Contend Earnestly: 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Last Minute Christmas Gifts

If you are in a crunch and you need some gifts here are some quick music ideas. I have recently bought all three of these and they are all very well done. I highly recommend you buy them for someone else or treat yourself with a little love this consumerism time of year...I mean Christmas.

The Merry Way: Deput EP is a short 7 track CD that shows off the voice of Brittany Alvis and musical talents of her husband Mark Alvis. These two, although I personally don't know them, are apart of my Soma family in Tacoma.

Grace, by Joe Day from Mars Hill has some fresh songs and some songs I've had for years in my library, but are remixed very well.

The Story: Vol 1 is by far my favorite album of the year. It combines a bunch of talent out of my family in Soma. The skills of Aaron Spiro, Trevor Davis, Brittany Alvis and Holly Campbell are amazingly displayed. I can't recommend this album enough. And, when you buy it, listen to it all the way through without skipping songs or pushing shuffle...just sit back and hear the Story of God displayed through song. Stunning.

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Story: Volume 1

In Tacoma, a group of musicians and songwriters formed around the Story and wrote songs in response to what they had experienced during their time together. The songs they wrote and shared with each other were beautiful, powerful, and life-changing. They showcased these songs live at a monthly songwriter showcase in Tacoma. These events became an important time each month in our city as crowds gathered to hear these new songs that touched on eternal truths. The songs weren’t preachy or churchy, but were written from the heart—exposing weakness, need, grace, and hope.

This offering represents our first effort to record and share these songs—these stories—with you, your families, and friends. We hope they will encourage you as much as they encourage us. Any money made from the sale of this music will go to fund future recordings and new churches being started. Thanks for helping us continue on this amazing journey. There are more songs where these came from, so keep your eyes and ears open for the future...

creditsreleased 19 December 2010

Produced by Buddy Ross
Executive Producer: Aaron Spiro

Mastered by Chris Greely at Solid Rock in Portland, OR
Mixed by Buddy Ross except Isaiah 60 mixed by Chris Greely and Good, Right, Perfect mixed by Buddy Ross and Chris Greely.

The Story of God narratives can be found at

Stay God and Hell to Pay appear courtesy of The Merry Way.

Art direction, design & photography by Mark Alvis

We would love to see other communities of artists respond to the story though art & music. Please share your excellent work with us - contact us! We would love to collaborate! Send to:

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Social Network Christmas

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

What if This Christmas Was Different? What if...

Go to the Advent Conspiracy to see how you can help

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The Advent Conspiracy

Go to the Advent Conspiracy to see how you can help

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The 4 G's

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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Hairy Legs and the Kingdom of God

I was at an event this past weekend called, Jesus in the Quran, and was caught off guard when I heard one verse read from the gospel of Luke. I actually looked it up to make sure he wasn't making it up. Check this out:

The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it.
Luke 16:16

This is Jesus speaking here, and he is speaking to the Pharisees. Think about this...the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. This is quite amazing. This idea of "forces" is also seen as someone pushing themselves into the kingdom in a forceful they can't wait to enter because of what they have heard preached. Now, I am not denying God's sovereign rule here, so don't read that. But, the question has to come, "Why aren't people around you (me) forcing their way into the kingdom?"

Some will say that is because they are like Jeremiah, who brought the oracles of God and it was just God's will for him to be "unsuccesful" in the eyes of the world. But what if it isn't? What if what we are preaching is causing people to be turned off to the gospel? What if we have created our own Gospel, that isn't good news at all? Think of this. Just after this Jesus brings up that not one jot of the law will be destroyed, yet people will force their way into the kingdom. Meaning, the only way the Pharisees were going to keep people out of the kingdom is if they ADD to the law and the prophets, which they did plenty of.

I remember when I was in middle school, or somewhere around there, and I learned that some women around the world didn't shave their legs or arm pits. I was honestly disgusted. I couldn't believe it. How could women not understand that in order to be beautiful, they needed to shave? Not only that, but the dudes didn't mind if their women had hair all over their bodies...seriously?

Throughout my life, the more I learn about other cultures, the more I learn what is truly Western, or cultural, and what is actual truth. As I read something like this in Luke's gospel, I wonder if people aren't pushing, or forcing their way into the kingdom of God because we aren't making Jesus look as glorious as he should be? What if we have created such a Western, consumeristic Jesus that he looks disgusting instead? What if it is more about accepting a certian cultural standard than what the gospels actually speak about?

Not only that, but what if what we preach, we don't live? So, not only do we preach a Western Jesus, but we aren't even willing to follow that Western Jesus? How much of the gospel do we need to bastardize before we wake up and see the lives we are ruining?

Jesus said this:

My yoke is easy, my burden is light.

Seems like we are creating some sort of quasi secret club, where you need to climb the levels of understanding and culture to be redeemed.

What is amazing about this, is that the gospel is so simple that the theif on the cross merely believed and was said that he would see Jesus in paradise.

We have lost our first love...belief in Jesus and his power. Not only that, but we refuse to live like he calls us to. We don't love our neighbors, we don't love, pray for or bless our enemies, we aren't peacemakers, we aren't humble, etc. etc. etc.

Return to the gospel and look to see where you have Westernized the good news and get rid of that as a requirement to enter the kingdom. If it is your conviction, that is fine, but don't put your conviction onto others, or they might never force their way into the kingdom.

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lesson from Butterfly...Sent to Me From a Local Muslim Imam

This was sent to me from a local Imam who has become very close friends with one of my good friends. He is a very gentle man who very much loves God and desires to worship him in all aspects of his life. I thought you would enjoy this and think about how conversations about the different faiths could spring from a story like this one.

About Struggling...

A man found a cocoon of a butterfly. One day a small opening appeared. He sat and watched the butterfly for several hours as it struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. So the man decided to help the butterfly. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time.

Neither happened! In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly. What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle required for the butterfly to get through the tiny opening were Allah's way of forcing fluid from the body of the butterfly into its wings so that it would be ready for flight once it achieved its freedom from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our lives. If Allah allowed us to go through our lives without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as what we could have been. We could never "fly"!

I asked for Strength.........
And Allah gave me Difficulties to make me strong.

I asked for Wisdom.........
And Allah gave me Problems to solve.

I asked for Prosperity.........
And Allah gave me Brain and Brawn to work.

I asked for Courage.........
And Allah gave me Danger to overcome.

I asked for Love..........
And Allah gave me Troubled people to help.

I asked for Favors.........
And Allah gave me Opportunities.

I received nothing I wanted .......
I received everything I needed!

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Tips on Disciplining Your Children

I have a read many things on the understanding of disciplining my children and try to be faithful in my love for them. The one thing I know for sure is, disciplining my children is very difficult. The reason is that to discipline them like God calls me to takes more time and more effort than if I were to merely yell at them, give them a time out or spank them. Not only that, but when I discipline them with a gospel intention, it brings my own sin and rebellious heart to the forefront. I have two boys, 7 and 4, so I would rather just wrestle them into submission and make them tap out. Although that would bring some quick satisfaction, the long term affects could be very odd.

On that note, here are some tips to aid you (and remind me) of how to discipline your children.

1. Use Scripture Always, Not Only in Discipline

I have noticed a lot of parents like to use Scripture when disciplining their child. What will happen to that child if every time they hear Scripture it is because they are in trouble? They will come to despise Scripture and see it as a rule book to follow. Completely the wrong message we should be giving them. Scripture should be used like it was intended. Scripture is a way to show us how to achieve our greatest joy for the glory of God. Redemption is at the center of this understanding of joy. It should be "used" as such.

We should be always speaking about the gospel, whether or not the child is in trouble or when the child is showing the love of Jesus to their sibling or friends. Let me give you an example. Ephesians 6:1 says, "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right." I have seen most use this verse only when kids are in trouble. But what about using it when the child DOES obey their parents? What about showing them why it is important to obey their parents? You have to give more than mere commands, you have to show them the truth of why it is God's command. Show them that the reason they should obey you, is because you want them to have the most joy in their lives and create the most joy in those that they are friends with. Show that you desire their joy and that is why you have different rules and such. Instead of seeing this verse as only a "negative" they see the wide truth claim it actually provides and it gives them a chance to see it's goodness. Think of telling them why you want them to look both ways before they cross the road. It isn't because you want to control them and make them stay where you want. You want them to look both ways to keep them safe, so they don't get hurt. When giving commands or using Scripture, you should always think of explaining it to them like you would when telling them to look both ways before crossing the road. With that truth, they see you as loving and not as controlling.

2. Be Just in Your Discipline, Pray About Your Discipline...and Mean It!

Make the punishment fit the crime. Don't under punish and don't over punish. So, if your child punches a kid in the face, don't merely tell him "that's okay, try not to do that." If your child sneaks cookies, don't ground them for three months and spank them every hour on the hour. I would highly recommend that you don't punish right away, unless it is something small. But, take time to tell them you are going to go to God in prayer to seek out his wisdom on what the punishment will be. This isn't just to show your child that you trust in God's wisdom, which it will do, but this is actually for you to seek out God's wisdom on the correct punishment.

Sometimes you won't even have to punish because if your child eats too much cookies, they might have a stomach ache and that is punishment just need to instruct them in those moments. So, don't always feel like you have to add punishment on top of the natural consequences that come with sin.

When you come to the decision of what the punishment will be, make sure that is the punishment that is carried out. If you say you are going to take away their toys, their blanket or whatever for a better stand. They can see when you are weak, they can see when they can test you. Be careful what you say, but make sure that you mean what you say and carry it out.

Let your yes be yes, and your no be your no. If you say "no" to your child, mean it. Don't count, don't give them another chance, don't continually give in to your child. When you do, you are just showing them that if they keep at something, you will eventually give in. You are teaching them that persistence in sin pays off! If you only "mean it" on the third no, or when you get to the number three when counting...they will then push you to go that far before they stop. Your kids aren't stupid, they just want to know the boundaries.

In regards to this...make sure that you are always praying that God would have you discipline well and like Him and not like your selfish self. Always be praying for wisdom, so that when you need to discipline in haste, it will be godly and not out of a sinful heart that desires to be the authority. Praying about discipline shouldn't only happen at the time of incidents, but should be continual and persistant.

3. Do Not Discipline When You're Angry

No matter what...wait. Do not discipline when you are angry. You will say things you don't mean, you will not be patient, you will be harsher than you intend and you will have a lot of apologizing to do afterwards. My wife and I have an agreement. If either of us can see the other one getting angry in discipline, the other can tell the other one to dismiss themselves. We have agreed that we won't get angry, we won't respond, we won't fight it, but will trust the other one and remove ourselves from the situation. When discplining while angry you will always come off to the child as unloving and self righteous. You will never come off as one who is trying to seek out their joy and comfort. You will not be the one that they can trust, but just a crazy dictator that needs to be obeyed until they can move out.

4. Be Gospel Centered

You should never discipline without bringing it back to the gospel and the heart of the sinner. Always show off Jesus and his forgiveness in discipline. Make sure that your child understands this and sees how much Jesus, AND YOU, love them and forgives them. Don't make this a guilt trip of "look at what you did!" but make it all about the greatness of Jesus.

As an example. My kid got in trouble for throwing a ball inside the house after we told him to stop. We asked, "What is your sin?" He said, "Throwing the ball." We asked, "Is it a sin to throw a ball?" He replied, "No." We said, "So what is your sin?" He responded, "Not obeying you in telling me to not throw the ball." We continued, "So, are you desiring to obey your parents, or doing what you desire?"

Afterwards, we hand down the punishment, show him the cross and then we pray with him and then have him pray to Jesus for forgiveness.

Not only this, but we always include in our discipline the fact that mommy and daddy are sinners and do the exact same things that they do and also are in need of the gospel and the cross of Jesus. We make sure our children understand that mommy and daddy are not their saviour and are not the end all, but we are in as much need as they are of Jesus. BE TRANSPARENT IN THIS. Be real. Be a true sinner in front of your children calling out for grace. Make sure they understand you are in the same boat, and Jesus is the captain, not you.

5. Don't Be Scared to Show Grace

This freaks kids out. Think of it. Do you get physically punished every time you deserve it? There are times where we work everything out and then ask our kids, "How do you think you should be punished?" They'll come up with something and we'll correct where needed, and then we'll tell them we are not going to punish them but show them grace. This gives them a practical understanding of what grace is and the forgiveness shown in the cross. I have found this to be amazing to show off God and His good news. We don't want to raise legalists that think, "If I do good...good things happen, if I do bad...bad things I will do this, and not that." You want to raise children who obey you because they love you, and when they understand the gospel, they will want to serve God, because they love him, not to get good things from him or out of a thought that God will love them more because of their actions. Showing your kids grace is one of the best things you can do in discipline if you do it correctly with gospel intentions.

6. Speak to Them Literally at Their Level

Do not stand over your children when you discipline. Squat down, or sit down and look them in the eyes. They should never see you as some sort of "higher up" that is screaming down on them. Jesus came down from heaven to show us grace, we should take the time to merely squat down to speak to them eye to eye. This might sound small, but it shows more than you might think.

Discipline can be a very difficult subject to speak on or to approach. These are just a few things that my wife and I are continually trying to accomplish when we discipline. We are definitely not perfect and fail all the time. When we do, we go to our children and seek out their forgiveness, showing that we are not some "super Christian" that is over them and better than them. I know this isn't exhaustive, but these are the things that have really spoken to my wife and I on how to discipline with Jesus and his gospel being the center of it and not peripheral. To make this work, you can't just do this on the fly, but you must be continually in prayer, have open communication with your wife or husband and be ready to be consistent. This is a lifestyle, not something you can just do every once in a while.

I hope that this helps with those who have children and can show you how we have filtered the Scriptures so that the story of redemption is shown every day, including when they are being disciplined.

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Materialistic Obsession: A Cartoon

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Atheists Know More About Religion? Not Surprising

In a new survey it has shown that Atheists and Agnostics know more about religion than the average Protestant. If you want to read a short story on this, check out this news story here. But, if you think about it, they probably should. The reason I say this is that those who have a deep knowledge of religion and see its affects, no doubt will they become unbelievers of religion itself. This isn't surprising, nor is it troubling. When one looks at religion, specifically Christianity as a whole (putting both Catholicism and Protestantism in the same breath), it is pretty grotesque to look at and see any resemblance of Jesus. Why wouldn't those who have done a ton of study on religion become unbelievers? I honestly don't believe that many who call themselves atheists or agnostics have heard the true story of Jesus or those who actually follow him. What they have received is a look at what religion does to a people, instead of seeing those who are actually transformed by the good news of Jesus. One could call me an atheist to this kind of religion as well.

In the movie, The Book of Eli (a movie about a post apocalyptic world), one of the villains desperately wants a copy of the Bible because he desires to control the minds of others. He said, "it's happened once, it can happen again." What we see is that it has nothing to do with the Bible that causes people to sin and reign over people, but the person who uses it for their own gain. It's like a knife. It can either be used for open heart surgery to save a life, or used by a murderer to kill someone. The knife isn't the problem, the person is.

The main character in The Book of Eli, played by Denzel Washington, states this (talking about the Bible):

In all these years I've been carrying it and reading it every day, I got so caught up in keeping it safe that I forgot to live by what I learned from it.

If you have seen this movie, you will notice this is a very profound and timely quote.

When one then reads that atheists know more facts about the Bible than a lot of Protestants, many pastors will use this as sermon material to challenge their people. But, is this the point of the good news? Are we supposed to know facts about the Bible, or are we to be living examples of the Bible and point people to Jesus? The survey shows that some Protestants didn't know basic things like who Martin Luther was, or about what transubstantiation is truly about. Although these things might add to someone's faith, is this the most important things about our faith? Not at all. Our faith in Jesus shouldn't be about merely knowing facts about Jesus (which is important), or facts about the Bible (which is important), but our faith should be in the understanding that no matter how smart or how dumb we are, we are all in the same position of wrath because of our sin. We are in need of a Saviour. We are in need of Jesus.

I would rather see us, who believe in Jesus, show who the real Jesus is by loving our neighbors, by loving, praying for and blessing our enemies, instead of going to war with them. I would rather someone say to me, "your the dumbest person I have ever met, but one thing I know, you are a lot like Jesus." This isn't to show that I am some great person, but that I merely serve the greatest person to ever live, die and live again...the God/Man...Jesus.

This is exactly what the people said of some of the disciples in the days after Jesus ascended to heaven:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus
Acts 4:15

Maybe instead of trying to be the smartest guys in the room, we should desire to merely serve the smartest guys in the room. Maybe instead of trying to do good on a test about facts about Jesus, we could show people up close who Jesus is and what he is about. Maybe instead of being a functional atheist, living like there is no god, we could live like we actually believe what was written to us by our God.


“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:34-35

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Monday, September 27, 2010

The Incomparable Christ

This comes from John Piper's book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.


Let me try to illustrate what I mean by the self-authenticating message of Christ and His witnesses. The biblical accounts present Jesus as a man of incomparable love for God and man. He became angry when God was dishonored by irreligion (Mark 11:15–17) and when man was destroyed by religion (Mark 3:4–5). He taught us to be poor in spirit, meek, hungry for righteousness, pure in heart, merciful, and peaceable (Matthew 5:3–9). He urged us to honor God from the heart (Matthew 15:8) and to put away all hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). And He practiced what He preached. His life was summed up as “doing good and healing” (Acts 10:38).

He took time for little children and blessed them (Mark 10:13–16). He crossed social barriers to help women (John 4), foreigners (Mark 7:24–30), lepers (Luke 17:11–19), harlots (Luke 7:36–50), tax collectors (Matthew 9:9–13), and beggars (Mark 10:46–52). He washed disciples’ feet like a slave and taught them to serve rather than be served (John 13:1–17). Even when He was exhausted, His heart went out in compassion to the pressing crowds (Mark 6:31–34). Even when His own disciples were fickle and ready to deny Him and forsake Him, He wanted to be with them (Luke 22:15), and He prayed for them (Luke 22:32). He said His life was a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and as He was being executed at age thirty-three, He prayed for the forgiveness of His murderers (Luke 23:34).

Not only is Jesus portrayed as full of love for God and man; He is also presented as utterly truthful and authentic. He did not act on His own authority to gain worldly praise. He directed men to His Father in heaven: “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory, but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18). He does not have the spirit of an egomaniac or a charlatan. He seems utterly at peace with Himself and God. He is authentic.

This is evident in the way He saw through people’s sham (Matthew 22:18). He was so pure and so perceptive that He could not be tripped up or cornered in debate (Matthew 22:15–22). He was amazingly unsentimental in His demands, even toward those for whom He had a special affection (Mark 10:21). He never softened the message of righteousness to increase His following or curry favor. Even His opponents were stunned by His indifference to human praise: “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion. For you are not swayed by appearances, but truly teach the way of God” (Mark 12:14). He never had to back down from a claim and could be convicted of no wrong (John 8:46). He was meek and lowly in heart (Matthew 11:29).

But what made all this so amazing was the unobtrusive yet unmistakable authority that rang through all He did and said. The officers of the Pharisees speak for all of us when they say, “No man ever spoke like this man!” (John 7:46). There was something unmistakably different about Him: “He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matthew 7:29).

His claims were not the open declaration of worldly power that the Jews expected from the Messiah. But they were unmistakable nonetheless. Though no one understood it at the time, there was no doubt that He had said, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19; Matthew 26:61). They thought it was an absurd claim that He would singlehandedly rebuild an edifice that had been forty-six years in the making. But He was claiming in His typically veiled way that He would rise from the dead—and by His own power.

In His last debate with the Pharisees (Matthew 22:41–45), Jesus silenced them with this question: “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They answered, “The son of David.” In response, Jesus quoted David from Psalm 110:1: “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ” Then, with only slightly veiled authority, Jesus asked, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” In other words, for those who have eyes to see, the son of David—and far more than the son—is here.
“The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here” (Matthew 12:41–42). This kind of veiled claim runs through all Jesus said and did.

Besides that, He commanded evil spirits and they obeyed Him (Mark 1:27). He issued forgiveness for sins (Mark 2:5). He summoned people to leave all and follow Him to have eternal life and treasure in heaven (Mark 10:17–22; Luke 14:26–33). And He made the astonishing claim that “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33).

Piper, John: Desiring God. Sisters, Or. : Multnomah Publishers, 2003, S. 324

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Best Sermon Ever Preached

I believe this is the best sermon ever preached and one that we should truly model our own preaching from. The centrality of the good news and Messiah and the penetration of the hearts of those hearing is quite astonishing...especially since it was about half a minute in length.

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.

And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.

He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set free those who are oppressed,

To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him.

And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”

And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ ”

And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.

“But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;

and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

“And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things;

and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff.

But passing through their midst, He went His way.

Luke 4:16-30

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Are We the Rich Young Ruler?

I am currently reading the book, Radical by David Platt and was discussing it with a friend of mine yesterday. As we spoke, we brought up the question, "Is the United States, including ourselves, the Rich Young Ruler?" The story is found in all the synoptic gospels, but I will put the version found in Matthew.

And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Matthew 19:16-26

As I was sitting with my friend yesterday speaking to him we were speaking about this very issue in Scripture. We were wondering if we, as the United States, were the rich young ruler. We would do anything for the gospel, besides sell all of our belongings. We would speak about the gospel to our friends, we would feed the poor, go to the prisons, visit orphans, travel overseas, but as soon as someone were to tell us to sell everything we have and give it to the poor, we cry out legalism. But, what if we are actually the rich young ruler? Think about this. The rich young ruler seemingly did many good things, as Jesus didn't refute the ruler's claims on keeping the commandments, etc. But, as soon as the Christ called out the true idol of the ruler's heart, the man went away sorrowful because he had much. Notice that Jesus didn't say, "Go and invade the culture you are in and speak to them about the gospel. Stay rich, and reach your rich friends." That is quite scary when you think of it.

I work in the investment portfolio business. I work with only very rich people. I make a very good living. The question is, "Would I sell everything I have if God called me to do so?" Or, would I make excuses on why I should never do that and go away sorrowful because I have many possessions?

I honestly don't know the answers to these questions that I am asking above, but I wonder about us in the West. I wonder if we truly are the rich young ruler. I also wonder if we are also those that Jesus speaks about in Luke 9:5...

"And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”

I know I have harped on this before, but one of my buddies quoted a missiologist that said that there are only two places in the world that aren't progressing in the gospel:

The United States and Europe

Is this because we have become all about ourselves and not about the true calling of the gospel to make our lives a living sacrifice, to take up our crosses, to deny ourselves? Is this happening because we have become about making larger and nicer buildings, about how much our church is "growing" or should I say stealing members from other churches? Is this because we care more about telling others about our church, than Jesus?

I wonder what would happen if Jesus told a church as a whole to sell their buildings, stop paying pastors, sell all their belongings and give it all to the poor? (don't read that I think paying pastors and having buildings for gatherings are wrong or sin)

Call me a legalist if you want, but that's not the point of the post. The point is to just simply ask some questions in regards to our love of Jesus verses our love for ourselves.

I know that the one thing that everyone will harp on is simply, "but if we sold all these things, especially our buildings and houses, how would God reach the people?" I don't know. But, if God does tell us to do so, don't we think that God is so much in control that he might, he just might, have a plan for his glory? Jesus said he didn't have a place to lay his head...seems like he was still pretty productive...just sayin'

I know this squashes the American Dream, but maybe some of this needs to happen for people to see we are counter cultural and not just another health and wealth Christian hiding in the clothes of a true follower of Jesus.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Church Planter/Pastor Extraordinaire or Total Church?

I am almost done with the book "Total Church" and have very much enjoyed it...some things I question, but for the most part, it speaks to exactly where I believe God has been moving my family and Soma Communities. I thought I would share something from the book to show how it has resonated with me, especially when thinking about church planting and super hero pastors who become the functional saviours of their churches.

I don't feel pressure to "perform" for two reasons. First, "success" and "failure" are common property. We all share a sense of responsibility for what happens. We use first-person pronouns rather than second-person pronouns: "we could have done better" rather than "you could have done better." If I am negligent or ungodly, then people will challenge me. But I do not have to perform. Second, ministry is not an event that occurs on Sunday. It is a lifestyle of word-centered activity. Success is not judged by a sermon or service. It is judged in terms of growing Christians and gospel opportunities.

I have used the first person, but not to trumpet my experience. The reality is that it is often very messy. I have used the first person to show that what I am describing is not impossible rhetoric or unrealistic idealism. I remember talking over lunch with two church leaders. At first they expressed concern that we did not have an accountability structure over and outside us. But as I talked to them about the day-to-day accountability I enjoy from my congregation and from other congregational leaders with its opportunities to share heart struggles, their attitudes changed. Soon they were saying, "I wish we had something like this. Out accountability is so superficial. I feel alone most of the time." True accountability is more about relationships than about hierarchies. It requires community more than structures. The sad thing was that those two church leaders could not imagine their situation ever changing.

Church without programs, structures, or buildings can make you very vulnerable. Leadership in which your life is open can feel scary. But we should embrace this fragility because it forces us to trust God's sovereign grace.

I often describe our church as a group of messy people led by messy people. That is what happens when you take away performance and pretense. They are replaced by messy pastoral issues. But this is how growth takes place. This is how grace is displayed. To paraphrase the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the broken people, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them" (Matthew 5:3). Ministry as performance does not welcome brokenness because it ruins the veneer. But God's kingdom is for broken people. When pastoral problems emerge, I do not think, "Oh no, here's another problem to solve." I think, "What a privilege to be serving broken people. This is where God's blessing is found."

The real tragedy of leadership as performance is that it devalues the work of Christ. Our identity then is not rooted in grace but in the success of our ministry. And so we feel upbeat when we have performed well, and we feel down when things are not going well. We become enslaved to other's people's approval. We are concerned to prove ourselves, and that is just another way of talking about self-justification. We preach justification by faith on the day of judgment but do not practice justification by faith in the daily routine of our lives. Our practical theology has become disconnected from our confessional theology. Our song becomes:

My hope is built on something less
Than Jesus' blood and righteousness;
I trust my skills, I trust my fame,
And maybe sometimes Jesus' name.

But we cannot keep it up. Self-justification is always beyond us. The chorus of Edward Mote's hymn, which I have taken the liberty of inverting, actually goes: "On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; all other ground is sinking sand." Leadership as performance is sinking sand.

Tim Chester & Steve Timmis, Total Church, pp. 197, 198.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

The Modern Church Planter

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Why People Hate Christians.

I know this is a bit odd to put up this kind of post, especially since I am one that is a Christian, or what I would rather be known for, which is a follower of Jesus. My intent is not to merely beat up those who are my brothers and sisters, but to call them, and myself, to repentance. This post isn't exhaustive as there are many reasons historically and currently why people hate Christians. There are some solid reasons for hating us as a group, and there are some nonsense ones as well. My reason for writing this post is simply for those who call themselves Christians to contemplate what I have to say, pray on it and seek to see if there are some changes that need to take place within each of our hearts.

I believe that one of the main reasons that people hate Christians is simply found in our pride of self and lack of concern to hear other's speak. We love to hear ourselves speak, and we love to be right. We cover this with a facade of "there are absolutes and I am God's messenger." While there are absolutes, let me remind you...your knowledge isn't one. You, and I, are finite in both life span and wisdom. God is the one who is infinite in both time and wisdom. It becomes so bad that when speaking to people about honest concerns over how we show people Jesus, my own brothers and sisters would rather make "sound bytes" and "be right" than try and learn from one another and truly glorify God in our humility. Humbleness and meekness have lost it's luster in the Christian walk and have been hijacked by American pride and self promotion.

Yesterday, I put up a quote that most Christians have heard before and one that always gets a reaction. This time, instead of making any commentary on the quote, I simply put it up to see what kind of reaction I would get.

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." -- Mahatma Gandhi

The reactions were mixed, but I knew I would get some of the reactions that we are known for. Instead of being torn up to see that maybe we need to follow Jesus more and love others more than ourselves, people decided to attack the beliefs of Gandhi. What Gandhi had to say about us should make us stumble, should make us a repentant people ready to show of Jesus. Instead, we point the finger back at the accuser. Poorly done friends.

The reality of the quote from Gandhi is just is reality. We, those who follow Jesus, do a poor job of it. We should OWN this, not dismiss this. I, personally, fail so many times it is ridiculous and that is the very reason I should be the most humble, repentant person on this planet crying out for the perfection of Jesus, not the perfection or accusation of the one accusing me. We need to understand that "making a point" or "trying to find loopholes in an argument" or "being right" is not what is important. The important thing is that we need to show off more and more of the one who saved us and is continually saving us, which should cause humility, not boasting or pride.

I also wonder what right we feel like we have in the West to have these thoughts of pride and entitlement. I heard from a missiologist that out of everyone in the world, there are two places where the gospel is not growing among the people...

United States and Europe

Is this really a surprise with our pride and the love of self promotion? People are seeing right through it. One pastor put it like this:

“The Gospel came to the Greeks and the Greeks turned it into a philosophy. The Gospel came to the Romans and the Romans turned it into a system. The Gospel came to the Europeans and the Europeans turned it into a culture. The Gospel came to America and the Americans turned it into a business.”

Even Madonna is seeing through the facade...she is known for saying:

Christianity is becoming more of a currency than a belief

For those of us in business it is very easy to spot the marketing techniques churches use to promote their name, to promote who they are, to build up their followers. I continue to hear pastors brag about how much they are giving away, how much they are serving the community, how much their church is growing, etc. Then during their sermons, they rip other churches apart as though they were trying to put together a trashy political ad campaign.

Why don't we go ahead and promote Jesus, live like he did, be ready to listen first, and when we screw up admit it and ask for forgiveness from those around us?

When Gandhi tells us that he doesn't like Christians because we are nothing like Jesus, we should really take that in. We should contemplate ways in which we can change. We should look for ways in our lives that we are not living more like Jesus, instead of ripping someone else apart. When I read what Gandhi says, I should hear it like this:

I love your Christ, it's you I don't like, you are so unlike your Jesus

Then...I should first repent and look for ways to be more like Jesus and then point people to Him, not me.

When we speak first and don't care to hear the rest of the world, we are a prideful people who doesn't think we need learning. We are to be humble.

So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased,
The eyes of the proud also will be abased.
Isaiah 5:15

For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being, declares the Lord. But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word. Isaiah 66:2

Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:8

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
1 Peter 5:5

But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
James 4:6

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Twilight is Popular

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pursuing Holiness Will Destroy You

I came from a church that preached personal holiness. They used Scripture to speak of ways to become holy in our actions, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. What they meant was here are some things you should do, some things you should refrain from so that you can be holy in conduct. My pursuit for holiness was caught up in my actions and what I was either pursuing or abstaining from each day. I thought I was pursuing holiness as I didn't watch certain movies, didn't listen to certain music, refrained from using certain words, didn't drink certain drinks, didn't smoke, didn't go to certain places, read my Bible, prayed, was involved in "church", memorized Scripture, etc. If I could just do these things, I was pursuing holiness. The issue was that I kept screwing up and could never pursue these things perfectly. On top of that, as I pursued these things, or abstained from these things, I found myself falling into the worst trap of them all...pride. I was very proud of what I was accomplishing, and it was becoming evident that I didn't need Jesus, because I was becoming such a good saviour for myself.

Here's the real issue in all of this. Every time I pursued my own holiness, I heard from Isaiah saying,

For all of us have become like one who is unclean,
And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment;
And all of us wither like a leaf,
And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.
Isaiah 64:6

Not only this, but I also found other commands to be pretty empty and I truly didn't believe them. Jesus told us that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. I used to laugh at this verse. How was this easy? How was this burden light? I felt like a Jew, hoping my righteous deeds were good enough for, not only my salvation, but also my assurance of salvation. I was hoping my fruit was ripe enough so that Jesus would say, "well done good and faithful servant." I thought that John was full of it when he said, "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). His commands are not burdensome? Yeah, right. What I found as I was pursuing holiness, like it was something to be obtained, was that Jesus' commands were hard, heavy and burdensome...just the opposite of what I was reading in the Bible. Then I thought...maybe it wasn't Jesus that was wrong, but the teachers I was listening to, this fake Gospel I was listening to.

Since leaving this church and pursuing Jesus, every time I hear "pursue holiness" it freaks me out some. Not because I want to "pursue licentiousness" but because I automatically revert back to this idea of sanctification, both positionally and progressive, come by my works for God, as though he needs them.

Yesterday I saw a quote by J.I. Packer that nailed it:

The holiest Christians are those who are fully focused on the Lord Jesus Christ, not on holiness.

This couldn't ring more true. If one pursues holiness, and sees holiness as a thing, instead of a Person, namely Jesus Christ, they will be destroyed, both in this life and the next. Pursuing holiness is a Person. We should be pursuing Jesus, pursuing God, through the work of the Spirit. As we pursue the Messiah, we will be pursuing holiness. As Jesus said, "you can do nothing apart from me," this includes holiness. Holiness isn't found in how much time you spend in the Bible, how much time you spend in prayer, how much time you spend in ministry, how much you abstain from sin, but it is found in how much you pursue the Person and work of Christ and understand that he has already done it for you...he wasn't joking when he said, "it is finished." He is our holiness, both now and forever.

This doesn't mean that we don't pray, read our bibles, minister to others, love our neighbors, etc., this means just the opposite. Because as we pursue more of our Saviour, the more these other things will naturally flow from us and not be a burden. It isn't a burden for me to love my wife, it is natural, because I love her.

Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”
Matthew 15:16-20

This is why Jesus spends so much time on the heart. The only thing that can turn us from a sinful people is to circumcise our hearts and replace them from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh, which only God can do.

We must trust in his work, not our own. No matter how much we work for holiness, we cannot obtain it. Only God can clothe us in righteousness through replacing our sin, with the righteousness of Jesus. This is why grace is so amazing. This is why the gospel is so simple. This is why Jesus continues to point to the faith of children. Because the harder you try to obtain righteousness through what you do, the farther you are separating yourself from the perfected work on the cross by the Christ. Do you hear that? You aren't getting closer to Jesus the harder you work for actually are growing farther apart. I can't stress this enough.

Don't pursue holiness as though it is a thing to be obtained, but pursue holiness as a Person...Jesus Christ.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
John 6:35

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Understanding Terms, Instead of Just Using Terms

What I have found when speaking to Christians is that we love to use big words. Listen to pastors and it seems as though they get some sort of extra credit the more times they use terms ending in "ology". But what is our aim when speaking to others about any subject? Shouldn't our aim be to make sure those that are listening to us actually hear what we are meaning to say? I've talked about this some in other posts when speaking about bible translation or when speaking about terms like "Son of God" with Muslims. I still find these thoughts to be very important and ones that I am not backing down from.

Let me give you some examples. Should I want to keep the term "propitiation" in my reprotoir when preaching, or should I want the hearers to understand that Jesus took away the wrath of God? What is more important? The term, or the understanding of the term? Should I want to keep the term "deacon" or should I want people to understand what it means to be a servant inside community, as the church gathers and scatters? Should I want to keep the term "gospel" or should I want people to hear the "Good News" of what Jesus has done for them specifically?

I bring this up because my wife and I were getting the morning going when my wife brought up the fact that we were going to be starting up our Bible study before the kids went to school each day. My oldest responded, "Doing the bible study in the morning is a waste of time!" Now, at first, I was a little miffed, and so was my wife. But, I then thought, "this is a 7 year old, does he know what he just said?" I then asked my son, "What does that statement mean for you? When you say that, what do you mean?" He responded by saying that they didn't have much time in the morning and doing a bible study makes them rush and could make them late for school.

I then told him, "your understanding of the saying, 'it's a waste of time' is wrong" I then went on to explain what it meant and he could see right away why he shouldn't use that saying for studying the bible.

I think we do this more than we think in everyday life with others and especially in preaching or explaining the gospel to others. We can use terms like Christian, sin, atonement, church, propitiation, and even Jesus without explaing what these terms or Person actually means. If we don't explain these terms, but merely use them, aren't we really just being a cheerleader for those who understand these terms and think you to be highly educated when you use them? I truly believe that there a lot of people out there that haven't rejected the actual good news of Jesus, but have rejected the Western Christianized version of what it means to follow Jesus. I believe there are many right here in America, both citizens and foreigners, who haven't actually heard, meaning understood, the good news of Jesus and rejected it.

I guess it depends on why you speak to people about Jesus and the good news. If you desire to have people actually hear you, you might want to make sure they understand what you are saying. If you want to just "be right" or "sound exegetical" then let's keep using big terms, get pats on the back from our comrads and watch people never come to the faith or reject the actual Good News of Jesus and his death and resurrection.
If you want to continue to read some other posts I have done on this idea check these out:

What is Contextualization?

Contending Well for the Faith by Mike G.

Translating the Bible from an Idiot's Perspective

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Evangelicals Extend a Hand to Muslims

The Seattle Times did a story on a close friend of mine, Michael Ly. Check it out...

Evangelicals extend a hand to Muslims
Some of the latest local efforts to build relationships between Muslims and Christians come from evangelical Christians, led, in particular, by 28-year-old Michael Ly.

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times staff reporter

Even in these days of increased vitriol toward Muslims, and heated rhetoric over whether a mosque should be built near Ground Zero, it's not surprising to find people in the metropolitan Seattle area reaching out to Muslims.

This is the place, after all, where members of various churches stood guard outside a Northgate-area mosque in the days after Sept. 11, watching for any suspicious anti-Muslim activities.

It's the area where, for years, Muslims, Jews and Christians on the Eastside have been building houses for low-income residents through Habitat for Humanity.

And it's the city of The Interfaith Amigos — a pastor, a rabbi and a sheik (who calls himself a Sufi Muslim minister) — whose longtime friendship resulted in a book and a measure of fame. Most of the Christians involved in such efforts have been mainline Protestants or Catholics.

What's unusual about some of the latest efforts to build relationships with local Muslims is that it's coming from evangelical Christians — and led, in particular, by Michael Ly, a young, self-described Chinese Cambodian American evangelical Christian.

Ly, 29, is a pastor at Soma — Renton, a nondenominational church formerly called Harambee Church. An accountant by day, his aim to build better understanding between evangelical Christians and Muslims is purely a grass-roots effort.

And it's an effort he thinks is growing nationwide, especially among those his age and younger.

"There's a part of the evangelical Christian church that believes the rhetoric out there about Muslims is ignorant," he says. That part of the church "is saying: 'This is not the way Jesus would want us to respond to the Muslim community.' "

So far, Ly has organized a panel discussion on who Jesus is, attended by some 150 Muslims and 150 Christians from local evangelical churches. He's led workshops on what Muslims and Christians believe.

At a recent iftar at Redmond's Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS), Ly's manner is open and friendly, talking easily with MAPS members about everything from sports to what Ramadan means to them.

Ly's next big project is to work with the director of the local Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) to organize a dinner this fall, inviting 20 imams and other Muslim leaders, and 20 pastors and other Christian leaders mainly from conservative evangelical churches. He's planning to send invitations to individuals at Mars Hill Church, Overlake Christian Church and Westminster Chapel, among others; and to mosques including those in Kent, Redmond and Olympia.

Meeting resistance

"It's the more conservative churches, I'm finding, that tends to be the part [of the Christian community] that doesn't interact with the Muslim community," Ly said.

He's faced some resistance.

There's the theological barrier: Many evangelicals view Muslims as people who have rejected the teachings and messages of Jesus. Some also believe Muhammad was a false prophet and that Islam is therefore based on a false premise. Or they feel Islam is antagonistic toward Christianity.

There's also suspicion about why Muslims would want to take part in such interfaith efforts, or simply fear that something bad might happen if Muslims came to their church, Ly said.

And some churches don't want to be associated publicly with this sort of work.

Pastor Joseph Fuiten, of Cedar Park Assembly of God Church, in Bothell has been outspoken in his hard-line stance against Islam.

He says Ly's efforts are noble. But "I wouldn't personally find it terribly useful," Fuiten said. "If dialogue is knowing more about the other, then it's not the things I don't know about Islam that trouble me. It's the things I do know."

None of that bothers Ly, who says he's not looking for church endorsements but rather, individual changes of heart: to help evangelicals better understand who Muslims are, and to present to Muslims a face of evangelical Christianity that is representative of who Jesus is.

Ly was born in the U.S. to parents who fled Cambodia as refugees. His parents were Buddhists; his mother later converted to Christianity, and Ly grew up attending a big, mostly Caucasian evangelical church.

It's this mix of cultures and identities that led him to explore what people from his own culture were doing in different faiths. He wanted to know more about Southeast Asian Muslims. But in Tempe, Ariz., where he lived, there weren't many of them.

So three years ago, he and his wife, Shannon Ly, director of a faith-based dance company, moved to Seattle simply because he felt called to bring together evangelicals and Muslims.

Neighbors and friends

As it turned out, the first church the couple went to here — Soma — Renton — had been hoping to start doing that sort of work, since its neighborhood included a growing number of Muslims.

"Jesus said to love your enemy, and love your neighbor as yourself," said Lead Pastor John Prince of Soma — Renton. "In this country, Muslims have become our neighbors."

There's definitely suspicion on both sides that each wants to convert the other, Prince said.

Prince says that's not his goal. And Ly believes it's up to God whether people change their faith.

But there's a spectrum of views on conversion among those involved in the effort. Senior Pastor Harvey Drake Jr., of Seattle's Emerald City Bible Fellowship, says he's had conversations with Muslims where each person was absolutely clear he wanted to convert the other.

"We chuckle about it," says Drake, who feels he has a mandate from Jesus to share who Christ is, and to try to get Muslims to see Jesus as he does. "I don't apologize for that."

At the same time, "even if we don't come together on this religion thing, we're still neighbors, still friends."

Some local Muslims say Ly's efforts — including the planned joint dinner this fall — yield concrete results.

"Instead of looking at something theoretical, you're looking at the actual person," said Kabir Jeddy, treasurer of MAPS. "That gives you a different perspective right there.

S. Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the state chapter of CAIR, says he's been linking mosques CAIR works with and churches that Ly works with, resulting in social gatherings and tours of each other's places of worship.

"Locally, we've seen more evangelical Christians interested in this [interfaith work] because of Michael's efforts," he said.

Janet I. Tu:



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Monday, August 30, 2010

New T-Shirt Designs...ES.D.EM Deezin

Here are some of my new t-shirt can buy them here: ES.D.EM Deezin

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Why Does Your Pastor Wear Shorts When He Preaches?

Because to save money, we shut off the air conditioning and it's hot in our building. The End.

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Church isn't What You Do On Sunday, or a Building You Go To

It is amazing how much you have to keep saying this. It is amazing how much you have to remind people who claim to follow Jesus that the church isn't an organization, but a people. I have once again been emailed by someone saying that I am spiritually confused because I allowed Muslims to come and pray in our church. Huh? If you actually broke that down, that would mean that I allowed a Muslim to enter into my body and pray inside of me. The term "church" literally means, a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place, an assembly.

I still remember something that Ravi Zacharias said years ago. He said,

We can thank God, because we are no longer a people who come together at the temple to pray, but, we come as the temples of God to gather together to pray.

Huge difference. There is nothing sacred about the building you go to on Sunday, at least no more than the bedside you pray at before you go to bed. The only thing that makes that place holy is that you are a temple of the living God lifting your voice to the one who created you. You, because of the imputed righteousness of God, are holy, not a place. The only reason that the ground around the burning bush was holy was because God's presence was there.

Church is an interesting cultural term that has been hijacked. If those who followed Jesus understood that church is who you are, not what you go to, our lives would be more of the radiance of the glory of God everyday. The problem is that because the Roman Catholics took the term to mean a religion instead of a people, it has forever confused people and caused people to stumble.

People now, see church as something you go to, a building, a service, a once a week encounter with the living God. Why don't we just be honest...if you believe that, you might as well be Jewish and live in the Old Testament. I am not trying to slight the Jews, I am just saying that they go to the temple, they are awaiting the rebuilding of the temple, they sacrifice at the temple, they worship at the temple, etc. That is a different paradigm altogether than what a follower of Jesus believes, or should believe.

Because of this confusion, Christians have a bad rap for a very good reason. Historically, and today, Christians do what they want 6 days and 22 hours of the week and then they come to worship God and "be holy" for two hours out of the week when they go to church or to Mass. If we believed that Jesus came to live within us, that he sent his Spirit to commune with us and to guide us, then we would understand that our whole life is a life of worship, all the time. If we understood this, we would love people everyday, we would love our families everyday, we would have communion with God everyday, we would seek to worship God everyday.

We wouldn't make bad business deals on Tuesday and then come to worship on Sunday. Instead, we would worship God through that business deal and then come to worship God on Sunday as well as the gathered church.

We wouldn't yell at our wife and kids on Wednesday, and then act like everything is fine when we come to encounter God at church. Instead, we would be repentant when we yelled at our wife and kids and seek to love God through loving them everyday and then come together as the church gathered and seek forgiveness, guidance and truth from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

I know this sounds pretty basic, but I believe we often look the basic tenets of the faith to try and pursue the "more difficult ones." When in reality, if we focused our efforts on the basic tenets, the more difficult ones would work themselves out.

We will continue to ask our Muslim friends, and any other person seeking to understand Jesus more into our Sunday gatherings or into our building where we meet. We do this because we love our neighbors and seek to bless them. We don't desire to be separated from the world physically, but we seek to infuse the gospel into the world as we await our coming King.

Please know.

You don't go to church, but you are the church if you trust in the work and seek the forgiveness of Jesus.

I just wonder how much people would truly see Jesus if we took our calling to be the church more seriously with our culture. Maybe they aren't denying Jesus, maybe they are denying cultural Christianity that we have so badly misrepresented over the years...To be honest...I desire to deny that as well.

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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Living in the Dangerous Suburban Jungle

This is a journal entry more for myself, so that I don't forget to forsake and fight against the dangers of suburbia.

I live in Maple Valley, Washington. It's almost like admitting that I am a drug addict. I don't want to admit I live here, but I do. I have lived here for the past 6 and half years. My boys know no other place called home, as my oldest was 11 months when we moved in. Maple Valley is a prototypical suburban town. We have grown from 14,000 residents in 2000 to almost 23,130 in 2010, that's a jump of about 65%. Not only that, but we have the highest median incomes ($92,900)in South King County and one of the highest, period, in the entire county. The entirety of Maple Valley is made up of a ton of housing developments, Mexican food, teriyaki, pizza and nail salons. You want culture? Not here. We don't have any. The new blood (that's me) destroyed that long ago, when the area of Maple Valley used to be a coal mining town, and now is a place to live to die. What you will find in Maple Valley is a place to live, but not a place to work, play or eat. We are 30 minutes to Seattle and other large cities (Bellevue, Tacoma) so those are the place people go to have fun and to find work. Maple Valley turns into one big housing development.

So, what is so dangerous about Maple Valley? You ever hear the expression, "Same sh*t, different day"? That's Maple Valley. The dangerous part of Maple Valley is that it is so safe, that you can lose your soul. It can become like living in the movie Groundhog Day. What is so sad is that the city of Maple Valley (on their site) pump up this place like we have a real sense of community out here. Pretty bogus. Just because you have a bunch of events throughout the year, doesn't make people actually know each other. It just makes it easier for families to go to a park with a bunch of other people and not talk to one another. Here are the ways I find this place dangerous.

1. The Schools Are Really Good and Really Safe

What a weird number one, huh? Well think of it. Everyone out here has 2.3 kids, most go to the local public school and no one wants to move because we are top 5 in the state as far as a school system. Based on this, not only do all your decisions become based on your kids, but others move to the area because of how great the schooling is. So, what happens? Your children can become an idol that you give alms to and worship. You hope they get really good grades and play sports really well so you can safely brag about them at the next BBQ and not be one of those parents with the loser kid bringing the stats down for the superior schools and sports.

2. Groundhog Day

Here is 99% of the households day in Maple Valley. Get up, commute, work, commute, water or mow lawn, play outside, watch TV, brush teeth, go to bed...then just push repeat. This is very dangerous. If you've lost a week. When me and my neighbor see each other, we say the exact same thing, "What up?" answer? Livin' the dream. If you don't break this mold in your daily routine, you can and will lose your soul. Today, this is how sad it can get, to break up my routine I took the scenic route to work (took West Lake Sammamish Pkwy to Bellevue). If you aren't intentional about your days, they can blend together and you can get very lost in routine.

3. No Community, No Culture

We have zero of these two. We look to Seattle, Bellevue or Tacoma for our culture. We have no real community either. Because we are a bunch of housing developments, there is no way to even have culture as we are made up of a bunch of strip malls with nail salons in them. Even our only tattoo shop sits next to a florist and people were all up in arms when it went in, because bad people have tattoos and they might ruin Groundhog's Day for everyone. When you have no culture, you are forced to go to those places that do. This weekend, my wife and I celebrate 11 years of marriage. Are we staying in Maple Valley? Well, I don't want Mexican food and my wife just got her nails done, so there is no reason for us to stick around. So, we're going to Georgetown's Farmer's and Flea Market and spending the day around Seattle.

We also have no community. When I say community, I mean no one really knows each other. We wave, say hello, and complain about the dude who parks his boat in the road (that affects no one, but gives us something to complain about), but we really don't know each other and are affecting no change in our little suburban jungle.

These are the dangers of our community. So, what am I personally doing to change this?

I am trying to start by what I can do. I can affect change of making community. This is where I am starting and would like to have that grow to make change to have some culture as well. But for now, we'll start small.

I don't want Groundhog's Day, I want a place to call home where we live in a community, not a mere housing development where you go to die. There are about five families in my development that are actively pursuing community together. We have put together a huge fourth of July bash, poker tournaments, dinners together, coming up will be a big Halloween Costume Party, and a Christmas progressive dinner, etc. We are trying to see if we can live more closely in community. I am not sure how this is going to look as we pursue this together, but I believe it to be a necessary so that we don't fall into the normal suburban trap. I hope to be able to truly share life with these people and understand their stories better, to become close friends, to be able to help each other spiritually and physically when needs arise. I would like this to grow, so that we could affect some great change in Maple Valley so that we can break the streak of Groundhog's Day.

I feel as though this is important, not only for this kingdom's purposes, but for the Kingdom of God as well. I am not one to push my beliefs on these other families, but will be giving them opportunities to join us in studying the Story of God as a whole if they so desire. But, what I want them to know more than anything is that I want to grow together and pursue community, even if we don't believe the same things about Jesus. I love and follow Jesus, but that is not a prerequisite to be a close friend of mine or to study life's deep groans together in the dangerous suburban jungle of Maple Valley, Washington.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Storyville Live Freedom Tour

My friends Bryce and Amy Lathrop are putting on a Storyville Concert in their home both August 25th and August 28th. I highly recommend that you attend. Not only will you hear great music and drink great coffee, but you'll be helping out a great cause in the meantime.

To see the invitation, click here: Storyville Live

If you have questions, you can visit Bryce's facebook page here: Bryce Lathrop

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White Boy Worship

I spent this last week on vacation in Suncadia and had some great conversations with a couple of my friends. One of the conversations that we continually had was the problem with Westernized Christianity pressing others to join their club and wear the Members Only Jacket, instead of asking people worldwide to follow Jesus and do it from their own cultural perspective and understanding. One of the things brought up was the fact that God created many different people groups, cultures, languages, contexts, etc. to be a better shadow of the Godhead. They all speak to the person and work of our God. For some reason, it seems as though we Westerners are the ones God truly loves and appreciate because our kids have clothes on, we have concrete floors and our children don't have flies swarming them. I'm calling B.S.

One of the things we must understand is that although the Kingdom of God hasn't yet been totally fulfilled, it has been partially with the coming of our King Jesus. Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Luke 17:20-21

From talking and hearing what is happening around the world, especially in the latest centuries, it seems one of the ways we can see our pompous attitude has come in the way of songs of worship. What has happened is that instead of treating other cultures with respect we have lost the understanding of what it means to sing songs of worship. Check out this verse:

“All the earth will worship You,
And will sing praises to You;
They will sing praises to Your name.”Selah.
Psalm 66:4

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
Revelation 5:9

So, what does this look like today then? How should we be the shadow of the perfect that will come? From what it sounds like and what we see from around the world, Westerners have forced some strange things on other cultures. What some will find is that Western missionaries have merely taken Western hymns and translated them into the cultures language and had them sing them. Westerners have also given instruments that are totally foreign to that culture and taught them how to play them. So, what happens? Worship in these gathered churches are Western, just in a different language. Is this what is supposed to happen? I don't think so.

Worship isn't something that is forced onto a culture, but comes through culture and the people. The people should be able to sing songs and worship in all ways through their daily walk. This would mean that we allow the worldwide church to worship in song in the ways they normally would within culture, yet redeemed. God made everyone in his Image, with unique personalities. When we shove our worship or styles on other cultures we are saying not all is equal, but we are above them and they need to learn from us.

I heard a quote this past month that said that there are only two places in the world where Christianity is not growing...can you guess which pompous places those are?

United States of America and Europe

Maybe we should lend an ear, instead of a voice, to those places where Jesus is working mightily instead of forcing ourselves on them. Maybe we should trust in the Spirit to work in these cultures and to see them worship in the ways that God has made them. Maybe we should look to Jesus, instead of our own culture as a means of worship and adoration. Just maybe.

This doesn't just speak to those people overseas, but it starts when we go to the people groups in our own cities that are from around the world. Allow the Spirit to work through their culture, not apart from it. God created culture and different people groups to show off his diverse depth, when we shove our own on others, we rob, not only others, but also ourselves of seeing the beauty of God and his vastness. Maybe when we enter into other territories or other parts that are foreign to our culture we should sit and listen for a long time instead of lending our voice like they have been waiting with baited breath for us to speak and teach them. Just maybe. This is all part of contextualization to all peoples, to all places.

"This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Uniting Church Unites Nothing!

I'm here in the land down under where the current weekly church population is about 2% of the people. The Aussies are wonderful, hospitable people, but not much for the divine institution. I guess I can't really blame them since many of their mainline churches have opted out of church planting and the gospel, and have chosen to be "Affirming" (Pro Gay) and "Uniting" (Pretty much pro anything), and have tossed away the only redeeming message the church has to offer. This is their response to a culture who has shunned the institution called church. Sounds on the outset like an attempt to reach the marginalized, but it is quite evident that the uniting church has no interest in uniting those that hold to the biblical story of God. I'm all for a good 'ole tweaking of the machine, but mitigating the only thing that makes going to church worth it; Jesus, has neutered it's affect on a culture already skeptical of "Church." They have also alienated many young men who desire to see the gospel of Jesus Christ move into the cities of Oz, and are told that they are "personna non grata." It is no wonder that so many of their beautiful churches have been turned into cafes, and art museums.

It is a reminder that our contextualization always needs to include contending well for the faith, and that religion never saves anyone, but unfortunately many of our own mainline and "Fundamentalist" churches are falling into the same irrelevant condition because they too have attached so much religion and false dogma on to the gospel , mitigating its message and creating a dull theology that no longer moves us to love God and others, which should be the aim of any Christian theology (Matthew 22:37-39). No wonder church attendance has dropped from 64% to 46% in the last 30 years in America, we have become irrelevant and are content to grow churches, but fail to grow the kingdom of God by moving outside of our institutions and engage our culture with the Love of Jesus, and the message that He alone redeems us from the miry clay of our brokenness and sin.

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