Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Year of Summiting the Mount

(This blog post is reposted from, a weekly blog that I wrote in 2012 as I preached through the Sermon on the Mount at the Littleton Church of Christ. Below is my reflection and resources from the year.)

1 year.
12 months.
366 was a leap year.
8,784 hours.
527,040 minutes. 

All of it spent dwelling in three chapters of the Bible. Matthew 5, 6 & 7. 

It's changed my life. I'll never preach again without the Sermon on the Mount influencing everything I say. I'll never be able to walk through life again without snippets of this sermon floating around in my head. 

I'm grateful. I needed this sermon this year. Our church needed this sermon this year. 

But as I place my commentaries and resources from this series back on my bookshelf, I find myself a bit saddened. These books and these red letters have been my companions for the past 12 months. 

I believe the Sermon on the Mount is the center of Scripture. It's Jesus' central message. It's the life we're called to live as followers of Jesus. It's "The Good Life." 

It seems impossible. But at the moment I sense the sermon's hardest pinch in my life, I'm relieved to listen again to the first word out of Jesus' mouth in chapter 5...


And that's the way I feel at the end of 2012. 

If you've spent the year wandering through Matthew 5-7 with me, feel free to use this as a resource in the future. Pass it on to friends and loved ones. 

If you're stumbling upon this blog for the first time in this post, perhaps you'd like to start a similar journey through the Sermon on the Mount this year. The thoughts and questions found on this blog are just bread crumbs I've left for you to find your way toward "The Good Life" that Jesus offers.

Let me conclude with the list of resources I used this year as we journeyed through the Sermon on the Mount.

-Matthew 5-7 (the indispensable words of Jesus)
-Living the Sermon on the Mount - Glen Stassen
-The Divine Conspiracy - Dallas Willard
-The Good and Beautiful Life - James Bryan Smith
-Heaven on Earth - Josh Graves & Chris Seidman
-Lucky - Glenn Packiam
-Matthew and the Margins - Warren Carter
-Matthew For Everyone - N. T. Wright
-Various Commentaries - (Word Biblical Commentary & Interpretation)


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 10

10 posts. I thought it would be about 4, but I could have written 20.

I'm guessing this series has unsettled some of you.

I'm hopeful that this series has suggested a way forward that you might consider personally and in your church.

Now, let me end with a few cautions.

First, my proposal is likely very exciting for a younger generation that is caught in the midst of a postmodern shift. Any reading of Scripture that doesn't leave room for a diversity of interpretations will likely sound too narrow for those of you in that group. Be careful about your excitement. Check your motives.

Second, if this series has frightened you about the future of Churches of Christ, part of your discomfort probably derives from a fear that Churches of Christ might depart from the Truth (capital "T"). We had it right. Why do you young people have to come in and destroy what was working? Let me say: Your voice is needed.

Here comes the hard part.

Though it might have sounded like it at times in my blog series, I am not suggesting that we move toward a "Reader-Response Hermeneutic." A Reader-Response Hermeneutic isn't interested in what the original author intended to say...the work of exegesis. That hermeneutic suggests that the reader shouldn't seek to find meaning in the text, but instead the reader comes to the text to create meaning. In other words, however the text impacts the reader is the meaning of the text to that reader.

In reality, many of us do this when we read the text in our devotional time. We hear things in the text that couldn't have possibly been intended by Jesus or the Apostle Paul. Context is vitally important! If it's not, I wasted 6 years of my life in Abilene, Texas.

In the end, we don't declare our biases so that we can read the text independently from others and come up with our own opinions.

That's not why I've written this blog series.

Instead, we do the hard work of making our biases more conscious and more faithful to the story of Scripture so that we can engage in the reading of Scripture more honestly as a member of the Body of Christ.

Somewhere we came up with the idea that we check our church's decisions and judge them against our own notions about what church should be like. Does the preacher agree with me? Is worship done in a way that I agree with? Does worship move me emotionally?

When we allow those questions to determine what church we attend, we end up sitting in the pew with  people who share the same racial background, socioeconomic level, theological tendencies, and watch the same cable news channel.

But I'm suggesting that individuals should do the opposite. We should submit our biases to the community of faith...not the other way around.

I think I'm right about everything. I believe if the church would just do everything I tell them to do, we would be in a better place. I believe that my interpretation of Scripture is the same as God's intent in every case.

And I bet you do too.

But I'm not right about everything. I'm guessing, I'm wrong about a lot.

And that's why God gave us the church.

I am part of a generation that doesn't trust the church all that much. The church is a messy place. The church is part of the reason why unbelievers continue to reject Jesus. We're anything but perfect.

But I do believe something mysterious happens in a church that communally discerns through the power of the Holy Spirit. I do believe God works in a church that allows diverse, godly voices to interpret Scripture together.

The Old Hermeneutic (command, example, necessary inference) never really worked. It was supposed to be a way to agree to agree. But we find ourselves more divided than ever.

I'm suggesting a new hermeneutic. It's a hermeneutic that admits that we pick and choose. It's a hermeneutic full of bias. It's a hermeneutic of vulnerability where we submit our biases as openly as we can to the community of faith.

But ultimately, a new hermeneutic is useless unless we intend to read Scripture with the intent of being changed by what we read.

So, get a Bible and read. You might be surprised by what you find. And you might be surprised by what you become.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 9

In this post, I want to suggest a model for how you might begin to make your biases more conscious.

A few years ago, I began to notice some consistent patterns in my interpretation of Scripture.

I noticed there were passages of Scripture that I turned to more often than others. Today, those continue to be the Scriptures that I superimpose (You can read more about this in Part 4) onto other passages when conflict arises in my interpretation.

But I admit that my theology is influenced by many factors. I'm certain that I have blind spots and I'm guessing my biases will continue to be shaped in the years to come. Ultimately, I'm depending on the grace of God to cover my sin and errors in my theology.

I truly believe I'm right about everything. If I didn't think I was correct, I would change my mind. Few people consciously choose to be in error. Usually those people have some kind of of mental condition.

And if I'm intellectually honest, I have to admit that certain parts of Scripture that if taken on their own would disagree with my theology.

So, I developed a list of Scriptures that support my hermeneutical biases and a list that contradicts my theological biases.

Now, that seems counterintuitive because we're so used to arguing for our side that we intentionally hide parts of Scripture that disagree with us. But I believe admitting weaknesses in our theology keeps us more accountable to the positions we hold.

So, here's my list. I won't describe how each of these texts supports/disagrees with my theology, but I'd be glad to chat with any of you who want to discuss my list in more detail...especially if you are interested in creating a similar list of your own.

Core Scriptures (Passages that support my core theology)
Genesis 1-2
Genesis 12:1-3
Exodus 14:15-31
1 Samuel 8
Isaiah 2:1-5
Isaiah 11
Isaiah 55
Isaiah 65:17-25 
Daniel 7:13-28
Matthew 5-7
Matthew 25:31-46
Mark 1:14-15
Luke 4:18-21
Acts 15:1-35
Romans 8
1 Corinthians 15:3-8
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11; 1 Cor. 12:13 
Philippians 2:5-11
Hebrews 1:1-3
Hebrews 13:11-14
James 1:27
Revelation 18
Revelation 21-22

Problem Scriptures (Passages that trouble me or seemingly contradict my core theology)
Genesis 22:1-19
Deuteronomy 7:1-2
Deuteronomy 20
Deuteronomy 28:1-14
Joshua 6:16-17
Joshua 11:7-23
Matthew 10:34
Matthew 17:20-21; John 16:23-24
1 Corinthians 14:33b-35
1 Timothy 2:11-15
1 Peter 2:13-18
Revelation 19:11-21

Thoughts? You're welcome to leave your list as well.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 8

While I have many more biases I could develop, my three main hermeneutical biases are:

1) Privilege Jesus over all else in Scripture.
2) Privilege a metanarrative of God's eventual plan to restore all of creation.
3) Privilege a hermeneutic that results in love.

Many attempts have been made to deconstruct the Old Hermeneutic (command, example, necessary inference) that dominated Churches of Christ throughout the 20th century. In my first couple of posts in this series, I shared why that way of reading Scripture didn't work for its original purpose: unity.

My goal from the beginning of this blog series has been to create an alternative proposal for how we might read Scripture faithfully in the years to come.

In this blog series, I've attempted to show you that we all "pick and choose" in our interpretation of Scripture. We all have experiences and personal biases that impact the way we read the Bible.

In my last 3 posts, I've tried to model what we can begin to do in our churches as we read Scripture within a faith community. I have made some of my biases public so that they can be scrutinized and critiqued by others. Because the worst thing we can do is allow our biases to operate subconsciously or secretly as we maintain the illusion that we interpret Scripture free from any bias at all.

And my hope is that more of us would be willing to allow our biased hermeneutic to be challenged and critiqued within the community of faith. But this can only happen as others are willing to submit their own biased hermeneutic. This project cannot succeed if everyone is unwilling to admit their assumptions as they approach Scripture. But it can be incredibly powerful if a group of church leaders were willing to vulnerably "show their cards" as they discern Scripture together.

Perhaps it would change our elderships like it did one of my small groups a couple of years ago. Over a series of 10 Wednesday nights, each group member shared our faith stories. We shared deep wounds and great triumphs. It took one brave member who "got real" on the first night and each person was willing to go even deeper as we processed our lives together.

And let me tell you this: It's much harder to pass judgment when you know someone's story. And it's impossible to pass judgment when you bear your own soul to that same group of people. All of a sudden, you understand how life circumstances can shape a person's theology to be a bit different from yours. And over time, you realize that God gifts a church with diverse people for wonderful reasons.

And that's the dynamic that has to occur in our elder/staff meetings.

What would happen if we stopped coming to meetings armed to do battle with Scripture and started coming together to discern God's future for the church vulnerably with our wounds, stories, and biases well known to everyone in the circle?

Would you be willing to share your biases in that setting? How would that experience change your church?

In the next post, I'll suggest a model for how we might make think through our biases more systematically.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 7

My third hermeneutical bias is to read Scripture with a bias of love.

Now, that might sound sentimental or nice, but it's not a goal that everyone sets out to accomplish.

I've heard it before from segments of Churches of Christ. "Of course we're supposed to love people. I love people...enough to tell them what's going to send them to hell."

That's one perspective on love. And it's a true question that gets at part of what love is about. But there's more to love than just letting people know when they're well on their way to burn in hell eternally.

One thing I've noticed in my life is that knowledge doesn't necessarily make people more loving. Paul says it this way in 1 Corinthians 8:1b: "Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Spend a day attending classes in any theological seminary and you'll see how relevant Paul's words are. I've been there.

Shane Claiborne says it this way: "I've learned that people can be right and still be mean!"

And to that I'd like to add: "You can be correct, yet if you have not love, you are wrong."

Because the aim of Scripture isn't for us to know more about the Bible. The aim of Scripture is for us to look more like the God behind the Bible, who just happens to be described as a God of love.

Later in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes a wedding homily for all of us in the 21st century. Paul says,

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Ouch! On second thought, I don't think that's the preamble to Paul's wedding sermon. It's a stinging critique of people who are using God-given gifts without the required Christian ingredient: love.

And we might not have musical instruments on stage in many Churches of Christ, but I'm certain Paul would be much more concerned about the "clanging cymbals" of ministers and members who condone hate and division under the banner of "speaking the truth in love."

John puts it plainly in 1 John 4:7-8: "Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love."

Our reading of Scripture ought to produce a certain kind of person. What kind of fruit is our hermeneutic producing? The more we spend time with Scripture, the more loving we ought to be.


Monday, December 03, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 6

My second hermeneutical bias is to interpret Scripture in light of God's restoration of all things.

What do I mean? Let me explain...

Many of us make an error when we read Scripture. Many people start reading their Bibles in Genesis 3 and stop reading them in Revelation 20. OK...not literally. Every Bible begins with Genesis 1 and ends with Revelation 22, but we act as if the main storyline of Scripture disregards the first two and last two chapters of the Bible.

What do I mean? Let me explain...

If I were to ask you to explain the gospel (good news) to me, what story would you tell? It's a crucial question. And your answer ought to deeply impact the way you interpret the text.

Most current explanations of the gospel answer the question: "What must I do to be saved?" So, the good news goes something like this: Humans have sinned and been separated from God. On our own, we are unable to pay our debt, so God sent Jesus as a substitute sin offering so our relationship with God could be reestablished.

The old song describes this view well. "He paid a debt he did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away...Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay."

The problem is where this version of the gospel starts reading Scripture. It begins in Genesis 3 rather than Genesis 1. Genesis 3 presents the problem. And the rest of Scripture is trying to fix the problem.

But did you notice who the main character is in that story? Somehow I became the main character in the story. God is a supporting actor who works to makes me acceptable again.

It's a gospel of personal salvation. It's a gospel of justification.

But what if that's not the whole story?

What if the story actually began in Genesis 1? Then, the story doesn't begin with a begins with a vision of a good world. And if the story ends in Revelation 22, then maybe this story isn't primarily about me. Then, it would be about the entire world, which incidentally happens to include every one of us.

Give me a hearing...

The Bible begins in a garden...a perfect garden. And God calls his creation good. And when he creates humans, he calls us good. And once Adam finds Eve, he calls it all very good.

But things go badly wrong. These good humans rebel. It starts with a piece of fruit, but it quickly escalates into murder...which escalates into every inclination of people's hearts being evil all the time. Several relationships fall into disaster (God & humans, creation & humans, humans & humans). The world is now broken and in need of repair.

In Genesis 3, the curse is announced. And while many have concluded the curses are prescriptive. I don't see them that way. I believe they are descriptive. Once sin is unleashed on the world, tornadoes begin to wreak havoc, men tend to treat women as property, and work becomes our taskmaster.

But God never intended those consequences would last forever. He had in mind a community that would begin to reverse those consequences. And if you believe those curses shouldn't be reversed, then be sure to get rid of your epidurals (Gen. 3:16) and fertilizer (Gen. 3:17).

And so in an effort to reverse the curse, God covenants with Israel as his contrast community. Israel is to be a community unlike any other nation in the world. Rather than Israel dominating the world, God longed for his people to fascinate the world. But soon enough, they looked like all of the other nations. And then they were exiled and lived among the nations.

But God...clearly the 2 most important words in Scripture...but God sent his son Jesus into the world to live a life of contrast in ways that Israel never could. Jesus was the exact representation of God's being.  He announced and incarnated the Kingdom of God, which is the perfect reign of God in the world.

And through Jesus' resurrection, a new power was unleashed that made it possible for a contrast community (the church) to emerge that could live as the new humanity. Jesus called his church to live as a sign and foretaste of heaven on earth. We pray heaven to earth and we invite the Holy Spirit to bring heaven to earth through us. And that's why we consider ourselves like exiles and aliens who have our citizenship in heaven.

Yet, our hope still lies on the horizon. Because we dream of a day when God will restore everything back to the way he intended it in the beginning.

Which takes us back to Revelation 21 & 22. In the end, Scripture doesn't describe an other-worldly existence on the clouds with harps and chocolate fountains. In fact, the goal isn't to escape the earth and go to heaven, as I grew up imagining. Instead, Revelation 21 describes a picture of the New Jerusalem descending to the earth from above.

In the end, despite the Left Behind series and its message, God doesn't seem to want to create World War III. Instead, he fulfills the hopes of the prophets who describe a day when the wolf and lamb will feed together, swords will be turned into plowshares, and we will train for war no more.

So, how do we live? We live bearing witness to the world on its way. We give people a taste of heaven on earth. We live like Jesus.

And that has everything to do with how I interpret Scripture.

It's why Galatians 3:26-28 is such a crucial passage in my theology. Without the metanarrative I've laid out, it's easy to read Scripture in a way that supports slavery. It's even possible to read Scripture in a way that urges racism and tribalism. And in the minds of many, Scripture still supports a hierarchy, which relegates women to second class status in the church.

In Galatians 3:26-28, Paul argues that in God's new creation there will be no more racism, slavery, or gender hierarchy. Because we will all be one in Christ Jesus.

Unfortunately, the culture has led the way in fulfilling Galatians 3:26-28 ahead of the church.

It wasn't the church leading the battle against racism in all of its forms. Even today, 10:00 on Sunday morning is the most racially divided hour in our culture. And the church defends segregation on Sunday mornings in the name of "Church Growth."

It wasn't the church that led the Abolitionist Movement. Many preachers were writing sermons defending slavery rather than pointing the way toward God's future.

And all too often the church isn't lessening the divide between genders. We're perpetuating the curse rather than reversing it through our public silencing of the gifts of half of our church. And the body of Christ is worse for it. Culture is ahead of us again.

It should not be this way! The church should be the contrast community that points the world to heaven, but instead, we've followed the very culture we're called to fascinate.

Heaven is on its way. And it's the church's role to live into God's future. We are to put heaven on display to the world.

And that's a bias that's not just about me. It's about the entire world.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 5

My first hermeneutical bias is to privilege Jesus over all else in Scripture.

I guess I can't take for granted that a bias is a good thing. Because some of you are thinking, "Doesn't it say somewhere that 'All Scripture is God-breathed...'" Yes it does.

But Jesus (again I'm privileging him anyway) says in Matthew 23:23, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former." Other translations translate the underlined portion as "weightier matters."

And Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..."

Apparently, Scripture is not a flat text. There are more important and less important matters, though all of Scripture is God-breathed.

Now, privileging Jesus seems like an obvious move, but as I argued in post 4, I'm amazed at how many people don't practice this bias.

Bear with me as I spit some Christology...

Hebrews 1:1-3 is one of the most important sections of Scripture for me. In verse 3, God says that Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God's being. That's a huge statement! In ages past, God spoke through the prophets. But in Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself in human form.

And here's the scandal of the incarnation: It's not just that Jesus is like God; it's that God is like Jesus. If that's not scandalous enough, then listen to this: If it can't be said of Jesus, it can't possibly be true of God.

For all of you mathematicians, here's the equation:

God = Jesus; Jesus = God

Now, that statement has implications. Because it's one thing to use God as a standard of judgment, but to use a 1st-century Jewish man as a standard of measurement against which we understand God is a whole different level altogether. But that's what the text says. "Jesus is the exact representation of God's being."

Wow! If that's true, then there are certainties I now have about God.

On the other hand, there are some tensions I now have to deal with if I hold that statement to be true. Because to be honest, there are parts of Scripture describing God that don't seem to be things that Jesus would do or command.

For instance, I have a hard time with passages like 1 Samuel 15:3 where God commands the Israelites to completely destroy (including women, children, and infants) the Amalekites. I can't imagine those words coming out of Jesus' mouth. How is it possible to square those words with the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:38-48, a passage commanding his followers to nonviolence and love of enemies? (I know there are people who have tried to square those words, but I believe it is impossible.)

That passage might not be the point of tension for you. But I'm guessing there's a point of tension somewhere in Scripture that makes it hard to square descriptions of God with Jesus, who is the exact representation of God.

Marcion certainly felt the tension. Marcion was an early Christian bishop who rejected the deity described in the Old Testament as inferior to the God of the New Testament. That's certainly one way to deal with this tension, but it's a route that will get you branded as a heretic (just like Marcion was).

Now, if I'm going to privilege Jesus and his words in my reading of Scripture, there's another issue.

Which Jesus are you going to privilege?

Education Jesus?
Charismatic Jesus?
Social justice Jesus?
Hippie Jesus?
Bible thumpin' Jesus?
Hipster Jesus?
Psychology Jesus?
Rambo Jesus?
Republican Jesus?
Democrat Jesus?

George Bernard Shaw once said, "God created man in His image and then man returned the favor."

Have you ever noticed that Jesus just happens to agree with you...about everything?
-He would heal the people you think he should.
-He would vote like you.
-He would spend money like you do.
-He would would root for the same sports teams that you do.

Anne Lamott once said, "You know you've created Jesus in your image when he hates all the same people you do."

There are many counterfeit Jesuses out there to choose from. We do it all the time.

But if we truly want to privilege Jesus, then we need to form a clear understanding of who Jesus truly is. And the only way to do that is to drink deeply in the gospels.

And that's why I preached through the Gospel of Mark for 6 months soon after I arrived at Littleton. It's also why we spent all year in the Sermon on the Mount as a congregation.

If we are going to be Jesus' followers, we had better know exactly who we are following.

And that's why any time I am studying with a seeker, I'm not going to take them through a 5-lesson study about justification in the Book of Romans. Instead, we are going to spend time in a gospel getting to know Jesus.

Because the last thing I want is for someone to become a Christian and be unclear about who Christ is.

So, my first bias is to hand Jesus the trump card. If there's anything in Scripture that conflicts with the teaching and life of Jesus, I'm consciously choosing to superimpose Jesus over those texts.

What implications would this bias have if you were to take it on? Thoughts?


Sunday, November 18, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 4

Assuming we all pick and choose in our reading of Scripture as I argued in post 2 and Scripture is a multivocal conversation as I argued in post 3, where does that leave us in our interpretation?

It means we have to take sides. I could say that in a more diplomatic way, but that's the reality.

None of us (including me) are exempt from reading Scripture with a bias. Our family of origin, church of origin, life experiences, and the people who have taught us to read Scripture have all played a role in how we read Scripture.

And that bias leads us to privilege certain texts. And when we privilege those texts, we superimpose our favored texts on top of other texts when studying a topic.

Churches of Christ emerged from a religious tradition called the Restoration Movement, or the Stone-Campbell Movement. Ours was a movement that sought to do everything like the 1st-century church did. The Bible was our only creed. And the focus of our restoration centered on our worship.

Can you guess which texts our movement favored in that task? We favored Paul. Yes, we also focused on the Book of Acts, but when we had a question about worship, we focused on Paul's epistles.

Some segments of our movement went as far as to argue for a dispensational view of Scripture that favored Acts-Revelation over the rest of Scripture. In some minds, the Old Testament was nearly useless for restoring 1st-century worship. But not only the Old Testament. We valued Paul over the gospels, the very words of Jesus.

Now, that kind of bias has tremendous implications!

-What do you do about slavery in the 19th century? Well, one major way our hermeneutic led us astray was to privilege and superimpose Paul's words (Colossians 3:22-25; Ephesians 6:5-8; Titus 2:9-10) and Peter's words (1 Peter 2:18-21) over the entire counsel of Scripture. And if your a slaveowner who benefits from this bias, it's easy to see how many of our preachers preached in favor of slavery.

-How do you read Scripture when it comes to the role of women? Once again, superimpose and privilege two seemingly clear passages (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-12) from Paul regarding women and the case is closed. How could anyone allow women to lead when these texts from Paul are so clear? A broader reading of Scripture shows that this conversation can't be settled by two proof texts from Paul.

-How does a church select new elders and deacons? Well, what does Paul have to say? Then, we go to Paul's counsel (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) and we have our checklist of qualifications.

This biased hermeneutic has been practiced for so long that we don't even think to question it. We don't even realize how often we superimpose and privilege Paul's words over the rest of Scripture, even the words of Jesus.

How might these three examples turn out differently if we superimposed different texts?

-What about slavery? This one is more simple since most of us (there certainly are some who would argue that Paul's words allow for slavery even today) have learned to rethink Paul's seemingly easy-to-interpret words from Colossians, Ephesians, and Titus. Yet, I still wonder why our change of heart on the issue of slavery doesn't cause us to question our taken-for-granted hermeneutic. Why hasn't our new stance on slavery dealt a death blow to the Old Hermeneutic (command, example, necessary inference)? It should have produced some kind of cognitive dissonance.

-What about the role of women? First, anyone using a careful eye in 1 Corinthians must acknowledge the inconsistency between Paul's words regarding women in 1 Corinthians 11:5-10 & 14:34-35. Second, why do we settle the issue with two proof texts (usually read out of context) rather than taking the entire scope of Scripture? What would it look like to superimpose and privilege Paul's words in Galatians 3:26-28 over what he says about women in 1 Corinthians 14 & 1 Timothy 2?

-What about selecting elders and deacons? Have you ever noticed that the lists in 1 Timothy and Titus are not identical? So, which of Paul's list do we favor? Well, we don't favor either text usually. Most often, we combine the "qualifications" from each text and impose more stringent standards on elders and deacons than either letter imposed...all in the name of playing it safe. What if we were superimpose and privilege Ezekiel 34? What if we were to look for men who lived out the Sermon on the Mount most clearly? What if the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2:5-11 became our standard for selecting elders and deacons?

Now, I'm conceding that we all must pick and choose in our reading of Scripture. We all have a bias when we come to the text. We all superimpose certain texts over other texts as we interpret.

We can't fix those problems.

But we can be more forthright and intentional in the ways we interpret through our biased lenses.

When our biases are allowed to affect us completely subconsciously, we can maintain our inner belief that we are "neutral" interpreters. And when we believe we are "neutral" interpreters, it's easy to devalue the interpretations of others because they are so obviously "biased."

In order to read Scripture better, we must consciously choose how we will pick and choose. There are better biases to bring to Scripture than others. For example, a racist bias will lead us to worse reading of Scripture than a bias centered on Galatians 3:26-28 (at least that's my bias).

Over the next couple of blog entries, I'm going to reveal some of my conscious biases. I will never be able to access all of my biases, but I can begin with those I am aware of.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 3

So, if you've read posts 1 and 2 in this series, you might feel a bit disoriented at this point. More probably, these posts have revealed a breakdown that was already unfolding in your experience with Scripture.

I grew up with the assumption that the Bible was a book with one clear and consistent message. And in a sense, it is that. The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture and continues to inspire readers of Scripture to understand the overarching story of God's redemption.

And yet, this flat understanding of Scripture fails to account for the miracle of Scripture.

Think about it: The 66 books of the Bible were written by more than 40 authors, in 3 languages, on 3 different continents, spread across over a millennium. Some of the authors, like Moses and Paul were educated in the finest schools of their day, but others, like Peter, were uneducated men who were more comfortable with fishing nets than pens in their hands.

I would challenge anyone who could bring me another book that speaks with such unity while being written as diversely as this book. It's a miracle. It's a work of God...literally!

But I want to push back against the idea that the Bible is univocal. If it's univocal, it's flat. It has one clear-cut meaning. And that was the assumption I left home with. So when I entered my first preaching class, I was paralyzed and couldn't write my first sermon because I feared that I would interpret the text wrong. 

Let me assure you: I'm not a relativist. There certainly are wrong ways to interpret/apply a text. But there are several right ways to interpret/apply most texts.

You know this to be true. I'm sure all of you can relate a story about coming to a familiar Scripture that you've read 1,000 times, but on the 1,001st time you read it, a message emerges from the text you had never seen before. You wonder how you could have missed it.

Today, I view Scripture as a conversation. I view it as a library (66 books in a larger anthology) rather than a univocal book. I view it as a mosaic pieced together from the writing of a diverse group of authors who gave their own inspired spin on the mess humans have contributed to the world and the beauty that God works out of that mess.

Here's just one example of Scripture's multivocal conversation:

Deuteronomy gives the people of God a straight-forward theology. Deuteronomy 28-30 sets forward a black and white picture of Israel's future. If they do what is right and honor God, he will bless them. If they do what is wrong and dishonor God, he will curse them. That's the basic premise of Deuteronomic Theology.

And when we come to the Book of Job, it's obvious that Job's friends have subscribed to Deuteronomic Theology. Job seems to have been cursed. For seven days, they are silent. It's the best pastoral care they can offer Job. But when they open their mouths, it all goes downhill.

You see, Job believes he has suffered unjustly. He believes he's blameless and in chapter 1, the readers know that Job's right. But Job's friends know Deuteronomy. And they're sure the righteous don't suffer for nothing. So, they beg Job to confess whatever sin he has committed, so that God will stop bringing curses on Job and his house. 

So, what does all of this have to do with how we view Scripture?

I think what's going on in the Book of Job is just one example of many of how different Scriptural authors are in conversation with one another. The author of the Book of Job is pushing back on the author of the Book of Deuteronomy. He's getting a word in for God to let his readers know that suffering doesn't always mean that God is actively punishing you.

Jesus is engaged in the very same dialogue with Deuteronomy in John 9. There's a guy who's been blind since birth and the disciples have read Deuteronomy. So they astutely ask, "Who sinned, this guy or his parents, that he was born blind?" And instead of siding with Deuteronomy and Job's friends, Jesus pushes back and says neither of them sinned.

If you've grown up in Churches of Christ, this can be quite disconcerting. We like things black and white. We've viewed Scripture as more of a constitution than anything else. (I wonder where that idea came from? Possibly the early American frontier as our movement emerged?)

So, if this is so, how would that impact our biblical interpretation?

(I'd love your thoughts. Join the conversation!)


Sunday, November 04, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 2

When we read and interpret Scripture, we all pick and choose.

Few of us admit it, but all of us do it.

How do I know that? Because not one of us can honestly say we do everything Scripture says.

One of the hardest parts of Scripture is adapting a 1st century text to life in the 21st century. We aren't consistent in our adaptations. But I believe we are sincere in our adaptations. We disagree on how to interpret and live out the text.

While I was at ACU, Ken Cukrowski took my class through an exercise that was extremely revealing. I'd like to ask you to take part of that test:

Put a "C" beside those items that are "cultural" and a "P" beside those items that are permanent.
1) Greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26).
2) Be baptized (Acts 2:38).
3) Wash one another's feet (John 13:14).
4) Abstain from fornication (Acts 15:29).
5) If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also (Matt. 5:39).
6) Love your enemies (Matt. 5:44).
7) Prohibit women from wearing braided hair, gold, pearls, or costly attire (1 Tim. 2:9).
8) Permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12).
9) Anoint the sick with oil (James 5:14).
10) A woman should pray and prophesy with her head covered (1 Cor. 11:5,10).
11) Long hair on a man is degrading (1 Cor. 11:14).
12) Take communion in a large upper room (Luke 22:12).
13) Drink communion from a single cup (Luke 22:17).
14) Do not own property, but meet in house churches (Acts 12:12; 16:40; Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phlm. 2).
15) Each member should bring a song, lesson, etc. to share with the church during worship (1 Cor. 14:26).
16) Women should keep silent in the churches (1 Cor. 14:34).
17) Owe no one anything (Rom. 13:8).
18) Advise engaged couples not to seek marriage (1 Cor. 7:25-27,37-38).
19) Wives, be subject to your husbands (Eph. 5:22).
20) Slaves, obey your earthly masters (Eph. 6:5-8).

How did you decide whether the practice was cultural or permanent?

Ideally, we would have a way to interpret Scripture that would form our practice. But what I noticed when I took the test is that I subconsciously flipped the process. I determined my current practice and legitimized myself by interpreting Scripture to support my current practice.

And that's scary!

If we don't pay close attention to the way we pick and choose in our interpretation and practice, then there's a good chance we will read Scripture in the most gracious way we possibly can to make ourselves feel good about our current lifestyle.

So, the question I want to consider is not if we should pick and choose. We all do that. What I want to pursue is how we can pick and choose in a conscious, faithful, repeatable way.

As Scot McKnight says in his book, The Blue parakeet, "We all pick and choose...I believe many of us want to know why we pick and choose. Even more importantly, many of us want to know how to do this in a way that honors God and embraces the BIble as God's Word for all times."


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

How We Read the Bible - Part 1

The phrase above has been the bumper sticker motto of Christian Fundamentalism for quite a while. And while I didn’t exactly grow up indoctrinated with this view of Scripture, it was the prevailing hermeneutic (the art and science of textual interpretation) I assumed throughout my childhood.

Churches of Christ brought some nuance to this bumper sticker saying. We stated that if there was a biblical command, example, or necessary inference, we could assume the practice should be continued in our restored New Testament church.

This hermeneutic functionally served as a way for us to agree to agree. It was a biblical “scientific method” of sorts that allowed us to read Scripture together in the modern, Enlightenment period.

When the Restoration Movement was established, the West was in a time of great advancement in science, philosophy, and human progress. It seemed that humans were on a path of progress that could not be stopped.

Until…the 20th century.

Sure we had made great strides in the medical field. But our ingenuity in warfare and the emergence of super-diseases outpaced our ability to heal.

World War I…The Great Depression…World War 2…Vietnam…the AIDS epidemic…9/11…Iraq/Afghanistan. All of our advancement and progress didn’t create a safer world. The 20th century was likely the bloodiest century in the history of the world.

So much for progress.

And then there was the economic collapse that deflated our most certain progress.
And when you undergo that much disillusionment, it’s hard to be certain about much.

And the result is what we call Postmodernity. The Modern Project failed. And we were so uncertain of everything that the only name we could use to describe what came after Modernity was Postmodernity. (At least creativity was still at an all time high???)

So, what does all of this have to do with how we interpret the Bible?

Well, add to all of that social change the multiplication of denominations (23,000 and counting) and some questions start to arise about our lack of unity. And even within Churches of Christ, we have become less united than ever (which is saying something).

Something failed.

And it was our hermeneutic. The very hermeneutic that was supposed to be our ticket to unity was ultimately a major factor in what has divided us.

So, what happens when you are reading the same Bible and disagree about how to apply it when your hermeneutic has been “The Bible says. I believe it. That settles it.”? You start to question “other people’s” agendas. You say to those on your side, “Those people must have an agenda if they don’t agree with me because I believe what the Bible says.”

In that hermeneutic, there is no room for disagreement. Either you agree with me or you’re a heretic.

But if there’s anything that has pointed out the error of our Old Hermeneutic, it’s the division that exists within Churches of Christ.

The way we agreed to agree has failed. It doesn’t work.

I’m not the first to give the eulogy, but I haven’t heard many people do more than deconstruct the way we used to read the Bible. And deconstruction is harmful at best without an alternative proposal for how we might interpret Scripture moving forward.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to make some suggestions for how we might take a helpful step forward in our reading of Scripture.

I look forward to the conversation as we think about Scripture together.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

ACU Summit 2012

In just under a week, I will be a theme lecturer at Abilene Christian University's Summit (previously known as the ACU Lectureship). I'm grateful to Brady Bryce for the invitation to speak. It is one of the greatest honors I have received.

ACU is a special place for me. Just 10 years ago, I wandered into Moody Coliseum as a freshman. So many things have changed in the last decade. I am a better man as a result of my time at ACU. I received my calling to ministry there. But most importantly, I married Holly after our sophomore year. ACU is a place full of memories for my family (I'm a 4th generation student) and our marriage. Some of our best friends are people we met in Abilene.

I spent 6 years at ACU working on my undergraduate and Master of Divinity degrees in Abilene. Coming from big cities, Holly and I were certainly ready to move on after those 6 years, but those were special years. And the week-long trek to Abilene each fall is a spiritual retreat that I depend on.

This year's theme is "Intimacy: Return to God" from the book of Hosea. My theme lecture is Monday morning at 11AM (CST) in Moody Coliseum. I'm honored to share the stage this year with Mitch Wilburn, Chris Goldman, Jeff Christian, Jerry Taylor, Don McLaughlin, and Walter Brueggemann. I am preaching from Hosea 2, a graphic text about the relationship between God and Israel. The word "whore" will be said more times during my sermon than it has probably been said in the over 100 years that ACU has been in existence, but it's what the text demands.

This morning I've just typed the last words to the sermon. This sermon has been gestating for 6 months The Spirit has spoken and I pray God will bless all who listen in Moody and around the world on the internet. If you're at Summit, I'd love to meet you if you. But if you're not able to make it this year, listen in live at or


Monday, August 13, 2012

World Convention in Brazil

A couple of weeks ago, Holly and I got the incredible opportunity to go to the World Convention in Goiania, Brazil. The World Convention is a quadrennial gathering of Christians who have a common heritage in the Stone-Campbell movement, which includes Churches of Christ, Christian Churches, and the Disciples of Christ.

This year's Convention was the first ever in the Global South. There were nearly 4,000 Christians from around the world who met together to praise God, listen to speakers, and meet brothers and sisters in Christ we would never meet otherwise on this side of heaven. Every event was translated in English and Portuguese.

Holly and I had a fantastic time meeting all kinds of new people, seeing a few old friends, and getting to see parts of the world we had never seen before.

And let me assure, no matter the feelings you might have about the American church, God is certainly at work in the Global South. The church in Brazil is a vibrant, young, growing body of believers. My faith was restored in a great way by seeing what God is up to in other parts of the world.

It was also amazing to see how the church has transitioned from American missionary leadership to Brazilian leadership. One young, powerful preacher I was impressed with was a man named David Levistone. David told his story of being a 3rd generation Christian because of the work of American missionaries decades ago. He challenged the Brazilian church to a powerful work over the coming years.

Over the next four years, Brazil will host the World Cup and the Summer Olympics. He said, "Brazil stands at a unique place on the world stage. While we are called to go into all of the world, we are blessed over the next four years to have the world come to us. We must not miss this opportunity to speak the good news during such a time as this!"

Holly and I returned home rested, blessed, and more hopeful. God is at work in the world. Just because Christianity in the West is on the decline doesn't mean God isn't at work.

It's time for the American church to be humble enough to learn from missionaries that will be coming our way.


Monday, July 09, 2012

Blame the Refs!

Over the past couple of months, my Twitter feed has been full of talk about the NBA playoffs. And the overwhelming majority of the chatter has focused on the ineptitude of the referees. I can understand an occasional bit of criticism toward the “Zebras,” but I’m starting to think the complaints mark a cultural transition that we ought to pay attention to.

Postmodernity might have something to do with it. For those who aren’t familiar, postmodernity is what comes after modernity (might not mean much to those who aren’t familiar with modernity).

In the modern era (1500-1960s), science and rationality ruled the world. Progress was inevitable. We conceived of a day when we might be able to create a utopia through invention, medicine, and industry.

But the bloodiest century in history, the 20th century, put those dreams to rest. World War I & II weren’t necessarily indicators of a world nearing progress and utopia. Add the scientific discoveries of relativity, quantum physics, and an AIDS epidemic that took the world by storm and you begin to understand postmodernity.

So, what does this all have to do with the NBA? Well, postmodernity included a strong pessimism about authority. You can’t trust world superpowers that go to war for resources. You can’t trust preachers who build growing empires while embroiled in sexual and financial scandals. And as the divorce rate grew steadily, you can’t even trust your parents will remain together.

And you certainly can’t trust the refs.

We have more information at our fingertips than ever before. And that information leads to our doubts as well.
-Instant replay makes us the instant arbitrators of truth.
-I remember reading a stat I couldn’t believe anyone could know. During the Mavericks playoff run in 2011, I heard a stat that the Mavericks were 2-18 when Joey Crawford was officiating.
-Tim Donaghy resigned as an NBA referee after allegations surfaced that he had bet on games that he had officiated over.

Who can you trust?

Certainly not doctors! Admit it, 90% of the time you have already pre-diagnosed yourself on WebMD before you ever step foot in the Doctor’s office. What could a doctor know that WebMD doesn’t?

Certainly not teachers! Years ago, parents waited at home with a spanking waiting when the teacher sent a note home about their student’s bad behavior. Today, kids have parents in the palm of their hand and the teachers have little support from parents.

Certainly not Little League coaches! Have you been to Little League baseball game lately? There’s always the annoying dad who watched Fred McGriff’s training video circa 1994 who is coaching up the kids opposite the advice of the coach on the field.

Certainly not preachers! Preachers: Just try disagreeing with the NIV Study Bible one morning and you can be sure Monday night’s elder meeting will include a “heresy trial.”

Certainly not politicians! Wait, I’m not going to try to defend this one.

We’ve lost our ability to let specialists specialize in anything. After one 30-minute Google search, all of a sudden we know more than a doctor who spent a decade training to give us informed care.

I get it. Refs blow some calls. Some of those calls go against your team. And you found an article that emphasized a certain stat that proves Crawford hates your team.

But all of this questioning of authority cheapens the game. It’s not just the “floppers” who are ruining the game. It’s the fans who “cry foul” on every replay they’re given. And it doesn’t just cheapen the other team’s championship. It will cheapen your team’s title next year.

So, lay off the refs. And the doctors. And the preachers. And the judges.

Hey, did you see that call?!?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Great Resource for Raising Discipled Kids

In case you're still wondering, faith isn't something that will be passed on accidentally from generation to generation. It's never been that way, and the trend isn't reversing.

If you're looking for resources that will help you, as the parent, intentionally develop faith in your children, take a look at

I came into contact with Joel Singleton and Matt Dabbs through the blogosphere and the Pepperdine Bible Lectures. Both of them work at the Northwest Church of Christ in St. Petersburg, Florida. Pay attention to that church and these young men. They are sincere disciples who are trying to take intentional steps to helping churches and families pass on faith to children and unbelievers.

Many of you who read this blog, remember our intentional life experiment at the beginning of the year. On Fridays, Holly and I spent our Sabbath engaging our kids in intentional lessons about God in our weekly adventures around the city of Denver. We shared our results at Pepperdine this year, and since then, Joel has asked us to contribute to the Imparting Faith blog each Monday this summer.

If you're interested in reading more about the specifics of our intentional life experiment or just intentional ways to teach your kids the way of Jesus, check out the blog at Each Monday for ten weeks, we will share one practice we did with our kids and what we learned along the way. The first post is already up.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Watching The Fray "Make" It

Have you ever been present at the moment when someone "made" it? I'm talking about that moment when the lifelong dream someone had planned and practiced for finally became a reality.

Friday night, Holly and I went to see the Fray at Red Rocks. The Fray is one of our favorite bands.

But that's not the cool part. You see, the members of the band grew up in Denver. I can't imagine how many times they saw shows at Red Rocks dreaming of the day they might sell out a show there. Red Rocks is the ultimate venue in the Rockies. Every band you can imagine has had a headline show at this mile-high amphitheater cut out of the rocks.

The concert was incredible. They played many of their new tracks from "Scars and Stories" that released early this year. They also played an acoustic set with the well-known melodies that the crowd sang along with.

But the coolest part of the night was seeing The Fray soak up a night they grew up dreaming of.

While they've been famous for a few years, on Friday, May 11 they "made" it. They were headlining Red Rocks. And they were grateful.

In the crowd were early record producers, fans that had been with them since Day 1, and newer fans from their more popular days. It was the culmination of a dream fulfilled. And it was beautiful. It was touching. It was powerful.

Rarely do you get to experience something like that. We live in a world of broken dreams, failed relationships, and experiences that do not live up to the hype.

But it was obvious, that The Fray was soaking it all in on Friday night.

I don't care who it is or what event you're talking about. Every chance I get, I want to be there when people "make" it.

Because when people "make" it, you realize that your dreams are within reach. You realize that the impossible really is possible. You realize that your dream isn't as far away as you might imagine.

And that's worth much more than the price of admission.


Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Pepperdine Bible Lectures

Well, I've got the whole family here in Malibu, CA for the annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures. It is a week filled with beautiful views, powerful lectures and classes, and reconnecting with friends and family.

The theme this year is "Living Between the Times" from Romans 5-8. After 30 years of directing the lectures, Jerry Rushford is passing the baton of leadership off to Mike Cope. It will be an incredible experience. I can't wait to hear Jerry's last message!

On Wednesday at 2 PM, Holly and I are teaching a class on our "Intentional Life" Experiment with our kids. If you're a Children's Minister, Youth Minister, parent, grandparent, or any other human, you should come and listen in. We'll be talking about how to intentionally form your kids spiritually. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Winterfest Spiritual Discipline Videos

Over a decade ago, I remember attending my first Winterfest youth rally.

Growing up in San Diego, I was in a youth group of about 10 students. But when we moved to Dallas, my family started attending the Highland Oaks Church of Christ. And there were over a hundred kids that  were a part of my youth group. It was quite a shift.

But my paradigm was blown open the first time I attended Winterfest in Arlington, TX (they also have a larger gathering in Gatlinburg, TN). There were thousands of teens who showed up to listen to speakers and worship their hearts out. It gave me a vision of the kingdom larger than the tiny circles I usually found myself in.

Just this past year, things came full circle as Dudley Chancey, the Director of Winterfest, invited me to film a few videos on the spiritual disciplines that would be sent to youth leaders and teens as they sought to follow God after going home from the conference.

Here are those 3 videos.

Click here to check out the rest of the spiritual discipline videos put together by Winterfest.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Two of My Least Favorite Scriptures

I'm a contrarian. I'm blessed with friends who display grace after grace. I'm blessed to have a wife who puts up with more than she deserves.

Don't ask me to the movies and expect me just to have a good time. And if you do, don't ask me what I thought about the movie. I'm always critiquing culture in light of the story it's telling and the movie theater is one of my favorite places to do cultural exegesis. 

I know, I know. I should learn to have fun. Our family is having a blast on our Intentional Fridays...because I've set aside a time to have fun. I'm a tortured soul.

And my criticism often moves into the world of Christian bookstore trinkets. I don't know who creates these items, but they don't usually have a stake in understanding the context of the verses they put on their wares.

Two of my least favorite passages are Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11.

It's not that these verses are any less inspired. In fact, these are two of the most important verses in all of Scripture. 

But taken out of context, these verses lose their incredible impact. These aren't verses meant to go on the graduation announcements of upper-middle class students hoping for a bright future. These verses are written at a time of trouble. These verses are written for people who find themselves in times of trouble. 

These verses are meant to comfort the afflicted rather than to promise success to the successful. They won't guarantee you the Mega Millions prize.

The apostle Paul writes Philippians 4:13 while in prison. Paul isn't writing successful business tips from a corner office. Paul is writing to encourage those who are down on their luck to find contentment outside of their external surroundings. It's about finding a joy and contentment rooted more deeply than one's circumstances. Paul has learned to do all things, including finding contentment in prison, through Christ who strengthens him.

That's a powerful word for those who are in trouble.

It's not a word for the star of the high school football team who hopes to score a touchdown on Friday night. It's a word for the kid who didn't make the team and can't imagine ever finding life on Friday night.

It's not a word about overcoming First World Problems. It's a word about having joy as a third world, HIV-infected, orphan girl in Nairobi, Kenya.

The context of Jeremiah 29:11 isn't any more hopeful. 

Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles in Babylon promising them that God knows the plans he has for them in exile. He wants to prosper them rather than harming them as they might suspect.

But the news can't be all that comforting to its original hearers in exile. It's not exactly a promise of health and wealth. It's not even a promise for the readers of the letter. God's promising a future beyond circumstance. Most of the readers of the Jeremiah's letter, if not all of them, will die in exile. They won't see the light at the end of the tunnel. 

God's going to save them...IN SEVENTY YEARS!!! Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month. Not even next decade. After they are long gone and buried, God's going to do a new thing. It's not exactly the most inspiring message to put on your bathroom mirror from the lovely people at Family Christian Bookstores.

Context is everything. Yet, while these verses are two of my least favorite verses today,  there will be a day when dwelling on these verses might just be the glimmer of hope that is needed.

So, if you see me venturing into Mardel for a religious trinket, don't ask me how my day is going. I can assure you, it won't be the best day of my life.


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Story Time With Maddox

Holly and I have always led a devotional time at night with the kids. We usually read a story out of the Bible, sing a song, and/or say a prayer together.

But over the past week, I've been telling Maddox stories from Scripture from memory. And it has been one of the most helpful practices for my preaching of anything I've done in the past few years.

We preachers don't get it. There are a few church members out there who love appreciate learning Greek words, random facts about ancient Babylon, and savvy homiletical moves.

But those few pale in comparison to the number of people we preach to who need a good word in the midst of tragedy, trouble, or just the monotony of life.

One of the best things we can do to improve our preaching is to simplify it.

Story time with Maddox has been a great challenge and success this past week. I've retold stories about Adam & Eve, Noah, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, David, Jonah, and Jesus. Each story includes a noise or an action that he can remember vividly. And each night, we go over other stories I've already told so he doesn't forget them. It's so much fun!

Remember, it's always more difficult to prepare a 3-minute sermon than it is a 30-minute sermon. And three minutes is pushing it with Maddox.

He might not be able to understand what the kingdom of God is yet, but he's learning to love the story. And he's teaching me to love it again as well!


Monday, February 06, 2012

The 16th Hole at TPC Scottsdale

The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale.

It's just 162 yards. Just a small, harmless par 3.

But it's so much more than that.

The 16th has become more than just a hole. Every Super Bowl week, over 20,000 people crowd into the coliseum that surrounds this tiny hole. It's known as the most exciting hole in golf.

The hole changed forever when Tiger Woods stepped to the tee in 1997. After his hole-in-one at the 16th, the fans roared and tossed their beer glasses onto the tee box as he fist-pumped his way to the green. Golf had never seen anything like it. That day, the "golf clap" was traded in for a new era of celebration from fans and golfers. That day, the 16th became the stage for the "most exciting hole in golf."

You can see the transformation in the pictures above. I've played the hole twice. Without the grandstands, it's just a hole. But come tournament time, the coliseum comes alive.

My question in all of this is: How does one par-3 measuring 162 yards transform the image of a sport overnight? What is it about the 16th that allows the image of golf fans to change from conservative old men with cardigans tied around their neck to rowdy college students who "boo" golf shots that don't come closer than 15 feet from the pin?

Several things converged to make this hole what it was:

1) New leaders who change the boundaries - Golf was a sport for wealthy white men. But Tiger Woods and crop of new young, bold golfers changed the sport. These young leaders pushed the limits of a previous culture with bolder wardrobes, extreme workout regimens, and a swagger that said they could do anything with a golf ball. They stepped over presumed cultural norms and found a way to appeal to a new audience.

2) The Cultural Setting - With Arizona State University and a young city nearby, they appealed to a group of spectators that wouldn't have been caught dead at a golf tournament just years before.

3) Capitalizing on the right moment - Tiger's hole-in-one became the catalytic moment that transformed a golf hole into an unbelievable cultural event.

4) Expectation - People come with the expectation of having a good time. We've all been in settings where everyone expects to have a good time. Usually, the expectation is fulfilled. So, much of life is about expectation. Comedians' jobs are easier because people come to the comedy club expecting to laugh. When people want to laugh, it's easier to get them to laugh.

Other golf holes have tried to create similar atmospheres, but most of them fail miserably because all of the elements needed for such a huge cultural change just don't quite work together as well in other places.

And I got to thinking, there are some serious parallels between the 16th hole and our churches.

Churches don't usually change overnight. And over the years, it's easy for a church to turn inward, circle the wagons, and die a long slow death.

But it doesn't have to be this way!

And if you'll excuse the image, we need a 16th hole at Scottsdale type revival in our day.

On second thought, don't excuse the image. In Acts 2, on the Day of Pentecost, the synagogue was transformed into a scene much like the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale. And do you remember the charge the onlookers made about the spectators in the house that day? The naysayers were afraid the Spirit-filled people from across the globe had imbibed a bit too much wine the night before.

I can't remember the last time I worshiped at a church where we were mistaken as a bunch of drunk hooligans.

We need a fresh wind of the Spirit. We need new leaders who will change the expectation in our worship experiences. We're insane to think that doing the same things over and over will bring new results.

But more than anything, we need to expect that God will show up and revive our churches.

Do you know why our kids love worship at church camp? Because they have an expectation and anticipation that God will show up. And he does!

Do you know why worship experiences in the Fieldhouse at Pepperdine are so powerful? Because we have an expectation that God will show up. And he does!

The 16th hole at Scottsdale used to be just a hole. And without the grandstands, it's just a hole. But come tournament time, it's more than a hole. It's an experience unlike any other. It's a party!

When you attend church this Sunday, the resources of revival are present. God and the Holy Spirit are ready for a party.

The question is: Are we ready?

So, take off your cardigan. Give up your "golf-clap." God wants to reach more than your standard golf fans. He's ready for a new day. Are you?