find your wallet? Don't recall names of people you see routinely?

All of us forget some things, lose other things, but there's a record of it in our minds ... somewhere! The capacity of the human mind to remember and identify is amazing. Even sounds immediately bring back memories or identities.

For example, close your eyes as you listen to the following clip ...

Do you know who made that sound? Most do ... it's the unmistakable "voice" of the Chewbacca character from "Star Wars." When you hear that voice, you know who it is!

The same with Jesus for those who truly know Him. Jesus said:

“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice," John 10:1-5.

 Do you recognize the voice of Christ? Who's voice are you responding to?


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Did the TV station have it right?

"Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord ..." is the first portion of Psalm 33:12.

I learned that powerful message ... from television!

Yes, from TV.

As a kid living in the Phoenix area, there used to be a television station owned by famous cowboy star Gene Autry that had the tag line, "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord. KOOL-TV, channel 10, Phoenix." I heard that tag line so often it provoked me to look it up in the Bible, and to ponder it's truth.

Once the station was sold, the tag line also disappeared. With it, over time, we've become a nation whose god isn't the Lord. In fact, it would be a rare thing for a television station to proclaim any such notion.

Have you noticed that as we have dropped such a bold proclamation, America has also been much less blessed?

Perhaps those words from the Psalms were actually true: "BLESSED is the nation whose GOD is the LORD ..."!


Informed and dead, or formed and transformed?

Trying to live a life informed by scripture will likely end in a disappointing wreck.

Wait, don't a lot of preachers teach that our thinking and decisions should be informed by scripture?

Yes, and it's not quite a fully accurate picture of what we need to pursue.

For many,  to be "informed" by scripture is to have the Word of God be yet another external source from which we are "informed." That's certainly not God's idea, nor the intent of scripture that we see described in the Bible. The Apostle Paul gave definition to the goal when writing to the Galatians:

"Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives," Galatians 4:19.

The goal Paul gives isn't one of a person simply being "informed" by scripture; a little information does not result in a life's transformation. Rather, it's of one where the Living Word of God (Jesus) fully envelops the life, and is fully formed within the believer, or as Paul put it . "... until Christ is fully developed in your lives."

To be "informed" by the Word of God is to have some knowledge which we may --- or may not --- use, or use correctly; but to have the Living Word of God fully "formed" within us is to experience transformation.

We need to do more than simply be informed by the Word, but to be formed and transformed by it.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Feeling a little parched?

Anyone driving through the North Texas communities around Dallas will likely see signs posted that read: "Severe drought conditions. Water restrictions apply."

So when more than three inches of rain fell from the skies a couple days ago, it was a welcome dousing. It was a lot of water all at once, but that's okay. You don't bust a drought with some sprinkles.

It takes a lot of water to come out of a drought, both environmentally and spiritually.

You don't quench the thirst of the soul with a little bit of Jesus. It takes an immersing of the life in Christ to nourish our souls adequately. Jeremiah spoke to this when he wrote:

"7 But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit," Jeremiah 17:7-8.

To bust the drought of life takes all of Jesus, not just a sip; it requires us to constantly be drinking from the Living Water that is Christ.

If life seems like a dry wasteland, take a good look at where your roots are planted.


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Leaders worship it and teach you to seek it ...

It is the worshiped idol of leaders.

They pursue it with great gusto.

They teach others to pursue it, and preach that it should be pursued. With gusto.

It is that thing called "opportunity."

Leaders are constantly admonishing followers to look for it everywhere, and take advantage of it every time you discover it.

But today's leaders more often teach us to pursue opportunity mostly as a means of having more; sometimes, it's for the chance to do more, and some value opportunity in order to become more, to be better. But opportunity is searched for and sought after more for personal gain than for other, more altruistic reasons.

Therein is how we miss out on one of the greatest "opportunities" God provides us: the chance to be a source of opportunity for others.

If you're not a source of opportunity for others, you're not a leader.

And if you're not a source of opportunity for others, then you're taking from an interaction or relationship and not offering anything in response.

How are you a source of opportunity to others? How can you become one?


Monday, March 12, 2012

There's more?!

No more death.

No more suffering.

No more tears.

No more night.

No more guilt.

No more shame.

No more sin.

No more hunger.

No more hurting.

No more loneliness.

No more hate.

Sound good?

Then consider this ...

"That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him',” 1 Corinthians 2:9.


Fresh from the tap ...


It's absolutely essential for life.

For an extended period of time, there's been a craze for buying bottled watered. People are learning more about the need for providing their bodies with more water, but they don't like or trust the water coming out of their kitchen taps. So they buy it.

Some, to save money and for convenience, have opted to purchase a water filter that easily snaps onto their kitchen faucet. That way, they can filter the water for a safe, refreshing hydration.

Not only do we filter our water, all too often we filter the Living Water as well; we place filters in our minds and hearts to strain out of the words of Christ what is distasteful to us.

Unlike regular water, when we filter the message of Christ, we aren't left with refreshing, life-sustaining, soul-quenching sustenance. Instead, we're left with the tepid thoughts that come from a self-directed life.

We don't simply need water for life, we need the unfiltered, pure Living Water:

"O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who turn away from you will be disgraced. They will be buried in the dust of the earth, for they have abandoned the LORD, the fountain of living water," Jeremiah 17:13.

How do you try to filter Jesus Christ in your life? Or is He the fountain of life refreshing your soul each day?


Chill out ...

Today is a sunny day that will warm to near 80 degrees.

It's a beautiful day.

Have one!

I've always found it interesting how some boast they rarely take a vacation. Some wake up tweeting about business, greatness, politics, and "crushing it!" Some are constantly running and desperately depend on their smartphone and tablet to inform them where and why.

Some people just need to have a beautiful day.

Sometimes we need to put down our phones, cancel an appointment or three, turn off the computer, TV and other assorted electronic devices, and go outside. Sleep an hour later. Get some exercise. Have another cup of coffee while reading a good book. Talk to a friend. Go for a walk or run. Breathe a little deeper and a little slower.

For a day. At least, for an hour.

Sometimes we need to simply enjoy the beauty of what God has put into a single day. After all, why do you think He put it there?


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Choosing your tears ...

With scripture as our vehicle, let's jump somewhere into the future:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, 'Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever'," Revelation 21:3-4.

When we are finally physically with Christ, tears will be gone for good!

But what are the tears scripture says He will wipe away? The source could be many things. But could it possibly include that when we are face-to-face with Christ, we will see how much of life we missed out on by our own choices, lack of self-discipline, and even laziness?

Could some of those tears come from realizing we could have been better, lived and loved much more fully, and yes, even accomplished more of what really mattered? Will we see that we embraced a spiritual mediocrity when we could have experienced a vibrancy of life?

How many of those tears will come from seeing how big a part of our lives we had allowed complacency to become?

That's the future. How you live your life in Christ today and going forward will determine just how many tears Jesus will have to wipe away some day in the future.


Is culture-making supplanting the mind of Christ?

In today's church, we've seen a dramatic shift in the role of church leaders to that of being "culture makers."

From their own statements, they strive to create a culture of compassion, a culture of service, a culture of caring, a culture of ...

Many of them are striving to create some well-intentioned "cultures," but that as a focus could be their problem. Many of them are trying to create a "culture" of following Christ from the outside-in instead of that occurring from a transformation of the person from the inside out.

When you ignore, or de-emphasize discipleship and the work of the Holy Spirit, which is the natural or "organic" means of spiritual growth, the result is you do not have the fruit of the Spirit growing and manifesting itself naturally from followers of Christ. So you're left with attempting to create an artificial environment --- or creating a "culture."

The Apostle Paul wrote the following:

"13 When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. 14 But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. 15 Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. 16 For, 'Who can know the LORD’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?' But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ," 1 Corinthians 2:13-16.

Where there are genuine followers of Christ who "... have the mind of Christ," you will find Christians who think and act as Christ would. You don't have to create an external "culture" to simulate authentic biblical Christianity because the Holy Spirit is generating the real thing from the inside out.

Too often, leaders attempt to construct the outward manifestation of following Christ rather than focus on the inside-out approach of life transformation. That's why many churches haves scores of programs that function as an external effort to do what should come naturally if only more people possessed the "mind of Christ."

Deeply engrained in secular culture --- and taught broadly within the church as well --- is the idea that we should do what we want to become (act it out), and eventually reality will catch up with us.

It doesn't quite work that way in God's kingdom.

Jesus spoke to this issue rather bluntly:

25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too," Matthew 23:25-26.

In the church today, we've reversed this teaching of Jesus to be "First have a clean looking, appealing cup on the outside [a culture], and some way the inside will become clean, too." We're content with acting out some of the external attributes of following Christ without transformation occurring internally.

But imagine what could happen if we reversed that and applied to our lives what scripture actually teaches. Imagine a church where the focus of the "leadership" was that of discipling new believers and equipping them in the Word of God. Imagine a church where every member was moved and motivated by the Holy Spirit in them, who taught them the way of all truth (John 16:13)? Imagine a church where the members lived lives fully expressing the Christ who dwells in them.

Imagine a church where a simulation of following Christ from the outside-in was replaced with an authentic transformation from the inside out.

The church becomes more biblically authentic when we apply ourselves to focused disciplship that enables us to have the mind of Christ rather than creating an external culture to mask our spiritual deficiencies.

Perhaps, then, our "culture" should be that of disciple-making.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

More than wishful thinking ...

Hope must have a source, or else you simply have a wish.

The source of your hope determines the outcome of that which you hope for.

"I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit," Romans 15:13.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Spending time, or living life?

The Facebook post celebrated getting through yet another week.

That's a common message. In fact, in the world of social media --- or simply among co-workers --- there are two messages you'll routinely hear: the cursing of Mondays, and the praising of Fridays.

The problem with that is God made both days. And the days in between. And He made them for us to live them.

He didn't make them for us to just survive them. He made them for us to live them!

I understand some days are tougher than others. Sometimes rough days get strung along into a tough week, or longer. But it can be all too easy to develop the habit of cursing certain days, and shaping our mentality around simply getting through.

With that kind of attitude, we're wading through time, not living out life.

It was Jesus's intention that we find a little more meaning, a little more fulfillment in life than just getting through it:

"The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life," John 10:10.

If you're not finding your days to be rich and satisfying, maybe you're not doing with them what Jesus intended you to do with them. Maybe you aren't doing them with Him. Maybe you're not looking to Him as the source to make them "rich" or "satisfying." Maybe each day could hold a greater value if we shaped our attitudes with a scriptural guide for our days:

"This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it," Psalm 118:24.

 God gives you each day to live; you choose the way you value that gift, and how you spend it.

What are you doing with your days?


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Are you sure that's growth?

A statement in a tweet from a Twitter friend captured my attention. That's because it casts light on how we tend to "do church" in today's culture.

My friend stated that some churches "swell" while others "grow."

I thought that was insightful.

That's because many churches bloat in size without experiencing spiritual growth. They swell into a larger numerical shape by abnormal growth --- the simple addition of people --- without experiencing the spiritual transformation of those in the church body.

The downside to such growth is that swelling isn't healthy for a body. It's a complaint from the body that something is wrong. Care needs to be taken to address what is plaguing the body so the swelling can be decreased and health achieved.

Instead of swelling, a healthy body needs to grow organically and naturally. That happens by providing it with proper nutrients, consistent exercise, and even rest. The same goes for the body of Christ that feeds on the Word of God, finds rest in Christ, and exercises its faithful obedience in carrying out the Great Commission.

Is your church swelling or growing?


Monday, March 5, 2012

The language of the love-struck ...

Ever have a conversation with a love-struck friend?

They ramble on incessantly about the one they love! For the next hour, you do your best to show you're listening to all the talk about how wonderful he or she is.

Have you ever noticed, in all the words that pour forth from your friend, most are about how great, wonderful, and fantastic the object of their love is? Little is said about what their loved one does for them, compared to their talk about the greatness of who that person is.

Yet, have you noticed we don't talk about God that way very often?

Much of our conversation about God has to do with our expectations of what He will do for us, or what we hope He will do. We talk about waiting on the Lord, trusting Him to provide, looking to Him for deliverance from this or that. But we spend little time simply sharing how awesome He is.

We speak of Him more as a supply chain than the greatest love of our lives. Yet, Jesus taught us this:

"Jesus replied, ‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment," Matthew 22:37-38.

In that case, maybe we should focus more on the Person of Christ than simply on what He can produce. That, in no way, is to minimize what Christ accomplished for us on the cross. It is learning to love God for who He is, rather than conditionally on what He does for us.

That kind of love is resolute regardless of how or what God provides, where He leads, or how He may discipline us.

It's all about Him.


Lack of scholarship limits a congregation ...

In previous discussions about leadership, whenever I raised the issue about how biblical scholarship is lacking among too many of today's church leaders, I often got a laugh (after all, when was the last time you even heard a church leader discuss the need for biblical scholarship?).

Even though it's not funny.

In today's church culture, it's more important to be cool than scholarly. The problem with that?

The problem can be found in the old adage about leadership of any kind of organization, which states: "The quality of an organization rarely surpasses that of its leadership."

When you consider the ramifications of that statement within the church, there's nothing to laugh about.

As much as a good Lead Minister may greatly desire for the members of the church congregation to be active students of the Word beyond their teaching, statistics tell us most Christians rarely open their Bibles outside of a church service. And the greatest interpreter of scripture for them will often be those who teach it at church when they are there.

So, when church leaders settle for a mediocre level of personal scholarship, they're often setting the bar low for what the majority of the congregation will accomplish. For example, when leaders think understanding Covenant is too much to teach, they leave their students ignorant of a key biblical concept. When leaders think doctrine is too heavy to wade into, they develop a congregation without  doctrine. When leaders stay away from the vitality of developing a biblical theology, their congregants go without one. When leaders spoon-feed a congregation, they are faced with a fellowship that then must be spoon-fed.

The ugly result is that leaders keep church members in the shallow end of the learning pool and drown them in their own mediocrity.

If, instead, you want well-equipped men and women of faith who possess a keen biblical understanding, then lead them there!

If churches had to administer biblical aptitude tests to their members like schools have to administer scholastic aptitude tests to students, how would the people in your congregation fare? Where would your church rank among other churches?

Now flow the excuses that Christianity is more than Bible knowledge, that it's relationship with Jesus Christ, etc. Of course. And the greatest means of our knowing God?

Through His Word.

So how deeply are your people getting to know Him from the resource of biblical scholarship you're providing?

"Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly," James 3:1.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

A bedroom off the Throne Room?

What is Jesus busy doing these days?

Well, for one thing, He's getting God's house ready for us!

If we really thought about the following passage, it should blow our minds:

"There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am," John 14:2-3.

Jesus isn't constructing a little room out back for us. He's not putting in an air mattress in a cluttered, multi-purpose guest room. God's home has a lot of room, and He's preparing a special place for us so that we can always be with Him.

What kind of space are you making for Him in the meantime?

A little corner in the garage?

Somewhere out back behind the dog house?

Or does He dwell in the center of your life? In the midst of your greatest desires and wants? In the front of your thoughts and the whole of your heart?

Or have you left Him outside with occasional visitations?

If you want a warm welcome into God's home, start by giving Him one in your own.


Making time for friendship ...

"When things get tough, you find out who your real friends are," is a well-known saying generally accepted as true.

But it's only partly true.

It is true that during tough times, those who really aren't friends seem to disappear quickly.

But some don't.

Some like the role of Rescuer and Hero and Lecturer, and will stick around to take the spotlight.

Friendship and loyalty aren't tested just in tough times; they are very much demonstrated in ordinary times.

Friendship isn't something to be shared and cherished only in difficult moments, but something to be enjoyed in all aspects of life. If you're not living out your friendship in ordinary life, it probably is more an acquaintance than a friendship.

Friends create time for each other in spite of overloaded schedules. Friends inconvenience themselves for each other in order to be with each other. Friends interact with each other beyond handshakes and updates at church. Real friends share lives.

Are you making time for friendship? Are you purposely building relationships? Or is your contacts list full of acquaintances?


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Getting friendly with the enemy?

It's a tough story to hear.

I first heard it years ago.

It comes from the height of the second World War.

In a heated battle, an American soldier temporarily got separated from his squad. So did a German soldier. These two stumbled upon each other, both aiming their guns, ready to fire at the other.

One hesitated. So did the other.

The German soldier lowered his rifle, then the American soldier did the same.

They walked up to the other, looked at each other. The American then took out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to the German soldier. The German soldier took out some matches and lit both cigarettes.

The two men leaned their rifles and themselves on a downed tree trunk and took out pictures of their loved ones. Their wives. Their children. They pointed, nodded, laughed.

It was two men sharing the humanity they had in common.

They struggled through the language barrier with a story or two of "back home."

Then they shook hands.

Then the American soldier picked up his rifle and shot the German soldier.



Why did he do it?

For a few moments, the horrors of war had dissipated and the two shared some commonalities. In ways, they weren't so different.

In other ways, they were.

The American explained he knew one thing: when the cigarette was smoked, the conversation finished, both would return to the work at hand: killing the enemy before the enemy killed them or their cohorts. One of the two men would not live to see the end of the day.

The American said in spite of a moment of laughter and lightheartedness, he knew who his enemy was. So did the man who had stood next to him.

 It's a tough story to hear, but it brings to light the need to know who our enemies are. They may show themselves friendly, they may laugh with us, they may seem to be a lot like us. Who are they?

"For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places," Ephesians 6:12. 

The Apostle Paul amplified his description of the enemy when writing to the Corinthians:

"12 But I will continue doing what I have always done. This will undercut those who are looking for an opportunity to boast that their work is just like ours. 13 These people are false apostles. They are deceitful workers who disguise themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve," 2 Corinthians 11:12-15.

 The fighting fatigues of our enemy? The appearance of an angel of light, a minster of righteousness. Yet his intent is to destroy. Peter put it this way:

"8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are," 1 Peter 5:8-9.
As wiley and dangerous as the enemy may be, there is a safe place for us:

"But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one," 2 Thessalonians 3:3.