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Update: Deep & Wide

Well the third fifty pages has proven faithful to the pattern of the first two. A few things Stanley has said come off as completely arrogant and angered me to no end. But then again, most of what he said resonated pretty deeply with my ministry experiences. On the positive side, his approach to spiritual formation is not about a system of classes. It’s about creating an environment where people have the opportunity to grow in faith. He zooms out to a bigger picture than most people writing about spiritual formation. The most fascinating element of his 5 Faith Catalysts is the last one: Pivotal Circumstances. He shares that life-altering circumstances are always opportunities for faith to grow or shrink. The difference is how we interpret them. I’ve found this to be true in ministry. As a result I am often trying to help people develop a way of looking at their circumstances through the lens of Scripture. But for many years I tried to do this as people were walking through life-altering events. I eventually figured out it’s often too late. Either they were ready for it and able to draw near to God for strength, or they were caught off-guard and rarely able to recover gracefully. But Stanley is the first person I’ve seen bring this issue right out onto the table as a ministry focal point. I like Stanley’s approach and I’ll urge you to read it and take it to heart. His example with Jesus and John the Baptist is just excellent! It’s worth the cost of the book. All 5 of his Catalysts have value and I like the way he makes it clear that a cookie-cutter approach is too simplistic. This section is very worth reading.
In my humble opinion (and people are almost never actually being humble when they say this, but I’m trying to be) I think when Stanley talks about culture he’s at his weakest. He goes too far. He says people are far more interested in what works than what’s true. Andy often sets up these kinds of either/or conundrums when he knows there isn’t an obvious biblical or theological principle involved. And what’s more, he almost always says, take it or leave it. You’re living in a fantasy world if you don’t fully buy-in to his view that the wants and desires of people should drive the packaging of our truth. He even hijacks the Beatitudes to do it. I don’t buy it. When it comes to preaching over the long haul, if we always start with what people are interested in and then try to make the Bible relevant we are fighting an uphill battle we will never win. Not that we should never do it. But if we always do it the price might be too high. The implication would be: ultimate reality is defined my experience and curiosity. The Bible then remains an interesting secondary reality that might “work” for me or might not. We think we know what is broken in our lives, but the Bible shows us that it’s actually much more serious and only God can help us. So at some point we have to help people submit their desires and dreams to what’s really true. The longer we wait, the harder it is. Of course, nothing works long-term that isn’t true. So it’s a false dichotomy. That’s my opinion. Start with the Bible and encourage them to discover their story in its’ pages. It works with what’s really broken. The Bible is good stuff. Interesting stuff. Sometimes even sexy and exciting stuff. We don’t need to apologize for it or dress it up like a clown.
I tend to think people are pretty smart. If they make it to church they are usually looking for something true. We should give it to them. Not in a boring package, not without handles, and not without next steps to put it into practice. But all the time helping them see that what is true is what works. On these last parts I’m fully agreeing with him, just not that we should always start our sermons one way.  I always start informal conversations with people with what they’re interested in and curious about. But preaching should be different. Not boring but helping us make our lives relevant to ultimate reality, not the other way around. Sometimes even the order in which we talk about it communicates a lot.
I hope I’m hearing it wrong, but what I possibly hear him saying on page 115 seems arrogant and ugly, implying that the only two options are his way or zero impact on the world. Such a scenario might exist, but many who disagree with his priority have much more impact than he implies. And to me he’s too crass in how he says it.
So I love 90% of this section of the book. It’s deeper than some would give him credit for. It has some fresh insights and good wisdom. If he would rewrite pages 113-115 I’d love it all. I’m going to keep reading. But I may Tweet him about page 115…

Deep & Wide

I received a copy of Andy Stanley’s new book: Deep & Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend. There’s no doubt he’s an excellent communicator of biblical truth and all of us have a lot to learn from him as a strategist. He has built teams and developed vision for life-changing ministries. It seems this is his “everything I’ve learned so far” book. I’ve read the first 50 pages and if you’re connected to ministry in North America the story is a page-turner. Like many of my generation, Andy is someone I watched grow up in the spotlight of his father’s ministry. I’ve had opinions of various shades from gushing to sincere appreciation to doubts. Reading so far I’ve experienced all three again. Quite a bit of what I’ve read confirms what I’ve intuited from afar. There’s complexity and I’m not sure everything adds up as he explains it. But I came away with greater appreciation for his Father and for the support my wife has always given to my ministry. He takes a jab back at his critics who call his model “attractional” and point out its flaws. Instead of embracing their critique he fires back, using their preferred term “missional” somewhat sarcastically. This is unfortunate. But hopefully later in the book he’ll be a bit more balanced and positive.
I’m intrigued to read more and will eventually have a full review. I’m most interested in his take on spiritual formation, which apparently contains attractional elements.

Habit-Forming

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Sad to hear of Stephen Covey’s passing. Ironic that it’s at age 79 when he had us imagine our 80th birthday party to begin with the end in mind. His son stated that all the children were there for the last hours the way he’d always wanted. Vision realized. No small feat to maintain positive relationships with 9 children! No doubt he lived to help others fulfill their potential as few have! Complications from a fall off my bike on a steep hill in Utah at age 79? Yes, I would take that exit ramp! Thank you, Stephen, for a great book that not only didn’t conflict with Scripture, but enhanced its application in my life.
At a crucial time in life, a key ministry mentor handed me this book. Thanks, Jeren. The 7 Habits gave us all permission to pay attention to the deep Spirtual rhythms of life. Covey made the point that these enhanced productivity. In one sense, the 7 Habits are about living out the Sabbath principle in Scripture. Take time daily and a whole day each week to sharpen the saw. Productivity-Capability growth is the renewable long-term key to increased productivity. In these lean times where states and corporations are tempted to squeeze workers and cut benefits, I hope we don’t lose sight of these principles. Work people too hard and you actually reduce productivity. On the other hand, where people feel empowered to dream and grow with fair compensation, they will often work harder than you could ever get them to with a stick. Growth as a person is habit-forming. May the church always be the best environment to develop human potential. May the experiences there create more potential in work life and in the home & neighborhood.
I pray my ministry can grow great people who can be used of God to change their world!

The Platt Controversy and Salvation

Platt: How to Lead Someone to Christ Without the ‘Sinner’s Prayer’.

An Alabama pastor caused a firestorm earlier this year when he challenged the validity of the classic Sinner’s Prayer as an evangelism tool. Platt rightly points out that a lot of so-called Christians have combined the Sinner’s Prayer with a very loose understanding of Eternal Security into an easy-believism, guaranteeing them a “seat” in heaven, but placing no responsibility upon themselves to change. These people seem like hypocrites to the culture, damaging the credibility of the church.

To a certain extent this is a Reformed tradition issue, not being quite as common  Nazarene/Wesleyan circles. We don’t emphasize Eternal Security and do emphasize life-change. But we have traditionally used the Sinner’s Prayer as a starting point.  As I have used it, I’ve included the need to commit to following Jesus daily, leaving your old patterns behind.  But maybe it creates too much energy around the moment of decision, leaving potential gaps in understanding and creating the impression that things are settled. I completely agree with Platt that we need to count disciples instead of decisions. In the link above he expounds a bit more, but the more he talks the less clear he becomes. I also don’t like his singular focus on wrath in the atonement. It’s limiting to what the cross accomplished. But at least he’s started an important conversation that needs to happen.

So what do you think? Is the Sinner’s Prayer too compromised to be a viable tool? Have we relied on it too much and failed to develop a disciple-making environment in our churches? What do you think of Platt’s alternative? I’d love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below!

PRAYER—O God, Infinite …

PRAYER—O God, Infinite Goodness, confirm your past mercies to me by enabling me for what remains of my life to be more faithful than I have been up until now to your great command to love as I have been loved. Let me not rest in any external devotion, nor trust in words or sighs or tears. Let me know and feel what it is to love you with all my heart. Amen

John Wesley

Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 1973-1975). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

N.T. Wright Responds with Blog Comment

the12 – James K.A. Smith – Kings, Creeds, and the Canon: Musing on N.T. Wright.

Special thanks to my friend Lonnie Marshall for this link. How would you like N.T. Wright commenting on your blog? That’s what happened to Jamie Smith. Click the link above to see his questionable review of Wright’s book, then scroll down to the 10th Comment. None other than N.T. “Tom” Wright responds. I had the same response to Smith’s review. It seemed to not understand the context of some of the terms Wright uses in his book. Maybe it’s not his best book overall, but his carefully nuanced point, about the Creeds never having the purpose of replacing the full Gospel accounts about Jesus’ life and ministry, is well taken. He’s not attacking the creeds. He says them daily/weekly. He also prays the Lord’s Prayer which does a nice job summarizing Jesus’ ministry emphases. Creeds plus Gospels equals very fully formed faith. Here, here, N.T.! I agree, I agree!
This isn’t just a scholarly question. It gets right down to how we make disciples. People should be reading the story and living the story as they learn the creeds and get formed in faith.
I may not agree with many of Wright’s political examples, but I agree with his theological and textual points and think he’s asking the right questions about how we worship and do spiritual formation. What do you think?

PRAYER—O Lord, you have…

PRAYER—O Lord, you have set before us the great hope that your kingdom shall come on earth, and have taught us to pray for its coming; give us grace to discern the signs of its dawning, and to work for the perfect day when your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven, in the name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.

John Wesley
Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 1799-1801). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

The Reward of Sharing in the Gospel

Today’s Ashes to Fire reading continued in 1 Corinthians. Paul has established the value of the gospel and the honor due those who proclaim it. But now he gets more personal. He says his great privilege as an apostle is to forego his right to be compensated. He wants to offer the gospel free of charge. This is his reward! There is a secret among mature believers. It is better to give than to receive. Paul was blessed, probably through his Father’s tent-making trade, to supply his needs elsewhere. We don’t know for sure, but if Paul was single this is a little easier to comprehend. But either way it’s a beautiful way of being in the world.
Then he goes on to his larger point. For him, ministry isn’t a career, it’s a way of being in the world. And everyone he meets is someone for whom Christ was raised. He wants everyone, literally “all men”, to walk with Christ. And he’s willing to do anything moral to connect with them. He’s not even worried about the percentages! “That by all means I might save some.” (1 Cor 9:22b) it’s worth it to him to give his life to all that some might be saved. And he’s doing this as a believer, not as a clergyman. So it’s a way of living available to us all…
How precious is the gospel to you? How far would you go to see someone experience it? How far out of your comfort zone would you travel to help it be more real and relevant to someone who needs it? Do you see others who are going astray with compassion or judgment? Do you act with gospel compassion every time? Do you believe the same God could help you live that way? Since I do, I’m asking myself these same questions this Ashes to Fire season…
Paul goes on…

I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings

1 Corinthians 9:23 NRSV

The Inherent Value of Preaching the Good News

Today’s Ashes to Fire readings included the following from 1 Corinthians 9:10b, 14:
It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop … In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.
This serves as a reminder of the inherent value of preaching the gospel…May preachers, congregations, and seekers never take it for granted. Any time the Word of God is opened and proclaimed by one who has prayed, studied, and prepared it is a supernatural event. I’ve told my preaching students: as preachers we want to remove all barriers to clear communication, being stewards of the Lord’s message and servants to our people. But we should not become arrogant so that we notice the flaws and mannerisms of other preachers rather than being in awe of the Word that is being proclaimed. May preachers count it a sacred privilege both to proclaim the gospel and receive it, whenever possible. May we study to show ourselves approved and rightly divide the Word of truth. And may we preach the gospel every week, not just isolated sermons on passages. Let the passage of the day be set in the context of the whole good news: the radical optimism of grace. May it provide food for souls and energy for kingdom living.
In the same way, may congregations never view preachers as hired hands who do religious tasks or run spiritual errands for them. May the preacher be paid. But may the preacher’s highest priority be to faithfully study and proclaim the gospel. This gospel must be proclaimed in a way that creates an environment for disciple-making. And may the life of the congregation be shaped around the disciple-making mission created by that good news. And may preachers lead the way in making disciples.
The passage above mentions paying preachers enough to make a living. Pastors can do their best work when the church feels a burden to take care of their needs. In this way the gospel is honored. And honor is important. When finances are slim, churches can be creative; finding ways to share the sacrifice and support the ministry.
The gospel is the foundation of our salvation. It is the very form of our life together. May all who preach proclaim it faithfully. And may the church always honor those who give their lives to it as God receives all the glory!

PRAYER—Holy God, in you…

PRAYER—Holy God, in your compassion and mercy, your light breaks forth in our darkness and your healing springs up for our deliverance. Sustain us with your bountiful Spirit as we rejoice in your saving help, in the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.

Beacon Hill Press (2011-09-01). Year B: Ashes to Fire: Daily Reflections from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost (Kindle Locations 731-733). Nazarene Publishing House. Kindle Edition.

Morning prayer from Ashes to Fire. The bright sunshine in Chicagoland made this seem so appropriate…

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