April 22, 2014

Heaven (Was Already) For Real

This past weekend my wife and I went to see the new movie Heaven is for Real. If I'm being honest, I went to see it more for this purpose - to evaluate it, critique it, and share with those I lead and pastor how I believe they should interpret this story (and others like it) or if they should even give time and attention to them at all. So with that said, let me share with you my thoughts on multiple levels about Heaven is for Real.

First of all, this is a really good movie. Let me reiterate and repeat that. This is a really good MOVIE. It was compelling, entertaining, had a great cast (including one of my favorite actors, Greg Kinnear), and was very well produced. It's being marketed like a well-oiled Hollywood machine. People want to talk about and know about heaven. Authors, screenwriters, and filmmakers know this. Hollywood knows this. And this wasn't a "Christian" film (like Facing the Giants or Courageous), this was a Tri-Star/Sony film, written for the screen by Randall Wallace. That dude wrote Braveheart! How awesome is that!? So I felt I needed to begin by expressing my feelings that this is a really good movie. My wife subbed at least 2-3 napkins as Kleenex. (You can sub Kleenex for Stars. Ex: "That was a 3 Kleenex performance!")

Another positive element about this movie (and the book from which it was inspired) is that it is drawing attention to and creating renewed conversations about the fact that - just as the title expresses - heaven is most certainly for real. And while it's great that something might be sparking conversations about spiritual things, that doesn't always mean it's for the greater good. Allow me to now move into the things about this movie and "story" that concern me, alarm me, and cause me to feel the compulsion to warn others to be incredibly mindful and careful of.

Heaven is for Real is nothing new. In fact, it has to get at the back of a LONG line of books and stories just like it. There's 90 Minutes in Heaven, Waking Up in Heaven, My Time in Heaven, and To Heaven and Back. I haven't even gotten started. The list goes on and on and on. There are numerous accounts of what people claim are "trips" or "visits" to heaven - to the afterlife - to the place where scripture tells us God resides. One problem with this is that it goes against scripture - specific scriptures and orthodox theology. In Proverbs 30:4, Solomon asks the question, "Who has ascended to heaven and come down?" The answer to that question is an emphatic "Nobody!" God is the only one who moves between heaven and earth. Jesus restated this to Nicodemus in John 3:13 in reference to himself. And while several biblical writers had visions of heaven (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John), they had only that: visions. They did not physically or tangibly "hang out" in heaven for awhile and then God said, "Well, you better head on back." Heaven is for Real treats what very well may have been visions as an actual visit to heaven. This is a distinction that cannot be taken lightly.

Another incredibly troubling element of the story shared by Colton Burpo is that his "trip" to heaven seems to be all about him. He sees family, sits on Jesus' lap, apparently even entertains some angels (who seem to laugh at his innocent question) because - I can only speculate - they're looking for a few good laughs, and catches a glimpse of the Holy Spirit, who we are informed is some shade of blue. While I can't even begin to speculate about any of this, I can tell you one thing that is very visibly absent from Colton's visit into the presence of the author of holiness: the Glory of God. If there is one resounding and recurring characteristic we are given in any biblical account of heaven, it's that everything finds its purpose and origin fixated on the glory of God. If we have even a fraction of a notion of what selflessness looks like here in this life, we still don't begin to understand how absent self-centeredness will be in heaven. Our concept of God-centered doesn't even start to inch down the path. So while this emotionally-compelling and heart-warming story gives credence to the afterlife, it is void of the most powerful element we are given in scripture of what heaven will be: all about God!

Something else to consider in our quest for wanting to know more about heaven is that, while most of the encounters shared in our day come from people having "near death experiences" (which is actually not what Connor Burpo claims), those who were actually raised from the dead in scripture gave NO account of what they saw. When Elisha raised the Shunammite boy from the dead (2 Kings 4)? Nothing. When Jesus raised Jairus' daughter (Luke 8)? Zero. And Lazarus? He was dead for 4 days! When Jesus called him out of the tomb (John 11), all we know is that they immediately got him out of those stinky grave clothes. We hear nothing of any accounts of his 4 Days in Heaven. (Much less 90). I don't say this to be cold or crass, but to reemphasize that what maybe God has allowed someone to see in a "vision" cannot be automatically assumed to be a "visit". Big difference. My father, when he was in a coma for 5 weeks, later told us that he kept walking along this beautiful, immensly tall iron fence. The grass was the greenest he'd ever seen. And at least 3 times he remembers someone coming to the fence from the other side and saying, "Jerry, we're not ready for you yet." (Let me just be honest and confess that the first time he shared this with us, without hesitation or thought, I just blurted out, "Holy crap!") Do I think my dad was lying or making this up? Absolutely not. But do I think this means he visited heaven and they told him, "Sorry Jerry, you're number hasn't been called yet." No.

And the last thing I would encourage you to prayerfully consider in light of this issue is this: What does the story of a 4-year old boy validate about heaven that scripture hasn't told us? Furthermore, is there anything about the story of a 4-year old boy that conflicts with what the scriptures have already told us? If the Word of God - if the testimonies of Old Testament prophets, one of the 12 disciples, and the writer of half the New Testament - are not enough for us, but the testimony of a toddler finally bring the missing piece we need to have the faith to believe, what does this say about our view of the scriptures? I'm not going to tell you, "By no means should you read these books or believe anything about these peoples stories." I believe some of them genuinely saw what they saw they saw. But I don't need anyone to see anything of any sort that will give me greater cause to believe in heaven outside of what has already been made known to us in the scriptures. As I preached this last week on Easter, we know that heaven is for real because resurrection is for real. We know that because Jesus rose from the dead, when our lives are "hidden in him", we have victory over sin and death as well. 
(Romans 6:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15, Revelation 1:17-18).

Yes, heaven is for real. Jesus defeated death when he walked out of the grave.
But death was just the symptom or result.
SIN gave birth to death. And Jesus defeated sin when he died on the Cross.
The Shepherd became one of the sheep and gave his life for them, that they might have true life. Right here. Right now. 

"Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades." Revelation 1:17-18

"I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet he will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26

April 11, 2014

Simple Ways to Serve

[We sent out an email to our church family this morning. I thought it was worth posting here.]

One of our Core Values here at The Brook is Servant Leadership. We believe that "Actions speak louder than words." We'd like to share with you some simple ways to serve as part of the family of God.

Last year we introduced a simple mantra to you to encourage you to make Sundays about others - to think about others first. It's short, sweet, and straight to the point:
Come early. Park far. Sit close. Here's a reminder of WHY this is such a simple, yet powerful way to serve others. We come early because we want to be there in time to greet other people, especially our guests who may be there for the first time. We park far so that there's always a parking space closer for the person or family that may be new, have a pregnant mother, or even just bad knees. And we sit close so that friends or families - particularly guests - who arrive late can come in and easily find a seat. Please understand, while Easter approaching is a motivator for us ask you to consider this, our intent is not for this to be a repititious seasonal swing, but an adopted mindset and way of life. This is a small thing that can make a HUGE impact every single week. Would you pray about making this a part of your Sundays? We promise, in a very short time you will be blessed by what God does through your putting others first.

You may have noticed we said "Simple Ways to Serve", as in plural. Well, here's another one. About once a year we begin to see our 10:45 service quickly expand to the point of being full. It's a great thing! But it also brings with it a dilemma: We begin to run out of room. Let us share with you a simple way you can make a significant impact. If you come to the 10:45 service simply out of convenience, would you pray about moving to the 9:00 service? We have people who serve at 9:00 who have no choice but to come to the 10:45 service. There are families with 5th & 6th Graders who come to The Bridge at 10:45. Some people, couples, and families have no choice on Sundays for corporate worship but the late service. Convenience has no part in their decision. If that's not you, we'd like to share with you some of the Top Reasons to Attend the 9:00 Service:
  • The coffee is FRESH! Juan Valdez has just finished grinding it around 8:30, putting it in the roaster, and brewing it up. It's amazing! (So we hear.)
  • You have more of your day ahead of you to play, relax, or even frolic. If you're into frolicking. If you haven't frolicked in awhile, this would be your chance.
  • Not only could you be the first one to eat lunch, you could be the last one to eat brunch! Who ever gets to enjoy brunch these days? 
  • Have small children? Well, more than likely you're awake anyway. You've probably been awake for several hours in fact. Go ahead and pack up the family and come on!
  • And last but certainly not least, you will make a difference! 
Would you pray about how the Lord wants Servant Leadership to come shining through in your life? Would you prayerfully consider making a small change on Sundays that can make a HUGE impact on someone else's life? Make a decision to make a difference!
Come early. Park far. Sit close.
Consider the 9:00 worship service.
These are some seriously simple ways to serve!

April 10, 2014

Core Values

During 2013, our staff and elders at The Brook spent the entire year working on Vision Clarity. (We were blessed to be able to work with Bryan Rose from Auxano. Any pastor, staff, or church that desires to be lifted out of the fog would greatly benefit from time with Auxano.) Beginning with our Mission, we worked diligently to make sure our values and our vision were not only in sync, but were clear to us so we could clearly communicate them to anyone and everyone else. People not only need to know WHAT, but WHY and HOW. As a result of many months of prayer and hard work, we had the incredible experience of seeing our core values come to life. These are the motive behind our mission - "shared convictions that guide our decisions and reveal our strengths". Your core values should always be able to bring you back to the question, "Why?" 

WHY do we choose to do this the way we do it?

WHY do we forgo these specific programs, even if everyone else embraces them?

WHY will we go to battle for this...but not for that?

Beginning in February we walked through a six-week sermon series called Rooted :: The Foundation of Who We Are, taking an in-depth look at these values. These biblical principles are the catalyst and motivator that drives our church. They always bring us back to the question, "Why?"

Here's a look at our Core Values:

Authentic Worship - Worship is a way of life

Audacious Faith - Our vision goes beyond our resources

Disciple Making - Imitate me as I imitate Christ

Generous Giving - We are blessed to be a blessing

Intentional Living - No relationship happens on accident

Servant Leading - Actions speak louder than words

When we plan our corporate worship gatherings, are we encouraging and equipping our people for those times to be an overflow and an outpouring of praise to God for what He's done and is doing in and through our lives, or is it just a weekly routine meeting where we simply get "filled"?

When we ask God for vision for our church, our ministries, our missional communities - and we better be asking Him for vision - is it birthed from, thought up, and prayed for through the lens of our own limitations, or through the knowledge that we serve the God of the Universe, the giver of ALL good things, supplier of all needs, and rightful owner of everything? 

When we talk about missional community here at The Brook, it's not our end goal. Making disciples is what sits at the center of the target. Speaking of audacious, can you believe that Apostle Paul, telling the Corinthians, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ?" Well actually, you and I are called to that same audacity as Christ-followers. This was Jesus' directive and command, to "go and make disciples", not "go find a church with some great preaching."

When God set up the tithe it wasn't so that we would always have the easy math of finding 10%. It was a starting point. It was to teach us how to begin "giving back" to the One who gave it to us in the first place. We don't give out of obligation, but out of gratitude and generosity. 

When we live like Jesus, our lives will be interruptible. We live every day on purpose and on mission for the Gospel. This won't happen on accident.

When we lead, we remember that Jesus showed us how to do this by getting on his knees, wrapping a towel around his waist, and washing his disciples feet. 

You see, we can always - and should often - come back and check our motives.
This gives us freedom to say "No" to certain things. Sometimes even good things.
As you seek the Lord's guidance and He unfolds the values and principles that guide WHO you are, WHAT you do, and HOW you do it, you find yourself walking in great freedom to do just that; be who He's called you to be.

Simon Sinek's awesome book "Start With Why" wasn't a new idea. That's a Jesus idea. 
And it's not just a great idea for a church or business. It applies to your life and your family, as well. 

If you belong to our church family at The Brook, I encourage you to begin to press into these values and examine your day, your schedule, your habits, and your whole life through them. Always come back to the question, "Why?"

If you belong to another church family, what values drive your congregation?

If you don't belong to a church at all, I guess I would ask you the same, simple question: Why?

April 3, 2014

The Worst Kind of Miscommunication

Miscommunication, how I loathe thee. Let me count the ways!

Miscommunication fractures relationships.

Miscommunication deflates culture.

Miscommunication kills momentum.

Miscommunication breeds mediocrity.

Miscommunication compromises standards and settles for less.

The list goes on. The reasons are countless. The verdict remains.

I HATE miscommunication.

And there's one kind of miscommunication I hate more than any other. There's one type of miscommunication that makes me lose sleep, grit my teeth, and can even raise my blood pressure. The kind of miscommunication that turns my stomach and chaps my hide more than any other is...


When I realize I haven't communicated effectively...

When I realize I haven't communicated thoroughly...

When I realize I have left expectations floating out in the wind...

When I realize I haven't reiterated enough...

When I realize I have miscommunicated...it frustrates me to the core. But then I have a choice to make. You can either allow your miscommunication to paralyze you OR you can allow it to motivate you.

When you allow it to paralyze you, you allow yourself to begin thinking of all the other people or circumstances to blame for it. When you let it cripple you, you become consumed with how to cover it up rather than expose it so that it doesn't happen again. When you let it consume you, you're actually making a choice to continue miscommunicating. You're saying, "My failure defines me."

But when you let it motivate you, you take steps to correct it. You refuse to not come up with a plan to defeat it at all costs moving forward. When you let it motivate you, it also reminds you to graciously prepare for the inevitable times when someone will miscommunicate with you. They have. They will. How will you respond to it?

So, do you have a plan to defeat it at all costs moving forward? That plan could sound something like:

  • Ask the person to repeat back to me what I told them
  • Send a follow up email to make sure expectations are clear
  • Personally call each person and ask them if they have any questions
  • Invite each member of the group to provide me with feedback
Will you join me in the battle of bringing down miscommunication?

Will you do the work of reiterating, following up, and following through?

What one thing can you do right now to better communicate?

Let's graciously help each other out with this.

April 2, 2014

2 Places At 1 Time

"I can't be two places at the same time!"

Have you said these words before? You probably have. If you're a parent, then you definitely have. But all of us at some point have felt there were demands on us that were unreasonable, like too many people were expecting us to be too many places at once. Or the same people wanting us to accomplish more at one time than should be expected of a human being. And regardless of what Einstein proposed or some loon in a quantum physics labs says, you can only be fully present right here, right now.

So this begs the question: Why aren't we?

I know full well that I can't physically get my son to baseball practice and check my stocks at the same time. But wait a second. Yes I can! (Like I'm a guy who "checks my stocks"!)

You know that you can't finish writing that email while you're also trying to carry on that business lunch. Wrong again, my friend! Yes you can.

We've been liberated, haven't we?

We used to be slaves, but now we've been set free by our mobility. 

We've gone from the boring existence of doing one thing at a time to being multitasking machines!

I now CAN play with my kids and be at work at the same time!

I now CAN be on a date with my wife, watching the game, reading the news, and commenting on a blogpost all at once. It's amazing, isn't it?

Yes. Amazing.

It's amazing that we've allowed ourselves to stop being fully present.

It's amazing that we've actually become more enslaved than ever before, addicted to having our brains trying to focus on 14 things simultaneously; addicted to knowing what 150 acquaintances are doing at this very moment; addicted to the idea that if I don't let the world know this moment is happening, then it might not actually be happening.

Do we even realize what we're doing?

Where along the way did we stop realizing that just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD?

Will your friends remember that picture of the sunset you took ten years from now? NO.
Will your wife remember that moment when you caught that sunset together and you forgot about everything else in the universe but her, including your phone? YES. Yes she will.

(I know it's a crazy proposition; an intimate moment with your wife...without your phone.)

If we know we can't be two places at one time, why do we keep trying to pull it off?

If the greatest gift we can give our children, our spouse, our friends, or our family is to be fully present, then why don't we go to war to be fully present?

I am very aware that on the one hand this blogpost is a hypocrite preaching to the choir. But this hypocrite has come to the realization over the last days, weeks, and months that this delusional attempt at being more efficient is actually resulting in me being less of anything and everything I really want to be.

A selfless husband.

A great dad.

A true friend.

I could go on. And on.

And even if I am preaching to the choir, that means nothing if all the choir is doing is shaking their heads in agreement, but doing nothing about it. The choir can shout "Amen" and "Preach it" all day long. Who cares? They won't hear the next thing you say because they'll be too busy tweeting the last thing you said.

I'm not suggesting we throw out our smartphones or burn our tablets.
But I am suggesting that we have become slaves to them. And when you realize that you are the one who sold yourself into this slavery and that you are the one who keeps tightening the chains, you also realize that there's only one person who can say "Enough is enough!" It's you.

Stop trying to be 2 places at 1 time.

Be here. Now.

You'll be glad you did.