Sunday, June 29, 2008

What I Don't Believe

I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Bible. I believe in God's mighty Church, spread across centuries and across continents. I believe in God's sovereignty. I believe in God's infinite love, even though I will never understand its depth or its breadth.

But I've been thinking lately about the things I don't believe:

  • I don't believe in the self-sufficiency of any person to serve, worship, mature, or share the good news without a supporting family of faith alongside them.
  • I don't believe in the avoidance of pain or discomfort as a goal of life.
  • I don't believe in the American Dream.
  • I don't believe that inauthentic relationships are worth any time or effort.
  • I don't believe that we can know very much at all, and that's why everything we say, do, and believe has to be solidly grounded in the Bible.
  • I don't believe that most people who claim the name of Christ actually have any kind of true relationship with him (in America, at least).
  • I don't believe that God's Spirit moves only "in the moment" and is neutralized by planning ahead.
  • I don't believe that government will ever solve any spiritual problems.
  • I don't believe in cutting short the mission of the church to please the already-convinced.
  • I don't believe that anyone is too busy unless they've chosen to be.
  • I don't believe in worrying about high or low self-esteem, since Jesus calls us to die to ourselves.
  • I don't believe that environmentalism is a large enough purpose to serve as the source of meaning and satisfaction in life.
  • I don't believe any church will ever be perfect.
  • I don't believe any concept of joining people together will ever be greater than the church.
  • I don't believe that any force or power will ever kill, abolish, overcome, or squelch the local church.
  • I don't believe in grounding my identity in anything other than who Jesus declares me to be.
  • I don't believe that power must always be exercised selfishly.
  • I don't believe that any time spent in prayer is wasted time.
  • I don't believe that love will ever be eclipsed, that faith will ever be unnecessary, or that hope will ever die.
  • I don't believe that the pursuit of power, pleasure, possessions, popularity, or prestige will ever lead to fulfillment.
  • I don't believe that fairness means treating everyone the same.
  • I don't believe that God accomplishes anything on earth without godly leadership in front.
  • I don't believe an American political structure will ever work as an effective model for a church structure.
  • I don't believe that authority equals worth or value.
  • I don't believe that low standards that are easy to attain can ever produce excellence.
  • I don't believe that God is honored by results over attitudes or motivations.

What about you? What don't you believe in? What do you want to challenge on my list? What needs to be added? Let me know! Click on the comments link below this post and add your thoughts!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Life Is A Highway

I was reflecting on last week's post about parables while preparing the service for this week, and I realized the song that we used today ("Life Is A Highway") was a great illustration of what I was talking about. So I wanted to take this opportunity this week to develop this idea of a parable-oriented worship service a little further.

In preparation for each series, there is a group of creative people called the Worship Design Team that meet and generate ideas to be implemented for the upcoming series. Some of the ideas relate to music and songs that could be employed (as well as sets and skits and other service elements). Then, as I write my messages, I look at the lyrics of the different song ideas and assign each one to the week of the series that it fits best.

In the case of this week, I chose the song "Life Is A Highway" to go with the theme of "Ya Gotta Have Fuel." Our service revolved around the idea of being fueled by a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are directed and driven by the purposes for which God created us, but we still need fuel in order to get anywhere. That fuel is our vertical relationship with God. The quality of that relationship corresponds to the quality of our fuel.

The song doesn't have anything to do with fuel, but it has everything to do with relationship. In its original context, the song is about love, as the singer invites his beloved to join him on the road of life, so that they can journey down the same path. That invitation corresponds exactly to the invitation that Jesus offers to us--to join him in life's journey, but he says we can only join him "if you're going my way." His direction is already set. The question is will we join him or will we go off on our own way?

Here are some other interesting lines I found in the song in terms of how they relate to our journey with Jesus (if you want to read the lyrics to the whole song, you can click here):

  • "Through all these cities and all these towns, It's in my blood and it's all around. I love you now like I loved you then. This is the road, and these are the hands." The love of Jesus is not confined to any one place, bound by location. Wherever we go, we find his love there. It's the love that was spoken by the blood that he shed on the cross that tore down the dividing wall between us and God so that we could know him in the most intimate way possible. His love has never wavered, never diminished; he loves us now with the same ferocity and intensity that he always has. This is the road that he has chosen--the road of passionate love for us--and he holds out his nail-scarred hands, just like he did to Thomas, inviting us to clasp ours in his as we journey together toward the fulfillment of his perfect plan.
  • "Knock me down, get back up again. You're in my blood. I'm not a lonely man." They "knocked Jesus down" on the cross, but on the third day he got back up again. The power of the resurrection and the blood that joins us to him is what makes a relationship with the Father possible. Jesus, indeed, is not lonely, enjoying the eternal fellowship of the Father and Holy Spirit in the Trinity, but also claiming an enormous spiritual family for himself on the cross whom he will enjoy forever in heaven.
  • "There's no load I can't hold. Roads are rough, this I know. I'll be there when the light comes in. Just tell 'em we're survivors." On this journey of faith, no matter how heavy the load, how rough the road, Jesus will always be there with us to help us through it. No matter how dark the night, he'll be there until light rises in our lives again, and then he'll still be there some more. This is what it means to journey with Jesus.
  • "There was a distance between you and I, a misunderstanding once, but now we look it in the eye." In our former way of life, we didn't understand the love of God, the grace of God, the wisdom of God, and the perfect plan of God. We were distant from him, running off in our own direction, far away from his path that he prepared for us to run in. But now, through Christ, we have been reconciled to God, and that distance has been eliminated. We fellowship with God in an intimate relationship that removes all the failures of the past.
  • "There's not much time left today." No one knows how much time we have or when our lives will end. But we do know that there's no time like the present to start journeying with Jesus. Right now is always the right time to choose to point ourselves in his direction and start going his way.

This song, placed in a new context, becomes a parable of the Christian life. We can hear the voice of Jesus (via the voices of Rascal Flatts) beckoning us to join him on the journey of life ("Life is like a road that you travel on"). He invites us to go his way and stay in constant companionship with him through all the things that we might encounter on such a long trip, fully trusting in his ability to carry our load and get us through the rough patches.

Maybe you didn't get all that sitting in the service this morning, but all of that was nevertheless there (and maybe more that I'm not even aware of). I trust in God's Spirit to reveal to each heart exactly what they need to hear, and I also trust that if we reflect and meditate, ask questions, engage, and interact with the service, instead of being passive, that God will show us even more. That's the nature of a parable--to reveal and conceal God's perfect plan.

Sunday, June 15, 2008


Even though we've been doing series with sets and skits and videos for 2-1/2 years, I'm still asked from time to time why we have the style services that we do. Are we trying to be trendy? Are we trying to be different? What's the point of it all? Why do we need all this stuff to have a worship service?

There are a lot of ways to answer these questions, but I think the best way to say it is that we're trying to be like Jesus.

The Bible tells us that "Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (Ps. 78:2)." (Mt. 13:34-35).

The parable is clearly Jesus' preferred mode of communication with the crowds that came to hear him, so much so that Matthew tells us Jesus did not say anything to them without using a parable. The Bible records 39 parables of Jesus in the four gospels (20 in Matthew, 8 in Mark, 25 in Luke, and 1 in John--some are duplicated in more than one gospel).

If you were to visit for a definition of the word "parable" you would probably read that a parable is "a short allegorical story designed to illustrate or teach some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson." Although this is clearly an accurate definition, it doesn't give us a full insight into a biblical parable.

To better understand what a parable is, we need to investigate the origin of the word. The English word parable comes from the Greek word parabole which literally means "to place alongside." So a parable places two things next to each other for the purposes of comparing them. In Easton's Bible Dictionary this comparison is further explained as being a comparison of earthly things with heavenly things, making a parable an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. And that is exactly what Jesus did, in his parables he would compare an aspect of everyday life with a truth about the kingdom of God.

Why did Jesus speak to the people in parables? The Bible tells us there are two reasons:

  1. "So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world (Ps. 78:2)." (Mt. 13:35). The first purpose of Jesus' parables is to disclose what was previously hidden to people. How did the parables accomplish this? Parables are puzzles, whose purpose is neither to (only) entertain or to perplex their audience, or to give them games to play. But rather, they are stories at whose heart lays a metaphor, like a narrative poem. Jesus was not doing stand-up comedy, nor was he trying to be difficult. He used the language of parable because he was speaking of something that was intangible. He was speaking of something unseen. And like the poet, he had the difficult task of making the unseen, seen. The best way to do that is to use the familiar things of this world that people already understand, in order to help them understand the unfamiliar things of God that have been, up to this point, beyond their grasp.
  2. "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you, but to others I speak in parables, so that though seeing, they may not see; though hearing they may not understand (Isa 6:9)." (Lk. 8:10). The second purpose of parables is to obscure and confuse. Often the meanings contained in Jesus' parables were left, for the moment, unseen. Even the disciples had difficulty understanding, and more than once asked Jesus to explain them. Scripture can be difficult. It takes work. Jesus wanted to reward those who wrestled with what he had to say, those who weighed his words carefully and pondered his message. For he knew that those who were engaged in the learning process would be better students in the end than those who had simply had their lessons handed to them.

It seems like these two purposes are at cross purposes with each other, but they actually work together. A minister once wrote, "Only the poetic imagination can understand the Bible. Like unsolved puzzles, the meaning of parables can lie hidden in the mind. Hindrances to our understanding abound--like bars on a door or locks on a gate. But one does remain curious about what lies on the other side." Parables open up new understandings for us that we had not seen previously, but only for those who are active, engaged participants in the learning process.

What does this have to do with our worship services? Our Sunday services are essentially parables. We take an ordinary, understandable, earthly theme and connect it with a heavenly meaning--an exercise gym (God's Gym), a movie (Marty Python), Commercials, a work environment (The Office), stock car racing (Driven). Every skit, every video clip, every set, most songs, and many messages are essentially parables--layered in meaning, providing us with the opportunity to see and experience God in a new and broader way than we ever had before, but only if we're willing to engage the eternal, spiritual truths that are hidden everywhere in the ordinary things of this world.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I myself am not a huge NASCAR fan, but I know that many people are, especially in this area. NASCAR claims 75 million fans worldwide--for more on this (perhaps inflated?) number, you can check this out--but whatever the actual number, it's significant.

This Sunday is the annual Father's Day NASCAR race at MIS, and it's also the launch of our new five-week series, "Driven." Not being a fan, I recently took advantage of the chance to visit with Tim Booth, the Director of Guest Services at MIS, and I learned a few interesting things.
  • During the two weekend NASCAR races at MIS (consisting of 6 days of racing action), the facility plays host to a half million people.
  • There are seven different campgrounds at MIS for people to camp at during the race weekends.
  • The campground in the middle of the track (the infield) is the most popular. It even has its own convenience store!
  • The average NASCAR team requires around $20 million in sponsorships to race a full season.

A lot of people pour a lot of time, money, and passion into auto racing. With the high speeds and the high stakes, it certainly is an exciting sport. But the drive for heaven and for an eternity with Christ is even more exciting! In fact, everything else pales in comparison. The apostle Paul put it this way:

"I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish that I may gain Christ and be found in him... Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."

This is what our new series is about--the race of our lives. It's about what drives us, what fuels us, what propels us forward. It's about our goals and crossing the finish line. It's about what it takes to take the checkered flag.

Because the reality is that everyone is driven by something. Every one of us has basic motivations that drive our decisions, our attitudes, and our actions. Some of us are driven by a desire to get ahead. Some of us are driven by a desire to get even. Some of us are driven by our fears. Some of us are driven by our egos. We’re taking five weeks to ask two questions: What drives me? and What should drive me? When you’re in the race of your life, you’ve got to know for sure.

I want to encourage you to take advantage of this opportunity to bring an unchurched friend to this series, especially any friends you might have that are into NASCAR. This could be an eternity-changing series for their lives.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Key Three

Ever since we introduced the Key Three, we've had a bunch of series that have revolved around communicating and reinforcing these ideas, and there are a couple more in the works:

  • Key Three (Fall 2006)
  • McFaith (Fall 2007)
  • God's Gym (Winter 2008)
  • Driven (Summer 2008)
  • Unstoppable (Winter 2009)

In addition to these series, there have been numerous individual weeks where we've talked about the Key Three in detail, like we did this Sunday, relating the Key Three to communion. The Key Three are in our bulletins every week. In fact, the three symbols accompany every component of the bulletin, such as the scripture readings, the announcements, and the small groups.

The Key Three serve as the basis for our four Journey classes:
  • Journey 101: Membership/Introduction to PCC
  • Journey 201: Real Spirituality
  • Journey 301: Real Community
  • Journey 401: Real Story

The Key Three are essential in our church structure. We talk about them in staff meetings, elders meetings, and Church Council meetings. As a church, we don't do anything that does not relate to one of the Key Three, no matter how good it may be, and we run everything through the rubric of the Key Three.

The Key Three is not a program--something we do--it is something we are. This is what we live, breathe, and think every moment of every day.

It is a three-legged stool. You can't remove or truncate any one of them without throwing the entire setup off-balance. And I guess that's why it's so disheartening when we operate outside of the Key Three. Here are some of the ways I see us getting turned around from time to time:

  • Real Spirituality means growing. A real relationship with God means we cannot stay in the same place week after week, month after month, year after year. Salvation = Transformation.
  • Real Spirituality means taking responsibility for your own Christian life. It doesn't matter what church I attend, who the pastor is, what my baggage is. The only one responsible for my journey of faith is me. It's easier to blame the circumstances around me for why I "can't" succeed spiritually, but it lacks honesty.
  • Real Community means having tough, honest conversations. Our church and every other church in America is plagued by chronic illness of pseudo-niceness, a disease that sugar-coats our relationships, greeting one another with smiley-sweet sappiness, while all the time hiding unspoken reservations, concerns, hurts, and needs. Whenever we withhold what is really going on in our lives, we are lying to the body of Christ.
  • Real Community means committed relationships. It's not enough to belong to a church I rarely attend. It's not enough to be on a team I don't contribute much to. It's not enough to be in a small group that I go to when it's convenient. We can "do" all the church things and not get anything out of any of them. All these things are just tools; it's up to each of us to use them properly in our lives, and the proper use is with commitment. If we don't invest ourselves, we won't find any return in our lives.
  • Real Story means words and actions. It's not enough to be attracted to the idea of people coming to Christ. We have to make room in our lives for unchurched people, show the love of Christ to them tangibly, and then verbally communicate that love. If we're not doing that, we aren't living Real Story.

The church is like a popcorn popper. All we can do is create the right environment for the kernels to pop. We make sure there's heat, make sure there's oil, but we can't control the popping process. Some kernels pop sooner, some later; some never pop at all. We can provide the environment that is helpful for spiritual growth, but the "kernels" have to respond to the environment.

You want to know what wears me out as a pastor? It's not working 50+ hours a week at two jobs. It's when I see people reject God's invitation to a fuller life, as they settle for convenience, ease, and mundane mediocrity.