Friday, December 31, 2010

Year in Review: 2010

2010 has been a wonderful year in the Packer household. Here are some of the memories of 2010.

-I trained and finished in the Dallas White Rock Marathon! I beat my goal running a time of 4 hours and 37 minutes. Finally, a New Year's Resolution that I actually kept.

-Holly and I kept another New Year's Resolution by not drinking any carbonated beverages all year long! We are Dr. Pepper addicts. But we're proud to say, we did it! (If we can hold out a few more hours) Maddox actually thinks we're healthy by choice at this point in his life. By the way, we've stocked up on about 10 liters of cokes for 12:01 AM.

-Because I kept the first two resolutions, I lost 25 pounds in 2010. Let's see if I can keep up the healthy habits.

-Our family continues to grow. 2010 was a year of tremendous growth for Maddox. He went from being unable to crawl to running in 2010. We also found out that we're expecting our second child in June of 2011. We find out the gender in just over a week.

-Holly and I celebrated 6 years of marriage this year! (Yes, we were only 20 when we got married). We also celebrated a decade since our first date. I love you Holly and look forward to the next 10!

-Our sports teams were up and down this year. Football was miserable. The year started with Colt McCoy going down with an injury and the Longhorns losing the National Championship. And this fall, our Horns and Cowboys were pitiful. Baseball was a brighter spot. We had a 10-game season ticket package to the Colorado Rockies, which was a lot of fun. Also, the Texas Rangers won the ALCS!

-I was invited to teach classes at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures and ACU Summit this year!

-We took our first vacation with Holly's family to Hawaii!

-I had another great year of growth as a minister serving the Littleton Church of Christ. We are blessed to live in such a great city and imagine and dream with God about the future of his kingdom here. We're excited to see what God will do in the coming year!

I've got some great plans for 2011!

The Packers wish you grace and peace in the coming year! Happy New Year!


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

White Rock Marathon

Well, I finished the marathon. It was an incredible experience! It's interesting to hear what people want to know about my experience. Some want to know if it was hard. The answer is: yes. Others want to know if I enjoyed it. The answer is: Yes, immensely. The following is my attempt to document the race for future reference and let you in on how it went.

My goal for the race was 5 hours. An 11-minute pace would have ensured me beating my race goal. I knew I could keep that up for 20 miles, but I wasn't sure about the last 6.2.

Here's my experience from race day:

5:30-Wake up and rub on tons of Body Glide (no chafing for me on race day).

6:00-I pulled into the parking lot at Fair Park south of the Cotton Bowl. The parking lot filled in less than 30 minutes. As I entered the coliseum, I saw hundreds of runners prepping for their run. The room was full of excitement. Everyone was trying to find a bathroom, so they wouldn't have to stop during the race.

7:50-A nice prayer by a man who did everything he could to leave Jesus out of it (a perfect display of civil religion really lit a fire within my body to run the race as fast as possible).

7:55-Military Fly-Over (Again, pumped up!)

8:10-The elite runners started the race. FYI: I was not apart of the elite runners, but they said I could try to qualify again next year. I think I failed to win the race because I wasn't able to pace myself with the Kenyans. 5 Kenyans ended up placing 1st-5th place.

8:45-I crossed the starting line. I can't explain the feeling of crossing the starting line on your first marathon. Nerves are pumping. Heart is pounding. My training gave me confidence, but I had no idea what might go wrong in the next 26.2 miles. Wind chill was about 25 degrees at the beginning of the race. The weather was perfect for the runners, but not so much for the spectators.

Mile 3-Left hamstring was a bit tight, but I kept running hoping it would loosen up.

Mile 6-1st sighting of my family. Holly, Maddox, Clark (brother), Lara (sister-in-law), Dad, Mom, and Ganna (Grandmother) were all present to show their support. They gave me a real boost.

Mile 8.5-Marathoners split off to the left while the half-marathoners made a turn to the right to head back to Fair Park. Believe me I was happy for them...not! It was tough to turn left and know I had 17.2 more miles to go.

Mile 9-I was surprised to see more family. Morgan (sister-in-law) and Cathy (mother-in-law) were there to greet me!

Mile 13.1-Halfway to the finish. I was feeling great. At this point, my pace was under 10 minutes per mile. And around the halfway point, I was running in the low 9s. I felt great, but I was concerned that I might be launching out too fast. I would tell by the end of White Rock Lake if my pace had been too quick.

Mile 14-I saw my family again at mile 14. My knee was beginning to hurt a bit at this point, but I was feeling great otherwise.

Mile 18-Holly's family and my family greeted me again on the east side of White Rock Lake. I was beginning to get more tired and sore at this time, but I was beginning to think a 4 1/2 hour marathon might just be possible.

Mile 20-One last sighting of my family as they passed me in a car. Mile 20 was a scary point because 20 miles was the most I had ever run before in my training. All of the miles ahead were new territory for my body. It was an unknown, but I still felt pretty good at mile 20.

Mile 21-This is where the race got tough. At mile 21-22, I met what is known as the Dolly Parton Hills. I won't tell you why they are named after Dolly Parton. I'll just let you guess. These hills killed me. It was only about a 100-foot climb, which is nothing in Colorado. But when you've already run 21 miles, a 100-foot climb isn't too fun.

Mile 24-My pace is falling, but I knew I was going to be able to finish. My IT-band injury in my right knee began to cause more pain. My goal was not to walk during the race and the temptation was pretty strong to stop, but I'm proud to say that I finished the race without walking (other than at water stations, eating my "jelly beans," and short stretches for my lower back).

Mile 25-At this point in the race, I headed south toward the Cotton Bowl. The finish line is almost in sight. I was passing a great number at this point because many were walking.

Mile 26-The crowds began to get thicker. As I turned the corner to see the finish line, I began to pick up my stride and run with all I had left to the finish.

The Finish Line-I can't describe the feeling of crossing the finish line. It was actually a very emotional moment. Tears came to my eyes and I got chills. And as I crossed the finish line, it was as if I had a warp-speed movie of my training quickly run through my brain. All of that work paid off as I met my goal. What an incredible feeling!

My time was 4:37:50. I had run 26.2 miles in a per minute pace of about 10 minutes and 35 seconds. I was so pleased with my time. Seeing my family after the race was one of the best moments of the race. Their cheering along the way helped me so much.

I want to dedicate my race to Holly and Maddox. Without their help, I wouldn't have been able to do the training. Holly spent countless Saturday mornings without me in order to let me do my long runs. I can't thank you enough Holly. You and Maddox were my inspiration in the moments I wanted to quit! I love you and Maddox so much!


Saturday, December 04, 2010

Day Before the Marathon

Well, it's less than 24 hours before the marathon. I can't believe it's here.

I vividly remember stepping on the track at Rock Canyon High School the first week of this year and running one mile. One mile was all I could muster. My lungs hurt! More than anything my ego was hurt. Although, I was in the Mile High city, so my bruised ego was less hurt than it would've been at sea level. Whether that made any effect, I made the excuse anyway. I truly couldn't imagine running 26.2 miles. It was a dream that likely wouldn't come true.

I don't really have a runner's body. I know that might surprise you based on my chiseled physique, but it's true. Though I was athletic, I was the kid with the worst flexibility and the lower mile times in elementary school and junior high. Teachers said I was blessed with brains, but it was probably just to ensure I never pursued a career in athletics.

But here I am the day before the race and I actually feel prepared. So many things could go wrong tomorrow. My injury to my right IT band worries me. The vision in my head of me crossing the finish line looks more like a fatigued Olympian more than a maimed rabbit hobbling to the finish. All kinds of things could go wrong tomorrow. I've rarely cramped in my training, but that could be the situation tomorrow. Who knows? It's not worth worrying about really.

But I must say I'm excited. I'll drink lots of water today and consume many carbohydrates, but most of all I'll enjoy the fact that I have done everything I could to train well for this event. I can actually say "I'm ready" just as I could say in the next sentence, "I'm not sure if I've prepared enough."

Sounds like a story a preacher could use in a sermon. But don't go stealing my story...I've copyrighted this one with my own sweat.

I'll update you soon on the race!


Friday, November 12, 2010

The Preaching Event

We don't come to expect much as the preacher walks onstage, do we? We don't expect a life changing encounter. We don't expect a riot to ensue. We don't expect the powers and principalities to come in and shut down the service because something too revolutionary has been spoken.

The truth is: We don't expect much of anything!!

Our young people don't dream of becoming preachers. What excitement is there in that kind of life? How will I see concrete evidence of success as a preacher? It's just a 30 minute speech!

Our best and brightest are not studying to become preachers. They're challenged to become doctors, lawyers, politicians, professors, and teachers. And let me just say, we need Godly people in all of these positions. Everyone is a minister. Everyone is a missionary. But we also need preachers and the well is drying up.

Regardless of what many believe, I believe the world needs more better sermons. I don't think the sermon should be boring. It should be an electric moment of anticipation. I don't think people should have to sit through a sermon so they can go to lunch.

Just a 30 minute speech?!?


The sermon should be an event that rattles your cage, disturbs you, comforts you, inspires you, and provokes you. When the prophets and Jesus spoke, you didn't just sit back and evaluate the sermon. You were caught up in something because the communicator was caught up something.

Now, we might not want a preacher who rattles our cage. I know of people who come to church to be creatively reminded of what they already know. There are people in our churches who believe it's the job of a preacher to say what they already believe better than they can say it themselves.

That's pandering, not preaching! That's itching ears, not prodding hearts!

Some have pronounced the death of preaching. But I'm not ready to preach the sermon's eulogy yet.

We need more young people who can imagine a new kind of preaching. Not a preaching that confirms old traditions. Not a preaching that will ensure a larger auditorium in the next five years. We need preachers who are so wooed by the story of God in Scripture that they can't help but paint a vivid picture of God's burden for humanity to a congregation parched for the living water.



Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Less than 5 weeks from my marathon. It's scary and exciting all at the same time. Perhaps any good thing in our life is scary and exciting at the same time.

Initially, Holly baited me into running a marathon because "If the Biggest Loser contestants could do it, then I could do it." I'm not sure of the motivation behind her cunning challenge, but I have my guesses.

The road has been long and difficult.
-Injured foot (stress fracture or tendonitis)
-Hundreds of Miles
-Mental Battles (The left side of my brain still tells me I'm crazy)
-Wild coyotes and dogs to dodge on the running trail
-Running when I don't feel like it
-Saturdays filled with running instead of watching college football
-Sermons filled with running imagery (my congregation is tired of it)

When I stepped on the track in January, I could barely run a mile. As of last Saturday, I ran 18 miles in just over 3 hours. The transformation has been incredible and the discipline has carried over to other areas of my life.

It seems crazy, but I can honestly say that the half marathon race coming up in a week and half seems like an easy race.

Now, the journey is not finished. I've still got time for injuries or sickness to knock me out of the race. But at this point, I think I've learned something important. It's not just about the destination. It's about the journey! (Who am I kidding? If I don't finish the marathon next month, I will not be a happy person to be around.)

Lord willing (I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I think it means something like "Bless your heart!"), I'll have crossed one more item off the bucket list on December 5th. But I'm not so sure I can shake this running thing. It's like a drug. Once you start, you can only up the dosage to keep your high.

If only the habits of my spiritual life were as addictive.

Perhaps that will be the challenge for 2011.


Monday, September 13, 2010

Reflecting on the VMA's

Last night, Holly and I sat in front of the television for a couple of hours watching the VMA's. For those of you who aren't familiar with what the VMA's are for one reason or another (I can't imagine why not?), they are the Video Music Awards on MTV. (If you aren't familiar with MTV, it's the music station that no longer plays music. Confusing I know!)

I'm sure there are many Christians who would look down on me for watching such foolishness. If you feel that way, hear me out before you ditch the blog forever.

10 years ago, I consumed pop culture like most high schoolers. What MTV was selling, I was buying. (Sorry mom and dad)

I have to admit I don't connect with MTV much anymore. I don't get Lady Gaga, Eminem, or Justin Bieber. Ke$ha's songs are just plain annoying. And the guy who sings about wanting to become a millionaire badly needs a new lyricist. I guess I'm already admitting the beginning of my cultural descent at age 26 away from what everyone else thinks is cool. Confession is good for the soul.

But for those of you who dismiss MTV out of hand, you might need to pay more attention before you lose your kids.

While there's much about MTV that I'd like to argue with, I learned something about our kids last night in a major way.

MTV is giving our kids a narrative to live in that we're failing to give them with the gospel. Their vulgar, absurd story with their even stranger cast of characters is speaking to our kids in ways our flannel graph characters aren't quite doing. Each of the characters in MTV's world (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Eminem, Kanye West, Ke$ha, Justin Bieber, etc.) are playing a role in a story that our kids are connecting with.

To pick on Lady Gaga for a moment, so many are connecting with her bizarre antics and role. She plays the role of an outcast, which many of our kids can connect with. She's this generation's Marilyn Manson only a bit more mainstream. She's the outcast from high school who preaches a message of acceptance and tolerance for every group that's despised by mainstream media. And for the teens who find themselves in those awkward years struggling for acceptance, they connect with her character and live into her story.

And with this postmodern generation, if the gospel isn't a big enough and compelling story to live into, our teens will find other stories to live into.

Donald Miller tells the story about a set of parents who are struggling with their daughter's downward spiral. She was experimenting with drugs and was dating the guy every parents prays their daughter will never choose to date. And as the father and mother sit around the breakfast table, the dad interjects, "Why would she date this guy? Didn't we raise her better than this?" And the mother responded, "She's living the best story she knows. We haven't offered her a better story. She has drama, intrigue, chaos, love, and emotion in this story. It's a better story than we've offered her. So, of course she's going to choose this guy."

The next morning the father gathers the family around the kitchen table and tells the family, "I have failed you as a father. I am not offering a good enough story for our family to live by. Here's what we're going to do over the next two years: We're going to raise money to build orphanages for children in West Africa." And within three weeks, the daughter had dumped her jerk of a boyfriend.

No girl who plays the hero in her story chooses to date the loser. That girl wasn't in need of more rules or boundaries as much as many parents might think. She's in need of a larger, more beautiful story to live into.

I believe the gospel can become that story if we begin to share it with our kids in all of its boldness, danger, and wonder. We've domesticated the gospel and the kingdom so much that the culture is selling better stories than we are. And it's got to stop if we're going to see a vibrant church in the next generation.

Perhaps the church should watch more MTV. Not so that we can tell a more relevant story, but so we can understand what story our kids are buying into. The gospel is more compelling than Lady Gaga. But MTV's doing a better job than the church of telling its story.

It's time for the church to tell it's story again in compelling ways. Christianity and church are only boring when we domesticate the untamable message of the kingdom. So, let's take the shrink wrap off of our Bibles and allow our kids a chance to experience Jesus' untamed radical message.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010


For those of you who haven't subscribed to Littleton's podcast, we've been on an eternal journey through the book of Exodus. There are only 3 more Sundays in the series, which will end up being a 6 month process.

I love the book of Exodus. It's message must be heard by the church today. Our God is a God who stands with the poor and oppressed and frees his people. But as we've found out during the series, God doesn't free people to become autonomous. He frees them from taskmasters in order to serve the best master possible. As Paul says in Romans 1, we're going to be slaves to something. We might as well choose a loving God rather than an abusive overlord.

Anyway, this past Sunday was one of the best Sundays we've had during the series. It was awesome! The sermon was entitled "Creative Arks" (sometimes brilliant titles just come to me) out of Exodus 31:1-11 & 35:30-36:7.

In these passages, Bezalel is the first person in Scripture who is described as being filled with the Spirit of God. Now, why would God choose to give the Spirit first to a creative man who works with his hands?

Well, that leads me to another question. If we serve a creative God and have creative members created in the image of God, then why is church not considered the most creative place on earth?

The church has always been a bit leery of art. Christians certainly weren't encouraged to go to the theater in the early centuries. And then there was that whole thing about mutilating the nude statues all over Europe. For some reason, we've launched our creative people to do their creative projects in the secular world, but we can't imagine that has anything to do with our sacred rituals on Sunday morning. But God never separated the sacred and secular. That was our project.

And then there's those of us who don't think we have a creative bone in our body. Many of us don't think of ourselves as creative, but that's because we've conceived of creativity all wrong. We've confused creativity with artistry.

But let me assure you, not all artists are creative. Just because you're not artistic, doesn't mean you're not creative. And just because you are artistic doesn't mean you are creative. There are many artists out there who only imitate others because their fear of failing to step out and create on their own is so great that they never create the beautiful picture that God has born within them.

The interesting thing about creativity is that if you don't create what you were intended to create, it will never be created. You have a unique creation within you that won't be born if you don't create it. If Bheetoven wouldn't have written his 5th, it wouldn't have been written. If Leonaro da Vinci hadn't birthed the Mona Lisa, we wouldn't have her. If Michelangelo hadn't carved The David out of stone, it wouldn't exist. If Michael Jordan hadn't committed to basketball, we'd still hail another as the greatest to have ever played the game. If Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Dieterich Bonhoeffer hadn't stood against oppression, the kingdom would have never been unleashed to the same degree.

God created you to create. Don't let fear keep you from birthing the beautiful gift has born within you.

Sunday was the kind of service you pray will come together. We displayed quilts, photographs, paintings, books, stamps, and cross stitches that were each original creations from people within our congregation. Two youth group girls painted a picture as I was preaching. And the Spirit of God filled the room on Sunday.

The question is: Will the Spirit of God breathe life into dry bones Monday through Saturday?

Look around...You might just get your answer.


Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A Message For Those Waiting By the Phone

We all want to stand out. We all want to be known for something. We all want to be remembered when we die.

Perhaps that's why tattoos are so popular.

It's one of the main questions that people ask at the end of their lives. Did I make an impact? Will I be remembered? Did my life count for something?

Ministers happen to ask these questions as well. I don't think it matters what size church you find yourself in. You ask certain questions.

Am I making an impact on people's lives?
Would they even miss me if I were no longer at this church?
Why aren't we growing like we should?
We're growing in numbers, but is anyone looking more like Christ?

Perhaps our Children's Minister search process is prompting these questions right now. Currently, there are about at least 10 Churches of Christ larger than Littleton looking for Children's Ministers. However, there are very few candidates out there. You might say, "Good job security!" And you'd be right!

As I've reflected on this situation, I think there are several reasons why this is the case.
1) Most of the Children's Ministry degrees at our universities are quite new.
2) Many Children's Ministers were inside hires who were members before they were ministers. (They chose to attend the church before they worked there)
3) Many Children's Ministers' spouses make more than they do.
4) Many Children's Ministers' are there for the kids rather than waiting on the next big church to call.

Now, several of these items look like criticisms of ministers in other areas of church ministry. And unfortunately, too often they are. While many ministers find great satisfaction in the church they currently serve, there are also many ministers who are positioning themselves (by the phone) for the next phone call from the next big church.

Which is sad. If all you do in a church is preach sermons in order to be heard well by congregations that might be listening in, you shouldn't consider yourself a preacher. The point is not to climb the ladder. The point is to serve God's people. Ultimately, it's not about you. It's about God. But we often mistake the main character in our stories anyway.

Maybe we can learn something from our Children's Ministers. They aren't up front all of the time. They don't get the "atta boys" and "atta girls" that some of us in the more public roles receive. They go about their business loving kids and making an eternal impact.

It's easy to spend your time playing "Pity Party." It's a party that not that much fun and the food's not that good anyway.

So, hear this as an encouragement fellow ministers. You're making an impact. The size of your pulpit has nothing to do with God's power at work within you.

Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." But perhaps as ministers we need to hear this word, "Unless you become like Children's Ministers, you will never find joy in your ministry."

Discharge the duties of your ministry and you can be assured that you are making an impact. Serve your people well and you can be assured they will miss you if God ever calls you elsewhere. Lead people in the way of Christ with your teaching and example

There's always going to be a bigger church you can wait on (unless you're Joel Osteen). There will never be a more important group of people to minister to than the people God has put in your church!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Maddox's First Birthday

I want to start out by encouraging you to visit my wife's blog to see pictures from Maddox's first birthday party. She is the picture-taker, premier family blogger, and blog designer in my family. If pictures are what you're looking for, her website it the place to find it.

Being the preacher, I provide the prose and words to describe our lives through the lens of word pictures (Which is another way of saying I'm a lazy blogger who can type but lacks the skill to make this an incredible website, but I digress.)

I know every parent is proud of their child. I know every parent thinks he/or she is the best child that has ever lived. I get that. But it's important to sketch out these thoughts through a theological lens or we remain unaffected by the divine in special moments like this.

Today, is Maddox's first birthday. Just that fact brings back a flood of memories. The montage going on in my head goes something like this: Chili's on June 28th with our families, hospital for induction, waiting on Maddox, painful labor (What! It was tough for me too!), beautiful boy, tears, dreams, love, leaving the hospital scared to death, learning to be a father (physically), learning to be a father (in every other way), sleepless nights, swings, prayers, smiles, sitting up, crawling, standing, coos, giggles, cries, "dadda."

All of these words represent pictures in my mind. They're not just black letters on a screen. As I type them, emotion follows these words and pictures. Tears stream to my eyes as I think about this first year of fatherhood.

Let me just say, I'm crazy about Maddox. I love him so much and would do ANYTHING for him.

We want him to live a happy childhood, but more than that, we cannot wait until he confesses Jesus as his Lord in baptism. We cannot wait until he chooses servanthood over selfishness. We cannot wait until he dreams up kingdom dreams that scare us to death. We cannot wait until the world receives the gift that God has given to us in ways that will change the world forever. One year later, we still smile, love on him, and dream of what he will be. There will be a time when our dreams will shatter or become reality, but for now we dream and pray.

Our life has been changed forever by Maddox. My life has been changed forever by Maddox. My actions now impact him in more ways that I want to think. But that provides an incredible opportunity as well. Just as I've told my congregation, so I want Maddox to know the same thing. I want him to follow me as I follow Christ. And as humbling as that statement is, it's also the truth that I want to live out.

Our children don't just pick up God and follow him. They hear about God. They experience God. They see God in us. And eventually, they make their own choices. My prayer this morning is that through all five senses, Maddox would experience God through me. May he see Jesus in me. May he feel Jesus in me. May he hear Jesus in me. May he taste Jesus in me. May he smell Jesus in me.

Because ultimately, spirituality is not a disembodied experience. It's so natural. It finds itself in all of our senses. Our faith is an embodied faith. It's an earthy faith. And if Maddox is to ever pick up a kingdom lifestyle, it will be because of people in his life who choose to embody faith in real ways.

Maddox, your mother and I love you. We would do anything for you. We'll keep giving you bottles and keep you well fed. You might receive a toy or two in the future as well. But our most important gift we can give to you is to aid your five senses. God has given you those senses for a reason. Taste and see that the Lord is good!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

Update On Life

I'm regularly reminded by my sweet wife that theology is incredibly boring on a blog and family life is much more interesting. Judging by our hit counts on our blogs, I believe she's right. If you want to check out her blog, you can find it at: She does a much better job of updating people on our family.

But I do want to say that we are so blessed to be in the place we are in right now. We're at a stage in life where you just want to hit the slow motion and make sure life doesn't pass by so quickly.

Maddox will turn one on June 29th. It's hard to believe it's already been a year, but he's an incredible boy (I'm aware no parent has ever said that about their child). I love hearing his belly laughs and watching him grow into his personality. It's been a great 11 1/2 months and I'm so excited to watch him continue to grow. It's been a blast to be his father!

Holly and I are so glad to be in Colorado. We miss our families at times, but we're blessed to be in such a great area. Yes, God blessed Texas, but it's a little more obvious the ways he has blessed Colorado when I drive to work looking at the mountains every morning. We will be celebrating our 6th anniversary next month. I'm so blessed to be married to a woman who is a wonderful mother, an incredible spouse, and most importantly a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

The church work is going well. We're in the midst of a lot of staff transition right now, which is never easy, but I know God is at work in creating the staff he will work through at Littleton. God is doing great things and the people in our congregation are such a blessing in our lives!

All in all, life is good. We're training for a marathon, which is a big commitment, but we're well on our way. I have some book ideas I hope will become a reality some day. And preaching is the best possible profession God could have called me too!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reflections on 26 Years

I turned 26 in March, which has got me doing some thinking (I know, what's new?). In the past 10 years, everything in my life has changed. I guess most people should expect things to change over a decade. But in my last decade, there is almost nothing that has stayed the same.

10 years ago, in March of 2000:
-I was a junior in high school (reunion is coming up)
-I was single (I started dating Holly in December 2000)
-Tiger Woods was my idol (with a squeaky clean image)
-9/11 hadn't changed the world yet

It was a different world. We weren't afraid of terrorism. Golf was my life. I wondered if I'd ever find a girl who would date me.

Today, I can honestly say, I only agree with a handful of the things I believed when I was 16. My beliefs about everything have changed because of my encounter with Jesus Christ. In fact, if I were to have a debate with my 16 year old self, I think I would disagree on almost everything except my belief in Jesus Christ.

10 years ago:
-I was basically a dualist (everything was black and white)
-I believed heaven was where my disembodied soul would go
-I thought my money had little to do with my discipleship
-I was a Christian American caught up in nationalism
-I was a Church of Christ apologist
-I was a fundamentalist
-I was a homophobe
-I was solely concerned with my individual salvation

-I see many more shades of grey on many topics
-I believe God will restore all of creation and put the world to rights
-I struggle with how to best utilize the blessings God has given me
-I am a Christian who happens to live in America
-I am a committed to the Jesus story more than institutional religion
-I read Scripture as a story to live into
-I leave judgment to God and fulfill my role as a lover of people
-I am committed to the message of the kingdom of God and social justice

The list could go on, but that's enough to show the changes within me. I'm proud that I've come to a more holistic view of the Jesus story. I'm so glad I've found the message of the kingdom of God. Most of all, I'm glad I've found the story of Jesus compelling enough to give my life to.

But I've been thinking, the thoughts in my head have changed over the past 10 years, but how much has my behavior changed. The goal of the Jesus story is not just a perfected intellectual understanding of the Christian faith. We're called to live into this story in radical ways that change our actions and behavior. God wants to use the church, as his tool to put the world to rights. He's asked us to join him in his kingdom project.

So, I hope my thinking continues to grow and shift over the next decade of my life, but even more I hope my behavior catches up to my thinking about the kingdom. Because I know a lot more Bible than I do.

For the next decade, I'm committed to the message of Micah 6:8: "He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

I don't want to be a Christian who knows what to do, but fails to do it. The wise man in the Sermon on the Mount is the man who hears Jesus' words and puts them into practice, not the man who memorized and understood the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else. The man who knows the Sermon on the Mount backwards and forwards, but does none of it, is actually the foolish man.

When I look back at my 36th birthday, I hope I can say that justice, mercy, and walking humbly with God are ways I have grown.

I hope my life is a pursuit of justice for the poor and oppressed in significant ways. I hope my children will look at my life and know that I care deeply about social justice (regardless of what Glenn Beck might say about me). I hope this quest changes my standard of living and improves the standard for others. I want to break down systems of injustice in this world.

And I hope my kids will see mercy in my life. After all, if I've received mercy after mercy from my God, how can I be a harsh man with the people around me?

And I hope my kids see my humble relationship with God. I cannot lead them well if I'm not following God well.

So, here's to the next 10 years. May I continue to grow in knowledge, but may I most of all grow in my pursuit of justice, mercy, and relationship with my God.


Monday, May 03, 2010

Pepperdine Bible Lectures

Holly and I are making final preparations for our Pepperdine Lectures class. For anyone who will be out there, we will be teaching Wednesday morning at 8:30 in the Kresge Reading Room in Payson Library.

Our class topic is Let Freedom Ring (The Exodus: Good News or Bad News?). It will be interesting to teach with Holly because this is the first time we've ever taught together. And even for people at Littleton who have been listening to my sermon series, hearing Holly's thoughts on the Exodus will be well worth the price of admission. And if you get a chance, come to hear Littleton's praise team lead worship. I'll be leading communion for one of their worship times.

The Pepperdine Lectures are one of the great events in Churches of Christ. It's a highlight to my ministry year. Great location, incredible preaching, and needed fellowship! And this year, one of my favorite preachers, Jonathan Storment, gets a shot to address our movement. God's got great things in store!

We're very excited (and maybe a little nervous). Malibu, CA is a tough place to go to a conference, but somebody's got to do it!


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Of God's Kingdom

OK, OK, I know. A blog is meant for blogging. I plan to do a better job. Here is the last post of my series on Littleton's vision. I've got some things on the horizon, so check back.

Of God's Kingdom.

I've grown up in a world of practical atheism. No, my parents didn't brainwash to believe God wasn't active in the world! No, my private school education was not a surreptitious attempt to steal faith from the next generation. No, our Church of Christ was not a radical group with deistic tendencies.

What I mean is, I was slowly, through the use of propaganda, brought to the place where I believed God didn't interact in the world. Sure, I prayed and was taught to pray. But when it really (and I mean REALLY) came down to it, I believed God didn't interact in the world. More on that in a minute.

In the first century, there were four main groups of Jews. The Pharisees, the Herodians, the Essenes, and the Zealots. Each of these groups lived during a time when the Roman Empire had its boot on their necks. They were all asking one major question: How is God going to liberate us? They all had different answers to that question.

The Pharisees believed that a recommitment to the morality of God's law would secure their freedom. They thought, "If we could perfect our lives in concert with Torah, God will send a liberator to free us from the Romans."

The Herodians took a different viewpoint. They were the political realists of their day. They thought, "No one can defeat the Romans, so if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." So they bowed down to Caesar and tried to use the political system to bring change.

The Essenes were the Amish of a previous time. They sought to leave the evil of the city by moving out into the wilderness to create a "holy ghetto" away from the world.

The Zealots were violent revolutionaries who hoped God would support them in their zealous attempt to overthrow Rome. They got their guns, tanks, and planes and were ready to go to war. Their hero was King David and they were ready to go slay Goliath (Rome).

Today, we can still see similarities between these groups and current day attempts to ask the question, "How will God liberate us?" We, in Churches of Christ, know about the Pharisees. We know all too well about those who seek to use politics in order to make God's kingdom tangible among us today. "Holy ghettos" still pop up on our religious landscape. And violence is still a means some religious people think of using to advance God's kingdom.

But one look at the life of Jesus shows that he doesn't join any of these ideologies. Instead of joining the Pharisees, Herodians, Essenes, or Zealots, he came declaring a new kingdom that has nothing to do with any of these groups. He announces the kingdom of God on the earth. He prays for the kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven.

The kingdom has been misinterpreted so many times throughout history. It's been equated with the church. We've seen it as something that we build. At times, it's even been an earthly political kingdom (which is so antithetical to the life of Jesus).

But the kingdom of God that Jesus announced rejects the ways of the world. It lays down power rather than taking it up. It lays down the sword rather than using it to advance itself. Through the kingdom, Jesus is inviting us into a better way of being human than we've lived out before. The kingdom of God is an alternative to the ways of the Empire.

Now, what does this kingdom business have to do with growing up in a world of practical atheism? I'm glad you asked.

I'm amazed how much of my life and ministry could be done without God. Have you ever asked yourself the question, "What huge kingdom dreams am I currently a part of that I couldn't possibly do without God stepping in?" What plans are you making that are so big that God would have to step in to make those plans a reality? We live such puny lives because many of us have become practical atheists who don't even need God in order to live our lives.

Other than your salvation, how would your life be any different if God wasn't actually in your life?

I'm amazed how often my thinking is so small because I don't believe God is going to do anything. It's all on my shoulders, so I get desperate and act in ways that are inconsistent with the way of Jesus.

Every sin is an act committed (or omitted) because we don't believe God can step in and give us a better life. We're practical atheists. Every act of violence occurs because we've lost the imagination that God might step into our world.

At Littleton, we want to pattern our lives after the kingdom of God rather than the kingdoms of this world. So, we're building an imagination again about what God can do. We're trusting in the ways of the kingdom found in Matthew 5-7. It's a journey, but it's better than practical atheism.

The kingdom of God is about radical trust and belief in a God who inaugurated his reign in Jesus Christ and who will bring his reign to fullness in the new heavens and the new earth. Come, Lord Jesus.

May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Pursuit

In Pursuit.

It's seems like a strange phrase to strain out of our vision statement. At first, I wondered how I could preach a sermon on such a small, seemingly insignificant phrase, but I've found it to be crucial to what it means to be the people of God.

We believe that God has called this church to more than just settling down without a vision. We believe that God is calling this church to pursue something larger than ourselves. We're called to love God and go love people.

The word "pursuit" reminds me of the language of journey and movement. It's not stagnant. Pursuit means we are after something. But pursuit also means risk.

When you pursue a degree, you risk wasting money and failing.
When you pursue a career, you risk the many other options of careers that might be more comfortable.
When you pursue a spouse, you risk your heart in the process.

But anything worth pursuing implies the risk of losing what we had before.

In Hebrews 11, we find what we've always called the "Hall of Faith." We read name after name of people who have followed God faithfully no matter the circumstances. But when I begin to read this chapter closely, I notice that the chapter has a lot of language related to "pursuit, journey, and camping."

I think this principle can be tested: God's people at their most faithful have been people who are on the move who realize they have not arrived. The times we are most unfaithful are the times we begin to build our hopes, dreams, and realities in a city that does not last that we do not call home.

When the Israelites set their tent pegs in the ground tightly, they begin to want to look like their neighbors. They follow after foreign gods. And in 1 Samuel 8, they want a king just like all of the other nations. Yahweh was their king, but that wasn't good enough because the other nations had kings. In that chapter, God warns Israel what will happen with a king, but they settle for a human king anyway.

Over and over again, the people of God have settled in a city and God has had to "put them on the journey" again to get them moving. They settle in Egypt because there's a famine, and God's boots them out through Moses. They settle in the Promised Land and God has to use a time of exile in Babylon to get them moving again. The church settles in Jerusalem despite the Great Commission, which command them to go into all the world, and it takes the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD before they move out again.

And today in North America, we're facing another time of unsettledness. For 1600 years, since the days of Emperor Constantine, the church has enjoyed a time in Christendom when the church and state have gotten along well in the West. For over a millennium and a half, the church enjoyed its place at the center of culture, with its tent pegs tightly in the ground. But I think we're beginning to see signs that God is loosening our tent pegs.

So the question is: Will we fight God's "hint to us" and fight our way back to the center of culture or will we choose to journey with God again in the wilderness as we become faithful on the journey again.

We, as a church, desire to be on the journey of God. Wherever he wants to take us is the place we desire to dwell.

And then there's this incredible verse at the end of Hebrews 11:

"These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only with us would THEY be made perfect."

Now, that's a verse you've got to sit with for a minute. All of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 are waiting on us to receive what was promised.

We have a part in their story! In Scripture, we don't just read about past times when God worked through people. Somehow, he's planning to use us to finish the stories we read about in Scripture. Through the power of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit, God is continuing to journey with us.

So, yes...we're in pursuit!


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

For Missional Living

For Missional Living.

One of the first questions I asked in my interview with Littleton was, "If Littleton was to close its doors, would your immediate neighborhood be impacted at all?"

This question haunts me at night. We're mainly a regional church. So much of our growth over the years has come from transfer growth from the South. But what kind of impact are we making on our neighborhood?

The Message (Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible) says it so well in John 1:14 - "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood." God, himself, who created all things moved into a specific location on the earth. He lived, moved, and ministered in a neighborhood. God understood, in Jesus Christ, that no ministry is one-size-fits-all. It's specific to culture, language, and location. So, Jesus was born a poor Jew in the first century during the reign of Herod and Caesar, which should be important to us.

For years, ministers have gone to conferences and tried to implement the next great fad to help their church grow. We've thought, "If one church (Saddleback, Willow Creek, etc.) grew in this way, then we, too, can grow in the same way. So, ministers tirelessly go to conferences to stay current on the next great "church growth" strategy. And I believe churches have grown tired of following fad after fad trying to grow.

But God has called us, as the body of Christ, to move into the neighborhood again. We're not looking for the next great parcel of land in the spreading suburbs that will multiply our numbers and make us look great. At the Littleton Church, we're committed to our neighborhood and seeing that God's kingdom will come and his will be done in this neighborhood as it is in heaven. We've moved into the neighborhood and we're not going anywhere.

Now, that decision means that we will have to get to know our neighborhood better. Demographic studies aren't going to help us impact our neighborhood. What will change our neighborhood is when our people get to know our neighbors. Change will happen when we enter our neighbor's lives, sit at their tables, and listen to the way the Spirit is inviting a new imagination about being church in this context.

In their book "Introducing the Missional Church," Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren, have talked about the church's mission like this:

"The task of the local church in our present situation is to reenter our neighborhoods, to dwell with and to listen to the narratives and the stories of the people. We are to do this not as a strategy for getting people to church but because that is how God comes to us in Jesus, loving us without putting strings on the relationship. It will be in these kinds of relationships that we will hear all the clues about what the Spirit is calling us to do as the church in that place. But this is not a strategy we take to a context; it is a way of life we cultivate in a place where we belong."

Now, wouldn't that change your church! Imagine that! What if the church stopped worrying about growth at any cost and starting thinking about impacting the neighborhood.

Have you ever thought about Jesus' impact on the earth. He could have had a greater impact by traveling all over the world in a jet sharing his message of good news with those in the Western Roman Empire and the Far East, but instead, he chose to stay in an area about the size of New Jersey. It's not the large-scale mission plan we might have thought up.

Christ moved into the neighborhood and eventually changed the world. Perhaps the church needs to take its cues from Jesus. It's time for us to move into the neighborhood and perhaps God will change the world again!


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lamenting For Haiti

Today, was an incredible day at church. It was one of the best in the year and a half I've been at Littleton.

We had a lament service.

I know. I know. It's not what you would expect would be my favorite Sunday. More than anything, it felt good to be honest and relevant with our feelings today. Today the masks came off.

While there are many benefits to worshipping with the lectionary, today provided the opportunity to stop and lament for the tragedies going on in our own lives and across the Gulf of Mexico in Haiti. It's inauthentic to worship God blindly in the midst of such tragedy and we resisted the opportunity to go on with our lives as if we didn't even notice the pain around us.

So, today we started with a reading of Psalm 42, a lament psalm. There are more lament psalms than any other genre of psalms. Yet, for some reason, we don't know how to do lament. After reading Psalm 42, we spent a congregational time in prayer together.

After the silence, I preached on theodicy, the problem of evil. Some of the questions I sought to deal with were:
-If God is so good, why is his world so bad?
-If an all-loving, all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a poor job of it?
-Why do bad things happen to bad people.

These questions have plagued me at several points on my journey.

After 9/11, I wondered how God could cause/allow such evil to go on in New York. When my grandmother died, I wondered how God could fail to listen to the faithful prayers of my mother. And when Stevie (a boy in our youth group) died, I wondered how God could bring any good out of such a young death.

Today, I think the problem wasn't God's faithfulness. I think the problem was my skewed expectations of God. I'm now convinced that one of the most fatal flaws to faith is bad theology.

There are some competing religious voices that try to explain how God works in the midst of suffering and chaos in our lives:
1) Deism says that "God does nothing in the world." He created the world, but since that act, he's just waiting for it to stop spinning.

2) Calvinism is a very popular view that is gaining a lot of ground in certain circles. (While I consider Calvinists to be my brothers and sisters, I am very uncomfortable with their view of God's action in the world when it comes to suffering.) Calvinism says that "God does everything in the world." Somehow, in the end, you have to trust that the blessings and tragedies with make sense in the end. But make no mistake, God creates hurricanes and heals diseases. The atheists are having a hay-day with this view right now. The problem of evil is especially a problem if evil comes directly from God.

I'm suspicious of both of these views because this God has no appreciation for what he has created and this God isn't worth trusting.

But I think Jesus offers a third way of looking at how God deals with suffering. He admits that pain and suffering are real (In this world you will have trouble), and the genius of Christianity is not that God omits suffering from the baptized, but that God comes near and suffers with us. He's not the God who causes suffering, he's the God who hears the cries of the oppressed and mourns with them. He's the God who sent his only Son into the world to suffer for the sake of the world, so that he could redeem it.

Romans 8:28 has it right. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Now, this is one of the most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture. It doesn't mean God is changing circumstances in order to bless his people. It's saying that God can crawl into any situation, no matter how hopeless it looks, and do his work of redemption. God will work IN ALL THINGS (good or bad) to reconcile the world to himself.

God isn't doing everything in the world. He's doing something WITH everything in the world! And that's good news, Amen!

Tragedy is still tragedy. Only time will tell what God will do with Haiti, but I still believe one thing. Nothing is beyond the scope of God's redemption. Nothing!


Monday, January 04, 2010

Committed to Being Formed

Our church is committed to being formed.

Now, that's not how our original vision statement read. It originally read "A Christ-centered community committed to forming disciples..." That's good, but it misses a good deal of the point.

You might ask, "Why is transformation important? I thought we were in the business of "saving souls." Well, we certainly believe conversion important, but more and more, I'm beginning to see conversion as more of a process than an event.

In Scripture, salvation is bigger than baptism. There are three important emphases of salvation in Scripture:
1) We have been saved at the cross and the resurrection.
2) We will be saved when Christ returns to the earth.
3) But there's a third emphasis we rarely focus on. We are being saved!

Acts 2:46-47: "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were BEING SAVED."

1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are BEING SAVED it is the power of God."

Salvation has a past, present, and future sense to it. It's rooted in an historical event, waiting on a second coming, and in process in those who have chosen Jesus as their Lord. It's this present sense that spiritual formation focuses on.

The Western Church has thought in either/or terms for so long. And when it comes to spiritual formation there are basically two camps:

One camp says that we are the main actors in our transformation. It's as if we're saved by what we do and changed by the actions we take. You have to do more, work more, and become perfect on your own. Have you ever heard this message before?

The other camp says we can do nothing to jump start our transformation because it's all the work of God. He's elected and predestined certain individuals for salvation and transformation.

I'd like to take a both/and approach. Transformation is the work of God. As much as we want to think we can "pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps," it takes the fruit of the Spirit to develop an authentic life of faith. God is certainly involved in the process. A caterpillar can’t become a butterfly by behaving like one. Nor can butterflies give butterfly lessons to caterpillars. People cannot change themselves, and spiritual leaders cannot do it for them.

But on the other hand, it's also not a passive process. Christian history is full of people who have submitted themselves to the spiritual disciplines and have seen God's grace at work through them. We have to be committed to spiritual formation as a process or we won't be changed.

In other words, “Only God can bring about change, but he never chooses to do it alone!”

So, I like our statement now much better. At the Littleton Church of Christ, we are committed to being formed.