For the Common Good

I have an article in the latest PRISM magazine. It talks about the fallout from the Rick Warren invitation to Barack Obama to speak at the Saddleback AIDS conference. My contention is that we as a community led by Jesus need to put aside denominational and perhaps faith differences in order to seek to good of the city (as Jeremiah would put it.) Give it a peek and let me know what you think.

The article PDF is here.

Imagine a Dangerous Life of Worship

Can you remember the first time you started reading the Bible? There were a lot of weird names and miraculous things happening and, whether you finished a single book or the entire Bible, you probably had a pretty good handle of the story because you read most of the words. Now, think about the second, third, or twentieth time you read through a book of the Bible. You began to discover things that you didn’t see the previous times. If you are involved in a bible study, others around you point out things that they saw that are new to you and vice versa. This awakening comes with the expansion of our imagination, growth that is a product of our deepening relationship with the Author of the story. Mark Labberton talks about worship that broadens our imagination in chapter nine of The Dangerous Act of Worship. True worship fires our imagination and enables us to have a more expansive view of our roles in restoring that justice that God wants for His world.

Imagination here is not just fanciful musings on what could be. Worship that brings us closer to the King is worship that fills us with God’s dreams and it leads us to look at people and events and our lives in a different way, discovering things that were not there the last time we looked, just as when we read the Bible over and over again. This process is enabled by our realization that God has placed His repentant children in a new place where we live by His grace power rather than our own contrition and energy. Our participation is ignited through prayer and scripture reading that opens our eyes to those around us. We seek their benefit while trusting in the Father for our own. As our imagination expands in this way we begin to see how God has arranged our intertwining lives such that we can contribute to a restoration of justice in their lives. Worship expands beyond our hour on Sunday to become our lifestyle.

At Saddleback last Sunday, Pastor Rick Warren said it plainly, if you don’t have a dream – a God sized dream- you’re just marking time. What’s your dream?     

Dangerous Worship Defined by Diaspora

Labberton draws close to concluding his move to awaken the Church to the realities of the dangers of true worship with chapter 8 calling the reader to recognize the effects of location on their adoration. He asks us to view our condition through the lens of two biblical designations of residence; exile or exodus. The dangerous worship we seek is brought to a keen edge when we live in one of these conditions rather than asserting our permanence in a country or culture that is earthbound. Disconnecting our idea of ‘home’ from our current abode frees our imagination to encompass God’s idea of justice. The worship effect that derives from this viewpoint comes from our view of the Promised Land; is it here (wherever ‘here’ is) or is it our permanent abiding home with the Lord?

We forget our dependence on God when we are not people of Exodus. In many ways we attempt to solve our own problems in the desert. We try to buy our way out of the desert or work our way out of the desert but every move we make on our own takes our eyes off of the cloud that moves ahead of us. We are barraged with messages every day that guide us to the earthbound Promised Land through sex or money or substances or stuff. Our imagination is dulled and we see no injustice around us.

Even less attractive is to worship God from a place of exile. Our eyes can easily become so focused on our own situation and seeking our own good that we fail to seek the well being of those around us. God once reminded His people in exile to seek the good of the city rather than putting so much energy into seeking an escape from where He had placed them. Spread justice as you unpack your boxes because you are going to stay awhile.

Where do you find yourself and your church?

Joy Returns

Sometimes things that begin with great excitement and vigor and with a vision to break through the boundaries of the establishment fall into lethargy and habit and, one day, when you look around, you come to find that you have become mired in the structural mud, unable to move and your strength slowly ebbing away… that is, until something – gravity, inertia, centrifugal force, explosive force, or a sudden yank by a tow hook – breaks you free from the miry clay that held you captive… it takes a few days or weeks to regain your footing and then generate momentum but you find it easy to do so because the joy returns.

After the ‘event’ of several weeks ago, I have discovered a newfound joy in the ministry that I’ve been called to. Artificial restraints have been lifted and a return to a more organic simplicity has benefited all of those who remain a part of our church. My passion has been restored and is more evident in our worship and in my talks. The joy of the Lord is our only guide and we pour our hearts in it without concern for breaches of formality that had begun to hinder us. The love of God is moving in us and will once again move through us to others.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.


The Social Gospel Revisited

On the republication of Walter Rauschenbusch’s seminal book Christianity and the Social Crisis, reminds us that the pursuite of social justice by the Church must be balanced. Without an equivalent emphasis on personal repentance and holiness, the social gospel fell dangerously close to other movements which thought that they could perfect humankind given the appropriate circumstances.

More on Rauschenbusch:


Rauschenbusch Center

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Dangerous Worship of Power

If you haven’t picked up Mark Labberton’s book The Dangerous Act of Worship yet, don’t wait a minute longer. Rather than a how-to, Labberton has crafted one of the finest volumes associating proper worship with justice that I have had the privilege to read. It is a not a book that you will tear through in a couple of days. I labored with this book over weeks because of the repentance motivated by the injustice that my own worship allowed. 

He writes in chapter seven about the proper recognition of power and how appropriate worship speaks to it. Safe worship permits the continuation of power abuse while dangerous worship recognizes the true power in God. Labberton says

Nothing thwarts God’s purposes more than twisted power; nothing renews God’s purposes more than redeeming power.

When we explore the danger of worship, pushing out beyond our safety zones to encounter the true and living God, we are struck by His power. Placed side by side with our feeble and unjust practices of power, we see the injustice wrought by our appropriation of what is not ours. Worship that walks us out into the dangerous desert alone with God realigns our thoughts and actions and helps us to discover that the greatest power is found in emulating the Savior’s self-sacrificial love. How many times has this topic been discussed in our worship planning meetings?

Mark asks us to reflect on each of the Church’s worship practices, from the Call to Worship to the Offering and Benediction. Each gives us an opportunity to reflect on true power, to help us realize that the manmade constructs that we often associate with power are but mere facsimiles of God’s supremacy. The brief section on the Offering is especially powerful, given the often contentious feelings that surround this practice. We live in a culture that sees money as power and, in some cases, worships it. The act of offering our gifts at the altar is a significant release that is often given short shrift in the Church today. Laying down the gift can be an exercise in recognizing the true wealth and it source and the more dangerous we make this the closer we bring our brothers and sisters to the practices of justice that it should engender.

Immigration and the Evangelical Mindset

Here is an article I wrote for Evangelicals for Social Action (link on my blogroll for further information) regarding the current division of the Evangelical community on the topic of illegal immigration.  

Balancing the Scales on a Theology of Immigration

The Bible is used as a bludgeon and a shield, but either extreme is improper when used in this debate. Read the piece and let me know what you think.

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Man of Integrity or Tickler of Ears

When His enemies were fully arrayed against Him near the end of His ministry, they still could not directly accuse Jesus of anything heretical in His teaching because it was marked by integrity. There is a telling verse in Mark (12:14) where they admit as much;

They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.

As a Pastor, I long to hear the same thing said about me and yet, on the day after the message is delivered you can’t help but reflect on whether or not your sermon compromised at any point. Did I soften a hard passage in order not to offend? Did my application call a radical reordering of the lives of the Church or did I simply “suggest” some things that they might do? Integrity can be chipped away in countless ways each time we compromise the message that we care called to preach. Compromise comes from a lack of trust; we carry the burden of the church on our shoulders rather than trusting in the true owner of the Church to manage things. The good news is, it’s not irreversible. We can return to the Truth Giver again and again and refuse to be swayed by men & women knowing that one day we will hear the words “Well done, you were men and women of integrity. Welcome home” from One that really matters.