September 30, 2011

Ready (Once Again) to Bring It!

I'm not sure how long it's been since I've taken a week off from the blog, but it's been awhile. Incredibly ironic that just a few weeks ago I finished reading and reviewing Bryan Allain's new eBook, "31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo!", that I would decide now to take a break. In all honesty, it's been a blessing. I've stepped back & really assessed the question, "Why am I writing this on this blog in the first place?" It's been a breath of fresh air for me. I can't wait to start a brand new conversation with you about HOW and WHY and WHERE we see the Kingdom of God springing up all around us, IN us, and THROUGH us! So, I'm ready - once again - to bring it!

My Men's Group is reading the book Spiritual Discipleship, by Oswald Sanders. I believe this is a foundational book for any Christ-follower (along with Spiritual Maturity & Spiritual Leadership). This morning I was reading through what Sanders lists as the core principles of a disciple of Jesus Christ. As he's talking about the example Christ set for us, he makes this observation: "Only twice in scripture is Christ specifically stated to be our example: once in connection with service, and, significantly, the other in connection with suffering (1 Peter 2:21)."  He goes on to say that "most of us would have no objection to being a master or a mistress, but servanthood and slavery have little attraction. And yet that is the way the Master went. He knew that such an other worldly concept would not be welcomed by an indulgent and ease-loving world of men. But He did not reduce His standards to attract disciples." 

I've been challenged to ask myself (deeply) lately, "Is this the Jesus I'm following?" In fact, there are times I wonder if maybe I've - without realizing it - been expecting Jesus to follow me. This wouldn't look the same. My way would be easier. A LOT easier! Jesus served. Jesus suffered. And Jesus told His disciples, "No servant is greater than his master." (John 13:15-16) So, what Jesus am I following?

What Jesus are you following?

September 23, 2011

The Death Penalty

Troy Davis was executed in Georgia this week. He was charged for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer. This case brought the open wound of the death penalty painfully back out into the public eye and, as a result, provoked countless conversations and arguments on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. As a pastor and as a Christ-follower, my views about the death penalty have changed over the last few years. As the news of Davis's death spread all over the internet and local and national news on Wednesday evening, I posted this on Twitter:

I do not support the death penalty. Hard to go to sleep when justice is perverted.

My comment raised some reactions and questions. Some asked, "In this situation or in every situation?" Others wanted to know how I came to this conclusion. What about the Old Testament? Genesis 9:6 says, "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image." (ESV) To put it into everyday language: " must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God's image." (NLT) While this is true, we also know that Christ came along and established a NEW covenant with us - his people. An eye for an eye was addressed head-on by Jesus in Matthew 5. So are there times, situations, or circumstances where retribution is justified? When the death penalty is OK in the eyes of God? Here are my thoughts.

Jesus said in John 3:17, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him." As Father Demetri Kantzavelos puts it in The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, "The church can minister to living persons, corrupted as they may be. But the Church cannot call the dead to repentance and cannot visit and minister to them as Jesus taught." There are murderers every single day who come to repentance and faith in Christ. If they were dead, this wouldn't happen. Are there times when an individual has so severely brought the hallways of hell to someone else's doorstep that they simply deserve to die? I don't know. Those are difficult words for a control freak to say, so I repeat them: I DON"T KNOW. 

What if the accused - the judged - is actually innocent? Do you know how many death row inmates have now been cleared because of DNA evidence? In all honesty, I don't know the number. All I need to know is ONE. 

What if the Lord desired to use their repentance to bring others to faith? Again, I don't know. What about a man like Dennis Rader, the BTK serial killer? I lived in Wichita, KS, for 10 years and watched the aftermath of this man's capture, trial, and imprisonment. Does he deserve to die? Does he deserve the death penalty? Probably. But I'm pretty sure that Paul was explicit in Romans 6:23 that "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Apparently, I deserve the death penalty as well. How do we wrestle these things out?

That's the point. We have to wrestle with these issues. We have to dig into the Word and ask the Holy Spirit of God to give us wisdom and discernment...and love and compassion. And you don't have to sit still while you labor through this. Grab a friend from church and get involved in local prison ministry. Write someone in jail a letter. Pray for them! 

These are my thoughts. What are yours?
What do you think about the death penalty?

September 20, 2011

Name-Changer...or Game-Changer?

Last night I'm catching a little TV and start noticing that Twitter (at least in my little realm & world) is about to blow up with news that the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) "has announced the appointment of a presidential task force to study the prospect of changing the 166-year old convention's name." While I will admit the name "SBC" is not anything life-changing in itself - and I completely understand the baggage that is accompanied with this name from years of bad press, party affiliation and political intimidation, and just plain flat too much rhetoric AGAINST too many things - I still don't believe this is the answer to the real issues at hand. [BTW - Considering the idea of appointing a presidential task force of my own, just because it sounds so awesome.]

If you know computers - and especially if "You're a Mac" - you know that Apple has gone through some major transitions over the last 15 years. The main one being Steve Jobs returning to the company to focus on (what is now) the MacBook. Let me give you my totally unprofessional (maybe amateur's a better word for it) perspective on this history and situation. Some fundamental decisions had to be made at Apple: We are NOT selling a computer for data, spreadsheets, or mass networking - we are creating and marketing a desktop publishing, creative-thinking, right-brain, top notch machine. We know our target audience and we love them. We are going to do a few things and do them well. And they did. And they still are. Just look at the last 10 years of Apple's rise to the top. Yet, in all of that, take note of this one fact: Changing their name wasn't part of the equation. And most certainly there was years of frustration and baggage that were stapled to their name and identity. The name didn't need to be changed. It needed to be reborn!

Here's my theory: If the Southern Baptist Convention wants to take a serious, relevant, and realistic look at repairing the reputation of the denomination and beginning to reach thousands (if not millions) whose views and perceptions are tainted (at minimum), then changing the name doesn't mean squat. It's time to make some fundamental, grassroots changes - mainly in the realm of HOW you do things. It hasn't been the WHAT that's damaged the SBC's name - it's been the HOW. It's become known for what it stands against, and (worse) HOW it stands against it. It's become known as the Republican Party's Godfather, with the Religious Right standing in the wings, waiting to pounce. We've been shouting on street corners for 3 decades now - first against divorce, then abortion, then homosexuality, followed by gambling, then abortion and homosexuality. We've protested and denounced Disney (while on vacation there). Some in the SBC lash out at Rick Warren, while others deify him. The name - three little letters - isn't the problem. And it's certainly not the solution. Let me give you a few more examples:

Chad Ochocinco - Yeah. That was helpful.
Chaz Bono - Sorry, but I still know you're Chastity and God intended you to be a woman. Now I'm just scared of you.
Cru - Possibly the most ridiculous thing I've heard in a LONG time! 
John Cougar - John Cougar Mellencamp - John Mellencamp (I'm confused.)
Prince - The Artist Formerly Known as Prince - ?????????? (You do have to admit, that symbol was catchy!)

I could go on. You get the point. And I'm fully aware that biblically this is a very familiar, even significant concept - name-changing. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter. Abram became Abraham. This is by NO means an idea that God is opposed to. That said, it's very difficult for me to believe that until the very fundamental makeup and fabric of HOW things are done is changed - AND this becomes a very present and evident reality in the eyes of those previously hurt, wounded, or offended - no one's going to be fooled. Here's the bottom-line: If this name change is begin considered simply because of the baggage that goes along with it, it is senseless. You still have to tend to the baggage! But if this is being considered because the SBC is saying, "It's time to begin a whole new season and era of ministry and living out the Gospel together"...then I might see it differently. SBC: Do you want to be a name-changer? Or a game-changer? Figure that out first.

What are your thoughts?

September 16, 2011

A False Gospel

If you want to stir up a hornet's nest (which would be a really stupid thing to actually attempt) or cause some mild controversy, just start talking bad about who or what's popular. My last post, I Love Joel Osteen, started several "conversations" on Facebook and (especially) Twitter. This completely reinforces my conviction that I need to further explain the dangers I see in the false gospel that is being preached today and kicking the borders of this conversation out even wider than they already are. So if you didn't read the first post, start there. If you have, let's keep talking.

We know that 2 Timothy is one of - if not THE - last letters that Paul wrote before his death. Near the end of his letter (4:1-4) to his young disciple he writes, "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus...: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For a time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching - will no longer listen to right teaching - but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths." (ESV) Or as the NLT puts it, they will "look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear." Friends, that time is no longer coming. It's arrived. The reason, plain and simple, that millions of people flock to see and hear Joel Osteen and trip over themselves to get his newest book is because he's telling them what they want to hear. YOU are good. YOU should be happy. You DESERVE to be happy. In fact, GOD wants you to be HAPPY! And if you just believe it, name it, and claim it - if you just make that declaration of what it is you want God to do for you - then for heaven's sake, He's going to do it. Every day can be Friday! (Whatever the heck that means.) And as you've surely heard by now, you can start living "Your Best Life, Now!" 

While I know some are deeply struggling with understanding how this can be bad and wrestling with accepting that this is a stone cold lie, I want to spend the next few posts conversing and discussing why this is a FALSE GOSPEL and is leading people further away from the TRUTH.

Let's start simple. In Matthew 16:24, Jesus tells his disciples, "If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will find true life." (NLT) In essence, Jesus says to the withering crowd who have expressed deep interest in following Him, "To be MY follower, you have to put yourself, your interests, your ambitions, your wants - your LIFE - on the cross. If you want to know what real life looks like, you've got to give yours up." Does this in any way, shape, form, or fashion sound like Jesus is saying, "You know, if you would just believe it and claim it, God will make you happy. He wants you to be happy!" I'm not reading that in there anywhere. Not seeing it. And in light of the message being preached at Lakewood and elsewhere - a message that is encouraging people to believe that God wants to "bless you" with all that stuff you really want - Jesus goes further here and says, "For what will a man profit if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?" (ESV) For those who watch, read, or listen to Joel Osteen, I would submit this question to you: Have you EVER heard anything mentioned about your soul? About denying your wants for the sake of being used for the Kingdom of God? Have you ever heard anything said about "taking up your cross"? [Think about it.] Hold this up to the light against the titles of many of Joel's books:

"YOUR Best Life Now"
"It's YOUR Time!"
"Becoming a Better YOU"

This is the clearest, most compassionate way I know how to state it: When the Gospel I'm believing is not calling me to advance GOD'S Kingdom, it's because somewhere along the road it has led me to become consumed with advancing, protecting, and defending MY kingdom! And MY kingdom is rusting, decaying, and dying a slow but certain death. (Matthew 6:19-24)

If you hold the Prosperity Gospel up to the light of the TRUE Gospel of Jesus Christ, what is it that you see?

September 15, 2011

I Love Joel Osteen

There are days I really feel like a hater. So I think I need to clarify something: I love Joel Osteen. And when I say I love him, it's with the same conviction and compelling that is driven through my heart toward every other human being. As a Christ-follower, Jesus teaches me that I'm even supposed to love and pray for my enemies. And no, I don't consider Joel as one of my enemies. In his defense, he doesn't have a clue who I am. (Although, I think Joel would like me. We both have fairly nice teeth.) But here's where our roads wind up diverging and we end up in 2 completely different worlds: Joel is preaching a false Gospel. And as a Christian, pastor, and one who is called to "preach the word", I am also called to point out and expose ANYTHING claiming to be the Gospel that misses the mark. [See Colossians 2:4, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, 2 Peter 3:13-17]

Last night I happened to catch Robin Roberts' latest interview with the Houston mega-church pastor. You can watch it HERE.  Incredibly, for a few brief moments, Joel was actually sounding a bit orthodox. But of course, that all came crashing down in an instant. When asked about the massive multi-million dollar production that is Lakewood Church, and the well-oiled production that goes into their services, Osteen made this statement: "If Jesus were here today, he'd have the big production; the lights." (Wha....?) While Jesus spent his entire ministry saying things that turned more and more people away - while He repeatedly insisted that people who were healed NOT turn the spotlight on His works - while He got on the floor, wrapped a towel around His waist, and told His disciples that if they truly wanted to lead they had to serve - somehow Joel walks away from that Jesus in those Gospels with the idea that He would welcome the LED's, flashers, and spotlights all being pointed at Him. This is only the latest in a multitude of misguided comments that lead me to wonder if Joel Osteen really knows who Jesus Christ is and what He calls us to as His followers. 

Joel: "God wants you to be happy!" (Interview)
Jesus: "God wants you to be holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)

I do NOT hate Joel Osteen. But I do hate, abhor, and detest anything that presents itself as the Word of God or the Gospel that is not ROOTED in the truth of God's Word or the sin-redeeming, life-changing, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

Much more to add to this conversation.
What are your thoughts and views on this?

September 14, 2011

31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo (eBook Review)

Here's the deal: I'm a blogger. There, I said it. I blog. I purposefully and intentionally created and write on this site for a reason. I'm constantly compelled to (and love to) challenge and encourage people - particularly Christians - to see the world through the lens of the Kingdom of God. I want to encourage every person who calls themselves a Christ-follower to see the everyday opportunities to Bring the Kingdom of God wherever they go! That's why I blog. So, yes...I'm a blogger. Wow! That felt good.

I don't think I've ever had the courage and wherewithall to actually state those words. Until now. Why? Simple. I just read Bryan Allain's brand new eBook, "31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo". And to put it simply, it's awesome! If you aren't familiar with Bryan, the first thing I'll tell you about him is he's hilarious! Not funny. My hairstyle (or lack of) is funny. Bryan makes me LOL, ROFL, and throw out a few OMG's almost every time I read something he writes. Along with his high score of 9 out of 10 on the Humor Meter, Bryan is a blogger. For 10 years he's been pumping out content that is encouraging, challenging, and most of all...will make you laugh until it hurts! In this eBook he not only gives a ton of insight and wisdom into the world of blogging, he has packed it with 31 days (thus the title) of practical tips, exercises, and plans-of-action to take your blogging skills to the next level.

Now I have to be honest - I shot through this eBook in 2 days, mainly so I could write this review. But I now plan to go back through it with a fine-tooth comb. That said, I have already been reinvigorated and reminded of WHY I blog, been challenged to make sure that I remain focused on WHO I'm writing to and WHY, and get even more specific about the question, "What is it you blog about?" Bryan packs this book with tips on content, audience, writing perspective, staying fresh and creating new ideas, learning to utilize the cosmos-sized resource of the internet, and tons more. And he gives all of this to you in bite-size, daily digestible servings - ALL crammed packed with one-liners that you'll wish you thought of. Like I told you: Hilarious!

If you're a blogger, consider yourself a writer, think your voice needs to be heard, or even if you're just considering an entrance into the world of blogging, "31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo" is a MUST-READ!

You can pick it up on the books website: 31 Days to Finding Your Blogging Mojo
Or grab it on Amazon for your Kindle: Kindle Version
Go get it. NOW!

September 12, 2011

Sometimes, I Suck!

In reality - if I'm being honest - I don't really think I suck. But it sure feels that way. Sometimes, as a parent, it just feels like you must be the most clueless individual on the face of the planet. You think, "Lord, I discipline my children. I teach them right from wrong. I don't exasperate my kids and try and rule over them, but I'm not trying to just be their buddy either. I'm giving this my everything!" And sometimes - on those days that come for all of us - it just seems like our everything isn't enough. It's like a punch in the gut. Or the face. Or maybe a kick to the gut and a punch to the face. All at the same time. And you put them to bed, sit down at your laptop and think, "Man. Sometimes, I suck." Been there?

We all feel this at some point. At least anyone attempting to raise their children to know the Lord and to walk in obedience and be respectful is going to face this day more than once. Some of us go from having those days to having those years. This is why Solomon said: "Train your child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." (Prov.22:6) When he's old?! How long do I have to wait on this? That's what we're wondering, those times when we feel like we're giving it our all and our all seems like one quarter of everyone else's all. But this is a lie from the enemy and the pit of hell itself. It's deceit. It's misperception on our part. But it's also evidence that - even if it's just for a brief moment in time - we've started trying to do this on our own strength. It probably wasn't intentional, but most likely, while wallowing in my parental self-pity party (which is a satan-born idea as well) I've started trying to do it myself. I've stopped praying. And I don't mean the pre-dinner acknowledgement that we're still aware that God's there and He's huge and "we thought we'd throw a big shout-out to you for the food, big guy!" I'm talking about begging the Spirit of God to pour out wisdom and discernment and patience and strength on us like we've never known before. "Jesus! Help me! Help me to be the father they need! Help me to have the courage to teach them and discipline them, even when it stabs me in the heart like a dagger! I'm helpless without You!"

That's the kind of prayer I'm talking about. 
That's the kind of prayer I'm praying right now.

[And now a special word to a group of people I love with all my heart.]
Teenagers: I love you. And it's out of that love that I say this to you: GROW UP! Respect your parents. Their love for you is so HUGE that it sometimes makes their heart want to explode! They can't explain it or describe it to you if they tried. And even if they did, you wouldn't believe them. Give them a break. Stop adding more drama to your life than a crappy daytime soap opera. Enjoy life! And do it while being obedient and respectful to these human beings who are humbly trying their best to prepare you for life! One day - and I hate even hearing or seeing these words come out of my mouth - you're going to understand. The lightbulb will go off. And you will humbly and painfully realize, "OMG! They were right!" (Cue laughter)

So, coming back to the point, being a parent is hard work. It's the hardest job on the planet! And sometimes we feel like we're so lousy at it that we might get fired. If that's possible. But thankfully, God's grace and love and power are so much greater than our inadequacies and our failures. Thank You, Jesus!

Been here lately? Feeling this way now? 
I'd love to pray for you!

September 8, 2011

Necessary Endings

If you frequent my blog and have wondered or thought, "Brian sure isn't saying much lately", people who are closest to me would probably retort, "Call it a miracle and count your blessings!" Truth is, the last few days and weeks I've just felt overloaded and - at times - even overwhelmed. Not with things to do, but with ideas, thoughts, and issues running through my mind. Trying to take the Proverbs to heart, I've considered it wisest to keep my words to myself as I'm trying to even process what they are. All that to say, I've been doing quite a bit of thinking and praying. 

Earlier this week, (as I've attempted to resurface from my internal think tank) at the recommendation of Tony Morgan I've started reading the latest book from Dr. Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings. Only a little over 1/3 of the way through the book, I can already tell you that it is affirming much of what I have already believed and practiced, challenging me with several new ideas and viewpoints, and will be a tool I use with our staff in the coming weeks and months. While I will go into more detail in future posts, I wanted to simply throw a very general (yet life-changing) idea out to you as this new season is approaching:

What is there in your life right now - what relationship, circumstance, habit, routine, practice, misuse of time, method (you get the picture) - that if it came to an end...would be a benefit to you?

So many things in life come to an end. My son finished preschool a year and a half ago. He initially didn't want to go to Kindergarten. But (call us crazy!) believing it was in his best interest - and the law - we sent him on to school. Now he LOVES school! (Which I'm planning to get him to testify to on video so I can show it to him a few years from now.) Preschool had to end so school could begin. Often, a not-so-bad habit has to begin so that a great one can take root. Many times, a relationship that has become toxic in your life has to come to a (painful) close so that healing can take place and new - BETTER - relationships can grow. 

In a few weeks I will cut back several of the bushes in my yard. To the non-gardner it will possibly look like I just went crazy, whacking them to pieces. But what I'll be doing is trimming off the dead weight, getting rid of every bit of mediocre growth. The result: When Spring arrives, only the best, choicest limbs and vines will be the recipient of what the roots have to offer. And those bushes and flowers will come back even stronger and more beautiful than ever before. 

So here's the thought or question: What necessary ending could take place in your life RIGHT NOW to begin the healing, restoration, or growth that you desperately need? 

September 1, 2011


We kicked off our fall season at The Brook with a brand new sermon series called nothingwrong. We've had several people ask, "What in the world is this about?" I wanted to give some insight into the purpose and meaning behind this series, share a little about what we've experienced so far, and see if it resonates with you. 

I'd like to tell you that every sermon series I preach is inspired by a weeklong journey out into the desert with nothing more than a Camelbak and my Bible. That would be a bit of a stretch. Sometimes I am fully inspired by very lengthy times alone in God's Word. This is especially evident when doing a series like Nehemiah or Numbers. But with this series, it all hit me in the gym with my headphones blaring in my ears. Truth be told, I owe this one to the Holy Spirit and Jimmy Eat World. The lyrics of their song, "Nothingwrong" hit me right in the gut: "We've done nothing wrong, but we've done nothing. We can't look away, but we're just looking. It's second nature to say, we've done nothing wrong!" As I'm lifting weights, this idea and conviction becomes pretty clear to me - this is our default nature. So many times we're so subconsciously hung up on doing nothing wrong that we don't do anything at all. And as a Christ-follower, I have this deep reaching conviction that at the end of my life I would rather be counting the risks I took and the sacrifices I made rather than being pridefully disillusioned by my (false) innocence. 

Jesus drilled this point home in the Parable of the Talents. The guy who stuck his head in the sand and buried the Master's money was rebuked and kicked out of the Kingdom. That's SERIOUS! And what he'd been given was taken away and given to the faithful servant - the one who risked and sacrificed. Which servant do you want to be?

So far in our series we've looked at Peter's willingness to step out of the boat (Matthew 14) and walk on water. Peter wasn't paralyzed by the possibility of sinking, but captivated by the idea of getting to Jesus no matter the risk. James and John nearly got punched out by the other disciples because of their audacity to ask Jesus for something ridiculous like "sitting at his right hand" in heaven. Sure, we know it was arrogant and misguided, but they didn't. At least they had the guts to ask! (James 4:2-3). Last week we looked at Thomas - you know, "Doubting Thomas" - and his honesty - and saw that while he struggled with doubt, he never stopped seeking Jesus. Our doubts don't disqualify our faith, they actually strengthen it! (And I need to interject here that I've been overwhelmed by the feedback from this sermon and the response this past Sunday as a result. It was awesome!)

If you'd like to listen to any of these messages, you can go to our website, download the App for your smartphone, or grab the podcasts off iTunes. They're ALL available right HERE!

In the following weeks we'll be looking at Anger & Confronting, Wisdom & Understanding, and the call of Reputation Risking. I'm wondering, what areas of life do you most wrestle with apathy or complacency? When and where do you find yourself paralyzed in fear rather than empowered with courage...ready to sacrifice for the sake of Jesus Christ and His Kingdom? After all, if we get to the end of our life, look back and think, "I've really done nothingwrong", then most likely, we've just done nothing!